Kaptain's Blog

The writings and musings of The Kaptain

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

The Number One Under Heaven (61)

While essentially an unwelcoming place, Qinzhou’s central post office did at least provide access to the business pages they now scoured. Poring over the Chinese characters, Elle found the entry in the telephone directory listing local car hire firms. “Here. Here they are,” she said, running a finger down the list. “At least fifty, by the look of it.” With a watchful eye on their captive – who he had managed to clean up a little in a nearby public convenience – Blake leaned across to mull over the meaningless symbols. Once again, he was reminded of how important Elle was to the quest to locate his daughter. “Well done,” he said meekly, perhaps still shaken by his actions back in the café. Then, offering her his cell phone, he gestured for her to begin calling them, urgently. But Elle waved him away, already dialling the first number into her own hand held device.

It was almost thirty minutes before she had whittled the companies down to a shortlist of three. Blake and the petty crook had spent the time surveying each other dubiously, while trying to avoid eye contact. “These are our best bet,” Elle suddenly piped up, slicing through the uneasy atmosphere. “Although the conversation I had with this one–” she pointed to the third “–was confusing.” Blake rubbed his chin. “None of the others have a black people carrier, Adam,” his lover finally concluded, looking sympathetically into his eyes. “OK, let’s get going,” he replied, already turning to head back across the large hallway in the direction of the exit, pushing the lowlife abductor ahead of him as he did. Once outside, they managed after some delay to hail one of the infrequent taxis to pass, only to find as they settled inside that the driver had no idea how to reach their intended destination. Thinking on her feet, Elle dialled the car hire firm’s number before passing the phone to her left. Slamming his hand on the wheel a few grunts later, the driver gunned the engine into life. And while Blake was sighing in frustration at the time wasted, Elle was quietly encouraged by the curses the man continued to utter under his breath. For it meant their destination had to be close.

“Get him to wait,” barked Blake as they climbed out a few minutes later. “Tell him I’ll make it worth his while.” Elle remonstrated with the driver, who reluctantly agreed, while once more taking out his annoyance on the steering wheel. Jogging up from behind, she then caught up with Blake and their captive as they were pushing open the door leading into a dingy office, where a portly but otherwise unremarkable Chinaman sat smoking behind his desk. Again, it was Elle who did the talking, but after what seemed an eternity, the heated argument that appeared to have taken place had clearly drawn a blank. Elle turned away, her expression glum, while the man behind the desk simply shrugged. “It’s not the place,” Blake’s lover said, simply. “He hasn’t got any people carriers at all. Just lured us here in the hope we’d hire something else, instead.” Blake glared at him over his shoulder as the three promptly left to jump back into the taxi, which pulled away too sharply, and before the doors were properly closed. “Hey, asshole!” yelled Blake. But Elle was already dealing with the situation, reprimanding the errant driver, who seemed, this time, willing to pay heed.

Pulling up outside the yard of the second shortlisted company, their hopes were immediately lifted: a black Toyota Alphard was parked immediately outside the shack that was the firm’s office. Blake could not resist peering inside as they passed alongside it, without gaining any further clue. Talk to me, Sophie, he silently begged. Talk to Daddy, sweetheart. Moments later they pushed open the flimsy door, where a filthy man with a cigarette stuck to his bottom lip grunted some form of acknowledgement from behind a cluttered counter. Blake noted how the cigarette flapped up and down as he spoke. But for the circumstances, he would have found the sight amusing.

While Elle began talking to the man, appealing for his concentration while she probed, Blake’s eyes wandered about the place, surveying the room and the counter in front of him, searching for clues. Talk to me… After a while, he began to experience a sense that something was out of place. Or that a signal was being received, somewhere within. Talk to me, sweetheart… What was it? He scoured the room again. Nothing. But the subliminal messenger kept knocking. Poring over the contents of the counter, left to right, he suddenly stopped, his gaze instantly drawn back towards the left hand side, as if pulled by some invisible string. There. There it was. Nestling among some keys within a plastic container on the surface was something shiny and white. Blake moved left and reached into it, gripping the object between finger and thumb. He held it up to inspect it more closely. A tooth. The milk tooth of a young child. Sophie Blake’s. His little girl’s. It had to be!

Only vaguely aware of the conversation that was taking place between Elle and the car hire man, Blake suddenly lunged over to grab him by the shirt, half pulling him across the counter. From an inch away, he screamed into the hapless individual’s face: “Who hired that fucking car? Eh? Two days ago! Who hired the car?” Blake’s arm was outstretched behind him, pointing in the direction of the parking lot. “Give me a name, you cunt! Give me a fucking name, or I’ll… I’ll fucking…” Choking, the man was finding it difficult to spit out anything in response. Fleet of foot, Elle had meanwhile taken the opportunity to sprint behind the counter, where she was already leafing through a handwritten register. “Adam! Stop!” she yelled, as her finger hovered over an unusual name. Slowly, Blake loosened his grip, prompting the man to cough before hacking up and spitting a throatful of phlegm on to the ground. “His name is Bei. Bei Din Din,” related Elle, excitedly. “Adam. We’ve got a name!” And it was true: finally, the pair had their first clue as to the identity of the mastermind behind the abduction. The first concrete fact upon which to build their investigation.

But this vital piece of information had been won at a price, for as they turned to leave the petty thief they had picked up back in Guilin was nowhere to be seen.

posted by Kirk at 12:03 pm  

Friday, December 12, 2008

Through The Godless Hours (80)

“Doctor will be so glad you’re here, ’Bu,” said the receptionist, as Ramani enquired of her son. “Can you confirm what your blood type is?” “B negative. Now where is my boy? I must see him. Now,” she insisted, a little too assertively. “Of course,” the other woman, slightly put out, agreed. Without adding to their exchange, the pair then swished through the doors that led to the ward, while the old man who had accompanied her up to this point, seeming to know his place, sat dumbly on a plastic chair beside a couple sat like bookends.

