Hong Kong - Thursday December 26th, 1996
Carol jerked awake, the horror of the old familiar nightmare still crowding her mind. Gradually, as her heart slowed, she became aware of the quiet room around her and the outlines of the inspector’s furniture. She remembered where she was, that she was safe. The terror receded into the night mist.
It’s this place, she thought. Everyone watching each other, everyone lying, the casual taking of lives, just as a warning. Who do I trust?
She got out of bed, pulled her warm chenille dressing gown around her, and cautiously opened the door. The apartment was silent. There was enough light from the street for her to make her way noiselessly to the kitchen. She went in, shut the door and switched on the light.
Earlier, BJ had shown Carol around the apartment and said to make herself at home. Then he’d gone out, reappearing as the night was beginning to close the colony in. He was preoccupied and disinclined to talk but he whipped up an aromatic curry and they ate together. Halfway through the meal he’d received a phone call, stayed just long enough to finish his dinner, then apologised and left her again.
Carol had washed the dishes, showered and got into her pyjamas. Then she browsed along BJ’s bookshelves, finally selecting a volume on the history of Hong Kong. She’d curled up on the sofa and began to read. When the clock chimed 10:00 she’d looked up to find Victoria’s photograph smiling at her.
How many nights had she spent alone while he was out in God knew what filthy back streets and dens, mixing with Hong Kong’s criminal fraternity? Had she worried about him, or had she always known he’d come back to her?
Carol sighed. ‘You were a lucky girl, Victoria,’ she said. ‘Your BJ’s quite a man.’
Victoria continued to smile. If she’d been here tonight, Carol wondered, would he have talked to her? Shared whatever’s on his mind? Probably.
She’d been in bed when the inspector had returned. He’d paused by her door and said quietly, ‘Carol, if you’re awake, it’s only me. Don’t worry.’
She settled down again thinking, That was kind of him.
Now, alone in the kitchen, she made herself an instant coffee and sat at the breakfast bar, remembering that BJ was asleep in the living room and anyone trying to get to her would have to get past him. She didn’t think that would be an easy task.
The door opened and the inspector’s tall figure appeared, wearing a white towelling robe, his dark hair tousled. He went over to the kettle, checked the water level and dropped a spoonful of coffee into a mug. He poured in the water and joined Carol at the bar.
‘That’ll keep you awake, Miss Monk.’
He acknowledged the hit with a little smile, watching her face with his keen eyes. ‘Bad dreams?’
‘I shouldn’t have left you alone,’ he said regretfully.
‘You can’t babysit me, BJ. It’s just - things I’m remembering, things slotting into place.’
‘Things you haven’t told me?’
‘Yes, but it’s nothing definite, just vague ideas and feelings. Nothing I can talk about yet.’
‘You’ll tell me when you’re sure?’
‘I don’t want to make a fool of myself.’
‘There’s not much chance of that.’ His eyes appraised her. ‘I don’t think you’re a fool.’
‘Guy said much the same thing.’ She smiled slightly. ‘Speaking of Guy, I found out about his secret society.’
BJ listened without interrupting. When she’d finished, he sat turning his mug slowly. Finally he said, ‘I see.’
She thought he saw a great deal in the innocent story but knew he wasn’t about to share his thoughts. ‘Did you have a good night?’ she asked.
‘Successful, yes.’ He hesitated, then said, ‘I’ve been talking to various contacts in Langford-Price. Just verifying some facts.’
‘Do you know yet who attacked the security guard?’
‘I already knew that. Jenny Wong knocked him out.’
‘Ben Price’s secretary?’ Carol exclaimed. ‘Why?’
‘I don’t know but I could make a pretty good guess. Jenny’s a very bad liar. She went into the office this morning - yesterday morning now - said she’d left some work unfinished. My bet is she was doing some investigating on the quiet; something she’d noticed the day before when she checked the manifests for Ben. Possibly Arthur Yi threatened to tell someone or, more probably, he attacked her. She laid him out cold and took off. The police naturally assumed a break-in.’
‘But why would the security guard attack Jenny?’
