Hong Kong - Thursday December 19th, 1996
The private telephone on Guy’s desk buzzed. He put Gloria from him and caught up the receiver. ‘Hold,’ He said briefly.
Gloria smiled and shook her head quickly. ‘Not on my account. You’re busy and I’m meeting Jean for lunch, so I’ll be off.’
She turned at the door, blew him a kiss, and left. Guy stood for a moment, gripping the receiver, his stomach a hard knot of emotion, then spoke sharply into the mouthpiece. ‘Yes?’
‘Guy? Jon. Is this a bad time?’
‘Jon! No, I’m free now.’ Guy sank into his chair and thrust his hair back from his forehead. ‘I didn’t expect to hear from you again so soon. How’s the Sydney operation ...’ he broke off and added quickly, ‘There’s no trouble?’
‘Are you expecting any? No, everything’s very satisfactory. I miss third son Ho.’
Guy chuckled. ‘Can’t bribe the Aussie Customs?’
‘No need. The MacKenzie Trader 2’s due in tomorrow. I’m sure Captain Ho’s shipment will pass muster. I’m more concerned about Wanda. I’m still trying to get in touch with her.’
‘She’s gone away for a while. What’s the problem, Jon? You’re not trying to get her back?’
Jon gave a short laugh. ‘Wouldn’t be much use. She was just using me to get back at Pat, that’s bloody obvious. It’s better if she stays there.’
‘You’ll get over it,’ Guy said lightly. ‘I did.’
‘Well, if you do hear anything, give me a call.’
Guy tensed. ‘Look, you know things are fraught here. We don’t need any problems your end. You’d be well advised to quit worrying about Pat’s wife and concentrate on your side of things.’
Jon’s voice was cold. ‘Is that a warning?’
‘If you like,’ Guy said affably. ‘It’s time you got Wanda out of your system. I want to clear quite a large shipment of jade - some really valuable pieces - out of the warehouse. Second son Ho’s got hold of some interesting items from up north and I don’t want to risk storing them for too long. I’m sending another load on the Elaine MacKenzie, sailing on the twenty-eighth. Can you handle it?’
‘No problem. I’ve got buyers waiting this end.’
‘Good. The gods have blessed us with amazing joss and handsome profits. An interesting sideline all around.’
In the outer office, the fax machine whirred gently and inched out a message. Jenny rose quickly and took the paper as the machine sliced it neatly off the roll.
‘It’s from Pat, for Guy,’ she studied the fax. ‘From the Chow’s machine.’
Mary’s brows knitted. ‘He’s not supposed to be there yet. Perhaps Chow Lin-chi’s writing for him.’
‘No, it’s Pat’s signature. Guy sent a fax earlier. This must be the answer.’
‘I’ll take it in.’ Mary got up and took the message. ‘Pat must have had good joss and finished his work early to be in Shanghai so soon.’
Tommy Chen was in the police station canteen, propositioning Connie Wu. The girl looked him over with mock admiration, an amused light in her dark almond-eyes. ‘You’re getting to be a big man, Chen. If you keep on like this, you never know.’
Tommy winced. ‘And if you keep turning that snooty nose of yours up, you might miss out altogether,’ he returned, stung.
‘Oho. You fancy yourself. I’m dating Sergeant Ng from Homicide. Why should I waste my time on a boy constable?’
‘That’s for me to know and you to find out, if you get that lucky.’ Tommy stood up. ‘I’ve never had any complaints. In fact, my women are always very well satisfied with my performance. I’m in demand, these days.’ He moved off, wondering why he subjected himself to this humiliation with such monotonous regularity. How could he let a dab of a girl make him look such a fool; even if she did have a cute button nose, and her mouth, with its full bottom lip and even white teeth, was so tempting?
Connie called after him, ‘Then you wouldn’t have time for me in your full up diary, so I don’t think I’ll bother, thanks.’
Tommy swallowed and turned back to the table. ‘Come on, Connie, it’d be fun. I’ll give you a good time. We can have a meal, go to the street festival in Causeway Bay.’
