Ride The Tiger

“The Case of the Black Pearl Necklace,” chapter 19…

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Mr. Skin took out the thin, gold-plated business card case with a Jade green lucky tiger crouching on one side. He clicked it open and lifted out two cards, one for me, one for Gabby.

“Here,” extending them in either hand to the two of us.

I took mine and glanced at it. The same lucky green tiger logo on one side, his name, in Chinese characters, on the other side, plus a phone number and an address.

“Not this address,” he said, “but my official import/export office and the telephone there.”

Gaby didn’t take his card.

He had no reaction to this, like it was expected of her.

“You will give this card to that smiling Jamaican, King Faces, when you see him and are about to kill him.”

“Um, we’re gonna need more than just the two of us,” I offered up the obvious truth.

“You got John, right.”

“Huh?” acting like I didn’t know we had a man lurking in the shadows who was as dangerous a bare-handed killer as you could ever meet, on loan from Brent’s father, who grabbed him up off the Company’s wet work and black ops wire.

Mr. Skin ignored my foolishness and pressed on. “Plus, I give you one of mine… A Red Pole. Fast riser. May take my spot some day. Good way to prove himself.”

“But how do we know that he doesn’t double cross us after we finish with your dirty work?”

“It’s not my dirty work.” Mr. Skin looked bored with me. “It’s you giving me a reason to let you live…and recover the black pearl necklace, which is all you wanted. Right?”

Gabby finally said something. “Since the first time ever I saw it.”

“That necklace is definitely not an it,” I corrected.

Mr. Skin nodded.

“More people have died in the pursuit of its beauty just in the last few weeks…” though no one needed to be reminded, so I let it go.

“Four man team,” Mr. skin observed. “She’ll get your foot in the door. You’ll make up some crazy story why you’re there. John and my man will make sure he dies…and I get proof. Just a little finger, post-mortem, should do the trick.”

“How did we get into this grim mess,” Gabby shook her head.

“Um, because you and your deceased boyfriend, Brent, decided to steal his necklace…who he stole from…” I said, glaring at Mr. Skin.

“Did not steal. Won it as a side wager playing high-stakes blackjack, invitation-only private game, in Singapore.”

“Yeah, right,” I shook my head.

“No matter!” the earth shook from the sound of his voice. “Your heads are still on your shoulders and you get the necklace as payment for your job. Do not disappoint! I spare your life and I pay you. What more you want. Handjob?!

“Now go to fortune teller. She not in fortune Alley. In the towering caverns of public housing, Hong Kong East, you’ll find her. My man knows the way. She know Faces; she will SEE how you can find him in Kingston…Now!

“I have been paid 360,000 USD; but now I want paid again. I am the Dragon Head! Tread softly and swiftly away. Do not return to Hong Kong. Ever! Faces will never see you coming. Innocents. Idiots! I have planned it all. Your fate. From first time I showed Laura the necklace, , let her feel its glorious weight adorning her throat, to the moment I gave Brent combination to safe, just in case something should happen—a typhoon, fire, Chinese Army…And told him I would kill him if he ever stole from me. Arrogant! Fool!

“In the mad realm of hungry ghosts he must be grateful it was swift.”

“But I thought you said Faces stole it from you, that his men killed Brent…” I tried to get out Mr. Skin’s earlier version of events.

“Does that make any sense? I tell you and everyone else what I want you to know when I want you to know it and not until. Now pay attention! You will take my Red Pole, plus you have John. The two of you—innocent couple on their honeymoon in Jamaica—will open the door easy, so the hell of John and my man can follow. You will tell Brent’s Father, the Colonel, that King Faces arranged the hit on Brent with his men…ordered by me. But you could only get near one of my soldiers and beat that information out of him…tell him it’s impossible to get near me in my fortress up on Victoria’s Peak.

“He will believe you. He will be satisfy…”

“But…”

He cut me off. “Silence. Fool…Listen. You must take King Faces by day…Voodoo in his heart. Very Black Magic. Before sunset he is weaker…”

Gabby bowed slightly as she backed up, years of good concubine training in effect.

