As soon as he could, Chan left the other guests in the saloon to join the captain and mate on the bridge. On the captain’s hat EMILY was embossed in gold.
At a signal from the captain the boat boy let go of the two mooring lines at the bows and ran along the side to release two more. He jumped back on board using the swimming platform at the stern. Behind the boat lay a crowded playground of smaller craft maneuvering to escape from the marina to more spacious seas. Leisure made people urgent; everyone seemed to be yelling as sailboats tacked past powerboats chugging in opposite directions. The captain of the Emily sounded the horn three times, and as the stern bore down on them with its threshing screws, the smaller boats took avoiding action.
Once extricated from her berth, the large boat turned slowly in her own length and the diesels increased to a low throb as she made way slowly ahead. Chan left the wheelhouse to stand at the bows. Looking up at the club terraces, Chan saw that people had crowded to the rails to watch.
“Stops them in their tracks, doesn’t she?”
Chan had not heard Cuthbert come up behind. He offered Chan a Turkish cigarette from an old silver case. He was wearing beige shorts with razor creases, a blue designer sailing shirt with an anchor on the single pocket, white socks and blue leather Docksides.
Chan took the cigarette. “Money does that.”
Cuthbert smiled. “I believe I’ve not yet proffered you a full apology. I’m afraid everyone was pretty worked up. Radiation sickness scares the best of us, and one or two were looking for a scapegoat. Also, a word of thanks. You’ve no idea how much more manageable Jack Forte has become since you broke his nose.”
“You knew I would be on board? You arranged it?”
Cuthbert considered the smoke winding upward from the end of his cigarette.
“Not exactly. Not in the way you mean. I know Emily very well, and I have a standing invitation for weekends. I just happened to have lunch with her last week. She mentioned you. Naturally I was not going to spoil your weekend. Then, when she told me who else was coming, I thought you might need a little help.”
“I’m lost,” Chan said. “I’m paid to catch crooks with room temperature IQs. Ninety percent of the homicides I investigate are husbands or wives murdered by their spouses with meat cleavers when the air conditioning fails. If they have air conditioning. I don’t want to prove anything by getting into the big time.”
What was it about Cuthbert that made one want to lie? Chan had never been so intrigued by a case in his life. Somehow it was bad form to tell the truth to a diplomat, like annoying a bat with a bright light.
Cuthbert gave no sign of incredulity. “I know. That’s exactly why I might be of use to you. At any rate, there’s no need for us to be enemies. Not on a glorious day like this on the best boat in the fleet. Life is short.”
“It was for three people in Mongkok.”
Chan took a long draw. An interesting cigarette; it was probably how tobacco was intended to taste.
Cuthbert leaned over the rail next to Chan, pointed to something near the floating restaurants, spoke in a whisper. “Take it or leave it, my friend, but I wouldn’t let her seduce you. Not this trip.” He raised his voice. “Just there, that’s where the fire was, burned for three days. D’you remember when the floating restaurant caught fire, Emily?”
Cuthbert’s antennae were better than Chan’s. He hadn’t heard her come on deck. Yet she was not the sort of woman to make a silent entrance.
“Mmm, I was a kid.” She looked slowly over the marina, then up at the club terraces.
Cuthbert said: “We have an admiring audience. Charlie and I were just talking about it.”
Emily’s smile flashed. “Oh, yes, they all stare when we go out. They think it’s the governor’s boat. Of course his is much grander. Isn’t it, Milton?”
“It’s a lot older. Last time I was on it we were still using a sextant.”
Emily laughed, turned to Charlie. “Aren’t the British cute? And smart. You can hide anything behind self-mockery.”
She stood beside him at the rail so that he was caught between them. Through the deck Chan felt an increase in engine revolutions. The view was changing swiftly as they approached the harbor walls.
Cuthbert offered Emily a cigarette, which she refused. He replaced the silver case in his pocket.
“Come now, no one has mastered false modesty better than the Chinese. The first time I went to Beijing there were still restaurants calling themselves the Worst Restaurant on Earth. That was before the party purged Confucius, of course.”
“But that’s the point,” Emily said. “It was too obvious; it didn’t work. But you, you ran the largest empire in history on bluff, paternalism… and phony self-effacement.”
“And the Maxim gun. We started giving the colonies back when everyone else got one.”
The harbor walls curved around in two scythes with a gap between them toward which every boat was racing. On either side green hills plunged down to a sea choppy from conflicting bow waves. Once past the harbor walls the boat picked up speed. Chan could hear the beginnings of a turbo whine behind the roar of the diesels.
“Just out of interest, how far could you travel on a boat like this?” Chan asked. He saw Cuthbert frown.
“You’d have to ask the captain for an accurate estimate,” Emily said. “Most places on the South China seaboard anyway.”
“D’you take it to China much?” Chan felt in his shorts for a pack.
Emily was staring at a large two-masted yacht that was in the process of raising a mainsail. As the crew winched in the sail, the boat heeled and shot forward, a gull racing over the waves.
She looked up at Chan. “Uh-huh. Now and then. By the way, you left your cigarettes on the bridge. I brought them for you.”
She took the pack from her pocket, smiled. “You don’t have to worry, we’re not headed for China today. We’re going the other way, about fifty miles due south in the direction of the Philippines. There’s a reef. It’s not Palawan or Phuket, but the diving’s pretty good. Milton dives, so it’ll be the three of us. Jenny won’t be allowed in her condition.”