So to my lovely parents, here's your story - I hope B&K are never quite as adventurous as B&C (I do worry you know!)
The Adventures of Bob and Cathy
“What do you think about this for George?” Bob turned to look at the ornamental dagger his wife was holding up. “I think it’s perfect dear, let’s see what sort of bargain you can get it for.” Cathy had become an expert haggler over the course of their travels around the world, and it was always a joy to watch her in action. He stood back and look disinterested while she picked up and put down a few other items, then made to leave. “Wait Madame, wait, come back. I give you special price. What do you want?” Cathy played along with the game, a smile dancing in her eyes. While she loved a good bargain, she also knew when to stop so that both parties were satisfied with the price. She handed over the money, five times less than the initial price, and declined a plastic bag. Bob took the dagger from her and nestled it safely in the bag slung across his body.
“Let’s get some dinner, I saw a little dumpling place back there.” Bob grabbed his wife’s hand and they strode through the night market, weaving their way through the streams of people that stood a good head or two shorter than them. It was becoming easier to drown out the constant cries of “sir, come look,” and “madame, good price” that had been so overwhelming on their first visit to Vietnam years before. They found two stools in a busy dumpling place and pointed out which dumplings they wanted from the menu.
“I can’t believe we have to go home tomorrow, it’s just gone so quickly,” Cathy sighed. “You’re right, 7 weeks away from home is too long, but 2 weeks away is not enough.” Bob shifted his weight on the stool, tucking their bag neatly between his body and the bench. “I think the kids would love it here, don’t you?” “I’m sure they’ll be dying to see all the photos when they come home for Christmas,” Bob replied with a cheeky grin. A very small old woman placed their steaming bowls of dumplings in front of them, holding up a fork in one hand and chopsticks in the other. Cathy smiled at her and pointed at the chopsticks. They’d become quite adept with chopsticks after their numerous visits to Japan to see their son George.
“Mmmm, this pork one is so good Cathy, you have to try it,” he held out the half finished remains of a dumpling to her, clamped steady in his chopsticks. She leaned over and popped the rest in her mouth. “Oh that is delicious, the coriander and garlic are divine.” They sat in comfortable silence, devouring the rest of their dumplings and ordering a banana split to share. A different woman brought their dessert, “would you like to try our special tea? It’s very good for digestion.” “Yes please,” Cathy answered, taking a big spoon of banana and ice-cream.
Two small cups of steaming liquid appeared in front of them. Bob took a small sip. “Well, that’s different,” he said, taking another sip. Cathy followed his suit, “hmmm, it’s spicier than I expected.” They polished off their dessert and drained the last remnants of tea and Bob settled the bill, leaving a nice tip for the service they’d appreciated.
The night air had cooled off a couple of degrees when they stepped back into the street. “That was delicious Bob, we’ll have to remember to tell Ron and Jessy about it for their holiday.” “I’ll make sure I find it on Google Earth when we get home. I’m not feeling particularly tired yet, should we carry on walking?” “That’s fine Bob, I thought after all that food I’d be ready to roll into bed, but I feel the opposite, like I could stay up all night or do three Zumba classes in a row.” They shared a smile and linked hands.
“How beautiful! What do you think is down there?” Cathy said pointing down a small side street lined with colourful paper lanterns. “Let’s find out,” Bob said and led the way, ducking to miss the low hanging lanterns. At the end of the little street there was a red door hanging wide open, with a small neon sign above it. Bob shot his wife a quizzical look and she nodded her ascent. He did a double take, having expected his usually cautious wife to not agree to enter a strange building where they didn’t know what they’d find. He gave a small shrug and took a step through the doorway.
There were a number of closely spaced stairs leading in a curve and he gingerly stepped down them one at a time, making sure Cathy was right behind him. The staircase opened up onto a large room, filled with green felt covered tables, surrounded by well dressed men and women playing poker and mahjong. They were spotted by a young woman in a slinky long red sequined dress. “Good evening, may I help you?” “Um, I’m sorry, we just wanted to see what was down here, we’re not really dressed for a casino,” Bob stammered.
“There is no dress code sir, you’re both very welcome to play,” her English was perfect, with the rounded vowels of someone who had studied at the finest international schools. “Come on Bob, a little flutter can’t hurt.” “Follow me; you can change money for chips this way.” “Are you sure honey?” “Oh what’s the harm, we can afford to play a little bit.” They followed the slinky young woman to a counter and changed fifty dollars worth of currency into chips. “What shall we play? The mahjong looks quite different to what I’m used to playing on the computer, so perhaps we’ll give that one a miss.” “Well, I guess we’ll try poker then Bob, you can sit at the table dear, you’re much better than I am.”
