Hong Kong - Christmas Day, 1996
BJ let himself into his apartment and sank tiredly onto the sofa. He reached for the whisky decanter, poured himself a drink and leaned back against the cushions, his long legs stretched out in front of him. He eyed his wife’s face with a rueful little smile and drank deeply. ‘Merry Christmas, love,’ he murmured.
He stretched out a hand and picked up the silver-framed photograph, holding it against him. Resting it on his lap he ran a gentle finger around the edge, watching Victoria’s never-changing smile. Should he feel guilty about tonight? He couldn’t help the depth of his feelings, unwelcome as they were. Victoria would say, ‘About time, BJ, enjoy yourself.’ Only it wasn’t that simple. It was never that bloody simple. Was he supposed to enjoy himself without a thought for who might get hurt? And yet, right now, remembering the feel of her in his arms, he didn’t very much care.
He sighed. ‘By the way, Ben’s dead,’ he said morosely. ‘I know why and by whose hand and on whose orders - and I can’t prove a thing. What do you say to that?’
His words echoed in the silent flat. He nursed the photograph for a moment longer. Victoria’s eyes were unshadowed, trusting. Grim-faced, BJ slowly returned her to the coffee table.
Jenny Wong sat sobbing on the sofa between Jimmy and Sylvia.
‘Make her some tea, Jimmy.’ Sylvia ordered. ‘There, there, Jenny, you’ll make yourself ill.’
Her arm was around her sister-in-law. Over Jenny’s head her eyes met Jimmy’s and she gave a little dismissive jerk of her head. He shrugged and went into the kitchenette.
‘It’s all right, darling, it’ll be all right,’ Sylvia rocked the distraught girl gently.
‘It was the same as the last time.’ Jenny sobbed. ‘Ben knew something was wrong. He was so worried.’ She pulled herself out of Sylvia’s arms and sat up as a frightening thought struck her. ‘Now I know what happened before. He didn’t leave something behind; he saw something while he was checking the consignments with Ho Chung. It made him suspicious so he went back for another look and found we’d been robbed.’
Jimmy came back into the room. ‘Ho Chung?’ he asked sharply.
Jenny wiped her eyes. ‘Third son Ho, from Customs. He and Ben checked the warehouse the day it was robbed in October.’
Sylvia frowned. ‘Make the tea, Jimmy.’
‘Right.’ Jimmy disappeared again.
‘Today was just like that,’ Jenny said slowly. She blew her nose on the damp, crumpled handkerchief. Sylvia handed her another. ‘This time he must have surprised the robbers in the act and - and they killed him. They killed Ben.’ She buried her face in Sylvia’s shoulder.
Jimmy brought her a mug. ‘Here, Jenny, drink this.’
She raised her head and gulped a mouthful of tea. ‘The police came and interviewed me,’ she stammered. ‘It was Sergeant Ng, from the Homicide Division; he knows you, Jimmy. He said I shouldn’t stay by myself because I was so upset. Ben - murdered!’ She shuddered. ‘So I came here.’
‘And a good thing, too.’ Sylvia looked at Jimmy. ‘Jenny can’t go home tonight. Darling, you’ll stay with us, in the spare room. It’s no bigger than a shoe box but there’s a camp bed. Now drink your tea and I’ll give you a sleeping tablet.’
Jenny suddenly sat bolt upright with a little gasp, clutching her fringe with agitated fingers. ‘I have to get to the office.’
‘Not tonight.’ Sylvia declared.
‘It isn’t tonight, it’s today,’ Jimmy said gloomily. ‘It’s Christmas Day.’
‘The office will be closed today,’ Jenny said. ‘I’ll have to go in later. I need to look at something.’
Carol sat curled up on her bed, writing in her notebook.
The inspector knows, she thought. He knows and he’s as worried as hell although he rarely lets his guard down. She put down her notes. Nothing added up, everything she heard conflicted with everything else. But there was a pattern in it all.
A shiver ran through her. She got up and closed the blinds, shutting out the black winter night. I’m not safe, she thought suddenly. Oh, God! I’ve appeared right in the middle of the most appalling conspiracy and I’m in very definite danger.
