Hong Kong - Tuesday December 24th, 1996
David claimed Guy’s attention. He shrugged an apology to Carol and joined his uncle.
‘It’s always business,’ Gloria sympathised. ‘Our family’s married to the company; everybody’s wheeling and dealing all the time and every social gathering turns into a conference.’
Carol glanced towards the verandah. The inspector and Jean had moved from sight. ‘Inspector Bannerjee and your uncle looked very serious,’ she commented.
‘They’ve really fallen out over this latest trouble,’ Gloria said. ‘I hate all this. It’s wrecking our lives, making us all suspicious of each another.’
Carol hesitated, then said, ‘Forgive me … but I have heard rumours about the inspector and your aunt.’
‘There’s nothing between them,’ Gloria said fiercely. ‘Look, I’ll tell you the story - it isn’t exactly a secret - then you’ll understand.’
It was an old story and most people had heard some garbled version. It had started before David and Jean were married. Rumour hinted at the rivalry between an inspector, Peter King, and David Langford; over some girl. She chose David and King hated him for it. He began to put pressure on him, make things difficult.
David ran the transport side of the firm. The King - it was his nickname even then - was with the Drugs Squad. It was said that he planted drugs in a lorry and claimed David was trafficking. David was exonerated, but the girl left him. He never forgave the King. They loathed each other.
Then David met Jean. The King saw his chance to humiliate David by taking Jean from him.
She turned him down. The King had lost again.
A promising young police sergeant, Philip Bannerjee, was best man at the wedding. He knew the King hadn’t forgotten the loss of face, would go to any lengths to harm David. He had warned David not to go to Taipei overnight on business, soon after the wedding.
The gossips were hazy about what followed next. It was thought the King had invited Jean to a party at his house, saying he wanted to forget the past and be friends. She’d gone, to find herself the only guest. He wouldn’t let her leave; he’d planned to revenge himself on her. David would live forever with the knowledge that King had made love to David’s wife.
But BJ had arrived at the house to deliver an urgent report. He noticed Jean’s bag on the table, knew she wouldn’t have gone there behind David’s back, and demanded to see her. It was whispered that BJ fought the King, seriously injuring him. He took Jean back to her house - and stayed with her until David came home.
Speculation was rife. Although BJ was David’s best friend, he was also deeply in love with David’s wife. The King hinted that BJ took advantage of Jean that night. The story spread, was never denied. The main protagonists never spoke about it.
However, it was a fact that Jean Langford had some sort of breakdown afterwards.
Carol was horrified. ‘Weren’t charges brought against Inspector King?’
‘It was all covered up, as much as they could. Face,’ Gloria explained earnestly. ‘King would have said Aunt Jean went to him as soon as David’s back was turned and that BJ slept with her as well. He had powerful friends. He’d have produced eyewitnesses, bribed, of course. And there were enough rivals for Langford-Price’s share of the market to spread the gossip and watch David squirm.’
She compressed her lips. ‘The King’s a commander now and he hates David and BJ as much as ever.’
Jean had returned to the party and was talking with a group at the buffet table.
‘But Inspector Bannerjee knew the truth,’ Carol protested.
‘They made a pledge not to talk about it.’ Gloria sighed. ‘Aunt Jean was ill for a long time. She couldn’t face the publicity. It nearly destroyed BJ’s career. He keeps getting passed over for promotion. The King is a very cunning man.’ She spread her hands. ‘Now you know.’
BJ appeared from the verandah and glanced around the room. His eyes rested on Carol for a moment but he remained observing the gathering from a distance. Once again she felt that small tug of nerves and found herself watching him closely.
As if aware of her scrutiny his eyes turned back to her with a little questioning look before his face closed inflexibly. He walked away to join a group of his friends.
Damn you, what have I done? Carol thought.
She began to chatter brightly, determined not to look in the dour inspector’s direction again.
Jenny Wong looked at her watch. Bill’s not coming, she thought miserably. He must be back by now. He’s got some girl somewhere. I’ll bet he’s at Eastern Dawn having a private party of his own.’
She felt her evening was ruined, perhaps even her life.
At Central Police Station, Connie Wu was typing up her report.
Tommy stopped by her desk. ‘You want to go for coffee and a burger?’
‘I have to get this done for Inspector BJ. He wants it on his desk first thing in the morning. Christmas Day!’ She tapped at the keys. ‘Doesn’t he ever stop working?’
‘Not when he’s got a big case like this, so we don’t stop either. I’ll wait for you. What d’you say?’
She paused and glanced at the clock on the wall. It was past 11:00 and she was hungry.
‘All right,’ she said at last, ‘I won’t be long.’
Tommy got up, his face impassive, and went to the door. ‘Don’t take all night,’ he advised.
Outside the room he grinned widely and thumped his fist into his palm. Yes! he thought triumphantly. I’ve cracked it!
‘Will you go to Macau?’ Gloria asked.
‘No.’ Carol was admiring a shelf of jade and ivory carvings, exquisitely crafted. ‘I’m sure the answer’s here, in Hong Kong.’ She touched a curving green dragon. ‘These are lovely. What extraordinary workmanship.’
‘Guy’s a collector; only the best for him.’
Carol picked up a small jade cat. ‘I bought a jade cat today, nowhere near as good as this. I’ve seen all sorts of cat carvings, but this is unusual.’
‘It was made especially.’ Gloria’s smile was mischievous.
‘There’s writing on it,’ Carol noticed. ‘What does it say?’
‘It says, “Jade Cat Society”.’
