The Dragon Head of Hong Kong (6 page)

“I’ll be prepared,” Ava said as she turned to leave.

( 9
)

WHAT HAVE I
gotten myself into
? Ava thought as she left the hotel.
Nothing yet, until I’m sure Carlo and Andy are genuine.

The two men weren’t very bright, Ava thought. Neither did they seem to be particularly devious. She would have found Carlo’s leering and his crude mouth offensive if it wasn’t actually kind of funny. He wasn’t the least bit attractive, but he threw himself around as if he was irresistible to women. Andy was gentler, at least on the surface, and she liked the way he showed some concern for her feelings. Still, she couldn’t help but think that she had blundered her way into the beginning of a business relationship. She wasn’t usually that impetuous, but right now she couldn’t think of any other options for getting close to Kung and to Mr. Lo’s money. She just hoped that jet lag wasn’t wreaking havoc on her judgement.

It wasn’t quite one o’clock, and now that she had her visa she could easily get to Mong Kok and back to Shenzhen before six. She also had time to visit the Jupiter Boutique. The taxi driver hadn’t heard of it but he knew Winter Street, and on the first pass by they saw the store. Off to the right of the entrance was a plain wooden door that looked as if it would lead upstairs. Ava rang the doorbell. When no one answered, she went into the boutique and found herself surrounded by women’s undergarments.

“Excuse me,” she said to a heavily made-up middle-aged woman, “I’m looking for two friends of mine named Carlo and Andy. I thought they were renting the apartment upstairs, but I rang the doorbell and no one answered.”

“They must be out.”

“So I have the right place?”

“I’m not sure what you would want with them, but yes, it is the right place.”

Ava took the same cab to Lo Wu station and within ten minutes was on the train to Mong Kok. Confirming the apartment had relieved one anxiety; now her mind focused on another — the lie she would need to spin to Johnny Kung.

What she didn’t doubt was the look she could convey. With makeup and her hair pulled back, and in pumps, a tight black pencil skirt, and a pink shirt unbuttoned to reveal the swell of her breasts, she would be sexy. But Andy was right, that wasn’t going to be enough. She needed a plausible reason for approaching him, and it wasn’t until she was on the train heading back to Shenzhen that she had one that might work. And
might
was the operative word.

Her train got into Shenzhen at five thirty and she caught a cab to the hotel, again overpaying for it. When she walked through the front doors, Andy and Carlo were where she’d left them a couple of hours before, Andy on the couch and Carlo lingering by the door. Carlo’s eyebrows rose when she passed him, but to her relief he said nothing.

Pang wasn’t so passive. “Wow,” he said when he saw her.

“Thanks.”

“You look terrific.”

“Let’s hope my uncle thinks the same.”

“What?”

“Nothing,” she said.

Both Andy and Carlo were now sitting on the lobby couch. She walked over to the men she was now beginning to think of as partners. “Has he come back to the hotel?” she asked.

“No, your timing is really good,” Andy said.

“So how do we do this?”

“Carlo is going to go outside so he can see Kung coming from a distance. When he does, he’ll signal to me. I suggest you stand over by the elevators so it doesn’t look like we’re together. When Kung reaches the door, I’ll raise my hand. Then you’re on your own.”

“I have to say I’m a little nervous.”

“Do you have a strong story?”

“I have a story. Who knows how strong it is?”

“You look fantastic, so the story may not matter that much.”

“Thanks,” she said, pleased by the compliment and the non-lascivious way it was given.

“Now, Ava, the best thing for us is if he takes you to a restaurant for dinner. Don’t agree to eat here in the hotel, or any hotel for that matter, because security could get involved.”

“I’ll do my best.”

“And you have to insist that it’s just him and you. You don’t want his guys anywhere in the vicinity.”

“I know.”

He smiled and lowered his eyes. “Now I’m getting a bit nervous,” he said.

“Are you worried about grabbing him?”

“No, we’re old hands at this stuff. He’ll come along easily enough if he knows he has no choice.”

“You’re that persuasive?”

“I have a gun and Carlo has a knife.”

“Good grief!”

