I hadn’t been in Bombay Mick’s for a while but the decor was the same and so were the clientele. Though the full noonday sun beat down on the street like an iron-mill hammer, the inside of the bar was dark as a coalmine and twice as hot. A fan hung from the filthy ceiling and creaked as it rotated slowly in the crepuscular half-light. Cockroaches scuttled among the empty bottles on the floor and a faint aroma of opium lingered in the fetid air.
Eyes followed me from the shadows as I approached the counter where a fat, sweating figure hunched over an ancient chess-board.
Howya, Mick. Gimme a pint.
Jesus! Bombay Mick jumped up and held out a giant ham-like hand. Bock! Is it yourself? We thought you were dead. We all thought you were killed that time the trainload of nitroglycerine went over the Victoria Falls.
It’s me all right, Mick, I assured him. Alive and, ha-ha, kicking.
Well, by God! Bombay Mick shook his head and scratched his balding, ponytailed skull. By God, he repeated. Well by God! Are you sure you weren’t killed in that gunfight with the Yakuza while rescuing the nephew of the king of Bhutan?
Well then, maybe it was the time you were prospecting for titanium on Jupiter and a broccoli-monster attacked your crew but, forsaking all thought of personal safety, you leapt at it armed only with an osteo-knife?
That was a different time, and I wasn’t killed. Eh, Mick? My pint?
Oh Jesus, Bock, sorry. He reached over the foaming tankard and wiped his hand on his grimy vest.
Mick, I said, after flinging back the pint. You’re looking depressed. You’re looking worse than you did when your team lost the inter-pub over-seventies lap-dancing competition.
Bombay Mick sighed. My poor mother was very disappointed after all the training. But that’s not what’s worrying me, Bock. The Police were here last night. Really worked me over.
The cops? I was shocked. But I thought you paid the Chief of Police a gigantic sum every week to keep them off your back?
Mick waved my words away with a contemptuous scowl. Pah! he spat. Not the cops. I mean the Police.
You don’t mean – I started.
That’s exactly what I mean, nodded Bombay Mick. The Thought Police.
Oh no. What was it?
The name, he said. They don’t like my name.
What? But it’s your name.
Maybe, he said, but they don’t want anyone calling themselves “Bombay”.
So what can you call yourself?
He shrugged. Mumbai Mike. They don’t like “Mick” either.
That’s terrible, I sympathised.
It is, he agreed, but I feel sorry for the other bar-owners.
Indeed, I nodded. Peking Doc for instance.
Exactly, he said. And then there’s Dirty Dick.
Oh God, I groaned.
The list goes on, Bombay Mick handed me another foaming tankard of ale. We had a couple of nuns in here this afternoon collecting for Mother Teresa of Kolkata. Nobody would give them a penny.
I was a bit hungry. Come on Mick, I said, I’ll buy you dinner. Do you remember that place we used to eat – the one that did that great chicken Madras?
You mean Chicken Chennai, don’t you? Police tore them up this morning.
God, I said. What next? The Torino Shroud? Firenze Nightingale? Eau de Köln?
Mumbai Mike looked at me as if I’d gone mad.
Ah come on now, Bock. They’re not Asian cities. Why would the Thought Police be interested in them?