A DREAM DATE
Ben and Dylan were sitting silently in their shared office on Monday morning, eating their breakfasts. Ben was reading the front page of the South China Morning Post, which detailed the protests at the Star Ferry the previous day by supporters of the Falun Gong group, now banned in the mainland, for reasons that baffled Ben. So far as he could make out, they were little more than an exercise and meditation group. He guessed that any large organization was seen as a threat by the mainland authorities. He wondered what Hong Kong was coming to. Ben had however other things on his mind. He looked up and stared at Dylan.
“You’ll never guess who left a message on my answering machine over the weekend.”
“Bill Clinton?” said Dylan.
“Even more surprising. That bird from the Legal Department, Mandy.”
Dylan choked on his Egg McMuffin. “You’re joking! Jesus! What did she want?”
“She wants to take me out for dinner this week.”
“Shit! You’ve got to go. Not only can you get the hidden secrets in the Tang Clan case, you can have the best looking Chinese bird I’ve ever seen!”
“It’s only dinner, Dylan. You know what Chinese girls are like, they can be very difficult. This one will be tougher than most. She actually has a brain.”
“I don’t know, I think you’re in there, sonny. Why else would she call you at home? She wants a bit of Big Ben, I bet.”
Ben ignored him. Why would she call him at home, and not wait until Monday? Did she have the hots for him? He’d call her. He picked up the phone and dialed her direct departmental number.
“Er..oh hi, Mandy, it’s Ben McCann.”
“Ben, hi, I’m so glad you called. I need a twenty-one day extension to file our expert reports, do you mind? Oh, and are we going out for dinner this week, did you get my message?”
Ben’s mind went blank. After speaking to Jacob this morning, it was clear that they would be in a position to file expert reports on time at the end of the week. He knew that Jacob and Wai would be livid if he agreed to a twenty-one day extension for the Government.
“Um...that’s a long time, Mandy.”
“I know, Ben” – first time she had called him Ben – “ but one of our experts has cancer of the nose and he’s in hospital. What can I do?” She sounded so helpless, Ben felt for her.
“Look, I’ll grant you a fourteen day extension, Mandy, that should be enough, shouldn’t it?”
“Oh Ben, you are a love!”
“There is one condition attached.”
“Oh. What is it?”
“That you meet me at Grissini’s tonight at 8.00pm for dinner.”
“Done! Thanks, Ben! I’ll confirm the extension in writing. See you later, bye!” Ben put the phone down in a daze.
“You shouldn’t have done that”, said Dylan.
“Granted an extension. We had them on the run. You know what Jacob and Wai will say.”
“They would have got the extension from the judge if they’d made an application.”
“Maybe so, but we’ve missed an opportunity to look good to the judge. Still, I suppose your sex life comes first.”
Ben glowered at him. “That has nothing to do with it. We’ll no doubt require a favour from her before the end of this case. It’s good tactics, and you know it.”
“Sure, sure”, smiled Dylan.
They sat in silence for the rest of the morning, Dylan trying to complete a particularly difficult Herald Tribune crossword, Ben trying to prepare statements in a personal injury claim. Luigi interrupted them shortly before lunch.
“Hey lads, can you pay me a bit of commission, man, I had Gabriella on the phone last night, she’s on the warpath.”
“Yes, Luigi, we can pay you something at the end of the week”, said Ben.
“Cheers, mate. You know I’m not that bothered, it’s the kids that need feeding, that’s all.”
“Yeah, yeah”, said Ben. His mind was no longer on his personal injury case. What should he wear tonight? He would have to go home to put his best suit on. He also needed a haircut.
“Do you mind, Dylan, if I take this afternoon off?”
Dylan looked up from his crossword. “Sure, I’ll look after the fort. You better get yourself prepared. Give yourself a good wash, don’t forget.”
“I’m sure it will be nothing like that, man. Thanks anyway.” He got up and put on his jacket. “I’ll see you in the morning.”
