Hong Kong - Tuesday December 10th, 1996
Like its fellows, the Bengali Rose in Wyndham Street was nicely dark for private meetings, the gloom broken only by flickering candles in red glass bowls on every table, the occasional flare of a cigarette lighter, and the sudden glare from the kitchen which shafted across the ground floor like a lighthouse beam every time the door swung open with the rush of waiters in and out. The restaurant covered two floors in a decoratively pseudo-Indian style with prints around the walls of Vedic figures striking angular poses, and a variety of brass pots scattered about. Curling cigarette smoke mingled with the warm, pungent aroma of spices, making visibility hazy.
On the upper floor, BJ and Bob sat at a corner table, distancing themselves as far as possible from the hubbub of diners and waiters and the jangle of canned Indian music. They drank beer, ate a selection of curries and breads, and spoke very little until they’d done the meal justice. Then BJ pushed his plate back and glanced around to make sure they couldn’t be overheard, although this was his regular table, his regular meeting spot, and if he’d thought his privacy had been invaded in any way he’d have had severe words with Gupta Singh, the curry house owner.
When he was satisfied, he turned back to his dinner companion. ‘So, Bob, where’s this damned leak coming from?’
Bob looked worried. ‘I can’t believe it, I really can’t. Shit! Who knew about the report? Yourself, the King, me, Jimmy. The others working on the follow-ups haven’t been told that the report exists, let alone its contents - unless, young Chen ..?’
BJ shook his head. ‘Chen knows only what I tell him and that’s precious little. He’s on the site to listen out for any information on the guns and who might be involved. I trust him. I think he’d have his tongue cut out rather than talk. Not that he has much to talk about.’
‘I agree, but I can’t believe you’ve talked out of turn, I know I haven’t, and I’d back Jimmy all the way. He’s the most secretive devil I know. You can’t even get his bookie’s information out of him, let alone high level secret stuff.’
‘Are you suggesting the King?’
Bob looked horrified. ‘Of course not. More than my life’s worth. You can’t think ..?’
‘Then who,’ BJ asked softly, ‘talked to Guy? Or was it just a lucky guess? Has he found an extra good fortune teller?’
Bob shrugged. ‘He’s on the police liaison committee. So is David. Plenty of opportunity to pick up information. Perhaps it was only a hint and he took it from there.’
BJ gave a short laugh. ‘One of us dropping hints with the drinks after committee meetings? Try again, Bob.’
‘Damn, we’re all above suspicion, handpicked by yourself, we’ve all taken good care not to let this one out of the bag ...’
‘Guy knew.’ BJ interrupted. ‘He was pumping me to see what I know. I don’t like that. Should’ve been the other way round.’ He smiled faintly, refilled his glass, then reached over and topped up Bob’s. ‘Apart from the committee, Langfords have all sorts of connections with the force, socially and in business. Even the King, while hating David’s guts, is very thick with the Price brothers. No, it comes back to which of us who knew about the report has been criminally careless or, and I don’t want to even think about the implications, is deliberately leaking our findings to someone in the organisation? That’s going to cause a major headache for all of us so he has to be stopped before he does any more damage.’
Bob frowned. ‘If Langford-Price is involved and they’ve been alerted, there’s not much more damage that can be done.’
‘Not the point.’ BJ said dourly. ‘Revenge, Bob. I want the man who betrayed my trust and I want him fast. I want his balls for a souvenir to hang on my mantelpiece. And I don’t care what rank those balls are.’
‘Even if they’re a King’s?’
‘Especially if they’re a King’s.’
Both men were silent, each following his own thoughts. Then BJ said abruptly, ‘Wing Chang’s adamant the Triads aren’t involved. It’s not their style, anyway. Drugs, extortion, gambling, prostitution; oh, yes, they’re very active in that way. But arming the citizens would be counterproductive in the long run and might backfire badly, no pun intended. They need to keep their territories under strict control.’
Bob grinned. ‘He told you in so many words?’
