THE JADE BUDDHA

by rcheydn

 

Chapter One

 

The man didn’t see it, didn’t even hear it.

The first he knew of it was the sharp excruciating pain in his left knee as unforgiving metal punched through the thin skin and flesh and splintered the cap of bone.

Before he could cry out the initial shock that was registered by his brain was quickly followed by another burning red hot needle thrust into his ribs smashing the protective cage and then wrenched out. As it left his body he felt a small explosion and sensed a letting of gases and a collapse of things he instinctively knew would be fatal.

Immediately his left aside went numb. The pain vanished and he didn’t feel the pitted tar and gravel as it leapt up to strike his elbow, shoulder and right side. In a fraction of a second his head struck the road surface with such force that it cracked and gushed a bright red with a murky grey substance floating within. He was dead by the time the vehicle rumbled on over him his now elastic body bouncing up and down being torn and pummelled by the rusty protruding steel underbelly.

The high-backed truck swerved wildly its long-unserviced brake pads screaming in deafening decibels and mounted the concrete ridge in the middle of the road, ramming hard into the back of a stationary tram. There was a hiss as the radiator burst and hot steaming brown water spurted onto the parallel rails and the horn blasted like a siren as the driver was hurled forward out of his seat.

His head hit the windscreen knocking him senseless and he lay slumped over the steering wheel, a shoulder pressed against the horn, his leg snapped straight forcing the clutch pedal to the floor. The engine idled like a defective heart in an uncanny duet with the wheezing of the rapidly emptying radiator. Thirty meters behind the mangled form of the pedestrian sprawled in a growing pool of blood.

It had happened in an instant. In slow motion it would have been morbidly fascinating but in reality it had been a dull thud, a screech, a loud metallic bang and a blaring vehicle’s horn. In that fleeting moment a life had been taken, snatched and sent flying into eternity leaving behind years of pain and joy, sadness and happiness, a total life’s experience with no time to say farewell.

Simon Garrett wanted to cry out. His eyes were already burning and his senses were sparking fast. He had not seen the entire incident but enough to recoil in horror at the sight and the thought of the brutal death occurring only feet from where he stood. Whole phases of the shock and disgust formed on his lips but before he could spit them out a woman by his wide screamed and flung her arms wide almost knocking him over.

The sudden blow brought him back to the present and without thinking he jumped into the road and raced to the body lying on his back, the shirt soaked dark maroon, the arms pinned out of sight and the left leg at an impossible angle at the knee. Garrett could see splinters of bone protruding through the material of the trousers and he quickly averted his eyes and looked into the dead man’s face. Instantly he wished he hadn’t. It was pulp. Both eyes had been gouged from their sockets, the nose was a mushy piece of raw meat and both cheeks had been sliced open though it was painfully obvious from the jagged strips which hung to the road surface that the scalpel had been filthy bolt and hinge brackets that had bitten and clawed at the facial bones. The top part of his scalp had been scythed open.

Garrett’s stomach heaved and he choked as he turned away trying to focus on something, anything but the destroyed apparition before him.

The next thing he knew he was being roughly pushed aside. He saw a hand on his shoulder and felt another, or more, on his back and down his sides. A bare torso squatted down in front of him and then turned and again the hands were on him, pushing him backwards, knocking him to the ground. He fought to stand as a Chinese man between him and the body also rose from his haunches. He was dressed only in faded and ripped jeans and wore flip flops on his feet.

“What the…!” Garrett shouted surprised at the vehemence in his voice.

But the man only held up his hands, palms out, and took a half step back. Garrett was about to follow this outburst with another when a uniformed police constable stepped from behind into the gap. He called something in Cantonese which Garrett did not understand and clamped strong fingers around his upper arm.

Garrett tugged free and was about to protest again when another uniformed policeman appeared, this time a European. In a remarkably calm tone he said: “Alright. It’s OK. We saw what happened. We’ll look after things. Stand away. Get back over there.”

The Chinese man with the bare chest was only half visible behind the constable but Garrett could see his eyes were still burning into him, not in hatred as he first imagined but in unwavering concentration as if trying to imprint every feature of the gwai lo on his memory. He paid no attention whatever to the body on the road.

*

“What have you done with it?” asked the bespectacled man in the expensive dark grey suit.

Behind the thick lenses his eyes which in reality were small and too close together were magnified to a size too large for his short squat frame. For the ninth time he did not wait for an immediate reply but went on: “Where is it? Tell me and we can end this now.”

He stood easily at attention with his hands clasped behind his back. His appearance was that of a successful businessman; highly polished black dress shoes with tiny leather tassels at the ends of the laces, the suit with faint light blue pin stripes only visible close up, a crisp white shirt again with a delicate blue-grey thread running perpendicular, and a narrow silk grey tie with red and blue flecks which set off the outfit as modern good taste required. He wore no hat and his fine silver hair was parted precisely on one side just covering the peaks of his ears. He appeared immaculate the only mar being the globules of perspiration which glistened on his forehead and were teetering at the end of his eyebrows.

”Be sensible,” he said softly. “Help yourself. Put an end to this absurdity.”

Withdrawing a white silk handkerchief from his pocket he dabbed at the salty sweat and examined the dampness on the besmirched material. Folding it with care he returned it to his pocket and cast his eyes about him.

