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“Well, Agent Fabricator Wong — the Gui Minhai job. That went well, didn’t it?”

“Sorry chief.”

“We Chinese are not supposed to do sarcasm but I am glad you caught the tone. You appreciate that after the Snatch and Grab Division had run amok in the Hong Kong publishing business, Fabrication Division was supposed to pull a convincing and sympathetic narrative from the ruins which left the readers, saying to themselves something along the lines of ‘So that’s all right then!’ Instead we get from you and CCTV a man telling a tale for which the most repeated description in the South China Morning Post’s online comments was ‘bollocks’.

Gui Minhai
Gui Minhai. Photo: HKFP remix.

“Don’t read that Chief. Not sure we are supposed to.”

“Of course you can. It’s in safe hands now. Do you know what has happened to Snatch and Grab Division?”

“I’m a bit vague about that, Chief.”

‘They came under a great cloud which passed across the face of Heaven. All but the lowest echelons were sent to Hohot for retraining and their screams can be heard as far as Harbin. I had hopes that would not happen to Fabrication but those hopes are dimming.”

“We never did nothing as dumb as what they did to that other old publisher. Forcing him to read ‘The Governance of China’ till he passed out, then sending him back from Western in an old river boat rolled up in a Turkish carpet.”

“Oh, didn’t we? And who came up with the shiny explanation that he had slipped across to Wailingdin Island for an illicit shag and was the only one caught out of 500 trippers doing the same? Then you went and put that in the mouth of that hamster of a banker Ng Leung-sing, who everyone knows is so deep in the pocket of the United Front, you can’t tell him from the fluff.”

Gui Minhai.
Gui Minhai. Photo: HKFP remix.

“The story has worked before, Chief”

“For Mainland audiences because they know they can’t say ‘bollocks’ but they can in Hong Kong — for now anyway. But that’s nothing to the fairy story we’ve produced for Gui.”

“It had many of the handbook ingredients, Chief. Drunken crime, sick mother, overpowered by love for Motherland.”

“Look Tolstoy, anybody knows that a man settling into his flat in sunny, slutty Pattaya with a tray of tarts to hand and texts of more dirty books being sent to the printers is not going to be suddenly overcome by remorse on his way home from the shops, drop his groceries with the caretaker and come back to China in his flip-flops via a Cambodian casino town.”

‘Stranger things have happened at sea.”

thailand jail cell china
Photo: HKFP remix.

“In which you may end up, bouncing along the bottom, just as fast as your concrete shoes allow. In fact that Pattaya snatch was not such a bad ploy. They didn’t have to go far up the Thai food chain to arrange the exit. A hundred bucks – anybody’s bucks — to a police sergeant would probably see them sailing over the border. Cambodia was purchased a while back, so it would have been plain abducting from there on.  Then you screwed it.”

“It’s all CCTV’s fault Chief. A lousy edit.”

“Have they never heard of a Continuity Girl?”

“What’s she? A Young Pioneer?”

“She is usually an object of the director’s lust, employed to make sure that the scene being shot fits in with the ones that went before. For example a man who begins a single, seamless interview of sincere confession wearing a vest of one colour does not somehow end it in one of another colour. Likewise, the same man, talking to camera like a lark in song, should not be seen doubled up sobbing in less time than it takes to clear your throat. These things were to be noticed by her and you Wong, not the Western press. By the way, you had Gui four years younger and with a different name character from the drunk driving guy in 2003. What happened to him?”

“Oh, died, 2008. Sclerosis of the liver. No problem there.  Ah Chief, we still have booksellers two to four inclusive as yet unscripted. Can’t remember their names.”

“Me neither. Make them early examples of suspected avian flu, human to human transmission. Quarantine almost limitless.”

“The high-ups might not like that plot at all, Chief. WHO having kittens all over the media.”

“Don’t worry. Compared to what you’ve put out there already, it will be light relief.”

“Oh, one of them is a UK passport holder.”

“High-ups aren’t worried about the Brits. They’re all set to buy Birmingham.”

Stuart R Wolfendale

Stuart Wolfendale

Stuart Wolfendale is a freelance columnist, critic and writer based in Hong Kong. He wrote a long running weekly column in the South China Morning Post, was daily diarist of the Eastern Express, back page columnist of the Hong Kong Standard and contributor to Spike magazine. He also trains people in presentation skills and public speaking.