I merely retreated and didn’t take my eyes off of him.

As we stumbled outside onto the busy noonday street and choked on the surprising April heat, a slight man, looking very Kung Fu Bruce Lee, dressed in black, nodding politely, joined Gabby, and I.

John stepped in a second later.

He looked tense. “How did it go?”

“Well, you’re not going to believe this.” I shook my head.

“Yeah, I will,” he said. “Who’s this guy,” looking at Mr. Skin’s man.

“Um, he’s on the team now.”

“Really,” John said sarcastically. “And why is that?”

“Trust me. We need him,” I explained.

“What the hell for?” This heat at noon could make anyone impatient. But John was crawling out of his skin.

“Mr. Skin doesn’t have my necklace, John,” Gabby jumped in, as we hailed a red and white for the fortune teller down in Hong Kong East…

Two cabs passed us by. “We’re not going to get cab,” Mr. Skin’s man offered.

“Why?!”Gabby shouted at him like she knew him, like he was the help and should not be speaking till spoken to.

“Sorry, miss,” he said, “But cabs all contract with big business at noon time to take executive to lunch meetings. We should take tram. It will be quicker anyway…”

“Fine with me,” John said. “I have to get out of standing in this heat.”

We moved off like the wizard of oz, Dorothy and her three friends in search of their heart, courage, and brain? tumbling down the mid level to the lower level where the trams and buses made their way on Queen Street.

“So where is the necklace?” John barked. “And why am I not taking care of things here for the Colonel?”
“Mr. Skin either did or didn’t win her back at the auction…maybe it was for show. Pre-arranged by Benjamin,” I tried letting out the half truth so John would follow our lead. If Mr. Skin was entirely to blame for everything up to this point, he would not walk away and skip off to another island over halfway around the world

“Yeah, so who won?” John was getting more irritated by the second.

“A guy out of Kingston, King Faces…and he’s also the one who sent the guys who smoked Brent and tried to add me and Gabby to their list as well.”

“Huh?”

I knew that John wasn’t the one who needed either the brain or the courage. But I explained it carefully for him anyway. “The way I figure, the Jamaicans grabbed it off of Brent, gave it to Benjamin. Then Benjamin holds the auction. Gets paid by Mr. Skin. Then tips off the Jamaicans so they can steal it back…and way we go…” I had to improvise the story so John could really sell it to the Colonel.
“But why the hell would Mr. Skin…never mind, he wanted us to come here so he can…” John tried but stumbled on this new twist.

Gabby saw my play and stepped in. “That’ right. Now you are beginning to see…the guy is a real Svengali. This whole thing is about giving us the ways, the means, the incentive to get inside and kill one of his most brutal enemies…in the skin trade,” Gabby, who also didn’t need a brain—well, she needed to go home—summed it up for her companions.

“Christ on a Cross,” John huffed, dodging the crushing noonday masses.

I almost felt like we should have our arms linked together as we skipped down the stairs. But that would require more room to maneuver. As it was, we were in double file—John and I out front, Gabby and the Dragon’s cleaver taking up the rear—Gabby behind me, and the Kung Fu master riding John’s heels quick as a cat.

“So, he brings us all the way here just to get us to take this job…eliminating his number one enemy,” I salted the final truth convenient to both tales.

“I get my necklace, you get revenge for the Colonel,” Gabby offered.

“ And what the hell do I get?” I complained to no one in particular.

“The girl in the end,” Gabby laughed.

“Oh, yeah, right…and my fucking fee, remember?”

“Maybe take that out in trade?” Gabby teased.

She was having entirely too much fun with my white knight sucker behavior.

“Okay,” John nodded as we skipped out to the little island in the middle of Queen’s Road to take the southbound tram. “But what about this fortune teller.”

“I know this story, well. So I tell it?” Kung Fu said.

“Go ahead,” John said.

