Hong Kong - Monday December 23rd, 1996
The Eastern Dawn apartments were larger than the usual cramped Hong Kong tenements. The Choy’s was spacious, with ample room for entertaining. Wide balconies on two sides gave panoramic mountain and harbour views.
Daphne Choy ushered Carol into a comfortable living room where east met west in easy empathy. Steel-framed chairs covered with soft grey fabric and tables topped with heavy, mottled glass, gave an impression of ultra-modernity while on one wall an old enamelled Russian icon in an intricately carved dark wood frame smiled benignly across the room.
Daphne was small and plump with large, lustrous brown eyes and jet black hair coiled in a thick plait around her head. Her complexion was creamy and flawless, her eyes slanted in a broad Slavonic face.
She motioned her guest to a sofa, poured Russian tea from an ornate silver samovar and offered a plate of soft, sweet buns. Her warm voice swept over Carol in a gentle flood of information and gossip.
Carol admitted surprise at the dissimilarity between Daphne and Jon. Daphne said that Jon was like their father, currently head of shipping in the London office. Daphne and Ben took after their mother, a White Russian refugee from Shanghai.
Daphne supposed their mother’s hatred of communism had influenced their political views. Her husband, part American, was also anti-Beijing. They were members of an organisation set up to promote democracy in Hong Kong and China; Free Citizens for Democracy, a company run by a local American newspaper man.
‘A company?’ Carol queried.
‘Hong Kong law doesn’t allow political parties.’ Daphne’s eyes twinkled. ‘But we have a way around all obstacles here. Political parties are incorporated as limited companies, and so we go on.’
‘Doesn’t the Chinese Government object?’ Carol asked curiously.
Daphne nodded. The previous year Governor Patten had pushed for free election to the Legislative Council. China, observing the election campaign, had feared Hong Kongers were rebelling against the agreed Basic Law. Now Daphne’s group worked at fixing as many democratic safeguards into law as they could before the transition, knowing that China was just as determined to dismantle them.
Carol said it sounded like a difficult situation,
‘Hong Kong’s always overcome difficult situations and survived very nicely. Mostly, the business community is quite optimistic.’
Daphne refilled their cups. ‘The press has legitimate concerns,’ she admitted. ‘Walter Delaney is their spokesman. His nightmare is that China will stifle the press, prevent freedom of information. He’s afraid that dissidents will be persecuted and imprisoned, like the Beijing kids in ’89. There are a lot of prominent dissidents in Hong Kong.’
She shrugged then added cheerfully that Carol would hear enough political talk if she stayed for any length of time. Guy was the only Langford well-predisposed towards Beijing.
Carol put down her cup. ‘I had lunch with Guy today. He told me the rumour about Pat and Wanda.’
‘Isn’t it awful?’ Daphne clicked her tongue. ‘Pat’s the sweetest man; I can’t imagine it, myself. It’s just been one disaster after another, lately.’
‘In what way?’
‘Well …’ She considered. ‘It started when one of our warehouses was broken into a couple of months back. A valuable jade shipment was stolen. Ben found the crates missing and the guards unconscious. They were drugged, can you imagine? We assumed someone from the inside. The drug was in their tea.’
‘Did you find out who it was?’ Carol leaned forward.
‘No. There’s a lot of corruption, bribery, Triad operations. No one would talk even if they knew. It was just lucky Ben had been there that afternoon with a Custom’s official, remembered he’d left some papers behind and went back that night.’
‘Guy told me one of your foremen was killed by Triads.’
Daphne frowned. ‘It seems crazy. Poor, inoffensive Lo Chin. I can’t imagine him involved with Triads. The rumour is he was gun-running! I don’t think so, but a load of guns was found on his site ...’
She chattered on. Carol listened, making mental notes as Daphne plied her with tea, Chinese buns and local gossip.
Daphne didn’t believe Pat had killed Wanda. Pat was a very quiet man. Everybody liked him. She dismissed Wanda with a shrug, sorry her brother had become involved with her. She missed him and wished Jon hadn’t pushed Pat into recommending him for the Sydney office; but he’d wanted it so badly.
‘Have you seen anything of Wanda?’ Carol asked hopefully.
Daphne was firm in her denial. ‘Not lately. We’re not friends.’
Carol settled herself deeper into the sofa, curling her legs up. ‘Tell me about her.’
