The British and their clubs.
The Shanghai Club, at number 3, the Bund, boasted the longest bar in the world, one hundred feet from one end to the other, you could stand there with a gin and tonic in your hand and look out over the docks and slums of Shanghai and feel superior to just about everyone, which is what the British do best. Or there was the Shanghai Race Club, no women, no Chinese thank you, you had to be introduced to the committee by a sitting member, grovel at their feet and beg them to accept your subscription fee.
They had a clock tower out at the racecourse known as Big Bertie. The British are like that; they give affectionate names to things as if they were people; they treat people like things. The other great institution of Shanghai was the British Club, sixty five acres of landscaped gardens on Bubbling Well Road, its own ballroom, tennis courts and swimming pool.
That's where I met Mackie.
I'd always liked Mackie. He was a Scot, so he probably hated the English more than I did, though he did a better job of disguising it. He was a doctor, worked at the American Hospital, but he kept a Chinese mistress. This arrangement consigned him to a sort of netherworld, as no one in the Concession was ever quite sure how to treat him; whether to defer to him because he was a doctor, or cut him because he'd gone native.
I'd asked Mackie to examine Anastasia for any ill effects after her swim in the river; that's what I'd told her, anyway. The truth was I was looking for more. I was hoping he could tell me if she was ill or just plain crazy.
He bought me a gin and then he folded his reading glasses into his pocket. "Fascinating woman," he said.
"You've examined her?"
"Physically she seems fine. There's a few medical peculiarities. For instance, the big toe on her right foot is bent right over, the medical name for it is hallux valgus. In her case, it's so pronounced it must have been present from birth. She has a small white scar on her right shoulder blade."
"But how does she seem to you?" When he hesitated, I added: "Mentally."
"I'm not trained in psychiatry," he said. He lit his pipe. It stank, God alone knew what kind of tobacco he put in it, the little tin he kept it in said Player's but he had refilled it so many times it could have been anything. Some of the club members thought it might be dried cabbage leaves treated with liquorice.
"You think she's crazy?"
"No, I think you are." He held my stare.
He was right, of course. Hell, I knew I was stupid. But if I'd wanted an easy and uncomplicated life I would have stayed home in New York.
"She says she can't remember anything before Harbin."
He fussed with the pipe. It was only ever good for two or three puffs and then it would go out. I think he enjoyed fussing with it more than smoking it. "That is what she contends. It's possible."
"Something terrible happened to her in Russia."
"Terrible things happened to everyone in Russia. I suspect there may be a physical as well as an emotional cause for her present state."
His hand went to his temple. "She has a scar, right here, and an indentation of her skull which could be the result of trauma from a blunt object. There is also a scar behind her right ear that could have been made by the passage of a bullet."
"You think that's it?"
"I have no idea. It's just a hypothesis, Michael. Impossible to say. As I said, I have no training in psychiatry."
I wondered what life would be like without a past. It's history that anchors us in the present, and tells us who we are. I'd spent every day for the last ten years trying to disgust and disappoint my father; everything I did was because of my past. Second thoughts, perhaps she was better of the way she was.
Mackie finished his whiskey and went back to fiddling with his pipe. "You're a mad bastard," he said. "No shortage of women in Shanghai. Why go to so much trouble over this one?"
"I don't know." I called over the Chinese waiter and ordered two more G&T's. "Send me your bill, Mack."
"It's on the house."
I shrugged. I knew he'd say that.
As I was leaving, he said, his head wreathed in cloud of pungent smoke: "She's just another dance hall princess."
"Yes, I know," I answered, but I didn't really believe it.
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