Tanner on Ice

Page 22

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“I daresay that was unpleasant.”

“It was,” I said, “so I moved to someplace a little more upscale.”

“A good idea, I’d say. What’s the name of it? I always want hotels to recommend to associates.”

“I’m in it right now,” I said, “and I’m damned if I can remember the name of it. It’s three or four one-syllable words strung together, and it sounds like a dish you’d order in a Chinese restaurant. Wan hung lo? Hu flung dung? I don’t know, something like that.”

He chuckled. “But you’re comfortable there,” he said. “That’s the main thing, isn’t it?”

“It is,” I agreed.

“And I’m glad you thought to call me.”

“I’ve been trying for hours,” I said. “I gather there’s been a problem with the phones.”

“Ah, well,” he said. “ Burma, you know.”

“I thought perhaps we could meet.”

“Talk things over.”

“Yes.”

“See where we stand.”

“Exactly.”

“Good idea,” he said. “Should we meet at your hotel, do you think?”

“I don’t even know the name of it.”

“I suppose you could always find out and ring back.”

“Of course I might not get through if I ring back,” I said. “ Burma, you know.”

“Quite. Would you want to come here?”

“The Strand, do you mean?”

“It’s better than trying to meet at a pagoda,” he said.

“At least we can wear shoes.”

“We can. I’d tell you to pop by right away, but I’m afraid I have an appointment. Do you want to come for lunch?”

“That would be fine.”

“Hang on,” he said. “I’ve a better idea. They do an English tea here better than you could get at home. Better than I could get at home, I should say. I’ve no idea what you could get at home.”

“Any number of things,” I said, “but not much in the way of a proper English tea.”

“Four o’clock, then,” he said. “Just say you’ve come for tea. They’ll show you where to go. Until then, Tanner.”

I can’t say my mouth started watering at the thought of a proper English tea, with watercress sandwiches with the crusts cut off and similar dubious delicacies. But the Strand also boasted a proper American bathroom, and as soon as I got off the phone with Spurgeon I went and drew myself a proper American bath.

I wasn’t sure whether I was going to stay put until tea time. That was the safest and simplest way. I could hang out in air-conditioned comfort, letting room service keep hunger at bay, and slipping downstairs when four o’clock rolled around.

But would the sweet young thing at the desk let me stay that long without showing her a passport and a credit card? I had both, but they were in my name, and not the one I’d signed at registration. I could come up with cash in lieu of a credit card, but how could I get around showing her Gordon Edmonds’s Canadian passport?

I lowered myself into the deep claw-footed tub and decided I could jump off that bridge when I came to it. The hot water was just what my shoulder needed, and wouldn’t do my sore ankle any harm, either. And, in combination with soap, it was just the ticket for the rest of me, or at least for the outside surface thereof.

I’d have gladly stayed in that tub until it was time to dry off and meet Spurgeon for tea, but I knew I couldn’t do that. I soaked for as long as I dared, hopped out, toweled dry, and had a quick shave. I looked a lot less grubby, and God knows I felt a lot less grubby. Insomnia, all things considered, doesn’t save the traveler as much money as it might. Even though you don’t need a bed to sleep in, you still have to have a place to wash up.

I got my backpack from the chair where I’d left it and dumped it out on the bed, picking out clean clothes to wear. Clean undershorts, clean socks, a clean shirt, clean khakis – I was going to be clean from head to toe, and God knew when I’d be able to make that claim again, since the chance I’d be able to wash anything out between now and my return home struck me as remote.

Well, what better venue for cleanliness than tea at the Strand?

I laid out what I was going to wear and put everything else back in my pack. Then I’d get dressed, and then-

Hello!

What had we here? It was a parcel about the size and shape of a brick, although it didn’t seem as heavy as a brick. It weighed, at a guess, a pound or two. I hefted it in my hand and decided it was closer to two pounds than one.

Maybe just a little more than that, I decided.

Maybe 2.2 pounds, say. One kilogram, if you’re feeling metric.

All wrapped in foil and neatly sealed with tape.

Now where had this come from? I certainly hadn’t brought it with me from New York. It was the sort of thing I’d remember packing.

And it certainly hadn’t been in my pack when I cleared Customs the previous morning at Yangon Airport. It was the sort of thing the inspector would have noticed, and I had a feeling he’d have made a fuss about it.

From then on the pack had stayed on my back, the zipper zipped shut. Until I set it down on a chair at the Char Win, where it stayed until Katya shifted it to the floor. And that’s where I found it when I returned to my room. It had company – the dead man with the Spurgeonesque whitened temples – but it appeared undisturbed.

