Jun 01, 2006|
Some say I didn’t know enough. Maybe I just knew too much. But when you’ve been at the top of the knowing game for 15 years, ignorance doesn’t come easy.
I had it all. Wealth, fame, women, knowledge. Mine was the life that everyone wanted but no one else had. In and out of society pages, parties, women. I was the person every broad wanted and every man wanted to be. Mr. Know-It-All, Hong Kong’s favorite smart aleck. But then it all went wrong, and suddenly not all the knowledge in the world could help me.
It started, as these things do, on a Saturday night at Dragon-i. Surrounded by brainless, fawning admirers, I answered their questions with ease, flair and style – where to get a colonic (Mind Body Colon Cleansing Centre, Room 101 Alliance Building, 133 Connaught Road, Central, 2805-7535), how to learn to read (The Montessori School, 29 Queen’s Road East, 2861-0339)... you know, model stuff.
Then out of the crowd, a sultry broad in a red qipao worked her way up to me and the way she moved demanded attention. I gave it – she had legs like Longhair had hair. She leaned over, with a grin so wicked it’d make the devil give up and go back to evil school.
“Tell me, Mr. KIA – is it true what they say about a man with a large knowledge base?”
“Why don’t we step out and I’ll demonstrate, Miss...?”
“Show-It-All. Little Miss Show-It-All,” she simpered.
It was shaping up to be a good night. We walked out of the club, her arm in mine – and into the arms of three local police force gorillas. A thousand press hacks dropped from the rafters; 10,000 hungry flashbulbs winked in and out of existence. The next day, photos of Mr. Know-It-All led away in cuffs adorned the front pages of all 49 (two English, forty-seven Chinese) daily papers. My downfall had begun.
The next day, Wan Chai police station.
“What do you know?” barked the sergeant on duty
“What do you want to know?” I replied. “The speed of light? 299,792,458 meters per second.”
“What the hell -”
“Dante’s Inferno, written 1308-1321, divides hell into the nine circles...”
He gave up. The cop had a face you wouldn’t wish on the worst Cantopop singer you knew (and I knew them all), and I had to help him read me my rights, but he played it by the book. I knew I had the information he wanted, but it was obvious he didn’t know which questions to ask. I beat the lie detector, of course, but earlier my lawyer told me, “Whatever you do, don’t tell them anything!” For once, it really looked like I was the man who knew too much.
The officer had a voice like a belt sander on concrete: “Listen, All. I’ll be straight with you. I don’t like your kind. I don’t like your arrogance, I don’t like your encyclopedic knowledge. And I don’t. Like. You.”
“Your intimidation doesn’t really do it for me,” I said.
“Why don’t you try a speech-training class at the Hong Kong Institute of Language? (6/F, Wellington Plaza, 56-58 Wellington Street, Central, 2877-6160.) It’s $280-380 per class. Now what are you charging me with?”
“Ha! Don’t really have the answers to everything, do you, All?” snorted one of the SAR’s finest. “We found the Excel spreadsheet with the timetable to democracy in your coat pocket. We’ve always suspected it existed. And now you’re looking at cold, hard time, Mister.”
Spending time that night on my cold, hard mattress – in between verses of “Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen” (Louis Armstong, “I’ve Got the World on a String: Louis Under the Stars,” $300 from hmv.com.hk, 2302-1203) – I realized I’d gotten sloppy ever since that blow to the head while researching logging practices in Eastern China for an unusually difficult question. The cranial trauma caused the onset of temporary amnesia – for a while I was known as Mr. Know-Nothing. That was a dark, dark time for me, but things at the moment looked bleaker still. It was more obvious than Amy Yip’s implants that my arrest was no shot in the dark. The press had been tipped off – I had to get the inside scoop. It was time for my phone call and, of course, I knew just who to call.
“Aaaah?” the familiar voice on the free end of the line was a welcome change.
“It’s good to hear your voice again, old friend. I need your help. I think I’ve been framed. You’re in touch with the news, can you help me out?”
“Ooohh,” Freddy’s monosyllabic vocabulary was a handicap. He was an idiot, but he was plugged in. They called him “The Weatherman” because he always knew which way the wind was blowing. A good man to know. But Freddy wasn’t talking – someone must have gotten to him first, and kept him quiet. As I dropped the line I heard the crack of a whip. “Aaah? Aaah!”
A whip? Things began to make sense. Maybe no one was making him clam up: Maybe Freddy just didn’t feel like talking. This was a full-blown, wedding-dress-style stitch-up, and I was the bolt of cloth (available at Tin Lai Fabrics, Shop 103, 1/F, Western Market, 323 Des Voeux Rd., Sheung Wan, 2541-9049). It was time to get out. And when you know as much as I do, it’s not very difficult to pick a lock. To clear his name, Mr. KIA needed to go MIA.
