Books: Brrm! Brrm! — Chapter 12 |
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It was Friday evening. Suzuki, despite everything, had worked a hard week. But Lilian had forbidden him to go home for a bathe and a change of clothes. ‘You can do all that here,’ she said on the telephone. It sounded promising. His spare shirt burning a hole in his briefcase, for the whole of the entire, interminable tube ride to Sloane Square Suzuki thought about the different ways things might go wrong. There was scarcely room in his life for more disorder. Mrs Thelwell was temporarily out of the way but how long would Jane lie dormant? He had given her the last of his money. What had she done with it? Certainly she hadn’t eaten it. Except for the occasional bunch of madly expensive out-of-season grapes she never had any food anywhere in sight. Suzuki was shamefully glad not to be seeing her that evening. Instead, he was seeing Lilian. He had told Jane that he was scheduled to give a lecture at the Japanese embassy, on the history of Kabuki. It was almost true. In a week’s time he was scheduled to be appearing at the Japanese embassy, only the lecture on Kabuki would be delivered by a famous visiting Kabuki actor, with Suzuki functioning merely as the interpreter. To handle the occasion competently, however, would be an important step. Influential people would be watching. Mistakes would be remembered. He wished he did not feel the same about tonight.

Pink brick with white plaster trimmings, the many-windowed Victorian residential block was unnervingly massive. Her name beside the bell would have been frightening enough in itself. LILIAN PFLIMMLIN. Could even they pronounce a name like that? But her voice sounded warm through the crackle of the entryphone, and when the door of her apartment swung open the instantly apparent luxury of how she lived was comfortingly offset by her off-hand mode of dress.

‘Tonight I’m your geisha,’ she said after giving him a small kiss hello. ‘So I thought I’d wear this. What’s it called again?’

‘A yukata.’

That’s it. The kimono’s much more complicated, isn’t it? Must take ages to get on and off.’

‘Did Sir Ernest give you that?’

‘I make quite a lot of money all by myself. And what I like about this is I can just walk around the place barefoot with nothing underneath. So all the gold thread just makes it look fancy.’

‘I’m afraid to touch it.’

‘Why don’t I take it off, then?’

True to her word, she was naked underneath. He had rather suspected that she might be. This time she kissed hint more thoroughly. He felt awkward.

‘Don’t you think,’ she murmured, ‘that you might put down your briefcase?’

He felt less awkward after that. She didn’t smell of butter at all. In the bath they sat facing each other, with so much room to move that they didn’t need to entwine their legs. They did anyway.

‘I always wanted a huge bath, so I got this one built specially. Are you disgusted that I didn’t have a shower before I got in?’

‘No. I can’t believe you ever need to.’

‘I’m making you break all the rules, aren’t I? Fancy a geisha just jumping on you like that.’

‘Nowadays we call them geiko.’

‘Have you ever had one?’

‘On my salary? Not in a million years.’

Suzuki was very proud of this latter expression, which he had borrowed from a novel by the important modern English writer Penelope Mortimer. Sinking below the frothy surface, he blew a stream of water vertically through the suds, like a sperm whale in flummery. He emerged again to find her smiling. He smiled back. He was very happy. Not having conquered her yet, he felt as if he already had. No, better: as if he didn’t need to. She was a dream that insisted on coming true, like her bathroom. Reflected from opulently framed mirrors, bent around the shoulders of treasurable bottles, he could see himself and his stellar princess, caught running away together, buried to their necks in cloud, waiting to be trampled by winged horses: an epic picture on ivory screens, flaking gold panels sliced by emerald leaves of young bamboo, decorated everywhere with the rubrics of an enchanted language: Ultra Glow, Teinte Creole, KISS MY FACE, Conquête du Soleil, KLORANE Shampooing Vacances, HAIR SO NEW Instant Detangling Cream Rinse — the eternal, unplumbable mystery of the West.

On her bed, which was itself larger in area than the room in which Suzuki had been brought up, Lilian lay in the half dark and lifted her arms to him. ‘Just taste me for a little while, darling. Don’t do the whole thing straightaway. Mustn’t be a greedy guts. Start there.’

