Kaptain's Blog

The writings and musings of The Kaptain

Sunday, July 10, 2011

For Sara & Katherine

A cockroach went unhurriedly about its business, entering his ear to re-emerge from his mouth with equal disinterest. Startled by something it then scratched its way back to some unseen hole or crevice.
Latimer woke, an axblade splicing his crown.

Aaaargh…!
JEEZUS!
FUCKING!
CHRIST…!

…Doan tayk the Loawds naym in vayn…

“Fuck OFFFFFFFFFFF, CUUUUUUUUUNT…!”

In a rare and unexpected moment of lucidity he caught the smell of his own breath. Oh my God. Groaning, he slid off the bed on to his knees then pushed himself up, gingerly. His kidneys were killing him. As he rose, so his kneecaps unstuck themselves from the tacky carpet. Mong Tin’s V Hotel was in a different league to the Merchant.
A lower one.
There was no toothbrush set in the walk-in closet that passed for a bathroom but there was, at least, a small bottle of mouthwash.
“Small fucking Murphys,” he misquoted, cheering himself.
Struggling with the plastic wrapper round the bottle’s childproof screwcap, he suffered a painful incursion under a fingernail before managing, finally, to rip it off with a spiteful tug. He took a swig and was gargling with some trepidation when, disturbed by an unwanted knock at the door, he allowed a dribble of the complimentary liquid to find a way of sneaking past his pharynx. It stung like hell. Worse still, it triggered his dreaded gag reflex.
“House-keep-ing!” a voice sang.
What fucking time was it?
Seconds later he heard his room door opening. Stood before the shaving mirror butt naked, feeling the tingling in his stomach, the string of bile he knew he would literally have to pull from his mouth now inching its way up his throat, he kicked shut the bathroom door. The sound of the maid plumping up his pillows could be heard as the first viscous batch of alcohol, stomach lining and the odd bit of undigested burger meat launched itself into the sink. The sight of it draining down the plughole made him want to boak even more. Outside the fussing went on hold for a moment, then resumed.
The second heave came from deeper, producing a loud retch. It tore at what little abdominal muscle he had left. Through the door, the maid panicked out something in Tagalog.
“Go away! Get out!” he complained, when the depleted contents of a third and final upchuck splattered over the taps.
Wiping his mouth on the sleeve of the greyish bathrobe hanging forlornly on the inside of the door he was glad to hear his room door click shut once more, this time behind her. The digital bedside clock said eight, zero, nine as, balls dangling asymmetrically, he opened the minibar to retrieve a miniature Gordon’s. Sinking it in one he leant into the wall for a few seconds, concentrating hard on keeping the vital liquid down. The uncertainty having receded, he took the two paces necessary to cross the room and reach for the bedside phone.

posted by Kirk at 4:59 am  

Thursday, June 23, 2011

For Sara

Two. V

Let the sighing of the prisoner come before thee
– Psalms 79:11

The walls were damp. The floor was damp. The pitifully thin mattress on the shelf that served as his bed was damp. Even the air was damp. And stifling, suffocating, incessantly hot. The only time in his life that his head had been shorn, Latimer was glad of it. The focal point of the cell was a small square window roughly eight feet up on one of its walls. North to south, three proud bars guarded what would otherwise be a means of escape. Someone cemented those in place… he thought darkly, surveying one of the rare features of his spartan surroundings. …While sharing some idle chat with his workmates, no doubt…
And now some judge had put Latimer the wrong side of them.
Here in his private hell the evaporated piss of a thousand past inmates still clung to the walls in such concentration that he felt it coating his skin. It lined his nostrils with a film of atomised feculence, so that the stench never left him. Every mouthful of gruel, every sip of water seemed to taste of the sickly sweet scuz. Added to this discomfort, his loss of liberty, the boredom and the solitude was the fact that the arrow of time seemed, ironically, to fly slower in here. So that when there’d been things to do on the outside there had never seemed enough time. Now that he was prevented from doing anything for long stretches of the day, he had too much of it. Looking up above the barred skylight he thought it cruel that the distance from floor to ceiling – a good fifteen feet, he guessed – should be so great when the limited floorspace he shared with his cellmate, mute and withdrawn, forced their close and uneasy proximity. But then everything in the S.A.R. was built around the vertical axis, he knew.
Barely seven days into his sentence Latimer had come to detest the conditions, which left him permanently fatigued. Six months… Six fucking months of this… he now reflected, staring absently at the figure in the opposite corner. In no mood for frivolity, he rejected the impulse to grin as the wretch came slowly into sharper focus. Sitting with his back against the wall, the crazed hobo was evidently preparing for another performance of the baffling ritual Latimer had come to accept as normal.

A week before, having overcome his first experience of the cell door’s incarcerating peal, Latimer had opened his eyes to witness the freak show for the first time. “Confucius” – as, with certain irony, he’d christened his cellmate – was harmless, he now knew. Beneath those threadbare prison-issue togs lay the scrawny frame of an undernourished outcast, while under his thickly matted hair – which even the prison barber had apparently refused to touch – lived the mind of a shyly withdrawn child. Latimer had kept himself awake for most of that first night, however. There’d been no point reflecting why the guards had allowed the dishevelled simpleton to keep a sharpened instrument about him, or ponder the significance of the procedure he carried out with unceasing repetition. The situation, as Latimer repeatedly warned himself, was simple: he was locked in a cell with a doolally tramp who happened to be armed with a knife. It wasn’t out of fear that he’d taken the precaution of staying awake, more a practical step in the face of likely attack. It had always taken more than a solitary foe to frighten Latimer and this pitiable outcast was not about to change that. But he’d noted the weapon appeared solid and sharp and so was determined to keep his wits about him. Now, several days later, he was relaxed in the knowledge that Confucius’ sole interest in life was to entertain himself in his own peculiar way.

