Kaptain's Blog

The writings and musings of The Kaptain

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

The Number One Under Heaven (10)

Blake was prickling with rage. Incandescent, in fact, as he spat out his fury in the direction of his greatest mortal influence. “Calm down,” said John, an undeserving victim of his tirade. “What are you trying to achieve?” Blake’s mentor was right, for the strategy his protégé had described was nothing short of corporate suicide. “Why don’t you take a couple of days off, relax and then figure out what you’re going to do once your head has cleared?” the big Australian further advised.

But for Blake there was pride at stake, too. He did not want to be seen as someone who needed to take time out in order to get his head together, even if this were true. Modern commerce was brutal in that regard – it took no prisoners. Blake was spooked enough by office politics to presume that if he displayed any hint of weakness, some corporate lackey would be trying to scramble over him, climbing the ladder that led straight up the Chairman’s arse. “But I still think I should go above him and talk directly to his boss – cut out the middle man. The tosser adds no value.” Adam intended no irony with his statement.

“A mistake, Adam,” John replied. “You’ve got to massage his ego. Give him the ideas, the rationale behind your three-year projections. Show him the acquisitions you intend making, the new business development initiatives that are in the pipeline. In short: make him look good. So that when he’s presenting your budget to his boss, he can do it with confidence.” By now, John was banging his finger into the table-top. “That’s the rules of the game. It’s called ‘managing upwards’. Win him over, Adam. You can put the knife in later, once he thinks you’re his friend.” But Blake was now ignoring John’s well-intended lecture, searching instead into the past to try and find a solution to his present problem. “My father would never have stood for any of this,” he said, his eyes focused somewhere off in the distance. “He would have told the Yank where to shove it. That’s how he rose through the ranks to achieve what he did.” “And what relevance does that have?” asked John.

Blake’s mentor was right once again, knowing that over the previous few decades the rules of playing the global commerce game had altered to the extent that nothing that ever went before now had any real relevance, however grand it may have seemed at the time. John also knew Adam well enough to sense there was something else distracting his friend – something that was preventing him from thinking straight. Clearing his throat, he then asked a delicate question: “Adam, can I say something?” “Sure, go ahead. Why not?” Blake was tapping the table with a chopstick, irritably. “Well, it’s just that you don’t seem to be yourself. You’re normally sharp, despite the occasional red mist that clouds your judgment.” Sharing an embarrassed smile, they chinked glasses at this. “And the excessive intake of this stuff.” John gestured with his glass. “But – if I may say so – you seem to have gone off the boil, lately. Is there something else worrying you? Your health, perhaps?” Blake stared absently, without answering. Look, don’t take this the wrong way, but have you had some bad news from the doctor?” John pressed him further.

Blake took a deep breath. There was a long pause before he replied: “It’s not me, John. It’s Kate.” “Oh no–” John began, before Blake raised a hand, indicating that he wished to continue with his explanation. “No, no. It’s nothing like that,” he reassured his friend and mentor. “She’s in perfectly good shape. Extremely fit, in fact.” At this, he managed an ironic giggle, before the sullenness of his earlier expression was restored. “No, it’s just that… well… This is difficult to say, John.” “Go on, Adam. I’m first and foremost a frie–” “I think she’s having an affair.”

posted by Kirk at 11:03 pm  

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Through The Godless Hours (29)

The pretty pramugari stirred a little as he ran a finger from her waist along the curve of her hip. Silk, he thought to himself. She’s made of silk. As he then kissed the warmth between her shoulder blades, Adi momentarily contemplated rousing her fully, to resume the tender coupling they had shared through much of the night. The girl was a sensational lover: a natural, he privately concluded. And this was no trivial accolade, coming as it did from the young Detective: a man who had already indulged in more women than most would chance upon in a lifetime. No, this was high praise indeed, he now mentally acknowledged, a smile forming on his lips. Gently lifting the sheets from her lower body, he gazed once more at the shapeliness of her legs: stroked the firmness of her buttocks before cupping his hand around and in between, pushing through to something hotter and moist, to the fore. But as the girl then exhaled a sigh and stretched, her expectant thighs tightly clamping his fingers, Adi hesitated – his thoughts returning to something altogether darker; to the challenge he had thrown down, and the inevitable showdown to which it would lead.

Staring absently into the grey early morning half-light of his room, Adi’s thoughts turned to his next move. It’s like a game of chess, he thought, only with pieces made of flesh. Perishable flesh. And blood. Bright red lifeblood. In a game where the consequences of losing were dire. With a clarity of thought he sometimes enjoyed upon first waking, he now saw that his initial enthusiasm had led him to adopt an unnecessarily risky opening gambit. That through his brash urgency, he had carelessly exposed his king, much too early in the game. The gamble had paid off, but it had been a risky move to make. For if the Captain had been in better shape when Adi first approached him, matters by now might easily have been concluded… one way or the other. And the aim, after all, was not to make a quick kill: rather to draw out the whole affair, sucking from it some of the riches on offer, for as long as the game lasted. Adi shook his head, inwardly annoyed at his rashness. Better from now on to adopt a more conservative strategy; to make use of some less important pieces… like pawns… pawns… pawns… It was not long before the essence of a plan began to form in his mind: his thoughts switching to the driver, and the delivery mechanism of his next message to the Captain…

“Please, Detective. Don’t ask me to do that,” the driver had pleaded with him. “You don’t know what he’s like. If he finds out, he’ll… he’ll–” “Look, all I’m asking you to do is take him on a short detour on his way home tonight. That should be no big deal.” “But why? What’s the reaso–” “On any pretext you can think of, my friend,” the Detective cut in, while counting five well used twenty US dollar bills directly into his hand. “Look – that’s half of what you’ll get, OK?” He looked the driver directly in the eye. “Seven sharp – don’t be late. I’m relying on you.”

