AwesomeDude 10th Anniversary

Turning Ten On The Road To Kamping

by Nigel Gordon

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Suan Reynolds gave a curse that was a mixture of three or four different languages, as the engine spluttered one last time and then died. The “Gotverdommen!” part of the curse was most definitely of Dutch origin; “Bastards!” was quite clearly of English (or in this case Australian) descent; as to the other two elements one would have needed a degree in obscure Chinese dialects to have understood them, although anybody with such a qualification probably would have decided not to even try to understand them.

Suan got off the bike and double checked the engine, just in case it was something minor. He quickly came to the conclusion that his original thought was correct: those bastards back at Kaulim village had sold him contaminated fuel. Well, at least he could push or carry his 125cc Honda for the next couple of miles. That was one thing his associates back in the city never appreciated; if a car broke down on these jungle tracks you were stuck where it broke down. With a motor bike you could at least push it to the next village where you could get help. Even in this sparsely inhabited region there was rarely more than a few miles between villages.

Fortunately for Suan the rains were late this year and what passed for a road in these parts was still firm and solid. It was fairly easy to push the bike and its accompanying load of survey and camping equipment in the direction he wanted to take. He had been hoping to make it as far as Topi this evening but now he knew he had at least an hour’s pushing before he got to any inhabited place, and that place would be Fat Fan’s. Originally he had not intended to stop there; in fact he had made up his mind to avoid it, and so would have taken the turn that was coming up in a few hundred yards rather than take the direct route to Topi via the ferry. Now he had no choice: he would have to push the bike the mile or so it would take to get to the trading post on the river. One thing he was sure of was that he would be able to get the bike fixed. Fat Fan might be many things but he was no idiot, and he made sure that the mechanics who worked on the engines for his fleet of river boats were the best that he could get. It was rumoured that one or two of them were also aircraft mechanics who could service the float planes that could land on that stretch of the river in the rainy season, when it would double or even triple in width.

Of course it made no economic sense to have six or seven top mechanics sitting around at a riverside trading station in the middle of the jungle. There would just not be enough business passing through, even in the rainy season when the river was navigable for a couple of hundred miles past Fat Fan’s. That, of course, presumed that you were looking at the legitimate business that could be conducted at such an establishment. Fat Fan had never taken such a restrictive view of his investments, a position helped by the fact that the particular bend in the river which Fat Fan’s establishment occupied was in an area of disputed ownership between four different countries — the law enforcement authorities of each having decided, with assistance from Fat Fan’s contributions to their wealth, to avoid the risk of any form of border confrontation by not actively patrolling the area.

That arrangement had worked out well for all concerned. Fat Fan’s increase in wealth had enabled him to be most generous to those officials in the various countries, who at the same time did not have to expend funds, for which they had far better use, on mounting border patrols in an area of jungle that no sensible person would want to enter.

It was just after mid-afternoon when Suan pushed the bike into Fat Fan’s clearing. Some two hundred yards away, on the veranda of a large bungalow overlooking the river, sat Fat Fan, no doubt waiting for him. Nothing came within a couple of miles of Fat Fan’s without Fat Fan knowing about it and Suan Reynolds was one person Fat Fan always wanted to know about, since the two of them had a history.

Suan pushed the bike to the foot of the steps leading up to the veranda and leaned it against a convenient post. As he started to climb the steps, Fat Fan raised his bulk out of the large wicker chair he had been occupying. At the top Suan turned to face Fat Fan and gave a small but significant bow. “Mr Sung, I crave your hospitality and assistance.”

“Mr Reynolds, I offer you such humble hospitality and assistance that is within my means to provide.” The two men both spoke in English with an accent that would not have been out of place in Rowhampton or Harrow. However, both used a form of phraseology and semantic structure that owed more to the time of the Yellow Emperor than to either Oxford or Cambridge, where they had been educated — Suan at Oxford, Fat Fan at Cambridge, albeit some forty years apart. Fat Fan indicated the seat on the other side of the low table from where he had been sitting.

Suan nodded his acceptance of the offer and seated himself in the chair before Fat Fan lowered his bulk back into the wicker armchair. Once settled in the high-backed chair Fat Fan picked up a felt headed hammer and struck a gong. A few moments later a youth of thirteen or fourteen came out of the building carrying a tray set for afternoon tea.

Suan looked up at the youth and after a few moments remembered to breathe. Before him, moving with the elegance of a gazelle, was a vision that was nigh impossible to believe... yet here it was in front of him. For a few moments Suan sat captivated by the youthful vision, to such an extent that he risked being disrespectful to Fat Fan. He mentally shook himself and returned his attention to his host.

Fat Fan smiled, “I see that Fuhua has caught your attention, Mr Reynolds, many of your taste have looked upon him with similar attention.”

“He is something of great beauty that blesses the house of my host.”

“Yes, I like to gather such beauty around me as I can, for there is little else here to enjoy.”

Given implicit permission to look upon the beauty Suan returned his attention to Fuhua. A reappraisal of the youth confirmed his attractiveness but also hinted that he might be a bit older than Suan had thought. He was probably more like fourteen or fifteen, maybe a young-looking sixteen year old; there were signs of muscle definition in his body that one only expects in an older boy. His skin was lighter in colour than the local natives though not as light as that of the Cantonese Chinese such as Fat Fan, so the boy was clearly of mixed race, although he had typically Chinese eyes. It was those eyes, however, and the boy’s hair which marked him as mixed race. His eyes were a pale blue, almost grey, and his hair was very light brown, though not quite blond.

Suan felt a pang of sympathy for the boy. It was hard enough being mixed race, as both the natives and the Chinese looked down on you, but to have European blood meant you were truly despised. Even the Europeans looked down on you and everything would be twice as hard. It was a fact that Suan was only too aware of. His own mother, who was mixed race — Chinese father and native mother — had fled before the advancing Japanese, escaping on one of the last boats to leave. She escaped to Australia but was refused admission because of her colour, and ended up in Ceylon. By some strange quirk of fate it was there that she met and married an Australian Major and gave him a son, Suan. Once the war was over they had chosen to avoid the hostility of Australia and settled in her country, but even there they were looked down upon.

Fuhua finished setting the table for tea and stood bowing to Fat Fan. “Do you require anything else Uncle Fan?” The term Uncle sent a shiver down Suan’s spine. It was used here as a term of respect for Suan was quite certain this boy was not a member of Fat Fan’s family. That meant one thing, Fuhua was a slave. Slavery was, of course, illegal in this part of Asia: the combined empires of Britain, France and the Netherlands had stamped it out. That was well known. It was a fact that you would not find a slave anywhere. What you would find was indentured workers, whose obligations would never be worked off and whose bondholders could, if they so wished, sell on their indentures to others. Indentured workers were just slaves by another name and could be — and were — used just like slaves.

Fat Fan indicated that nothing more was required of the boy, and he turned and left. Pouring the tea, Fat Fan raised the question as to what had brought Mr Reynolds to his trading station at this time.

“Was on my way to Kamping, meant to go via Rampotan and Topi, but just before the turn my engine started to splutter then died. Think I got a batch of bad fuel back at Kaulim village.”