Irregular in size, the six or seven ball bearings he’d push up inside his foreskin were all sufficiently small for it to have taken Latimer some time to realise what they were. Once lodged there Confucius would pause, trancelike, running his fingers over the bumps they created as if to affirm the veracity of their alignment. After satisfying himself that everything was in order he’d run the blunt edge of his homemade weapon along the shaft of his penis, applying sufficient pressure as he neared the bulbous node at its head to force the shiny spheres out, one by one, skittering them across the floor. Typically, a pause for contemplation would follow, when he’d stare at the result of his work as if looking for portents in the latest constellation his penile projectiles had conjured. Whatever the purpose of these reflections, once this final act of the routine was over Confucius would drag himself across the cell like a worm-infested dog to start the process all over again.

While Latimer was not remotely afraid of his cell-mate, the smell of the man was starting to bother him. In the week since his imprisonment Latimer hadn’t once seen his cohabitant come into contact with water. The stifling conditions did nothing to mitigate the stench that would waft across from his direction, commingling with the cell’s other prominent aroma. Five months, three weeks, six days… Five months, three weeks, five days… Latimer counted down his time. The hobo’s cock would always be out to play, taking a constant bruising. Does he ever fucking sleep? Latimer would reflect, on waking from a nap to find his cellmate at it yet again. Sometimes, bored and in need of conversation, he’d pipe up, “Oi! Confucius! You oughta work in a call centre! Y’know, twenty-four seven! Non-fucking-stop! It’d suit ya!” Or: “Confucius! Put it away mate, eh? Come on, give it a rest, y’sick fuck!”
Not once did Latimer’s appeals elicit a response. Startled by the abruptness of such intrusions, Confucius would freeze like a quieted cicada and slowly raise his eyes to the ceiling, his breathing regulated like that of a master yogi. It seemed always to Latimer that his stare was not, in fact, pinpointed on the cell’s uppermost periphery but through it and across the aether to someplace far away.

posted by Kirk at 5:03 pm  

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

For Ingles

It felt strange to be wearing his suit again. Now within the confines of the car he could smell the courtroom panic that had seeped from his glands into the fabric that day, as he embarked upon the most terrifying journey he’d ever made. They swept past dusty villages, deserted but for the feral dogs that nosed through piles of rubbish, their skin stretched taught over spindly ribs, their tails an embarrassment of loop-the-loops. Through communities left further behind each day by the relentless pace of the city, over state-of-the-art suspension bridges and past craggy outcrops of rock the soundless wheels of the Japanese car glided on borrowed, yet vastly improved technology. Inside the vehicle not much was said, Latimer gradually acclimatising to the half-remembered expanse of his recaptured environment, Cotswold wisely allowing this to happen unimpeded.
Within thirty minutes they’d reached the outskirts of Mong Tin. Latimer surveyed the grimy tenement blocks with mild distaste. He found it hard to believe that people – many of whom were swimming in cash – were prepared to live in such squalor. Theirs was a mindset that was opposite to that in the debt-ridden west. For a moment, it made him wonder which was correct. In a better part of the district, along the harbour front, the restaurant was housed in what had once been a swanky hotel. Through a gilded lobby and up a staircase hung with the faded swirls of nineteen-seventies wallpaper they ambled to their appointment with the finest steaks to be found anywhere in the territory.
As was customary the pair sat first at the bar, where the hit of Latimer’s first gin martini was sufficient to strum his vocal cords.
“Jeezus, that’s strong,” he wheezed.
“You’re out of the habit, that’s all, my boy. Anyway: congratulations.” Cotswold raised his glass. “Chapter closed.”

They sat at the retired barrister’s regular window table where both were drawn instinctively to look southwards across the harbour. Jutting high above the other skyscrapers was the black, marble-clad North Peninsula development. The imposing and vaguely eerie XGTV Tower.
“Bastard’s probably looking straight at me right now,” Latimer grumbled.
“Come, come. Today’s a day for celebration, Frank. Put him out of your mind for a moment and let’s enjoy it.”
It was a well-intended sentiment but one prescribing a course of action that was bound to fail. And so it was that by the time Latimer was halfway through his colossal, medium-rare hunk of Australian beef – and perhaps more importantly, on to his second bottle of wine – the guns were well and truly blazing across the neck of water separating the two points.
“I’m gonna fucking crucify him, Harvey,” Latimer said between mouthfuls. “Make no mistake about that.” The smoothness of the Bin 389 was at odds with the bile he was spouting.
“Language, Frank.”
“I know, I know. Sorry. It’s just that–”
“–And you don’t want to go making a martyr out of him, either. Look, we’re going to have to map out a campaign. I haven’t brought the subject up because I wanted to give you a bit of time to readjust. Get back to fighting fitness. But if you want the discussion now, we can have it.”
“Go on.”
“Okay. He’s been assassinating your character all over town, I’m afraid. By word of mouth and through the television and newsprint media he owns, as well as those of all his various contacts in the business. If it continues unchecked, there won’t be a single person of influence anywhere in the territory that doesn’t think you’re an arrogant, self-righteous thug…”
Not such a bad thing, thought Latimer. His old swagger had popped its head above the parapet for a peek.
“…You’ll be black-balled by every club, have your name and ID logged in the notebooks of every police officer as someone in the ‘watching brief’ category of ex-cons. A potential repeat offender, in other words. You won’t be able to sit at a bar or even take a leak without someone looking over your shoulder…”
Ah… The picture’s becoming a little clearer… Back into its trench his ego slunk.
“…Your friends won’t be able to take the risk of associating too closely with you, so you’ll mostly be sitting on your own in those bars, getting drunk and, let’s face it, angry. Your anger will lead to frustration or violence, or both. Even if you avoid another spell inside, your life will become so miserable you’ll want to leave town. Which is precisely what Tse wants, of course…”
“But how can he get away with it?” Latimer quizzed. “I mean: I committed a crime, judgement was passed, I served time, ‘repaid my debt’, and now I’ve been released. Chapter closed, as you put it. How can he slur me like that without being subjected to the full force of the law himself?”
“Dear boy. Power corrupts: it always has.” Cotswold twisted his wine glass in his fingers. “Just as the Roman Emperor would look out over all the splendours his city had to offer and think himself a god, so Howard Tse looks across the harbour from his eighty-eighth floor chambers and considers himself above reproach. The law itself, even. He’ll do anything it takes to destroy you, legitimate or otherwise, and not doubt for a moment that he’s in the moral ascendancy. And in terms of ‘getting away with it’, he’ll be using all his political connections, his guan xi to…”
…But Latimer was drifting off… His stare was focused somewhere beyond his companion, his ears no longer the antennae for his mind they normally were…
“…And that’s why we’ve got to act, before…”

