Late 1979, somewhere on the South China Sea.
To Phil Danté, international travel was like the Maltese Falcon; it was what his dreams were made of. His childhood of enthusiastically watching potboilers with single word titles of exotic locales at his local cinema and on his family's television led to him now rapidly sailing in a Far East Hydrofoil from the Crown Colony of Hong Kong to nominal Portuguese Macau.
His Rhodesian Army Commando and Police Anti-Terrorist work was curtailed when a new government of his former enemies was imminent. He then journeyed to Sri Lanka where a local police inspector recruited him to put down a threatened aboriginal uprising through removing the threat. After adventures in India, being bounced out of Burma, travels in Thailand, migration to Malaysia and a sojourn to Singapore, he flew North to the Orient contemplating a career in the Royal Hong Kong Police. In the meantime, Phil had to replenish his exchequer as soon as possible. As he had worked as a private and commercial inquiry agent in England, he thought he'd try his luck in hiring himself out to a local private detective agency.
There wasn't the same urgency of time in the East as there was in the West. A lengthy period of chat over cups of oolong tea led Phil to eventually realise that the first agency he visited was in no need of an Australian private eye as an interface with the Crown Colony's British and White Russian communities. Rather, they thought that Phil, neatly attired in his formal blue suit had intended to engage their detective agency to work for him.
The second private detective agency he visited, Orient Investigation and Eastern Security was a different story. He was thoroughly interviewed by the man he referred to as 'the warlord', Mr. Fu. Though Phil would never address him as 'Fu Manchu', he always thought of him as the head of Sax Rohmer's Si Fan. Warlord Fu, who had served in World War II in the Sino-American Cooperative Organization, an offshoot of the American Office of Strategic Services, later became a now retired Royal Hong Kong Police Detective Inspector. He was far more interested in Phil's background of training native soldiers. Recruited to be a training officer for Fu's security guard force, Phil found himself issued a uniform and given a room inside the car park in the Repulse Bay Apartments. As he had done in several countries, he designed, implemented and taught a training course to the locals for a ridiculously low salary.
One morning he was summoned by one of the guards to telephone Mr. Fu at his Mong Kok office in Kowloon.
Phil was receiving the 'puppy treat' of going on an assignment as a courier. He would be temporarily replaced as the instructor in his training course for the next couple of days as he was going to visit someone in Coloane.
'It's a Portuguese island, west of Hong Kong, south of Macau.'
East of the sun, west of the moon, he thought to himself.
'You'll travel by hydrofoil, spend the night in Macau and the next morning catch the morning ferry to Coloane.'
Dressed in his grey travelling suit and tie the colour of dried blood, he was met near the ferry terminal by Li Li, one of the female guards who, like nearly all the younger guards had dreams of better things. He dated her on weekends, and had the feeling that Fu encouraged Li Li in order to keep an eye on him. Phil behaved as the perfect gentleman with her, and she was splendid and informative company in explaining the local way of life then dining and going to the cinema with him. The pair loved the Hong Kong ghost stories as well as the detective and kung fu actioners. If Phil was being sent on an 'overseas assignment', Li Li was going to act the part of M. He called his black attaché case that she issued him a 'James Bond lunchbox'.
Kit Marlowe was the stage name of a former minor Hollywood actress of the 50s whose name he recognised from his lifelong love of the movies. Like so many actresses, she vanished from the industry, but whether it was due to her desiring children or the good roles drying up, he didn't know. A private investigator in California had discovered that she had gone West to points East. As he had an affiliation with the Fu Manchu Detective Agency, he engaged them to find her and sent over a parcel that was to be personally delivered to her as well as a document that she had to sign to prove receipt of the parcel.
It wasn't his business to know what was in the parcel he was taking to Macau. It would be too farfetched for the respected Mr. Fu to send him with a consignment of narcotics. He speculated whether it was a contract for her film comeback? He truly hoped so. Or perhaps the parcel contained the Maltese MacGuffin itself?
