Hong Kong - Thursday December 19th, 1996
BJ passed a restless night. Before the dawn light began to filter through the windows he finally gave up all pretence of trying to sleep and prowled restlessly about his apartment.
He poured himself a whisky and soda and drank it slowly, his eyes on Victoria’s photograph on the coffee table. ‘Don’t say it,’ he told her. ‘I know it’s no solution but, without my wise one to counsel me, what do you expect?’
He touched the cold glass covering Victoria’s face, remembering the soft feel of her hair under his hand. ‘You loved Jean too,’ he said slowly, then lapsed into silence. It was clear Jean was worried. So was he. Pat wouldn’t miss the Langford Cup unless he was in real trouble.
BJ remembered the Christmas when Pat had first won with Pride Of Place, a showy stallion Victoria had teased him about - until he won a bundle for her. ‘But you wouldn’t let Pat think he could pick a good horse,’ BJ murmured. ‘You gave Old Sing all the credit.’
He smiled tenderly at the memory. Victoria had looked Pat right in the eye and said, ‘Old Sing’s a genius.’ That had flattened the boy’s ego.
BJ picked up the photograph and looked into his wife’s eyes, So, what would you do? He thought. Would you let it go or try to talk sense to Pat? Who would you ask about him?
The echo of Victoria’s voice came back to him with the memory of her wicked smile as she’d faced a cocky young Pat, so sure he knew it all.
‘Old Sing’s a genius, wouldn’t you say, Pat?’
BJ suddenly replaced the photograph on the table and, grabbing his jacket, left the apartment.
The stables were warm and smelled of fresh hay and mash, leather and polish, and the wholesome scent of healthy animals. Coming in from the cold white mist world outside, BJ felt comforted by the peaceful orderliness. Horses looked out at him with curiosity from their looseboxes. They tossed their heads and snorted, and stamped their hooves dully on the straw.
Pat’s trainer was at the far end of the building, brewing an early morning pot of tea with the air of a man who’d been working for hours and was taking a well-earned break. His wrinkled face, as weathered as ancient granite, broke into a gappy grin as he recognised the inspector.
‘Ah, Inspector BJ. Come to watch the Pride at work?
BJ smiled. ‘Will he win on Saturday?’
‘Oh, sure. Haven’t we got the lucky red and number eight? The Pride’ll win in two lengths from the Lass. You listen to me and put all your cash on him and you’ll be a rich man.’
‘Mr Pat will be sorry to miss such a fine race.’
The trainer’s old eyes peered sharply up at him from under yellow, wrinkled lids. ‘What’s that? Mr Pat won’t miss the Langford Cup. Isn’t he coming home today to ride the champion?’
‘So I thought. Mr Langford’s heard from him. He’s not coming home until after Christmas.’
The old man poured his tea thoughtfully. ‘Not coming home for the Cup?’ He shook his head in disbelief. ‘An inspector should get his facts right - or are you drunk so early in the morning?’
‘It’s true.’ BJ sat next to him on the bench that ran along the wall at the end of the stables. ‘Mrs Langford told me last night.’
Sing put his cup down and BJ noticed his hands were trembling; some of the tea slopped out. ‘Not coming home? That’s bad, that’s very bad. Is the boy in trouble? Is it the family he’s running away from?’
‘Why running away?’
‘Ah, I know Mr Pat, better than any of them. He was here on Tuesday,’ the trainer counted on his fingers, ‘nine days ago. He sat right where you are and we talked. It was obvious he was troubled in his mind.’
‘Do you know what he was troubled about?’
Old Sing cackled suddenly, his eyes bright slits of laughter. ‘What troubles a boy who’s got more cash than he’ll ever spend, a horse that can’t lose and a high position in business and society? A woman, always a woman. But,’ he cocked his head to one side and grinned knowingly, ‘which woman? He wants his cousin, but the boy’s married to a she-devil. So, why isn’t he coming home? Is he hiding from the she-devil or the pretty cousin?’
He sobered suddenly and picked up his cup again. He drank the tea in a few gulps and stood up. ‘The family’s been putting too much pressure on the boy, along with his own conscience,’ he muttered. He stared at BJ. ‘You find him and tell him to come home. Nothing ever gets solved by hiding from trouble. You have to stand up straight, call on the gods, trust in yourself to see it through.’