‘He was a nasty piece of goods with a reputation for getting rough with the ladies. Thought he was pretty hot stuff. He also thought he could take what he wanted. Perhaps, finding himself alone with Jenny, he seized his opportunity.’
‘How do you know he wanted her?’
BJ drained his mug and set it down carefully. ‘Every year the firm holds a pre-Christmas party for the staff. They hire a top hotel or restaurant for the evening and give all their workers a really good night out.’
Carol, watching him intently, nodded.
‘Word is that this year, Arthur Yi tried it on with Jenny, continually touching her, going on at top volume about what crack shots he and his big brother were. She rebuffed him very publicly, made a joke about his manhood and told Ben Price, who warned the man off. The management always attends these affairs. I’m told Guy also had a word with him.’
BJ’s expression darkened. ‘Yi was heard to tell Jenny that she wouldn’t always be so stuck up and one day he’d show her just what a man he was. I hear he was explicit. He apparently enjoys it more if the girl’s scared out of her wits. Jenny would have been very frightened indeed. I assume she defended herself effectively,’ he added dryly. ‘When I saw her earlier today she showed no signs of violent attack, but she was suffering extreme guilt pangs.’
‘She didn’t give you any idea what she’d been looking for?’
‘Far from it. She was adamant that she’d simply completed a job she’d forgotten, said a cheery goodbye to Arthur, and left him hale and hearty. End of story. However, the keys to Guy’s private office and filing cabinets were on her desk, which means she had access to the files on all construction jobs. Yi was found unconscious by her desk and it was her paperweight that knocked him out.’
BJ shrugged. ‘She may tell me. I left her to think about it. She knows I know she did it.’
‘Then, who killed him?’ Carol demanded.
‘Ah, that’s another matter, isn’t it? Arthur must have seen what she was doing and was silenced so he couldn’t talk.’
‘Then, Jenny ...’
‘Jenny’s at her brother’s. He’s under instructions to keep her there and not leave her alone.’
‘You’ve been busy,’ Carol approved.
‘There’s not much time.’ BJ stretched. ‘It’s after two o’clock; do you think you can sleep now?’
‘Yes.’ She took the mugs to the sink and rinsed them. When she turned back she thought she saw a stab of pain cross the inspector’s face, then told herself she’d imagined it.
She went back to bed and slept soundly until morning.
Guy was breakfasting with Gloria and the children when the phone rang.
The housekeeper came out to the verandah. ‘Phone for you, Mr Guy.’
He excused himself and went to the study, closing the door behind him. He picked up the receiver. ‘Guy Langford.’
The woman’s voice was hard. ‘I hear you’re taking Miss Monk out today on the Evening Star.’
‘You heard correctly,’ he said. ‘As a visitor to Hong Kong I’m showing her every courtesy.’
She gave a dry cackle of humourless laughter. ‘I also hear how you dined together at the Peak and of your behaviour towards her at your party. Don’t forget your responsibilities.’
‘This has nothing to do with my responsibilities.’
‘You’re treading on very dangerous ground. Don’t lose your head over this woman. You’re bound by your promise. I’ll hold you to it.’
Guy was silent.
‘You committed yourself to taking care of a certain matter. If you don’t, I’ll take the necessary steps myself. It will be twice as difficult now, or haven’t you heard the latest news?’
She gave a soft laugh. ‘Has your information net untangled? You’ll find out soon enough. Meanwhile, remember your loyalties to - others.’
The call was disconnected. Guy stood looking at the receiver in his hand with a ghost of his twisted smile, then he replaced it gently and left the study.
Captain Ho stood on the deck of the China Wind, supervising the loading of crates. His grandson, perched on the rail beside him said, ‘Grandfather, when will you take me?’
Ho looked proudly at him. ‘Not yet, this is just a harbour run out to the Elaine MacKenzie and back. Next week I’ll be doing the coastal run to Shanghai. Perhaps then.’
The boy pouted. ‘It’s always “perhaps”.’
‘When you’re old enough, I’ll take you. You’ll be the seaman your father was.’
