Vital signs dmb 2, p.28

Vital Signs dmb-2, page 28

 part  #2 of  Dr. Marissa Blumenthal Series


Vital Signs dmb-2

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"Here's my suggestion," he said.

  "Go back to the Western Star and wait for me. I'll meet you there. I've got another station to visit. I can arrange to have this rental car driven back to Charleville if you have the fortitude to fly with me in my King Air

  "I'd do anything to avoid that drive from Windorah to Charleville,"

  Marissa said.

  Tristan tipped his hat.

  "See you at the Western Star." He turned and started back toward his plane.

  "Tris!" Marissa called.

  He turned.

  Marissa blushed.

  "Can I call you Tris?" she asked.

  "You can call me anything you want," Tristan said.

  "Here in the land of Oz, even Bastard is a term of endearment."

  "I just wanted to thank you for volunteering to go with me to Hong Kong," Marissa said.

  "Like I said, better hold back on your thanks until you see what we're getting ourselves into," Tristan said.

  "Have you ever been to Hong Kong?"

  "No," Marissa said.

  "Well, hang on to your kookaburra. The outback of Australia is the absolute opposite of Hongkers. It's a city out of control, especially now that it's scheduled to be handed over to the PRC in '97. The place is a bit desperate, and it's always operated on money and money alone. Everything is for Hong Kong, even LIFE itself And, in Hong Kong life is cheap. I mean it. There it's not just a cliche.

  I'm sure I wouldn't have been able to handle it on my own," Marissa. said.

  Tristan eyed her.

  "I'm not so sure of that," he said.

  "You've given me the impression that you've got more than your share of pluck and determination." With a final smile, Tristan turned back to his plane.

  Soon the engines were roaring again and the props were sending a torrent of dust into the air. With a final wave, Tristan released his brake and the King Air leaped forward, soaring off into the searing sun.


  April 10, 1990 7:15 AM.

  "Time to get up!" a voice called, stirring Marissa from what felt like a drugged sleep.

  "The Williams' Oriental tour is about to begin and it starts with a stockman-style breakfast."

  Marissa's eyes blinked open. Tristan was at the window, pulling back the curtain. Weak early morning sunlight streamed into the room.

  "Let's go!" Tristan said. He came over to the bed and gave the covers a tug. Marissa grabbed them in panic. Tristan laughed, then spun on his heels.

  "I'll expect you in half an hour in the morning room," he said before pulling the door closed behind him.

  Marissa glanced at the room. It was the guest room in Tristan's small house on the outskirts of Charleville. The room was a dormered space, quaintly decorated with a flower print wallpaper.

  The bed was wrought-iron with an eyelet comforter.

  They'd moved swiftly once Tristan told Marissa he would accompany her to Hong Kong. They'd gotten back to Charleville before dark after an uneventful flight. From the air Marissa began to realize just how vast and and a country she was in. She had once read that Australia was the oldest continent on earth.

  From above, it looked it.

  She had spent the night at Tristan's house only after a mild argument. At first she'd been reluctant, but Tristan had been insistent.

  "If you can't trust me to spend the night in my guest room, then how are you going to trust me in Hongkers?"

  Marissa had relented in the end.

  The evening had passed quickly. Tristan spent most of the time making arrangements to go on holiday. He called his colleague, Bob Marlowe, to arrange for him to cover Tristan's professional responsibilities.

  Marissa had slept better than she had on the two previous nights.

  Reluctantly, she slipped her legs from under the blanket and got out of bed.

  After a hearty breakfast of porridge, eggs, and sausage, Tristan made a few more final arrangements, including a visit to his bank.

  Then together they went out to the Charleville airport and boarded a Flight West commuter to Brisbane.

  In Brisbane they transferred airports to catch the 11: 15 Qantas flight to Hong Kong. Before going through passporl control, Marissa took Tristan aside to tell him that the police inspector had asked her to stay on Hamilton Island.

  "What if they detain me?" she asked.

  "What if they arrest meT "Come on!" Tristan responded with a laugh.

  "You don't really think Royal Australian police are that efficient, do you?"

