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Chan shook himself, walked to the foredeck holding on to railings, stood next to Higgins at the bows.

The floating gantry was in place; the tug was letting go of the ropes as they approached. The Hong Kong coast was perhaps a mile to the west; the coast of China about the same distance to the north. The political frontier was closer, though, just a few hundred yards. Apart from the gantry, the tug and the launch there was no sign of man at all.

As the launch slowed only the diminished chug of its diesel interrupted the primeval silence. They were just thirty miles from Hong Kong Island, but there was no real estate here that anyone wanted to develop, no mineral wealth, no highway to somewhere important. Except at night.

The launch slowed to a bare half knot, gliding through clear blue liquid that lapped the sides. The temptation to dive in, naked, was almost irresistible. He remembered a skinny Eurasian boy and his sister, not a stitch on, diving for clams every morning and evening throughout one long hot summer, their mothers cries echoing in his ears all the way from China, all the way underwater.

So, here we are. Higgins beamed.

This was what gweilos joined the force for, an adventure on some foreign shore under a tropical sun. No doubt thats why Paddy had come east thirty-six years ago. Thirty-six? He must be the same age now that his father had been when he deserted Mai-mai and them, a careless Irishman running from responsibility. Dirty Paddy.

On the gantry platform police divers were assembling air tanks. Chan was glad to see they had brought plenty. At 120 feet one tank didnt last long.

He jumped from the launch onto the platform, introduced himself to the two Chinese divers. They nodded respectfully to the chief inspector.

How many regulators did you bring? Chan asked.

Four, one each, one for the kit we leave under the gantry, one spare.

That was correct procedure, Chan remembered. If you dived more than thirty feet down, it was always a good idea to pause at fifteen feet to allow the nitrogen to evaporate from the blood before proceeding to the surface. But waiting for ten or more minutes at fifteen feet could be a problem after a deep dive when you wanted to use up every last ounce of air on the bottom. So good divers always left a tank rigged up with a regulator and a weight hanging from the bottom of the dive boat at about sixteen feet. That way two or more divers could hang there, sharing the air from the safety tank, for as long as the computer on your wrist required you to wait.

I do a little diving myself. Chan took out the laminated certificate. The two divers, professionals, exchanged glances.

You coming down?

Its up to you. Underwater youre the bosses-thats the rule. But if you dont mind.

They exchanged glances again. Its deep-about hundred and twenty. You been down that far before?

Sure. Once, when he was training for the certificate. You had to do one deep dive. He hadnt enjoyed it. Nor had his body.

The two divers were unsure. How to say no to a chief inspector?

See, Im looking at it as if it were scene of crime. Id like to look around.

Oh. Okay.

The Chinese Way was opposite to the English Way. Work justified everything.

| The Last Six Million Seconds | c