* * *
He had fallen in love with Macau even before he had set foot in it due to his memories of a film of the same name with Robert Mitchum. On his first arrival he thought Macau was what Hong Kong should have looked like, and most importantly, should have felt like. Macau expertly combined the exotic images of the Orient mixed with the Portuguese flavour that he enjoyed in Salisbury, Rhodesia when he dined at Portuguese East African restaurants and traded stories with their expatriate owners. The food was delicious, their company humorous and jovial with their loud laughter being infectious. Macau had the old buildings and tree lined streets of Portugal.
After the military coup on Anzac Day 1974, Portugal immediately set out to decolonise, ruining many a Rhodesian seaside holiday in Moçambique. The exception to the scramble for independence was Macau. The Old China Hands felt that Red China had more to gain in the field of international trade by keeping up the appearance of a Portuguese enclave. In reality, every bit of the city state's administration was secretly approved by Peking.
There were no crowds during the week, as the gamblers did not come to try their luck against the casinos until the weekend. He thought of himself as a child seeing himself as he was now when he rode one of the old rickshaws through the streets to his favourite Portuguese hotel. The Gonçalves family welcomed him as a family member, and they enjoyed each other's company over a dinner of a hearty feijoada washed down with San Miguel lager.
Afterwards he soaked up the atmosphere of downtown Macau then returned to his room to write picture postcards in his bed to, as Robert Louis Stevenson put it, 'all my friends on shore', in Australia, Sri Lanka, Rhodesia, and England.
After breakfast the next morning, he caught the ferry to Coloane. They now had bridges between Macau and the islands of Taipa and Coloane, and there were those who predicted that someday they would fill in the land between the islands where it would be one continuous land mass. He did not want to see that day come, and as long as the Porks ran the place, they would keep it as poor as parts of Lisbon and Moçambique. As every Portuguese man he spoke to said, they learned the error of developing their colonies when Brazil broke away from the home country.
Phil walked into the beachside hotel where Fu's information correctly said Kit Marlowe would be. She sat at a table, having coffee in a small silver pot and an attractive cup reading the South China Morning Post. She seemed more beautiful and exotic, and slimmer than she had been in her glory days in the 1950s; she still had the same Technicolor red hair. Her green eyes looked over her reading glasses at the grey suited tanned stranger holding his fedora in one hand and a black attaché case in his other. She didn't waste words, but she had a rare sense of grace, or what the Yanks called 'class'.
'I think you're more than a fan...'
'I am a big fan', he softly spoke, 'and I need your autograph to give you this...'
He slowly opened his case but questioningly looked at her. She nodded towards the empty chair, where he sat down and produced a sealed parcel and a receipt.
'Now why should I sign that?'
He softly looked at her,
'Hardly anyone knows where you live...'
She read his veiled threat like a book, and graciously took no offence.
'Would you like to join me? Tea?'
'I've never turned down a cup of tea in my life', he truthfully smiled.
'What am I signing for?'
'I've honestly no idea.'
Her glance summoned a waiter, Phil smiled and gave his order,
'Tea please, Darjeeling if you have it, or any other Indian tea. Obrigado.'
The waiter went away as she signed the receipt and remarked,
'"You're a hard man, McGee".'
He recalled reading about the American radio show Fibber McGee and Molly and recognised the catch phrase of the show. It was one of the countless bits of useless information stored in his mind that one day he finally had a use for.
'I promise you I won't open the closet.'
Her smile and laugh were infectious, and he joined her.
'I loved that show when I was a child, I'm surprised that you know that I loved it so much.'
'I'd do anything to make you laugh...and smile.'
She obliged him with both, and her green eyes had a pleasingly curious expression. The white coated waiter brought a silver tea set, Phil poured himself a cup, adding a dash of cold water. She watched his traditional Mad Dogs and Englishmen ritual with fascination,
'I've no idea who you are, but I know you've come a long way.'
