Books: Brrm! Brrm! — Chapter 10 | clivejames.com
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TEN

Lionel’s flatwarming had to be approached by means of the new Docklands Light Railway. Untypically for London, it worked. The flat was high up in a man-made cliff beside the river. Against his better judgment Suzuki had not tried to renege on his invitation to Jane. His trepidation soon gave way to relief. Though dressed like a homicidal maniac, she was oddly docile. She did not, for example, offer to drive the train, or engage their fellow passengers in a critical argument about its construction or their physical appearance. Instead she smiled sweetly and whispered in Suzuki’s ear what she would like to do to him if they could only be alone. Suzuki had heard about some of it only in magazines.

Docklands was like the night-life area of old Tokyo except that there was no night-life. It was the Yoshiwara district with no-one in the streets, a Floating World with nothing on the water except gulls and the very occasional water-skier in a wet-suit. Arriving at the designated ziggurat, Suzuki and his escort walked halfway round the indoor ornamental lake whose central fountain, a giant inverted chandelier cum shower fitting, sent polychromatic coruscations of spray upwards into the atrium. Suzuki was pleased, if surprised, that Jane did not jump in. At the reception desk Suzuki sent up his name and was issued with a code number. After punching it into a control panel he and his companion rose in a glass capsule through spiderweb networks of metal struts until the atrium was all below them, the exultant central fitting on its floor looking like some deadly butterfly fish in search of a mate.

They entered a tunnel, still going up. Jane made a shape with her mouth which indicated, Suzuki eventually realised, that she wanted to be kissed. Suzuki kissed her with circumspection but she indicated that she wanted the full treatment, including the Arm of Steel. Crouching, Suzuki put his right hand between her leather-clad legs, reached up to hold the chromium-plated heavy-duty chain which served her as a belt, and lifted her so that the toes of her work boots were a foot off the floor. Grinding her whole weight ecstatically against his forearm, she licked his eyes before cramming his head between her breasts. Suzuki therefore missed the exact moment when the capsule arrived in the living-room of Lionel’s flat to be greeted by a round of applause. There were at least fifty people cheering and whistling. Lionel greeted his latest guests with two glasses of champagne. ‘Nice one, Akira, nice one. Endurance OK, then? Brrm brrm.’

Although all the exterior walls were glass, none of them slid, so Suzuki, even if he had wanted to, would have been unable to deal with his embarrassment by jumping to his death on the newly-built brick embankment far below. Nor was his embarrassment, he was surprised to find, as disabling as it ought to have been. Being with Jane was so intensely preoccupying in itself that it numbed him to awkward circumstances, even when, as was almost invariably true, she was the cause of them.

Meeting Jane Austen for the first time in his life, Lionel gave her a deep, searching kiss, which Suzuki was interested to see she returned as if it were simply a continuation of the embrace she had previously been sharing with himself. ‘Ah, she’ll fit right in here, Akira,’ gasped Lionel upon surfacing. ‘The main thrust is finance, but for some reason all the best birds inner field are sock-rollers.’

‘Sock-rollers?’

‘Make your socks roll up and down just lookin’ Adam, doanay?’

Lionel’s metaphor barely did justice to the truth. Though most of the men present looked like footballers and pugilists who had been loaned suits by Armani for one night only, every woman in the room seemed to have stepped from one of the advertising pages in Vogue, Harpers & Queen or (Suzuki’s favourite) Elle. Suzuki’s private filing system contained carefully preserved tear-sheets featuring such top-flight models as Paulina Porizkova, Marie Melvin, Jerry Hall and Yasmin Le Bon. Not many were admitted to the shrine, in which these high priestesses constantly swapped rank according to his fancy. His current favourite was Tatiana Patitz. Educating his eye for Western beauty had been a pleasure to him, but he had never expected to be offered, in the real world, such a plethora of stimuli as was now unfolded to him in Lionel’s new flat. Before the performance at the Festival Hall; during the interval at Covent Garden; at many other cultural events he had seen beautiful Western women: but never in this concentration, undiluted by anything less. A basin-cropped brunette wearing not much except a broad Damascene belt and a black velvet T-shirt encrusted with silver leaves crossed her gold string sandals and through a smile of Michelle Pfeiffer-standard murmured ‘Lionel, he’s gorgeous.’

‘Sod off, foetus-features,’ said Jane amiably.

‘Ooh, and he’s got an owner. Sorry darling, I didn’t see the leash.’

‘How would you like one of my Doc Martens up your snatch?’ Jane added, smiling sweetly. Suzuki didn’t quite catch the words but he was relieved that she was behaving so well.

‘Akira, meet Francine Beckenbauer,’ said Lionel. ‘Francine plays in the margin for Duncan, Doenitz.’ Lionel suddenly bent close to Suzuki’s ear. ‘Why don’t you leave me to sort these two out? Go off and circulate, rye? There’s Lilian over there. She’s all agog.’