Suzuki started there.

‘And now there.’

Suzuki moved to there.

‘Now you do that while I do this.’

While she did this, Suzuki did that. He had never met such a figure of authority. Not even Shimura-san spoke with such quiet command.

God you’ve got such a touch. Never again will I go near a man who eats with a knife and fork.’

Suzuki tasted his fingertips.

‘Give me a taste too.’

Suzuki hadn’t known that was allowed. Bon Comic had never mentioned it. Not even the correspondence section of the Japanese edition of Penthouse had ever hinted at such a thing. This girl loved herself.

‘I think all sexy women must, don’t you? If you weren’t here to touch my nipples, I would. Like this. I’d be a fool not to, wouldn’t I? When it feels so nice. Do you like watching that? Do you?’

He did.

‘I could always make myself come like this, even before I had breasts to go with them.’

Suzuki, who had felt for some time that his general proportions had come to resemble those of a T-square, offered to enter her, but she made him wait.

‘Have you been good? Have you been careful? Are you sure you won’t give me anything but love?’


She still made him wait until the critical moment, and then insisted that he advance only as quickly as she advanced in the opposite direction, taking him in by the gulp as her gasping mouth lifted to be kissed. Her hands were still caught between them when she locked her legs around his hips and mumbled: ‘Don’t you dare.’

‘I’m sorry?’

‘Don’t you dare. Not yet. Stay there. Stay big. Think of something awful.’

‘I don’t understand.’

‘Don’t you think of something awful to stop yourself when you’re trying not to?’

‘Trying not to what?’

‘To come, dope.’

‘Oh yes. I have read about that. No, I have never done so. Perhaps I should try.’

Suzuki made a token attempt to think of something unpleasant but the circumstances were to the contrary. Although she made no move, she would have had to stop breathing. The enthralling mingled odours of her body would have had to dissipate. She would have had to vanish. Instead, she sighed, she gave a little quiver, and he let loose.

‘I apologise.’

‘Don’t be a dope, you lovely man. You really are such a dope. I’ve thought about this all day. Now you stay right where you are for a while so it doesn’t all come running out.’ She sighed again, turned her head sideways, closed her eyes, pursed her lips, opened her eyes, looked into his face without turning her head, closed her eyes again, relaxed her pursed lips into a smile, snuggled her head deeper into the pillow, and hummed.

‘What’s that?’

‘Just anything. Any happy tune.’

Later on they took a shower together, preparatory to going out for dinner. After the shower, however, she decided that it was necessary to go back to the bedroom. Suzuki was already getting used to the idea that she would be making all the decisions. Standing on his hands, he gazed into her lush spun-honey delta region as she knelt before him. He could feel her voice grating warmer. ‘I watched you doing this for weeks before you realised it,’ she said, ‘and I always wanted to do this.’ She was quite insistent that he maintain the pose. Finally he collapsed, though it was clear that she was the one who had been satisfied.

‘I’m not so sure I need anything to eat after that.’

One of his own fantasies, however, was realised after the telephone rang. He had always wanted to be the silent lover in Big Comic who grazed voraciously while his powerful Western mistress was talking on the telephone to her black assassins, or in this case to her ... to her what? (To her whom?) Her husband? Her real lover? The executor of her desires? His executioner?

‘Princess Custard Slice?’ asked the amplified voice of Sir Ernest Papadakis.

‘Hello darling,’ Lilian replied. ‘Is it wonderful there?’

‘Wonderful and dangerous. Is it the same there?’

‘Sort of. Are you going to the fazenda tonight?’

‘When the rain stops. You can’t see the Sugar Loaf for blue cloud at the moment.’

‘Who’s driving? Robercico?’

‘Yes, with João in the other car. Guns everywhere, don’t worry.’

Just don’t stop for any roadblocks. Unless the men dressed as police are actually wearing shoes.’

‘I miss you a lot. Especially at times like this.’