  The uniformed man in the passport control booth barely looked at her.

  The flight was peacefully uneventful. Once again Marissa was amazed by the expansive Pacific. Until this trip, she'd had no idea what a big ocean it was. In silent testimony to how much better she was feeling now that she had Tristan to count on, Marissa soon drifted off to sleep.

  Right on schedule, the Qantas jet's wheels touched down with a thump at Kai Tac Airport at 5:43 P.m." giving Marissa her first Hong Kong. Despite the purpose of their trip, she sight of couldn't help feeling a shiver of excitement.

  From the air, the colony had looked like a peaceful collection of rocky, forested islands set in an emerald-green sea. But from the airport runway it already looked quite different. Across the impossibly congested harbor of bobbing vessels, it looked starkly urban, like a futuristic city crowded with skyscrapers of concrete, steel, and mirrored glass. Even through the plane's porthole she could sense the exotic, mysterious nature of the busiest and richest of all Chinese cities.

  Formalities at the airport were swift. As they waited at the luggage carousel for their "swag," as Tristan called it, they were approached by a representative from the Peninsula Hotel, where Tristan had booked adjoining rooms. To Marissa's surprise, they were escorted out of the terminal building to a waiting RollsRoyce.

  "Isn't this a bit extravagant?" Marissa asked as they pulled out of the airport.

  "This must be one fancy hotel."

  "And why not!" Tristan said.

  "Don't you Yanks have the expression 'you only go around once'? I'm on holiday and I haven't been on holiday for years. I intend to try to enjoy myself, even if we are here on serious business."

  Marissa wondered what Robert would say when he saw the charges.

  The hotel car quickly got bogged down in rush hour traffic, the likes of which Marissa had never seen. She was shocked when the driver said traffic was better than usual.

  Even in the hushed interior of the Rolls-Royce limousine, Marissa was overwhelmed by the clamor and clutter of the city.

  As Tristan had implied, it was different enough from the Australian outback to make her think she'd traveled to another planet.

  They were snared in a crush of double-decker buses, trams, cars, bicycles, motorbikes, and people, lots of people. By the time they arrived at the hotel, Marissa felt drained, as if she'd had to walk the entire route.

  But once the hotel doors closed behind them, the world changed again. The huge lobby with its gilded ceiling was decorated in a restrained yet luxuriant fashion with only a hint of Oriental flavor. The most disturbing sounds were those caused by high heeled shoes clicking against the polished marble floor. The melodious sound of a grand piano added to the elegant atmosphere.

  The check-in procedure was accomplished with minimum confusion.

  They left their passports with the receptionist. A manager accompanied them up to their connecting rooms on the sixth floor. At Tristan's insistence, he unlocked the connecting doors.

  Tristan said that there'd be no taking chances; he wanted ready access in case of any trouble.

  Marissa joined Tristan at the window. They had a sweeping view of Hong Kong Harbor, which was filled with boats of every description and size. Tristan pointed out the green and white air, ferries that were passing each other in their runs to and from Hong Kong Island across the way. There were junks and sampans with' graceful butterfly sails. Lighters were moored against the freighters anchored in the middle of
the channel. Highly varnished launches sped through the choppy waters. Evena huge cruise ship was slowly edging its way into its berth at the ocean terminal.

  The luggage quickly followed. Tristan tipped the bellman, who silently bowed and exited, closing the door behind him.

  "Well!" Tristan said, rubbing his hands together.

  "Here we are in Hong Kong. How do you like it so far?"

  "I can see what you meant when you described it," Marissa said.

  "It's a bit overwhelming."

  "How about a little refreshment before dinner?" Tristan suggested.

  Without waiting for an answer, he picked up the phone and called room service. He ordered beer.

  "None for me," Marissa called before Tristan had hung up.

  She'd had enough beer in Australia to last her for some time.

  "Change that to champagne," Tristan said into the phone.

  "Two glasses."

  Marissa was about to object, but Tristan had already hung up.

  "I'm not in much of a festive mood," she said.