Ramani could barely recognise the figure to which she was led. It must be a mistake. That’s not Anath… He’s… he’s not… not pale, like that. Not that colour… And indeed, as a result of the oxygen mask, the wires that criss-crossed all around him and – not least – his deathly pallour, this mother could be forgiven for not recognising her own son, such was his dramatic transformation from a healthy young man into a waif clinging to life in a place that had only reluctantly admitted him for treatment. Ramani suddenly gasped as the realisation that this was, after all, her boy finally hit her.

“He’s going to be OK,” said the receptionist, noticing. “The worst is over,” she further reassured her, placing a hand on her arm. “Now, we need some of your blood, ’Bu: quite a lot, in fact” – a statement that produced the merest of nods in response, as Ramani slumped into a chair beside Anath’s bed, her hand still covering her mouth in shock.

By now, the boy had been lying immobile for several hours; the optimism the receptionist expressed more an attempt to lighten the mood than something that was based on medical prognosis. But such was their bond that from somewhere deep inside him, the flicker of a smile began twitching around the corners of the boy’s mouth, as he somehow sensed the presence of his mother, close by. Perhaps it was the fact that his father had never been around that had led to the development of this near-psychic attachment between the two; but whatever, her being there seemed to provide an instant filip, as if this alone boosted his chances of survival.

“Ah, you must be the mother,” said the Doctor, as he suddenly swept into the ward to cast his eyes upon Ramani for the first time. “We’re going to need some blood from you, Ibu… Ibu–” “Ramani. It’s Ramani. And you can take all you like,” she replied. “Only bring the equipment here: I want to stay with my boy.” Turning, the Doctor could not help but take a second look at her: still stunning, despite the years.

Pushing along a trolley upon which the requisite equipment was housed, he returned with an orderly to find that the boy had woken properly for the first time since his admission, a stream of bile dangling from one corner of his mouth, while the mask had been roughly pulled to one side. Ramani was standing over Anath, supporting his head as the convulsions rippled through his upper body. The lad retched heavily as the Doctor approached, sending out a shower of sputum that spattered his mother’s legs. “Nurse!” the Doctor called out, to no-one who was listening.

Anath’s throat was sore: parched. “Ma?” he rasped, as his eyes at last began to focus. “S-sorr–” “Shhh…” she responded, now laying the back of her hand on his forehead. God, I’m thirsty, Anath now realised. As if by telepathy, Ramani rose to search for water, while the Doctor placed a hand on her shoulder with perhaps a little too much familiarity, gesturing for her to remain seated for the transfusion. Making conversation, he then began to relate his prognosis of the boy’s condition: “You’ll probably find this difficult to believe, but your boy’s been lucky.” Neither mother nor son responded. “The bullet almost passed right through him. We found it just under the skin at the back of his shoulder.” Smiling, the Doctor held up a petri dish containing the offending item. “Can’t let him keep it, I’m afraid,” he said, shaking it around. “The police will no doubt want it to try and identify the gun.” He tucked the covered dish back into the front pocket of his gown. “The good news is that it missed everything. Miraculous, really: no major artery, muscle or anything else was impacted or torn. We’ve thoroughly cleaned and sealed the wound and, apart from some bruising and pain as it heals inside, he’ll feel very little ill-effect.”

But mother and son were ignoring the Doctor’s monologue, staring quietly instead into each other’s eyes. “Ma,” the young man began again, his voice cracking with the dryness of his throat. “How did… you know? What made you come here?” “Just call it a mother’s instinct,” Ramani softly replied.

posted by Kirk at 11:57 pm  

Sunday, December 7, 2008

The Number One Under Heaven (60)

The journey to Qinzhou was an uncomfortable ride on sticky seats, over worn out track. Blake kept close vigil on the Zhongguo ren sat opposite him, instinctively unable to trust the man. “Want some fruit?” Elle piped up, a little way into the journey, while plucking a pear from her bag. “No,” replied Blake testily, before: “Sorry. It’s just tha–” “It’s OK,” his lover reassured him. “Don’t worry, Adam. We’ll be there soon.”

Outside, the indistinct Chinese countryside was flashing by – mile after mile of agricultural smallholding criss-crossed by countless dirt tracks and punctuated, on occasion, by the random clusters of buildings forming yet another nowhere town. The day itself had turned into something as dreary as the expressions on the passengers’ faces, while the sky was as heavy with foreboding as Blake’s heart. He was about to say something when, unannounced, the pickpocket suddenly stood up. Without hesitation, Blake reached out and grabbed him – a move that caused some consternation among those sitting about them. Hearing the petty thief’s grunted objections, Elle was prompted to speak. “Adam – he needs the toilet. Let him go,” she instructed. Releasing his clutch, Blake was nonetheless tempted to follow the man, fearing his intentions. But what can he do, anyway? he suddenly figured. Jump to his death? No: if the lowlife had changed his mind and was planning to make a run for it, he would do so upon arrival in Qinzhou. That much was surely obvious. Blake made a mental note to keep a particularly close eye on the man when they reached the end of their journey.