Suzuki knew what ‘all agog’ meant but didn’t quite see how it could apply to him. Nevertheless he forged off through the crowd towards Lilian, who was decorating a huge leather sofa in which several of the well-dressed thuggish young men were camped as close to her as possible without falling on top of her into the surprisingly deep indentation caused by her lithe body. Suzuki, as he fought his way near, was faintly disturbed to find her laxly so familiar. Her ankles, for example, he knew in detail. He had realised already that the reason why she had not been free to go out with him this evening was that she was coming here anyway. But who had she come with? Perhaps she was spoken of by Lionel. Spoken to? Spoken for. ‘What’s your hurry?’ asked a drowsy blonde who implausibly combined small breasts with a large cleavage. ‘My friend Francine’s trying to catch up with you. Don’t blame her.’

‘I wasn’t,’ said Suzuki.

‘Keep moving, Akira,’ said a hulking dandy Suzuki recognised from the gymnasium. ‘They’ll eat you alive. It’s sashimi time.’

‘The lovely Lilian’s caught his eye,’ said a girl in a basque and camiknickers. ‘Score another one for Japan. It’s the Pacific connection.’

‘It’s the Pacific Rim,’ said the hulking dandy. ‘Yum, Yum.’

‘Stop dreaming,’ said the drowsy blonde. ‘She wouldn’t look at you. She’s got the yen yen.’

‘She’d better lose it before Grecian Ern gets here,’ said the hulking dandy, ‘or the raw fish will be dead meat.’

But Suzuki, who wouldn’t have understood much of this even if he had still been in earshot, had by now entered the orbit, or ambience, of Lilian. There was nothing between him and her except a final thicket of young men talking gibberish.

‘Keep the Testarossa in the garage and drive the Cosworth Sierra all day, you’re still coining it, mate.’

‘Leave it out. You want the GT-40, same as Roger Daltry. Testarossa’s a toy.’

‘Countach’s a toy. Testarossa’s got more poke than you could ever use, no danger.’

‘Never. Bird’s motor.’

‘Do me a favour.’

She cleared a space beside her by pinching one of the young men with discreet savagery through the expensive cloth covering his thigh. Suzuki’s shame at the ordinariness of his clothes quickly evaporated in the evident warmth of her greeting.

‘I should have realised this was where you were asking me to. How stupid of me. You’re Lionel’s friend, aren’t you?’

‘You are too?’ asked Suzuki, getting to the point.

‘Yes, but I’m here with someone else.’

‘Which one is he?’

‘He isn’t here.’

‘I’m sorry, my English isn’t very good. Could you ...’

‘I mean I’m here with him, but he isn’t here yet. He’ll be along later. He’s at a meeting.’

‘It is very late for a meeting.’

‘He’s taking over a company.’

‘A big company?’

‘Small for him. Big in the financial world. It’s a finance company called Duncan, Doenitz.’

‘Ah, yes. Do the employees know?’

‘Not yet. Some of them are here tonight. We’d better whisper.’

They had been whispering anyway. Smelling her perfumed breath in his ear, Suzuki felt wonderfully conspiratorial. To conspire really meant to breathe together: he had looked it up. In the distance, between people and small palm trees, he could see Lionel and Jane, both laughing. Francine Beckenbauer had joined the drowsy blonde, the hulking dandy and the girl dressed for bed. They were all looking in the direction of himself and his beautiful companion. Charles and Diana must feel like this, he thought: the, what was it? Cynosure of all eyes. He had looked ‘cynosure’ up, and then found that nobody who spoke English as a native language had ever done the same. It was one of their characteristics: they never used such words nor knew what they meant. Finding out what words they did use, and knowing what those meant, was what mattered.

‘Come and see me,’ said Lilian. Suzuki understood that all right.

‘I would be more honoured than I ...’

‘Let’s go over there near the window so I can give you the details without the whole world knowing. We haven’t got much time.’

Lilian ascended from the couch with extraordinary lack of effort, thereby revealing that although her short inverted American Beauty rose of a skirt went all the way around her hips, her pale sea-green top seeded with pearls was mainly concerned with her breasts, stomach and upper arms. As Suzuki followed her lightly tanned bare back through the crowd, he noticed with gratified alarm that yet another glass of champagne had appeared in his hand. He could have sworn there had been an empty one there a few seconds ago. London appeared in front of him, running brilliantly into the far distance like a galaxy rolled flat. Lilian masked a portion of it with the shape of an angel. He was glad he had brought his Mont Blanc pen. It would have been shameful to write down her telephone number with an ordinary ball-point. He wondered if she had noticed his Rolex.

‘If I stand close to you like this nobody can see what you’re doing,’ she breathed. His ear caught fire and flamed fiercely.

‘When would be an appropriate time for this meeting?’ he asked.

‘Not before Friday week. Ern leaves for Brazil on ... Christ, here he is. Just stay cool and keep talking.’