“Don’t look so panicked. What did you think? That we’d say ‘pretty please’ and he’d co-operate?”

“No. I just didn’t realize you’d need all those weapons.”

“Well, we have them, but usually we don’t need them. Besides, Kung is a pro. He knows the game.”

“I sure hope so.”

“And if you’re really that worried about it and want to back out, it isn’t too late.”

Ava shook her head. “No, I’ve come this far.”

“Good.”

“Tell me, though, what happens if this doesn’t work?”

“We go back to waiting. It’s been four days now and I figure Kung can keep hanging around for weeks. It’s making me crazy already, so I don’t even want to think about failing.”

She looked at her Citizen watch. “Well, it’s almost six, so I should get into position.”

“You’re sure you know what he looks like?”

“Thick head of hair combed straight back, a round face with a small nose and mouth, and he’s broad across the shoulders and chest.”

“Right, and he’s short, and when he left earlier today he was wearing a red shirt. His guys were in jeans and T-shirts. One of them always walks in front of him and the other is about two steps behind.”

“Okay, I won’t miss him.”

Ava walked towards the elevators and then veered off to the left. She positioned herself next to a table that was against a wall. She had a clear view of the entrance and could see both Andy and Carlo.

Ten minutes passed, and Ava began to feel increasingly uncomfortable. Loitering in a hotel lobby, especially looking the way she did, wasn’t a natural state for her. She suspected that she was beginning to draw the attention of a man in a black suit. He stood on the other side of the elevators, watching people come and go. She was sure he was security and would soon come over and ask her to move along and take her business elsewhere. She was contemplating this when she realized that Andy was waving his arms at her. She shook her head to clear it and then focused on the hotel entrance.

A huge man, at least six foot four and built like a truck, led the way. Just behind, she saw the flash of a red shirt.

They started across the lobby towards the elevators. A third man, as large as the first, trailed, his eyes darting in all directions.

Ava began to walk towards them. When the first man was almost parallel to her, she turned sideways and glanced at the man in the red shirt.

“Mr. Kung, what are you doing here?” she said.

He looked quickly in her direction, turned away, and then stopped walking and stared at her. Ava could see she had his interest. The bodyguards moved protectively closer to him, their eyes now taking in Ava and everything around her.

“Do I know you?” Kung said.

“Yes, of course you do. I’ve met you several times at the import office in Mong Kok. My aunt, Fan Ying, introduced us.”

“The receptionist?”

“Yes.”

“I don’t remember,” he said, and then smiled. “And I have an excellent memory for pretty women.”

“Well, the last time was about a year ago and I was probably wearing jeans and a sweater. I’ve graduated since then and found a job, so I’m dressing a bit better.”

“Obviously,” he said, taking advantage of the clothing reference to examine her more closely. “What brings you to Shenzhen?”

“I have a sales call early tomorrow morning, so I decided to take the train over today. So I wouldn’t have to get up at dawn.”

“You came alone?”

“Yes, I did, and I have to say I find it a bit overwhelming. I’ve never been to Shenzhen before and it isn’t quite what I expected. It’s so big, but not like Hong Kong big. There’s all this construction and the dirt and the noise. It just feels so disorganized. It’s nice to see a familiar face.”

He smiled again. “You’re staying here?”

“No, I’m at another hotel nearby, but my boss is supposed to be staying here and I just came by to see if he’s checked in. He hasn’t, so I was just heading out.”

“Where to?”

“I thought I’d stop at one of the restaurants on the way back to my hotel.”

“Eat by yourself?”

“Yes.”

“I can’t allow that,” Kung said, moving closer. “Let me take you to dinner.”

“I don’t feel right imposing myself on you and your friends like that,” she said.

“It’s no imposition. And besides, your aunt has been very helpful to me and this is a way I can pay her back.”

“Still,” Ava said, glancing nervously at the bodyguards. “I don’t think I would be comfortable with quite so many men.”

“What if it was just you and me?”

She lowered her eyes. “I think that would be acceptable.”

“Terrific. Do you have a restaurant in mind?”

“No, I was just going to walk around until I found a place that looked nice.”

