Hong Kong - Monday December 23rd, 1996
When Carol returned to her room after breakfast, she found a pretty, petite young housemaid making the bed.
Carol smiled at her. ‘What’s your name?’
The girl straightened and flicked back her short, black hair. ‘Cissy Feng, miss. I look after your room, clean for you. Okay I do bathroom now?’
As Cissy disappeared into the bathroom, Carol picked up her organiser, found Alice Lee’s number, thoughtfully provided by Jon, and crossed to the telephone.
The call was answered by a maid who said in halting English to wait a moment. Then a sharp voice said, ‘Yes, yes, what is it?’
‘Mrs Lee? My name’s Carol Monk. I’m from Australia, from Brisbane. I’d like to come and see you, if that’s convenient.’
‘What? See me? Why do you want to see me?’
Carol was reminded of Wanda’s abrupt rudeness. ‘My friend, Barbara Dawson, knows Wanda and asked me to look you up while I’m in Hong Kong.’
There was a moment’s silence then Alice asked, ‘You know my daughter?’
‘I met her once. It’s really Barbara who’s her friend.’
‘Miss Dawson. Yes, I remember.’ Alice abruptly altered her tone. ‘A friend of my daughter is always welcome - or should we say, a friend of a friend? It will be a pleasure to meet you. Come for morning tea, Carol. You have my address? Good. Are you at a hotel? Ask at the desk for someone to write it down in Chinese and get you a taxi.’
Carol replaced the receiver. She stood for a moment, looking at the telephone in a puzzled way, then said, ‘Well! What was that about?’
The telephone offered no explanation so she picked up a warm jacket and left the room.
Cissy Feng came out of the bathroom, her usually pale ivory face flushed with excitement. The woman was here about Wanda Lee. She must ring Aunt Mona. She stared at the telephone then shook her head. Not from here, too risky.
Then she had another thought. Connie Wu had said the police were looking for Wanda Lee. It might help her friend to know about Miss Monk. Perhaps she would lead them straight to the missing woman.
BJ, his eyes and ears open for information, walked the maze of narrow, twisted back alleys that veined the steep slopes above Central District. He had a network of spies all over the area and was gleaning every bit of news he could about the missing prostitute.
Girls did occasionally disappear from Wanchai; sometimes they were found badly beaten or dead, sometimes they just vanished without a trace. But Silver Moon had been working for him. He’d have no hesitation in coming down with ruthless strength on whomever he needed to get the point across that his informants were under his protection and messing with them was an extremely unhealthy pastime.
He paused outside the girl’s apartment block. One of the army of elderly women employed to clean the city’s public rubbish bins shuffled towards him, pushing a wheeled trolley which contained black plastic garbage bags and cleaning paraphernalia.
BJ waited as she came slowly on, checking slightly as she saw him. She stopped beside a bin, drew on a pair of cotton gloves and started to carefully remove the round metal bin top.
‘Good morning, old mother.’
She glared at him and pushed back some wisps of grey hair which had escaped from the scarf around her head. ‘Is the inspector haunting the place?’ she muttered. ‘Is it his job to bully and persecute the innocent?’ She emptied the bin liner into the bag on her trolley, replaced the top and scrubbed it with a brush dipped in a bucket of water.
‘It’s his job to enforce the law,’ BJ said briskly. ‘What do you have for me?’
‘Do you want everyone to see me talking to you?’ she grumbled. ‘Your girl hasn’t been seen. She didn’t come home on Saturday night, not yesterday, either. She’s not in her room today so the landlord will rent it to someone else because she’s left no word and her rent’s due.’
She took a long-handled dustpan and a straw broom from her cart, swept meticulously around the bin, then loaded up her trolley and peered up at BJ, screwing her wrinkled face into a grin which exposed long, stained yellow teeth and receding gums. ‘The rumour is, she talked too much and paid for it. You won’t find her now.’
She moved away, pulling the trolley behind her with a jerk that slopped some water out of the bucket. ‘Find another poor soul to hound or maybe I’ll end up like that girl.’