For someone who usually took an entire month to earn its Rupiah equivalent, two hundred dollars was a mighty big lure. He knew that the money went hand in hand with the risk: that the only real alternative was to do nothing at all. But he was in any case already implicated by his earlier actions; the information he had supplied. His mind flitted from one scenario to the other, then back, until he knew he had to stop dithering, lest a form of madness overcame him. Knowing that there was little use in trying to rationalise the situation, the driver instead asked himself a simple question, while staring intently at the bank notes in his hand: do I have it in me to give back this money? But even before he had begun thinking about this, he knew the answer. This spider sure has a sticky web, he then thought to himself, sighing. And he knew in this instant that he had no real option but to do as he had been asked. But this was no easy mission. It was a big deal, contrary to what the Detective had said. And he was petrified of what might happen to him if the Captain’s suspicions were raised.

posted by Kirk at 2:03 am  

Monday, January 28, 2008

The Number One Under Heaven (9)

It was ten o’clock and Sophie already sound asleep, floating blissfully through Barbie dreams, when Blake quietly exited the apartment. He did not usually like to leave her alone, but the fridge was empty of beer or wine. Still recovering from his hangover, Blake was now desperate for a hair of the dog. I’ll just slip out to twenty-four seven, he thought to himself. Pick up a bottle of Shiraz and something to snack on, then come straight back. But as he then approached the store from across the piazza, a familiar group was loitering around the waste bins nearby, each with a stiff drink in hand. “’Ere ’e is!” called out an acquaintance. “Blakey-boy!” yelled another. “Come over ’ere! Oi! Come on!” As on previous occasions Blake was not entirely keen to join the throng, but he diverted over nonetheless, to be greeted this time by a barrage of friendly punches. “OK guys. Just one,” he said, fending off the last. “Can’t be long – I’ve left Sophie at home in bed,” he further explained. “Where’s the missus, then?” asked one of his friends. “Tennis lesson.” “Ah, I see. Must be your round,” the man then added, holding up an empty plastic beaker. “Sure, no problem,” said Blake. “My round, guys. What are you all having?” He bought the drinks from the bottle shop and ferried them outside in two trips before taking his first, long gulp of a large gin and tonic. “Cheers, guys,” he said, raising his beaker. “Cheers, Adam,” came a chorus of replies. “Right: you can fuck off now,” added one – a joker who was also something of an Oliver Reed lookalike. In fact, he resembled the late actor in more ways than one.

An hour later, Blake was on his fourth double: the gathering now in party mode, with comic role play in full swing. “So when is it gonna be dat man first walks on da surface of de sun?” Blake mimicked the character Ali G, to a round of raucous laughter. “Well, that’s just never gonna happen, young man: ’cause it’s too damn hot.” An American drawl this time, in the style of his boss. “But ‘ow abowt if we did it in wintah, when the sun’s not as hot, innit?” Ali G again. Blake was a good impersonator: his drinking buddies appreciating the entertainment. But just as the party was reaching its peak, one of the revellers suddenly – miraculously – had the presence of mind to remind him about Sophie. “Shit!” he exclaimed. “Fuck! I’d better run!” Waving behind as the motley crew yelled out their boozy goodbyes, Blake made a bee-line for home by the most direct of routes, which would take him around the back of the tennis courts. He was just reminding himself to keep an eye out for Kate, in order to ensure she did not spot him when, after rounding a corner, something stopped him dead in his tracks. At about fifty paces ahead, there she was. But Kate was not alone. Her back was pressed against the wall and she had raised a knee so that her leg was in between her companion’s, pushing up into his groin. Arms wrapped around his neck, she looked up into the man’s eyes, fawning like a teenager. For Kate was truly under the spell of this new figure in her life – Tommy, the club professional.

His first instinct was to run straight towards the couple – couple: he spat silently, in his mind – but something inside made him back off. Instead, he quickly turned to go another way, to take a more circuitous route back to the apartment, but one that would still get him there before Kate would have time to return – not that she was in a hurry, it seemed. In spite of his shock, Blake was still able to think clearly enough to glance at his wristwatch: he wanted to know exactly how long her heavy petting with the muscular Australian would last. On reaching the apartment a few minutes later, he was relieved to find that Sophie remained asleep, with no signs that she had woken while he was gone. For a sensitive seven year-old, she’s had enough upset for one day, he then began to think to himself. I’m not going to challenge Kate when she gets back tonight. I can hardly afford a slanging match in the middle of the night, anyway. Especially when I’ve got to be in the office early tomorrow, bright and fucking breezy, re-jigging the bullshit financial forecast. Fuck! I didn’t need this on top of everything else, he cursed inwardly, reflecting once more on what he had witnessed.