“You don’t want this here,” he said. “You are too good for this obscene performance. Be true to yourself and your position and tell me. Where is it?” The questioner subconsciously cast another glance at his surroundings and the curl of his thick lips showed his own discomfort at being part of them.

The floor was cracked concrete littered with garbage and stained with oil and grease which had built up over a long period of heavy duty work. The walls were scarred where fixtures had been wantonly wrenched free and where grime had been ignored. The ceiling or what remained of it hung in precarious suspension, gaping openings allowing partial insight into the deserted space below.  A single powerful metal beam spanned the breadth of the room no doubt from which once had hung chains and ropes and pulleys and all manner of equipment. Not long ago this ground floor space had been a struggling light and heavy metal shop, the life support for a dozen workers and their hungry families. A long time before that the government had stepped in and begun clearing the infamous Walled City as part of a massive redevelopment programme. The illegal businesses closed down or relocated and the area which had defied politics, local authorities and international law for nearly a century and a half became a high-rise ghost city. The ancient mandarin’s seat with its gritty ceremonial canons became a fragment of history.

However in the midst of the rusting machinery leftovers wrecking of another kind was taking place hidden from the public. A human being was slowly, methodically being taken apart.

The suited man dropped his gaze and as he plucked a small piece of broken plaster from his jacket front said quietly: “The other one.”

He turned to walk away and another man stepped forward. He was large with bulging eyes and he wore a sleeveless denim jerkin that was saturated with sweat. His hair was long to his shoulders and he had a small scar on his left cheek, a legacy of a knife thrust which pierced the flesh cleanly but miraculously severed his tongue at the same time. He knew knives well. Knew how to use them viciously or with expert precision. Today he was utilising his skills to the best of his ability.

Before him a man dangled from thick ropes strung over the ceiling beam. He was naked and his feet were barely an inch off the floor. Despite his prayers he was not yet near death from the injuries that had been inflicted on him over the preceding hours. No description could do justice to the pain he had suffered at the hands of the large man at the direction of his interrogator. His body was stretched to its limit, his head sunk onto his chest, his eyes closed. Or rather his one remaining eye was closed. The other had been expertly plucked from its housing just thirty minutes before and grotesquely stared out from his cheek where it adhered at the end of a streak of mucus-like substance. Both ears had been severed leaving only bloody holes. His nose too had been sliced off and his bottom lip removed. Blood covered his upper body. Had his feet where every toe had been cut off been allowed the touch the floor the man would have suffered even more pain as his Achilles tendons had been severed. It seemed the only complete part of his body were his hands which were locked in agonising embrace above his disfigured head.

As his torturer advanced towards him and raised the blade yet again the man slowly lifted his chin and whispered in barely understandable words though his bloodied teeth: “Please. No more. Kill me. Please.”

From what seemed a great distance he heard the soft even voice of his interrogator: “Tell me and I will do as you ask. You have my word.”

In broken gasps the man said: “I gave it to Tang. He has it.”

“Who is this Tang?” asked the interrogator from a position out of sight.

“Tang Yin-lo. The jeweller of Carnavon Road. He is my financer.”

“Ahhh,” sighed the interrogator. “So it is he who has funded you. Where can I find him now?”

“I don’t know.” The man’s gasps were almost inaudible. “We were to meet tomorrow to exchange. He is doing the business today.”

“Where and when were you to meet Tang?” the interrogator enquired. “This is my last question. Then all this will be over for you.”

The man breathed deeply. “In the street of birds. The Hop Yee Tea House. Nine thirty.”

Turning his head painfully in the direction of the man in the suit with the wispy white hair he pleaded: “Kill me now. I am dead anyway.”

His interrogator removed his spectacles and wiped them slowly with his silk handkerchief. Then he replaced them, flicked the lapels of his jacket removing some invisible dust and looked squarely at his brutish assistant.

“Do it carefully, with great care Kai. And slowly. Very slowly. I want this stench to think of me on his way to hell.”

As he turned and walked from the shell of the building into the dingy lane outside his helpless victim screamed in anguish at his misguided trust in his interrogator. But the man who was known as the Shī fu did not hear. Nor did he care about the abuse hurled after him. If his servant did his work well the dog could last many more hours.

*

As the white van with its glaring red lettering and characters straddled the tram tracks and three white uniformed attendants began placing the torn body of the accident victim on a stretcher another middle aged Chinese who looked remarkably similar in dress and features a man known as Dai Lo, or Big Brother, sat luxuriating in a plush alcove of a second floor nightclub five blocks to the east. He had been there since one o’clock that morning and had enjoyed the best the club had to offer. His appetite was prodigious as was his stamina though both fell short of the contents of the wallet that fitted snugly into the inside breast pocket of his jacket tossed casually over the back of the sofa.

Sole owner of one of Hong Kong’s largest import and export firms he had money to throw around. He dealt in quite simply anything considered likely to return a profit. He placed no restrictions on the potential range of business. His rule, the rule by which he operated and lived, was that if it could be exploited he would handle it. And if it could be sampled and enjoyed then he would do both. Now in his forty-fifth year he had been involved in many a venture and many an adventure. Generally they had worked out well. Without exception he considered the experiences to have been to his advantage even where the end rewards were not as fulfilling as he had hoped. Overall though the rewards had been great and he was in the enviable position of being able to do virtually anything he wished.