‘When will that be?’
The last crate swung in the air above the hold. Ho moved forward, shouting a warning. ‘Cross-eyed son of a whoring bitch, watch what you’re doing.’ He said, over his shoulder, ‘Soon, little chatterbox, soon. There’s your mother waiting for you on the wharf so off you go now. I’ll be back later.’
The boy jumped to the deck and ran down the gangplank to where his mother waited. ‘Mother, Grandfather says soon, he’ll take me soon.’
Ho San came aboard. ‘This is the last one. What are those fools doing?’ The crate slipped dangerously. San went to steady it as it was lowered into the bowels of the junk.
‘I’ll go below.’ Captain Ho went down the gangway and pushed the crewman aside. ‘That stupid crane driver must have eaten and drunk too much, celebrating yesterday. His aim’s as poor as a drunk trying to piss straight. You get up and help Ho San.’
The crate was poised overhead. Ho reached for it, his strong arms taking the weight. His muscles stood out like knotted rope. There was shuddering jolt, the chain slipped again.
Ho threw himself sideways as the crate broke free and fell the last couple of metres, landing with a thud that pulled the captain urgently to his feet to inspect the damage.
‘Jade should be okay,’ he muttered. ‘It’s as hard as life itself.’ The crate had broken open, waterproof wrappings showed through. He examined the contents and a violent rage shook him.
His son’s anxious face peered into the hold. ‘Father? Thank the gods you’re unhurt.’
Ho’s voice was as cold as the winter morning. ‘Come down here, Ho San. I think you’ve got some explaining to do.’
Carol woke to find BJ had left the apartment. Propped against the coffee pot was a note in his neat handwriting.
“I’ll be back this afternoon. Have a good day on the harbour. Don’t take the train. Ring this number; Joe is a taxi driver - he’ll take you safely to the yacht club. Eggs and bacon in the fridge, bread on the counter. BJ.”
Carol breakfasted and donned blue jeans and a sunny yellow jumper. She shrugged into a blue anorak, then remembered Guy was to have met her at the hotel. She rang the Excelsior and left a message.
A short time later she’d been picked up by BJ’s friend and was being driven to the yacht club.
As the taxi drove rapidly through the busy morning streets the two-way crackled and chattered.
Carol didn’t need to speak the language to guess what it was all about. Taxi radios sound the same the world over. Her driver spoke briefly into his mike every now and then.
She remembered the taxi from Mrs Lee’s. That day her driver had had quite a long chat with someone on his radio. Carol thought perhaps she did need lessons in Cantonese.
They pulled up at the yacht club gate. The driver spoke to the security guard and was waved through.
Carol’s mood brightened. It was going to be a lovely day. The sun was breaking through. Patches of pale blue sky widened overhead.
Guy, in white slacks and a deep blue sweater waited at the jetty. He wore a peaked cap at a jaunty angle and his eyes sparkled as he stepped forward and opened the door, saluting smartly. ‘Ma’am!’ He held out his hand.
Carol heard the echo of Daphne’s voice. ‘She fell head over heels ... he’s enormously attractive.’
She put her hand into Guy’s and stepped from the car.
BJ entered a dark dockside tavern and waited a moment for his eyes to adjust to the gloomy interior. Although it was early, several rough-looking seamen propped up the grog-stained bar. A group of dock workers sat around a greasy table playing mah-jong, loudly slapping down the bone tiles.
BJ went to the counter and ordered a whisky. He tasted it, grimaced, then took it over to the table next to the mah-jong players.
Their conversation drifted over to him.
‘Korean ginseng’s best, really top quality. It’ll put zest back into your life; you’ll really get it up hard.’
‘With the sort of dolly bird he’s got his eye on, he’ll want it up hard, and all night,’ another said with a coarse gesture.
They all laughed.
‘He’s dreaming,’ the first man said. ‘She’s not interested in him. She’s fucking one of the bosses. She knows where her best interests lie.’
When the laughter died down, another said ruminatively, ‘Shark fins, they’re the trick. There’s a little shop near my place, he’s got the best shark fins on the market, and the price is right. Forget your ginseng.’
