“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.”
“See where we stand.”
“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-
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.