Suzuki could not remember the full name of the man who had just made such a universal disturbance merely by arriving, but he recognised the face from the covers of financial magazines and the business sections of newspapers. It was readily apparent why what the man thought of Lilian’s immediate situation might matter crucially to anyone else involved. The two other men were obviously bodyguards. Fitting exactly into their large suits, they exuded physical authority. But the man between them had authority of a different kind. Even at this distance, across a room jammed with carefully schooled casual elegance, he exemplified accomplished calm. Though tanned and well preserved, he clearly didn’t care about being well into middle age. His close-cut white hair would have looked thin had it been longer. Of average height, he was overweight and so conservatively tailored as to invite the random glance to slide off him. But there were no random glances turned towards him. Every eye was intent on his merest move. He was a cynosure, and not just for the young women but the young men. Emulation was in the air like desire.

‘Do you know much about Ern?’

‘I’m afraid not.’

‘Don’t worry. Nobody else does either. He’s sort of my protector. It’s perfectly harmless, honestly.’

Suzuki was told all about Sir Ernest Papadakis, apparently also known as Grecian Ern, while the man who bore these peculiar names worked his way at no great pace towards them through the throng, stopped every few inches by worshippers competing for his ear and eye. Suzuki vaguely wondered why Jane was not among them. Where was she? But he wondered harder why Lilian had considered offering him, Suzuki, her friendship, when by her own account she had nothing to give that did not belong to the man who was about to address them. Suzuki practised conversational openings to himself. Good evening, I have met your lady friend only a few minutes ago and now I must leave for Japan.

‘And this must be the famous Mr Suzuki,’ said the new arrival when he had finished lightly kissing Lilian’s offered cheek.

‘How do you do, Sir Ernest,’ said Suzuki, alarmed to discover that his own name was already known.

‘Our girl has told me all about you. She’s a big fan of yours.’

‘I find that hard to believe.’ Suzuki was very proud of managing this sentence, so difficult for a Japanese, who, if he said such a thing in his own language, would be questioning his interlocutor’s veracity.

‘No, no, she’s got a good eye for a sensible man, haven’t you, love? Perhaps Mr Suzuki can look after you a bit while I’m out of town.’

‘Oh, Ern,’ cooed Lilian. ‘People would talk.’

These people certainly would,’ said her mentor, ‘but who gives a shit what they think? Especially the blokes. I’ve never met so many lemmings pretending to be lions. Flats, cars, boats and it’s all a bubble. They’ll be sleeping on each other’s floors in a day or two. Make sure you go liquid, Suzuki.’

Suzuki felt that he already had. The two bodyguards were looking at him as if their eyes were storing the information digitally. It was a relief when Lionel came up, until he spoke.

‘Where’s that bird of yours, Akira?’

‘I was under the impression that she was with you.’

‘She got a bit jealous about all the attention you was getting and she said she was going to do something about it.’

‘What did she say she was going to do?’ said Suzuki, his mind suddenly as focused as it had been during his final examinations.

‘Said she was going to kill herself, actually.’

‘Did she say in what way?’

‘Said she was going to jump off the building. Reason why I wasn’t too worried. You can’t jump off this building, rye? Not from the outside anyway.’

‘Can you do it from the inside?’

‘Well, yes, but ... Shit.’

Suzuki beat Lionel to the lift but Lionel was the one who knew which button to press. The lift stopped just after it emerged from the tunnel and let them out on to a lattice-work metal gallery which ran around the top of the atrium. Its floor full of small square holes rattled as they ran halfway around the circumference to where Jane dangled from one of the jutting struts which were evidently intended to make the balustrade hard to climb over. Far below them, the poisoned fish fountain spouted rainbows from spikes which could have impaled a parachute regiment. Jane hung suspended from the strut by one or more of the larger links in the chain which formed her belt. If the belt had snapped she would not have fallen to her death. She was suspended on the inside of the balustrade, doubled up, hopelessly entangled and whining like a fox in a trap. As Suzuki and Lionel laboured to free her, she tried to form words through her sobs, but failed. Only when she was sitting down, with Suzuki cradling her head and shoulders against his chest, did her weeping find room for words.

‘Oh Suzy, it’s all gone wrong. Saul gone wrong.’

‘It’s all right,’ said Suzuki over and over, feeling as guilty as if he had struck her. After a while Lionel said something about leaving them together, and left.

‘I’m so fucked up. Snow wonder you don’t want me.’

‘I do.’

‘You don’t.’

‘I do,’ he lied, because at that moment he didn’t. ‘You are the most important ...’

‘It’s all gone wrong and I can’t fix it. I can’t get out.’

‘There, there.’ Suzuki had got that one from Rochester-san: part of a lesson on the importance of the meaningless phrase. Suzuki was sad to notice that Jane had wet herself. On the other side of the circle the lift descended from its tunnel. Lilian, Sir Ernest and the two bodyguards were standing in it. They all looked across at him and Jane. Cynosures. Lilian lifted her hand in a little wave, perhaps meant as a promise, but taken by Suzuki to mean farewell.