The greeter at the Welcome Friend Chinese restaurant bowed graciously to the pair of women and a little girl who had a reservation for lunch. He led them to a table that had been set aside especially for them even though the restaurant was busy.

Rodan no longer needed a cushion to sit up at her place. She had been visiting the restaurant since she had needed one of the high chairs kept for young visitors and had been a little messy with her noodles. She had long ago learnt the art of eating with chopsticks and become a favourite of the waiters.

Marion was a regular and honoured patron. So was Lily who had come with her through the portal installed in the private flat above the restaurant. They were brought a pot of Chinese tea and a selection of sweetmeats to tempt the palette while they waited for their other luncheon guest.

The elderly Chinaman Mai Li Tuo, proprietor of a traditional herbalist store in the heart of Liverpool’s Chinatown, was another friend to the staff of the Welcome Friend. He was greeted by the manager and shown to his seat with all the deference due to a mandarin in the imperial China that was depicted in the artwork around the restaurant.

“My dear ladies,” he said with a joyful smile. “How long is it since we were all together like this?”

“Eight months, three weeks and five days,” Rodan answered to his amusement. “That is Gallifreyan days. On Earth it is….”

She used her fingers and her lips moved as she did the recalculation, but it was accurate when she announced it. Li smiled proudly at her.

“She is growing into a fine Gallifreyan child,” he said.

“Very fine,” Lily agreed. “And a well travelled one for her age. She has told us all about her tour of the dominions, and can’t wait to tell you all about them, also.”

“I am most anxious to hear these tales of exotic travel,” Li responded. “Shall we order our lunch, first?”

Of course, there was an aural perception filter at work. Anyone listening in to their conversation would hear talk of the weather, of shopping, of anything ordinary and unremarkable. Within its range, they could safely talk of far off worlds where life was very different to twentieth century Liverpool. As they ate from a fine range of delicious Chinese dishes Rodan gave a full and detailed commentary about all of the places she visited on her extended tour of the dominion planets.

Li listened to all she had to say with an indulgent smile. Rodan was as precious to him as she was to her foster parents and he was delighted to hear how many wonderful things she had seen and how much she had learnt about the universe, how accomplished she had become in the arts of diplomacy at such a young age.

“I don’t know,” Lily commented. “Was this a State Tour by the Lord High President of Gallifrey, or did he simply tag along with young Rodan Mielles as she gave her patronage to those Dominion planets?”

“The way the story is being told, I am inclined to think it was the latter,” Li said with a smile. Rodan didn’t mind that she was being teased like that, though. She adored Li who had been a strong figure in her life since she was a baby. She laughed with him at the joke purely at her own expense.

Then, quite abruptly, the pleasant luncheon engagement was disturbed. Marion was not the only one who gave a frightened scream as the greeter was pulled from his place at the entrance and thrown across the restaurant floor. The man who had abused him so roughly fired a round from the rifle he carried into the ceiling, bringing a shower of plaster down on frightened heads.

“Everyone stay exactly where they are!” the man called out in a heavy eastern European accent. His two comrades, both tall, stockily built men with bulldog-shaped faces moved surprisingly quickly towards the kitchen to force all of the staff to gather in the restaurant. They were noisy about it, shouting threats and swearing at the chefs and the waiting staff as they forced them to kneel on the floor with their hands on their heads.

“What do they want?” Lily asked. “Is it a robbery?”

Very slowly and carefully she slid the rings off her fingers and a pearl necklace from around her neck, concealing them in her table napkin. Marion did the same. The rings she wore were of special value to her, not merely gold and diamonds. Her wedding ring and the beautiful engagement ring that had once belonged to Kristoph’s mother were irreplaceable. She didn’t want these noisy, angry men to have them.

Rodan looked at what they were doing and slipped off the little silver bracelet that her grandfather had give to her on the occasion of her presentation at the Untempered Schism. He had brought it from one of the planets he had visited on his journey across the galaxy. It wasn’t very valuable compared to the diamond rings and necklaces that Marion and Lily wore, but it was hers and she wasn’t going to let a thief take it from her.

“Come here,” Marion said, lifting the child onto her knee. “Don’t you worry. Whatever these men want, they won’t hurt you.”

“No,” Li said, studying the three men carefully as they prowled around the tables, glaring at the customers with dark and intimidating expressions. “It isn’t a robbery. It is a protection gang. They have been trying to make the manager pay money to them, but he refused. This is their way of reinforcing their demand – by coming here when there are diners to frighten away.”

“Protection?” Marion commented in scathing tones. “This is LIVERPOOL, not Naples. Who do they think they are? Some kind of mafia?”

Of course, that was exactly what they wanted their victims to think. That was how they forced honest businessmen to pay them to go away.

“They are new to Chinatown,” Li added. “They have not yet visited my humble shop.”

“Small mercies,” Lily commented. “I hope you would not give in to their extortion demands if they did.”

“I should not,” Li assured her. “I have never done so. The soldiers of the Communist regime tried to intimidate the people in the village where I was living with brute force and projectile weapons, harsh words and threats of violence, but I would not be bullied by them or any of their kind. When I came to this country along with so many refugees who rejected the new China of Mao Tse Tung, there were those who sought to take advantage, but I would have none of it. I will not have it now from these strangers.”