She turned off the light and got into bed, pulling the covers around her. I need to talk to him, compare notes, if he’ll let me. She closed her eyes and listened to the faint sounds of celebration in the street outside and, somewhere down the corridor, in the hotel itself.
‘And Merry Christmas to you,’ she muttered. ‘May the gods keep me around to see the New Year.’
BJ arrived early at the police station. The desk sergeant stared at his stern face and said nervously, ‘Merry Christmas, sir.’
‘And to you.’ BJ nodded and went up to his office. Connie Wu’s report was on his desk. He read it through.
The phone rang and he answered it curtly. Jimmy said, ‘Sir, there’s something I think you should know,’ and began to speak rapidly.
‘Jenny’s gone into the office?’ BJ interrupted.
‘I couldn’t stop her. She borrowed some of Sylvia’s clothes and took off. Sir, is she in danger?’
‘Very possibly. Is she coming back to your place?’
‘Yes, for Christmas lunch.’
‘Good. Keep her there if you have to tie her up.’ BJ considered the situation. ‘The Langfords should be far too occupied to do anything today. They’ll be involved in major damage control. But I’d keep her away from them for a few days.’
He hung up and sat still. Then he picked up the receiver again and rang the Excelsior.
The extension rang for a long moment before Carol answered.
‘Did I wake you?’ BJ asked.
‘No, not quite. I was being lazy.’
‘What are you doing today?’
‘I rang Guy, he’s at the Choys. I don’t want to intrude on the family.’ She sounded depressed. ‘The hotel’s doing a Christmas lunch; I’ll just stay here.’
‘No.’ BJ said abruptly. ‘I’ll pick you up. In an hour.’
‘Are you asking, inspector?’ Her surprise was audible.
His face relaxed and he smiled into the mouthpiece. ‘Yes, Miss Monk, I’m asking.’
‘I’ll see you in an hour then. And ... Merry Christmas, inspector.’
Exactly one hour later there was a knock on Carol’s door and she opened it to admit BJ. She noticed the grey tinge to his face and the shadows around his eyes and stood aside quickly, her smile warmly sympathetic. ‘Come in. Would you like a drink?’
‘No, we’d better go.’ He walked swiftly to the window and stood looking down into the street and the typhoon shelter. ‘Nice view,’ he commented.
Carol picked up her caramel jacket. ‘And all included in the cost for an extra day’s occupancy.’ She said cheerfully. BJ turned and looked at her. ‘I’d no idea what you have in mind,’ she continued, ‘so I didn’t know whether to dress up or not.’
He ran an eye over her tailored brown slacks and orange silk shirt and said briefly, ‘You’ll do.’
Carol stood her ground, her face grave but her eyes twinkling.
BJ’s lips twitched responsively. ‘You look very nice, Miss Monk.’
‘Thank you, inspector.’ She turned towards the door.
She looked back. There was a little crease between his brows. ‘Can we start again?’ he asked pensively.
‘I’d like that.’ She held out her hand.
He took it gently. ‘You could call me BJ, you know.’
‘You could call me Carol.’
‘It’s a deal.’ He released her and took the jacket, holding it for her. ‘Are you coping, after last night?’
‘I’m not sure. I’d like to talk about it.’ She slipped into the jacket and looked up at him uncertainly.
‘Yes, I think it’s time.’ He went to the door, then came back. ‘When we get to the foyer, I’ll take your arm. Walk beside me, look straight ahead, don’t look around.’
She stared into his face, understanding dawning in her eyes.
‘Yes, he’s there,’ BJ said quietly. ‘You’re safe with me.’
‘I know.’ She collected her bag and notebook. ‘Anyway, he’d hardly make a grab for me in the hotel foyer. Car accidents are more his line.’
Jenny Wong showed her pass to the security guard and said indignantly, ‘It’s me, Arthur, you know me.’
‘Yes, Miss Wong, but why are you here today?’
‘I forgot an important job. I’ll get into a lot of trouble if it’s not done. I won’t take long.’
‘All right, Miss Wong, you can go up.’
Jenny sped over to the lift and went up to her office. The building was strangely quiet. She had no fear of being disturbed by any of the management; anyway, she could tell a plausible story if she was discovered. They’d probably give her a bonus for hard work.
