Authors: Mark Dawson
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Details can be found at the end of NINE DRAGONS.
by Mark Dawson
BEATRIX ROSE followed the man, staying a steady thirty metres behind him. She looked over her shoulder and saw Jackie Chau on the other side of the street, adjacent to her, ready to step in should she feel the need to drop back. They were on Lockhart Road, in the historic Wan Chai district that mixed flashy new bars with ageing topless joints. It recalled the image of Hong Kong as a port city that catered to the basest appetites, and it was that reputation, and the cheap beer, that attracted the bankers and professionals from the nearby offices in Central. The newer establishments, swanky and bright, could polish their chrome and glass as much as they liked, but the stain of sleaze would always stick to this part of town. It was a fundamental reason for its appeal.
It was a hot evening, with the mercury well into the upper nineties, and there was a soupy humidity in the air. Beatrix was sweating, but, save an occasional, almost unconscious, swipe of her hand to clear the sweat from her forehead, she gave it no heed.
Her concentration was focused on the man ahead of her.
David Doss was an English ex-pat who had risen to a senior position in a well-regarded international law firm. The practice had made its reputation through its litigation division, but it had developed a considerable banking practice in Southeast Asia with the Hong Kong office as its headquarters. Doss was fifty years old, married with two children, and had, for the last six months, been seconded to work with the commissioner of the Hong Kong Independent Commission Against Corruption. That was an unfortunate career move when considered against the scope of his life expectancy. The posting had led to his name and details being passed to Beatrix.
Beatrix heard Chau’s accented English in her ear, “
He goes to club
Beatrix and Chau were communicating via an open phone line, both of them wearing headphones with in-line mics. Beatrix had worked with super high spec Japanese gear before, the kind of receivers and transmitters that were so small they were almost invisible, but they would have cost thousands and she didn’t have the hookup any more. This, although a little more obvious, would have to do. Solo surveillance was difficult. Beatrix had taught Chau the rudiments of careful pursuit, but he was still too raw to use hand signals confidently and being able to speak provided her with some useful redundancy and him with the peace of mind that he could always reach her in the event that he was made. So far, it had worked well enough.
Wait. He is stopping
Beatrix glanced up ahead and saw that Chau was right. Doss had stopped at the side of the pavement, reached into his pocket and taken out his wallet. She couldn’t very well stop herself, not without giving away her pursuit to anyone who might be watching him, so she turned into Coyotes, one of the most popular bars in this part of town.
“Go ahead and then stop,” she instructed.
I know what I am doing, Beatrix.
She raised her eyebrow at that. Two hours of training with her and now he thought he was a professional. She had explained to him that if the target stopped suddenly, he had to keep going. If it was a move designed to flush out a tail, people who stopped at the same time would be made immediately. She had instructed him to continue on for thirty metres and then stop.
It was seven in the evening, and the bar was starting to fill with the
workers who had made the decision that, seeing as it was Friday, they would risk the ire of their bosses by leaving the office after a twelve rather than a fourteen-hour day.
Beatrix pretended to occupy herself with an old-fashioned Wurlitzer jukebox, knowing that Chau would continue the surveillance from the other side of the street.
She looked around at the men with their shirtsleeves rolled up and the women in their expensive dresses. The atmosphere was awkward, no one quite drunk enough yet to relax, staccato small talk the best that anyone could do. The bar was doing its best to compensate. Music played loud and the Happy Hour drinks were half the price of a bar on Land Kwai Fong. There was an antique dentist’s chair at the back. It was unoccupied for the moment, but, when things started to pick up, it would be busy with men and women prepared to pay fifty bucks for the privilege of lying back and having the barman pour neat triple sec and tequila straight down their throats.
Beatrix noticed one of the men at the bar, looking her up and down.
She turned away from him and lowered the bag she was carrying to the ground.
He’s gone into the drugstore,
” Chau reported.
Beatrix knew a little about the target. He hadn’t shown any particular caution, despite the inherent danger that came with a job like his. Perhaps he thought he was above being threatened by the triads he was investigating. Perhaps he was just naïve. It didn’t really matter. His sudden halt might have been the move of someone who was trained in detecting a tail, but Beatrix didn’t think so. She guessed that he had stopped in the drugstore to pick up a tube of breath mints or a pack of condoms. He had a wife and children back in the United Kingdom, but her quick assessment of him had revealed a man who took advantage of his money and the host of eager local women who were impressed by affluence. He dressed younger than his years, with trousers that were a little too tight, buckled shoes that were a little too ostentatious, and a haircut that was just a little too fashionable.
His attitude would be the death of him.
Beatrix guessed that she had a couple of minutes to dispense with and so, to avoid drawing attention to herself, took a coin from the pocket of her jeans and slotted it into the jukebox. She selected ‘Gimme Shelter’ by The Stones and made a show of listening to it.
The man from the bar detached himself from his friends and came across to her. He was wearing an expensive suit that most likely cost about as much as a reasonable family car. He looked unpleasantly confident.
“Nice,” he said, nodding to the jukebox.
Beatrix ignored him.
“My name’s Neal.”
She turned her gaze onto him. He had an even salon tan, an expensive clip on his expensive tie, and solid silver cufflinks of a dollar and a pound that showed on the creamy inch of shirt sleeve that was visible beneath the cuffs of his jacket.
“You like The Stones?”
He is moving
,” Chau said.
“What’s your name?” the man asked her.
Beatrix stooped to collect her bag.
