THE GREAT HONG KONG SEX NOVEL BY GEORGE ADAMS
COPYRIGHT GEORGE ADAMS 1993
9. THE GIRL WITH FRIED HAIR
Hong Kong office girls at that time were into shimmering perms, the kind that looked like uncoiled rope dipped in pitch and finished off with a glaze of peanut oil. Others, who didn't look quite so greasy, were kind of dry-roasted, frizzled and crisp. I preferred just plain straight black hair, without the artificial curls. Luckily, there were still enough of those around.
I was losing interest in Dorothy fast. I had only woken up with her once, at her place, and that was enough to decide me. Despite an instinctive reluctance to do so, I looked across to her as I struggled to the kitchen for a cup of tea. Hair awry over her unmade-up features, snoring slightly, I could see it had all been a dreadful mistake. The memory of our passion could not help me over that realisation. Neither could the memory of how good she looked in clothes.
Having breakfast together under such circumstances is nearly always a literal anticlimax, particularly if you are also nursing a hangover. In my student days, when Cambridge's shortage of attractive women made me grab anything vaguely available, and when I was never able to refuse another plastic cup of Sainsbury's latest Algerian budget white, I had a number of such breakfast come-downs.
" What you doing today?" asked Dorothy as I struggled with the boiled egg sliding around on the plate before me. Maybe no local people have egg cups.
"Nothing much. Have to visit a client in Lai Chi Kok prison, sorry Reception Centre. Got himself into a lot of bother at Government House."
" What it about?"
" Exposing himself to the Governor's daughter"
" Oh yes. I read already in the newspaper. It's very funny."
I sat on the KCR from Shatin watching the car and tyre dumps zoom by outside with a growing feeling of trepidation. Lai Chi Kok had already become my least favourite place in Hong Kong. It was worse than Shamshuipo, worse than Kowloon Bay. It was even worse than Cheung Sha Wan. I found it hard that people lived or worked there in the godowns, the depressing maze of grubby streets. It was a perfect place for a prison.
I had just managed to buy one of the local English newspapers before I got on the train in Shatin and I now began to read it. My client's case had attracted a great deal of coverage, particularly since his arrest, and I had no trouble in finding another article in a prominent position on page two.
The headline ran: CHARGES FRAMED SOON IN GOVERNMENT HOUSE EXHIBITIONIST CASE. In keeping with its brief as the Far East equivalent to the London Daily Telegraph, the newspaper had never described Mr Chan as a flasher. I read on: "The Attorney General is understood to be considering a new charge of Lese Majeste in the case of the young man who exposed himself to the Governor's daughter last week.
" Adolphus Chan, 26, trainee accountant, is already facing charges of indecent exposure and behaviour likely to cause a breach of the peace after he scaled the wall of Government House last Thursday and exposed his genitals to the Governor's daughter through a window on the first floor of the building.
" Chan alleges a liaison with the lady in question and denies that he was merely infatuated. Government House would not yesterday confirm or deny that there was any truth to Mr Chan's allegations.
" The Attorney General is understood to be considering charging Chan with Lese Majeste (literally "injure monarch") as the Governor and his family are technically representatives of the Queen and de facto exercisers of Royal prerogatives in Hong Kong, a British Crown colony. Lese Majeste, not enforced for centuries, carries the death sentence and unspecified "seizure of fiefs and estates".
" A source at the Legal Department commented: " It is felt that in order to discourage such public order offences, the Government is considering using more powerful charges against wrongdoers. The Governor's daughter has been shamelessly harassed by journalists and the public since her arrival in Hong Kong and Mr Chan's actions were the last straw.
" A spokesman for the Law Reform Commission said: " We would certainly oppose the use of such archaic legislation which we believe has been resurrected for very spurious reasons. It is almost certainly politically motivated."
" Mr Chan is represented by Mr Nigel Trelford, a distinguished local barrister, whilst it is understood that the Legal Department has placed the case in the hands of Sir Bufton Li, QC.
"See Editorial Page 18." The article held no surprises, except perhaps for its relatively restrained tone. I had recently made a complaint to the courts about the amount of prejudicial publicity the case was attracting and somehow that was now filtering through. Such restraint had not extended itself to the the newspaper's readership however. That week, the correspondence columns had printed a number of emotional analyses and vehement commentaries ( signed, anonymous and with colourful noms de plume) from clinical psychologists, feminists, schoolmasters, clergymen, health club owners, nutritionists, local authors, politicians and a Buddhist monk. Exhibitionism was variously attributed to sexual repression, pornography, moral laxity, the Hong Kong education system, insufficient exercise, animal fats, traditional Chinese morality, hysteria, insidious Western influences, the media, blockage of essential energy and the lack of real political representation.
At Kowloon Tong, I folded the newspaper and got out of the train. The last leg of my journey was by the MTR, a journey I loved for the opportunities it gave me for close proximity to women. Unfortunately, there were a great number of non-women and non- attractive women in the steel tube that morning. Never- theless, my sharp lecher's eyes soon discovered several objects of interest, an interest which was subtly, but definitely returned in many cases. Hong Kong never failed to delight in that way. Moreover, if any girl let you down, there were a dozen to take her place. There were always more and more women in Hong Kong, and corners I knew nothing about had populations of tens of thousands to be ogled at and courted.
For some reason though, my thoughts that morning soon took a different turning. I relived a feeling I had in London one day, sat by the window of my hotel coffee shop, watching a stream of traffic pass by in Oxford Street. People could pass all day, for the rest of my life, in front of my window, and there would never be a need to see anyone twice. There would always be enough people in the world to do that or to do anything else. It was then that I began to think that you may be able to bugger up a number of people but you can't bugger up the world. On the other hand, the world can certainly bugger you up. The irony is that it only takes a few members of humanity to do so.
On the face of it, nothing had buggered up Adolphus Chan prior to his present predicament. He was young, slim and reasonably good- looking, the sort of guy who would impress certain local yuppie girls and a great number of local secretaries. He looked forlorn behind the perspex screen in Lai Chi Kok that afternoon and curiously out of place. He was clutching a transparent plastic bag, the prison's standard receptacle for personal possessions, and his face wore a pained expression, something I had often seen when interviewing innocent clients in prison, the expression that meant:" This really is a huge mistake".
" Firstly, " I said, taking off my jacket to cope with the fuggy air of the interview room, " are there any physical wants or complaints?"
" Well," Mr Chan began eagerly, " I would like some soft toilet paper. And some real pens."
I began to take notes as usual, thinking vaguely of the dollars the company would charge for even these trivial requests.
" The toilet paper can be arranged. Pens are difficult. They have a standard brand for security reasons." Mr Chan smiled a moment before he replied.
" Like the standard sweets and toothpaste. I hate them."
" Well, normally I could hope to get you out on bail for this type of offence but the Attorney General is being difficult. I don't think he wants you to talk to the Press."
" I hate the newspapers. They always write lies about me."
" Well, all you have to do is to promise not to talk to them. But I doubt that the AG would dare believe you. This is a very sensitive case. Now, let's go over your side of things again. You insist that your action of exposing yourself was not of a sexual nature but an act of protest."
" Yes, Against her."
I looked through the notes before me for a moment.
" And you met the lady at a function some months previously. You had formed a liaison, meeting several times alone and you have exchanged certain physical intimacies."
"The lady denies that part, as you know, and you can show no corroboration."
" I mean no one actually saw you with the Governor's daughter."
" But we did spend a lot of time together."
" That's as may be. But, Mr Chan, I have to remind you that my job is to present convincing arguments to the court, not to present what cannot be proved, however true that may be. Quite honestly, Mr Chan, it really is in your best interests to plead guilty. You'll walk away from the court a free man."
" But I'm not a sic leung."
The expression caught my attention for some reason.
" What does the expression mean, Mr Chan? If you don't mind my asking."
" It is Chinese for a dirty man. A colour wolf."
" Interesting. And you could not stand the shame of being treated as a... colour wolf."
" No. Particularly as it isn't true. After going through his lengthy statements to the police in some detail I decided to leave. I felt sure we would begin to discuss innocence and guilt again and I didn't want to get into an argument with Mr Chan. Arguing with clients is nearly always a waste of time in my opinion, even if the time is charged to them so exorbitantly. After the usual slow routine of checks and waits, I got out of the prison and walked back towards the main road. A double decker bus was approaching a throng of people waiting at the stop. The bus was heading to Tsim Sha Tsui so I thought I might as well board it. I had spent enough time in Lai Chi Kok already.
Buses are very cheap and convenient in Hong Kong but the drivers are hand-picked for their ability to cause passengers annoyance, swerving whenever they can, braking hard and accelerating as if they were intent on setting a new land speed record for urban environments. Perhaps this is why I decided to sit down as soon as possible on the bottom deck. There were very few people on the bus and I felt pleased to find an empty double seat.
I closed my eyes for a few seconds, feeling slightly nauseous from the swirling movements of the double-decker which jerked and threw me in all directions. Finally, I opened my lids a little and gave a start of surprise. There was a fascinatingly ugly young woman sitting next to me. She had a largish nose, a small mean mouth and the rough kind of skin working class Chinese have in Hong Kong, scarred with acne and unnaturally pale. Her hair was glistening with lacquer and had recently been subjected to some vicious permanent waving, so much so that it really did hang like strands of rope. I shouldn't have stared so hard because she turned to me and asked:
" Are you a lawyer?"
I was a little taken aback.
" Yes, yes I am."
" I saw you get on near the prison. I just been to Mei Foo visit a friend. I don't think you visit a friend."
I smiled. My eyes had shifted from her face to the rest of her. As far as I could see, her body wasn't bad. At that time I looked at just about anything female at all. Age, condition, carriage, presentation were irrelevant. They all got a once or twice- over, a quick X-ray assessment of their erotic potential. And that was how I met Clarissa Leung.
" I'm looking for a lawyer," she went on." I have trouble with my landlord. You handle things like that?"
" Not really... but I know someone who might."
Then something happened. A wave of insanity descended on me and I gave her my card. I don't know what strange impulse made me respond to Clarissa. She was the kind of woman that was not merely unattractive after all. She was actively repellent. I wonder what element of her had turned the seduction machine on for a moment. There had to be a reason and, as usual, it was something in the undercarriage that got me. When I look back, I seem to recall I was looking at her knees. Her knees were very alluring.
" What do you do?" I asked suddenly, to keep the conversation going. We lurched round a corner and we fell against each other more than was seemly. Perhaps Hong Kong buses were made for romantic rendezvous.
" I'm a nurse."
There was a favourite fantasy. My fate was sealed even then. Nurses have a certain reputation. The KrankenschwesternI made love to in Gelsenkirchen had been voracious and highly efficient. Perhaps it was all that contact with bodies and the starched discipline. Girls who have been to strict Catholic schools are of the same type.
" I call you soon. Make appointment," she said. " You're a nice man. Very handsome."
She smiled with all of her gums showing. Her teeth were misaligned and I caught sight of her lightly coated tongue. Yet it was not Clarissa's appearance alone which was jarring. It was also her manner. From the way she looked about her as she spoke, from the odd twitchings of her upper cheek and from her singular collection of worn, badly coordinated and dramatically unfashionable clothing, I knew - for a moment, before reason and the workings of my sexual imagination could reassert themselves - I knew I was dealing with someone deeply disturbed. It was impossible to point to one single factor, one simple act which convinced you of her craziness. The purple cardigan and the scuffed white slip on shoes, if worn by a normal person, would not arouse much attention. Neither would the pink knee-high stockings. The odd tics of her face would have been considered charming in someone less ugly and Clarissa's curious circumspection could be interpreted as shyness or nervosity in the otherwise commonplace personality. No, all of these isolated facets of her condition were quite unremarkable themselves. It was the combination of all these things and the way in which they acted in subtle reciprocity by which an inkling of her pathology could be arrived at. But such subtle interpretation was quite beyond the power of reason because reason cannot perceive an imago or an aura. In point of fact, the whole aura of her eccentricity could only be perceived by intuition and intuition is something lawyers are trained to ignore.
