HAVEN”T WE MET BEFORE?
January and February passed quickly. The Chinese New Year holidays took place in mid-February. Ben did not hold a party this time. He spent most of the holidays working in the office. There were now only three weeks to commencement of the Tang Clan trial.
Both the firm and the Government had largely complied with the judge’s last order.
The main task had been to obtain reports from those experts the Tang Clan intended to rely upon at trial, namely Professor Yau from the University Of Hong Kong (local and Chinese history), and Professor Davids, from Oxford University, (Chinese customary law), the replacement for the celebrated Professor Cartwright, now instructed by the Government. They had finally been obtained and served upon the other parties in the action, and filed in court. The Government had done the same. The abbot had filed no expert reports. This was hardly surprising, as each report had cost the client a great deal of money. Each expert was also asking colossal sums to testify in court.
Ben and his staff had spent the past few weeks largely making a draft index of all the documents to be used at trial, whether produced by the Tang Clan, the Government, or the abbot. There were literally thousands of them, and it was a time-consuming job. The documents had then to be put into box files, and duly numbered for the convenience of the court, and indeed the parties themselves. There were in all thirty box files of copy documents, which had to be copied nine times. The photocopying bill itself was fantastic. Copies of all thirty bundles had to be delivered to the court, to Richard Yap, his junior counsel Peachey Wong, the Government, one to each of the experts, one for the firm, and one set for Jacob and Wai. Ben had thought this a waste of time and costs to make the extra copy for them, but they had insisted.
Ben was pleasantly surprised at how well Jacob and Wai had completed their work, considering they had never before worked in a solicitor’s office. He remarked upon this to the boys when they attended the office on the Monday morning they were due to serve the bundles.
“Well”, said Jacob, “I hope you remember that when salary review comes around.”
“Jacob, if we win this trial, I will gladly offer you the services of my wife at any time of your choosing” said Ben.
“No thanks” said Jacob, “I’ve seen the photos, I’d prefer the money please.”
“You cheeky bastard” laughed Ben.
“Good decision, Jacob”, said Dylan, who had suddenly turned up, late as usual. “She’s hopeless in bed, that’s why Ben ditched her.”
“I did not ditch her”, said Ben testily, “we are in fact still very much married.”
“Is that right” said Dylan, “I’m sure Mandy would be interested to hear that.” Ben bit his lip, he knew Dylan was just trying to rile him.
“You’re not still seeing Mandy Lam are you?” said Wai in surprise. The boys had been appalled when Ben had finally let the cat out of the bag over a Christmas drink. “I thought that was over.”
“No, I’m not seeing her, thank you. Maybe after the trial, who knows? Dylan, get hold of these bundles and put them in the conference room, make yourself useful.”
“Yes sir” saluted Dylan. “Where are all our clerks, shouldn’t they be doing this?”
“It may have escaped your notice that we do not have the resources of the Government. Our one clerk is presently at court. Hurry up.”
Ben had to utilize the entire manpower of the office to file and serve what amounted to 270 box files. It took his staff – including poor Jennifer, Cathy, Patty and Pauline – virtually the full day to complete the task. Ben had decided to serve the Government himself. He wanted to see Mandy again and this was a good excuse to do so. He had however changed his mind when he approached the doors of the Legal Department with Deepak the messenger. He hoped Mandy was out. She was of course standing in the reception area when Ben opened the door.
“Ben!” she exclaimed, “what a lovely surprise. To what do we owe this pleasure?” She seemed genuinely pleased to se me, thought Ben.
“Have you forgotten, today’s the day for service of bundles.”
“No, I hadn’t forgotten”, giggled Mandy, “in fact I was preparing a summons to strike you out if you hadn’t turned up.” Was she joking? Ben wouldn’t have put it passed her.
“Well, here you are, happy reading.” “Goodness, there are so many”, said Mandy.
