Hong Kong - Monday December 9th, 1996
Alice Lee pursed her mouth disapprovingly and watched her daughter coming slowly along the verandah to where her mother sat in a trellised corner overlooking the leafy garden. There was a set of cane garden furniture at this end of the verandah, as Alice liked to have afternoon tea amid the greenery.
Wanda had just returned from lunch with Sylvia Wong and looked decidedly sulky, a frown marring her forehead. Alice drew her small, straight figure even more severely erect and set her sharp face in irritated lines. Her daughter was becoming impossible. Then the older woman’s hard eyes softened slightly. Wanda was especially beautiful today in her favourite suit of peacock-blue silk; a sight to gladden any mother’s heart.
If only she’d smile more, ingratiate herself with her wretched husband. Her mother wouldn’t always be here to look after her. The silver streaks in Alice’s jet black hair, which was pulled into a tight bun held with an exquisite gold clip ornamented with gold butterflies, were natural, not a product of her hairdresser’s art.
Alice straightened her gold brocade jacket with impatient fingers. ‘Take that look off your face, young lady,’ she recommended sharply. ‘You’re always in the sullens these days. You’ll spoil your pretty face and you’ll never get your man back.’
Wanda pulled off her smart blue hat and threw herself into the wide cane sofa next to her mother, letting the hat drop to the floor. A young housemaid came out with a tea tray, placed it on the table and picked up the hat.
‘Hang it up in my room.’ Wanda ordered, and the maid sketched a bow and hurried off.
‘That a daughter of mine, with all your advantages, should come to this,’ Alice lamented. She poured the tea. ‘Have some of these little cakes, they’re fresh and sweet. And stop frowning at me. Since you got set up in society you’re like a spoiled little empress. Well, you certainly don’t impress me, my girl. You’ve behaved very badly and lost face for us all. You’re an outcast; you, with all your chances. You’ll have to be careful tomorrow. You know how important this is. The gods bear witness, I taught you every skill I know, so you should be all right ...’ Her mother sipped the tea. ‘Very nice. Drink up, and listen to your mother’s advice for a change.’
Wanda picked up her cup, contemplated it for a moment, then hurled it across the verandah. It smashed into tiny pieces and the tea ran across the floor.
Alice rang a small silver handbell. ‘If you’re feeling better after that, perhaps you’ll remember where you left your tongue and tell your poor mother what’s wrong,’ she said caustically.
The maid came running and tut-tutted at the mess. Alice said, ‘Miss Wanda had an accident. Clean it up and bring a fresh cup. Then go up to Sung’s in Queen’s Road and buy a replacement. Buy half a dozen,’ she added with a dark look at her daughter, ‘in case there are any more accidents.’
The maid brought a new cup. Alice poured again and motioned Wanda to drink. She did as she was told, but without enthusiasm, nibbled at a cake, then slumped back into her chair.
Alice eyed her with exasperation. ‘You’re not too old or too grand to feel the flat of my hand, Wanda Lee. Tell me what’s upset you and we’ll sort it out. Holy Mother,’ she appealed to heaven, ‘why am I cursed with a difficult daughter?’
Wanda sat up and her eyes flashed. ‘Pat had dinner with Gloria on Friday night. Everyone was there, everyone saw them.’
‘Well, you weren’t there and you didn’t see them, thanks to your disgrace, so how do you know?’
‘Sylvia told me. She took great delight in it. She’s secretly pleased at my troubles.’
‘Sylvia Wong’s a little cat, but don’t tell me she and that husband of hers could afford to dine at the floating restaurant, so how does she know?’
Wanda made an irritable gesture. ‘Talk, rumours, she heard it, that’s all. And she couldn’t wait to tell me about it, pretending to be so sorry.’ She broke off and stared at her mother, suddenly furious. ‘How did you know it was the floating restaurant? You knew about it and you didn’t tell me?’
‘Behave yourself, Wanda, or I won’t help you any more, then where will you be? Yen-lo was there. He saw them and told me. I keep an eye on all Pat’s doings, making sure he doesn’t do the wrong thing by my daughter. William Langford was there with Jenny Wong. She must have told Sylvia.’
‘Oh, yes, Sylvia was crowing about that, too. If being William Langford’s whore gives her face, it’s the first I’ve heard of it. A junior partner’s mistress, and one of many, although the poor girl doesn’t know it. Ha!’