Daphne gathered her thoughts then began her story. Twelve years ago, Guy had met Alice and Wanda Lee through a local businessman, Sung Yen-lo. Wanda was only fourteen but so beautiful she took your breath away. Alice had seized her opportunity, Guy paid her a settlement and Wanda became his mistress. But Guy was a gambler, a very high roller. His gambling debts were massive and Wanda ran through money. He was desperate for cash.
Then along had come Alistair MacKenzie and his shipping line and his daughter, Elaine. She’d fallen head over heels for Guy; well, Carol had met him. He was enormously attractive.
Guy, hardly believing his luck - Alistair was immensely rich - had married Elaine in record time.
Daphne spread her hands in a helpless gesture. It hadn’t surprised anyone when Guy, never one to confuse business with pleasure, had kept Wanda. Elaine had found out while they were still engaged and she’d hit the roof.
‘It seems she had good cause,’ Carol commented.
Daphne agreed. ‘It didn’t impress her to be told that it was a Chinese custom and everybody did it. Everybody doesn’t, of course, and Elaine was a Scottish Presbyterian and pretty straight-laced. She demanded that Guy give up Wanda.’
It had been generally assumed that Guy was still seeing Wanda after the wedding, although he’d promised to end the relationship. Daphne gave a small shrug. She’d assumed Elaine had known, although she never talked about it. Well, it wasn’t something you could just bring up in conversation. But this was Hong Kong. Everything came out eventually.
She smiled resignedly and finished her tale. Suddenly Wanda had left Guy, claiming she’d been betrayed and insulted. Ignoring Pat’s relationship with Gloria, she’d made a blatant play for him - Daphne thought it was to spite Guy. Pat had broken off with his cousin and he and Wanda were married in November ’93.
‘Didn’t Pat mind?’ Carol asked, ‘that she’d been Guy’s mistress?’
‘I expect so.’ Daphne’s brow furrowed. ‘Pat’s so good-natured, though, and he was crazy about her. Anyway, it didn’t matter in the end. Wanda has only abuse for Guy, now.’
She finished her tea and lit a cigarette. The women sat in a companionable silence. Then Daphne sighed. ‘I don’t think Guy should have married. He hates to be tied. He and Elaine were having problems; the worst were late ’93. Things settled down, but it all broke out again. A year later, in December, Ellie suddenly took the children and went back to her father. He’d retired to Brisbane, your home town, Carol.’
Daphne carefully rolled the end of her cigarette around the ashtray, wiping the ash gently into the dish. ‘Guy’s always liked beautiful Chinese women,’ she said sadly. ‘He’s taken up lately with the most exquisite girl who works at his gambling club; Silver Moon, she calls herself. He takes her everywhere - not up to his house though, not with Gloria and the children there.’
‘Wasn’t Elaine killed?’
Daphne’s eyes were moist. ‘Yes, in a car accident just two months later. I was so sorry; I really liked Ellie. Guy inherited her fortune; she hadn’t had time to change her will. He went to Australia and brought the children back.’
Carol turned the conversation to Gloria.
She was a sweetie, Daphne said, old-fashioned and innocent, even after living with Guy most of her life. You’d have thought she’d be much more worldly but, no, she walked through life wearing selective blinkers, believing the best of everyone. However, Daphne felt Gloria knew more about the current situation than she admitted. ‘You should meet her,’ she added thoughtfully. ‘I’ll arrange it.’
‘Guy’s invited me to their Christmas Eve party.’
Daphne’s ready smile broke out. ‘Oh, good. We’ll be there. Guy’s parties are always fun and you’ll certainly hear all the gossip.’
Some time later Carol left the apartment block. That, she told herself, was an extremely interesting meeting.
She walked a little way along the street then glanced back, too quickly for the tall, dark-haired man who made as if to turn away then came forward, hailing her loudly.
‘Miss Carol! What are you doing here still, young lady? Have you lost yourself again?’
‘No, I know exactly where I am, ‘Carol told him sweetly. ‘What are you doing here, Mr Bannerjee?’
‘My goodness, you look cross. I told you, I work here, this is my area. Now what can you be thinking.’
‘I think you’re following me.’ Carol looked up at him steadily. ‘I think you’ve been following me since I left Causeway Bay. Suppose you tell me why?’
He shook his head and tut-tutted. ‘This is very distressing.’
