Hong Kong - Tuesday December 24th, 1996
Carol sat at the breakfast bar in her room watching the crush of sampans, rickety old junks and pleasure boats in the typhoon shelter below her. High above the harbour a sea eagle rode the thermals, hanging motionless, scanning the distant water. Carol sipped her coffee and watched the great bird hunting. It suddenly dropped to the water like a stone then rose again.
Carol’s thoughts turned slowly. It all hung on Pat, but she had so many Pats to choose from. Wanda’s Pat was a dark, brooding man, capable of extreme anger, even violence. Babs had first seen him as deep and attractive; her impression was positive until she’d listened to Wanda. Jon’s Pat was a good friend, unemotional, aware of Wanda’s tricks, well able to handle her; and Jon’s Pat had enormous self-control.
Carol flicked her notebook open. Daphne’s Pat was ‘the sweetest man’, quiet - they all said that - universally liked. Guy’s Pat was a mixture. He’d had a row with his foreman and the man died. That was interesting, as Guy’s Pat was also mild-mannered, controlled, a gentleman; the whole thing was a plot to destroy him and David. Carol pondered this with a slight grimace.
Guy’s Pat was also a man pushed over the edge, which meant what? A strong-willed, silent, faithful man, badly shocked, torn in two, who just might have lashed out? Guy was clearly worried that Pat had killed Wanda.
Or perhaps he just wanted Carol to think he was worried. Her interest was piqued by this new thought.
So many Patrick Langfords, but which was the real Pat? Pat Perfect or Pat Potential Killer?
Who to believe? Who to trust? Daphne was a gossip, but intelligent and practical. Babs had good instincts. Her first impressions were clear and accurate. Carol had no real reason not to believe Jon. But she didn’t trust Wanda as far as the garden gate and Guy’s account had been tinged with an unconscious jealousy; a rivalry with his look-alike cousin.
So, taking Babs’ and Daphne’s Pat as the genuine article, could this man have murdered one, possibly two people, and fled the country?
The phone rang. When she answered it, Gloria’s light, attractive voice reminded her of Guy. ‘I’ve been hearing about you from Daphne. I’d like to talk. Can we get together?’
Carol thought swiftly. ‘I’ll be in Central this morning. Where will I meet you?’
Gloria suggested lunch at her club and gave directions. They agreed a time and she rang off.
Carol stared thoughtfully at the telephone, remembering.
After dinner she and Guy had strolled along a pedestrian path that clung precariously to the mountain side providing a spectacular view of Hong Kong which shone like a jewelled carpet at their feet. They watched the flashing lights of aircraft rising steeply from Kai Tak airport and Guy showed her the row of old mansions along the road, the eyrie of the colony’s first wealthy traders.
He had dropped his earlier serious mood and seemed bent on making sure Carol derived the greatest pleasure from the evening. He touched her shoulder lightly once or twice to point her towards this landmark or that and once took her hand to help her around a boulder, releasing her almost immediately.
Later he’d driven past his house which sprawled over hilly ground, split levels and a series of timber decks angled to overlook the most spectacular views. He pulled up in the driveway and Carol had waited for the obvious invitation. He said, ‘I won’t invite you in. I - I’m not sure it’d be a good idea,’ then he’d sat looking at her, a warmth in his eyes. ‘No, definitely not a good idea.’ He’d leaned over, lifted her hair back with one finger, touched his lips to her cheek, then abruptly started the engine. ‘I’d better get you back to your hotel. You don’t mind, do you?’
Carol had assured him she didn’t mind at all and caught the ghost of a rueful grin on his face. She liked him for it.
He acknowledges when he’s caught out, she thought. He plays to win but he loses gracefully. There’s a lot more to Guy Langford than meets the eye. She wondered if all the Langford men were as charming.
There was a tap on Carol’s door and she opened it. A bell boy handed her a fax. She tipped him, closed the door and, with a slight frown, began to read.
Later, as she left her room, she had a sudden, disquieting thought. Why was Pat’s mother so grateful to Inspector Bannerjee that she’d automatically turn to him if her husband was out of the way?
‘It boils down to this,’ King said. ‘Patrick Langford never took a flight to China, on that or any other morning. How did he get there? Why leave his car at the airport? To throw us off the scent. We don’t even know if he is in China. Don’t tell me about faxes and phone calls,’ he snapped. ‘The family’s bound to side with him. They’re probably all lying their self-satisfied heads off, thinking they’ve made fools of us. Pat never booked into the Guangzhou hotel. The Chinese officials can’t locate him. The man’s disappeared.’
BJ thought, First Wanda then Pat. He said evenly, ‘China isn’t noted for her cooperation. They could deny Pat’s presence for their own ends.’
‘Why would they do that?’
BJ gave the tiniest of shrugs. ‘Possibly because we want him. Sheer bloody-mindedness.’