'And before that?'
'And before that?'
'Malaysia. We could be here all day telling you where I've been, but I must admit there's no place I'd rather be and no one I'd rather be with...'
'And before that...Vietnam...'
It was a statement, not a question. His brown eyes gave her a quizzical look.
'I can see it in your eyes...Mr....'
He gave her an astonished look, then sat back in his chair to have another sip of tea.
'I haven't been called that in such a long time...my parents named me that, but I never told that to anyone before.'
'I recognised the oh, so French style of "conversation" through your eye contact and Beau Gestures. You don't sound French, not quite English...urban Australian...or English South African?'
He nodded, she continued like a celebrity panellist on the What's My Line? game show,
'Phillipe's the name, what's your game?'
He smiled and began drumming on his table singing to the tune of an old television show called Hawaiian Eye.
She laughed again and her eyes sparkled.
'I was a guest star on one of those.'
'I know. I never missed the show. Believe it or not, watching it was the most exciting thing of my entire life at one time.'
She laughed again,
'I believe you Phillipe. You're one of the few genuine people I've met...If you spend any time in Hollywood you develop an expert bullshit detector, but you're coming across like a knight errant of the Round Table.'
Her voice took him back to a different time and a different place,
'When I did that show, everyone thought we were on a beach at Waikiki, but I was slaving away on the Warners' backlot with an egomaniacal dwarf who stood on a box. He was such a prick that one day the crew took away all the furniture in his dressing room and replaced it with doll house furniture. He went off like a rocket, just like the aborigine in the Bugs Bunny cartoon'.
Phil laughed uproariously that made her laugh all the louder.
'You're about to ask me what a girl like me is doing in a nice place like this?'
His eyes signalled her to go ahead.
'You could imagine what a sewer Hollywood was, but then I was no longer the Polish girl from Bismarck, North Dakota who one day realised that the reason she hated everything and everybody else was because she hated herself . One fine day I realised that though I was so far away, I couldn't run away from myself. So, I fell in love with here and myself being here...', she suddenly changed her expression as if she had just remembered something, 'I've never told anyone that before.'
They attracted the attention of a couple walking in the room who advanced to their table. The male was bald, middle-aged, and had the look of a former athlete who went to fat. His eyes looked like he still expected adulation.
He was accompanied by a younger blonde whose eyes showed a strong familiarity with fear. She walked a couple steps behind him as if she were Japanese. Kit smiled at the new arrivals as Phil rose to greet them.
'John...Lucy, let me introduce you to...The Man from Hong Kong!'
'George Lazenby...at your secret service, but you can call me Phil.'
John Merrill had an overly strong handshake and determined eyes. Lucy was surprised when Phil shook her hand as well, as if she had believed herself to be invisible. Her eyes still seemed frightened. A flashback to George Sanders' line in The Ghost and Mrs. Muir suddenly popped into his mind, 'Women named Lucy are always being imposed upon...'
Phil sat, Kit rose with her parcel, he rose again.
'I've got to powder my nose. You don't have to stand.'
'A gentleman always stands for a lady.'
'I'm no gentleman', John laughed.
Phil instinctively knew that truer words were never spoken.
As Kit left to presumably examine her parcel, John spoke,
'I'm going to the bar, Phil, can I 'shout' you anything?'
John's voice seemed somewhere between English and American, with a hint of something that he couldn't quite place. Like Phil he was tanned, but his smile didn't seem genuine.
'I'm fine with my tea, John. Maybe I'll shout the next round.'
John went to the bar, rather than remain at the table and summon a waiter; he seemed the type to be more at home at a bar.
'And where are you two from?', Phil smiled to Lucy.
So that was John's mystery accent...but she sounded Peaches and Cream English.
'You're a long way from home.'
'We all are.'
'Have you been married long, Lucy?'
