Hong Kong - Wednesday December 11th, 1996
Walter Delaney had been early on Kowloon side for a breakfast meeting at the Crowne Plaza in Salisbury Road. The hotel was on the waterfront, had a desirable harbour view, and was handy to the Cross Harbour Tunnel.
He strolled along the waterfront promenade and paused to watch the hover ferry powering away from the shore on its cross harbour run to Central. A sharp breeze, blowing in from the north, ruffled the newspaper man’s iron grey thatch. Patches of pale blue sky were breaking through the blanket of white which had tucked the colony in the previous night.
Delaney’s stocky figure was protected from the chill by a navy overcoat over his dark blue double-breasted pinstripe suit. He stood, sniffing the wind like an old wild dog, his senses alert to the suggestion of snow, and something else he could never quite put his finger on, but which always came with a north wind and caused a faint unease to pervade his body.
That’s the wind from China, he thought. One day it will blow right over the top of us all, and then what?
He thought of Maggie curled up in bed, still deeply asleep when he’d left. He’d bent and kissed her and she’d stirred and muttered something.
Should he get her out? Send her back home to the States? She could move in with Margaret and Dan. Their kids would love to have their grandmother to stay. He could hang on here, see which way the cat jumped ... He smiled to himself at the impossibility of Maggie being a grandmother. He still thought of her as a girl, or at most, the young, vibrant mother of twin three year olds who had enthusiastically packed their bags and followed him halfway around the world to make a home for him and young Margaret and Zachary in what, to a small town country girl, was very much an alien society.
And now Margaret and Dan had their own family and Maggie and he were grandparents and thirty-five years married. Jesus H Christ!
He hailed a taxi and gave the driver the address of the Post in Central District. After twenty-seven years in Hong Kong he spoke Cantonese as perfectly as any Westerner could, having mastered the complicated language in which so many words, to an untrained ear, were indistinguishable from each other and yet were quite different in meaning, causing an unwary stranger to find himself being unintentionally offensive.
Traffic flowed into Kowloon through the tunnel. Walter caught a glimpse of a familiar figure in a maroon Jaguar waiting at the lights as the taxi carried him past.
There’s Pat, he thought, on his way out to Kai Tak. He’s early for the China flight. Poor bastard must have been stewed up about Wanda. Probably didn’t sleep much. A few days away from Hong Kong’ll do him good - and maybe bring that she-devil back to her senses.
He smiled grimly. Maybe in six months they’d all be out of the colony and making new lives in the outside world, and today’s troubles would seem very small indeed.
Gloria Langford presided over the breakfast table laid in a sunny corner of a wide, glassed-in verandah in the eastern wing of the house which overlooked a formal English-style garden. Beyond the ordered flower beds and neat paths, the heavily wooded mountain plunged down to the crowded Causeway Bay area and the Happy Valley racetrack.
Emma, always conscious of her appearance, carefully retied the ribbon on one of her long, corn gold plaits. ‘I got an A in History,’ she told her aunt proudly. ‘It was a bit of a fluke though. I couldn’t remember the date of the Crimean War, so I wrote all about Florence Nightingale nursing the wounded soldiers. Mrs Satterthwaite thought I’d misunderstood the question.’ Her wide-set grey eyes danced with mischief.
‘It’s silly, having to learn about old wars,’ Kit put in. ‘It’s much more exciting, what’s happening right here. What a shame we missed the riots. Only we learnt all about them, of course.’
‘I wouldn’t like to be a nurse,’ Emma continued, ‘and have to look at horrible injuries. We won’t have to do that here, will we, Auntie Gloria?’
‘Of course not.’ Gloria carefully sliced the top from her boiled egg. She looked pale and drawn this morning but tried to concentrate on the children’s conversation rather than the dark memory in her mind of Pat’s face as he’d said goodbye to her on Monday night. She forced herself to say lightly, ‘You know what Daddy says, there won’t be any trouble here.’
‘But there was, and we weren’t here. We were in stupid old Australia with Mummy,’ Kit complained.
‘You were too young, and you wouldn’t have seen anything if you’d been here.’
Emma gave a delicate shudder. ‘Was it awful, Auntie Gloria?’
Gloria put down her knife. ‘I wasn’t involved. I only read about it in the papers and saw it on the news. It was very bad and a lot of poor Chinese were hurt.’
‘When the communists come, will there be another riot? Could I have a gun and fight?’ Kit’s blue eyes gleamed.
‘You could finish your breakfast, Kit, which would be a lot more sensible. Daddy said the Beijing government doesn’t want trouble. We’ll be safe. Now, get ready and I’ll ring for Chiang to bring the car round or you’ll be late for school.’
Guy walked in as the children left the table. ‘Hello, you two. Have you been behaving?’ He kissed Emma and ruffled Kit’s fair hair.
‘Of course,’ Kit said impatiently. ‘Daddy, if there are riots next year, can I have a gun and fight?’
‘If there are riots, which there won’t be, you’ll be on a plane and out of the country,’ Guy said shortly, ‘so don’t talk nonsense. Off you go, now.’
Gloria smiled as the children left the room. ‘The boys at school are planning the last defence of Hong Kong, so Kit’s a bit wound up.’ She glanced at the clock. ‘You’re up late.’
Privately she knew Guy hadn’t come in at all last night and assumed he’d been at his Eastern Dawn apartment with his new girl but she kept up the pretence for the sake of the children and to save herself embarrassment. ‘You’ll be awfully late for work, Guy.’
He stretched and yawned. ‘I rang the office. I’m taking the morning off. Taking the Evening Star out for a sail.’
Taking Silver Moon out for a sail, more like, Gloria thought crossly but she smiled mechanically and said, ‘That’ll be nice, you’ve been working so hard lately and all hours. You deserve a break. Coffee?’
