Hong Kong - Tuesday December 10th, 1996
A silver and black taxi wound its way up Victoria Peak, swinging around the sharp bends and hugging the mountain side as other vehicles swept past on their way down to the city. High above Hong Kong the view unfolded of stately cream, grey and pink apartment towers on the lower slopes, just beginning to glow in the dusk as thousands of lights glimmered into being. Below them, the skyscrapers of Central were grey in the enveloping mist, the harbour almost invisible except for the lights of water traffic moving about in the haze. In the distance, a plane taking off from Kai Tak Airport flashed red and green.
The scene was lost on the taxi’s single passenger. Wanda, a light wool coat of pale ivory clutched around her, sat on the back seat, immersed in her own thoughts. She leaned forward and snapped, ‘Hurry up, can’t you, son of a snail!’ The driver shrugged and continued at his own speed.
Wanda opened her handbag, took out a small mirror and checked her face. Was that a line on her forehead? Perhaps mother was right. She’d try to smile more. She must be perfect tonight. She’d ask all the gods to bless her with luck … and the Holy Mother too, she added as an afterthought.
‘Langford Drive.’ The driver broke into her thoughts. The taxi pulled up outside a two-storey mansion whose long, close-cropped lawns surrounded it like smooth green velvet skirts, flower beds providing a colourful border. Wanda paid the fare and got out.
Pat must be desperate to have her back. How silly that he had to go away tomorrow for so long. But at least she’d be in her own home while she waited for him. And when he returned she’d make sure he never thought of his insipid cousin again.
She rang the bell and the door was opened by a servant who bowed politely and ushered her into the lounge room.
Treating her like a stranger. He’d be sorry. She’d sack him as soon as Pat had gone, and anyone else who didn’t give her the respect she deserved.
The lounge room was large and comfortable, with bright floral carpets and heavy red velvet curtains drawn against the night. On one wall was a gallery of framed family photographs; generations of Langfords, living and dead. The furniture was solid and comfortable. In the grate, a fire burned cheerfully. A deep arm chair was placed on either side of the fireplace, with a low table in between.
Pat sat by the fire, his eyes turned to the door as it opened to admit his wife. He stood up as she entered, his smile slightly strained.
Wanda made no move to join him. ‘Hello, Pat. You look wonderful. It’s so good of you to see me.’ Her voice was humble, her eyes downcast. ‘I wanted the chance to apologise to you in person.’ She lifted her eyes, her lashes fluttering nervously. ‘I know I don’t deserve ...’
He went to her. ‘Come in, Wanda; don’t look at me as if I’m going to eat you.’ He took her hands and held them for a moment. ‘They’re like ice. Come and sit by the fire. Dinner will be ready soon. Can I pour you a drink?’
She sat in her old chair. ‘Please, Pat, my usual. G and T.’ she added quickly.
He laughed with genuine amusement. ‘I haven’t forgotten. It hasn’t been that long.’
Wanda accepted the drink and Pat resumed his seat opposite her. The fire crackled and the dancing flames warmed her and brought a glow to her face. ‘This is lovely,’ she murmured. ‘It’s cold tonight but lovely and warm in here.’ She drew off her coat and he wondered how she could make such an ordinary act seem so sensual. Under the coat she wore a simple white wool dress, almost bridal in its purity. Her only jewellery was a long string of creamy pearls.
She watched Pat watching her and was satisfied. ‘We need to talk’, she said diffidently. ‘Shall we now, or during dinner?’
There was a small pause. ‘Let’s wait until after dinner?’ he said, ‘We’ll have time to discuss everything later. For now, let’s just enjoy the meal and each other’s company?’
‘Yes, you’re right,’ she said. ‘You’re always right, Pat.’
In the kitchen, the cook, Sen Lok, tossed shrimp in a sizzling wok and added spices. ‘What’s keeping the boy?’ he complained to the housekeeper, Mona Feng.
Mona clicked her tongue impatiently. ‘He’s as slow as a tortoise. Doesn’t he know we’re on the edge of our seats?’ She frowned her disapproval. ‘It’s bad enough for you to have to cook for that little madam, and for me to be in the same house with her, without Weng’s slowness into the bargain.’
Footsteps hurried along the passage. Cook and housekeeper stared at each other, holding their breaths. The door burst open and the houseboy hurried in.
‘Well?’ They both spat the question at him. ‘What’s happening?’
He grinned. ‘Nothing. They’re just talking.’
Mona glared. ‘But Wanda Lee, is she coming back to make our lives a misery again?’
‘I don’t know.’ Weng shrugged. ‘The boss’s telling her about how Langford’s Pride won on Saturday.’
Mona threw up her hands. ‘Bless all the gods, I won good money on that race. I knew Mr Pat’s Pride would come in first. Didn’t my fortune teller predict a big win?’
Sen Lok cursed the boy for his stupidity. ‘Of course they won’t talk in front of you. When you take in the next dish, go very softly. Try to hear what they’re saying. When you come out, leave the door open, just a crack, so next time you’ll hear them more clearly. If you come back without any news, I’ll serve you up as the main dish.’ He brought his chopper down on the block with a suggestive bang.