'I'm his mistress...does the idea of a mistress shock you?'
He felt that she was trying to impress him, or at the worst have him feel sorry for her. Phil thought sympathy was like morphine, occasionally needed, but a person could get addicted to it. He quietly laughed and shook his head.
'The idea amuses you?'
'No, you've just brought back pleasant memories of my Auntie, who lived on the Côte d'Azur and in French North Africa. She'd take me to the cinema in Sydney to films like Gigi and Irma la Douce and afterwards over dinner she'd clue me in on what was really going on in the films besides the beautiful costumes and sets. Oh, she was quite the sociologist, and I learned the real facts of life from her, ones my parents wouldn't approve of....'
She broke out in a smile and laughed as he did, her eyes softened, that made him happy.
'Your Auntie sounds wonderful.'
'She is. You two would get on like a house on fire.'
'You're not married or engaged?'
'Once bitten, twice shy.'
Phil rose as they were joined by two others. One was a striking extremely well-dressed Chinese woman with a large hat worn tilted towards the right. She was accompanied by an older Portuguese man who had the warm eyes and genuine smile that John lacked. Lucy introduced him.
'Madame de Souza, Colonel de Souza, meet Phil from Hong Kong, via Australia.'
Madame de Souza was so graceful that he felt like kissing her hand, but he slightly bowed instead. The Colonel had a warm firm handshake that made Phil instantly like him.
'Tomas, to you, Phil. We used to live in Portuguese Timor.'
'Our neighbour back in Sydney was in Sparrow Force.'
'Then allow me buy you a drink as the only way we can give him our gratitude.'
'Your neighbour was a bird watcher?', asked an incredulous Lucy.
'No, Sparrow Force were Commandos who fought behind the Jap lines in Timor for a few years.'
Tomas's mood changed when he saw John, Phil guessed it was a politely concealed strong hatred. Phil thought he noticed John give Madame de Souza a quick glance of recognition, as if the two were carrying on in something together. Lucy's smile and good mood vanished on her master's return.
Kit returned wearing an expression that Phil couldn't quite figure.
'Phil, you'll be joining us for lunch.'
It was a long lingering and to John, a liquid luncheon. John and Tomas ignored each other, Madame de Souza was polite to everyone and facilitated insignificant conversation. Kit, Tomas and Phil made Lucy laugh; John became louder with Tomas appearing to wish to rip John's head off the top of his body, but was reined in by the glances of his gracious wife.
Phil truthfully explained his occupation as training security guards in Repulse Bay. Kit related that she was fed up with the 'United States of Greed and Hypocrisy' and wanted to get away from it all. Phil reflected that when Westerners thought they were blending into what they regarded as an obscure location, the locals regarded them as sticking out like bright lights at night, hence Fu's agents pinpointing her location. Tomas explained that the sudden change in the government of Portugal led to the Indonesians filling the vacuum of a suddenly independent East Timor that made them leave. His wife added that the Indonesians hated and persecuted the Chinese inhabitants. John stated that he had come to Macau as he was involved in 'the import export industry' but wouldn't say just what he imported and exported that made Phil distrust him even more. John's remark that sounded like he was making a secret joke seemed to make the inscrutable Madame de Souza slightly but noticeably grimace.
He indirectly probed Kit and John's history together, apparently the pair had lived in proximity in Southern California after her acting career was over. Phil guessed that the pair had once had a lengthy affair, but there seemed to be nothing between them anymore, with Kit's expression being glad of it. Lucy seemed in a permanent state of discomfort, as if she were walking on eggs. Both Kit and the de Souzas were permanent guests in the hotel and knew each other as neighbours and best friends.
As John continued his drinking and loud conversation, Phil politely excused himself that he had to telephone his head office.