Clarissa got off at one of the large Kowloon hospitals, waving as she went. From behind, I could see there was some shape to her, an earthy femininity unusual in local girls, and my imagination quickly pictured her in a number of poses, situations and moods.
For some reason, I felt quite flattered that I could apparently impress a girl on a bus with a few minutes of conversation. I didn't realise then that Hong Kong girls, like Hong Kong people, are desperate. Mostly they're desperate to get rich. The way a girl can get rich quick is to marry a well-heeled guy. Hong Kong love affairs are thus partly like interviews with a life insurance salesman or a stockbroker. The real problem is that it is so often difficult to separate the gleam in the eye which comes from romantic love from the gleam that comes from an obvious financial advantage. Maybe they are one and the same and money is the only aphrodisiac for Hong Kong people. I certainly got more attention from women when I looked rich - wore the expensive suits, played with my portable telephone, opened my credit card-bedecked wallet. Hong Kong is the home of the monetary pheromone.
I got a call from Clarissa that afternoon. I was sitting in my office, going through my appointments with Dorothy. As usual, my eyes were wandering and my mind pictured Dorothy spread-eagled over the computer terminal. The sound of the telephone broke my libidinous reverie. Clarissa, at the other end of the line, sounded a little breathless. As she was already breastless, I wanted to make a little joke but I didn't.
" I want to meet you," she gasped like a heavy breather telephone pest on a trial run.
" Yes, of course..." I replied, aware that Dorothy was eyeing me with keen interest, "..to discuss the problem you have with your landlord. You don't want to come to the office. I quite understand. How would it be if I came over to Tsim Sha Tsui later."
" Perfect," and she exhaled a sub-death rattle of excitement.
I agreed to meet Clarissa at the Star Ferry. That didn't sound as suspicious as my usual meeting places.
" A client?" Dorothy asked. She had been suspiciously busy near my filing cabinet just inside the door for much of the conversation. That is always the drawback of conducting affairs with your secretary. It always makes for more surveillance than you get at home.
" Yes. One of Samantha's friends. You know, women's club."
I let it go at that. You should never lay lies on too thick with women. As they nearly always know when you're lying, you're just adding insult to injury.
Dorothy naturally looked unconvinced.
The Star Ferry that late afternoon was full of maids enjoying their day off or performing errands for their employers. Filipinas have a specially intense way of communicating their interest, as I have indicated before. I still found their stares disconcerting but then sincerity and directness in love are always difficult for an Englishman to cope with. It was another hot day and I was pleased when the ferry eventually started up, bringing with it cool drafts of air to cool the sweaty backs and underarms of my correct striped shirt.
I got a bigger fright than I had bargained for when I saw Clarissa approaching me on the ferry concourse. Amongst the motley crowd of confused and laden tourists she looked like a visitor from the Twilight Zone. She had decided to dress in a neurotic parody of a femme fatale, all lace and chiffon, high heels and everything - everything that there was - jutting or flopping out in full view.
" Hello, Nigel," she said and smiled coyly for a moment. " I'm very hot."
" Yes," I replied. " I do believe you are."
She handed me a slightly used paper handkerchief and mopped her brow with another.
" Let's have a drink," I replied, distancing myself from her with a schoolmasterly tone of voice I usually reserved for my more emotionally disturbed clients.
The Cultural Centre was only a short walk away so I strode determinedly towards it with Clarissa - comfortingly - a pace or two behind. Despite my efforts to publicly disown her, passers- by thought us an amusing sight and I saw many of the kind of smirks and glares I could evince myself when encountering one of the ill-matched or obviously commercially-based couples so common in Hong Kong. At last, sitting in the chrome and marble glare of the Centre's ground floor bar, we were no longer so public but I nevertheless seated myself with my back to the rest of the foyer. I have always been a coward that way.
I ordered a large Carlsberg and was happy to be able to quaff a large portion of it before Clarissa began to tell me why she hated her landlord. She lived on Lantau Island, that huge forgotten area to the left of the map of the territory, as I then recalled.
" What made you move to Lantau?"
" I always live there. I was born in Tai O but Tai O very far. Now I live with my mother in Silvermine Bay."
I had heard of Silvermine Bay. It was said to be full of even weirder foreigners than those found on Lamma Island. But I had never heard of Clarissa's cute-sounding birthplace .
" Where's Tai O?"
" At the far end of the island. It is very strange. Many tourists go there to see the culture. And buy the dry fish."
I felt a little queasy at the mention of fish and ordered another beer. Clarissa was drinking a lemon tea and, unfortunately, becoming more attractive by the minute.
" My landlord will not do anything for the flat," she went on." It is very bad repaired. Big holes in the walls and very dirty.
It was then that the unthinkable happened. When I look back at that moment, when I succumbed to a crazy instinct to put my hand on Clarissa's knee, I begin to believe in nemesis. I had to have had a destructive instinct within me all along to have done something so foolish. I suppose also it was my eternal fascination with maddies which made me fall for Clarissa. I sort of gravitate towards them as much as they gravitate towards me. Maybe I look trusting, troubled or like their psychiatrist. In any event, mad people love me and I get along with them extraordinarily well.
Clarissa looked first at my hand then at my face and a calm descended upon her. The landlord was forgotten. I had plugged into a deeper, more visceral need.
Immediately, my mind spun into an escalated mode of lust in which almost anything could happen. I was at such times highly vulnerable and could easily do things I would later vehemently regret. Yet, with time, I was able to control my passions in order to think straight. This, I believed, was one such occasion, when I regained some sort of control and avoided disaster. " Don't take her to the flat," I kept on repeating to myself in my mind despite the mounting maelstrom of my passion: "Don't, for God's sake, let the mad dingbat know where you live."
An hour later, I was removing Clarissa's beige bra and grey panties in a seedy motel in Tsim Sha Tsui where they brought you a condom on a stainless steel platter along with the registration form. A framed soft-porn centrefold hung on one wall. The lights were dim, the carpet was dingy and the bed was a velvet oval of dusty debauch.
" I take a shower," she said and I was pleased at the prospect of some of her indefinably musty but honest odour being mitigated by ablution.
I stripped quickly and lay on the bed. The oddly-shaped and positioned slivers of brown-edged mirror in the walls and the ceiling made me resemble a pink elephant sunbathing. I was preparing myself for the shock to come like a rustic virgin sold off to the local squire's son. I sat up in bed and drew the bedclothes around me. From the bathroom, I heard the hiss of the shower and the strains of a slow Chinese ballad. Clarissa had a sweet singing voice but was awfully flat. Then the hissing sound stopped and Clarissa's voice was silent.
" I'm ready," Clarissa announced from the bathroom doorway, her fried hair now even more moist and shiny, looking like a poodle which had just come in from the rain.
I reached for the switches on the console at my side to turn off the lights. Suddenly, the bed started to move up and down and I heard a motor humming.
" Which button is which?" I asked.
Clarissa took charge of the console. The TV, suspended above the dressing table, turned on and jumped from channel to channel, through Cantonese cartoons, European kids doing daft things at the behest of a young red-headed gentleman, a nubile local pop singer wailing something very sad and meaningful. A constantly recurring channel showed some extremely ugly Americans or Germans trying to hurt each other with their sexual organs. Finally, the TV was turned off and the bed remained stationary.
" It's got a hump in it," I said. "Start it up for a little while and stop when I say."
The bed moved slightly downwards until it was an approximation of a normal horizontal.
" Strange bed."
" It is for the foreigners," said Clarissa.
The performance with Clarissa was of course disastrous. For the first time in my life, I felt perverted, as if I was taking something not my due in nature. Watching Clarissa's face in the mirrors of the motel room, I really felt I was committing a disgraceful act of illicit fornication with the insane. Yet, strangely, I did enjoy the curious kinkiness of the event because I knew that sleeping with an ugly woman gave me the perfect opportunity to hate her afterwards. If I could hate the women I slept with, I would always be safe from love. Essentially speaking, I did not want to fall in love. At that time, to fall in love was a kind of defeat.
I parted from Clarissa hurriedly, feeling curiously elated. I found my way to the love nest in Tsim Sha Tsui, turned on some Monteverdi and thought myself regenerated, refreshed by the tawdriness and dissatisfaction I had sought out so unconsciously yet so assiduously. I remembered that remark by Somerset Maugham in one of his short stories that after descending to the gutter, the soul can rise and soar into the heights once again.
Then, suddenly, it was a week or ten days later. I remember I was lying back on the relatively new and nicely firm mattress in Tsim Sha Tsui when my telephone rang and Clarissa announced she wanted to see me again - seriously - about her landlord. When she mentioned she was thinking of coming to the office to see me about the matter, I suddenly found myself giving her my full attention. Although I knew I wanted to see her again, I had been trying to avoid Clarissa since our last meeting but she was more than persistent. Whilst I had been putting on my trousers in the love motel and half vowing that I would not repeat my performance, I had made her a lot of rash promises, including resolving her difficulty with the landlord expeditiously and in her favour. She thought I should go out to Lantau to meet the landlord in person. I didn't think this was a good idea but I had never been to Lantau and there seemed to be no way of getting out of my commitment short of running off to Australia. A more compelling reason however was the feeling of repulsive desire I have described before. I said yes.
It was difficult to square everything with Samantha but for some reason she was a lot more tolerant of my absences these days. I think she was really appreciating Hong Kong's glamour and glitz although she missed the romantic interest she used to inspire at home. Well, women can tolerate these things much better than men. Like everyone else, she was following the Chan case closely and had gained a certain level of notoriety in her ladies's clubs because of my connection with it. She always wanted to know the sordid details and wouldn't listen to my assertions that I couldn't discuss the case with her or anyone else.
" Do you think he's guilty?" she asked.
" I know that he says he believes he's innocent."
" It must be so wonderful to be a lawyer. To be so precise," she said jokingly with a toss of her thick blonde hair.
I wanted to tell her then that I, of all people, was the least certain of the workings of the mind. I wanted to tell someone about how I felt towards Clarissa. More than anything else, I wanted to know how to avoid her, to lose her, to get her out of my hair. I thought of asking Larry. Surely, he would know what to do. But I felt too ashamed to confide in him. As the day of my dreaded trip to Lantau approached, I became withdrawn and moody. Dorothy thought it was something she had done. I had to make up some story about Samantha to bridge the gap. As always, she didn't believe me.
That fateful weekday morning I found my way to the ramshackle ferry pier at Central where Clarissa was waiting for me with a Maxim's takeaway tuna sandwich in her hand. She looked more ugly and deranged than I remembered and for a moment I wanted to stay in the taxi. Clarissa had seen me however, even before the taxi door opened, and there was no escape from her embrace of cheap- scented clamminess and stiff man-made fibres.
" My mother wants to meet you," she said, handing me the sandwich.
" Oh really," I replied watching the overflowing mayonnaise of the sandwich through its cellophane seal with a growing feeling of disgust. She hadn't said anything about meeting the family.
" She really shouldn't have bothered."
" I always introduce her to my boyfriends."
" Oh yes. For some reason I never find the right man. It is very difficult and so many men just want to have good time and leave."
The ferry was an old and dirty rust bucket with plastic seats polished only by the backsides which sat on them. I positioned Clarissa and myself on the bottom deck, at the front, where I guessed the greatest degree of discretion and anonymity could be assured. Even there however the amusement of our fellow passengers was obvious and I vowed that would be my last public appearance with Miss Clarissa Leung.