“Most unfortunate, but the villagers of Kaulim are Daks, and as we all know Daks are not the most intelligent of people. No doubt they did not take proper precautions in storing the fuel.” Fat Fan lifted the cup of green tea to his lips and sipped at it.

Suan followed suit then responded, “I understand your observation of the Daks, but must say I have never experienced such laxity in the past.”

“You have no doubt been lucky, we must see to sorting out your transport with immediate effect.” Fat Fan picked up the striker and stroked the gong with it twice. A girl of some eleven or twelve years appeared. She was bare-chested, with a light sarong around her waist. Suan noticed she was another mixed race child, just coming into womanhood as shown by the first swelling of her breasts. Fat Fan instructed her in pidgin to go and fetch Mr Smyth.

For a few minutes the two men on the veranda sat in silence and sipped at their tea.

The young girl ran back across the compound to say that Mr Smyth was on his way.

Suan turned to see a short dumpish European man wearing a sarong and a dirty shirt under the shade of a broad brimmed native hat waddling over.

Fat Fan looked up as he approached. “Ah, Smyth, my friend Mr Reynolds has had some problems with his bike.” He pointed to the Honda at the foot of the steps. “Examine it and advise us of the problem and how it can be remedied.”

It was a command. There was no request, no politeness, only a simple command from one who expected it to be carried out.

Mr Smyth stood there, his eyes scanning the young girl. Fat Fan waved the girl inside, and turned back to Smyth. “Go on then, I would like your report before I dine. Please place the panniers on the steps.”

Smyth turned to the bike, removed the panniers and placed them on the steps, then proceeded to push the bike in the direction of a group of buildings on the far side of the compound, from where the occasional sound of metal upon metal could be heard.

Fat Fan turned his attention back to Suan. “From your expression I gather you do not like our Mr Smyth.”

“He is a man who has a certain reputation.”

“One, no doubt, that is fully deserved. It would seem that if it had not been the case that certain high officials in the government, much higher than the lowly post Mr Smyth once held, had similar tastes and frequented the same establishments as he did, to enjoy — unfortunately for them, sometimes in his presence — the same delights, then a warrant would no doubt have been issued for his arrest. As it was, it seemed best that he remove himself to a more remote location. I have always found it difficult to keep good mechanics out here, so the arrangement has suited many parties. It was, after all, an unfortunate accident.”

“Damm it, Fan, they say the girl was only seven.”

“So I have heard; but as they say, it was an accident, he rolled on her in his sleep. Maybe if he had indulged in a little less opium or maybe a little more, things would have been different.”

The simplistic way Fat Fan stated the case filled Suan with revulsion; he was, of course, aware that such things went on but had never been faced with such evidence of the system as in Fan’s simple statement.

“Anyway, we should be grateful that circumstances force Mr Smyth to be here. He may be many things and have many failings but he is an excellent mechanic. He will sort out your bike and in the meantime you must be my guest. Join me for dinner and we can talk about Kamping; I hear they have Black Leaf there.”

The Chinese man’s statement jolted Suan back to the reality of the moment. The outbreak of Black Leaf was a closely guarded secret within the company. If news got out that they had an infestation in the plantation the markets would go mad. He looked at Fat Fan, who smiled back at him. They were only eighty miles from Kamping, and only half that as the crow flies. Nothing happened within two hundred miles of Fat Fan that Fat Fan did not know about... or if it did it was because Fat Fan did not want to know about it.

“We’re not certain it is Black Leaf, that is why I was on my way, to confirm or refute the reports.” Suan was fairly certain it was Black Leaf, Mitchell the overseer up at Kamping was experienced and had seen Black Leaf before.

“And if it is Black Leaf, rip out the plantation and burn; five years before you replant?”

“Probably not, we have had some success upcountry and over in Ceylon with some of the new fungicides. We will lose the plants that are already infected but the rest can be saved. They’ve already sent to Ceylon for some supplies.”

Fat Fan nodded and made a mental note to contact his agents in the capital and tell them to cancel the future buying order he had sent them this morning. If fungicides could successfully be used then there would only be a small reduction in the crop, not enough to push up the market for a killing.

“Ah the advances of science, before the war Black Leaf would destroy the livelihood of a complete region, now it is an inconvenience that is science for you, Mr Reynolds. They say that within three years they will be putting a man on the Moon. It must be good to be young and living in a time of such scientific progress.

“You yourself are a scientist, are you not? Studied Botany at Oxford and got a First Class degree, no less.”

Suan was surprised that Fat Fan would know such a thing; it must have shown on his face.

“Oh, do not be surprised, Mr Reynolds. I myself studied at Cambridge some forty years ago and still read the Times every day, though now it takes some eight weeks to get to me. I take note when my fellow countrymen are mentioned in that august journal.”

It sounded plausible but somehow it did not quite ring true to Suan’s ears. He had first met Fat Fan when he was eleven and even then the man seemed to know more about him than an eleven year old thought he should.

“But I am remiss in my hospitality... after pushing that bike from near the Rampotan turn you must he tired, and probably sweaty. There is no way your bike can be repaired today as we will no doubt require parts, so you must stay the night. I’ll get Fuhua to take you to your room, there you can shower. Unfortunately I cannot offer you European clothes for your stay but I understand that you are comfortable in native dress, I’ll get some sent to you.”

Once again Fat Fan displayed a level of knowledge about Suan that Suan found uncomfortable.

“My staff will launder your clothes so they are ready for when you leave.” Fat Fan again picked up the striker and sounded the gong once.

Fuhua appeared, giving Suan the impression that he must have been just beyond the door waiting for the summons. Fat Fan pointed to the two panniers on the veranda steps. “Take Mr Reynolds’ luggage and guide him to his room, then arrange some clothes for him to wear when he joins me for dinner.

“Mr Reynolds, you have about an hour before the great gong sounds to announce assembly for drinks before dinner.” The statement was politely made, but with a finality that did not brook any discussion. Suan stood and bowed to his host, then followed Fuhua down the length of the veranda and around the side of the bungalow.

The room to which Fuhua showed him was set out and furnished in the European style, clearly a guest room for visitors. It had wide slidingdouble doors that opened out onto the side veranda and looked out over a small formal garden — a most unusual sight in the Asian jungle, and one which Suan suspected required a small army of labour to keep maintained, though he had no doubt that Fat Fan had such an army available.

Mosquito screens were available to close over the door and the louvered windows, allowing them to be kept open at night to provide the benefit of the cooling night air without the risk of exposure to the biting insects. The bed, Suan surmised, must have travelled out from England during the time of Queen Victoria and it probably took an elephant to transport it up from the coast. That thought made him wonder for a moment just who Fat Fan was. Everybody in the country knew of him, but it was clear, even allowing for Fat Fan’s age (which was no doubt going on some) that this place had been around a lot longer and had been a centre of power. Before he had time to follow that line of thought any further Fuhua pointed out the door that connected to the shower and toilet facilities and a second door that led into the main body of the bungalow. The boy then departed through that door.

