Wednesday, 26 June 2013

Tell Me About the Girl by Mark Heywood

Read by Michael Rogers

She places the tray on the table in front of him and scratches the back of her hand. He looks at her, smiles and thinks about saying something as she empties the ashtray and replaces the dirty mugs with full ones. As she runs a dingy cloth over the tea-stained surface he sits with his hands on his thighs trying to avoid touching the dried-up wads of chewing gum stuck to the underside of the table. She drops the cloth and he leans over and picks it up with both hands. He notices her wedding ring as he sits up. He smiles again and gives her the cloth. As he does so his bracelet rattles against the table. She nods and picks up the tray. He checks that his trousers haven’t ridden down. He doesn't wear a belt.

The door opens and Harry Lee enters the room. He walks over to the table and sits down opposite him.

“Sorry about that,” says Harry shoving his phone in his inside pocket. Harry takes a sip from the chipped mug. “You were telling me about the girl.”

“There's nothing to tell,” he says. “I met her the other night in the hotel bar. She was friendly, and pretty. She let me buy her a drink and we chatted for a bit.”

“Did anything happen?” says Harry. He slurps his tea.

“Not really.” He shrugs. “I gave her my card and she left shortly after.”

“What did you talk about?” says Harry.

“Not much.” He shrugs again and looks at the cigarettes.

“Not much?” says Harry. “You said she was pretty! Did you arrange to meet her again? Did you get her number?”

He shakes his head and picks up the pack of cigarettes. He wipes his wrist on his trousers and pulls at the waistband with both hands. “Losing your touch?” says Harry pushing the box of matches across the table.

“That would imply I had ’touch’ in the first place ... thanks.” He lights the cigarette, and clutches it to his mouth. He takes a deep drag. He glances at the clock on the wall.

Harry catches the look. “Will they have noticed you aren't there?”

“Probably not. It's always the same when I am in the region. No one in the UK is up yet, and the team here will assume I am in meetings. I'm supposed to take them out for a drink tonight, but other than that, I'd be surprised if they’ve missed me.”

“Do you always stay at the Shangri-La?”

He nods. “I like the bar, although if the Upper House were on the corporate list, I'd stay there every time.” He takes another drag. “How long have you been here Harry?”

“I came over from Beijing a year before the handover. I've been here ever since.”

Has it changed much?”

“In some ways. But in others it’s still the same place it was when your lot ran it. I think it will always be more British than Chinese.”

The two of them sit there in silence and Harry glances at the girl who cleared their table. She sits by the door and pretends not to notice his look.

“This girl,” says Harry. “You said she called you. When was that?”

“Last night. I was surprised to be honest with you. I didn't think she was interested.”

“What did she say?” He stubs out his cigarette. “She said she wanted to meet.”

“At the Shangri-La?”

He nods.

“Why did she change her mind?”

“I don't know,” he says.

“So what happened?” says Harry.

“She didn't turn up. She called to say she was on her way, but that was the last time I heard from her.”

“So you drowned your sorrows at the bar?” says Harry through a smirk.

“Something like that,” he says. He turns his head towards his shoulder and wipes away the sweat on his top lip with his crumpled shirt. He catches sight of her sitting near the door and watches as the ceiling fan cools her. She has her hair tied in a ponytail and she leans back slightly so that the breeze blows on her face and neck. She wears a crisp white blouse, with the first two buttons open revealing her slender neckline and a simple, silver chain. He follows the line of the blouse as it disappears into her grey pencil skirt which drapes over one side of the chair, partially obscuring the formica seat and the chrome legs that have been peeled back to the rust beneath by the humidity. He notices her shoes. They look out of place on the cheap plastic floor tiles. He wonders how she affords them on her salary and then he notices the wedding ring again. He wipes his top lip on his shoulder once more and thinks about the girl from the bar.

“You’re hung-over.”

“I'm not hung-over. I'm just tired.”

“Look at you. You’re sweating,’ says Harry.

“Its hot, that's all,” he says as he reaches for his cup.

“What happened to your hand?” Harry says as he points at his knuckles.

“I had a bit too much to drink,” he says.

“It looks like you were in a fight.”

He shrugs and glances at the clock and then at the cigarettes. “So I got in a fight in a bar. So what? Like you said Harry, Hong Kong will always be more British than Chinese.”

Harry reaches inside his jacket and brings out a photo which he places on the table. “Is this the girl?” Harry says. His eyes widen as he stares at her lifeless form, her slashed throat and her left eye punched shut. “I don't understand,” he says. “What happened to her?”

Detective Sergeant Harry Lee reaches over and presses the pause button on the tape recorder then turns to the girl who gets up to open the holding room door. She smoothes her skirt, switches off the fan and then picks up the bag containing a tie, a belt and shoelaces. She nods at Harry Lee and leaves.

“We found her body at 3am, two blocks from your hotel. Your number was the last one she called.”

He struggles to get a cigarette from the packet. As he does so the handcuffs rattle the table.

“Tell me about the girl,” says Harry.

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