The Year of the Golden Pig 7 (Edit)
I left the clothes on the bed. Downstairs, I gave Wing Wah the dumb show about using his phone. He charged me 5 Singapore dollars every time. I think he thought I phoned my mum in Deptford. It was a quarter to five. I wanted to catch Jen before she left.
- ‘RMP DET, Liaison: Lance Corporal L-
- ‘Save it, Jen. It’s me. You on your own?’
- ‘Yeah. You’re lucky you caught-‘
- ‘Right, I owe you one. Search the Captain’s office. Put anything useful in your handbag. We’re having dinner. Chinatown. I’ll pick you up outside Tanglin gates. Bring anything you find.’
- ‘Very James Bond. Connery’s not my type either. What’s this about, Marsh?’
- ‘Just do it Jen. I’ll tell you at dinner.’
Wing Wah looked pleased at his profit on an international call. He’d have kissed me if he’d known how much he’d really made.
As I pulled up at the main gate of Tanglin Barracks, the stag was changing. One bored 19-year-old was replacing another: two hours of checking ID cards and getting ‘do you know who I am?’ from every holder of the Queen’s Commission trying to impress his wife, girlfriend or whoever was in the passenger seat. I wished him silent luck. I’d hated it. That’s why I’d rebadged to the RMP. You didn’t have to take shit from anybody, as long as you handed out your own with a nice tidy ‘Sir’ attached. Jen opened the door and got in. Just sat back in the seat and lit up. DuMaurier and a gold Ronson; not bad for a Lance Jack.
There wasn’t much conversation on the way to Chinatown. Jen looked over at me occasionally, in between blowing rings. I liked that about her. Didn’t have to talk. I pulled over in a dark street whose name I couldn’t begin to pronounce, just outside Chinatown. We parked outside the Hindi Cinema, the garish lights our marker for later, when the darkness fell.
- ‘Where’s the romantic meal happening?’ Her lop-sided smile said it all.
- ‘We’re going to Fat Albert’s. You been?’
- ‘It’s somewhere to talk; safe among the tourists, that’s all.’
We turned the corner and the noise was like a wall. Firecrackers, music, Gong Hi Fa Choi for the tourists or for the locals, who knew? Under a tarp shelter a Chinese Doctor was curing something or other. A scrawny guy aged just about a hundred had a conical bit of wood sticking out of his calf. The joss-sticks stank like a piss in a whorehouse. The Doctor’s finger was tracing pictograms as his lips moved.
- ‘Clap clinic.’ I said. Jen eyed me and said nothing.
We broke through a crowd into a square and Fat Albert’s bit of the pavement. Formica as design statement. We sat.
- ‘Get anything?’ I said.
- ‘You promised dinner.’
- ‘I did.’
There was no menu at Fat Albert’s. Caucasians would order the special for however many and beer. That was S$5 a head then, and the beer stopped coming only when you left. Someone once translated some dishes’ names at a different restaurant near Change Alley. The Ants Leave Home and Lion Head. I was none the wiser after eating, but it had been good. We took the easy route with the surly waiter.
- ‘Find anything?’ I asked after the dumpling starters.
- ‘In Captain Mainwaring’s office?’ she smiled.
- ‘Very funny, that radio programme about the Home Guard, isn’t it?’
- ‘Marsh, It’s been on the telly for years, back home! When did you last have Blighty Leave?’ She laughed.
- ‘Well, did you?’ A bit sharply, considering.
- ‘That’s the funny thing… You know what his desk is like. The manuscript for War and Peace could be on it and you wouldn’t find it in the paperwork. Well, there were two leave passes on his desk. That’s it. The drawers were locked. And the safe’s out front. Nothing I hadn’t put in it.’ She paused. She was right. It was odd.
- ‘What’s this about Marsh?’
Six dishes came at once.
We set upon the food. Hungry, or unwilling to talk about what was coming, We gorged on the food. She took out one of her debutante’s cigarettes, proffered the packet. I shook my head, lipped a State Express out of mine. She leaned back, I lit her with a Zippo my mother said had been my father’s. She blew smoke through her nose like a dragon.
- ‘Still a Half-Screw, Jen? Why?’
- ‘Square Peg, I s’pose.’
Maybe. Perhaps her hair was too short and her shoes too flat to get the recommendations from a male superior. Or maybe she was just too clever. It didn’t do to make the officers feel stupid.
- ‘You’ve done OK, though.’ She said.
- ‘Not bad.’ I admitted. Only a few years older than Jen, I could go no further without becoming an officer.
- ‘No commission, though?’
- ‘No.’ And there never would be. Not after Berlin.
I gave Jen the run-down: Baudelaire,‘Jane', and Lee Kuan Chew’s interview.
- ‘That’s it Jen. I get the feeling I’m not in the frame, but I might be if I don’t keep my nose out…’
- ‘And you reckon that might be a reason to stick your nose in? What happened to N.O.B.?’
- ‘I just want to know, Jen. I don’t like not knowing.’
- ‘And what if there’s a scorpion under the rock?’
- ‘I’ll wear my parade boots.’ I said.