Suan stood for a moment, realising that the boy had never spoken a word to him, though he had heard Fuhua speak to Fat Fan so he had not been muted — there still being a trade amongst certain rich Chinese for mute servants who could not spread gossip of their activities. Suan suspected that the boy only spoke Hokkien, which was the Chinese language that he had used when he spoke to Fat Fan. Suan was familiar enough with the dialect to be able to identify it and follow a simple conversation but he was not a speaker of it, though his mother had spoken it from time to time when one of his aunts had visited, which indicated that it must have been a language in her family. He regretted he did not know more about her family but that was a subject she would not speak about.

Suan quickly stripped off his travel clothes and laid them on the chair by the bed. Grabbing one of the large towels from the stand by the door that led to the facilities he went through to have a very welcome shower. He was confident that by time he returned to his room servants would have removed his soiled clothing for washing, and there would be suitable native garb laid out for him.

Whilst Suan enjoyed the luxury of the shower Fat Fan retired inside to a suite of rooms that were totally private, where a small elderly woman dressed in traditional Chinese style waited for him. “It went well, Husband?”

“As you predicted, Number One Wife, he is a most mannered man, even when faced with the slug Smyth. Though I fear Mr Reynolds has a wrath within him that may descend on our friend in Kaulim for providing him with bad fuel.”

“He is, Husband, well rewarded for his work and you did promise to place his daughter by Mia Lin in the House of the Lotus to learn her trade. She is a girl of great promise and no doubt will be Madam before many years, though at thirteen she is somewhat old for entry into a house of pleasure so you do him a great favour. Nonetheless a small gift to show your appreciation of service provided might be appropriate, especially if the wrath of one such as Mr Reynolds has been earned for serving your interests.”

Fat Fan nodded. Naturally, no man would take instruction from a woman... but it was a fool who ignored the advice and guidance of a wise woman. Number One Wife was a wise woman, there was no doubt of that — which was, in fact, why he had married her.

Fat Fan was well aware that many thought he had taken her as his wife in order to become son-in-law to Black Snake, who had run the trading station for many years and built up the initial web of power that Fat Fan now enjoyed. They were mistaken. Even back then, some fifty years ago, the fourteen year old Fan (he was not fat then) had appreciated the wisdom of the girl who had become his Number One Wife. He had also understood that, whilst Black Snake had run the trading station and its associated activities, his wife was the guide that controlled it.

Fat Fan smiled as he remembered his mother-in-law. She was a woman of great being, one whose advice you were ill-advised to ignore. It was she who had first seen Fan’s potential and arranged for him to be sent to England for his education, even though Black Snake had rebelled against the cost and pointed out that not even Number One Son had been sent to England. Of course Mother-in-law’s plan had been for Fan and his wife to set up in England and represent the interests of the family over there. However, fate — and some assistance from Number One Wife — had resulted in the demise of both of Black Snake’s sons, and Fan had taken over the business when Black Snake died.

“And his tastes, are they as we were told?” Number One Wife enquired.

“Surely, he looked upon our grandson with desire but not with lust. It is promising and I feel all will be achieved. Fuhua did all that was directed of him.”

“Then all will become as required.”

Fat Fan nodded, a smile of satisfaction spreading across his face.

“I will rest with one of my concubines before dinner, select one for me, but one who is not too energetic; I need release but I need to rest.”

Number One Wife smiled and nodded, she knew just who to choose. She was grateful that her husband always bowed to her judgement when it came to his concubines and she appreciated his need for them, not only because of the fact that she hand bore him no children but also because the demands upon her time where such that she could not always provide him with the release he needed. Anyway the concubines had given her many daughters to raise, unfortunately no son had survived beyond infancy.

Suan finished his shower and walked into his room still drying himself. He was astounded to find Fuhua standing in his room, a sarong and shirt spread across his outstretched arms. Suan knew full well that the servants in the house would be aware of his movements into and out of the room and would have had ample time to enter his room, remove his clothes and place the supplied clothing whilst he was still in the shower, so the fact that Fuhua was there must have been intentional.

Fuhua laid the sarong and shirt on the end of the bed then walked over to Suan and took the towel from his hands. For a moment Suan was about to protest, then Fuhua started to dry him. Suan wanted to say something but his Hokkien was not sufficient for him to put together what he wished to say to this boy, so he just stood there letting the boy carry out his task. It was clear from the way he did it that he had been well taught, and Suan suspected that he was trained as a bath boy. It was a suspicion confirmed when Fuhua took a phial of sweet oil from the dressing table and started to anoint Suan with it, his hands caressing Suan’s body.

“That’s not necessary,” Suan stated in English.

“Oh, but it is, Honoured Guest. Uncle Fan was most insistent that I attend to your needs fully,” the boy replied in faultless English: he did not even have the sing-song accent that many Chinese speakers have when they switch to English.

“You speak English!”

“Of course. It is the language I spoke at home and at school in Aberdeen.” It took Suan a moment to realise the boy meant Aberdeen, Hong Kong, not Scotland, though the later would not have surprised him.

“You’re from Hong Kong?”

“Yes, mother concubine to English doctor, much prestige; he send me to best school. Now mother sends me here to Uncle Fan.”

“How old are you?”

“I am sixteen.” The boy finished his administration of the oil to Suan’s body and wiped his hands on the towel, which he then folded and placed upon the chair.

Suan stood motionless, naked, waiting. He knew it would be a waste of time protesting; the boy had been instructed in what to do and would carry out his instructions. As he expected, Fuhua took the sarong and fitted it around Suan’s waist, fixing it perfectly so that it was tight and secure at the waist but hanging loose and free to the floor. There were no undergarments, something which Suan appreciated; in this heat such wear could soon become a discomfort. The boy then held up the white short-sleeved shirt for Suan to slip into. When buttoned it hung down loosely, just covering the top of the sarong.

Suan luxuriated in the feel of native dress. It was not often that he got the chance to wear it and never normally when about on the company business. To go native in any way was seriously frowned upon.

“Drinks will be served on the front veranda when the dinner gong sounds. Uncle Fan is expecting some guests from an upriver station,” Fuhua announced, then he turned and left, his work done.

Suan was confused. Something was not right and he could not put his finger on it. Clearly, the boy was trained as a bath boy, and very well and probably expensively, but he was already too old to be sent to such an occupation. Moreover, so far as Suan was aware there was no bath house that would use such boys in that part of the state. Could he be Fat Fan’s personal bath boy? Suan felt physically sick at the thought.

It was a possibility that Suan could not discount. Many Chinese men, especially those who followed the Dao, turned to boys as they got older in the belief that the boys would bring them vitality in their old age and prolong their lives. Somehow, though, it did not quite fit. He had seen no indication that Fat Fan found Fuhua attractive in that sense... or any boy for that matter.

It had only been twelve years ago that he, then eleven, had first been brought here by his mother. They were on their way upcountry by fast engine canoe to escape the wet season heat of the low lands, a trip that was to become an annual event until he went to Oxford. He had known even then where his interests lay, and had known that he was attractive to men. A few had already shown their interest in him, but Fat Fan was not one of them, although the old man had engaged him in long and thoughtful conversations during the stopovers whilst their canoe was refuelled for the final journey upstream into the hill country and its cooler climate.

