Hong Kong - Christmas Day, 1996
BJ leaned his head against his high chair back and relaxed as he watched Carol through half-closed eyes.
‘All I hear are contradictions,’ she said. ‘I don’t know enough about the people involved to make my own judgement.’
‘Tell me?’ he prompted.
‘Jon Price, for instance.’ She tucked her legs underneath her and settled herself comfortably. ‘First I hear that David Langford promoted him to the Sydney office because Pat was only competent to run a state branch. Then I’m told Jon wanted Sydney; so badly that he pushed hard for it and was given it on Pat’s recommendation.’
‘I see. What else?’
‘Pat Langford; who is he, really? Everyone describes him differently. I never met him.’ She watched BJ expectantly.
He smiled ‘I’d say, trust your instinct.’
‘I think he’s a mature man,’ Carol said, ‘self-sufficient, probably annoyingly so, comfortable with his friends, absorbed by his work. He seems to be strong-willed and far too intelligent to get caught up in people’s games. He’s probably aware of their motives. That must make him difficult to read and impossible to manipulate.’ She stopped as BJ gave her an amused look. ‘Am I totally off track?’ she asked ruefully.
‘No, you’re uncannily accurate. Pat’s ability to read others and remain inscrutable himself causes extreme irritation in business circles. You’ve described him very well.’
‘Then I doubt that he’d act on a rash impulse. He knew exactly what he was doing. He’d decided to divorce Wanda. He wrote to Gloria; I saw the letter, his intentions were clear. Would he jeopardise that in a fit of uncontrolled anger?’
‘Anyone can kill and that includes you and me,’ BJ reminded her. ‘Pat was under considerable strain. I actually agree with what you say, but the facts are pretty damning.’
‘If he didn’t kill Wanda, where is he and why stay away?’ Carol said. ‘He hadn’t arrived at the Chow’s by Monday. Guy tried to find him and couldn’t.’
‘Did he?’ BJ’s eyes opened wider. ‘Jenny Wong seemed to think he was there.’
Carol nodded. ‘I heard her.’
He frowned. ‘Jean and Guy were under the impression that the Chows invited Pat to stay; but Lin-chi told me Pat invited himself. Time we found out if he is there.’ He stood up and crossed to the telephone.
A flood of rapid Mandarin followed. Carol waited, thinking, He’s razor sharp. I doubt I could tell him anything he hasn’t worked out for himself, probably a lot sooner.
BJ replaced the receiver. ‘Pat’s not there,’ he said shortly. ‘Lin-chi is very worried. Says he’s going to the authorities. He’s lying through his teeth. Homicide already asked the Chinese authorities to find Pat and return him to Hong Kong on suspicion of murder. Lin-chi must know perfectly well he’s missing. He’d have been questioned.’
Carol gave a little gasp.
‘The thing is,’ BJ added, ‘what is the lie? Is Pat there and Lin-chi is hiding him or is he not there and Lin-chi never expected him?’
He absently poured two neat whiskies and handed one to Carol.
‘Some water would be nice,’ she suggested.
‘Sorry.’ He brought his attention back, added the water and stood looking down at her, his face closed.
‘There’s a third option, surely,’ she offered. ‘Pat simply didn’t arrive and Mr Chow doesn’t know where he is.’
‘Possibly. We only assume Pat’s in China because of some faxes and phone calls; and Guy’s glass arrived most conveniently, which means precisely nothing. Mary Choy and Jenny Wong both saw the faxes; they’ve got no reason to lie that I can see. But Pat’s spoken only to Guy.’
BJ sat down again. ‘Tell me about Monday, when you met Guy.’
Carol blinked. ‘I’d been to see Wanda’s mother. I took a taxi back to the hotel.’
‘You hailed a cab in the street?’
‘Mrs Lee phoned for me. I wanted to look at the shops so the driver set me down behind the Excelsior. That’s when I first knew I was being followed.’ There was a small crease between her brows. ‘I window-shopped for a few blocks then noticed the time. I’d arranged to meet Guy at the hotel; I was on my way back there when a car went out of control. It nearly mowed us all down. Next thing, Guy was pushing me out of the way and it missed me. It was just lucky that he’d been shopping, too,’ she finished slowly.
