Hong Kong - Thursday December 5th, 1996
Patrick Langford stood by his bedroom windows, gazing at the glittering spectacle which lay like a magical carpet below him. The gleaming blue and gold lights from thousands of uncurtained windows of the Mid-Levels’ high-rises nestled against the mountain’s slopes; the dazzling pink, green and gold neon of Central’s skyscrapers deeply reflected in the black water; the blazing lights of the Wanchai bars; the shining backdrop of Kowloon, with its blocks of street markets and brightly lit restaurants; and the sparkling lights of pleasure boats crisscrossing the dark harbour. The familiar scene brought some balm to his still raw emotions.
He drew a deep breath, letting the welcome peace flow through his body then opened the tall French windows and stepped onto the wide balcony beyond. Headlights flashed momentarily through the trees below as cars negotiated the many bends of Old Peak Road . Pat stretched his long limbs. ‘Christ, it’s good to be home!’ he told the night.
He found he was looking forward to this party. He would be among friends and colleagues, not the frivolous social set Wanda courted. Their mindless quest for pleasure disturbed him. Pat wasn’t a natural social animal; away from his own tight-knit group he felt out of his depth. He preferred the more serious pleasures of intelligent, well-informed debate among people of his own interests.
His heart gave a sudden thump. Gloria had accepted his parent’s invitation. He wondered if the past year had changed her. Their relationship had always been based on friendship; companionship. He’d valued that as highly as her gentle, undemanding love.
He had taken that love and thrown it back in her face, subjecting her to scandal and ridicule. He winced at the memory of the hurt in her eyes when he’d broken the news of his impending marriage to Wanda.
But throughout his marriage Gloria had remained his friend. She’d never blamed him, never railed at him. She was fine and true.
His expression darkened. He’d been crazy. Wanda had filled his vision so completely he hadn’t cared about anything else. Now it was far too late to say sorry. Why should Gloria either believe him or care?
Still his heart beat faster at the thought of seeing her again.
The lights were on in his parents’ bedroom next door and he could hear the soft murmur of their voices from the adjacent balcony. He smiled, remembering how many times he’d stood there, outside his old bedroom, listening to the comfortable sound of his parents’ voices as they dressed for dinner or a party.
A cool wind played against his skin and he shivered and moved back inside to finish his own dressing.
Jean Langford gave her husband’s tie a final, satisfied pat and stepped away from him. ‘You’ll do. Very handsome.’
She resumed her seat at the dressing table and carefully fixed her earrings in place, then smoothed her soft, light brown hair which was swept up into an elegant twist behind her shapely neck and secured with a gold filigree clasp set with amber stones. Her warm hazel eyes watched David in the mirror as he checked his reflection. ‘He’ll be all right, won’t he?’
‘Pat? I think so. He’s smarting, naturally, but he’ll recover.’
Jean sighed. ‘He seems so different. I’m afraid our easygoing, contented boy will never come back to us.’
‘I disagree.’ David smiled reassuringly at her reflection. ‘I’ve seen his pain; for now, it’s very real. But I’ve also seen something deeper behind it. I wouldn’t be surprised to hear that Pat’s quite relieved under all the hurt pride.’
His long fingers gently rubbed Jean’s bare shoulders. She looked beautiful tonight, in a full-length, strapless dress of cream silk, the heart-shaped bodice crusted with amber lace. God, he was a lucky man.
His breath quickened as she turned and raised her pale oval face to smile at him. He reached for her hands and lifted them, lightly massaging her fingers. ‘Of course, he’d never admit it,’ he added, ‘Probably doesn’t even know it himself. But Wanda led him a fool’s dance and that hurt him far more than this last slap she’s dealt him.’
He hesitated, reaching for the right words to reassure his anxious wife. ‘I believe Pat’s come to a decision. I had a long talk with him last night. He said he was finally over Wanda. He seemed adamant he wouldn’t take her back. I thought there was peace in him and a real desire to start over.’
