Hong Kong - Sunday December 22nd, 1996
The dark, narrow, dead-end alley smells of rotting vegetables and stale urine. Stinging rain, driven before a sharp southerly gale, spears into the eyes of the child watching from the shadows, gripped with fear, her pale, heart-shaped face turned in desperate appeal to two men who face each other in the cold June night, their gazes locked in silent hatred. One man’s back is to the child; she can see the other clearly. High cheekbones, angular face, auburn curls as familiar to her as her own.
There is never any sound. Just the sharp stinging against her eyes. Her father’s mouth moves, the other’s hand jerks up; a glint of grey metal, a small spurt of light, the acrid smell of gunfire.
Her father’s surprised face. He’d still looked surprised hours later. Surprised, and something else. Disappointed?
His body crumples, slides down amid the litter, the soaked, weather-bleached newspapers, the rotten debris, the stinking wet asphalt.
She always screams then, soundlessly, her mouth wide, silent cries tearing painfully at her throat.
The other man, her father’s killer, turns, sees her, moves towards her. Oh, God! Run, Carol, run. She runs, desperately, the wrong way. Further into the dark, further into the dead-end. There’s no escape. She can’t hide, can’t call out, can’t breathe.
Carol jerked awake, heart pounding, breath uneven. The steady drone and slight jarring motion of the aircraft snapped her back to the present, dissolving the nightmare. She leaned against the seat’s headrest and closed her eyes.
She hadn’t seen her father killed that night, five years ago, in the dark, wet alley; and she was twenty when it happened. But the child in her imagined it vividly and regularly returned her to the bleak scene.
She’d identified Bluey Monk’s body in the morgue, then had gone with Mike Moran, her father’s closest friend, to view the scene of crime. Mike was against taking her, but she had to see, get it straight in her mind. Why disappointment?
Disappointment in himself, Mike supposed, for not realising the danger, for walking right into it, for being unable to complete the case.
Mike had completed it for him. Acting on an anonymous tip, he arrested Bluey’s killer and put him away for life.
After the funeral, despite Molly’s disapproval, Carol took over the Spring Hill worker’s cottage with its narrow, wooden-railed verandah angled to the line of the street, its tiny front garden and cracked concrete path. She moved into her father’s office stepping, metaphorically, into his shoes.
She’d always been interested in her father’s work, first as a police, then a private detective. She possessed a clear intuition combined with a practical viewpoint. Bluey took her more and more into his confidence. Carol became his researcher. She knew she could handle the job.
She never regretted her move. Bluey Monk had been an honest, dedicated man; he deserved a better epitaph than a lonely, undignified death in a squalid back lane. Keeping Monk’s Detective Agency alive and well was Carol’s way of ensuring a lasting tribute to his memory.
She’d have liked to be with him now, hear his ideas, watch his long, grey eyes narrow as he considered the angles, his intelligent face alert for clues.
Carol sighed and opened her eyes. They’d be landing soon. She should go over her notes one more time. She began to run through the last couple of days in her mind.
After talking to Jon, she’d spent last evening and a good deal of this morning contacting Wanda’s Sydney friends. None had heard from her. More than one woman had begged to be kept informed, tearful at the thought that something might have happened to their volatile friend.
Carol opened her briefcase and took out the case file. She remembered how adamant Jon had been when she questioned him about the alleged letter from Guy.
No, absolutely not! Wanda had nothing to do with Guy. She hated him like poison. Carol probably knew they’d had an affair. Whatever happened between them had infuriated Wanda. She’d never forgiven him; and she knew how to hold a grudge.
Coincidental, that Jesus had mentioned Guy’s name.
‘He knows it. I’m often in touch with Guy.’ Jon hesitated. It was just conceivable that Guy might write to Wanda for Pat’s sake, but why would he talk to her about business? The letter must have been from Pat, as she’d said. He probably always meant to get her back, when he was ready. Why would she go home, unless she was sure?