‘Merely implied, as a concerned citizen, as usual. He also implied, by way of a gentle reminder, what the Narcotics Bureau knows only too well; that a lot of heroin traffickers aren’t Triad members. They’re business men, restaurateurs, factory owners, who merely see drugs as another type of commodity where they can make big money quickly; and secrecy is their great strength. He did, most politely, stress the big hongs, the trading companies, with their overseas links and shipping facilities. He just stopped short of naming Langford-Price but his finger was definitely pointing in that direction, with great delicacy.’
‘All without committing himself?’
BJ raised an eyebrow. ‘Rumours, Bob, rumours. Though I can tell you, he knows something. Maybe another tong, with major boat-rocking ability, has managed to start up. He was very much occupied throughout dinner with doing sums in his head and he didn’t like the way they added up.’
BJ leaned forward and carefully began to rearrange the various bowls on the table. He continued, almost to himself, ‘Wing doesn’t believe the stories about guns being stockpiled. I’m beginning to have my own doubts. If the report isn’t accurate, then it’s a very clever red herring to throw us completely off the scent of what’s really going on. And it very nearly worked,’ his jaw tightened, ‘which makes me angry.’ He aligned the condiments neatly then sat back and contemplated his work. ‘I don’t like being messed about, Bob,’ he said. ‘I don’t like being taken for a ride - and especially, I don’t like being taken for a fool.’ He added, with an odd inflection, ‘Wing Chang offered to make it his business to find out what’s going on.’
‘I hope the gods give him better joss than I’ve had with Second Vampire.’ Bob said sourly. ‘He knows he’s in deep shit, but he’s clammed up tighter than a virgin’s panties.’
‘He’s still sticking to his story that he heard a rumour there were guns in a skip on the LP site so he climbed over the fence and nicked them?’
‘Balls! They can’t have been there for any length of time or they’d have been discovered. The skip’s in constant use.’
‘That’s what I told him. He accredited the gods for giving him extra special joss.’
‘He knew exactly where they were and when they were put there.’ BJ said grimly. ‘He must be hand in glove with whoever had them before that.’
‘It’s a safe bet.’
‘He reckons First Vampire’s dead, killed in a tong war. Gave me his name and everything.’ Bob gave an ironic grunt. ‘When I checked, there certainly was a man of that name, now deceased - I saw his grave right where Second Vampire said - but I couldn’t connect him with any gang activities. He was just a poor worker in a garment factory in the back streets of Kowloon, killed in a factory accident, not in a gun battle with a rival gang. The little sod doesn’t even lie convincingly.’
‘Keep on him. You’ll break him.’
‘I threatened to release him. He’s fully aware that he’d be in danger of his life if we let him go, now he’s betrayed whoever had the guns.’
‘Did that work?’
‘I left him to think about it. Told him I was seriously worried for his health. I painted a grim picture of what his mortal remains would look like within half an hour of his leaving our custody. He seemed impressed.’ Bob’s serious face relaxed into a smile.
BJ glanced across the dim, smoke-filled room and his eyes narrowed. A slim youth, wearing blue jeans and a black leather jacket, cautiously picked his way towards them between the crowded tables. His long dark eyes, slanted above wide cheekbones, were fixed on the inspector’s face.
‘Here’s Chen now. Grab another chair, Bob’.
Constable Chen nervously took the seat his superior indicated, and pushed his soft black hair from his forehead. He sat on the edge of his chair, awed at meeting the inspector and Sergeant Lee in the elegant surroundings of the Bengali Rose. This was flying high. If Connie Wu could see him now ...
Chen took a deep breath, ‘I fronted as a labourer yesterday as ordered, and they took me on. Pick and shovel and pushing a wheelbarrow around. Started talking to the other workers but everyone’s playing very innocent.’
‘They don’t suspect you?’ BJ watched the boy intently.
Tommy said he had pretended to be curious, assuming a thirst for drama. It had hardly been necessary; the guns were openly discussed among the workers.