Blake was understandably disturbed by Kate’s transgression. And every minute that passed before she returned served to further increase his anxiety. In his haste to get back to the apartment he had also forgotten to pick up the wine, he now realised. He was not even able, therefore, to dull the uneasy sensation he felt with a further dose of alcohol. Fidgeting and slowly overcome by a growing feeling of sadness, he watched the seconds on the face of the kitchen clock tick slowly by. At last he heard the turn of her key in the lock as his wife entered, stealthily. Eleven-forty, he noted. She’s been with him a further half-hour. Strangely, he felt a sense of relief at this, as surely that means they didn’t have enough time to go to Tommy’s apartment for… no: he simply could not bring himself to think about what else they might have done, or had thought about doing. And it was in this same moment of reflection that he resolved to try and improve: to pay her more attention – become a better husband than he had been of late.

For her part, Kate was not expecting him to be awake when she returned: the stillness of the apartment conniving with this misconception such that Blake startled her when emerging from the kitchen to greet her. The smile that had lingered around the corners of her lipstick-smeared mouth was wiped off in an instant, although she felt no anger at her husband’s surprise appearance – only guilt, and perhaps a little shame. She blushed invisibly in the dimly lit lounge and asked why he was still up, when normally he would already be in bed at this hour. “Couldn’t sleep,” he simply replied. “But why were you just standing there in the kitchen, then, and not watching telly or something?” Kate was worried now, a mild paranoia forming in her mind. Had he been spying on her? Seen something? “I’d just turned it off,” he lied. “Was about to turn in and have another go at sleeping. How was the lesson, by the way?” Blake avoided the temptation to add some edge to his question, a magnanamous act under the circumstances.

His wife seemed not to want to talk about it, though, for reasons they were both separately aware – a knowledge they could not, however, share. Instead, she suggested they retire for the night, sheepishly offering to make him a drink to take to bed. A few minutes later, as she placed the hot chocolate on the bedside table next to him, Blake gripped her arm. “Kate, I’m sorry about my behaviour this afternoon. It’s just that I’m so bloody frustrated at work these days. I’ll be back to my usual self in no time – you’ll see.” She smiled, thinly, and began to pull away. “Darling. Come here,” he then said, a little too firmly, resisting her intended retreat and pulling her closer, instead. “Let’s make love.” “I need to take a shower first,” she replied, still trying to pull away. “No. Don’t bother with that. I want you now,” he insisted.

Blake wanted something else, too. He needed to smell her, down there. To put his nose and mouth up close to the mound on which the carefully tended strip of soft pubic down was knit, and then to gently lick her clitoris. The distinctive aroma of which was known only to him. His property. Sole owner. And so he was relieved that when, finally, she gave in – permitting his advance – he found that whereas she was indeed already wet, there was thankfully only one flavour of sticky fluid inside her. Her own. “Nice topiary,” he then quipped, surveying her perfectly trimmed bush while lapping at her, delicately. To which she managed a chuckle, between the soft moans that purred from her puckered lips – a welcome giggle that was music to his ears, coming as it did at a time that for him was full of uncertainty, both in his workplace and at home. But whether Blake’s reaction to what he had stumbled upon behind the tennis courts was due more to pride, than love, was a matter of conjecture. And later, while he reflected upon this as she straddled him, her hips gyrating sensually, his doubts were matched equally by her indifference. For Kate’s expert performance concealed her true emotions: her thoughts throughout the encounter – and during her climax – focused firmly and exclusively on Tommy, her coach.

posted by Kirk at 12:46 am  

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Through The Godless Hours (28)

’Pak Bambang had patiently built up his oil palm business over more than three decades. Ever the benevolent employer, he had even developed a scheme whereby his workers were progressively allowed to own shares in the company, based upon the length of their individual service and the firm’s overall financial performance. For them, this was an extremely generous proposition – one almost unheard of in a country that had become obsessed with money; where corporate greed was now the norm. In consequence, PT Bambang Edible Oil was a business well looked after by its loyal employees, many of who had remained at the firm since the old man first acquired it.

The loyalty of his most senior managers extended on a personal level to near devotion: there was nothing of which he might ask that they would not willingly undertake, provided it was within their means. And so it had been that on the sticky evening four years earlier when Anath had set out for Jakarta on the overnight bus, he was unaware of being shadowed by one of the company’s most trusted servants. And when the stranger had then roused him from his slumber as they arrived at the city’s bus terminus early the next morning, the conversation he struck up as they alighted was by no means idle. It was no coincidence that this man knew of a place offering clean and cheap accommodation, to which he promptly escorted the grateful young man, who had yet to form any real plans of his own. It was also no accident that these digs were within a stone’s throw of the large house that ’Pak Bambang had built for the family, located in an unusually leafy suburb within this predominantly dusty metropolis.

Patiently, but with considerable frustration, the old man watched from a distance as his grandson scoured the streets for work – labouring, road sweeping, anything, so long as he could make enough to support his frugal existence and have something left over to send back to the Kampung for his mother each month. ’Pak Bambang knew that it would be unwise for him to intervene, despite his overwhelming urge to confess all to the boy and offer him a job at the family firm. Sagely he resisted, so that when – finally – Anath stumbled across the portly Tukang Warung and negotiated a sub-lease of the small patch of earth in front of Sate Blora, it was not through the unseen intervention of his grandfather, but of his own doing.

