Hong Kong - Friday December 6th, 1996
‘Good morning, Mr Patrick. It’s nice to have you back.’
Pat smiled at the receptionist. ‘Is Guy in?’
‘Yes, in his office.’
Pat stepped out of the lift into the quiet reception area of the floor which housed the LP Constructions offices and the shipping department. The air of calm efficiency belied the frantic cut and thrust of business carried out behind the various closed doors.
Guy ran the construction business with William Langford as his 2IC. The shipping side was in the hands of Ben Price and his brother-in-law Paul Choy. Guy’s secretary, Mary Choy, was Paul’s sister. She was a tall, graceful Eurasian, with an angular face whose high cheekbones gave her a feline look, and smooth, dark chestnut hair which she wore in a long plait down her back,
Jenny Wong, a petite girl with a thick black fringe, an open, smiling face and large, silver-rimmed spectacles perched on her pert, tip-tilted nose, worked for both junior partners. William and Ben were frequently away on business, making it unnecessary, in David’s opinion, to employ another assistant.
Both women looked up from their computers and smiled a welcome as Pat entered.
‘Morning Mary, Jenny.’ He gestured towards Guy’s closed door. ‘Guy in there?’
Mary Choy nodded. ‘Go right in, Pat.’
As the door closed behind him the two women exchanged a knowing glance.
‘He looks terrible, poor man,’ Jenny breathed.
Mary’s wide brown eyes were serious. ‘Did you hear what happened last night?’
Jenny lifted her hands in an expressive gesture. ‘Everyone’s hinting today. Of course, you were there.’
The party invitations had been for management only, except for Susan Yeung, who’d been with the company since she left school and was as much a family friend as David’s PA; and Mary Choy, whose brother was married to the Price brothers’ sister, Daphne.
Jenny asked avidly, ‘Is it true? Wanda Lee actually rang the house?’
Mary lowered her voice. ‘Quite true. What a scandal! Pat refused to talk to her. Weng Chan told me she called again several times from the airport, but Pat wouldn’t take the calls. He spent all night dancing with Gloria. Finally Wanda asked for her cousin Bob Lee, and he went to collect her.’
She made a clicking noise with her tongue. ‘Bob didn’t like being asked to get Wanda. He was very embarrassed. He came back to the party later and tried to pretend nothing out of the ordinary had happened. As if we didn’t all know by then.’
Not to be outdone, Jenny added her mite. ‘Jimmy said Bob drove Wanda to her mother’s house.’
‘When did he tell you that?’
‘Bob rang him early this morning about a job they’re both doing,’ Jenny explained quickly. ‘He told Jimmy about last night and Jimmy rang me.’
‘And asked you to find out from me?’ Mary smiled at her friend’s embarrassment. ‘Don’t worry, all Hong Kong will be talking soon.’
Jenny wrinkled her nose in distaste. ‘Sylvia’s a good friend of Wanda’s. She thinks it’s terrible, all the talk. She says Wanda’s story should be heard and she won’t drop her until she has a chance to speak for herself.’
Mary snorted. ‘Your sister-in-law’s a fool. If she’s not careful, she’ll be dropped along with Wanda.’
The intercom buzzer sounded on Jenny’s phone. ‘Jen, bring me the costings on the carpeting for the Nathan Road site.’
‘Yes William.’ Jenny grabbed a file, cast an anxious look into her compact mirror, patted her hair and went quickly into William’s office.
Mary shook her head. A lot of good that will do you, she thought sympathetically. William certainly won’t be allowed to take your little affair any further now. David would bring so much pressure to bear, that would be the end of it, if he ever found out. You’d be lucky to get a job sweeping the office floor.
Pat raised his head from the plans Guy had laid out for his inspection. ‘It looks marvellous. The design’s superb. In fact, this would be an excellent model for a project Jon has on the Gold Coast.’
‘Glad you like it,’ Guy drawled. ‘Come over next week. I’ll show you around. We’re having the devil’s own trouble about the windows. I want a particular shade or it’ll be a disaster.’
‘What’s the problem?’
‘We’re using the Beijing glass factory and the samples they’ve sent aren’t quite right. I’ve sent them a piece exactly as I want it but they’re making all sorts of fuss, heaven knows why.’
‘Do you want me to look into it while I’m there? I could take a sample and see Hing myself.’
Guy looked surprised. ‘You’re still doing the China trip?’