Some time after the petty crook had returned to his seat, the squeal of brakes announced that they had reached their destination – the grimy platforms of the port city’s central railway station sliding ever more slowly past, while the train itself began to shudder. Blake took up the rear as the three alighted, sticking closely to the man’s back lest his earlier hunch proved correct. “I’m starving. Can we eat first?” said Elle as they stepped down, with what was more of an instruction than a plea. Blake silently nodded his assent, after which they trudged off through the station turnstiles and out into the street to find a café. Noticing at this point the helplessness and fear etched into his face, Elle quietly interlinked her arm with Blake’s: an act which almost brought a smirk to the pickpocket’s face – something he thought better of, however, once he caught sight of the woman’s knowing glare.

“The first thing we need is a phonebook – we need a list of all the car hire companies,” she encouraged, as they waited for their dim sum to arrive. “You’re right: they’d have used a hire car,” Blake replied. “The old woman said it was big. Black, right?” “Yeah, and he said he thinks it was a Toyota.” Elle jabbed a hostile thumb in the petty thief’s direction. “Fucking animals,” said Blake, staring directly at him. “Anger’s going to get us nowhere,” his lover quickly replied, denying her own feelings. “Sorry – you’re right,” Blake admitted, glumly. Squirming as if he could sense what was being said, the man opposite them had nowhere to look, his eyes darting about in search of some kind of distraction. “And there’s another thing,” she added. “Which is?” “He’s not the ringleader, this one here.” Again, she spiked a thumb in his direction. “Not clever enough.” “No?” “No. He’s just a pawn. A paid hand. There’s not a single original thought inside that fucking wooden skull of his…” “And you say I need to calm down,” Blake chastised her.

It was just then that Elle, ignoring his comment, noticed the ashen look that had begun to creep over their reluctant associate’s face. Following his stare, her eyes were directed to the front page of a local daily, where the headlines bore witness to the sorry tale of suspected murder: that of a promising young Customs official, no less. She noticed that the man appeared fixated by the garish characters announcing the poor fellow’s demise, accompanied as was customary by a series of touched-up photographs, resplendent in vivid red.

“Adam!” she suddenly burst, her mind at once contriving the possibility of a link. “He’s scared! I think… I think there might be a connection.” “What’re you talking about?” Blake responded, not quite catching her point. “Look at him: he’s fucking petrified!” “I have no idea what you’re on about,” Blake continued, flustering. “The headlines in the newspaper! Some Customs official was found dead on the quayside – I… I think there’s some kind of link… It’s like… like he knows something! Look at his expression!”

With this, Blake’s mind and body synchronised in a sudden burst of activity – every ounce of frustration he possessed crystallising into a parcel of energy he directed with shocking, unexpected force into his hapless victim’s face. The outflow of blood was sickening, drenching their clothes and spattering the tabletop with globules of scarlet fluid that was, to all intents, still living. Elle retched before reeling away from where they were sat, while Blake, swallowing, grabbed the semiconscious man by the arm and began dragging him towards the door.

In his other hand, the copy of the local rag remained tightly gripped.

posted by Kirk at 10:37 pm  

Friday, December 5, 2008

Through The Godless Hours (79)

It was not a religious affair, Ketu knew: more a simple dispute between a few kampung folk and the man who controlled the coffers, the Lurah. Nevertheless, he knelt to seek the advice of his God, as he did in all other matters. And on this occasion, as in others, he was rewarded for his faith. Of course, it now occurred to him. That’s what I should do. Go and see him again. Give him a chance to do the right thing. Change his mind. Careful not to end his prayers with unseemly haste, he nevertheless curtailed his contemplations much sooner than he normally would, and made ready to slip out into the night.

Rap, rap, rap!

Ketu’s knuckles connected with the door, sharply. “’Pak Lurah! ’Pak Lurah! Open up! I need to talk! Please!” There was a lengthy pause and he was about to knock again when the door was opened inwards with such velocity that the air was sucked from behind him. “You again,” sneered the occupant, irritated at this further intrusion into what should have been a restful Sunday. “What is it now? What do you want?” “’Pak. Please. I’m appealing to your better nature. Help us out, here. In this difficult situation we’re in. We don’t have much money, and the boy has even less. I know you’re sitting on enough cash to help him out. Look – I’ve thought about what you said earlier. About your concerns. What if I were to act as the kid’s guarantor? If he doesn’t repay his debt, then I’ll take responsibility. It’ll be me who owes the money. How about that?” “I told you before: go and ask whoever it was who shot him to foot the bill. Isn’t that more appropriate?” The Lurah’s intransigence was beginning to infuriate Ketu, and it told in the next words he spoke: “’Pak Lurah, I didn’t come here to make threats. But I’m warning you that if you fail to come to our aid – fail in your duty as our leader, as I see it – then the consequences will be dire, and will be on your head.” “Get out of here with your threats!” the older man screamed back at him, now furious at the effrontery of what was, after all, a mere kampungan. “Get out, I say!” “Then on your head be it! On your head… sir!” yelled Ketu defiantly, as he disappeared off into the darkness…

In the wood-panelled study of his luxury home, the General woke with a start. Slumped in his chair, he observed the half-empty bottle of cognac on the desktop gradually take form, at an angle of approximately forty-five degrees. Forcing himself to sit upright, the next object to come into focus was his Cabana, long-extinguished but somehow still emitting its acrid stench. Was all that… some kind of… dream? the General quizzed himself, vaguely recalling the ugly exchange that had taken place between him and his elder son. His head still half-cocked, it looked almost as if the uniformed man were listening to the sound of distant artillery fire. No… No it wasn’t… the demons in his mind now intervened, teasing him. Not a dream… Oh, no… Nothing as convenient as that… No… It was real, alright… Your boy’s a bencong… A fucking banshee… Snatching up the bottle in front of him, he sloshed another three fingers into his glass, angrily. It bothered him little that almost half the liquid racing around the bowl of the goblet splashed back over its rim to spatter the desktop. Taking a large gulp, the General then exhaled through his nose, once the burn allowed. What am I going to do about him? he pondered, wearily. What… am… I going… to do?

