Hong Kong - Monday October 21st, 1996
Earlier that same morning, a slim Chinese youth, wearing jeans and a heavy black leather jacket, breathed the cool mist of the Hong Kong autumn. The pungent taste of pollution caught in the back of his throat as he walked east along Hollywood Road, high above the Central District. All around him tall buildings blocked the harbour from sight. This was as quiet as Hong Kong ever got, the dozens of antique shops and art galleries closed, the street market past Lyndhurst Terrace a jumble of shuttered stalls.
A small brown dog, abroad early to scavenge for scraps, or perhaps a rat, sniffed tentatively at the youth then shied nervously away.
Tommy Chen snapped his fingers. ‘Come on, boy.’ The dog sniffed again and, emboldened by the friendly interest, stretched its head to be scratched. ‘You’re a nice fellow.’
Mindful of his duty, Chen walked on. The dog sat down to a furious scratch, then dived into a steep side lane, following the aroma of cooking which drifted up from the narrow, congested alleys below.
Constable Chen crossed Old Bailey Street and turned left through the gateway of the large, fort-like structure which was Central Police Station. He walked smartly through the courtyard, nodding a greeting to a pair of constables in navy winter uniforms and smart navy berets, who passed him and turned into Hollywood Road. He looked after Connie Wu with the desire her slight, uniformed figure always aroused in him; then, remembering the way she’d laughed at him when he’d tried to approach her before, shook his head and continued into the building.
I’ll be a big man one day, he promised himself, then that proud little bitch will come to me. And she’ll have to wait her turn. Perhaps that day was coming sooner than anyone thought. He grinned at his good fortune, thinking of the large canvas holdall he’d personally brought into the station the previous night. In his imagination he hefted the bag once more, feeling its satisfying weight.
Sergeant Bob Lee sat down heavily and looked at his boss across the big Victorian mahogany desk. The inspector, known to Hong Kongers simply as BJ, was a large man with a deceptively gentle, aristocratic face, deep-set brown eyes, and unruly black hair thrust back from a high forehead. He leaned his arms in their shirtsleeves on the desk and returned the sergeant’s look, his expression impenetrable.
A frown creased Lee’s broad brow, and was echoed in the serious expression in his black eyes. He let his suit coat fall open, tugged loose the knot in his tie, then ran despondent fingers through his short black hair. ‘Shit!’ he said feelingly.
‘Exactly.’ The inspector smiled gently. ‘The question is, who’s shit and who’s bringing it in?’ Under heavy lids his hawk-eyes watched the sergeant closely.
Bob Lee picked up the weapon unhappily. ‘It’s a frigging Type 56, Chinese Kalashnikov copy.’
The inspector nodded. ‘Plus an AK-47, plus ammunition.’ His soft voice was very public school English with only a trace of an accent to reveal his family background.
‘How did we get hold of this lot?’
‘Constable Chen brought them in last night. Fresh from a raid on a very small, unimportant gang who shouldn’t have been tooled up like this. They’re lying their heads off, of course. Reckon they just found them in a back alley in the rubbish.’ BJ sat back and loosened his own tie.
‘Triads?’ Bob shook his head. ‘This is getting out of hand. There are too many weapons around suddenly.’
‘Agreed.’ The inspector rubbed his long, high-bridged nose reflectively. ‘These beggars won’t talk, though. They’re not Triad members, as far as I can tell, but if they’ve nicked the guns from a tong, woe betide them.’ He leaned abruptly across the desk. ‘It’s bloody serious, Bob, and it’s more than coincidence. Too many of the damned things are turning up in Hong Kong and someone’s behind it. We’ve only scratched the surface, or I’m very much mistaken.’
In that case, Sergeant Lee thought, he’s right. He’s bound to know more than he’s telling. He knows the colony like the back of his hand. Has his spy network everywhere. ‘Coming in from China?’ He asked tentatively.
‘Oh, God, Beijing’d love that.’ BJ groaned. ‘But it’s the most likely. Big, regular shipments. Not coming through Kai Tak, and I’ll take a bet not through the docks. I shudder to think how many avenues that leaves wide open. Through China, yes, from Europe and China herself. Then by junk, or straight across the border.’
He does know, Bob thought. He’s heard a whisper. ‘Shit! Sir,’ he said again.
‘Which brings us full circle.’ His boss suddenly changed the subject. ‘I had dinner with David and Jean last night. David’s keen to shift Pat back home and put Jonathan Price in charge of their Australian holdings.’
‘Well, that should please my cousin,’ Bob said sourly. ‘She’s complaining, as usual. Hates Australia, hates Brisbane, not enough life for her. Well, after Hong Kong, what can you expect? Wanda thrives on excitement and new experiences.’
‘Yes. I sometimes wonder why she’s stuck it with Pat all this time.’
‘Oh, she’s quirky.’ Bob grimaced. ‘Likes tall blond types. First Guy, then Pat, and rumour had her on with young William. You’d think Australia would suit her down to the ground.’
‘The myth of the bronzed, blond Aussie is as exaggerated as most myths of its kind.’ The inspector grinned. ‘In the meantime, Bob, we’d best get after those guns.’ He rose, hastily followed by the sergeant, collected his jacket from a peg by the door and shrugged his well-muscled shoulders into it. He paused briefly to straighten his tie before leaving the office.
The two men strode down the long corridor. ‘Concentrated effort, all contacts on the alert,’ the inspector said briskly. ‘Let’s pull out all the stops on this one.’
