The Spy Who Loved Wanton Mee
John Black liked a good breakfast before wetwork. A frosty pitcher of orange juice, custardy scrambled eggs with the slightest hint of creme fraiche, and rashers of hickory-smoked bacon with a crisp triangle of toast to top it off. Those simple luxuries made even the most banal of assassinations seem worthwhile.
The Kong Kong Chit Coffeeshop near Ayer Rajah Crescent had two choices for breakfast: burnt toast with coconut jam made by Auntie Lucy, a disgruntled old lady who also ran the drink stall, or whatever was on the menu at Hercules Roast Delights.
The lack of a proper breakfast was mostly Agent Eleven’s fault. Agent Eleven had defected to SHADOW a month ago, announcing his change of heart with the assassination of two inactive agents in Mumbai, followed by an EMP bomb at Control’s London headquarters. He had recently been sighted in the company of Adenine Chan, the young head of DNA-sequencing startup 44and2.
Black took a moment to glare at the 44and2 sign that hung across the road from the coffeeshop. His task was simple—eliminate Eleven, no collateral damage, keep a low profile otherwise. Singapore’s Internal Security Department had expressed their stern disapproval of what they termed “spy theatrics,” which was why Black’s Control-issued wardrobe kit had come with three pairs of Topman cargo shorts, five souvenir T-shirts from various Asian tourist destinations, and one set of Rip Curl flip-flops. The two-star hotel he was staying at didn't even have room service.
Still no sign of Eleven. Surveillance reports indicated he generally met Adenine in the late morning. Black found himself wishing that Quartermaster Division had perfected its long-range assassination drone, or that Control had permitted the use of firearms in urban areas.
Black decided to order brunch. Hercules Roast Delights had no photographs of its titular delights, but the stallfront was plastered with newspaper articles proclaiming that Hercules Leow was "Singapore's next big hawker hunk". This unknown quantity seemed preferable to Auntie Lucy's toast. Black cleared his throat, and Hercules Leow turned around.
Hercules looked to be in his mid-twenties. His hair was very black and he wore it short and spiked, emphasising the chiselled line of his jaw and the bare nape of his neck. His eyes were the deep brown of bittersweet chocolate, and his lips were sensual and lush. His tank top was of sky-blue Dri-Fit material, with the words "Standard Chartered Marathon 2013 Finisher" stretched tight across his well-developed pectoral muscles. The hemline of his dark blue FBT shorts was halfway up his thigh, flaunting the taut muscles of his fine legs.
"Today only got wanton mee." Hercules wiped his hands on a thin towel, and tapped the laminated menu card. His fingernails were short and unmanicured, and his left wrist was encircled by the black plastic of a Casio AE-1300WH Illuminator. "You want or not?"
"What is that?" Black’s knowledge of Singaporean food was limited to haute cuisine at Marina Bay Sands.
"Wah, uncle, like that you also dunno ah. Wanton is you take the dumpling wrapper, you put minced pork, then you eat with noodles and char siew. Char siew is barbecue pork."
Black gave Hercules his most condescending gaze. "In Britain, we call it wonton noodles with an O. Wanton means sexually immodest—hardly a thing to call a dish, is it?"
"Eh, hello uncle, here is Singapore, not UK," Hercules said. "Here wanton is wanton. You want dry or wet?" He studied Black, then continued. "Dry is soup separate, wet got special soup. Chilli or no chilli?"
Black reached for his wallet. "Dry. With chilli."
“You pay now, I bring later.”
Black glanced at the entrance to Adenine Chan's office. No sign of Eleven, and no sign of Adenine. This brief reverie was interrupted by Hercules unceremoniously slamming the plastic tray of food down in front of Black.
Black picked up his chopsticks and gingerly took a bite of the noodles. They were al dente, soaked in a spicy red-black sauce with a hint of vinegar. He sampled a slice of char siew, and its crunchy sweet glazed exterior gave way to tender, well-marbled flesh—probably the collar of the pig. The soup, a clear chicken broth with spring onions, offset the spiciness of the sauce and the rich char siew. There were wantons floating inside it. Black took a bite, and was rewarded with the smooth sensation of silky dough, giving way to a mixture of shrimp, tender pork, and sweet water chestnuts. He made quick work of his brunch, and sat at the formica table, feeling very content with the world.
Perhaps this mission wasn't entirely bad.
Black clicked past a rerun of Makansutra and paired his device to the hotel room’s flickering LCD screen, reviewing the surveillance footage. Eleven spent most of his time dining at the Raffles Hotel or gambling at Marina Bay Sands with SHADOW’s third-in-command, the beautiful Lingling Qi, on his arm. His nights were spent at a luxurious SHADOW-owned penthouse in Orchard Road.
