Hong Kong - Monday December 23rd, 1996
BJ arrived home, still going over the events of the afternoon in his mind.
That woman was going to be trouble. Perhaps he should pull strings and have her deported … but then, she might just obtain information that he couldn’t. He scowled. Oh, damn Wanda Lee - and damn all her friends.
He unlocked his mail box and discovered a hand-delivered letter. He turned it over absently, then let himself into his apartment and hung up his jacket. He pulled his mobile phone out of the pocket with a grimace, switched it on and dropped it on the table. Then he sat down heavily on the sofa and opened the letter.
Oh, yes, he thought, and what are you up to, Chang?
“My dear inspector,” Wing Chang had written, “I have to inform you that on Saturday night Silver Moon was seen in the Good Luck Dragon Bar with a police sergeant, Jimmy Wong. I am told that some months ago he regularly visited the Wanchai bars and was on very friendly terms with many of the worst criminals; also that he and Miss Moon had an intimate relationship. It is rumoured that she was blackmailing him, threatening him with exposure. He was the last person to be seen with her. It is believed that he killed her to avoid a scandal.
“I regret to bring you such bad news. If I can help the police in any way, it is my desire to do so. I remain ...”
‘Etc, etc,’ BJ said and swore. ‘May a thousand devils tear off Wing Chang’s balls and use them for soccer practice. May his juices dry up so completely that he’s never able to perform a man’s function again and may all the criminals that, of course he doesn’t know, take him for every bloody cent in his strictly legal casino!’
His instinct was to tear up the letter and flush it down the lavatory but he stopped.
Now, had Chang worked that out all by himself or had some smart bastard put him up to it?
In his apartment at Eastern Dawn Towers, Guy was in the shower. He rubbed the soap briskly over his lean body, his pleasant light baritone raised in a snatch of a popular song.
‘And when she looks at me, what does she see?’ he sang and fell suddenly silent. Hell! What did Carol see? Some crass womaniser? She must wonder about him and Wanda, the mess with Elaine. Did she see the Guy Langford he’d like her to see or had she already heard too much and made up her mind about him? He grinned, amused by his conceit. Perhaps she saw nothing at all, and cared even less.
He turned off the water and towelled himself hard. He knew what he saw and it looked very good.
He ran his fingers through his damp hair, shaping it against his handsome head then began to shave, enjoying the feel of the razor massaging his face. He thought of Carol’s hair, like a tropical sunset - pure flame. Witch’s eyes, so warm, that smiled even when her mouth didn’t. He thought about possessing Carol’s mouth with his and excitement stirred deep in his body.
He stood naked before the mirror and surveyed himself critically. Nothing wrong there, no trace of fat, good muscle tone. He should get to the gym more often, take the Evening Star out more, keep himself in shape.
He wondered what Carol liked in a man.
He strolled through to the bedroom and began to dress, selecting his clothes with care. He shrugged into his evening jacket and adjusted his tie. Slowly, slowly, he told himself. You can’t rush this one; she won’t fall for the usual line. She’s amused, a little interested, but not fooled. Those warm eyes of hers see too much. Light and easy’s the way, give her time, give her space, make her want me.
He stood still, every muscle suddenly taut with desire. I want her, he thought savagely. I’ll use every bloody trick I know, and I’ll win, Carol Monk. I’ll win you, and I’ll have you, and I’ll be the best you ever had, I can promise you that.
He laughed out loud, confident in his ability to get whatever he wanted, and began to sing again.
‘When she looks at me, what does she see?
Is she thinking of him or only me?’
Even through the telephone BJ could sense the caution in Wing Chang’s smooth, courteous voice.
‘My dear BJ, it’s only what’s been reported. You must know Sergeant Wong’s been haunting the Wanchai bars lately.’
‘Yes, and I know why. Please don’t ask me to believe he knew Silver Moon previously or had any hostile intentions towards her.’
Wing sighed. ‘Blackmail, inspector. It’s very difficult to know what a man would do; a married man, a respected police officer, a hard man, by all accounts.’
‘An attempt was made on his life.’
‘Easy enough to fake an accident. I’m sure he has the nerve for it. Or perhaps Miss Moon’s friends arranged a little warning when he refused to pay her.’
BJ’s voice was soft; Wing felt the chill through to his bones. ‘Frankly, Chang, I don’t believe this - rumour. It’s not in Silver Moon’s character and certainly not in Jimmy Wong’s. Who would be foolish enough to spread such a story, knowing I was interested in the girl? Who could possibly be so unwise?’
There was a silence then Wing, only a fraction too fast, said, ‘You seem to know her well, my friend. May one inquire why Inspector BJ has such an interest?’
‘I don’t think so,’ BJ said pleasantly. ‘But, as you only desire to help the police, Chang, I’m sure you’ll discount such an obviously false rumour and make further inquiries for Miss Moon. I did assure you that I’d find her, didn’t I? Yes, I’m sure I did.’