“There’s a Szechuan place about two streets away that I really like.”

“That sounds nice.”

He looked around the lobby. “I have to go upstairs to shower and freshen myself. Why don’t you sit over there and wait for me? I’ll be ten minutes or so.”

“Yes, Mr. Kung,” she said.

“Call me Johnny.”

“Yes, Johnny.”

“And I didn’t catch your name.”

“Ava.”

He smiled. “I’ll see you in ten minutes, Ava.”

As Kung went towards the elevators, Ava began to walk to the lobby couches. The bodyguards hadn’t budged when he left and Ava could feel their eyes burning into her back. After she sat down, she avoided looking in their direction for a few minutes and then took a quick glance. They were gone.

Andy sidled close to her but kept his face turned away. “What happened?” he mumbled.

Ava put her hand to her mouth in case she was being watched. “We’re having dinner, just him and me.”

“We’ll be nearby,” he said, and then left.

( 1
0 )

KUNG’S TEN MINUTES
stretched into twenty, and again Ava found her anxiety building. Was Kung upstairs calling the office in Mong Kok? Where were the bodyguards? It had all been so easy — too easy. Surely he suspected something. Even if he didn’t and they went to the restaurant, she wasn’t convinced that Kung would go quietly with Andy and Carlo. It was all so random, and the more she thought about it, the looser and less likely to succeed the plan seemed. She was almost ready to go looking for her accomplices when she saw Kung cross the lobby towards her. He had changed into a dark blue silk shirt and a pair of grey slacks. There was no sign of the bodyguards.

She stood and smiled at him.

“Hello, little Ava, are you ready to go?” he said.

“Your friends really don’t mind that it’s just the two of us?” she asked, not detecting anything strange in his manner.

“Don’t concern yourself with them. They do what they’re told.”

As they walked towards the entrance, Kung’s hand reached out and clasped Ava’s elbow. The move surprised her and she struggled not to wrench it free.
Relax
, she told herself.
This will be over soon enough.

They made a right from the hotel. “This restaurant is very good,” he said. “It has a specialty dish I love — cold noodles with chili sauce. Have you tried that?”

“No,” she said, looking around quickly for signs of his men or of Carlo and Andy. She didn’t see any of them.

“I think you’ll enjoy it.”

He continued to hold her elbow as they walked, but it was a light grip and she didn’t feel constrained by it.

“What business do you have here?” he asked.

“I’m an accountant. We’re trying to sign up a new client,” she said. “How about you?”

“I’m an importer.”

“I thought as much, since my aunt’s office is full of traders and importers.”

She waited for him to respond, to add something to his short reply. She was relieved when he didn’t, and happy to lapse into her own silence.

The restaurant was as close as he had promised. When they walked through the front door, Ava was engulfed in the aromas of fried garlic, ginger, and chilis. Her appetite spiked. She hadn’t eaten all day, she realized. The place was rather stylish, with carved wood-panelled walls and a wooden floor. Along one wall, massive shark fins were displayed in glass cases.

“This is lovely,” she said.

The hostess guided them to a table set for four near the front. Ava took a chair, expecting that Kung would sit across from her. Instead he sat next to her, their knees touching. He faced the door, she noticed, and wondered if that was the reason for his seat choice.

“Do you drink?” he asked.

“Tea will be fine.”

“I’m having beer. You sure you don’t want something stronger?”

“Maybe a glass of white wine. But only one. I do have to work tomorrow.”

Kung signalled for a waiter. As he did, Ava’s eyes drifted towards the plate-glass window at the front of the restaurant. She saw Andy and Carlo walking by and felt a slight flush. Didn’t they know that she and Kung were there?

“What are you looking at?” Kung asked.

“Nothing.”

“My men aren’t joining us, if that is what you’re worried about.”

“Not at all,” Ava said, and then wondered why he felt it necessary to mention that.

The waiter arrived at the table. Kung ordered a Tsingtao beer and asked about the wine selection.

“All we have is house wine. The white is a Swiss Chardonnay.”

Ava had never heard of Swiss wine. “That will be fine,” she said.