She tossed her head. ‘I have plans for tonight. Cissy Feng and I are going out with Sergeant Ng and his friend. Perhaps another time, if I can fit you into my diary.’
As he walked away, Chen cursed his luck. She’d be sorry, the hard- hearted little bitch. One of these days, he’d talk her round and then, when she was hot for him, he’d dump her. And serve her right!
Sadly, he didn’t find such thoughts really bolstered his ego. He was uneasily aware that, if Connie deigned to accept one of his frequent invitations, he’d be over the moon, and putty in her capable little hands.
Peter King stared out of his office window. On apartment balconies opposite, a variety of songbirds carolled and chirped through their exquisite repertoires from bamboo cages carefully placed to catch the sun. If he opened the window he could hear them, imagine he was back home in a green garden with soft pastel skies, and woods just across the fields. But, if he opened the window, he’d also hear the constant traffic that was never, never quiet, the noise of six million people, the incessant building and tearing down and rebuilding. He’d smell the pollution, the foul stench of the mass of humanity, the stink of God knew what unspeakable filthy drains and back alleys. Thirty years and he still wasn’t used to it.
Sandra copes with it better than I, he thought. God, I loathe this bloody place with its closed faces, so polite, but hating you behind your back, the corruption and the thirst for money, the burning heat and the violent weather.
His wife had long since given up asking why he stuck it. Why not transfer back home? He always claimed a sense of duty, his mission to clean up corruption. Sometimes he almost believed it himself.
The truth was far less noble. It was his compulsive desire for retribution that held him in the colony, a prisoner of his own vindictiveness.
Retirement would soon force him to leave. But, like a long-awaited miracle, his chance had finally come. Before he went he’d take that smug bastard Langford down so many pegs he’d never regain face in Hong Kong as long as he lived.
He swung his chair back to BJ who waited patiently, a slightly sardonic expression on his long, gentle face. King was uneasy, unsure how much of his thoughts the inspector could read. Born in the colony, BJ had the Eastern habit of inscrutability which infuriated his superior.
At the same time, the commander acknowledged that his ability to sense the moods and thoughts of those less in control of their emotions was a useful trait which had served the interests of justice well. People betrayed themselves to BJ in a hundred tiny ways; the twitch of an eye, a muscle tightening, a clenched jaw, an almost unnoticeable tic under the skin.
The King’s own famous lack of emotion was consciously maintained and he resented BJ’s quiet scrutiny. His pale eyes narrowed until they were almost hidden in the pouched flesh. Was he sitting there like a Buddha, reading his senior as he read others? He’d have pleasure in ordering the inspector to do the one thing that would hurt him the most. He’d settle that score as well, then he could retire in peace.
‘You haven’t progressed very far at all,’ he said, still with that half curt, half triumphant tone.
BJ knew what the King was inwardly gloating about and held his peace.
The HKDU and the FCD had been specifically named in BJ’s original report, the commander reminded him, as allegedly selling opium to the Triads, then using the substantial profits to stockpile weapons. ‘You told me yourself you couldn’t disprove it - and you’ve done sweet bugger-all to deal with it.’
BJ gently raised his eyebrows. ‘We’ve been very active in investigating the allegations, and they are only allegations,’ he added with quiet emphasis. ‘Both are bonafide companies, correctly registered as businesses under the Act, doing exactly what they claim. Promoting democracy, lobbying for democratic systems to be set into law and providing money for the democratic movement in China which, though it may not suit Beijing, isn’t against Hong Kong law.’
BJ waited as King made a move to speak then subsided. He continued his report. In his opinion it would be extremely premature to act on suspicion alone. His team had secretly recorded and videoed meetings of both groups. David Langford, HKDU - there was an almost imperceptible hesitation, a deepening of the smooth voice - and Walter Delaney, FCD, were under surveillance, all their dealings noted. Delaney and the Choys had American connections. American money was known to support the democratic movement, the US government being committed to the encouragement in every way of a democratic China. As Paul Choy was a director of Langford-Price and conjointly managed the shipping side with Ben Price, it was an excellent opportunity for one - or the other, BJ paused delicately, to traffic in drugs and guns. The activities of both men were being closely monitored.
