Hong Kong - Tuesday December 24th, 1996
Guy’s house had been built for maximum living comfort, both indoors and out. Timber decks led to various split levels. One contained a long blue swimming pool while others were hung with greenery and set with comfortable outdoor furniture. Wide glassed-in verandahs on two sides of the lowest level led to formal gardens with paved paths and neat flower beds.
Inside, the house was full of bright colours and modern furnishings. Floors were tiled in warm ochres, feature walls painted in strong primary colours. The lighting was recessed except where shelves of exquisite carvings and porcelain were spotlighted.
The party was in a large room on two levels connected by a shallow flight of steps. Asian and European guests chatted, laughed and seized the opportunity for a little business dealing, their voices raised above the music coming from a small orchestra. A number of couples danced.
In one corner, a three metre high Christmas tree stood, hung with sparkling glass balls and festooned with gold and silver tinsel. Coloured lights glowed among its branches.
Part-way through the evening, Carol found herself standing next to the tall, austere figure of Inspector Bannerjee. He seemed tense and withdrawn as his eyes searched the crowd.
She gave him a friendly smile. ‘Inspector!’
‘Miss Monk!’ He nodded. ‘Are you enjoying Hong Kong?’
‘It’s very - interesting,’ Carol acknowledged.
His stern eyes softened as he looked down at her. She wore her full-length blue velvet skirt and an old-fashioned white blouse with soft, wide sleeves. A gold and turquoise pendant glowed at her breast and her hair shone like burnished copper.
He became aware that her candid green eyes were appraising him with a considering look that must, he thought, be a reflection of his own. He had a brief, unaccustomed feeling of disadvantage and frowned slightly.
Gloria came up with a glass of wine and linked her arm in his. ‘BJ! It’s about time you arrived. Drink this and relax.’
He took the glass, smiling his thanks. Gloria said, ‘You’ve met Carol, of course. Doesn’t she look beautiful?’
‘Beautiful,’ he said evenly. ‘Are David and Jean here yet?’
Gloria pointed across the packed room. ‘Try that way - and, BJ ...’ He looked back inquiringly. Gloria kissed him on the cheek. ‘Unwind. It’s Christmas.’
BJ glanced past her to Carol and said, without expression, ‘I’ll try.’
Gloria, her brow knitted, watched him threading through the party. ‘What’s wrong with BJ?’
‘Your inspector doesn’t approve of me,’ Carol said lightly. ‘Doesn’t like a woman investigating on his patch.’ She watched Jean Langford warmly welcoming him. They certainly did look very fond of each other.
‘A word, David?’ BJ said briefly.
‘Oh, no,’ Jean groaned, ‘not business, not tonight.’
‘Sorry, Jeanie, I won’t keep him long. David, I expect we can use the study.’
Jean frowned direfully. ‘Ten minutes, no more. Then I’m coming to get you both.’
Daphne Choy, vivid in a long red satin dress with jewelled shoulder straps, introduced her husband to Carol. The tall Eurasian had the same graceful carriage, thick chestnut hair and angular face as his sister.
Paul smiled, a twinkle in his grey eyes. ‘Daph said I wasn’t to talk politics,’ he said, ‘but I see Walter and Maggie Delaney coming over, so brace yourself, Carol.’
She laughed with him. ‘I met them earlier, and your sister. Is your brother here, Daphne?’
She pouted. ‘No, he’s late.’ She called to a Chinese girl, ‘Jenny, where’s Ben?’
The girl came over. She wore a short yellow satin dress and had fashioned a couple of Christmas ornaments into earrings which sparkled as she moved her head.
‘Hello, Daphne. Ben went down to the warehouse. Some shipments didn’t tally and he went to do a physical check. He’ll be along later.’
Daphne sighed. ‘Always work. He’s too conscientious.’
‘It was either him or me,’ Paul told her, ‘and I thought you’d rather have me.’
Daphne introduced Carol to Jenny Wong. The Delaney’s joined them.
‘Here she is again, Miss Super Sleuth,’ Walter said.
‘Now stop that, dear,’ Maggie ordered. ‘He’s dying of curiosity, Carol, to see what you come up with.’
‘He’s a very suspicious character,’ Carol said. ‘I gather he was the last to see Pat before he left.’
Walter grinned. ‘Only a glimpse, Hey, Maggie, she’s trying to frame me. I saw him driving out to Kai Tak. Recognised the Jag.’
‘I’d better mingle.’ Gloria moved off. ‘Take care of Carol and introduce her to people.’
A stocky, heavy-jowled Chinese with steel grey hair came up to Walter. ‘That editorial today, a bit strong, wasn’t it?’ he asked pleasantly. ‘One queries your outspoken support of trade unions.’
‘It’s still a free press,’ Walter said briefly.
The man’s smile failed to reach his eyes. He turned to Carol. ‘Is this our lady detective from Australia?’
‘Zhang Ko-lun, Carol Monk.’ Walter introduced. ‘Mr Zhang’s with the New China News Agency.’