…Something profound was happening to Francis John Latimer. Perhaps it was all the time he’d spent languishing inside, thinking, while the bile collected in his throat. Whatever the stimulus, he now began to reassess the meaning of his existence. Or lack thereof. Considered the futility of everything he’d been doing, up till now. Of where it was all headed. And why it was that for people like Tse, life’s journey was a breeze while he, Frank Latimer, was made to struggle; to fight tooth and claw for every inch of territory gained.
In an instant everything crystallised.
A fundamental change was needed. One that he alone could bring about.
Power.
Might.
Violence.
War.
The words whispered to him.

“…Frank…?”
“…Sorry, Harvey. I seemed to float away there for a moment. Bit overwhelmed by the day’s events, I s’pose. Didn’t sleep last night, either, which won’t have helped.”
“No problem, my boy. Like I said earlier, I’d planned on having this discussion only after you’d had time to settle back into a routine. Let’s park it for now – we can return to the matter in a day or so. Now, come on! Drink! There’s another bottle of this left in us yet!”

*

Latimer’s eyes closed the moment his backside hit the familiar comfort of the ferry seat. Approaching four-thirty in the afternoon it was too early for the returning office crowd, while mercifully he’d missed the maelstrom of the school run. In fact his timing between the two tides could not have been better. Slack water. The hundred-foot high-speed catamaran was virtually empty as a result.
If You’re up there, and it’s You who organised this, thank You, he sighed.
A little drunk from Cotswold’s generous hospitality, physically exhausted and emotionally drained, Latimer plunged instantly into a deep sleep.

Woken by a fellow passenger as the boat docked in Conservation Cove he felt like strangling the cheery welldoer. Instead, he thanked the woman ungratefully before rousing himself to disembark. He felt awful, in need of substantially more sleep. An entire day wouldn’t be bad for starters. There was also the prospect of meeting Rachel and not knowing what to say, or how to act. More an irksome chore than a task to dread, it bothered him nonetheless. If there’d been a way of avoiding it, if he could have sloped off somewhere else – disappeared completely, even – he would have done so. But there were many things he needed to accomplish. First priority was taking the fight back to Tse: for this, he knew, he needed the platform and stability of a home base. Somewhere to anchor each night.
Any port in a storm, he found himself thinking.

posted by Kirk at 4:05 am  

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Through The Godless Hours – A Reminder

Ketu’s cup rattled loudly in its saucer as he set it down, a little clumsily. Inwardly, he chastised himself – he had always been ham-fisted, but right now the distraction caused by his inelegant bungling of the china was distinctly unwelcome. Sack the juggler… he cursed. For Ketu knew that the matter he intended raising with the Lurah would require delicate handling and was keen as a result to stage an overt display of obeisance towards the official. The man was, after all, the final arbiter of all matters arising within the kampung’s boundaries – like it or not. It was vital, therefore, to gain his support: in short, the Lurah held the key to the financial assistance the boy needed.

Breathing deeply as the silence at last fell, Ketu sensed that the moment had come to explain the purpose of his visit.

“Once again, ’Pak, thank you for sparing the time to see me,” he began. “Like I said, I’m so very sorry to trouble you on a Sunday. Ma’af sekali. But, like me, you must be disturbed by what happened outside Sate Blora this afternoon…”

Ketu’s eyes then began to widen as the Lurah’s expression suggested, to the contrary, that this was in fact the first he had learned of the incident. For, cocooned in his comfortable – indeed, almost stately – official residence, the elder had instead been enjoying the serenity of a quiet afternoon’s Koranic study, blissfully unaware that, elsewhere within his jurisdiction, bedlam had broken out. And so when some rough fellow he did not recognise had unexpectedly turned up to seek an audience, he had in consequence not the faintest idea of what was to come. Suddenly embarrassed by his apparent display of ignorance before the unwelcome kampungan now sat inconveniently across the low table between them, the Lurah reflexively began to nod – as if he were, after all, fully aware of the situation and had already been weighing up what to do about it.

“Go on,” he cleverly instructed.

Falling for the ploy, Ketu relaxed in his simple way, growing quickly confident that a solution to the boy’s plight was just a short exchange away.

“We managed to get the lad to hospital fairly quickly,” he recounted, over-excitedly. “Commandeered a mikrolet!

“Boy? What boy?” the Lurah now asked – his question a surprising confession.

“But I thought you said… I mean I thought you… knew…?” Ketu quizzed, now crestfallen. What’s going on here? he began thinking to himself, while trying to read the man of office sat before him.

“Oh look, never mind. Just get on with it, would you, my friend?” insisted the Lurah. “It is a Sunday afternoon, as you say.”