A loud argument arose as to the merits of the rival aids to sexual prowess. BJ suddenly thought of Guy. I wonder what he uses? He seems to be able to keep it up all night. Then he remembered that Guy was out on the harbour with Carol and his hand tightened around his glass. He downed the cheap whisky and found it did nothing to quiet his rising anxiety.
The door opened and a small, plump man in a neat grey business suit entered, squinting into the gloom. He scanned the room slowly, came over to the inspector’s table, pulled out a chair and sat down.
‘I’m Ho Chung,’ he said quietly.
‘You know who I am?’
Chung’s moon face crinkled with amusement. ‘Everyone knows who you are, inspector.’
‘Not so loud. We can’t talk here.’ BJ pushed back his chair.
‘Out the back. There’s a private room.’ Ho Chung’s grin broadened. ‘And a private stock of better booze than the watered down piss they serve the public.’
Captain Ho faced his son, his eyes slits of fury. ‘You unbelievable frigging moron, what the hell do you think you’re doing? You lied to me, involved me in your filthy trade ...’ he struck his deep chest.
‘Don’t sit in judgement on me. You never turned your back on the chance for a little smuggling.’
‘Honest smuggling, a fair profit. But this!’ Ho’s voice shook. ‘I’m a decent man, may the gods judge me. I don’t carry filthy drugs and I don’t carry guns.’
‘Keep your foolish voice down. Do you want to shout our business all over the docks?’
‘I can’t believe a son of mine would get himself involved with ... and you’ve implicated me! You must have been sired by the devil out of a poxy whore and left in our bed, because you didn’t come from my seed.’
He thrust his face, dark with anger, close to his son’s. ‘What if the Langfords get to hear of this? You’ve endangered the Ho shipping contracts and my good name with your stupid, mindless greed. A little business in jade for the family Ho, you said. I let you talk me into it and now, this!’ He indicated the weapons with a contemptuous nod.
‘Shut your mouth, you frightened old woman.’ Ho San gritted his teeth. ‘This isn’t just a Ho operation, this is big time. Do you think the Langfords don’t know all about it? Just whose idea do you think it was? I’m working with some very powerful men. If I let them down they’ll chop me and my death will be on your conscience, you stupid, snivelling old fool. Take your money and complete the job.’
Captain Ho paled. ‘You tell me who’s behind this!’ he demanded.
‘Don’t be daft. I’m not about to betray the tong. What d’you think’ll happen to your precious ships if you don’t follow through? These crates have got to be on board the Elaine MacKenzie today. Her schedule’s put forward, she’s sailing tonight. Now, old man, fasten up this fucking crate and get on your way.’
Ho glared at his son then his powerful shoulders sagged. ‘It’s a Triad affair, is it?’ he muttered. ‘You’re a bigger fool than I thought. The gods must have really cursed you. Now, you listen to me, San, I’ll do this just once more. I’ll get you out of trouble, carry your evil cargo. But I’ll never carry for you again and I’ll be watching you closely in future. I have my spies. If I hear you’re involved in any more gun-running I’ll go to the police. You’re a disgrace to the name of Ho. From this day forward I disown you. I won’t speak your cursed name again. Now get off my ship.’
Ho San lifted his arms in a gesture of defeat and let them drop to his side. He turned and went up the narrow gangway to the deck. Without looking back he went down the gangplank.
One-Eye Ling, stepping from the jetty onto the Eastern Luck Trader, watched him go scowling past. Ho San looks angry, he thought avidly. I heard Captain Ho shouting at him. He’s a grave disappointment to Ho, not a patch on his older brother. The gods have curious ways. They might have done better to take that one and spare number one son Ho. Joss! He hawked loudly, spat into the harbour and went below.
Ho San returned to his car and picked up the phone. He dialled a number and asked for his contact on the Elaine MacKenzie. When the man answered, San said briefly, ‘The shipment’s on its way out. There’s been some trouble.’
The man listened in silence as second son Ho talked.