Monday, February 20, 2006

The Bait

Just ride this out awhile, is what I thought to myself as I walked with Yvonne, or whoever she was, to meet her friend at the side door. I knew that I would be looking for a quiet, subtle way out of this situation. Until I found it, I would just keep playing along.

Mystery man number one opened the door for me to get in. Mystery man number two got in the front seat next to the driver. A taxi. I thought I had it made at this point. I could get the driver's attention and ask for help. I could make a fall out of the door at low speed when nobody was expecting it. Both of these options disappeared as quickly as they came to life.

"What took you so long?"

"Traffic." The driver wasn't just a driver; he was a friend. Yvonne got in on the other side and sandwiched me between herself and number one. I began to panic as we abruptly moved down Wellington Road, the way all Hong Kong taxi drivers jerk and go, using the gas like a binary switch. I could overpower Yvonne; could I get away from them both if I made a dash for it? I worked through hypothetical outcomes in my mind the entire ride. I glanced at my watch every two minutes as I parsed through my options.

We drove out onto the highway through Sheung Wan. From there, we headed out to the Eastern part of the Island that, though a nice area, I'd been to very few times. We clearly weren't heading to the nice part of town, however. The buildings were old, older than the average old Hong Kong building, many of them government housing no doubt. We stopped in front of a building that wasn't too tall; no more than six or seven floors. I could possibly find the building again if had a good driver and a couple of hours, but I'm not interested in revisiting the scene, for revenge or justice or any reason at all. I blame myself for pursuing Yvonne on-line. I blame myself for leaving the coffee house. I blame myself for getting into the taxi. I added this experience to my long run of messes that I had nobody to blame for except myself.

We all got out of the taxi and I thought about running then; nobody was too close to me. I had a flashback to a Bruce Willis movie and thought to myself, "since I'm still alive, they're not going to kill me now." I struggled to make myself believe it.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

The Setup

I had gotten a final email telling me to wait here at three o'clock; she would recognize me from my picture and initiate contact. Though, I didn't know what she looked like and wasn't sure what to expect. After two double espressos and thirty minutes, I was losing hope and ready to acknowledge defeat and another blow to my ego.

Blind dates have never been my style. I never found any need for them, really, and could usually rely on my friends of friends when I needed to meet a new face. Even as I sat there waiting for the mystery woman I wondered what was different about this time. Maybe all of the on-line dating success stories had finally convinced me. Maybe I thought that the girls on myspace were more legit, unlike the average girl that I'd met in the foreigner bars in the Wan Chai district, and not just interested in me out of desperation.

Just as I was getting up to leave, I noticed a girl and guy enter as a pair, the girl motioning the guy to wait as she stare and approached me. "Hi Stewart. I'm Yvonne. What do you say we get out of here?"

I felt my pulse begin racing, and not from the girl, though she was beautiful in a haunting way. The guy made me nervous. He just stood there watching us, watching for my next move. I turned and looked at the other entrance and saw another similarly attired guy standing at the door with no apparent reason. I felt my options diminish at that moment. Looking back at it, I know I should've decided differently - make a scene, run out the door, scream for help - but I was too proud for any of those things.

"Sure. You lead the way."

Saturday, February 11, 2006


Adrienne cried quiet tears into her black coffee as she waited for the bank upstairs to confirm the wire transfer from her father. After she had some money, she would go about doing the things that had to be done; check into her hotel, cancel her credit cards, contact the consulate and see about getting a new passport. She sat at the narrow, island bar surrounded with round bar stools as she looked out over the silk flowers at the double decker buses stopping abruptly, then just as abruptly rushing away. The silk flowers that filled the island were a deep purple and brilliant yellow; they reminded her of the wild flowers of a Texas spring that she had left to come here. She started to question herself. What was she doing here? How long would she be stuck in Hong Kong? Soon, she was questioning everything that had happened in the past two weeks.

Everything had happened so quickly. Brent had left her for a younger girl that worked in his office just after she had lost her job. The girl was a stranger to her but a former classmate of her younger sister, pretty from what she heard. Her roommate was moving out, leaving her with a rent she could no longer pay. Her best friend had just finished an English teaching job and asked her to meet her in Asia. An adventure, at the time, seemed to be exactly what she needed. Brent had warned her that she didn't know what she was getting into, but it was that kind of overbearing protectiveness, even after they'd broken up, that Adrienne had always hated. Now, it seemed that he was right. She was in the country exactly 37 minutes before her bag was stolen from the complimentary luggage push cart that she used to wheel her luggage into the main terminal. From that moment, she'd been relying on the kindness of strangers; the bus ride to the city, the phone call to her father, even this cup of coffee was compliments of the bank teller who saw that Adrienne felt alone in one of the most crowded cities in the world and just wasn't going to make it without a little help.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

McDonald's II

On a bustling commercial street, the city's main Starbucks was strategically located across from McDonald's, a narrow, two-story space sandwiched between a myriad of other nondescript businesses by comparison. The double doors were framed by two sets of table and chairs, one on each side. Despite the cold, a number of Western tourists sat and sipped a combination of iced and frozen drinks outside.