It was now clear to Ketu that he would, after all, be facing an uphill struggle. That the Lurah’s posturing had been somewhat disingenuous: an act. Bravely, he pressed on:

“It was the boy that runs the newsstand – Anath’s his name,” he began his description of events. “He was hit in the shoulder. Stray bullet. There was a figh–”

“So you took him to hospital in a mikrolet,” the Lurah cut in, wishing to truncate what, for him, was already a rather dreary monologue. “That was good work – well done.”

A slight sneer – something he had carried with him all his life – had formed around his nose, causing his right nostril to flare. But Ketu would not be quieted, the knowledge of the capital city’s all-too-common injustices swiftly reawakening in him, driving him on:

“The thing is, ’Pak” – he spat the word – “the kid’s obviously got very little in the way of savings. He’s going to have a sizeable bill to foot when he’s fit enough to be discharged. Look: some of us even had to cobble the money together to get him admitted in the first place!”

Ketu thrust out the paper he had taken from the hospital receptionist’s clipboard, upon which his notes of the individual contributions were scribbled. Reluctantly, he withdrew it – rather more slowly – when the Lurah showed no interest in the document. It felt at once to Ketu as if he had held out his hand to shake another’s, only for it to be left hovering in mid-air. A man of considerable pride, this infuriated him, producing a raw anger in his heart that he could barely suppress. Clenching his teeth, he continued:

“I’ve promised to try and get some more money to the rumah sakit later today, and there will of course be other costs… like reimbursing the mikrolet’s crew… medicines the boy will need during his recovery… and so on…” he said.

But his words – as much as his growing antagonism – were ignored. Instead, the Lurah attempted to conclude the interview:

“A good analysis. As I’ve said: well done, my friend. It was a neighbourly deed, what you and your fellow kampung folk did. Now, if that’ll be all, I’ve got a number of duties to attend to this afternoon,” he said.

“Well, no. As a matter of fact, that isn’t all,” Ketu now insisted, rising from his uncomfortably low seat. “Look – without putting too fine a point on it, ’Pak, I thought you might be able to come to the boy’s aid. You know: use some of the official funds. From the kampung kitty. He is one of us, after all – pays his monthly dues, just like the rest of us.”

His voice had risen both in volume and pitch; the fact that he was also now towering over the Lurah causing for what was perhaps the first time during their encounter a degree of disquiet in the elder. But perhaps in evidence of how he had attained his standing within the community, the old man went immediately on the attack:

“But look, er – what’s your name?”

“Ketu.”

“Oh yes, Ketu. Look, Ketu: is he one of us? Really? This… this… oh, do help me with his name – I’m not so good with names.”

“Anath”

“Yes, Kepu. This Anath. Is he really one of us? You see, I’m not so sure, you know. Really. You see, if it’s the boy I’m thinking of, my understanding is that he’s just transitory – just passing through, on his way to somewhere else. He’s an orphan, isn’t he? A wanderer. No roots.”

“Well, ’Pak” – once more, the word was spat out like an unwanted bone – “I wouldn’t describe him that way at all. Not at all!”

Ketu had begun pacing from side to side, while the temperature within the Lurah’s rather well appointed residence finally reached boiling point.

“See, he’s lived here, in the same small lodgings, for almost five years now!”

Ketu’s breathing was becoming shallower, his chest heaving as he felt a growing sense of indignation well up inside him. His throat constricted to the point of embarrassment as he tried to spit out the next few words:

“See, we consider him a well-liked member of our community. Someone we feel confident that we ourselves could call upon, in times of need. And someone who also provides a useful local service.”

We? Who’s we?” came the cold and mocking reply.

Ketu now knew that the man before him was someone with whom he would never be able to see eye-to-eye. For it was clear that the Lurah was someone far more interested in preserving his own well being than he was in tending to his flock. And in this moment of resignation, Ketu was becalmed as he made a final throw of the dice:

“Look, ’Pak Lurahsir – can’t you see that I’m appealing to you directly because I can think of no other way to help the poor kid?” he quietly asserted. “He was sitting there, minding his own business, when someone shot him. And I think he deserves our help. I’m sure your books would confirm we have sufficient money in the coffers to assist, even if it’s in the form of a loan. Something he can repay, over time. Now: what do you say?”

“Well that’s exactly my point, isn’t it, my friend?” the Lurah sneered in response. “What if I were to allow him access to community funds and then he didn’t hang around long enough to pay it back? What would you kampung folk think of that, eh? And anyway, shouldn’t the person who shot him pay for his treatment? Why don’t you go and ask him?

But Ketu had already shown his back to the unelected man of office, and was walking out through the door, exiting the residence and its extensive surrounding compound as quickly as he could. For whilst he was a man without an intellect capable of delivering academic qualifications – not that his parents had ever had the means to provide him with a formal education in the first place – Ketu was intelligent enough to realise that no amount of persuasion or patient rationalisation was going to work on this occasion.

A highly principled man, he would not, however, be letting the Lurah sweep the problem conveniently under the carpet. No.

Oh, no, he now thought to himself. No, no, no. The boy will be getting every bit of assistance he needs, he determined, while mumbling a few profanities under his breath. I’ll make damn sure of that…

posted by Kirk at 12:06 am  

Sunday, March 8, 2009

The Number One Under Heaven (66)

It was a dewy-eyed Blake, then, who, moments after this seminal event, observed the fisherman begin gesturing to the skipper. The old man he had earlier wanted to rough up was now pointing to the horizon, at about 10° to port. And there, sure enough – situated some distance off, and surrounded by a gathering of eerie rock formations that speared their way up through the sparkle of the sea – was a huge white superyacht. Unharmed. Unharmed, he was instantly moved to repeat, over and again in his mind, his thoughts returning to the imminence of his unavoidable ordeal. My little girl’s gonna be okay… She’s okay…

For a fleeting moment, Blake felt he was so close to Sophie he could hear her breathe. His mind conjured the picture it wanted to: he saw her sleeping soundly in a cabin somewhere deep inside the vessel’s bowels. Unharmed, alone. Safe and sound. But a darker thought then began to take hold of him: who the hell was it that owned this fucking boat, anyway? And what kind of cunt would he be facing when boarding it? The hairs on Blake’s neck began to pucker up. And as the Glory then slowly grew bigger within his field of vision, he felt an involuntary shudder: it’s bound to be armed, he thought. Why wouldn’t it be?