The trip out to Lantau is quite special and it is difficult to describe the relief one feels as the ferry passes Green Island and heads out to Kau Yi Chau and beyond. It is like opening the window on a fuggy, smoke-filled room. Unfortunately, I had brought a great deal of fug with me, for in my conversation with Clarissa I saw for the first time just how fuggy a mind can be.
In the first place, it was clear she believed that she was a highly attractive woman and that if she took up with a foreigner, she was doing him a great favour. It was really quite remarkable to see how her baseless conceit could walk hand in hand with her matter-of-fact racism but I suppose when you are blind to yourself you are blind to everything else as well. She also gave me to understand that the late afternoon we had spent together in the love motel was an aberration and would not be repeated in the near future. It was an attempt on her part to accommodate my Western instincts. I didn't want to get too involved in an argument over who the customers of the love motels were - Westerners or locals - so I let a lot of the nonsense she spoke glide over me. In the end, however, I thought it might be amusing to draw her out a little and see what actually lay behind her hostile atavism. There was very little else to do on the ferry except sip workhouse tea or God awful San Miguel beer.
" And what do you think about Indians?"
" Oh, I could never go out with an Indian. They are very dirty. And they smell. There are so many in Hong Kong."
" I suppose they're like black people really."
" Yes. They are black. I do not like black people. They are very impolite."
" But, for me, even you are quite dark. You're not black but you are a lot darker than me."
" Chinese people are not black. Many are almost white. And they are not stupid. Black people - Filipinos, Thais, Indians and Africans - are nearly always stupid."
The small lady introduced as Clarissa's mother at Silvermine Bay ferry pier was very dark indeed. This was despite the shady black frills of her Hakka hat which kept a great deal of both direct and reflected sunlight from ever penetrating on to her coarse, wizened features. Her teeth gleamed gold in greeting and she took my hand into a vice-like bony grip. The feel of her skin was somewhat reminiscent of a cold, uncooked chicken leg.
We made our way along the promenade of Silvermine Bay, past the stalls selling hats, sunglasses, barbecue forks, T-shirts and past the Urban Council combined rubbish processing depot, public convenience and dai pai dongcomplex. The mixed odours of lavatory, peanut oil and rubbish bin wafted towards us in curiously familiar salutation.
" My mother thinks you are very handsome," Clarissa said at last.
" Thank you. Now where is your house exactly and what do you want me to do about it?"
" Too fast. My mother wants to take you home."
We were now approaching a huddle of interconnected buildings in what looked like a massive relocation programme. Some buildings at the edge of the huddle were derelict or half demolished. Tattered notices - some, I could see, threatening in tone - hung from every available utility box and pole. Huge stacks of drainage pipes and piles of bricks lay strewn here and there and the whole roadside appeared to be under slow but persistent excavation. Despite the makeshift disorder of the place, I sensed a whole new and distinctly alien world closing in on me, a world quite independent from the Hong Kong and Kowloon I had left behind me over the water.
" What is happening here?" I asked, indicating a few large holes in the earth which looked like bomb craters.
" Oh," said Clarissa dismissively." They are trying to move mother. She doesn't want to go."
We then passed down a narrow alley with open drains flowing either side of us. The walls were black with age and had strange ventilation outlets attached to them at intervals which made negotiation difficult. Two flea-bitten dogs lounged languidly at the end of the alley and did not wake or even flinch as we clumsily stepped over them.
Moving out of the alley and accustoming my eyes to the glare of the sun once more, I could see we were now in a fairly broad country lane behind the main hotel of Silvermine Bay. A row of small bungalows ran down our left side. Although practically every door and window was open it was impossible to see inside the dwellings more than a foot or two. The masonry of the buildings was cracked and the whitewash on the walls was peeling in delicate strips like flakes of pastry. A few rattan armchairs, short wooden benches and small tables covered with fresh newspaper had been brought onto the small patios outside the bungalows by their sorry inhabitants in an effort to catch the odd breath of a merciful breeze which blew occasionally down the dusty lane. On more prosperous patios, tall and rusting stand-up fans were running at full pelt to refresh elderly men and women in sombre silk robes who sat immobile, scarcely breathing, their rheumy eyes viewing us suspiciously as we progressed.
After passing maybe five or six of these dwellings, we halted in front of a building that looked still more curious than what had gone before. In front of the house lay a basket of what looked like dry orange peelings. As I knelt down to examine the basket, the distorted noise of a television set reached my ears. I stood up and looked for the actual entrance to the house. The outer gate, where I had to stoop to enter, was lined with bright red and gold posters bearing bold Chinese ideograms. The whole message was unclear but I recognised three of the characters, those signifying " prosperity", "peace" and "harmony". I was bidden to enter first and my hands pushed open the rusting metal door. It grated slightly in its unoiled hinges. As I advanced uneasily into that strange cave-like abode, hung above my head I spotted a small convex mirror in a bright, zany frame which gave a bizarre, distorted view of mother and daughter behind me.
In the shady interior, where my eyes slowly adjusted to the comparative gloom, I was surprised to notice we were not alone. Two ancient ladies in dark silk suits sat in ornately carved hardwood armchairs, fanning themselves irritably with fragments of yellowing newspaper. They peered at me myopically and blankly, offering no greeting, not even a nod or a smile.
" These are my aunts," Clarissa said brightly, ushering me to an untidy armchair in one corner of the room, to the left of a dusty altar adorned with glowing red lamps, a porcelain Buddha and plastic bottles of peanut oil. The huge television set was blaring on my other side, something which neither the old ladies nor Clarissa attempted to remedy.
Mrs Leung sat down at a table covered by a mass of what looked like gold and cream-coloured Christmas crackers and heaps of fake Toytown banknotes. She poured a glass of vile-looking tea into a plastic beaker and passed it to me with a grimace.
" Mama would like to know a little about you," Clarissa began, shouting above the noise of the television. She looked flushed and excited like a schoolgirl after sports.
" Well, I don't know what to tell her. What does she want to know?"
" Your income perhaps."
" Do you think that's relevant to me helping you with your landlord."
Clarissa looked at me with one of the expressions of our first meeting, an expression so psychotic that it could be taken, in an off moment, as naive charm.
" Be nice to her... please."
" Well, I earn quite a lot of money. I am a lawyer after all," I shouted above what sounded like a sports commentary on the TV.
Clarissa quickly translated what I had said. The old ladies grunted a little while her mother grimaced again, a little less sourly than before.
" She wants to know a figure."
I mentioned a sum some way below what I actually was beginning to earn in Hong Kong. The ladies appeared satisfied. We then talked about all manner of things until, at length and after a slightly impatient gesture by Mrs Leung, another important subject was broached.
" And why have you never married?" asked Clarissa.
" I never... " I began but quickly corrected myself, " I don't think I ever want to get married. I'm not the marrying kind."
Clarissa looked more than a little nonplused at this. She halted her simultaneous translation for a moment. The old ladies looked on with keen concern on their furrowed faces.
" You mean you don't want to marry now, this year..." she said, smiling incredulously, trying hard to comprehend what I had said.
" No, I don't want to get married at all. Ever."
My reply was quickly translated. The two aunts immediately began to make a strange clucking sound, sharp-edged and urgent, which slowly filled the room with its deafening resonance. In the end, it quite drowned out the television. Mrs Leung herself was now terribly taciturn. Her expression conveyed an intense degree of disgust and disappointment which promised at any moment to explode into anger. She turned at last to Clarissa and gave a short guttural command edged with loathing.
What happened next can only be described as an exhibition of hate. Younger people generally don't have throbbing temples when they get angry. Clarissa was an exception. When she advanced towards me, gesticulating wildly in horror and disbelief, the veins in her temples pulsated like those old actors in the films when they're up against it. At last, words formed on her trembling, seething lips.
" Get out. You... sei gwailo." I rose and walked calmly to the doorway. I felt numb. My mind was still struggling with the images of hatred and confusion I had just witnessed. Suddenly, a half-full bottle of peanut oil crashed before me, ricocheting off the wall and surprising a cat which all along had been curled up on the table beside a pile of dusty, out-of-date telephone directories,
I left Casa Leung as quickly as my legs could carry me. As I hurried along the lane towards the ferry pier, sounds of vehement altercation broke the silence of the heavy summer air.
10. THE FLASHER AT GOVERNMENT HOUSE
Before my involvement with Clarissa, sexual perversion had always been a mystery to me. I normally show so little sympathy for shirt tail lifters, knicker sniffers, flashers and molesters that I suppose I am at least marginally eligible for membership of the National Front. During my time in Hong Kong I had to deal with an inordinate number of perverts, men mostly, although my experience quickly taught me that women are at least as weird in their sexual make-up as the male of the species.
The thing which always mystified me about the pervs and devos in Hong Kong was not their predilections - I believe in the variety of sexual response as much as I believe in the variety of the species (after all there must be someone somewhere who finds sex with hamsters amusing) - but the fact they came into conflict with the law. First of all, the Chinese are a facade culture (like the Victorian British) and don't really mind what goes on behind closed doors. Secondly, I quickly discovered that the Hong Kong Government doesn't like prosecuting people and if even if it does it doesn't like to win the case. There were some awful examples of mismanagement like the ferry tragedy and the Lan Kwai Fong disaster but no one in the Government lost a day's pay. White-collar criminals were routinely given ample time to skip the country. If, however, the criminal in question got on the wrong side of Government, then all hell was let loose. Thirdly, you have to be very perverted indeed not to find a legitimate object of desire in Hong Kong. There is quite literally something for everybody: short women, fat women, ugly women, androgynous women, delicate women, women who like to be tied to trees in electric storms, women who yearn to be rescued by white knights on chargers. There are selfless women, grasping women, coy women and women who can't get enough sex. There is every type of every variety in great abundance, available either free, for a moderate sum or in exchange for love and devotion. Thus there is definitely no excuse for the abundance of perverts in Hong Kong. Their behaviour displays either impatience or a lack of imagination, just like, in my view, the behaviour of common criminals.
Some weeks after the Lantau interlude, in a determined attempt to put Clarissa Leung behind me, I was leafing through the Chan file in my office, shortly before dusk descended on Pedder Street, when the telephone rang. I gave a start. I took up to fifty telephone calls a day with ease before I met Clarissa but now each ring of the telephone caused me more than a slight frisson of dread.
Ignorant though she was of my home number and incapable of penetrating the vigilance of Dorothy in the office, Clarissa seemed to employ a sixth sense to determine the precise moment I would turn on my portable phone. Clarissa telephoned at midnight, she telephoned in the afternoon. She telephoned as I showered, as I ate, as I lay my weary head on the pillow. Her calls were nearly always abusive, abrupt, and hysterical. She would neither listen to reason nor let bygones be bygones. After the thrill of telephonic abuse had faded through overuse, she quickly devised other means to register her disquiet at my behaviour. I received mysterious packets in the post: photomontages of myself in various postures of torture or obscene abandon; defamations in Chinese and in English scrawled large with lurid inks; articles of underwear, soiled and torn; contraceptives used and knotted or blown into misshapen comic balloons.
I was half bracing myself for another dose of Clarissa's invective, when an unfamiliar voice, authoritative yet slightly effeminate, found its way through to my ear. The voice belonged to a Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Hong Kong Government called Rupert Cowper-Gee or something equally double- barrelled. He sounded pretentious and something of a blimp. I wanted to know which Government department he represented but he wouldn't tell me. What he did tell me was that he wanted to talk about the case I had in front of me with some urgency. He suggested we should meet somewhere quiet. Out of curiosity, I agreed.
