ou know,” Thibodaux said as they watched Hajip from a safe spot in the crowded twilight, fifty meters from where he ran his
cart. “Just once, I wouldn’t mind comin’ to an interesting place like this and having a little time to mosey along and enjoy the atmosphere. Camille could do a mean belly dance in one or two of these silk scarves.”
Since all of China operated on Beijing time, it was late in the west by the time the sun actually set. Uyghur people operated on their own unofficial time, two hours earlier than Beijing, making it just after nine. While people in the capital might be retiring for the night, the Kashgar night market still hummed with activity.
“Buy her a scarf,” Quinn said, breathing in the scent of barbecued lamb. Beside him, a man used a blackened piece of a cardboard box to fan a grill covered with sputtering kabobs. “It’ll fit in your pocket. It’s getting late, even on Uyghur time, but I’m sure we still have a few minutes before our guy closes up his cart.” Quinn nodded toward the adjacent stall where a sharp-eyed woman stood surrounded by wooden rods that held dozens of colorful Uzbek scarves. The apples of her round cheeks were red as if she’d just run a footrace and her blue eyes gleamed under the string of electric lights as if she’d won the race. A stray lock of auburn hair peeked from her head scarf. Her lips turned up in the tiniest of grins as she surely identified Jacques as a man to whom she could sell an entire sackful of scarves. “I’d offer her about half of her asking price,” Quinn said, knowing a pushover like Jacques would likely pay double. “You go on. I’ll keep an eye on our guy.”
Quinn bought himself a small cup of
—a mixture of shaved ice, yogurt, and lemon juice. His mouth watered for some of the grilled meat and naan bread, but the likelihood of impending violence made him stick with something on the lighter side.
He paid two yuan to the smiling Uyghur—who looked a lot like his uncle—and walked with his paper cup of
to stand under a mulberry tree and watch. Hajip was tall and he moved through the crowd hawking his nougatlike
with the purposeful air of a man accustomed to getting his way. Gabrielle had been right. Hajip did take the best spot for his cart—but there were really no bad spots among the sounds and sights and smells that made up Kashgar’s night market.
Strings of electric lights and open flames from barbecue grills illuminated the night. A vast sea of stalls selling everything from goat testicles to pirated DVDs of Hollywood movies lined the road under the shadow of the yellow towers of Id Kah—the oldest and largest mosque in China. A few feet from Quinn, an ancient man in a ratty suit jacket and a white silk
sat cross-legged under a gas lantern selling refurbished leather shoes from a pile spread out before him. Not five yards away, another man, similarly dressed, knelt on the sidewalk over a hogtied ram, directing blood from the gurgling animal’s freshly slit throat into a plastic bucket. Beyond this gruesome scene, a Uyghur girl of seven or eight helped her father sell scoops from a pristine white mountain of ice cream.
The smell of fried, grilled, and boiled meat permeated the air, mulling with saffron and garlic and a thousand other spices that flooded Quinn with memories of bazaar and bizarre.
“Mighty short trip from the sidewalk to the stove,” Jacques muttered, tossing his head toward where the bleeding ram gave its last dying gurgles. “Pretty damn fresh.”
“How much did you pay?” Quinn asked, raising an eye at the two red silk Uzbek scarves Jacques held wadded in his fist.
“I don’t want to talk about it,” the big Cajun grumbled.
Quinn was about to rib his friend more—but down the block, Hajip answered a call on his mobile phone. He talked for a short time, and then appeared to hang up and make another call that lasted only a few seconds. A moment later, he lifted the handles of his cart and shoved his way through the crowd.
Quinn took the last drink of his melted yogurt and set the wadded paper cup on top of a barrel that overflowed with similar trash. Thibodaux stuffed the scarves in his back pocket. Without a word between them, the two men began to follow, moving slowly as if to look at merchandise, but always keeping an eye on Hajip.
Quinn’s hope was to keep the Uyghur in sight, but half a block past the last stalls of the night market the
vendor took a quick right down a side alley. By the time they reached the corner, he had vanished. Quinn thought he heard voices in the darkness and held up his fist, motioning for Thibodaux to stop. Somewhere ahead, the wheels of not one, but two
carts squeaked down the quiet street.