’Pak Bambang had felt a certain pride at the vigour with which Anath subsequently went about his work. For although the boy knew nothing of it, his grandfather was a frequent early morning patron of the newsstand. And whilst selling newspapers was not a vocation the old man would have wanted for a grandson, it was nevertheless a start. Moreover, it was something the boy had brought about himself, that he could chalk up as the first milestone along the journey of his newly created independence. Recalling his own humble beginnings, ’Pak Bambang had also comforted himself in the knowledge that the struggle to make ends meet would provide strong foundations for the boy: something that in future he could use as a reference point, from which he would be able to build his own set of values, while earning the right to move on to something better.

Silently, and through whatever means possible, Bambang would do his best to assist Anath’s development, partly in compensation for the suffering the boy had been forced to endure, back in the Kampung. For the old man continued to carry a burden of guilt for his grandson’s compromised happiness, occasioned by his forced acceptance of the set of demands the elders had placed before him, now so long ago. He had always known that, despite the favourable settlement they negotiated, the begrudging villagers had deployed a further form of spiteful retribution against a child who knew nothing of his prehistory. It angered him to think that they had taken pleasure in taunting the boy, ostracising him wherever possible from participation in every form of village activity. Bambang was painfully aware of the wretched loneliness the boy had suffered – not just the empty hurt of the abandoned, but the injury endured throughout years of pitiless bullying. The cruel gibes that were a result of his being different: fatherless. A bastard, no less. Somehow, Anath had emerged from his ordeal unscathed and unblaming, seeking not to point a finger of accusation – to take his revenge – but rather to simply move on. For he was made of sterner stuff, as he was later destined to prove.

posted by Kirk at 12:42 am  

Friday, January 25, 2008

The Number One Under Heaven (8)

Blake was perched on the edge of the bed, the telephone in one hand while the fingers of the other ran through his dark, wavy hair. Although it was only six in the evening, his hangover had already begun to envelop him, its screaming pulse exacerbating the waves of nausea he felt. He had yet to make the call to Deeds, as he knew he must, and was struggling to think of what he would say. He wished the fuzz in his head would disappear, enabling him to think. Then startling him with its vibration the phone suddenly rang out, causing him to drop the receiver. Fuck! He scrambled around on the floor, managing only to knock it further away from him: the device spinning across the parquet beneath the bed. Shit! Kneeling unsteadily, Blake then lowered his head, pressing the side of his face to the floor, while peering under the bed. The throbbing inside became heavier as gravity conspired with his pulse to pump extra blood to the site of his suffering. It felt like his brain was floating in a red sea of the stuff, knocking into his skull with the ebb and flow of its tide. Stretching out an arm, he finally grasped the handset which, somewhat surprisingly, was still vibrating. Determined fucker, whoever it is, he thought. Blake then viewed the display, groaning audibly as he registered the words ‘Unknown Number’; suggesting that the call emanated from overseas. He hesitated for a moment, before gritting his teeth while pressing the receiver’s green ‘accept’ button. “Adam,” came an icy voice from the other end of the line. “Yes?” “It’s Loren. I’ve been trying to get you all afternoon. Where are the re-worked numbers?”

Deeds was cold. Audibly agitated. Under persistent pressure from New York, he knew of only one way to deflect it. Downwards. Except that this particular strategy had not worked today, which annoyed him. Greatly. “I… I’m sorry, Loren. Food poisoning. I’ve been as sick as a dog all afternoon. Must’ve eaten something. I’ll get the numbers to you in the morning.” “First thing.” “For sur–” But the line was dead: Deeds had already rung off. Bollocks, thought Blake. Shove the fucking numbers up your Septic arse, you immature cunt. But inwardly, he was kicking himself.

Shuffling through to the bathroom, he leant on the wall in front whilst urinating a prolonged discharge of completely clear liquid, the familiar result of excessive bingeing. Then wrapping a towel around his waist, he moved back through the bedroom, ignoring the unmade bed. Exiting into the dark corridor that led to the lounge, Blake listened for signs of life, but was unrewarded. The apartment was empty and silent. Cold. There was no note on the table, nor the kitchen counter, which led him to assume that he was being excluded from today’s family dinner, as a form of punishment. She’s probably taken Sophie to the piazza, he concluded, nodding to himself reassuringly. The stench of something gone off then crashed like a wave over his face as he opened the fridge door, his head twisting away in revulsion. Why the fuck doesn’t she keep an eye on this sort of thing? he asked himself. It’s not as if she fucking works for a living, or anything.

Blake then ripped off the cap from a carton of carrot juice – which he hated – and gulped it down directly from the container. Retching, he narrowly avoided chucking it straight back up, all over the kitchen. But after an uncertain pause he regained enough of his composure to take the remainder with him, through into the lounge. His throat was parched and there was nothing else in the fridge, so carrot juice would have to suffice. Turning on the television in the vain hope of discovering that Singapore had just been nuked, Blake then slumped on to the sofa, his genitals dangling out as the towel parted from around him. He could scarcely believe it when, at that precise moment, the door opened and Kate walked in, with Sophie a pace behind. This was proving not to be Adam Blake’s day.

