Hong Kong - Monday December 23rd, 1996
As soon as she returned to her hotel Carol went to the reception desk and arranged to send a fax. She wrote it out swiftly, aware of the curiosity in the veiled eyes of the clerk who waited politely for her to finish. Word does get around, she thought.
The fax was addressed to DS Mike Moran at Brisbane Homicide and was brief and to the point.
Please fax urgently all information on the death of Mrs Elaine Langford, nee MacKenzie, Brisbane, Feb 1995. Believed car accident. Also details of will. Thanks, I owe you one, Caro.
Carol handed in the message and went up to her room. There was a note from Guy on the table. She read it, read it again, then rang his office.
‘Is Mr Guy Langford still there? Carol Monk calling.’
‘One moment, Miss Monk, I’ll put you through.’
Guy’s voice said, ‘Carol! I was hoping you’d get my note.’
‘Just now. Thanks, Guy, I’d love to have dinner with you.’
‘Excellent. I’ll pick you up at 7:00.’
Carol rang off and checked her watch. Hong Kong was two hours ahead of Brisbane. There was plenty of time for Mike to access the file and get back to her.
In the shower she let the warm water run over her while she remembered.
It had been nearly two years ago, a sweltering Sunday afternoon late in February 1995. She’d been entertaining a few friends for lunch in her small back garden under the dappled shade of grape and passionfruit vines fighting each other for trellis space.
As she’d gone through to the kitchen she’d overhead Mike Moran deep in conversation with a colleague.
‘It’s a bugger of a case,’ Mike was saying. ‘I know there’s something going on but can’t prove it.’
‘Why were you called in?’
‘It looked bloody suss. Woman walks out on hubby, takes the kids, comes back to her old man and talks about changing her will. Then, the day before she’s due to meet her solicitor, she’s driving down Mt Coot-tha on her way back from lunch with a couple of Chinese blokes and loses the car on a corner. Ends up dead at the bottom of a gully.’
Carol had paused, interested, a hand on Mike’s shoulder. He’d reached up and patted it. ‘Any chance of a refill, Caro?’
‘On the way.’ She’d continued into the house.
When she returned with more cold beers, Mike had been saying philosophically, ‘There’s no proof it was anything but an accident. The two blokes might have been strictly kosher. Witnesses said the woman was angry and left before they did.’ He accepted a refill. ‘Thanks, Caro.’
She said, ‘If it was an accident, Mike, how come Homicide’s involved?’
He’d grinned. ‘Old Man MacKenzie cut up rough. Reckoned it was a bit handy for her hubby. Hates his guts, doesn’t want him to get her money, started screaming ‘foul’. The car was mechanically sound, the two Chinese were never identified. The case is closed as far as we’re concerned.
Carol turned off the shower. It had to have been Elaine Langford, and it was very handy for Guy who, according to Daphne, was desperate for money. But would he have had her killed for it or was it someone else with his interests very much at heart?
She dried herself and dressed for dinner, still considering the implications. But Mike had been the investigating officer and he’d concluded it was an accident. He was painstakingly thorough. It was more likely that Guy had sent someone to talk to his wife, that she’d lost her temper and had been driving too fast.
Carol’s thoughts turned to the events of the present afternoon. DI Bannerjee’s a tough one, she mused, but at least he didn’t tell me to drop it.
BJ had heard her out, then considered for a long moment, his face devoid of expression. ‘All right, Miss Monk,’ he’d said at last. ‘Meet your contacts, make your inquiries. It’s possible people will talk to you, gossip in front of you. We’ve made ourselves unpopular, being forced to look on Pat’s absence as a defection. The Langfords have closed ranks.’
He’d leaned across his desk and added softly, ‘But keep me informed. Anything you hear, anything you find out that might be relevant, I want to know; and if I think you’re getting in too deep, you’re out. Is that understood?’
She’d given him a cool smile. ‘Perfectly, inspector.’
‘Right. I’ll be in touch. Enjoy your stay in Hong Kong.’
Sylvia’s key scraped in the lock. Jimmy remained in his chair, his clenched fists on the table. The flat was in darkness except for the light from neon signs that hung high across the street outside and patterned the walls.
‘Jimmy? Are you here?’ She turned on the light and came forward anxiously. ‘What are you doing, sitting in the dark? Are you all right? It’s cold. You haven’t even switched on the fire.’
She took off her coat. ‘What’s the matter, Jimmy?’