‘You’re always with me?

Behind and below the conversation, Suzuki understood this last part and wondered how she could say it. But he resolved to do his real wondering next day. or next year. After she hung up she stroked his neck with both hands instead of one. Eventually there was a protracted shudder of some violence but small amplitude, so that he was able to follow it with his kiss. After his head joined hers on the pillow she was silent for some time before murmuring strangely: ‘Why eat out when you can eat in?’

‘I’m sorry?’

‘Oh, don’t be, Mr Suzuki. Don’t you be sorry for a minute.’

Unconvincingly out of character, she pretended to let him help her choose a dress, rejecting all of his suggestions except the Donna Karan suit. Her wardrobe alone could have housed Suzuki’s mother, sister and both aunts. Her car was parked nearby in the street.

‘You’ll have to forgive me for this boring little Targa,’ she said, looking at him instead of the door lock while she turned the key. ‘Ern likes me to keep a reasonably low profile when I’m out. He’s right, of course.’

It was Suzuki’s impression that they never stopped accelerating until she put on the brakes and they came sliding to a stop in front of a restaurant impossibly named Flaherty’s.

‘This place is a hideyhole nowadays,’ she explained as they followed the head waiter through the genteel uproar to the only empty table. ‘The man who ran it used to be famous but he tried to set fire to his house.’

‘What happened?’

‘He set fire to himself instead. Let’s eat just a few little things.’

Suzuki took one look at the poster-sized menu and immediately became very worried about the bill. After his most recent subvention to Jane he had almost nothing left to his name except the homeward half of his return air ticket. But Lilian had an encouraging capacity to read his mind.

‘This is on me, incidentally.’

‘I couldn’t allow that.’

‘Don’t argue. If you knew how much money I made you’d come running at me waving a little sword. Instead of doing the marvellous things you do.’

‘Thank you.’

‘Yum. Oysters. We could stay with the champagne to wash them down, couldn’t we?’

Suzuki felt displaced, as if he were attending a cultural event but had not managed to obtain a printed programme. That man over there who was smoking a big cigar and looked like the actor Michael Caine: it was Michael Caine. It followed that the blindingly beautiful girl at the next table looked like Tatiana Patitz because she was Tatiana Patitz. In her own way, Lilian made even more happen than Jane did, but whereas everything Jane instigated was chaos, with Lilian it was all control. The life she led just looked fantastic. Then it made you afraid by proving actual. It was real. There was no escape. One couldn’t just close the comic and pick up a text-book. The waiters kept bringing him more to cope with. Once again he seemed unable to keep his champagne glass empty.

‘I think having a few little things was a better idea than having something big, don’t you?’ From inside her handbag her beeper beeped. ‘Market must be closing in Chicago. Mind the fort for a bit while I find a phone. Later on we’ll go dancing, yes?’

Only seconds after Lilian had vacated her scat, another woman had slid into it. This one was less fashionably dressed but seemed, if possible, even more confident.

‘Val Butcher,’ said the newcomer. ‘I’ve been hearing a lot about you from my old friend Jane Austen. She says you’re quite a goer.’

‘I have not gone yet. Possibly I will stay here in London.’

‘Witty, too. And you must be pretty brave, coming between Grecian Ern and his bit of fluff.’

‘I’m sorry?’

‘Well said. The whole City’s talking about you after that pre-Crash bash down in Docklands. You must really have it where it counts. You’ve got the dolly-birds jumping out of windows.’

‘I don’t understand.’

‘And Ted Rochester tells me you’re the hottest Jap literary prospect since that mad poofter with the motorbike who cut the Emperor’s head off, what was his name?’

‘Mishima. I hardly deserve such ...’ Suzuki began, but by that time Lilian had returned. The interloper delivered a farewell speech while rising and walking backwards.

‘Just keeping him warm for you. Miss Pflimmlin. Not that he looks like you’ve been neglecting him, if I may make so bold ...’ These last words were addressed to the back of Lilian’s neck.