“Adam!” his wife barked at him, as he quickly covered up. “For God’s sake! Get dressed will you? You’re a bloody embarrassment!” Poor Sophie gazed down at the floor in silence, increasingly aware that all was not well between her parents. And although Blake was angry at Kate’s latest outburst, he decided to let it go, for his daughter’s sake. “OK darling, sorry about that. Yes, you’re quite right – I’ll go and put some clothes on.” Turning to Sophie, he then asked: “And how’s Daddy’s little angel? Did you have a good day at school, sweetheart?” “Tell Daddy all about your picture while Mummy gets ready for tennis,” Kate said, before Sophie could respond. “Tennis?” Blake queried, his head still pounding. “What – again?” “I suppose you’ve forgotten that as well,” his wife replied. “It’s my lesson today, remember? Only tonight it’s a bit later than usual. Tommy’s had to switch me around.”

posted by Kirk at 2:58 am  

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Through The Godless Hours (27)

“Captain Farid, I know this is probably a little inconvenient…” What the fuck was going on? Someone he had never seen before was calling him by his name? Interrupting his breakfast in an obscure out-of-town hotel? The Captain rose instantly from the table, only narrowly resisting his immediate instinct, which was to take the guy out there and then, to smash the fucker with whatever means he had at his disposal. The fact that his head was throbbing from inside, outside, front and back after the previous evening’s excess probably helped slow him down a little, as his genuine surprise also gradually, but assertively, made itself known. “Get out of my way, whoever the fuck you are,” was all he could muster in the shock of the moment. “…But there’s something I think we need to discuss. Rather urgently,” the other man added, this time flashing a warrant card. “Who the fuck are you? What do you want?” quizzed the Captain, for once knocked off balance.

But despite the uncertainty his line of questioning suggested, the Captain was in fact slowly beginning to focus, his mind processing the information relayed through the slits that were his eyes. Warrant card. Plain clothes. Smart appearance. His cold stare flicked back and forth between the badge and the man holding it up, quickly concluding the obvious. A Detective. A filthy, prying, bastard Detective. “I said get out of my way!” Then pushing roughly past the rude interloper, his swift movement announced considerable agility: the shoulder he rammed into his inquisitor conveying a frightening amount of force. The Detective was knocked sideways into another, vacant table – the violent announcement of the Captain’s considerable displeasure fortunate to attract little, if any, peripheral attention.

Making directly for the bank of lifts without turning to look back, the Captain was already denying the encounter had occurred, inwardly erasing it from his disciplined mind. I could not have scripted that better, Adi was meanwhile congratulating himself, if a little shakily. Pleased to have outsmarted the army man in this first round of their battle of wits – so clearly unsettling him with the audacity of his approach – he hoped that a further series of surprise moves would be all it took to claim his share of the booty. For whilst the young Detective remained super-confident – as befitting someone near the top of his game – in truth, the more he heard and saw of Captain Farid Azasti, the less able he was to connect with him. It’s as if the guy’s on a crash course in self-destruction… like he wants the fight brought to him, he had begun to figure. Almost as if he wants to bring it all to an abrupt and crashing end. Indeed, it appeared that whatever motive was driving the Captain, he needed to flush it out – to unveil it, in all its dark glory. And although Adi would not admit it, especially to himself, he was privately growing scared at the cold detachment of the man.

Later that afternoon, as he made his way down the aisle on boarding the return flight to Jakarta, Adi purposely caught the Captain’s eye. Despite the anxiety that had begun to seed in his mind – or perhaps because of it – the young Detective cast a hard, lingering stare held long enough to ensure that full eye contact could not be avoided. Here I am, it said. It’s me again. Still watching you. The Captain seethed inwardly, once more struggling to suppress his urge to confront the upstart, to offer an immediate response to Adi’s latest challenge. The forced inaction imposed by the circumstances of both their encounters seemed to the Captain like needlessly putting up with toothache. He’s going to wish his bitch of a mother had killed herself before he was born, he thought irritably, while shuffling in his seat.

Towards the rear of the aircraft, his breathing restored to its usual rhythm, Adi meanwhile exhaled while leaning back in his economy class seat, his eyes closed. Finally, he allowed himself a brief smile of relief. Knowing that he had maintained a psychological edge over the Captain during their second, arm’s length encounter, he urged himself not to let his advantage slip away. His upbeat mood, fuelled by adrenalin, was then further buoyed by the appearance of the pretty pramugari from the previous flight, who once more obliged his hungry leer by beaming her recognition. And after a few discreet exchanges, the success of his trip was cemented with the completion of arrangements that would see him through the night and, if everything went according to plan, pleasantly into the early light of the next morning.

posted by Kirk at 12:00 am  

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

The Number One Under Heaven (7)

It was around four o’clock when Kate turned the key in their apartment door, surprised to be confronted by her husband’s jacket, which was slung untidily over the back of a dining chair. “Adam?” she called out, with a feeling of mild concern. “Darling?” While Sophie busied herself unpacking the contents of her schoolbag, Kate moved through the small living room into the dimly-lit corridor that led to their modest apartment’s three bedrooms. Quietly entering the master bedroom, she was further alarmed to discover her husband’s clothes strewn untidily across the floor. The large hump his body formed beneath the soft white duvet added to her disquiet. “Adam, what’s wrong?” she enquired, a little tersely – her suspicions now mounting. “Not well… food poisoning, I think… puked up on the ferry… didn’t get to the washroom in time… awful fucking mess…” her husband slurred his reply, still unable to open his eyes. “Is Daddy all right?” Sophie quietly asked. The young girl had crept up behind her mother, unnoticed. “Yes, sweetheart. Don’t worry. He’ll be fine.”