“I don’t suppose they’ll just let us raft up to them: climb aboard, unchallenged,” he suddenly said aloud, while continuing to gaze wistfully into the near distance, towards her shining white hull. But his words, like Elle’s earlier, were drowned by the sea and the sound of the powerboat pushing through it. The love of his life, meanwhile, looked on unnoticing.

posted by Kirk at 3:38 am  

Thursday, February 26, 2009

The Number One Under Heaven (65)

Less than two hours later they were speeding across the Gulf of Tonkin in a powerful motorboat, skippered by its reluctant owner. Blake had lied when agreeing to meet the man’s outrageous financial demands, but that was a problem he would have to deal with later. If the weather stayed favourable and the tidal movements behaved as the charts said they would, he would be reunited with his daughter within a matter of hours. Blake felt apprehensive and elated at once: aware on the one hand that reaching the yacht where Sophie was held captive meant danger lay ahead, but thrilled simultaneously at the prospect of recapturing his ringleted seven-year-old and holding her in his arms once more. Never again will I be as neglectful as I’ve been, he chastised himself, recalling his errant behaviour of late.

And there was another emotion flowering in Blake’s heart. For the woman beside him was no longer just an object of desire – something he wanted to invade, to possess. She was now, he realised, someone he could not do without. Through her proximity and persistence, as much as the generous support she provided, Elle had become an essential spice in the curry of Blake’s happiness. Her presence was reawakening in him a sensation he had not experienced in years. Was making him wonder, in fact, why it had taken him so long to rediscover what he knew to be at the heart of his persona. Passion. In recent days, his preoccupation with finding Sophie had dominated every waking thought, blotting out all other emotion. But now that they were closer to their objective, he found himself thinking more about Elle, and in a much more serious – and sensual – way. He was becoming aware, slowly, of something that to any observer would have been self-evident: Adam Blake was in love.

Blake knew that much of the progress he had made in the search for Sophie was due to Elle’s instinct. He also appreciated the sacrifice she had made in order to be with him in this, his darkest of hours. And so when he now turned to face her, reaching across to take her hand in his, the feeling was of such intensity that he thought he might burst. Pulling her towards him, he bellowed the words directly in her ear, in an attempt to make himself heard above the engine noise. “I LOVE YOU!” The harsh crackle made her reel away. It sounded like someone had stamped on a full packet of crisps. “What? Why d’you say… that?” she recovered, a hand cupped instinctively to one side of her mouth. “’Cause it’s true…! I–” “But why…? Why now? Why’re you saying it now?” Leaving the question unanswered, Blake simply cast a look in Elle’s direction: a wordless affirmation of his devotion to this rock of a woman stood at his side.

“When this is all over, Elle, I want to be with you,” he added less intrusively, after a pause. “I can’t go back to her. My wife, I mean.” “We’ll talk about that later!” she replied, a little too quickly. For Elle had anticipated this moment. But the conspiratorial wind grabbed her words, snatching them away before they could reach his ears in what was perhaps a final confirmation of their common destinies. For Blake, in any event, no further talk was necessary. He was feeling confident, stood next to this woman. It was as if she had taken ownership of his heart. And it felt good, if a little itchy, this obsession. Most importantly, it made him feel young.

Not unexpectedly, then, Blake found in the ensuing moments the need for quiet reflection. For like a new passport, he had long ago given up resisting the wear and tear that time brought with it. But inside, he also knew that he had been the same person all his life. That there was no difference between Adam Blake: shy schoolboy wishing he had sufficient courage to ask the girl for a kiss and Adam Blake: Country Manager, Hong Kong. It was as if a pivotal moment had come and gone, in which his future had, momentarily, been held in the balance – only now to be determined. Absently, he watched his lover’s lips moving, without hearing the sound. Because for him, it did not matter what she said. He had already crossed over into some new and essential domain. One that she inhabited, alone: with only him for company. A place where, together, they could never be disturbed.

Suddenly and without thought, Blake pulled the wedding ring off his finger and tossed it into the foaming sea, astern. It was an unseen gesture made no less poignant by the fact. Adam Blake had turned. Had become, strangely, the man he had always been.

posted by Kirk at 9:59 am  

Friday, February 6, 2009

The Number One Under Heaven (64)

“He’s unavailable.” Elle replaced the telephone receiver into its cradle. Fuck, thought Blake. Then: “What else did they say?” “They said Gai’ll be back at the station later this afternoon.” “Fuck.” “Adam…” “Sorry, babe. It’s just so… fucking… frustrating…!” Blake was tugging at his hair. “I know, lover.” Now Elle’s hand replaced his, stroking his head in the same spot. “I’ve been thinking. Ever since I knew they brought her here,” she suddenly said. “What?” “There can only be one reason. It’s not a port town for nothing.” Blake was silent, momentarily. He rubbed his chin. “Where did the newspaper say the Customs guy was found?” he asked his pretty companion. “Qinzhou Marina.” “Of course. Of course… Fuck! Why didn’t we just go straight there before? It’s so fucking obvious…” “Come on then, let’s go. There’s no time to waste beating yourself up. Let’s get down there and see what we can find.”

