Wanchai’s fame grew out of the Vietnam War. Only a couple of hours’ flight from Saigon, Hong Kong was a convenient place for short R & R stops, and Wanchai was where the flesh was sold. That was before Hong Kong turned into a sophisticated financial center. Nowadays the sex was mostly in the neon: Hot Cats Topless Bar; Purple Pussycat; Sailor’s Comfort; Popeye’s; the Mabini Bar; Wild Cats. Punters who were serious about taking one of the girls back to a room could still do so, but for that price marriage might have been cheaper. Most of the profit was made on the drinks, fifty to a hundred times more than the price in a normal bar. The premium was for the privilege of watching Asian girls in swimming costumes gyrate around chromium poles that sprouted out of the platform behind the bar.
Chan let Aston lead the way down Lockhart Road; he and Delaney followed.
“Guess you know the area real well, hey, Dick?” Delaney called to Aston’s back. He’d changed into white trousers, sneakers, a yellow short-sleeve shirt. Chan liked the way the New York cop took in the street in a snapshot, filed it away. A real pro. Chan supposed that for Delaney Wanchai held no temptations. It was mostly a light show. A forest of illuminated signs grew like incandescent mushrooms out of the walls, reaching out to the money that passed underneath.
“You can buy anything in Wanchai,” Aston said over his shoulder, “any time of the day or night. Sauna, noodles, steak and chips, television set, Walkman, ticket to San Francisco-anything.”
“I bet. Fascinating place.”
“I suppose New York’s just the same?”
Delaney looked around to give the question justice. “Oh, this is kind of easier on the mind. Very civilized actually. All I see is a lot of people letting their hair down, having a good time without losing respect for each other. Haven’t noticed a single homicide in the ten minutes we’ve been walking.”
Chan laughed. He felt comfortable with Delaney now that he understood him better. As expected, the dental records had confirmed that Jekyll and Hyde were Yu and Mao. He felt the case easing toward a conclusion. It made him feel almost light-headed. Homicide could be like that. You solved the mystery, and for no good reason in the world you felt as if you’d brought the dead back to life.
“Try Popeye’s?” Aston said.
“Why not?” Delaney said. “Okay with you, Charlie?”
They crossed the road to the short concrete wall in the center. Aston hurdled over without touching the top, grinned. Chan hitched one leg over, then the other. He was surprised to see Delaney having trouble. He offered his arm as the American paused halfway across the wall.
Delaney nodded. “Just don’t seem to be able to take it the way I used to.”
He grimaced as he lifted a leg over the wall. His face was gray when they reached Popeye’s. Over a beer he took out a small box of pills, swallowed one.
“Don’t know what it is-first started noticing it couple of months ago. Diet doesn’t seem to make any difference. Tried giving up drink, but that didn’t help. Just age, I guess. Sorry to be a pooper. Maybe I should have stayed in my hotel after all.”
They sat at the bar roughly on a level with the pubic bones of the dancers, who were humping invisible lovers with knees bent, legs open wide, fists punching the air in time to an old number from Fine Young Cannibals. Chan envied their energy. Most of the girls were Filipinas or Thais; one or two were Chinese; three came from Vietnam. Every few weeks vice busted the bars, deported the girls who had come on tourist visas and overstayed. Generally vice did a good job in Wanchai, striking a balance between permissible entertainment and serious threats to the health of the community. Ever since AIDS people took a more sober view of Wanchai and the bars.
“You buy me one drink?”
The Chinese woman in her late forties in a miniskirt, tank top, high heels had drifted in behind them. Chan had seen her waiting on the street by the door. Rouge made apples of her cheeks; her lips were buried under red cupid bows.
“Well, I don’t know, Mother.” Delaney looked at Chan. “Do we buy the lady a drink or not?”
Chan spoke rapidly to her in Cantonese, brushed her off with twenty dollars from his wallet.
“Let’s sit at a booth,” Chan said.
They found a spare booth between an American serviceman who had a girl on either side and an Englishman who was speaking earnestly to a Vietnamese girl.
“You’ll like England,” Chan heard him say, “except for the rain.”
“Wain? What is wain?”
“Water-from the sky.”
“Oh, England wain a lot?”
“Yes. And it’s cold.”
“I got you. I don’t care.”
“I’m going to save you,” the Englishman said.
Aston sat on the outside of the booth with his face to the bar.
Delaney smiled at Chan. “We gonna get any sense out of the inspector tonight, d’you think?”
Chan shrugged. It was hard to tell where the magnetism began. The dusky girls behind the bar had trouble keeping their eyes off the blond young cop with deep blue eyes, and he wasn’t trying too hard to put them off. His head moved up and down with their cleavage as they bounced to U2.
After the second beer Aston walked to the end of the bar to use the toilet. Chan leaned forward, twitched. “May I ask a very personal question, Frank?”
Delaney’s eyes flicked over him. It took only microseconds for the street alertness to return to the captain’s face. He sipped his beer.
“Sure, Charlie. What’s on your mind?”
“I hope you don’t think this is disrespectful after all you’ve done for us today, but one thought keeps crossing my mind.”
“Is your real name Mario Coletti?”
Aston returned from the toilet.
“How is it down there? Safe to take a leak?” Delaney asked Aston.
“Crowded. And there’s a transaction going on between a punter and the mama-san in one of the men’s cubicles. But yes, it’s safe.”
Delaney nodded. Even as he rose to his feet, the strain showed. He waited a second for dignity to return, then strode down the aisle toward the toilet. Chan saw a couple of pairs of slim naked arms reach out to him from the booths as he passed.
“Is he okay?” Aston said.
“I think he has a medical problem, Dick. You know, on reflection this wasn’t such a good idea on my part. We could give him an out after this beer, maybe?”
Disappointed, Aston nodded. “I’ll say I have to go-on duty?”
“That would do it. I’ll say the same.”
“It won’t be very convincing since you’re the one who invited him out.”
Chan frowned at his own stupidity. “No, true. You go first; then I’ll think of something.”