The Thin Man, a Birthday Party, a Guardian Angel

Note: This is the final installment of the Thin Man in Singapore. You can read earlier installments here:

Chapter 1: https://thekyotokibbitzer.com/2018/10/16/the-thin-man-walks-into-a-bar-a-wee-legend/

Chapter 2: https://thekyotokibbitzer.com/2018/11/15/the-thin-man-on-assignment/

Chapter 3: https://thekyotokibbitzer.com/2018/12/05/the-thin-man-on-assignment-part-ii/

Chapter 4: https://thekyotokibbitzer.com/2018/12/30/the-thin-man-implements/

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You clean yourself to meet/ a man who isn’t me
You’re putting on a shirt/ a shirt I’ll never see
With letters in your coat/ and no one’s in your head
‘Cause you’re too smart to remember/ you’re too smart
Lucky you
The National

Dateline Singapore, Saturday 13:06 PM

The phone rings, jarring the Thin Man out of sleep. “Where the/ what the/ who the…” Images in shards–his grandmother’s house and he is six, sun streaming through a late afternoon window. He rolls over. No by god, a bed, an adult body within. He picks up the phone. “Uh huh?”

“It’s Alejandro. Your passport will be ready tomorrow morning and you’re on an Emirates flight to Rome via Dubai tomorrow at 9 PM. In the meantime Alice is having a birthday party and you’re invited.”

“Alice?”

“Miller’s secretary. You might have heard the rumors but she’s a cool cat and it’ll be fun. 17:00 at Chijmes. Be there.”

“Seriously? I don’t know Alice and, I’d rather just rest up you know.”

“Not an option. You’re not invited, more required. From Miller directly. Buck up man and see you at 5.”

Holy Jesus, another evening. The Thin Man rises, splashes cold water on his face and when this doesn’t do the trick, fills the sink with cold water and plunges his face into the water, eyes wide open. He exhales; water goes everywhere. He dabs at it with a hand towel. Breakfast is long over–lunch is a maybe. 20 minutes later he has showered and shaved and limps downstairs.

“Lunch is still open?”

The man’s smile masks a scowl. Rolling into a buffet that closes at 14:00 at 13:46 is no way to endear yourself to staff. He takes a seat by the window, wanders the buffet. Two bowls of mushroom soup, two watermelon juices, a roll with butter, salmon sashimi and an Americano. Vague feelings of humanity follow.

On his phone the Thin Man peruses “The Essentials of Casino Game Design” as he eats. This is more out of habit than interest–he has no desire to re-enter the gambling demi-monde. Reflex is a bitch. The waiter circles, pressing his point from 5 feet away. “I got you babe,” thinks the Thin Man. He makes marginal eye contact, figures he has another 20 minutes give or take. He resolves to relax into the spacetime as fully as possible before the waiter pulls rank. He has no desire to make trouble but at the same time, a customer is a customer and soup is soup. A game for two players. Eventually, he makes his move before the waiter is forced to make his.

“On my room please, 727,” he says, with studied nonchalance. Everything takes all afternoon.

Alice’s Party:

It takes 123 drinks/ and now she’s not so frightened
It takes 4 and 5 and 6/ and then she’s sick
But in the hour in between/ she feels holy and redeemed
Blessed and blissful/ painless and serene
Craig Finn

The Thin Man has a lot of flaws but he does clean up well. That’s a skill, a blessing, a bonus. Re-showered, shaved, and an app-assisted breathing exercise later, he shows at Chijmes on time and on point. Miller himself greets him with a slap on the back.

“Mr. Bishop, your work is appreciated. Much appreciated. I heard that you will be staying with the firm. Rome is beautiful this time of year. You are a lucky man.”

“It is my pleasure to be of service.” The Thin Man is not serious, yet not unserious. The work is the work and he has no other. “Anyway, happy birthday to Alice hey?”

“Hehe, haha. Alice, yes,” salivates Miller.

Another day, another passport thinks the Thin Man. Several people he doesn’t know are there. The crew moves to an outdoor restaurant; the usual wrangling over orders ensues and Long Island Ice Teas appear. There is no drink more perfectly positioned to cause trouble than a Long Island Ice Tea. The Thin Man downs two before the Nachos arrive. A waitress circles. “White or red,” she asks. “Both please” replies the Thin Man. It’s early and he has no intention of sticking with this group after dinner. Why not make the most of the moment.