There was an edge to Wing’s voice. ‘Don’t discount too easily what’s being said. How well do you know Sergeant Wong - or his little wife, Sylvia? There may be much about a man his superior doesn’t know. Silver Moon was just another beautiful face among thousands of such girls. If she’s gone, better let sleeping dragons lie, don’t you think?’
BJ chuckled. ‘Be careful, Chang, or I might tweak this dragon’s tail and anyone close to him could get badly hurt in the contest.’
‘You look beautiful,’ Guy told Carol. She’d chosen a long, midnight blue velvet skirt and an aqua, jacket-style top, patterned with a gold motif and trimmed with the same deep blue velvet.
‘We’re doing the tourist bit.’ He grinned. ‘The Peak Cafe is famous, a must for visitors. It’s on the summit of Victoria Peak and almost an institution.’ He handed her into the Porsche and drove into the traffic flow, handling the speed with easy competence. ‘You’ll enjoy the lights,’ he added, ‘at least, you will if it’s not too misty. It’s quite stunning. Like ...’ He stopped.
‘Like fairyland?’ Carol supplied.
Guy laughed. ‘That is what I was going to say, trying not to sound like a cliché.’
The car took the steep mountain road easily. Guy changed down a gear and swung easily through the bends.
‘Don’t you live up here?’ Carol asked, watching the lights of the Mid-Levels drop away below them.
‘Yes, the Langfords congregate around Langford Drive.’ Guy gave a little chuckle. ‘David at the top, in the big house, Pat further down in an old colonial that belonged to a retired Langford. My house is not in such an elite location but has, I think, the best view, all the way down to Happy Valley Race Track and Causeway Bay . I could sit up here and flick nuts at you, Miss Monk.’
‘You live with your sister?’
‘Gloria, yes. She’s a wonderful girl and mothers my two kids, Kit and Emma; thank the gods, or I’d be in serious trouble. We’ll drive past later and you can see our little paradise on the hill.’
The tram station came into view where the red Peak Trams hung precariously, delivering and picking up passengers for the breathtaking, almost vertical journey up or down the mountain. Even here on the summit the pavement was lined with street vendors selling souvenirs; dolls in traditional costumes, jewellery, jade carvings, fans, scarves and T Shirts.
Guy drew up outside the Peak Cafe which was set in lush gardens, found a parking space and backed the Porsche expertly.
Latecomers who hadn’t booked in advance waited outside in the cool air for a table or sat at the bar. Guy ushered Carol inside and a smiling hostess immediately approached them.
‘Good evening, Mr Langford, congratulations on Saturday’s win. It’s very nice to see you again. Your table is ready.’
‘Thanks, Mei Ling.’ They followed her through the restaurant to a walled courtyard where tables were set in a greenhouse area under a clear winter sky. A roaring fire, set deep into one grey stone wall, warmed the whole area.
‘I reserved another table inside, just in case,’ Guy said.
‘This is fine. I prefer to be outside.’ Carol looked at him quizzically. ‘Now, how did you know that?’
‘I didn’t,’ he said, ‘We’ll sit out here, Mei Ling.’ He said with sudden candour, ‘I wanted to see the firelight on your hair. Flame to flame.’ He was silent for a moment, watching her face, then he smiled. ‘Would you like a drink?’
‘Yes, please.’ Carol considered him gravely. ‘Are you getting the full effect from there?’ she asked, mock-seriously,
He handed her the drinks menu. ‘It’s perfect. You are beautiful, you know.’ He grinned. ‘Of course you know. I assume you use a mirror.’
Carol selected her drink. ‘I met one of your police inspectors today. Inspector Philip Bannerjee,’ she said casually.
‘Oh?’ Guy looked quickly up from the menu. ‘BJ? What did he want?’
‘He was following me. Do you know him?’
‘He’s an old family friend. He’s famous in Hong Kong. A tough nut and more Chinese than Indian.’
‘Tell me about him.’ Carol propped her elbows on the table and rested her chin in her hands.
Guy’s mouth twisted slightly. ‘He’s only ever called BJ. His name was originally Dilip Bannerjee. His father was a copper, rose to chief inspector. BJ was born here. My uncle David was at school with him until both boys were sent to high school; BJ to England, David to Australia. They remained close friends. BJ changed his name to Philip; more acceptable to the English school, I suppose. Why was he following you?’ he asked curiously,
The drinks waiter appeared at his elbow. Guy gave their order and turned back to Carol.
She smiled. ‘Perhaps he doesn’t like private investigators. I’d love to know how he knew about me.’
Guy shrugged. ‘Rumours. What did he say?’
‘He told me to enjoy my stay.’