“Yes, well, if you hadn’t have put so much irrelevant crap in your list of documents, half of this would be unnecessary.”
“Now, now, let’s not fight” she smiled, “lots of time for that in court. I must say though that my estimate of trial is changing, this could take months!” Ben said nothing but privately agreed. The amended estimate of fifty days seemed hopelessly optimistic. Of course, the estimate had been given to the court when it was unsure how many documents would be involved, and before the expert reports had crystallized the issues. It was his big fear that the Government would apply for an adjournment of the trial to a later date.
“Ben...you can always call me, you know”, said Mandy. Ben looked into her big brown eyes and felt the usual melting sensation.
“Mandy...the trial will be over soon. We can see each other then. For the moment I don’t think it’s professional to do so.”
“You’re right” she sighed. She whispered in his ear, “I miss you”. Deepak looked on, impressed.
“OK, see you soon” said Mandy, as Ben and Deepak took their leave.
“Cor, she’s a bit of alright, Mr. McCann” said Deepak, when they were out of Mandy’s earshot.
“Indeed she is, Deepak. Too classy for you though, so don’t even think about it.”
“Why, are you and her....” He left it unsaid.
“No, we’re not. There’s still some files left in the office, Deepak, can you hurry back for them, we must serve them before 6.00pm.”
“Yes, Mr. McCann” sighed Deepak, and off he went. Ben suddenly felt very tired. He needed a beer. He wondered if Big Bob was in Joe Bananas, it was 5.00pm after all, he was usually to be found there at this time. It was only a short distance to Wanchai, so Ben decided to walk. He was getting little exercise recently and his paunch was growing to alarming proportions. He had heard about this health farm in Thailand that guaranteed a huge weight loss. He would check himself into there after the trial. Mandy was unlikely to want to stay with a fat bastard for long. He walked the ten minutes or so to Joe Bananas, rather than take a taxi, and arrived rather worn out and sweating. He saw not Bob, but Dylan, propped up against the bar.
“What a surprise”, said Ben dryly, as he took the stool next to him.
“I obviously felt the same as you, needed a beer. Thirsty work, carrying all those files.”
“Did you file them all in court?”
“Yes, do you think I’m an imbecile?”
“No comment. Ramos, San Miguel, please.”
They sat in silence for a few moments. Dylan broke it.
“Do you realize, that if we win this trial, we don’t have to work again?”
“It has crossed my mind.”
“I mean, a costs order against the Government must be in the region of HK$30 million. Even taking into account repayment of loans and overdraft, we’ll be sterling millionaires.”
“You’re forgetting about tax, but yes, it will be a sizeable sum.”
“Well, I don’t intend to be sitting here in a year’s time if we win. Snorting cocaine off the body of a Thai hooker sounds fun.”
“Can I help you do that?” said a voice from behind them. It was Big Bob, and he looked even bigger than the last time Ben saw him.
“Beer, Bob?” asked Ben.
“Is the Pope a Catholic?” responded Bob. “I’ll have a pint of Carlsberg.” Bob drank it off flat in four seconds.
“Thirsty tonight, Bob?” asked Dylan.
“Not especially, Dylan” said Bob. “In fact, I’ve got an interview tomorrow for a new job, better take it easy tonight. Another Carlsberg, Ramos.”
“Have you seen Leroy recently?”, asked Ben.
“Nah, he’s under the thumb, he is. That bloody Lisa won’t let him go out. Wants to marry him for some reason. Might change her mind if she knew how many birds he had last year. Remember when he had eight different nationalities in one week? What were they now – Welsh, Filipina, Thai, Chinese, a Russian in Macau, English, Hong Kong Chinese, Scottish....what was the last one?”
“Latvian” said Dylan. “He was most proud of that one. First Baltic babe he’d ever had, he said.”
“That’s right” chuckled Bob.” Mind you, I thought Scottish and English should be classed as the same.”
“As should mainland and Hong Kong Chinese”, said Dylan.
