Hong Kong Central

Lee Carruthers #3
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It doesn’t matter that Lee Carruthers has resigned from the CIA; she still can’t resist her former boss, Sidney Worthington, when he calls. He wants to know why Hong Kong antique dealer Henry Wong hasn’t reported in weeks. When she gets to his shop, she sees Henry being carried away by Triad thugs. Triads deal in drugs, protection, human trafficking. What do they want with Henry Wong? She follows the clues, even if it means being in the middle of a stampede of democracy demonstrators, a dangerous walled city belonging to a Triad, or a tricky love triangle. Why is she doing all this for Sidney? One day Sidney Worthington is going to get her killed.

“This series, now up to three, just keeps getting better, and readers will surely anticipate the protagonist’s next outing.”
Kirkus Reviews



Chapter 1

Hong Kong never sleeps. It was almost midnight, and the traffic was heavy, the neon signs flashing on and off, but Upper Lascar Row was quiet, the tables of tourist junk pulled inside the shops for the night. I walked softly in the shadows on the right side of the cobblestone street, looking for Wong Antiques among the red-lacquered shop fronts with signs in Chinese and English picked out in gold. The hairs on the back of my neck were prickling as if someone were watching me, and I jumped when a cat crossed the road. How could anybody be following me? I only got to Hong Kong three hours ago.

In the dim light, I saw Wong Antiques halfway up the block on the left-hand side. The only light showing was in the back, a nightlight or an office. I had crossed the street to the shop and had rung the bell once when I heard footsteps coming up the street. I slipped back across the street and melted into the doorway of a shop. Someone turned the light on in the antique shop, and a thin man wearing a blue scholar’s robe walked to the door. Henry Wong? The footsteps I heard materialized as two large men in suits. They banged on the door, and the man backed up. They banged on the door again, and he opened it unwillingly. The men were Chinese, bulky in the way a fighter is bulky, probably showing tattoos under their white shirts. They stood in the doorway, one on each side of the man, who shook his head and backed up. They went inside, one giving an obvious order. The man shook his head again and put his hands up in front of him. One of the men spoke in a harsh guttural voice, and they grabbed the man, who was probably Henry Wong, and pulled him out of the door, past me, and down the steps. I ran down the steps behind them. They inserted him into a black limo and waited to pull into traffic. Who were they? Why did they want Henry Wong? They looked like muscle to me. Who wanted to muscle Henry Wong?

I looked around frantically, and my eyes lit on a bike. An old bike just asking to be stolen. Maybe. I pulled it out to where I could see. An old Honda. I looked up to see the limo pulling away and jumped on the bike, praying I could remember how to kick-start it. I hadn’t ridden a bike since I was in grad school, far too many years ago. I put it in neutral, turned on the ignition, and then my brain froze. I looked at the street. The limo was disappearing. Slowly, I worked my way through kick-starting a bike. One, two, three, kick. Nothing. I closed my eyes and started over, trying to calm myself. I wiped my sweaty palms on my jeans. It’s in there, I said, I know it’s in there. Switch on, gas on, choke on, select neutral, swing the kick-start lever out, and step down on the kick starter. Ah, the choke. Choke. Swing start lever out. Step down on the kick starter. The engine roared to life, bless its heart. I stuffed my hair into the helmet I found on the back of the bike and pulled out after the limo, hoping I could remember how to drive the thing. Catching up was going to require Paris driving tactics, not Hong Kong ones. I slipped up between two lanes of traffic stopped for a traffic light; the limo was in the next block.

Sidney was right. There was something wrong at Wong Antiques. Sidney Worthington was my boss before I quit the CIA. I say was. I might as well not have bothered to quit, because he kept sending me places to do things not in my job description anyway. This time to see what was wrong at Wong Antiques. Henry Wong was one of his sources, usually about the traffic in stolen antiquities, grave robbery being as popular in China as it ever was. Wong didn’t work for the Agency, but he was a friend of Sidney’s, and he passed along information occasionally. Sidney hadn’t heard from him in almost two months, and he was worried. It looked as if he had reason to be.

I scratched off from the traffic light and wove in and out of the lanes. In violation of Hong Kong’s anti-noise ordinances, angry drivers honked at me.