“He’s joined up with a friend,” Thibodaux whispered. “Maybe that’s who he called.”
Three blocks later the alley broadened and split into three different directions disappearing down pitch-black pathways between ancient buildings of leaning brick and slumping stone that had surely been here when Kashgar was still a thriving oasis for camel caravans. The voices fell silent, but the squeaking of the cartwheels continued. If Hajip had been better at maintenance they would have lost him.
Feeble pools of yellow lamplight spilled out here and there from windows at various heights in the ancient brick walls. Family sounds filtered down to street level with the reserved quiet of a people used to living in such close proximity and pretending not to know each other’s business. Padding slowly and knowing that the big Cajun had his back, Quinn rounded the corner of a crumbling three-story building in time to watch Hajip open the twin wooden doors of what looked like some kind of warehouse or a barn. Another
vendor followed behind him, pushing an identical cart. The building was dark until Hajip entered and switched on a light.
“Looks like there’s just the two of them,” Thibodaux whispered from where they crouched at the corner.
A dog barked in the distance. The sizzle of frying meat popped through the window above, close enough for them to feel the splatter of grease through open shutters and taste the spiced mutton on the warm evening air.
“You see what you can find out from the other guy while I talk to Hajip,” Quinn said, moving toward the warehouse in a shuffling crouch. He knew Thibodaux well enough to be certain the big Marine would prefer head-on action to all this sneaking around.
“I know you got rid of that exploding blunderbuss,” Thibodaux said as they moved toward the door. “But these guys are famous for their big-ass knives. I don’t guess you’ve got another pistol up your sleeve.”
“This is Kashgar.” Quinn grabbed the door handle, ready to go. “There’ll be plenty of knives for us.”
Hajip had locked the main doors behind him and Jericho had to use the chisel point of his Riot to jimmy the flimsy lock. From the outside the place looked to be as big as a deep three-car garage. Easing from the darkness into the lighted warehouse allowed Quinn to make it fifteen feet from Hajip before he even looked up from his cart. Quinn was surprised to see that the man’s eyes and nose were red from crying.
Thibodaux faded to the right as soon as they came in, cutting off the second Uyghur, a burly young man who was built like a farmhand. Both Thibodaux and Quinn moved quickly, closing the distance while their surprised targets were still busy trying to figure out what was going on. Quinn’s heavy black beard and olive complexion gave him the ambiguous ethnicity that might make him a Central Asian, but the sight of the giant Cajun momentarily stunned the two Uyghur men.
Quinn was nearly on top of Hajip when the Uyghur snatched up the heavy cleaver he used to hack off pieces of
. Dozens of blades of various shapes and sizes were strewn over several other carts parked alongside Hajip’s. Quinn snatched up a long, but relatively thin blade compared to the cleaver. He didn’t plan on a fencing match. There was too much danger of an errant slash from Hajip connecting with something vital.
Quinn knew from harsh experience that human bodies were little more than flimsy, blood-filled balloons. Movie knife fights featured a lot of clanging metal, thrusts and parries, and sparks for show. Showing a knife as a defensive threat—as Hajip was doing now—was all well and good, but a real-world knife attack was more like an assault with a club—a sharp and pointed club, but still a club. An attack was usually over in a matter of seconds with one party completely overwhelmed.
Mean and intimidating as it was, the cleaver was heavy and its weight and momentum made Hajip’s movements clumsy. Whatever had caused him to cry likely weighed on his mind and slowed him down even more. Quinn feinted left. Hajip took the bait, slashing wildly with the unwieldy
blade. Quinn stepped offline, parrying the attacking arm out of the way with his right, and then clobbered Hajip in the neck with a quick left hook. Stunned, the Uyghur fell sideways, slamming against the edge of his metal cart on the way to the ground, his right arm snapping with a sickening pop.
“That didn’t take long,” Thibodaux observed, standing over his unconscious opponent. “I guess waving at customers with a big honking knife don’t provide for much combat experience.”
