Vital signs dmb 2, p.33

Vital Signs dmb-2, page 33

 part  #2 of  Dr. Marissa Blumenthal Series


Vital Signs dmb-2

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  The hand in his jacket started to move. Tristan saw a glint of metal.

  With a high-pitched yell, Tristan pushed off the hotel desk and tackled the man. In the last instant before he made contact, Tristan saw the gun coming from beneath the man's lapel, but Tristan collided with the man before he had pulled the gun free.

  The force of Tristan's momentum carried them both backward to slam into a large round marble-topped table. The table tipped over, sending china and cakes flying in every direction. The eight people who'd been seated at the table were hurled to the floor.

  In an instant, panic spread. What had moments ago been a scene of utter decorum now gave way to pandemonium. People scattered, some screaming, others simply running for cover.

  Tristan was only interested in the gun. As he and the Chinese man rolled off the upended table, Tristan managed to grab the man's wrist. The gun fired, sending a shot into the gilded ceiling.

  Attempting to use a kung fu move, Tristan was shocked to find himself thwarted, his opponent as fast and as practiced as he.

  Giving up on martial arts, Tristan bit the man's arm. Only then did the gun clatter to the floor.

  But biting the man caused Tristan to lose his position. The stranger took full advantage, flipping Tristan over his shoulder.

  Tristan cushioned himself as best he could as he crashed to the floor with a thud. As soon as he hit, he rolled to avoid being kicked. Then he bounced to his feet, assuming a crouched position.

  But before he could move he felt himself seized from behind by several other men.

  In front of him, Tristan saw the Chinese man back away.

  Another man tried to restrain him, but the Chinese executed a perfect kung fu move, sending the interloper to the floor with a crushing kick to the chest. The Chinese man made a run for the front door, darting through panicked hotel guests. Once outside, he melted instantly into the large crowd that had formed in front of the hotel.

  Tristan did not struggle against the men holding him. Having noticed the small radio transmitters on their belts and earpieces in their ears, he was confident they were hotel security people.

  Marissa. ran over and demanded that Tristan be released. She even started to tug on the house detectives' arms when they ignored her. But the assistant manager had an immediate effect.

  Having witnessed the whole episode, he had Tristan immediately released.

  Marissa threw her arms around Tristan's neck, and pressed herself against him.

  "Are you all right? Are you hurt?"

  "Just my pride," Tristan said.

  "The bloke was better at kung fu than I was."

  "Should we have you see the house doctor?" the assistant manager asked.

  "Don't bother," Tristan said, motioning toward Marissa.

  "This is all the treatment I need." Marissa. was still holding him tight with her head buried against his chest.

  "How did you know the man was armedT' the assistant manager asked.

  "Just an Aussie's sixth sense," Tristan said..

  "The hotel owes you something for your bravery," the assistant manager said, "Undoubtedly that man was planning on a robbery of some sort."

  "A liquid reward wouldn't be refused," Tristan said.

  "Do you people have any Foster's?" He put his arms around Marissa and squeezed her back.

  Once he got out of the hotel, Willy turned right and slowed his pace to a rapid walk. He didn't want to draw attention to himself by running. His desired destination was the crowded Star Ferry terminal. When he reached it, he was relieved to lose himself in the throng. Hundreds of people were milling about waiting for the next ferry, which was just then nosing into the pier.

  After the Kowloon-bound passengers were allowed to disembark, those waiting were allowed to board. Willy let himself be swept along by the human tide.

  He remained on the lower deck with the majority of the people.

  He stayed close to a large family, as if he were a member. No one seemed to think twice about his presence. After the short ten minute trip, Willy disembarked and walked up toward the Mandarin


  The Mandarin was in the same category as the Peninsula. He

  Sknew he'd have no difficulty making an overseas call from there.

  The problem wasn't making the call, but rather that it would be so unpleasant. It was Willy's first major failure, and he wasn't pleased.

  Before he entered the Mandarin Hotel, he took advantage of his reflection in a store window to straighten his clothes and comb his hair. Once he felt he looked presentable, he went into the lobby. Downstairs, in a room just outside the men's room, he found a bank of telephones affording some privacy. Taking a deep breath, he rang Charles Lester.

  "The Blumenthal woman is here," Willy said as soon as he had Lester on the phone.

  "I know," Lester said.

  "Ned found out through emigration.

  She took a flight from Brisbane."

  "I tried to have a conference with the interested parties a few. minutes ago," Willy said, using their established patois in case, they were overheard.

  "But things went badly. I failed. The Williams fellow was uncooperative and actively canceled the meeting before I could use my material."

  Willy held the phone away from his ear as a string of Australian expletives sizzled over the line. Once he heard Lester revert to a more normal pitch, he put the phone back to his ear.

  "The situation keeps getting worse and worse," Lester complained.

  "It will be much harder to have a conference now," Willy admitted.

  "Everyone will expect us. But if you would like, I'll do my best to arrange another meeting."

  "No!" Lester said.

  "I'll have Ned come and have the meeting.

  He has more practice. All I want you to do is make sure that these customers don't get away. Watch the hotel. If they change hotels, follow them. It would only exacerbate the problem if we lose contact with the Blumenthal woman in Hong Kong."

