home | login | register | DMCA | contacts | help | donate |      

A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z


my bookshelf | genres | recommend | rating of books | rating of authors | reviews | new | | collections | | | add



22

That night Chan wore a white linen suit, an Italian silk tie, brown Italian leather shoes, a silk shirt hed had made in Hong Kong. Moira wore clothes shed bought that day: long silk dress, beige with faint mauve stripes; high heels; a new bra. She wore exactly the right amount of lipstick and mascara, but what Chan liked most was the perfume. It was faint, sophisticated, mature. Maturity was a curious thing. Sandra, his ex-wife, had had few vices, worn no makeup, committed no crimes, never drunk alcohol. And he had never fully trusted her. Moira was a thief and a liar, and he would not have been afraid to share his blackest secret with her.

In the womb of trust libido thrived. Sitting next to her in the back of the taxi, he slid his hand between the folds of her dress, tried to reach her nipples but was thwarted by the firm new bra.

Moira took his hand out, held it.

What happened to you today?

Nothing.

Just a scratch?

Whats that?

Something we say in the States, you know, like when a movie hero gets shot to pieces by the baddies and wanders into the saloon with blood pouring from twenty different holes in his body and the sheriff says, What happened to you? and the hero says, Oh, its just a scratch. I mean, why does the blood drain periodically from your face when you remember whatever it is you remember and why is your usual nervous twitch magnified by a factor of twenty and why are you suddenly as horny as a pubescent kid?

Chan thought it over. Personal directness was not part of Chinese culture. He had to work at it to do better. Because I nearly killed myself today and Im so damned glad to be alive if I hadnt promised to take you out for dinner, Id be at home fucking you to death.

Moira looked at the drivers reflection in the mirror. He didnt look as if he spoke English.

We could always turn around and go back. I mean, Ive got only one more day here, and I would hate to waste even a couple of hours-

Chan squeezed her hand. Im also hungry, need a drink and want to look at you across a plate of noodles.

Thats erotic for you?

No, just familiar. Every really good date I ever had started off with noodles.

Sorry if weve been putting the cart before the horse.

The taxi climbed from Central up Garden Road to Magazine Gap. Apart from Government House, a white colonial mansion crouching under apartment blocks at every corner, there was nothing left of the Hong Kong Chan had known as a kid. No traditional two-story flat-fronted Chinese houses with yellow walls and green shutters; no British barracks with pillared terraces, mosquito netting and red-faced chaps reading The Times with their feet up and sipping a gin and tonic; no Chinese girls in cheongsams, the long silk dress with splits up to the thigh; no compradors; no taipans; no rickshaws. Sometimes he wondered if he really did remember that old world from his youth or had merely read about it. But it had all happened there on the very slopes where five hundred apartment blocks now soared, each one reaching over the other for a view of the harbor. Harbor views could add a premium of 50 percent to the retail value of a flat; it was a cityscape sprung from a pocket calculator. Yet at night it was beautiful.

At the junction with Magazine Gap Road they turned and climbed more steeply. The driver switched off the air conditioning in favor of more power, Chan opened the window. They were just above the pollution level. Moira breathed deeply, moaned.

Its so balmy. In exactly thirty hours Im not gonna believe this ever happened.

On the flat saddle under Victoria Peak the driver switched the air conditioning back on. At the Peak Caf'e they were shown to the outdoor table Chan had booked; it was small, round and made of marble from the Philippines. Chan ordered champagne. It wasnt a real Chinese restaurant at all, although in an earlier incarnation it had been a teahouse for coolies who had dragged Englishmen and women up the ancient paths in sedan chairs. An American entrepreneur had renovated it into a chic international caf'e with international prices and one of the best views in the world.

Moira took it in with a long, slow sweep. Wow! Is this how Hong Kong detectives spend their spare time?

Chan screwed his eyes to slits: Velly old Chinese proverb: Too much workee make Wong dull boy.

Moiras eyes sparkled through the meal while Chan ate noodles with dumplings and she ate smoked salmon with warm nan and pesto, washed down with a bottle of Australian white wine between them. Chan wanted to ask if she needed more alcohol but didnt. He knew she knew he was waiting.

