Kaptain's Blog

The writings and musings of The Kaptain

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

The Number One Under Heaven (61)

While essentially an unwelcoming place, Qinzhou’s central post office did at least provide access to the business pages they now scoured. Poring over the Chinese characters, Elle found the entry in the telephone directory listing local car hire firms. “Here. Here they are,” she said, running a finger down the list. “At least fifty, by the look of it.” With a watchful eye on their captive – who he had managed to clean up a little in a nearby public convenience – Blake leaned across to mull over the meaningless symbols. Once again, he was reminded of how important Elle was to the quest to locate his daughter. “Well done,” he said meekly, perhaps still shaken by his actions back in the café. Then, offering her his cell phone, he gestured for her to begin calling them, urgently. But Elle waved him away, already dialling the first number into her own hand held device.

It was almost thirty minutes before she had whittled the companies down to a shortlist of three. Blake and the petty crook had spent the time surveying each other dubiously, while trying to avoid eye contact. “These are our best bet,” Elle suddenly piped up, slicing through the uneasy atmosphere. “Although the conversation I had with this one–” she pointed to the third “–was confusing.” Blake rubbed his chin. “None of the others have a black people carrier, Adam,” his lover finally concluded, looking sympathetically into his eyes. “OK, let’s get going,” he replied, already turning to head back across the large hallway in the direction of the exit, pushing the lowlife abductor ahead of him as he did. Once outside, they managed after some delay to hail one of the infrequent taxis to pass, only to find as they settled inside that the driver had no idea how to reach their intended destination. Thinking on her feet, Elle dialled the car hire firm’s number before passing the phone to her left. Slamming his hand on the wheel a few grunts later, the driver gunned the engine into life. And while Blake was sighing in frustration at the time wasted, Elle was quietly encouraged by the curses the man continued to utter under his breath. For it meant their destination had to be close.

“Get him to wait,” barked Blake as they climbed out a few minutes later. “Tell him I’ll make it worth his while.” Elle remonstrated with the driver, who reluctantly agreed, while once more taking out his annoyance on the steering wheel. Jogging up from behind, she then caught up with Blake and their captive as they were pushing open the door leading into a dingy office, where a portly but otherwise unremarkable Chinaman sat smoking behind his desk. Again, it was Elle who did the talking, but after what seemed an eternity, the heated argument that appeared to have taken place had clearly drawn a blank. Elle turned away, her expression glum, while the man behind the desk simply shrugged. “It’s not the place,” Blake’s lover said, simply. “He hasn’t got any people carriers at all. Just lured us here in the hope we’d hire something else, instead.” Blake glared at him over his shoulder as the three promptly left to jump back into the taxi, which pulled away too sharply, and before the doors were properly closed. “Hey, asshole!” yelled Blake. But Elle was already dealing with the situation, reprimanding the errant driver, who seemed, this time, willing to pay heed.

Pulling up outside the yard of the second shortlisted company, their hopes were immediately lifted: a black Toyota Alphard was parked immediately outside the shack that was the firm’s office. Blake could not resist peering inside as they passed alongside it, without gaining any further clue. Talk to me, Sophie, he silently begged. Talk to Daddy, sweetheart. Moments later they pushed open the flimsy door, where a filthy man with a cigarette stuck to his bottom lip grunted some form of acknowledgement from behind a cluttered counter. Blake noted how the cigarette flapped up and down as he spoke. But for the circumstances, he would have found the sight amusing.

While Elle began talking to the man, appealing for his concentration while she probed, Blake’s eyes wandered about the place, surveying the room and the counter in front of him, searching for clues. Talk to me… After a while, he began to experience a sense that something was out of place. Or that a signal was being received, somewhere within. Talk to me, sweetheart… What was it? He scoured the room again. Nothing. But the subliminal messenger kept knocking. Poring over the contents of the counter, left to right, he suddenly stopped, his gaze instantly drawn back towards the left hand side, as if pulled by some invisible string. There. There it was. Nestling among some keys within a plastic container on the surface was something shiny and white. Blake moved left and reached into it, gripping the object between finger and thumb. He held it up to inspect it more closely. A tooth. The milk tooth of a young child. Sophie Blake’s. His little girl’s. It had to be!

Only vaguely aware of the conversation that was taking place between Elle and the car hire man, Blake suddenly lunged over to grab him by the shirt, half pulling him across the counter. From an inch away, he screamed into the hapless individual’s face: “Who hired that fucking car? Eh? Two days ago! Who hired the car?” Blake’s arm was outstretched behind him, pointing in the direction of the parking lot. “Give me a name, you cunt! Give me a fucking name, or I’ll… I’ll fucking…” Choking, the man was finding it difficult to spit out anything in response. Fleet of foot, Elle had meanwhile taken the opportunity to sprint behind the counter, where she was already leafing through a handwritten register. “Adam! Stop!” she yelled, as her finger hovered over an unusual name. Slowly, Blake loosened his grip, prompting the man to cough before hacking up and spitting a throatful of phlegm on to the ground. “His name is Bei. Bei Din Din,” related Elle, excitedly. “Adam. We’ve got a name!” And it was true: finally, the pair had their first clue as to the identity of the mastermind behind the abduction. The first concrete fact upon which to build their investigation.

But this vital piece of information had been won at a price, for as they turned to leave the petty thief they had picked up back in Guilin was nowhere to be seen.

posted by Kirk at 12:03 pm  

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