As Kate then leant over Blake, the stench that invaded her senses was overwhelmingly that of stale alcohol, complemented by a sickly sweet trace of vomit. His face looked puffy; a blackish film coated his lips. As he lay half asleep, breathing heavily through his mouth, she could see that Blake’s osmotic teeth were stained purple, a sure sign that he had once again been knocking back the red wine – and in no small quantity, judging by the state he was in. He had also managed to dribble the contents of his mouth on to the crisp white pillowcase Kate had changed only that morning. Angered by this, as well as her husband’s latest display of disintegration, she suddenly snapped: “Adam! You’ve bloody well got to stop doing this! Pull yourself together! It’s four o’clock in the afternoon, for God’s sake! You’re supposed to be in the office – and look at you!” The tears now welling in poor Sophie’s eyes were the only thing that saved Blake from a further roasting as Kate then slammed the bedroom door on her husband, returning to the corridor. Squatting so as to assume the same height as her daughter, she then began to reassure the sensitive seven-year-old. “It’s OK, sweetie. Mummy got a bit cross, that’s all. Nothing serious. Everything’s going to be fine – you’ll see.”

It was just then that the telephone rang, startling her with its loud resonance along the length of the corridor. Recovering her composure, Kate now stood and moved away from her teary daughter, towards the light of the living room at its far end. As was habitual, she searched the receiver’s display for the caller’s number before picking it up. There had been an increasing number of nuisance calls lately. But this one she recognised immediately. Her husband’s office. “I’m sorry to disturb you, Mrs. Blake… er… but I’ve been trying to reach Mr. Blake on his cell-phone… but… er… there seems to be no answer,” said the woman she knew to be his secretary. “I wouldn’t normally trouble you at home, but it’s just that… er… well, Loren Deeds has called a number of times. He wants to speak urgently to Mr. Blake,” she continued. Kate reflected momentarily on the way the secretary had handled the situation. A former PA herself, she appreciated the woman’s professionalism. Rare in this town, she thought inwardly, before confirming: “I’ll get Adam to call him. Don’t worry. Thanks for the call.”

Furious, Kate stormed back into the bedroom, almost ramming the portable phone’s receiver into her husband’s semi-conscious face as she shook his limp body with her other, stronger hand. Kate was no wimp: the force within her belying her shapely, feminine frame. Jerked roughly awake, Blake snorted with a start before stretching, sloth-like and bleary-eyed. “Wake up! Hey! Get up, will you! You’ve got to call your boss! Deeds! Come on!” she continued to try and rouse him. For fuck’s sake, she thought to herself, once more exiting the bedroom. What on earth am I going to do with him?

But for now Kate knew that she must calm herself, aware of her daughter’s distress whenever disharmony came to visit their home. Sitting on the sofa, she popped her child up on to a knee and began stroking her hair, while humming a tuneless lullaby. Her thoughts began to drift off, to her days at work in England; then to her husband’s office and, finally, Deeds. Whilst Kate had never truly liked her husband’s American boss she had always been gracious in his company, almost flirting with him on occasion. Her shrewd appreciation of his importance to her husband’s career – and her lifestyle – had led her to cultivate what might have been construed a secret semaphore between her and the young, unmarried regional executive. She had often thrown him teasing glances that appeared to convey coded messages, as if saying: Yes, I know what you’re looking at, and I might even let you have it, at the right time and place.

What had worried her of late was that her husband seemed hell-bent on locking horns with Deeds, rather than reasoning with him. Kate could not understand why he would wish to bring about a conflict that might threaten everything they had built since upping sticks and leaving their homeland. Irritated once more, she broke away from her thoughts and returned her attention to Sophie. “Do you have any homework, sweetie?” she asked, gesturing to the exercise books the young girl had fished from her schoolbag. “Oh – what’s this?” she then quickly added, reaching down to pick up a stray piece of paper from the floor. “Maybe it fell out my bag, Mummy,” replied the girl, now recovered from her earlier trauma, as her mother opened the folded sheet.

Kate glanced at what appeared to be yet more paperwork relating to Sophie’s forthcoming school trip – to Guilin, in China’s southern province of Guangxi. It seemed there had been a barrage of the stuff lately, each bulletin reminding her of her general disquiet about the whole idea. The thought of her daughter travelling to China filled Kate with a mild dread, but since the entire class would be making the trip she knew that she and Blake would have to relent. “What is it, Mummy?” Sophie then asked. “Oh, it’s just another form Mummy has to sign. For your trip. A form of consent.” “What does consent mean?” “It means that Mummy and Daddy are allowing you to go on the trip. That we understand there might be risks involved, and that if anything… er… happens, we wouldn’t be able to hold the school responsible.” Kate was careful not to worry her daughter unnecessarily. But the inquisitive child was not satisfied with her explanation. “If what happens?” she asked. “Nothing’s going to happen, sweetie. It’s all just a precaution,” Kate replied, giving her daughter an affectionate pinch on the cheek. “Paperwork, that’s all. Bureaucracy.” “What’s boorocasee?”

posted by Kirk at 11:45 pm  

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Through The Godless Hours (26)

’Pak Bambang had had no qualms, in fact, about the last concession he was forced to make in order to avoid matters spiralling even further out of control. After hearing out the elders without interrupting – despite their undisguised invectiveness – he concluded immediately that the situation had enough potential to seriously impact the continued success of his business. And this, he knew, was inextricably linked with the livelihood of its staff, the overwhelming majority of whom lived in the Kampung: loyal workers he would be placing in an impossible position had he done anything other than agree to the elders’ proposition. But even more important than this, Bambang wanted an instant but lasting solution that would rule out any possibility of future problems for his son. In short, he needed to bury the issue, and quickly. Ultimately, it was for this latter reason that he had submitted passively to all the demands set before him. In any event, whilst he classed himself a religious man, Bambang had never felt comfortable the with the rigid, sectarian syllabuses that were taught – instructed – within the walls of the type of institution the village elders proposed. He had instead always preferred to position his beliefs within the broader spectrum of faith taken as a whole. In his enlightened way, the old man had consequently been able to experience a fullness of life that few from his background were flexible enough to imagine.