BJ nodded. ‘Thanks, old mother. I’ll be here again - if I need you.’
‘You can go to hell and may all the devils piss on you.’ She gave a shrill cackle and shuffled off at her own slow pace.
BJ retraced his steps to the police station, stopping at this stall and that, talking casually to people he met. Others slipped into the dark recesses of crowded little shops or disappeared into the labyrinth of tiny, malodorous lanes to avoid his sharp eyes.
His mind went back over Jimmy’s accident. If the black bike had followed him home, why not do him then? Why wait until the next day? They’d have known who he was and suspected that he wasn’t just having a casual chat with a friend.
They must have waited until they were quite sure. They’d picked up Silver Moon and made her talk. Then, knowing what information Jimmy had, they’d tried to stop him getting to BJ with it - and botched the job.
Back in his office BJ called for Bob Lee and Tommy Chen. They arrived simultaneously.
‘Tommy, go to this address,’ he pushed a piece of paper across the desk. ‘It’s a woman’s flat. Collect her things together and bring them here. Pay whatever rent is owing.’ He followed the note with some red hundred dollar bills.
Tommy Chen pocketed the money and hesitated. ‘Sir?’
‘What is it?’
‘Are we still interested in Wanda Langford, sir?’
‘Why do you ask?’
‘Connie Wu, one of the uniform WPCs, has a friend, a housemaid at the Excelsior Hotel. Last night a woman checked in, from Brisbane, Australia. This morning, first thing, she phoned Mrs Lee. Said she was Wanda friend. She went to visit Mrs Lee.’
‘I see.’ BJ nodded. ‘Thanks, Tommy. We may indeed be interested.’
Chen departed, pleased with himself.
‘Bob, get onto the Excelsior,’ BJ ordered. ‘Find out everything you can about this woman, who she is and what she’s doing here.’
‘Right. Shit! It isn’t the one Don Ryder was on about, is it? Barbara Dawson?’
‘Find out. Then, I want to know where David Langford was the night Lo Chin died.’
Bob said slowly, ‘You do think he’s involved.’
‘I hope he’s not. See if he has an alibi. I want a full record of his movements that night. Guy seems to be covered, Pat has an hour or more to explain; but we don’t know about David.’
As Bob left, BJ’s internal line buzzed and he quickly caught up the receiver.
‘BJ? Sorry, I’m afraid it’s bad news.’
‘Brian. What’s happened?’
‘We’ve taken possession of Pat’s car. It was left at the airport.’ DCI Tan coughed apologetically. ‘There’s been an attempt to clean it but there are traces of blood and a silk scarf under the passenger seat soaked in the stuff. Pat must have been in a hurry and not noticed the scarf. We’re treating this as a possible homicide. It looks as if Pat murdered or severely injured Wanda and fled to China. We’ll ask the Chinese authorities to return him to Hong Kong for questioning.’
BJ’s heart sank. ‘Have you told David?’
‘Yes. He’s being totally uncooperative. Refuses to assist us to find Pat.’
‘Do you want me to have a word?’
‘Tread very carefully, BJ. I advise you to keep your distance. The King’s not worried about bringing you down with the Langfords - but you didn’t hear that from me.’
‘I’m well aware of it,’ BJ said, ‘but Pat ...’
‘If Pat’s done something abysmally stupid, you can’t protect him,’ Tan said curtly. ‘You’ve tried too hard already. Look after Number One, BJ. The family will resent you like hell if you involve yourself. They’ve closed ranks against the police; and you do represent the police.’
‘I’m a friend,’ BJ said shortly.
‘For your own good, you’d better decide where your loyalties lie.’ Tan told him bluntly. ‘Don’t be a fool.’
‘I’ll try not to be, sir. And Brian, thanks.’
‘Don’t mention it.’
The line went dead. BJ replaced the receiver. Oh, hell, David, he thought tiredly, what sort of a bloody mess have you and Pat got yourselves into?