Alice watched her daughter closely, wondering what else she’d heard, and was content to let her bad-mouth Jenny and Sylvia and Gloria. No, she hadn’t heard the rest or she’d do more than smash a single cup.
She took Wanda’s hand. ‘Daughter, you’re better than all of them. More beautiful, too. Don’t worry about that tart Gloria. She had her chance with Pat and look what happened as soon as he met you. You made her totally lose face. Pat was wild to get you in his bed, which is more than he ever did with the very proper Miss Langford. She’s still a virgin, they say. She’ll shrivel up like a dried leaf and no one will want her. But you, my beautiful child,’ she turned Wanda’s face towards the light and kissed her fondly, ‘you’re as perfect as you always were; or you would be, if you didn’t frown so much. Pat won’t be able to resist you. Let Gloria have her fun, for now, then you’ll walk in and take him away, just like before.’
She bent and whispered in her daughter’s ear. Wanda began to giggle. ‘There, you’ll see I’m right. Pat will be putty in your beautiful hands.’ She patted Wanda’s face. ‘What can Gloria offer after you? You’ve made some bad mistakes but it’ll be all right, trust me.’
A tear of self-pity dropped down Wanda’s cheek. ‘I was only trying to better myself. I thought Pat was stuck in Brisbane forever, and Jon would be a success. I did what I had to do.’
Her mother frowned. ‘You badly misread the situation. Ah, well, you were far away from home, surrounded by foreigners, without your mother’s advice. I know it wasn’t easy for you.’
On Monday night, Gloria and Pat were dancing close together, their bodies in perfect unison with the ease of long experience. The night club was dark and intimate and the music had a sensual Latin American rhythm. She touched her face against his for a moment and, when she went to draw back, his hand gently held her there. They stayed cheek to cheek, swaying with the music.
Gloria gave a long, contented sigh. We’re perfect together, she thought gladly. We always have been and he knows it. I’m sure he’s fed up with Wanda. Since I offered to be his mistress, he’s been different. I think I’ve won at last.
She smiled at him. ‘Happy?’ she asked, then paused. His expression almost frightened her with its intensity. As if, just for a moment, he’d felt a sick despair, like a man looking into his own private hell. She put up a hand to his face. He recovered quickly, smiled at her in his old, kind way, but drew back slightly.
‘What’s wrong, Pat?’
He stopped dancing. ‘I think this was a mistake,’ he said gently. ‘Let’s have a drink.’ He led her from the dance floor.
At their table in a discreet corner he faced her seriously and her heart sank. No, please, she cried to herself in a panic, don’t let me lose him. Oh, God, please let me win. ‘What is it?’ she asked lightly.
He said hesitantly, ‘You know I’m dining with Wanda tomorrow. She - she sounded so pitiful, so - I don’t know - apologetic, subdued. I think she’s really learned her lesson.’
Gloria kept smiling but it was a purely mechanical reflex. Got to save face, her mind chattered. Keep smiling, don’t let him see the hurt. You have to be better than her. She makes a scene, you don’t. It’ll be a relief for him and he’ll make the comparison. She said, ‘You leave for China on Wednesday.’
‘Yes. I told Wanda we’d meet, talk, then I’ll have ten days to think it over.’
‘You’ll take her back.’ Suddenly Gloria knew it was the truth.
‘I don’t know. I wish - Gloria, I’m so sorry. I asked you out tonight to say - goodbye. I can’t ask you to hang around, waiting for me to sort out my life. It’s not fair.’
‘No!’ she prayed frantically. He belongs to me, not that stupid, arrogant, money-grubbing tart. God, I hate her so much. I can’t let her have Pat. She’s ruining his life. I’ll fight her every inch of the way and then further. I won’t give him up for her. Dear God, help me!
She sat up very straight, conscious of his eyes on her, knowing she was looking her best tonight in a cream halter-neck evening dress, her fair hair shining. ‘I don’t mind waiting, Pat,’ she said in a low voice. ‘I happen to think you’re worth waiting for. Let’s leave it for now. Take all the time you need. After all, we won’t stop being friends, so there’s no need to say goodbye at all, really.’