Apple crumble caramel muffin. Sausage and mashed potato danish.

The outward facing wall held the standard coffee counter that has become a familiar throughout the world. Inside, a pair of tables mirrored the outside pair. A path along the counter was cordoned off with thick, velvet rope segments hanging between a series of black waist-high stands. People channeled through efficiently sterilizing the comfort that usually comes from the chaos of crowds jockeying for position closer to the counter.

French tuna sandwich. Fruit and vegetable cup.

The main seating area was on the second floor, at the top of a wide, concrete staircase that spiraled squarely through a semi-circle. The room was crowded. And hot. Twenty-six Celsius, eighty Fahrenheit, according to the thermometer that hung suspended on a brass hook over the trash banister. A pair of clerks stood by surveying the area, spending most of their energy continuing their conversation to avoid the work of collecting cups and cleaning tables.

Carrot walnut pound cake. Smoked beef tenderloin sandwich.

The chairs and furniture had a familiar look, fashioned of light maple and Starbucks mahogany finish. Though, certain details were reminders of the location within a developing country. Thin, plain white paper napkins with no logo. The mermaid shapes covering the tables were misshapen and deformed, missing part of an arm or half of a tail. The logo on the sugar packets seemed unusually large and off center. The track lighting illuminated the room almost too well, making these imperfections more evident.

Thursday, February 02, 2006


The blackboard behind the register, in festive, multicolored chalk, read: "may you be full of beans for the new year."

Anonymous expat number one approached the register in a black suit, white shirt, and crimson red tie. The tie was covered in a grid of blue and white specks.

Anonymous expat number two had on charcoal grey dress pants accessorized with a black leather belt with chrome buckle. His cornflower blue, taffeta shirt was tucked in, the sleeves buttoned at his wrists.

Anonymous expat number three picked up the key from the counter and proceeded to the restroom door in a camel colored cotton sport coat. He was more casual than the rest, wearing navy denim pants and a light blue polo shirt. His leather-soled shoes tapped the floor in fading syncopation as walked away from the register.

Anonymous expat number four wore a confused ensemble of black. Black polyester dress pants clashed with his black, cotton, short-sleeved button front shirt. His socks were casual dress, dots of purple surrounding red extending in a diamond grid. He wore Puma tennis shoes made of synthetic leather with black rubber soles that rounded onto the sides of the shoe in select areas. The red Puma stripe stood out against the white background.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

McDonald's I

The Shenzhen airport had only two commercial establishments, Starbucks and McDonald's. McDonald's was directly in front of you as you departed the airport. Starbucks was to the left, a large, rectangular hole-in-the-wall, the entire length of the rectangle forming the entrance to the shop. Five waist high, steel-framed glass partitions with wooden banister tops were spaced along the length of the store front leaving two gaps to allow entrance and egress. The most noticeable detail about this particular Starbucks coffee shop, especially in contrast with the regular turmoil at McDonald's across the way, was that is was empty most of the time.

Malcolm entered the shop at 10:31 pm from the left walkway gap. He paused, noticing that, as far as he could tell, he was the only one there, not counting beside the two barristas in green aprons. He thought they may have been closed and resigned himself to settling for a burger and fries instead of coffee he was in dire need of to continue on the remaining leg of his journey. "Welcome to Starbucks!" Malcolm thought that the barrista's English was good, possibly the best he'd heard in four days. As an afterthought, he realized that this one particular phrase is probably taught and drilled during the Starbucks training, maybe even included in the worker's manual. Malcolm noticed an oddly placed partition diagonally standing in the right, rear corner of the store. It was a vertical wave that reminded Malcolm of the slides at the water park where he went with his sister during the hot, summer days in South Carolina. The partition was six feet wide, at least, five feet tall, six inches thick, and made from many small panels of white birch. It stood just off the ground on five evenly spaced steel rods screwed into the floor.

Malcolm approached the partition to take a closer look. As he rounding the partition to the left, he was startled by the unexpected presence of a tall man curled over a laptop computer, staring intently through the screen.