THE MONGOLIAN GIRL – CHAPTER TEN
The windowless yellow room soon became unbearably hot and the smell of disinfectant made Tom nauseous. He took off his jacket and loosened his pink silk tie. "I need air," he mumbled as he got up and swung open the door. A blast of cold air swept in from the dark corridor, in the middle of which stood Batbold, immaculately dressed in a black suit, grey tie and brilliant white starched shirt. Tom, beads of perspiration on his brow, crumpled shirt and tie askew, was startled to see him there.
Batbold looked him up and down. "You first day hard work, eh?"
Tom, who had only been there half an hour, straightened his tie and replied somewhat hesitantly, "Not exactly. I'm still not sure what it is I am supposed to be doing here."
Batbold strode past him into the office, said something to Shishmajig in Mongolian, then sat on Tom's chair. Shishmajig did not stand up. Tom followed then stood hesitantly in the middle of his own office, feeling more than a little peeved, but attempted a smile nonetheless. He was still a PR man after all. Batbold snapped something at Shishmajig, who immediately stood up, pushed his chair back and left the room, closing the door behind him. Batbold pointed to the empty chair. Tom sat, glanced down at the red plastic bucket and felt even more nauseous. Wet patches of sweat were beginning to appear under his armpits and even on the front of his shirt.
"So Mr Tom, Perhaps is time to talk."
Tom nodded and smiled.
"In three months we elections have. All our socialist friend governments gone. Only now
Are what? Tom thought, confused by Batbold's English. "So you want me to help with an election campaign. Is that it?"
Batbold stroked his chin as he thought about this. Tom looked at his square jaundiced face and narrow eyes and wondered if he was wearing a wig - the bluish-black hair with the quiff at the front looked unnatural – but, it wasn't.
"Don’t think we are stupid! We know we can no win election. The world, the people now against us. So, we want some tricks. You understand?"
Not really, Tom thought, but replied, thinking of the money, "I think so."
"Good," snapped Batbold, apparently satisfied that he had been understood. Then he stood up, strode to the door, and opened it.
He paused in the doorway, half turned, looked down at Tom and said, "This week you make first trick, OK? And, with what Tom understood to be a veiled threat, he added, "Mr Enkhbold waiting," and left, closing the door behind him, thinking to himself, I wonder if the foreigner understood me? He had wanted to say more, he needed to say more if he was to save his own neck, but he'd been too proud to embarrass himself with lengthy explanations in his broken English.
Tom moved across to his own desk, slumped forward despondently, put his head in his hands and wondered, What the hell have I got myself into here? Perhaps I should have asked him for more clarification. Tom certainly didn’t want to ask Shishmajig. That would just make me look even more stupid in his eyes, he thought, with an incipient dislike for the assistant who he’d hoped would be a friend. Then an idea struck him and he perked up: I know, I'll ask Olga Shevchenko. Maybe she can explain what exactly it is they want from me. The thought of the elegant interpreter made him smile. Perhaps she would be a ‘friend.’
The office door swung open, Shishmajig entered, nodded a vague acknowledgment, sat down and started doodling again. Tom turned to him and asked, “Shishmajig, where can I find Miss” Was she a Miss? “ Shevchenko?”
Shishmajig pointed at the ceiling: “She has a space next to Mr Enkhbold’s office.”
“Thanks, I’m just off out for a minute.”
Shishmajig raised his thin eyebrows, grabbed his pencil and resumed doodling furiously.
Tom shivered down the cold, dark corridor, as the sweat on his body turned almost instantly to icy water. He sneezed as he passed the cloakroom, where Mrs Jargal, who was in her regular place, seated behind the counter, knitting another woolly hat, like the one she was wearing now, tut-tutted her disapproval of this foreign intruder in the House of Friendly Relations.
As Tom mounted the creaking wooden stairs he was passed by three burly men with closely-cropped hair and identical black suits. They were clearly in a hurry and barely gave him a glance as they headed down to the ground floor. Bodyguards? Secret police? Thugs? The possibilities ran through Tom’s mind in quick succession. I bet they came from the third floor. Now might be the time to go up and have a nose around up there, he decided, and continued upwards past the second floor. He slowed down and each footstep became more deliberate as he neared the top of the stairs. He was on tiptoe now and acutely aware of two things: the clammy cold sweat which seemed to be eating into his body like acid and his heart thundering, “thump, thump, thump.” Now he was more than nervous, he was scared. He wavered as he remembered the thuds and the muffled cries from the day before, but curiosity drove him on until his right foot slipped at the sound of two angry voices just ahead.