All the footage pointed to three conclusions:
One: Eleven’s life consisted of eating overpriced food, drinking overly-elaborate drinks, and flirting ineffectually with women, sometimes all at once.
Two: The best place to eliminate Eleven without immediate discovery would be in the vicinity of Ayer Rajah Crescent.
Three: Killing Eleven would also eliminate the need to watch any more of this incredibly boring footage.
Black delinked his device and sprawled back on his hotel bed. He stared at the ceiling, listening to the whirr of the faulty air-conditioning and K F Seetoh telling him about Singapore’s number one noodles which were definitely die die must try, and drifted off to sleep fantasising about the way that the water chestnuts in Hercules’ wantons crunched beneath his teeth.
The rain was pouring outside and there was no sign of Eleven. However, the rich smell of chicken permeating the coffeeshop meant that Hercules had made his special soup—did the man ever have time to sleep?
"Uncle, you want wanton soup or not? Today rain, eat hot food damn shiok!"
Black racked his brain for an appropriate response.
Hercules beamed, showing his perfect teeth. He placed a large, steaming green plastic bowl onto Black’s table. “You pay me later also can.”
Black’s chopsticks found a wanton, its skin made even silkier by the chicken broth, shimmering in the fluorescent light. Black bit into it—as usual, it was perfect. The deep yellow noodles were just the right width to complement the soup, and the green stems of bok choy were cooked to perfection. Chopped coriander leaves and the green parts of scallions floated on top of the soup, together with a smattering of thinly-sliced onion, giving the dish a fresh, herbal flavour. The pork belly char siew, seasoned with honey and five-spice powder, was so butter-soft that it gave way beneath his chopsticks and melted in his mouth. The soup was different from the one Hercules served with dry wanton—not clear but thick and milky. Every sip warmed his body from the inside out.
Black sipped his soup, focused his Quartermaster Division contact lenses on 44and2’s door, and blinked thrice. The zoom and noise elimination did their work, seeing through the curtain of rain and highlighting the fact that no one was actually in the office.
A woman's voice rang out from behind him. "Excuse me, can I sit here? Every other table's taken."
"Go ahead," Black said, turning off the zoom. He turned around to face Adenine Chan.
Adenine had a slim, boyish figure, and was wearing a baggy black T-shirt with "Biologists Take Cellfies" printed on it in fluorescent green. Her legs were enveloped in baggy Giordano jeans. She had short, messy black hair and large thick-framed glasses, which did nothing to divert attention from the acne scars on her cheeks.
She set two cans of Coke down on the table and slammed them back, one after the other.
"Adenine! Hello!" Hercules approached their table, beaming.
"Hey Herc." Adenine waved. "Sorry I haven't been around."
"No problem, I know you are busy with your handsome ang moh."
Adenine rolled her eyes. "Don't tell anyone, but I'm freaking sick of him—he's my primary investor, but he is so kaypoh. He keeps visiting to ask me questions every day! Super-annoying!" She kicked the table’s metal support. Black’s bowl shook, and he steadied it with his hand.
Hercules clapped Adenine on the back. "Handsome man want to know about you, you complain for what?"
"His questions aren't even relevant." Adenine kicked the table harder. "He keeps asking me about this stupid thing I researched in uni! It's got nothing to do with the startup, I just did it for fun—and you know the worst part, Herc?"
"What?" Hercules leaned in closer to Adenine. Black blinked again, zooming in to admire Hercules' thick black eyelashes.
"I thought I had a break from him today, but he just called me. He's coming here to ask me more questions at seven! It's Friday! Everyone's leaving early except me!" Adenine slammed her head on the table and wailed in despair. Hercules patted her on the back.
Black tilted the bowl to get the last dregs of the rich chicken broth. He slid his hand down the side pockets of his cargo shorts, patting them to check on the status of his weapons.
Five hours remained till seven pm. If it was a clean kill, he could even come back for dinner—Hercules served his crispy roast duck only for the evening crowd.
After twenty minutes of talking to Adenine, Eleven generally visited the nearby toilet to check his hair and suit. Fastidiousness was a trait of most Agents.
The toilet door opened, and Black was waiting behind it. He flicked the light switch off, simultaneously sweeping Eleven's feet from under him with a powerful kick. Black changed his contact lenses to their night vision mode, filling his vision with green, and locked his ceramic switchblade, getting ready for the kill.
