It is after midnight, local time, when I arrive in Kuala Lumpur. I walk through the terminal and outside, catching a cab to my hotel. I check in and take the elevator up to my room. I seem to be recovering from one hell of a hangover, but don’t remember drinking anything.
Riva enters the same hotel lobby seconds later. The door attendant is smiling at her, almost drooling. The front desk clerk is also very friendly, eager to please. She’s used to that. Taking it all in stride, she checks in.
Asking that her bags be taken to her room, she keeps her purse and retreats to the hotel bar. Feeling the weight of every man’s eyes upon her, she finds a table with an unobstructed view of the front door. There, she settles in to wait for Alex’s next move.
It is not five minutes before a fat, sweating, middle-aged man sits down at her table. He is literally dripping. She glares at him.
“Serge sent me,” he says before she can object.
“And why is that?” she asks.
“Serge says, ‘Armin’ … That’s me. ‘You will meet a beautiful, black-haired young European woman in the next couple days. She’s mine, but you can borrow her, if you know what I mean.”
In her best Scarlett O’Hara accent, batting her eyelashes, Riva replies, “Whatever do you mean?”
As if on cue, Serge calls. “Riva, I forgot to mention. There is a fat horny toad of a man named Armin who might look you up while you are there.”
Smiling, Riva says, “He has already left a slime trail leading up to me.”
“Ha!” Serge cannot help but laugh. “You need to be nice to him. He’s a powerful local politico. We owe him a few favors. He is going to want to have sex … with you.”
“Who doesn’t?” she says coolly.
“That is not going to be a problem for you, is it?” he asks.
“Funny man!” Riva fakes a laugh. More seriously, she adds, “I will deal with it,” as she hangs up.
Armin says, “Was that Serge?”
He slides in a little closer. “Did he explain things to you?”
When he inserts his hand in between her thighs, her response is immediate. Using her left hand to keep his left hand from making any progress between her legs, she grabs and twists his left ear and gets right up into his sweaty face.
In a low growl, she says, “You do that again, sunshine, and I will leave you dead on the floor. Remember who you’re dealing with. I was trained by Serge himself. Understood?”
He nods vigorously. She lets go of him. Smoothing out her blouse, she forces a smile and says, “We will pretend that never happened. We will act like civilized adults, yes?”
Big smile, nodding, he says, “Yes.”
Narrowing her eyes, she asks, “You enjoyed all that, didn’t you?” He smiles and nods. She rolls her eyes, saying, “It is gonna be a long night.”
“God, I hope so!” says Armin.
I walk into my room, collapse onto the bed, and stare at the ceiling. After twenty minutes, I give up, enter the bathroom and splash water on my face. Not liking the reflection in the mirror, I escape into the night.
Distracted by Armin, Riva almost misses Alex walking through the lobby and out to the street. “We will have to continue this later,” she excuses herself, and leaps out of her seat to give chase.
Latching onto her, Armin says, “Please, what could be so important? I will take care of it for you! We need to spend more time together!”
“Sorry, must go!” she says. “Jumpa lagi” She extricates herself and hurries to catch up with Alex.
Armin lets go, disappointed, and orders another drink for himself. Seconds later, one of the local prostitutes slides in next to him and offers herself as a substitute for Riva. Disappointed, Armin nonetheless accepts.
The streets are bursting with life, even this late, as I set out on foot. I breathe in deeply a couple times, hoping it will relieve my headache. Bad idea. What I thought might be refreshing, clear night air is in fact thick with exhaust, sewer gases and a sort of dull combination of every spice I’ve ever smelled before. I keep my breathing brief and shallow from that point onward.
A few blocks later, I find the source of the smell: Chinatown. An endless stream of vendors are selling every sort of cheap imitation merchandise anyone could ever want.
I find a decent enough little restaurant along the way, and find a seat. Looking over the menu, which is entirely in Chinese, I choose an item at random and ask the waitress for a translation.
She doesn’t speak English.
“Maybe I can help,” says a familiar woman’s voice from behind. I turn to see who owns this voice. It’s Riva.
“All right, this is …” I begin. “What are the odds of running into you here on the other side of the world?”
Feigning innocence, she asks, “I know! What are the odds?”
Feeling a bit lonely, I surprise myself and ask her to join me.
As she sits down, I ask, “So, who are you with? CIA? NSA?”
“Seriously?” she deadpans. “You think you rate a visit from one of them?”
“IRS? NBA?” I press onward.
“Does it matter?” she asks, laughing.
“I’m just curious why you are so interested in me. Enough to follow me all the way to Kuala Lumpur.”
“I’m with a reality show,” she offers. “We follow random people. Make a show out of it. Like that show, Punk’d?”