Another set of images began to fill his mind, as this additional, heavy dose of alcohol topped up what was already in his system. His wife. Screaming. Hysterically. As if – like everything else to happen that was not quite to her liking – it was all his fault. Screeching into his face. Pummelling her fists into his broad, but sagging, chest: What have you done? What have you done? At a time he needs us more than ever, you kicked him out? What right did you have to do that? And on my behalf? You… you monster! It was after she had slammed the door behind her and left him alone to fester in his study that the Camus had been uncorked, enabling him to embark upon a one-man drinking contest – destination: oblivion.

And now he was returning there, necking the rest of the contents of his crystal goblet before pouring another huge slug, while gazing absently at the pistol lying on his desk. At first slightly out of focus, an image that slowly sharpened while his thoughts, from nowhere, began also to crystallise. And as he continued to stare at the gun, the blood drained from his face as the darkest possible scenario occurred to him, then took hold of his troubled mind. A shiver ran up his spine at the morbid contemplation. A frightening vision of his son, sufficiently unbalanced to consider taking the easy way out. No, no, no… Not that… Please! he screamed inwardly.

posted by Kirk at 10:36 pm  

Monday, November 24, 2008

The Number One Under Heaven (59)

“One macarwoni cheese for one very speshaw pwincess,” said Plums in an affected manner, while serving up the steaming bowl. “Be carefuwl, sweet’eart. Iss very ’ot.” “Thanks, Mister. What’s your name?” the little girl asked cheerily, blowing on her spoon so hard that some flecks of cheese spattered the crisp white tablecloth the manservant had laid out carefully only moments earlier. He stared at the bright yellow spots for a few seconds before replying. “’Arry. You can cawl me ’Arry.” “Harry it is,” Sophie stated, a little prissily. “Is this your ship?” “No – it belongs to the guv’nor. Bazza’s ’is name.” The ringleted girl chuckled, an act which produced conspicuous dimples either side of her mouth. “Bazza? That’s a funny name!” “Yes, it is,” a voice suddenly boomed out from behind, making her jump. “It’s a funny name for a funny uncle!”

Inhaling sharply, the young girl turned with a start to look at him for the first time. She felt instantly that he looked somewhat strange, although she did not really know why. Was it something about the fake blonde, pill-box head of hair? The way it contrasted with his coffee-coloured skin? “You look scary,” she suddenly chirped. In the few seconds’ silence that followed, Bazza looked warily at Plums, seeking to gauge his partner’s mood from any facial expression on offer. “I’m not scary! I’m nice – aren’t I, Plums?” he insisted, finally.

But Plums was in no mood to lend his support to Bazza’s little charade. In fact, he felt downright hostile – something his boss was quick to detect. The former reggae star now threw his carrot-topped companion a challenging glare, causing the weaker willed man to turn away. “Plums?” Sophie suddenly piped up, not noticing the frost that had crystallised in the air between the two men. “I thought your name was Harry?” Plums turned and offered her a weak smile that was more a look of pity. “That’s funny!” Sophie continued, giggling now. “Plums is a fruit! You’re funny! I’m going to call you ‘Funny’,” she chattered away, waving a clammy finger at him. “And you’re ‘Scary’.” She pointed at Bazza, this time, having regained some of her earlier confidence. “Funny and Scary, Funny and Scary,” she sang in a playground melody, in between a succession of puffs blown on to the piping hot macaroni. “Have you got any toys?” she then asked, innocently, in so doing lighting the touch-paper in Bazza’s sordid mind.

Plums, meanwhile, was becoming increasingly anxious. “A word, guv. I need words wiv ya. Now,” he suddenly blurted. Breathing heavily, he withdrew in a huff to the galley, half hoping that his commonly volatile boss would not follow. Terse instructions were not something he doled out regularly to the man who had kept a roof over his head for the past twenty or so years. But the erstwhile reggae star was not about to let a comment like that drop. “Shit on sticks, Harold Cheeseman! What the fuck was all that about?” he hissed, barging through the galley’s swing doors. “Are you trying to frighten her? Spoil everything? Jealous again, are we? Christ, you’re pathetic, Harry.” Looking guiltily down at his feet, Plums knew that he had overstepped the mark. That the unwritten code governing their relationship – the one that enabled him to accept, and even condone, Bazza’s grotesque behaviour – had been violated. And Plums also knew that he was in serious trouble, for his boss never referred to him by his real name. Unless he was exceptionally angry, that was.

But despite all this, and his generally timid nature, Plums was somehow still able to summon the courage to make his true feelings known. Perhaps it was the depth of his growing revulsion for what was in store for the pretty seven-year-old back there in the VIP cabin. Or the fear that someone would come looking for this pretty little western girl who, unlike all the others before her, was missing from a home somewhere. Whatever, he steeled himself before launching into the first real challenge he had ever laid at Bazza’s feet. “I don’t fink you can go froo wiv this, guv,” he began, a little tremulously. “It’s way too risky.” Pressing on, he tried to rationalise his assertion. “I fink you should cawl the ’howle fing off. Stick to the usuwal stuff.” “Look. I’m sick of those dirty little brown things, OK?” spat Bazza angrily, in response. By now, he was holding Plums by the collar. “I want something pure, right? Not dirty little brown scumbags any more. Pure. White. Clean. Understand, you meddling fucker?” He shook Plums with every word.

