City of Devils

Jack Riley liked Manila on his two navy tours. First, he stays at the Seamen’s Mission, but then gets wise to where things are really happening. He hangs out at Ed Mitchell’s Rhonda Grill, swings by a hole-in-the-wall called Tom’s Dixie Kitchen that cooks tender steaks and sells imported Scotch for nine pesos a shot. He laps up the scene at the Metro Garden and Grill Ballroom, watching the navy boys of the United States Asiatic Fleet drinking iced Pabst. On Christmas Day, the joints round Manila Bay and the Metro are a sea of white hats. It seems those boys can’t spend their wages fast enough – booze, girls, dope. 

Jack trades up to a room at the Manila Hotel. Gets himself into some craps games and wins himself a stake with those magic Oklahoma State Pen dice. He attends the afternoon tea dances at the genteel Bayview Hotel to tickle the ears of the navy wives, and buys himself some Saigon linen suits to smarten up his act. Early afternoon he takes in the movies at the theatres near the Malacanyan Palace until he realises the seat cushions are teeming with lice; he has to wash his hair with kerosene to kill the bastards. He likes walking the wealthy streets where the rich mestizos and the expat Americans live: the quiet, wide, tree-lined thoroughfares by the Bay or Dewey Boulevard with high-end American compounds, a Lasalle convertible in every driveway. 

Down at the Metro Jack hooks up with a local called Paco who shows him the sights. Paco has a British gal called Evelyn who’s got a Russian surname, Oleaga, on account of once having been married to a Russian some time back. Paco and Evelyn spot Jack for a bucko-mate-on-the-lam right off the bat. They hang out nightly at Ed Mitchell’s before hitting the Metro: determinedly teetotal Jack on the seltzer, Evelyn on the house Dubonnet cocktails. Paco invariably gets shit-faced with his Manilamen brothers, leaving Jack and Evelyn to talk. Jack breathes in her chypre perfume and digs her fancy cut-glass accent. He tells her he wants out. Manila is a steamy version of Tulsa, but Shanghai is the real deal. She confesses she hates this swamp and wants to go to Shanghai too. Jack tells her to look him up. 


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