Crime Suppression Unit Part 8
The Shwedagon Pagoda
Rick answered the 7:30 knock on his hotel door while Soopies pulled the covers over her head. The bellboy rolled in a cart and set up breakfast on the table by the window. When he left, Soopies sprang up from the bed and strolled to the bathroom wrapped
in a bed sheet. I want to jump into the shower first.'
Why are you all wrapped up in the sheet? I've seen you naked before.'
Are you sure it was me?'Sonia grinned and closed the bathroom door behind her.
Rick examined the breakfast while listening to the shower run. There was fresh fruit: papaya, pineapple, mango and watermelon. Plates of eggs, bacon, ham, toast butter, jelly, pots of hot water, packets of Nescafe, non-dairy creamer, sugar and tea. Sonia came out of the bathroom with a towel wrapped around her. Her bare shoulders had drops of water glistening on them and her hair was wet and shiny. She had that clear skin smile and bright fresh face that needed no makeup to look beautiful. In fact Rick thought that he preferred this clean scrubbed look.
Can I go swimming in the pool later today Rick?'
Sure, if you want to.'
Can I take the kids with me?'
Nui and Saa, that's what kids.'
This hotel is not about to let some street urchins swim in the pool.'
Don't worry. I'll take care of everything.'
That by itself is cause to worry but so be it.'
Soopies leaned over and kissed Rick on the cheek. Thanks,' She brightly beamed. It was nice to see that thousand watt smile again. Do you think the boys will be waiting for us?'
You can bet on it.'
They finished eating, dressed and stopped at the front desk on the way out. Soopies put a hundred dollar bill on the counter.
We're expecting two guests for lunch today by the pool. Please send out for bathing suits. I need one for myself and one for my husband and two suits for young boys. I expect to be back by noon. I would like the suits and don't forget my change. Soopies flashed a big smile and was off heading towards the door, not waiting for a response from the desk clerk. She had no doubt that her request would not be honored.
So, I'm your husband now?'
This is Myanmar. We have to keep up appearances.'
It's easy to keep it up with you.' Rick kissed her and put his arm around her. He was rewarded with an elbow in the ribs.
Look, there's the kids across the street. Sonia was delighted to see them. They spotted her and jumped out of the car and opened the back doors, big smiles on their faces.
Good morning boys. How about a hug?'
The kids ignored Rick completely and both ran to Sonia and wrapped their arms around her. She had one on each side.
Their entire faces were smiling. Good morning Miss. We take you on city tour today?'
They all climbed into the car. Saa poked the wire into the ignition and the engine coughed to life. He stepped on the gas, ground the gears into first and popped the clutch. The car hopped forward a few feet then settled down and chugged up the street.
Been driving long Saa?' Rick said.
Oh yes Sir.'
Listen boys, after the tour would you like to have lunch with us? Sonia asked.
Oh yes, Miss.'
And would you like to go swimming too?'
Yes Miss, can drive right to river. We know good spot. Very little garbage in water.'
I have a better idea. Let's all eat in the hotel and go swimming in the pool.'
The boys were alarmed at the thought. We can not go. Man hit us with stick.'
You can hold my hand and he will not bother us.'
The boys looked dubiously at each other but agreed.
The street was full of traffic, cars, pickup trucks, motorbikes and rickshaws. Rick noticed that all of the old buses were mostly Plymouths and De Sotos. He hadn't seen either of these brands in years. Nui, what's in the barrels on top of the buses?'
Water,' he said as if anyone with a half a brain would know this.
Why? Are they traveling a long way?'
Water is for running into radiators, then come out bottom. Radiators have leaks, can not fix.'
Rick looked closer and sure enough each bus trailed a thin stream of water onto the street. Amazing Myanmar. They continued to drive away from the center of town. The buildings were further apart and there were more trees. They came to a large grassy park and pulled into a paved lot. Before them was a high hill and on top they could see shining gold-the roof of the Shwedagon
Pagoda. An elevator was ahead with cement stairs on either side. Cement banisters painted as serpents wound their way to the top. Rick opened the car door and started towards the elevator. Nui was right behind him.
Stay here, Sport,' Rick said.
I very good guide. Show everything you.'
How's your English? Not bad right?'