  "I also lost the material I was going to show them," Willy said.

  "It was left at the conference site."

  "Then you'll have to get some more," Lester said.

  "Was what you had adequate?"

  "It was perfect," Willy said.

  "Absolutely perfect."

  The Royal Hong Kong police inspector was what Tristan called a "bloody porn" when he described him to Marissa later on. He even looked British with his gray skin tones and his baggy

  English suit, complete with a vest and fob. He and Tristan were sitting in the manager's office of the Peninsula Hotel.

  "Let us go over this again," the inspector said in his clipped English accent.

  "You'd just handed over your safe deposit key when you became aware of this gentleman of Oriental appearance approaching you."

  "That's right, mate," Tristan said. He knew his jocular Australian phraseology would grate on the inspector's nerves. It was purposeful torture. The police inspector had been grating on him for almost two hours.

  Tristan tried to be patient. He knew that the reason the inspector was making a fuss over the incident was because the police didn't like to have trouble in an area so crucial to tourism, particularly tourism in a place as posh as the Peninsula Hotel.

  At that point you turned around and saw the man coming at you," the inspector continued.

  "That's right," Tristan said. It was the twentieth time they'd gone over this.

  "How did you know he was approaching you rather than someone else?" the inspector asked.

  "He was looking directly at me," Tristan said.

  "Giving me the evil eye," Tristan glowered at the inspector in mock imitation.

  "Yes, of course," the inspector said.

  "But you had never seen this man before?"

  "Never"' Tristan said with emphasis. He knew this was the point of particular interest to the police. But Tristan had not been willing to divulge that it had been Marissa who had recognized the man
. As long as the police failed to question Marissa, they d never find out. Tristan didn't want to admit to everything he knew, fearing that if he did so, the meeting with the Wing Sin the following morning would be compromised.

  Finally, after two hours, the inspector gave up, but he concluded by saying that he might want to question Tristan further and that Tristan should stay in Hong Kong until further notice.

  Immediately upon his release Tristan went to the house phone and called Marissa.

  "I'm free at last," he said.

  "Let's celebrate by going out and replacing our watches!"

  They went back to the same jewelry store where they'd gotten the first replacements. The second time around, Tristan insisted on an even better deal than before. After a brief protest, the clerk obliged.

  Returning to their rooms, they locked themselves in. They decided to stay in for the remainder of the day. Not having eaten since breakfast, the first thing they did was order food.

  While they waited for room service they sat by the window in front of the spectacular view.

  "Hong Kong's beauty reminds me of the Great Barrier Reef," Marissa said, gazing out the window.

  "Its splendor masks its violent eat-or-be-eaten core."

  Tristan nodded.

  "As the man in the white suit said, everything is for sale. Everything!"

  "Do you think he'll still show?" Marissa asked.

  "I wonder if the Wing Sin will learn of your two hours with the police?"

  "I don't know," Tristan said.

  "But you can bet that episode in the lobby will make the newspapers. So he'll read about it and at least we'll have an excuse."

  Marissa sighed.

  "What an experience Hong Kong has been. I know you warned me, but I could never have imagined what we've had to go through. I'm a nervous wreck. I'm afraid to leave the hotel, Hock, I'm afraid to go down to the lobby. Just getting these new watches was an ordeal. I kept expecting something dreadful to happen."

  "I know how you feel," Tristan said.

  "Remember, we can always just leave. We don't have to see this through."

  "I suppose we could," Marissa said halfheartedly.

  For a few minutes Marissa and Tristan watched the harbor in silence.

  "I think I want to keep going," Marissa said at last. She straightened up in her seat.

  "As much as all this terrifies me, I can't give up, not now. I'd never be able to live with myself. I can't help but feel we're close to figuring it all out. Besides, every time I close my eyes, I see Wendy."

  "And I see my wife," Tristan said.

  "I know I'm not supposed to say this, but being with you reminds me of her. Please don't take offense; I'm not making conscious comparisons. It's not that you look like her or even act like her. It's something else, something about the way you make me feel." Tristan surprised himself

  It wasn't like him to be so up front about how he was feeling.

  Marissa gazed into Tristan's blue eyes. She could only imagine the anguish the man must have suffered when his wife died.

  "I won't take offense," she said.

  "In fact, I'll take it as a compliment."

  "It was meant as one," Tristan said. Then he smiled self%41 consciously and looked away toward the door.

  "Where the devil is that food? I'm famished."

  During their meal, they remembered Freddie, the limo driver.

  They wondered what had happened to him. They hoped he was all right. They couldn't believe that he was comp licit in their kidnapping, but then again, in Hong Kong everything had its price.

  "Talking about Freddie reminds me," Tristan said.

  "If we're going to persist in this, I think we should hire another car and get a driver who could double as a bodyguard."

  "And who speaks Cantonese," Marissa added.

  "There've alreaay been several times when that would have been helpful."

  "Maybe if we're lucky he'll let us ride in the trunk," Tristan teased.

  Marissa smiled. How Tristan could keep his sense of humor through all this was beyond her.