Jean dabbed a tear away. ‘I wish he’d never met Wanda Lee,’ she said and the unaccustomed savagery in her voice startled David. ‘I could kill her for what she’s done to Pat.’
He released her fingers and patted her shoulder comfortingly. ‘Pat’s a grown man, Jeanie. He knew what she was like and made his choice. You can’t protect him forever.’
She smiled mistily at him. ‘An over-protective old mother hen, am I? I know he has to make his own life but in many ways Pat’s not very - worldly. Wanda just overwhelmed him. Of course I want to wrap him up and keep him safe; part of me does, anyway. The other part wants him to be a fine man, standing very much on his own two feet.’ She laughed. ‘Do I sound too contradictory? It’s like that being a mother.’
David took her hand and helped her up. She clung to him, grateful for his strength and warmth and commonsense. She kissed his cheek and then quickly rubbed the lipstick smudge away. ‘Our guests will be arriving. We’d better go down.’
He looked at her lovingly. ‘All right, now?’
‘Yes, darling, thanks. But Wanda is no longer welcome in my home. If she comes, I won’t see her.’
He took her arm. ‘I agree, and I don’t think we’ll be alone in that. Poor Wanda will find herself rather shut out of society if she has the gall to come back.’
Outside their bedroom they met Pat coming along the passage. His formal evening dress made him look older, his expression was grave, his mouth set in a firm line; but a smile lightened his sombre eyes as he saw his mother.
Jean linked her free arm with his and smiled up at him. ‘All right, darling?’
He squeezed her arm. ‘Fine, Mum. Have you been worrying about me?’
‘Your mother worries about us all,’ David informed him dryly.
‘Well, cross me off your list; I’m doing very well. Let’s go down and be merry with the fatted calf. I assume all the clan will be gathering?’
He continued to chat brightly as they made their way down the broad central staircase to the main hall. It satisfied Jean and she answered in kind, smiling with genuine relief, but it made David glance at his son several times with narrowed eyes.
BJ rounded the final bend and his car’s headlights swung into the Langford’s private road which rose steeply to the colonial mansion above. Vegetation leapt startlingly into relief in the glare, giving way to cultivated lawns, tall trees and flower beds. The two-storey house was a blaze of lights. The sound of an orchestra floated out of the multitude of open windows as BJ squeezed the Volvo into a space on the crowded drive and made his way up the lighted terraces to the front door which was thrown wide in welcome.
People, dressed in their formal finery, spilled out onto balconies and terraces, laughing, drinking, waving to him as he passed. He knew everyone here. He always did, on these occasions. Heads of the business community, government representatives, senior members of the police force, a sprinkling of others; he knew them all as they knew him.
No surprises tonight, he told himself, and made his way across the spacious hall to where Jean and David were still greeting late arrivals.
The Langford house had been built in the early days of the colony. It was a gracious stone and timber building with large, panelled rooms; high, ornamented ceilings; great teak doors which folded back to create the maximum space possible for entertaining guests; and wide verandahs which led on all sides into terraced gardens. A branching central staircase led to the second floor where the bedrooms, family sitting room and private study were situated.
David shook BJ’s hand and Jean pecked him on the cheek and gave him a quick hug.
‘Pat’s around somewhere, with Gloria.’ David winked. ‘He’ll be pleased to see you.’
‘Not at all,’ Jean lied coolly. ‘Gloria and Pat have always been close.’ Then she caught David’s eye and broke into a guilty smile. ‘Oh, all right, yes, we hoped Gloria would help Pat over the hump. They were practically engaged, after all, before Wanda forced her attentions on him.’
‘I remember.’ BJ smiled fondly at her. ‘I saw them on the terrace as I came up. I’ll go and say hello.’
