Hong Kong - Monday December 23rd, 1996
Mary Choy rang through to Guy’s office. ‘I have a Miss Carol Monk on the line, inquiring about Wanda. With all the rumours, I didn’t know if you’d want to talk to her.’
‘Put her through.’ There was a click and he said, ‘Miss Monk? This is Guy Langford. How can I help you?’
Her voice was low-pitched with an attractive hint of huskiness. Guy’s interest was piqued. ‘I’m a friend of Barbara Dawson in Brisbane. You met her when you were there some months ago.’
‘Of course, Babs! I remember.’
‘She asked me to look you up. Is it possible to meet?’
He consulted his diary. ‘What about lunch today?’
‘That would be lovely. I’m at the Excelsior, Causeway Bay.’
‘I’ll pick you up. Will one o’clock suit?’
‘Yes, that’s fine. I’ll wait in the foyer.’
Guy rang off and buzzed his secretary. ‘I’ll be out for lunch, Mary. Cancel Ho San. I’ll call him when I get back.’
His private line rang and he answered it quickly.
A sharp voice said, ‘I want to purchase a jade cat.’
‘What quality jade?’
‘Not good quality. This cat may break.’
‘Report’ Guy listened without interrupting the quick flow of information then said curtly, ‘Take no action.’
‘It is already under way. We must deal with this immediately.’
‘No!’ He snapped out the word. ‘Stop the purchase. It would be a mistake to continue.’
‘Then what will we do?’
‘I’ll investigate this jade cat myself. If I decide after all that I was wrong, we can complete the sale later.’
‘Then it’s your decision.’
‘It is. I take full responsibility.’
The caller rang off. Guy rose and walked thoughtfully over to the window. He watched the traffic on the harbour for a few minutes, a little smile twisting his mouth. A great red-sailed junk eased through the smaller craft on her way to her berth. The China Wind, steering easily against the breeze, slipped past beneath him and his smile broadened.
Years of investigating had developed within Carol a keen sense of danger; now her instinct told her she was being followed. She strolled down Yee Wo Street, browsing the windows of the Sogo Department Store, turning casually back now and then, but unable to pinpoint her shadow in the mass of people thronging the fashionable shopping district.
On her return from Mrs Lee’s she’d asked the taxi driver to drop her at the nearest large shopping precinct. He’d set her down in a tangle of crowded streets behind her hotel. There were several Japanese emporiums, a Marks & Spencer and a street bazaar. She’d found a public telephone and called Guy Langford; now she had time to amuse herself before their meeting.
After all, she thought, I might as well get something out of this. How long can it take to find Wanda and wring her neck?
The shops were lavishly adorned with great gold and silver Christmas trees and cascades of gold sequins shimmering with every slight breeze. Carol’s steps slowed as she merged with the mass of humanity shopping, browsing, meeting each other: family groups from grandmothers to babes in arms who stared around them with wide dark eyes; smartly-suited business men hurrying along discussing deals; workers crowding into the dozens of fast-food shops for lunch.
Carol checked her watch. Time was getting on. She’d purchased a small guide book and with its help began to retrace her steps, still with the occasional backward glance.
Imagination? she wondered. No, definitely not.
Pedestrians straggled into the road around bamboo scaffolding which had been erected on the pavement. Drivers slowed, sounding their horns in a good-natured way. Back home it’d be verbal abuse and two fingers out the window, Carol thought, amused. She moved out into the street with the rest.
There was a sudden squeal of tyres. People began to scream and run. Carol looked up. To her horror, a large black limousine was bearing down on the crowd, seemingly out of control. She was directly in its path.
There was a shout behind her; someone grabbed her, his hands hard on her shoulders. She was lifted bodily, almost thrown to the side of the road. As she stumbled, a strong arm held her steady. The car, its tyres smoking, slid sideways to a halt as the driver fought the wheel, then skidded back into the street. It cut across the other traffic, sped around a corner and disappeared.
Carol’s rescuer smiled down at her. His bright blue eyes were untroubled, she noticed, his breathing steady.
She fought to gain control of her own breath and said warmly, ‘Thank you. That was too close.’
‘We try not to kill our tourists,’ he drawled lazily. His smile deepened as he continued to look at her. ‘It gives the colony a bad name.’
A pair of uniformed police ran up. The man released Carol’s arm and turned to meet them, speaking swiftly in Cantonese. A number of other people were explaining at top volume exactly what had happened. The traffic had ground to a complete halt.
