I knew that; been there, eaten a plate load of prime cuts and fries — done to perfection, just how I liked it. Twenty bucks tip had brought a big smile from the waitress, and had opened the way to the noodle kitchen.
Snake Eyes could have been Fat’s brother, except he was wearing white clothes that needed laundering, and a chef’s hat. His nicotine-stained fingers pointed at the door I’d come through a few moments before.
‘What happened here?’ I said, staring at the blackened walls and ceiling. The kitchen had been stripped bare, apart from a couple of rigged light bulbs overhanging a bag of workers tools on a wooden bench — I figured Occupational Health & Safety must have had a field day. I didn’t expect a blow by blow account — hell, I didn’t know what to expect, but he seemed in a bad mood.
He waddled towards me. ‘I said we’re closed.’
I figured plan A wouldn’t work, so I shifted gears. ‘I’m looking for Snake Eyes. Is that you?’
He stopped, his eyelids blinked. ‘Who are you?’
I unzipped my coveralls, took out my badge, and showed it. ‘Investigation ... security.’ I shrugged, hoping it would work. ‘Just a few questions, Mr...?’
But he wasn’t listening; turned away from me, pulled out his cell, and made a call. Sounded like a Chinese puzzle that seemed to turn into instructions by the way he was nodding his head. I had another look around. Figured it would take the cleaning team the better part of a month to renovate. While I thought about that, he started to sidle towards the fire exit. I frowned, followed him. He opened the door and stepped out. So did I.
I felt hard, hot needles pressing against my face. I twitched.
Shit … shouldn’t have done that.
The black turned into stars. My head throbbed, spun out of control. My stomach heaved. I gagged and threw up.
It took a while to register a female voice, and that I was far from being okay — so much so that I prayed for the warm, comforting black to return.
But it didn’t.
Instead, my senses told me I was painfully alive and that my face was on fire. So I risked opening my eyes to see silent gray shadows. I was lying on a concrete floor in what appeared to be a utility room — industrial vacuum cleaner, buckets and mops, shelves and boxes, hose reel — with a moving shadow swimming into focus. Butterfly was bending over me with a frown on her face.
Oh, fuck. Not Dia.
‘Hurts,’ I replied, which was a bit like saying hell was warm. I moved a hand to my face, and my fingers brushed against a swollen lump to send another round of hot coals through my head. I’d broken my nose once before, surfing out from Napoopoo beach, and it hurt like hell then, when my board was swept into my face. Then, a doctor had manipulated the break back in place, but that was after a shot of anesthetic. I tried to smile, but it felt like a grimace. ‘I’m okay,’ I said, more to relax me than her. It didn’t work.
‘Your face doesn’t look okay,’ she said.
Tell me something new.
I risked another feel — red-hot stars danced in front of my eyes — and found the break. I knew what to do. Biting my lip until I could taste blood, I lay my head back on the floor, screwed shut my eyes, and jerked the base of my nose with the heel of my hand.
Gray shadows again. I groaned but didn’t feel as sick. Pain in my face was background noise; my fingers ran along the length of my nose — back in place. Not quite. Almost.
I found I could sit up, and Dia swam into view. She was sitting on a footstool.
‘Awesome,’ I said, while testing out my limbs. A few tender spots, but no bones jutting out of my skin. I stood up, felt my way to the door — locked — and found the light switch. Wondered why she hadn’t flipped it. I did.
Ah -- she’d been there, done that.
It wasn’t the fluorescent light that bored a hole in my brain, but the constant strobe-like flickering better suited to a nightclub. But it gave me enough light to search for a spare tube.
With the aid of the footstool, the replacement worked fine, and my eyes stopped dancing. Good news — no pools of fresh blood on the floor. Bad news — a sickly pool of my half-digested prime cuts that reeked. I swallowed back hot bile, put a hand over my nose, and took deep breaths instead.
I stepped around the mess and opened a few boxes until I found a roll of duct tape and scissors. Cut a few strips, and bound my nose in place. I figured I wouldn’t be entering any beauty contests --
— Dia was crying.
She had returned to sitting on her footstool. Her body was shaking, and she was wiping tears from her face with the back of her hand. I moved over to her, put my arm on her shoulders, and gently squeezed. She winced, as if frightened, but I asked anyway.
‘What happened to you?’
I probably could have guessed. Her dress had been torn at the shoulder, and her arm was bruised — that was enough. She looked up at me through misty eyes.
‘Mr. Dicks shouted at me for talking to you. Shook me. Twisted my arm and forced me onto the floor. Called me a slant-eyed slut.’ Her voice broke. I barely heard her whisper. ‘Then he hurt me.’
Oh, no, not that, please.
Dia seemed to be reliving her experience. She hugged her body. ‘After he finished, he locked me in his office until nighttime. A fat man, Chinese, came for me. Brought me here … you were on the floor … I thought you were dead. Fat man kicked you. “Fish food,” he said.’
Voices at the door. A key in the lock.