Recognizing his van is easy enough. It is enormous. It is eight feet high and wider than it is high, which would have made it a wide load in the old days when they had laws. The construction is boxy and angular; it has been welded together out of the type of flat, dimpled steel plate usually used to make manhole lids and stair treads. The tires are huge, like tractor tires with a more subtle tread, and there are six of them: two axles in back and one in front. The engine is so big that, like an evil spaceship in a movie, Y.T. feels its rumbling in her ribs before she can see it; it is kicking out diesel exhaust through a pair of squat vertical red smokestacks that project from the roof, toward the rear. The windshield is a perfectly flat rectangle of glass about three by eight feet, smoked so black that Y.T. can't make out an outline of anything inside. The snout of the van is festooned with every type of high-powered light known to science, like this guy hit a New South Africa franchise on a Saturday night and stole every light off every roll bar, and a grille has been constructed across the front, welded together out of rails torn out of an abandoned railroad somewhere. The grille alone probably weighs more than a small car.
The passenger door swings open. Y.T. walks over and climbs into the front seat. "Hi," she is saying. "You need to take a whiz or anything?"
Ng isn't there.
Or maybe he is.
Where the driver's seat ought to be, there is a sort of neoprene pouch about the size of a garbage can suspended from the ceiling by a web of straps, shock cords, tubes, wires, fiber-optic cables, and hydraulic lines. It is swathed in so much stuff that it is hard to make out its actual outlines.
At the top of this pouch, Y.T. can see a patch of skin with some black hair around it -- the top of a balding man's head. Everything else, from the temples downward, is encased in an enormous goggle/ mask/ headphone/ feeding-tube unit, held onto his head by smart straps that are constantly tightening and loosening themselves to keep the device comfortable and properly positioned.
Below this, on either side, where you'd sort of expect to see arms, huge bundles of wires, fiber optics, and tubes run up out of the floor and are seemingly plugged into Ng's shoulder sockets. There is a similar arrangement where his legs are supposed to be attached, and more stuff going into his groin and hooked up to various locations on his torso. The entire thing is swathed in a one-piece coverall, a pouch, larger than his torso ought to be, that is constantly bulging and throbbing as though alive.
"Thank you, all my needs are taken care of," Ng says. The door slams shut behind her. Ng makes a yapping sound, and the van pulls out onto the frontage road, headed back toward 405.
"Please excuse my appearance," he says, after a couple of awkward minutes. "My helicopter caught fire during the evacuation of Saigon in 1974 -- a stray tracer from ground forces."
"Whoa. What a drag."
"I was able to reach an American aircraft carrier off the coast, but you know, the fuel was spraying around quite a bit during the fire."
"Yeah, I can imagine, uh huh."
"I tried prostheses for a while some of them are very good. But nothing is as good as a motorized wheelchair. And then I got to thinking, why do motorized wheelchairs always have to be tiny pathetic things that strain to go up a little teeny ramp? So I bought this -- it is an airport firetruck from Germany -- and converted it into my new motorized wheelchair."
"It's very nice."
"America is wonderful because you can get anything on a drive-through basis. Oil change, liquor, banking, car wash, funerals, anything you want -- drive through! So this vehicle is much better than a tiny pathetic wheelchair. It is an extension of my body."
"When the geisha rubs your back?"
Ng mumbles something and his pouch begins to throb and undulate around his body. "She is a daemon, of course. As for the massage, my body is suspended in an electrocontractive gel that massages me when I need it. I also have a Swedish girl and an African woman, but those daemons are not as well rendered."
"And the mint julep?"
"Through a feeding tube. Nonalcoholic, ha ha."