‘And?’ King asked harshly.
BJ remembered the commander’s friendship with Ben. Let him sweat a little and see how it feels, he thought with momentary viciousness. His eyes were masked under their heavy lids. The pause lengthened ...
BJ raised his eyes. ‘So far they’re clean,’ he admitted finally. ‘All the directors of LP are under scrutiny. We’re taking the allegations extremely seriously. Something else has just come to my attention.’ He passed Lo’s letter over the desk.
King read it through. ‘I’d heard rumours,’ he said smugly. ‘It seems to me you’ve totally missed the point. Your prejudices are interfering with your judgement as I predicted they would from the beginning.’
BJ said nothing. There was nothing he could say. He knew what was in the King’s obsessive mind and he had to own it was a possibility, however unwelcome.
‘They say Patrick Langford’s on the run.’ The commander shrugged. ‘It seems clear to me. This letter was meant for him, or David. Pat’s been involved from the start; he probably recruited his father when he was transferred to Australia. David’s never hidden his fears for the future of the Hong Kong Chinese after June, in spite of almost overwhelming support for Beijing from the other business leaders. When the Langfords realised Lo was on to them, Pat killed him and fled the colony, using his quarrel with his wife as an excuse to stay away.’
‘We don’t know that Pat and Wanda quarrelled,’ BJ said. ‘It’s rumour, gossip.’
‘It’s fact,’ King said. ‘I had dinner with Walter and Maggie Delaney. They heard the Langfords in a heated argument in Pat’s car at a lookout on the Peak road. According to Maggie, Wanda was screaming. She thought they should intervene, but Walter disagreed, so they left the scene.’
He smoothed his close-clipped moustache complacently. ‘I’ve informed Brian Tan that Pat’s behaviour is suspicious in the extreme. He’s looking into his movements after the fight with Wanda. Pat’s Jaguar was seen in Yau Ma Tei at 1:30 on the morning the foreman’s body was found. Post mortem put the time of death at between midnight and 2:00. If Pat returns he’ll be arrested, also his father, for complicity.’ He sat back in his chair, awaiting protest.
‘You’ve absolutely no proof of that,’ BJ said softly.
‘Brian will get proof,’ King snapped. ‘David and Jean are covering for their son, blaming his wife for his absence; but they’re both hiding something.’
‘They’ve been questioned?’ BJ held his anger in check.
‘Obviously.’ King gave him a cool stare. ‘Who else would Pat confide in but his father? They’ve always been very close. Pat steps into his shoes when David retires.’ He made a dismissive gesture. ‘They’re in it together and your friendship blinded you to the fact.’
‘Have you remembered,’ BJ inquired, ‘that David and Guy are on the police liaison committee? If we go in bald-headed, making arrests on flimsy evidence, we’ll cause a scandal, not only in the city, but also in the force. There’s no hard evidence, only rumour and hearsay. Let me continue my investigations before any action is taken. We can certainly talk to Pat when he comes home.’
‘What makes you think he’s coming home?’ King asked. ‘He’s taken refuge in China. We may have to ask for extradition.’
‘Unwise, sir. You’d expose the alleged plot to Beijing which would cause even more hostility between our governments. Good Lord, things are fragile enough without informing Beijing that the citizens are arming for open revolt. They’ll crack down so heavy it could destroy Hong Kong ...’
‘I don’t give a stuff about politics,’ King said. ‘I do care about cleaning up crime.’
And being well out of it before the shit hits the fan, BJ thought savagely. God, I have to stop all this, talk with Pat, get a statement. I’ll see Brian, find out how seriously he’s taking the King. Brian knows it would suit Peter down to the ground to implicate Pat and watch David suffering, vindictive bastard. Aloud he said, ‘Is that all, sir?’
King gave him a baleful look. ‘Take my advice. Forget your fancy theories, your Jade Cat Society, all the secret stuff you’re hiding behind. There’s no mystery here. It’s an open-and-shut homicide and it’s out of your jurisdiction. Follow up David and Pat’s activities. Find proof of their guilt.’
‘Is that an order, sir?’ BJ’s voice was arctic.