Gloria’s eyes were suddenly downcast but her mouth twisted in amusement. ‘Nothing important. Just a sort of club some of us belong to.’
‘I’m back.’ Guy gave his sister a speaking look and took Carol’s hand. She noticed a flush spreading across Gloria’s cheeks.
He drew Carol away. ‘I’ve arranged a surprise.’ He took her out to the verandah. ‘I hope you enjoy it.’
People were gathering in the garden, chattering and laughing. Still holding her hand, Guy led Carol to some chairs. A waiter appeared with wine.
Carol was intrigued. ‘What’s the surprise?’
Guy smiled mysteriously. ‘You’ll see.’
A loud explosion sounded close by and a ball of light rocketed into the sky, bursting open high above them in a shower of glittering stars.
‘Fireworks!’ Carol exclaimed. ‘Lovely.’
‘I knew you’d like them - fire woman.’ Guy laughed.
The sound made BJ look keenly at him as the inspector moved outside. He watched Guy twine his fingers more intimately with Carol’s and lift her hand to his lips, his eyes blazing with an inner fire that matched the bright display pouring down from the sky around them.
BJ made to join them then checked. Don’t interfere, he told himself sternly. She’s no fool and it’s her life. He noticed Guy’s exultant face and wondered how much Carol was being influenced by him.
Around him people exclaimed and pointed as the extravagant light show continued. David and Jean stood nearby, their arms linked. Gloria joined them.
She’s missing Pat, BJ thought, but that’s not all. Now, what’s upset her?
Guy suddenly turned his head and looked challengingly at him. The two men remained motionless, their eyes locked, until Guy gave a mocking grin and turned away. He released Carol’s hand and put his arm around her.
BJ went back into the house. The caterers were tidying away plates and glasses, taking advantage of the guests’ absence. He went into the study and closed the door behind him.
He picked up the telephone receiver and quickly pressed the buttons. Tommy Chen, about to go off duty, answered the call. He listened to the inspector’s orders and said, ‘Yes, right away, sir.’
Connie, slipping her jacket over her shoulders, said indignantly, ‘What now?’
Tommy shrugged fatalistically. ‘Work. Come on, Connie, it’s an emergency.’
BJ waited for the constable to call back although his instinct already told him what the news would be. He saw Jenny leave after the fireworks, her face sulky. Carol and Guy were dancing again. The music had hotted up to an impromptu disco with lights flashing in time to the beat. The inspector’s sense of foreboding grew as he watched.
Wing Chang came up to him. ‘I see you found your missing girl. You have the favour of the gods.’
‘Might the gods have had a little earthly assistance?’ BJ inquired.
‘My dear fellow, the gods surely don’t need assistance from us,’ Chang admonished him. ‘They are capricious from time to time but, in this instance, they smiled on you.’
‘You must remember to thank them for me.’
Chang frowned and moved on to talk to Sung Yen-lo who had arrived midway through the evening. BJ thought, Guy really should be more particular about his associates.
A servant appeared beside him. ‘Telephone for you, inspector, in the study.’
‘Thanks, Chiang.’ He crossed the room and closed the study door before taking the call.
‘All right, how did you know?’ Brian Tan said resignedly.
‘Well, you were bloody right. It looks like he was jumped from behind with a length of wire. He’s been strangled.’
‘I’d like to come down,’ BJ said.
‘That’s fine with me. I’ve sent a crew up to talk to the people there. Daphne and Paul will want to come down. By the way, I’ve got two of your constables here. What do you want me to do with them?’
‘Send them home,’ BJ said. ‘I’m on my way.’
He left the study and found Bob Lee. He spoke softly and urgently.
Bob groaned involuntarily. ‘Oh, no! Oh, shit!’
‘Not a word,’ BJ cautioned. ‘DCI Tan’s men are on the way up. Watch, listen and keep shtum.’
BJ found Carol in the garden, leaning her arms on a low stone wall and watching the city lights.
‘I’m leaving, Miss Monk,’ he said abruptly. ‘I’ll drive you back to your hotel.’
Carol gave him a startled look. ‘Guy said he’d drive me back after the party.’
‘The family will be tied up for a while,’ BJ said. ‘Ben Price is dead. A police car is on the way here and the Homicide officers will be interviewing people.’
‘Homicide?’ Carol echoed.
For an instant BJ’s mask slipped and she glimpsed a deep sadness in his dark eyes. ‘I’m on my way down to the warehouse,’ he explained more gently. ‘I’ll drop you off. Guy will be needed here.’
‘All right.’ Carol met his look gravely. ‘I’ll get my coat.’
He detained her with a hand on her arm. ‘Please don’t tell Guy. It’s better if no one knows until the team arrives.’
She stood motionless, her heart thumping. When he released her she cast him a confused look and ran into the house.
Guy hailed her. ‘There you are. Tired of the sights already?’
‘I don’t think that’s possible.’ Carol smiled. ‘Inspector Bannerjee has offered to drive me home. You’ll be busy here for hours yet and it’s time I was going.’
‘I’ll drive you,’ he offered quickly.
She shook her head. ‘You don’t need to do that, but thank you. It was a lovely party, Guy.’
He bent and kissed her mouth. ‘Our date for tomorrow still stands?’
‘I’ll ring you in the morning. Please tell Gloria I’m sorry to rush off.’
As she walked with BJ to his car, Carol said, ‘How awful for them. I’m so sorry. They’ll be very shocked.’
BJ opened the passenger door. ‘Not all,’ he said dryly. ‘At least one of them knows all about it.’