What the fuck’s up with him? Bazza reflected, returning to the VIP suite. He could still hear Plums’ sobs coming from the galley as he slowly slid open the cabin door. Inside, he found Sophie staring out of a large porthole, marvelling once more at the incredible rock formations jutting up from the sea. But the bowl of macaroni cheese remained only half-eaten on the table and there was a note of concern in her voice when she quietly spoke: “I heard some shouting. Is Funny Harry upset?” “No, no, no, my dear. Don’t you worry about dear old Plums,” Bazza reassured her in reply. “Right then,” he added, more upbeat now, while rubbing his hands together. “Did you say you wanted to play? What about ‘My Little Pony’? Shall we play that?” Sophie squeaked her excited approval.

Eavesdropping on their mirth from the galley, Plums continued to feel anxious. He was familiar with the sequence of events that always started with this playful prelude, having witnessed it a hundred times before. Partaken, on occasion. But this time it was all wrong, he felt. Much too risky. Unnecessary, too, when there was so much availability out there, on the streets of Hanoi, Hai Phong and elsewhere.

Bazza, meanwhile, was fishing out a boxed set of an assortment of plastic horses from a storage locker stacked high with children’s toys. “That’s not ‘My Little Pony’!” exclaimed Sophie, on seeing what he had produced. “That’s just horses!” “But we can make pretend, though,” the erstwhile reggae star replied. He picked up one of the cheap mouldings and pushed it around the table top in a kind of bucking motion. “Yay!” squealed Sophie gleefully. “That’s cool, Scary! I like you!”

posted by Kirk at 4:33 am  

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Through The Godless Hours (78)

When she met his eyes Ramani had been jolted, almost physically. It was as if Daman’s soul were suddenly passing through her body. She could almost hear its swish as it laced around her neck, and ears. Perhaps it was her surprise at the ease with which their chance encounter – the first in twenty-five years – had occurred. For while she had always instinctively known that they would one day meet again, not once had she conceived of walking straight into him right upon her impromptu arrival in the capital. And if it were this easy for them to meet, why had they waited so long, endured so much pain?

Ramani knew she must have wobbled momentarily, weak at the knees, because the old man who had accompanied her throughout her journey was now helping her up those same steps which Daman, her only ever lover, had just descended. She wanted desperately to turn and follow him, to smell the musk she would instantly recognise, hear his smooth baritone confirm once more: you’re safe with me. But while her heart pulled at her strongly, her mind quickly restored her focus to the real reason she was here: the matter of her son – their son, Anath – who lay stricken in a Casualty Ward bed, just through the doors up ahead.

But it was also in this moment that something crystallised within Ramani, and she determined to act in order to change the fate she had been dealt. For too long, she had passively accepted a life lacking in fulfilment, but now she would reclaim what she knew to be rightfully hers, just as soon as she had established that her son was all right. Steeling herself with the aid of the old man, the beauty from the desa then took a deep breath before pushing inside to find him…

Arriving at her room, the young Detective happened upon quite a scene. Five or six of the other girls were crowding the dimly lit chamber, babbling away in various stages of excitement, and exhaustion. It was clear from the state of the place that some kind of incident had occurred, but he was relieved to note that Lulu was unmarked. Ushering them out one by one she mumbled her gratitude, while refusing to meet his gaze. But once the door had closed behind them, she flicked him an angry glare. “You… you bastard! I thought you different,” she spat, accusingly. “Babe, I’m so sorry.” Adi shook his head. “Things have happened so quickly… between us, I mean,” he added, his tone now affected – soft. “I just didn’t have a chance to–” “How Lulu can believe you? Men, men, bastard men… Always same. Always hurt Lulu. Now you.”

By now he had caught her in an embrace and was trying to find her mouth with his, while she struggled. Ultimately, glad to be held in his arms once more, she collapsed into him, letting out a tired sigh. “Tell me about your past,” Adi encouraged. “Tell me everything, lover. Let’s make today the beginning of a new life, not the end of a relationship.” Sighing deeply again, the girl looked downcast. “Lulu ashame. What happen me no Lulu fault. Lulu korban. Victim. Men so, so evil. Use woman body, sell woman body. So… so evil,” she said, falteringly.

“I know. So tell me everything, so there’s no secrets. Nothing I’ll ever hear about you that I don’t already know,” he explained, urging her to wipe the slate; make a fresh start. The girl looked up into his eyes, her tears beginning to form. “When I fifteen my father sell me. You believe that? It true,” she began. “Ya ampun,” the young Detective exclaimed. Good grief. “Sell me to gang in Kota. Lulu cry and cry and cry. I know never to see mother again. Sister again. I just give up. Laying there. Men come every hour, every day. Fuck me, hit me.” “You were indentured – a sex slave.” “That right, I slave. I give up. No fight. Lulu too weak.” “Kasihan,” Adi murmured. You poor thing. “Then they start laugh at me, say I no good in bed. I no make them satisfaction. That why I so ashame. ’Cause I decide prove I’m good. And I show them, after that, I can do sex good to them.”

Adi swallowed hard. It was an image he did not need in his mind. But the girl was not finished. “I choose play their game. Then they start nice to Lulu, give more food. And… drug.” The Detective parted from her, a quizzical look on his face. “That right. Drug. Fucking drug, OK?” Her expression had hardened. “I like it. Drug. They give more. I like lot. But I know I die if no stop. One day I pretend take, but no. They so high they just watch me walk out door.” “Wow, that’s some story,” encouraged Adi, putting something of a brave face on the unsavoury details of her revelations. “But no finish there. Laba-Laba come look for me. I so scare, again. My friend took me here. This place. Endang. They protect, but now I professional. No slave now. Only whore. That my life. Until you.”

