Vital Signs dmb-2, page 36part #2 of Dr. Marissa Blumenthal Series
"But we'll have to renegotiate my hourly wage."
"I expected as much," Tristan said.
"I'm finally beginning to understand how Hong Kong works." Then, turning to Marissa, he said: "Will that make you feel a little better?"
Marissa nodded, but she still had an uneasy feeling about the proposed venture. Tristan could tell she still wasn't convinced.
"Well," he said.
"If you really don't want to do this, just say the word. We can still catch a plane out of here this afternoon.
I personally think it's less risky than what we've been doing here in Hong Kong. Zur's apparently been doing it for years."
Marissa wasn't sure what she wanted to do. She was anxious about the proposed trip, but she hated the thought of giving up.
Finally she said, "Why don't we go ahead and get the visas. Then later we'll talk about it again."
In a private suite in the Hong Kong and Shanghai Banking Corporation building, Ned Kelly waited patiently to see Harold Pang, one of the Taipans of the city. As the chairman of the board of several corporations, he was one of the most powerful men in the colony. Befitting his station, his was one of the most sumptuous homes on Victoria Peak. Yet in addition to his far flung legitimate business connections, he was also the Dragon Head of the Wing Sin. It was largely due to this illicit position that he'd been able to achieve so much legitimately.
Ned had met Harold on several occasions, both in Hong Kong and in Brisbane. He remembered him as a gentle, cultured man who was a master at tai chi chuan.
"Mr. Pang will see you now," a tall, soft-spoken receptionist said in a sultry voice. Ned saw that the slit of her skin-tight traditional Chinese dress went clear up to her hipbone. He shivered from the effect, wondering how anyone got much work done with her walking around.
Mr. Pang got up from his massive desk when Ned entered his office. Behind him, through floor-to-ceiling glass, was the entire sweep of the harbor with Kowloon and the new territories in the background.
"Welcome, Mr. Kelly," Mr. Pang said.
"G'day, Mr. Pang," Ned said.
"Mr. Charles Lester sends his warmest regyards."
Mr. Pang bowed, then clapped his hands. Almost immediately the receptionist reappeared with an ancient porcelain tea service.
Soon Ned was relaxing on a long leather couch, balancing one of the priceless cups on his knee. He waited until the receptionist withdrew before speaking.
"Mr. Lester wanted me to thank you for the long and profitable business relationship Fertility, Limited, has enjoyed with the Wing Sin."
"It has always been a pleasure," Mr. Pang said.
"As friends, we profit together. It has been a good marriage."
"Mr. Lester has also asked me to request another favor of the Wing Sin," Ned said.
"There are a man and woman in Hong Kong who are interfering in our established business relationship.
They must be eliminated."
"Are these people public figures?" Mr. Pang asked.
"No," Ned said.
"They are only doctors. One is Australian and one American."
"If they are not public figures," Mr. Pang said, "then it will cost only one hundred and fifty thousand Hong Kong dollars."
"Isn't that somewhat high for an old business friend?" Ned asked. He felt a twinge of hope; he knew the figure was less than the bonus he had been offered. He was hoping to pick up the difference.
"Such a price only covers expenses," Mr. Pang said.
"It must be done immediately," he said.
"Then you must go to see the enforcer today," Mr. Pang said.
"This afternoon Mr. Yip is at the Shanghai Shipping Company's container facility in Tai Kok Tsui. He will be expecting you."
Ned bowed. He was relieved. He was also confident. When the Wing Sin promised to do something, it always got done, no matter what.
Bentley pulled the armored Mercedes directly into the receiving dock in the back of the Peninsula Hotel. The early afternoon had passed quickly with the effort of obtaining entry visas for the People's Republic of China. Bentley had proved invaluable. He'd known exactly where to go and had taken them directly to the China Travel Service office as soon as they left Aberdeen. He'd also known where to go to get the necessary passport-style photographs.
Bentley stopped the car and turned around to face his clients.
"Well," he said, "what have you decided?" He knew that Marissa still had reservations about going.
Tristan looked at Marissa, "What's it to be?"
Marissa hesitated. As the business with the visas had progressed, she began to feel better about the venture. After all, they would have the necessary documents. But she still had her doubts.
"Bentley, you'd better wait," Tristan said.
"It appears that we still haven't decided."
Getting out of the car, they walked into the hotel lobby. Tristan went to the front desk and used the safe deposit box to get more money for the captain if they decided to go. While he was occupied, Marissa kept an eye out for the Chinese man who'd attacked them the day before.
After obtaining the money and returning the safe deposit box,
Tristan led Marissa to the elevators. Marissa didn't relax until the elevator doors closed behind them.
"This tension is driving me crazy," she admitted.
"I'm not sure I can take too much more of it."
"Which is another reason to go on the junk," Tristan said.
"As soon as we find out what this is all about, the better. Then we can get out of this place and let them give it back to China."
The elevator arrived on the sixth floor and they stepped out.
They walked slowly to their doors, weighing the pros and cons of going with the Tanka captain.
"Where's the hall porter?" Marissa asked as they neared their doors. She'd grown accustomed to the man's miraculous appearance every time they arrived on the floor.
