The last second of the last minute of the last hour...

The last second of the last minute of the last hour…

Sean Finnegan followed the markets, trying to make money from outpacing the spread of information. And he had, as his father would say,
the willies about the decision that he was about to make. One click, one move of his nervous fat finger on the triggering mouse and something would happen: good if the time was ripe, bad if the time was mistaken. This was the multi-million dollar trade to end all multi-million dollar trades, the trade that would save Sean’s forty nine year old life. Or not.

He once had a mirror in his hallway, a previous tenant’s leftover contribution to the apartment’s
fung shui, but somehow it had dropped from the softening plaster of the mildewed wall, shattering into multiple universes. He never got around to replacing it. So the last image he had had of himself was somewhat fractured, and he had no idea how he really looked at this moment. He suspected that was a good thing. As it was, he assumed his beard was fashionable, unlike his father’s. His tattoo was cool. He had contemplated having a neck tattoo, but stayed content with a Maori bicep sleeve. He knew his suit was expensive and that his Eurasian disposition was exotic and enticing, so that was a plus. He could easily glad-hand his way around his world speaking a breezy Cantonese, conversing in tales of where to find good bean sprouts, fresh fish, designer rip-off produce, and cheap parking. Though he was also snugly within the ex-pat world, chasing mythical fashion models, always Russian. The “Models” stopped off in Hong Kong before crossing the border into Shenzhen for “fashion shoots”, and were always to be found on model night at “Dragon I”, or some other brain-thumping club, happy to be plied with champagne, always with a sad lost girl story and brazen ambitions. Sean did his serious business in English, more or less, but business and pleasure all ran into one with entertainment and clients and so time passed. His hair slipped from his head to his chin. His belts got tighter; his longings less erotic and more sentimental.
He had only intended to be in Hong Kong for two years. And after twenty years it still seemed as if he had been there for two. Despite his mother-tongue Cantonese, he felt that he had never penetrated beyond the surface. But then, was there anything beneath the surface? He felt that there was something if one just looked a little deeper into the seductive gaze of Hong Kong. But every seductive gaze he looked into wanted at best little more than a swipe of his credit card, and at worst, the surrender of his dignity. The two-dimensional world of small shouted talk in thumping clubs, of business whispers, of flash and fabulous, of pot-noodles, long nights, and misplaced trust, he considered to be no more real than the information on the computer screens that ruled his life. And so he had the willies, as his father said he would.

“Didn’t I tell you? You get in,” repeated his father, “you work like feck for five years and you grab as much money as you can and then you get the feck out and never talk to the natives because that is fatal as they are under orders of the Chinese Emperor to snare you and enrich the gene pool of the Empire after which they’ll just suck everything out of you and leave you a shadow of your former self.”
“Is that what you tell my mother, you old bastard?”
“She’s done a number on me all right! Just look at the state I’m in.”
“You’re eighty fucking six, what do you expect?”
“I wasn’t eighty fecking six until after I met her! Let that be a lesson. You’re twenty fecking two until they get their teeth into you and then whoosh, you’re eighty fecking six and the highlight of your day is an anal suppository!”
“Well I’m forty-nine. They’ve missed their chance.”
“Forty fecking nine!!! You never used to be until you went

Thus typically went the Skype call from the other world, managed by an aged father, who knew the time zones but never the time that his son was on. He used to call Sean to extol the virtues of the bog, the backwater, the Irish suburbanites, because at least it had the pleasure of open steamy chatter rather than the guarded calculations of office-political Chinese. In the bars of the Celtic twilight, Finnegan the elder sang the songs, wondered the what-ifs and rattled with the readings of the news from the London Paddies and the Boston Micks, the news behind the news, views and opinions and gobshite of all manner of matters about the Celtic dragon and international financial shenanigans. And despite Finnegan senior, ex-expat late of Hong Kong, missing the idea of the Hong Kong anthill and its busy Hong Kong dream, he knew it was a sinkhole and that it must be killing his son because it sure as hell had all but killed him, and now his talk was but a distraction from the inevitable.