Silently, the young Detective reached out and pulled her towards him again, kissing her warm lips as the tears fell down her cheeks. She might not be perfect, but then nothing in life was. And despite her sordid past, Adi was now convinced of one thing. This was the girl for him.

posted by Kirk at 8:49 pm  

Friday, November 14, 2008

The Number One Under Heaven (58)

The pair had hotfooted it back through the market square and were now scouring the street for a taxi. There was no thought of checking out of Blake’s hotel: instead, they would make directly for the railway station, to take the next available train South, in the direction of Qinzhou. At some point in their dash Elle turned her head towards him and was about to yell something, when someone emerged suddenly from a side street and shouldered into her, heavily. Twisting away almost instantaneously the man grunted, indicating his intention to move off without further delay. Blake pounced on him in a flash, however: not to demand an apology, but after recognising what was in fact a classic sleight-of-hand manoeuvre. “Check your bag!” he yelled out to his companion. Rummaging around inside, Elle found herself bereft of her purse. A Gucci, at that. “Shit! My fucking purse is gone!” she cried, an exclamation that was followed by a shy grimace, as she realised that it was the first real time she had sworn in front of him.

By now, Blake had the pickpocket in an arm lock and was pushing him up against a nearby wall. Then flipping him round aggressively, he was forced to share the lowlife’s pungent breath as he fixed him squarely in the eye. “Where’s the purse, you cunt?” he spat, from inches away. Blake’s bile flecked the smaller man’s lips, causing him to lick them, involuntarily. “Where is it? Eh?” he further demanded, as Elle came up behind him. “Adam–” she began, but Blake cut her off. “I’ll deal with this,” he snapped. “No, Adam,” she persisted, a little crossly. “I mean, look at his face. The scratch marks. He’s–”

And suddenly there it was – so obvious, so close before his eyes that until Elle pointed it out, he had not noticed it. From the orbit of the man’s left eye all the way down his cheek were four deep scratch marks. Scars that were so narrowly spaced, they could only have been made by a child. “Talk to him,” Blake said, without removing his glare from the man’s now terrified expression. Elle babbled away for a few moments, producing only the odd grunt in response. Then clearly agitated, she yelled something at him, harshly, to which he silently nodded, while casting his eyes down. “My God, Adam,” she gasped. “Oh my God…! I think he’s one of the gang… the gang that snatched Sophie!” Blake closed his eyes, drawing in a deep breath. His grip on the man’s arm tightened. He felt like smashing the crook’s head in, but knew instinctively that he was far more useful to them alive, and conscious.

“We’re taking him with us,” he said, after a lengthy pause. “Tell him he’s going to fucking well show us where he and those bastards took Sophie. Or I’ll kill him.” Once again, Elle rattled off Blake’s instructions in Mandarin, this time at length. But it was clear from the man’s body language that his response was negative. “He says he can’t,” she said, finally. “Won’t say why – just keeps on saying ‘no’.” “Tell him I’ll pay him,” replied Blake, swallowing hard. I can’t believe I’m doing this, he thought. I should just take the cunt out, right here and now. But Blake knew in his heart that their chance encounter with the gang member was an amazing stroke of good fortune – and a significant breakthrough in the search for his daughter. He needed to make the fullest use of what the scumbag knew. And if paying for it were necessary, then so be it. Exacting his revenge could follow, once his little girl was back, safe and sound.

On learning of the potential for reward, the petty thief in Blake’s grip could scarcely believe his luck. His demeanour changed dramatically, such that he was now nodding so enthusiastically it appeared his head might fall off. Blake relaxed his hold a little, allowing him to dig out Elle’s purse from a pocket. Opening it to check the contents, she then carefully counted out some notes and offered them to him. “I’m giving him a down payment,” she advised. “Don’t be too generous,” Blake countered, without mirth.

“OK, let’s go,” Blake said a little later, as a taxi eventually responded to their beckoning, coming to an untidy halt at the roadside. “And tell this cunt that if he makes a wrong move – tries to trick us – escape – whatever – I will rip his bollocks off with my bare hands and feed them to his wife. Watch her choke on them.”

Despite her evident disgust at his choice of phrase, it was clear from the look on the man’s expression as the taxi pulled out into the traffic that Elle had faithfully translated every word of Blake’s threat. Silently, and within an atmosphere of considerable tension, the unlikely trio then began their journey towards the station.

posted by Kirk at 10:40 pm  

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Through The Godless Hours (77)

He saw her the instant they descended the steps that led down from the hospital’s Casualty Department. For a split-second, it felt as though time stood still. Daman’s heart leapt into his mouth, leaving a hollow cavity where it had been. Twenty-five years had passed since he last set eyes on her. And as she stopped in her tracks having caught his gaze, he saw that those years had been kind to her: she had aged little, it seemed, across the same span of time in which he had become notably less agile, both physically and mentally. Ramani… Ramani… he mouthed, silently. “Son.” The old man was tugging at his arm. “This is not the time. Come – we’ve got to get back to your mother.” Reluctantly, he followed, as ’Pak Bambang headed off in the direction of the car, craning his neck until the last moment, as the sole love of his unremarkable life disappeared through the same doors from which he had just emerged. She was accompanied, he now saw, by a familiar face – his father’s most loyal servant from the plantation. And it was clear that the old man had a hand under one of her arms, as if she needed support.

