The Fanling Conspiracy

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CHRISTMAS TIME

Ben was able to negotiate a binding over with the police in relation to Dylan’s fighting charge, without the entry of a conviction, much to Dylan’s chagrin, who said he wanted his day in court. Ben was able to persuade him however that this was the right thing to do, as Dylan himself well knew. Ben had to pull in a favour or two to achieve this, which he made Dylan aware of in no uncertain terms. Tyler was committed to trial in the High Court by Magistrate Noble, which was no surprise. They awaited the allocation of a trial date.

It was now Christmas week. Ben had spoken to his wife by telephone on several occasions during December, often acrimoniously. Debbie had changed her mind and had decided she did not want Ben home for Christmas, which upset him greatly. Debbie of course could not stop Ben returning if he so wished, but as they came from the same small town he felt it would cause all sorts of problems if he returned without her consent. He decided to stay away and have a Chinese Christmas.

Which, Ben considered, was a contradiction in terms. The Hong Kong people simply saw Christmas as another holiday, two more days off work. Due to western influences, it had become more of a celebration than in the past, but Chinese New Year was still the most important celebration by far. At Christmas, the shops stayed open, as did the cinemas and most other things. Mostly, it was just another day. Ben was determined however to make the best of it.

Luckily, most of his friends were also remaining in Hong Kong for the holiday period. Dylan had been born in Hong Kong, although his parents now resided in Wales, and he rarely left Hong Kong for Christmas. Big Bob and Leroy stayed, although Luigi went home to his beloved Gabriella and his three kids. Ben decided to have a Christmas party.

Not too many, he thought. Dylan, Bob, Leroy, of course. He also invited Sebastian, and Stan Baxter and his wife. A small dinner party would be fun. Christmas Day fell on a Saturday this year, and so Ben and Dylan closed the firm at lunchtime on Christmas Eve, to the staff’s gratitude. A few drinks in Joe Bananas in the evening was followed by the church service in St. John’s Cathedral, much to Dylan’s chagrin, as he felt he was well away with some Thai girl when Ben pulled him away. Ben felt it wasn’t Christmas without the singing of a few carols, and he sang with gusto, Dylan less so. Dylan in fact constantly grumbled about the lack of toilet facilities in the church, so much so that Ben had to lead him out of the service half way through in embarrassment. Ben refused to return to Joe Bananas in response to Dylan’s toilet antics, the result being that they were both home, and sound asleep, by 2.00am.

Ben woke up early and had breakfast on the roof garden, a quite spacious area and the main reason why he had rented the flat. It was a beautiful morning, just like a typical English sunny day. He wondered if it was snowing back in England, he hoped so. To his surprise, Dylan joined him.

“Well, Merry Christmas, Dylan”, said Ben.
“Is it?” said Dylan. “For some reason I have a terrible hangover.”

“That may be due to the twenty apple schnapps you drank last night.”

“Oh yes, I forgot...I was trying to break Big Bob’s record. I would have done it as well, if you hadn’t dragged me away. Only 22 to go.”

“Yes, well, think how you would feel now if you’d drank those extra 22. I’ve saved your Christmas.”

“Gee, thanks, Ben. That Filipina bird was gorgeous. I invited her to the dinner today, hope you don’t mind.” Ben was appalled.

“Oh, Dylan! You know I’ve only catered for seven people. We don’t even know the girl either! It’s supposed to be a dinner for friends!”

“Oh come on, Ben. She’s my friend. She can share my dinner, if you like. You know I don’t eat much.”

“That’s not the point, Dylan, and you know it.” Ben brooded for a while.

“OK Dylan, she can come”, he said at last. “She’s not a prostitute, is she?”

“No, of course not! At least, I don’t think so”, he grinned. “Never can tell these days.” Ben gave him a look.

“What time is dinner?” said Dylan. “I told Ally to come round at two o’clock.”

“That’s about right then. I want to serve at three prompt. A proper Christmas dinner, turkey and everything.” Dylan was impressed.

“Don’t forget the bacon on the turkey then, and the sausages.”

Ben spent the next two hours in the small kitchen, preparing the dinner. The turkey was almost cooked from the night before, it wouldn’t take long. As he cut the carrots, he wondered what poor old Tyler was having for dinner. He also thought about Debbie, and the many happy Christmases they had spent together. Maybe no more, he thought. He still wanted to get back together with Debbie, but that was becoming more and more remote, he had to admit.

The guests started arriving at 1.00pm. Big Bob first, of course, closely followed by Leroy. They were quickly into the mountain of cans that Ben had put in the bath with a sack-full of ice. Sebastian was next to arrive, looking very smart in a black tuxedo. Stan and his wife Josie arrived shortly before 2.00pm. There was no sign of Dylan’s friend Ally, to Ben’s relief. When she had not arrived by 3.30pm, Ben decided to serve dinner, as everyone was ravenous.

The turkey was a great success. Ben’s culinary expertise was applauded by all, even Dylan. There was too much to eat, even for Bob, who had devoured enough food to last the whole of Kowloon for one week. As Ben was serving the coffee and brandy, there was a knock on the door. Ben stared at Dylan, who rushed to the door. Outside was Ally, resembling, to Ben’s eyes, a cheap hooker.

“Oh, hi”, said Dylan. “Er...is it OK, Ben?” Ben did not forget his manners even though he would have a few sharp words with Dylan later.

“Of course, of course, we have lots of food left, please come in.”

Ally smiled, said thanks, and entered the flat, bringing with her four similarly dressed girls of clearly similar persuasion. Ben stared goggle-eyed, as did the rest of the men there, but for different reasons. This is too much, thought Ben, and was about to firmly but politely protest, but the lads got in before him.