‘Sit down. I want to talk to you.’
She pouted. ‘Well, that’s no way to ask.’
His fist came down on the table with a bang that made her jump. ‘Sit down, Sylvia!’
Her eyes widened. ‘Oh, all right. What’s all the fuss? Don’t you want your dinner?’ She sat down and smiled at him. ‘Here I am, then. What do you want?’
He faced her sternly, ‘I’ve got your coin purse. You left it next door in the 7-Eleven. On Saturday night.’ He pushed it across the table.
She picked it up warily. ‘Oh? I hadn’t missed it.’ Her eyes flew to his face and she stopped.
He opened his fist and dropped the key on the table. ‘What’s this?’
She swallowed, then said brightly, ‘Oh, a little silver key. I don’t know, Jimmy.’
‘You should know. It was in your purse.’
‘You looked in my purse?’ Sylvia spoke sharply but under the table her knees were trembling.
‘I’m your husband. I’ve got a right to open your purse. What’s the key for?’
She looked sulky. ‘Just some old key. I never knew it was there.’
‘Don’t lie to me.’ he roared. ‘This is a key to my briefcase. Do you think I don’t recognise it? I didn’t give it to you so how did you get it?’
Sylvia, her voice shaking, said quickly, ‘I must have found it. Perhaps you dropped it. Yes, that’s what happened.’
‘No!’ Jimmy opened his other hand up and showed her a second key. ‘Yours is a duplicate. Why, Sylvia?’
She began to shiver. She’d never seen him so angry; his eyes were like flint. ‘Don’t look at me like that, Jimmy.’
He said with a sudden quietness, ‘Oh, Sylvia, what have you done?’
His gentle voice broke her defiance. Tears ran unchecked down her face. ‘I’m sorry, Jimmy, I’m so sorry.’
He stood up and went to the open bedroom door. He held out his hand. ‘Come here.’
Sylvia followed him fearfully. All her clothes had been pulled out and piled on the bed, her jewellery scattered over the top of them. She sagged at the knees in shock.
‘I’ve been working out the cost of clothes like these,’ Jimmy said, still in his quiet, controlled voice, ‘and the jewellery. Don’t tell me any lies about winning at cards. That wouldn’t pay for half of it.’
Deceived by the soft tone, Sylvia put her arms around his neck. ‘Don’t be cross with me,’ she coaxed.
His control snapped and he pulled away from her, fury contorting his face. He dragged her hands down and slapped her hard across the mouth.
She screamed and shrank from him.
‘You bitch!’ he shouted. ‘You lying, whoring little bitch. You’ve been betraying me, crying poor, and I was too stupid to see, telling me you couldn’t afford clothes - look at these. Look at them!’
He caught her hair and pulled her head back, forcing her to look at the bed.
‘Don’t, Jimmy, don’t, you’re hurting me.’ She struggled to free herself.
‘You tell me, you bitch, tell me what you’ve done.’
‘All right!’ She tore herself away from him. ‘All right. Don’t hurt me, Jimmy, please.’
He flung himself back into the living room and went through to their tiny kitchenette. With shaking hands he poured himself a glass of water and drank it, forcing himself to be calm. When he was in command of himself again he went back to where Sylvia sat sobbing, her head on the table.
Jimmy sat opposite her. ‘Stop that, Sylvia, you won’t get any sympathy from me. Now, tell me what this is all about.’
She lifted a swollen face streaked with mascara. Her bottom lip was bleeding sluggishly and she put up a trembling hand to feel the bruise. ‘I’m scared,’ she whispered. ‘I’ve been so stupid, Jimmy, and I’m so frightened.’
‘Tell me. I can help you.’
‘No, you can’t.’ She pulled a handkerchief from her pocket and dabbed at her mouth. ‘No one can. I deserve to be beaten for being so stupid.’
‘Tell me.’ Jimmy repeated.
She gulped back her tears. ‘I was lonely, after Wanda left for Australia. Mrs Lee was kind to me. I started playing cards with her and her friends. She said it didn’t matter that I had no money, she’d lend me some. They played so high, Jimmy, but I won and paid Mrs Lee back. She said I had a natural talent. I won more, bought some pretty clothes. I wanted to look good, for you.’ She twisted the handkerchief nervously.
‘Go on.’ His voice grated.
