Editor’s Note: Tao Hu is a fictional character in the Connor Stark series. This is the second in a series of descriptions of real watering holes around the world in which characters from the forthcoming novel SYREN’S SONG find themselves.
This place had become a convenient occasional meeting place for me because it was the opposite of what two people wanted. My wife hated places like the China Bear Café because she wanted me to lose 30 pounds. The quesadillas, pizzas, and fried English food offered as standard fare here didn’t help. My executive assistant thought I should only eat and drink at the finer establishments in Hong Kong, as would befit someone in my position. Most of the time I agreed with her.
Lantau Island is a short ferry ride from Kowloon. It is a popular destination for tourists who want to see the 85-foot tall bronze Tian Tan Buddha, which is the second-largest sitting Buddha in the world. It is on the other side of the island, as is Chek Lap Kok Airport. The airport replaced the inner city Kai Tak Airport in 1998. That’s when I first came to Lantau Island. My company had me meet an American congressman visiting Hong Kong who might be useful to us. He wanted a beer and pizza. We took the windy road back to the Mui Wo Ferry Pier, passing the long since closed Papa Doc’s bar on the waterfront at Mui Wo Centre. The nearby China Bear served the same purpose that Papa Doc’s once did: an out-of-the way place to meet someone – as I was now.
I had selected one of the four outside tables with umbrellas. The wind was picking up on Silver Mine Bay. I flicked the last of my Benson & Hedges cigarette onto the concrete walkway and watched it bounce as the wind carried it over the side and into the water. I zipped up the latest birthday gift from my wife – an L.L. Bean windbreaker she had picked up at one of the American stores in Hong Kong.
The bar was open to the outside, the extended walls had mounted chalkboards with the menus in English to accommodate the expats and tourists. Two men played pool. One of my security guards watched them as the other kept an eye on the foot traffic. The bar advertised cheap t-shirts demeaning our great leader – his image with the ears of a Disney character, now named “Mickey Mao.” There was another t-shirt representing the essence of America: golden arches followed by the word “McShit.”
The bar had a variety of international beers including Heineken, Edelweiss and Murphy’s as well as Strongbow cider. I settled on Tiger beer. It was the first beer not brewed in China that I’d drunk as a young man. The brand had been in Singapore since 1932. Even then it had understood simple marketing, with the slogan, “It’s time for a Tiger.”
I pulled my iPad closer to read the latest from the Americans and their views of the world. Here was yet another article about the threat China posed to the fading United States, this one from one of the newer sites, War on the Rocks. The article began with an appeal to raise funds through a crowdfunding site, Indiegogo. My country normally blocked sites like this but my company had tacit approval from the government and great flexibility. I tapped on the site to read another article.
A couple with their two children arrived and sat at the far table. From behind them came a stocky man in his forties, the Russian director of security I had hired a year before. He sat on the other side of the table and ignored the guards. He slid a folder across the table, avoiding the tall glass of Tiger beer.
I opened it. The dossier had a photo of a bleached-blond woman with a Cheshire Cat grin exposing her unnaturally pearly-white teeth. Below was an extensive biography and her career in America.
“Are you sure about this one?” the Russian asked.
“Yes,” I told him without hesitation. “My contact assures me that she will serve our purpose. She’s not as smart as she thinks or as her employer has led her to believe.”
I looked out onto Silver Mine Bay and Kowloon. A few freighters were making their way down the channel led by a PLA/N destroyer, one of the most advanced warships in the world. I took my iPad and went back to War on the Rocks and read through each of the rewards they offered through Indiegogo. Only one appealed to me: $35,000 to play the game of Battleship with retired Admiral James Stavridis. I purchased it as a gift for one of our great nation’s admirals.
It wasn’t time for a Tiger. It was time for a dragon.
Claude Berube has worked on Capitol Hill and for the Office of Naval Intelligence, and deployed with Expeditionary Strike Group Five in 2004-2005. He teaches at the United States Naval Academy. He is the co-author of three non-fiction books and the author of the Connor Stark novels published by Naval Institute Press. SYREN’S SONG will be published this fall. Follow him on twitter: @cgberube
Photo credit: Photo by DAVID ILIFF