Suan sat out on the side veranda enjoying the cooling breeze that had started up as the sun set lower in the sky. A couple of hundred yards away, beyond the vegetable plots that surrounded the compound, lay the jungle with its mysteries and dangers. Suan thought that maybe the jungle might be a safer place than where he was. Something was going on and he was not sure what it was. Nothing quite made sense.

The sound of a large Tam-Tam reverberated through the bungalow and the surrounding compound, setting monkeys chattering in the nearby jungle. Suan stood and made his way around to the front veranda. Fat Fan was there with a middle-aged European and a Chinese woman whom Suan estimated to be in her late twenties or early thirties.

“Ah, Mr Reynolds, please come and meet my guests. This is Dr Kaufman and his wife Bao-Yu.”

Suan shook hands with them both, extending to Bao-Yu the compliment that she lit up the place with her beauty. She seemed perplexed to be spoken to.

“You must forgive my wife, Mr Reynolds, she does not speak English, only Cantonese or German.”

Suan acknowledge the information and proceeded to repeat the remark in Cantonese, which was appropriately received with an appreciative giggle. Although the remark was given as a formal pleasantry for the occasion it was also well deserved, for she was a remarkable looking woman and Suan had no doubt that in her younger years she had been a great beauty. What did he mean ‘in her younger years’? She was still a great beauty, even now.

Fat Fan indicated to the party that they should be seated. Suan sat next to Fat Fan, with Bao-Yu on his right and across the low table from Dr Kaufman.

Fuhua came and took their drink orders. Suan ordered gin and tonic, the same as Dr Kaufman and Fat Fan, while Bao-Yu asked for a tonic on its own.

The conversation around the table quickly fell to a discussion of how late the rains were this year and the problems the low river level was causing, especially the difficulty Dr Kaufman was having getting his harvest downriver to market.

Suan found himself remembering what he had heard about Dr Kaufman. The man was a German who had been sent out during the war to assist Germany’s allies, the Japanese. Apparently it had been intended as some form of disgrace for some offence he had given to the Fuhrer — an offence which would have sent him to the Russian Front or Dachau, normally, but the doctor’s family was just a bit too important for such a solution so he ended up out here. Like most European men at that time he had taken himself a young Chinese mistress, but then, to the shock of the local community, he had married her. After the defeat of Germany and Japan he had been allowed to stay on. This had been somewhat to the surprise of many, but it had come out that he had been passing information to the local resistance, and providing them with medical supplies. It had been made clear to him, however, that his residence in the capital or any of the other major cities on the coast would not be welcome, so he had moved upcountry and was now a plantation owner.

Suan was deep in this line of thought when he almost missed the question from Dr Kaufman. “What brings you up here, Mr Reynolds?”

“Ah,” interrupted Fat Fan, before Suan had chance to expose the fact that he had been miles away in thought, “Mr Reynolds is Assistant Agronomist with West Asian Spice. He was on his way to their plantation at Kamping when his transport suffered a mechanical failure.”

“Assistant Agronomist... you are very young to hold such an exalted position within the Company,” stated the doctor.

“I probably am, but I did Botany at Oxford and specialised in plant pathology in my final year, so I was probably the best qualified person out here when Malcolm Short was forced to return to the UK so suddenly.”

There was a moment of silence around the table; a sense of embarrassment at the memory of an incident that was only just over two years old. Everybody had been shocked when the news had broken that the police had raided a house of pleasure and found Malcolm Short in a highly compromising position with two very underage girls. It was totally unbelievable that the police should raid such an establishment without giving some warning and allowing the Madam to replace such girls with somebody of more suitable age. Of course, each side blamed the other: the police stating that the Madam had not acted fast enough, and Madam stating that the police had not given enough warning. There was a feeling that something had gone very wrong and that perhaps Mr Short had a powerful enemy who could arrange such things. If that was the case and and such an enemy had shown his displeasure it was felt best that Mr Short return to England.

“Ah yes,” commented Fat Fan, “such an unfortunate affair.” A faint smile crossed his face. “The House of the Pearl took many months to re-establish its clientele.”

Just how, thought Suan, did the old bastard know that?

“It is lucky you were at this place when your transport failed you,” Dr Kaufman commented.

“I was some distance out, by the turnoff to Rampotan. I was intending to go- via Rampotan to Topi, and then onto Kamping.”

“A somewhat roundabout route but no doubt you had business that way. It is lucky, though, that you found this place.”

“There was no luck involved,” declared Fat Fan, “his mother is a favourite of my Number One Wife, and called in here often when she and her son were on their way upcountry or on their return downriver.”

There it was again, the specific terminology that Fat Fan used was not quite right. The Cantonese phrase that became ‘favourite’ in English had a subtle secondary meaning which carried more than was expressed in the English translation. It almost implied a member of the family, but such usage did not make sense.

Just then a small Chinese woman and a middle aged Chinese man stepped out onto the veranda.

“Ah,” continued Fat Fan, “talk of the devil. My Number One Wife and my Esteemed Son-in-Law.”

Now Suan was totally confused. Something was going on here and he did not understand what. By introducing the man as his esteemed son-in-law Fat Fan had announced to those present that he had no sons, an admission that no Chinese man of his generation would willingly make public, unless he was also stating that this man was the one who would take over his business.

“Dr Kaufman, Mr Reynolds, I hope you are enjoying your visit to my home,” Number One Wife stated in perfect and almost accentless English.

“Your home is remarkable,” Suan replied, “as is your English.”

“You compliment me too much! My English is... oh, what is the word? …Stilted. I do not get to speak it enough since I returned from England.”

“You were in England?”

“Yes, for six years, in the 1920s. I accompanied my husband when he went to study at Cambridge, then we lived in London whilst he did his PhD. Unfortunately, the death of my elder brother required our urgent return to my home before I truly mastered your language or customs... or my husband finished his studies.”

Suddenly bits started to fall into place and a pattern emerged, like the completion of a jigsaw. This was her home; Fat Fan had married into the business, but she had been born into it. The question was, what was the business? Suan had always thought that Fat Fan was a local crook, maybe a bit bigger than most of the small-time wheeler-dealers around; one who had expanded into the opium market and into child labour, perhaps even a few illicit gemstones. Now, though, he got a different perspective on things: is it possible that the brothels and drinking dens on the coast are run from here? That was a nonsense, of course; surely there was no way such an operation could be run — the distance and the associated delay in communication would make it impossible — yet it also made a kind of sense. Here Fat Fan was safe; he would know many hours in advance if the police were to move to raid him; and anyway, which police would raid? Who had jurisdiction up in this triangle of land claimed by three countries?

If Suan was right, Fat Fan was no small crooked river trader with his hands in half a dozen questionable activities; he was Triad, and the small woman who now stood in front of him was effectively the head of this Triad. Suan looked at her with an increasing sense of amazement. She smiled at him as if she read the understanding that was developing in his mind. Another thought struck Suan... if his thinking was correct what did it mean that his mother had been a favourite of Number One Wife?

“How is your mother?” she asked.

“Well, but she had flu a few weeks ago and is still a bit weak from its effect.”

“I am sorry to hear that, Mr Reynolds, but I do hope she will be fit to travel when the rains come. I so look forward her visits. Perhaps this year Major Duncan might come with her; I hear he is retiring from the civil service.”