Carol had the distinct impression that he’d put shutters up over his face. She said bluntly, ‘You don’t look very distressed.’
‘I assure you, I wish you not the least harm. I gave you directions, you found your way and now you accuse me ..? Why would I follow you?’
‘I wish I knew. Would you care to enlighten me?’
‘No, it is most definitely time I was going.’ The man beat a strategic retreat.
Carol began to walk briskly on. After a moment she looked back. Bannerjee was still behind her, keeping his distance but clearly following her.
‘Right, that’s it!’ Carol hailed a passing taxi which squealed to a stop beside her. She got in quickly and glared at the Indian as he came alongside the cab. ‘Goodbye, Mr Bannerjee. Don’t follow me again or I’ll call the police.’
She looked out of the rear window as they sped away. Bannerjee was standing by another taxi, pointing at her vehicle.
‘I’ll fix him,’ Carol decided. ‘Police,’ she told the driver, ‘take me to the nearest police station.’
When BJ arrived in his office he called for Bob.
‘Anything on the earring?’
‘Auntie says it’s not Wanda’s, neither is the scarf. She was very tight-lipped.’
‘Is she lying, Bob?’
‘I’d say so.’
‘Ah.’ BJ studied the pearl, now bagged and tagged, on his desk.
‘What about Cissy Feng?’ Bob asked.
BJ raised his eyes. ‘She’ll help us. Miss Monk phoned Daphne Choy when she got back from lunch and arranged to meet her this afternoon at Eastern Dawn.’ He broke off as his internal line buzzed and quickly answered it.
A flustered desk sergeant said apologetically, ‘There’s a woman here, sir, Miss Carol Monk. She’s being followed by a tall Indian man, Mr Philip Bannerjee. He’s been tailing her all afternoon, she says. She wants him cautioned. I thought you might like to see her, sir.’
BJ paused, his face closed, then he gave a slight chuckle. ‘All right, sergeant, you’d better send her up.’
The sergeant rang off. BJ said, ‘We’re about to receive a visit from Miss Monk. Claims she’s been followed by some Indian chap all afternoon.’
Bob stared. There was a tap on the door and Carol was ushered into the office. At the sight of the inspector she halted and looked swiftly at the constable with her. He gave a very slight, apologetic shrug and departed hurriedly, closing the door behind him.
Carol stared accusing at BJ who smiled gently at her.
‘Do come in, Miss Monk. I’m Detective Inspector Philip Bannerjee, at your service.’
‘I heard about your dramatic rescue this morning,’ BJ said.
‘Ah.’ Carol smiled politely. ‘Was it you following me then, as well?’
His lips twitched as he shook his head. ‘No, not until later; but when Guy Langford involves himself in a very public act of heroism, word gets around. Were you being followed earlier?’
‘Yes, but I couldn’t spot who it was. You were easier.’
‘I wanted you to spot me. I thought it was time we met.’
‘I notice you’ve lost your phoney accent.’
Bob made a choking sound. BJ said, with a touch of reproof, ‘How do you know you were being followed?’
‘I knew.’ Carol said shortly. ‘It’s a feeling.’
‘I see.’ BJ looked at her thoughtfully. ‘Who knows you’re here?’
Carol frowned. ‘Various people might. Jon Price asked his sister and brother to help me where they could; presumably they could have told anyone. I don’t believe they knew my flight or hotel but it must be possible to find out, if you have influence.’
‘And you’ve been in contact with Alice Lee.’ BJ watched her expression change. ‘Never mind how I know. You’re asking questions on behalf of your friend Miss Dawson as to the whereabouts of Wanda Langford. It just so happens that you’re crossing my territory. I don’t want you getting in the way.’
Carol studied him. ‘You’re interested in Wanda?’
‘Yes.’ BJ said briefly. ‘Now, as you’ve been to see Daphne Choy, you must have heard the gossip. I’d like you to tell me everything you know.’
‘Are we pooling information?’
‘You’re in no position to bargain, Miss Monk. I can have you restricted any time I want, and send you home if you’re endangering yourself or my investigations. You’ve already attracted an unhealthy interest in yourself from persons unknown and I have no intention of allowing you to get yourself in trouble on my patch. Your cooperation would be appreciated,’ he finished mildly.
Carol smiled suddenly. ‘All right, inspector, from the beginning, then.’