When I had replaced the receiver, I looked through the details of the Chan case in the file before me. The police reports detailed a number of steamy telephone calls to one of the Governor's daughters over a period of several weeks. The caller's indiscretions amounted to repeated heavy breathing and graphic suggestions of what he would like to do with the girl when they were alone together. He had gained access to the ear of the Governor's daughter by representing himself as a gossip columnist from the South China Morning Post. The girl craved publicity, just like her father so it was not difficult for him to be switched through. Finally, Adolphus had climbed over the railings and produced his erect member at the window of the private wing just as the girl was watching the Muppet Show. The police were summoned and a determined manhunt set in motion.
The interesting aspect of the story lay in the amount of time it took to apprehend the suspect - six months - and the inexplicability of his conduct which appeared to be quite out of character. Chan was a trainee with a distinguished local firm of accountants (in existence for over ten years), a graduate of Hong Kong University and a young Rotarian. He gave blood regularly and was engaged to be married. I was happy to note the last fact. Impending marriage was always good mitigation. All in all, it was difficult to see why such an attractive, successful and socially well-placed young man should become so infatuated by a girl who, in my opinion, was very ordinary in appearance notwithstanding her status as daughter of the Queen's representative in the Colony.
With these thoughts in my mind, I met Rupert Cowper-Gee in a dark corner of a gentleman's snug bar in Central the next afternoon. My initial diagnosis of character was correct. He was extremely vain, the kind of man who looks into the soup spoons on the table to get a reflection of his face. He was wearing a very expensive suit and one of those collars which draw the tie tightly upwards and the collars close together. Although in his early forties, Cowper-Gee's hair was almost entirely grey and of the kind which had had been treated to make it look distinguished and classy, as if he wanted to be middle-aged before his time. I wondered what sort of depressing childhood he had had to be such a prat in adult life.
" We've already heard about you in the Legal Department, Mr Trelford," Cowper-Gee began with all the sincerity of an insurance salesman. " You have your admirers in that quarter, I can assure you."
" How delightful. I wonder what I could have done to deserve such approbation?"
Cowper-Gee winced slightly.
" Well, we've all heard about your work with... Quite a sticky case all told."
" I don't think it's very difficult. He pleads guilty, we bring a lot of mitigation and testimonials. First offence, so he gets a suspended sentence and some heart-to-hearts with the psychiatrist. Open and shut."
" Well, let's hope so," said Cowper-Gee, sipping his whisky and soda like a humming bird at a flower, intensely but daintily. "You're sure he'll plead guilty?"
" If he has any sense. It doesn't look that way at the moment but I hope to bring him round. Part of one's job as a barrister is bring people to their senses, as you probably know."
" Quite, quite. I couldn't agree with you more."
Cowper-Gee smiled serenely which made feel a little sick in the stomach. When people like Cowper-Gee smile, it's like when the Chinese Communists wear a suit and tie: they've got you where they want you.
" Why all the interest anyhow?" I asked casually.
" Oh, you know. We like to see things are all right concerning the Governor. I think his Press Secretary is a little concerned about how some of the Fleet Street johnnies might present it at home. He's very conscious of his image, as you may know."
And he smiled a little as if he were letting me into a naughty prep school secret.
" Well, I said, "it had occurred to me that he wouldn't be very pleased about having his daughter involved with a pervert. That sort of thing is certainly looked upon askance by the folks back home. " " Quite. Well, I think we would all be happy if it could proceed as you predict and Mr Chan got a light sentence, if any at all."
" And what about the Lese Majeste?"
" Oh, I have it on the grapevine that all that could be dropped if Mr Chan is amenable. No one wants to bring up all that old hat It savours of the Tower of London, don't you think?"
And with that, after presenting me with his private card complete with a direct line number, and after paying the bill, Mr Cowper- Gee was gone.
The next day was again hot and sultry, the sort of day that made you want to take home leave as soon as you could, if you could. Government drones like Cowper-Gee would soon be heading off to England for a month or two of lying in their Surrey garden and seeing the kids home from public school, leaving dumbos like me to sweat and palpitate in the murderous Hong Kong summer. On my way up to Lai Chi Kok I thought a great deal about the case and the way the Government was reacting to it. The mention of Lese Majeste showed that someone somewhere was rattled. The dispatch of Cowper-Gee for a quiet nobble was proof of panic somewhere in the Government machine. In Britain, I knew, I would ask for an interview with the trial judge immediately and maybe contact the press. In Hong Kong, there was very little point in causing a rumpus because the powers that be clearly had everyone that mattered - the judiciary, the press, even the Bar - in their pocket. Cowper-Gee knew so or he wouldn't have dared to contact me. As for the Lese Majeste, in Britain the tabloids would have driven the Government into the ground. In Hong Kong, so much of public and official life was absurd, the charge seemed perfectly in character.
In the interview room, I once more tried to convince Mr Chan to give up his innocent plea as a bad job. I pointed out that flashing your member as a protest or as an act of auto-eroticism was a distinction not covered by the legislation. Flashing was flashing, whatever the motive. Stubbornly, Mr Chan stood his ground.
Once out of the prison, something told me not to take the bus. I wanted to avoid a repetition of my first romantic encounter with Clarissa. My portable telephone meanwhile had been remarkably silent all morning - indeed all the previous day - a new and sinister development. As I flagged down a taxi I remembered thinking that it would have been nice to have some familiar abuse bawled into my ear. When Clarissa did not contact me I felt uneasy because I imagined her plotting all manner of evil revenge.
Despite - or possibly because of - the threat of imminent destruction at the hands of a slighted loon, the Chan case always brought me a great deal of welcome amusement and mental diversion. Riding through the godowns of Lai Chi Kok and Cheung Sha Wan on my way to Tsim Sha Tsui, I reflected on how many clients had been convinced of their own innocence even though their guilt was indisputably evident. The sad thing was that, in most such cases, my clients actually believed what they were telling me and the court. Ideas of guilt and ruin were so impalatable that even basically honest people became pathological liars, constructing a parallel system of reality which kept them from culpability, at least in their own eyes. It was not simply a question of interpretation of the facts in such cases - it involved the sheer invention of dates, people, places and events. Once set in motion, the deceit was disturbingly systematic and thorough so that in the end it was impossible to blame the client. The lies, in his mind, were immutable reality.
Besides giving me a lot of pleasant relief from Clarissa, the Chan case really intrigued me. I was determined to get to the bottom of it. That said, there was clearly a lot of work to do. I would have to do a great deal of detective work to find someone who could support even half of Chan's story. The alternative was to insist that I could not defend him with so little evidence. In any case, some preliminary digging would do no harm so I called Larry Snowdon. It was three o'clock and he wouldn't have returned from lunch so I tried his home number. A giggly Filipino voice answered. After a lot of fumbling noises in the background, Larry took the receiver.
" Larry, I need your help with the Government House flasher case."
" Let me guess," he said wearily. "It's all some terrible mistake."
" Something like that. Anyhow, there are a whole lot of things I'd rather not discuss on the phone. Can you be in the office at six o'clock?"
" If the girlfriend will let me. I haven't seen this one for six months."
" You'll die on the job."
"What a wonderful way to go."
I pressed the end button, retracted the aerial and put the phone back into my pocket. The less aerial you drew out, the less you were likely to be disturbed. Despite my precautions, somewhere between Prince Edward and Mong Kok a call came through. The ring sounded more insistent than usual. I pressed the dial and lifted the phone to my ear. When I heard Cowper-Gee's voice I regretted for a moment that I distributed my visiting cards so liberally. He sounded a little anxious, as anxious as Hong Kong Government servants allow themselves to become, that is.
" Good afternoon, Mr Trelford," he drawled through the ether. "Just wanted to know how things were getting on with our Mr Chan. Do you think he'll plead guilty?"
" Well, I'm afraid to tell you he intends to do otherwise."
There was a pause on the line. For a moment, I thought we had been cut off by a flyover or a tunnel. Technology was merciful sometimes.
But not that time.
" I see," a crackly voice went on. Cowper-Gee sounded distinctly worried now. "That's quite surprising. Any particular reason?"
" I'm afraid I'm not at liberty to discuss the case with you any further."
I pressed the end button. I was getting a headache not only from the noise of the taxi driver's radio and the smells of Yau Ma Tei which found their way into the cab despite the ventilation system. The real irritation was the feeling of an outdated colonial presence, something I felt in Cowper-Gee's voice, even though broadcast to me on microwaves through the crowded airwaves of Hong Kong. I was relieved when the driver pulled up outside my flat in Hart Avenue. He tendered his grubby paw hopefully towards me as cabbies always did in Hong Kong. I counted the exact amount into his hand and climbed out of the cab. The driver muttered darkly as the door closed behind me.
I received very little mail at the petite maison address but I always checked the box. Today, in the narrow entrance passageway, each aluminium-fronted letter bin in the block had a yellow handbill protruding from it. Such handbills were usually solicitations from property agencies or advertisements for plumbing and other domestic services, as far as I could tell. They were nearly always in Chinese. There was a big notice above the mail boxes forbidding hawkers and circulars but it was frequently ignored. I picked my copy out carelessly, saluting the watchman - a tiny, baggy individual with greasy hair and a half- toothless grin - who had shuffled out of his cubby-hole when he heard the main gate open.
I was just about to give the handbill to the watchman in token protest when something written on it caught my eye. BEWARE OF THE COLOUR WOLF!, its title read in badly-stencilled block capitals, BEWARE OF NIGEL TRELFORD. Underneath, in slightly faded letters, obviously hammered out with careless vehemence on a mechanical typewriter, was the following message:
"Living in your block at the moment is a dirty playboy and colour wolf. He lives in apartment 7C and his name is NIGEL TRELFORD.
NIGEL TRELFORD cheats women and uses them for sex. He is a pervert. He certainly has a sexual illness. Lock away your daughters and wife and be careful with your girlfriends. This awful foreigner will do bad things to them.
Signed: ONE WHO HAD SUFFERED." Alongside the English was a much shorter but larger-lettered text in Chinese, handwritten and with a great number of exclamation marks. As if to emphasise the point of the message, the handbill was illustrated with soft-porn photographs of nude European women, originally attractive it appeared but now bizarre and disturbing in the monochrome reproduction of the poorly photocopied circular.
The watchman was now grinning from ear to ear.
" Has a woman been here?" I asked, " Zhong kwok meui, mho mei?. Heui ni do ah?
I don't know how I managed to construct a Cantonese sentence but the watchman appeared to understand. He nodded and grinned again. He looked happy, almost gleeful at my obvious discomfiture.
" Where is she now?" I asked. "Haih bindo ah?"
" She go..." he began, and he slowly raised one short, blotchy arm to imitate the movement of the elevator.
" Oh my God!"
" Cheesy," the watchman said and tapped his head to emphasise the point.
I jumped into the lift immediately and pressed the button for the seventh floor. My mind was racing. Clarissa must have followed me to Tsim Sha Tsui one afternoon. I hope she had not managed to find her way to the Admiralty flat. That would be too close for comfort. Already, as the lift passed the third and then the fifth floor I was rationalising, minimising the damage Clarissa had done, confining it to the past, to the irrelevant, filing it away for long-delayed future reference.
A thrill of dread coursed through me as the lift doors opened. I imagined Clarissa lying in wait, ready to ambush me with a freshly-honed kitchen chopper. I slowly emerged from the lift, looking anxiously on both sides for a sign of the girl with fried hair.
In the event, nothing dramatic immediately presented itself. Clarissa was standing at the doorway of my apartment with a small stout local man. The man was carrying a heavy cloth bag. He appeared to be a tradesman of some kind to judge by the measuring tape and pager strapped to his belt. There was also a faint smell of putty and oil in the air, or it could have been fresh paint.
