Hong Kong - Saturday December 7th, 1996
A roar from the throats of thousands of excited punters drowned out the steady drumming of horses’ hooves as the jockeys urged their mounts across the finish line.
Happy Valley Race Track was a blaze of colour; the emerald green of the grass track and lawns, the jockeys’ brilliant rainbow silks, the bright clothes of the crowd in holiday mood as they indulged in their favourite sport of gambling.
The noise abated as the winner was paraded. People blessed or cursed the gods and their joss and queued to collect their winnings or reinvest on the quinella.
The afternoon was chilly. A cool north wind, which had lifted the dank fog shrouding the track until well after dawn, was still blowing briskly. BJ, warm in a heavy, fleecy-lined sheepskin jacket, its collar turned up to combat the breeze, stood at the rails with Bob Lee, who wore a black leather jacket over a blue pullover. The breath of both men puffed white mist into the crisp air.
‘What d’you think the turnover will be this year, Bob?’ BJ leaned his elbows on the rail and looked sideways at his sergeant.
‘Several billion, as usual. Look at the crowds. It’s all good news for the people.’ Bob continued seriously, ‘They win, even when they lose.’
BJ chuckled appreciatively. ‘That’s very Irish of you. Are you sure you’re all Chinese?’
Bob ignored the crack and turned to train his binoculars on the boxes. ‘The Langfords are here in strength,’ he remarked. The Langford box seemed full of tall, blond men and elegantly dressed women.
‘I’ll be going over later. Don’t let them catch you looking. It’s the big race next, race three. Who’s your money on?’
Bob grinned. ‘My bookie says Lively Lass. How about you?’
‘I put a bundle on Langford’s Pride. I’ve got a bet on the side with Gloria!’
Bob scanned the box again. ‘She’s there. Pretty girl. With her arm in Pat’s. Lucky Wanda’s not here today; she’d kill Gloria. Gloria should find herself a husband,’ he added. ‘Wanda’s not going to let Pat go so easy.’
BJ shrugged. Gloria seemed content living with Guy and mothering his children. ‘Kit and Emma couldn’t do without their aunt. It’s only been a year since Elaine’s death and Guy’s hardly ever at home.’
‘Perhaps he should’ve left them with Elaine’s family in Australia.’
BJ shook his head emphatically. ‘Guy hates Elaine’s father with a passion. Wouldn’t have the kids anywhere near him, once he got control again.’
‘Who was Wanda with last night?’ Bob mused aloud. ‘Guy and William came in separately, within ten minutes of each other, then Wanda arrived. Both men left forty-five minutes later.’
‘Is it remotely possible that they were all together?’ BJ considered his own question. ‘Perhaps Wanda asked to see them, to get them to put pressure on Pat.’
‘Ye-es.’ Bob sounded doubtful. ‘There was a rumour about Bill and Wanda, but she’d hardly turn to Guy. He’s like poison to her, everyone knows it.’
‘Certainly she makes sure no one forgets,’ the inspector said dryly.
Bob sighed and turned back to lean on the rail.
Wanda had once raved to him about it. When Guy married Elaine MacKenzie he couldn’t, or wouldn’t, drop Wanda. It was widely rumoured he’d only married Elaine for her money. He took an apartment in the Eastern Dawn Towers and continued to meet Wanda in secret. When Elaine discovered the truth she insisted that Guy break off the affair.
It was believed that Wanda had married Pat out of spite. She was furious with Guy; she felt betrayed and belittled. Although he made her a generous settlement, she had nothing more to do with him.
‘But Elaine left Guy,’ BJ commented.
‘That was over his gambling, or so he says, and Emma had that terrible fever and nearly died. Elaine didn’t feel Hong Kong was a suitable place either for the health or the morals of her children.’
‘Emma’s not delicate,’ BJ retorted. ‘She thrives here. Always did. The fever left no side effects. Was there more to it than the official story? Elaine’s father certainly brought pressure to bear to get her to leave Guy.’
‘Well, the truth died in the accident with Elaine. If Guy still fancies Wanda, why would he tell Pat to take her back?’
‘She rang me this morning,’ Bob affirmed. ‘Pat’s agreed to see her, partly because Guy spoke for her. She was angry that he’d interfered. Said she hated to owe him.’
BJ considered this. ‘Eastern Dawn’s owned by the Langfords,’ he said thoughtfully. ‘David has a flat on the top floor, for business associates. Guy keeps his place there rather than take his dolly-birds home to Langford Drive. William lives there in his happy and immoral bachelordom. And the Choy’s have an apartment.’
Bob nodded. ‘And, like David, Ben Price and Pat have apartments for business associates. Jon used to, but now he rents his to Sung Yen-lo.’
‘Ah, yes, Sung’s Emporiums. A big fish.’ BJ’s gentle face was devoid of expression.
