Vital signs dmb 2, p.32

Vital Signs dmb-2, page 32

 part  #2 of  Dr. Marissa Blumenthal Series


Vital Signs dmb-2

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  I've always had a dislike for guns." Nervously, Tristan glanced over his shoulder. He was relieved to see no one was following them down the narrow street.

  "I've got to sit down for a moment," Marissa said. With all her infertility treatments and little or no exercise, she wasn't in shape for this kind of exertion. Just ahead there was a tea shop with gleaming pots hanging above a beaded doorway. She pointed.

  "How about something to drink?"

  After another look behind them, Tristan reluctantly agreed.

  The tea shop occupied a windowless room that looked more like a storeroom than a public space. The tables were worn, unfinished wood. A handful of customers were seated at several.

  In the usual Chinese tradition, they spoke at a level just below a shout. Combining the loud conversation with the de rigueur Chinese music blaring from a tiny Panasonic, the atmosphere was hardly restful. Even so, Marissa was pleased to sit down. Her legs ached and she had a pain in her side.

  The proprietor eyed them suspiciously. He walked over to them and addressed them in guttural Chinese.

  "Sorry, mate," Tristan said.

  "Don't speak Chinese. How about a cup pa tea. Any kind. You choose."

  The man looked at Tristan without comprehension. Tristan mimed tea drinking, then pointed to the other customers. Apparently understanding, the man disappeared through a back doorway covered with strings of beads matching those that hung in the entrance from the street.

  "Convenient there were no police around," Marissa said sarcastically, her chest still heaving.

  "We've been in Hong Kong for less than twenty-four hours and we've had to run for our lives twice. Neither time have we seen a single policeman."

  "I warned you that this trip wouldn't be a proper holiday, Tristan said.

  "Should we go to the police now?" Marissa asked.

  "I don't know what we'd tell them," Tristan said.

  "Besides, they certainly wouldn't be apt to help us find the Wing Sin."

  "Maybe we're in over our heads," Marissa said.

  "That's obvious." Tristan turned around and looked for the proprietor.

  "Where in blazes is our tea?"

  Marissa wasn't concerned. She didn't care about the tea particularly.

  Tristan stood up.

  "Hong Kong is a place of extremes," he said.

  "Orders come instantly or take forever." He walked toward the curtain the proprietor had disappeared through. Parting the beads he looked within. Then he returned to the table and sat down.

  "There's a bevy of scraggly old guys in there smoking pipes," he said.

  "I think we've stumbled onto one of the old-fashioned opium dens the authorities tolerate for the sake of a handful of aged addicts. Opium is one of the grimiest and most despicable legacies of British colonial history, yet it provided the basis for the founding of Hong Kong."

  "Should we go?" Marissa asked. At the moment she wasn't interested in history.

  "Whenever you're ready."

  "How are we going to get out of here?" Marissa asked.

  "We'll skirt around through these back streets," Tristan said.

  "When we get to that large thoroughfare we ran across, we'll snag a taxi."

  "Let's do it," Marissa said.

  "The sooner I get back to the hotel the better I'll feel."

  Tristan pulled the table back for Marissa to stand. Getting to her feet, she stretched each of her aching legs, then walked stiff legged to the door and ducked through the beads. When Tristan did the same he bumped into her. Marissa was frozen. Directly in front of the tea house was a black limousine.

  The three men in dark blue suits who had been chasing them earlier were casually lounging around the car in various states of repose. Spotting Tristan and Marissa, the man near the front of the car straightened up. Marissa recognized him as the one who'd posed as Freddie. His snub-nosed revolver wasn't in evidence.

  Instead, he had a more serious-looking machine pistol dangling at his side.

  Tristan grabbed Marissa's wrist and turned back into the restaurant only to see its heavy wooden door slam shut in his face.

  He was about to try to force it open when he heard the locks on the other side slide into place.

  With resignation, Tristan turned back to the street.

  "Please," the man with the machine pistol said. He motioned toward the back of the car. Tristan saw a large tear at the elbow of the man's suit. He guessed it happened when he'd knocked him down.

