I held my breath. The figure was real. How could a woman have walked through my second floor balcony window from outside? Where had she come from at that hour of the night? What did she want?
Unable to move I wondered whether she was intending to commit a crime. She left the balcony door open. I could feel the cool night-air. She stood a few feet from me apparently listening to find out if her entrance had been discovered. If she’d looked straight ahead, she’d have seen me sitting bolt upright up in bed. I was as visible as she was. She remained motionless, looking neither to her right nor left. Presently she sighed. The sound of her sustained respiration was simply too seductive to be compatible with my initial notion that she was a burglar.
She moved uncertainly and stumbled against a chair, startled by this contact she put her hand to her head, as if trying to collect her thoughts.
“Where am I?”
The voice was sweet, soft, clear and sexy. It thrilled me. Was the lady a somnambulist, who had woken to find herself in a stranger’s bedroom? If that was the case, what was I to do?
The question was answered for me. I must have fidgeted. She turned towards me.
“Who are you and why are you naked?”
“Do not be alarmed,” I replied, “I am Hu Feng and I always sleep in the nude.”
“If you’re the writer who criticised Mao for overly politicising the notion of literary realism and losing touch with the everyday life of the proletariat, you must be a ghost because you died more than thirty years ago!”
“That was my father, I was conceived very shortly before his death. You see Hu Senior had an affair with the nurse who saw him through his final illness and I am the result of that liaison. My mother named me after him. If you will allow me, I will turn on the light, so that we may see each other better!”
What a flick of the switch revealed amazed me. At the foot of my bed stood the most beautiful woman I had ever seen. She was tall with a face like Lu Xun and the brow of a banana tree ghost . She had the sweetest pair of eyes I’d ever seen. But there was something in them I didn’t understand. It wasn’t just bewilderment, it was as if she looked out at the world from inside a dream. The woman regarded me with a curious sort of wonderment and my manhood stood to attention beneath her delirious gaze.
“Where am I? Have we met before?”
“I don’t think so. But don’t be alarmed. You are quite safe. You must have been sleepwalking.”
“But where did I drift in here from?”
“That is a question you will have to answer. Do you live in The Denizen?”
“We’re in The Denizen!” I cried. “This is a luxury apartment block in the beating heart of the ancient ward of Cripplegate, just outside the original walls of the City of London, an area historically notorious for its cony catchers, bawdy houses and molly houses.”
“What?” she asked.
“Thieves, conmen, brothels and gay joints.” I explained “This area was filled to the brim with them prior to its gentrification.”
“Are there still molly houses round here!” she asked.
“I wouldn’t know! I’m straight” I shot back. “Do you live in the Denizen? Is this your home?”
“My home?” She shook her head solemnly. “I have no home.”
“You must have a home! Who are you? What’s your name?”
“I don’t know.”
Was she an imbecile? No! Intellect was clearly marked upon her face. But there was something peculiar in her expression. She looked as if she had recently been roused from sleep and had yet to return to full consciousness. My original surmise was correct; she had been sleepwalking and had yet to regain sufficient consciousness to recognise the actualities of existence, or comprehend what it was she was doing.
The woman was covered from head to foot in a voluminous garment, which set off her face and figure to perfection. I took it to be some sort of opera-cloak, though it resembled a domino buttoned down the front. It was made of a bright plum material, which I afterwards learned was alpaca. A hood, which was attached to the garment, was only half on her dainty head. The whole affair, cloak and hood, was lined with green silk. The front of the cloak was decorated with voluminous green ribbons. One of these was a broad sash-ribbon, some eight inches wide, reaching from her neck almost to her toes.
Half of this big ribbon was obscured by what looked like wet blood. But it was not just this item that was stained; I perceived here and there that the bright hues of the knots of narrower ribbon were also dimmed. There were even splashes on the cloak itself. She’d raised one arm. There were stains on both her palms. All the perfumes of Arabia would not have sweetened those little hands.
I recalled the extraordinary vision I’d had of Tao’s murder. The frenzied figure clad in the woman’s cloak with whirling skirts. Here in front of me was the very robe I’d seen. And here too, now sufficiently quiescent, were the whirling skirts. I put my hand up to my eyes and luxuriated in the wonderful thoughts that seemed to rush at me.
“Tell me who you are and where you are from!”
There was silence. I repeated my inquiry. She answered with a question.
