The heroine, Harriet Ruby, had an "adventure" on her trip to China which didn't make the cut since it's totally irrelevant to the story line … but fun! The characters in this scene, now on the cutting room floor, includes our heroine, Harriet, and her aunt Connie while they are on a tour in Xi'an, China.
This is a taste of the series without being a spoiler. Enjoy.
HARRIET RUBY’S BIRD FLU ADVENTURE
That night I actually slept. Not soundly, mind you, but it was better than mountain climbing with a herd of sheep. I missed Will and flopped around trying to find a comfortable position, but my dreams were pleasant. At least no one shot at me.
It was still early when I awoke, so I took my time showering and getting dressed. My intention was to stop by the dining room and grab a cup of coffee-to-go and a piece of fruit on the way to the lobby. In the middle of trying to tame my hair—which insisted on acting as an independent entity having nothing to do with the rest of me—the telephone rang.
A strong sense of duty overpowered my inclination not to answer. Besides, there was an off chance it might be Will calling. "Hello?"
“Harriet, come quick!” Connie’s hysterical voice blasted me through the telephone.
In my short career as a tour director, those words had become two of my least favorites in the English language. I held the receiver away from my ear. “What’s the matter, Connie?”
“It’s hard to explain. You see, Mario and your parents left earlier for breakfast and—”
"Connie, cut to the chase. What’s wrong?”
“I’m getting to that. I called room service for coffee, then poured a cup and took it out on the balcony and—”
"What happened?" I think I raised my voice ... unintentionally, of course.
"Well, you don’t have to shout. Anyway, I spotted this bird … I mean, not standing up or singing or anything … but flopped on the pavement. You know … dead.”
Jeez. “I’m on my way.” I found my aunt still in her dressing gown, her hair stuffed into a terry cloth turban. On her hands she wore white cotton gloves like you buy at the pharmacy. In one, she held the plastic bag the hotel provided for dirty laundry.
"No problem. What’s in the bag?”
"I think I need you to translate for me.”
Great. Whatever was going on, it had to be worse than I could imagine … and that’s saying a lot. With a sigh, I nodded and sat on the chair. “Why don’t you try again?”
“I guess that wasn’t very clear, was it? Okay, I found a dead bird on the balcony and thought it might have died from the Bird Flu. I heard on the English news channel last night about new outbreaks infecting people. Some of them have died. I thought there was no sense in taking chances.”
So she called me to take the chance. “I’m with you so far.”
“Well, I always carry gloves because I get this rash on my hands when—”
I cut her off with, “I’ve got the picture. You put on the gloves because Avian Flu is very contagious. Good idea. Then what?”
She glared at me, sincerely distraught but still wanting to spin the tale in her own leisurely and disconnected way. “I bent a wire hanger, pulled the bird onto a sheet of newspaper, and shoved the whole thing into this bag. When I called the front desk to report it, whoever answered had no idea what I was talking about.”
Why was I not surprised? “What do you expect me to do?”
My aunt expelled a huff of exasperation. “Well … report it to someone. This Avian Flu thing is a real health crisis, you know, so finding a diseased bird might be important.”
I had to admit Connie was right about that. Avian Flu was a full scale medical emergency in the Orient and reporting the incident was the responsible thing to do. Points for Connie.
I glanced at my watch. There was still time. “It’s only eight. Let me do some checking, and I’ll call if I find out anything.” I stood to leave.
Connie turned white. “You’re not going to leave me here, are you?” Her voice was high and agitated. “I mean, holding this dead … creature?”
How pathetic. With a resigned sigh, I sat down at the table and searched in the desk drawer until I found the English-language phone book. It wouldn’t do any good to argue with her.
After several minutes of searching, I found the listing for a government department with a title the sounded like it might have something to do with public health. I punched in the number, wondering where this office was located and how much the call would add to my hotel bill.