Naturally, the fall wasn't enough to disable Eleven. He pulled out his Walther PPK, aiming in Black's direction. Black kicked it out of his hand, sending it skittering across the floor. Just as he was about to kick Eleven in the head, Eleven seized his leg, dragging him down to the dirty tiles. He straddled Black, getting into position for a kata-gatame, a classic judo ground-grappling move. The ceramic switchblade clattered to the ground.
Before Eleven could complete the choke, Black pulled another knife out from the side pocket of his cargo shorts and drove it straight into Eleven's back. Eleven’s hold loosened as he jerked back in shock. Black pulled the knife out and viciously stabbed Eleven in the side of his neck, moving the knife around to increase the damage. Blood spurted out of Eleven's severed jugular vein. He gasped for air, then went limp.
After checking Eleven's pulse, Black turned off the night-vision lenses and switched the lights on again. Eleven's blue-grey eyes stared blankly up at the ceiling, and his cruelly handsome features were slack. His dark blue tropical-worsted suit was damp with toilet water, and his blue-and-white honeycomb tie had turned maroon-black from blood.
Black looked at himself in the mirror. His "Welcome to Phuket" T-shirt was beyond salvation, but his black cargo shorts were still wearable. He turned the spigot, turning the attached hose on, and sprayed his battered sneakers. After some thought, he took the T-shirt off and splashed some water on his bare chest, cleaning off the drying bloodstains.
Black pulled out his phone and dialed. "Control? Eleven's been eliminated. I need cleanup. Men’s toilet nearest the carpark, Ayer Rajah Crescent." He paused. "And if you have Eleven's voiceprint on file, call Adenine Chan. Tell her that he had urgent business."
He tossed the bloodstained T-shirt on Eleven's face and left the toilet, locking the door behind him.
The Valustar Hotel was a five-minute jog away. Black's pretense of having gone out for a shirtless jog was unnecessary, as no one was at the reception counter to greet him.
Back in his cramped room, Black took a shower that alternated between hot, cold, and lukewarm, changed into his "Singapore: A Fine City" T-shirt and a pair of chino-style Bermuda shorts, and sat on the bed, thinking.
Someone knocked on the door. "Room service!"
Black checked the peephole. Hercules Chan stood outside, in an olive-green Army singlet and tight black skinny jeans.
Black opened the door.
"Congratulations, Agent," Hercules said, grinning. "I almost thought I'd have to kill Eleven myself." He held up a plastic bag full of food containers that smelled tantalisingly like roast meat. "I brought dinner. Can I come in?"
Black seized the plastic bag. Hercules strode inside the room, clearing a space on the dressing table. He had brought every manner of roasted delight from his stall, including some that Black had never seen on the menu.
Hercules spread the styrofoam containers out, drizzling sauces as he went along. He opened a container of what looked like stewed pork belly. "Sousvided, then blowtorched for that aburi effect—most of the fat got rendered out, but I added some to the soy-ginger reduction so you get all of the pork flavour. Oh, try the roast duck, I just made it. And I did kind of a Gobi Manchurian thing, but with wanton—"
Black forced himself to tear his eyes away from the food. "Which agency?"
"ISD. I'm their liaison with all the snobbish atas spies from all over the globe. Damn irritating. At least you're different."
Black picked up a piece of crisp roast duck and dipped it into the hoisin sauce. He took a bite, and made a muffled appreciative sound. "I'm also an...'atas' spy, lah."
"Come on man, look at your T-shirt. Also, it should be 'leh', but you're new so I'll forgive you."
"Did Control send you here?"
"Nah," Hercules said, "We were supposed to meet face-to-face at the ISD tomorrow. You'd be shocked I was a Singaporean spy all along, etcetera. Anyway, SHADOW still wants Adenine's data, and since you've proven yourself reliable, well...you might find yourself with a new mission. Possibly involving the elimination of Lingling Qi."
"And a Singaporean partner?"
"Perhaps," Hercules said. He hitched his tank top up, revealing an expanse of firm muscle. "We could discuss that particular partnership tonight. In private.”
"You're awful at double entendres." Black leaned in, using his fingers to trace the curve of Hercules' hip. "I should show you how it's done."
Hercules' breath hitched. "You want to show then show lor."
"I'm sure you already knew this," Black said, moving his hand downwards to unzip Hercules' fly, "but I have no qualms about getting wanton."
Vina Jie-Min Prasad. ‘The Spy Who Loved Wanton Mee’. Queer Southeast Asia: a literary journal of transgressive art Vol. 1. no. 1, October 2016.