And as regards the Kampung girl’s baby: well, it was quite simple. If the child were female then there was no issue. She and her mother would be supported and kept out of harm’s way, quietly surviving in the village, to follow destiny’s course whenever it chose to interfere. But if ’Pak Bambang happened to inherit a grandson – however illegitimate – then that was a different proposition altogether. Should that be the case, he would look over the boy like some guardian angel, forever present without making an appearance – never far away from lending an invisible hand when needed. And who gave a damn about their ‘academy’, anyway? But all of that was still a long way off. First he had to find, and then take immediate care of, his son…

Daman rose from the grass and shook his head, wiping away the tears while trying to think clearly. It was only a matter of seconds before he decided what to do. Following his instinct, he ran as fast as he could: not away from the problem, but towards it – in the direction of the village, and his love. Blinded by the shock of events that had unfolded, the young man sped past row after row of carefully planted oil palms, all neatly arrayed and of equal height, feeling no strain as he hurtled along the rough road that had been laid beside the plantation. Scrambling desperately up on top of the bank that ran alongside the paddy, he slipped once, then twice, in the mud before gaining sufficient purchase to propel himself forward and continue once more upon his way. Panting heavily, a fire now burning in his chest, he raced the final kilometre through the tall grass on the outskirts of the Kampung, coming to rest at last, bent double, as he emerged from its final, stinging swathe.

There had been no plan other than this simple sprint and, arriving at the dusty road that led into the village as dusk was just about to sweep its cloak over the sun, he discovered that there was not a soul about. But it was then that he saw the door of the car up ahead open, and the imposing figure of his father get out. Ten paces later he buried his face once more, this time into the old man’s broad chest, sobbing uncontrollably.

posted by Kirk at 5:45 am  

Monday, January 21, 2008

The Number One Under Heaven (6)

“Sophie Blake?” the teacher called out as she crossed the classroom floor. “Yes, Miss Henderson,” came the pretty girl’s high-pitched reply. “Here’s the consent form for the school trip. Don’t forget to give it to your Mummy and ask her to return it to me, together with a cheque, by next Friday.” The ringleted girl smiled as she took the single piece of paper from her teacher, detaching herself momentarily from her work in order to tuck it into her schoolbag. She had been diligently colouring her picture of the school bus – a composition she hoped one day to see on the front cover of the new school telephone directory. Today was the last opportunity to submit entries for the annual competition and this was her third, and final, attempt at the drawing. Even at this young age Sophie was a perfectionist – something neither of her parents had ever been able to boast. Her two previous efforts to capture the sheer thrill of a ride on the gaily painted vehicle had fallen short of her own exacting standards, but this time she was determined to get it just right.

Perhaps it’s because she’s an only child, Kate sometimes reflected, wondering from where her daughter had inherited her conscientious trait. Often, her thoughts were tinged with guilt that she had never summoned the courage to produce a playmate for her daughter, but there was good reason why Sophie would never have a natural sibling. Kate’s sole pregnancy had been difficult, with complications throughout the term. And then the whole process had been truncated when, almost ten weeks early, her baby made up its mind to emerge, in defiance of nature’s instructions. Both mother and daughter had come close to death during the rush to hospital, the whole affair leaving her determined that this was the first and last time she would be going through this particular form of purgatory. She was, then, not the natural baby factory that some women were, whose children seemed literally to fall out, while they continued to manage everything around them, as if nothing out of the ordinary was happening. Kate felt sorry that Adam would never have a natural son and the couple had, on occasion, discussed the possibility of adoption. But then the opportunity for relocation to Hong Kong had arisen and the idea was put temporarily on the back burner.

Standing just inside the school gates, Kate chatted idly with some of the other Mums, while waiting for her daughter. The afternoon air was beginning to cool, the wind picking up a little on what was otherwise a pleasant autumn day. “Let’s have a pissy lunch soon,” piped up one of the women, the Australian wife of a Canton Air pilot. “Wayne’s always flying off somewhere and I get so fucking bored,” she whined, drawing on her second cigarette in twice as many minutes. Nice turn of phrase – not! thought Kate, indiscreetly swiping at the smoke that puffed from the woman’s lips. “Sure, that would be…” she began, before spying her daughter emerging from the main building. “Oh… Here they come now.”

The children spilled through the school’s entrance doors, shrieking and babbling along their way as they scrambled like ants across the sun-drenched earth to the perimeter fence. “Mummy! Mummy!” Sophie called out shrilly, waving her arms wildly as she ran towards her. Kate smiled cheerily, gathering up her daughter in an airborne bear hug and twirling her around. She kissed the child’s hot and sweaty hair, the faintly sweet fragrance of the white-blonde curls almost bringing a tear to her eye. “Muahhh! How’s Mummy’s little angel, then?” she asked, enthusiastically. “What did we do at school today?” “I finished my picture for the school directamy, Mummy!” “Ory. Directory,” Kate corrected. “That’s it, Mummy: school direct-o-ry,” Sophie agreed.