Sergeant Jimmy Wong finished his cereal and pushed his bowl aside. Stockily built, with spiky black hair and an open, ingenuous face, he had lately grown a pencil-thin dark bristle on his upper lip, in the hope that it would make him look older; more serious and responsible. He reached for the toast and buttered it slowly, thinking about the case he was involved with, hardly listening to his wife’s complaining voice.
‘A sergeant’s pay. What use is that? We’re going to be poor forever, stuck out here in the New Territories, miles from anywhere. It’s too expensive to travel into Kowloon or Central all the time so I’m as good as a prisoner in this dump.’ Sylvia Wong got up from the table and swung her glossy shoulder-length black hair from her face with an impatient toss of her head.
‘You could go in once a week, to the shops.’
‘Oh, yes, and what would I have to shop with? There’s never any money left over to buy really nice clothes and go out to a good restaurant. How can I accept my friends’ hospitality all the time when I can’t return the favour?’ She smoothed down the short, silky red dress, which clung revealingly to her neat figure. ‘Oh, how I pray for better joss, but I think the gods have wax in their ears, for all the notice they take.’
Jimmy wiped a smear of butter from his chin and looked at her thoughtfully. ‘Isn’t that a new dress you’re wearing today?’
‘And what if it is?’ she flared. ‘I was lucky at cards yesterday so why not spend it on looking nice?’ She swung her hips provocatively and her voice took on a coaxing tone. ‘You don’t begrudge me a little pleasure, I hope. You like me to look pretty, and it was my own money.’
‘You’re lucky at cards, anyway.’ Jimmy continued to stare at her. By the gods, that red dress was sexy.
She smiled, suddenly teasing him. ‘The Europeans say, lucky at cards, unlucky at love, but I’m lucky at both. Perhaps the gods have cleaned out their ears after all. First a handsome husband, then luck at cards.’
He swallowed hard and grinned back, glad her mood had changed. ‘I don’t mind if you spend your winnings on pretty clothes. I know it’s hard for you, Sylvia, and you miss Wanda, too. But one day I’ll get promotion and we’ll move closer to Kowloon.’
She nodded enthusiastically. ‘Oh, yes, you’ll get on, you’re so clever.’ She picked up his briefcase and put it by the front door. ‘And you work so hard, bringing all this home. It’s heavy.’
‘I was up half the night getting the reports finished. I just need one lucky break to get the high-ups to notice me and I’ll be all right.’
‘Well, don’t be late. The traffic’s so bad, you don’t want to be held up. They’ll think you’ve slept in or you’re lazy. You have to look very efficient.’
‘What, you’re trying to get rid of me?’
‘Silly. I’m thinking about our future, otherwise I’d get you to stay home with me all day.’
Jimmy stood up and wrapped his arms around her. ‘You could tempt me, looking like that.’ He stroked her hair lingeringly, then drew back and studied her face for a moment. ‘Were you playing cards all afternoon yesterday?’
She snuggled against him. ‘Why do you ask?’
‘I telephoned to say I’d be home late, but you didn’t answer.’
‘Of course not. Didn’t I tell you? All afternoon, with Mrs Lee and her friends. That’s when the gods finally heard me and I won several games.’
‘And stopped on the way home for a new dress?’
‘Yes, I already said.’ She stiffened and pulled away. ‘What’s wrong, Jimmy?’
‘Nothing. I didn’t know where you were and I was worried. Then, when I got home you were asleep. I didn’t want to wake you so I stayed in here and worked.’
‘They have a real asset in you,’ she told him. ‘They should be grateful.’
The phone rang and Sylvia answered it. ‘Jimmy, it’s Inspector BJ.’
Jimmy grabbed the receiver. ‘Sir?’
‘Sergeant Wong? A special job for you. Very serious and top secret. You’re being taken off the surveillance of the Wanchai clubs, as of now. You and Bob Lee will be working together, reporting directly to me. How soon can you get here?’
‘I’m leaving now, sir.’
‘Report to me the instant you get in.’
‘Yessir!’ Jimmy replaced the receiver, his eyes sparkling.
Sylvia watched him, sensing his excitement. ‘Oh, Jimmy, tell me. Is it good news?’
‘I don’t know. Maybe. A very special top secret assignment, directly under the inspector.’ He grabbed her hands. ‘This could be the break we’ve been waiting for.’
She freed herself and pushed him towards the door. ‘Then hurry up, don’t keep them waiting. Bless the gods, maybe our luck’s changed at last.’
In his office high above Hong Kong harbour, Guy Langford was dictating letters to his secretary, Mary Choy. His bright blue eyes, attractively wide-set in his long, handsome face, were fixed in concentration on some middle distance, as his deep voice unerringly spilled out facts and figures. His long fingers occasionally tapped the file on the desk before him, as if to emphasise a point.
A telephone on his desk buzzed urgently and Mary waited, her eyes firmly on her shorthand. This was Guy’s private line and she never answered it. He broke off, his eyes snapping back into focus, and lifted the receiver.
The voice at the other end spoke softly and urgently. ‘I want to purchase a jade cat.’
Guy covered the mouthpiece with his hand and nodded to his secretary. ‘Thanks, Mary, that’s all for now.’
She got up quickly and left the office.
Guy waited until the door closed behind her before he took his hand away. ‘We have several such items. What size did you want?’
‘Oh, a very big one, I think.’
Guy let out his breath slowly. ‘What quality jade?’
Guy picked up a pen, pulled a pad towards him. His mouth twitched into a half smile. ‘Report.’
The caller spoke briefly. Guy listened without interrupting until the quiet voice stopped, then said crisply, ‘Excellent! Find out all you can. The reward will be substantial.’
He replaced the receiver and swung his chair thoughtfully for a few minutes before calling Mary back to complete her dictation.