His business tentacles reached around the globe and offices bearing his bane or in some cases somewhat meaningless anagrams of the same, could be found in London, New York, Toronto, Bangkok, Tokyo, Dubai, Paris, Amsterdam and Sydney. Single brass plates outside non-descript rooms failed to reflect the size of trade transacted. Billions of dollars changed hands with alarming speed. A good deal of it ended up in the pocket of this man, Hung Wah-hang.

The territory’s central bank, the Hong Kong and Shanghai Banking Corporation, was happy to hold his account though they well knew the bulk of his fortune was deposited in a multitude of other vaults from Switzerland to Auckland. They were also content to honour any charge against his local credit card for which he had a rating almost unsurpassed in the territory. Some of that expenditure was in a few of the high quality nightclubs on both sides of the so famously once called fragrant harbour which he frequented as often as time allowed. The particular club he was now in was his favourite. The girls were the prettiest and the most accommodating of his demands and the management was the most pliant. It was just as well because what they did not realise was that it was one of his obscure acquisitions the year before.

At one o’clock that morning he had entered the seductive atmosphere of the establishment to partake of its rich offerings as freely as he could. He had cause for celebration and he could imaging no better place to do it. The liquor flowed easily beginning with his usual chilled champagne a supply of which was kept for him. Specially flown in from the hills of northern France he considered it the sweetest, the most enticing he had discovered on his many visits to Europe. From there he moved to iced white wine, then to red, a single glass of the weak-looking Tsing Tao beer from the mainland, and finally to his cherished cognac. However drinking was not what he had come to the club for this night. It was the delights in female form he sought in celebration. If his capacity for liquor was to be envied his capacity for sex was to be looked upon with concern.

Hung Wah-hang’s beautiful wife ten years his junior would never testify to it but she had the scars both physical and mental that if presented in a court of law would certainly bring the full weight of the bench down on his reputation. For like his business dealings Hung had an appetite on occasion for the unusual and on occasion even the bizarre. In this club today he had sated some of those tastes behind the heavy curtains of the alcove. Now he reclined savouring the recollections of those recent hours as the last of his companions performed her administrations to arouse his desire once more. But he was spent.

There was a rustling of the curtains and a man’s voice called quietly: “Dai Lo. Doi m’jue. It is time.”

Hung Wah-hang opened his eyes and stared blankly at the girl. Then he leaned forward, put his manicured hands under her armpits and lifted her off the carpet. He stood, straightened his clothing and smiled at her. “You failed where the others succeeded,” he said. “But your task was greater than theirs. Yet you tried your best. For that you deserve the same.” From his breast pocket he removed his wallet and slipped out five crisp one thousand dollar notes. “Next time you shall be the first my petal and I shall give you a time you shall remember.”

Outside the alcove he briskly signed a chit without noting the amount and motioned to a tall well-dressed young Chinese whose black suit concealed his strength and the revolver tucked in the leather shoulder holster.

“We go,” he said. “It is time for business.”

Waiting at the curb outside the club was Hung’s silver Mercedes Benz 500. The black suited driver sat behind the wheel glancing every few seconds at the entrance. His watch seemed to have slowed over the last hours the digital minutes taking an inordinately long time to change. It now read eleven ten. He would have to be skilful to negotiate the heavy Wanchai and Causeway Bay traffic and still reach the rendezvous within twenty minutes.

His calculations were interrupted by the appearance of his employer in the doorway of the building. He reached for the ignition key and turned it sharply clockwise. As the engine kicked into deep whining life he glanced across through the passenger window. Hung’s bodyguard had his left hand on the handle of the rear door his right hidden under his jacket. Hung himself was in the middle of the pavement three paces behind. What happened next was a frenzied blur.

As the bodyguard swung open the rear door he twisted awkwardly to his right and the upper portion of his body slammed into the side of the car. At the same time his head erupted in a halo of blood, hair and flesh. Momentarily pinned in a crucifix his chest dimpled twice above the heart and he jack-knifed forward his knees collapsing.

Hung had not moved. He stared open-mouthed. Suddenly he lunged for the open door. A step away in a crouched position he felt the bullet hit him and he was propelled sideways. As he tried to remain on his feet his left shoe caught the body of his protector lying crumpled near the vehicle beside the gutter and he fell hard to the concrete. He rolled onto his back in time to see the first blow coming. The chopper caught him a glancing blow on the right shoulder. It was not fatal but it sliced through almost severing the arm. The next strike was at the same point on his left shoulder. It was quickly followed by a sideways hack which crashed through the bone and the arm dropped and rolled under the rear of the limousine.

Hung screamed in pain and squinted through burning lids waiting for the final blow. But the death strike was not to be so soon. First his left leg was partially hacked through. Then his right. Only then did the killer swing the heavy blade in a slashing motion across his throat.

In the doorway of the club the girl in the pink cheongsam stared at the body sprawled across that of the young and also very dead bodyguard beside the still purring Mercedes Benz. The thought that was running through her head was that her biggest pay days were over.

*

Over the years London had undergone a metamorphosis. It was being rebuilt from the inside out. The dilapidation of the seventies as well as the next decade had been reversed by a property boom fuelled by a new political confidence that swept the suburbs and countryside like a wildfire. For a time it was out of control; it flickered and raged with self-generating momentum that turned the city into a red hot cauldron. House prices went through the roof. Everyone seemed to be upgrading their residences. Developers were quick to react and the face lifting began in earnest.