“Have you been paid yet?” yelled his father, iPad in trembling hand, propped up with the pillows of the bed his wife had moved into the living room, “Get the fecking money up front because the feckers never honour their fecking contracts! Hong Kong, the land of liars, the land of nobody somebodies, everyone an Emperor, like everyone is a king of Ireland in every bar in Dublin, only the difference is, in Hong Kong they don’t know that they’re full of shite, don’t know the day they were born, don’t know nothing! Hong Kong, the ever promising, always disappointing, neither one thing nor another! Hong Kong the…”
“Shut the feck up, you racist old fecker,” said Sean, as he always said to his father’s outbursts, their version of a good hug.

His father claimed the right to say whatever he liked about Hong Kong and the Chinese, having been married to a Hong Kong Chinese for sixty years and having lived in Hong Kong for fifteen. His wife, he complained frequently, was driving him round the toot and down the drain with her nagging, forgetting that he was a sick man and could not do anything anymore, not that he ever did wash the dishes, do the laundry or cook the meals.
Then it was the mother’s turn, though rarely in frame, and shouting:
“Do you hear me!”
“Yes, I do!”
“Are you there?”
“You’ve muted the sound you daft old woman!”
“I can’t see you.”
“You’ve now turned the camera off!”

When she did manage to hit the correct icon, she always had a list of food Sean had to send to her because she was sick of fecking potatoes, her Irish accent worse than his fathers now, but she held onto the idea that somewhere in Hong Kong lurked a million relatives all willing to feed the struggling son who never found a decent woman, never bought the Mercedes, was always on the brink of something big that probably was never there in the first place.

“So I sees with me own eyes,” she would say in one of her mystical reveries, “this man who lives on fresh air and eats nothing. He lives in the fourth dimension but his body sleeps in ours and we are his dream. He tells me that he is dreaming something better for you...”
“Ya stupid old bat, yer just remembering that stuffed crazy monk in Shatin you took me to as a boy. And you never met him beyond seeing him stuffed and displayed in a glass case guarded by monkeys!”

Sean knew it was no use arguing with his mother’s visions, especially not her visions of the stuffed Reverend Yuet Kai of the Ten Thousand Buddha Temple with his indestructible diamond body and a soul in the Happy Land that his mother believed in, the land that his father was getting ready for.

So there was to be no more hesitation. If he wanted to get to see his father before he died, Sean had to finish the job and hit the button, right before the clock ticked the last second of the last minute of the last hour of the day, as one market closed and another opened. This trade would hide all the bad trades he had made and restore order to the universe. If he did not go all in, or if it went wrong, then all would collapse, millions would lose their will to live, and he would go down into the depths of Chinese Hell where he would be sawn in two forever, or at least down into the depths of Delaney’s Irish Pub where the Guinness would drown out the clamour of his Irish soul as he awaited the Chinese arrest warrants to be handed out. Forgive me Irish father, for I have drank! Hail Chinese mother, full of rice! On the other hand, if he did nothing, life might well go on as usual and nobody would be any the wiser for at least another ten years by which time he might have to run for cover and leave the mess of his accounts for others to lose sleep over, like father like son like the holy…

“I told you not to stay in Hong Kong too long!” said his ever Skyping father.
“You told me not to come back to Hong Kong at all!”
“Hong Kong eats time and sucks the life out of you. It’s like a flash flood. It rushes along the ground through your legs and sweeps you off your feet down a great storm drain along with all the dead cats, pot-noodle cups and missed opportunities! Don’t be a chink all your life!”
“Sure dad.”
“I’m telling you this to rescue you! That’s the least I can do.”
“And the least is all you ever wanted for me!”