This was news to Suan — who had not seen his father for some months — though not a surprise. Since independence there had been a constant pressure within the civil service to replace Europeans with Chinese or native staff.

“I have no way of knowing, I have not seen my father since Christmas.”

“That is unfortunate. I was hoping for news of him, he is such a pleasant man.” Suan was surprised that Number One Wife knew his father, but then if she was as close to his mother as appeared to be the case it followed that she would probably know his father.

Just then the Tam-Tam sounded. “It seems dinner is ready. Would you be so kind as to take me in?” Suan was surprised, for such an arrangement was very European and very non-Chinese, but he offered Number One Wife his arm.

Just as they were about to be seated, Esteemed Son-in-Law was called out of the room to receive a message. When he returned he passed a note to Fat Fan, who opened it and read the contents.

“Mr Reynolds, it seems that the fuel in your bike was contaminated, as you expected. You are lucky, though. Mr Smyth reports that there is no serious damage and he has sent downriver for the spare parts that are required. They should be with us by mid-afternoon tomorrow. Your bike should be ready within about three hours of their arrival, but that will be too late for you to leave so you will have to endure my hospitality for another night.”

This news did not please Suan; he hoped the parts might arrive early so that he could get away well before dusk.

The dinner was a mix of Chinese and European, all prepared to a quality that would have surpassed most of the leading hotels in Europe. Four servants provided service, one of them Fuhua who seemed to have been assigned to Suan. After dinner and coffee Number One Wife excused herself, but left Fat Fan, Esteemed Son-in-Law, the Kaufmans and Suan to play a few hands of cards and enjoy some single malt whiskey. Shortly after nine the Kaufmans excused themselves and retired to the guest bungalow. Once they had left Suan made his excuses and made his way to his room.

When he arrived there the mosquito screens were closed and an insect-repellent joss coil had been lit and placed on the table by the window. Suan stripped, pulled down the mosquito curtain and slipped naked into the bed, quickly falling off to sleep.

He was jolted back awake when he sensed a movement by the side of the bed. Looking up he made out the figure of Fuhua in the faint moonlight that shafted through the louvered windows. The boy was naked, and raising the mosquito net to climb in next to Suan. “What are you doing here?”

“Great Aunt sent me to see to your needs for the night.” For a moment Suan was puzzled, until he realised that great aunt must refer to Number One Wife. “Do you not want me?”

There was a hint of panic in the boy’s voice. Why? What was he afraid of? Then Suan realised that if he threw Fuhua out the boy would be blamed, and no doubt punished.

“Of course I want you, just not like this.” His eyes, accustomed to the low light level, made out the look on the boy’s face. “Look, you’d better get in here before a mosquito gets you.”

Fuhua ducked under the net and slipped in under the single sheet next to Suan, his naked body touching Suan’s. A feeling of longing welled up inside Suan; he wanted to this boy so much, to hold him, to know him, to explore him and to use him... but it could not be. He pulled himself away.

“Do I not please you?”

“Fuhua, you please me more than you can understand, but I cannot enjoy taking such pleasure.”

“Why not, it is a gift for you?”

“Yes, but it is not your gift. It is a gift you are being made to give, not one you want to give.”

“If it was a gift I could give would you take it?”

“Yes Fuhua, if it was your gift I would take it, for it would give me great pleasure.”

“I am glad, for it would give me great pleasure to make you that gift. Can we not make believe that it is my gift and enjoy the pleasure that it would give to both of us?”

“No, Fuhua, for we would both know that it is not true. You can stay here with me tonight so that there will be no disgrace upon you, but that is all. Maybe some other time we can be together — when you are free to give that gift.”

“I hope, Suan, that time is not far away.” The sound of his name spoken by this boy was almost too much for Suan, he wanted to envelop the boy in his arms, to hold him and to caress him. As it was he turned on his side away from the boy and went to sleep.

The chattering of the monkeys in the nearby jungle woke Suan just as the first light of dawn hit the window of his room. He turned lazily in the bed, his body coming into contact with that of Fuhua, which brought back to his mind the events of the night before.

The boy started slightly at the contact, then began to wake up. He looked up at Suan and smiled. “Did Honoured Guest sleep well?”

“No, Honoured Guest was disturbed by Beautiful Boy climbing into his bed in the middle of the night.”

“It was not the middle, it had barely gone half past ten.”

“I stand corrected... and less of the Honoured Guest, please, at least when we are alone. It doesn’t feel right when we are lying here naked next to each other. Call me Suan; you did last night.”

“I know, but that was a mistake.”

“No, that was probably the one thing that was not a mistake. Friends use each other’s personal names.”

“Are we friends, then, Suan?”

“I hope so, Fuhua, I hope so.”

“Good, then I will make things good for my friend.” He reached out and took hold of Suan’s already erect cock.

“No Fuhua,” Suan responded, pushing the hand away, “it is not yet your gift to give.”

“But I would enjoy giving it and you would enjoy taking it.”

“Yes, Fuhua, but then there would be a price. Fat Fan never gives anything away without a price.”

“Fat Fan... is that what you call him? It is a good name, but I dare not use it.”

“Yes, it is a good name. Come, you’d better get about your business for the day and I’d better get ready to leave as soon as my bike is repaired.” Suan pushed the mosquito net to one side and got out of the bed. Fuhua followed him.

“My business for the day is to look after you. Uncle Fan went up-river last night after dinner and will not be back till late afternoon. Great Aunt has gone to her bungalow and will be there till Uncle Fan returns. My instructions are to see that your needs are cared for during the day. Your bike will not be ready till after dark so you will not be leaving today.”

“How do you know that?” Suan was certain that Fuhua had not been present when Fat Fan had told him about the repairs. That had been before service had started and there had been no servants in the room.

For a moment Fuhua looked concerned, as if he realised he had said too much, then he spoke.

“I heard Uncle Fan tell the boatman not to get back with the parts till after three, and Mr Smyth had said it would take three hours to repair your bike, so it will be dark by time it is ready.”

Suan nodded. The boy was right. There was no way he could risk riding on the jungle roads at night, it was too bloody dangerous. It was not just the risk of a pothole or rut in the road, there were also predators that came out at night. He knew that tigers were supposed to have been hunted out of this part of the country, but one never knew... then there were panthers and leopards. During day the twelve foot cut-back on each side of the track, plus his speed, gave him relative safety, but at night it was another matter.

“So I’m stuck here for another bloody day. All right, I’m going to have a shower.”

“May I join you? It would give me pleasure to assist you in your bathing.” The words were formulaic but something in the way they were said suggested that it would give the boy great pleasure. For a moment Suan thought to decline the offer, but then nodded to the boy.

Once in the shower it became even clearer that Fuhua had been very well trained as a bath boy. There was, though, something odd, almost innocent, about his ministrations. Suan had enjoyed bathhouses in Japan and in Hong Kong (he had never dared to frequent one back in the capital; that was too much of a risk) and there the boys were good — just as attentive as Fuhua — but there was something else they had, a certain coarseness an overt sexuality that was lacking in Fuhua. It was as if the boy knew all the moves but not the intent.

