Authors: Lee Weeks
Tags: #Suspense, #Fiction
This book is dedicated to my mum
Table of Contents
A child whispered in the darkness.
‘Shhh…stop crying. The Kano will hear you.
What’s your name?’
‘How old are you?’
‘I’m Maya. I’m eight. You from Davao?’
‘Me too. Where are we?’
‘Why are we chained up? Are we in prison? Why does that Kano hurt everyone? What will happen to me?’
‘You will be sold.’
‘Sold to a man.’
‘What will the man do with me?’
‘He will have sex with you.’
‘I’m just a girl. I can’t. I’m going to run away. Let’s do it, Perla. Let’s run home to Davao.’
Perla stated to cry again.
‘Don’t cry. The Kano will come. He will hurt you. He will poke you with the buzzy stick.’
‘My legs are wet. I am bleeding.’
‘Don’t cry, Perla. I’ll be your friend. I’ll tell you a Mickey Mouse story.’
By the time Maya finished her story, Perla was dead.
Detective Inspector Johnny Mann was sitting at the covered end of the Boom Boom Bar on a beach in Boracay. Five young locals were watching a boxing match on a small television set at the front of the bar, whilst Mann and three other tourists sat on stools around the bar, staring at their drinks and willing the alcohol to kick in.
The Boom Boom Bar was no more than fifteen foot square, with a threadbare palm roof and a floor made from reclaimed wood. It looked like a piece of flotsam that had been found by an enthusiastic beachcomber, dragged up the beach and put to use. It was named the Boom Boom Bar because of its nightly entertainment, when dreadlocked youths took it in turns to sit on a drum box on a small stage pitched into the sand, with their eyes closed and their backs to the sea, beating out a rhythm on the drum’s skin.
Inside the bar there was a Caribbean theme: bongos,
bongs and Bob Marley posters hung from every section of wall space and jostled for position on sand and salt greased shelves. In addition to the bar stools, there was an old rattan sofa with half its back missing and a few threadbare scatter cushions just inside the entrance where the beach met the bar.
Mann held on to the glass and rolled it in his hands, savouring the cool condensation before allowing it to slip through his fingers and land in the centre of the bar mat. He checked his phone—another message. He rubbed his face with his hands and wiped the sweat away from his brow.
Mann was thirty-five but he looked older. His once beautiful face—a mix of Chinese and English—had been made hard and handsome by life’s knocks. On his left cheek, where the skin stretched taut across his high cheekbone, a crescent-moon-shaped scar stayed pale against his tanned face. It was there as a memento of a childhood friendship that had gone very wrong. His large espresso-coloured eyes had seen more sadness than any person was meant to, and in his heart he carried the pain of having screwed up.
There was no fan in the Boom Boom Bar, only the breeze to cool it down, and tonight there was not a breath of wind. Mann’s clothes stuck to him in the suffocating heat. He wore faded baggy jeans and an old surfer’s T-shirt. It was his favourite—he had bought it on his first visit to the Philippines fifteen years earlier, when he’d discovered the delights of lying on sand as fine as flour and swimming in a transparent turquoise sea. Then the T-shirt had hung off him; now it clung
like a shark’s gills as it followed the contours of his adult muscular frame.
He looked around at the other three men sitting with him at the bar, and smiled ruefully to himself as he wondered if they were all destined to meet here, same time, same place, with the same sense of fuck-up.
His phone vibrated again. Mann knew who it would be. Ng knew him well. He knew that Mann would be sitting at a bar drinking vodka, contemplating the universe, and that it was a task best cut short. Mann would ignore him for a while longer. He had come to Boracay to lie on its white-sand beaches and to let the world wash over him, like he always did in times of stress or sadness. The place gave him headspace. Usually it allowed him time to repair and regroup, but this time it hadn’t been able to work its magic. There was no escaping the past for Mann. No matter how many times he ran it through his mind it still looked the same—he had a self-destructive streak a mile wide, and just owning up to it didn’t make it go away.
He pushed his dark, choppy hair back from his sun-sore eyes and signalled that he was ready for another drink. He watched the young barman with slicked-back hair and aspirations of talent scouts and film agents, mix five drinks at once behind the cramped bar. Another youth, skinny and scrawny, was washing glasses in the corner. As the barman juggled the spirit bottles, a cockroach dropped from the roof and landed on his back. It clung to his shirt.
‘How’s it go-in, bro?’
Mann felt a hand on his shoulder. It was Jojo, the
proprietor—a short, fat, fifty-year-old Filipino wearing a shiny pink shirt with the
Boom Boom Bar
logo embroidered on the back. His soft Afro hair ballooned over his shoulders.
‘Good, Jojo. Place is busy, I see.’
Mann gestured toward the beach outside where the Boom Boom Bar stretched out into low candlelit tables pitched into the cool soft sand. Most of the tables were occupied.