“One time, we make it all the way to Kingston to find King Faces and finally get rid of him for good. Really making a mess for us in San Francisco. Stealing our girl. Making them go to work for him…across bay in Oakland. Bad, very, very bad…

“So, we look all over Kingston. No one will talk. Everyone, you can tell, they afraid of him. He start out as DJ and ganja dealer back in the 70s. Help make records for top Reggae stars. Put up money for movies, “The Harder They Come…” And he just get so powerful in Kingston…just like Mr. Skin in Hong Kong…but we find out he has an Chinese Fortune Teller he goes to down near the harbour. He see only her. We find all this out by putting threats and harm on good people, not criminal. This I don’t like much.

“We go see her. Mr. Skin is good Chinese man, believe in luck, fortune, honor. She tell him if he try to kill King Faces, he will die. Mr. Skin believe her. He not to trifle with luck, fortune. And he know King Faces not stop there. He will kill all of Mr. Skin family.

“So, he very frustrated…He say, ‘I want him to know how close I came. How lucky he is. I will take her, hide her in Hong Kong, and she will keep track of him, what he’s doing, where he is for me. And I will at least be able to know sometimes when King Faces is about to strike like a jackal and take mine away from me….’

“And she’s been here now for almost ten year…This has been coming for a long time.
And now it’s time has finally blossomed into this day, this time of fortune and luck, honor and duty. For all of us, even you, Mr. Whitecarol. Even you.”

“I don’t know why the tram waited until that exact moment to pull up and stop at our island, under the tinted Plexiglas shelter, a very slight, shy breeze trying to sniff us out, hurrying up from Victoria Bay, and all the joyous boats fishing, eating, feeding the huge lunch boats floating about with live eel enough to feed an army.

But it did. Dorothy and her men climbed aboard, went up to the upper deck. Walked all the way to the back.

As we pulled away from it all, things felt right. Super bright day, sun beating a drum on your tin head, sunbrellas and white suit fellas strolling everywhere. Hong Kong is a cloudy city, rainy and wet, humid and hot, except when it’s not. These super dry days can catch even the natives off guard. Close to 90F at the end of April, but humidity is below fifty percent, and buoyant blue sky filled with puffy white clouds like full clipper sails made it all feel more hopeful and less oppressive than it had any right to be… looking for the fortune teller. Forgot to pick up sunglasses when we were there at the mid level markets. Ray Ban knock offs. Ten dollar.

No cars in the tram lane, we glided along. The lights at each intersection were long. It seemed like all of humanity passed before us at each and every crossing.

Am I dreaming this?

We see the Dragon Dance on the way there. Good luck. Good fortune…riding on the Kennedy Town to Happy Valley tram

Eternity Diamonds, the sign says in English below the larger Chinese characters.

Heaven, Earth, Man. Linked by woman…the tram moans around the lazy curves like an harpooned whale in “Moby Dick.” Toyota cabs are all Royal Crown, and look so regal dressed in red and white. But they have traffic to contend with. We do not—tram has its own, dedicated lane.

We were all tired of it, of each other, of chasing dreams like tigers that let you think you might catch one by the tail. But you never do. And even if you did. Then what.

Then what!

I was hungry, tired, hot, and the sound and motion of the tram rocked me into a strange twilight. I knew she was waiting for me there—the black pearl necklace. We had not spoken in awhile.

My head rubbed against the window as my eyes fought to stay open. Gabby at my side. Something about fighting to stay awake made the twilight state more captivating and intense. Give into neither. Become both..

I heard a song I remembered from way back when I was in a grade school play, growing up in Westminster, sad suburb of Denver.

The peddler. There I was, singing, or was the necklace singing it into me…

“I’ve gifts to sell, I’ve gifts to sell, the finest in the land…” I sang out to the void…

“The price of this gift is incomparable,” she said. “It cannot be bought or sold. You know what it is, don’t you, James.”

“Yes.”

“Well?”

“It is life itself…all gifts and gift giving symbolize this in some way.”

“Yes! My, my, James, but you are starting to catch on so quickly…”

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