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Mongkok is the most populated part of the earth; Chan supposed it offered humans what the caves of North Borneo offered bats: low rent, zero unemployment, refuge from predators. Ninety percent of those who lived there had either fled the PRC or were the children of parents who had fled. With numbers of refugees during the Cultural Revolution reaching tens of thousands per week there had been no time for town planning. The residents were thankful that the sewage system was still functioning.

Every Chinese clan or tribe was represented, from the Muslims of Kashgar in the west to the Chiu Chow from Shantou in the south, from Mongols of the far north to Shanghainese from the coast. Then there were Sikhs from the North-West Frontier, Gurkhas from Nepal, Filipinos, English, American, French. Japanese was the only nationality Chan never came across in Mongkok. There was no golf course.

Many buildings were illegal structures, and those that were not housed illegal businesses. Restaurants flourished over pet shops; car repair workshops ventilated dry cleaners with exhaust fumes; clothing factories the size of living rooms produced copies of designer brands as good as the original; garages housed watchmakers who would produce a thousand copies of any timepiece you liked within forty-eight hours. Pharmacies sold prescription drugs whether or not you had a prescription, and there wasnt a narcotic in existence that you couldnt buy if you knew where to go. Chan and the other homicide detectives agreed in private that theirs was the easier job on the force. Suppose you were trying to stop drugs, smuggling or forgery when your suspect list included every inhabitant?

Mongkok Police Station dominated the corner of Prince Edward and Nathan roads. As far as Chan knew, Edward was the English queens youngest son, who had yet to turn his private life into an international soap opera; he had no idea who Nathan was: someone grand, white and elsewhere, no doubt. The white mans genius for misnaming the lands he stole was well documented: New York for the Algonquians country; George Town for everything that was not called Victoria or Albert; America for an Italian who thought he was in India. Did Edward and Nathan know they were trampled day and night by a million larcenous Asians? Or care? He and Aston emerged from the station gate into the crowds and were instantly separated. Like the corpses in the vat, they found it hard to maintain the frontier of self; the river of bodies took you, a corpuscle in a hemorrhage of humans gushing through streets, sidewalks, alleys, basements, shops, buses, cars, taxis. Lunchtime was a locust storm of people choking every orifice of the city, and Chan was suddenly part of it, indistinguishable. Thank god for DNA, the inner proof of personal existence, though rats had it too. He bought his cigarettes from his usual street corner vendor, waited for Aston at the underground.

Aston was searching for him, trying to see over the crowds. They descended the escalator together, slipped through the queues. The underground railway was the only form of transport not gridlocked at this time of day.

On the train the benches were stainless steel. Without other passengers a person would slide from one end to the other, but that circumstance seldom occurred. Chan and Aston were locked in standing position, every motor option paralyzed by the pressure of other bodies. Only eye muscles could move without restraint. Chan found his face twisted slightly upward, condemned to read the underground map over and over. English colonial names competed with Chinese names and lost: Lai Chi Kok, Waterloo, Diamond Hill, Mongkok, Tsim Sha Tsui, Tsuen Wan, Choi Hung.

From Admiralty they walked. The crowds over on Hong Kong Island were less ferocious, but not much. The four-building complex of Arsenal Street Police Station with its conical gun towers grafted onto the perimeter walls of the compound was a magic castle where a policeman could find refuge from the surging masses. It had air conditioning too.

Chan paused for a moment in the reception area in Arsenal House. He had asked for three-dimensional impressions of Polly, Jekyll and Hyde, in the form of plaster busts. This was expensive, and hed expected to be refused. But the request form had returned the same day with an endorsement by the commissioner himself.

He telephoned Angie, the forensic artist, whose studio formed part of the corridor occupied by the identification bureau, then asked a female constable at reception to ring down to forensic. The dentist, a part-timer who ran his own private practice two blocks away, was waiting for them. They took a lift, emerged into a government issue corridor: linoleum the color of lead, cream paint that had oozed down the walls like lava and dried in waves. At the end was a door marked Government Laboratory.

The lab had its own reception. The options were odontology, toxicology, forensic anthropology, serology. The ballistics and firearms identification bureau was in another building. For disciplines not in frequent demand it was still possible for experts to be brought in on retainer from outside government service, which was the case with odontology, although over the years the government laboratory had built up an autonomous expertise in most branches of forensic science.

Dr. Lam was in the small laboratory off the reception area. Chan noticed the white coat, thick lenses, hard features of an old pro indifferent to pain. Other peoples anyway. Three plastic jaws were laid out on a Formica bench top. Each jaw carried a neat red tag with a number printed in black. A copy of his report was open next to them.

How can I help?