After his telephone call to Mr. Fu, Phil found himself walking along the beach and thinking to himself. There was something on his mind, but he didn't know what. When confronted by a feeling of déjà vu, or 'déjà voodoo' a phrase that he once amused his family with when he was a child, he would think things out and eventually come across a similar situation or person he had once come across in his life or in an old movie.
As he admired the blue sky and water, the green hills, the sand and the lovely old buildings it came to him. It wasn't a fact or a face that he was trying to recollect, it was a feeling. He was lunching with five disparate people from around the world at a small hotel West of Hong Kong and South of Macau at the extremity of the Tropics in the final remnant of the Portuguese Empire...Like someone said about Rhodesia, it was a place where you could set your watch back 50 years after your arrival, then throw it away, as you'd never need it again...
He now realised what it was that was on his mind...he believed that he was finally at the literal geographical and proverbial 'end of the world'. He recalled once being fascinated by the title of a 1940s movie and a song by Nat King Cole, To the Ends of the Earth. 'There' was now at last 'here' to him...
His mind flashed back to the memory of him holding Caroline, the English schoolteacher who had once been the first and perhaps the only love of his life. She broke what he then regarded as a timeless silence by suddenly remarking from his embrace with her head on his chest,
'Australia's the end of the Earth, isn't it?'
He replied, 'If what you mean by "the end" being one's starting point where you begin things, then yes, to me it is.'
It came to him at last that that was perhaps her first indication that she would never remain with him...
Where were 'the ends of the Earth'?
He recalled being in the World's End pub in Chelsea, and then more recently being in Sri Lanka with a Sinhalese couple who took him with them from Nuwara Eliya, where he was staying, to a drive to their nation's World's End, where he looked down and the mists gradually vanished to reveal a 1200-meter drop. The world had to end somewhere...
It was all merely a matter of perception. The 'Far East' to a Britisher or an American was the 'far north' to an Australasian; l'extrême orient to a Frenchman or woman from France métropolitaine et France d'outre-mer was le proche ouest to the Australien of French descent living in Hong Kong...the 'end' to one person was the 'beginning' to another.
He was a globetrotting Australian soldier of fortune dining with a former American film star who turned her back on her former life, a shady couple from Trinidad no doubt persona non grata with their island's current regime, and a man raised, as several generations of his family had been, in East Timor that suddenly had become the 27th province of Indonesia, and he was now instantly regarded as a Portuguese cólon. They were all proverbially and literally 'on the outs'.
Like Dr Seuss's On Beyond Zebra!, they were not only 'on beyond' the world, they were on beyond themselves. He reflected that he had so often wished to belong somewhere and someplace where he fit in by being like everyone else. Now, like they said, beware of what you wish for...
He arrived back at the hotel to find what seemed every police vehicle in Macau. A Portuguese gentleman in a bespoke suit escorted by a Eurasian or 'Porkinese' female uniformed Sergeant and two Chinese constables came up to him.
'Senhor Danté, I am Comissário De Calvalho of the Police of Macau, and I wish to speak with you about the murder of Mr. John Merrill. Your passport, please.'
Phil was escorted through the foyer of the hotel where of course, he was the centre attraction. He wondered if the onlookers would throw him peanuts as if he were an animal in the zoo. There was a floppie, the name they called dead bodies in Rhodesia, covered with a white sheet in the dining room that had been cleared of everyone save his catatonic widow and police. Presumably the others who shared the table were being questioned in different rooms of the hotel. Phil found himself in one of the hotel's smaller rooms.
'What happened, and why do you think I had anything to do with it, sir?'
'It is quite possible that the late John Merrill was poisoned by one of his companheiros de almoço'.
'I've never met him before today, and I've never 'poisoned' anyone in my life, nor would I ever intend to.'
'That is extremely possible. Would you please explain to me what you are doing in a hotel in Coloane with a man who you said you had never met before, then you dine with him, make a loud pronouncement that you are allergic to seafood, and leave before he dies?'
