A female undercover cop in Neptune, the notorious subterranean disco in Wanchai’s red light district, pulled out her badge and shouted over the band at my well-served friend.
“Excuse me, sir. Did you just say, ‘You like my ass?’ ”
“Umm… No officer. No! I said, ‘I’d like to take you to Mass.’ ”
“I see. You watch yourself,” she warned, and turned away.
It was a great recovery, but Chris had forgotten The Number One Wanchai Rule, so I reminded him: “Never, never chat up Hong Kong chicks in Neptune.” (They’re always cops. The Thai girls, the Filipinas, the Russians are there for the music or the money, but the Hong Kong girls are there for law enforcement.)
“Yeah, I know,” Chris said, “I should have it written on my arm.”
“You should have it tattooed on your….”
I didn’t get to finish the thought. Just then, all the lights in Neptune switched to high beam and the Filipino cover band jolted to a halt halfway through the guitar solo of Lynard Skynard’s “Free Bird.”
While everyone was blinking into the glare and recoiling from a clear look at the stranger they’d been drinking with, the entire Wanchai police force charged down the stairs and half the “customers,” who’d previously just been standing around, held up badges.
Enough cops to round up every man, woman and Wookie in the Neptune fanned out across the bar and dance floor. For the Lithuanian showgirl with the expired tourist visa sipping my drink, it was time to panic – or at least it was time to drink up.
Welcome to Friday night at Neptune. Bring your ID. Prepare to stay a while. The bar stays open, but you can’t leave. Hang out, have another San Mig and watch the funny people. Watch, for instance, the famous expat executive at the bar turn green:
“What’s this about?” he whispered to his pal.
“Just a routine immigration check, mate. No dramas, just show ‘em your ID and they go on to the next bloke.”
“But I don’t have my ID with me!”
“Well, that could be a spot of bother, especially if there’s paparazzi about. Tell ya what, just flash ‘em your knighthood medal and tell ‘em you’re Sir Mick Jagger.”
It might have worked, but the idea was never tested. Before they reached us, the police achieved their arrest quota. A few Southeast Asian females without papers and one gweilo man who had clearly forgotten The Number One Wanchai Rule were frog-marched up the stairs and into the waiting vans to the murmured relief of the remaining crowd.
To signal the end of the excitement, the lights re-dimmed and the guitarist struck the next chord of “Free Bird.”
The famous executive slumped onto a barstool, and everywhere the eternal dialogue resumed:
“What your name? Where you from? You buy me drink? You take me out? How much? How much? How much?”
I turned to Chris and offered to buy the next round, but remarkably, he declined. His near-miss ordeal seemed to have brought him to a certain epiphany. He set down a full San Miguel and quietly announced that he would rather go next door to Delaney’s Irish Pub and watch cricket re-runs, alone. He said he thought he needed to leave Neptune out of his life for a long time and then he stood up and walked off.
But as the guitarist reached the final crescendo and the dance floor erupted, I saw Chris look over his shoulder. And I knew he’d be back before I finished my beer.