“Perhaps”, agreed Bob. “Good lad though, was Leroy. Such a pity to see him now, a crying shame. Waste of a good man.”
“Perhaps”, said Ben, “he’s perfectly happy with Lisa?”
“Pull the other one Ben, she’s awful”, said Dylan.
“Is that right?” said Ben. “Well, perhaps you can tell that to Leroy himself, here he comes now.” Their heads turned in alarm and sure enough Leroy was walking towards him. His suit, as usual seemed far too small for his huge frame. He seemed happy enough, though, thought Dylan, thankfully, he can’t have heard the conversation.
“Alright boys?” said Leroy in his cockney accent, seemingly unaffected by his years in the Far East. The lads exchanged greetings, pleased to see him. Leroy was a born comic, although engineer by trade. Ben knew it would be a long night, with Bob and Leroy there. Still, he hadn’t been out for ages. Plus, nights in with Dylan were beginning to pall somewhat.
“Get the beers in, Leroy”, said Ben. It turned out to be a busy night for a Monday, a few of Ben and Dylan’s pals made an appearance at some stage. Ben wondered why.
“It’s ladies night, innit?” said Leroy. Oh yes, thought Ben, free drinks for the women. He wondered why so many of them seemed so drunk. One bottled blonde kept giving him the eye, which he tried to ignore. Actually, thought Ben, she’s quite tasty. He shook his head, must be the San Miguel, she was a complete horror two hours ago.
“Bob”, he said rather drunkenly, “what’s she like?”, pointing at the blonde.
“Lovely, mate. Get stuck in son, she’s been staring at you all night.” As if to prove the point, she wandered over towards Ben.
“Oh shit, she’s coming!” said Ben. “Play it cool, son” advised Bob. The blonde held out her hand.
“Hello” she said, smiling. “Do you remember me?” Ben didn’t, but wondered with horror what he had done in the past.
“Er, sorry, no. Have we met?”
“Yes, Once. You’re Ben McCann, yes? We met at Ritchie Smith’s party last year.”
Ben didn’t recognize her at all. “Oh yes, of course, it’s...er...”
“Miranda. Miranda Duke.”
“Yes, of course, Miranda, how are you, what have you been up to?”
Ben found, to his considerable surprise, that he found it very easy to talk to this brassy Englishwoman, and found himself warming to her. She made him laugh, which he had not done a lot of recently. He ignored the childish remarks of Dylan, Leroy and Bob, and proceeded to drink a lot of alcohol. As did she. The more he drank, the more beautiful she became. He didn’t notice Dylan and Bob’s beer races, nor did he note that Dylan was drinking an alarming amount of tequila.
The disco started at 10.00pm and by that time Ben had his dancing shoes on for the first time in years. The Smiths, The Cure, Madonna, all received the same whirling dervish dance. Miranda gave her all too, and they collapsed into each other’s arms giggling like schoolchildren after a rousing interpretation of ‘Young Americans’. They looked into each other’s eyes and started to kiss passionately. He had not done this for years. None of the others saw this. Despite himself, Ben wanted to take her home. He had to sort something out first though. His flat-mate. He walked to the bar where Dylan was about to imbibe a particularly grotesque green shooter.
“Dylan, I’ve scored with this girl.”
“That blonde girl, she said she’ll come home with me.”
“Excellent”, slurred Dylan. “Can I watch?”
“No, you can’t. Do me a favour, will you, and find somewhere else to sleep tonight? There’s plenty of cheap hotels round here.”
“No problem, have a good one.”
“Cheers mate, you know I’d do the same for you” said Ben, and wandered back to Miranda, who was shaking her booty again to no-one in particular. To his delight, Miranda agreed to come back “for a coffee”, but as she lived in the deepest New Territories, he was confident she would stay the night. Miranda asked if they could have something to eat first. Ben reluctantly agreed, he was feeling pretty rampant by this stage. They ate at the Chilli Club around the corner, Ben wondering if the hot food would play havoc with his lovemaking later.