‘We had lunch. He told me about things here; people, the police.’
‘That’s when he warned you against me?’ BJ asked softly.
‘Yes.’ Carol gave him a straight look but his face remained impassive. She continued awkwardly, ‘He told me you wanted David and Pat out of the way - because you’re in love with Jean.’
‘I believe that’s the official rumour,’ he said. ‘Do you believe what you hear, Miss Monk?’
‘It’s none of my business,’ Carol said swiftly. ‘But … I happened to see you both on the verandah last night. Then Gloria told me the full story.’
‘I doubt it,’ His voice grated. ‘Only four people know the full story. What did she tell you?’
Carol’s pulses raced uncomfortably but she faced him squarely. ‘She told me Peter King held Jean against her will and would have raped her to avenge himself on David, but you rescued her in time.’
He gave a wintry smile. ‘Like a knight errant, in fact. Did she tell you I was in love with Jean at the time?’
‘She said you were David’s best friend.’
BJ’s face was set in granite lines. ‘Until we met Jean we were friends. We were both in love with her when he married her. I played my part as best man most convincingly - and I hated him more than you could imagine. I wished him dead with a vengeance.’
Carol was silent. He gave a short laugh. ‘Have I shocked you? Don’t worry, I accepted defeat like a gentleman. Jean was so totally smitten with David I knew I never had a chance. It didn’t stop me wanting her, though. That’s why I nearly killed that bastard. I swore I’d pay him back for what he did. A stupid and futile gesture. I was never in a position to carry out that threat.’
The bitterness in his voice distressed Carol. She sat up straight and said quickly, ‘But, if she wasn’t hurt ...’
He silenced her with a look. ‘He raped her, not once but several times. He tied her to his bed and subjected her to hours of humiliation and sexual abuse. By the time I got there she was almost insane with shock and fear. She barely recognised me.’
Carol made a strangled sound of horror. BJ continued more gently, ‘I drove her home. She crouched in the car as far away from me as possible, screaming all the way, her voice so hoarse she hardly made a sound. I carried her into the house, washed her and put her to bed. She cried all night. When she finally fell asleep, through sheer exhaustion, I called my own doctor and he took control.’
Carol shook her head wordlessly. She felt sick.
‘We knew it couldn’t be entirely hushed up,’ BJ finished, ‘so we agreed to give the rumour-mongers a lesser version of events. Jean took many months to recover. For a long time she blamed David. She wouldn’t let him touch her.’
‘You said four people know,’ Carol murmured, ‘but what about the doctor?’
‘He died - in the same landslide that took Victoria.’
Carol gripped her hands together in her lap. ‘Oh, God, BJ, I’m so sorry.’
His face softened. ‘I was the only man who could go near Jean. It tore David apart, knowing what she’d meant to me.’ He smiled reflectively. ‘Strangely, because she was so vulnerable, it didn’t occur to me to take advantage of the situation. I found myself talking to her about David, trying to fix things between them. By the time they’d got some way to healing their relationship I was surprised to find I wasn’t in love with her anymore.’
He finished his drink and gave Carol a puzzled look. ‘I don’t know why I told you all that. I - wanted you to know; to explain my feelings for Jean.’
‘Perhaps it was time to let it go,’ she said gently. ‘It’s a heavy load to carry.’
The phone rang and he went to answer it. ‘Jean! Is everything all right?’
Carol watched his face as he talked to David Langford’s wife. They’ve all got it wrong, she thought. They couldn’t not care for each other after that, but he’s not in love with her. The intensity of her relief surprised her.
BJ came back to her and said, with an odd inflection, ‘David and Guy have had a hell of a row. They were at the Choy’s. David took Guy into another room for a private word. Apparently they were shouting loudly enough to be heard all over the apartment. When Paul went to break it up they’d almost come to blows.’
Carol stared. ‘Did Jean say why?’
