This arti­cle is part 4 of 10 in the series Beijing Acupuncture

Driving along Man-o-War Boulevard, we passed a num­ber of love­ly horse farms and white plank fences, which prompt­ed L.T. to note, “This is real­ly beau­ti­ful coun­try, Michael.  Are you from here originally?”

“Me? No. I’ve only been here a few years, but have real­ly come to love it.  The weath­er’s pret­ty mod­er­ate and the peo­ple, for the most part, are pret­ty friend­ly.  Living in a small com­mu­ni­ty has a lot going for it as well, and I don’t miss the big cities at all.

“Look, L.T.” I con­tin­ued.  “You’re not a stu­pid man and I doubt you take me for one either.  I expect you knew that I’d fig­ure out you weren’t real­ly from Charlotte, despite the let­ter post­mark and the phone area code.  You undoubt­ed­ly knew that I’d take notice that your flight was com­ing from Washington, not Charlotte.  Why the charade?”

“Nothing omi­nous, I assure you, Michael,” he smiled as he answered.  “Partly, it was to see just how astute you might be and to judge, in a small way, how obser­vant you are.

“Of course, I know a good deal about you from your file and pre­vi­ous work.  Otherwise, you would­n’t be the first choice for this commission.

“And your pen­chant for dis­cre­tion is well-known as is your expertise. 

“Look, I’ll cut to the chase.  There’s a need for an assas­si­na­tion, one which requires that those look­ing for account­abil­i­ty will be search­ing for a very long time and that that account­abil­i­ty nev­er leads back to the United States if it is found.”

By this point in our con­ver­sa­tion, Man-o-War Boulevard had made part of its cir­cle and we were now head­ed east as I took the exit to Harrodsburg Road, for­tu­itous­ly caught the traf­fic light in my favor and made a left turn to head north.

“There’s a nice place to eat just up the road here, L.T.” I inject­ed. “It’s a Longhorn Steakhouse.  It’s a chain, but they have good food and I’m sure we can find a seclud­ed table to con­tin­ue to dis­cuss business.”

“Sounds fine,” he agreed and I wound my way north to make the left turn to the Longhorn.

It was only about 10:30 when we entered the restau­rant and it was obvi­ous that the staff were just key­ing up for the lunch crowd.

“Good morn­ing, gen­tle­men,” was the greet­ing we received from the pleas­ant-look­ing young lady who approached.  “I’m sor­ry, we’re not open for lunch yet.”

“That’s alright,” I inter­rupt­ed.  “We real­ize we’re ear­ly.  We have some busi­ness to con­duct and can wait for lunch. However, could you pro­vide us with a table where we might be away from your lunch crowd, and maybe we could get a glass of wine to tide us over until the kitchen is open for business?”

“Yes sir. I think we can accom­mo­date you in that regard.  Let me go ahead and get you the lunch and wine menus and we’ll find a table for you.”

“Great,” I exclaimed as she cra­dled the menus and set off toward the back of the restau­rant, lead­ing us to a table about as far from the entrance as possible.

As she turned to return to her post, I said “Miss, we would great­ly appre­ci­ate it if you could do as much seat­ing as pos­si­ble well away from us. Our busi­ness is quite confidential.”

“Of course, sir,” she respond­ed, tak­ing the twen­ty-dol­lar bill I held out to her.

L.T. and I slid into the booth, tak­ing seats fac­ing one anoth­er, L.T. with his brief­case beside him.

Barely a minute lat­er, a young male wait­er approached and advised us that his name was Mark and he would be serv­ing us today.

I thought the speed with which he appeared may have been prompt­ed some­what by news of a guest will­ing to hand out twen­ty-dol­lar bills.

“Can I get you gen­tle­men some­thing to drink?  The kitchen will be oper­at­ing in about twen­ty minutes.”

“Well, Mark.  It’s prob­a­bly a bit ear­ly for any­thing too strong.  How about bring­ing us a cou­ple of glass­es of Yellow Tail Shiraz for now and we’ll order lunch in half an hour or so.”

“Yes, sir,” he replied eager­ly and head­ed off to retrieve our drinks.

“Michael,” began L.T. as soon as Mark was out of earshot.  “I’m going to rely on your pro­fes­sion­al­ism and assume that, if you choose to not accept this com­mis­sion, noth­ing of our dis­cus­sion today will ever go any fur­ther.  The impli­ca­tions relat­ing to this job are sim­ply too far-reach­ing to ade­quate­ly assess.  You can per­haps sur­mise what the con­se­quences might be if any details of this ever became public.”

Indeed I could.  It is well known in my busi­ness that loose lips may not lit­er­al­ly sink ships, but they can get a per­son killed, espe­cial­ly the one whose lips are loose.

“You have my undi­vid­ed atten­tion, L.T.” I said solemnly.

  • Chuck Witt

    Chuck is a retired archi­tect, a for­mer news­pa­per colum­nist, and a life­long res­i­dent of Winchester.

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