‘He’ll be at the party tomorrow night.’ Guy leaned towards Carol and said earnestly, ‘I warned you about local politics. Watch out for BJ; he’s the one I mentioned. He’s been in love with Jean for years. Although he’s David’s best friend, he’s come down heavily against Pat and seems hell bent on linking David with a gun-running operation. If he could get David put away and Pat with him, I don’t know that he’d hesitate. Jean cares about him. She’s grateful to him; loves him too, in a way. She’d turn to him if anything happened to David.’
‘Even if he’d been the one to implicate her husband?’
Guy laughed shortly. ‘Do you think it’d look like that? BJ’s a powerful man with a lot of strings and a spy network second to none. If he wanted someone to frame David he wouldn’t be short of takers. He runs a slush fund, rumoured to be extremely healthy. He could bribe some poor sod and wouldn’t bat an eyelash over it.’
‘Would he do that?’
‘If he had enough evidence, false or otherwise. What could stop him?’ Guy gave his charming, crooked smile. ‘We’re all a little crazy here. I told you, old hatreds, old loves, run very deep. Morality suffers the consequences. Just -’ he paused. Carol raised her brows slightly, waiting. He said, ‘Oh, hell, just don’t let him use you.’
Their drinks arrived. Guy raised his glass. ‘Here’s to you, fire woman.’
They chose their meal and a second waiter appeared at Guy’s elbow. ‘Evening, Mr Langford. Congratulations.’
‘Thanks, Tang, did you win?’
‘Oh, yes, big bucks. All due to you.’
He went away with their order. Guy said lightly, ‘I won a race.’
‘The Langford Cup?’
‘That’s it.’ He gave a slight self-deprecating shrug. ‘You win a big race, you’re a nine days’ wonder, a hero for a week or two.’
‘I gather Pat should have ridden.’
His eyes narrowed in amusement. ‘Don’t get any ideas. It wouldn’t have changed the result. Pat’s been pushed well over the edge emotionally. He wouldn’t have been at his peak. I was,’ he added simply.
‘Daphne Choy told me. She said millions of dollars change hands on the big races.’
‘The Chinese love you to win for them. They bet with a passion and know all the details of the horses, trainers, jockeys. Losing doesn’t count. You curse the gods or your bookie and set about making more money to bet again next time. Wanda’s cousin Bob says it doesn’t matter because when the people lose, they win anyway.’
‘Meaning just that. The Royal Hong Kong Jockey Club turns over in excess of six billion a year, US. It’s run as a charity so the money is spent for the public on facilities - parks, gardens, schools, swimming pools, clinics - so the people do benefit in the long run.’
‘Guy,’ Carol frowned. ‘How did you know I was a tourist?’
‘This morning. You said that we try not to kill our tourists.’
‘Oh.’ He looked blank. ‘An educated guess, I suppose. You didn’t look local, for some reason. I really have no idea. Just said anything to take your mind off it, I think.’
‘I’d been using a guide book earlier.’
‘Ah, then that was it. I suppose I noticed it and assumed.’
She smiled. ‘Well, it was certainly very lucky for me that you were there. Joss.’
‘Joss.’ He reached out a hand then drew back as the meal arrived. A silence fell between them and they ate, absorbing the atmosphere: the softly lighted courtyard, the leaping flames, the greenery around them, the stars above, the good food and wine.
‘Do you mind me asking questions?’ Carol said suddenly.
Guy grinned. ‘It’s what you’re here for.’
‘Well, did you ever write to Wanda in Sydney?’
‘Write to Wanda?’ Guy seemed amused by the idea. ‘No, I kept in touch with Jon. He’s a good friend. Why?’
‘I just wondered. Why is Pat staying away?’
Guy put down his knife and fork and said slowly, ‘Everyone’s asked me that. Pat was badly cut up by everything. He’s the original strong, silent type, as true as they come. It shattered him when Wanda left him for Jon. Then he starting seeing Gloria and Wanda came back like an avenging fury. She always wants what she can’t have. Pat shouldn’t have married her if he’d wanted to keep her. He was torn in two, wanted to do the right thing by them both. I think, when he got to China and the Chow’s invited him to stay, it was too tempting.’
‘Even if it meant missing the race?’ Carol pursued.
‘Perhaps he knew he’d lose and was saving face.’ Guy said shortly. ‘Hell, I’m worried about him myself. I’ve tried to contact him and I can’t raise him. He’s not at the Chow’s yet. I don’t know where he’s got to.’
Guy stared down at his plate. ‘I’ve known Pat all my life. He’s strong willed, yes, but a gentleman. He’s sensitive, often secretive. He keeps his own counsel, shuts his thoughts off like a true Oriental. It used to drive poor Wanda crazy. But I couldn’t imagine him hurting her.’
‘What if it was an accident?’ Carol asked. ‘He might have struck her in the heat of the moment?’
Guy said slowly, ‘I could see that, just maybe. I was sure he was lying low to save face and sort himself out, but ... ‘
He looked at her, his face grave. ‘I keep thinking, what if it’s true? What if he did kill her? And I just don’t know any more.’