'I am allergic to seafood, I live in Hong Kong, I came to Macau to visit the lovely uncrowded beaches, as the crowds of Hong Kong eventually wear you down. Our luncheon was finished, and I wanted a walk as I always do after a wonderful meal, sir.'
'"Finished"...We have a murder, and I am speaking to the strongest of all the suspects, but...what would your motive be except for money? If anyone looked like a paid assassin, there would be no one in the entire world who looks more like a hitman than you do. You come without luggage, and someone is dead. Are you an assassin, Senhor Danté?'
'Only for sovereign governments, sir.'
'Ah. Such as?'
'Australia. They sent me to Vietnam to do that sort of work, along with hundreds of others like me.'
Phil had no intention of informing him of his similar if not bloodier work in several other countries where he had been hired by their governments as a trainer and a small unit leader of their counter-insurgency forces.
'But as his former associates in at least two different nations want him dead...and you have just arrived before his death...'
'His own country and where else, sir?'
The Comissário moved his head to what Phil presumed was Communist China.
'Our neighbours frequently use our nation as a place to meet others that they would never allow in their own nation...one of these nations would be pleased to pay a third party from a third nation to do their business for them. How do you earn your living in Hong Kong, Senhor Danté?'
Phil slowly stood up, the Comissário's eyes never wavered but his three uniformed companions sprang as if they were about to pounce on him. He slowly produced his wallet and showed his Orient Investigation and Eastern Security identification card.
The Comissário examined it and gave a hint of a smile.
'I know Senhor Fu well, I will speak to him about you.'
Phil inwardly breathed a sigh of relief; he would feel himself disloyal if he had to reveal his employer's business to anyone...let Fu fill him in.
'There is a third thing, Senhor Danté, for a person who is facing being arrested for murder you do not seem very...emotional...'
Phil reflected back to his school days where his main companions were the children of migrants from a variety of nations who were either Roman Catholic or Greek Orthodox. To Phil, they and their families had all seemed to be drama queens whilst his family had the English traditional belief of showing any emotion being 'bad form'. In high school, some of them had called him 'Mr. Spock' after the impassive Vulcan on Star Trek.
'Silence is golden, Senhor Danté, but not when a policeman is asking you questions. It becomes the lead weights put inside your trousers to ensure that your neck is broken when you are being hanged.'
Phil suddenly blurted out a memory without any reason why he did so.
'When I was in Vietnam, I led a small patrol in the bush. We all walked directly behind our lead scout, I was number three man...number four hit a mine. None of us had seen it, all of us had stepped over it. Why didn't the three of us see it? Why did Griffo, our tail-end Charlie step on it instead of stepping over it like we did, or why didn't our scout, our machine gunner and myself not set it off? I was in command...it was my patrol...I thought about that for a long time...After that, I thought that you'd go mad if you cared or wondered...Inshallah!'
The impassive Comissário's eyes seemed jolted. Phil felt his self-control vanishing. Maybe the End of the World was the place where you bared your soul...he had never mentioned that memory outside of his military circles.
He sensed that the Comissário had taken on board his account that he no longer cared about his own or anyone else's death.
It was the Comissário's turn to surprise him.
'Take off all your clothes, Senhor Danté. We are going to examine them.'
Beginning with his suit jacket, then his tie, then his shoes, he slowly undressed as if he were in a doctor's office. The Comissário would examine each garment then passed them to the female Sergeant who maintained an interested expression in his clothes more than him. To his relief, no one ripped any part of his clothes.
When they got to his boxer shorts, he was wondering how the female Sergeant would regard his symbol of manhood when he was ordered to turn away from them. His hands were handcuffed behind him. His shorts were pulled down by one of the constables and he was ordered to bend over where his innermost secrets were probed and revealed.
Phil excitedly shouted,
'What do you see in there???'
'Shit', answered the embarrassed Constable.
'What did you expect, ice cream?'
The Comissário expertly attracted Phil's attention with a painful punch in the small of his back.