It is obvious I don’t believe her, so she jokes, “Would you believe …?”
“Ah, a Get Smart fan!” I say.
“Big fan,” she admits. “I love Anne Hathaway!”
“Agent 99. Anne Hathaway.”
“Oh, the movie.”
Riva says, “Yes. What were you talking about?”
“The old TV show from the 60’s.”
“How old are you?” she asks.
I am offended. “You’ve never heard of reruns?”
We then have a moment of silence. When I catch myself looking deep into her eyes, feeling myself being pulled in, I break the spell and ask, “So, who are you with, really?”
“Persistent, I will give you that,” she says. “Here’s the deal: you do this one thing for me, and I’m out of your life forever.”
“Deal!” I say. “Why didn’t you say so earlier? Who do I have to kill?”
“You think you’re joking,” she says.
My jaw drops. “No way. I don’t kill people.”
“Let me put it this way,” she smiles thinly. “Either you do me this favor, or I have you arrested for grand theft auto.”
“Grand theft … ? Oh, the Hummer.”
“One minute you are all friendly, joking about Get Smart,” I say. “Then, bam, you’re threatening me with grand theft auto. How’d you know about that, anyway?”
“You said it yourself. I have been following you. Deal?”
“Why would anyone be following me?” I ask. “Did Cheryl and Christian put you up to this?”
“No,” she says, laughing again. “They have no idea where we are. Besides, you think they have that kind of money?”
“I don’t know. There’s good money in porn. How much does it cost to hire someone to follow a person halfway around the world?”
Riva says, “Even if they had the money, trust me, they wouldn’t spend it on you. Let me tell you about your old buddy Christian. Do you know what he was doing for extra cash?”
I shake my head, listening.
“He would drive out to Palm Springs and have sex with other men, for money. Rich men. Big money.”
I recoil, but say nothing.
Riva says, “Yes. And you are lucky to be rid of your old girlfriend Cheryl, as well. She never stopped seeing Christian, even after moving in with you. Have you been tested lately?”
“I don’t believe you,” I say. Cheryl had sworn up and down after we got together that she and Christian were just friends.
“It does not matter if you believe me, it’s true. Now, will you go with me or go to prison?”
“I’m not helping you with anything,” I say. “Why should I? You are probably the one who got me fired.” I speak the words before fully realizing what I said. “That’s it! That’s why I lost my job. You had me fired! Somehow. They loved me over there, until all of a sudden …”
Riva is shaking her head.
“What about the incurable disease? Was that you? I’m not really dying, am I? Please tell me I’m not dying.”
Riva says, “You have quite an imagination there, Alex. You think I’m capable of all that?” Shaking her head, she continues, “I am afraid you lost your job and girlfriend all by yourself. And the cancer, well, if you say you have cancer, I have to take your word for it. You still owe me.”
“I never said I had cancer,” he says. “I said I had an incurable disease.”
She rolls her eyes. “The airline ticket agent told me. Remember, I’ve been following you?”
Alex changes the subject. “You said I owe you? Owe you for what?”
“That little incident with airport security, back at LAX?”
Nothing is coming to mind.
“My little phone call? The one that got you released?”
“Oh!” How could I forget that? “That was you?”
“Who did you think it was? Your fairy godmother?”
I had, actually, but I tell her, “I never really thought about it. What about the drugs? The hallucinogenic drugs I couldn’t stop taking? I’m sure you’re responsible for those, too, somehow.”
“I have no idea what you are talking about,” it’s her turn to lie. “Anyway, if you don’t do this thing for me now, I will have you arrested.”
“We’re in Kuala Lumpur!” I argue. “You have no jurisdiction.”
“No,” she concedes, “but all I have to do is call the local police, flash my credentials, and, to use your word, bam!, you are in prison in a foreign country. Not a pretty picture, Alex. So, what do you say? Are you in? I would really rather work with you than against you. But, either way, I’ll get what I want. I always do.”
“I guess I have no choice,” I agree. Sarcastic again, I ask, “What is this little project? Drugs? Guns? Credit default swaps?”
“Very simple,” Riva says. “You need to put this cell phone in a factory.”
“What? Oh, it’s a detonator!” I say. “You think I’m stupid?”
“Not so loud!” she hisses.
“The factory owners are very bad people,” she explains. “One of their spies might be listening.”
“Factories have spies?” As soon as I say it, I realize how naïve that sounds. It doesn’t matter what you call them. Word gets out.
“You think your life is bad now?” she says. “Either you do this or you become someone’s prison bitch. And, yes, factories have spies. All organizations, around the world, have people who could easily be described as spies, sympathizers, gossips. And yes, I think you are stupid.”