When Clarissa saw me, far from advancing in attack, she stood her ground and began to laugh. It was a hideous laugh which began deep down into her stomach and ended in a sort of braying sound up in her nostrils. I will never forget that laugh. At that moment, I knew that I was dealing not with revenge but with pathology.
" Who are you?" I asked the tradesman urgently. He had paused only briefly when I emerged from the lift and had then carried on with his work. After a moment, it became clear what his work involved. He was refitting a lock to the security gates outside the doorway.
" Sorry. I no English, " he said with a slight nervous smile. " Lady call. I come. Sorry."
In an instant I knew what had happened. Clarissa had called a locksmith to the apartment, bribed or sold a story to the watchman and gained entry to the flat.
" It's not her flat. It's my flat! " I shouted angrily but the man merely smiled again, shuffled his feet slightly and closed the straps of his holdall with a shrug of the shoulders. Then Clarissa, suddenly calm and strangely normal, began to speak.
" I just thought I do a little redecoration. Your flat is very boring. It looks very happy now. I go now, Nigel. See you soon."
Suppressing a vague instinct to commit murder there and then, I watched Clarissa move towards the lift accompanied by the tradesman. She smiled again as the lift doors opened, waved sarcastically and boarded the lift with another deafening peal of laughter.
When I opened the door of the flat, it was not immediately obvious what form Clarissa's redecoration had actually taken. From my undergraduate days, I was familiar with "room-jobbing" but Clarissa's efforts in the small entrance alcove were limited to a few of her handbills scattered on the floor and a multi- coloured condom, inflated and suspended from the lampshade. It was only when I entered the lounge that I saw the true extent of her flair for renovation.
The ceiling had been daubed with two words in red paint. The letters began as two foot high capitals but diminished in size as room became limited towards the edge of the wall. The last two letters were crushed into a mere square foot or two but the intended text was clear and legible: FUCK GWAILO. I now looked down. On the table was an assortment of artifacts and curios: a battery-powered double-ended dildo in black rubber switched on and gyrating; a pack of obscene playing cards laid out for a game of patience; two or three posters warning of the dangers of unprotected sexual intercourse; items of lingerie ranging from the old-fashioned to the ridiculous; a number of locally-produced soft-porn magazines opened at particularly tasteless pages with girls displaying their giraffe's ears; and, finally, a large and inflated love doll with an Asian face and an unnaturally large open mouth, the whole arranged face-up, its legs parted in an inviting erotic pose. Around the neck of the love doll, secured by the sort of plastic string used for tying up parcels, was a small cardboard notice which read: WHAT YOU NEED NIGEL. DO NOT TOUCH THE CHINESE GIRLS.
I stood still for a moment and took in the panorama of derangement gathered about me. Then, something really curious happened. Instead of calling the police or stamping the floor with anger, I began to laugh. At first it was a mere snigger, then I roared uncontrollably like a man possessed. My eyes ran with tears of mirth, I trembled, I gasped, my sides began to ache. At last, I caught my breath, sat down for a moment and reached into the fridge for a beer. I was glad to see that, in her mercy, Clarissa had left me a few cold Carlsbergs.
Of course, I would have to give up the flat. In a wild attack of optimism, I believed that this was the finale of Clarissa's revenge, the culmination as it were and that there would be nothing else to follow. I then thought that it would be best to make a clean breast of things to Sam just in case Clarissa managed to find her way to her. Yes, that would be the best thing. Then, perhaps, to make things even safer, I could apply for a restraining order from the High Court, something I had long delayed and kept as a last resort. It would soon get round all the Hong Kong Bar and I would be a laughing stock for a while but I didn't care. Clarissa was clearly not only vengeful but a public danger. In a sense, it was my civic duty to keep her from causing harm.
I put all the obscene things into three large rubbish bags and deposited them on the staircase landing. Then I telephoned the landlord and explained that I had been vandalised and wished to give up the apartment. A birthday party for a colleague had been a bit wild and some repainting was necessary. I would pay for everything if he sent me the bill. The landlord had no objection. He just wanted to have my keys as soon as possible, to be on the safe side, but he didn't say as much. Of course, he knew he had nothing to worry about. He had a thirty thousand dollar deposit which would cover most eventualities.
I packed my clothes and the one or two other pieces of my personal belongings into a suitcase and left. All in all, I was unhappy to leave. I rather liked my little love nest. I was attached to it in a way but I supposed it would be quite easy to find another - in time. The watchman downstairs was still smiling as I stepped out of the lift. For some ridiculous reason, I smiled back.
With Sam's return always a possibility, I couldn't take the suitcase home so I decided to leave it in the office. When I arrived, Larry Snowdon was typing away at a battered word processor in the corner of the office reserved for the runners and clerks we delegated most routine work to.
" With you in a minute," he said, not looking up from his keyboard. "Divorce petition. Seems she wants to take his balls as well as most of his present and future bank accounts."
" Which one's that? The Tregunter-Smythes? It does have its funny side."
" Yes. And she even got the marble coffee table her husband used for his rogering in the end. Insisted on that, she did."
" Right. That was a funny detail. It's curious what people decide to keep as mementoes of their marriage. What did you keep?"
" Well, I wanted to keep her scalp and a piece of soiled lingerie but in the end I had to settle for the toaster."
Larry looked up and stared at me for a moment.
" You all right? You look worn out."
" I've had a difficult day. I'll tell you all about it some time."
I sat down and rummaged in my briefcase for the Chan files.
" Here, take a look at these. You'll have to be careful with this one. I've already had some blimp in Government giving me a friendly fireside chat. They sound quite concerned."
" Who was the guy they sent for the chat? Hang on, let me guess. Cowper-Gee?"
" Yes, actually. How did you know?"
" Well, he knows me and as the Government figures you will be using me to do some nosing, they think they ought to to use someone I really hate, that's all. They know I'd tell you if he was a mate of mine and they know I'm pretty straight. That's one thing they can't forgive me for. So up pops Cowper-Gee out of the card index. I hate him so much I just might get personally involved. When you get personally involved, you start making mistakes."
" Sounds too complicated to me. But I wouldn't blame anyone for hating Cowper-Gee. How do you know him?"
" Used to be in the police together. We were placed equal in training school. Reached the same rank. We also left the force at the same time. But he chose the Civil Service as a career instead of booze and Filipinas. That's why he's where he is today."
" Well, it's a sticky one. See what you can find out."
" OK. Did anyone mention expenses by the way?"
" What do you mean?"
" Well, I'll need a few thousand to get information. You can charge it to the client under search fees. They hardly ever notice."
I was reaching for the office cheque book when Larry interrupted.
" I'd prefer cash. If I put any money into my account at the moment, the taxman grabs it."
In the end, I opened the office safe and counted over ten thousand-dollar notes into Larry's warm and slightly moist palm.
After a stiff Carlsberg or two from the office fridge, I was ready to go home. At least home presented a place of sanity, a of normalcy even, in the phantasmagoric funny farm whirl of Hong Kong. It was something I hung on to, something I cherished. It wasn't exciting but it was a centre, a wobbly centre at times but a centre all the same.
I pushed open the door of the flat and immediately I became aware of a weird silence. The blinds were down, the maid was out and there was a chill in the air as if the notoriously over-zealous ventilation system had been allowed to regulate itself unchecked all day.
I turned on a few lights and looked round. At first glance, everything looked as it always looked. After a moment or two had passed however, I began to notice disturbing signs of disorder. Certain trinkets and ornaments were missing from the sideboard and some of the drawers underneath had been opened and carelessly closed again, jamming fragments of paper and crumpled items of clothing in the process. The photographs of Sam and myself had been taken out of their frames by the telephone and the albums in the glass case were all gone. Near the window, a bottle of whisky and a half-filled glass stood on the coffee table next to a slip of paper and a felt-tip pen. The piece of paper was a note. I picked it up and instantly recognised Sam's handwriting:
It's all over. How could you? The woman has been here and has told me everything. Your taste is slipping. If she had been prettier, I might have understood.
I crumpled the paper and threw it against the blinds. They vibrated for a second in a jumbling, tinny chorus of mockery. Then, I collapsed onto the sofa and lay completely still for a long time, thinking about nothing in particular.
All in all, it had been a most eventful day.
11. THE MEN'S CLUB
I moped a while about Sam's leaving but after I had had a few girls to stay overnight - girls so awful I couldn't possibly describe them to you - things didn't seem so bad for a day or two. I felt glad to have the freedom for a while but I knew something drastic had happened and that Sam was going to be difficult to replace. Within a week, I wanted her back.
Clarissa meanwhile seemed to have disappeared and I hoped my original idea had been correct. Surely there was a limit even to a madwoman's vengeance. At any rate, for a whole week things were very quiet.
I received a call from Larry on the Sunday. Something important had come up in the Chan case investigation and he wanted to meet to discuss it. I had by now had enough of life above the mall so I arranged to meet on Blake Pier. It's a nicely run-down place that repels most of the portable phone and Gucci brigade. I was actually more than pleased that Larry had called. I didn't want to spend my Sunday with Dorothy or one of the bimbos. He understood that, I think. After I'd told him all about Clarissa's persecution and Samantha's departure, he had turned into a real friend.
Blake Pier attracts a great variety of residents and visitors. I was just eyeing up a totally lost Japanese tourist in a short skirt when Larry arrived wearing what would have won any competition for the most tasteless Pacific Rim holiday shirt. It had a slogan in some language I couldn't decipher across the flabby hanging tits of his chest.
" What language is that?" I asked.
" Tagalog. It means "Lonely Boy". I always wear it on Sundays to walk through Statue Square."
" Right. What have you got for me?"
" Well, quite a lot of leads but nothing very concrete. For starters, I think it's pretty likely your Mr Chan did meet the Governor's daughter. The doorman of a karaoke joint saw him with a pretty blonde girl. Couldn't be certain it was her, mind you."
" And what terms did they seem to be on?"
" Oh, arm-in-arm. It's difficult to know if they got up to anything else. They took a private room for an hour or two."
" Private room?"
" Yeh. They're almost knocking shops these days, karaoke boxes. Very secluded, low lighting, velvet sofa. You can lock the door, dim the lights and off you go."
" You sound as if you've done just that."
" No. Difficult to find a place that does real Filipino music. Can't stand this largo sixties rubbish and the Canto-pop dirges. Give it a rest."
" Anything else?"
" Well, I have an idea Mr Chan is a bit of a lad. Lots of night club girls and S and M, video camera, costumes. You name it."
" How do you know?"
" Well. He's in the Club."
" The Club?"
" Yeh. I ought to take you there sometime. It'll open your eyes to this line of work. Help you to understand your clients better."
I was intrigued. Below us, the Discovery Bay ferry had just arrived. A stream of Marks and Spencer people disembarked from the launch, many with children at their side and some with babies strapped to their chests. I looked at the people closely as they tottered across the gangplank. They were all so well-dressed, so confident, so at peace with the world. I wondered for a moment what their secret was: meditation, Life Dynamics, breast feeding all those years ago? Or was it simply mediocrity, the refusal or inability even to look at life beyond the shopping malls and the well-kept lawns? Whatever it was, I doubted whether I would ever attain their relative state of grace. It was probable I would never want to. Did that make me better than they were? Perhaps, but only in my own terms.
Larry snapped open his can of beer and my reverie was over.
" What sort of place is this Club?" I asked.
" Well, it looks like one of those Japanese private members' clubs from the outside but it's quite different inside. Quite different indeed."
" And what goes on in there?"