‘She didn’t have to.’ BJ’s smile was grim. ‘I know perfectly well why.’ He sat down. ‘Now, where were we?’ He asked mildly.
In the Wong’s apartment the telephone shrilled. Sylvia came in from the tiny balcony to answer it, then called to Jenny who’d returned half an hour earlier. She’d gone straight to her room, saying she was tired and needed to rest. Now she came out, looking scared.
‘Whatever’s the matter, Jenny? It’s Mary Choy for you.’
Jenny took the receiver and waited while Sylvia reluctantly left the room. When she was out of earshot, Jenny said, ‘Yes, Mary? It’s me.’
Mary was excited, full of the news. There’d been a break-in at the office. The security guard had surprised the thieves in their search. They’d knocked him out with the marble lion paperweight from Jenny’s desk and got away.
Jenny swallowed. She managed to ask, was Arthur okay?
Mary said he was unconscious, with a fractured skull. It was clear what had happened. The front door was unlocked, the alarm set off. When the police arrived with Guy they’d found Arthur lying on the floor.
‘G-Goodness!’ Jenny stammered. She leaned against the wall for support. ‘Was anything stolen?’
Guy wanted Mary and Jenny to go in and check. It looked all right but he wanted to make sure the files were intact. The keys to Guy’s private cabinet had been found on Jenny’s desk.
Jenny pleaded weakly that she couldn’t come in. She - she was sick. Food poisoning.
Mary was warmly sympathetic. She could check everything. Jenny must look after herself. She’d see her on Friday.
Jenny hung up to find that Jimmy had come into the living room and was staring at her with concern.
‘Jimmy, if anyone asks, please don’t say I went into the office,’ she said urgently. ‘Tell them I was here all the time, please.’
He put an arm around her shoulders. ‘Sit down, Jenny. Tell me what’s wrong?’
‘There was a break-in at the office and the security guard was knocked out. It must have been after I left because I didn’t see anything, honestly.’
‘Jen, are you telling the truth?’
‘Why would I lie?’ She forced a smile. ‘It doesn’t sound as if anything’s been taken and Mary’s going in. I didn’t want to turn around and go all the way back to Central so I told her I was sick. If they know I was in the office earlier, they’ll know I lied and I’ll get into trouble. I just want to enjoy my Christmas lunch quietly with you and Sylvia and forget about everything.’ She pulled his hand down and squeezed it coaxingly. ‘Please, Jimmy.’
‘I don’t expect anyone will ask,’ he said. ‘Why should they?’
‘They won’t, of course they won’t,’ Jenny said.
Carol said, ‘You know who’s following me and you probably know why.’
She was used now to BJ’s lapses into meditative silence, Finally he said, ‘I told you, you’re safe.’
‘You said I was safe with you.’
He smiled. ‘You’re under my protection. There’s a police woman watching you, keeping the situation in hand. If anything changes, I’ll know.’
‘And if something goes wrong?’
‘It won’t. When I take you back I’ll point out your tail and the WPC. You’ll have to go about your business as if you’re not aware of either of them. Can you do that?’
‘Of course. How long has she been there?’
‘Since yesterday. She picked you up as you left Gloria.’
‘So you know my movements yesterday.’ Carol frowned.
‘Most of them.’ His eyes twinkled. ‘I know you made inquiries about Pat.’
‘I used the Langford’s name. It’s surprising how people respond with information. It wasn’t a lie,’ she said defensively. ‘Jon asked me to find Wanda and Gloria expressed a wish that someone would find Pat.’
BJ raised an eyebrow. ‘Did I comment? But be aware that any questions you ask in the Langfords’ name will get back to the Langfords.’ He smiled slightly. ‘I don’t judge your methods; I doubt you’d approve of some of mine.’
‘I know Pat didn’t go by plane,’ Carol said. ‘So, why leave his car at the airport?’
‘Perhaps to make us think he took the flight. It seems he crossed the border secretly which doesn’t look very good for him. So far I’ve only seen evidence to convict him. Anything in his favour is merely from his loyal friends whose only contribution is that he couldn’t have done it; they just know. If he’s innocent, why isn’t he here, explaining his actions?’