Daman stopped again, suddenly. Jaw slightly agape, he stood frozen while the damp breeze began to lick around his ears. He felt an irresistible urge to run to her and tell her how he had felt all these years; of the crushing emptiness that had never once really left him. Wave after wave of emotion now flooded his mind, crashing through his senses. He needed desperately to hear her say that she, too, felt the same – that a flame had been kept burning for him throughout the long nights that followed their enforced separation. And more than this, he simply had to know – selfishly – that she had sought the comfort of no other. Daman wanted to reclaim her, this lost prize – to hold and caress her; to explain, perhaps, what she should expect when next laying eyes upon her son. Their son. Paralysed by these insatiable cravings, he now stood immobile: rooted to the spot.

Sensing his son’s hesitation, ’Pak Bambang barked a further instruction from across the parking lot: “Daman! Come on, let’s go!” he yelled, a little coarsely. Saying nothing, the dutiful son turned to trudge without enthusiasm in the direction of the Jaguar, where his father was already counting some grubby, low denomination Rupiah notes into the hands of the cheeky urchins who had looked over the car during their absence.

“I’m sorry, ’Nak,” the old man said, once they were both inside the car’s luxurious passenger compartment. “I had a feeling something like that might happen. I can imagine how you feel.” He turned to survey his son’s expression before looking back out through the windscreen, while pulling smoothly into the sparse evening traffic. “It’s been a hell of a day,” said Daman meekly, and after a considerable pause. “I think I need another drink.” His tone was flat, like his spirit. “Son, I’ve been thinking,” ’Pak Bambang resumed, in a manner that made it clear he was about to embark upon something of a prepared speech. “Look: I think it’s time for you to meet the boy and his mother. Properly, I mean. Decide on what arrangements you want to make for the future.” There was a brief silence while he waited for a response that never came. “When it’s finally time for me to go,” he continued, “I don’t want to be lying on my death-bed with this issue unresolved. It’s a quarter-century since we shook hands on our pledge and I think it’s now well and truly past its sell-by date… rather like me!” Daman could not find it within him to laugh at the old man’s gallows’ humour. He felt confused, sad and angry all at once. Why had everything suddenly reached this point, so… so catastrophically? Why could things never work out as planned?

Because I betrayed love, he found himself repeating what were, by now, familiar words.

“OK, ayah. Agreed,” he said, finally. “But I’ll need to be careful. I’d never want to hurt my wife.” “Yes, I’ve thought of that. Why not tell her that I’ve asked you to go to the plantation next week, while I have some further tests at the hospital?” said the old man, somewhat manipulatively. “I’ll make reservations for you, the boy and his mother at the Bogor Country Retreat – do you know it?” Daman nodded. His father turned again to look at him. “Sorry. Yes – I mean yes,” said the son. “Good. You can spend a few days together. Make your peace, as required. Take it from there in the manner you see fit. You’ll soon be taking over the business, son. It’ll be good for you to start making important decisions without any influence from me. Is that OK with you…?

posted by Kirk at 2:50 am  

Sunday, November 9, 2008

The Number One Under Heaven (57)

The engine of the dilapidated launch was complaining loudly as they rounded the last promontory on the final stretch of their voyage. The Morning Glory was now in full view although still some distance off, while the Captain began preparations for rafting up to her by instructing the crew to throw a set of fenders over the port side. Sophie sat glumly on deck, looking down at her feet while kicking them, purposelessly. She was awfully hungry, but still refused to eat. The only interaction she would permit, in fact, was with the kindest crewmember: the one who had encouraged her to drink water, all through her longest night.

But despite her anxiety, the plucky seven-year-old still found it possible to marvel at the incredible rock formations that stuck out of the sea everywhere, like canine teeth. The shroud of morning mist served only to add to the panorama’s mystique, so that it felt at times as if they were punting through some prehistoric lake. Lulled by the hypnotic throbbing of the worn out engine she was, on occasion, able to banish the seriousness of her predicament from her mind and transport herself instead to some magical fantasy world. A world where some miracle would happen, ending in her rescue. And they all lived happy ever aft–

Suddenly, it began dawning on her that they were approaching another, much larger vessel: all white and shiny, it looked very swanky indeed to the impressionable youngster. Perhaps it was owned by a Prince. And in a sense it was: but his heart, sadly, was black, and he lived in darkness. Having no idea what was planned for her, Sophie’s spirits soared as they edged closer and closer to the Glory. It seemed that her dreams would come true, after all. That God was answering her prayers. Mummy, she mouthed, silently. I’m going to see my Mummy again.

Plums was waiting on deck as the grimy launch finally drew alongside, collecting up Sophie from the outstretched arms of the sole crewmember she allowed near her. But while she now felt a surge of elation at her apparent change in fortune, the man who had cared for her during the ten-hour voyage from Qinzhou Marina looked downcast as the launch then chugged noisily away. Looking glumly over his shoulder as the Glory receded into the distance, a tear could perhaps be detected in the corner of his eye.

“They knee-capped me, those men,” Sophie comically erred. “Well, all except for one. He was nice.” She ran around excitedly on the polished deck, while Plums tried to usher her through to the main saloon. “Thanks for rescuing me,” she eventually concluded, a solemn look on her face. Bazza’s loyal manservant got a lump in his throat on hearing this, wavering for what was one of the very few times since his boss had begun preying on the young and innocent. “Yay! This place is cool!” squealed Sophie, surveying the Glory’s luxuriously appointed interior. “When’s my Mummy coming?”