Glancing about her, she went into Guy’s office and crossed quickly to a filing cabinet. Finding it locked, she sat down at the desk, gently sliding the drawers open.
She clicked her tongue impatiently, went out to Mary’s desk and searched the drawers there. Then, with a triumphant little smile, she pounced on a set of keys. After the third attempt, the cabinet was unlocked.
She began to leaf through the files on the Yau Ma Tei project.
In BJ’s apartment, Carol accepted a coffee and sat on the sofa, looking around her with interest. The flat was scrupulously tidy. Although small, an inner wall had been removed to create an archway between the lounge and dining rooms, which gave a sense of space. Framed photographs clustered on several teak bookcases which were crammed with volumes on a wide variety of subjects from criminal psychology to the classics. Several colourful rugs with geometrical designs were neatly positioned under the dining table, the archway, and the coffee table in front of the sofa.
The photograph of an Indian woman with long, dark hair and a gentle, wise smile, caught Carol’s attention.
BJ, sitting opposite her in a deep armchair, said, ‘My wife, Victoria. She died some years ago.’
‘She’s beautiful.’ Carol studied the woman who had broken through this reserved man’s defences.
‘Yes,’ he agreed. ‘She was a sweet and gentle lady. She died in a landslide, trying to help the shanty dwellers. It was after a particularly savage typhoon.’
‘I’m sorry.’ Carol glanced at him, then away, his sudden vulnerability hurting her.
‘I used to talk over things with her,’ he continued. ‘She was an excellent listener. I still talk to her photograph,’ he added unsmilingly. ‘I’m not sure if that means I’m crazy.’
‘I used to talk to my father,’ Carol said wistfully. ‘We worked together for a while. He was a good listener, too. He knew how to ask the right questions. He died five years ago; shot during an investigation.’ She sipped her coffee and watched BJ over the rim of the cup. ‘I need to talk to someone now.’
He nodded. ‘Try me. I’m not your father but I’ll do my best.’
‘Will you tell me anything I want to know?’ she asked suspiciously.
He smiled. ‘If I can.’
Carol took her notebook from her bag. ‘All right, here goes, then.’
At her desk, Jenny checked carefully through telephone accounts, listing numbers on a pad. A movement at the door made her jump. ‘Arthur.’ She gave a sigh of relief. ‘You gave me a fright.’
He came over to her. ‘What are you doing?’
‘Just checking some accounts. I’m nearly finished now.’
He picked up the list and she snatched it from him. ‘I said I won’t be long. This is private.’
‘What’s so private about it?’ He leered unpleasantly down at her. ‘Just a telephone account. You’re too high and mighty, Jenny Wong.’
‘Don’t talk to me like that or I’ll ...’
‘You’ll what? Tell Mr Price? But he’s dead.’
She gave a shocked cry. ‘How did you know?’
‘I know a lot of things,’ Arthur said significantly. ‘I made a phone call. You’re not supposed to be here.’
‘Arthur,’ Jenny’s lip trembled, ‘look, don’t tell anyone what I was doing, please.’
He sat on her desk and bent over her. ‘Ah, you can be nice and say please, can you, Miss Wong?’ he said sarcastically.
Jenny leaned away from him with a sudden sense of panic. ‘You can call me Jenny,’ she offered breathlessly, ‘I don’t mind. Just let me finish and I’ll go.’
‘Jenny.’ Arthur touched her hair; she jerked her head away angrily. ‘Now, Jenny, be nice.’ His eyes gleamed. ‘Mr Price can’t protect you anymore and after all, you’re no better than a whore. You’re screwing Mr William and you’re not the only one, I know that. You can’t be too particular, Jenny.’ He moved closer, a possessive hand on her arm.
She sat rigidly, fear flooding her body. ‘Please, Arthur,’ she whispered, ‘I want to go now.’
‘I don’t think so.’ His hands moved to her shoulders. He thrust his face close to hers, his breath hot against her cheek.
Jenny tried to turn away but he held her easily. ‘I’ll tell Mr Langford if you dare to touch me,’ she threatened in a shaking voice. ‘He’ll have you sacked.’