‘A lucky fish, blessed with amazing joss.’ Sung’s was the biggest chain in the colony. Yen-lo and his family owned factories, shops and real estate all over Hong Kong. He was a major shareholder in the Royal Dragon shipping line, imported goods from all over the world and exported his own goods. He was also on the board of Chiang’s Bank of China and Hong Kong. ‘Oh, yes, he was born on a most favourable day and has the fortune of all the gods.’
BJ caught the ironic inflection. ‘You don’t approve of Mr Sung’s joss?’
‘He’s as slippery as an eel trying not to be served for dinner. The only reason he’s a most respectable businessman is that he’s clever enough not to be caught.’
‘That applies to most of them.’ the inspector murmured. ‘You’re very moral all of a sudden. His only interest to us is that he occupies an apartment in Eastern Dawn.’
‘No, he doesn’t,’ Bob corrected. ‘He uses it for meetings. He and his family live in the Western District.’
‘Yes, I remember now. Interesting,’ BJ’s eyes were on the track. ‘Wait up, Bob, race three’s starting. Come on, the Pride, make my fortune today.’
In the Langfords’ box, Gloria pulled Pat aside and faced him, head erect, her voice as steady as she could make it. ‘Are you going to see Wanda?’
Pat hesitated. ‘She keeps ringing me. I’ve agreed to meet her.’
She watched him for a moment, sensing his reluctance. The grey of her light wool jacket was reflected in her eyes; she lowered her lashes to hide the sadness brimming there. ‘Do you have to see her?’
He bit his lip but said gently, ‘I owe her a chance to sort things out.’
‘What about us?’
He caught the sparkle of a tear on her lashes. ‘My dear girl!’ He quickly turned her away from the others and shielded her from them while she carefully dabbed her eyes with a lace-edged handkerchief. ‘Gloria, please don’t. Wanda’s my wife. She deserves a hearing, surely?’
‘She deserves nothing.’ Gloria spoke in a fierce whisper. ‘She’s had one affair after another since you married her, she finally and very publicly leaves you; then, the minute you’re back where she wants to be, she follows you and demands her rights.’
Pat touched her face briefly. ‘Gloria, I married her. I took her, and not lightly, for better or for worse. Wanda’s Catholic; she won’t want a divorce. I understood that this was a commitment for life. I have to try. I think we can make a go of it. I’ve given her too much freedom, let her get away with murder. It’s been my fault. I should have stopped her.’
‘And us?’ Gloria asked desolately.
‘There is no us. There can’t be.’ Pat looked at her lovely face, framed with a halo of fine ash blonde hair and a muscle tightened in his cheek. ‘You’re my dear friend, my best friend, but it has to stay that way.’
Gloria was pale but she said calmly, ‘You could take me as your mistress. Wanda’s given you that freedom by taking lovers herself.’
Pat swallowed hard and tried to control his own voice. ‘I couldn’t do that. That’s not how I think of you. I couldn’t stand to - oh, hell, this is a bloody mess!’ He caught her arms and gave her a little shake. ‘Do you think I wouldn’t give everything I had to come to you and ask you ...’ He stopped himself and they stood gazing into each other’s eyes, breathing very fast.
Gloria’s taut voice broke the silence. ‘You won’t give Wanda up?’
Pat dropped his hands and groaned. ‘I can’t! I can’t turn my back on her, on the good things in our marriage. Don’t ask me that.’
Guy’s voice sounded beside him. ‘You two are looking very serious. Wake up! It’s our race, cousin.’
Gloria turned back to the track. Her cheeks were scarlet but her voice remained even. ‘So it is,’ she said. ‘Look Pat, the Pride’s coming out now.’
Bob Lee was cursing his bookie violently. ‘The evil son of a whore! May his liver turn black and rot!’
BJ chuckled. ‘My win and a very nice one. I told you to bet on the Pride. He’s a stayer. A dead cert for the Langford Cup on the twenty-first. Come on, Bob, I’ll buy you a drink, then I’m off to congratulate Pat and collect from Gloria.’
‘BJ, wait.’ Bob hesitated as the inspector turned back to him, an eyebrow raised.
‘Well, spit it out, Bob.’
‘Remember, David was also at the apartment block last night.’
BJ’s voice was cool. ‘I hadn’t forgotten.’
‘No. It’s just that, well, we know David’s had his mistresses - from time to time.’
BJ’s face was inscrutable. ‘From a certain class, I think, hardly his own daughter-in-law. Damn it Bob, the woman’s your cousin. Are you suggesting she’d go from son to father?’
‘I don’t know.’ Bob shifted unhappily. ‘When Wanda’s in a temper - or, I suppose she could have been asking him to use his influence, speak to Pat ...’
BJ gave a short laugh. ‘Unlikely. Even Wanda can’t believe she could talk David around. I know it’s hard for your family but the Langfords are finished with her. David and Jean will do everything possible to make Pat divorce her.’