At first old houses were bought and the three or four flats within gutted, repainted and refitted and put back on the market with appropriately worthwhile price tags. If the new owners expected to wait months for their bonuses they were sorely mistaken. Buyers moved in within weeks, sometimes days, and snapped up the spick and span apartments. So the odd block of flats became a row of two or three. Then sections of streets. Then whole streets. Scaffolding and painted FOR SALE signs littered pavements and prices continued to soar. It all meant that London took on an outward appearance of great prosperity and attraction.

By the end of the decade things remained bright but less than a decade later the economic crisis that hit every country in the world and property prices tumbled. However even then not unexpectedly there were some streets that would never change either because they were so bad they would have to be bombed out before the renovators would move in or because the residents would not budge for their own individual reasons. These streets were easily identifiable. They were already prosperous or they were home to council owned property that a minority of private buyers sought. Clark Avenue in West London’s Hammersmith was one. One terrace flat was owned by an English lawyer and another next to it by a single Australian. They were on greeting terms as neighbours but no more. As far as the lawyer knew his neighbour was a businessman who spent a good deal of his time travelling in Europe and to the Far East. The nature of that business he did not know, nor did it concern him that he didn’t. The Australian was a quiet neighbour who had a pleasant smile but who by and large kept to himself and that was the best one could wish for in a street of terrace houses.

Once he had been in the Australian’s flat and had been somewhat surprised at the taste with which he surrounded himself. The three-level three-bedroom property was crammed with antiques many in pristine condition but some which looked so frail they would fall apart if the dust was removed. It was not what he had expected to find. But then the Australian was far from what he seemed. They only truths in his known professional identity was that he was indeed a businessman and he did travel frequently. All else he kept very much to himself which was why he was not pleased at having to receive the other three men in his flat now. But the magnitude of the news he had received not two hours earlier called for urgent if unwelcome action.

It was dusk when his guests arrived which gave him some ease though it was little and the problem he now faced was of such importance that small consolations were nothing to be thankful for. They were seated on two large sofas in the first floor reception room. Light classical music from the stereo in the corner belied the atmosphere. It also screened their conversation to anyone listening in from elsewhere.

“When did it happen?” asked a large florid man who perched uneasily on the edge of one of the sofas. His coat was spread wide revealing a balloon belly and his trousers stretched thin over his knees and thighs.

“The jeweller was hit at eleven. Hung shortly after.”

The Australian looked hard at the man who had asked the question

“Both hits?” said another of the men.

The Australian turned his attention to the questioner.

“We can’t be certain. Hung of course. The jeweller…it may have been an accident. The driver didn’t try to run. But there are other considerations.”

“Who made the hit on Hung?” It was the large man again.

The Australian’s eyes followed the voices like a remote heat sensor.

“Unknown. But it’s being worked on. There is no doubt it was a cable though. The message was clear.”

The florid man frowned his brow and thick tangled hedges met in the middle of his face and dipped low over his nose. Still the Australian said nothing. The genius of the Russian music classic rose to a temporary crescendo and then just as quickly faded into near silence.

“The property?” The question was put by a slightly built youthful looking man at the end of the old sofa. It was the question each wanted the answer to but had been loath to ask for fear they would hear what they didn’t want to.

This time the Australian did not shift his gaze. He kept perfectly still as if composing himself for something unpleasant to happen. Finally he said flatly: “The jeweller had it when he was hit.” Now he faced the younger man directly: “An hour later at the morgue he didn’t.”

The large man jumped to his feet with surprising agility. “Shit!” he shouted. “It’s over then. They’ve got it.”

“Sit down,” said the Australian. Then again: “Sit…down.”

When the large man did as ordered the Australian gave him a bland stare which not show precisely what it was meant to convey but the man on the end of it understood. He studiously began examining the pattern of the Persian carpet at his feet.

“As I said,” the man in control of the meeting went on, “the jeweller had it when he was knocked down and he did not have it when he arrived at the morgue. It is interesting to note that the two men in the truck which killed him remained at the scene and made no attempt to flee, or one was happy to co-operate anyway. The driver was knocked unconscious and never got near the jeweller. He is in the QE hospital with concussion but minor injuries.”

“The other?” asked the younger man.

“He has been questioned and all his belongings checked in accordance with police routine. He did not have it. Nor did he leave the side of our man at any time.”

“Then it must have been lost at the scene.” The large man looked around the group. “Maybe someone, a bystander, just picked it up. Shit, maybe there’s some little old Chinese lady in a hut on a hillside with it sitting in a shoe box in the corner.” Suddenly he sprang to his feet again. “Who else got near the jeweller?”

The only person in the room who had not yet spoken now did so. He was seated next to the Australian as was his usual place at meetings. “The police, the ambulance bearers, and a pedestrian who went to his aid. In vain as it turned out because the jeweller died within minutes of being struck from our reports. He would hardly have had time to even realise that someone was actually trying to help him.”

“Maybe the police have it after all then?” It was the big man and his words were phrased as a question rather than a statement of opinion.

The Australian’s glare pierced him through and his retort was equally cutting. “Don’t be a fool. The Inspector was one of ours. He was covering Tang. He searched him immediately and checked his belongings again later. It wasn’t on him.”

“Well if Tang had it when he left and it as gone when he was searched that leaves only….” The sentence trailed off unfinished.

The young man looked squarely at the Australian. “Do we know who the Samaritan is?”