“You’re very enigmatic,” the man said with a leer that she supposed was intended to be alluring.
She went right by him and into the brightness of the evening.
Beatrix walked quickly until she saw Doss again. He was passing one of the 7-Elevens in the area. The store specialised in alcohol, and encouraged customers to linger outside to consume the drinks that they had purchased. He passed through the clutch of men and women drinking from bottles of Guinness and Peroni and kept going. Beatrix reached the storefront twenty seconds later, looking up and across the street and noticing Chau.
“Stay ahead of him,” she said.
She dropped back again, watching Doss’s grey hair as his head bobbed up and down in the flow of traffic. Doss was a touch over six feet, still reasonably tall for a man in Hong Kong, and his charcoal grey suit would stand out until he reached The Corners, the intersections of Lockhart Road with Luard Road, and then Fenwick Street. Crowds of businessmen and women were beginning to congregate around two of the more upscale, less sleazy bars in Wan Chai. The first bar, on Luard Road, was
. It had an open facade and Doss had visited it when she had scouted him last week. It seemed that it was one of his regular haunts.
They drew closer to the intersection, the cheap neon signs already pulsing on and off and loud music pumping out of open doorways. Rickshaws angled through the tumult, scooters and mopeds overtaking them, bells ringing and engines whining. Girls hovered in doorways, looking for
to buy them overpriced drinks. A homeless man slumped in the mouth of an alley, the upturned cap laid out before him scattered with a few coins.
Just as Beatrix was expecting Doss to turn into the bar, he stopped, turned back to face her and fiddled with his mobile phone. Beatrix kept walking, allowing herself to be hidden behind the slow-moving group of secretaries who formed a buffer between him and her. She would have to continue right past him if he stayed still. If she stopped when he stopped, she would risk being made, but he didn’t wait long enough for that to be a problem. He turned, slipped his phone back into his pocket, and walked on.
“Here we go,” she said.
He slowed again, picking a path through the busy crowd outside the bar, and went inside.
“What do you want me to do?”
“Just as we said. Watch the front.”
BEATRIX OBSERVED as Chau slowed down and then stepped into the restaurant across the street from the bar. He negotiated with the waiter and was shown to a seat in the window, where he would be able to keep watch without revealing himself to anyone else who might be following Doss tonight. Beatrix, satisfied that the coverage of the front entrance was adequate, followed the alleyway that ran down the side of the building until she reached a door. It was open, standing ajar just enough so that she could see inside to the kitchen beyond. There were two chefs, both preparing food with their backs to her. The room was full of steam and noisy with the sound of the radio that was tuned to Sing Tao, the Cantonese radio station that was a favourite of the man who owned the grocery store where Beatrix usually collected her supplies.
She opened the door, slipped inside, and, after checking that the rest of the kitchen was empty—it was—she turned sharply to the left, went through a set of folding doors and followed the corridor back into the club.
She came across a waiter laden down with a tray of dirty plates and glasses and stepped aside to let him pass. He paused, looking at her quizzically. But she didn’t hesitate, finding her way to a flight of stairs and then, at the top, a small lobby with three doors. The sound of discordant singing could be heard through the door that was directly in front of her. The other doors opened into the club’s bathrooms. Beatrix pushed open the door to the ladies’ and went inside. She locked the door.
“Chau,” she said.
I am here. Where are you?
“Inside. Where is he?”
He has not come out
Beatrix placed her bag next to the sink, opened it and removed the knock-off Chanel dress that she had purchased from a Kowloon stall that afternoon. She undressed, removing her jeans and T-shirt and folding them neatly, sliding them into the bag. She dropped the dress over her head and tugged it so that it fell smoothly, accentuating her slender curves. She went back into the bag and took out a black wig. She settled it on her head, arranging it so that her blonde tresses were obscured. She took out a lipstick, pouted, and applied it with a careful and steady hand. She withdrew an eye shadow stick and painted around her eyes. Finally, she fetched a dark mascara and thickened her lashes with it.
When she was done, she gazed at her reflection. She hardly recognised herself.
She reached back into the bag and took out a small triangle of paper. The edges had been folded over to form an improvised sachet. She opened it very, very carefully. The powder inside was still there. Ricin. Beatrix had purchased the plant from a dealer of herbs in Kowloon. She had planted it next to a crape myrtle that was in the centrepiece of the window box that she had fitted to her windowsill. As the summer progressed, her little castor bean plant,
, had burgeoned. It developed purplish-green, red-veined leaves that were shaped like starfish. It grew little reddish flowers and fruit, inch-wide coral balls covered with soft spines. Beatrix had harvested the seed pods and had broken them open, revealing mottled brown seeds that were about the size of pinto beans.
Ricin had been the poison of choice in Group Fifteen, the government agency that had employed Beatrix, for many years. It was six thousand times more potent than cyanide, twelve thousand times more deadly than rattlesnake venom. The KGB had used it first: the case in 1979, when they had assassinated the Bulgarian diplomat Markov in London. The man died after being shot with a tiny bullet that contained ricin, delivered using a pressurized gas mechanism in the tip of an umbrella.
She had used ricin before, but she had never had to produce it herself. She had put the beans in a solvent to break down the oils and fats, filtering the slurry with water and hydrochloric acid and allowing it to form a powder. A 425 mg dose would be enough to kill most men. Beatrix had more than that. The poison was deadly because it could be inhaled or ingested, was quickly broken down in the body, and was virtually undetectable.