Author’s Note: To fully immerse yourself into the atmosphere of this taut, sexy thriller – pour a stiff drink, take a seat, and listen to this playlist in the background.
The clock reads 7:11pm when she prowls into my office. I’m about to close up shop for the day, but she’s not the type of broad you say no to… with legs that go all the way up to her armpits, and a pair of breasts that form somewhere in between.
“How can I be of assistance, Mrs…?”
“Excellent” I say pouring two glasses of scotch, downing both of them myself.
She reaches into her purse and gently places a cigarette between her perfect lips – in that way that only a dame knows how. A way that can make a man rethink his wedding vows – again. I instinctively reach out to offer her a light, but it turns out to be a vape.
“That’s cute,” she says with a condescending chuckle. “I have a cousin who is a few cards short of a full deck, too.” Embarrassed, I clumsily return the lighter into my pocket and feign nonchalance – it’s brutal.
She walks over to the window that overlooks my city. Its neon lights shine through the open blinds and paint her in horizontal stripes of orange and green – the very colours of my nightmares. The cities with the brightest lights always cast the darkest shadows, and hide all their secrets that lie within.
“I need you to taste some balls, Detective,” she says, staring out into the rainy night.
Surprised but impressed by the wonders of cosmetic surgery, I shrug and begin to undo my tie. “A taste test of testes? Do you want me on my desk here with my head tilted back, or…?”
“No, not that… but I do appreciate your enthusiasm. I’m talking about the Curry Fish Balls they sell at 7-Eleven in Central.”
There it is. Just when I thought I was out, it conspires to pull me back in… to follow me forever like my own shadow, even in darkness. She turns around to face me, her grey eyes like two full ashtrays atop fine China dinner plates, burning a hole into what little is left of my conscience.
“There are a lot of other private investigators in this city, toots. Why come to me?” I light up a cigarette and return her gaze. We sit silently for a moment making bukkake-eyes at each other, marinating in sexual tension so thick that you can cut through it with a hammer.
“They say you’re the only person who’s managed to do this before and survive… twice. I’d say that makes you the best… equipped…” she quips flirtatiously, sizing me up and down with her television-static peepers. This isn’t my first rodeo, I know this ruse – a mysterious, mouthy skirt in a too-tight dress bats her eyelashes and leans over your desk, and suddenly you’re on the case… but no sir, not this time.
“Listen here sugar tits,” I say chivalrously, knocking back another two shots of bourbon. “I’ve scaled the mountains of madness and sampled its offerings, I’ve felt its shadows over and in my mouth, and I’m lucky to be standing here at all. What makes you think I’ll do it again?”
She leans over my desk, her breasts like two large, luscious xiao long baos from the food stalls in Shanghai, squeezed together so tightly that they could burst open at any moment.
“Alright, I’ll take the case,” comes the immediate reply from my simpleton brain. Shit. “What did you say your name was, doll?”
“I didn’t… and be careful, detective, you’re playing a dangerous game. My people will arrange your fee.” She turns to leave and glances over her shoulder, looking back at me. Her hourglass figure fluidly swaying from side to side like an underwater sea anemone…leaving me looking like a clownfish in its wake.
I pick up the blower on my desk and call the one person I can trust – O’Malley. My old partner from my time on the force. Back in the day, we were two gumshoes with gumption. I explain the situation to him: the floozie, the fish balls, the foolishness.
“You son of a bitch, I’m in,” comes his enthused reply – top man. I grab my coat and pack it with the only three things in my life that I know I can depend on – my smokes, my hip flask, and Blanche: my .38 snub nose revolver. I take another shot of bourbon to clear my head before heading out. I usually find the answers I’m looking for after six shots… it doesn’t matter if they come from a bottle of whiskey or the business end of my revolver.
I walk out into the rainy reality of my predicament. The overcast night sky is the colour of that one IKEA pull-out couch that everybody seems to own. Neon lights reflect in the puddles of the glistening, winding streets – the circulatory system of the city. The rivers and streams that ferry its denizens from one morally dubious activity to the next, like a swarm of horny minnows.
I walk through Central, the always bustling heart of Hong Kong. A place of fast talkers and slow walkers. A place of street hawkers, tourist gawkers, pervy stalkers and chaotic expats…and the occasional drunken LFK meltdown. O’Malley tips his fedora at me as I approach – a fashion statement so anachronistic and uncool that it was retired almost seventy years ago. I don’t mention it.