  "Come on now, Marissa," Tristan said, stretching out on the bed. He tossed his hat like a saucer into an easy chair.

  "You have to lighten up a touch. You should enjoy yourself as well. There's no harm in it."

  With Wendy's horrid death still on her mind, Marissa hardly felt she should be expected to enjoy herself.

  "I want to get down to business," she said.

  "How are we going to contact the Wing Sin Triad? What's our first step?"

  There was a soft knock on the door before Tristan could reply.

  He leaped from the bed and threw the door wide open. A waiter with white gloves bowed and entered. He was carrying a tray with a champagne cooler and two long-stemmed glasses.

  "Now this is service," Tristan said with admiration.

  "That's the fastest response time I've ever seen." He pointed to the desk.

  "Right here, mate, if you would."

  The waiter silently put down the tray, then backed out of the room with a bow.

  Tristan had the wire cage off in the blink of an eye, then popped the cork. To his delight it caromed off the ceiling. He filled the glasses and carried them over to Marissa, handing her one.

  Reluctantly Marissa took the glass he offered her.

  Tristan raised his glass up to eye level.

  "To our Hong Kong sleuthing," he said.

  Marissa clinked his glass with hers. They both drank.

  "Now that's what I call bubbly," Tristan said. Then, turning to the window, he pointed out.

  "You haven't said anything about the view. What do you think?"

  "It's astonishingly beautiful," Marissa said, eyeing the mountains of Hong Kong Island. White villas dotted the dark green foliage. Below, at the water's edge and beginning to creep up the hills, were the modern high-rises, opulent testimony to Hong Kong's power as a major economic center.

  "It's more beautiful than I thought it would be," Tristan said.

  Marissa agreed. She hadn't imagined it would be so modern.

  But then Tristan's comment sank in. Turning to him she asked, "Haven't you been here before?"

  "First time," Tristan said, still enjoying the view.

  "But the way you talked about it," Marissa said, "I was sure you'd been here."

  "A lot of my friends have been here," Tristan said.

  "But not me. I've heard a lot about the place and have always wanted to come. Just never had the chance."

  Looking back over at Hong Kong Island, Marissa felt a twinge of disappointment. She had counted on Tristan's knowledge of Hong Kong to speed their inquiries.

  "So anyway," Marissa said, "back to my question. What's our first step in contacting the Wing Sin Triad?"

  "I don't know," Tristan said.

  "Let's try to come up with some suggestions."

  "Wait a minute," Marissa said, putting her glass down.

  "You're telling me you don't have any plan for contacting this Wing Sin Triad?"

  "Not yet," Tristan admitted.

  "But it's a big organization. I don't think we will have any trouble making contact."

  "Oh, give me a break!" Marissa said.

  "This is a fine time to let me know you've never been here before and that you don't have any ideas about contacting these triad people. What are we going to do, go out on the street and start asking passersbyl" "We'll do what we have to," Tristan said.

  Marissa stared at him in disbelief. She was beginning to wonder what kind of ally she'd come up with.

  "But first things first," Tristan said.

  "Let's go to dinner. I'll call downstairs and get a proper suggestion for an authentic Chinese restaurant from the concierge."

  "You do that!" Marissa said.

  She took a shower and changed her clothes. By the time she

  K was ready, she'd recovered her composure to a great degree, but she was still irritated with him. She felt deceived. At the same time she was thankful he'd come and that she wasn't on her own.

  For dinner the concierge sent them to a "typical" Chinese restaurant. It was a four-story affair with a colorful facade painted bright gold and crimson. There were myriad dining rooms within, each lit by extravagant crystal chandeliers. Like Hong Kong itself, the place was bustling.

  Both Marissa and Tristan were a bit unsettled by the apparent confusion. People were everywhere. Large tables of noisy diners dominated each room. Everybody seemed to be shouting. The scene reminded Marissa more of a stadium event than a restaurant.

  Despite the hour, crying babies could be heard in every direction. And over the tumult floated strident Chinese music coming from hidden speakers.

