By Marshall J. Getz
Dr Trevor McTeer woke up while it was still dark on the morning of his killing spree. It was August, but he was freezing, because his wife, Petrina, insisted on both blasting the air conditioner and rolling herself up in the blanket like a cheung-fan - a rice roll. The bedroom was dark, and McTeer was glad that he did not have to see the sickly pink and powder blue décor. At Petrina's insistence, the bed they chose reflected the Cantonese idea of Western luxury - a large scallop-shaped headboard of silver gilded wood, with their wedding photo mounted in its center. For her, pure chic. For him, pure rot. Their wedding portrait -- him, the gawky gweilo, wearing a tuxedo and gigantic orchid boutonnière – a corsage really, and her, wearing a garish red and gold Chinese wedding dress - not a proper gown - just a silly dress, flowers in her piled-on hair and bloody awful makeup. And that was after he told everyone that he was allergic to flowers.
His eyes itched throughout the honeymoon.
Trevor shuffled into the living room, with its large Chinese style rosewood furniture, Sumatran masks and delicate Kashmiri hangings on the creamy walls, and huge entertainment system that gave him a jolt of pride. He moved toward his leather easy chair, the only piece of Western furniture in the room. He caught his pajama sleeve on a large rainbow faux-Ming vase. ‘Lord, I'm more tired than I thought. If I broke it, Petrina would kill me.’ He did not feel like reading, and he knew there was nothing to watch on English TV. He stepped up to the picture window and drew the heavy beige curtain. The black sky above, the glassy black water below, ringed by the light-spangled shoreline. God, Hong Kong harbor was beautiful, and all the travel books didn't lie, either. Even at - what, Trevor checked the clock - 4:30 in the morning - there were ships lights’ blinking, and the shore blazed with neon adverts, building lights, and traffic as well. There was even a traffic jam, the line of headlights forming a lemon-spotted street snake. Hong Kong was still up. He looked at the residential blocks built below at different levels of the hillside. Three-quarters of the rent for his place was the view; God, it was worth it to look down on the lively mouse village of Hong Kong.
Besides, the McTeers lived on expat terms, so he did not have to pay anyway. Trevor had the officious-sounding post of Chief Veterinary Surgeon of the Hong Kong Zoological Gardens. The Hong Kong government's way of saying that he was the only full-time vet. At times Trevor was overworked like a dog’s body, but treating exotics beat squeezing beagles’ bladders in Bristol, or docking a sheep in Devonshire. Exotics. Trevor's life brimmed with exotics. He even married one. And he knew that even the exotic could turn tedious. The job, the animals, this home, this wife and his life began to choke him. He stared out the window, and he really wanted to step out on the tile balcony, but at 23 floors up, he would have to worry that Voodoo, Petrina's cat, might slink out and jump off. He stared into the blackness, gradually ignoring the buildings below his flat, the lights and the nighttime activity of Hong Kong.
He saw the odd full moon. Trevor had never seen the moon so large or so low in the sky, a great shining white plate that nearly touched Mount Davis. Then he noticed the peculiar way that the trees bent, not like the storm-whipped palms around Repulse Bay after a typhoon, but as if they had been magnetized or drawn to the ground. The scene looked oppressive, and Trevor felt the aura of a migraine. ‘Damn, that's all I need’, he thought. He snapped the drapes closed, clutching the brocade in his sweating hand.
Trevor forced a pleasant scene into his mind. While not scientific, he found that doing this exercise sometimes blocked a headache. Better than getting hooked on painkillers, or ruining his stomach with aspirin. Trevor went over to a rosewood and mother-of-pearl inlaid piece that served as a liquor cabinet. He poured a snort and a half of brandy, and returned to his chair. He swirled the amber liquid in the thin glass, and enjoyed its mellow burning aroma. He recalled someone he met at a large animal veterinary conference in Nairobi three months earlier.
Dr Gaye Medford headed a bovine pneumonia research group at Texas A&M University, and she knocked him out. Tall - an inch taller than he was - blond, blue-eyed - everything he expected from a Texan - and she was brilliant. He had never met anyone from Texas before, and, for him, the place only insisted on TV. Then, in between papers on a new lungworm discovered in Egypt and the high incidence of nasal tumors in Polish oxen, Gaye spoke. After the symposium, Trevor introduced himself, mentioned the troubles he had with a group of sambar deer from Malaysia, and after an excellent French dinner alfresco, they confirmed more than a friendship.
