Triage: A Thriller (Shell Series)

Triage: A Thriller (Shell Series) by Phillip Thomas Duck

Book: Triage: A Thriller (Shell Series) by Phillip Thomas Duck Read Free Book Online
Authors: Phillip Thomas Duck
remember me. She wouldn’t have smiled if she did.
    “Coca-Cola,” she said.
    “Pepsi,” I insisted.
    She pointed a slender brown hand at the cooler with the dented ventilation grate. When that garnered no response, she sidestepped and tapped the 4-head fountain soda machine. Shrugged, smiled.
    I mechanically moved my head from side-to-side and said, “Pepsi.”
    She turned again and machine-gunned her language to the man with the dead eye and birthmark. He stopped chopping, finally looked up. A deep frown creased his forehead. He hesitated for a beat, then wiped his hands on his apron and moved beside the girl. He put his hand on her shoulder, his good right eye carefully trained on me. There was a slight tremble in his body but he did an admirable job of masking it. I had to give him credit for that. Not many could have feigned calm with me standing there looking agitated.
    “Almost year,” he said.
    I nodded. “You have a good memory, Jiang.”
    “You good customer,” he said, smiling. The smile a doctor gives a sick patient with little to no prospect of recovery.
    “How’ve you been?” I asked him.
    “Ah, busy,” he said. “Very busy.”
    I nodded. “I’d like a Pepsi, Jiang.”
    The young Asian girl, his daughter, was still at his side, her eyes averted from me.
    “Coca-Cola,” Jiang said, pointing at the cooler with the dented ventilation grate, then moving over and tapping the 4-head fountain soda machine. The exact same gestures as his daughter a moment earlier. Didn’t work for her, wouldn’t for him, either. And I’d hold him more accountable than I did with her. She was just a child still. He knew better.
    “Pepsi, Jiang.”
    “Cold. Coca-Cola. Cold as witch tit. No Pepsi, please.”
    “Pepsi.”
    “No. You wait,” he said, and hurriedly backed away. He disappeared deep into the cooking area, obscured from my sight behind machinery and other cookery knickknacks. He came back out a moment later, a white container with a thin metal handle in his hand. He dropped the container in a plastic bag. Threw in a couple packets of soy sauce. Fortune cookies, several bags of the dry noodles he normally guarded like FortKnox. He handed the bag to me with two hands as though it were a live grenade.
    “Free,” he said, gesturing with his hand. “Take, take.”
    I took it, but stood and watched him for a moment. Watched his daughter as well. She still refused to look at me. Jiang somehow managed to hold my glare, his Adam’s apple bobbing in his throat all the while. I moved away finally, stopped by the cooler with the busted ventilation grate, opened it, took out a can of Coca-Cola, and lifted it for Jiang to see. He waved me on. Free. Take, take.
    I took it and left.

    I DROVE TO THE end of the block, turned right and coasted about fifty feet, braking at the mouth of an alley. My rearview was clear so I turned in. The narrow path was an artery that fed past the back of Panda House and a Laundromat and a nail place. I eased past the gray door of the Chinese restaurant. Gray. Eased past similarly colored doors for Panda’s neighbor merchants. I parked, but left my engine running, got out with my bag of Chinese food and soda in hand, settled myself on the Acura’s trunk, my right foot propped on the bumper. I set down the can of Coca-Cola next to me and ripped open the bag and ate the food with a plastic spoon.
    The alley was like most of its kind, strewn with trash, and ripe with competing smells, none of them pleasant. Teeming with stray cats. None of that bothered me, though.
    I ate my Egg Foo Young and watched a gray door. Watched it for twenty minutes. When it finally opened, the man with one dead eye and a purplish birthmark stepped out. He had a large trash bag hefted over his right shoulder. It looked like an impressive feat. But it wasn’t nearly so. The bag wasn’t very heavy. Less than ten pounds, I estimated.
    I picked up my can of Coca-Cola. It was filmed with cold sweat. A whoosh

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