" Well, you must understand the Japanese and the locals to understand that. They have something in common. First of all, a lot of them think women are there to satisfy men and not much else. They're such chauvinists. Not like you and me at all. They're also intensely shy. So they love brothels and predictable sex. And alcohol. It helps them to overcome their inhibitions."
Larry quaffed his can of San Miguel as if to emphasise the point.
" And how or why did our friend join this Club? If he has the Governor's daughter and a fiance, I wouldn't have thought he has much time."
" Oh, people always find time for fornication."
" Yes, I said," playing it dumb, "I suppose they do."
He looked at me across the rim of his can closely and smiled.
" Any sign of the trouble and strife?"
" I'm not married to her."
" That's the problem. Get married and they leave you alone. Living with a girl's only asking for trouble."
Larry's eyelids narrowed as he smiled until his eyes were almost invisible. Larry had real coppers' eyes, small and beady, like all the coppers' eyes I had seen in Britain. I hate coppers' eyes.
" Any news about the vengeful harridan?"
" Very quiet this week. I think she's had enough."
" Don't you believe it. She's after you. You'd better watch your back."
" Surely, enough's enough. She's jobbed my flat and ruined my one steady relationship."
" I don't think you understand the locals' idea of revenge, Nigel. Anyhow, if things get sticky, here's my pager number. I think you should let me send a few boys round to talk to her."
" You must be joking. That would be the end of everything."
" If you like. I just hope you aren't proved wrong."
Larry emptied his can, crushed it slowly with his right hand and called for another.
" I just can't understand what you see in them, that's all," he said when the refill arrived.
" Local women."
" It's probably just a phase."
" Yeh, I suppose so. You're still green. Chasing anything slant- eyed in skirts. Colour-struck you are."
" You might say so." The Japanese girl in the short dress was getting up to go. I took a mental note of the pier as a possible pick-up place in the future.
" Yeh. You're colour struck," Larry went on, following my lustful gaze. " Got the yellow fever. I had it for a long time. Even married an example of the species. You'll give up one day. The locals are all a waste of time, the women especially."
Larry looked wistfully towards the harbour for a moment.
" When I came here in the sixties, the women had big smiles and small breasts. Now it's the other way round. Nutrition and prosperity I suppose. These days they're a pretty miserable bunch on the whole. They don't smile really. They produce a rictus. If you want to see a smile, you have to see a Filipina."
Two Filipinas, maids I thought, had sat down at a table opposite us and Larry was giving them more than cursory attention.
" Well," I said, " to return to more serious matters, I think I'll have to know a little more about this karaoke incident and anything else you may find. And I wouldn't mind taking a look at this Club. Strictly research, of course."
" Of course."
" And see if you can get me into his flat. To take a look, I mean. I'm a little puzzled by Mr Chan."
" Will do."
Early next morning, in the office, I got a call from Cowper-Gee's secretary. I ignored it. There were, for the moment, other things on my mind. Dorothy had been pouting all morning for some reason. I had omitted to phone her over the weekend as I had been made to promise and I was being made to suffer as a consequence. I called her into my office and told her to close the door behind her.
" I'm sorry I didn't call," I said. "I was very busy."
" It only takes a few minutes. And you have a portable. You can phone me any time."
" I was busy."
" You are going with other girls. If you go out with other girls, I don't want you. I have to be careful you know."
" I don't know what you mean."
" I know you have other girlfriends. I know."
" I haven't seen anyone but you this week," I lied. " I don't believe you."
And then she went on about how she wanted to look after me, how she was worried and how she would like to come over and cook me something. I drew the line at that. If Sam ever turned up again, I knew she would walk in when Dorothy was scraping food out of the wok. I knew it.
Larry's call saved me. He wanted to come in to brief me on developments.
" Think you can get an evening off?" he asked, eyeing Dorothy with more than a touch of irony as she slowly left the room.
" I want to show you the Club."
" Will I need a dirty raincoat."
" A credit card might come in handy."
I was looking forward to the evening at the Club. It would probably provide relief from my low spirits of the past week, however tawdry it all was. In a sense, I yearned just then for the gutter, to lose myself in the manifold bodily delights Hong Kong had to offer. That week I was having longer and larger lunches, second dinners and late suppers. A copious supply of cheap women would be the next step on the slippery slope.
I was walking past the Mandarin Hotel at lunch time thinking about where I could get four or five courses and a large cigar when I saw Cowper-Gee and an ugly-looking expat guy in a blue suit striding towards me. They were trying their best to be casual but both looked as spontaneous as a bank statement.
Cowper-Gee strode forward, greeting me so heartily, I felt quite ill for a moment.
" Oh, Mr Trelford, " he said, "how nice to bump into you like this. Meet my assistant, Mr Phillips."
Phillips nodded. Close to, he looked even more repulsive, like a Larry Snowdon even further gone to seed.
" We wondered if we could buy you lunch, Mr Trelford."
I was weak with hunger, too weak to argue so I said I would take him up on the offer. I was led upstairs to the Grill. Whatever they had to say to me, it had to be fairly important. But it didn't start out that way. Most of the meal was spent exchanging the kind of repartee I used to hear at the more boring dinner parties I was in the habit of attending in Britain. We discussed Oxbridge, wine cellars, private schools, immigration, Japanese cars and the Royal Family. It was strangely amusing to spend my time on predictable trivia like that, for a change. But Government servants only talk trivia to soften you up, as I well knew. After I had quaffed a third large glass of Burgundy with the roast beef, Cowper-Gee got down to business.
" As you know, Mr Trelford, we're very interested in this case over at Government House, very interested indeed. Let me be frank. It might be that Mr Chan can cast some aspersions on the Governor's daughter which might lead to a lot of unsavoury publicity. When the Governor arrived, he installed a complete PR team in Government House rather than a set of policy advisers. It's no secret that he is playing for the British audience rather than a Hong Kong one. The Governor will in all likelihood be a very major figure in Britain some day in the near future and might be in a position to do you a great deal of good. What life is there still in Hong Kong? Three years, five, ten at the outside. Do you get my general, what's the word, drift, Mr Trelford?"
I nodded, trying my best to look affable, convinced even. Cowper- Gee was evidently encouraged and he continued now with a genuinely nasty edge to his voice which, by reason of its candour, endeared him to me for the first and last time.
" Now the Attorney General cannot quite be persuaded to drop all charges so I'm afraid we'll have to try and persuade you to look at things our way. You see, Mr Trelford, we don't like to play dirty but we are quite capable of doing so. You are, I am told, a very promiscuous man, Mr Trelford. Not that that's any of my concern. But I put it to you. Perhaps, for the sake of your reputation and your continued relationship with... Samantha, you might be persuaded to see things from our perspective."
I was at that moment scooping some fizzy-tasting sorbet from a tiny crystal dish before me. I always remember that moment for some reason. It was a fragment of my Hong Kong career I came to treasure. I put down my spoon deliberately and looked my dreadful luncheon guests squarely in the eye. Then I began.
" I suppose one of the really great pleasures - and surprises - of being in Hong Kong is bumping into people like you and your henchman here. People have attempted to nobble me before but never with as much rudeness and audacity. The reason you think you can be so high-handed is that you are really colonial relics, despots from some distant past. Now listen to me carefully. I am a very capable barrister and I have the character and - thanks to you - the motivation to make life very difficult for both of you. How dare you come to me with your cheap blackmail! Tell your higher-up friends that my job is to defend my client the best I can and I do not like to be taken into their confidence. Secondly, if I hear any more of this matter from you I will pursue it with every means at my disposal. You Cowper-Gee are a disgrace to whatever minor public school produced you. As for your friend here, I really think he belongs in the West Yorkshire constabulary. Perhaps he just resigned from the same. Now I am going to have a cup of decaffeinated coffee and a half corona. Then I am going to leave. You will pay the bill as you offered. I will send you another bill for these little chats and telephone calls at the standard rate and you will pay it. I will donate the money to my favourite charity so I don't feel tainted by you in any way. Questions, gentlemen?"
Cowper-Gee attempted to smile a little whilst his friend merely scowled. I thought they might at least have continued with the blackmail line for a while, for form's sake, but they didn't. They both rose to leave after my coffee arrived, paid at the entrance and hurried away.
Later, I walked through the Central crowds feeling my cheeks glow from the unnatural quantities of food, wine and righteous indignation I had so recently indulged in. I caught my reflection in a shop window. Never what you might call slim, I was now developing into the sort of expatriate I had always despised in Hong Kong: paunchy, high-coloured and with a look of scornful rectitude on my jowly face. Fewer women looked at me, that was certain.
Larry Snowdon was just about to leave when I arrived back at the office.
" Glad I caught you. That bit of research," he said looking round him discreetly, " Holiday Inn, Nathan Road, seven thirty. OK?"
" Fine." He winked at me knowingly. " You look as if you've had a good lunch"
" Yes. I bumped into Cowper-Gee and his crony."
" Who was the crony?"
" Phillips. Looks like a real evil customer."
" Oh, Basher Phillips. I'd heard a rumour Special Branch had taken him on. Someone had to."
" Well, anyhow, I told them both in the clearest possible terms to go to hell."
" Not advisable, if you don't mind me saying so. You always want to lay your cards on the table. Now you've brushed them up the wrong way. You should have played them along for a while, seen what you could have got out of them."
" As you say, Larry. I'm too straightforward for my own good. Perhaps someone ought to tell Clarissa Leung."
Larry smiled again and left.
I spent the afternoon preparing some rather tedious financial litigation and the Tregunter-Smythe divorce case. Mrs T-G was going to clean up in a big way and I couldn't help feeling justice was being a little hard on Mr T-G's folly in falling for his maid. The real mistake was in getting caught. I'm sure if he'd conducted things away from home, Mrs T-G would never have found out. Doing it in the living room was asking for trouble. I made some notes for the court appearance and left the office in good time. Dorothy, suspecting a tryst, scowled as I got up to go.
The MTR that evening was awash with totty of every description and I wondered why I was bothering to go to a commercial establishment like the Club when so much was apparently available buckshee. On the other hand, perhaps commercial sex was so necessary in Hong Kong because so much appeared available and wasn't.
I was looking at some signboards advertising the Holiday Inn's latest promotion: STEAK AND ALL YOU CAN EAT SALAD when Larry arrived.
" A bit mean of them," I said. "All you can eat ought to extend to the steak as well."
" It always pays to spell things out in Hong Kong. I think you'll see that tonight. There's quite a lot of deliberate planning goes on at the Club. Brought your credit card?"
" I've brought all of them."
" Good. You won't have to pay for me as I'm getting a very good rate for introducing you. It's ten thousand down and then everything's covered up to midnight."
" Yeh. Everything. Of course, if you insist on crucifixion, animals or real schoolgirls, that costs a little extra."
" Yeh. Just joking. About the crucifixion that is. The Japanese have been known to ask for the other two on quite a regular basis."
Larry led me to a side street of Tsim Sha Tsui I never knew existed although it was within striking distance of my own former petite maison. A number of Mercedes and other luxury cars were parked on both sides in common with every other street in the area. One car we approached, perhaps reacting to the vibration of several hundred pounds of passing flabby gwailo, sprang into alarm mode, emitting a piercing scream lasting several minutes.
" Bastard alarms. It's enough to make you become a vigilante, said Larry.
We were now approaching a cul-de-sac hidden partly by dai pai dongs and a clothes hawker draping wares around a collapsible trolley. In the right hand corner of the cul-de-sac we could just about discern a plain black steel door with a small brass plate affixed at the locals' eye level. The door was largely concealed by an alcove so that it was mostly invisible from even quite close observation. Inscribed on the brass plate in neat italics we read: MEN'S CLUB - PRIVATE.
