Boy In Between :: 1 Honoured Master's Pretty Lady
Lin is twelve. He cannot remember his parents. He has a big brother who is not really his brother, but who smiles at him and ruffles his short black hair and picks him up by the collar away and out of danger. Big brother Spike. Big brother Spike has poofy green hair and smells of menthol cigarettes, gunpowder, the wood-and-sweat of the training gym, cologne, whisky and Long Island Teas. Big brother Spike is not always there.
Lin knows the towers and offices of Red Dragon very well. He wanders a lot within the walls. Shin, his twin brother, is always running off into the city with the children of the other people, leaving him alone. Lin sometimes picks up a computer console, runs his fingers over the keyboard, puts the goggles on. He plays a few games and then he drops what he is doing, runs to the big window where you can see the helicopters landing or the cars pulling up at the lobby.
Sometimes, big brother Spike appears when you least expect him.
Sometimes a lady comes into the building, a special lady who always sees only honoured master Vicious and no one else. Lin recognises the atmosphere that builds up when she enters the building. Her hair is long and yellow and curls very slightly; she wears a long coat and he can never see her face very well. The children are kept out of her way while she is here; everyone is. Honoured master Vicious must be alone with his pretty lady. Once, Lin was in honoured master Vicious's office when she came; he remembers how she looked at him, in the few seconds it took for him to run out on sir Vicious's command. Her eyes sad, half her face hidden by the fall of lovely yellow hair.
Lin is called to the office sometimes because his writing is perfectly normal. In his child's handwriting, neat and over-tidy, he takes down funny messages from honoured master Vicious who sits in the wide office with the fish in the huge tank, and after he is finished writing the messages, he is allowed to sit on the desk and watch the fish. The messages are rather silly, Lin thinks, but honoured master Vicious says that the same words can have a different meaning if you read them with a different eye. Honoured master Vicious promises to teach him how to read the messages. When he is older. Lin has a good sharp brain, Vicious says. Vicious smiles. The long eyes and the thin lips look cruel, but he lets Lin stay and watch his fish. Colourful fish in a blue tank. Outside the sky is covered with clouds.
"You are quite fond of the boy," big brother Spike says one day from the doorway of the office, when Lin has fallen deep into reverie and honoured master Vicious is putting the freshly-written messages into little capsules for his men to pass to one another. Big brother Spike wears a wide smile. Lin jumps off the table and runs to him and big brother Spike tries to toss him into the air, but Lin has been too big to be tossed for a long time.
Honoured master Vicious tosses one of the capsules across the room, and Lin catches it before Spike does. Holds it out to Spike. Who smiles and makes a mess of Lin's hair.
"Why are we communicating with schoolboy tricks?"
"Would anyone be interesting in schoolboy messages?"
"What are you here for, now?"
"Just to see you," Spike says. He lights himself a cigarette, the cloud of smoke and ash forming a haze around him. Is he even real, Lin wonders? Vicious shakes his head.
"Why, suddenly you don't like the smell of smoke?"
Vicious looks at Lin. Spike looks at Lin. Lin feels small under their eyes; he is small, he feels, compared to them, their power and their awesome superiority. Brother and master. Spike stubs the cigarette out into an ashtray and gives himself two mock-slaps. "Bad, bad!" he says. "Children should not smoke along with adults. I am most sorry, Lin."
Lin cannot accept the fact that big brother Spike is apologizing to him. He feels horrified, guilty somehow. Vicious is watching both of them, his mood edgy. Lin feels that he wishes to be alone, and that Lin, that even Spike, should go now. But Spike has planted his long and lazy body in the couch, and drapes across it like a rug; Spike does not plan to go. Lin feels caught in the silent and terrible crossfire of two strong minds. He wishes to go, but also to stay.
"You have to go now, Lin," honoured master Vicious says. "You can watch the fish another time. Go and play."
Lin definitely does not want to go. He is fascinated by the huge tapestry that hangs behind the desk, the red dragon's jaws huge and rearing behind Vicious's pale head. By what it means. The messages he has been writing, the helicopters and cars taking off and landing, big brother Spike disappearing and reappearing at random, honoured master Vicious sometimes vanishing also and a terrible feeling of being left out burnt hard into Lin's young soul. He looks at the red dragon on the tapestry, at the papers and the computer on the desk. Suddenly the fish seem not so important, not important at all. But honoured master Vicious must be obeyed. He bows to both the tall men, his master and his brother, and he leaves the room.
They speak, but he cannot hear the words through the door. He crouches for a while beside the heavy metal, listening; he thinks, this is wrong, and he goes away, feeling guilty. With nothing to do he walks to the big window, and there he sees a car has come, a black taxi from the city. Yellow hair and a sad smile, a thin hand with a handful of bills passed to the driver. Lin walks back to the office and sits outside the door. In a while the pretty lady will walk up to the office door, and it will open, and master Vicious will see her and tell big brother Spike to go somewhere else, because she is the honoured master's pretty lady and no one else can be in the same space when she is with him.
Perhaps big brother Spike will then play with him.
Lin is twelve. Tomorrow he will be thirteen. Big brother Spike has promised him and his twin brother Shin a most wonderful present. Lin smiles. He is going to be older, and perhaps one day he will be as big and strong and fast and clever as big brother Spike; perhaps then honoured master Vicious will give him something better to do, something more exciting, more useful. He looks at the metal door and the red dragon on it. Feels his heart beating proud and strong inside his thin body.