TEN YEARS HENCE (4)
They didn't block the road till the suburbs.
There were five, masked and armed.
The Patrolman who'd escorted me from Singers, the same one I'd punched and kicked, he must have had a sense of duty. I tried stopping him but he leapt at the nearest masked gunman. He crumpled in an agonised heap, clutching a bloody thigh.
Cliché it may be, but red-anger splashed my vision. ‘Take me for any fanatical reason you like, but stop the shooting!’ Quite a speech. Or epitaph.
They understood and shoved me into the back of a hover-van. I was stripped: naked. Before the nothingness of a blindfold, I glimpsed how I was destined to die: alongside me lay my very own see-through coffin.
Their continual Chinese jabbering bombarded my ears - until I was bombarded on my still-delicate cranium - this was getting monotonous! - and slithered yet again to a gratifying oblivion.
The rubble of earth being shovelled onto my coffin was the first sound I heard.
At first I clawed manfully enough at the lid. But to no avail. Frustration. Vexation. Chagrin, at not knowing why I was being done to death.
Seems fitting, an epilogue.
Without fresh air or sustenance I felt worse than dead as I lay there, eyes red and sore with staring into nowhere. Breath was short and pained, ears as if muffled. Clinging, the humid musty odour of earth and of aged rotten manure. Fingers and skin, they felt emaciated, but this could be my recent tattoos...
Try as I would, I was unable to keep my aching eyes open; and as they closed, I remembered ten years ago, of a young rather callous matelot wending his drunken way home, of his apparent stumble and of his premonition.
But now I could see all the rest. Right up to the moment I fell unconscious my first morning in Singapore's Verdun Road. Rolled, yes, I was. But my compassionate bed-fellow had found me, dazed and still drunk. She'd taken me back, removed my uniform and folded it away in her wardrobe. We'd made love, and somehow I had no thought of my own, none at all, like a child, really.
I learned my youngish Oriental saviour was called Lee Fong, but for some obscure reason I called her Tai-tai.
In that state I possessed only a simple smattering of English, but soon picked up phrases Tai-tai used and quickly assimilated meanings.
Mamasan, the head of the brothel, wanted to return me to the authorities, but Tai-tai and the other girls pleaded to keep me. Under Mamasan's voluminous folds of skin she must have had a heart of gold, for she consented. I think I became their mascot. I suppose it was different for them, a change from having drunken Westerners and esoteric aliens pawing them, rancid breath smothering their faces, brutally thrusting to get their money's-worth, particularly if coupling was for a ‘short time’ only. Me, I was undemanding, compliant with their wishes. If I'd but known it, I was in heaven.
In the six years that I stayed there my life comprised sleep, food and copulation: existing.
Physically, I reacted admirably well and obviously enjoyed every minute of it. But I suppose I wasn't much better than one of Pavolv's dogs - just responding with much delight to very pleasurable stimuli.
When Tai-tai, my surrogate mother-lover, entertained visitors, I thought nothing of lying beneath her bed, awed by the grunts and groans: our love-making was so serene and quiet in comparison... I could never touch enough of her cool beauteous olive skin, so fragrant, with a lovely sheen. Yet the sensation of jealousy never entered my addled brain. As she often told me, ‘entertaining’ was her job.
Then came that night of storm. As usual, I lay under the bed, Tai-tai and a customer on top. Suddenly, the door burst open to reveal a massive roaring Manchurian, parchment cheeks suffused with anger, claiming he was Tai-tai's master.
A row, violence, shadows flashing, screams, a glinting sword raised... Her olive skin, torn, rent asunder, marred, all red, oh God! The jealous suitor departed, still in a rage, his one solitary eye and thrice-scarred face scowling horribly.
In a daze, I crawled out to see if there was anyone I could contact, to seek succour, a new mothering mistress, a fresh sense of security.
The crowd found me there, rifling through drawers with Tai-tai's grisly corpse yet warm on the floor, that of her late bed-mate nearby. A large well-dressed Chinese aristocrat entered. Every movement poetry. He looked down upon his despoiled treasure, his wayward daughter. His long-nailed fingers clicked, twice. My uniform was snatched up; then I was taken to his private grounds where he told his beautiful wife what I had supposedly done. She broke down in front of me - thereby shaming him - wanting to scratch my eyes out, hurling abuse, verbally castrating me. But he had a better idea.