‘I should have known I couldn’t take my eyes off you for a minute,’ said Lilian, even as the retreating interference was still audible behind her. ‘Not that I ever want to. What I want to see you do next is dance. I’ll bet you can dance like mad.’

In the thunderous interior of a club called The Tempest Suzuki tried to show her she was not wrong. His carefully polished fox-trot, however, turned out not to be appropriate. The floor was jammed solid. The music was so loud that one beat joined to the next. Though volcanic flames flickered in the distance and thin shafts of light transgressed the infernally writhing gloom at unexpected angles, he could see almost nothing except her face, and then lost sight even of that as she clasped him tightly and shouted in his ear.

‘... et’s sit thi ... one ou ...’

‘I’m sorry?’



Two rooms away it was slightly less dark and marginally more quiet. A few decibels’ difference made speech possible, and every few seconds you could see to whom you were talking. Bolts of photoflash emanated from a young Viking motor-cyclist holding a camera. In lounge chairs lounged young ladies of an imaginative elegance unknown even to Suzuki’s filing system.

‘You won’t look at me now that you’ve seen this bunch,’ said Lilian.

‘Hello,’ shouted Francine Beckenbauer, gliding near.

‘Goodbye,’ shouted Lilian, adding, in nearer normal tones: ‘Ern should have screwed that girl. Then she’d have known her place.’

But Suzuki was looking at the full glass in his hand. Who had put it there? And what was he going to call his new mistress? Without being able to pronounce her name or any part of it, he had done things with her which defied memory. How could he ever go home? How could he not? What was Jane Austen doing at that moment?

‘A Miss Jane Austen is here,’ said a large black man in a blue suit. He was behind their couch, leaning down between them so they could both hear him. ‘She’s very banned here, but she says she’s got a message for Prince Suzuki’

‘For Prince Suzuki?’ asked Lilian, with a look of slight puzzlement that was enough to transform her.

‘She says she’s got vital information for the Emperor’s son.’ The man’s breath smelled seriously of onions.

‘Tell her,’ said Lilian with a smile, ‘to bugger off.’

Suzuki missed Lilian’s smile because his gaze was focused on the dark space which must have been one of the entrances to the room. In a sudden lightning flash he had seen Jane struggling between two suited men even bigger than the one breathing in his ear. There was another lightning flash and he could see that her arm was being twisted. He knew how easily the urge to twist Jane’s arm could arise even in the heart of a pacifist but there was something about the spectacle that made him feel the overwhelming importance of bringing it to an end. Threading his way quickly between chairs and couches, he reached the agitated group, grasped the upper arm of the man doing the twisting, and pinched.

‘Oh Suzy,’ wailed Jane, barely audible over the man’s wounded screams, ‘He was hurting me.’

The other man, stepping over his partner’s writhing body, drew a short but heavy-looking stick from an inner pocket. Suzuki was hampered by Jane’s full weight draped around his neck. He had no choice except to kick the man quite severely in the kneecap. As the second man fell down shrieking on top of the first, a third man, recognisable by his onion breath, arrived rapidly from behind. Jane had Suzuki’s arms pinned so thoroughly that she might as well have been the man’s accomplice. ‘Leave him alone!’ she screamed. He’s a Japanese prince!’ Suzuki took two very hard punches in the stomach before he was able to break free of her embrace and drop the black man with a firm but reasonably safe finger-tip jab under the heart.

By the time Suzuki had finished spitting out a mouthful of regurgitated oysters, two more men had arrived, both running fast. Suzuki saw Jane closing in again. There was no time to lose. Grasping one of the men by the lapels, he put his right foot in the man’s stomach, fell backwards, and levered the man up and away into the dark, where his body made a splintering impact which indicated that he had fallen behind the bar. Still on the floor, Suzuki scythed his leg sideways and brought the other man down beside him. Unfortunately Jane was between them, still yelling ‘Leave him alone!’ Her voice stopped abruptly when the man hit her. Suzuki, angry for the first time, drove a stiff knuckle into the man’s collar-bone, which snapped like a rice cookie.