At last, after what seemed to Ben like eons, Miranda had eaten enough. She looked at him slyly over the table.
“Come and take me if you think you’re hard enough” she whispered. Ben spat his beer out and asked for the bill immediately. He wasn’t about to look a gift horse in the mouth. In double quick time they were speeding in a taxi to North Point, snogging like teenagers, to the clear embarrassment of the driver. Ben realized she was pissed, but hey, what the hell. They reached his apartment, Miranda staggering from the lift. Luckily, Ben’s amah had been that day, and the place was tidy. He recalled the first night with Mandy, and took the phone off the hook, in case his wife decided to call to discuss the latest plot lines in Ally McBeal. He turned the lights down low, and asked Miranda if she wanted a drink.
“Do you have any red wine?” she asked, “that really turns me on.”
“Right”, said Ben. He knew he had some wine somewhere in the blasted flat, where had he put it? Oh yes, under the sink in the bathroom, a cool place for it, he had thought. He retrieved the bottle – a cheeky little Beaujolais – and opened it. He poured Miranda a generous glass.
“Careful, you don’t want to get me drunk. I’m like a tiger when I’m drunk”, she giggled.
“Oh really? Have another one.” They both laughed at his pathetic joke.
“I just need to have a quick shower, won’t be a moment” said Ben.
“OK, hurry up!” said Miranda, knocking back the wine in one gulp. She poured herself another as Ben locked the bathroom door.
Actually, he didn’t want a shower, but he was in urgent need of a good crap. His insides were playing him up rotten after that food, he knew he shouldn’t have had that hot Tom Yam soup, it always gave him the runs. He heard the sound of Morrissey invade the room, Miranda had made herself comfortable. He sat down on the toilet seat and exploded with relief. He knew this was going to take some time, he hoped that the life-threatening smell was not pervading into the living room, that might turn her off, he thought.
He then heard a commotion coming from the living room, followed by screams. Ben couldn’t remember any screaming on this album, had she turned the television on? Feeling concerned, Ben finished his business earlier than he would have hoped, washed his hands, sprayed the air-freshener, and opened the door. He witnessed the carnage with horror and disbelief.
Dylan was spread out, pole-axed, on the floor. Miranda was also lying on the floor, in her bra and panties, covered in Dylan’s multi- coloured vomit. She also appeared to be lying in a pool of the stuff, of which there seemed a remarkable quantity. She was crying. Dylan was moaning. Ben had difficulty in comprehending the scene.
“What...what...” he stuttered. Miranda spoke.
“I went over to change the C.D., and he came in...he started throwing up everywhere...all over me, everywhere...I slipped in it...” Ben noticed in horror that she was beginning to dress.
“No, Miranda, don’t go, I’ll get rid of him, he’s just drunk, no harm done.”
“I’m sorry, Ben, I’ve got to be up early in the morning, and I’ve got a long way to go.”
“But Miranda...” She was now fully dressed and approaching the door. Ben noticed that she still had technicolour sick running down her left cheek.
“Call me”, said Ben miserably.
“Sure. And one more thing. I would get your insides checked out. It smells like someone just died inside that toilet.” With that, she left, slamming the door behind her. Ben knew somehow that he would not be seeing her again. His thoughts were interrupted by moaning coming from the floor. Ben saw red.
“You bastard! You just cannot let me have any fun, can you! We were just about to do it! Couldn’t you at least have been sick outside, instead of all over her? Spectacular even by your high standards!”
Ben ranted for a few minutes, until he could see it was pointless, Dylan was nearly comatose. He’d sort him out in the morning. He put Dylan in the recovery position, so he wouldn’t choke on his own vomit, and climbed wearily into his bed. He fell quickly into a deep sleep, and was soon dreaming about prison, triads, blondes and vomit.