He paid the bill and led her to the footpath that circles the Peak and is walked at least once by everyone who visits the territory. They began at the harbor side. Two thousand feet below a man-made constellation sent light skyward in a million different clusters, a macrofax for extraterrestrials: This is wealth. The show lasted for about a mile, then began diminishing as the path bent around to the less developed side of the island. He found a bench with a view over Pok Fu Lam, held her hand while they sat down.

Moira gripped his palm. So, is this my moment?

I guess.

She cleared her throat. I brought some pictures. Telling stories is easier for me with visual backup. Heres the first.

She took some photographs out of her handbag, gave him one. It showed a young blond female cadet in the blue uniform of the New York Police Department. He noted the chiseled Irish jaw, the determined posture, the womanly shape despite the ugly uniform.

And this is me at about the same time out of uniform.

She was in an evening dress that reached halfway down her thigh and plunged between her full and youthful breasts.

Great tits, Chan said, practicing directness.

Dad spoiled me. He said I could have any man I wanted. Well, girls who can have any man they want generally pick the wrong one. Of all the guys chasing me in the department I picked Mario. He was a captain, the only one who hadnt been married before, or wasnt still, but thats not why I chose him. I fell for him like-oh, like all serious girls fall sooner or later. Can I have one of your cigarettes?

Chan offered her the open box, took one for himself, lit both.

Well, I have to backtrack to tell you why I joined the NYPD. I joined because it was the religion I was brought up with. My father was a captain, three of my brothers were already on the force, one of them a sergeant, and we were that other kind of Irish family you dont hear too much about. I mean honest like an iron girder. So when a year into my marriage I found that Mario was taking money from the mob, I broke with him even though we already had Clare by then. I flipped from violent love to violent contempt in about twenty-four hours. After all, Id heard my dad preach against corrupt cops every mealtime for as long as I could remember. And I was very young. The young think in black and white; Americans think in black and white; cops definitely think in black and white. Mario was wrong; I was right.

Italians dont think in black and white, though. To them its all negotiable. I think that was our real point of disagreement, looking back. He was shocked, pleaded with me, told me how much he loved me. But I turned myself to stone.

She smiled up at Chan, paused to inhale from the cigarette.

Theres nothing wrong with criminals, Chan said, except that they break the law.

Looking back, I think I could have saved him. Im old-fashioned enough to think that a woman can do that for a man. Now lets fast forward a bit. Clare stays with me, sees her father weekends; I throw myself into my work. Sure, I go through a man-hating period, but it didnt last that long. Im one of those women who actually like men. My feminism was the political, economic kind. Still is, for that matter. Equal rights, equal pay. A lot has to do with being a single-parent family and with some frustration Im getting with my promotion prospects. This is still early days for women in corporate slash institutional America. I honestly dont believe I was especially strident. It just happens that Clare absorbed the message that men are rotten through and through and just there to be used.

Moira paused, musing. The other stuff I tried to instill in her, like respect for others, respect for the law, be a good citizen, work ethic-the more challenging part of my message, you might say-that washed right over. And we were living in the Bronx. In the back of my mind I know shes doing bad things, but I have a life of my own. Men come and go; Im losing a lot of my hard edges; I even dream of hooking up with Mario from time to time, although hes turned into a womanizer pure and simple. Clare still sees him once a week. He gives her money, more money than anyone on the NYPD payroll could afford to give a teenage girl. What does she spend it on? I dont even dare to ask. All I can do is check her body, her eyes, the color in her cheeks. As far as I can tell, shes not doing anything real bad. She even goes skateboarding in Central Park. Her coordination is excellent. I take some comfort from that.

Moira threw the remains of her cigarette on the ground, rubbed it out with her shoe. Sure is beautiful here, Charlie. Kinda mind-blowing, considering that this trip, this moment, wasnt even in my thoughts five days ago. Where was I?

Clare.

Right. So, the first time I find her making love with another girl Im shocked, I mean shaken to the bones.

Another girl? Chan frowned. There were plenty of Chinese who looked on male homosexuality as a recent Western import. Lesbianism was a vice so exotic it was hardly more than a myth. What did lesbians do?