  Eventually Marissa and Tristan found a table. They were handed large menus bound in gold and crimson. Unfortunately for them the menus were written in Chinese characters with no translation. They tried to hail a waiter, but were roundly ignored.

  Finally one waiter approached. At first he pretended not to speak English. Then he seemed to change his mind. He spoke to them in English, but he was distracted and less than helpful in translating the menu. Despite these obstacles, Marissa and Tristan ordered dinner.

  "Do you have any idea what we'll be getting?" Marissa yelled over the din after the waiter disappeared.

  "I haven't the slightest," Tristan answered.

  The noise in the restaurant precluded normal conversation.

  Marissa and Tristan were content merely to observe.

  In short order, their dinner arrived. It included a sizzling wok filled with unidentifiable wriggly vegetables. There was a basket of dumplings, something from the sea in a dark, salty sauce, several bowls of rice, and some haunches of greasy bird. There was also a pot of green tea.

  Perhaps most surprising of all was that the food was delicious.

  Even if in the end they weren't quite sure what it was, they heartily enjoyed it.

  Leaving the boisterous restaurant, they stepped out into the street, whose traffic had scarcely lessened from rush hour time.

  They were on the Kowloon side of Hong Kong in the Tsim Sha Tsui section. Rather than hail a cab, they decided to walk back to the hotel.

  The city was ablaze with color and light. Huge neon signs stretched two stories high. Every shop was open, their windows filled with Panasonic radios, Sony Walkmans, cameras, VCRs, and TVs. Every third doorway was an entrance to an underground bar or nightclub. Music blared. Attractive, saucer-faced Chinese women in tight, Chinese-style dresses beckoned with coy smiles. In addition to the noise and visual panoply, Marissa was bombarded with an array of smells: a potent combination of food, cooking oil, incense, and diesel exhaust.

  Despite a press of people, Marissa and Tristan were able to talk as they walked, provided they stayed close enough.

  "I've got an idea about contacting the Wing Sin Triad," Tristan said as they waited for a traffic light.

  "Wonderful," Marissa said.

  "What is it?"

  "The concierge
!" Tristan said.

  "Those blokes are supposed to know everything in the city. If he knows where to eat, he probably knows the triads." Tristan flashed a knowing smile.

  Marissa rolled her eyes. As far as she was concerned, it wasn't a masterful suggestion.

  "I have an idea, but not about contacting the triads," Marissa said.

  "It might be helpful to visit one of the big hospitals in town.

  We can find out if TB is currently a problem here in the colony.

  We can even ask if they've seen any TB salpingitis."

  "Good thinking," Tristan said.

  Once they reached their hotel, Tristan insisted they go directly to the concierge's desk. While they waited to speak with him, Marissa began to have second thoughts about questioning the concierge about the triads- She thought it would be like going to New York and asking to get in touch with the Mafia. Excusing herself, she stopped by the front desk for their passports, then went across the lobby to wait in a sitting area.

  "Can I help you?" the concierge asked Tristan in impeccable English.

  "I think so, mate," Tristan said. He looked over his shoulder to make sure no one was listening, then he bent forward.

  "I need some confidential information."

  The Chinese man leaned away from Tristan, eyeing him uneasily. sai'd' I want to talk to somebody in the Wing Sin Triad," Tristan "I've never heard of it, sir," the concierge said.

  "Come on now," Tristan said. He took twenty dollars from his pocket and put it on the desk.

  "I've come a long way."

  "Triads are illegal in Hong Kong," the concierge said. He pushed the money back to Tristan.

  "I don't really care about their legal status," Tristan said.

  "I just want to talk to somebody in the Wing Sin. I need some information. I'm willing to pay."

  "I beg your pardon," the concierge said, "but I don't know anything about triads." He seemed nervous, even edgy.

  Tristan studied the concierge's face for a moment, then nodded.

  "Okay, but why don't I leave this twenty here in case you remember. We'll be here for a few days."

  The concierge looked down at the twenty-dollar bill with disgust.

  It was hardly enough to justify the risk. As far as tips and squeeze were concerned, the Australians were the worst. They truly were barbarians.

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