Bad Wednesday in Wan Chai (1)

The problem with the plane landing early, as it had done, was that none of the bars on Lockhart Road were open yet. Rog was at a loss as to what to do. After he’d checked in to the guesthouse, he went back out to the street and began to wander aimlessly up and down.

In the daylight, the road was scruffy and depressing. There was a constant stream of traffic racing past, dust in the air, men with no shirts pushing trolleys of what looked to him like junk up and down the pavement. He paused outside the bar on the corner, a dismal sight in daylight. Without the neon lights in the window flashing, it was just a shady looking bar with a red curtain over the door and a brazier outside full of ash.

At night, he remembered them forever burning things in the braziers, to ward off evil. Superstitious, these Eastern types. Inscrutable too, like the man who checked his passport at Customs, stared long and hard at him without saying a word, then passed his passport back and waved him through.

It was from not being properly civilised, Rog guessed. They just didn’t quite understand how to behave.

Still, it was hot, and he felt like he should be doing something, something more than just buying some porn from the Seven-Eleven and leafing through it while drinking cheap beer. He started walking again, telling himself that he was exploring, making a plan for the night, when he knew full well he was just an overweight middle-aged man, dithering in the street as he wandered from one closed-up bar to another.

Makati, Bonanza, Wild Chicken, Laguna, Borocay, Bagatas, The Typhoon Shelter, Cowboys, Suzie Wong’s World Of Adventure; a series of denied promises, like watching a box of empty chocolates displayed on a fuzzy black and white television. Rog shrugged to himself, carried on his odyssey, his feet scuffing on the pavement as he dragged himself onward.

Near the end of Lockhart Road, far from the crossroads with Fenwick Street, the bars faded into a series of convenience stores, apartment buildings and shops that apparently sold nothing but plumbing fittings. As Rog approached this, he noticed there was an unfamiliar bar. Perhaps it had always been there; perhaps he’d failed to try it out last time he’d been through Hong Kong, but that seemed unlikely; he’d sampled the bars pretty thoroughly. Or perhaps he’d been too drunk at the time to remember.

It was dark; the front of the bar itself was dark. Even on a sunny day like this, when a thousand motes of dust shone in the air every time a bus blew past on the road, something was sucking light away from the front of the bar. Rog rubbed his eyes. Maybe it was just because it was daytime and there was no neon illumination to make things look more exciting than they really were. But the bar, black walls, black door, black sign above the door with black-upon-black writing; it seemed like some strange alien building that had landed in Wan Chai and then got stuck, incapable of reattaining orbit. Around the doorway were elaborate carvings that might have been tentacles, or faces, or words. It was hard to look at them for too long.

As he looked at the bar, squinting at the sign to try to read the words that were in relief on it, he felt a headache coming on. His vision swum; silver dots danced before his eyes momentarily. It was the jet lag. He should have slept more on the plane, or less on the plane, or something. His mouth was suddenly dry.

‘T-10″ he croaked, reading the sign out loud. Did that mean anything?

He turned, and, noticing that the guesthouse was almost directly opposite, decided to get himself a drink of Pokey Sweat or whatever that strange stuff in the Seven-Eleven was called, and catch forty winks. But he’d be back. He had a feeling about the T-10; there was that sense of dread it was projecting, but at the same time, some sort of promise. It was always good to try something new, and that bar looked like nothing else.

* * *

Lee got back from the airport mid-morning. It had been a pointless trip out there. The mysterious Mr Gray had arrived an hour earlier than expected because the pilot had been in a hurry, and when he’d asked to see records on what Mr Gray looked like, or where he was going, Immigration had told him to not waste their time.

He told them he was on official police business.

They asked him where his warrant was.

He cursed, and took the train back to Hong Kong. Kwan had sent him on a wild goose chase – and for what? He would have known, just as Lee would have, if he’d taken five minutes to think about it, that the Immigration Authority wouldn’t just pass out data on travelers to any policeman who turned up with a vague request. There was probably some worry about data protection laws being violated, after that big fuss the previous year when everyone silly enough to give any personal details to the MTR had found themselves on a mailing list for every insurance salesman, telephone service provider salesman, rice-paper-noodle delivery service salesman and get-rich-quick scheme salesman in the land. So no rooting around for Mr Gray for him.

So it had been quite rational for him to abandon the exercise and go back to the station. Kwan was unlikely to see it that way, and as he stood on the MTR on the way back to Wan Chai from Central, he tried to steel himself for the inevitable.

He got into the station without seeing Kwan, a man who normally had a preturnatural ability to detect Lee and find him just when he didn’t want him to. Instead, he walked straight into Lam, who was standing in the entranceway, staring into space.

“Andy? Are you alright?”

Lam turned and looked at him. He stared at Lee, practically stared through him.

“Something’s going on,” he said. “I just found out he was dead.”

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