"That is strange," Tristan said. He looked up and down the hall for signs of the man. Then he spotted the sign hanging from the knob of his door.
"What the hell? Why is there a Do Not Disturb sign on my door?"
"Something's wrong," she said.
Tristan backed away from his door.
"You're right," he said.
Turning, he walked back toward the elevator. Marissa followed him, looking nervously over her shoulder.
They went inside the hall porter's empty cubicle. In the corner they saw a hot plate with a teakettle on it. The kettle was red hot, the water having long since boiled away.
"Something is definitely wrong," Tristan said. Going back to the elevator, he picked up the house phone and asked for security.
Two minutes later the elevator opened and two security men stepped out. One was a muscular Chinese, the other a beefy Englishman.
The security men remembered Marissa and Tristan from the episode in the lobby the day before. With Marissa and Tristan standing to the side, they used their passkey to open Tristan's door.
The room was quiet except for the sound of water running in the bathtub. The connecting door to room 604 was ajar. The bed was stripped. A maid's cleaning cart was pushed to the side.
The Chinese man entered first, then the Englishman. Marissa and Tristan remained on the threshold. The Chinese security man headed for the bathroom while his partner glanced into 604.
"George!" the Chinese man called urgently. George quickly joined his partner at the bathroom door. Both their faces blanched. Then the Englishman turned to Marissa and Tristan, motioning for them to stay where they were. He explained that there had been a death.
Clearly shaken, the two security men left the bathroom and went into 604. Marissa and Tristan exchanged an uneasy glance.
"My God!" the Englishman said.
In a moment, both security men appeared back in 606. The Englishman went to the phone at the desk. After covering the handle of the-receiver with a cloth, he called th
Meanwhile, the Chinese security man approached Marissa and Tristan.
"I'm afraid we have two bodies in here," he said.
"Please, do not touch anything. We don't recognize the man in the other room." Addressing Tristan he said, "Perhaps, sir, you might have a look and see if it is someone you know."
Tristan started forward, but Marissa stopped him by pulling at his arm.
"I'm a doctor," she said to the security man.
"I think I should look as well."
The security man shrugged.
"As you like, madam."
With the security man in the lead, Marissa and Tristan walked into 604.
When Marissa looked down at the body, she gave out a little cry. Her hand went to her mouth in horror. The victim was lying on his back, staring open-eyed at the ceiling. There were two holes in his forehead. On the carpet behind his head was a pool of blood in the form of a dark halo.
"It's Robert!" Marissa gasped.
"It's my husband-Robert!"
Tristan took Marissa in his arms and pulled her away from the grisly sight.
Then they heard a knocking from the closet.
The Chinese security man called to the Englishman. He bounded into the room. The Chinese man pointed at the closet.
They heard the knocking again. Both men went to the door; the key was in the lock. With one standing to the side, the other unlocked the door and yanked it open. Inside they discovered the cowering hall porter.
After some encouragement, the security men managed to coax the porter out into the room. Once he understood that he was safe, he began speaking rapidly in Chinese.
When the porter finally fell silent, the Chinese security guard turned to the other.
"He says the killer threatened him with a gun and made him open the door. He says the killer was a gwedo. e.:
"Ask him to describe the killer," the Englishman said.
"And ask whether he'd seen him before."
The Chinese security guard again addressed the hall porter.
The porter responded with another long harangue. When he was done, the Chinese security guard turned to the others.
"He says that he'd never seen him before, and he can't describe him because all gweilos look the same to him!"
The hotel manager arrived at the door to 606 and called out.
Together, all five of them went through the connecting door and out into the hall.
Marissa was in shock. Tristan stayed by her side, keeping his arms around her. She hadn't said a word from the moment she'd recognized the dead man as Robert. She had no tears. At the moment, all she felt was a severe chill, as if the air conditioning had been turned up too high.
"The police are on their way," the manager said nervously. He was an Italian with a heavy accent.
"Where are the bodies?"
The Chinese security man motioned for the manager to follow him and they made a brief tour. When the manager returned, he had trouble speaking.
"The hotel apologizes for this inconvenience," he said to Marissa and Tristan.
"Especially after the trouble you had only yesterday."
The Englishman leaned over and whispered in the manager's ear. The manager's eyes widened as he listened. He swallowed hard before speaking again.
"I'm so sorry," he said, speaking directly to Marissa.
"I didn't know that you knew the victim. My heartfelt condolences." Then to both Marissa and Tristan he said: "When I spoke to the police a few moments ago, they told me that you are not to be allowed into your rooms. You are not to touch anything. For your comfort,
I've taken the liberty of preparing our Marco Polo for the interim. We will provide whatever you need in the way of toiletries and such."
Fifteen minutes later Marissa and Tristan were escorted to the lavish suite. Marissa sank into an armchair, feeling drained and immobile.
"I can't believe any of this," she finally said, speaking for the first time since seeing Robert's body.
"It's all too fantastic. Why did he come? It's the last thing I'd expected. Especially after our last phone conversation."
"What happened?" Tristan asked, hoping to get her to speak.