The Chinese side of Sean’s DNA had been far more fashionable than the Irish. He had wanted to be in touch with his roots: soy sauce roots that somehow called far more insistently than those of the bog. The very white Irish were not the future, so the economic miracle story had gone, and the Chinese numbers impressed, the billion or so, the massive inevitability of the waking giant. And numbers never lied. And he, he had been certain, would be subsumed, embraced, and be among the Hong Kong Chinese poised to take over China. Except his taste was for blondes, and not the Cantonese. Especially her who shall remain nameless and unpronounceable, who set to haranguing him once too often, believing that he had betrayed her, despite his having a business agreement all ready. Business and friendship never go together, and doubly so with Russians, apparently. And disheartened, he had simply got up and walked away, trembling, saddened that she would think such a thing of him. And she had charged forward screaming, “No-one walks out on me!” brandishing a plastic bottle of Pocari Sweat! He had not realized he was walking out, but after that scary incident he discovered he had. He could barely think. He could barely move. He could not sleep. And she became Hong Kong, or at least the filter through which he now saw it.

“I’m a dying swan,” said his father, “All bad-tempered grace above the waterline but feeling each submerged part packing it in and calling it a day like a bunch of Irish builders downing tools!”
“I can’t even begin to analyse the mixture of metaphors you mangled then.”
“I’m an old man and if that doesn’t give me a right to mix my metaphors like that sainted lunatic James Joyce, I don’t know what does.”
“Well mixing and muddling are probably two different things.”

Sean knew he should be in Dublin, engaging in the process, engaging in his father’s literary excursions, but the timing was wrong and timing is everything and he had this deal.
“Tell me what I should do dad?”
“You have to make your move when you’ve a move to make, son! Just
make sure you haven’t been fed another piece of shite from some half-baked, stuffed
feng shui Happy Lander!”

And what if he ignored his father and went to Dublin? The only thing keeping him in Hong Kong was the deadly deed of a deal, the leap of faith. But he imagined he would hang around bored, waiting, pretending not to be there for the last dying moment, cheerfully chatting about trying to clear up his father’s e-mail virus. He would be of no comfort. And what if it was not the very last moment? How long could he wait only to find on arrival back in Hong Kong that the old fucker had inconveniently died the moment he buggered off? He would have to fork out another fortune on airfares just to listen to his mother griping about the outrageous cost of funerals and the patronizing arrogance of Jesuitical in-laws regarding Buddhist rites.
The blue screens of Sean’s world showed him the numbers, arrayed in fancy infographics, bending lines, swirling circles, jagged ups and downs of trading moments on time-lines that exploded into three dimensional diagrams adding further flavour to the facts that drove decisions: a map of the fear, greed and ignorance that supported everything in Hong Kong. But Sean sensed that all was not as it seemed, all was not as factual as the numbers and profiles and reports indicated. Hong Kong’s whisperings had fed him with rumours that miraculously coincided with sudden jumps of prices that shoveled money from one mug’s pocket to another’s. Commissions and investigations never dulled the suspicion that all was a matter of politics, personality and manipulations, and never rationality. An occasional incarcerated official merely created the illusion that the market was fair and bribery was not tolerated. Sean tried to convince himself that knowing the game was akin to not being the mug punter who always loses out to these crooks. He was certain that this time he was on the right side of the fix, and certainly the right side of many cups of black coffee. He was wired and ready, willies or not!

“I thought I’d grow a beard,” his father had said when Sean, in his last Skype call, mentioned once again how he should perhaps fly back to Dublin.
“Is that what you’re calling that grizzly stubble,” said Sean, “It’s not exactly hipster chic now, is it? Unless you’re going for the full badass look, so I’d recommend adding a neck tattoo and a nose stud…”
“They’re all fucking crooks,” warned his father yet again.
“Who are?”
“Whoever you think you’ve got this deal with.”

Many years before, his father had escaped Hong Kong and kept a low profile in case they, whoever they were, they who shall remain nameless, came after him for some fantasy obligation.

“They never let you off the hook,” said his father, hinting at the story he wanted to tell his son about but never thought he could in case it got back to his wife, or incriminated his son in some way.