‘Well, we know where your loyalties lie,’ King’s tone was deliberately sarcastic.
BJ chose to misunderstand the slur. ‘That was never in doubt, sir,’ he agreed quietly.
‘I think it’s very much in doubt.’ King sat back, indicating the interview was at an end. ‘I want Patrick Langford found. You have contacts in China; use them. He may have crossed the border illegally on forged papers.’
BJ compressed his lips. ‘Is that all, sir?’
BJ left the office and closed the door behind him. He eyed it with distaste and said, with menacing softness, ‘And may you live in interesting times.’
The commander’s secretary smiled at him. ‘Someone downstairs for you, BJ. A business man, with information.’
Sung Yen-lo was in BJ’s office, his squat bulk crammed into a chair, a frown on his fleshy face. He held out a hand and touched the inspector’s briefly.
BJ sat down. ‘You wanted to see me?’
‘Word’s come to my ears that you’re looking for a girl, a hostess from the Heavenly Joy Club?’
‘By all the gods, the police are very alert and on the job! I was coming to see you, then I heard you had it in hand already. I’ve been alarmed by the rumours.’ He hitched his chair closer to the desk and the effort made him wheeze.
BJ thought, It’s a wonder he didn’t have a coronary in Silver Moon’s bed. ‘You were coming to see me, Mr Sung?’
‘I’m very worried, inspector. I’ve been escorting the lady. I’ve grown very fond of her. I was supposed to see her on Saturday night but she didn’t arrive. I was angry at first; I thought she’d stood me up for Guy Langford. Then I found it wasn’t so.’
BJ said politely, ‘Forgive me, Mr Sung, but why have you come to see me?’
The businessman stared petulantly at him, his thick lips set in a disapproving pout. ‘My dear BJ, isn’t it obvious? I want to report her missing. No one’s seen her for two days, her flat’s been let to another girl, all her things removed; I want her found, of course.’
‘There’s been a mistake.’ BJ told him. ‘This isn’t Missing Persons. Report the girl there.’
‘No, no,’ Sung said testily, ‘I know you have an interest in this. Wing Chang tells me she’s wanted by the police. If you know where she is you must tell me, or find her for me.’
‘You’ve no idea yourself?’ BJ asked meaningly.
Sung pursed his lips for a moment and appeared profoundly sunk in thought. His eyes narrowed to slits that almost disappeared in his soft, fat face. Finally he said unwillingly, ‘I don’t like to cause trouble but my chauffeur saw her on Saturday night with one of your sergeants. He recognised him right away. They were arguing; my man got the impression the sergeant was threatening her. Knowing my interest in Miss Moon, he reported it to me. Now she’s disappeared.’
‘Did he think to give you the name of the sergeant?’
‘Ah, yes, what was it now? Wong, that’s right, Jimmy Wong.’
‘I see.’ BJ wrote it down carefully. ‘Anything else to tell me?’
Sung said cautiously, ‘You know I don’t spread rumours but I think the poor girl’s got herself into trouble. This sergeant was a client of hers some months ago. Why did she disappear after having a fight with him? I leave you to draw your own conclusions.’
‘Thank you, I’ve done so.’ BJ stood up. ‘You were right to come to me with this. I’ll take immediate steps.’
‘Just as long as you take it seriously.’ Sung heaved himself out of the chair.
‘I do, very much so,’ BJ said sternly. ‘Believe me, I’ll leave no stone unturned until I find her. I’ll investigate rigorously anything - or anyone - that stands in my way.’ He went to the door. ‘Goodbye Mr Sung, and thank you again.’
Bob Lee slipped into the office as the businessman went down the hall. Jimmy had arrived, asking for BJ. It was urgent, he said.
Jimmy stood stiffly to attention as he had throughout his ordeal. BJ had listened without comment, his eyes flickering now and then to Bob who was there at Jimmy’s request. Bob’s broad face remained impassive but BJ read the controlled anger in his eyes.
The silence in the room grew. Finally BJ said, ‘For God’s sake, sergeant, sit down. You’re making me bloody uncomfortable.’
Jimmy sat gingerly on the edge of a chair.
‘That explains why they waited before trying to wipe you out,’ BJ said curtly. ‘They knew you’d been around the Wanchai bars months ago so they didn’t jump to conclusions. It was only when they heard your report they realised what was going on. Sung Yen-lo must have been as sick as a dog to know his favourite was a police spy - and you can bet he does know. They hit you at the first opportunity; and Silver Moon.’
‘We don’t know for sure,’ Bob said.
‘She’s dead.’ BJ said austerely. ‘Wing Chang told me. Not in so many words, merely that one more missing girl wasn’t important enough to cause trouble over. I let him know I was quite prepared to cause major trouble so I received a visit from Sung Yen-lo. They’d agreed their story, Sung was sent to make me buy it this time. He failed. Now I’m waiting.’