The stereo in the corner had become silent and the Australian moved across the carpet to it. He replaced the disc with another before he spoke. “His name is Simon Garrett. He’s English. A computer analyst.” He paused and as drums beat their heartbeat rhythm behind him and the room filled with their sound he breathed into the cool air. “We’ll have to see if this Simon Garrett has been meddling in things he shouldn’t.”

*

Ian Stewart had spent five years in Hong Kong and he knew it as well as any fellow Scot who had spent twice as long there. He prided himself that he was familiar with its psyche as distinct from the purely superficial façade as any gwai lo who referred to it as home.

When he had arrived fresh from the cold and historic stability of his native Edinburgh he was instantly captivated by the city’s zest for success, the impatience of the people to get on with life, the clamour of the place. The excitement was such that before he had begun the journey from Kai Tak International air terminal to the centre of Victoria on the island and then a coach that would take him to the Police Training School on the south side of the island an hour’s drive away he had resolved without hesitation not to be a passive observer but to become a part of it, to understand it, and to not waste a moment of the opportunities that presented themselves.

The approach from the air had been as it inevitably was for all new arrivals something he had not been prepared for in spite of the brochures he had consumed by lamplight in the weeks leading to his farewell to his parents. His heart leapt with the thump of the aircraft’s wheels on the Kai Tak airport runway. By the time he actually set foot in the Far East his decision was made. Hong Kong was really where he wanted to be and he determined he would use it, and put back into it, as best he could.

During the next five years he did precisely that. After his six months of basic training at the school in the old fishing village of Aberdeen, no longer bearing any resemblance to the quiet and rusticity of the past, he had made many new friends, could conduct a rudimentary conversation in Cantonese and was ready to take to the streets to help maintain law and order.

Everything seemed within his reach. Nothing was impossible in this place where five and a half million people rubbed shoulders so closely that one person’s experience was never his alone, and where a person could mature and grow at a pace unparalleled anywhere else on the face of the earth. Even if that was an exaggeration he believed it.

His postings followed one another reasonably quickly. First to a divisional station in Wanchai  where along with some of those he had undergone his training he joined Chinese constables and sergeants on routine beat patrol, then to Kowloon traffic headquarters across the harbour where he found himself cruising the streets of Tsim Sha Tsui and Yaumati and other districts whose names were until then only printed on maps and where he wrote up voluminous reports on road carnage, and on to the Central Investigation Department in the container port suburb of Kwai Chung handling robberies, woundings, prostitution, gambling, murder.

Finally twelve months ago he was transferred to the force’s highly successful and resourceful Narcotics Bureau and as a newly promoted Senior Inspector put in charge of a small team of rank and file, all Chinese. It was as if someone high up was sitting on his shoulder and acting as his guardian angel guiding his future along a path he prayed he would be lucky enough to tread. It was almost too good to be true. As was his life away from his work.

In his fourth year he had met and married a New Zealand teacher, he had mastered the second level of Cantonese, his bank balance was reasonably healthy despite the furnishings he had already amassed, and to cap it all he was now the father of a plump pink-cheeked baby boy who could not wait to crawl into his lap whenever he made it home in the early evening. Life had indeed moved ahead at a pace he could never have expected back home and he fully appreciated that it had been more than merely good to him.

The results of the previous night’s operations had followed the same pattern. The entire bureau had been mobilised to simultaneously raid one hundred premises the culmination of months of tiring, back-breaking stakeouts and intelligence gathering. It had been one of the largest hauls in the territory’s sordid history of narcotics dealing. One of the largest syndicates had been smashed with forty people arrested and vital information gathered on international trafficking patterns and personalities. Agencies in Europe, America and Australia would be kept busy in follow-up action for weeks and months to come.

Now in the early morning Stewart was sitting in the conference room of the Narcotics Bureau. Also present were the Chief Staff Officer of the Organised and Serious Crimes Squad, the Senior Staff Officer of the Criminal Intelligence Bureau, the Staff Officer in charge of investigations and operations of the Bureau itself, his immediate superior, the Chief Staff Officer of the whole bureau and heads of all the teams involved in the night’s work. It was a formidable array of brass. But then it had been a formidable success.

The debriefing had already lasted an hour and a half during which details of the operation had been recounted, report details revised, charges discussed and analysed, the follow-up action planned. Stewart was one of the small cogs in the whole wheel and he was excited. The bust was big and he had been an integral part of it, certainly no hindrance to a promotion to Chief Inspector he began to hope was not too far off, though in reality that was unlikely right now. Nevertheless he was not loath to speaking up so at one point in the debriefing his hand shot up.

“Sir, with all the good that has come from this there are some aspects which require clarification,” he proclaimed and then followed quickly with. “Sir.”

“Such as?” asked the bureau’s CSO.

“Well, this will certainly hit the Chiu Chows but we still haven’t laid a finger on the Mr Big of the organisation.”

“Obviously,” said the NB chief. “What are you suggesting Stewart?”

“Ahh, well, we’ve managed to identify a lot of people involved and we’ve picked up a few of the main people but still we haven’t been able to get to the top. We’re not even certain who might be at the top.”

“I know that,” the CSO was basking in his success and was not in any mood to tolerate anything which might dim the spotlight that was trained on him and his unit. “Again, what are you suggesting?”

“Well I don’t know exactly,” began Stewart defensively, “but shouldn’t we be concentrating harder on interrogation of those we have in custody. I mean, we have accomplished a good deal but it’s a bit like chopping a tree down. Unless we dig out the roots it’s just going to sprout up again.”