Whilst Fuhua was drying him Suan asked how the boy had come to be with Fat Fan. “Doctor father was taken ill; he had cancer and his wife said he had to go back to England. For nine months money came from England very good but then stopped, Doctor father was dead. Mother had good house with two servants and money... plenty to live on, but not enough to send me to school.”

Suan could understand that. Some of the private schools in Hong Kong were more expensive than many a minor English public school. “Uncle Fan and Great Aunt visited us at Christmas and I came back with them here.”

That, thought Suan, was strange. Why would Fat Fan visit Fuhua’s mother in Hong Kong? For that matter, why would he go to Hong Kong? Of course, if he was Triad it made sense— in fact it made a lot of sense.

“So where did you learn this?” he indicated Fuhua’s use of the towel to dry him off and implied the washing skills used in the shower.

“Oh, when twelve, Mother sent me to bathhouse in Happy Valley to be taught; said it never hurt to know a skill and that pleasing men was a skill.”

The response caught Suan by surprise... the boy’s mother had sent him to learn the skills of a bathhouse boy. Why? It was clear from what the boy had told him that they were not short of money. Nothing here quite made sense.

Once dry, they dressed. Suan noticed that whilst they had been in the shower clean sarongs and shirts had been provided for both of them. Also, his travel clothes from yesterday had been cleaned, pressed and folded, and laid on the newly-made bed. Then Fuhua guided Suan to the front veranda where a breakfast table was set with two places. When Suan was seated, Fuhua went into the bungalow, only to return a couple of minutes later with a tray containing breakfast for two. He set the contents of the tray upon the table, then, leaning the tray against the bungalow wall, seated himself in the other seat and joined Suan for breakfast. “Uncle Fan said I was to be your host for the day until he returned.”

After breakfast Fuhua showed Suan around the compound. Although he had visited with his mother on many occasions, and had also had official business here a couple of times since his appointment with the company, Suan had never seen more than the landing area and the surrounding buildings. Fuhua took him back into the compound away from the river. It was far larger than he had imagined, and probably, he thought, than the authorities in the capital knew. There must have been over a hundred bungalows plus dormitory buildings, workshops and warehouses. Suan estimated that altogether there were probably over a thousand people in the compound, all giving allegiance to Fat Fan. As they walked along the path going upriver Suan heard the voices of children reciting a nursery rhyme in English. He stopped for a moment to listen. “Miss Carter, she English woman came out here before war, teaches children till they are eight. Then they get sent to capital or other coastal cities to Aunts or Uncles and go to school in city till twelve. Those that show promise Uncle Fan sends to secondary schools, those that don’t are taught trade and join business.”

The information Fuhua supplied made Suan realise just how vast Fat Fan’s operation must be. If what half Suan now suspected was true Fat Fan must be one of the most powerful persons in the country, if not the most powerful, and nobody knew. That, Suan realised, was true power... to be able to do what you needed done and not have anyone knowing that you had done it.

Just past the school building they came to a rushing stream that ran down into the river. It appeared to mark the boundary of the compound, for on the other side there were only a few small fields of vegetables, and beyond them the jungle.

Fuhua and Suan turned left and followed the stream upward towards the back of the compound. Set well back from the rest of the buildings was a bungalow built in the traditional Chinese style, at total variance to the other buildings in the compound.

“Great Aunt’s house, we may not go closer without being invited.” Fuhua said.

Suan looked up at the house. Two hundred yards or more behind the house an escarpment towered at least a couple of hundred feet above the surrounding jungle. Immediately behind the bungalow the escarpment was cut by a steep-sided valley, from which the stream tumbled. High above the bungalow, perched on the edge of the valley, was a tower a clear two hundred feet high.

Suan turned and looked across the river. Back from the jungle edge rose a matching escarpment, upon which stood another tower. Wires were strung between the two towers. He looked at Fuhua, his eyes conveying his question.

“The Japanese installed them during the war. Just beyond that bend in the valley,” he pointed up the opposite valley, “there’s a dam with a hydroelectric power station. At peak we can get ten megawatts, even now with the water low we get a good five.”

Suan nodded. Short and long wave radio equipment, plenty of power; Fat Fan could run an empire from here... and probably did.

They made their way back to the main bungalow and lunched together.

After lunch they walked down to the landing stage. Clearly, school was out, for naked children jumped into the river and frolicked in the water. On the far side, where the jungle came down to the water’s edge, monkeys chattered and hurled abuse at the shouting children who had disturbed their peace.

“Do you like it here?” Suan asked.

“Why do you ask?”

“I want to know, Fuhua, do you like it here?”

“It is nice here, I have my work and Uncle Fan is good to me but …”

“But what, Fuhua?”

“I wanted to complete sixth form and go to university; I wanted to be an engineer, but I can’t do that from here.”

“So, where would you like to be?”

“With you.”

“But you don’t know me. You only met me yesterday.”

“Maybe, but it seems I have known you all my life. Uncle Fan and Great Aunt often spoke of you when they came to Hong Kong... the mixed race boy whose father married his mother, who came top of best school in capital and went to Oxford and got a first.”

Suan was surprised, why should Fat Fan and his wife talk about him? What was their interest?

“When they told me last week that you were coming …”

“They told you I was coming last week? When?”

“Five... six days ago, don’t remember exactly when. Great Aunt say Suan Reynolds come in few days and I had to make you comfortable and take care of you.”

Suan was puzzled, how could she have known? He had not known he was coming five days ago. They had only just received the report of Black Leaf at Kamping. It could have been any of the agronomists who came upcountry. In fact it was far more likely that Jim Carter, the head agronomist, or Bill Murphy, Suan’s senior, would have come up for something as serious as Black Leaf —that was not something you would leave to the new boy. It was pure chance that Suan had come. First, there had been the break-in at Jim’s, and then Bill’s car had broken down. There was no way Number One Wife could have known; it was just chance.

Or was it?

Break-ins were not uncommon in the capital, but in the European quarter they were rare; in fact, Suan could not think of one. Not only did the police patrol the area with great alacrity but there were also private patrols on duty. Then the dinner invitation from the Minister of Agriculture that was so sudden and out of the blue. Such dinners were usually set up days, if not weeks, in advance, never the day before. How had the thieves known that the Carters and their servants would be out that night?

Bill’s car breakdown was also a puzzle. The man was a stickler for maintaining it — in fact he seemed to lavish more attention on his car than he did his wife, though having met Bill’s wife Suan could understand why. It was so strange that it should break down just as Bill was setting out for Kamping... and that the part needed to fix it would take a week or so to obtain.

Was it just chance that had put Suan on the road to Kamping? If it wasn’t, neither was the contaminated fuel.

Suan felt Fuhua’s hand slip into his. “Last night I came to you and I was scared. Yes, I wanted you. During the day you had been good to me; most of the time people see me as just a servant, but you treated me with respect, even when you did not speak with me.

“I’ve known what I am and what are my desires since I was twelve. Why else should my mother send me to a bathhouse to train?”

That at least answered one of Suan’s questions.

“All the time men have looked at me and I have seen the lust in their eyes, but when you looked at me there was something different. Yes, I saw that you wanted me, but there was something different in the way you wanted me.