He pulled out a seat at a less busy table with a small minimum bet. It had been years since he’d last sat at a poker table. They were playing traditional five stud poker and Bob was relieved it wasn’t the Texas Hold Em that had seemingly taken the world by storm over the past decade. The cards were dealt and he picked them up carefully, making sure no one, not even Cathy could see his hand; as much as he loved his wife, she didn’t have much of a poker face. Three kings, a Queen and a two. Bob could hardly believe his luck. He threw out the two and held his breath as the replacement card was dealt. His face showed disappointment as he looked, but inside he was jumping; it was the last King. Four of a kind, what were the odds of that? He made a show of betting sensibly, but at the last bid, he went all in.
Eyebrows were raised around the table, none higher than Cathy’s standing a few feet away. Two of the men at the table folded and there remained one young man at the other end of the table, sunglasses blocking any expression from his eyes. There was a large pile of chips in front of him, and fifty dollars didn’t make much of a dent in that pile as he slid the chips forward. “I call.”
Bob lifted over his cards, one at a time starting with the Queen, and grinning widely as he turned the last King. The young man at the end of the table threw his cards down in disgust, and Bob suppressed a further grin as he brought the chips towards him, there was no need to be a sore winner. Not wanting to push his luck any further, Bob gathered up his chips. “Thank you gentlemen, that was fun,” and walked back to the cashier where the sequined lady was standing. “Well done sir, it is not often that someone beats Jun Ki Sun.” He counted the notes handed to him by the cashier. “Well, I don’t know who Mr Ki Sun is, but the hand was very hard to beat,” he said modestly. He turned to leave, but was stopped by a small hand on his forearm. “Mr Ki Sun is the leader of one of the largest crime syndicates in the city. He is not a man who takes losing well, and I highly recommend you and your wife leave the premises as soon as possible.” She looked down, ashamed. “We’ll do that, thank you miss...?” “Miss Ki Sun, I’m his sister.” He nodded to her and she bowed.
His eyes found Cathy across the room, and then sought out the table he’d been sitting at. Jun Ki Sun was no longer there. He quickly wove his way through the tables to Cathy. “Well done Bob, you didn’t want to play again?” “We have to get out of here Cathy, now.” He grabbed her hand and they walked purposefully up the stairs. “What’s going on Bob? What’s the hurry?” “The man I beat, he’s the leader of a gang who doesn’t like losing.” “Oh my god,” Cathy gasped. They hurried out the door, past a squat beefy man in a dark suit that hadn’t been there when they’d entered.
“You have something that belongs to me,” a voice called from further up the alley. Bob stopped and looked behind him; the beefy man was taking slow, menacing steps towards them. Out of the shadows Jun Ki Sun appeared. “I don’t like losing, it would be very smart of you to return what you took from me.” Bob gulped, and felt Cathy’s hand trembling in his. “Now we don’t want any trouble, I’ll give you your money back, just let us go.” Cathy’s hand slipped from his and Bob watched in horror as she walked towards Jun.
Bob thought he knew his wife of 40 years pretty well, but as he watched her take out the gang leader with a spinning high kick and a cry of “hi-yaaaaaaaaa”, he realised her ability to keep on surprising him was what had kept their love alive for so long. But while their love would never die, he knew that unless he whipped out the ornamental dagger Cathy had bought just hours ago, he might be dead, as he heard heavy footsteps come up behind him.
Bob didn’t have time to grab the dagger, but he wouldn’t have known what to do with it anyway. His army training, some 45 years behind him suddenly reared its ugly head and he ducked the punch thrown by the heavy man and managed to land a sharp jab in his side. A quick side step and another punch landed on the big man’s face, knocking him out cold. “Cathy?” he yelled. “I’m ok, he’s down.” Bob looked at his wife, standing tall over a crumpled mass on the ground. She ran lightly to him, grabbed his hand and pulled him from the alley, jumping gracefully over the unconscious body of Jun Ki Sun.
They ran all the way back to their hotel, not stopping to look behind until the door was bolted safely behind them. Bob looked at his wife in amazement. “Where on earth did you learn to do that? It was incredible!” “Oh Bob, I told you if you just came to one of my Zumba classes you’d be amazed at what you can learn. Such fun!”