The NB chief pushed himself forward in his chair at the central table. “Horticulture now Stewart? Obviously we’ll be doing that. I don’t follow your line. Are you recommending something specific? Or what exactly are you saying based on your long experience?”

“Maybe nothing drastic. But the chemist my team apprehended did mention a few things. And I just wondered…”

“What things?”

“Well, the West Coast connection for one. And Soho as well.”

“Mr Stewart, in all major operations we hear about Soho and …..”

“I know that sir, but he also made reference to a man called the Shī fu and ….”

“Stewart please.” The chief was becoming slight annoyed. He had been in the job for nearly two years with many years’ experience in other branches of the force where he had been commended. What he didn’t need now was a junior officer telling him how to go about his job. “We’ve been hearing of this Shī fu for a year now. More. We know he exists. And as you know we’ve spent considerable manpower and time on it, but so far unfortunately we haven’t come up with anything concrete. So unless you have something new I suggest we concentrate on what we do have. That is, if you agree Mr Stewart.”

Stewart had gone so far he could not back down. He had to press on. “Of course sir,” he said. “It’s just that this chemist mentioned something that hasn’t come up before. I don’t think. I thought we might follow through on it.”

“Just what was that Stewart?”

“Something about a jade Buddha and bad luck for the Chiu Chows.” Stewart held his superior’s gaze. “He said he knew something would go wrong as soon as it was taken. My sergeant will confirm this. He seemed quite agitated over it. As though it might lead to something else.”

“If that was so, if he was so scared it could point somewhere especially for us, why did he mention it?”

“I don’t know sir. But he did and I thought we might check it out. I mean who knows where it might lead in connection with this operation.”

“Alright,” said the CSO with an audible sigh. “You and your team can follow it through. After you have done your reports on this. I want to get this operation out of the way first. I don’t want anything to interfere. You write your team’s side of this up first and then if you still feel there’s something in this jade Buddha thing track it down. But after. Understand?”

“Yes sir,” said Stewart. He had no more information than he had mentioned and knew he had pressed his luck as far as he could in the room, though somehow he felt in his gut that the chemist’s remarks were significant. He just did not know why or how but he would endeavour to find out.

*

When Simon Garrett arrived back at his office on the twenty-first floor of one of the twin grey skyscrapers on the reclaimed Wanchai waterfront he was in no mood for work. The image of the accident victim still lingered vividly in his mind. No matter how hard he tried to erase it there were moments when the spilled blood became more livid and the ashen flesh and smashed bones took on an even more gruesome pallor.

Practically the whole day had now slipped by. Not slipped, dragged. It was three thirty in the afternoon. For the last five hours he had done little but relive the shock of the accident over and over again. The word slaughter kept coming to mind. It was anything but a clean death. It had been noisy, bloody, shocking. Death was not new to him. He had seen bodies before but then they had passed from being human being, living and breathing, to being nothing more than inanimate objects. Corpses. This one involved him.

At the scene he had described the incident to the European police inspector and then stood by as the body was taken away in the ambulance. Then he was made to retell his story to a Chinese chief inspector who arrived in an Emergency Unit Land Rover who asked him to accompany him back to Wanchai police station where he was to make a formal report. It took almost two hours of sitting in a bare waiting room and then in a cluttered office dictating details to a constable who hammered his words heavily onto an aged typewriter before he finally scrawled his signature on each page and was released into the outside heat again.

He stood on the pavement confused with the odd sensation of not knowing where he was, what he was doing or whether he was the same person as before. It was a feeling he was unable to shake.

Garrett hung his jacket behind the office door, slumped into his chair and stared out his window at the crowded waterway and the Kowloon mainland below. Green and white Star ferries sliced their way back and forth carving their path between sampans, junks and tugs. All seemed grey. The day was grey. The water was grey. His outlook on life itself had turned grey. His telephone jangled and before his secretary could intercept the call he snatched it out of his holder.

“Yes,” he almost shouted.

“Simon?” said a male voice into his ear. “Is that you Simon? It’s me Andrew. Hello?”

“Oh hi Andy,” he answered.

“Are you alright? You sound like you’re half drunk. Had a long lunch? Where’s your girl Friday? Reduced to answering your own phone nowadays are we?”

“What? Oh yes. Well, sometimes. What’s up? What can I do for you?”

“Christ don’t sound so enthusiastic. I was going to suggest a jar after work but you sound so bloody boring I think I might as well hang up. What the hell’s wrong?”

Garrett switched the phone to his left ear.  “A beer sounds great Andy. I’ve had a shit of a day and right now I think the antidote is about a dozen pints of Carl-se-berg.”

“What’s the problem?” asked his friend. “Got a virus in the system?”

“If only,” he sighed. “I’ll tell you about it later. Where do you want to meet? Somewhere with a bit of life for a change eh? I want somewhere I can enjoy the booze, admire the ladies and probably get pissed out of my mind.”

“Oh oh. OK I’ll phone home and tell the bride not to wait up. The Jockey at five thirty.”

The instrument went dead and Garrett returned his attention to the silent activities in the harbour. Already the outline of the body was beginning to form again.