“Last night I came to you and you would have been my first man. The boys with whom I trained told me that being taken by your first man could be painful and it would hurt. I feared that, but I admired you. I wanted you to be my first man; I wanted to give myself to you.

“You would not take that gift and that makes me want to give it to you even more. I understand why you would not take it and your reason gives me honour and it gives me hope. I know that you want to give me more than just the pleasure of the body, I sense that you want to give me the love that I find I have for you.”

“But Fuhua, I’m six years older than you are. I’m a man... you’re still a boy.”

“What is six years? My father was thirty years older than my mother, but I know they had love for each other. You say I am a boy but I have no doubt that before this year is out I will be a man.”

The roar of a powerful outboard filled the air as a motor canoe rounded the bend in the river. All heads turned in the direction of the sound and a number of men appeared from the surrounding buildings and made their way down to the landing stage.

“I think your spare parts have arrived, Suan,” Fuhua commented.

“I hope so, then I can leave tomorrow.”

“I will be sorry to see you go.”

“I’ll be back.”

“Will you?”

“Yes, I can’t just leave you now, can I?”

“I hope not.”

While the motor canoe was being unloaded the chugging of another motor became audible over the general bustle. Shortly, a sedate motor boat, canopied in the style of something from The African Queen, sauntered around the upriver bend and drew up against the landing stage. Fat Fan eased himself up from the chair situated under the canopy and, with some assistance, stepped up onto the landing stage. He spied Suan and Fuhua, and he signalled that they should come over to him. “Mr Reynolds, I trust you have not had too boring a day today?”

“Not at all Mr Sung, Fuhua has been quite diligent in keeping me entertained.”

“I am so pleased that he was able to be useful to you. Unfortunately, I must now deprive you of his company as I need an urgent task undertaken.”

Suan saw the look of disappointment cross Fuhua’s face. Fortunately it was gone by the time Fat Fan turned to him.

“Fuhua, as soon as the canoe has been unloaded, get Tok Tan to take you downriver to Lee Qui’s. Give Lee Qui this...” he removed an envelope from the sleeve of his robe and handed it to the boy. “Hand it only to Lee Qui, and convey my apologies for not visiting him in person, but ask him to join me for dinner tomorrow evening. Tell him that the guest bungalow he likes will be available to him with the normal resources.”

The boy bowed in resigned acknowledgement and walked down the landing stage to the motor canoe.

Fat Fan turned back to Suan. “Your bike should be ready by the morning, and I am sure you would like an early start.”

“Yes, I would. It is a long way still to Kamping and I would like to make up for the lost time — so I will go there direct.”

“Very wise. I will make certain one of the ferry men is on duty to take you across the river first thing in the morning. You can go across and cut up the track to the jungle road; that will save you a couple of hours backtracking to the turnoff for the bridge.” There was an unspoken suggestion that Fat Fan was well aware that Suan had been trying to avoid his compound with the route he had chosen before the breakdown.

“It looks as if there will be only the two of us for dinner this evening. My Number One Wife is busy with her business, and Esteemed Son-in-Law has had to return to the capital. May I suggest we dine early; that would give us time for a game of cards and still allow you an early night for an early start.”

Suan, with some reluctance, acknowledged the arrangement. Already he was finding the separation from Fuhua disconcerting.

Just over an hour later the Tam-Tam announced the serving of pre-dinner drinks. Suan met Fat Fan on the front veranda, where the bare-chested girl he had seen on his arrival at the compound served the drinks. Suan requested a gin and tonic which she brought to him. As she served him she pressed her body up against him suggestively. Suan felt uncomfortable.

“Ching Lan, my Honoured Guest is not one of your customers for this night,” Fat Fan commented, “restrain yourself. Mr Lee will be visiting tomorrow and I have no doubt he will require your services.” The girl giggled and moved off.

The two men sat on the veranda and drank in silence until the Tam-Tam sounded to indicate dinner was served.

The meal was traditional Chinese. Again there was silence as the two men started to partake, until Fat Fan spoke. “You disapprove of me do you not, Mr Reynolds?”


Fat Fan held up his hand.

“Do not deny it, for I see it in your face. Sometimes I have the same feelings, and I disapprove of myself. However, I have to live in the world as it is, not how I would like it to be. This is 1965, and people depend on me for a livelihood. Yes, I put girls into my houses of pleasure, but I am not one who buys an unwanted girl child from her parents to put her up for auction as a nine-year-old virgin.”

Suan was about to protest but Fat Fan again held up his hand. “No child should have to go into the houses of pleasure... but then, no child should have to suffer hunger or lack medical treatment because their family is without funds.

“When a poor family offers a girl child for sale I will, if I can, buy her and bring her to this place. She will know what her fate is and what is expected of her; it is the fate of many children— girls and boys — from poor families. Here, though, I give them options. I provide education and training, and if they show aptitude in some skill or trade I will support them in that; if not, I provide them with the best training and preparation that I can give them for the houses of pleasure.

“This is the reality of the world which I have to deal with and in which I have to live. Fortunately the world is changing. People like you, Mr Reynolds, will bring about that change.”

“I hope so, Mr Sung, I hope so.”

“So do I... so do I.”

Somehow Fat Fan’s admission had broken the ice between the two men. Suan could not approve of Fat Fan but at least he understood where the man was coming from. Even he had to admit that it was better for a child to go into the houses of pleasure after preparation and training and knowing what was to come, rather than being thrown in, auctioned and raped all in a single night. There was, though, one outstanding question. He looked up at Fat Fan.

“You wonder, Mr Reynolds, if I partake of the pleasure I train them to provide. The answer is no. It would not make good business sense. Virgins, even slightly older ones who are of age, still demand a premium. Even Ching Lan, seductive little minx that she is, is a virgin — and will remain so, even after her night with Mr Lee.”

Suan looked surprised.

“Be assured... Ching Lan, I am told, can do wonders with her hands and mouth, and she will provide Mr Lee with great pleasure, but should he require more release an older sister experienced in the ways will be present to provide such service.”

Suan wondered if there had been an older brother waiting nearby to provide such services if he had taken Fuhua the previous night.

Over the rest of dinner the two men discussed the changes that were taking place in the country, the nativisation of the administration and the civil service, and how even Chinese were being excluded from many positions. Fat Fan expressed the opinion that this would be to the long term detriment of the country as a whole and that it needed a dynamic mixed population. This was something Suan found himself in agreement with.

After dinner they moved to the library where they sat in the cool of the evening behind the mosquito screens, enjoying a single malt whilst playing a local variation on pontoon. The stakes were low, and after about an hour’s play Suan was some ten ringgits up on his original purse. He started to make his excuses to retire, but Fat Fan pressed him for one more game.

“How about if we raise the stakes?” Suan asked.

“And what would you like me to stake?”


“You think the boy is mine to stake like some asset I may dispose of?”

“You hold his indenture no doubt.”

“So it is the indenture that is the stake, not the boy.”

Suan nodded at this differentiation, though both knew it was meaningless.

“And what would you stake against such a valuable item?”

