At his desk at Mongkok Police Station, Chan played with a black government ballpoint. As yet he had told no one about the American woman and her dental records except Lam, the odontologist. Ninety percent of detection was waiting. At his flat Moira Coletti was waiting too. On the other side of the office Aston sat at his desk, also waiting.
There was a knock on the door. Chan looked at Aston. In Mongkok nobody knocked.
“May I come in?”
Riley’s face was almost featureless, like a description by a myopic witness. On it he inscribed the mood of the moment. He was tall, slim, stooped with hands that flapped at the wrists.
“Good morning, sir,” Aston said.
“Morning, Dick.” Riley rubbed his hands together. “Morning, Charlie. Nei ho ma?”
“Fine, how are you?” Chan did what he could to discourage the chief superintendent’s Cantonese.
Chan looked at Aston.
“It’s Cantonese,” Aston explained, “for ‘good.’ ”
“Oh-ho ho. I’m ho ho too. Dick-ho ho?”
Aston busied himself with The Murder Investigator’s Bible.
“I was just passing,” Riley said. “I thought I’d pop in.”
Chan waited. It was important to know which Riley one was dealing with.
“Heard you’re having a little trouble with the investigation. Perhaps a little brainstorming would help?”
Chan lowered his head in a controlled nod. “Sure.”
Riley stood in the middle of the room. Chan stared at him. He was not sadistic by nature; it was rather that self-doubt was the only part of Riley he could relate to. The temptation to draw it out was usually irresistible.
“D’you know what DNA stands for?” Chan asked with a smile.
“Deoxyribonucleic acid.” Riley smiled back.
Chan bit his lip: Never underestimate an Englishman in a quiz. “We already have the results of the PCR.”
“The heads fit the bodies in the vat.”
Riley’s face lit up. “That’s what the PCR says? Excellent! Bob’s your uncle! The crime’s as good as solved.”
“Not quite. All we’ve done is restore three heads to three bodies. Their ghosts can rest in peace. On the other hand, both the minced and the unminced share the same anonymity. Faceless, you might say.” Chan let a beat pass in case Riley wanted to change personalities. “The DNA doesn’t tell us their names, you see.”
Riley blinked. “Sure, sure.” He wrung his hands. “What about fingerprints?”
Chan scanned the room for a moment, saw that Aston was suffused with a sympathetic blush, then returned his attention to Riley. He held up both hands. “No fingers, no prints.”
Riley’s beam leaked like a punctured tire. “Quite.” He wrung his hands again. Sweat exploded in small pods over his forehead. “Anyway, you’re making progress. That’s what counts.” He twisted in his seat, searched the wall for relief from Chan’s gaze. “Triads.”
Aston lowered his book.
Chan watched the two gweilos exchange a common gleam. He remembered the adage: Put three Chinese together and you have two conspiracies; two Anglo-Saxons and you have a secret club.
“Did you know that Sun Yat-sen was a Four-eight-nine?” Aston asked. Chan noticed how anxious he was to relieve the chief superintendent’s discomfort. There was a social worker in most Englishmen.
“I’m going to buy some cigarettes,” Chan said. “Then I’m going to the scene of crime.” He turned to Riley. “Why don’t you join me there?”
Chan was prepared to bet that the “scene of crime” was the only empty space in Mongkok. The building was about eight years old, ten reinforced concrete floors suspended from a reinforced-concrete structure 130 feet high. For the owners it was a 96,000-square-foot money box. At the lift area on the eighth floor police No Entry signs painted on barricades that rested on trestles still guarded all four gates. Chan had calculated that the owners must be losing ten thousand Hong Kong dollars a day in rental income.
Moving the barricade to one side, he pushed open one of the large steel doors.
He called out just in case Riley and Aston had already arrived. There were no windows; his greeting fell into a black void. He remembered a heavy-duty switch at shoulder height on the wall near the entrance. All over the floor fluorescent tubes flickered into life. Over the area where the vat had stood the strip light flashed on and off and made a sound like hornets buzzing. At the far corner Chan found a stepladder with the letters RHKPF engraved on every step. He carried it to the chalk square that marked the position of the vat at the time of first discovery, climbed up to extract the fluorescent cylinder. It was held by two plastic clips containing the electrical outlets. He pulled out a long plastic plate to reveal the starter and electric cord above it. Next to the starter someone had taped a small plastic bag. He used a handkerchief to remove the bag. There was a movement on the far side of the warehouse near the door.