The food is a B- at best. The drinks are loaded. The sun shines in the late evening. The usual Singapore rain squall has not appeared today. 6 PM, the magical hour, and the Thin Man begins to fade into the perfect liminality that only occurs between drinks three and four.

Titters from Alice. Winks from Alejandro. Miller sits straight up, what a spine. The Thin Man is bored. Time passes; the sun sets.

“One more?” asks Miller.

“How about the hotel bar?” says the Thin Man. The sooner near home the better. Miller covers the bill and tracks are made.

The Hotel Bar, Circa 20:10:

The Thin Man and crew enter the bar and the mood is boisterous. The Thin Man feels as thin as paper. He needs an ally. As his party makes its way to a table, he approaches the barmaid. Her tag identifies her as “May.” Always approach service workers with kindness and respect–they get so little of it it goes a long way.

“Good evening May. My friends and I are looking to enjoy the bar tonight. Only, I have been on the road for weeks and I’m a little tired.” He slips her a $50 bill. “I know bars don’t love to serve water, but if you could keep an eye on me and refill my water glass I’d be in your debt.”

May looks him up and down. “No problem,” she says. “Rely on me.” The Thin Man makes it to the booth where Company X holds court. Miller and Alice’s hands dance a protracted duet. Alejandro sits a foot away, just keeping an eye on things.

A round of drinks, another. May keeps her end of things and the Thin Man hydrates, for a while. A woman called Marta had introduced herself at dinner and slides into the booth next to the Thin Man.

“How do you know Alice?” she asks.

“I don’t.”

“Oh. I have a bet with Jeffrey over there. He thinks you are on his team.”

“On his team?”

“You know,” she drops into a stage whisper, “Jeffrey likes men.”

“I see. I don’t have a team,” replies the Thin Man. “I’m a free agent.”

“Not so fast,” interjects Alejandro, who seems to register everything that is said at the table. “You are on our team. You have a contract.”

“A contract? I haven’t seen anything like that. And besides I don’t see how that would be possible. Text is dead, or that’s what I’ve heard.”

“Don’t mind him,” says Alejandro, “he likes being heavily humorous.”

Marta doesn’t seem to mind. Somehow her arms and legs are entangled with the Thin Man’s. How does that even happen? he thinks. He’s lost the touch he never had, but matters seems to be progressing anyway. Amazing. He hears Jeffrey calling for champagne. Now, even from deep in a haze the Thin Man knows that ordering a bottle of champagne in a hotel bar is not exactly value for money. A commotion is taking place across the bar. Men from the Green Group are hassling the bar staff, something has gone wrong with an order they allege. The Thin Man swivels his head around to take a look and his mind recedes into fantasy.

“Shut your traps and stop hassling the waiter! We’re trying to enjoy a birthday! And if I have to tell you again, we’re gonna take it outside and I’m gonna show you what it’s like! You understand me? Now, shut your mouths or I’ll shut’em for ya, and if you think I’m kidding, just try me. Try me. Because I would love it!”

He glances at the bar, catching May’s eye. She shakes her head imperceptibly, reading his mind. Absurd ideas of accosting the group and defending her honor recede. He breathes a sigh of relief.

A second bottle of champagne arrives, a third. We are at the stage of the evening where petty arguments break out all of the sudden, and are as quickly forgotten. The Thin Man, Marta and the sofa seem to have merged into a single entity. This is pleasant.

He snaps into consciousness. The party seems to have thinned out. Miller and Alice are gone. Alejandro gets up to leave and Jeffrey waives off his efforts to pay. It’s true Alejandro drank only club soda. A steady hand, this guy. He leans over to the Thin Man, lets him know his passport will arrive in the morning.

“We’ll be in touch.”

“Oh good.” It’s all he can think of to say. The Thin Man sees 120 Singapore dollars on the table, begins to calculate. The bill will be a lot higher than that. What’s happened here is he has fallen prey to the cruel economics of party leaving whereby early leavers underestimate their impact on the total bill. Marta is warm but the future is cold. It’ll be him and Jeffrey splitting the bill.

“Maybe we should call it an evening,” he says. He draws himself to his feet, a mighty effort, and approaches May. “What do we owe?”

“It’s all taken care of,” she says.

“Miller paid on his way out?”