“Shall we talk to the pros? I’m sure they’d know a thing or two from all the johns that walk through here,” he asks, not missing a beat from the HKPD’s detective playbook.
I glance over his shoulder at the suspiciously deserted 7-Eleven.
“O’Malley, we are like… sixteen short paragraphs into this narrative, let’s re-focus on the objective and curry favour with the people who work here to see if we can get some answers,” I duly correct the Irishman. He nods and we enter the dragon’s den. Maybe the rain has caused most people to stay home tonight, but it’s quiet… too quiet. I don’t like it. I subtly cock Blanche underneath my coat.
I locate the pack of Curry Fish Balls in the refrigerated section. You’d think that they wouldn’t scale the already ludicrously illegible font-size down for smaller packaged goods, but holy shit – do I have news for you. I hand it to the cashier who asks, “You done?”
“Yes, that’s all for now,” I reply, still scanning around my periphery for the obvious trap. Something smells fishy about this whole situation, and it isn’t my balls… my fish balls, I mean. I take another swig of my hip flask and place it back into the breast pocket of my coat.
“No… yu daan!” the cashier exclaims pointing at the fish balls. I quickly recall the three words I know in Cantonese and ignore all of them by simply nodding at him. In one fell swoop, he surgically rips open the packaging like it’s a band-aid that he’s removed a hundred times before, paying no heed to the white toothed visual guide that has been so carefully designed by these corporate cultists.
He proceeds to nuke it in the microwave for a seemingly indeterminate amount of time, showing little to no care for the meticulously detailed instructions that are too small to read. What an absolute madman.
He hands my quarry back to me, I look down to see eight perfectly rounded orbs swimming in a lake of yellow-brown curry. The same colour as the mustard our chief at the precinct always had on his tie after lunch… that couldn’t be a coincidence. Had this corporate entity infiltrated the very people who enforce the law? Was anything outside its reach?
Taking the small wooden skewer, I plunge it into one of the succulent spherical soup-dwelling snacks. It offers a satisfying level of resistance before the skewer pierces through it, reminiscent of spear-fishing in the opaque fragrant harbour waters. That small application of force causes the other balls to quiver ever so slightly in the palm of my hand. I raise one to my lips and I can feel its smooth but slimy texture. The commanding musk of curry carries into my nose – an assault on my olfactory orifices.
At that moment, time suddenly stands still. I hear a thunderclap and see a flash of light – O’Malley and the cashier duck behind cover. I spin around to see a goon packing a burner, and before I can react, I’m hit right in the chest. It feels like I’ve been stabbed by a marlin. The smell of gunpowder and smoke somehow masks the overwhelming scent of curry.
As I stumble backwards, I try to catch my breath, dropping my meal onto the counter. I unholster Blanche and squeeze her like the hand of my second ex-wife. She screams a symphony of explosions as I empty her into the mook – her hammer striking down on each round like a new nail in his coffin. All six shots find their mark and land squarely in the ten-ring; I drop him like my trousers after Indian food.
My body collapses onto the sanitised white floor and O’Malley rushes over to me to check my wound – top man. My coat and shirt stained with the red-brown liquid that pulses through my veins. He removes my coat but we find no bullet wound on my chest. The stain keeps growing. I pull out my hip flask from the breast pocket of my coat – a hitman’s bullet lodged right in the middle of it. I knew that being a bitter alcoholic would save my life one day. O’Malley helps me back onto my feet.
It finally dawns on me that this whole thing had been a set-up, and I’d fallen for it – hook, line, and sinker. 7-Eleven didn’t want me digging any deeper, and the stores were just a front for something far more sinister – I was on the right track. Turning to the cashier, I grab him from behind the counter and yell, “Who planned this? Who do you actually work for?!”
O’Malley grabs me by the shoulders and pulls me back. “Forget it, detective. It’s 7-Eleven.” My partner is right, but I need to get to the bottom of this goddamn conspiracy.
I take what’s left of my balls and leave with him. “By the way, detective – what do you think of the Curry Fish Balls?” he asks quizzically.
“Net score 7/10, O’Malley. You can’t go wrong with the classics.” We walk back out into the rainy night, knowing that this case is far from over.
Viraj is a thirty-five time academy award-watching individual who has spent his formative years in the neon-lit city of Hong Kong. When he is not cracking cases (of booze) you can find him making puns, dad-jokes, and other silly observations on his Instagram @virajbindra. He is now indifferent about kale.
This article, HK Confidential: A review of 7-Select Curry Fish Balls, originally appeared on Coconuts, Asia’s leading alternative media company.