*

The Jockey was one of a number of pseudo English pubs that sprang up after the end of the Vietnam War changed drinking habits and moved resident clientele away from the girlie bars to more sedate upmarket atmospheres where the talk was more of finance and politics and the like. At least until much later in the night when bars in the older red light district again took charge. But these places still existed in minimum numbers as a good deal of what was once known as the Suzie Wong district of Wanchai had changed over the years and became home to modern bistros, bars and clubs where suited men and women gathered in lively chatter, drinking straight from light green bottles of beer. The Jockey was indicative of how the territory matured and adapted over the years in its social habits.

Born in the entrepôt  image and raised successfully on the single philosophy of importing raw goods, changing them into something different and then reselling them Hong Kong grew from childhood to adolescence over its first century. Its cheap labour force and desire for wealth carried it through its formative years despite a worldwide reputation for goods of shoddy quality. It took a war to push it further ahead in international markets. But unlike nations which rebuilt from ruin Hong Kong benefitted from protectionist measures imposed by others. The Korean War was a godsend in disguise though at the time it was perceived as anything but. Export quotas led to an immediate search for other sources of profit. Traders had shrugged off the millers of Lancashire in north-west England but could not be so cavalier with the global onslaught. So they industrialised and as always adapted.

For nearly thirty years success followed success and all the time the move was towards quality rather than quantity. By the eighties the Vietnam War had pushed Hong Kong into the forefront of tourism and granted new life to a striving workforce. Others wanted things Hong Kong. Hong Kong worked to provide them. The money kept rolling in.

However this most unpopular and divisive and bloody war of the twentieth century also helped launch other Asian nations. Sleeping dragons awakened and Hong Kong was forced to not just recognise but also accept the future threat and acted to protect itself. Cheap plastic toys and unlabelled clothing made way for fabrics of the finest cut and the microchip. Hong Kong in less than a generation had achieved what the great powers of the world had laboured over for hundreds of years. So it was that the late eighties and early nineties found the society of less than six million one of the most prosperous on earth and a world leader in finance, garment exports, shipping and a host of other areas. The once seamy streets of Victoria on the Island and the Kowloon waterfront had been cleared to make way for gleaming steel and glass towers of pride. Hong Kong had not only arrived on the international scene it was determined to stay there no matter what it took.

The political upheavals surrounding the inevitable handing over by Britain of its most cherished colony to China in 1997 was ever present but it did not slow the drive for progress and wealth. To the contrary, the community switched into higher gear resulting in a pace of life that left the less strong even weaker in competitive staying power. The human generator grew red hot. It was a race not merely to survive. It was a race to win. The territory had encountered economic setbacks like practically every other country, most of them much larger, it was now once again a world economic power with all the consequent attributes: Staggering property prices, a high general cost of living, regeneration and greening of inner city areas, gigantic high-rise housing developments that obliterated what was once tree covered hillsides.

Simon Garrett was an inconsequential participant in the rat race. He accepted this in the full knowledge that he could get out at any time he wished but what he would not accept was that because he was a foreigner, a gwai lo, he did not belong.

His twenty years in Hong Kong gave him the right and god help anyone who tried to deny him that right. His involvement in the horrific accident of that morning had only reinforced that view. Whether he was Chinese or a foreigner meant nothing when he came down to it. He was there. He saw it. He was in the middle of it. He had a responsibility thrust upon him and that onus transferred to him the right he believed in.

“Jesus, you wouldn’t believe what that truck did to the guy,” he told his friend. “It just smashed him up. What I saw was not a man any longer. It was pulp.”

“It happens every day in this town Si,” his friend replied. They were standing outside under an awning and he lit a small cigar and held in the smoke while taking a long draught from his bottle of beer. “Somewhere, now, some poor sod is being killed by a maniac behind the wheel of a bus or a car or another of those fucking trucks or a train. And none of them are pleasant.”

Garrett did not argue. “I know that. The difference with this one is that I was there. I was this close from his face.” He indicated the roadway a few feet away. “Or what was left of it.”

They went inside and continued to drink in silence for a time his friend glancing around the large room. A few of the barmaids were appealing in a buxom sort of way one in particular having caught his eye.

“What about the Chinese,” he asked distractedly. “He tried to rough you up a bit did he?”

Garrett followed his friend’s gaze. “Not exactly,” he said. “It was odd actually. I was bending over the guy on the road .. it made me sick to my stomach because as I said his eye was hanging out .. and then this other guy pushed me out of the way.”

“But he didn’t try to hit you or anything?”

”No. Just his hands all over me and a bit of a shove. I thought for a moment he was after my wallet.” He paused. “Oh shit.”

“What?”

“My wallet. It’s in my coat. I left it at the office. I’ve got no money on me.”

His friend looked stern. “The things you’ll do to get out of buying a drink. Don’t worry I’ll stand you tonight. You can fix me up tomorrow or whenever.”

“Alright,” said Garrett. “Lend me five hundred. We’ll have one more here and then move on. This is a bit quiet.”

“Jesus I was just about to propose marriage or something to that one over there.”

“Forget it. Her husband is probably solid muscle from hairline to heel and would love turning you to mush.”

“You’re right. OK one more and then we’ll move up the hill.”

Up the hill this night meant a short taxi ride to establishments in the Mid-levels or on other occasions a gentler ride up the long escalator from the Central district. In the evening until the early hours of the morning it came alive with bars and clubs and restaurants with names like Barolo, Varga Lounge, Angel’s Share, Barco Bar, Dharma Den, Drop, Joyce Is Not Here (though it was said she often did hang out there), Ling, Marouche, and a host of others.