" Welcome to the Club," said Larry, peering into a tiny closed-circuit TV camera I could now see behind the alcove.
The door sprang open and we entered. Standing just inside the doorway were two evil-looking but immaculately suited European bouncers, ex-Army wrestlers at a guess, who looked us up and down for a second.
" Hi Tom, Hi Phil," Larry said gaily. " Hide those knuckle- dusters. He's a criminal lawyer."
They smiled for a moment but did not reply.
" This way, gentlemen," said one of them gruffly.
A heavy curtain was drawn back and suddenly we were in a brightly lit room of white marble lined by rows of tall girls - Black, European and Asian - dressed in red silk evening gowns, bowing slowly as we passed. They were all stunningly beautiful and most could not have been over twenty-five. Several were much younger. We walked slowly towards a heavy counter of multi-coloured marble with huge vases of flowers either side of it. Behind the counter, three radiantly beautiful Asian women in slightly more revealing blue silk dresses were smiling at us broadly in greeting. The girl in the middle, slightly taller than her colleagues, was holding what appeared to be a registration form in her right hand.
" Love the interior decoration," I whispered to Larry.
" Try not to fart," he replied.
We marched towards the counter with Larry openly winking to some of the girls on either side of us. I was trying my best to appear relaxed but was failing miserably. The receptionists' smiles now assumed a brighter glow and the blaze of reflected light caught the shiny lip gloss and delicate eye shadow of their faces as we drew nearer.
" Good evening, Mr Snowdon," the taller girl began in soft, accentless English . "So nice to see you again. We have arranged the introductory tour for Mr Trelford."
Then she turned slightly, catching me in the brilliant gaze of her light hazel eyes and causing me to swallow hard for a moment.
" Good evening, Mr Trelford, " she said with a slight sigh in her voice, " and welcome to the Club."
12. THE WORLD OF J. ARTHUR RANK
After I signed the necessary credit card forms, we were led into a small and dimly lit room somewhat reminiscent of a hotel lobby bar. The room was upholstered in red plush and had tall partitions discreetly placed around each group of three or four seats. Vague piano music tinkled in the background and there was a subdued buzz of conversation emanating from behind some of the partitions. I caught snatches of Japanese and then a little Cantonese or a phrase of English. It was impossible to hear anything distinctly.
" What's this?" I asked Larry. "Aperitif?"
" You could call it that", he replied with a grin. "This is the first part of the tour, the pink saloon. It's a Japanese invention actually, a sort of groping parlour with drinks. I don't really enjoy this kind of thing but it's very popular as a starter."
" And then?"
" Well, we can go next door to see a show."
" What kind of show?"
" Well, practically anything, now you ask. Monday's Office Love, Tuesday's After School, Wednesday's S and M, Thursday's Water Sports, Friday's Exotic Lingerie. The weekend is mixed. A little bit of this, a little bit of that."
" So we've come on Office night?"
" Yeh," said Larry, " nice, ain't it?"
Larry looked up for a moment and I followed his gaze. Walking towards us were two Chinese girls in the shortest of mini skirts and displaying the most eager of expressions. One was called Amy and the other introduced herself as Mimi. The latter was a tall and slim girl who "studied English at the University when she was free from her other commitments". Amy had just left Dragon Pacific as she was "tired of the travel". She was a little smaller than Mimi but had a fuller figure, especially the breast area which looked as if it might conceivably be only slightly padded.
When the girls excused themselves for a minute "to get our drinks" I turned to Larry and said:
" It looks like quite a good start."
" So you like the girls then?"
" Very passable."
" Because if you don't, we can have some others. That's why they've left for a moment. If you want someone else you just tell that man over there." Larry indicated a largish Chinese man standing by the doorway.
" I see. Now, where do we go from here?"
" Relax. All in good time. This is only the beginning. The show's next door and starts at nine. You can have a quick shower and a massage before or after. That's all up one storey. Upstairs from that there's the hotel with all the various theme rooms. I think you're booked into the Oriental Dream Room. Most Westerners are during the Tour. You can book Amy or Mimi if you like. And if they like you. They don't have to say yes. That's one of the house rules. The girls can refuse a client. It makes life a bit more interesting than an old-fashioned knocking shop I always say."
Amy and Mimi returned and placed their hands on our respective thighs almost at the same time. The conversation the next hour ranged over a wide number of topics, none of which were touched upon in any depth. It was like reading a collected edition of that daft woman who used to write in the back of the Hong Kong magazine every Sunday (you know the one, Jenny Lim or something similar). Everything the girls said was judicious, slightly provocative, in general agreement with what we said and always non-committal. It was a wonderful display of making conversation and I understood why the girls were being paid for their time.
More interesting was the physical interaction because that evening was when I truly realised, in a theatre of commercial sex, just how erotic sex with your clothes on could be. The girls moved on slowly from the lower thigh region until they were stroking our groins with a sensuality which utterly amazed me. Amy edged towards me gradually, rubbing herself against my knees and thighs with as much passion as our sedentary position would allow. My arms reached towards her breasts and then her mouth found mine. My thoughts were just about to turn to some ridiculous suggestion when Amy whispered:
" The Oriental Dream Room at eleven. Have a good evening."
Then she stood up calmly and walked away, adjusting her hair and skirt as she went. Mimi joined her a moment later leaving Larry looking very flushed. My heart still beating with unrequited lust, I looked at my watch. It was approaching nine o'clock.
" Time for the show," said Larry, adjusting his tie and finishing his drink in one rapid draught
" That was quite a breezy opener."
" You ain't seen nothing yet."
We got up to leave the Pink Saloon. Despite a growing kind of physical elation, I already felt more than a little frustrated. That was always my trouble, believe it or not. My brain always keeps breaking through just as I want to turn it off: not a good thing to happen to a lecher. Although I had experienced a certain kind of intimacy with Amy, I had been alienated by what had happened just as surely as if she had refused to look at me. All the touching and polite conversation had kept me at a distance, had reduced me to the level of the slugs of businessmen who turned up regularly, their small penises aching for release anywhere and anyhow. How wonderful I would have felt to be one of them for just one evening.
The small theatre we were now ushered into was an even more discreet version of the Pink Saloon and so designed that it was practically impossible to make out who was in the room with us. The lighting, reflected and obscure, came from tiny bulbs set in the floor and from small spotlights in the ceiling, like the lighting used in cinemas before the main feature comes on. The boxes and partitions were higher and longer than in the Pink Saloon but they couldn't hide everything. As we walked down one of the aisles to our seats, I had an opportunity to glimpse some of the audience's faces. Although I couldn't be absolutely sure, I thought I spotted that big wig civil servant who's been in the news recently and that smarmy Cantonese pop singer who's always pretending to look like the boy next door. Again, I couldn't swear blind but I think one gentleman was actually wearing a Lone Ranger mask.
The lights were dimmed and the show commenced. The small stage out front was now flooded with light and a fairly ordinary office set revealed itself: filing cabinets, desks, a computer terminal and functional grey carpeting. At the desk sat two young women - one a ravishing blonde and the other a tall Japanese girl - wearing formal office suits, blouses and high heels. They were bored with their typing and looked it. Suddenly, the Japanese girl got up and walked to a window. She leant over, hitching up her tight mini skirt as she did so to reveal the briefest of lingerie set including the skimpiest of black satin panties. The blonde girl joined her at the window, staring out languidly onto a kind of abstract Hong Kong skyline complete with Lippo Centre and Bank of China Building. Both girls now pulled up their skirts to reveal all of their panties which they now pulled into the plunging crevices of their impressively shaped buttocks. With their right hands rubbing themselves around their pudenda, they gyrated their hips in time to some bass rock music which suddenly filled the auditorium. The stage lights dimmed and spotlights focused on the girls' erotically twisting backsides. There was a brief blackout and two or three voices in the audience gasped and screamed. Then the lights came on again, brighter than before. The girls were now sitting up on the desks, legs open and without panties to shield their partially shaved orifices. There then followed some very graphic masturbation which culminated in a shuddering orgasm from the blonde girl. The desk shook and the computer terminal on top of it vibrated at the same time.
Then something quite extraordinary happened. From the audience, one after the other, men in business suits came forward to join the girls on stage. It was difficult to say at first whether the men were guests or actors in the show. They thrust themselves forward onto and into the girls who then performed every possible sexual service for them. Within a few minutes, I counted ten or twelve men, Japanese mostly I guessed, on the stage, rubbing themselves wildly against the thighs and chests of the girls or performing the lewdest acts of self-stimulation. The men groaned, sweated, panted and salivated. Some had trousers around their legs whilst others had torn their shirts and ties from their bodies in order to gratify themselves more quickly. For several minutes, the stage was a twisting mass of bodies totally surrendered to lust at its most primitive and - in its manner - desperately perverted. Then, suddenly, all was darkness, the music stopped and only a few groans and gasps punctuated the rapt silence of the auditorium.
" How much do you have to pay to be an extra in this show?" I asked Larry as the house lights came on dimly for a moment.
" Oh, it's all part of the deal. Audience participation."
" No kidding."
We then watched the men who had been on stage resume their seats. They suddenly looked quite ordinary again in their smart, well- cut business suits.
" Do you want to go upstairs?" Larry asked after a moment.
" I wouldn't mind. All this almost-sex is a bit frustrating."
" Wait until you get upstairs. By the time they're finished with you, you'd throw yourself at my mother-in-law."
Larry led me up a winding steel staircase into a changing room with lockers and benches. We disrobed and showered in small booths which once again were arranged with partitions from changing room to exit so that it was impossible to know who else was in the immediate area. We decided not to take up an aged male attendant's offer of foot scraping and peeling and sat down on a double seat for a while, slipping into black silk dressing gowns, freshly-laundered and wrapped in hygienic cellophane, which had been left on the seat for us. Then we were led off by a male attendant into separate dim chambers somewhat reminiscent of an amateur photographer's dark room. My chamber contained a hospital type bed, a small table with various small bottles on it and - odddly - a video monitor on the floor, facing upwards, at the short edge of the bed. I lay on the bed, staring aimlessly upwards for several moments. I then saw there was another video monitor set in the ceiling above me. It switched itself on and began to show various snippets of high-definition soft porn: Japanese schoolgirls misbehaving in their sailor suits, South Pacific girls enjoying topless sunbathing, Chinese girls cavorting nude or in exotic lingerie.
" Lie down please," said a female voice from the doorway.
The girl, tall and attractive and about Mimi and Amy's age, began to give me what appeared to be a normal massage. Starting at the neck, she slowly pounded and kneaded my muscles and - it seemed - the bones below them into submission. After five minutes or so, an oiled hand descended playfully - accidentally it appeared - to my bottom and the tops of my thighs. This manoeuvre was repeated, each time more intensely, at constantly diminishing intervals. My impatience for more stimulation grew as the massage progressed. After scarcely twenty minutes I could take no more. I yearned for relief. When I was asked to turn over, I felt hugely embarrassed at the sight of the huge erection which now flashed into view. My masseuse did not register any reaction to the event. She slowly rubbed a mass of oil into my genitals and gently tweaked my nipples. Whilst she leant over she began to do a passable imitation of a pornography soundtrack's heavy breathing and moaning as the inevitable release flooded from me. She kept on with the stimulation longer than was strictly necessary and I winced slightly as a result. She noticed my discomfort immediately, smiled for a moment and gently released my penis from the grip of her smoothly greased hand. Then, using hot and moist hand-towels, she slowly washed my genitals with the astringent thoroughness of a mother changing a baby's nappy. When the girl was satisfied that I was clean and happy, she excused herself with a slight bow and departed as mysteriously as she had arrived.