Had the situation been different, the taxi driver would have felt the rough edge of Blake’s tongue, haggling as he was over how much he wanted for taking them to what he complained was an out-of-the-way destination. But on this occasion, the frazzled gwailo was even prepared to throw in a little extra, so long as the grubby Volkswagen got them there without delay, and by the quickest of routes.

Marching briskly along the dock after clambering out of the car, the couple scoured their surroundings for clues. Talk to me sweetheart, Blake repeated in his mind, hoping there would be another message left somewhere by his missing daughter. Their eyes focused somewhere in the near-distance, the couple almost missed a lone fisherman who was trailing his line over the pier’s edge. Head down, the old man appeared to be mumbling something to himself. Elle crept up slowly behind him, before crouching by his side, curious to hear what he was saying. Unmoving, the craggy fisherman appeared not to have noticed her.

“Poor gwaimei… No good… Bad thing they did… Bad thing…” he repeated, over and again, at a level barely above a whisper. Finding it difficult to make out the words, Elle moved her head closer to his, when her motion came suddenly within his field of vision. “Wah!” he yelled, jumping up suddenly. The hand he then thrust out to grab his toppling rod served only to send it more quickly over the edge and into the sea below. “Oh, no! I’m so sorry!” exclaimed Elle, instinctively raising a hand to cover her mouth. “I’ll… I’ll get you a new one… D-don’t worry,” she stammered. But the old man seemed uninterested. Staring at his feet, he continued to mutter the repetitive mantra that was possessing him. “What’s that you’re saying?” asked Elle, struggling a little with the local Guangxi dialect. “Gwaimei… Bad thing… Bad thing…” he continued, trance-like. “Did you say gwaimei?” Elle suddenly repeated, a sense of urgency now evident in her voice. Shaking his shoulder a little too strongly, she managed at least to gain his proper attention. “Did you say gwaimei?” she asked again. After a short pause the old man nodded, while raising a hand to point out to sea. “Not good. Not good.” “Adam!” shrieked Elle in the direction of her lover’s back, now some hundred yards along the pier’s edge. “Come here! Quick!

In the fifteen or so seconds it took Blake to cover the ground, Elle had established through a combination of word and gesture that there could be no mistake. The fisherman knew what had happened to Sophie. “He knows, Adam. He knows!” Blake’s reaction was predictable. Grabbing the old man by the collar he began shaking him, and act that caused Elle to slap his arm. “Stop it! Stop it, Adam! He’s upset about it – I can tell!” “Upset? I’ll show him what fucking upset means!” He raised his fist and was about to bring it crashing into the fisherman’s face when he felt the blow of a much smaller hand landing on his. Although slight, the shock of Elle’s punch was sufficient to stop him in mid-swing; the old man’s flinch proving not, after all, to be necessary.

For a moment the three stood staring at each other, the only sound being that of the water lapping at the pier’s edge. Then a wry smile began to form on Blake’s face, while Elle looked down shyly, embarrassed at her own effrontery. “Come on,” Blake said finally, breaking the silence. He released his grip from the fisherman’s coat. “Ask him what he can do for us. Whether he can take us to Sophie.”

posted by Kirk at 5:31 am  

Monday, January 26, 2009

The Number One Under Heaven (63)

Sophie Blake was sleeping snugly in her quarters aboard the Glory, content at having been rescued from the nasty Guilin gang. In her slumber, vague images of ‘Funny’ and ‘Scary’ vied for her attention – they were so nice, these men who had saved her – even if Scary looked a bit… well, scary. They cared for her, had fed her well and provided such a comfy bed… And there were visions of her mother, too – of a beaming Kate boarding the vessel from a launch, rather like she had, and rushing up to her, to hug her and swing her around in a twirl. To kiss her shiny, scented hair… Mummy… Mummy… she could almost hear herself purr…

Bazza, Bazza, Bazza… the former reggae star mouthed to his reflection in the bathroom mirror. What the fuck are you going to do? Wiping the last traces of foam from his newly razored chin, he shook his head with worry. Something Plums had said was beginning to nag him, to gnaw away at his subconscience. Stick to the usuwal stuff… Bazza almost smiled as he mouthed the words, mimicking the affected accent of his Cockney companion of these past few decades. Poor Plums, he mused, wanly. For whilst he loved him as assuredly as night follows day, Bazza knew that Harold Cheeseman had never truly been the champagne to his Guinness. That as a couple, their chemistry had never quite formed the perfect Black Velvet. And this had been the other reason his loyal ginger lover had been forced to witness years of his indulgence – his sordid debasing of child after child as he played out his fantasies in the only way he permitted himself; in the manner he had grown accustomed to, ever since staging that first party for the kids from his old orphanage.

Pursing his lips, Bazza pushed through the bathroom door with sudden purpose. He would make amends for his earlier outburst – seek forgiveness from the one person who had stood by him, all these years. Someone who also, he now realised, had a very valid point with regard to the ‘merchandise’ sleeping soundly in the VIP cabin along the corridor. For until now, it had always been possible for him to justify his errant behaviour on the grounds that his treatment of the child victims on whom he preyed was, on balance, humane and kind. They had always left him with more nourishment in their bellies than when they first arrived, and he was generous with the cash he gave them when sending them off, back to the filthy streets from whence they came. Never mind that many – perhaps all – were murdered before reaching their intended destinations, silenced lest they betray the brutes who pimped them, while handing the slayers all the profit their young bodies had secured. But that was not Bazza’s business.

Tiptoeing past her quarters, the faded Top of The Pops icon thought again of the girl sleeping soundly inside. Someone’s daughter, he reminded himself. Not just some impoverished urchin that’s been plucked from the roadside in some Asian slum. No – Plums was right. This was an unnecessary risk, and he would admit it – would try and quell the turbulent air that now flowed between them.

