“What Are You in the Market For?” by Ruo Ruo Zhao
Mondays Are Murder features brand-new noir fiction modeled after our award-winning Noir Series. Each story is an original one, and each takes place in a distinct location. Our web model for the series has one more restraint: a 750-word limit. Sound like murder? It is. But so are Mondays.
This week, Ruo Ruo Zhao takes us to Hong Kong, a city where everything is for sale.
The moment Elaine walks out of the air-conditioned hospital hallway, she is covered in a sheet of liquid. It is not sweat, but rather condensation from the difference in interior and exterior temperature. A thunderstorm is coming, maybe even a typhoon. The moisture in the air has captured all the smells on the streets. Beneath the pungent aroma of fermented tofu and fish balls, there is the distinct scent of mold from children’s nylon backpacks. Further down the street, there is the body odor of an Indian delivery boy—cumin, the cheap perfume worn by women who disappear into buildings with pink neon lights—green apple, fresh citrus scents from Bergamot oranges and pomelos, and the smell of ocean from the fish stall next door.
This is Mong Kok. There are people, and more people. Restaurants. Clothing shops. Real estate agents. Signs. More signs. Competing signs. Noises. Cars. Five double-decker buses blast through traffic lights at forty miles an hour, kicking up sharp-edged pebbles.
Cantonese, Mandarin, English, Indonesian, some Italian, Arabic. A symphonic cacophony. The spoken language turns predominately to Mandarin further east towards Sai Yee Street—the hub for cross-border coaches that shuttle people between Guangzhou and Hong Kong. Chinese tourists, loads of them, with their hard multi-directional-wheeled suitcases, line up in front of Sa Sa stores for a bargain on cosmetics.
In Hong Kong, everything is for sale.
The air pressure is dropping. Elaine starts to see floating patches of green and yellow at the corner of her right eye. A thunderstorm is coming. Her migraine is the telltale. Why the hell does she have to be so sensitive to air pressure changes?
Elaine abandons the brightly lit streets and turns down a dark alley. It is an alley she normally avoids at night. The lampposts are sparsely installed and, on top of this, it seems a few more lightbulbs have gone out. Shaded from sunlight all year round, she can almost see with her nose the moss growing on the side of the damp buildings. Cats have peed here, and so have dogs, maybe even people.
Does she hear footsteps? Light and soft, maybe six feet behind her. Elaine thought she saw someone when she left the hospital. She didn’t pay too much attention because bright lights have blasted away all creepy shadows. But in the dark alley, Elaine is sure that someone is following her. She’ll have to call the neighborhood association to fix the lightbulbs tomorrow—this would have been her husband’s job if he were not so sick . . .
For now, Elaine reaches into her bag and finds an old-fashioned razor blade. She started carrying the blade when she worked in a massage parlor many years ago. It came in handy when certain clients demanded too much or didn’t pay as promised. She learned very quickly how much power this small sharp object possessed when simply placing it between a man’s thighs.
With the razor blade in hand, Elaine walks past the back door of her apartment building and into a faint pool of light. She slows her steps while keeping an eye on the pavement behind her. There it is: the shapeless shadow—which she had hoped was an invention of her paranoia—is only a few steps behind.
Elaine opens the razor and continues to walk until she is sure the shadow has followed her out of the light. She turns around sharply, grabbing the collar of the shadowy figure, and places the razor between his legs. His face is covered by a hoodie, but wait—there is nothing down there.
Elaine pushes him against a wall and rips the hoodie off of his head. A woman. These faint features clearly belong to a female. Her eyes are wide open—communicating fear. No words come out of her mouth, for she is so scared that she has lost the ability to move the muscles around her lips.
“Who are you? Why are you following me?”
“I . . . I am sorry.” The voice is faint. It is definitely a woman.
Elaine moves the razor to her throat. “Tell me who you are.”
“Please, miss. I don’t mean any harm. I overheard that you are in the market for a kidney. I want to sell you mine.”
RUO RUO ZHAO has a background in television marketing and production. She worked for PBS in Boston for four years while also reporting on entertainment industry news for The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. After relocating to Hong Kong, she decided to enter the family trade—her grandfather was a playwright and her mother an author—and write her first novel. This short story is an excerpt from Kowloon Story: An Organ Broker, a novel set in Hong Kong, a city where everything is for sale—from designer handbags and luxury sports cars to dim sum, electronics, sex, and drugs—and in the shadows, so are human organs.
Would you like to submit a story to the Mondays Are Murder series? Here are the guidelines:
—Your story should be set in a distinct location of any neighborhood in any city, anywhere in the world, but it should be a story that could only be set in the neighborhood you chose.
—Include the neighborhood, city, state, and country next to your byline.
—Your story should be Noir. What is Noir? We’ll know it when we see it.
—Your story should not exceed 750 words.
—E-mail your submission [email protected] paste the story into the body of the email, and also attach it as a PDF file.
Posted: Jul 13, 2015
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