The Thin Man in Singapore Part I: Washing Ashore

It’s predicted to rain on landing/ I predict we’ll have a drink

Paul Westerberg

Dateline Singapore: Late October

This little country, such an unlikely success story, such a strange winding of forces. The thin man has been on land for five weeks after his latest gig on a the submarine, and though his stomach is still in limbo his sea legs have mostly subsided.

Now there is nothing more that the thin man wanted after washing up here earlier in the season then a long weekend. Say, five years. Five years in the hammock, five years frolicing with the lovely ladies at the bar. The occasional speedboat ride, a flyer or two over in Macau. Five years out of the swim of modern capitalism, if you can even call it that. Five years clean. That was the dream. Five weeks on land though and the thin man is looking for work, the money gone in a haze of long days and longer nights. Wine, women, song, and a speedboat ride or two will add up quick. C’est la vie partner. That’s what comes from burning holes up to heaven.

Still, the thin man has a few dollars in his pocket as he walks into a bar just outside of Chinatown. Halloween is approaching, and the proverbial Spooky Lady’s Sideshow is in full effect. The barmaids are Eyes and Baby, or is she Baby Blue? In any case, the thin man and Eyes make eyes, in an innocent way, so the story is told.

The thin man orders a Cognac and ambles over to the pool table where the nine ball is always on. Eyes sizes him up quick, guessed he could play a bit. A game is proposed, a game for two players.

But of course no game is really ever between two players alone. Baby’s watching—tough to tell her rooting interest. And, after Eyes breaks and a few balls fall, the bar as a whole starts tuning in to the frequencies of the game as the regulars make small talk and the travelers weak-tea passes at the local girls. Local girls are no push-over; sometimes folks get the wrong idea on that end. The thin man always did like the locals; heck, it’s part of the travelers’ creed. After all, everybody is a local somewhere. Certainly Eyes and Baby could take care of themselves.

Eyes missed and the thin man was able to sink a few easy balls before Eyes surged back, she’d been around more than she looked. She was an expert at drinking what the punter was drinking. That’s a key part of the art of the barmaid, an underrated profession at the best of times.

The game is nine ball, what else? Eight ball is for rookies, a southerners game. The thin man hailed from the north; he knew a thing or two about sequencing. You see, the thin man had had a bit of a specialized role onboard the cruise ship where he had worked as a dealer in the casino. As a result, he also possessed some of the skills of a card shark, a mechanic. Sequencing goes with the territory of a mechanic, after all.

Mid-game and the thin man is beginning to fade a bit–the combination of Eyes’ eyes, and a cheeky Cognac or three is taking its toll. Eyes sinks the 8 and only the 9 ball is left. It’s a touch and go situation. The skeletons muse over the action with as much interest as they can muster from beyond the great blue veil. The couple on the rail stops sniffing whatever they are sniffing, and ask the thin man to join them for a round. No time for that. Cheeky Cognacs and beady cat eyes aside, a game is a game.

A couple of desultory shots bounce about as the players size each other up. Baby leans in; the skeletons whisper sweet somethings, even the bartender sneaks a peek. Everyone is getting paid, except the thin man. He is just there for the action.

Eyes edges the nine right up to the pocket, leaving the thin man a clean shot. He leans in from the left and drops it, silky smooth like. Baby claps and Eyes bats. Game over, though the thin man knows that Eyes could have had him the whole time. She was just being hospitable. A good host for a weary traveler.

The game over, the thin man’s thoughts turned to more practical considerations. He needs a place to stay, and though the nine ball had brought them all together, he didn’t think Eyes or Baby would necessarily take him in. He’d probably need to establish himself as a bit of a regular first before having a shot at any of that action. But the thin man is a gamer, constitutionally unable to categorize situations as problems. No problemo senor, no worries mate. He does, however, have a few issues, the first being he is unemployed and pretty much out of cash. So, he had asked around, kept his ear to the wind. A fellow traveler there on the sub had turned him onto a broker of services of sorts, the kind of individual who specializes in assisting upstanding institutions with their shining mission statements and their CSR campaigns navigate the grey areas of competition and market position. He has the number for this broker in his pocket, and asks to use the bar phone to give him a call.

The broker picks up right away, saying “yeah, your buddy mentioned you might be looking for a little work. I think I can put something together.”

“That’s good,” says the thin man. “Any chance of a hotel for the night in the meantime?”

“Sure, said the broker. Head over to the 1887 in Chinatown. They’ll have a room in your name. What is it, by the way?”

“Let’s go with ‘Jack Bishop.'”

“That’ll work. I’ll meet you at breakfast at 8.”

The 1887 sounds incredible, thinks the thin man. Rock n’ roll.

to be continued…

Dedication: For Eyes. Long may you bat baby.