And why were men so gullible? Carol mused. Except, Pat seemed to know Wanda for what she was. But was he so smitten that he’d asked her back, or was it all in her very lively imagination? Did she take off in the belief that she could twist him around her elegant little finger the way she did with the others? Carol didn’t believe Wanda was half as scared of Pat as she claimed. Telling a story to be interesting.
The pilot’s voice announced their arrival in Hong Kong. Carol put the file away and watched the darkness outside with interest. The windows suddenly blazed into a light show as the 747 tilted to reveal the harbour below, dazzling with reflections from every building on the surrounding shore and a myriad of lights from vessels crisscrossing the dark water. The pilot brought them down between tall apartment blocks that seemed dangerously close to the runway. No one bothered with curtains that Carol could see. She caught intimate glimpses of families crammed into tiny rooms, watching television, eating their evening meals. The bright little tableaux flashed past, then there were runway lights and the terminal looming above as they touched down with a light screech of rubber.
Passengers streamed into the terminal and crowded around the baggage carousels. Carol found her bags and continued through Customs. Her passport stamped, she exited the building to join a chaotic mill of people; tourists and locals, singles, families, groups, all fighting for trolley space, chattering excitedly in a dozen different languages, waiting for buses and limousines, taxis or friends to collect them.
Carol signalled a taxi. The driver dumped her bags in the boot and she got thankfully into the cab which drove off with all the speed and unconcern of its fellow in Sydney. ‘Excelsior,’ She told the driver, ‘Hong Kong Island.’ He nodded and plunged into the melee.
They travelled over miles of raised roads, between high-rises covered with balconies overflowing with pot plants, washing, furniture, people. The buildings rose, line after line, tall and glowing with blue and gold lights, before disappearing into an iridescent white mist.
It’s beautiful, Carol thought, catching her breath at the sight. Ethereal.
They were in the well-lit harbour tunnel, solidly constructed from concrete, before she realised; then out again, into Causeway Bay where the traffic ground to a slow march.
Everywhere there was frenetic activity. Streets were lined with shops of every description, all open and doing a brisk trade; pavements thronged with people, predominantly well-dressed affluent-looking Chinese. The roads were jam-packed with cars crawling bumper to bumper, honking in a cacophony of sound. Street vendors cooked snacks in foil over portable fires or deep-fried fish balls, threading them on sticks to be dipped in a variety of sauces and eaten as you strolled along.
The cool air was filled with the metal taste of carbon monoxide and the shouts and chatter of the late night crowd. An appetising smell of hot cooking oil made Carol hungry.
A red double-decker bus inched past and the taxi dived in behind it, taking advantage of the cleared space. Street stalls set up in every available space added to the confusion, forcing pedestrians into the road to browse the clothing, souvenirs, jewellery and bric-a-brac on offer.
The driver seemed to make sense of the whole indescribable mess. He wove through various side streets before swinging the car into the driveway of an imposingly tall hotel.
A doorman stepped forward smartly. Carol paid the driver and followed her bags through revolving glass doors into an elegant, spacious foyer dotted with plants and comfortable lounge chairs.
She registered at the reception counter then a lift whisked her up to her floor. She found her room and let herself in. Her windows overlooked the Causeway Bay typhoon shelter where the dark shapes of sampans lay locked together in the water. Carol stood looking down with a sense of anticipation at being in a foreign country with strangers all around her.
This is going to be fun, she promised herself.
There was a knock at the door. She opened it to admit a bellboy with her luggage. He stacked her cases, accepted a tip and left. Carol had already decided that food was definitely next on the agenda, so she gave her face a quick once-over in the mirror, brushed her copper curls into order and left the room to see what she could find to eat.
BJ prowled restlessly along busy Fenwick Street in the heart of the Wanchai District. His tall figure was easily recognisable and people passed him quickly, their eyes avoiding his, their faces impassive. If Inspector BJ was looking for trouble, they weren’t inclined to be the one to make his day.