King sat erect, his eyes hard. ‘If you want me to make it one. Yes, that’s an order, inspector.’
BJ had just arrived back in his office when Bob put his head around the door.
‘I’m having a whip round for Mrs Lo and the kids; everyone’s chipping in.’
BJ nodded. ‘Good idea.’ He brought out his wallet and handed the sergeant a red one hundred dollar note.
‘Thanks, that’s great!’ Bob tucked it into a large envelope. ‘Another thing ...’ he paused. BJ was looking particularly grim. Bob desperately wanted to know what had passed between him and the King, but knew better than to ask.
‘What is it, Bob?’
‘When we arrived at Mrs Lo’s, Guy Langford was driving away. There was a jade carving in the flat; a little jade cat.’
‘Mrs Lo didn’t like me looking. It had a small inscription on the side; “Jade Cat Society”.’
BJ looked interested. ‘Given to her by Guy?’
‘I assume so.’
‘Did you question her about it?’
Bob shook his head. ‘Not me, sir, she’s one tough lady. Anyway, she wouldn’t have told me,’ he added. ‘She’d have made up a story, said it was a gift, or it was Foreman Lo’s - nothing to do with her. I can’t arrest her because of a jade carving. She doesn’t have to tell us.’
BJ grinned. ‘Ask her when you take the money. She might soften her attitude to a man bearing an envelope full of cash.
‘She’ll throw me out again,’ Bob predicted gloomily, ‘but I’ll try.’
‘Good.’ BJ motioned Bob to the opposite chair. ‘Sit down. You’d better hear what the King had to say.’
When he was alone again, BJ phoned the Homicide Division and asked for DCI Tan. ‘We need to talk, Brian. I’ll buy you lunch. The Bengali Rose, half an hour?’
Gupta Singh took their orders and hurried away. BJ poured himself a mineral water and said, ‘I’ve had a meeting with the King.’
‘This is about Pat Langford?’ Tan’s black eyes watched BJ knowingly.
‘Exactly. The King’s building a case against him as fast as he can. I’m stuck in the middle here. I need to know; does he have good reason, or is it sheer bloody-mindedness?’
‘I thought it was.’ Tan shrugged. ‘But when he told me about the row with Wanda, and Pat’s decision not to be home for the Cup on Saturday, I had to agree it looked suss, to say the least. Pat’s not due back until after Christmas, no definite date. I’m not sure the King doesn’t have a case after all,’ he finished soberly.
BJ frowned. ‘Why link him with Lo? Why not simply accept the boy’s fallen out with Wanda, he’s strongly attracted to Gloria and he’s staying away to avoid facing family pressure? Christmas can be an emotional hell for families. Relatives thrown together, pretending everything’s cosy between them. Perhaps he couldn’t stand the thought of it.’
‘Oh, I’ll grant you that,’ Brian agreed, ‘but his car was seen at Yau Ma Tei that morning.’ The DCI’s thin face was serious. ‘No one can tell me where to contact him in China. They’ve got his schedule all nice and tight, but he’s not where he should be. Nobody’s seen him except Chow Lin-chi who met him at the airport and put him up during his stay in Shanghai. He hasn’t been to Beijing. He was supposed to see Hing Oh-sun at the glassworks but Hing says he never showed. He’s cutting it fine if he’s to join the Chows again on Christmas Eve.’
‘He must have altered the schedule,’ BJ countered. ‘I’ve known Pat all his life. He’s not a very likely candidate for murder.’
Tan nodded. ‘I agree, but there are quite a few convicted murderers who didn’t fit the psychological profile. Just nice, ordinary, hardworking family men who went off the rails for an instant and killed in a fit of desperation.’
‘Yes, point taken.’ BJ stared at the bubbles rising in his glass. ‘What are you going to do?’
Tan’s mouth was a hard line. ‘I’ll give him twenty-four hours to show up in Beijing then I’ll have to take action. If he was in Hong Kong, I’d have him in the station now, making a statement as to his whereabouts the night Lo died.’ He leaned across the table and said earnestly, ‘If you’ve got any influence with the family, BJ, use it. It might save us all a lot of grief.’