'We make the jokes here, Senhor Danté.'
Phil thought cops were cops the world over.
The Comissário barked orders to the female Sergeant in Cantonese. She entered the en suite bathroom and came out holding a white towel that she folded. He thought it was much too small to cover him like one of the bath towels.
She tightly tied the towel over his nose and mouth. He noted to himself that like nuns, policewomen did not have a sense of humour and little tolerance for the bon mot.
A gag was the last thing he expected as he was the guest of honour of a police interrogation where answers were the Holy Grail. He saw himself in the mirror on the wall, the effective gag was over his nose as well as his mouth like the ones he had seen in Japanese movies.
Was this humiliation something to facilitate communication? Was he going to be threatened to be paraded through the hotel foyer in a living nightmare in order to get him to answer questions to prevent embarrassment? On a command in Cantonese the procession marched not outside, but into the bathroom where he was laid face up on the white tile floor and the Sergeant sat on the toilet with her dictation pad.
The penny dropped when the Comissário came back with a pitcher of water from the room's refrigerator...At his command the two Constables held his head and his feet to stop any movement.
He well knew of the information extraction technique where water would be poured on a towel over a person's nose and mouth; he had no idea if he would be able to take it. His experience with police around the world was that the visibly tough and loudly gruff Western First World policemen were full of bluff, but in the Eastern Second and Third World, silence was literally deadly. A barking dog never bites, but a quiet one will rip you to shreds and eat you alive.
There was a knock on the outside door, the Comissário left and didn't come back.
Was the waiting game part of the Quiz Show? He had known military intelligence interrogators who talked about the good old days of imagination when people read books and listened to the radio; they would get their information by their subjects torturing their own minds. Once television came in and imagination decreased, they had to go for intense pain, like his Auntie's tales of the French police having only 24 hours to extract information from captured Algerian rebels as they were given no information that would be of use beyond that time.
He had to get his mind off things...
The Sergeant sat on the toilet with her arms and legs crossed, one of the constables was standing by the door at parade rest, presumably the other constable was guarding the outside door. Even Harry Houdini couldn't get out of this one...
He looked up at the Sergeant and began to think of slowly undressing her. First her hat, then taking down her black hair that would have hung well below her shoulders...
By the time he had reached the point where he had removed her blouse and brassière and was kissing her breasts, the Chinese proved that they weren't inscrutable after all. The constable was giggling like a schoolgirl and pointing; the Sergeant was visibly embarrassed and covered Phil's erection with another towel.
What next to think about?
John Merrill's widow was certainly afraid of him, especially when no one was around, but brightened up when there were others about. Had she suddenly had the now or never thought to poison him? It was her big chance and there were other suspects at the table.
The de Souzas? There was no doubt Tomas hated him, but the Portugee way would be to beat the shit out of him for the entertainment of all and sundry. Madame de Souza? He thought of the inspector's comment about Red China using Macau and Senhor Gonçalves's pronouncement that nothing happened in Macau without Peking's approval, the flag of proud Portugal still flew only because it was expedient for the international commerce of Communist China. He recalled the Comissário's comment when he said Chinese interests wouldn't mind seeing John dead. Like Macau, maybe Colonel de Souza was a front for Madame to be the one to carry on their business. She would appear to have the least of the motives, unless the Comissário knew who she really was, and it was she who would have the strongest of motives. However, a 'queenpin' would never do her own dirty work...unless she was incredibly sadistic...he recalled the Dragon Lady of Terry and the Pirates from his childhood.
Kit Marlowe? She had been changed by whatever was in the parcel, but she displayed no animosity towards John Merrill whatsoever, she had insisted he stay for lunch with them...unless she wanted a new suspect. Currently there was no more frequent villain on American television then the Vietnam Veteran, as the people who dodged the draft themselves were now the Hollywood money laundering producers and screenwriters. He reflected that just because he killed a few people during his time in the military he'd be forever regarded as a homicidal maniac...