Correct. This is not something my Catholic upbringing prepared me for despite sixteen years on the force. I restrain myself, though, tell myself its just a phase. But frankly Im disappointed. I dont have a problem with gays anymore, its not a moral issue for me, strictly speaking, but in Clares case it just strikes me as so damn-well, selfish.

Ah, yes.

Still, whats done is done. Fast forward to her eighteenth year, high school graduation. Shes a beautiful young woman. A beautiful young lesbian actually. But cunning. Shes gotten herself a lot of street wisdom growing up where she did, and she sure as hell aint going to join the NYPD. She can see the world is more or less still run by men, and being a lesbian isnt going to get her a whole lot of mileage in most conventional jobs. She goes to her father, who by now is deeply in with the mob.

I mean deeply. Hes a millionaire captain of the NYPD. Its only a matter of time before they catch him, but he doesnt care anymore. Hell do some time, not too much, and retire. What help can he give a girl just about to enter the real world? He assumes she wants money, but it isnt that. She wants entry. To the mob.

Moira paused again. Chan was aware of a diminishing of the intimacy between them as she retreated more deeply into her memories, and his cops instinct made him wonder what was coming next. He didnt want to lose her, though. He wanted that touch of love for one more night, that mature caress. God knew there had not been many in his life. He drew her closer, and she smiled gratefully.

Of course a lot of this stuff I didnt know at the time. Im giving you the benefit of some years of research and a whole decade of soul-searching. Mario explains that the mob doesnt employ women, at least not on the executive level. Its a very old-fashioned organization. Now, I dont know how she got from there to being the mistress of one of the senior members in the Corleone branch, but Mario must have introduced her. For that Im unable to forgive him. Nor do I know how she managed to fake it in bed all those years because this daughter of mine is very, very gay. I guess it was one of those dirty weekend affairs and she was only too glad when he went home to his wife.

Moira sighed. I guess she gets plenty of money to live on and time to decide what to do with her life. One thing about her, she likes to learn. Shes good at it. She reads a lot, and the mob is always on her reading list. She finds out that the way the American Mafia makes most of its dollars these days is by laundering money for less sophisticated operations, especially the Colombians. The Colombians have so much cash from the cocaine boom in the States and in Europe, they actually contract out the laundering to the Mafia, which charges twenty cents on the dollar. So Clare comes up with a proposition: Send me to college; let me learn about high finance; give me something to do, Im bored. The consigliere shrugs, why not? The mob hires Harvard M.B.A.s to count their cash; maybe she could be useful.

So, she spends three years at the university and actually enjoys it. Her thesis was money laundering and the effect it had on the national economy. I think the mob really fascinated her.

So she goes back to the consigliere, massages his ego, pours his favorite whiskey down his throat and talks about her future. Were in late 1989, early 1990 now, when the Berlin Wall came down and the USSR ceased to exist. Theres a new boy on the block; hes called the Russian Mafia. In the NYPD we expected war between the mobs when the Russians started coming in with a whole new spectrum of drugs, scams, weapons of all kinds, multimillion-dollar frauds, swindles like Al Capone only dreamed of. But the streets are strangely quiet. Theres no war. Why? Because even the Russian mob needs to launder money, and the local Mafia actually likes staying away from the heat. Theyve taken a few hits from FBI investigations, and anyway, theyve got all the money they need. Theyve sent their own kids to college and told them crime doesnt pay. Why not sit back and rake in twenty or more percent on the narco dollar while the other guy takes the risk?

This news excited Clare no end. After a hell of a lot of cajoling she persuades the don to take her to East Berlin in the summer of 1990, which is a high-level meeting between Russian gangsters and the heads of the five New York families and a few others as well. You dont have to take my word for it; this meeting was monitored by the FBI. Journalists have written articles, books about it. It sounds like a bad novel, but what happened at that meeting was organized crime from different countries carved up the Western world. The main play was between the Russians on the one hand and the Americans and Sicilians on the other. The Americans had the expertise in laundering, the Sicilians had access to every member state of the European Community and the Russians-well, they had everything that was left in Russia. There was no government there anymore. You could buy tanks by the dozen, rocket launchers, AK-forty-sevens by the truckload, gold, oil, silver, aluminum, copper-just about everything people want and need. Of course I didnt know at the time that Clare had gone to that meeting. I just remember how proud of herself she was around that time. She looked like shed conquered the world. Can I have another cigarette?

