Lost in thought, Brig wandered away from the blind Chinese musician. Did the man say that he could feel me, or was that just in my head? he wondered. What did he mean by ‘feel me’? That he felt my presence? Brig believed it was something more profound, something more meaningful. It made him think of his mother, that maybe she was trying to communicate with him.
A car honked, yanking Brig out of his stupor and back into reality. He found himself on Theatre Lane, a small walking area that stretched between Central’s busy Des Voeux and Queen’s Road. He turned Southwest, away from the harbor and towards Queen’s Road where D’Aguilar Street began. Brig was looking for Lan Kwai Fong, a favorite gathering spot for Hong Kong’s expatriate community to drink, dine, and hook-up. He didn’t have to walk far. Where Theatre Lane ended, D’Aguilar Street and Lan Kwai Fong began.
The traffic light burned red and Brig was forced to wait as the traffic on Queen’s Road crept along. He could see the D’Aguilar street sign directly across from him. Several thrill-seekers who refused to wait for the light to change dodged the slow-moving vehicles. An electric tram rang its bell, warning pedestrians out of its way. It was another form of transportation, unique to Hong Kong, that Brig had forgotten. He recalled riding the streetcar as a missionary. It was cheap, entertaining, and killed time.
The light turned green and Brig crossed the street with the rest of the crowd. It seemed that all of Hong Kong was headed to Lan Kwai Fong. It was Friday night, and if you were a gwailo in Hong Kong and wanted to party, Lan Kwai Fong was the place to go.
Brig had forgotten how steep D’Aguilar Street was. On January 1st, 1993, twenty-one people were crushed to death in a massive stampede of people celebrating the New Year. Since then, the Hong Kong government had made modifications to the flow of traffic in the area, but Brig could imagine how a large, spooked crowd might panic, trying to escape this narrow strip of road.
Brig hadn’t gone very far before needing to stop and catch his breath. “No time like the present to begin training for Everest,” he joked. He may have laughed a little inside, but it also made him a little sad, as he considered how poorly he had treated his body the last few years. There was a time when he would have been able to sprint up the hill, then turn around and do it again. He definitely wasn’t in mountaineering shape. But then, he didn’t need to be. He would climb as high on Everest as his body would allow, take a handful of pills, lie down, and take the long nap.
But first, he would try to find and reconcile with Happy. Looking around, Brig saw a smattering of cafes and bars but knew that the better establishments were higher up, where Happy was likely to hang out. Brig remembered her telling him about the time she met Adam Duritz, the lead singer of “Counting Crows,” which had played a gig at the Hard Rock Cafe. He teased her about being a “star fucker.” It irritated Brig that she never denied it. For weeks he pestered her about who was better in the sack, he or Adam?
He climbed higher, passing a wide variety of restaurants and trendy bars, but no Hard Rock Cafe. He looked inside the windows of a bar called “Insomnia” and saw the beautiful people laughing, smiling, and having fun. He used to be one of them. How long had it been? At least a month, as it had been that long since he was last with Happy. Brig considered walking into the middle of the street and yelling her name. Perhaps somebody, who knew her, would hear him calling her name, but decided that he would have to get high first and that this tactic would be a last resort. Thinking of getting high, he decided it was time to take his medicine. He reached into his pack, found the bottle, and shook out two pills. Remembering that he was carrying US$30,000 and needed to stay sharp, Brig returned one of the pills to its container, dry swallowing the other and congratulating himself on his self-discipline.
Brig stopped a passerby to ask for directions to the Hard Rock Cafe. “At the top of the hill, turn left,” the man said with a hint of a European accent “You can’t miss it.” Brig thanked the man, and as he was turning to continue his ascent, he spotted a Chinese man staring at him from across the street. As Brig returned the man’s gaze, the man disappeared into a Japanese restaurant. Am I being followed? Brig wondered but quickly passed it off as paranoia, a common side effect of drug addiction. Besides, who would follow me? Brig thought. The only person he knew that might follow, or have the resources to follow him, was his father, and Brig couldn’t fathom why his father would.
Brig’s first instinct was the right one. He was being followed, but not by his father. The man tracking him was a foot soldier in one of Hong Kong’s infamous triads, and his intentions were more nefarious than Brig could imagine.