He heard the outside door open and began thinking his Our Fathers for the strength to resist.
A happy Comissário came into the bathroom nearly knocking the Constable over that made both Phil and the Sergeant laugh. He gave an order in Cantonese.
'Senhor Danté, our business is completed. Please get dressed and I hope you will do the honour of joining me in a celebratory drink as I explain things. Have you tried our Licor Beirão?'
The wide-eyed Phil looked at the Sergeant who smiled and winked at him, then beckoned him to get up.
The smiling Comissário brought Phil's freshly pressed suit and shirt and shined shoes into the bathroom as the Sergeant removed her handcuffs and the towel.
Freshened up and neatly dressed, Phil smiled together with the Comissário and enjoyed his first glass of the favourite liqueur of Portugal. He had learned and accepted that in the Third World torture and death or forgiveness and long friendships could come at the drop of a hat, in his case, all had occurred within a very short period of time.
'Do you remember this, Senhor Danté?'
The Comissário showed him the opened envelope that Phil had brought from Hong Kong.
'I know the outside, but I have no idea what was on the inside, sir.'
'That is good news. I trust what I am about to tell you will never leave this room.'
Phil toasted him and agreed.
'A certain person once had a young son who committed suicide. Photographs of the recently deceased, as you English say, "having his way" with the then teenage boy were brought by a courier....', the Comissário used his eyes to demonstrate that he had spoken to Fu, as well as finding the receipt Kit signed therefore, he knew of Phil's mission, 'to a certain party who invited that person to a last meal....'
'Were the photographs meant for blackmail, sir?'
'No, that is an even more sordid element in the story. The deceased greatly enjoyed viewing photographs of himself doing unspeakable things...someone found them, and it is possible they were brought to another certain person to ensure that the recently departed was guilty of a horrible crime...
'So, what happens now, sir?'
'In a land of law, a sordid criminal trial that would do no one any good would occur, but in a land of justice, a report will be made that a certain person accidently died through a food allergy; the body was cremated of course.'
Phil gave the biggest smile of his life, and he enthusiastically shook hands with the beaming Commissioner of Police.
'Sir, I have known many officers of the law, but I am extremely honoured to at last meet an officer of justice.'
They finished their drinks, the Comissário escorted him down the hallway of the hotel to the foyer. They walked side by side with the Comissário holding Phil's arm as his grandfather used to do with him.
Waiting at one of the tables with a pot of Darjeeling tea was a relieved, but happy looking Kit Marlowe. A Eurasian woman playing a guitar softly sang Amado Mio. Kit had the eyes of a huntress whose prey had just came within range...
'I've told Senhor Fu that you are assisting us with a case. He has been informed that you will be staying as our guest at the Hotel. Your piece of luggage will be brought to you from your hotel in Macau...'
'Thank you, sir. I'd love to spend a night here, but...'
The Comissário smiled and winked, warmly shook his hand, then walked away. Kit Marlowe beckoned Phil to be seated and poured his tea,
'Black, no sugar, a bit of cold water....', she then coquettishly whispered, 'I don't want to be alone tonight...'
Phil thought of the scene from Dr. No, where Ursula Andress had related to Sean Connery an account of her obtaining revenge on someone who had done her wrong by fatally introducing him to a black widow spider. She asked if she had done wrong. 007 replied, 'It wouldn't do to make a habit of it.'
Author Notes: I am the author of three Extra Dimensional/Ultraterrestial military science fiction novels MERCENARY EXOTIQUE, OPERATION CHUPACABRA and WORK IN OTHER WORLDS FROM YOUR OWN HOME! as well as two travel books THE MAN FROM WAUKEGAN and TWO AUSTRALIANS IN SCOTLAND (all from Lulu.com). I live happily ever after with my wife in paradise (coastal Kiama, NSW Australia).