The police waved the crowds back, the cars started moving again. With an air of authority the man cleared a path for Carol. ‘I told them it was an accident. We were lucky. You weren’t hurt, were you? Would you like an escort?’
‘I’m fine.’ Carol said quickly. ‘You’ve done enough already. I don’t want to trouble you.’
‘Believe me, it’s no trouble. Were you going this way?’
‘Yes, I’m at the Excelsior.’
He began to walk beside her. ‘A coincidence. I’m on my way there. I’m meeting a woman for lunch.’
She stopped and looked at him, taking in his familiar eyes, thick fair hair and tall, slim figure. ‘I think we have another coincidence,’ she said. ‘I’m Carol Monk.’
His face twisted into a puckish grin. ‘Guy Langford.’
‘I guessed.’ Carol’s smile was mischievous. ‘From Bab’s description. She said Pat looked like Jon Price and you were like Pat.’
He laughed. ‘Strangers usually take us for brothers. That was very well spotted, Miss Monk.’
‘Carol.’ She held out her hand.
He shook it gravely. ‘That takes care of the formalities. Why are we going back to the hotel? There’s a restaurant near here. I’ve reserved a table; unless you want to powder your nose or whatever you girls do.’
‘No, I’d rather eat,’ Carol told him. ‘Lead me to it, Sir Galahad.’
On the deck of the China Wind, Captain Ho and his son, a sleek, round-faced man in his thirties, discussed their next shipment.
‘One-Eye Ling’s like an old woman,’ the captain chuckled. ‘He’s scared shitless of his own shadow. Thinks the Langfords’ll rumble us and come down heavy.’
‘Family business is just as important as loyalty to the Langfords.’ Ho San, his elegant suit incongruous on the deck of a junk, spat disdainfully into the foul smelling water. ‘What they don’t know won’t hurt them. Our joss continues to hold. There’ll be a big payment coming to you for your trouble.’
‘It’s a lot to move,’ Ho grumbled. ‘So many shipments; you must have a good market.’
‘It’s quality stuff. Buyers in Australia are keen to have the best and I supply them. Where’s the harm?’
‘No harm, only good. All right, for the Elaine MacKenzie, Boxing Day. I’ll deliver then.’
Ho San said warningly, ‘Captain Fraser will be expecting you. He sails on the twenty-eighth.’
‘It’s done. Have I let you down yet?’
Second son Ho took his leave. One-Eye Ling, lounging on the deck of the Eastern Luck Trader said, ‘More trade for the Ho family? Ho San’s doing very profitably.’
‘He’s a trader and that’s a cause to bless the gods; but he’s no sailor and one day I’ll be too old for this.’
‘You’re as strong as a young bull and the best skipper on the coast,’ Ling soothed. ‘It’ll be many years yet before you have to leave the sea.’
‘I prayed to the gods to give the skill to San but he’s useless as a captain. If only first son Ho had been spared, I’d have someone to follow me and look after the interests of the Ho family’s ships.’
Ling fingered his scarred face, remembering. ‘That terrible storm. I only lost my eye; you lost your son, and that’s a tragedy. What about third son Ho?’
‘Chung’s most useful where he is, looking after my interests with the Customs. First son’s youngest boy shows promise. Next long trip I’ll take him with me. Perhaps he’ll be the man his father was and learn the skills of the sea.’
‘That’s the idea,’ One-Eye Ling encouraged. ‘Look, Captain Huang and Captain Chau are coming over tonight for a game of mah-jong. You join us; you’ll soon perk up. Life has to go on, in spite of the disappointments. Sometimes the gods look the other way. Joss!’
In the Queen’s Café on Lee Garden Road, Guy ordered for them both and turned to Carol. ‘This place was started by White Russians. They fled Shanghai after the communist revolution in the forties.’ He sipped his wine. ‘Hong Kong has always been a haven for refugees - until these last few years.’
As Carol watched him appraisingly, Guy gave her his attractive sideways smile. She thought, This man is probably the most handsome and charming person I’ve met. Everything Babs said. I’ll have to be careful. The last thing I need is to be a notch on Guy Langford’s gun.
He returned her look quizzically. ‘What are you thinking about so seriously? My secretary said you mentioned Wanda?’
‘Babs feels Wanda’s in trouble. She asked me to come over and check up on her.’
‘An odd request.’
‘Not really; it’s what I do. I’m a private investigator.’
He grinned. ‘Am I supposed to say something like, “What’s a pretty girl like you doing in a job like that”?’
She laughed. ‘It’s usual.’