Yet, when I picked it up, it had seemed heavier. And well it might, I thought, having grown in weight to the tune of a kilo.

A kilo of what? Well, I didn’t know. But I could all too easily guess.

I stood there, stark naked, and decided I would have to do something about the foil-wrapped brick-shaped kilo of something or other. But I wasn’t sure what to do, and whatever it was could probably wait until I had clothes on.

I put down the package and picked up a pair of undershorts. And someone picked that moment to commence shouting my name and pounding on the door.

Not my name, actually.

Gordon Edmonds’s name.


Well, that was something.

“Just a minute!” I shouted, and ran to the door and made sure the chain bolt was on. “Give me a second! Be right with you!”

“Mr. Edmonds, open the door!”

“Right-o,” I cried, wondering if that was something Canadians said, wondering why I thought it mattered. “Just out of the tub!” I added. “Be with you in a jiffy!”

I’d dived out a car window and dropped from a first-floor guest-house window, but this time, damn it to hell, I’d taken a room on the fifth floor. Was there, by some lucky fluke, a fire escape? Or a ledge wide enough to cling to?

No and no.

“Please open door right now!”

“Yes!” I sang out. “Right now! Wish you’d let me get decent, but I daresay you’re in a bit of a rush, and I wouldn’t want to throw your timetable out of kilter. Know how annoying that sort of thing can be.”

They had the door unlocked and were just about to hit it hard enough to smash the chain bolt when I reached it, unhooked the chain, and drew the door open. I had my clean khakis on, although I hadn’t managed to run the belt through the belt loops. Nor had I put a shirt on.

And I was barefoot. If we were going to visit a pagoda, I was dressed for it.

“Come in,” I said. “Come right in, make yourself comfortable. Sorry I’m not properly dressed, but I sensed that you were in a bit of a hurry. Now then, what seems to be the trouble?”

Chapter 12

There were four of them, all men, all dressed in smart khaki uniforms, the trousers sharply creased, the shoes polished. Two held automatic weapons and looked as though it was all they could do to keep from pointing them at me and letting off a burst. The other two were officers, with no weapons in their hands but holstered pistols on their hips. One was the little master of an-ah-deh who’d steered me away from Aung San Suu Kyi’s house. The other, with an extra chevron on his sleeve, looked to be in command.

“Your papers,” he said.

“My papers.”

“Your passport.”

“Oh, right,” I said. “Didn’t I leave it with the girl at the desk downstairs?”

“She say not.”

“Well, I suppose she’s always been truthful in the past. Oh, right,” I said, digging it out of my Kangaroo. “Here we are.”

The man in charge let his segundo take the passport from me and inspect it before passing it on. Then he had a look at it himself, and then he had a look at me.

“Evan Tanner,” he said.

“Yes.”

“You gave other name downstairs.”

“Well, yes,” I admitted.

“ Edmonds.”

“Yes, Gordon Edmonds.”

“Canadian.”

“Yes, that’s what I wrote.”

“Put passport number. Different number from this.”

“Yes,” I said. “I can explain.”

They looked at me.

“You see,” I said, “I didn’t want my competitor to know what I was up to. I’m a businessman, and one of my rivals has a representative in Rangoon, and I didn’t want him to know where I was staying.”

“So you use false name.”

“That’s right.”

“Who is Edmonds?”

“No one, really.”

“You just make him up.”

“Yes. Silly of me, I suppose. I thought I’d be a Canadian, you see, and I tried to think of a Canadian name, and all I could think of was Gordon Lightfoot. The singer?”

They didn’t seem to have heard of him.

“Well, he had a big hit with a song called ‘The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald.’ About a ship that sank in Lake Superior some years ago. Gordon and Edmund, you see. Gordon Edmonds. I don’t suppose it sounds particularly Canadian, but-”

“You are here on business.”

“Yes.”

“It says tourism on your visa.”

“Yes, well-”

“What business you in?”

“I’m an importer.”

“What you import?”

“Coffee, mostly. You see-”

“No coffee in Myanmar.”

“But that’s just it,” I said. “You don’t grow any coffee here, and I’m sure there are hillsides in this country that would be perfect for coffee plantations.”

I nattered on in this vein, making it up as I went along, and it began to sound pretty good to me. Why not grow coffee in the mountainous regions? There were areas of the Shan state, for example, that ought to provide an ideal climate for its cultivation. It might not have the dollar-per-acre return of opium, but it could still prove profitable, and caffeine was a more socially acceptable drug than heroin, and-

“I think you have something beside coffee,” said the man in charge. He pointed at my backpack, still reposing on the bed, and let off a burst of Burmese too rapid for me to make out. One of the men opened my pack, and the Number Two officer began to go through my things.

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