He pulled a chair close by her. He reached out and gripped her hand.
Marissa spilled her heart out. Although she'd never made reference to Tristan about her difficulties with Robert, she now admitted that her marriage had seriously deteriorated, especially over the last few months. She told him that Robert had refused to come to Australia after Wendy died. All he wanted her to do was come home. For Robert to come to Hong Kong suddenly was entirely out of character. She buried her face in her hands.
"He wouldn't have been here if it weren't for me."
Tristan shook his head.
"Marissa," he said. It was hard for him to say what was on his mind, but he knew he had to be direct.
"You can't blame yourself for this tragedy. You'll be tempted to, but you mustn't. You're not to blame."
"But I feel so guilty," Marissa said.
"After Wendy, now Robert!
If it weren't for me they would be alive today."
"And if it weren't for me, my wife would be alive today," Tristan said.
"I know how you feel. I've been there. But you didn't make Robert come here. He came of his own accord. You didn't even know he would be here."
"Robert is such a good man. It's too awful. Maybe it wasn't him," she said suddenly.
"Maybe I was wrong."
Tristan eyed Marissa warily. He remembered how strongly he had wished news of his wife's death away. Denial was powerful in the face of such horrendous shocks.
"Call the manager," Marissa said suddenly.
"We have to make sure it was Robert."
"You sure you want me to do that?" Tristan asked.
"Yes," Marissa said, tears welling in her eyes.
Tristan went to the phone by the desk. It took him a few minutes to get the manager on the line. After a brief conversation, he returned to his chair.
"The name in the wallet and on the passport was Robert Buchanan," Tristan said softly.
Marissa stared at Tristan with unseeing eyes. For a few moments, she didn't say anything.
"I can still see him clearly," she said at last. Her voice was flat and lifeless.
"I can see him at his computer. Whenever he worked he always had the same expression."
"I know," Tristan murmured. Watching Marissa brought back memories of his own. He knew what she was going through.
"What time is it now on the East Coast of the United States?"
Tristan studied his watch.
"Between three and four A.M." I believe," he said.
"I have to make some calls," Marissa said. She stood up and walked into the bedroom to use the phone by the bed.
Tristan let her go. He didn't know what to do. He was concerned about Marissa's mental state. Robert's murder had to be a horrendous blow. He would have to keep a close eye on her.
More than anything, he would try to get her to express her grief.
Marissa first called her parents in Virginia. Her mother offered for them to come to Hong Kong immediately, but Marissa told her not to. She would come home as soon as the authorities allowed.
Hanging up, Marissa tried to gather her courage for an even more difficult phone call. She knew she had to call her mother-inlaw, and she knew how much the news would devastate her.
Marissa wouldn't blame her if she held her responsible for Robert's death. But to her surprise, Mrs. Buchanan had no words of criticism for her. After an awful silence, she simply informed Marissa that she would come to Hong Kong immediately. Marissa didn't try to talk her out of it. By the time she hung up the phone, Tristan was in the doorway.
"Sorry to disturb you," he said, "but that bloody porn police inspector is here to talk with us and he
The police inspector stayed for almost an hour, taking statements from both Marissa and Tristan. He told them that there would be a thorough investigation and that they would not have access to their belongings until it was completed. He apologized profusely for any inconvenience. He also informed them that there would be an autopsy on both victims and a formal inquest, and that they were not to leave the colony until the formalities were completed.
After the police inspector left, Marissa and Tristan sat alone.
Tristan took the opportunity to try to get her to talk about her feelings.
"I just feet numb," Marissa said.
"I have trouble believing it has really happened."
"Maybe we should do something," Tristan said.
"Instead of just sitting here."
"I think it might help to get out of this hotel," Marissa said.
"Good idea," Tristan said, glad to hear Marissa make any kind of suggestion.
"We'll move to another hotel." He got to his feet, wondering which one to choose. Only then did he remember Captain Fa-Huang.
"I have a better idea," he said.
"What about going on the junk? We need to do something. We need something to occupy our minds."
"I'd forgotten about the junk trip," Marissa said.
"I don't think I'm up to it. Not now."
"Marissa!" Tristan said.
"Too much has happened for us not to follow the trail to its conclusion." He stepped over to her and grabbed her shoulders.
"Let's do it! Let's get even with these bastards."
Marissa's head was spinning. She couldn't even look at Tristan.
Sometimes she thought he was crazy.
"Come on, Marissa!" Tristan urged.
"Let's not let them get away with this."
Finally she looked up at him. She could feel his determination.
She didn't have the strength to argue or even resist.
"All right," she said.
"At this moment I feel as if I have nothing to lose."
"Good show!" Tristan cried. He gave her a forceful hug, then leaped to his feet. He looked at his watch.
"We don't have a lot of time!" Rushing over to the phone, he called room service and ordered a number of boxed lunches as well as bottled water.
As soon as their order came, Marissa and Tristan descended to the lobby and exited through the service entrance as they had that morning. Bentley had moved the Mercedes to the alley. He was reading a newspaper while he waited. Tristan opened the rear door for Marissa, then ran around and jumped in the other side.
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