Chan lit a cigarette, saw a no smoking sign, put it out, twitched instead. Great report, really good. It helps us a lot. Just a couple of questions. I mean, we need to know the state of the teeth-what dyou call it? the dental profile?-before they were tortured and killed. We also need to know about any damage to the teeth and jaws that happened during the murder. Never at ease with strangers, he looked at Aston. Right?

Aston nodded. And the numbers. Were not too clear about them.

Numbers? Dr. Lam frowned. He flicked through his report. What numbers?

Aston took out his copy, read: 31, 32, 16, 17 all have amalgam missing.

Lam looked from Aston to Chan. You never had to deal with forensic odontology before?

Chan cleared his throat and stopped himself on the point of reaching for a cigarette again. Not really. Not in Mongkok. People bite each other only rarely. For identification, victims usually have identity cards, fingerprints. Now, ask me about fingerprints. Loops, deltas, ridge counts, bifurcations, islands, tented arches, ulnar loops. See, usually we know who the victim is, we just dont always know who did it.

Lam pushed his spectacles up to the bridge of his nose. They were so thick both eyes were magnified and distorted. It was like looking at two oval fish in a tank.

I see. Look.

From a briefcase he took out a laminated diagram of a human mouth. Its easy. Easier than fingerprints. The human mouth has thirty-two teeth. Half of them grow from the top part of the jaw, called the maxilla; the other half from the mandible. Half of them are on the right, the other half on the left. Clear so far? So, the convention is to count from upper right to upper left, then from lower left to lower right. That way the upper third molar number one crunches against the lower third molar number thirty-two. The Caucasian female had fillings missing or seriously eroded from most of her molars.

Does that indicate violence?

Not at all. It indicates neglect. In her youth she had some first-class dental work performed on her mouth. Later she stopped going to a dentist. You have to look elsewhere for signs of violence. He picked up the larger of the three jaws. Here.

He fitted the jaw around his left hand, opened it, pointed at the upper and lower front teeth with an index finger. I had these plastic replicas made up of the deceaseds jaws. See, all four central incisors broken. He scraped the teeth with his finger. The plastic bones vibrated like a cracked tuning fork. In the actual mouths the remains of all four incisors are still sharp. Not yet worn smooth by use. The breakages are therefore recent. Now, look again.

He replaced the jaw on the table with a rattle. The two parts fell open in a grin. He picked up another set, showed the same damage. There was similar damage to the third. All three victims had suffered breakages to all four front teeth.

Chan scratched his head. Mind if I smoke? Theres no one else here.

Lam shrugged. Go ahead. But its bad for your teeth. Leaves a heavy deposit that fosters decay.

Chan lit up, inhaled gratefully. Of all the drugs, nicotine hit the brain quickest. Hed read that somewhere.

Doesnt make a lot of sense, does it? I mean, if you want to beat someone up, fine. A woman is especially sensitive to damage to her mouth, any part of her face. But if your intention is to murder three people by grinding them up in a mincer, why begin by breaking their front teeth?

Lam sat back and placed his small hands over his stomach. Behind the spectacles Chan deduced self-love fed by professional snobbery.

I dont think anyone broke their teeth.

Hows that? Chan drew again on the cigarette, hoping it would help him to keep up.


Lam took up the larger of the three jaws in his left hand as before. He opened it wide. Holding it in that position, he walked across the lab to a small bookshelf with glass doors. He slid open one of the doors, returned with a book. He placed the book in Pollys mouth. He made her chomp down on the book.

You see, broken, the teeth make a relatively level bite. The incisors dont protrude beyond the other teeth.

So? Youre saying all three victims bit on the same piece of stone hidden in their noodles?

Calmly Lam sat down, still holding the book and jaw. Think about it. As we know, they were minced up. Alive. He closed the jaw down again on the book. Minced up alive. The dentist looked from one to the other to see if either had caught his meaning.

Chan caught Astons shudder. He could see understanding dawn in the young man who loved women; and after understanding, rage and revulsion. Chan too could hear her screams, those piercing screams they tried to suppress by placing something hard-wood, metal or plastic-between her jaws. When the pain reached an extreme pitch, she didnt notice that she was biting so hard she had broken her beautiful white teeth.

It was cold in the lab with the air conditioning. Cold and damp. Aston, who had turned white, looked as if the walls were closing in on him. Chan gripped his arm.

Go upstairs. Get some air. Ill see you in a minute.

When he had gone Chan picked up another jaw, fitted it over his thumb and forefinger, closed it down on the wedge of his other hand.

All three?

Lam nodded.

It happened every time they gave Chan a recruit. Young Englishmen came to the East looking for adventure. What they lost was their virginity, that strawberries-and-cream innocence that had no counterpart anywhere in Asia. East of Athens even college kids knew that life was made of nuts and bolts, pain and suffering, hunger and rage. At least Aston was the last. Theyd stopped recruiting overseas in preparation for 1997.

