By Phillip Ghee (USA)
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Buddy’s Water Emporium was one of the hottest, trendiest spots on Los Angeles’ Westside. It catered to the rich and famous. You had either better be somebody or very close to somebody in order to get reservations at Buddy’s. Eddie shied away from the limelight and preferred to remain a silent partner. Buddy was by no means getting a free ride. Aside from the fact that it was his off the top snip, that birthed the idea for the enterprise; it was Buddy’s wealth that funded the initial investment. Buddy was also a marketing whiz. Buddy knew what the hi-end crowd craved. The establishment was as plush as the most excusive club or restaurant. The perks and amenities one encountered, if granted entry into the club, were sure to either cement their reputation or spawn one. The paparazzi would be packed three rows deep just to get a glance, photo, or hologramic of the A-listers lined up hoping for admission.
Naturally, neither the FDA nor the CDC took kindly to the idea of introducing something in the environment that was unknown. The environment as well as the human genome had taken a serious beating in the past hundred years. Much like Buddy’s, science ran a velvet rope and was very selective as to whom or what should be allowed access. This was another reason Eddie chose to remain a silent partner - due to his title as a bio-technical engineer he would not want anything that could be construed as a conflict of interest messing up a good thing. Between his uncles’s wealth and influence of friends and Eddie own knowledge of the inner workings and politics and policies of the aforementioned agencies, they were able to secure licensing to distribute any waters generated within the history of man. The waters still had to face expensive and extensive testing. Eddie’s uncle weathered the financial burden of the first year. Once their products had proven safe, restrictions were relaxed and that’s when the profits and proceeds rained down, in torrents, on the three major parties involved.
Along with the ambience and novelty associated with these aged waters, Buddy had diversified and emphasized different distinct brands. BC, The Living Water, although not the oldest brew, was the most expensive. It was said to date back to around the life and times of Jesus Christ. It was a big hit among the Christian minded Celebes and notables. Even visiting Vatican head hanchos were unable to resist the hype and seek out a bottle, 1,000 dollars if purchased in the club, 1,800 if ordered on-line. Macho Water was a favorite among the single men seeking pleasurable conquests. The water was certified to have originated during the time of Genghis Khan. Amazingly, the ladies actually preferred one of the least expensive waters in the house. The Summer of Love Mist, it was less than a century old, owing its origin to the Hippie inspired 1969. Older women preferred the much more expensive Renaissance Rain.
The rebels and self important a-holes favored one of the first, tainted waters that Buddy and Eddie experimented with: INDUSTRIAL AGE, Dirty Water. The labels on Dirty Water featured reproduced images of daguerreotypes capturing life on early assembly lines, coal producing mines, textile miles etc. To enhance the theme the men had added a specially created chemical ester that added just a hint of smokiness to the flavor of the water.
Somewhere along the line Uncle Hung Liu proposed that they open up a Chinese version of the Water Emporium. His reasons were not wholly financially. The phat proceeds that uncle Liu received from the club were due to his heavy investment that first year and, also, it was his company that was still responsible for the Artic mining that secured the waters. He had made choice alterations to the way they drilled for ice cores to accommodate the new uses for the waters. He also policed their investment, making sure no other mining company tried to cash in on the deal. Even though the proceeds to Liu were considerable, compared to his already amassed fortune, they amounted to just chump change for Liu, what he liked to call Mistress () money. His reason for opening the Chinese club, financially, was that it would only afford him another. His ambitions were much loftier than that.
China was a country with a culture, ancient and mysterious, baffling at times to occidental eyes. Many western trends could actually be said to have roots in Chinese society. Power networking was as Chinese as the invention of paper. China also had a long history of pandering to the taboo and often these two Chinese institutions walked hand and hand. Be it the Opium dens of the 19th Century or the illicit trade in Ivory ornaments, China has always controlled the black market. If the Chinese elite desired the rumored aphrodisiac properties of rhinoceros horns, the healing properties of stewed, endangered, Snow Owl, or the mystical properties of South American Yage Tea, he could always find someone to deliver it - the next day!
China had also become the world’s foremost economic giant, even though the United States of America still held the title on paper only. The Chinese business cultured differed from the US in that whereas the major business deals in the US were made in lush hi-rise office board rooms, in large brown envelopes left conveniently by lobbyists upon the desks of politicians; the Chinese power deals were made in darkened back alleys behind the rows of street vendor’s kiosks serving up noodles and other street-side favorite treats.