“And I want a platter of cold noodles with special Szechuan sauce as a starter. We’ll order the main meal after that.”

As the waiter left, Kung’s eyes glanced towards the window. Then his face froze, and Ava felt a rush of fear.

“What’s the matter?” she said.

“Just a minute,” he said, reaching into his shirt pocket for his cellphone. He hit the speed-dial button, his eyes locked onto the restaurant entrance. “Li, I’m at Yang’s Restaurant. Those two jerks from the hotel lobby are outside. You and Wong should get over here and clear them out.”

Ava struggled to stay calm. It was an effort. The plan, such as it was, was already falling apart.

“Well, if you can’t find Wong, come by yourself. You should be able to handle them,” Kung said and closed his phone.

She started to stand.

“Where do you think you’re going?” Kung asked, his hand gripping her wrist.

“I beg your pardon?” Ava said.

“Sorry,” he said quickly, lifting his hand. “There’s a couple of creeps outside who I think have been tailing me. It’s sort of set my nerves on edge.”

“Why would they do that?”

“A business dispute.”

“Must be serious if they’re following you.”

“More annoying than serious. Now, why were you getting up?”

“I need to go to the washroom.”

“Of course,” he said, politely half-rising from his seat.

She didn’t feel completely steady as she made her way to the bathroom. Jet lag, hunger, and panic were combining to take their toll. She just hoped she looked somewhat under control.

She went into an empty stall, locked the door, and sat with her elbows on her knees and her head in her hands.
What a mess
, she thought. The thug named Li would arrive before Carlo and Andy and she’d be stuck with Kung for dinner, or worse. Or all three men would get to the restaurant at the same time, and then what? She tried to think of something, anything positive and came up blank. She left the stall and went to the sink to wash her hands. She stared at herself in the mirror
. You fool
, she thought.
You flew all those thousands of kilometres to get Mr. Lo’s money back and you don’t have a clue what you’re doing.

“You fucking assholes!”

It was Kung’s voice, and then she heard Carlo yell, “Come quietly with us and you won’t get hurt. If you put up a fight, I’ll put this knife right through your ribs and we’ll carry you out.”

Ava ran back into the restaurant and saw Carlo and Andy on either side of Kung. Carlo was holding a knife to Kung’s ribs, and Andy’s small handgun was in Kung’s lower back.

“We’ve got him,” Carlo shouted to Ava.

She quickly looked around. The waiters had retreated behind the bar. The other customers were trying to ignore the goings-on. Kung’s head spun in her direction and she saw hatred cross his face.

“You fucking bitch,” he spat.

Ava walked to the men. “What do we do now?” she asked.

“We have a taxi waiting outside. That’s what took so long. Our regular guy didn’t show, so we had to get his brother to transport this piece of shit.”

“Then let’s go,” Ava said and started towards the door. The men followed, Andy pushing Kung with the gun barrel while Carlo kept the knife at his side.

They were almost at the entrance when the man who’d preceded Kung across the hotel lobby appeared in the window. He took a quick look inside and in three steps was at the door, with a knife visible in his right hand.

“Shit,” Carlo said.

“Let him go,” the man said.

“Don’t do anything stupid or I’ll cut him.”

“Like fuck you will,” the man shouted and lunged forward.

Ava sensed, rather than saw, Carlo and Andy recoil, and she knew the bigger man already had the upper hand.

He had to get past her to get to the other men, and he reached out with his left arm to throw her aside. As he did, she took a small step to her right so that she was directly in front of him. He swung his arm. She ducked and moved forward, her right arm extended with the knuckle of her index finger pointing at his chest. Then she lowered her hand and drove the knuckle into his gut. He staggered back, his head collapsing forward and his hands grabbing at his stomach. As he wavered, Ava took another step forward and two to the right. Before he could straighten, her knuckle shot into his head, just behind the ear. He fell sideways onto the floor as if he’d been hit by a steel beam.

“Let’s get out of here,” Ava said.

Andy and Carlo didn’t move. Their mouths were open, as was Kung’s.

“Stop gawking and let’s go,” she said.

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