There were rumours of a gun going off, of a hasty flight laden with nothing but eleven-year-old Sean, mother, and the credit cards. It had been an interesting drop of colour in the background of Sean’s early life. But Sean never believed his father’s fantasy of long-term grudges still playing out forty years later, in cold blood, over minor disputes. But he understood his caution and suspicion about the unique ability of Hong Kong to suck moral qualms out of people. If he can get away with it, went the envious mind of poker-faced Hong Kong, then why not me? If that government official can ignore government planning regulations and pocket a few million, then why not me? If my boss can lie to his customers, then why can’t I lie to my boss? And if I can’t get my revenge on that gweilo shite who ran for cover all those years ago, then why not screw the devil spawn he left behind? Revenge was the only theme of Hong Kong movies, and so maybe his father’s willies were justified. Which gave Sean even greater willies!
Time for Sean was ticking. And years of girls, booze and health binges, years of jogging in the heat, of taekwondo with ripped goddesses, of blubbery spa treatments and detoxes, of beery misery as yet another pretty girl turned out to be crazy as hell, shouting, kicking, hurling abuse all over the internet about his lying cheating half-baked Irish ways. He did sometimes try Chinese girls, but he discovered them to be a world of pain with debt-ridden brothers, suicidal mothers, cancerous aunts all demanding free rides to the airport and donations for extraneous expenses owed to rapacious
feng shui masters determined to get paid for the installation of goldfish in auspicious places. But most were crazy Europeans escaping from mysterious contractual obligations, debts, and controlling sociopathic boyfriends back home, pregnant with abortions, redolent with HPV, neurotic about gluten, and hot as hell, talented as the greatest star, but somehow on the run and in need of protection, loans, the right man, independence, all the above or none, and driving him on to get the deal that would enable him to afford the one, or the many, he loved, or was just infatuated with… Like Hong Kong itself!

“You still fucking wannabe movie actresses?” asked his father, “you
must be fecking crazy! They are all as daft as brushes and if they were so good, what the feck are they doing in a shitehole like Hong Kong when they could be on their back in a shitehole like Hollywood where they might actually score a Jew producer who could stick them in some eejit horror movie where they scream their tits off and get some money in the bank?”
“What an old-fashioned romantic you are.”
“You want to give up this bedroom parade of movie bit part players, models, PR Girls, MCs, singers. They’ll break you heart and I can tell you, it never mends.”

Sean was tortured, as much by his father’s cynicism proving to be right, as he was by any woman. He once consulted a life coach and she said that all these women must have represented some dream, some need, some existential space he had that needed filling. He had no idea what that could be, but right now he felt that real life, the life he should have - the great dream, the ambition - was being lived by someone else, on some other plane of existence, a second ahead of him, with him running behind trying to grasp the receding baton. He was halfway through his life, half dead, half alone, half inundated with far too many people, half Irish, half Chinese! He would have liked to say wholly Hong Kong! Wholly something anyway, except that only happens when you are wholly dead.

“You should go see the Reverend”, said his mother. “He will speak to you.”
“He’s fecking dead Ma. He’s been stuffed for as long as I can remember and probably you can too.”
“He’s just sleeping, but he can see into your mind.”
“And what fecking good is that going to do either of us?”
“He will make you a whole person.”

“Don’t muck about Sean, we know what you’re all about,” said Buck Wong, Steve Ng, and Leo Chan, in Delaney’s Irish bar, the others who, like him, worked the screens, packaged the derivatives, crunched the numbers.
“I am about trust, honesty, about doing the decently honorable thing!”
“Yeah yeah yeah, you never lie; you are the one honest person in this one horse town. Sure sure Sean!”

They knew that Sean’s problem was love, despite Sean shaking his head over the Guinness, still feeling sick to his stomach about her whose name he could not bare to utter, and had never learned to pronounce anyway. Love, they told him, was dangerous and destructive, a weakness to be exploited and they, women in general, Hong Kong women in particular, always are users with ulterior motives, especially with regards to a man like Sean, the self-styled honest one, the discrete, the broker of much use.
“Just pretend to do the favour and fuck them,” said the boys, all Chinese Americans from San Francisco. “Fuck’em. Chuck’em, next one please!”