Entire corporations had been known to change hands amid the ruckus and bustle of the jie bin dong 街邊檔, "street side stalls. Chinese power deals were made in dark and dank basements of illegal mahjong and gambling cellars. Economic alliances were often formed before the night’s festivities at exclusive bordellos and strip clubs.
The rules and regulations in China were more lax than they were in the US. However, certain risky ventures were still off-limits. Uncle Hung Liu needed the assistance of an expert. He requested the expertise of Buddy to assist in the formation of the Chinese version of the club. Eddie was too clean to go by the book. Eddie did not feel slighted. He assumed that Buddy’s showmanship and sense of interior design were the needed skills that Uncle Liu would need to get off the ground. He assumed that when his uncle would finally get around to the enhanced waters, then his scientific skill would be commissioned.
Buddy had grown to know far more about the business, both scientific and commercially, that Eddie was aware of. There would be rules that needed to be bent or circumvented and this was Buddy’s true gift. Eddie wished Buddy well, offered his blessing and sent him, as well as most of the top echelon of the Water Procurement and Development scientific team, off to China.
The Chinese club, once opened, resembled very much the Los Angeles club yet with a more distinctive Chinese and oriental flair and flavor. The A-listers for the Chinese club were just as prominent. The paparazzi were more respectful and orderly. The women were modestly attired, that is until inside the club.
Below ground was a separate establishment that many, including the A-listers upstairs, had no knowledge of. Drinks like Jurassic Juice, Cretaceous Ice Crunch and Primordial Punch were but a few of the illicit drinks served to the VIP’s downstairs.
China had not been as kind to Buddy as it had been to his bank accounts.
Eddie went to meet his friend at the airport. He had expected a joyous reunion but
instead encountered an apparition of the Eddie he knew. The man who gingerly made
his way towards him was half the man as the one who had departed from this
very same airport.
His skin was pasty white, speckled with raised blemishes. His walk seemed arthritic and he could not hide a frequent clearing of the throat. Eddie wondered why, given the recent news about a new flu making rounds in China, that Buddy had not been quarantined before being allowed to enter the United States. But he later reasoned that the flu was recent and as of now confined only to rural regions. Also, whatever ailed Buddy had been gestating longer than the few weeks of the newly confirmed flu. The rural areas of China were still a world away from the ultra modern metropolises of Shanghai, Beijing and Guangzhou. There seemed to be no alarm sounded for the cities.
The flu had grown much worse in the weeks since Buddy’s return. Buddy’s condition had also deteriorated. Buddy decided he need to a little cleansing of mind, body and pocketbook. He headed down to the tropical paradise of the Cayman Island for a little R&R. There not only could he clean out his system but he could also do a little cleaning, a little laundering of some of his earlier, ill gained, financial accounts. Buddy never returned.
The Chinese-born flu had now reached the cities. Deaths were mounting. Given that any flu affecting a heavily populated area had the chance to become a pandemic, the CDC of the United States as well as prominent pharmaceutical interests sent scientists and evaluators to assist the Chinese government. Eddie volunteered for his company to go to China. He reasoned that this would provide him a chance to experience the Chinese Club firsthand. Also Eddie thought this would be a good opportunity to expose his uncle to the new enhanced waters he had been experimenting with.
He had not expected to find his uncle so ill. He had assumed that, because of his uncle’s wealth and power, he would have been able to isolate quite comfortably until the malady passed. Eddie, if anyone, should have known better that germs don’t discriminate and cannot be paid off.
The collective wisdom of the combined scientist soon fingered the culprit, or at least the host harboring the culprit. Animals throughout the ages have been known to be the bearer of bad news. There was the deadly bug that rode in on the backs of rats that devastated Europe during the Middle Ages.
The Avian, so called bird flu, may have been more hype than flu during the early 21st. Century, but it later (perhaps via laboratory snafu) combined with an impotent Swine Flu strain of Virus from the late 1970’s and sent the world into a panicked frenzy. Yet the unlikely harbinger of this new flu was an animal not generally associated with animal-to-human transmission. The Reptile flu was indeed a flux in the annals of science. What the combined scientist had not ascertained was that this new virus that first affected reptiles was not the new kid on the block.
The Reptile virus was an ancient killer who after a hearty breakfast had settled in, dormant style, to take in a 60 million year nap. When it awoke, it found its favorite treat had vanished from the menu, perhaps due to its voracious appetite. So the virus had to settle for much less desirable cousins of it original faire. That is until it discovered that the Master Chef had added a delicious new dessert to the menu.
Possibly, The End