"Don't worry Mr. Worth, nothing untoward happened last night. In your condition, I doubt you were up to it." She smiled and climbed out of bed, not covering her self-the way Rose did, and stretched like a cat. Overcoming my surprise, I saw she had the same lithe body type of a climber. Did she work out too? So many women wanted the hard body look; they flocked to gyms all over the states, unless they were stuffing themselves with junk food. I hadn't seen many fat Chinese women; most of them cycled and walked up stairs in apartments without elevators.
"Where are my cloths?" I realized that I wasn't in my cheap room at the holiday inn, but a more sumptuous room, with a view overlooking the city. My bags were open and my cloths, hung up in the walk in closet.
She stood looking calm cool and collected. "We were afraid you might choke on your own vomit, Mr. Worth, and we did not want to loose you so soon after meeting you. Are all Americans not good at holding their drink?" I was too embarrassed by her nakedness and by the truth to answer.
"The boss man has decided that you will need better quarters now that you are part of the team. Welcome to Shangri La Hotel. I hope you like the emanates." Despite my fuzzy headiness I noticed she used much more erudite words than Rose. Lilly liked caressing them in her mouth, pronouncing them right, without an accent. She was superior to Rose in many ways, like a Ming vase compared to a carton of milk. My jade rod started to respond to her nude body, and she noticed, smiling. "Well, I see you recover quickly. I would suggest you take a bath, especially after your first climb."
She was right; my body ached in places I didn't even know existed. Especially around my groin. Was the harness or were there muscles down there I didn't know existed a couple of times I had raised my legs above my hips making me think I was going to dislocate them. Jason told me I had almost done a "dyno" at the crux. Whatever that was.
"Why don't we meet in the lobby for breakfast, say in a half an hour, I would like to talk and take you to meet some one who knew general Chenault and his Chinese wife Anna Chan well. You will not be disappointed this time, Mr. Worth."
Over breakfast of exotic fruit, Lilly told me how she had grown up in the eastern part of Yunnan province of which Kunming was the capitol. She actually came from Lijang, and her father had been a botanist, married to a ethnic Xian woman. He followed in the footsteps of such great scientists as Joseph F. Rock. Her father had managed to get a visa to study in England at the Kew Royal Botanical gardens and had taken her along to study English. Lilly had learned the language and had caught the environmental bug. She had spent her time between guiding tourists around and Yunnan and trekking in the Himalayas, cataloging new species and trying to stop butterfly rustling. "Yes, Mr. Worth, butterfly collectors pay our people to collect them, using ultraviolet lights. Many species are near extinction. You should know that National Geographic Society has declared Yunnan as one of the hot spots of the world, with over 500,000 different and unique species.
"I want you to meet the Flying Tiger's secret weapon." She whisked me into her Toyota and off we went, careening down streets filled with Chinese bent on impeding our way on their bikes. We arrived at the Botanical exhibition area, built for an international horticulture meeting in 1999, then wound our way down the rows of flowers. A riot of color would be an understatement. We stopped in the shade of a Chinese Tulip tree and Lilly told me," here we are Mr. Worth."
"Look Lilly, I don't think we should be so formal, especially after this morning."
"But Mr. Worth, I don't call my lovers by their first name until we have had coitus." She said this with a serious air but dimples appeared on her cheeks. "You are still in the formal and former category. By the way, let me introduce you to Mr. Lu, a great gardener and weather predictor. He was a young boy during the Sino Chinese war and worked for the Flying Tigers."
An old man, smiling with a cigarette in his mouth and another behind his ear, stood up from behind an Azalea bush, and offered me his hand. "How are you Yankee boy, how are you honored daughter? Is this the SOB you told me about?"
Lilly smiled, already happy to have gotten my goat twice this morning, and now my surprise was too much to hide.
"You knew the Flying Tigers pilots?"
"Oh, yeah, those SOB's they were fun. Do you have American cigarette?" He held out a callused and grimy hand to me. I told him no, I didn't smoke. I almost told him it would kill you, then I realized that he must be a 2 pack a day man and probably from an early age. The AVG flyers used to ply him with cigarettes to let them into different woman's quarters. How a gardener could help me with my book was beyond me, and I thought that Lilly was turning into a practical joker. I soon learned she was a praxeologist as well as a biologist.
