There was something foul, burning in his mouth. He was coming around now, he realized. His throat felt raw. Where am I? he asked himself. He spit to clear his mouth, not really caring.
He opened his eyes. The light was poor, but he looked to be in a forest of horizontal bars — he thought he faced a maze of ladders arranged by a lunatic. Some near, some farther, fuzzy, out-of-focus. A fog seemed to hang in the air. He tried to turn his head. Pain lanced through his shoulder and neck.
Moving ever so painfully, he slowly rolled onto his back. The maze of crazy ladders resolved itself into the legs of numerous chairs and tables. Presently, he found himself under one of these tables.
A flicker of memory came to him. Dim sum. Chinatown. A meeting with… He didn’t think he had ever gotten the name. The back of his head throbbed in protest. “Ohhhh,” he moaned, closing his eyes.
There. The patter of slippered feet advancing, coming closer. They stopped. Something touched his leg gently. Some tough investigator you are, he chided himself, forcing his eyes back open.
A small Chinese woman kneeled beside him in a traditional cheongsam. Her black hair was done up in a bun with red bamboo sticks. An explosion of sound burst from her mouth. Chinese. He had no idea what she was saying.
“I’m hurt,” he interrupted. “Think someone tried to break the back of my head.”
She pushed a chair away and extended her hand towards him. He took it, though wasn’t sure moving was really what he wanted to do. She spoke more sing-song Chinese at him. The sound was sweet, he steadied himself with the tone of her voice. He had to admit, she was stronger than he ever would have guessed, slid him out from under the table and helped him into a sitting position. Standing she found a glass with ice and some paper napkins.
He took what she offered after a moment. Stunned by what he saw, he sat frozen on the floor. The front of the dim sum restaurant had been reduced to rubble. There were others. Not moving. “What the hell happened?” he asked. He knew then that it wasn’t fog — the air was full of dust.
He turned to look at the woman in the red cheongsam again. She pulled on his sleeve and pantomimed getting up. Her courage was about to ebb away, he saw.
He struggled to his feet. Swayed unsteadily. It had taken most of what little he had. She led him by the coat sleeve towards the back. He followed, not that he could have done anything else.
Copyright © 2014 Eric Schweitz