“With a full report.”
“If you insist.”
Ben left his room to speak to his secretary. “Patty, I’ll be taking the afternoon off. You can get me on the mobile if there is an emergency.”
“You going for naughty again, boss?” said Patty.
“No I’m not, thank you for asking. And finish that tape before you go home tonight.”
Patty glared at him. It was a love/hate relationship, thought Ben, to be sure. He sometimes thought that she fancied him, but she was fifty years old, more like she wanted to mother him. She had been good to him when Debbie left, and although she was a pretty hopeless typist, Ben would never get rid of her. She knew too much about him, anyway.
Ben took a taxi to the Shangri-la hotel where he normally had his hair cut. He then went to Tie-Rack and bought a garish yellow tie, which he thought would go well with his best grey suit. He arrived home at 5.00pm, exhausted. He ran a bath and sat there for an hour, trying to visualize Mandy lying on his bed. He couldn’t. He could not believe that a girl like Mandy would go for a man like him. Ben had never been unfaithful to his wife, but he knew that if given the chance this time, he would take it. What the hell, he thought, we’re separated, and Debbie left me, not the other way round. He was fully dressed and ready to go by 7.00pm. He was sitting at the restaurant table at Grissini’s at 7.45pm, nervous and apprehensive. Smoking like a chimney.
By 8.30pm Ben had more or less given up the ghost. Then she arrived, breathless.
“Oh, Ben, I’m so sorry, there was a crash in the Aberdeen tunnel and the traffic was terrible.”
“That’s alright”, he managed to stutter. If Mandy was great in her work outfit, she was something else tonight. Grissini’s was a classy Italian restaurant in the Grand Hyatt hotel, itself probably the classiest hotel on the island, and she had dressed accordingly. A little black cocktail dress barely managed to conceal her ample charms. Her long black hair rested on her naked shoulders.
“How are your expert reports coming along?” asked Ben.
“Now, let’s not talk about the case tonight. We’re really not supposed to and I don’t think my boss would be too pleased!”
“OK, no problem. Would you like a drink?”
“Love one, could I have a glass of red wine?”
“Sure, I’d like one too, I’ll get a bottle. Waiter! Yes, a bottle of Beaujolais, thanks.” He stared at Mandy. “You know, I was very surprised to get your phone message on Sunday. A pleasant surprise I must say.”
“I know it was forward of me, sorry. I did a little checking up before I called. I gather you’re a single guy these days, so I reckoned it was OK to call. Don’t look surprised, I don’t want to go out with a man who has commitments. I know you’re separated and your wife is in England. As you said, a lot of people know you in this town, Mr. McCann.” Her eyes sparkled.
“Yes”, said Ben, “that’s all true. It’s not easy running your own firm, it takes up most of your time, my wife couldn’t stand it.” Ben was determined not to mention Debbie again that evening. “Love your dress.”
“Oh, I hope it’s suitable, I’ve never been here before, and I was told I better dress up.”
“Don’t worry, it’s fabulous. I only hope you don’t fall out of it before the main course.”
Mandy laughed. “Don’t worry, they’re not timed to fall out until coffee time.”
Ben nearly moaned.
They both had salmon starters, and Ben began to warm to this woman. Her English was impeccable, and Ben began to relax. She really was lovely, her brown eyes were bewitching, and Ben wondered what would happen at the end of the night. The pasta main course was followed by one of Grissini’s special desserts, by which time Ben was hopelessly smitten.
“Do you have a boyfriend?” he ventured over coffee.
“Alas, no”, she smiled, “no-one will have me.”
“I find that very hard to believe.”
“No, it’s true. Well, perhaps I’m too choosy, no-one can match up to my exacting standards!”
“I’d like to give it a try.”
There was a few seconds silence. Oh no, what have I done, thought Ben, appalled.
“That would be nice”, she said slowly. They looked each other in the eyes.
“I’ll get the cheque”, he said hastily. “Waiter!” He paid on his gold American Express card, hoping desperately that he had not reached the limit on his credit, and they left their table.