‘Yeah, pretty busy, bro. We got a ree-al good singer to-night.’ His voice was high-pitched and lyrical, each word split into its separate syllables and each syllable taking it in turns to go up then down then back up at the end of the word. It was an accent between Pakistani and Jamaican. Jojo gestured towards the stage, where the beat box drummer had been joined by another young brown-skinned man, his hair caught into a wide ponytail at the base of his neck. He was wailing a Bob Marley song.
The barman set the drink down in front of Mann. As he did so, the cockroach crawled onto his arm. He knocked it off and stamped on it hard.
‘Stick a-round, Johnny, its go-in’ to be a good night. Plenty of people about.’
Jojo went to walk away but Mann caught him as he went past.
‘Thought about what I said?’
Jojo laughed uncomfortably. ‘I tol’ you, bro, this is pa-ra-dise—you should know, you bin com-in’ here for long enough…ah? Best place on Mama Earth…ah?’
He disappeared to play the happy patron, circling the bar and talking to his customers. After twenty minutes he came back to stand at the end of the bar. Mann proposed a toast to Boracay.
‘To paradise—where every hour is “happy hour”. And you’re right, Jojo.’ He smiled. ‘I’ve been coming here a long time. I’ve known you since I was the same age as your son, Rex, over there…’ He nodded in the direction of the brown-skinned youth on the drum box.
‘Long time, bro, long time.’ Jojo smiled and nodded his head wisely. ‘Remember that time you were suicidal over a woman? What was she called?’
Jojo screwed up his face, trying to recall her name.
‘Janie…’ Mann said. ‘That was it. Lovely Janey with the husband and four kids she never tol’ you about. Then there was the time the local police shut you down when you didn’t pay them enough. Never seen you so angry. But the worst was when I came here and there was nothing left. Typhoon Thelma took everything. You were devastated—remember?’
Jojo closed his eyes, put his hand on his chest and sighed.
‘Dat storm was one I never forget…ah?’
‘But, do you know what? In all the years I’ve been coming here, this is the first time I’ve ever seen you scared.’
Jojo wiped the sweat from his eyes with his shirt sleeve. He was smiling but he didn’t look like a happy man.
‘Listen to me, old friend.’ Mann held his gaze.
‘I know the Chinaman came through here. I followed him from Hong Kong. Tell me what he wanted.’
‘You go-in’ to get me killed, bro.’ Jojo looked around, smiling nervously. The boxing was still going on. The others were still staring at their drinks—waiting to find ‘happy hour’. Jojo turned his back on the bar and looked hard at Mann. ‘I in enough trouble.’
‘Tell me. I might be able to help.’
‘The Chinaman come here ten days ago. He rent my house…ree-al nice place I have bee-hind here.’
‘What did he look like?’
‘Not as tall as you, but tall for a Chinaman—goatee beard, bald, mean-faced, thirty-five, maybe?’
‘That’s the man. Anyone else?’
‘Come wid five other Chinese—his monkeys. Same time as he arrive come four white guys. They stay up at d end of d beach. Come wid whores from Angeles.’
‘What did he want—the Chinaman?’
‘He want me to sell ’im some-thin’, some-thin’ I own.’
‘Biz-nesses in Mindanao—down south.’
‘What kind of businesses?’
‘A bar, a small hotel. Nuttin’ big. Nice place, on d coast.’
‘What did you agree to?’
‘Not agree nuttin’. He said he be back. He left d white guys here. Bin here a week. Deese are bad fuckers,’ he whispered. ‘One of d whores is beat up nasty. Dey got money, plenty, pay off police. I see dem talking wid dem—like
friends.’ Jojo shrugged and shook his head. ‘I tell you, bro, I go-in’ to be in big trouble when dat Chinaman come back.’
‘Are they here tonight—the white guys?’
Jojo signalled for Mann to wait whilst he walked out of the bar and across the narrow sandy lane that ran the length of the mile-long ‘white sugar beach’. Halfway across the lane he started to sway to the tune of ‘No Woman, No Cry’ and began dancing with three of his sons who touted for his bar along the lane. As Jojo swung his hips to the rhythm, Rex on the drum box got a nudge from the singer. Rex opened his eyes, grinned, stopped rocking his dreadlocks and began drumming faster. Jojo shimmied his old hips as fast as they would go to keep up with the ever-increasing tempo, but he was forced to abandon the task and staggered back into the bar, amidst laughter and applause from the beach.
He clutched his hand to his chest as if he were about to have a heart attack. ‘Baztads,’ he laughed, talking to the men watching the fight and rolling his eyes in the direction of the beach. ‘You give dem your name n they treat you like shit—kids.’ He took a beer from the barman and waited for the fuss to subside before making his way back over to Mann, fanning his face with a bar mat.