By eight thirty, after being transferred five times, I ended up with the phone number of the Beijing office of the World Health Organization. Eventually, the receptionist connected me with a German research scientist named Bonavein Honroth.
“You can call me Boni,” he said in a friendly but serious manner. Since his English seemed a little skitzy, we conversed in German.
Bonnie? Bony? I don’t think so. “Hello, Mr. Honroth. My name’s Harriet Ruby-Talbot. I’m calling from Xi'an. China.” I explained the dead-bird situation for what seemed the hundredth time. At least now I sensed the person on the other end of the line understood what I was blathering about.
“A dead bird,” he said when I’d finished. Over the phone, his voice sounded thoughtful and distant. “And you’re calling from Xian? Birds die from many causes, you know, but we’ve had some incidents in that general area. It was wise to call this in.”
“Thanks. What do you need to know?”
“First, I need you to ascertain whether or not the bird died of starvation.”
Oh. Come. On. He had to be kidding. “How am I supposed to do that?”
“I’ll walk you through it. But don’t take the bird out of the plastic bag or touch it.”
Like I needed that advice. Connie huddled near the phone listening to the voice at the other end of the line as though she could understand what he was saying. I suppose she took comfort in knowing that I wasn’t pretending to talk to someone to appease her. Would I do something like that?
“All right, hold on.” I covered the speaker with my hand and turned to my aunt. “Give me the bag.”
She stripped off the gloves and handed them over with the laundry bag. I put on the gloves and picked up the phone. “Okay, go for it.”
"Turn the bird over,” he instructed. “Birds with the Avian Flu actually die of starvation. If so, your bird should have a hole in its stomach.”
“A hole?” Astonished, I lapsed into English.
Bonavein cleared his throat. “I mean, the stomach will be collapsed. It caves in and leaves a deep indentation like a hole. Not necessarily a perforation.”
“Okay, give me a minute. It’s awkward maneuvering this in a plastic bag.” I put down the receiver again. By gently shaking the bag, I succeeded in getting the bird upside down on top of the newspaper, but I couldn’t see any details.
“Go to the window and hold it up to the light,” Connie suggested.
Good idea ... for once. By putting my eyes close to the plastic, I eventually got a fix on the dead bird’s belly. Open-mouthed, I stared at it long and hard. "Oh, shit!"
I put it down and picked up the phone again. “Okay, Bonaven, there is a hole, but it’s not what you’d expect.”
“Is it perforated?” he asked.
Isn't a hole a perforation by definition? "Yes, it’s been perforated … but on purpose.”
He sucked in a breath. “I beg your pardon? Are you saying the bird was perforated deliberately?”
Heat crept up my neck, and I coughed a few time. “Ahh, well, yes … so a wooden dowel can be inserted.”
"I beg your pardon?” he repeated as though I dropped an anvil on his head. A little stunned, to say the least.
“What I’m saying, to my chagrin, is that it’s an artificial bird. A garden ornament.”
Behind me Connie gasped and swore in Italian.
"Sh.” My hiss quieted her down. “I’m terribly sorry about this, Mr. Honroth. I’ve wasted a lot of your time,”--and mine—“but I assure you, it was not intentional.”
Complete silence. I visualized a blond German scientist in a white lab coat curled up under his desk in a catatonic state, eyes rolled back into his head and holding a telephone receiver in one limp hand.
Finally the man cleared his throat again. “That’s quite all right,” he forced out, his voice an octave higher than before. “Better not to take chances. Good day, Ms. Ruby-Talbot.”
Had I mentioned my name? Rats! I hoped I hadn’t told him I was a tour director. “Bye.” I dropped the receiver in its cradle as if it were red-hot metal and glared at my aunt.
"Well ... through the bag it looked like a real bird,” she said defensively. "I was upset!"
I snatched up the plastic bag containing the dead specimen and pushed it into her hands. “Aunt Connie, I think this is yours,” I said and stomped out the door.
why in the world would the search engine come up with this dinosaur?