Chan took the box out of the pocket of his white jacket. While Moira had been talking, the night had thickened. Lovers strolled past arm in arm, Japanese photographers screwed thousand-dollar cameras into tripods, trying to find an original perspective on one of the most photographed night scenes in the world. Sitting on the bench, he had heard about twenty different languages spoken by the people passing behind their backs. If Moira was telling him that there was a truly international dimension to the murders he was investigating, where would he start? People moved around these days almost as easily as money. Dual, triple nationality was common, and most successful gangsters had upwards of fifty bank accounts.

He lit their cigarettes. Moira took a long pull. Then the world came to an end for her. It happened all at once. The consigliere finally found her in bed with another woman. Theres a fight, Clare threatens to inform on him-something you just dont do, right? A few days later shes busted for marijuana. Ironic, considering what she had been doing for most of her life. She maintained it was the mob planted it on her as a warning. Anyway, she was cut off, out in the cold. Not total excommunication but a punishment. They knew she couldnt survive without them; they wanted to make sure she knew it too. The message was pretty clear: Shape up, dahlin, or next time the frame-up will send you to jail for the rest of your life. I dont think Clare had ever shot up on reality before; shed assumed shed survive on street cunning and teenage luck forever. She wasnt free at all. They owned her, all of her.

Chan grunted. Enslavement by organized crime was as old as China.

Worst of all, the smack shed been using for over ten years was pure, the stuff that arrives in bulk before its cut with all kinds of junk. Shed been getting it through her mob connections and was able to pay for it with mob money. When she couldnt get it anymore, she got real sick. Thats when she came back to live with me. She would lie on her bed most of the day shivering, groaning. Sometimes she would double up with cramps that lasted hours. Sometimes she would lash out at me with her fists. Elegance was only ever skin-deep with her. The best I could do was get her small hits off the street and some methadone to ease the sickness. I took time off work to sit with her. It went on for over a month, and during that month I think I aged inside about a hundred years because it was then that she talked, mostly in a semicoma.

Little by little I pieced together everything Ive just told you-and suffered my first clinical depression. I had to accept that even in the depths of her sickness all she could think of was getting back into the mob, shooting up on the best-quality smack, setting up a money-laundering operation bigger than anyone elses, finding some homeless young girl to seduce.

Flesh, drugs, power-they were what she lived for. Well, for her the clouds dispersed one day. Shed been right about one thing: The mob wanted to use her services. They figured shed been punished enough and knew a little more about the lines of power. If she belonged to a made member, she belonged to a made member, no more girls. She got hold of her favorite drugs, started to smile again, forgot about me. She moved out as soon as she could. Last I heard from her was about two and a half years ago. She came around, tried to give me a bunch of money, which I refused. I remember she was talking about China a lot, had been to a bookstore and bought a whole load of books. It seemed to spin off from the book I gave you, The Travels of Marco Polo, that shed read over and over while she was sick.

So, Clare was back on her feet, but I wasnt. I started drinking heavy. And stealing. The first time I did it I was so drunk I couldnt believe it the next day. On the third occasion I took early retirement from the NYPD so as not to embarrass the force. Crazy the way some of us cling to morality, isnt it? Why did I start stealing? My probation officer says its common, a psychological reflex he calls flip-flop. People whove followed one rigid path all their lives when hit by a serious trauma do a one-hundred-and-eighty-degree flip. They act out the very behavior theyve always deplored. Being a Catholic, I cant help seeing it as a kind of punishment for pride. I sure dont despise anyone anymore the way I used to despise Mario. I started lying a lot too, to cover up. I always wanted her to study sociology, to be interested in people. So often as a cop you get to thinking there must be a better way of helping pathetic people than locking them up-you ever think that?

Chan inhaled. And you havent heard from her at all since she stopped by with the money?

Moira shook her head. No. Not a word. I cant give you any more help, Chief Inspector, because I dont know nothin. I guess youre glad now Ill be out of your hair tomorrow, huh?

Chan took her hand, gazed into her eyes. He reminded himself: Directness was a virtue with Westerners. Ive got a hard-on, he said.


| The Last Six Million Seconds | c