Arriving at the door, Bazza knocked gently. “Plums,” he half-whispered. “Open up, darling. I need to talk.” Hearing the click of the lock from inside, he paused momentarily before turning the handle and pushing it open, to enter. A rather doleful Plums was sitting on the edge of his bed, staring down at his feet. Bazza moved across the cabin to sit beside him. “Like two sparrows on a telegraph wire,” he quipped, trying to lighten the mood. But Plums was having none of it, such was the depth of his depression. You’re such a bloody woman, Harold Cheeseman, Bazza thought to himself, privately. But the words that parted his lips were kinder. “Plums,” he said, placing an arm around his loyal manservant’s shoulder. “I think you may be right, darling. I’m having second thoughts.” The look Plums flicked him in reward for this confession was truly heart warming. “Oh, guv’nor… Ah’m so pleased to ’ear it,” he replied. “But what the fuck are we going to do wiv ’er, then?” His eyes darted in the direction of the corridor, along which Sophie’s quarters were situated. Bazza dropped his head, the gravity of his mistake now manifesting itself as a crushing weight on top of it. “Right now, I haven’t got a clue, my love,” he almost sobbed. “I think I need a nap. I’m going to lie down for a while. Could you bring me some Panadol, dear?”

A few minutes later, Plums was backing through the portal leading into the Glory’s Owner’s Suite. A glass of milk was balanced carefully in the centre of the tray he carried, together with four white tablets arrayed neatly on a deep blue porcelain saucer. “’Ow’s yer ’ead, boss?” he enquired of the prone figure on the bed. “Don’t worry, Plums, my dear old friend. I’ve fucked up again, I know. Big time, this time. But we’ll find a way out of it. We always do, don’t we?” “So what we gonna do then, guv?” Plums persisted. Bazza, meanwhile, slowly raised an arm, to rest the back of his hand on his forehead. “I just don’t know. I really don’t. Help me out here, Plums. What the fuck are we going to do?” “Why don’t we try an’ get ’er back to China?” “I’ve been thinking of that. Question is: how?” “Can’t we get ’old o’ the same geezers who arranged t’fetch ’er? Ask ’em t’come back ’n take ’er, or somefing?”

Bazza shot up like a bolt and swung his legs over the edge of the bed. At the mention of the men with whom he had originally negotiated in order to acquire the merchandise, there was something he had suddenly remembered. Some terrible oversight. “Shit on sticks, Plums! I’ve just realised something!” he yelled, a look of sheer terror written across his face. “Whassat?” “I haven’t fucking paid for her yet! And if I’m right about the type of men I’ve been dealing with, we’re already in the shit. Deep, deep, deep fucking shit. Fuck!

posted by Kirk at 2:21 am  

Friday, January 9, 2009

The Number One Under Heaven (62)

“Adam, you’ve got to involve the local police. You can’t do this on your own. You don’t have the resources, the… you know, the guile to take on a whole gang like this.” Blake stared back at her impassively, his arms folded. “Look, you couldn’t even…” But Elle trailed off. “Go on, then. Say it,” her lover retorted, angrily. “Say it!” “Adam. Honey. I’m sorry.” Her voice was quieter, now. “But think about it, Adam. Please. Look – you couldn’t even manage to keep hold of that idiot back there. You took your eye off him when you lost your temper and allowed him to slip away, unnoticed. What’s going to happen if you do the same thing when you’re up against the real snakeheads? I’m scared for you, baby. These guys you’re going to be dealing with are hardened criminals. And whether you like it or not, they’re not dumb, like that lowlife. They’re clever. That’s why they’re at the top of their tree. They’ll hurt you, baby. This guy Din, for example. He’s probably the mastermind. The guy who set it up. Hired our friend and his pals t–” “I’m going to fucking kill him with my bare hands!” Blake burst out, suddenly. He slapped the wall of their hotel room so hard that he felt the sting rush all the way up his arm, to his shoulder. “Adam! Don’t you see that this is what I’m talking about?” Elle screamed at him. “You can’t control your temper! You’re too emotional. Too close to it. To get Sophie back, you’re going to need the help of people who can think objectively. People who’ve dealt with his type before. Professionals. The police, Adam!”

Elle’s eyes sought out his, appealing to his rational side. But Blake would not return her gaze. Turning instead to rest his forehead on the wall, it seemed for a moment that he would break down. “I can’t stand the thought of them hurting my little girl,” he gasped, the helplessness of the situation getting the better of him. “Please, don’t let them do that…” “Come on, Adam,” Elle soothed him, stroking his hair. “She’s going to be all right. Let’s give my plan a try. Look, if the police don’t respond as they should, we’ll do it your way. Deal?” “Ok… Okay,” Blake stammered. Breathing deeply, he rubbed his hands around his face, trying to gain some composure. “But I tried taking the official route back in Guilin, before you arrived. And it wasn’t easy to get past the front desk, even. If these clowns here adopt the same attitude, I’m going to walk away, very quickly, and take the law into my own hands.” “OK, that’s a deal,” Elle confirmed, a little uneasily. But as Blake was talking his thoughts had begun to wander, and he was suddenly reminded of his conversation the previous day with DCI Gai. It now occurred to him that Guilin municipal police force’s second-in-command might have further news to report. “Babe, there’s someone we need to get in touch with. Urgently,” he anxiously imparted. “Who’s that?” Elle quizzed him. “Name’s Gai. Deputy Chief Inspector Gai, of the Guilin police. Spoke perfect English. Knew about the case. Seemed to be pursuing things. Actively. I was supposed to go back and see him this morning, but what with everything that’s gone on, I completely forgot.” “We can ask the local station to call him,” suggested Elle, helpfully.