They shook hands. ‘Nice to meet you,’ Zhang said with a sideways look at the Delaneys. ‘I hope you’ll enjoy your visit - and not let people corrupt you with their fears for the future of Hong Kong.’ He inclined his head and moved off.
‘The little shit!’ Walter growled angrily.
‘Walter!’ Maggie warned, ‘leave it.’
Carol was interested. ‘He’s communist?’
Walter nodded. ‘You’ve got the picture. The Agency’s Beijing’s unofficial headquarters. It’s their real embassy here. Zhang’s one of our future masters.’
‘He doesn’t like you expressing your views?’
Maggie shrugged. ‘Trade unions helped raise funds for the student movement before the Beijing massacre.’
‘Can he stop you printing what you like?’ Carol asked.
‘Not yet, not for a while yet,’ Walter said grimly. ‘I need a drink.’ He walked away and Maggie, with an apologetic smile, followed him.
‘They have files on all of us,’ Paul said seriously, ‘sorting out their allies from their detractors. Some editors will toe the line to ensure their security, or they and their reporters will be kicked out. Not everyone is as - steadfast - as Walter. He may be among a very small minority who stands firm and doesn’t bow the knee to Beijing. It’s a worry.’
Daphne nodded. ‘The communists will simply shut down the media if they don’t like what’s being reported.’
‘What about world opinion?’
Paul gave a short laugh. ‘Look at Tiananmen Square. It was simply denied. The official line was that nothing occurred.’
Guy appeared behind Carol, his hand lightly on her shoulder. ‘Sorry, fire woman,’ he said, very softly. ‘I didn’t mean to neglect you. Business call.’ She smiled but didn’t answer.
‘We’re talking politics,’ Daphne said sadly, ‘and I was quite determined not to.’
‘I heard.’ Guy grinned. ‘Stop boring this lovely lady.’
‘No, I’m interested,’ Carol assured him.
‘These people are one-eyed,’ Guy protested. ‘At least hear both sides. Beijing does have a point, you know. She’s afraid the Brits will take the money out before June, bankrupting the colony. They merely want to establish a presence early to ensure fair play and put their point across.’
‘Well, they’ve done that,’ Paul said sourly. ‘They can’t bloody wait.’
‘Fair’s fair, Paul, some of us think they should be in early to learn the ropes. After all, in a few months we’ll all be working together and Hong Kong will flourish just as before.’
‘Don’t bet your life on it, Guy,’ Paul snapped.
‘I’m prepared to do just that.’ Guy turned to Carol. ‘Come and dance?’ he invited.
She moved off with him. ‘Is it always like this?’
‘We agree to disagree or we’d never be able to work together. It’s a very old difference of opinion so we love to get newcomers to agree with us.’
Daphne rustled past purposefully. ‘I’m going to phone the warehouse and tell Benny to get up here, pronto!’ she said. ‘He can’t work all night.’
They reached the area set aside for dancing. Guy took Carol in his arms and drew her against him, guiding her around the floor to the slow, romantic music.
Across the study desk, David and BJ glared at each other.
‘What the hell are you suggesting?’ David asked.
‘It should be obvious.’
‘Well, you’re going to have to fucking spell it out!’
‘All right. We all know the story that Wanda only likes tall blond men, the Langford types, in fact.’
‘So?’ David’s tone was offensive.
‘So, I remember old rumours linking her with others, not so tall, definitely not blond and all Langford-Price rivals or enemies.’ BJ made an impatient gesture. ‘I used to wonder why she allied herself with people you and Pat were openly against. Now I recall what happened to those people. Every one of them lost as the Langfords won.’
‘You’re saying Pat was running her as a prostitute? To get inside information from his rivals?’
‘This was going on before she married Pat.’
‘Fuck you, Philip, you’re accusing me!’ A dull red flush stained David’s cheeks.
‘You fit the picture.’ BJ said coldly. ‘You benefited the most, you were seen with her. I’ve only your word that you were trying to buy her off - and you were at Eastern Dawn the night she visited there.’
‘I see.’ David smiled dangerously. ‘I’ve not only been screwing my son’s wife, I’ve used her to bed my rivals as well. You cynical bastard!’ His voice rose.
‘I only asked if it was possible she was being used. You accused yourself.’
David shouted, ‘One word of this gets back to Jean, I’ll bloody kill you, Philip.’ He thumped the desk with clenched fists.
‘Neither of us wants Jean hurt,’ BJ said quietly. ‘Calm down, David.’
David shook his head wonderingly. ‘I don’t believe this. I thought we were friends.’
‘I can’t afford Langford friends,’ BJ said. ‘I’ve been told too many lies by the Langfords lately, been made very aware of my position these past few days. It seems the Langfords forget their friends at their convenience.’
‘We used to be able to trust each other.’
BJ went towards the door. David rasped, ‘Will you recognise the truth if you hear it? I was never involved with Wanda. I never used her in any way to obtain information. I took her to dinner in an attempt to buy her off. I am not involved in weapons shipments. I know nothing of any illegal arms trading. Does that suit you?’
BJ turned and David saw the momentary hurt in his eyes, quickly veiled. ‘BJ,’ he said softly.
