Kaptain's Blog

The writings and musings of The Kaptain

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  

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