Bob handed his report to BJ, thinking that he hadn’t seen the inspector look so bleak, not since Victoria ...
BJ scanned the paper and the attached photograph faxed from Brisbane. ‘Pretty,’ he commented briefly.
‘I’d have said beautiful,’ Bob countered.
BJ glanced up grimly. ‘Careful, Bob, or Sue Ann’ll have your guts for garters.’ He laid the report on his desk. ‘A private detective. Interesting. She hasn’t got a licence to operate in Hong Kong.’
‘She’s not exactly operating, so far. She visited Auntie as a friend of Miss Dawson.’
‘A fine technical point, Bob. She has a reputation for getting things done, I see. However, if Brian’s right, Miss Monk could be at risk. Alice still maintains Wanda was delivered home safely by Pat. She says she doesn’t recognise the scarf found in Pat’s car. If Wanda’s dead then Alice knows it and is lying her head off. Why? This Australian woman asking questions could rock an already leaky boat.’
‘It’s possible Wanda was injured, used the scarf for a bandage or something and went away to recuperate.’
‘Check it out. All hospitals, private doctors; whoever Wanda and her mother go to. Find out if she did depart on the Macau jetfoil that day and, if not, when.’
‘DCI Tan’ll be following that up, sir’
‘So will we. What did you find out about David?’
‘He wasn’t home that night. Left his house after dinner and attended a business meeting with a Japanese consortium from Tokyo at the Majestic, Kowloon side.’
‘Very close to the Yau Ma Tei site,’ BJ commented.
Bob shot a covert look at the inspector’s harsh face. ‘David didn’t leave until after midnight; but we’ve no reason to assume he went to the site after that.’
‘We’ve an excellent reason.’ BJ’s voice was devoid of emotion. ‘Foreman Lo wrote to Mr Langford. The only Mr Langford is David. The others are addressed by their first names to avoid confusion.’
‘Circumstantial,’ Bob said quietly.
‘I made a point of asking Susan Yeung. From the date on the draft it must have been received about that Tuesday, the tenth. Susan confirmed, reluctantly, there was a letter from Lo Chin in David’s private mail that day. David denied receiving it.’
Bob was silent. BJ continued, ‘Wing Chang claims the false information about the guns was circulated at a very high business level. They don’t come higher than David Langford. It’s not evidence, and I hope to God I’m wrong.’ He looked down at the photograph on his desk. ‘Meanwhile, what do we do about Miss Monk?’
Jimmy Wong made his painful way down the stairs of his apartment block and entered the 7-Eleven next door.
The proprietor stared at him. ‘You must have offended all the gods at once. I heard about your spill.’
‘It’s not as bad as it looks. I’ll be back at work in a couple of days.’
‘Oh, well, you’ve got a pretty wife to look after you and make you comfortable.’
Jimmy grinned and winced as his split lip stabbed him.
The proprietor shook his head. ‘That’ll take a while to heal. Oh, Sylvia left her purse here Saturday night. I meant to return it but I’m busy all the time.’
‘She didn’t say anything - ah, this is just for spare coins. She probably hasn’t missed it.’ Jimmy took the small coin purse.
‘She came in late to make an urgent phone call. Didn’t want to wake you. I was just closing but, well, a public phone’s a public phone. If the public wants to use it, I can wait a few minutes. She wasn’t long.’ The man chuckled. ‘Anyway, for a pretty girl like your Sylvia ...’
‘Yeah, thanks.’ Jimmy went to the fridge and took out a bottle of milk. He paid for it and went back upstairs, a frown on his face.
Sylvia had gone out to meet Alice Lee and her friends.
Perhaps she’ll be lucky at cards again today, Jimmy thought and made himself a coffee. He started to sip it slowly from the corner of his mouth, then put down the cup and opened the purse. There were a few coins in it and a little silver key. He turned it over, wondering why it looked familiar; then, suddenly sick at heart, he pushed himself to his feet and limped into the bedroom.