‘It’s my job, David,’ BJ said bitterly, ‘It’s my bloody inhuman, necessary job.’
‘I know.’ A glimmer of a smile softened David’s face. ‘Joss, BJ.’
Bob Lee and Jenny Wong were by the punch bowl talking to Guy and Carol. BJ joined them. Bob shot a look at the inspector, then past him to where a grim-faced David had rejoined Jean. Carol followed his eyes and a slight shiver ran through her.
‘Pat really should be here,’ Guy commented brightly. ‘He’s missing a great party.’
BJ detected an edge in Guy’s voice. He watched him refill Carol’s glass, noted the tautness in his jaw as she smiled her thanks. Bloody hell! he thought, so that’s it. He said aloud, ‘I spoke to Chow Lin-chi. He expected Pat today. No doubt he’s partying with the Chows right now.’
Guy laughed. ‘Good luck to him. He won’t have as good a time there. He shouldn’t have let them talk him into staying.’
Jenny looked puzzled. ‘I thought he was there earlier.’
‘Not according to Lin-chi.’ BJ’s eyes scanned her face.
Guy raised his glass. ‘Here’s to Pat, wherever he is. I’m just thankful my windows have arrived, exactly to specifications, and I can get on with the job.’ He smiled down at Carol, his blue eyes glinting.
‘Are you dancing, Miss Monk?’ BJ asked abruptly.
Her eyes widened. ‘Are you asking, inspector?’
He held out his hand and she went with him. He danced well, with the same natural grace she’d noticed in his walk. For a while they were silent, measuring each other.
Carol looked up quizzically. ‘Why did you follow me so obviously yesterday?’
‘I wanted to see what you’d do,’ he admitted calmly.
‘You wanted to see if I had other contacts?’
‘Something like that.’
She smiled appreciatively. ‘You got back to your office quickly.’
BJ grinned. ‘I pointed out your taxi to my driver and offered him fifty Hong Kong dollars if he beat you back to the station.’
When his face lightened he was attractive. Carol’s pulse jumped in response as she chuckled. ‘Bribing the poor man to break the law, no doubt.’
‘Exactly.’ His eyes smiled into hers, then his face closed again, shutting her out. ‘Miss Monk, may I give you a warning?’
She felt a momentary disappointment. ‘If you feel you must.’
‘Then don’t trust Guy Langford.’
Carol’s eyes twinkled. ‘He told me not to trust you.’
His expression was stern. ‘Did you believe him?’
Carol felt as if a pleasant interlude had suddenly turned into a battle of wits. ‘I’ll decide for myself.’
BJ considered her for a moment, then said abruptly, ‘You were followed today.’
In her surprise Carol made a misstep. Annoyed, she regained her rhythm, ‘I know,’ she said tartly, ‘but how did you?’
His arm tensed. ‘I have my contacts.’
‘So I heard.’ She frowned. ‘Do you know who it is, tailing me?’
‘I’m looking into it,’ BJ said mildly.
Carol noticed the tiredness in his eyes and in the set of his jaw. She said with sudden compassion, ‘I’m sorry. I’m a nuisance, aren’t I? You don’t need this - having to watch my back.’
His smile was gentle. ‘We’ll manage. I happen to be very interested to know who it is, myself.’
The music stopped and he released her. Carol was conscious of an unexpected tension between them and gave him a fleeting look as he stepped away from her. He was watching her face, his own unreadable.
‘Carol.’ Guy was at her elbow. Thankfully, she turned quickly to him and he led her back onto the dance floor.
BJ walked slowly back to the buffet. Jenny and Daphne were getting their suppers. BJ noticed Jenny’s disgruntled look and remembered William Langford was due back from Tokyo that night. ‘Bill not here yet?’ he asked.
‘He said he’d come if he could!’ She didn’t try to hide her disappointment. ‘Ben’s not here either. He found something wrong at the warehouse and went to check but he was supposed to be here ages ago.’
‘What, like last time?’
Jenny hesitated. ‘I shouldn’t talk about it; it’s company business.’ She moved rapidly away.
‘BJ!’ Jean was beside him. ‘What on earth did you say to David? He’s quite put out.’
‘It’s private, Jeanie, nothing for you to worry about.’
‘It’s Patrick, isn’t it? For heaven’s sake, will you all stop treating me like a child.’ Her eyes filled with angry tears.
‘Jean!’ BJ took her arm and led her swiftly outside. ‘Don’t cry, there’s no need.’
‘David says you won’t believe him.’ Jean pulled out a handkerchief and dabbed her eyes. ‘Doesn’t he deserve your trust, after all these years?’ She looked at BJ appealingly.
He put his arms around her and held her, her head resting on his shoulder. ‘Poor Jean,’ he said softly. ‘Don’t I deserve your trust?’
As she danced, Carol’s eyes followed the inspector and David Langford’s wife. In the dim verandah light she could see them standing close together. She watched as Jean put up a hand to the inspector’s face.
If he is in love with her, she thought, that may well be all the reason he needs to implicate David and Pat in gun-running and murder.