Was it too late? With his finger poised in the last seconds before midnight, he wished to emerge from living in a tunnel moving from air-conditioned unit, to air-conditioned terminal, barely ever touching dirt or grass or seeing clouds and stars. He wanted to emerge from this cold heat. But life was in the numbers on the screen. They filled his head, even when swigging back indifferent cocktails made by dimwitted alcohol intolerant barmen; even when being pawed by the monkey girls of the bars, saying how handsome he was and how much fun he was. He withstood all this as he plied clients and associates with his expertise, rooting out their knowledge, so that he could stare into the screens and see the real world where he, and he alone, had insight into heartless reality, like a clear view of the harbour from the Peak.... But the clouds… But… the clouds… fogged his vision, with the memory of the look, of something she said, half true, and was there anything really there anyway, anything in those startled cold blue eyes, in that toss of bleached hair, in that hand gesture, tone of voice, incessant texts of winky smiley suggestive nonsense? Very Hong Kong! Very not Hong Kong! An idiotic relationship that adults, real adults, those who had grown up, would not have let themselves into. Forty-nine years old and he was still that stupid! Thinking he could save her, he could get her a real contract, he could make the power plays he boasted he could make. He promised and was in the process of delivering but she lost it, lost faith, lost trust. He had loved Hong Kong but now, she had gone crazy, and she had never loved him and never loved anyone. Hence every Hong Kongers’ getaway plans; hence their double passports; hence their half and half households; hence all the overseas property holdings; hence all the… muddle!

Sean wondered if he had become like all the other ignorant fucks in Hong Kong? He dithered, talked too much, took pointless lunch meetings, made vague suggestions and promises, and changed his mind until at the last second of the last minute of the last hour of the day someone else cracked and took on all the responsibility and risk, and he went for the ride.
Trust me, he could hear himself saying. Trust me! But should anyone trust him? Should he even trust himself?

“Ah, yer just another white man lost in Asia!” Said his father, “Yer should cut your losses and find yerself some fat Irish widow with a pub.”
“Don’t listen to yer fuckwit father,” said his mother, “you’re Chinese now and your mandarin is coming along just fine! That’s the future! Right there!”

His mother believed all the failed triers of the world end up in Happy Land so that they don’t have to try so hard to get fit for higher-level reincarnations. The point was that they tried and trying has its own reward. And so she insisted on sticking Buddha on the Christmas tree to cover all odds, and Sean recalled her taking him to see the Reverend instead of Santa one year.
Counting the seconds until the appointed time of the trade, Sean flipped through his hard drive of childhood photos of dark and rank temples. He came to the conclusion that his mother’s enlightenment was nonsense and that spirituality was meaningless. He had faith in the numbers.
Go on, he said to himself, roll the dice, play the cards, back the horse, and beat the house! What does a Macanese Casino owner know about your system, your special insight, your secret way of beating the odds and running off with the bank? They know nothing. For them it’s just the numbers working out, but for you, you are in tune with the universe and can shape it to your will… One more coffee and he was pepped and ready.

On the phone to New York he knew the guys at that end were on amphetamines of some sort. They gabbled excitedly. But in LA, he knew the guys were stoned on medicinal marijuana, giggling. And he had no idea what the guys in Mumbai were on, but whatever it was, it was toxic because every single deal they offered was offered on the basis of personal friendships with none other than the Prime Ministers’ wife’s brother, who knew a thing or two. All of them missed the times of their scheduled communications but swore they did not, which was more an indication of the special time that Hong Kong inhabited. But this knowledge, this understanding of others failings, this insight into the physics of Hong Kong, should, he thought, increase the profit of the coming transaction. This time, they were the suckers, not him.