“Er...would you like a nightcap?” said Ben in the elevator.
“Yes, I would.”
“OK, how about the champagne bar downstairs?”
“How about your place?” She looked him in the eyes. Ben nearly fell over.
“Yes, yes, no problem. Let’s get a taxi.”
So Ben made the familiar journey home along the Eastern Corridor, as it was known, not alone for once, but with a ravishing Oriental beauty. As the bright lights of Central receded into the distance, he found himself staring at her like a school-kid. He could not believe his luck, something was bound to go wrong. They reached his flat, he fumbled with keys but finally managed to open the door. He had a dimmer switch, and turned on the lights low. He looked at Mandy anxiously. His plan was obvious, would she bolt?
She gave no indication that flight was in her mind. She lay flat on her back on Ben’s sofa, kicking off her high heels. “Where’s that drink?” she said dreamily.
“Oh...yes, what would you like?” said Ben, transfixed.
“Do you have any white wine?” she asked. Luckily, he had been shopping just for this unlikely eventuality. He poured her a big one, and an even bigger one for himself. He thought Joy Division was not entirely appropriate, so he put on Suzanne Vega’s first album. He hesitantly sat on the edge of the sofa, beside Mandy’s feet. She sat up and looked at him.
“You know Ben...” She was stopped by the ring of Ben’s mobile phone. Shit! Ben was tempted to not to answer it.
“You’d better take it”, said Mandy, “it might be important.”
“I suppose you’re right”, sighed Ben. He walked over to take his phone from his suit pocket. “Hello”, he said.
“Ben? Hi, it’s me.” Debbie! He couldn’t believe it, his wife hadn’t called in weeks. What a time!
“Hello Debbie, look it’s a bit inconvenient, Ally McBeal’s just about to start and...”
“Look, it’s just to ask if you’re coming home for Christmas this year.”
“Oh, very likely.”
“It’s just that we have to book the table for New Year, my mother needs to know if you’re coming.”
“Yes, yes, tell her yes.” Mandy said something to him. “Who’s that? Do you have a woman there?”
“Of course not, it’s Ally, I told you. Look I have to go, I’ll call you tomorrow.”
“OK. I don’t mind if you have a woman, you know.”
“I haven’t! I’ll call you tomorrow. Bye.” He hands were sweating as he turned off the mobile.
“Wife problems?” said Mandy. “No, no, she just likes to keep in touch, bad timing, that’s all.” “I’ll go if you want me to.” “No, no”, shouted Ben, “please stay. That is, if you want to.”
Mandy got up and without a word went into the bathroom and locked the door behind her. Shit, thought Ben, trust Debbie to mess it up, she was probably going home now. He poured himself another glass of wine and put on Siouxsie and The Banshee’s first album. After a minute or so he heard the bathroom door unlock and turned around. He gaped.
Mandy stood with her left arm high against the wall. She had discarded her cocktail dress. She remained dressed in black lacy bra, tiny black panties, and black suspenders. Ben noticed the bra was a front loader, and frankly was too small for her. Ben remained rooted to the spot.
“Do you like me?” asked Mandy, softly. Ben did not recognize his voice as he choked his confirmation. “Perhaps you’ll like these even more.”
To the tune of “Helter Skelter”, a Siouxsie cover of the Beatles classic, Mandy reached forward and unclipped her bra. She looked him in the eyes.
“Am I OK, Ben?” she said.
“Oh...ah...yes, jolly good”, he stammered.
Mandy placed her left leg on the sofa and commenced unrolling her left stocking, keeping her eyes on Ben. Once finished, she started on the right. She threw them towards him, falling a foot in front of him. She walked over to the dimmer and turned the light off completely. She was now facing him, inches away. He could feel her hot breath on his face. He noticed she was a lot smaller without her heels.
“This”, she said huskily, “is for you.” Ben nearly fainted as she kissed him.