‘Yes. It’ll get me away and give me some time to think. David’s charged me with all sorts of commissions while I’m there. I’ll be in Guangzhou for a couple of days, then Shanghai and Beijing. Back on the nineteenth.’
‘That’s cutting it a bit fine.’
Pat grinned. ‘You mean the Langford Cup? Don’t worry, I’ll be there to take your money.’
‘The Pride against my Lass? Not a hope!’ Guy shook his head with mock sympathy.
‘We’ll see tomorrow. Anyhow, Mum’d never forgive me if I wasn’t home for Christmas. You know it’s tradition to go into the city on Christmas Eve and see the lights.’ He looked sober. ‘But, right now, a cooling off period is definitely required.’
Guy watched his cousin cross to the window and stand motionless, seemingly absorbed by the sight of the traffic on the harbour below. He cleared his throat awkwardly. ‘Look, Pat, I don’t like to mention it but, well, there’s a lot of talk already, after last night. Bound to be.’
‘Bound to be,’ Pat agreed pleasantly.
‘The family - we wonder what you’re going to do about it.’
‘Dad and Mum would like me to divorce Wanda and marry Gloria. They’ve made it rather obvious while trying hard not to. Poor Mum’s angry on my behalf. Won’t have Wanda in the house. I’m moving back to my place tomorrow.’
‘With Wanda?’ Guy asked curiously.
‘No, not at the moment.’ Pat’s voice was harsh. ‘My wife is at her mother’s and will be staying there for now and having the decency to keep a very low profile.’
‘Look, it’s none of my business, but if she’s realised her mistake, couldn’t you, well, take her back? Give it another go?’
Pat swung around. His eyes glinted but his voice was friendly enough. ‘You’re a fine one to be championing Wanda.’
Guy grinned ruefully. ‘Public enemy Number One? Does she still hate me so much?’
‘Apparently.’ Pat shrugged. ‘I’ve never asked what happened between you two. Figured it was nothing to do with me and she’d tell me if she wanted to.’ He paused, then continued levelly, ‘I was just grateful for whatever turned her off you and made her accept me.’
‘It was nothing, Pat.’ Guy said quietly. ‘She felt I’d insulted her, made her lose face. It was a trivial incident and it would make her lose face if I talked about it. I never have and I never will. I’m sorry she won’t forgive me but I understand Wanda’s temper. You were the only one who could control her.’ His smile was a little twisted. ‘You certainly cut me out with her. I do believe you’re the only one she really cares about.’
‘As much as she can care for anyone.’ Pat turned back to the window.
‘You’re bitter. I know she had others. Hell, she did while she was with me. It doesn’t mean a thing to her, you know that. Nothing to be jealous of. It’s an odd kick in her gallop, if you like. Give her another chance, Pat. If you don’t, she’ll be ostracised by the only set she cares about. Don’t tell me you don’t feel anything for her.’
‘You’re right, Guy, it is none of your business.’ There was a moment’s silence, then Pat caught a movement below and looked more intently. ‘There’s the China Wind going out. Is old Ho still captain?’
Guy accepted the change of subject with a grimace at his cousin’s back. ‘Yes, but he keeps talking about retiring and letting his number two son take over.’
Pat chuckled appreciatively. ‘And pigs might fly out across the China Sea.’ He watched the great high-prowed, ocean-going junk glide past, its red sails turned to the breeze. ‘He’ll die at the wheel, that one. Anyway, I thought Ho San was very much a landlubber.’
Guy nodded. ‘He won’t give up a thriving business exporting jade. It’s Captain Ho’s great sorrow, but he lives in hope.’
In her apartment in the New Territories, Sylvia Wong curled up in her favourite cane chair, pushed a cushion into a more comfortable position behind her back and transferred the phone to her other ear.
‘You don’t say? It sounds wonderful, travelling, seeing the world. I’d have loved Australia. So much space. It’s all right for you, Wanda, you’re rich, or you could be, if you weren’t so addicted to gambling. But, there, it’s in the blood. We’re all the same, except some have more than others to play with. There’s you, the queen of society in two countries, and I’m stuck in this ridiculous pokey apartment out here, hours away from anywhere, because a sergeant’s pay doesn’t stretch to any better place.’
She stopped as her friend, impatient with the same old story of Sylvia bemoaning her fate, said, ‘Yes, yes, it’s awful for you. Why don’t we meet and I’ll take you somewhere really special for lunch?’