On the other hand, was he just another schmuck stuck in a bottle, sucking up the increasingly polluted air, standing on the backs of turtles in a green slimy pond, deluded into thinking enlightenment was in his mind and action was in his finger tips and for a moment the Universe was aligning to bring him the one thing that had eluded him?

Sean was getting desperate. The time warp of Hong Kong had him trapped in his twenties even though he was on the cusp of fifty! Every so often he would see a tweet, a Facebook posting of this paunchy bald guy with a grey beard posing beside some gorgeous twenty something whom he loved, as he loved them all, with passion, with purity, with respect and hope, and whom he hoped loved him, were amused by him, were pleasured and pleased to have met him, at least before they decided to try and kill him. They remained the same and he became older, fatter, and his charm less and less his own and more and more borrowed from some younger chap he once knew. And if he woke from this frozen moment, it really would be the last second of the last minute of the last hour of the last day of the last breath. And he, frozen in Hong Kong’s choking haze, was trapped in the moves of yesteryear, charming, gentlemanly maybe, though interpreted by the nameless one as what? As the moves of the typical ex-pat boozer he had always despised and deliberately tried not to be? How many multiple levels of misunderstanding, of cultural mismatching, of generational gaps, can there be? He was truly a Hong Konger, one foot in, one foot out, dreaming the dream but now the horrors were hitting him: the willies! He realized he had been asleep, dreaming his life away without realizing anything tangible, especially when he knew the numbers, saw them, acted upon them, eked out an existence that he was sure was the envy of many… All fake! All pretend! Life was elsewhere! Life was ending! Life was… Ah, shite! He was turning into his paranoid fecking father!

Poised with his finger, staring at the screen, the clock frozen and Sean wondering if the computer had frozen. Now that would be a fine thing, to have all this work, all this build up, all the homework and experience that went into this moment of the dead-cert trade of a life time that could cover up all the debts, the billions of debts and at least fulfill the one promise he had really made.
And if he makes the play, will that one, the name he dare not mention, the thought he dare not have, the one with power over him, the one who no doubt has long forgotten him, and only vaguely recalls some skinny guy and not this fat old fucker, will she believe him this time, will she finally understand that these things take time and he was not all just so much bullshit, that he meant it? Or did she drive him away because he did mean it?
It gave him the willies when his mind raced like that: his mindless mind. Of all the things that he had lost, the one thing he missed most was his mind.

“Had a bit of a fainting fit the other day, nothing to worry about. Stood
up too quick. I’m going to sit the feck down from now on. Especially now we’ve got that Netflix. Not that there’s any fecking thing on it that I give a shit about. But it keeps your mother quiet. She’s driving me round the toot with her incessant wittering, so she is.”
“What the feck were you doing standing up anyway? Aren’t you supposed to be resting?”
“Call this fecking resting? This is just hanging on, waiting for you to pull your finger out your arse!”

Sean should have taken that plane ride back to Dublin because even if this trade works, then so what? He gets a bit of money? Doesn’t end up worrying that some day some one will come for revenge or payment? What does any of that matter at the end of a life? And will it improve his own? Will it give him anything like the prestige, the love, the escape from the Hong Kong bubble? What does that mean? The last second of the twenty-third hour was lasting a lifetime. The story created from this moment before extinction is the life one leads, one thinks one leads, and every decision is made, every possible decision at every turning point, creates many universes, and every person exists only at the end moment and picks and chooses their story, picks and chooses it from the Happy Land where the Reverend no longer sits frozen, painted gold, with a slightly surprised expression…

Of course nobody can pick and choose any damned story, because they never really
make a decision, and life is determined by other people’s choices, or failed choices, and luck. But the numbers always pan out. The percentages always work out. His second, his last second was there, frozen, like the information on the event horizon of a black hole…

And the Skype call began to play its mournful siren to bring news from home, to bring a last word, the last piece of information.

Fuck it, he thought, and he hit the mouse, and waited for the dice to roll.