Of course, his words had been hidden behind the aural perception field. The thugs, if they paid them any attention at all, only heard murmurs of dismay just like those coming from other groups of diners. They had been ignoring all of them. Their interest was in the manager and the staff of the restaurant. The diners were only there to be witnesses to the intimidation, perhaps to put them off dining in the restaurant in future, so that they would tell their friends to stay away from a place where they could not be sure of their safety while they were eating their spring rolls and green tea.

The thugs didn’t see Li rise from his seat. They were scarcely aware of him at all until he grabbed one of them from behind and threw him over his shoulder. The man landed heavily on the red and black lacquered floor. He slithered towards the jute and wicker partition by Marion’s seat and lay still.

“Is he dead?” Marion asked a little anxiously as she looked down at the twisted face of the man and moved her feet away from him. Even though it was clearly self-defence – or defence of his favourite restaurant, at least, she didn’t want Li to be responsible for killing somebody right there in front of her.

“No,” Lily answered, looking closely at the man. “Just very thoroughly knocked out.”

A second man fell to Li’s surprise attack a moment after the first one and landed half in and half out of the ornamental fountain that cooled the air in the restaurant. Lily quietly stood up from her place and went to make sure his mouth and nose were above the water, then sat back down again.

“Just unconscious,” she said about the second thug. She watched as Li faced the third man. Marion gripped her hand anxiously as Rodan hid her face in her shoulder. This one had time to turn his semi-automatic upon the elderly Chinaman who had proved so uncannily agile. Both women shrieked as they heard it fire once. Li ought to have been hit at such close range.

Marion’s eyes didn’t see what had happened clearly enough. Lily’s did. She saw Li catch the bullet in his hands and throw it into the fountain where it fizzed momentarily and then fell to the bottom. In the same fraction of a second he grabbed the gun out of the villain’s hands, snapped it in half and very nearly did the same to the gunman’s neck with a martial arts movement quite capable of decapitation. Instead he threw the man across the room and left him as senseless as his partners in crime.

“Bring them to your office,” Li said to the manager who slowly stood up from the floor and glanced around at the unconscious extortionists. “I will deal with them in a few minutes.”

“Of course, Master Li,” the manager said, bowing his head respectfully to the old man who had lived in Liverpool’s Chinatown since before he was a boy. He had two of his kitchen staff help with the removal while the waiters brought complimentary pots of Chinese tea to the customers.

Li went to each table and spoke quietly and calmly to the innocent witnesses to the attempted crime. Some of them were concerned at first, but his words calmed them and they accepted the pot of tea graciously.

Nobody left the restaurant vowing never to return again.

“A little Power of Suggestion,” Li told his own companions. “The memory of what happened is fading from their minds. They won’t even remember enough to tell their friends by the time they get home.”

“Then the restaurant won’t lose any custom,” Marion said. “I am glad of that.”

“So am I,” Lily added.

“Enjoy the tea. It is the finest and freshest green leaves with a hint of jasmine, not those cheap bags they sell in supermarkets.”

Marion poured the fragrant Chinese tea as Li went towards the manager’s office. She knew he would make everything right.

Marion probably imagined that he would punish the men in some very unpleasant and painful way. Of course, he could do that easily enough. He was skilled in more than one art of combat and even more ways of inflicting pain upon a victim. He knew how to kill without leaving a mark or any tell-tale substance in the blood.

But killing these foolish men was a waste of his skills. They were small time criminals unworthy of the efforts of an Assassin of the Celestial Intervention Agency.

Instead he woke them in an ungentle manner, while applying pressure to a point on their upper spines that rendered them paralysed until he was done with them.

“You come from Eastern Russia,” he said coldly. “You arrived here with nothing but a work permit and a change of clothes. The parents and grandparents of the people in this quarter of this city came here in much the same way, but they worked hard and looked after each other and built up small businesses and a community to be proud of. You might have done the same in time. The Russian community in Liverpool might be proud of your efforts. But you decided that you would rather make your fortune by villainy instead of by honest work. You have disgraced your heritage. You are unworthy of the land you came from or this one that gave you shelter. You are vermin scuttling at the feet of honest men. Go, now. Leave this place and never come back to it. Never sully the air of this place where honest men live and work with the breath from your bodies.”

He touched each man again and released them from the paralysis. They scrambled to their feet, shivering with terror.

“Go,” Li said again.

They ran for the fire exit at the back of the restaurant, slipping on the slimy mess from a bin full of vegetable peelings that had been knocked over by a scavenging cat. They picked themselves up and ran again, their smart suits ruined by the peelings just as their pride and their belief that they could be masters over other men was ruined by the harsh words Li planted in their minds.

He returned to the restaurant. Marion poured him a cup of the jasmine scented green tea. He drank it slowly.

“Not the sort of adventure I wanted to share with any of you here in this place and at this time, but it is over now and we have a bright, sunny afternoon to enjoy when our lunch is done.”

“Yes,” Marion agreed. She had been worried about how Rodan would feel about the frightening interlude, but the child was already putting it behind her. As long as Li was around she knew she had nothing to fear.