He found him in the courtyard, but it wasnt the same boy. He seemed to have grown thinner in five minutes. And about ten years older. That youthful bounce that everyone found so charming had finally hit Asian steel and burst. The blue eyes were unfocused; the mouth was pinched, the skin an ugly puce. Everyone snagged on his own special detail.

You okay?

A bit shaken, thats all.

Chan took out two cigarettes, lit them and gave one to Aston. Smoke, its good for you. Aston nodded doubtfully and took the cigarette. Really, it can settle your nerves.

He watched while the Englishman inhaled. A mild nicotine rush brought life back into the eyes. That dentists a cunt. He didnt need to do that.

Aston looked at Chan, wiped water from his eyes with his sleeve. Thanks, Chief.

Chan touched his arm. Why dont you wait here? I want to collect those busts if theyre ready.

Aston nodded. Chan hoped he wasnt going to be sick in the courtyard. He didnt mind, but there were other Chinese cops who would never let the Englishman forget it.

On the third floor, next to the identification bureau, the forensic artist, the Australian named Angie, kept a studio. Policemen liked to visit her. You wouldnt have described her as beautiful, but she glowed with a womanly softness that was beaten out of the female cadets in the first six months.

Instead of a desk, telephone and files, the FA had an easel, chalk, airbrush, charcoal, acetate paints and a lot of natural light. She worked as close to the window as she could. Under her hand the dead came to life, the unknown fugitive acquired features that could be shown to eyewitnesses. A sideline was cartoons that the men liked to show wives and girlfriends, proof that cops were human too.

Chan had persuaded her to draw Sandra in the early days of their marriage. He still had the sketch. Somehow it was more alive than all the photographs. Angie had caught her eyes: large, Caucasian, sly, hungry.

Ah, Angie said when she saw Chan. The man who thinks in three dimensions.

Chan smiled. Everybody liked Angie. Are they ready?

As it happens, yes. Itll cost you a beer, though. Havent done plaster busts for ages. Quite a challenge. Three dimensions just isnt the same as two, as Michelangelo pointed out. I was here at the break of dawn finishing them. Want to see?

Angie crossed the room to a heavy varnished cupboard. She took out three identical cardboard boxes, each apparently a perfect cube.

Turn your back.

Chan turned to face the window. He glanced at the sketch on the easel. A Chinese in his early forties with a low brow frowned out. There had been a number of rapes on a housing estate in Junk Bay; eyewitness accounts all mentioned the low brow and the frown.

Okay, you can look.

It was true, three dimensions were not like two. There was Polly on a table between her two Chinese companions, smiling, without a care in the world. Jekyll and Hyde were more serious but happy to be by her side. Somewhere in ancient Taoism it was said that all mans problems came from having a body. Well, these three didnt anymore.

Very good.

Angie smiled. She removed the wigs, put the busts back in their boxes, laid the wigs on top. Charlie, look, I know its been a while, but I was really sorry to hear about you and Sandra. I know how much she well, Im just sorry.

Chan shrugged. Its not easy being married to a cop. Not in Hong Kong.

Oh, dont blame yourself or the police. Look, its none of my business, but she was a wanderer. Nice, good-hearted, but a wanderer. Believe me, Im Australian. We dont know much, but we do know wanderers.

Chan took his eyes off the boxes to hold Angies smile. Men talked about her, adored her, even fantasized about her, but not in the usual way. Policemen thought they could be sane and happy with a woman like her: soft, big-hearted, overweight, unambitious, Australian. In Hong Kong underachievers were like gold.

Angie laid the boxes one on top of the other. He could carry them like that until he found help. Dont forget, you owe me a beer. She smiled.

Chan picked up the boxes, nodded. He hesitated. There was that housewarming party his sister insisted he go to. Her husband and his rich lawyer friends would be there. It would surprise them if he turned up with a woman. She would be someone to talk to at least. He put the boxes back on the table, pushed his hair back. He hadnt done this since Sandra left. He couldnt believe how hard it had become.

If youre free tonight, I have to go to a party. Its my sister; theyve bought a new apartment. We wouldnt have to stay. Id like it. I mean, Id appreciate it. It would be great if you would. We could slip away early and have a beer somewhere.

Angie smiled. That would be real nice, Charlie. Great. Look forward to it.

In the courtyard Chan gave two of the boxes to Aston to carry. The dignified thing would have been to find a police car to take them back over to the Kowloon side of the harbor, but even with the siren blaring it would take over an hour. From Angies studio he had seen how slowly the traffic was moving toward the tunnel. A siren couldnt move that kind of jam; there was nowhere for it to go. As they were walking along Lockhart Road, Chan caught sight of Riley in the back of a police car stuck in traffic. Chan pretended not to see his gesticulations.

Walking toward the underground, Aston almost dropped Jekyll and Hyde. Chan held Polly close in the press of people on the train.

| The Last Six Million Seconds | c