He laughed offensively. ‘I don’t think so, Jenny,’ he repeated. ‘I told you, I made a phone call. Someone wants you out of the way. Someone thinks you know a bit too much for your own good.’ His fingers gripped her shoulders like a vice.
She screamed. ‘No!’
Arthur smiled at her distress. ‘No one to hear you,’ he said softly, ‘just you and me here alone.’ His tongue flickered suddenly over his lips. ‘I’ve always fancied you, Jenny, but you never looked twice at me. It’s a bit different now.’
Jenny forced herself to smile, her heart thumping with fear. ‘Arthur, I’ve - I’ve always liked you, really I have. Look, let me go. I’ll see you, go out with you. I promise.’
‘And give me a good time?’ He stood up, pulling her with him. He held her suffocatingly close, his mouth eagerly searching for hers. She twisted her head desperately but he was far the stronger, able to keep her there with one arm while his other hand pushed her chin up. ‘Give me a good time now, like you give Mr William. Then, maybe, we’ll see.’
‘No!’ She was panting, terrified. His mouth closed down hard over hers and she felt her lips bruise against his teeth as he forced them open with his hot, searching tongue.
She willed her body to go slack, knowing if she struggled she could be badly hurt. He was like a savage, aroused, desperate to have her. She had to get away, had to escape this brutal rape.
He gripped the back of her neck, his mouth crushing hers, his thrusting tongue almost asphyxiating her. His other hand clawed at her blouse. She made a whimpering sound of horror in her throat that seemed only to increase his lust. He ripped the soft fabric open and roughly fondled her small breasts, squeezing them with painful urgency.
In a sudden shock of relief, Jenny found her arms free. Trapped against her desk, she felt frantically behind her for something, anything, to help her. Her hand touched a cold, hard object and her fingers closed around it thankfully.
Arthur’s mouth released hers at last. ‘Sorry, Jenny, I have to kill you,’ he said hoarsely. ‘I’ve got my orders, see? But first you’ll give me a good time. Do it with me now, give me everything you’ve got, and I’ll make sure you die easy. That’s fair. You be nice to me and I’ll be nice to you.’
He half pushed, half dragged her to the floor, easily holding her down. She was helpless to prevent him as he forced her legs apart with one strong knee and began to work her skirt up her legs, making little grunting noises of desire.
Seeing her opportunity, she lay passively, her eyes closed. Arthur gave a husky laugh. He had her now, she was hot for it. He brought both hands down, one eagerly thrusting between her slim thighs to tear away her panties, the other fumbling at his belt buckle.
Jenny opened her eyes. Now, she screamed to herself, now, now, now. She swung her arm up and struck with every ounce of strength she could muster, crashing the heavy marble paperweight down onto Arthur’s temple.
He gave an odd little moan and collapsed limply against her.
Jenny lay for a moment, not daring to breathe. Arthur’s body lay on her like a dead weight. She couldn’t tell if he was still alive. Horror made her suddenly jerk into action. She pushed him off her with a scream. Her breath was coming in desperate little gasps, her whole body shuddered uncontrollably.
She scrabbled to her knees, grasping the edge of her desk, then to her feet. The security guard remained motionless. Jenny grabbed her notes and pulled her torn blouse over her breasts with shaking hands. She shrugged herself into her coat, not taking her eyes off Arthur’s prone figure; then, picking up her bag, she ran like the wind to the lift.
Hurry, hurry, hurry, her mind chattered. The lift took an eternity to get to the ground floor. She imagined that Arthur had woken up, had somehow stopped it, was even now coming for her ...
The doors slid back smoothly. Jenny ran into the foyer and fumbled the front door open with trembling fingers. The alarm began to ring, sounding startlingly loud as she bolted down the stairs and looked desperately around for a taxi.
A cab pulled up beside her. Thank the gods, she prayed. She fell onto the back seat, breathing in painful little sobs.
The driver eyed her, his bland face uninterested. ‘New Territories,’ she gasped and he brightened at the prospect of a big fare. She told him the address. ‘And hurry, please.’
She sank back against the seat as the taxi sped away.