Riley’s Cantonese reminded Chan of a cat fight.
Aston followed Riley to the center of the empty floor. They stood under Chan’s stepladder. A patina of sweat covered Aston’s face. Lakes stained the chief superintendent’s shirt under the arms and contributed to the inland sea on his back. Chan replaced the plastic strip and the light. He held the handkerchief with the plastic bag in one open palm while he descended. He showed them the bag, then snatched it away from Riley when he tried to touch it.
“Prints,” Chan said.
Cradled in his handkerchief, he held the bag up to the light. A white powder too fine for sugar or salt, too coarse to be flour. If Riley was the next person to speak, it was number four heroin.
“What is it?” Riley said.
“My guess is number four heroin. Pure. Finest quality. But we’ll have to check with forensic.”
“Funny it wasn’t found before.”
“The tube wasn’t flickering before.” Chan disguised his professional shame with an aggressive tone.
He picked up the ladder. As he did so, he noticed the blue-black corpses of beetles scattered around the perimeter of the white rectangle. The light caught them and transformed them into tiny iridescent carapaces, like beads from a broken necklace. He saw Riley staring at them too. He put down the steps, picked one up, beckoned to Riley.
“Clue,” Chan said. Riley blinked. “The beetles told us the remains had been here for about seven days. Day one, flies arrive to deposit larvae. Word passes to the ants, who eat the larvae. The ants attract the wasps. By day five or six the feast’s in full swing. People who never gave dinner parties in death feed millions. Beetles are slow, though; it takes them about seven days to get here.” Chan held the beetle like a toy car. “Here they come now, trundling over rough terrain. The best has already been eaten, but they don’t mind. They prefer dry skin. When we took the vat away, they died of starvation.”
“We’ve been over the place with a fine-tooth comb,” Chan continued, tossing the beetle carcass back onto the floor. “We didn’t check light fixtures because we weren’t looking for drugs. We were looking for signs of struggle, ropes, gags, scuff marks, shreds of clothing, claw marks from fingernails, torn fingernails, blood traces. Not the sort of things you find in light fixtures. We found nothing. The place is as clean as a whistle.”
“Who owns it?”
“A small company owned by a family who run a Chinese restaurant in Albuquerque, New Mexico. They’ve all been in New Mexico for over a year waiting for citizenship.”
“They’re between tenants.”
“We checked them all.”
Chan took the stepladder back to the far wall, returned to where Riley and Aston were standing looking at the floor. He gripped Riley’s arm.
“See, this is how it works. We rope off the warehouse. We establish only one route to use to and from the scene of the crime. We assign an officer to guard the scene and record all persons coming and going. We photograph and videotape the whole scene. We divide the area into zones; we search each zone. We check doors and windows. Before leaving the area, we make a list of all license plates of vehicles in the area; we obtain the names of all businesses and persons working around here; we interview everyone in the vicinity.”
“You’ve been very thorough.”
“And what have you come up with so far?”
“Nothing. Except the heads that were spotted at sea-by a tourist.”
“The murders took place somewhere else. In Hong Kong or over the border-who knows? With lifting gear and a refrigerated lorry the vat could have come from a thousand miles away.”
Chan and Aston watched Riley walk to one of the far walls, his footfall echoing off the raw concrete. It was like watching someone walk to nowhere from nowhere. When he reached the wall, there was nothing to do but come back again.
“I see,” Riley said.
On the way out Chan looked again at the flickering light and shook his head. Normally he would have checked light fixtures. The stench from the vat had driven everyone to take shortcuts.
After agonizing, Chan slipped home midmorning with the case file. He was glad Moira had gone out. He’d said that she could stay another night-why not? He was hardly ever home. He’d given her a spare set of keys. She’d cleaned the flat during the morning, left a note to say she’d gone for a long walk.
After leaving Riley, he had been to see Dr. Lam. There was no doubt about it: Clare was Polly; Polly was Clare. Chan knew that a brave man would sit down with Moira, put his arm around her, tell her everything, absorb some of her pain.
He placed the file and a large bottle of scotch on the coffee table, left right away.