He began to pack his tea things. ‘If young Mr Pat’s running away it’ll only be worse for him when he does come home. You talk to him, Inspector BJ, you say what Old Sing told you!’
BJ drove to Hollywood Road. As soon as he entered the police station, the desk sergeant jumped to his feet.
‘Urgent message for you, sir, from Sergeant Lee. Can you see him right away?’
‘Tell him I’m on my way up.’
BJ arrived at his door to find Bob pacing up and down the corridor. ‘Come in, Bob and sit down before you go up in smoke.’
Bob threw himself impatiently into a chair and drove agitated fingers through his short hair. ‘I tried to ring you, early. You weren’t at home.’
BJ experienced a twinge of guilt. Bob had probably also tried his mobile phone, only to find that, as usual, it was turned off. All plain clothes officers were supposed to carry their mobiles at all times, but BJ hated the thing; it interrupted him at the most inconvenient times. He’d taken to simply switching it off.
‘I went to have a word with Old Sing,’ he said. ‘He didn’t know Pat isn’t going to ride in the Cup. I suppose Simon Long will have the honour. Old Sing predicts a big win for the Pride, for what it’s worth.’
‘BJ,’ Bob spluttered, ‘we’ve got bigger worries than Pat’s not coming home. Second Vampire’s dead.’
‘Yeo Ping. Dead. In his cell.’
BJ sat down heavily. ‘I assume, not from natural causes?’
‘Not unless the boy strangled himself.’ Bob said caustically. ‘It’s down to those useless sons of bitches who were supposed to watch him. I told them to guard Yeo like the crown jewels, and they let someone walk straight past them and top him.’
‘Calm down, Bob. The facts would be nice.’
‘Sorry.’ Bob smoothed back his hair. ‘Last night someone got into the cells - probably in uniform, because no one was seen except the uniform division - and strangled Yeo Ping with his bare hands. His body was discovered at first light. I’d ordered regular checks to make sure he didn’t try to harm himself.’
‘He never talked,’ BJ said thoughtfully. ‘It seems he had very good reason to be scared of whatever organisation was after him.’
‘All last night’s shift are being questioned.’
‘One of our people bribed?’
Bob spread his hands. ‘We should have been more alert.’
BJ quickly shook his head. ‘Not your fault, Bob, you took every precaution; but now we know the sort of talent we’re up against.’
‘The other Vampires are in danger. I really think they know fuck-all but that won’t save them if someone thinks they have information.’
‘I’ve been thinking.’ BJ said. ‘I know what Yeo Ping was up to. He wasn’t taking the guns out. He was the one who put the bloody things in the skip in the first place.’
Bob stared. ‘Why?’
‘Figure it out. He’s put on the job by someone in management when they don’t really need him. He comes in and out with a large holdall, far too big for his needs. He’s searched going out but never coming in. One day he brings the guns in, dumps them in the skip, then gets picked up that night. Before the guns can be removed by his contact, he panics and spills the beans.’ BJ watched Bob thinking it through. ‘So we end up with the guns. He can’t say he’s putting them in the skip so he pretends he’s found them there by accident.’
‘It doesn’t make sense, sir.’
‘Yes it does. Think. The boy was hardly an honest and upright member of society. He was a petty thief. Suppose, in the course of his thieving, he came across a big stash of weapons. Great! Easy money and lots of face among the tongs. The Vampires start to sell the guns. Of course they did; suddenly all sorts of neighbourhood tongs were tooled up. But he’s not too smart, poor old Second Vampire.’
BJ smiled slightly. ‘What did Chen say? He was a mouth, flash and cocky. Liked to think he was important. So, whoever owned the guns caught up with him and scared him so badly he wouldn’t talk to save his own miserable skin. That one slip of his that gave us the guns cost him his life,’ BJ finished wryly. ‘I imagine he’d been told to return the guns, or else!’
‘But, that means the guns belonged to someone high up in Langford-Price, if he was deliberately got on site so he could return them.’
‘Well done Bob, top of the class,’ BJ’s smile was grim. ‘I’d rather come to that painful conclusion myself.’