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Strait Flush: First chapter of this lil' novel I wrote...
Strait Flush: First chapter of this lil' novel I wrote...
I am debating on it publication...any thoughts?
Li Chui Wah stood facing the window of his Kowloon office, surveying the street scene two floors below. A long procession of pedestrians on either side of the narrow two-lane street. Several delivery trucks were stopped on the streetside, creating obstacles for the passenger cars and other trucks trying to get their last bit of business in before the close of the work day. Hong Kong was always like this, hurried throughout the day, and practically stopped at the morning and evening rush hours, then mysteriously silent within an hour.
Li wondered if the traffic was hindering his friend's movement, due in a few minutes, but always excused if late. It would be difficult to restart in the morning, as a final telephone call must be made prior to the close of business today. A car horn honked loudly outside, drawing Li away from his thoughts for the moment to see a delivery truck attempting to pull into traffic.
He was much traveled, as many Asian businessmen are. One of the many similarities and differences that he made a note of in his trips were the different behavioral patterns of the peoples of the world. In Hong Kong, Japan, and most of the Asian nations, automobiles drove on the left-hand side of the road. In the U.S., of course, this was opposite. Odd how it affected traffic patterns of the people scurrying along the sidewalks as well. Here, the pedestrians travel on the left side of the sidewalk, just as the Americans did on the right-hand side. Odd.
Tom Rossi rode in silence up the brushed stainless steel tunnel on an escalator crowded with bored young executives and plain-looking secretaries. He squinted, as the sunlight became more intense as the escalator neared the top at street level. It was a short jaunt across the harbor from Hong Kong Island to mainland Kowloon by subway. The station at Tsim Sha Tsui was at the southern end of Kowloon Park, one of the few grassy areas in a city of stifling growth. Tom maintained an office near the Admiralty station for his overseas business, picked mainly for its proximity to Hong Kong Park and the Central District. He still wondered if he should've settled in Kowloon. It was easier to find and Australian pub within walking distance.
The escalator disgorged its riders into the diesel- and seaweed-smelling air of Nathan Road, a major north-south route through Kowloon, lined with department stores and old ten-story business buildings. Rossi crossed Haiphong Road at the appropriate signal and again across Nathan at Mody Road. A short block to Hanoi Road and Tom felt another raw nerve irritated by the street names. Don't the people here know about these cities? Almost as if they were siding with their Asian brothers. Two streets you won't find in the 'States.
Tom smiled to himself as he walked down the narrow sidewalks, like a freighter in a harbor full of junks. The next tallest person was nearly a full head shorter. The execs, still young, dressed in grey suits and thin black ties, like a throwback to the 'sixties. All of the women wore flat-soled shoes and simple dresses. All with the same bored expressions. And coal-black eyes. Conspirator's eyes, thought Tom. Only an Asian could hide his expressions so well.
A turn toward Hart Avenue brought Li's office within sight. Rossi mused the Chinese way of calling an avenue a road, a street an avenue, and a lane a street. The narrow paths between buildings were the lanes, he supposed.
Hart Avenue was a street, busy and crowded, but not as bad as some in the area. The street-level had storefronts that were passed down for generations, while the first through top floors were business or residential. Usually six floors.
Rossi enjoyed the trips to the Far East; it was always good to contrast the atmosphere with his home. The Asian cities, with their predictable chaos, were among the worlds most organized. Typhoons would last for a week. The rainy season, the dry season, both hot, were only felt by those who flowed away from the downtown area. With the constant opening of doors at the base of skyscrapers, the streets were virtually air-conditioned. Even the setting sun wasted no time. With the subtlety of a pickpocket, suddenly it is dark.
Tom turned into Li's office building and punched a button for the elevator. He rode up alone, and the door opened to a narrow hallway. To the right was a small sign outside a glass door, stating in English and Chinese, the offices of Li Chui Wah.