It was January and the weather in Hong Kong was supposed to be cool, but tell that to the weather. It was hot, sticky, and I was about to expire from the cloud of exhaust fumes all around me. I could see the limo ahead. Where was he going? He turned left, which caused me to panic. I sped up and followed him. Des Voeux Road. I wondered how that sounded in Brit-Chi speak. He kept on. The high-rises of Central popped into view. The street was lined with shops selling internationally famous brands. The shops were long closed, but the sidewalks were still full of people strolling along, window-shopping, holding hands, pushing strollers, eating ice cream. There is not an hour of the day or night when the Hong Kong streets are empty. There were no barriers to jaywalking here as in other Hong Kong thoroughfares, so traffic rapidly became mixed with pedestrians crossing the street against the light, weaving in and out of traffic, making me stop and start and stop again. The limousine changed into the turning lane, and the driver of the car in front of me slammed his door open, trying to get me. If I’d been going any speed at all he’d have taken me down. Our eyes met, and I flipped him the finger. I walked the bike back and around the rear end of his car. When I started up again, I made sure my handlebar caught his mirror as I went by. I had lost precious time, but I got in the turning lane safely, more or less. I could barely see the limo. At least I thought it was the right limo. Now we were in Admiralty with its quiet government buildings, where the tents of the democracy demonstrators had been pushed aside by the police to let traffic by. Then the limo turned, and I was five cars behind. I bumped up onto the tram tracks and zipped up to the next intersection and turned, just before a tram came. The light changed, and the oncoming traffic resumed. More honking. Impatient people, these Hong Kongers.

We were into Wan Chai and even more neon, with semi-clad girls leaning casually against the buildings, and music and smoke falling out of the bars. The world of Suzie Wong isn’t as cute as the movie would have you believe it is. There were no demonstrators here. This was Triad territory, and they cleaned the demonstrators out regularly. With cleavers, if necessary. The police seemed not to mind. On to Causeway Bay and more shops and fabulous malls. Where the hell was he going? And then I found out. He turned into the lane to take the tunnel under Victoria Harbor. I caused serious indigestion among the other drivers getting over into that lane. I hoped I had the right kind of money. I hoped I had the right limo. While I was waiting in line I fished my wallet out of my back pocket and took out two tens in Hong Kong dollars, hoping that would be enough. We inched forward, and I saw the limo driver pay his toll and break out of the pack, speeding away. There were three cars in front of me, and the drivers all needed change. The limo turned a curve, and I could no longer see it. When I got to the tollbooth, I slammed the twenty dollars into the guy’s hand and slipped under the bar as he was raising it. I sped off into the tunnel, hoping the surface wasn’t as slick as it looked—searching, searching. At last I pulled up behind the limo, if it was the right limo, and then fell back a little. We turned left out of the tunnel into Kowloon and drove along Salisbury Road, finally turning right onto Nathan Road. The shops on both sides of the road were less elegant than those in Central, but there was even more neon. The brightly lighted entrance to Chunking Mansions hadn’t changed, and neither had the girls standing out on both sides of the steps waiting to be rented. You could probably still get a knockoff cell phone or some of the best curry in Hong Kong there, even this late. The traffic here was slow. Up the hill into Mong Kok it was slower. Tied up by demonstrators? The limo turned left, and I lost the traffic light. I pulled around the crossing barriers onto the sidewalk and followed him, to the loud consternation of the pedestrians. Please don’t let a cop be walking his beat here, I begged. The limo stopped just as I turned, and three men got out with Henry Wong in the middle. Wong did not look happy as they pulled him through a door. I pulled in front of the parked limo and ditched the bike, walking back to Nathan Road. They had taken him to a bar called Sam’s Place. A Mong Kok bar is probably a Triad bar. What did Henry Wong have to do with the Triads? Just as I got to the door, I heard a roar. I had found the demo, or it had found me. A wave of tear gas rolled down the street, followed by a screaming, crying, retching mob, and I was enveloped. I covered my mouth, but that didn’t help. My eyes streamed, and I retched. It was almost impossible to breathe. The crowd pushed me forward. I tried to reach the side to get out of the street, but there was no getting out of it. Pushing frantically, I finally made it to the sidewalk and rolled up into a ball with my arms over my head to protect it. The crowd ran on by, kicking me as they went, and I kept gagging. Then they were gone, and I was picked up by the elbows and flung into a waiting police bus.