Weng Hing just laughed. ‘Don’t worry, I’ll find out everything, trust me.’
‘What news did your brother have from the big house?’
‘Chu said the Langfords are pissed off with Wanda Lee. Mrs Jean told the boss his cousin would be better for him, and how much Miss Gloria loves him.’
‘Stale news,’ Sen Lok snorted. ‘Here, take in the next course and mind you bring back better.’
Sometime after midnight, Walter Delaney and his wife Maggie were driving down the mountain, having celebrated their wedding anniversary with dinner at the Peak Restaurant.
Maggie slipped a gossamer-fine silver scarf from her immaculate blue-rinsed waves and squeezed her husband’s knee. ‘Pull up, honey, let’s enjoy the view.’
He glanced at her, his shrewd grey eyes twinkling. A grin creased his craggy face. ‘Good idea. There’s a lookout just ahead. But I want more than just a good view, Mrs Delaney.’
She laughed and snuggled against him, not caring if she mussed her expensive hairdo. ‘How shocking. Canoodling in the car at our age.’
Walter pulled off the road into the lookout and turned off the engine. The night was very still on the Peak. Below them, a million lights of every colour were diffused through the mist. A night bird called harshly and was answered by its mate in the distance.
A second car was parked at the other end of the narrow bitumen strip. Raised voices came from it. Maggie glanced out of the window, her soft blue eyes widening behind their blue-rimmed glasses. ‘Isn’t that Pat Langford’s Jag?’
Walter leaned across her and peered through the gloom. ‘It certainly is. Now what on earth ..?’
The voices grew louder; a man shouting with anger, a woman’s shrill answer, her words clearly audible.
‘If you think I’ll let that little whore get her hands on you, you’d better think again. I’ll never divorce you, never!’
‘Don’t ever speak of her like that again.’ The man’s voice sounded brutal and Maggie felt a sudden chill. ‘I’ll make you sorry you were ever born.’
‘Jesus H Christ!’ Walter said, startled. ‘Let’s get out of here, Maggie.’
He started the engine and swung the car back onto the road. The woman in the Jaguar was screaming. Maggie looked into the other vehicle as they accelerated past.
‘It’s Pat - and Wanda. Going at it hammer and tongs. Walter, shouldn’t we do something? He sounded - dangerous.’
‘Never interfere between husband and wife, Maggie. They wouldn’t thank you for it. My God, life with Wanda can’t be any bed of roses. Probably do her good if he did beat her up a bit.’
Maggie looked back but the other car was hidden by a bend in the road. ‘Jean’s worried that Wanda will get around that boy. She says she’s very devious.’
Walter chuckled. ‘Wanda’s all woman. I’ve seen her work her tricks on Pat. She’s got him right where she wants him, I’ll bet. Poor bastard hasn’t a hope.’
‘Pat’s not such a wimp. He made her wait this time.’
Walter pulled the car over again. ‘Still feel like a - look at the view?’
‘You smoothie, you sure know to sweet-talk a girl.’ Maggie giggled and, as his arms closed around her, forgot all about Pat and Wanda.
At Pat’s house the servants were talking avidly together.
‘Imagine, losing her temper like a cheap bar girl. I thought Wanda Lee was smarter than that.’ Sen Lok grinned at the memory.
Mona Feng shook her head. ‘She’s a jealous little cat and can’t stand the thought of Miss Gloria having been here.’
‘But the boss never took her to bed so where’s the harm?’ The cook slurped at a cup of tea.
‘She’d have gone if he’d asked her. I saw the way she looked at him. If you ask me, he couldn’t trust himself with her. That’s why he took her out to dinner instead.’
‘Wanda could have changed his mind if she’d been more patient. Did the boss really tell her he wanted a divorce?’
Weng nodded. ‘Like I told you, and she went ballistic. She certainly didn’t expect her husband to ask her to make way for another woman, especially her rival.’
‘Alice Lee will be furious with her daughter for spoiling her chances.’ Mona threw up her hands. ‘The gods must be against the Lees. Look how they’ve turned their backs on Wanda. Mr Pat will go away in the morning, their quarrel fresh in his mind. When he comes back, I bet he finishes with her for good.’
Sen Lok said darkly, ‘She’ll never give him up. If only she’d go away forever, he could be happy again.’
‘Well, thank the gods she won’t be living here for a while yet,’ Weng Hing said. ‘The boss told her she’d have to go back to her mother and they’d talk again when he came back.’
Mona stood up. ‘I’m going to bed. What an exciting evening. Don’t forget to leave Mr Pat’s breakfast set out.’
‘Am I a deaf old woman?’ Sen Lok spat. ‘I heard his instructions as well as you. I’ll leave everything ready for him. Hey, you, boy, you can go too. I’ll be off to my own bed very soon.’ He rose and stretched, a smile of satisfaction on his round face. ‘I’ll sleep well, knowing Wanda Lee won’t be here in the morning to bully and hound me. It’s a pity she ever came back to Hong Kong, a very great pity indeed.’