Pat nodded, relief flooding over him. ‘You’re a wonderful girl, Gloria. How did you get so understanding? I don’t deserve you to be nice to me.’
She laughed. ‘Silly, it’s easy to be nice to you. You’re a very nice person, Patrick Langford.’
In her bedroom, Wanda closed the blinds and turned to the bed with a small, triumphant smile. Her companion leaned back against the pillows and watched her in amusement.
‘So, you’re almost in?’
She walked towards him, undulating her hips sensuously as she untied the sash of her long peach satin robe. ‘Of course. My mother knows how to get round a man.’
He grinned appreciatively, then his eyes narrowed. ‘Do you use your tricks on me? Or are they her tricks?’
Wanda slowly slipped the robe from her shoulders. He watched her slim body emerging and his desire mounted. As the robe slithered to the floor she stepped over it, her eyes holding his with a sultry gaze. ‘Silly,’ she said, very softly. ‘I don’t play tricks with you. You’re too smart and anyway, you’re too much like me. You’d see right through me.’
She joined him on the bed, kneeling beside him. He ran an expert hand slowly down her, fondling her breasts, her stomach, caressing her thighs. With a little moan she bent over him, her soft mouth open to his. He pulled her down beside him and she pressed close.
Finally he raised his head and asked thickly, ‘How long’s your mother going to be out?’
Wanda smiled at some private thought. ‘As long as I want. She’ll leave us alone.’ She moved her hands down his body, feeling his arousal, wanting him.
He returned her smile, sensing her desire but controlling his emotions, making her wait. ‘You know, Wanda Lee, you’re a very clever girl.’
She knew how to play this game and withdrew from him, watching him from under long lashes. ‘Of course I am, and you’re a very clever man. We’re a perfect match.’
If I didn’t touch her, he wondered ruefully, how long would she hold out? God, she’s lovely, but does it mean anything at all to her? Do I mean anything to her? Suddenly his thoughts turned from Wanda. How bloody long had they been watching Eastern Dawn? What was their interest? Thank God they couldn’t know who Wanda was with on Friday. If Pat knew ...
Wanda raised herself, instantly wary. She leaned forward, and her hair brushed his chest. ‘Where have you gone? You’re not thinking of me. Are you tired of me? Don’t I please you?’
He laughed. ‘My treasure, you please me now as you’ve always done. We have to find somewhere else to meet in future.’
She smiled, reassured. ‘Your yacht?’
‘Could do, we’ll see. So! I trust you’ll be back in the arms of your husband tomorrow night, poor sod.’
‘Of course I will, but it won’t be so good as with you.’ Tired of the game she knelt again, carefully straddling him. ‘Anyway, he goes to China next day so I’ll have plenty of time to move back to Langford Drive and see you,’ she traced the line of his mouth, ‘although,’ she teased, ‘you don’t seem so keen tonight.’
At that, he reached hungrily for her. She gave a delighted laugh and began to move her hips to his thrusting rhythm. Praise all the gods, she thought triumphantly, my luck’s changed. It’s all coming right at last.
In the cramped apartment off Kwun Tong Road, Lo Chin eased himself carefully from his bed and slipped silently out of the bedroom, closing the door noiselessly behind him. In the living room he switched on the single light over a desk which occupied the corner which was his office, partitioned from the rest of the room by a small bamboo screen.
The foreman sat at the desk, his brow furrowed as his mind worried back and forth. What should he do? He’d always stood by the company. His loyalty to Langford-Price was without question, and appreciated by Mr Langford. If there was trouble and it came out that he’d known, and kept quiet ... But, if he spoke out, what would happen to him? To his family?
His eyes flicked nervously around the room as if trying to find a way out of his dilemma. It was true that he didn’t actually know anything. He’d just overheard them talking. He could be wrong. He only had suspicions and he’d have to prove them.
He pursed his mouth and reluctantly shook his head. No, it must be true. If Tommy Chen found out anything, it’d confirm his suspicions. Perhaps, if he just gave them a warning? Told them he suspected ...
He opened a drawer, took out several sheets of cheap paper and a pen, and began to write slowly, pausing at intervals to read and re-read the letter. He made corrections. When he was finally satisfied he took a fresh sheet of paper and began to copy his draft.
Dear Mr Langford, I deeply regret to inform you ...