Suan thought for a moment. He had nearly two thousand ringgits on him, but that was company money which he would need if he had to pay compensation to local farmers up at Kamping. Of his own funds he had less than a hundred ringgits. He very much doubted if that would be enough. He had only one thing of value; his mother had given it to him before he went to Oxford, with the injunction to only to use it in an emergency. He wondered if she would class this as an emergency.

Slowly he put his hand inside his shirt and drew out a small draw bag which hung from a corded strand around his neck. Opening the bag, he tipped a single gemstone out onto the table.

Fat Fan could not help but gasp. It was a ruby, a pigeon blood ruby of about thirty carats. Fat Fan reached over to the drawer in the sideboard next to the table and pulled from it a jeweller’s loupe — not that he needed it; he knew this stone, although it had been over a quarter of a century since he last saw it. He picked up the stone and made a play of examining it. “A fine and worthy stake. Clearly, you set much store on the boy.”

Suan nodded.

“Shall we play then, the stone for the boy’s indenture?”

Fat Fan reached into the drawer and pulled out a new, sealed deck of cards. Showing the seals to Suan, he broke them and pushed the pack onto the table, indicating to Suan that he should shuffle.

Suan mixed the pack overhand a few times, then performed a sequence of riffle shuffles and ended with a Hindu one before placing the pack in the centre of the table.

Fat Fan cut the pack and completed the cut, he performed the operation twice more then slid the top card off the pack and drew it over the table felt until it rested in front of him.

Suan slid off the second card and drew it to himself.

Both men glanced at their cards.

Suan’s was an Ace, which he could use as a one or an eleven.

Fat Fan drew another card, as did Suan, and again both men looked at their cards.

Suan had a two: not good. Fat Fan turned his cards over, revealing Pontoon, an ace and a Queen.

Suan’s heart dropped and his mouth went dry. He had lost; only one hand could beat that, and the odds were unthinkable. He drew a third card; another two. Then a fourth; a six, his cards totalled eleven.

Fat Fan looked at him expectantly, his eyes every now and then glancing at the stone that lay on the table.

Suan reached forward and took a fifth card from the deck and pulled it towards him. As he did so he prayed to every god he knew and offered to burn incense at all the shrines in the capital. Slowly he turned the card over looking at it with a sense of disbelief; it was a ten, he had turned a ten! One by one he turned the others... the six, making sixteen; the two twos making twenty; and finally the ace, making twenty one. He thanked the gods they were playing the local variation instead of standard pontoon: here a five card trick totalling twenty one without any court cards beat a pontoon.

Fat Fan looked at the cards, then bowed in acknowledgement to Suan before striking the small gong on the sideboard by the table.

A moment later a servant entered and was instructed to bring the green deed box from the study. Whilst waiting for its arrival Fat Fan took an ink stone and block from the sideboard drawer, together with a set of brushes. With water from the jug that had been provided for the whisky he started to grind the ink. When the servant appeared with the deed box Fat Fan opened it with a key that hung from the chain round his neck and removed an indenture paper. He showed the paper to Suan who confirmed it was Fuhua’s indenture, then wrote an assignment on the paper and marked it with his chop before passing the paper to Suan.

Suan looked at the unused fire pot that sat in the centre of the room. “May I?” he enquired gesturing towards it.

Fat Fan nodded.

Picking up a cigarette lighter from the sideboard Suan walked over to the pot and held the indenture papers over it. He flicked the lighter and applied the flame to the paper.

It was just after midnight when Suan felt the boy slide into bed next to him. “Uncle Fan says I am now yours.”

“No, you are now free. I burnt your papers.”

“Don’t you want me?” the voice sounded frail.

“Of course I want you! I want you with me, but I want you with me because you want to be with me.”

“I do.”

Suan turned on his side and drew Fuhua towards him, their lips met in a kiss.

Next morning the bike was ready for them at the bottom of the veranda steps. Once they had put the panniers on the bike and collected Fuhua’s few belongings, they set off for Kamping.

Up in the Chinese bungalow below the escarpment Fat Fan and Number One Wife looked out over the compound as the two young men pushed the bike down to the landing stage and the ferry. Fat Fan was shuffling a pack of cards.

“So your favourite grandson goes off with his new lover?”

“Yes, Wife, quite a satisfactory outcome.” Fat Fan started to deal the cards: first a King for himself, then an ace for the other hand, followed by another ace for himself. Then he dealt two twos to the other hand, a six and finally a ten.

His wife looked on in amusement. “You always wanted to be a magician didn’t you?”“Am I not one now, Wife? Is not this all one wonderful illusion?” Fat Fan indicated the compound around him, then returned his attention to the two young men disembarking from the ferry. “Why was it you insisted that I should lose Fuhua to him in a card game? Could I not have just sold him the indenture?”

“And how would he have paid for such a valuable indenture? I doubt he would have sold the gem for it. No, whatever price he paid he would have known it was too low; he would have sensed there was a gift in it. Eventually he would have felt he had to return it.

“No, Husband, selling Fuhua’s indenture was not an answer. By having Suan win it at the card table you have given him a victory over you. Even if he should cease to care for Fuhua in the future he will always protect the symbol of his victory over you.”

Fat Fan nodded at the wisdom in his wife’s words. “There is great wisdom in your thinking, Number One Wife! Where would I be without you to guide me?”

“Ah, but I cannot take all the credit... for whose idea was it to put Number One Daughter by Honoured Younger Sister on the last boat to leave for Australia?”

“Yes, that was a gamble that worked well, although it was Number One Daughter who caught Major Duncan. Without that nothing would have come as it has.”

“And my Younger Sister’s daughter in Hong Kong caught the good doctor.”

Fat Fan smiled at the way his wife used the old term for an approved concubines.

“Will they ever know they are cousins?”

“I think so one day... but by then they will be long settled in England.”

“They go to England, you think?”

“Of course, Wife. Suan will insist that Fuhua becomes an engineer, and as he does not speak German he will have to go to England to do his studies. Suan will not want to be separated from him for that long so he will go too. Remember, his professor wanted him to do his PhD; we must make certain that the funding is available for both.”

The old woman took out a notebook and made an entry to remind herself to make the required arrangements through the lawyers in New York.


Chop – An engraved item used to print an identifying seal on a document. Used in place of a signature.

Tam-Tam – A Chinese hanging gong.


In standard pontoon a Pontoon (Ace together with any Court Card or ten) will beat any other hand, including a five card trick. However, in the Straits variation I played with my father as a child a five card trick coming to twenty one beat Pontoon. This is the variation I have used in this story. I have been told that it should be a five card trick in which no card is repeated but I have gone with the form I know from my childhood.

The five card trick deal, a magic trick in which the magician deals a five card trick to a member of the audience, was first shown to me in 1965 at the Staffordshire Magical Society. In the original form it involved the magician dealing twenty to himself and a five card trick to the audience member. I amended the trick in this story so that Fat Fan dealt Pontoon to himself which left the final card to be turned over as a ten. Although I know how this trick is done I must admit to never having the card skills to do it myself.

This is a work of fiction and any similarity to a person living or dead is pure coincidence.

Copyright © 2014 Nigel Gordon

My thanks to Alien Son for his editorial skills.