‘For what, sir?’ Bob asked curiously.
‘For Silver Moon. They now have no option but to give me her body. They know I won’t stop until she’s found. They’ll have to produce her and hope to hell I call off the dogs.’ He looked at Jimmy’s unhappy face. ‘You say Sylvia reported to the Heavenly Joy Club?’
Jimmy nodded. ‘When I rang the number, Wing Chang answered. It was a private line to his office, unlisted. I recognised his voice and had the number checked right away.’
‘Sylvia used a code?’
‘Yes, sir, a name she was to ask for. If the code wasn’t used or was incorrect Wing told the caller they’d got a wrong number and hung up.’
‘So Wing knew all about your investigation last year. No wonder you couldn’t nail the bastard.’
‘Sir,’ Jimmy said with quiet determination, ‘I’ve written out my resignation. I’ve let you all down badly and I know you’ll want me out without any fuss.’
He pushed a letter across the table. The inspector took it, read it through, tore it across and dropped it in the waste paper bin.
Jimmy flashed a look at Bob who was watching BJ.
‘No, sergeant, you don’t get out of it that easily. You young idiot, what do you suppose will happen if you leave now? They’ll know Sylvia talked and they’ll cut her as a warning. She’ll be crippled or scarred for life, to add to your guilt.’
‘Sir!’ Bob spoke at last. BJ raised his eyebrow and waited. Bob said reluctantly, ‘We could use this situation to our advantage.’
‘Oh, yes, Bob, and we will.’ BJ smiled softly. ‘Jimmy, you will remain working with me. You will not, however, be given access to any more vital information until I decide you can be trusted. You’ll continue to take work home so your wife is not compromised; reports we’ve prepared ourselves. Sylvia will give them to Chang as usual and say nothing about them being false, if she values her life and yours. We’ll feed that devils’ spawn exactly what we want. If they buy it, and I think they will, we’ll trap them for good.’
Jimmy’s eyes were downcast. BJ said, ‘Before you complain that Sylvia could get herself into trouble, you’d better hear the story they’re trying to sell me about you.’
He told him in a few short sentences. Jimmy was so shocked that he jumped to his feet, protesting his innocence.
‘Oh, sit down,’ BJ growled. ‘I know it isn’t true. For God’s sake, credit me with some intelligence. But we’re going to let them believe we’re considering it. Until we decide what to feed them, Sylvia can report that you may be facing disciplinary action. She can also tell Mrs Lee she believes you’ve been seeing another woman. Will she do it?’
Jimmy said earnestly, ‘She’s very sorry and she’s frightened. She’ll do anything I tell her. I just hope they’ll believe her.’
‘She’ll have to convince them. You see her, Bob. Go back with Jimmy. It’ll look as if you’ve started an investigation. Make sure Mrs Wong clearly understands the position she’s in and what will happen to her if she doesn’t play her cards absolutely right.’
‘Sir, that’s all she was doing,’ Jimmy said suddenly. ‘When I first found she’d been lying to me, sneaking out - and all the money she’d been getting - I thought ...’ he stopped.
‘You thought Alice Lee was running her as a prostitute with the added attraction of inside police information,’ BJ said and there was a touch of compassion in his voice. ‘So take heart, sergeant, it’s not as bad as you thought. If we can use their own spy to bring them down, you’ll probably come off a bloody hero, little as you deserve it.’
‘I deserve to be kicked out,’ Jimmy said penitently.
‘Yes, you do,’ BJ agreed, ‘and it may come to that. However, I’ll take a chance on you, Jimmy. Loss of face for me if one of my hand-picked men goes bad. I wouldn’t give our commander the satisfaction. So thank your lucky stars, my boy, and all your gods with them. Now, get back to work. Bob will collect you when we’ve finished here.’
Jimmy left the office.
BJ said meditatively, ‘They’ve made their first mistake. I told Chang I knew why Jimmy had met Silver Moon - and they knew from Jimmy’s report that she was his informant, not his mistress. Chang tried to convince me Jimmy was leading a double life and I let him know I didn’t believe it. They must be rattled, even desperate if they can’t come up with anything better than this.
He tidied a pile of reports on his desk, carefully aligning their edges. Then he looked up at Bob. ‘My instinct tells me this isn’t just down to Wing Chang. I want a tap on that private line of his. With this evidence, that won’t be a problem.’
‘What are you thinking?’ Bob asked.
BJ grinned. ‘Cells within cells. Sylvia wouldn’t be reporting direct to the head man; too risky if she was caught. The information must be relayed through my upright friend Chang, then he passes the message up the line to - whom? That’s what we need to find out. When we’re ready, we’ll get Sylvia to pass the false message and we’ll be listening to follow it through to the top.’
He stood up. ‘I’ll see to it. God knows, Chang’s overdue for special attention anyway.’