The Curtain Rises

TIME: 2020

PLACE: Hong Kong

It was Friday night in Hong Kong, and that meant a lot of people were going out to dinner.

It was busy at the restaurant called the Eating Counter, one of the city’s hidden gems. The food was top quality, yet fame had eluded it due to it not being located in one of the city’s more upscale neighborhoods.

Most of its clientele were regulars, but a few were those who had stumbled upon it by accident.

*****

Wong Kong Sheng of the Hong Kong Royal Police checked his watch as he downed another cup of tea.

Ten minutes late.

One of his informants had contacted him, claiming he had information about his brother and had suggested the Eating Counter as the place to meet.

Kong Sheng knew the place—most cops in the HKRP did—and agreed, hoping the information would help unravel the mystery of his brother’s alleged corruption.

He checked his watch again.

Eleven minutes late.

He cursed.

Typical informant, he thought. Won’t give you the time of day when you need it, but as soon as he needs something from you, he won’t leave you alone.

Four more minutes, he told himself. Four more minutes and I’m out of here.

He looked over the crowd, engaging in the popular cop pastime of people-watching. He loved it. Movies and television couldn’t compete with real-life human drama.

Almost all of the crowd was Asian, but he did notice several Westerners had made their way in: a scruffy dark-haired man, a well-dressed guy with his face covered in bandages, and a good-looking brunette woman who would be downright beautiful if she dressed better and put on some makeup.

Something about the scruffy man roused his interest. He couldn’t say what it was, but he had learned to trust his instincts, and so he watched him out of the corner of his eye.

He checked his watch.

Two more minutes.

*****

Aleksandra Petrova sat in a corner table, poring over a map of Hong Kong, trying to find places mentioned in Mikhail’s journal.

She could not spend much time in the city. She had enough money to stay a hostel across the street for a week, and a guide book to the city said the Eating Counter provided good food at a reasonable price.

Apparently it was popular with non-Chinese like her because the menu was written in both Chinese and English—not that she needed it. Part of her Spetsnaz training had been in foreign languages to include both of those. Her accent was still very noticeable when she spoke, but she could read and understand them when spoken.

Most of the crowd was apparently locals, and that made sense, but she did see two other Westerners, a scruffy dark-haired man and a well-dressed man with his face covered in bandages.

There was something about them that made her gaze keep going back to them beyond the fact they weren’t Chinese. She supposed the scruffy one had a certain rugged appeal, but there was something else about him, something her military training told her she needed to keep her eye on him.

As for the bandaged one, it was simply the odd pairing of the nice clothes and the bandages. She wondered what had happened to him.

As she watched the scruffy one, she also picked up on one of the locals looking at her.

She wondered if he was looking at her because she was not Asian or because he found her pretty.

Or maybe both? she wondered.

On some level she knew she was good-looking, but had never learned how to use it; her grandparents made no big deal of it, so neither did she--not even when men were coming up to her on an almost daily basis and begging her to sleep with them.

*****

Anyone walking by Cheung Liang Cong might think him a lonely bachelor, given his companion at his two-seat table was a women’s fashion magazine.

It was sealed in a waterproof bag and placed on a small stand on the table facing him and got more than a few looks from staff and passerby, but he was oblivious to them.

The name of the model on the cover was Cheung Bao Zhi—his sister. She had been an upcoming model and the cover had been her first.

Shortly after that, she had disappeared on the way to a shoot. Police had looked for her and found nothing. That had been a year ago, and tonight was her birthday.

“Happy Birthday, sister,” he said, raising a cup of tea.

His eyes felt wet.

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