Bob said nothing, but he tried to hide his concern and met his inspector’s look blandly.
There was a brief, tense pause. Then BJ said harshly. ‘It’s nonsense, sergeant; David is not involved with your cousin. Is that clear?’
He waited for a moment then swung on his heel and walked away.
Back at his apartment some hours later, BJ sat motionless, his body slouched in the curve of the sofa cushions, his long legs stretched out in front of him. His hands cradled a half-drunk whisky and soda, the glass neatly balanced on his stomach. BJ was quite proud of his stomach. It was still firm, still flat, and never gave him any trouble in the digestion area.
His eyes were half closed, his thoughts turning slowly. It’s too bloody pat, too convenient, he thought reluctantly. There’s something very wrong with this whole business and I’m damned if I can get a handle on it. Wing Chang is adamant the Triads aren’t involved, and he’s one of the top dragons. If the people are being armed, Wing would certainly know - and I’d know, because I can read him.
His eyes strayed to a silver-framed photograph on the nearby coffee table. ‘What would you have to say about it, my love?’
Victoria smiled serenely back at him, her beautiful eyes clear and calm, her dark hair smooth around her shoulders. BJ pulled himself more upright and picked up the photograph. The ache of loneliness, which was lodged permanently between his heart and his gut, stabbed at him.
He slumped back, still balancing the whisky glass with one hand, the other holding his dead wife’s picture against his chest for comfort. So, my wise one, what do we have? He mused. One; why is it only small, neighbourhood tongs who’ve got the guns? That’s all back to front. These kids are playing so far out of their league, no wonder they’re all scared shitless. Which leads to the obvious conclusion that they’ve nicked them - but not from a known organisation, or they’d have been chopped well before we got to them; and in a particularly nasty way, as a warning to any other young pups with ideas above their station.
BJ took a slow pull of the whisky while his mind played over the various statements of the Vampire gang members and the records of their interviews. ‘You know what really bothers me?’ he told Victoria. ‘Everything points most coincidentally to David, almost as if -’ he paused, testing the unwanted thought before speaking it aloud. Almost as if someone was very keen to set the King against David; someone who knew exactly what would get them all going around in the wrong circles, sent chasing their tails by the King in a last effort to make his enemy lose face. BJ was damned if he’d be a pawn in the King’s little game. And yet, those rumours. You couldn’t discount rumours. Guy had known all about it.
He considered the photograph. Victoria smiled back and BJ gently replaced her on the table, his teeth clenched against his pain. For a moment he sat, a familiar misery engulfing him. Then, as it slowly receded, he stood up and went to the telephone.
Bob answered the call promptly. BJ heard a woman’s voice speak sharply in the background.
‘We’re just sitting down to dinner,’ the sergeant said cheerfully. ‘Got the wife’s family over.’
‘Sorry to mess up your evening. Bob, were any of the Vampires employed at the LP site?’
Bob said slowly, ‘I don’t know. I’ll get on to it.’
‘Have your dinner. Call me back when you can. I’ll be at the Bengali Rose with Wing Chang, then back home.’
‘You’re entertaining in high-up circles.’
BJ chuckled. ‘All in the line of duty. And, Bob ...’
Bob waited. ‘Yes, sir?’
‘Why was the leader of those youngsters only Second Vampire? Did we get any clues at all about who First Vampire might be?’
‘Exactly. Someone presumably a bit more clued up, who knew where the guns were stored and decided to help himself to the candy jar. And who now might be running very scared indeed.’
‘I’m on to it.’
‘Eat your dinner first, do you hear me? Sue Ann will never forgive me if you walk out on her mother.’
BJ replaced the receiver and tossed back the last of the whisky. Then he picked up his sheepskin jacket and left the apartment.
Beyond Central Police Station, around Upper Wyndham Street, curry houses and Indian restaurants abounded. Many of the early police constables had been Indian and their families had settled in the area. BJ walked briskly past doorways guarded by doormen in fierce Sikh garb, or brass statues of many-armed Indian deities, making his way to his meeting with Wing Chang, casino operator and, although he never admitted it, office bearer in one of the top level Triads.
In the restaurants’ dark interiors, lamps on tables flickered, reflecting against the windows, making the atmosphere intimate and secretive, perfect for lovers and private business deals. The scent of curry and kebabs and exotic spices drifted in the air as the inspector, ever watchful, paused just before the entrance of the Bengali Rose and glanced up and down the street.
Across the road a sleek silver-grey Rolls-Royce pulled into the kerb and stopped outside the Star of India restaurant. The driver, a tall, fair, dark-suited man, looked quickly around and hastily opened the front passenger door.
‘David.’ BJ said and was about to call to his friend when a young woman in a long, red brocade cheong-sam alighted. She was clearly visible to BJ.
The shout died on his lips as David took Wanda by the arm and hurried her into the restaurant.