They walked hand-in-hand down the hill beneath the cedar trees, whose canopy in the summer months provided welcome shelter from the sun’s blistering rays. But today they were without need of its cover, the recent winds having brought with them a layer of exceptionally thick haze from the bellows of southern China’s factories. Seeking to restore her earlier positive mood – something of a rarity, these days – Kate surveyed the neatly tended Sunny Cape environment. She found it hard to imagine a safer place, anywhere in the world. But this had sometimes concerned her, for she sensed that her daughter inevitably lacked a certain street-awareness as a result of having grown up in such a place. That if she was ever forced to fend for herself in some harsher environment, she would never survive. Like most parents, she underestimated the resilience of her child, and that of the young in general. Refusing to be drawn into a gloomy inner monologue, however, Kate now dismissed her concerns, putting them aside as she contemplated the innocent radiance of her child. And Sophie was, indeed, a strikingly pretty young girl.

“Fancy an ice-cream on the way home?” Kate asked, with slightly exagerrated enthusiasm. But she already knew the answer to her question, and the further uplift it would give to what, after all, had the makings of a pleasant afternoon that mother and daughter would enjoy together. “Yay!” Sophie shrieked her delighted response.

posted by Kirk at 1:55 am  

Monday, January 21, 2008

Through The Godless Hours (25)

In the end it had been easy for Detective Adi to make his decision. I am young enough, he reasoned, to reinvent myself in some other place should things get so… so sticky… that I’m forced to make a run for it. And let’s face it: the lure’s worth the risk – ten times over, in fact. And there’s another thing. I’m lucky. Always have been. Stay lucky, my boy… Ever confident, Adi was certain that he could try his hand at something else – anything in fact – should a quick escape be necessary, a forced exit require an abrupt change in his chosen career. And if the risk involved in what he now intended was high, then it was more than compensated for by the potential reward: a future without the need to undertake work by any common definition; one in which he would not be answerable to anyone – where he would be his own boss, devoting more of his time and energy to his favourite pursuits. Like women, for example.

Fundamentally it was this aspect – sheer greed, driven by his thirst for lifestyle – that tipped the scales of Adi’s judgment in favour of the darker alternative, persuading him to gamble everything he had built so far on what essentially would be a single throw of the dice. It was a strategy no less dangerous than the official task he had been given by his CI, but one that, on balance, had the potential to pay out a much larger jackpot for approximately the same stake.

But something that, right now, I have very little idea how to initiate, he confessed, inwardly. Lying on his hotel bed in the sleepy coastal resort of Parangtritis, he pondered the first-strike options that were available. And it was in this moment that Adi decided to make his move immediately, right there in the hotel, while he still held an element of surprise. Perhaps just as importantly, he did not want to give himself the opportunity to pause in reconsideration of his intentions. Stealing quickly from his room, he left the television switched on and returned to the lobby bar where the two men had now been joined by a pair of pretty young hookers – pre-ordered, no doubt, like takeaway convenience food.

Adi sat as close as he could without attracting attention, so as to better overhear the men’s conversation. Perching himself on a stool at the bar, he ordered himself a soft drink. His annoyance began to grow as he observed the pair revelling in self-congratulatory camaraderie. Drunk with the intoxicating cocktail of the closure of another deal, the flood of money it would bring, the alcohol and – cream on top – two slender and willing nymphs to play with, the snapshot image the Captain and his corpulent, Latino accomplice struck was composed of everything Adi desired. Unsurprisingly, what rankled most was the knowledge that the two pretty girls – now babbling away in their naïve excitement – would later risk more than they knew by compliantly following their sleazy hosts upstairs. It sickened him to contemplate the acts of shameless vulgarity they would perform within the privacy of darkened suite rooms, in order to gain their share of the action. And all of this taking place while he, the supremely honed Detective Adi, lay alone in his bed, with only thoughts for company. Fuck them, he swore inwardly, itching to do something to spoil the men’s enjoyment, to break up their party.

But as he continued to watch the ugly scene unfold, Adi made the wise decision, despite his mounting frustration, to postpone his first direct approach to the Captain. Life may be all about risk – one giant gamble, in fact, he lectured himself, while taking a further sip of his drink. But the timing of your actions can greatly influence the odds, one way or the other. For Adi needed to be assured of maximum impact in order to justify the risk he was about to take, and judging by the inebriated state of the Captain it seemed unlikely this could be achieved tonight. No, he continued to coach himself. I need the Captain – Captain ‘Fucking’ Farid, he quietly sniggered – to be absolutely sober for the biggest shock of his sorry fucking life. And that is evidently not the case at present. And there was also something else, he had begun to realise. Not wishing to frighten off the fat Colombian – a man whose continued involvement was, after all, an essential part of the plan – it occurred to Adi that he needed the Captain to be alone when making his move. So it would be a one-on-one encounter, then. Just you and me, he thought, weighing up his adversary with a discreet stare. The hairs on Adi’s neck suddenly stood up as he contemplated this. Jerked from his reflections he abruptly called for the bill, stepping down from his stool before moving away from the group, without pausing to shoot a final glance in their direction.

posted by Kirk at 1:48 am  
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