Quinn kicked the blade out of the way and grabbed a roll of plastic wrap from Hajip’s
cart. Two minutes later both Uyghurs looked like angry cocoons leaning against the back wall. Their arms were secured to their sides, and they were wrapped from chest to ankle in most of the industrial-size roll of plastic.
Awake now, Hajip fired off a furious string in Uyghur. Bloodshot eyes locked on his unconscious friend. Quinn hopped up to sit on the edge of the cart. He didn’t understand the words, but got the gist of them.
“His shoulder is torn up,” Quinn said in Mandarin. “But he’s still alive.”
Hajip glared with the white-hot hatred of a powerless man. A thin trickle of blood ran from his nose. His right eye was a little off-kilter—evidence of the power of Quinn’s left hook. His face was pale, likely from the pain of the broken arm he received during the fall.
“So,” Quinn said, speaking in Mandarin. “Do you know why I’m here?”
The Uyghur stared back but said nothing.
“What’s bothering you, Hajip?” Quinn said, hands resting beside his thighs as his legs dangled off the cart.
“I am tied like a goose,” the Uyghur spat. “That is what’s bothering me.” His Mandarin was fluent, but spoken in short, choppy sentences, as if distasteful to speak.
Quinn gave a slow nod, pondering which way to go with the questioning.
Snot flowed down the Uyghur’s nose. He was unable to rub his eyes, which brimmed with more tears. As interrogations went, someone or something had done half of Quinn’s job for him. Hajip was distraught, too distracted to keep up much of a lie.
“Let me get straight to the yolk of the egg, as they say,” Quinn said.
“That is a good idea,” Hajip said. “If you mean to take my head, so be it. I am prepared to die.”
Quinn shook his head. “I’m not interested in killing you.” he said, “As a matter of fact, I understand you are the man who can help me find the Feng brothers.”
The Uyghur began to thrash at the mention of the name, straining against the plastic wrap and beating the back of his head against the wall. Tendons strained at his neck. His face flushed red behind his wispy beard. Unable to free himself, he finally stopped long enough to glare at Quinn, panting. Spittle hung from his lips. His eyes burned with the rage of a tortured man.
“Ehmet Feng will burn in Hell!” he spat.
This was not the reaction Quinn had expected. He scooted forward to the edge of the cart. “You have seen Feng tonight?”
“Haaaa!” The Uyghur let loose a pitiful, heartbroken cry. “He would be dead if I had.” Hajip threw back his head again, screaming towards the rafters through clenched teeth. “I swear I will put a blade through Ehmet Feng’s black heart.”
“Hey!” Quinn patted the man on his cheek to keep his attention. “Listen to me. You want to get Ehmet Feng, then tell me where I can find him.”
“You must believe me when I tell you,” Hajip said through clenched teeth. “If I knew where that dog was, I would not be here. I would cut his throat, just as he did my brother.”
Quinn slid off the cart. “Why would Feng kill your brother?”
Hajip looked up through grief-stricken eyes. “Ehmet believed my brother betrayed him to the authorities, that he is the reason they were arrested.” Hajip shook his head, tears welling again. “The last scene to reach my brother’s eyes was that of Ehmet Feng murdering his children. . . .”
“When did this happen?” Quinn moved in so he was just inches from the other man’s face. “Who gave you this information?” he whispered.
“Ehmet called my mobile to gloat.” The Uyghur’s head fell to his chest—he was crying in earnest now. “He murdered my brother while I stood on the street, selling confections like an old fool.”
“That was the call you received out on the street a few moments ago?”
Hajip nodded toward the unconscious man beside him. “My cousin and I had a plan to find the dog and avenge my brother, until you showed up.”
Quinn took a deep breath and considered his options. He felt for the poor man. The loss of a brother would be devastating, but a pat on the shoulder was all the solace he could afford. If the Fengs had committed bloody murders in the last hour, they were still in the area.
“Where would you look first?” Quinn said.
“I do not know.” Hajip choked back his sobs. “I was insane with grief when I received the call. I am not sure it’s even possible to find him. He has cousins in Kashgar, but the police will be watching them. He is much too smart to turn to any of them.”