  At first neither Tristan nor Marissa moved. But the man with the gun would no longer tolerate delay. A short burst of fire from his machine pistol against the pavement was a forceful persuader.

  Bullets ricocheted haphazardly down the street, forcing the MahJongg players to dive for cover. This was a man who could be casual about killing.

  After that display, Marissa and Tristan complied with his wish.

  They approached the car's rear door, but the man with the gun shook his head. With his gun, he motioned toward the back of the car. One of the other men unlocked the trunk and lifted the hood.

  "You want us in the boot?" Tristan asked.

  "Please," the man with the gun said.

  "This should be cozy," Tristan said is he climbed into the small space and curled up. Marissa hesitated, but followed suit, curling up against Tristan.

  Then the hood was slammed, plunging them into complete darkness.

  "First time I've ever embraced a woman in a boot," Tristan said. His right arm was draped around Marissa's body.

  "Can't you be serious for once?" Marissa said.

  "Kind of like a couple of kippered herrings in a tin," Tristan said. They heard the car engine start, then they lurched forward as the limo proceeded down the narrow alley.

  "The expression is 'sardines in a can,"

  " Marissa said.

  "Not where I grew up," Tristan said.

  "Tris, I'm scared," Marissa said, fighting tears.

  "What if we suffocate in here? I've always been terrified of tight places."

  "Close your eyes," Tristan suggested.

  "That will help a bit.

  Just breathe normally. Smothering's not our worry. It's where they're taking us."

  To help mitigate Marissa's claustrophobia, Tristan chatted on about anything he could think of.

  After innumerable turns, starts, and stops, the car came to a final halt and the engine cut off. Marissa and Tristan could hear the car doors open and close. A few seconds later, the trunk was unlocked and the hood was raised.

  The same three men were staring down at them.

  "Out of the car, please," the man with the gun said.

  A bedraggled Marissa climbed from the trunk, followed by Tristan. They were inside a huge warehouse piled high with seagoing containers.

  "Move," the man with the gun said. He pointed to a space between two containers.

  Tristan put his arm around Marissa. With shared terror, they walked together in the direction indicated, worrying what was about to happen. Beyond the containers was a closed door. They stopped, waiting for further instructions. One of their abductors opened the door and motioned them inside.

  Entering through the door, Marissa and Tristan found themselves in a long hallway. Following unspoken commands, they walked to the end of the corridor before being stopped before a blank door. One of the men knocked. From within someone replied in Chinese, and the door was opened.

  Marissa and Tristan were pushed inside.

  The room looked like an office, complete with a desk, file cabinets, office equipment, bulletin boards, and huge calendars with photographs of oceangoing vessels. At the desk was a Chian somewhat older than the three who had abducted nese m Marissa and Tristan. He was immaculately dressed in a white silk suit with gold cuff links and tie tack His coal-black hair was brushed back from his forehead and held in place with lacquer like hair spray. Another Chinese man in a gray business suit stood at his side.

  As Marissa and Tristan we
re nudged before the desk, the man in the white suit leaned back, putting his hands behind his head.

  He studied Marissa and Tristan from head to toe. Then he rocked forward, propping his elbows on a large ledger open on his desk.

  The man spoke in rapid Chinese. Immediately several of the men in the blue suits stepped forward and searched Marissa and their wallets and watches and put them on Tristan. They removed the desk. Then they stepped back.

  As if he had all the time in the world, the man in the white suit fit a cigarette. He clamped it between his teeth like a cigar.

  Cocking his head to the side to keep the smoke from his eyes, he picked up the wallets and went through them, looking at pictures and credit cards. What money was there he removed and put on the desk. Then he looked up at Marissa and Tristan.

  "We are curious as to why you have been asking about the Wing Sin," he said in perfect English with an English public school accent.

  "Triads are against the law in Hong Kong. It is dangerous to talk about them."

  "We are doctors," Marissa said before Tristan could respond.