The air in the office was scented with jasmine. Tom was surprised to see a new secretary-receptionist. Well, no he wasn't. She was prettier than the last, rising to her feet as he entered the room. A short, polite bow and toothy smile showed off a pair of high cheekbones, unusual for the area. She had a man's watch opposite several gold bracelets, and a light green dress with a tempting plunge at the neckline. Her desk had several stacks of papers. Either she was slow or she wasn't hired for her speed. Her hair was long and pulled back, revealing tiny pearl earrings.
"Ah, Good Afternoon, Sir. You must be Mr. Rossi. Mr. Li was expecting you." A trace of British accent, but probably not schooled. Probably worked for Brits and developed their speech.
"Yes. Good Afternoon. I don't believe we've met before. Please call me Tom." She was pretty, her dark eyes danced as she shook the tall American's hand.
" And I am Lan. I will call Mr. Li to announce your arrival." So formal, thought Tom.
The intercom wasn't necessary; Li quickly opened the door from his office and burst into the room.
"Tom!" Li was one of the few straightforward Chinese businessmen that displayed emotion that Tom knew of. "Please, come into my office. I have much news that you will find exciting." Li was grinning wide, shaking Rossi's hand furiously. Tom was led into Li's office, unchanged in the six months that he was gone.
Li loved the color brown and tan. The carpet was a dark brown pile, with recent vacuum-cleaner marks over much of the area. The desk was nearly empty, save the multi-line telephone station, an antique banker's lamp and several pens. To the right of the desk was a wall-wide window, bathing the room in the light of the setting sun. Too distracting for a good workstation. Li's computer was between the desk and window, a spreadsheet displayed on the screen. The chairs were expensive leather, also brown. A filing cabinet was host to a draping plant, its leaves touching the floor. The wallpaper was ricepaper-beige. A modern painting behind the desk gave the room its only splash of personality.
"Please, Mr. Rossi" began Li "Have a seat. You have been well, I trust?"
"Well, business is good, markets are up." Tom slid back a leather chair and lazed into it, stretching his legs in the process. "I've opened a store in Dallas and sales there are good."
"Ah, Texas." Li pronounced the state as if it had one K and two S's. "But those areas are becoming like another Silicon Valley in the U.S., are they not? Very high-tech."
"Yep, several companies are moving out of earthquake alley and into the heat."
"How long will you be in Hong Kong?"
"I was planning only four more days. I have some work back home to do that can wait until next week, but not really after that." Tom lied. He had been semi-retired since the middle of last year, only dabbling in bits of his computer sales and service business.
"Well, I bet you are wondering why I ask you to visit my office. Surely it is for personal visit, yes? But I have business offer that I know you will be interested in. Very quick. Very profitable. Very little risk. As soon as I hear of this offer, I think right away of you."
"Oh?" Tom hoped that his skepticism was not too obvious. Several times in the past the two had gotten together on various deals. While they did turn a profit more often than not, it usually was less than expected and far riskier. "And what sort of plan did you have in mind?"
"I cannot go into detail right now. I will say that you are expert in this field, yes. I need you to go to Middle East and be middleman in deal, then come back, oh, four maybe five days and have a half million dollars." Li waited for a signal from Tom's eyes.
"Yes, yes. U.S. Dollars. No money from you. Just be middleman in sale and make sure everything OK. Buyer and seller already waiting."
"Well, it sounds good on the money end, but Li, you know I'm a little more careful than that. I need to know more about a deal before I say yea or nay." The last remark puzzled Li briefly.
"I am sorry, I cannot go into too much detail now. I must make a telephone call today to let another man know, he is eager to do this, but I wanted to send you."
"Well.." Tom's mind raced with the possibilities. "No risk?"
"Some, to be sure. But nothing dangerous. It is completely sanctioned. We must move quickly, though. The seller is very impatient."
"If I say OK, tell your man that I'll do the job. But I want to know more before tonight."
"Excellent!" Li broke into a wide grin. "I know you will not be disappointed."
"Somehow, I knew you'd say that." Tom was already disappointed that he would agree to get into something he knew too little about before committing himself.
"Yes. Now, please, Tom. I must make this telephone call and let this other chap know that he is not a half million dollars richer. Can we discuss this matter tonight? At a dinner or over drinks? It will be a celebration, of course. We need to leave as soon as possible."