“Hello there, girls!” said Bob. “Come over here, love, there’s loads of room beside me!”

“And here”, said Leroy. Even Sebastian was getting into the act, to Ben’s disgust and Dylan’s amusement. Within five minutes, Dylan, Bob, Leroy and Sebastian were becoming very well acquainted indeed with their new friends, as Stan looked on in envy. Even Josie looked to be thoroughly enjoying the party, and when the girls came up for air shared a few jokes with them.

Ben was the only one who was not enjoying the party, as a scene from Caligula developed before his eyes. It was not as though he had been left out by the girls, far from it. One of the girls had approached him suggesting something other than washing the dishes. He was appalled and declined her offer rather testily. He went to his room for a while and lay on his bed. What was wrong with him? Surely his friends and the girls were simply having a bit of fun, nothing wrong with that? Ben wondered if the girls wanted paying at the end of their performance, but considered it likely that Dylan had already taken care of that. He decided to ring his parents and wish them Merry Christmas, luckily he had a phone in his room. He checked his watch, it would be 10.00am in England now, they would be out of bed now. He dialled.

“Hello, it’s me.” His usual opening.

“Eee, Ben, Happy Christmas, pet. How are you?” said his mother.

“Oh, I’m fine, we’re having a party at my place, just a few people.”

“That’s good, pet. We’re just on the way up to our Judith’s to see the lad, you just caught us.”

“Good, good. Er, have you seen Debbie at all?”

“Yes, pet, she came down last week to have a coffee with us, she’s very well and she sends her love to you. She said she really wished you could have come over but you were very busy on a big case at the moment.” Ben swallowed.

“Yes, that’s right, I told you about it, remember, about that temple? We’ve got the trial in March, cross your fingers as we might all be millionaires this time next year.”

“Eee, that’ll be nice, Ben, but money isn’t everything, you know that. I hope you and Debbie get back together, that’s my only wish for the New Year.”

“Well, you know Debbie’s feelings about that, mum. I hope so anyway.”

They talked for a while longer, and then Ben had a quick chat with his dad. He promised to ring his sister. He said goodbye. He remembered the orgy in the living room and wondered if it had finished. He poked his head out of the door, and saw that it was still in full swing, save for Dylan and Ally, who were nowhere to be seen. No doubt Dylan had retired to his boudoir to show Ally his etchings. He had to get out, he thought. He put on his jacket and announced he was going for a walk. Only Stan and Josie heard him, and nodded, smiling. They were watching some video. Probably not my James Bond tape, thought Ben, which he had bought for the après-dinner festivities. He took the lift downstairs, and on impulse caught a taxi to Central. He alighted at the Star Ferry to Kowloon.

When he and Debbie had first arrived in Hong Kong they used to spend a great deal of time on and around the Star Ferry. He decided to catch it to Kowloon, and paid the HK$2.20 fare. The green and white passenger ferries had not changed in his time in Hong Kong, and Ben doubted they had changed for years before that. It was without doubt one of the best and cheapest tourist attractions in Hong Kong, the ten minute slow chug across the harbour granting superb views of both Kowloon and Hong Kong Island’s waterfronts and glittering landscapes. Once in Kowloon, Ben slowly walked down Salisbury Road towards the Peninsula Hotel, one of the oldest and most traditional in the former British colony, where he thought there must be some Christmas celebrations going on. He was right, the Christmas tree in the lobby was enormous. Ben sat down for a cup of tea in the celebrated lobby lounge and listened to the carol singers for an hour. At last he felt it was Christmas.

After reluctantly dragging himself away from the carol singers, Ben walked the few hundred yards to the commencement of Nathan Road, the longest road in Kowloon, full of tourist shops selling cameras and the like. Ben felt at home in such neon surroundings. The pavements were full despite the holidays, which was only to be expected. He edged his way past the usual hustlers selling their fake Rolex watches and cheap suits. Even after all these years, thought Ben, he was still taken for a tourist. He entered Kowloon Park and sat down for a rest on a wooden bench. He spotted a young Chinese couple kissing opposite him on another bench, and smiled, until it reminded him of Dylan and his harem. He decided to make his way back to the Star Ferry, dropping a number of coins with various beggars on the way. A number of his friends had told him that some of these beggars were professional, that they did in fact make good money out of begging. Ben didn’t believe that, but even if they did, he reasoned, they deserved it for sitting on the pavement all day.

The view over to the Island was Ben’s favourite. At night, the lights of Hong Kong seemed to be magical. At Christmas and Chinese New Year, it was even better, as various neon images and messages were hung on the many skyscrapers, lighting up the harbour sky. It was at times like this that Ben felt lucky to be in Hong Kong, away from the grim weather and parochialism of Northern England.

Ben caught a taxi home in melancholy mood. When he opened the apartment door, there was no-one about apart from Dylan, sitting in a darkened room watching TV.

“Ben...I’m truly sorry. I didn’t know she was going to bring all those girls, honestly. Where have you been? I’ve been worried about you!” He seemed sincere, too.

“It’s OK, Dylan, I know I’ve got to lighten up. I’ve just been for a walk that’s all, had a good time.”

“Right”, said Dylan, uncertainly. “Fancy a drink?” “Yeah, good idea. We got any Jack Daniels?” “Coming up!”

Ben and Dylan sat down quietly to watch Live and Let Die. As Ben hummed along to Paul McCartney, he considered that it had turned out to be a decent Christmas after all.

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