"I make weather magic, I know air gods." He explained to me after having a long conversation with Lilly where they both had a lot of laughs, at my expense I assumed.
"Mr. Worth, Mr. Lu was the unofficial weather forecaster for the pilots. This was before radar and meteorology. The pilots swore by his predictions. Gardners and farmers know more about weather than most people give them credit. Especially here, we are in the nexus of several different climatic systems. And then there is the jet stream. The devil wind."
We walked back to a food stand and ordered Cha, green tea, and what was followed was an intimate view of the war from a Chinese perspective. I put a lot of it in my book, the juicier parts I left out for fear of embarrassing the descendants. Mr. Lu also liked to exaggerate the sexual prowess of the pilots and their women. Later I learned how death can make you do extraordinary things.
"I would like to talk to him more, " I commented to Lilly as we left in the afternoon, Mr, Lu returning to his flowers.
"You will have lots of time to talk to him, he is coming with us as you are."
This is the first time I had heard about this. My plans included some traveling to gather more information on the Flying Tigers. She added, "they have discovered the wreckage of a Curtis Tomahawk from the AVG on one of the glaciers near Meili Snow Mountains, you must interview the local people. You can ask them about Shangri La."
She had a way of upsetting me, changing my life, with a word or a look. Now she dangled in front of my Hilton's fabled myth and the wreckage of one of the lost Flying Tigers. My book needed something new to sell I didn't want to rehash history, but add to it.
"Let us go to where they have taken out the airplane from the lake." Again we were off, she a way of taking over my life, ordering me around, but not in the way American women did. Instead she analyzed what I wanted and gave it to me, but not in a servile way, but with oriental politeness.
Zacharias at Dianchi lake
Several surprises waited for me near the lake. It was a beautiful place; the spring flowering trees were out of a Peking Opera's decor. Sitting incongruously amongst the splendor was a wreck of an airplane. The aluminum had not rusted, though the paint was chipped and weathered. The surfaces that had been covered with canvas were empty; the Curtiss was an obsolete airplane even when it flew in combat, my dad had flown some of the British surplus in North Africa before his B-26 arrived.
A group of Chinese officials were standing or squatting near the plane. They parted when we arrived, Lilly had that affect on men and women. In the middle of the group he stood my new boss. Zacharia Taylor Weatherspoon. Rose was interpreting for him, until Lilly shot her a look and she scurried away.
"Zacharia was a prophet from the Old Testament, but you can call me Zack. My parents were bible welding Southern Baptists always telling me stories of hell and brimstone. Guess that's why I went into the oil business wanted to know if it was true. Hot as hell underground. Now I am trying to get to Heaven. Eye of the Needle and the camel, you know that one?" he seemed to know me well, as if we were the best of good old boys, and he kept up a banter with several people. Shooting from the hip was what he called it- he was surrounded by a coterie of flunkies, one who was constantly on a satellite cell phone, and others with clip boards and PD's. Tex, as he also like to be called, was a mile a minute talker, no slow drawler, like he would call me, poking fun at my Louisiana accent.
"Mike, come meet the new addition to our clan," Zach called over a sweating flunky, dressed in a three-piece suit, Michel Blumberg, the corporate lawyer. "Get Brady to sign those papers, you hear. Lets get that out the way." A non-disclosure was shoved in front of my face, and I sputtered.
"Mike, did we tell him how much we are putting him on retainer for?" Mike smiled and walked away to make another cell phone call. " I think he would be jealous, you know how these people are." Zach said the last to me in a stage whisper. "You are all set at the Shangri La? Good. Wait until you see the real thing. And Lilly treating you well? I can see she is. All right, lets get rolling. Time is money, and I have got a conference with the minister of National Strategic Research Center for Oil and Gas Resources." He turned around to Mike and me his compelling me to sign the contract. When I did, he smiled, that shark smile, the smile of the cat that had just eaten the canary. "Hell, lets go eat, I've seen enough of this wreck, the one the have at the Confederate air force in Harlington works, this one doesn't."
He came over to me and put his arm around me, hugging me to his barrel chest, the string tie with the clasp made from gold with an emerald in the middle making a dent in my chest. "You and me are going to be best friends."
If he had kissed me I would not have been surprised, only later did I find out he hated touching people except when he wanted to control you completely. He wanted to buy my soul and body and especially my loyalty.