Sleeping in the next morning, Trevor opened his eyes to see a mass of straw-colored hair caressing his cheek, golden waves that delighted him with their difference. Straight black hair was dull, Newfoundland dull, Labrador retriever dull, Doberman dull. Petrina dull. As they ate breakfast in bed, Trevor trying to figure out how to marry this glorious American, Gaye invited him to Texas A&M. The highly respected vet school would have an opening in eight months. She promised him a chance to teach and work together, all on the Texas equivalent of expat terms. Petrina in Texas? Never. Professor McTeer? The thought was even more seductive than the way Gaye nibbled a croissant and smiled as he croaked, "Yes, I'd like..." without finishing the sentence.
"You don't have to answer right now," she trilled. "It's a life-bending situation to change your life."
Trevor thought she said "wife" instead of "life", and he knew that he heard wrong, but blushed anyway. "I want to make a change," he replied.
He returned to Hong Kong determined to give up his post and leave Petrina. He actively thought about breaking the news to her. His even hinted that his marriage was rocky to a lawyer friend of his, over whiskey sours in the lobby lounge at the Mandarin Hotel, but his pal was as potted as a potto, and equally attentive. Then Trevor started writing to Gaye. She answered by e-mail, but he persisted in writing notes on his classy beige stationery. She teased him, suggesting that he join the electronic age, and stop using his parrot green iMac as a fancy paperweight. She teased, but at least she responded, and he believed she appreciated his European sensibilities and continental procrastination. It took a month for him to write his c.v., and another week before he sent it to College Station, Texas. He wanted Gaye, and to wake up in a sunny Tex-Mex style hacienda or ranch or whatever they were called, his face against her lemony hair, being careful not to knock over a cactus as he reached for the alarm clock. Dry, sunny mornings, a rough Navajo rug under his bare feet as he eagerly jumped out of bed to teach Aggies the difference between distemper in hyenas and pugs.
Whether from the Napoleon or his Gaye reverie he did not know, but Trevor was grateful that a migraine had been averted. Suddenly enthusiastic, Trevor wanted to do something. He thought about jotting a note to Gaye, but that felt like something he should not do at five in the morning with a strange moon out there. He thought about attacking the book - not something he was writing, but one he was trying to read. A feed supplier gave him a copy of the definitive biography of Hannah Drayne, the first female to scuba dive in the Antarctic. Trevor was less than 300 pages into an 800-page book. Obviously, she survived. Would he? He decided to take up an easy task, and clicked on the lights of his marine aquarium. He peered into forty gallons of Coral Sea, but the lights seem to startle the indigo triggerfish, neon blue devils, and an iridescent fish that looked like a Christmas ornament. The candy-striped and highly toxic lionfish moved its blank eyes upward, and drifted upward on wing-like fins. The lionfish bubbled at the surface, and Trevor dropped in a foul-smelling food pellet, avoiding the poisonous red and white barbs that flashed above the water. A bit of the pellet settled on the pink-purple tentacles of a sea anemone, and disappeared.
He heard footsteps behind him, and turning, he saw Dessie, the Filipina maid. At thirty, she was still cute in both face and body. In a robe and pajamas, her hair tousled and round golden face muzzy with sleep, she looked soft and inviting.
"Everything OK, Dessie?" he asked.
"Yes, Dr McTeer. I heard you and saw the light, and I wondered what it was."
"Sorry I woke you."
"That's O.K. You need something?"
"No, I’m fine. Couldn't sleep, so I might as well dress and go to the zoo early."
"I'll make breakfast."
Trevor shook his head. "No thanks."
"May I just use the bathroom first?"
Trevor always liked taking hot showers, because the mirror got steamy and he did not have to see his nakedness. Brown hair thinning down to baldness, ribby chest and a low-slung belly. Every time he looked at himself, a new worry, from the red sacs under his eyes to new wrinkles and more lumpiness, but Gaye still teased him by e-mail. He chuckled to himself that Gaye, a great-looking American, and Petrina, his so-so Chinese wife, both saw something in him.
He clicked on the novelty radio-toothbrush holder to hear the morning news. Radio Three crackled on, and he heard the Dundee brogue of Iain Conor prattle on about the latest troubles in China, then he mentioned that the moon was at its lowest point in the sky than it had been in over 130 years. This once in a century event caused an extraordinary gravitational pull, and fortunetellers predicted violent and weird behavior. ‘Great’, Trevor thought. Lunacy. More business for the psychologists.
Down in the lobby of the building, Trevor said good morning to Ganung, the Gurkha security guard. He snapped to attention. "Morning, Dr McTeer. May I ask you a brief question?"
"Are you still a vet?"
"Yes, licensed and in good standing."