‘I’d love to. You know, we won’t be poor forever. Jimmy’s been picked for a special job. It’ll mean promotion for sure; and Jenny’s making progress with William Langford. If only she could take his fancy enough to marry her. Just think; I’d be related to the Langfords, like you.’
‘Don’t count on it.’ Wanda’s voice was acid-tinged. ‘The family will make a big fuss if William tries to marry Jenny.’ She laughed lightly. ‘They think one Chinese daughter-in-law is one too many.’
‘But William isn’t a son. Why would they try to stop it?’
‘He’s family. You’ll see. They won’t let William make the same mistake they think Pat made.’
‘Of course, you’re not really the one to be advising me,’ Sylvia said sweetly. ‘You can’t even go to your own house, to your own husband. Your mother and I are the only ones who’ll acknowledge you.’
Wanda curbed her anger. ‘It’s good of you, Sylvia, I’m grateful.’
‘You should go away for a while,’ Sylvia said wisely. ‘Go to Macau, have a good time at the casino.’
‘I can’t go now. Pat will come around soon, you’ll see. Once he meets me, I’ll make him take me back. I know how to handle men; haven’t I always?’
‘Oh, you were born lucky,’ Sylvia agreed enviously. ‘When your mother got you into Guy Langford’s bed you were made for life.’
‘Don’t talk to me about Guy.’ Wanda snapped. ‘I got out of his bed all right and into a better one. His wife made life one big hell for us both, the bitch.’
‘Well, she was punished by the gods, so all’s well, and with that man’s reputation for gambling, you’d never have had two coins between you to rub together. You count your blessings.’
‘Oh, I do,’ Wanda said kindly. ‘I’m blessed that I don’t live far away, like you, with hours to travel to get to any place and that I have a very rich allowance. Pat still gives me that. Always the gentleman.’
‘You’re lucky,’ Sylvia repeated. ‘When will you take me for lunch?’
‘Soon. Next week, perhaps. You wait, by then I’ll be back on Langford Drive in my own house. And I’ll see William, put in a good word for Jenny. I’m sure she deserves it, the poor thing.’
Wanda ended the conversation and replaced the receiver. She sat motionless for a long time, staring at the telephone, a little frown between her eyes. Finally she gave a shrug, took up the receiver again, and dialled the number of Langford-Price.
A silver and black taxi wound its way through the crowded streets of the Western District, crossing busy Queen’s Road lined with expensive gold and jewellery shops and big department stores; and Hollywood road, the haunt of tourists, crammed with antique and bric-a-brac shops. It made its way up to the Mid-Levels, coming to a halt outside an imposing rose pink apartment block, the Eastern Dawn Towers.
The slim, fashionably dressed passenger paid the driver and glanced quickly around before alighting, pulling down her wide brimmed hat to hide her face. Another anxious glance up and down the street and she darted into the entrance.
Across the road a man watched from a discreetly parked car. The watcher made a note in his pad and kept his eyes firmly fixed on the front door.
Inside the building, the woman rode the lift to the top floor. She took a small mirror out of her handbag and checked her flawless make-up. Satisfied, she returned the mirror to the bag. The lift door slid open onto a quiet landing. The woman took a key from her purse and let herself into the elegant apartment. She closed the door behind her and leaned against it, breathing quickly.
The apartment’s occupant paused, his whisky glass suspended for a moment, then he drank the contents in one swift movement and put the glass down gently on the built-in bar.
‘You look as beautiful and mysterious as ever,’ he said lightly, although very aware of the sudden pounding of his heart against his ribs. He held out his hand. ‘Come here.’
She went to him, almost running. He held her away for just long enough to pull off her hat before crushing her hard against him, one hand tangled in the long tumbling mass of her black hair. She smelt of jasmine, sweet and sensual. His mouth urgently sought, and held hers. He groaned, his desire mounting as she returned his kiss with a fierce passion that matched his own.
‘God, I’ve missed you.’ He raised his head at last and gave a shaky laugh.
Long, scarlet fingernails tenderly traced the line of his mouth. Her dark eyes watched him, misty with pleasure. ‘Oh, how I’ve missed you, too. You mustn’t ever let me go like that again.’
He took her face between his hands, his gaze devouring her beauty. ‘No, I never will. But no more tricks, Wanda Lee. You’ll have to work hard to get your reputation back. You know I can’t help you, speak for you. You have to get Pat to take you back.’
