Sunday, February 01, 2009

Season One, Episode Fourteen: The First Elder

Charlo' returned to their room at the Brother Hotel at 9 p.m. She found Markus changing, preparing to go out.
‘How was Taipei 101?’
‘Awesome. The tallest building in the world. The mall was too expensive for me though. I thought everything in Taiwan was cheap.’
He let that one go.
‘There is one in Dubai that's taller. It's called the Burj Dubai, 160 floors high. But since it's not completed yet, this one is still officially the tallest one.’
‘I see you've done your research. Anything else while I was away?’
She picked up the book from the sofa. American Gods by Neil Gaiman.
‘So are you going somewhere?’ she asked as he was rifling through his bag. ‘Without me?’
He picked out the statuette of the three Chinese men, the thing he called the Three Elders.
‘We're going somewhere, so get ready,’ he said.
‘I only just got back. Can't I get some rest for a change.’
‘Later. We've got an appointment.’

Markus marched around the Renai Circle, looking into a side alley for a pub he used to know, but it was no longer around. Fancy French bakeries and Japanese design stores were the new standards around here. The circle was a major traffic intersection on Taipei's tony east side. Charlo' walked behind him, as if they were on separate trips. She had had no time to change, so she felt sweaty and self-conscious in her pink T-shirt and jeans. She wasn't dressed for an important visit, but maybe the target of their visit wouldn't mind.
Markus kept looking left and right, as if lost. Asian cities changed much faster than American ones, and Markus Bentley had been away from Taiwan for at least five years. He looked foolish, but then Charlo' couldn't know.
He stepped into an alley where local couples were leaving a restaurant through a garish red gate. Charlo' didn't read Chinese characters, and she wondered whether Markus could.
He turned right, she followed. He turned left, she followed. Several times, she had to press herself against parked motorcycles as some black limousine worked its way through the narrow alleys built for, well, motorcycles.
It was 10 o'clock sharp when she saw Markus stop outside the doorway to a five-floor apartment building and press the bell. She couldn't hear what he was saying, but she slowed down, as he had told her to. The buzzer rang, he went in, and turned around, motioning at her.
‘I'm in?’ she asked.
‘You're in. But don't say too much. Don't say anything about what we did back home together.’
A concierge in the marble and gilt lobby gave them a magnetic card that allowed them to take the elevator up to the fourth.
The welcome was warm. A bulky man in a Hawaiian shirt, about sixty, long gray hair and a beard covering his smile. He embraced Markus in the doorway and then let them in.
‘I am Lassiter, so you can call me Lass,’ he told Charlo' as he shook her hand.
The apartment had bright white walls, but dark wooden furniture, most of it Chinese, giving the place the appearance of an antiques store. Lassiter signaled them to sit down on a cream leather couch, while he disappeared out of view for a minute before coming back with three bowls filled with a dark brew.
‘Red bean soup, the best sweet in the world. Watch it, it's hot,’ he told Charlo' with a smile.
The conversation was thin, the brew wasn't. Lassiter and Bentley obviously were aficionados, Charlo' was the newcomer to Chinese food, the odd one out.
‘We have something in common,’ Markus said when the two men were reaching the bottom of their bowls.
He pulled the statuette out of his bag and put it in the middle of the table. Lassiter stared at it with an expressionless face and turned back into an adjacent room. He returned with what looked like a precise copy of the same Three Elders.
‘Where did you get yours from?’ Lass asked.
‘My sister gave it to me before she died.’
Lass looked taken aback but didn't say a word.
‘Your sister died, my condolences,’ he said, as an afterthought. ‘Who told you?’
‘A man came to my house one morning with a laptop showing what happened.’
‘You mean like on YouTube? What did he look like? Who was he?’
Markus gave the story of the man in the car who deposited the computer at his place, and continued with the visit later that morning.
‘He was really messed up. Blood all over, falling, moaning. He called himself Riot. Never seen him since.’
Lassiter didn't register any reaction.
‘So you think I can help you?’
‘My sister had this guy bring me the Three Elders. That must have been her way of telling me the solution lies here,’ Markus said.
‘Did this Riot guy pass on anything else?’
‘Nothing significant,’ Markus said.
‘Where are you staying? Just in case I can reach you with new information.’
‘At the Brother Hotel,’ Charlo' cut in, just too hastily. Bentley shot her a look of why don't you shut up you were doing so well.
Lassiter refilled their red bean soup. The conversation turned to memories of old Taipei from there on. Charlo' was fascinated.
‘The man looks like the pilot from Lost,’ she told Bentley after they had left the building.
Markus pulled out the Three Elders and pointed at the one wearing yellow.
‘That's Lassiter?’
‘That's Lass.’
‘Where are the others?’
‘We need to find one more,’ Markus said.
A dark BMW turned into the alley, careful not to scrape against the parked motorcycles.
‘What about the third one?’ Charlo' asked.
‘He's my father.’

NEXT: Markus Bentley looks for the second elder in Taiwan in Season One, Episode Fifteen before February 13.

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