‘I’m not noted for being usual,’ Guy said seriously.
‘I can imagine. Do you always appear out of nowhere, rescue damsels in distress and tell the police where to get off?’
‘Hardly ever - and only the most beautiful damsels. It was pure chance. I’d parked at the World Trade Centre opposite the hotel, found I was early, remembered something I needed to buy and popped across to Sogo’s. Just good joss. In fact,’ he touched her glass briefly with his, ‘excellent joss!’
Their meal arrived. As they ate, Guy said, with a touch of hesitation, ‘You’d better hear what’s being said about Pat and Wanda before you continue your quest. Unfortunately, the police have taken a remark of mine far too seriously and Pat’s now wanted for two murders.’
Carol frowned. ‘I assume they have reason?’
‘You’ve heard they had a blazing row?’ Guy shrugged. ‘Pat’s car’s been found with Wanda’s scarf in it, covered in blood, which may or may not suggest he’s murdered her; although I can understand his wanting to from time to time.’ He chuckled. ‘No, I’m not serious. Pat’s mild-mannered and very controlled. It’s a load of nonsense. Wanda simply cut herself or something.’
‘You said two murders.’
Guy explained about Foreman Lo. ‘I stupidly mentioned he and Pat had an argument the same day, so the police have decided, after killing his wife, poor old Pat murdered Lo Chin and fled to China to escape justice.’
‘You obviously don’t believe it.’
‘It’s rubbish!’ Guy said shortly.
Carol’s expression was thoughtful. ‘I had morning tea with Wanda’s mother. She didn’t mention any of this.’
‘Hardly. Not in front of a guest.’
Guy added that Hong Kong fed on rumour which became thoroughly exaggerated. ‘Now Pat’s to be extradited and I’ve got an important project falling behind schedule with all this drama. Pat’s sorting a problem with glass for the windows. If they bring him back before he fixes it, I’ll be ropeable.’ He refilled her glass. ‘How did you get on with Alice Lee?’
‘She was charming.’ Carol smiled reflectively. ‘She gave me a beautiful morning tea and was very friendly.’
‘She scares the socks off me,’ Guy admitted frankly. ‘A real dragon-lady. Will you be seeing her again?’
‘She said she’d try to contact Wanda, but thinks she and her Macau friends have gone away somewhere. If Alice gets word she’s promised to call me. Actually, we didn’t have a lot of time. She was expecting a group of friends for lunch and a card party.’
‘Alice Lee’s card parties are famous.’ Guy grinned. ‘The women gamble big sums and will lose a fortune without regret; a very “easy come, easy go” attitude.
He suddenly became serious. Carol should be careful investigating in Hong Kong; she could tread on official toes. Local politics were very murky. There were all sorts of inherited hatreds, traditional enemies; it took years to know what sort of a mess you might be treading in. The Langfords were being set up, which accounted for all the scandal and rumour. Guy didn’t know by whom. Even top-level police weren’t above corruption. One of the commanders hated David’s guts and would be happy to see Pat brought down. An inspector under him would be equally happy to see David destroyed for no better reason than he was in love with David’s wife, Jean.
Carol eyed him with interest. ‘A warning?’
‘Advice, from Sir Galahad. If you want to know anything, for God’s sake, come to me first. I’m usually very much in front with the rumours. I’ve got an excellent network of informers. It’s good for business. Keeps me ahead of the game.’ Guy gave his charming, crooked grin and laid a hand lightly over hers. ‘Now, promise me.’
Carol smiled, acutely aware of his magnetism. ‘All right, I promise, if I need any help, I’ll come to you.’
‘That sounds remarkably like a compromise.’
‘Well, I can’t know yet what I might find. Don’t worry about me, Guy, I can look after myself.’
‘I’m sure of it.’ He smiled and changed the subject.
They continued their meal, chatting easily. As they finished their coffee, Guy glanced at his watch.
‘I have to go. I’ve really enjoyed meeting you.’ He paused, then said with boyish eagerness, ‘I’m giving a party at my place tomorrow night; would you like to come? It’ll give you a chance to meet some people and get your bearings.’
‘Thanks. I’d like that.’
‘I’ll arrange transport for you. I’ll call you tomorrow. You can’t be alone on Christmas Eve.’
They left the restaurant and, in spite of Carol’s protestations, Guy took her back to the hotel.
‘I want to be sure you’re all right,’ he said, cutting across her objections. ‘Humour me.’
She studied him for a moment and finally said lightly, ‘Yes, all right, I believe I will.’