Sylvia looked quickly at his stern face and then away. ‘Then I lost a really big sum. I don’t know what went wrong. I borrowed more money but I just kept losing and losing. Mrs Lee let me keep playing until ... One day she told me I owed her too much. If I couldn’t pay her, I’d be in a lot of trouble.’
‘How much money did you owe?’ She named the figure and Jimmy’s face paled. ‘Sylvia! That’s more money than I earn in a year. How could you?’
She sniffed miserably. ‘I don’t know; I just went on and on. I never noticed how much it was building up. I kept thinking I’d be lucky soon and pay it back and it would be all right.’
‘That woman!’ Jimmy snarled. ‘She did it deliberately. She let you win, got you hooked, then sucked you in.’
‘I know,’ Sylvia whispered, ‘I was stupid, but I know better now.’
‘So, what happened?’
‘She said I could repay her by selling information. I’d told her you were always bringing work home. She showed me how to take a copy of your key and have another one made. I said I wouldn’t but she said she’d have me punished, even crippled. She’d lose face if she let me get away with such a big debt.’ Sylvia’s face crumpled again. ‘Oh, Jimmy, I was so scared.’
‘It’s all right,’ he said, automatically. ‘You’d better tell me the rest.’
‘I snuck out when you were asleep and read your reports. I had a number to ring and a code to use. I rang up after you left in the mornings and reported.’ She cast him a quick, pleading look. ‘It didn’t seem important. The reports were so boring.’
‘But she had a spy in the police and, if anything interesting came along … Why? Does she sell the information?’
Sylvia shook her head. ‘I don’t know. I asked her once why she wanted all that stuff. She said never mind, I was paying off my debt. Then she started to pay me for the information. She said I could pretend I was winning at cards.’
‘And I never thought about it,’ Jimmy said bitterly. ‘I never looked in your wardrobe or noticed all your new dresses. I was too busying working, happy that you had an interest and were making a little money for yourself. A little!’ He laughed angrily.
Sylvia looked at him with scared eyes. ‘What will I do? If I don’t report she’ll punish me. She’s been very kind in lots of ways, Jimmy, but if she thinks I’ve told you ...’
‘She hasn’t been kind to you; she’s used you for her own ends.’ Jimmy looked down at his hands. ‘Was that all you did for her, for the money? There wasn’t anything else?’
She gave him a puzzled look. ‘What do you mean? No, that was all I did, I promise.’
His face relaxed. He thought for a moment. ‘What number did you use to report?’
She told him and he went to the phone. She shrieked. ‘No, Jimmy, they’ll kill me.’
‘They won’t know,’ he said curtly. He rang the number, waited until the call was answered, then replaced the receiver, his face bleak. ‘Did you ring this number on Saturday night and give them my report?’
‘Yes. I - I was so angry, and hurt. I met a friend at Happy Valley; you remember Chloe Xian? We went down to Wanchai for a drink. I - I saw you with a woman.’
Jimmy groaned and put his head in his hands. Sylvia said defensively, ‘Well, I didn’t know. I thought you were tired of me and had a beautiful prostitute to comfort you. Chloe knows her. She told me her name and said how sorry she was, but I could see she was thinking I’d made a mess of my marriage. When you came home I pretended to be asleep. Later I read your report and saw you weren’t having an affair, just like I told Chloe. I rang that number ...’
‘Sylvia,’ Jimmy said, ‘my accident was because someone knew I’d talked to Silver Moon. They tried to kill me because I knew too much.’
She began to sob again. ‘I’m sorry,’ she wailed, ‘I’ve hated myself for doing this but I don’t how to stop.’
‘I’ll talk to Inspector BJ,’ Jimmy said evenly. ‘No don’t cry, Sylvia, I have to tell him. You’ve got us both in a lot of trouble. I’ll have to resign my job but I’ll stand by you and we’ll work it out somehow. They won’t be expecting you to report at the moment because they’ll know I’m injured and not at work. If I resign, they’ll have no more information.’
Sylvia came around the table and knelt at his feet, her cheek against his thigh. ‘Jimmy, say you forgive me,’ she stammered. ‘I - I don’t know what I’d do without you. W-When I thought you didn’t want me anymore, I wanted to d-die.’ Her voice was suspended with tears.
Jimmy leaned down and pulled her up, nestling her on his lap. ‘It’s all right, my darling. We’ve both been stupid. I should have noticed something was wrong. I’m a great detective, I am, not to see what’s under my nose.’ His arms tightened around her. ‘BJ will know what to do,’ he said and tried to sound more confident than he felt.