By three o’clock they had joined two other friends in a place called Medusa. Medusa was tucked-away in one of the side streets and was billed as a cosy neighbourhood lounge that evoked “a sense of sophistication, from the softly lit baroque interiors to the Caravaggio signage and classical portraits”. True to its word Garrett and his friends had decided it was an excellent haunt to secret themselves for a quiet end for the evening.

At five one of the group said in common parlance which mangled Cantonese with English: “Yat for the do. Then I’m off.”

“You’re right,” said Garrett and then after one more bottle of beer. “I’m done.”

Outside he hailed a cruising taxi and thirty minutes later it drew up outside his building on the Peak. He paid the driver and lurched somewhat unsteadily up the path to the entrance. The key turned easily in the lock of the second floor flat and the door sprang open out of his hand. It took him a moment to regain his balance and turn to close it. But before he could two Chinese men appeared from further along the landing and one shoved him into the room while the other shut the door behind them.

“Who the hell are you?” demanded Garrett. His head was fuzzy with alcohol and his eyes were heavy but he quickly focused clearly on the two men. They were dressed in denim trousers, open neck shirts and denim jackets. Subconsciously he imagined that they would have had perfect street cred if they were back in the Seventies. The one who had shoved him looked around the room. The other stood with his back to the door a revolver gripped tightly in his right hand the short black barrel pointed at Garrett’s chest.

“What do you want/?” he asked. “If it’s money you’ve picked the wrong place.”

“Be quiet Mr Garrett,” said the nearest Chinese. “Don’t shout or call for help or my friend will kill you.” He glanced around the room again and said: “I mean it. Sit over there and answer a few questions.”

Garrett backed over to a sofa in the corner of the room. “How do you know who I am? What do you want?”

The man asking the questions followed him as far as the centre of the room while the other inched to the side so he could keep Garrett in his sights. As Garrett looked up at them the one who had spoken said evenly: “You have something of ours and we want it back. Give it to me and we’ll leave. Nobody will get hurt, just hand it over and we’ll go.”

“What?” asked Garrett. His heart was beating fast and he was now completely sober. “What have I got that belongs to you?”

“Give it to me Mr Garrett.” The Chinese’ voice remained calm and he didn’t move.

”I don’t know what you’re talking about. What could I possibly have that belongs to you?”

The man slowly approached. When he was standing directly in from of him he brought his knee sharply into Garrett’s face. Garrett felt his jaw crunch as he instinctively twisted sideways. His head jerked back and he rolled across the sofa. He tasted blood but he sat up again his hand pressed to his face.

“Where is it Mr Garrett?” asked the Chinese.

“Jesus Christ,” he blurted. “I don’t know what you’re talking about. I don’t even know who you are.”

The Chinese raised his knee again. Garrett dodged to the side but the man’s fist slammed into his left cheek.

This time Garrett stayed down, his face in the cool cotton of the sofa. Then slowly he sat upright once more. “Look,” he gulped through the pain to his face and the throbbing in his temples, “stop hitting me. You say I’ve got something you want. Tell me what it is and if I do have it I’ll get it for you. Just tell me what it is.”

”I’m going to ask one more time Mr Garrett,” the Chinese said. Ridiculously Garrett could not help but be surprised at how well his attacker spoke English. His jaw ached like hell, his face and lips hurt and his head felt as if it had swollen to twice its size. He feared for his life but at the same time he noted the man had not the slightest trace of an accent. English sounded like his mother tongue. “Where is it?”

Garrett was about to say something but he wasn’t even sure what when there were voices from outside and the sound of a key in the front door. The next instant the door opened and in the frame stood a tall blond woman. Behind her two young men stood smiling. Their smiles vanished and the woman froze at the scene.

Garrett lunged forward and shouldered the Chinese in front of him. “Look out,” he yelled.

His attack had been surprisingly hard but the man deflected its full force. He wheeled and raced from the flat with his accomplice not that far behind.

The woman and the two men outside dashed into the room. None gave chase as the two Chinese disappeared down the staircase.

 “Si, what happened?” The woman was leaning down over him on the carpet her hand on his forehead. “What’s been going on here? What happened to you? Who were those men?”

“Where are they? What happened to them?” Garrett sat up straight.

“Good heavens look at your face.” The woman gently touched his split lips which made him wince. “They’ve gone. They ran out. Are you hurt badly?”

“Of course I’m bloody hurt,” he barked. “Those bastards attacked me.”

”Why?” asked one of the men who were neighbours a few flats away.

“I don’t fucking know. They burst in here and said I’d stolen something of theirs.”

“What? Did they say what?”

“I don’t bloody well know and they didn’t bloody well say.” Garrett rose and fell back onto the sofa. “Look. Thanks you guys. You probably saved my life just now. I think they were crazy enough to kill me.”

“I’ll go and phone the police,” said his neighbour.

“No,” said Garrett. “I’ll do it. Let me clean up a bit and I’ll phone them myself. I’ll be OK.”

“You will not,” interrupted the woman. “You sit there and let me clean your face. David can telephone the police as he said. They’ll then go out and see if those animals are still around. I want no argument from you. You’re in no fit state to do anything.”

Garrett thought of protesting but didn’t. He rested his head back and closed his eyes and wondered what on earth the two attackers thought he had in his possession that was worth killing him for.

 

 

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