He turned east into Lockhart Road and came once more to the closed door of the Heavenly Joy Club. He knocked and was admitted by the doorman whose smooth face lost a little of its inscrutability when he saw the inspector.
‘Sorry, sir, Silver Moon hasn’t come in yet.’
BJ nodded. ‘I’ll see Wing Chang.’
‘I’m not sure that’s possible, inspector.’
‘You’d better pray it is possible,’ BJ informed him gently.
‘I’m not sure Mr Wing is here, sir.’ The doorman’s broad brow was suddenly damp.
‘Why don’t you take a look,’ BJ suggested. ‘And Wan, look very hard. Try not to disappoint me again.’
The doorman went quickly up the narrow stairs to the club rooms. BJ waited in the ornate red and gold entrance hall, his face betraying nothing of his thoughts which were far from pleasant. He knew it was probably too late by now to help Silver Moon and he felt depressed by the inevitability of her fate, even as he told himself she’d known exactly what she was doing and was well aware of the danger. He’d tried to contact her throughout the day with no success. He couldn’t hurt her now by turning up at the club.
‘Please come up, sir. It appears Mr Wing is in after all.’
BJ was ushered into the casino boss’s small private office.
‘BJ!’ Wing Chang, small, dapper, his eyes enlarged behind thick lenses, smiled urbanely. ‘My dear fellow, sit down. That stupid man of mine didn’t realise I would always be in to you.’
The inspector took the proffered chair and crossed his legs calmly, seemingly very much at peace with the world.
A muscle jumped in Wing’s cheek as he poured two whiskies. ‘Chivas Regal; you see, I remember your drink. Cheers!’
BJ inclined his head slightly and sipped the whisky. Wing resumed his seat, outwardly poised, still smiling. Only a hand raised fleetingly to smooth his receding hairline betrayed his inner tension.
‘They tell me you’ve been here twice this evening. What on earth’s the matter?’
‘Silver Moon.’ BJ said briefly. He turned his glass watching the amber liquid. ‘She’s been remarkably absent tonight.’
‘She flies very high, that one.’ Wing gave a discreet cough. ‘My dear BJ, if you want a woman, I could interest you in several beauties. Silver Moon is, no doubt, with one of her regular escorts; Guy Langford, or perhaps, Sung Yen-lo. You, inspector,’ he continued delicately, ‘well, let’s say you perhaps would find her price too high?’
‘So you don’t know where she is?’
‘Indeed not.’ Wing spread his hands regretfully.
‘She’s wanted for questioning,’ BJ said coolly. ‘It’s a police matter. She’s not at her flat or with either of the two gentlemen you mentioned. She hasn’t been seen all day. Where is she, Chang?’
‘I had no idea she was in trouble with the police.’ Wing Chang looked suitably shocked. ‘When she returns, I’ll sack her immediately. Our girls have to be top class for my exclusive clients. I expect, if she knows you want her, she’s run away. Your reputation; quite formidable.’ He smiled smoothly.
BJ’s eyes were veiled. ‘I’ll find her, Chang, I’m sure you know that.’ His voice was unnervingly soft. ‘It would be most unfortunate if she’d come to any harm. I might be forced to begin an investigation of your - exclusive - clients in such a way that might cause you a great deal of trouble.’
Wing’s smile slipped a little. He touched his hair again. ‘My dear fellow, if the poor girl has met with an unfortunate, shall we say - accident? - I’m sure it would not reflect on the club in any way.’ His eyes narrowed. ‘The streets are not always safe for a woman on her own. Oh, are you going so soon?’
‘You’ll let me know if you have any news of her.’ BJ rose and went the door.
‘Of course. Always happy to cooperate with the police.’
As BJ left the club he knew he’d done all he could for the missing hostess. She’ll turn up somewhere, he mused darkly, probably in the harbour. They’d have got her as soon as they’d sussed her and Jimmy. Too late now to go around issuing warnings. Chang, as he never tires of telling me, runs a strictly legal operation.
He walked on to the MTR entrance and caught the train to Central.