Good. STAY!' Rick pointed to the car.
Sonia knelt down to speak to Nui. Wait here. Keep an eye out for suspicious people.' She put her finger to her lips like it was part of a secret. Yes Miss.' Nui saluted, smiled and scrambled back into the car. You have a way with children Sonia.' The trick is not to treat them like children.' Sonia put her arm around Rick and gave him a quick hug, If she was scolding him it was hard to tell. She could fire you from your job and you would walk away feeling as if you had received a promotion.
They entered the elevator with a group of Asian tourists. When they reached the top, Rick could see a huge area with many ornately decorated wats and temples. There were a few hundred people walking around already but the place was far from being crowded. A group of sightseers led by a tour guide was heading towards the largest pagoda. The women carried umbrellas against the sun and some held the hands of their children. The men tended to group together, following behind and most wore cameras around their necks. A large white man was in the middle of the group wearing jeans and a T-shirt. It was Andrew Campbell.
Rick took Sonia's hand and walked to the front of the largest pagoda. They removed their shoes and placed them together at the end of a long line of footwear that filled the steps leading up and into the temple. Inside, on the right, was a huge mural depicting a royal wedding ceremony. Gods were looking down from the sky with many soldiers, elephants and people in traditional costume on the sidelines. The tour group was right behind them and as the guide started to explain the intricate details, Andrew stepped behind Rick.
Don't turn around. We can speak like this. I gave my minder the slip and have been waiting outside of your hotel all morning. I found out quite a bit of information at the embassy yesterday. Aung San Suu Kyi has only one companion living in the house with her. The woman acts as a housekeeper and cook. The gate and doors are not locked. It's the safest street in town. The less time you spend in the house the better everyone will be. It's got to be in and out. There are difficulties. The guardhouse at the beginning of the street holds two soldiers. One is always on duty outside and the other one sits at a desk inside. He has a telephone, short-wave radio and an alarm switch at the desk. It rings at a military garrison only five blocks away. It also sets off an alarm on the guardhouse roof. If it blows, thirty armed soldiers will arrive in a matter of minutes. There is a shift change at fifteen hundred hours so we will have to wait for that to take place before we barge in. The doctor is expected to arrive at the same time, so it's going to be close. The important thing is to get past the first guard and capture the second one before he can sound the alarm and to get away smoothly. If anything happens they will close the airport and then start shutting down the streets
Why don't we just shoot the damn doctor and be done with it?'
Not a bad idea but we don't know where he is.'
Sonia spoke up. Suppose I was able to bring the first guard in with me and then have the other guard leave his desk. You could follow me in and get the drop on them.'
How do you propose to do that? Just ask them?'
You can't speak Burmese.'
I won't have to. If I can't get a man to do what I want I will be very surprised.'
So will we if the guards are still in place.'
Don't worry. Give me a minutes head start and then come in.'
Sounds like a plan,' Andrew said. I'll get a vehicle from the car pool and pick you up at two-thirty tomorrow. When we are finished we will drive right to the airport and jump on a plane. I have the reservations already. We have to arrive early and make sure that the shift changes. If you want to see the guardhouse today, ask your driver to go past the Peoples Monument. Suu Kyi's street, University avenue is two blocks before on your left. Don't stop, just go past.'
They separated and walked out of the pagoda. Sonia steered Rick towards a small temple. She purchased a short white candle and three long brown incense sticks. She left her shoes outside and knelt before a statue of Buddha, lighting the sticks and candle from other ones that were burning in a brass urn filled with sand. She placed the candle in a small holder in front of the altar and held the sticks with her palms closed, waving them gently. Thin whips of white smoke rose and the tips burned red with the added oxygen. She said a silent prayer, her hands still clasped in the traditional wai, bending over and touching her head almost to the ground. Sonia did this three times and then stuck the incense sticks into the sand. She stood, backed away from the altar and out into the sunlight.
What did you pray for?' Rick said.
For the children waiting for us in the car, for you and for myself. That I could understand and forgive my parents.'
Great stuff as always, Frank!
Incidentally, a British friend has been telling me how wonderful Myanmar is and how a visit is a must. Just 55 minuts on Bangkok Airways and you're there. Interesting…