Chang Loi was an artist, a tattooist; brilliant, really.
Below his resplendent house I lay out-stretched. He did his work well. What part of me he left without pictographs has equally meaningful pictures tattooed thereon. A bloody walking willow-pattern, that's me!
He wouldn't listen to my protestations of innocence. As time passed and his wife's hate faded, I tried my scanty Malay on her whenever Chang Loi was away visiting Tai-tai's shrine. I discovered she had been of Tai-tai's calling, and not of such fastidious tastes as her spouse...
As I lay spread-eagled she began idly caressing parts of my body still unmarred by needle and ink. Soon, her touch affected me, but she wasn't shocked. Her pupils dilated and her pointed red tongue moistened slightly parted lips.
After about half-a-dozen similar meetings, she attained such a pitch of expectancy that before I could blink she was straddling me.
But the release her horse-womanship provided quickly cloyed. Secured as I was, she completely drained me, and soon I dreaded the subservient role I was allotted.
Eventually, even this palled for her and I grasped her boredom immediately and suggested I could best give her pleasure if released.
It was a gamble; but I had nothing to lose.
Surprisingly, my colourful promises convinced her and she turned me loose.
Once free, I needed her help to stand, to walk; sex during those painful minutes was far from my mind. But her ministrations helped get the blood flowing, tingling, and when my circulation was adequately restored, I ran hellish fast! I escaped three days before I was due to die by Chang Loi's hand, his needle cutting me as he believed I'd savaged his daughter... I'd lain there only existing for his needle to pierce yet another pigment for three years and six months... With me went my shoddy uniform, clothing to conceal my nakedness, my obscenity.
I ran and ran. Until I stumbled into a monsoon ditch...
But Chang Loi had many friends, for here I now lay, buried alive...
Dimly, I heard high-pitched sirens. Then the crackling, hammering above. Deafening after the stillness! Splinters of Plexiglas jabbed my face. Light, painfully thrusting at me. Fresh air burst into my lungs, I gulped and heard voices: ‘Get them in the Maria...’
‘He's here, all right - we might be in time...’
Before I collapsed in their helping hands, I glimpsed the Reg standing by the Police Maria, his thigh heavily bandaged. His radio-box hung on his belt, intact.
In hospital, the shock of Tai-tai's gruesome murder finally hit. I cried.
Thoughts of vengeance, of seeking out the murderous Manchurian, passed through my ravaged mind, but eight million people at Sinapore's last count is a lot of people... The hunt for the one-eyed Manchurian? I'd leave that to The Fugitive - I couldn't face it.
Patricia? I tried saying no, but she went ahead and married me a year back. She has been with me ever since I walked away from Whitehall a free man. She has compassion; I need her and, strangely, she seems to need me. Our daughter's ten and called Veronica.
Doubtless my rescue and subsequent good fortune will seem an anti-climax, as though Fate had contrived a happy ending. Far from it.
My luck held the other month when a mysterious explosion rocketed the driverless tracked taxi I was travelling in. The capsule leapt off its computer-routed over-head guide-way and I ended up with multiple bruising and a broken arm. And, only two weeks ago I barely saved myself from being ‘accidentally’ shoved onto the Portsmouth tube-line as an underground train approached.
Now, I know my death is near. Chang Loi has lost face and will use his long and powerful arm to regain his honour. Persistence will pay.
Patricia and Veronica are well provided for. When the time comes, as surely it must soon, I've expressed a strong desire to be cremated.
One of Tai-tai's quotations springs to mind. Rather apt, really. ‘Life is a lodging place, death is returning home.’
I am ready, Chang Loi.
Originally published in Nova SF, 1993. Copyright Nik Morton, 2014
If you liked this story, you might like my collection of crime tales, Spanish Eye, published by Crooked Cat, which features 22 cases from Leon Cazador, private eye, ‘in his own words’. He is also featured in the story ‘Processionary Penitents’ in the Crooked Cat Collection of twenty tales, Crooked Cats’ Tales.
Spanish Eye, released by Crooked Cat Publishing is available as a paperback and as an e-book.