She had stepped back into his life as quickly as she’d walked out. He knew he should be angry, but as he pushed her chair to the table, the scent of Chanel seemed like springtime flowering in his winter.
After introductions were shared, Walter ordered a round of martinis. George amended his, “I’ll have mine shaken, not stirred.”
Sylvia leaned forward. A hint of cleavage whispered from her tailored silk blouse. “Mr. Wang, I’m so impressed with Shanghai. It’s beautiful and so rich in culture,” her head dipped slightly, eyes wide, “yet, it has its mysterious side.”
Walter looked at George. “Yes, we are a very diverse country?”
Sylvia placed her hand on her husband’s. “And even more so now, with an American as Shanghai Oil’s chief of engineering.”
“We are excited to have such a renowned engineer as your husband on board.” Walter looked to the phone vibrating on his belt. “If you will excuse me,” he nodded with Asian propriety and stood. “Corporate is calling.”
Sylvia shifted in her chair, her posture perfect as she straightened her napkin. “I was shocked when I’d heard you’d moved here.” A smile curled at the corners of her lips. “It’s so unlike you, George. You were such a naughty boy to leave Teddy and me.”
“I think you left me. Remember?” George sipped his martini and scanned the room.
“Oh,” she frowned, “I was just frustrated with your lack of spontaneity.” Sylvia spread her hands to hold her global drama. “But this trip!”
“It’s not a vacation.” The mood lighting and perfume were beginning to cloy.
“I know, George.” She looked hurt. “Teddy and I just wanted to see you.”
“Teddy?” A frown creased his brow.
“You didn’t think I’d fly halfway around the world by myself?”
“I didn’t think you’d…, you said you loathed the sight of me.”
Sylvia looked down at the table. “I wanted you to chase after me. It was silly and immature, I know.” She pouted her thin pink lip. “Imagine my surprise, your moving here on a whim?”
“Yes, imagine.” He noticed she wasn’t wearing her wedding rings. “It wasn’t a whim. It’s my job.” George removed her hand from his forearm and leaned back. “Why Sylvia?”
“I missed you, and Teddy encouraged me. He could see how unhappy I was.”
That wasn’t the step-son George remembered. American music throbbed from the Asian band in the adjacent club as Teddy strolled-up, coiffed and manicured his plastic smile in place.
“Dad.” He extended his right hand, squeezing George’s shoulder with the left.
“Since when have I been Dad?”
Teddy’s eyes darted around the dining-room. He spoke like a ventriloquist, his mouth slightly parted, lips not moving. “Since the Chinese government has been watching me.” Teddy sat down. “They’re treating me like I’m a spy.”
“Are you a spy?”
“Of course not.” He glanced around again.
The waiter arrived, a tray of drinks palmed over his head. No one spoke until he was gone.
“It’s terrible, George.” Sylvia whispered. “We went for a walk along the River Road, and when we returned to the hotel, the police were waiting.” She pinched her shoulders and shuddered. “Poor Teddy.”
Teddy nodded. “They dragged me to police headquarters, asked trivial questions, then left me sitting in a bare room for three hours. Just sitting there, watching me through that mirrored window before they returned my visa and passport.” His eyes darted around the room. “I can still feel them watching.”
“Well, it is a little curious, a thirty-year-old man who travels with his mother.”
Sylvia held up her hand to stop. “We’re in Shanghai, gentlemen. Let’s travel some new territory.”
Teddy popped George on the shoulder. “So, what’s next, George?”
He didn’t know. “Where’s your wedding rings?” He pointed to Sylvia’s left hand.
“The hotel manager encouraged me to put them in the safe.” Her hands shimmered with baubles, inexpensive paste that seemed to dance with the thumping music. “He said it wasn’t safe to wear them.”
“Humm.” George sipped his drink and scanned the room for Walter.
“I’ve been a little hesitant to go out, but there are some exquisite stores in this complex.” Sylvia smiled her ten-gallon smile. “The trip has been such a strain to my budget, would you be a dear and let me use your credit card?” She rubbed her knee against his leg. “I wasn’t able to pack everything I needed.”
“No, I’m sure not.” He remembered the closet full of clothes. Shoes, purses, belts, overflowed into baskets under the bed and dressers full, but not of his things. He had moved to China with one suitcase and a carry-on.
Teddy winked at the hostess as she swished past in black fishnet hose and a red bustier. “What do you say we try our luck at the tables while Mom shops?”
“As I recall, you still owe me the fingers on your right hand.”
Teddy grabbed his fist. “I told you, I didn’t know that guy was a racketeer.”
Sylvia ran her hand up George’s arm. “Let’s not rub salt into an old wound.”
Walter Wang walked to the table. After introducing himself to Teddy, he turned to George. “I’m afraid I have some disturbing news. There’s been an upset at the refinery. Your expertise is needed immediately.”
“Oh, no, Mr. Wang, are you sure?” Sylvia put a hand to her chest and shook her head at George. “Please don’t go.”
For a moment, George studied Walter. “I’m sorry, dear.” He turned to Sylvia. “Let me see what this is all about.”
Walking the wide carpeted hallway toward the exit, Walter quickly briefed George. “It seems Sylvia has been busy since she left you, George. U.S. Intelligence believes she came here seeking your protection from a recent lover who has connections.”
“If you stay here, you will be associated with a scandal, something Shanghai Oil won’t permit. The government doesn’t tolerate subversive activity. You have about three minutes to decide, George. To protect the mission, you can return to Houston “a cuckold husband,” as the Brit Chaucer would say, or walk into Shanghai Oil Monday morning, a naive engineer and our number one operative in China.”
“Well…, when you put it that way.” George glanced back. “Pity.”
At the smoked glass foyer Walter handed the attendant his valet slip. Outside a huge black SUV squealed to a stop. Simultaneously, Walter and George turned away, taking up a conversation with a scantily clad Chinese woman. Three heavily armed police officers poured from the vehicle and galloped through the entrance.
George smiled at Walter, “While we’re waiting for your car, let’s talk to the hotel manager. There’s something I’d like to get from the safe – Room 211.”