"Like how soon?" Tom saw the first signs of concern.
"Tomorrow? Morning?" Li gulped through a weak smile.
Tom rolled his eyes toward the ceiling. "Possibly. I'll postpone the business until I get back, but give me time tomorrow morning to make arrangements."
"Excellent." Li was beaming again. "Can we meet at a restaurant later tonight?"
"It will need to be afterward. I still will have business tonight, especially since the timeline has changed. I can meet you at Rick's at eight." Tom started to get up, Li also got to his feet. "We will discuss this in detail."
"Very good. Very good. Tom, thank you again. I will see you tonight at eight." The two shook hands. Tom was not even to the door before Li began dialing.
"Good evening, Lan. It was nice to have met you." She stopped typing on her keyboard and flashed a warm smile.
"Good night, Mr. Tom. I hope to see you again soon." Me too, thought Tom.
Tom left the jasmine aura and strolled back down the hallway toward the elevators. Back on the street, he reflected his association with Li.
Li didn't own any stores, didn't buy any stock. He didn't travel throughout the city or need to sell anything. Li was in the money management business. Hong Kong, among several other countries, was very liberal with their banking laws and practices. In accounts that formerly were reserved for the legendary Swiss and Caymans, foreign depositors would utilize the loose regulations regarding money handling and corporations. Dummy companies. Bearer-share bonds. Phantom subsidiaries. Money moving across the Pacific and beyond in massive amounts. All requiring a local agent. Li was not shadowy, but did flirt with the legal fringes at times. He apparently did well, his clientele called frequently. He was typical of the Chinese businessmen that operated in Kowloon.
A half-mile of water separated the up-and-coming from the "made" Tai-Pans of the Island. Like Yin and Yang, they both needed each other to make the whole. Every investment banker in Hong Kong started in the trenches of Kowloon, not as blue-collar as the New Territory villages, but respectable in its own right. And every small-time operator in Kowloon would look across that half-mile of water and wish for the Big Deal that would finance their boat to get across. This half-million dollar deal wasn't the one, thought Tom. But it was easy money, and that's what scared him. There is no easy money.
Tom was brought up in the oilfields of East Texas, son of a drilling foreman. His father worked for a dozen companies by the time Tom dropped out of high school, always moving about with the jobsites. This nomadic lifestyle turned young Rossi into a young man with few lasting friends, though meeting them was easy enough. His rock-hard frame and rugged good looks could win hearts everywhere he went. He played football and did general farm work, but saw no need to continue schooling after he learned to count money. In 1963 he started working as a derrickhand in West Texas. After two reckless years, he was caught stealing a car with a newly acquired friend, intending to use it instead of paying bus fare to Ft. Worth. The county judge sensed correctly that Tom simply needed a crash-course in discipline and gave him a choice; two years in the State Pen or military. Four days later, Rossi was at the Marine Recruit Depot in San Diego.
It worked. Tom completed his high school education at Camp Pendleton, California. He worked as a radio operator in an infantry battalion awaiting shipment to Vietnam. Recruit training had been tough, but no more than the rigors that the oilfields, football programs and farm work demanded. The toughest aspect was the mental and psychological endurance's that were required.
After a tough thirteen months in Arizona Valley, south of Da Nang, Tom found himself in a very responsible billet. The war was exactly what he expected; battling wits, boredom, insects, weather and the enemy with limited flexibility. The troops had come to trust the loner from Texas, and Tom was decorated for valor on the battlefield and wounded twice by shrapnel. Little did the Regimental staff understand most of the awards were because of the individuality of the awarded and his love for the troops around him. Rossi really didn't care about the politics surrounding Vietnam and generally did not regard himself as a good military man. He rotated back to Camp Pendleton and found himself lost. He had no desire to go back to Texas now, and found himself just as alien there as he first felt in the sun-drenched rice paddies and choked jungles. So he re enlisted for another tour. The Marines were glad to have him.