‘Thanks.’ He reached for the cup. ‘I suppose old Pat’s well away,’ he remarked. ‘He was leaving on the first flight. He’ll be in China by now.’
‘Yes.’ Gloria kept her eyes on her cup.
Guy leaned over the table and patted her hand with brotherly concern. ‘I wish you’d forget Pat,’ he said gently. ‘Can’t you see Wanda’s got her hooks well and truly into him? I doubt he’ll ever let her go and I hate to see you made so miserable. There are plenty more men in the colony without hankering after him. I mean, I’m fond of old Pat, but he’s not doing you any good.’
‘I don’t want to talk about it, Guy.’
‘All right, it’s your business, after all. I just wish you could find someone else to make you happy. You’re a beautiful girl, Gloria. You deserve better than this.’
‘I’m happy with you and Kit and Emma,’ Gloria said defensively. ‘I’m not in any hurry to change. After all, I’m hardly on the shelf yet.’
He grinned but she felt his preoccupation and slipped away to see the children off, wishing Guy would follow his own advice, find himself a wife and leave the bar girls alone.
He looks as if he’s had a heavy night, she thought. Honestly, men. She’d heard even David had a Chinese girl on the side, but Jean turned a blind eye. At least Pat had been faithful to Wanda, Gloria was sure. He was a good, steady man. She’d never heard any rumours about him. Pat was a rare one, and loyal.
A tear trickled down her face. Oh, Pat, she appealed to him silently, hurry back to me. I’ll make you forget Wanda and really love me. I know I can.
Further along the Peak, on Langford Drive, Mona Feng was brewing the servants’ tea while Sen Lok cooked congee, the rice cereal eaten by most Chinese families for breakfast.
‘The boss left a mess,’ the cook complained. ‘That’s not like him. He usually clears away his plates if he has to leave early.’
‘He wasn’t himself last night,’ Mona soothed. ‘From the look of his bed he tossed around as if he had a thousand devils in with him. And the gods only know what he was thinking of, going off in the same suit he was wearing last night. He must have, because it’s nowhere to be seen.’ She clicked her tongue and poured the steaming tea into china bowls. ‘That little madam upset him, just as she’s always turned the household upside down with her vicious temper. I heard him come in very late … goodness knows what time it was, but too late for someone who had to be up early to drive to the airport.’
Houseboy Weng came in, grinning. Mona rounded on him. ‘And where have you been, illegitimate son of a tortoise? You’ve been neglecting your duties.’
Weng sat down and winked at Sen Lok. ‘This scolding old mother should mind her own business, eh, cook?’
Sen Lok began to dish out the congee. ‘I sent the boy to post some letters the boss left on the bureau. One was to Miss Gloria. I thought it should go right away.’
Mona drew in her breath sharply. ‘What did the letter say?’ she demanded.
‘Am I a nosy old woman to be opening private letters? Anyway, my cousin Chiang works for Miss Gloria. He’ll tell us when he knows.’
‘Good.’ Mona nodded her approval. ‘We should know what’s going on. Can’t expect the gods to be watching every little detail for us. We have to help ourselves, sometimes.’
‘That’s so.’ Sen Lok began to eat. ‘Any more news from the Langfords’ house, Weng?’
Captain Ho was supervising the loading of crates aboard his junk. The captain of the China Wind was a broad-faced, barrel-chested old sea dog, his eyes permanently creased from decades of squinting against the glare of sun on water. His bald head and short, muscular limbs were tanned to brown leather. Keen eyes looked out from under grey bristle-brows.
One-Eye Ling, moored alongside, leaned over the rail of his own junk, the Eastern Luck Trader, and spat into the oily water of the harbour. The long, jagged scar which ran from his forehead to his cheek, cutting through the empty right eye socket, twisted as he grinned. A large man, he scratched his sparse grey hair and boomed across to Ho, ‘That’s a good load. Langford-Price must be lucky for you.’
Captain Ho gave his friend a knowing wink. ‘It’s not all for the company. We look after family business as well. If we can combine the two, well, the gods smile on us, yes?’
‘More jade going overseas from second son Ho’s emporiums?’
Captain Ho nodded with reluctant admiration. ‘You may only have one eye, Ling, but it sees far and with the strength of a sea eagle. Can you read the marks on the boxes from there?’
One-Eye Ling shrugged his big shoulders. ‘The gods compensated me for the loss of the eye all those years ago. That typhoon!’ He hawked loudly and spat again. ‘I lost my ship and I lost my eye but it was a small price to pay for my life. The gods gave me a better ship from the insurance money, and made my one eye sharper than the two ever were, so I’m not complaining. You’d better pray they don’t turn their backs on you, Ho. If the Langfords catch you working for your son when you’re supposed to be doing their business, you’ll be in deep shit.’
‘Am I a frightened virgin to be bothered by such talk?’ Ho countered scornfully. ‘Anyway, I only take it so far.’ He pointed out across the water. ‘There’s a ship, organised by San. I only have to drop the jade off on my way. When I dock in Shanghai, my manifests are all right.’
‘The Customs devils’ll get you, curse them and their interfering ways. They won’t let a man earn an honest dollar on the side.’
Ho winked again. ‘The gods are on the side of the family Ho. Haven’t they blessed us with a son in the Customs Department?’
One-Eye Ling chuckled deeply. ‘Of course. Third son, Ho Chung. Perhaps he could swing a little deal for me?’
Ho pursed his mouth, his eyes bright. ‘If the price was right and a cut for me as the go-between, it might be arranged.’
‘I’ll see you when you return, then. Good luck, old friend, and good hunting.’
Ho shouted instructions and the junk’s powerful engines throbbed into life. Ropes fell away from the ship and the China Wind began to move through the congested harbour on her way to the open sea.