I lay on my back watching the switched off TV screen, prey to a familiar crisis of post-coital regret. Once again, although I now felt deliciously relaxed and content with the world, I also felt keenly rejected, cheapened and reduced to a physical machine of animal-like predictability. I had once again escaped real love and swapped it for a lude imitation.
If only, I thought once more, I could be a silly Asian businessman. If only indeed I could be like Larry. I always had to admire Larry. Guilt or regret, whatever I was feeling at the time, escaped him. It was simply another moment for him. He once told me he lived for moments because there was nothing else.
" Nice J. Arthur?" he asked jauntily after I had pulled on my black silk dressing gown again and joined him in the lounge.
" Well, you were right. Couldn't wait."
" I knew you wouldn't be able to. It takes a strong man to get out of the massage parlour with any pop left. What do you want to do now then?"
" Well, I don't think I'll be needing Amy or Mimi any more."
" Me neither. Want another drink?"
After a shower and a dip in the jacuzzi, we finally got out of the Club at about 11.30. Tsim Sha Tsui, although actually more frenetic, looked altogether a more peaceful place than some hours previously.
" So this is how the local businessmen keep their cool?", I asked as we strode confidently through the crowds of couples heading to their karaoke lounges and billiard halls.
" Of course. You'd go crazy otherwise. You know what it's like chasing the local women. Takes too much energy."
We were approaching Nathan Road from Humphreys Avenue. The porn hawkers were arranging their mags and videos as nonchalantly as the fruit sellers further down the street. Although relaxed, I was far from elated. I stopped for a moment, staring abstractedly into a shop window displaying Rolex watches.
" But this commercial sex," I began. "It's kind of depressing isn't it?"
" Depressing? Totty on demand? Great I call it. If you can afford it that is."
" But it makes life so ...cheap. Predictable. No romance, that's the problem."
" Romance in Hong Kong? Give over for Christ's sake."
" But you must have a few glimmers of love along the way, Larry. Or have you always been a cynic?"
" Oh, yes. There's always been a lot of feeling. But the real problem Western guys have is getting over the guilt. You've got to keep all that feeling business well locked up and in control in Hong Kong or else you get hurt fast. They're very practical people first and foremost, the Chinese. They know what love is. They just can't afford it a lot of the time. They just aren't as rich in ways Westerners are. They can't afford our security, our faith in collective human nature, our trust in law and governments and a fair deal. They've never had it. Not once in all their history. You'd be wrong to call them unfeeling though. It's just different, that's all. And J. Arthur is one of the pleasures along the way. Just don't bring love into things so much and you'll be OK."
" What I mean is that when there's so much sex for money around, it makes the normal kind of relationships pretty difficult. The girl's always thinking she should be getting something more than love out of the deal and if the boy can't get sex he wants to go somewhere he can."
" There you go again. Projecting. Assuming. You seem to think women are the same all over the world. They ain't. They've only relatively recently emerged from chatteldom here. There's not much friendship between the sexes in Hong Kong you know. There's another kind of set-up all together: exploitation if you like but a kind of depending on each other's the best way to look at it. The Chinese rely on each other personally much more than Westerners do and what with the competition of all those other girls in Hong Kong, women have got to be clever to get a good deal. No one else is going to help them out but some rich guy they can use. No wonder money comes into it all the time. Money gives you all the freedom you want in Hong Kong. You wouldn't behave any differently if you were one of the locals."
" I suppose not. Seems a bit sad, that's all."
" There's nothing more sad than being broke in Hong Kong, believe me. Anyhow, there's lots of love around. Think about Suzie Wong. That was love, wasn't it? "
And Larry flashed me his favourite satirical grin.
I was late getting into the office next day not because I felt tired. I just felt too relaxed to take the day seriously. Larry got in late as well, as usual, with that look of guiltless preoccupation he had cultured to a fine art. He found me in the small office kitchen just as I was pouring myself another burnt coffee.
" Free at lunch time?" he asked confidentially like a wartime spiv selling nylons.
" If Cowper-Gee and friend haven't booked me in somewhere, yes."
" Good. I've got a chance to view Mr Chan's flat."
" How did you manage that?"
" Don't worry. Nothing illegal. He's put it up for sale and I just happen to know the property agent. Nice girl she is. For a local."
Chan's flat was part of a nice block in the middle of North Point and next to a Methodist church. The high-rise building was quite different from the other high-rise dumps in the area. It looked more solid and was well-maintained. Clearly, it had a richer set of occupants. Apart from the legions of maids, the people I saw coming and going from the building that lunchtime looked well- heeled and respectable types, the sort I met a lot in my professional work.
" Eighty per cent of the people in the block are civil servants," announced Candy Wong proudly. Candy was a small, eager girl in her early twenties with fried hair and velvet high heels. If she ever learnt to apply make-up correctly, I thought, and allowed her hair to grow naturally, she could be quite good-looking. " I'll leave you to take a look round," she said, letting us into the spacious apartment with a brisk, preoccupied air. " I'm going upstairs to meet another client." She smiled briefly as she turned to go.
" He doesn't give much away, does he?" said Larry, looking around the apartment, his ferret features more pronounced than usual. "That's always suspicious."
He paced around the parquet floor for a while impatiently, wrapped in thought. The flat was bare, unadorned and comfortable in a kind of clinical way. The furniture in the large lounge area amounted to little more than a table, sofa and a few abstract-looking chairs. Compact discs stood in large, neatly arranged columns in four corners of the window alcove. With its preponderance of monochrome tones and its total air of functionality, the whole apartment could have been a high-class doctor's waiting room.
" Now, Watson," Larry said at last," something very elementary about Mr Chan. What is it?"
" Well, he's quite neat, likes music to judge by all the CDs and likes neutral colours."
" Very good. Anything else?"
" He has quite good taste in furniture, no clashes... but why no pictures?"
" Right. Why no pictures? Even my Aunt Molly has a picture of the Hay Wain and a few plaster ducks. But Mr Chan doesn't have even a print on the walls. Now, what does that tell you?
" I don't know. No visual sense?"
" On the contrary. He has a very acute visual sense. Pictures would only distract him, irritate him even. He doesn't need them. His pictures are all inside him. If I'm not mistaken, our Mr Chan is a voyeur of some sort. Before he took to exhibitionism that is. The two conditions are usually related, in my experience."
He walked into the kitchen and opened the large fridge.
" Always start with basics. What is the animal's dominant sense? What does the animal eat? He cleared out all the food a while ago but... hello, what do we have here?" He took a small white pill from a brown plastic bottle on the top rung of the fridge. Then he sniffed it closely, sucking the aroma deep into his nostrils.
" Poppers. Amyl nitrate. Said to heighten the orgasm. Used a lot by homosexuals."
" Why does he keep them in the fridge."
" Because he doesn't want them to go off. Lots of the locals keep pills in the fridge. And expiring fish of course."
We moved into the bathroom where Larry poked open the cabinet delicately.
" Hm. Nothing very peculiar. Doesn't want his girlfriends to find anything odd in here. Your medecine cabinet is one of the first things women look at in Hong Kong, you know. They like to know how long you're going to last."
" You're very thorough," I said.
" Just you wait," he said, entering the bedroom and lifting up the mattress and bedstead. There were several locked briefcases and bulging brown envelopes stacked neatly underneath.
" As I thought, a bedroom J. Arthur fan," he said dismissively as he perused a few of the magazines inside the envelopes. They were publications I had never seen on any of the news stands - titles like Geisha Girls, Girl's Institute Magazine, Hot Buns and Tittle Tattle. Many were German productions.
" He certainly likes his blondes", I said.
Larry prised open the small combination lock of one briefcase with practiced ease.
" A regular video emporium," he said, flicking one of the ordinary-looking video cassettes crammed into the case out of its cardboard cover.
" Where's the VCR ?"
After closing the horizontal blinds in the oversized living room and dowsing the lights Candy Wong had turned on when she arrived, we inserted the cassette into the machine, adjusted the television set to the correct frequency and waited for the flickering screen to present something like a recognisable image.
" Looks like a home movie to me," I said to Larry as pictures of Hong Kong streets and landmarks flashed on the screen like a tourist's mad attempts to capture every moment.
" Yeh. But can't you see where the streets are leading to?"
I looked at the screen again. The pictures were obviously taken from a vehicle going up Robinson Road or somewhere close. Then Government House came into view.
" The fantasy begins," said Larry, his eyes gleaming with interest.
The lens of the video camera now approached the gates of Government House. A policeman gently ushered the cameraman away. There was some fuzzy break in the film for a few seconds until a new scene presented itself. We were in the Landmark building at Central watching the escalators bearing a succession of well- dressed individuals carrying plastic shopping bags. Occasionally, the picture zoomed in on certain figures as if the cameraman were experimenting with the controls.
" Awfully interesting. If you're into escalators, " I said ironically.
" Just wait a minute. If this is what I think it is, you're going to see something quite surprising."
The screen now showed something quite indistinct at first, a blurred picture of the escalator from up close and a large area of black covering the left of the screen.
" What's going on?" I asked. " Did he leave the camera switched on by mistake?"
" Patience. I told you he's a visual pervert. He knows how to use a video camera. It's an essential to him. Now look. Can you believe that?"
On the screen something very murky indeed was taking place. It all resembled one of those candid camera hoaxes or, more properly, some of the footage from a Japanese soft porn movie. Beginning from what was clearly the bottom of the escalator, the camera followed an attractive young woman up the slowly moving staircase. Then the camera drew closer until it was filming not only the girl's shapely legs but under her short skirt as well. As the steps of the escalator ascended, the lens showed more and more of the girl's undergarments until, finally, a light attached to the camera was apparently switched on, illuminating at very close range the area of the girl's intimate orifice viewed through her tight panties and hose.
" An escalator voyeur?" I exclaimed incredulously.
" Got it in one, Nigel old man. I've only dealt with one case like this before. Caught him when I was off-duty going up into the old Swire Building in 1974, I think it was. You should have seen his face when he was caught. Had the camera hidden in a shoulder bag. Can't for the life of me me see what they get out of it. Maybe it's the danger. Did you hear about that lady who could only experience the ultimate sexual pleasure when she was caught shoplifting? It's quite a defence that one isn't it? Better than sudden progressive dementia."
We locked up and left. Larry had taken some of the tapes with him " for his own personal files". I didn't ask any questions. Perhaps they would be seen at the Club at some later point. It was always voyeur evening there, after all.
I saw Mr Chan at Lai Chi Kok a few days later and indicated that the police had come across some rather incriminating material in his flat. His attitude changed altogether and he began to be drawn to my angle on things. In the end, he pleaded guilty, signed up with the psychiatrist and took his final accountancy exams a year or two later like a good boy. Strange to relate, he's now working in special investigations at the Department of Public Prosecutions. He's said to have quite a knack for difficult cases and likes to sift through the evidence.
Of course, I never quite knew for certain whether he had anything to do with the Governor's daughter. I didn't think it was very likely however. The whole story was clearly the absurd ravings of a genuine Hong Kong colour wolf.
I saw Cowper-Gee in the public gallery when poor Chan was entering his guilty plea. He was dressed in an immaculate safari suit and looked more irritatingly pretentious than I have ever seen him look. I glanced over to him for a moment and gave him a friendly smile. After all, he had got what he wanted even though he didn't get it the way he had intended to get it. I for one would have called it quits. For some reason though, Cowper-Gee couldn't raise a smile at all for quite some time. He glared at me sullenly at first as if he bore a deep-seated grudge. Then his face changed into his smarmy schoolboy grin. I didn't quite know what to make of it although I must say I didn't give it much thought. Either Cowper-Gee was terribly sensitive or he knew something I didn't know.
THE SEX NOVEL IS CONCLUDED HERE