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16

Emily left Wong in the lobby of the China Club to refresh herself in the ladies room. She checked her Longines gold watch: 2:45. She had five minutes to reach the new Bank of China, which was ten minutes away walking slowly in the heat. It didnt matter that she would be a little late; punctuality was something Communists rarely worried about.

She checked her face in the mirror, smoothed her blouse over her sore breasts, took the lift down to the ground floor. At the new Bank of China building she showed her ID card to the old man at reception, who telephoned up to the top floor. She was shown to a private lift at the back of the building. Unlike the lifts in the public lift bank, it stopped on only one floor: the top.

Fear made her stomach flutter. The meeting with Wong had not gone as well as she had hoped. His news about the pregnancy of his wife had taken her by surprise and made it difficult to talk about money and murder. The fact was, she had little to report, except that in the end Jonathan Wong would do whatever she told him to do.

She stepped out at the top floor. As a state-owned bank the Bank of China was more than a commercial branch of the PRC; it was a center of intelligence gathering and surveillance as important in its own way as the New China News Agency, which functioned as the PRCs consulate in Hong Kong. The new bank building had been designed to accommodate visiting cadres. There was a sauna room, Jacuzzis, large bedrooms with videos and televisions, a huge kitchen that was manned twenty-four hours a day and a cocktail area with the best views of Hong Kong that money could buy. Better, the new Bank of China was the tallest building in Central. From the start it was envisaged that the Peoples representatives would not suffer during their frequent visits to the despised British colony.

She was shown upstairs to the glass-enclosed cocktail area on the roof of the building, where the old man was waiting. Seventy stories below, toy cars sped along Connaught Road; tiny ships lay at anchor in the harbor; the richest city on earth lay at the feet of the seventy-year-old man lounging in an Italian leather-and-chrome armchair. The owner of possibly the largest personal fortune in the world after the sultan of Bruneis, he wore an open-neck shirt of the kind that could be bought in Stanley Market, khaki slacks. His worn sneakers rested on a suede footstool hand-stitched out of brown and beige triangles.

He did not rise to greet her. Nor did he offer her one of the cigarettes that he shook out of a flimsy pack: Imperial Palace, unavailable outside the PRC.

So?

She took a seat opposite him, sat straight, tried to attract his attention. Some kind of sexual chemistry might have been useful in these interviews, but he had never shown the slightest interest. His age didnt help either. Mass murderers do not necessarily mellow with the passage of time. His wiry form reminded her of a ginseng root. She recognized in it the will of her people at its crudest. Her striking looks, enlarged breasts, billions in assets, the respect she was able to command throughout Hong Kong and anywhere else in the world where money was revered had no effect at all on this ugly old man. Still without looking at her, he started to pick his nose.

You had lunch with your little friend the lawyer?

Yes.

And?

I told you, hell do whatever we want.

Yes, that I already know. How did you develop the matter today? Thats what interests me.

Ill phone him in a day or two; hell come to see me at my house. If youre really serious about this.

The old man grinned. What could be more serious than five hundred million American dollars?

In cash? Its pure provocation.

He laughed with a whinny like a horse. Not provocation. Convenience. Im tired of these gweilo games. Why should we hide anymore? With only two months to go, weve won already. Now we can start enjoying the victory.

I know. I guess I dont understand why you need to move five hundred million again so soon. Less than a month ago you also moved half a billion dollars.

An expression of intense fury passed over the old mans face. He caught himself. Id forgotten Id told you. There was no laundering involved on that occasion. We were paying for something. In cash. This next consignment I want to be clean and official. There are still parts of Hong Kong we havent yet bought.

Emily breathed in deeply. I cant think what.

The old man twisted his features into a smirk. Now, tell me, this interesting piece of luck with that detective-did you explore it at all?

The only lucky part is that Chief Inspector Chan is Jonathan Wongs brother-in-law. The rumor is that Chan himself is a dedicated fanatic, who hates Communists. I dont know what you expect Jonathan to do.

Do? Theyre in the same family, arent they? Your friend is rich; the detective is poor. How much does he want?

She watched while he took a long draw on his cigarette.

I told you, hes dedicated. I dont think he takes money.

The old man kicked the footstool away, turned to look at her for the first time. Everyone takes money. Anyway, hes half Chinese, isnt he? He laughed again, then made a long retching noise in his throat. About to spit, he remembered that there was no spittoon. He swallowed instead. Cuthbert will have to deal with it.

He wont. Aiding and abetting isnt part of the deal; you know that. Hell turn a blind eye, but thats all hell do.

The old man had a way of looking with one eye closed, immobile as a lizard on a rock.

Are you telling me we may be driven to something more decisive?

Emily felt her cheeks burning. She rose, stood directly in front of the old man, who blinked.

Cant you people get it through your skulls that you cant just kill everyone who gives you trouble? Yes, Im daring to yell at you; are you going to kill me too?

He laughed then. Who said anything about killing? I want the little detective to carry out his investigation. I want to know who died in that mincer. I want him to tell me first-perhaps exclusively.

He stared at her. She felt the fear again, a sense of doom in the pit of her stomach. Never raise your voice to a psychopath. She sat on the footstool, kept her eyes below his.

Im sorry. Everyone thinks you had them killed. Give me another few weeks. Ill see what I can do. I have a few ideas.

The old man sneered at her. What ideas?

Wong needs to get to know his brother-in-law better first. Theyre not great friends. Ill try to set it up.

The old man grunted. Its not urgent until the little detective gets close. I want to know what happened to those three before Cuthbert is told. He stared at her. Dyou still fuck him? He smirked at her discomfort. Pity. You could have kept me informed about how much he knows, our little English diplomat. Theyre going to make him Sir Milton Cuthbert when he goes back in July. If youd managed to marry him, you would have been Lady Cuthbert. He sniggered.

I dont understand. Why are you so interested in those killings if you didnt do it? It was probably just triads; people like that get snuffed out.

The old man turned his face away from her. Maybe. See what you can do about the detective anyway-make friends with him, find out what stage hes at. Fuck him if you have to. And as far as the five hundred million is concerned, I expect results. Its been hanging around for too long. You dont want to lose those development rights along the Pearl River, do you? You have a lot of money riding on that. All your money, taking the personal guarantees into account. I dont think you want to be poor.

Seeing the expression on her face, he laughed again.

When she had gone, the old man picked up a telephone on a coffee table near his left hand, told his secretary whom he wished to speak to. When the telephone rang, he began speaking immediately in Mandarin, his voice heavy with condescension. At the end of the conversation he said: By the way, dont impersonate me again. I want this investigation to continue. I want to know who died and who did the killing. His reply to the question that followed was to hang up. After a moments thought he pressed the intercom button again. Get me the other Englishman, the one in London. And stay on the line; Ill need you to translate.


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