She shakes her head, whispers in his ear, “your bill was charged to the Green Group. They probably won’t know the difference and if they do, they check out the day after tomorrow so…” May places her index finger on The Thin Man’s lips and presses gently. He goggles, is in love.

“You are an angel,” he says.

“Shhh, silly. You’ll get me in trouble.”

He circles back to the table. “The bill is paid,” he tells Marta and Jeffrey. “Leave the cash as a tip.” They don’t bat an eye–too far gone to care. “I told you he isn’t on your team,” says Marta. “I win the bet.”

“It’s too early to tell,” says Jeffrey.

The Thin Man gives Marta a kiss goodnight. “I’ve got to fly tomorrow.”

“I know.” Theirs was an encounter based in a specific locale, a specific moment. Some encounters are like that.

The Next Morning, Sunday:

Ah the Sabbath. The Thin Man had managed to set his alarm for 10:30 but it’s not needed. The phone rings at 10 AM, and the receptionist tells him he’s been cleared for a late check out of 17:00. How did that happen? She doesn’t know. “It says right here sir.” 11 hours before the flight. What would a human do with 11 hours, he thinks? He takes a swim, showers, eats mushroom soup and indulges in a few slices of roast beef this time. He remembers a much loved song:

I’m so sorry but the motorcade will have to go around me this time

Cause God is on my side

That’s attitude. He tries to summon 1/10th of that mood, says a little prayer to his angels. On the way back to room 727 a maid smiles at him. “You must be a British gentleman,” she says.

“Oh, why is that?”

“Because your room, it’s so neat and clean.”

British rooms are neat and clean? That’s news to the Thin Man. Am I British, he wonders? The reason his room is clean is because there’s next to nothing in it.

“Thank you. Have a wonderful day.”

“You too sir.” There is nothing that he has ever done in his life to deserve such respect, he feels. Life is good.

Under his door there is a manila envelope. Inside is a passport in the name of Jack Bishop and $3000. There is also an index card with a phone number. At the bottom of the card he reads “May.” Life is good? Hell, god is good man. The Thin Man smiles and packs his valise. 8 hours later he is airborne en route to Rome.

Works Cited/ Referenced:

Eric Ambler, The Intercom Conspiracy.

Craig Finn, “Three Drinks.”

The National, “All the Wine” and “Lucky You.”

Seinfeld. “The Opposite.”

Image Credit:

https://facthacker.com/signs-your-guardian-angel-is-near/

The Third Man (A Thin Man Story)

Dateline Singapore. Friday, 16:25:

The Thin Man met the accountants for an early drink at the Alligator Pear as promised. They drank Mojitos, a ridiculous drink that is invariably watered down. The Thin Man had a vodka and soda, a safe choice ahead of what could be a long night.

The mood of the men swung between giddy and glum. One of them was on an app, choosing an escort for later on. The men advised him on his choice with the surgical precision of serious professionals. The Thin Man hoped that he could be as precise in his own operation tonight.

“Did you folks get wristbands yet?” a waiter in his early 20s asked. They hadn’t, so they did. Yes, the event security is poor, but to be fair they all looked the part of party goers. And so they were. All going to the party.

The party must have been paid for weeks ago because all the stops were turned out. A full bar, lobster tails, sushi, fondue, steak tartare, champagne. Sometimes the best way to look prosperous is to look prosperous. The guests were high in no time. The future was unwritten, terrifying. All they had was tonight.

Nursing only his second vodka and soda, the Thin Man scoped out the scene. Anderson was not present, nor was Rink. The highest ranking Green Grouper seemed to be a regional vice-president called Lewis. It was he that gave the toast, “to a glorious future, the Green Group!” Salut. Lewis was in his early 40s, too young and too on the spot. The Thin Man needed someone older, someone with less to lose.

The Cigar Smokers:

Outside on the pool deck a group of three men had lit up cigars. This was surely against regulations, however a payment must have passed under the table, either that or tonight was one of those nights were regulations just weren’t in effect. Regulations are like that, even in Singapore. They are human created and human maintained. Or, in this case, not.

Cigar smokers, mused the Thin Man. Cigar smokers tend toward the genial and the venial. Toward the cynical and the amoral. Toward the reckless and the egotistical. In that moment, he loved cigar smokers. Cigar smokers were excellent. The only problem was he might have to have one too.