The temperature had dropped several degrees and people were making their way back into the warmth, Pat and Gloria among them. Gloria’s short black silk dress emphasised her tall, slim figure and the ethereal fairness of her gleaming hair. It fell softly from a central part to brush against her shoulders and frame her face which was raised to Pat’s, a glow of happiness in her wide-set violet eyes.
A nice pair, the inspector thought as he saw the obvious pleasure they were taking in each other’s company. And handy too. She wouldn’t even have to change her name. He stepped forward and took Pat’s outstretched hand.
‘BJ! Great to see you.’ Pat grinned. ‘I can see the last year’s been good to you.’
But not to you, BJ thought critically. You look ten years older. ‘Has it been that long?’ he asked.
Pat nodded. ‘January, the last Saturday race. You put your money on Royal Rogue, against my advice, and lost a bundle.’
‘You’ll have a chance to recoup,’ Gloria told him. ‘Pat’s running Langford’s Pride on Saturday, race three.’
‘Bound to win. A homecoming present.’ Pat gave the girl a challenging look. ‘Old Sing’s been keeping him up to scratch, David tells me.’
‘Guy’s entered Lively Lass.’ Gloria smiled. ‘She’ll give the Pride a run for his money. We’ll have a bet, BJ.’
‘You’re on. You’ve settled in quickly, Pat.’
‘It’s not hard. I was homesick, away from this place. It gets in your blood, pretty well.’
‘You’re staying here, with Jean and David?’
‘Only until tomorrow, then I’m back at my place. They thought I’d like some company, at first. I don’t mind being back in the old house. Nothing changes here. It’s - comforting, with all the uncertainty outside.’
‘The transition?’ BJ smiled. ‘Guy doesn’t think anything will change.’
Pat’s brows snapped together. ‘Guy’s an optimist. Tiananmen Square is still very fresh in most people’s minds. When Her Majesty’s forces march out of their garrison, the troops marching in will be those same troops that fired on the Beijing youth. No one feels like taking any chances. I’ve seen a change. People are definitely nervous.’
‘Don’t let’s talk politics,’ Gloria pleaded. ‘It’s all I get at home with Guy and his cronies. Pat, let’s dance. I want to celebrate winning all BJ’s money on Saturday.’
‘It’s not Saturday, yet.’ Pat smiled at her. ‘But I know three things that won’t change in the colony after June. Racing, shopping - and dancing.’ He bowed to her. ‘May I have the pleasure, Cousin Gloria?’
‘Most certainly, Cousin Patrick.’
He put an arm around her waist to lead her to the ballroom when a uniformed servant appeared beside him.
‘Mr Pat, telephone for you, most urgent.’
‘Hell! Sorry, Gloria, people have been phoning all day to say hello. I’ll take it upstairs, Weng.’
Gloria shrugged and her eyes followed Pat as he crossed the hall and ran lightly up to the first floor. He entered the study, a cosy room filled with racing memorabilia and family photographs, and picked up the receiver from the big oak desk.
‘Pat? Is that you? Oh, darling, at last. It’s me, Wanda. I’m at the airport. Just got in. It’s so good to hear your voice. Come and get me, darling, please. I couldn’t stay with Jon another minute. He treated me disgracefully. How soon can you be here? I’ve missed you terribly, Pat. I know I’ve behaved badly but I’ll make it up to you, you’ll see. It’s just you and me, now. It’s been awful without you, darling.’
Pat stood rigidly, the shock churning his stomach. The windows were closed and a fire had been lit in the grate, giving the room a cheerful warmth, but he felt an icy chill spreading through his body and shivered involuntarily.
‘Pat, darling, are you there? You don’t say anything, Pat?’
He looked up, his eyes unfocussed, his breathing suddenly too fast.
From the doorway, Gloria watched him with apprehension. ‘Pat? What’s the matter? You look awful.’
He looked at the receiver, clutched in his hand, and his mind slowly cleared. He deliberately replaced it in its cradle and turned to his cousin.
‘Nothing. Nothing’s the matter. Let’s have that dance, shall we?’