‘Everyone says they’re not involved and who can fathom the workings of the gods or the tongs or both. I’m putting it about that I’m a high roller with gambling debts, desperate for extra cash, don’t much care what the job is. If there’s anything going down, I might get a nibble.’
‘Good. Anything else?’
Chen cast the inspector an anxious look. He’d had the bad joss to run into a cousin, Chen Wu, who’d recognised him. Tommy had said he was on leave and short of cash so he’d taken the job. He’d warned his cousin not to mention it in the family or Tommy would lose face.
‘He thinks a police job’s lousy anyway and it’s better to clean lavatories than work for the force so it just confirmed to him that the pay’s lousy as well.’ Tommy flushed slightly. ‘I don’t think so, sir, of course,’ he added hastily.
BJ hid a smile. ‘Is that all?’
Chen thought Lo Chin suspected something and might have overheard him talking to Cousin Wu. Or perhaps someone had told the foreman that the new hand asked too many questions about the guns.
‘I’ve been very careful, sir,’ he assured BJ quickly, ‘I know how to work undercover. I’m pretty sure I couldn’t have been spotted.’
‘Then why do you think he’s suspicious?’
‘It’s just a feeling, sir.’ Tommy paused then continued, ‘He’s been watching me a bit oddly, made a comment in my hearing about spies. Nothing specific, just general. Like, spies from other companies trying to find out Langford-Price’s plans. But he looked straight at me. I laughed it off, said I wasn’t working for any other company but dropped the hint that extra money’d be useful, in case he was the one.’
The constable fidgeted under BJ’s direct gaze and added, ‘It was all a bit of a laugh, really. There were a few of us there. Then Lo stiffened up and ordered us back to work or we’d all be out of a job. I realised management was on its way over so I got busy in a hurry. Since then, I think Lo’s had his eye on me.’
‘Which management?’ BJ asked casually.
‘The cousins, Guy and Pat Langford. Mr Guy was showing his cousin around the site. Mr Price was with them, too. Oh, and I did get something interesting, sir.’
BJ waited. ‘Well? Let’s have it.’
Chen grinned, pleased to have made the inspector curious. ‘Second Vampire, Yeo Ping, worked at the LP site!’
BJ expelled his breath slowly. ‘Did he, now?’
‘He was taken on suddenly last month, the 27th, then he just disappeared - never came back.’
Bob nodded. ‘When we picked him up.’
‘Yes. What do you mean, he was taken on suddenly?’ BJ asked.
‘It wasn’t in the usual fashion. They had all the men they needed. It set some backs up. He was a bit of a loud mouth, a bit flash, fancied himself. Hinted that he was in with the management and someone high up had swung it.’
‘Doesn’t make sense, sir,’ Bob broke in. ‘Why tell him where the guns were so he could steal them, then make it easy for him by getting him a job on the site?’
‘Ask him.’ BJ nodded to the constable. ‘Good work, Tommy. Keep your eyes and ears well open and watch out for Lo. Perhaps you’d better wait for a while and see if the seeds you’ve planted bear any good fruit for us. Keep your head down.’
‘Yes, sir, I was going to do that.’
‘Report to me here, same time tomorrow.’
Chen took himself off and Bob cursed softly. ‘If there’s a leak, the foreman could’ve been tipped off we had a spy on the site.’
BJ gave him a grim look. ‘That same thought crossed my mind in rather a hurry.’ His eyes were partly masked by their heavy lids. ‘Why didn’t we know about Yeo Ping?’
‘He wasn’t on the list,’ Bob said quickly. ‘I rechecked all the casuals.’
‘Go back to the site. Ask them why Yeo wasn’t listed. Let them know we know.’
‘They’ll say it was a clerical error,’ Bob predicted caustically, ‘but it puts them in an interesting light.’
BJ frowned. ‘Very interesting,’ he agreed. ‘I don’t like where this is leading, Bob.’