Carol digested this then said, ‘I also checked at the Macau Jetfoil Terminal.’
BJ shrugged. ‘It doesn’t prove anything. Wanda may well be in Macau, Pat may be in China; we only know they didn’t go by an official route. They might even be together.’
‘I thought of that. If, on the other hand, he did murder her and leave his car where eventually it would be searched, why leave such an obvious piece of evidence in it?’
‘Did he mean to go missing?’ BJ countered. ‘He might have run out of time to clean the car properly and banked on returning early enough to deal with it. It was dark; in his panic perhaps he simply didn’t see the scarf.’
‘Ye-es,’ Carol conceded unwillingly, ‘but he must have known she was wearing it. He wouldn’t have overlooked something so vital, would he? Especially if he’d used it to staunch the blood.’
‘Panic makes people do strange things. There’s also the psychological factor. The experts would have us believe that criminals feel a sense of guilt, a desire to be punished. They subconsciously leave clues behind. How many cases would be solved without the cooperation of the perpetrator? Bob thinks it’s definitely Wanda’s scarf,’ he added. ‘Alice Lee failed to identify it a little too obviously.’
‘Do the police still think Pat killed the foreman?’ Carol asked. ‘Guy told me about it.’
‘And the letter Lo wrote to David?’
‘No, that wasn’t mentioned.’ She leaned forward.
‘Then you’ll be interested.’ BJ proceeded to explain.
Bob Lee replaced the telephone receiver and turned to his wife. Sue Ann sighed as he kissed her.
‘Sorry, love, it’s urgent. I have to see a prostitute.’
‘It’s Christmas. What am I supposed to tell your mother? She’ll be here any minute, and the rest of the family.’
‘Tell them the truth.’ Bob grinned.
She glared back at him. ‘No chance! But I can tell you, Bob Lee, if you don’t come back very soon, you’d better hang onto your prostitute; you’ll need her services.’
She grinned reluctantly. ‘Oh, get out. The sooner you go, the sooner you’ll be back. I’ll make some excuse.’
‘You’re an angel.’ He left the flat and made his way quickly to the MTR station to catch the train to Wanchai.
Carol thought BJ was suddenly a different man, approachable, his guard down. Was it because he’d told her about Jean? Her heart gave a glad little throb. He trusted her, was comfortable talking to her.
She looked at her watch. ‘I just remembered, it’s Christmas Day. Are we going to eat? We should have something special.’
‘It’s arranged.’ He grinned. ‘A real English Christmas lunch with roast turkey, baked vegetables, even spotted dick, if you like.’
‘Where are we going?’
‘An Indian restaurant near here; The Bengali Rose. They do a traditional feast every Christmas for all the ex-pats.’
‘It sounds wonderful. I’m hungry.’
‘Then, let’s eat. Come on, we can walk it easily.’ He helped Carol into her jacket and put on his own. They left the apartment and began to stroll along the pavement.
Carol sniffed appreciatively. ‘I love the smell of Hong Kong - well, not the bad smells. The harbour is definitely polluted and the drains are a bit strong; but I always get the scent of cooking and incense … and something that smells like burnt sugar.’
The narrow footpath was crowded with people, commerce under way from many roadside booths. In the distance the beat of drums and a jangle of bells could be heard.
They turned into Wyndham Street where a crackle of fireworks greeted them. A knot of people excitedly ran behind a team of young men hefting a great rainbow coloured dragon from door to door amid a flurry of explosions. They were accompanied by several percussionists beating drums and gongs.
Children rushed about, playing in piles of torn red paper left by strings of fire crackers. BJ and Carol followed at a more leisurely pace and came to The Bengali Rose as the dragon was repelled by Gupta Singh who lit a long string of crackers. Carol put her hands to her ears as the flame took hold, showering the watching crowd with red confetti and finishing in a deafening burst from the final rosette.
As the dragon twisted and rippled down the street, BJ laughingly picked the paper from Carol’s hair and led her inside.