Hello, he says.
She nods at him without really looking at him.
I need to ask you something, he continues.
This time her eyes latch on him for a full four seconds as she flips
through internal memory -- No, I don't know this man. She breathes
a cloud of cigarette smoke in his general direction, and yet the gesture
is endearing, a cloaked nervousness behind it. Her cigarettes are
native Taiwanese, authoritative and thick, the kind that stick to
your clothes for days afterwards.
He plants the man's cigarette lighter upright on the table. Who
owns this? he says.
Her fingers play around the rim of her glass as she stares
lighter, dazed, mute. Ever since he landed in this city he has seen
this vacant look: on the faces of passersby in the street, on the
faces of those too stubborn or indifferent to offer help, on Allen's
face when he posits one of those rhetorical questions that cannot
be answered correctly, most of all on his own face whenever he catches
fugitive sight of it in his scooter's rear view mirror.
Start talking or you'll be talking to someone less polite than
me, he snaps. You just met this man outside. Who is he? Your
Who are you?
I'm an investigator. Is that true? He realizes it is, for the
first time. Yes and no. Takes a criminal to catch a criminal.
Investigator? Her eyes are inhuman in their wideness,