“What’s this?” Alfie looked at the drink Esther was offering him.
“It’s Coke” his sister said. “We’ve been drinking all day. Shouldn’t we take a break for a bit?”
“Alfie, don’t bark at me.”
“No Esther, you don’t under-under- … Understand. I keep trying to tell you …”
“Tell me what, Alfie?”
“It’s – you can’t drink – look – ” He reached forward, swiped at the plastic cup, meaning to grab it, but knocked it out of Esther’s hand and onto the ground.
“Alfie, what are you doing?” The cola spattered on the green fake turf. Alfie looked down at it, looked up at Esther again, sincerely wondering to himself what he was doing.
“It’s … ” He belched. “It’s got ice in it.” He leaned in to his sister, whispered in a hoarse voice “it’s got ice in it” then staggered back, dancing around his own feet.
“Of course it’s got ice in it, Alfie. It’s ruddy hot here, haven’t you noticed?”
Alfie hiccuped, felt something else rise in his throat. “Esther, I gotta go … go … to the lav-a-to-ry. Stay here. Don’t talk to anyone. And don’t drink any water.” He weaved off towards the toilets in the main stand. Esther leant against the rail, looked away from the track, up at the stand, gleaming in the floodlights, and sighed at the endearing daftness of her little brother. He was really quite stupid when he got drunk.
* * *
Kwan had called for him specially, told him he had a special assignment. Something that would lead to an immediate promotion. All he had to do was follow the man in the photograph that Kwan had pointed out, say the passphrase to him so he knew he was trustworthy, and then bring him to the station that evening.
Constable Chui wasn’t sure why somebody as high up as Kwan had called on him to do this. He didn’t question much; it was better to keep your head down. He hadn’t asked why Kwan would need the man to be brought to the station, when he’d been released from it only that morning, but again, it was better to keep your head down. He hadn’t even asked why Kwan hadn’t bothered asking somebody else, somebody who could speak English, but again, it was better to keep your head down. He was sure the man must know, would be expecting him. He’d just say the words, a meaningless phrase in Cantonese, and then the two of them would go back to the station together. Like a spy? he’d asked Kwan. Yes, like a spy.
All the same, Kwan’s parting words had been a little confusing. If the guy was waiting to be contacted, why would Kwan say “if he gives you any trouble, just smack him about and then bring him straight to me”? But again, it was better to keep your head down. People who asked questions tended to get a slapping down, and that wouldn’t do for prospects of a promotion.
All day he’d followed the man. It had been hard going; he’d gone this way and that, from one place to another, then checking into a hotel apparently at random. Chui had sat in the lobby for hours, feeling out of place. If he’d been in uniform he might have got a bit of respect, but the staff had kept staring at the guy in slightly-too-cheap clothes, sitting there, until he had to go and stand outside and look in through the glass. He would have just shown his badge to them, but Kwan had said it was a special secret assignment. Nobody was meant to know.
Then at last, after a whole day on his feet, he’d seen the man come out of the lift – but not on his own. That was no good. Kwan had said it was to be a secret – there couldn’t be other witnesses. So Chui had to carry on following them, keeping ten paces back, until they merged with the crowd at the race course, and even then, no opportunity. So he waited. He had always thought of himself as having stoic qualities.
Finally, after what seemed like hours, the guy stepped away from his girlfriend, and walked into the stands alone. Chui saw his moment, and hurried after him. He veered into the toilets – there was Chui’s chance, to get him alone. He rushed after him.
Outside the toilets, the interior of the stands were lit with a keen white light; inside it was a little dimmer, with a hint of bleach. The hubbub from the crowds was muted. It was helpful that there was nobody else inside. The target was standing at one of the urinals. Good cover, Chui supposed. Perhaps he was just waiting for him. He strode up next to him, tapped the man on the shoulder, and said what he was meant to say.
The man grunted.
“Flower bridge.” Chui said it louder this time, worried he hadn’t been clear enough before.
The man ignored him. The sound of rushing water was loud in the tiled room. Chui began to worry that this wasn’t the right man. Or was he not saying it right?
He tapped the man on the shoulder again, harder this time, and then shouted in his ear. “Flower bridge!”
At this point, the man lurched round, urinating on Chui’s trousers, and punched him in the side of the head.