“Why do you speak to me like this? And why do you put your hand before your eyes?”
The sound of her words utterly seduced me. It was delightful to imagine a voice that rang so convincingly with the accents of truth belonged to someone false and evil. Removing my hands from my face, I looked at her again.
When she ran her fingers over her face she left behind a crimson stain.
“Look what you’ve done!” I cried.
“What’s on your hands?”
She held them in front of her, contemplating them with an innocent air.
“It’s blood.” I spat.
“Blood? Where did it come from?”
With her blood-stained face and a ring of innocence to her voice, the sheer emptiness of her eyes went to my heart.
“Try to remember who you are and what you’ve been doing!”
“I don’t know.”
“But you must! Don’t you see you’re covered in blood? ”
She gave a little cry. She swayed to and fro. Before I could reach her she had fallen to the ground in a swoon.
I’d heard of women fainting, but never before had I seen one in such a pitiful predicament. What was I to do? I thought of calling the Denizen’s 24-hour concierge. But then I’d have had to explain why I was naked and there was an unconscious woman covered in blood in my apartment.
As I looked at the lovely creature lying so still, her utter helplessness filled me with a curious sense of excitement. A resolve grew up within me to constitute myself her champion, if she would only avail herself of my services. If she had something to conceal, by no action of mine should it be trumpeted to the world. And if she had killed Chiang Tao what was that to me? The cancellation of nearly two million dollars worth of debt made her seem like my avenging angel!
As I considered undressing her and cleaning her up before putting her into my bed, I noticed something was lying beside her on the floor. Where it came from I could not tell; it was hardly the kind of thing to have fallen from a woman’s pocket. I picked it up. It was a photograph of Chiang Tao. It was smeared with blood. I thrust it between the leaves of Cixin Liu’s short story collection Weight of Memories, which was on my bedside table. She moved. Turning, I found that she had raised herself a little and was looking at me with her eyes wide open.
“Have I been asleep?”
Her empty gaze coupled with a strange look of bewilderment filled me with a sense of confusion.
“You have not been well. But you are better now. Let me help you to get up.”
I held out my hand. Putting hers into it, she rose to her feet with a little spring. When she took her hand away, there was a ruddy smirch on my palm.
“You should take off your cloak.”
She looked at me in amazement. “Why?”
“You’ll be more comfortable.”
I helped her removed the outer garment and flung it over the back of a chair.
“Go into the bathroom and take a shower.”
She eyed me with surprise. “Why?”
“You’re covered in blood.”
“Will it come off if I wash?’
I assured her it would and she went to her toilet. While the woman was cleaning herself up I dressed. I find situations in which one person is clothed and the other naked erotically charged and I was banking on my angel of vengeance emerging from the bathroom nude. When she did appear she’d abandoned her own clothes but had pulled on one of my dressing gowns.
We sat down in the living room to be more at ease, on either side of my sofa. Her beauty awed me. At the back of my mind I knew I’d seen this enchanting vision before. I was at a loss as to how to address her, and when I managed to do so I blustered.
“Is there any reason for you to hide your name?” She shook her head. “Then tell me what it is.”
“I don’t know who I am. I don’t remember anything before I entered your bedroom.”
I didn’t know what to think. If she was playing a part, which seemed likely, she acted with such plausibility that I couldn’t uncover the trick. I thought that perhaps after all I should call the concierge. But before that my visitor needed clothes. I maintain a large wardrobe for both myself and any female friends I might make at strip joints and massage parlours. My own cross-dressing garments were the wrong size, but I did have a very short blue dress bought for potential friends that fitted perfectly.
“The concierge on duty tonight is a knows all about superior ladies of the night. She’s called Cynthia Payne. She may be of more assistance to you than me. Will you allow me to call her?”
This was said with such an air of innocence that I was half-ashamed of the thoughts that filled my mind. But I couldn’t help it, I knew I’d like nothing better than to see this woman and Mrs Payne naked and rubbing their pussies together.
Before checking with the concierge to see if she was up for some fun, I inspected the bathroom to make sure it was clean. I wiped up a few remaining traces of blood with bogroll and flushed this down the toilet. I bundled up the woman’s clothes and bagged them in a bin liner that I hid in the bottom of a wardrobe. Then I changed my mind about ringing, I decided to go downstairs and see Cynthia in person at her desk.