  After they finished their meal, they pushed the table aside and returned to the chairs by the window. Marissa sipped the remains of her wine while Tristan enjoyed another can of Foster's Lager the hotel had managed to find for him.

  Marissa's thoughts had drifted back to the incident in the lobby.

  "If that Chinese man downstairs was the same one who threw the chum in the water back in Australia, then he must be in the employ of Female Care Australia."

  "That's what I assumed," Tristan said.

  "They must really want us out of the way. They must be desperate, especially to try to shoot us in public like that. With Wendy they went to great pains to make it look like an accident."

  "The irony is they must think we know more than we do," Tristan said. "if I were they and I knew how little we know, I wouldn't bother with us."

  "Maybe they're not as afraid of what we know as what we could find out," Marissa sighed.

  "I wonder how he tracked us down."

  "That's another good question," Tristan said.

  "Maybe we should change hotels."

  "I don't think it would make much difference," Tristan said.

  "This city seems to have an information underground. Take the proprietor of that tea sho, for instance; obviously he let the Wing Sin know we were there. I bet that if we change hotels, it wouldn't remain a secret, not for long. At least here the security people are on the alert and will recognize the fellow who tried to attack us if he tries to come back."

  "And we'll have to be very careful," Marissa said, "especially tomorrow morning when we rendezvous with the man in the white suit."

  "My thoughts exactly," Tristan said.

  "I think we can assume that his loyalty will lie with whoever pays him the most squeeze.

  We might have to take more than the agreed-upon ten thousand Hong Kong."

  "Can you afford this, Tris?" Marissa asked.

  Tristan laughed.

  "It's only money," he said.


  April 19,1990 8:47 A.M.

  Dressed in his Sunday best and carrying a bouquet off flowers, Ned Kelly walked along Salisbury Road taking in the sights. He'd been to Hong Kong on a number of occasions. As always, he enjoyed the colorful scenery. He'd gotten in late the night before and had stayed at the Regent Hotel, thanks to Charles Lester. Ned had never stayed in such luxurious accommodations.

  His only regret was that he'd arrived so late, he'd not been able to take advantage of any of the sizzling nightlife the Tsim Sha Tsui had to offer, As he approached the Peninsula Hotel, he began to look in the parked cars for Willy Tong. That had been the instructions. He found him sitting in a green Nissan Stanza parked in front of the Space Museum directly across from the hotel. Ned opened the passenger door and slid in on the front seat.

  "You look smashing, mate," Willy said.

  "The flowers for me?"

  "I do look good, don't IT' Ned said, pleased with his Harris tweed jacket, gabardine slacks, and brown loafers. He laid the flowers on the backseat.

  "What's the lay of the land?"

  "It's been quiet since the uproar I caused," Willy said.

  "I don't know what could have happened. It was a perfect setup. The lobby was crowded just the way you told me was best. I was no more than two or three paces away from Williams when he whirled and attacked me!"

  "Bad luck!" Ned said.

  "Was the woman there?"

  "Of course," Willy said.

  "She was standing right next to him.

  In another ten seconds I'd have shot both of them."

  "Maybe she recognized you from the boat," Ned said.

  "Anyway, it doesn't matter. They still in the hotel?"

  "Yes," Willy said.

  "I've been here most of the night. I tried calling again and was immediately put through. They haven't moved."

  "That's nice," Ned said.

>   "What about the gun?"

  "I got it," Willy said. He leaned in front of Ned and snapped open the glove compartment. He took a handgun out and handed it butt first to Ned.

  Ned whistled.

  "A Heckler and Koch!" he said.

  "My, my, this is first class. What about the silencer?"

  Willy reached back into the glove compartment and handed Ned a small rectangular box. Ned opened the box and unwrapped the silencer.

  "There's something nice about using new equipment," Ned said.

  "One thing about FCA. They go first class on everything."

  Ned screwed the silencer into the pistol. It lengthened the barrel by a third. Then he snapped out the magazine and checked the shells. After making sure the chamber was empty, Ned cocked the gun and pulled the trigger. It had a nice, full-bodied click.

  "Perfect," he said.

  Replacing the clip and ramming it home, Ned cocked the pistol. It was ready for action.

  Twisting in his seat, he eyed Willy.

  "This is not going to take long. I want you to pull the car over there in front of the hotel and have the engine running. Give me about five minutes before you come over, understand?"

  "Righto," Willy said eagerly.

  "I'm off," Ned said. He moved forward on the seat and slipped the gun into his belt at the small of his back. Reaching into the backseat, he lifted the bouquet. Then he got out of the car.

  Hesitating before he crossed the road, he leaned into the car through the open window.

  "I haven't seen this Williams fellow for several years," Ned said.

  "Will I recognize him?"

  "I think so," Willy said.

  "He's about your height, sandy blond hair, angular features. Looks more like a stockman than an MD. "Got it," Ned said. He was about to leave when Willy caught his attention.

  "You won't have any trouble recognizing the woman, will you?" Willy asked.

  "Especially not if she's in her bathers," Ned said with a wink.

  Ned dodged the traffic on Salisbury Road, mindful of the gun tucked in his belt. He didn't want to dislodge it.


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