It was easy for Sophie to settle quickly into her quarters. Bazza had instructed Plums to stow ‘the merchandise’, as he described her, in the VIP cabin, which constituted a fabulous twin room suite, complete with its own Jacuzzi. “I love it here!” she shrieked, delighted. And compared with the conditions she had been forced to endure in the very recent past, her new surroundings were indeed quite fabulous. She had yet to meet Bazza, spent force of the pop world, and when she did she would be too young to recognise him for the former chart-topper he genuinely was.

Within the confines of the yacht’s even more lavish Owner’s Suite, the faded pop-reggae crossover king was meanwhile pruning himself, if a little nervously. The children he had previously abused were generally unable to communicate with him. But this one would be different, he knew, and it unnerved him, ever so slightly. Would he be able to go through with what he planned, after all?

“What d’you fancy for lunch, sweet’eart?” Plums was, by now, asking back in the VIP cabin. “You must be really ’ungry after that awful long journey. ’Ow about macarwoni cheese?” “I love macaroni cheese!” the young girl enthusiastically replied. “Yay! I love this place! Is it a great big ship?” Responding with nothing more than a wan smile, Plums withdrew to the galley, where he spent a good deal of time each day, preparing food. It was also the place where he did most of his thinking. Ordinarily, on an occasion such as this, he would be relaxed in the comfort that his temperamental boss had secured the services of another new underage sex slave. For it usually meant that the atmosphere aboard the Glory would remain harmonious for a few days, until Bazza became bored and tetchy again. But today the generally imperturbable cockney queen was harbouring doubts. Grave ones.

posted by Kirk at 12:51 am  

Monday, October 20, 2008

Through The Godless Hours (76)

Detective Adi had been lucky to avoid the collision that seemed, for a moment, inevitable. Running a red across such a large interchange was not exactly the brightest idea he had ever conceived, but he needed to get to Endang’s, and fast. Standing on the brakes, the young man had actually closed his eyes when nearing the point of impact only to find, miraculously, that his battered Toyota had somehow managed to stop just before T-boning the big red-and-white elpigi tanker crossing in front of him. Now stationary, stranded in the middle of the junction and with cars streaming around him front and back, the young Detective slapped the steering wheel, angrily. Idiot, he thought to himself. That was a crazy fucking risk to take. Must’ve been a matter of millimetres.

Now accelerating as the lights changed once more, Adi sped down the wide boulevard ahead of him, his face a crimson mask. Take it easy, he coached himself, trying to shake off his embarrassment. It’s been a fucking awful day as it is, without smashing up the car… “Just be honest with her,” he suddenly said aloud, while giving himself a reassuring glance in the rearview mirror. Then easing into a steadier driving rhythm, the Detective began to form in his mind some of the key messages he would deliver to Lulu. The girl for whom, he now realised, he had fallen. Totally. Now that we’ve met, those days are over… I’ll take you away from this place… To come and live with me… he mused. But then, as he reflected upon the significant change in lifestyle this would require, he questioned momentarily whether he was genuinely capable of giving up the thrill each of his daily encounters currently delivered. But why am I making this journey, then? If I won’t be able to accept the change? he further challenged himself. No – she’s the one. I know it.

And it was as these reflections were floating in and out of his mind that he turned into the street on which Endang’s was situated, his reverie suddenly shattered by what he instantly saw. For there it was. Directly outside the place. Captain Farid’s army issue Timor. Fuck! he reeled. Not again, please… Not today… Running up his spine, a shiver caught hold of him, causing the car to swerve, its hubcap scraping the high kerbstone. Shit! I’m not ready for this, he now thought. But Adi knew that it would be impossible for him to back down: he just had to get the girl. And then it dawned on him: is that why the bastard’s here? For Lulu? Maybe: if he’s made the connection, he surmised.

Frantically, he kicked open his door, leaving it swinging wildly as he clambered out and sprinted into the lobby of the building, wincing with every movement. Too late to make it into the lift, the Detective watched while its level indicator flashed up through the floors – 5, 6, 7, – before reaching the top. It seemed to stay there an eternity until at last beginning its descent, the doors finally opening to permit his entry after what felt like a significant interval. Adi quickly pressed the button marked ‘6’ before hammering repeatedly on another that read ‘Tutup’; the doors eventually closing after what seemed an interminable delay. Taking a number of deep breaths, the young Detective then instinctively patted the place where his holster should have been, feeling instead just the fabric of his trousers. Fuck!

As the doors slowly opened on to the sixth floor with a mechanical wheeze, Adi emerged cautiously and turned left, to enter the snaking corridor that led into the bowels of the brothel. Pitch dark almost immediately, he stopped for a moment in the vain hope that his eyes would acclimatise to the brevity of light. And that was the moment he heard it. A shuffling sound. And something else. The sound of… whimpering, perhaps? It was clear to Detective Adi that there was someone else along the corridor. Nervously, he crept forward, making sure he made as little sound as possible. The noises from the other person, meanwhile, increased in volume. Whoever it was, he or she was coming Adi’s way.

Suddenly, something careened into the wall ahead, just at a bend in the passageway. And now the sobbing was clearly audible, along with some unintelligible murmurings. The vocalisations were clearly those of a man… and it was not too long before Adi came to realise which man…

It was over in an instant. They brushed shoulders – the military man barely noticing the presence of someone else in the corridor. Adi stood stock still as the feral-like wailings tailed off behind him, before resuming his path towards the reception area and, ultimately, Lulu. For a moment, he wondered whether he might have challenged the Captain, in case something terrible had happened to the girl. But somehow, he sensed that he had been listening to the rantings of a defeated man, that the ordeal was coming to an end, in victory. Pressing on, he returned his thoughts to what he was going to say to the object of his desire: the girl who now dominated his heart.

posted by Kirk at 5:36 am  
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