But after two wounds and thirteen months on the first tour, Rossi was placed "in the rear with the gear" for his second tour with the Division staff at a communications center. While at first he disliked the position for its over-officiousness and lack of in-the-trenches brotherhood, Tom was able to wander into the cities with the Vietnamese population. In 1967 the war was savage, but it still had not become the 'dirty' war that the Tet Offensive brought in 1968. Cities were still untouched, and Tom fell in love with the Asian people and their way of life. He met a girl in his first month of his second tour and continued the relationship until she was killed in a street gunfight in the breech of cease-fire during the Chinese New Year. Tom's ideas changed. He began to see the good and evil of politics and puppet governments. He felt for the local farmers and small-time merchants that were caught in the middle of this international show of force.
After rotating home from his second tour, Tom enrolled in a junior college and attended evening classes while completing his third tour. He was tired of the war and had done his share. Camp Pendleton was easy work, training new radio operators for combat duty. His duties, however, did give him additional opportunities to travel. He was redeployed to the Fleet Marine Force and went on a six-month tour of the Western Pacific rim.
Every six months the Marine Corps sends a battalion of infantry with supporting arms aboard amphibious ships to sail across the Pacific, like a beat patrolman waiting for a crime. The WestPac floats, as they are called, are combined training cycles in faraway places with the reality of imminent danger. On the other hand, it was the first time Rossi had the experiences of the liberty ports of Thailand, Australia and the Philippines. More often than not, the six months is completed without incident. This was the case with Rossi's WestPac, with the exception of a two-month security assignment that the battalion was tasked to perform in Da Nang, now that the Vietnam War was nearly completed. Tom returned to the U.S. with yet another view of the Asian nations.
In 1976, Rossi graduated from college with a degree in Business Administration and secured a position as a store manager for a large electronics firm in Southern California. He was 30 years old, almost too old for a family. In 1980 the company decided to open a store in Texas and Tom saw the opportunity to go back. His interest in the new personal computers had made him a key figure in the move, but the company was not reacting to the new technology quickly enough. After butting heads with the company owners for six months, Tom decided to start his own business. He moved to Austin and opened a small store with his entire savings account. It paid off. Tom hired two salespeople and a repairman/programmer graduate from the local university and worked constantly to stay current with the latest updates. The store expanded twice before he opened a new branch elsewhere in the city, then another in San Antonio, then Houston, then two in Dallas.
It was 1988 and Tom still hadn't gotten around to marriage, although several came close. He had a comfortable home in Austin and a two hundred acre ranch in the Texas hill country. This was his peace of mind, still a man of the earth.
While Rossi, Inc was busy in customizing computer software and hardware for personal and business use, his company had been manufacturing innovative cases and other add-ons for some time. In 1989 he joined a partnership with a Hong Kong company for access to patents to market in the U.S. The government insisted that he maintain an office in Hong Kong as a partner or hire an agent for service, he chose the former.
Now he walked away from the waterfront at a leisurely pace, found a German Stube and went inside, ordered a Bitburger draft and located the telephone. There was plenty of time.
10/4/2005 8:36 pm
95....what have you taken up Kabbalah?|
10/4/2005 9:28 pm
...it took a while for that to sink in....|
I counted 90, but I might be wrong...
(now ANY reader is confused)
...I don't know why this is happening..on my posts all of the numbers are in boldface.(?!)..I added them up also.
thanxx for mentioning it. Another quirky moment brought to you by our friends at AdultFriendFinder!
10/5/2005 12:13 am
thanxx huny...I did this rough draft on a ship coming back from Somalia, then did the pre-editing on a Win3.1 Write program on my laptop when I had a security biz in the mid 90's...then went thru the pro readers/editing/publishing and looked pretty promising to get it published at Random House. I couldn't do a tour and declined the offers, among other reasons, and I still sit with the contract...collecting dust in my filing cabinet.|
10/7/2005 10:04 am
Interesting. Have you visited all these locales you have mentioned?|
10/9/2005 2:39 am
Well done...great work...wish I could write like you...but it will be a lovestory. You have a # 1 fan here.|
Love..Faith ..and Hope..