Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Season One, Episode Seventeen: Macau

Camry sat pulling at the collar of his suit shirt on the back seat of the S-class.
‘Drop me off around the next corner and go keep yourself busy until you get my signal,’ he told the driver.
He left the suit jacket inside the car and walked the block back, hoping he wouldn’t be conspicuous among the salary slaves out for lunch.
As he had expected, the restaurant was crowded and he didn’t draw any undue attention sitting down in the middle of the room on his own. He ordered a set meal, soup, main dish, but no dessert.
Halfway through the meal, he noticed a man in a dark suit heading for the restrooms. Just a minute later, a man in his fifties wearing a pink – sorry, salmon – polo shirt also left his place. Camry counted until five and followed them.
Inside, he first brushed water through his hair. When the man in the dark suit left, a dark pall moved over his face. The water rumbled behind the closed door, third from the entrance. The lock was pushed open with a metallic clang. Just as the guy in the polo shirt was putting his foot out, Camry pushed him back in, grabbing him by the throat to drown out the sound. He stabbed his knife through the salmon polo shirt until his target was reclining on the can with blood dripping, Camry came out, softly pulled the door shut so it wouldn’t reopen of its own accord, and went to clean the knife in the sink.
He returned to his meal, slowly finishing the lamb roast with his knife and fork. No rush, no haste. He politely declined coffee, paid cash and walked over to the next block before calling for his driver.

Charlo’ watched as the wet patches of rice fields vanished behind the low clouds. Markus sat next to her on the Air Macau flight from Taiwan’s Taoyuan International Airport. She turned to him.
‘Glad to be out of that place. So, are you finally ready to give me an explanation? Are the Three Elders history now?’
‘The first one was Lassiter, the second one was Trick’s father. And the third one was my father.’
‘What was their connection?’
‘They all did business together here in Asia at one time.’
‘That’s what Trick told me. What kind of business were they in?’
‘International trade.’
The ‘fasten your seat belts’ sign flooped off and the pilot made an announcement about altitudes and temperatures.
‘Why did his parents choose the name Trick?’
‘They didn’t. He did. Taiwanese only receive a Chinese name at birth. They later pick their own foreign names if they want one. Even then, you get lots of crazy names. Like Apple and Medicare.’
‘Medicare?’ she grinned.
‘Don’t ask. I once met a doctor with that name.’
The flight assistant came round with the headphones. Markus stuffed his in the back of the seat in front of him, Charlo’ unwrapped hers.
‘I thought you wanted to hear my story,’ he said.
‘I was losing hope you would ever get to it,’ she replied. She put the headphones on her lap.
‘This man, Riot, claimed to be a colleague of my sister. I’ve been out of touch with her for years, so I didn’t know whether he was telling the truth. Yet he had my address and he had those things that only I knew my sister had. All presents from our father. The Three Elders told me I had to go back to Taiwan, because that’s where my father had them made. That is where the Three Elders, the real three, lived.’
‘But only one of them is still alive, and he didn’t tell you much, did he?’
‘That’s when Riot’s phone call came in. I don’t know how he could know I was at Trick’s place, but he did, and he told me I was on the wrong track.’
‘So you believe him?’
An elderly Chinese lady stood up behind Charlo’ and pulled hard at her seat. Charlo’ shot her an annoyed look.
‘The only other possibility was this.’
Markus pulled the red faceless doll from his sports bag stowed under the seat in front. He had given the flight attendant who advised him to jam it into the overhead compartment a convincing shake of the head.
‘My father gave this doll to my sister during a vacation in Macau. He had just returned from a trip to Japan, where he bought this thing.’
‘Because he gave it to her in Macau, that’s why we’re going there?’
Markus nodded.
‘You’ll understand when we get there. It’s a clue, a sign.’
‘International man of mystery. Traveling with you is certainly an adventure. Will we be doing a spot of gambling? You know, Vegas of the East, casinos?’
Markus shook his head.
‘That’s not what we’re here for. I want to go in quickly and leave quickly.’
‘Why not enjoy it while we’re here?’
‘I thought you were the one complaining about me taking you everywhere,’ Markus said.
‘Let me think. The doll is from Japan, so that’s where we’ll be heading next.’
‘What’s the matter, don’t you like the jetset life?’
‘It’s just that I don’t like drifting around the world without being told what it is all about.’
Markus tapped his finger on her headphones.
‘Our next destination is home,’ he whispered.
‘Can we get marzipan on this flight?’ she asked.
‘No, and no moaji either.’
The flight attendants came up with the meals. The flight only lasted a mere 90 minutes, so bread, simple combinations of pre-packaged vegetables and fruits, and a miniature pot of yoghurt was all there was. Markus asked for white wine.
‘Will I have to speak Portuguese?’ she asked.
‘Most people here speak Cantonese. The Portuguese is just inscriptions on buildings. So don’t worry. I don’t speak Cantonese either, but we’ll get by in English.’

In Macau, Markus and Charlo’ were following the flow of tourists, heading down Main Street with its Portuguese-era baroque churches and buildings, with ugly casinos looming behind as so many threats of brash modernity against cultured history.
Markus took a sordid alley to the right at the end of the street. A stocky man in boxer shorts and white underwear came out of the doorway, Markus rushed to take the open door from him. He signaled at Charlo’ to follow him inside. A finger across his mouth told her not to speak.
They followed the creaky staircase up to the third floor. Under the stairs leading to the fourth, Markus opened a low door. Inside, a wall covered in tiles. Tiny grey tiles, but also one big blue one, showing a city scene. A church at the end of a crowded narrow street with laundry hanging from the balconies. The words ‘Alfama - Lisboa’ written at the bottom. The tile didn’t really fit in with the rest of the wall.
‘Go get me a knife in there.’ Markus pointed Charlo’ at an open doorway at the end of the hall. ‘It’s a communal kitchen. They won’t eat you.’
He took the knife from her and started hacking at the cement around the blue tile.
‘Why are you damaging that nice wall?’ Charlo’ asked.
‘Once I have what’s in that nice wall of yours, we can all go home.’

NEXT: Markus Bentley uncovers what is behind the tile in Episode Eighteen before March 15.

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