"An interesting story. You probably don't know the Wu’s on the 10th floor. OK people, but bratty kids. They have an unusual dog. Jack Russell terrier."
"They're not that unusual."
"Maybe so, but those dogs are hard to find in Hong Kong. The Wu's got theirs from Australia. Very expensive, maybe $9000 Hong Kong, sir."
"They kill them."
"What?" McTeer stared at the short, stocky man in an olive uniform, a sky blue beret crumpled in his hand.
"They kill them. First they had one, a cute little pup, and he was run over by the kid’s bicycle. Nobody cares. They buy a second pup. This one gets washed with the laundry and drowns or something. Now I hear that their next one is sick. Perhaps you should check on this."
"Being a qualified veterinary surgeon,..."
"I'm sure they have their own man." Ganung seemed unconvinced, so Trevor added, "Look, I'm a partner in a private clinic in Sheung Wan. If they want me, I'm in the book. But I'll tell you something, Ganung.”
"If people are determined to kill their pets, expensive or otherwise, there is nothing a vet can do. Cheers."
"Should I do something?"
"You, Ganung? The law’s in place. You could call the police or the cruelty association, Amnesty International, even, but it's hard to prove all that, and if you did? You work for this building. The management association is not going to like you giving a tenant family trouble." He stared into Ganung's broad brown face. "Do nothing."
He thought about Ganung’s tale as he drove to the zoo. A giant baleful morning moon hung low in the milky blue sky. Unsettled by the sight of it, Trevor wondered if it had something to do with all the smog, or industrial pollution wafting down from China. Turning back to the dogs made him feel better.
When he arrived at his office, it was too early to contact the Hong Kong Kennel Association, so he telephoned the clinic. His partner, Carter Wang, picked right up. "Carter, any idea how many Jack Russell terriers in Hong Kong?"
"No, but I guess not too many. Check the Kennel Association, but at a decent hour. You’re in luck, though."
"Why?" Trevor's curiosity came through in his voice. Carter always laughed at how easy reading gweilos could be.
"Trev, we got a Jack Russell pup in here yesterday. Needs a de-worming and the battery of shots, but other than that, she's fine."
"That's one right there."
"Thinking about this, we have another one. Five-year-old dog, I think."
"Owned by the Wu’s?"
"Don't think so, Trev. Owners local, but that name doesn't click with me." Carter paused. "Why the sudden love of Jack Russells?"
"Nothing special. I’m thinking of writing an article about them."
"Jack Russells? You've got the most successful breeding record for sable antelope in Asia, and your tops in the world for golden lion marmosets, and you want to write about an expensive version of a fox terrier? Who gives a damn about Jack Russells?"
Trevor sounded so cold that Carter did not know if he should push it.
Carter pushed. "What is special about them ? You're not wasting your time on this study of them because of that one on the American sitcom?"
"Certainly not. I happen to be thinking about buying one myself."
"With that gorgeous black Persian at home? A big furry cat and terrier pup. Good combination. Now I have a real idea. Mrs. Sidwani has a fine female Persian and she's willing to pay a decent stud fee. You ought to consider it."
"Voodoo belongs to Petrina, and I don't think she thinks of him as a stud."
"What's the problem," Carter laughed, "Petrina still trying to smother him with a mother's love?"
"No, she thinks of him as more like a priest. Celibacy makes him truer."
After hanging up, he called the Kennel Association. The slug who identified himself as the acting information officer said that he had no idea how many there were in the territory. Trevor then looked over the summary reports prepared by each curator. After a cursory check of a bandaged, half-dead Gila monster, Trevor returned to his office to go through his mail and deliveries. A Japanese pharmaceutical salesman left an interesting sample with Sally, his secretary. Elurex, a new veterinary anesthetic, recommended for large animal use. Limited testing with exotics. ‘Why did he bother leaving that junk with us ? Do they expect us to experiment on our endangered species ? Don't think so.’ Leaving dangerous controlled substances with office workers did not strike him as wise, either. ‘Bloody foreign salesmen,’ he thought, and he felt the stirrings of another headache. The yellow-white flickers of a migraine aura danced in front of already aching eyes. The bits of light shredded thoughts of Gaye like shards of razor. He took out a can of ginger ale from his small fridge, popped the ring and began drinking. The flickers lessened.
He took a compact disc, a Baroque quintet playing something by Bonporti, and put it into his player. The solo flute that began the piece sounded like spring. He was ready for something musically fuller when the two violins, a viola and cello joined in, making the piece now sound like spring in a village or a small town. He shut his eyes with the pleasure, and he had to admit it to himself. He missed the West.
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QLRS Vol. 3 No. 3 Apr 2004