Somewhat encouragingly, the desk sergeant in Qinzhou police headquarters showed considerable interest in the tale that Elle recounted, turning over the newspaper article in his hands and taking down notes in considerable detail, including the names S-o-p-h-i-e B-l-a-k-e and Bei Din Din. But, flattering to deceive, he ultimately disappointed when dismissing the couple with a simple: “Xie xie.” Thank you. “I will refer the matter upstairs, when my superiors will decide what to do about this… er, case. You may go now.” “What’s he saying?” asked Blake, noticing the deflated look on her face. Ignoring him, Elle continued to plead with the young sergeant, now gesticulating with her hands. “For fuck’s sake!” Blake suddenly screamed at her, causing the officer to jump. “Doesn’t he understand that time is slipping away? Tell him they need to act now, before something… something terrible… Oh, look I told you this is what’d happen!” On hearing his shouts, two or three other policemen emerged from the office situated behind the front desk. Elle, meanwhile, continued to remonstrate with the sergeant; sensing, however, that she was fighting a losing battle. Finally, the young officer stubbornly dug in his heels. “We have a thing called due process here, Madam,” he said to her, officiously. “Due process will be gone through and the matter you have described will receive proper attention, in good time. Now as I said, you may leave.”

“Ask him to call Gai,” Blake instructed, sighing. With some difficulty, he was managing to regain some of his composure. “Could you at least do one thing for us? Before we go… officer?” Elle begged. “What’s that?” “Just place a call for us. To Guilin police. DCI Gai. Please?” At the mention of the Guilin police force, the young sergeant sneered inwardly. What the fuck does she think those pricks can do? he asked himself. Picking up the notes he had taken, he made to turn. “Wait here. I’ll see what I can do,” he said, before swivelling on his heels and disappearing through the door to the office, followed by the other uniformed men. Inside, he handed the papers to a subordinate, with the instruction to search the database of known criminals for the name Bei Din Din. Then, making no effort to contact Guilin’s Deputy Chief Inspector, he sourced their switchboard number from a directory and scribbled it down, before re-emerging behind the reception desk. “He’s not there,” he lied, handing the small piece of paper to Elle. “Here’s the number. You can try later. Zai jian.Good bye.

In the back office, the subordinate had entered the words into the computer’s search engine, drawing a blank. For Bei Din Din had no criminal record. Did not exist within the domain of known villains. Cam Pho, on the other hand, was near the top of both Vietnam and China’s most wanted lists.

posted by Kirk at 8:33 am  

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Through The Godless Hours (81)

Captain Farid’s eyes were smarting as he sped back around the ringroad, in the direction of the mothballed housing development. But the stinging there was nothing compared to the mental scars events at Endang’s had inflicted upon him. Scars that would have no time to heal. Taking one hand off the wheel, he rubbed at the salty dryness, something that provided only temporary relief. Although his blubbering had long since ceased, the military man’s expression was hardly one of calm – more that of steely determination, tinged with an element of frustration that it was taking so long to reach his destination. The occasional heavy twitch provided further evidence of the latent energy that seemed likely to burst from him at any moment.

Finally reaching the highway spur, he forced himself to slow the car before swinging through the long sweep that led to the entrance gate. The sound of the car’s tyres was different inside the deserted compound, alternately scrunching over rubble and splashing through the odd puddle that had yet to evaporate following the afternoon’s downpour. Barely noticing, now, the unfinished buildings that had previously stoked such imagery in his mind, the Captain stared resolutely ahead, while the shadows cast by his headlights danced left and right.

At the end of the muddy road he brought the car to a halt, once more facing the untidy patch of land that had once been fertile rice paddy. Captain Farid killed the engine and switched off the lights: the stillness in result mirroring the calm that now descended like a cloak over his body. His mind, equally, had reconciled itself with the inevitable. The end of the road… he repeated in his mind, without mirth. Slowly reaching across to the glove compartment, he took a few silent breaths before quietly opening it and lowering the flap so that it, too, made no sound. It took a moment for his fingers to locate the object for which they searched when once again, cold to the touch, the instrument of death was in his grip.

Bringing up the gun slowly and deliberately, Captain Farid once more pressed the oily barrel against his lips…

Bellies half full of rice, the pair of street kids were kicking through the discarded bottles, cans and other rubbish that littered the lifeless patch of earth in front of the lean-to serving as their home. Raising their heads simultaneously, they were suddenly drawn to the irregular flashing of headlights approaching from over on the other side. Their eyes followed the car until, ultimately, it came to rest. Nudging each other, they began to make their winding way across the wasteland, careful to remain low lest they be detected. The brothers had often crept up on the occupants of cars that made their way out to this isolated spot, where lovers came to grope, or illicit deals were cut away from the glare of prying eyes. They were just the kind of kids Captain Farid had always loathed. The type of lowlife offspring he had, on at least one previous occasion, blithely exterminated. Unaware of the potential danger that sat in wait across the waste ground, the boys’ excitement blotted out all else. Their fervent hope, this hitherto uneventful evening, was to surprise a courting couple and perhaps get a glimpse of some female flesh.

Barely able to suppress their giggles, the boys circled around in a wide arc, undetected as they then approached the Timor from behind. In their excitement, they failed to notice the military plates; the darkness such that the car’s telltale shade of green was also obscured. Stooping, their pace had slowed by the time they reached the rear of the vehicle. There, the brothers exchanged a knowing look, before dropping to the ground. Crawling forward while making as little sound as possible, they monitored each other’s progress by glancing sideways beneath the vehicle until, simultaneously, they came level with the car’s front doors. On a whispered count: one, two… three! the boys suddenly bobbed up either side of the car, their faces pressed hard against the windows.

posted by Kirk at 12:12 pm  
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