  "All we are interested in is information. We are trying to investigate a disease."

  "A disease?" the man asked with disbelief.

  "Tuberculosis," Marissa said.

  "We're trying to follow the trail of a certain type of infection of tuberculosis that has been showing up in the United States, Europe, and Australia."

  The man in the white suit laughed.

  "What is this?" he questioned.

  "Triads are now being looked to for medical knowledge?

  What an irony! Politicians have been calling the triads a disease for years."

  "We're not after medical knowledge from the Wing Sin," Tristan said.

  "Just information about illegal aliens that the Wing Sin has been bringing out of the People's Republic of China for an Australian company called Female Care Australia or Fertility, Limited."

  The man in the white suit eyed both foreigners.

  "The astonishing thing about this conversation is that I believe you," he said with another, less humorous laugh.

  "What you are saying is so preposterous, no one would be capable of making it up. Of course, true or not, it does not absolve you from the dangers inherent in talking about the Wing Sin in public."

  "We're willing to pay for information," Tristan said.

  "Oh!" the man in the white suit said. He smiled as did his henchmen.

  "You Australians have a commendable way of striking to the heart of a matter. And since everything in Hong Kong is for sale, perhaps we might be able to do business. In fact, if you were to offer something small like ten thousand dollars Hong Kong, I'd be willing to make a few inquiries and see what I could find out for you. No guarantees, of course."

  "How about five thousand," Tristan countered.

  The man in the white suit laughed again, "I admire your courage," he said.

  "But you are not in a bargaining position. Ten thousand."

  "All right," Tristan said.

  "When do we get our information?"

  "Meet me at the top of Victoria Peak at ten tomorrow morning," the man in the white suit said.

  "Be sure to take the tram."

  "Fine," Tristan said. He stepped forward and reached for Marissa's and his wallets and watches.

  The man at the desk deflected Tristan's hand. Then he picked up the wallets and handed them to him.

  "The money and the watches, unfortunately, we'll have to keep," he said.

  "I'm sorry, but it is a bit of booty for my men for bringing you to me. The money we can consider as down payment for the ten thousand dollars." He then shuffled through the cash and pulled out a single ten-dollar bill. He handed that to Tristan.

  "For travel expenses from the dropoff point."

  Tristan took the bill.

  "Thanks, mate, kind of you. But tell me, are you a member of the Wing Sin?"

  "Knowing you are unfamiliar with civilized behavior coming, as you do, from Australia, I will forgive you for asking such a question. I should also like to warn you to avoid the police between now and our meeting. You will be watched. I will see you tomorrow with the money."

  With a mere wave of his hand, the three men in suits came forward and escorted Marissa and Tristan out of the room. As they exited, the man in the white suit went back to his ledger book.

  "Friendly bloke," Tristan commented with obvious sarcasm as they marched down the long corridor and out into the warehouse.

  At the car they paused.

  "Not in the boot again, mate!" Tristan said as one of the men raised the trunk hood.

  In the same position as they'd arrived but with a bit less apprehension, Marissa and Tristan were motored out of the warehouse.

  "I could learn to like this mode of transport," Tristan said, snuggling up closer against Marissa.

  "Tris!" Marissa said.

  "Come on. Talk to me like you did before. It took my mind off being shut in here."

  "Well, for one thing," Tristan said, "it's obvious why they put us back in here. They don't want us to know where this warehouse is located."

  "Tell me more about your childhood," Marissa said.

  After clearing his throat, Tristan obliged her.

  The second trip was much shorter than the first. In fact, when the trunk hood was raised they were surprised, not only because so little time had passed, but also because the motor of the sedan was still running.

  Getting out into the harsh sunlight, Marissa and Tristan squinted as they tried to get their bearings. They were on a city street in front of the Mong Kok entrance to the Hong Kong subway. A few pedestrians stopped and gawked at them momentarily, but then moved on. It was enough to make Marissa wonder if it was common to see people climbing out of the trunk of a car in Hong Kong.

  The men in the blue suits did not say a word. They calmly got back into the car and drove off.