I’d need a disguise. Know-It-All Mansions were closed off, and the police would surely be ransacking my office. I was confident that the barrage of my questions from work would keep them puzzled long enough to clear my name. If I were going to stay unrecognized, I’d need some new clothes, and fast. A 24-hour tailor got me out of my prison garb and into an anonymous suit and trenchcoat. And not everyone knows where to go for custom-made shoes if your feet are over size 13 (Yue Wah Shoes, 1 Tung Lo Wan Rd, Causeway Bay, 2577-6658). An innocuous trilby from Emergency Room (Shop 145, 1/F, Causeway Place, Causeway Bay, 3113-0608) and a Davidoff cigar to complete the look. I was indistinguishable from the crowd.
I had one friend left. One thing I could count on to confirm my suspicions. He had pustular welts that made bubonic plague look like a mild case of the flu, giant tusks that Elsie Tu would be proud of and he played gracious host to the overwhelming stench of Hong Kong harbor. But Lap Sap Chung’s revolting appearance belied a snitch you could count on. In short, when you need dirt, he’s your man. Thing.
We met on his turf, an alleyway in Mongkok he liked to call his “office.” This was the base of his intelligence-gathering operations. It’s a dirty trade, but someone had to do it. You couldn’t get rid of anything in this city and expect it to stay gotten rid of for long, especially if Lap didn’t like you. Article 23, British rule, Tung Chee-Hwa – he had them all. Five seconds looking through the garbage bags (Park’n Shop, 30 biodegradable garbage bags for $9.90) and Lap had what I needed.
“I have something for you,” he snuffled. “But it’ll cost ya.” Lap was a good man, but he didn’t give freebies. I was listening. He began:
“Dear Mr. Know-It-All, It’s about these tusks of mine. Years of exposure to toxic waste and plastic bags has made them yellow and brittle. What can I do to make my teeth bright and sparkly, to reflect my age?” – Lappie
This was not the time for rubbishing his childishly simple question. “It’s quite easy,” I replied knowingly. “There are a number of ways to get your teeth whitened. You can get them bleached at home, or even veneered with porcelain for a long-lasting whiteness. Try Bayley & Jackson Dental Surgeons, Podium level, 2/F, Jardine House, 1 Connaught Place, Central, 2524-7116. Oh, and cut down on the coffee and alcohol, and try drinking milk and water instead.”
“‘Hm. I’ll try that then,” he said. “You’ve held up your end of the deal, so here is mine.” I always felt filthy after dealing with him. “Thirteen hours ago, a routine dragnet (Fishing nets $300 at Rock-n-Fish Co., Tai On Building, Shau Kei Wan, 2886-1951) picked up some debris from the house of that delectable dame Little Miss Show-It-All. I thought you might be interested.” He reached down into a blue, red and white woven plastic bag and dumped a peaked military cap and a pair of sunglasses onto the table. Fighting back the nausea of recognition and stench, they looked far, far too familiar for comfort.
I know a lot, but I’ll never understand dames. It was just as I’d known all along. The simile I used to describe Miss Show-It-All’s legs, the whip crack I’d heard on the phone to Freddy, Lap Sap Chung’s final pieces of sartorial evidence – it all pointed to one woman.
We had a thing, once – but she was an ambitious girl, and she used me. When she left, she took the “F” files from my playbook – “F” for “fashion,” and set herself up as the go-to gal for sartorial stumpers. The broad of the broadsheets. The bitch on Blahniks, the feminazi of fashion. The smart Alexis herself – The Dictator.
It was time to answer the questions once and for all. The Dictator had more than a hand in this framing (Wing Ching Frame Maker, G/F, 22 Lyndhurst Terrace, Central, 2815-8301): It was at least two arms and a left leg, if I’m any judge – and I am. I’d have to set the femme up for a fall. When you’re Mr. Know-It-All, getting wired up isn’t difficult and it wasn’t long before my fist was asking the erstwhile Little Miss Show-It-All’s door for a date, and getting very lucky judging from the pounding.
She opened it, face contorted into a look of joy. “Mr. KIA! How... nice to see you again.”
“Save it, Sister. I know what you’re up to,” I snarled.
“You set me up, you set me up so bad I could have been a stage (The Fringe Club, 2 Lower Albert Rd., Central, Hong Kong, 2521-2176, rents its stages at $6,000 for four hours). One question – why?”
She laughed, and her lip curled as she reached for her hat and sunglasses. “Yes, I set you up. Yes, I planted that imaginary timetable to democracy. But you’d never understand, you filth. You know a lot, but you don’t know what it’s like to be second-best! I just wanted you out of the picture, so I could take your job!”
But I didn’t care anymore. The cops were on the doorstep and my name was clear. As she was led away in cuffs ($20, Happy Together, Shop 115 Maximall, 233 Electric Rd., North Point, hkhappytogether.com, 2979-0733) and a prison uniform, I lit my cigar and turned to breathe in the atonal cacophony of this ruthless, dark, all-consuming city. “All I wanted was HK Magazine’s readership!” She wailed. “And silver bracelets and orange jumpsuits are sooo last season!”
Yes, I was back where I belonged. Back on top. And you may ask, did I know that it was all going to work out? Of course I did, my friends – I’m Mr. Know-It-All, Baby.