‘He’ll relent,’ she said, sure of herself. She took her companion’s hand and led him towards the bedroom.
He hesitated. ‘There isn’t time. I’m due back at work. There’s a meeting.’
‘Tonight?’ Wanda stiffened. ‘You don’t want me?’
His hands caressed her neck, slid down to push open her coat. ‘My darling girl, I want you so badly I’m going crazy.’ His long fingers unfastened the buttons of her silk blouse.
‘I know.’ She smiled confidently up at him, stroking his fair hair and touching his face, letting her fingers stray tantalisingly over his mouth and eyes as they closed with the need he could barely control.
His hands parted the blouse’s soft fabric and cupped her small breasts. Wanda shivered with longing as his head bent to kiss her there, his tongue tasting the perfumed silky smoothness of her golden skin.
‘Just a short time,’ she murmured huskily, ‘then you can go to your stupid meeting.’ She freed herself and drew him into the bedroom, slipping out of her coat. With urgent fingers, they helped each other shed their clothes until, laughing and breathless, Wanda fell onto the bed and pulled him down against her, circling him with her limbs, her fingernails digging into his naked back as she arched her eager body to meet his.
Later, their passion finally sated, Wanda curled up beside him, languid with lovemaking. ‘I’ll make Pat see me,’ she whispered. ‘Don’t worry, I’ll soon be back with him.’
He drew his head back and watched her closely. ‘Do you love him?’
Wanda stroked his chest, running her fingers lightly down his body. ‘No, I like him, and he’s good to me. Are you jealous?’ She smiled, teasing him. ‘Silly. Wasn’t this all your idea?’
He caught her hand and kissed it. ‘Yes. Sometimes I can’t stand it.’
‘You need me there, with Pat,’ Wanda reminded him. ‘All our plans will succeed, I know. I saw a fortune-teller today. He predicted a great change for me. That must mean good fortune, money, you’ll see.’
‘That’s wonderful.’ He bent over and kissed her. Her soft lips parted hungrily to possess his mouth. With an effort he pulled away from her and sat up. ‘I have to go. They’ll be wondering.’ He began to dress.
‘They won’t suspect.’ Wanda got out of bed and walked, naked, into the living room where she poured two whiskies.
Her companion followed her and drew her into his arms, smoothing back the tumbled dark cloud of her hair. ‘I love you,’ he said huskily. ‘I need you, and you need me. We mustn’t jeopardise all we’ve achieved together. Trust me and do what I tell you, yes?’
‘Don’t I always do what you tell me?’ She reached up to pull his head down, and pressed her lips hard against his.
In the street, a man in black jeans and a dark jacket tapped at the window of the waiting car and slipped into the passenger seat. ‘I’m here to relieve you. BJ wants you back at the shop in a hurry. Anything happening?’
‘No, the three of them are still in there; but Bob, I’m sorry to say a woman went in half an hour ago. Arrived by taxi, hat pulled well down, but I think I recognised her.’ He passed his notebook over and Bob Lee’s face darkened. ‘She hasn’t come out. She doesn’t have an apartment here, too, does she?’
‘No.’ Bob’s voice shook slightly as he handed the pad back. ‘Damn her to hell, isn’t she satisfied with the scandal she’s already created?’ Then he shrugged. ‘You’d better cut along, Jimmy.’
On the top floor, Guy Langford left his apartment and walked to the lift. He raised his eyebrows in surprise when he saw the tall, fair young man waiting there. ‘Bill? I thought you were staying on at the office.’
‘I finished early, came home to change and get something to eat.’
‘Well, no need to take both cars. I’ll give you a lift.’
William grinned and shook his head. ‘No, thanks, I have plans for later.’
The lift arrived and both men entered. Guy leaned against the wall, eyeing his cousin. William was dressed casually in slacks and a zippered fleecy-lined jacket. He seemed keyed up, excited, his blue eyes alight with a secret inner fire. Guy raised a questioning eyebrow. ‘You look damned pleased with yourself, young Bill. What’ve you been up to?’
The lift continued to the basement car park. A driver, parked in the shadow of a concrete pillar reported softly into his two-way radio. Alerted, Bob Lee watched the red Porsche and the pale blue Mercedes two-seater slide from the basement entrance.
Ten minutes later a taxi drew up and Wanda slipped out of the front door and was driven away.