Claire Tham


an excerpt from The Inlet

THE early morning sky was overcast. Clumps of furry, shirred clouds, resembling nothing so much as fields of dead grey mice, hung low over the horizon. Grey mouse day. Ordinarily, Assistant Superintendent Wong Cheung Fai liked grey mouse days, with the sun veiled and the cool air against the skin. But not today.

He’d broken into a run as he crossed the lawn towards the swimming pool and now he skidded to a halt by a deckchair and gazed down at the body of the young woman floating face-down in the pool. She was naked, probably East Asian from her skin tone, her long black hair fanning out in a peacock’s train across her upper back. Shapely, too: he observed, with not entirely professional detachment, the slim torso, the long, toned legs. Upright, she must have cut a willowy figure of about five feet ten or more. So different from the short, wiry compactness of his wife and yet, there was something oddly familiar about the girl’s body that he was unable to place immediately. Curling over her left shoulder was a small, iridescent dragonfly tattoo. She bobbed, gently, just below the water surface; she might have been sleeping.

A slight breeze stirred the surface of the pool and the girl’s hair rippled. For a moment, it seemed as though she would lift her head and rise up out of the water, and Cheung Fai heard a sharp intake of breath – his own – before the realisation that it was only a trick of the wind.

He was certain of one thing – she had not been in the water long. With a sudden recoil, he remembered the last dead body he’d seen pulled from the sea, its strange, tubular buoyancy, its bluish-sausage skin. That person had been missing for a week.

Dead grey mice, blue sausages…he shook his head. The morning had a hallucinatory tinge, the result, no doubt, of drinking beer and watching football till two in the morning and missing his morning coffee rushing down to the scene. He felt like someone walking from a lobotomy. Cigarette. He needed a nicotine rush, badly, and his hand strayed unthinkingly to his back pocket before he brought it firmly back.

He was wasting precious time. Focus.

He glanced round at the Indian kid from next door who’d made the call to the police. Teenage girl, skinny in that adolescent, gangly way when they seem to be all limbs; he could see the nervous excitement in her wide, dilated pupils. A greying Labrador sat on its haunches next to her, still and solemn, as though he too recognised the gravity of the situation. Cheung Fai told the girl to go home and gave her short shrift when she tried to protest: the last thing he wanted was some kid taking pictures on her handphone of the body and posting it all over her Facebook account. 

When she was gone, he turned to Staff Sergeant Fazil, the first to arrive at the scene. “Let’s get her out. Now.”

© Ethos Books

by Claire Tham
from The Inlet (2013)
published by Ethos Books