A bank of monitors hung from the ceiling, directing travelers on Flight 888 from San Francisco to baggage carousel #18. Since Happy had no baggage to collect, she looked for the exit.
“Ms. Ho? Are you Ms. Ho?” a young man wearing the red vest of an HKIA employee asked.
“Yes, I’m Ms. Ho,” Happy responded, not a little surprised.
“Good evening, madam. Welcome back to Hong Kong. I have been asked to assist you. Do you have any luggage?”
She shook her head no and held up the bag she had carried with her. “Just this,” Happy responded.
“May I?” Happy handed the bag to the man who had been hired by Chang. “Please follow me.”
Gathering herself, she followed the porter. She reached into her purse and retrieved her sunglasses. The porter moved quickly and confidently through the crowd, looking back occasionally to make sure that she was still following him. As they approached the “Nothing to Declare” line, she watched as the two airport cops, in their olive green uniforms, gave a conspiratorial nod to the porter, and, it seemed to Happy, intentionally avoided eye contact with her. The porter nodded back, and with no hesitation escorted Happy past the cops and the long line of “nothing to declarers.”
Happy had planned on taking a taxi to some undetermined hotel, but Chang had made other plans. It was his way of showing her that he was in control. As she entered the arrival hall, she scanned the faces of the people that waited just beyond the chest-high metal blockade that separated the greeters from the arrivals. Mostly smiling faces peered over the barrier, straining to be the first to identify their returning friend or family member. Mingled in with the smiling faces were the bored faces of drivers, half-heartedly holding up placards with the name of the doctor, lawyer, or other professional they were hired to drive for but had never met. At the end of the gauntlet stood two young, muscular Chinese men, fashionably dressed and wearing sunglasses. They were clearly 14K. She recognized one of them, but could not recall his name.
Her escort stopped in front of the two men and handed one of them Happy’s bag. “Madam.” He bowed his head. She wasn’t sure what to do in this circumstance, so she ignored the porter, and with a confidence she wasn’t yet feeling held her body and hands open in a way that said: “What the fuck?”
The familiar looking young tough spoke first. “Welcome home Big Sister. Your Uncle is eager to see you again.” Big Sister was a title, a term of respect, that triad Brothers used to address the few women in their organization. Only a triad leader’s closest friends and trusted advisors were allowed to refer to Chang as “Uncle.” It was supposed to be a significant honor, but Happy had never known him as anything else. Ever since she could remember she had been indebted, literally and figuratively, to the man she called Uncle. He was a living Hong Kong legend. There were many stories of the brutality and the vengeance he wrecked on the lives of his enemies.
She was too young to remember her life before she went to live with Chang. She had a vague memory of her mother, and she only knew her father from her weekly visits to Stanley Prison. In her first year of school, Happy learned from taunting schoolmates what her father and Uncle did for a living. At first, she was embarrassed and ashamed as many of the children bullied and teased her, but by the middle of the year, those same children had stopped teasing her and either clamored for her friendship or stayed well away from her. She learned the power of having a reputation, particularly an intimidating one.
The drive from Hong Kong International to Uncle’s seaside villa in Repulse Bay took more than an hour, but there were worse things in life than cruising through Hong Kong in a chauffeur-driven Rolls Royce Phantom. She wasn’t pleased with being kidnapped, but she would make the most of it.
“Hey, Bruce Lee. Got any blow?”
Happy’s affectation for cocaine was well known, and the young man that sat next to her in the back seat of the Rolls came prepared. He reached into his coat pocket and produced a small vial of white powder. Happy reached out for the small glass container impulsively. The man playfully yanked it back, just out of reach. Happy looked irritatedly at him from behind her large rimmed sunglasses. “Don’t fuck with me!” Her voice carried a playful but clear threat. Her intent was to flirt, but also to remind those in the vehicle of her place in the triad hierarchy.
If the young man was intimidated, he didn’t show it. He laughed and tapped his colleague, who was sitting in the front passenger seat, on the shoulder. Without looking back, the man in the front seat passed a small, antique wooden box, with the double happiness character engraved on the top.
“Clever,” Happy responded as the man handed the box to her. Inside she found all the essentials; a mirror, a razor blade, and a small metallic straw made for the task at hand.
As Happy tapped a small pile of the white powder out onto the mirror, the man introduced himself.
“Though you honor me, my name is not Bruce Lee. They call me “Yellow Anaconda.’” Yellow paused for effect.
“No shit?” responded Happy derisively, acknowledging that she understood the double entendre. All triad members took nicknames which were endowed at their initiation ceremony. There was a time when NBA superstar Kobe Bryant, at the height of his popularity, had nicknamed himself the Black Mamba. Soon after that, it seemed that every triad recruit took the nickname of a dangerous snake.
Using the razor blade, Happy chopped the powder into a finer dust. It didn’t need any more refinement, but Happy enjoyed the ritual.
“My friend here is ‘Pigeon Mike’ because he likes pigeons and Mike Tyson…and the driver’s name is, um…I have no idea. You can call him ‘The Driver’ because…well…you get it.”
The razorblade tapped against the mirror.
“Are you going to play with it, or are you going to snort it?” the Anaconda queried.
Assuming that the driver wouldn’t be partaking, Happy cut the powder into six equally long, white lines on the mirror. Using her index finger, she wiped the white residue off of the blade and rubbed her finger on her gums. She withdrew her finger out of her mouth, slowly, looking at Anaconda over the top of her sunglasses enticingly.
“Oh yeah, baby!” Happy moaned with fake sexual enthusiasm.
They both laughed.
Happy picked up the straw, pulled her hair back expertly over one shoulder so as not to disturb the white powder,and bent her head over the mirror to snort the first line. Sniiiiiiiiffff went the powder up her left nostril. She threw her head back, closed her eyes, and held her breath.
“Oh yeah baby is right!” she moaned as she exhaled and the stimulant rushed into her system. She pulled her hair back again and bent down to take her second line. Sniiiiffffff. She fell back in the plush, leather seat of the luxury sedan and held her eyes closed as the euphoria spread from her head out to the other parts of her body. Without opening her eyes, she passed the box over to Yellow and asked, “So where have I seen you before?”
Unceremoniously, Yellow sniffed his first line.
“Well,” he paused. Sniff went his second. Passing the box up to the front seat, he continued, “There have been some occasions over the past couple of years that we’ve both attended, though, despite my striking good looks, you probably wouldn’t have noticed me. I’m just small potatoes.”
“But I must have noticed you. You look so familiar.”
“The last time I saw you was at The Boss’ birthday a few years ago. We were at the Ritz Carlton in Macau. You were sitting and drinking with all the big shots. You looked pretty out of it by the time I got there. Still…”
Happy waited for the punchline, but Yellow paused, letting the silence build. Happy looked over at him, willing him to finish the sentence but to no avail. She held her hands open, egging him on, but Yellow wasn’t looking at her expression. He smiled smugly and stared at her long bare legs.
“Still what?” she finally asked.
“I’d have done you.”