Going down the toilet

Lee sat in the stands, chewing gum and staring down on them. They were standing then, drinking more, not really paying attention to the races. Sure, he’d wave his arms and get excited when the horses ran past, but it didn’t look like they had much impact on his mind.

He could have gone home hours ago. Probably, he really should have done. Chrissie would be waiting to chastise him for not getting home earlier, as if police work was like any other office job and you could just wander off at five with all the other commuters. Alfred would be sitting there, scrawling with his crayons over one book or another, possibly even getting some of the colours within the lines. That was something Lee thought he should have grown out of by now – when did children stop being so childish?

Compared to his wife and child, Bruton-Jones plus the blonde piece were a superior sort of family to have. He could shout at Bruton-Jones and there wasn’t any way he could answer back. Maybe if he’d had Alfred arrested and stuck in an interview room for the night, then he wouldn’t be such an ungrateful child.

Plus, they seemed to be enjoying themselves at the races, even if that did consist of Bruton-Jones being startled when the horses ran past, or flapping his arms too much the rest of the time.

The woman looked a little more sensible. At least when she wobbled away into the crowd and then came back with a drink, it looked like Coke rather than more lager. Perhaps he was elevating her unfairly; after all, the main reason he thought she was more pleasant than his wife was because she hadn’t said anything unkind to him, but that was only because she hadn’t said anything to him at all.

Still, he could dream. He rested his elbows on his knees, put his chin on his hands, and stared down at them.

He wasn’t cut out for this. He would have been much happier just sitting in an office all day, not having to deal with criminals. Still, Lam would be solving things now, leaping into action, uncovering some evidence that would fix everything up. He could just sit there and wait.

Bruton-Jones punctured his reverie of familial bliss and indolence when he threw the Coke on the floor, shouted at the woman, and staggered off into the stands. From where Lee stood, he could see that tail from the afternoon, pushing his way through the crowd to follow Bruton-Jones.

Lee stood up, pushed past a man methodically shredding his betting slips as each of his horses failed to romp home, and ran down the stairs two at a time, arriving at ground level just in time to see the tail going into the toilets. Lee strode towards the door as quickly as he could without breaking into a run, mind half filled with the worry that he looked ridiculous doing so.

* * *

The problem with having to drink so much was that your bladder wasn’t designed for it. When there was an essential act like this, it was a big problem that you couldn’t just dump out the excess fluid in some other way. Alfie thought he should tell somebody about this. There had to be a way to do it more tidily.

As he groped in his trousers and then pointed himself at the urinal, he worried about how he was going to explain things to Esther. She was starting to get ideas about sobering up. But he couldn’t – they couldn’t let that happen. Barnsie had been right, had … the word escaped him. There were a lot of words he couldn’t think of right now, like there was a part of his mind shut off.

Not that he was drunk. He could still remember lots of words, like aardvark, and apple, and …

Somebody was tapping at his arm, and distracting him from this important taxonomy of words. They were saying something. He ignored the voice, carried on emptying himself of urine, had to go back to aardvark and start again. Aardvark, apple, er …

The tapping wouldn’t stop. Then the words penetrated the fog; made them clear to Alfie. He was standing in a toilet in the Jockey Club, with a man pressing at his sleeve and shouting ‘Fuck You!’ in his ear. He didn’t need to stand for this. He turned and slapped the man in the face.

* * *

Lee walked into the toilets as the tail got up from the floor and swung at Bruton-Jones.  Bruton-Jones was peeing all over the place, his trousers at half-mast, so it wasn’t easy for him to avoid the punch.  The two of them went to the floor, shouting and yelling at one another.

After a stressful day of work, this was amusing enough for Lee to stand there and laugh at the two of them for a moment, before he collected himself and pulled out a can of pepper spray from his coat pocket.  Two security guards came to the doorway behind him.  He waved them back.  “Police” he said, before striding over and spraying Bruton-Jones and his assailant.

The two recoiled, rolling across the floor and rubbing at their eyes, both yelling in pain and surprise.

Lee nudged the tail in his ribs with one foot.  “Stop it” he said in Cantonese.  “Pull yourself together. You never been maced before?”  He turned to Bruton-Jones, now trying to pull himself upright by climbing up the side of one of the toilet cubicles.

“You’re in trouble now.  Do your trousers back up, we’re going.”  He turned back to the tail.  “Show me your ID.”

The man looked dumbly at him.  “Don’t look at me like an idiot.  Where’s your badge?”

He pulled out his wallet and handed it over to Lee.  Lee opened it, extracted his warrant card.

Switching back to Cantonese: “Chui.  What are you doing fighting in a toilet with a respectable member of the community?”

“It’s … it’s official business.  I can’t tell you.”

“Official business?  And you can’t tell me?”  He paused, motioned to Bruton-Jones to stand still.  “How about I tell you this, Chui.  You’re a constable, I’m an inspector, and I’m keeping your warrant card and reporting you tomorrow for conduct unbefitting an officer.  How does that sound for official business?”

“You can’t do that, I’m following orders -“

“Orders from who?”

“I can’t tell you -“

“Chui, I will use this spray on you again if you don’t answer me properly.  Who?”

Nothing.

“Fine.”  He walked over, gave Chui another burst of pepper spray.  Chui yelled out and put his hands to his face, so Lee kicked him in the groin.  He howled.  The door to the toilets opened and one of the security men put his head in, looking quizzically at Lee.

“Just an interrogation.  Kindly shut the door, unless you want to join this one on the floor.”  The face hurriedly withdrew and the door shut again.  “Chui, it’s simple.  You’re going to answer my question, and it’s just a matter of whether you have to go to hospital afterwards or just go home.  Up to you.”

Chui sat there, weeping through his hands.

“OK.  Maybe it’s a secret.  Maybe you can’t tell me why you’re doing this.  That’s fine.  How about you just nod if I say a name and that happens to be the right one.  You can at least do that, can’t you?  We’re both police.  I want to help you, you should want to help me too.  Right?”

Chui nodded, looking fearfully up at Lee.

“Good.  Ok.  Chief Inspector Wong.”  No response.  “Kwong?”  Nothing.  “Kwan?” Chui twitched.

“Was that a nod?”

Chui nodded, reluctantly, looking as though he hoped the floor of the Jockey Club toilet would open and swallow him up.

“There, that wasn’t so bad.”  Lee gave him another squirt of mace.  “That’s for wasting my time and not saying so immediately.”  He stuffed Chui’s warrant card in his pocket.  “You’ll report to me tomorrow morning, and then you’ll get this back.  Where were you going to take this man to?”

“The – ” Chui stopped himself.

“Fine.  Be like that.”

It took two more squirts of mace, one short, the other long with Lee’s hand on Chui’s head, holding him face-onto it, before he told him Kwan’s office at the station.

“Now why did you make me go through all of this, Chui?  Come on, get up and go home.  I’ll see you in my office at 9.30 tomorrow.  Now go.”

He turned to Bruton-Jones, who was now looking terrified, having witnessed the detective who had questioned him this morning repeatedly spray mace into the other man’s face.

“Right then.  You’re coming with me.”

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