  "So much for an interesting morning," Tristan said.

  "How about going back to the hotel?"

  "Please!" Marissa said.

  "I'm a nervous wreck. I don't know how you can be so calm. Feel me, I'm shaking." Marissa put her hand on Tristan's forearm.

  "You are shaking!" Tristan said.

  "I'm sorry for putting you through all this, but at least we've now made contact. Maybe things will go better from now on. Provided, of course, that you want to go on."

  "I think so," Marissa said. She didn't sound certain.

  "But I don't think I could handle another chase."

  They descended into the MTR. They were pleased to find it clean and bright. The ride to the Tsirn Sha Tsui station was rapid, comfortable, and-better still-uneventful.

  From the MTR station it was only a short walk back to the hotel. Passing one of the many jewelry stores along the way, Marissa jokingly mentioned that they needed new watches again.

  "If this keeps up," Tristan said, "keeping us in watches will be the dearest part of the whole trip."

  Stopping at a traffic light, Tristan took Marissa's arm and leaned over to talk into her ear.

  "I hate to alarm you again, but I think we are being followed. There are two men behind us, dressed like the ones who chased us. They've been with us since the underground."

  "Oh, no!" she said.

  "What should we do? I'm not running. I can't."

  Tristan straightened up.

  "Relax!" he said.

  "We're not running; in fact, we're not going to do anything. The man in the white suit told us we'd be watched. These men behind us are probably his men. I suppose the only thing we shouldn't do is talk to any policemen."

  Marissa's eyes roamed the busy intersection. In contrast to all their prior experience, there were now plenty of policemen. In their smart blue uniforms, they confidently patrolled the streets.

  "Where were these guys when we needed them?" Marissa asked.

  "This is a tourist area," Tristan explained.

  Reaching the h
otel, they paused as the doorman graciously bowed and pulled the door open for them.

  "I want to stop at the front desk," Tristan said as they entered.

  "I've got to get more oney out of the safe deposit box. I'd also like to go over and give that concierge a king hit. I have a feeling he's the one who tipped off the triad. And to think he took my twenty dollars to boot."

  "Don't cause any scenes," Marissa said, taking his arm to press her point. Knowing Tristan, she wouldn't have been surprised if he'd walked over and slugged the man.

  Together they stepped up to the marble-topped counter. While Tristan vied for the attention of one of the hotel staff, Marissa's gaze roamed around the lobby. As usual, it was crowded. High tea in the elegant lobby had been a tradition at the Peninsula for over half a century. Jeweled women and men dressed to the nines were seated at cloth-covered tables. Waiters with white gloves scurried back and forth from the kitchen. Trolleys of confections and pastries were wheeled through the elegant set. Classical piano music provided the ultimate touch.

  Suddenly Marissa's grip on Tristan's arm tightened enough for him to wince.

  "Tristan!" Marissa gasped.

  "There is a man coming this way. A man that I think I recognize."

  Marissa's eyes had originally passed over this man as just another face in the crowd. But then her mind had forced her eyes back to look at him more closely. There was something about his face and the way he wore his coal-black hair that had jogged her memory. She'd watched him put down his paper and stand up.

  She'd seen him look at her and then start across the room. She'd seen his hand go inside his jacket. That had been when she'd ripped Tristan's arm.

  "Who's that, luv?" Tristan asked.

  "He's headed our way," Marissa whispered.

  "The Chinese man in the gray suit. I've seen him before. I think he's the man who threw the chum in the water when Wendy died!"

  Tristan's eyes swept the lobby. There were so many people. But he quickly picked out the Chinese man elbowing his way through the milling crowd. His right hand was thrust into his jacket. He appeared to be holding something.

  Tristan sensed danger was at hand. There was something volatile in the way the man was approaching them. Tristan felt he had to do something. There was no time to flee, especially with the crowds pressing in on them. Behind him he could hear the assistant hotel manager calling his name. The Chinese man was only ten feet away. He was almost on them. He seemed to be smiling.

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