He approaches the group a little gingerly. The move here is a little different than cozying up to the accountants. There he wanted to be taken in as a peer and forgotten about. Here, his role is of the acolyte, the younger man. Now which one is our mark? Individual one appears in his mid-sixties, and sports a brown jacket that is at least three years past its prime. His feet are shuffling an alcoholics’ shuffle. No thank you. Individual two is in his 50s dressed in a tux. Hair slicked back with pomade, a little glassy eyed. A greaser who got lucky. No.

The third man, however, is of a different type. Also in his 60s, he wears a pale red sweater over a tieless pink shirt. He is handsome for his age, white hair adding a touch of distinction. He is slightly overweight but in a way that suggests ease not sloth. The Thin Man cages a cigar from brown jacket, lights it, and stares into the middle distance. A few puffs later he casually turns to the man in the red sweater.

“Jack,” he says, “quite a view eh?”

“Marcus,” says the man, “view of the end of the world if you ask me.”

“The company? The rumors?”

“Rumors? Boy, ain’t no rumors about it. We’ve got a ringside seat on the Titanic.” His laugh was actually merry. The Thin Man was elated, an emotion he subsumed into wide-eyed curiosity. He willed himself to look 10 years younger, like we said, an acolyte.

“I heard Rink is making his move by Monday,” said the Thin Man. He had heard no such thing, it just made sense in context.

“Made his move already. Anderson is bleeding like a stuck pig. Rink will announce the coup on Monday at the latest. The wires may have it before then.”

The Thin Man was getting warm. He gently turned to face Marcus, cutting off communication lines with the other men. Drink in his right, he stretched his left arm out part way as if he was about to put his arm around the older man. But not quite. It’s all in the mechanics. Marcus took a few steps away from the edge of the pool and toward a padded bench for two.

“Can I get you another drink, sir?” asked the Thin Man.

“You sit with me boy,” said Marcus. “Drinks are his job.” He gestured to the young waiter. “Two Gibsons, and make ’em strong.” They sat, and the Thin Man channeled “boy.”

“So Rink will really pull it off eh? That should get us right back on track.” Fishing.

“Balls boy. Back on track! Anderson siphoned so much money out of the company that Rink will have to go hat in hand to Company X. Won’t have a choice.”

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The Thin Man Walks Into a Bar: A Wee Legend

Here comes a regular

Paul Westerberg

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

Paul Westerberg

Once upon a time in the lost city of Atlantis, a thin man rolled up looking a little the worse for wear. This was probably only to be expected; after all he had been sequestered on a submarine for a period of 22 years, or was it 27. After that long at sea, who can really tell?

It was approaching Halloween, and the proverbial Spooky Lady’s Sideshow was in full effect. The barmaids were called Eyes and Baby, their real names we presume. Or was she Baby Blue? In any case, the thin man and Eyes made eyes, in an innocent way, at least so the story is told.

Groggy as the thin man was, he had had a specialized role down then on the sub. You see, he was a bit of a mechanic, a card shark. Now, a card shark can work clean as well, and the thin man worked clean down there on the ocean floor. He saved his best moves for away games, just like Mike McD in that film Rounders. That’s an oldie but a goodie!

In one corner of the bar stood a pool table, where, of course, the nine ball is always on. The thin man could play a bit, although Eyes sized him up quick. A game was proposed, a game for two players.

But of course no game is really ever between two players alone. Baby Blue was watching—tough to tell her rooting interest. And the bar as a whole, the field so to speak, was tuning in to the frequencies of the game as the regulars made 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. Certainly Eyes and Baby Blue could take care of themselves.

The game began; the thin man potted a few easy balls. 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 was nine ball, what else? Eight ball is for rookies, a southerners game. The thin man hailed from the north and he knew a thing or two about sequencing. It goes with the territory of an undersea mechanic, after all.

The thin man was beginning to feel a bit ill–the combination of sea legs, Eyes’ Eyes, a cheeky Cognac or two, and the unfortunate wafts of burning tires from the docks (it all goes down on the docks, as is told). He carries on nonetheless, and takes a two ball lead when Eyes surges back, tying it up with only the 9 ball to go. 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 nonsense. Sea legs and beady cat eyes aside, the game is the game.

A couple of desultory shots bounce about as the players size each other up. Baby blue 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.

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