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36

He awoke to an almost gentle knocking on his door. Light streamed through the porthole. He dragged on a pair of shorts.

Emily was already in her dive suit; purple and green neoprene with a band of Day-Glo yellow crossing from right shoulder to left hip was unzipped to an inch above the navel. Flaps covered her breasts. Hanging on to the door, Chan blinked.

Emily smiled.

There was a relationship between confidence and wealth; which came first?

The tanks are set up on the swimming platform. Ive found you a buoyancy jacket. Theres coffee in the galley.

Chan scratched his head, his shoulders, then, defiantly, his testicles. What about the others?

She put a hand to his cheek. Theyre all asleep, Chief Inspector; theres only you and me.

He yawned, looked back into the cabin where The Travels of Marco Polo lay on a table illuminated by a tunnel of blinding sunshine. As sleep fell away, he allowed his features to harden into dislike. First thing in the morning it was difficult not to bristle.

Did anyone ever tell you-

She placed a single hand on her chest and almost succeeded in looking vulnerable. Stop! I know, Im being pushy. Its unforgivable at this time in the morning. Im sorry, I have a lifelong problem with impatience. Let me try again. She lowered her head, looked up at him with big eyes and spoke in a little-girl voice. Ive been awake for over an hour just dying to get in the water and unable to think of anyone to be my scuba buddy except that gorgeous chief inspector of police in the cabin down the way, and the anticipation seems to have got the better of my manners, but please dont take it amiss, and if theres anything I can do to persuade you to please come play with me-

Chan put up a hand. Okay, okay.

Its worse when Im trying to soft-soap, isnt it?

He let a grin grow slowly while his eyes locked with hers. Its charming to be able to laugh at oneself.

I copied it from the English. Its a lot easier than genuine self-reform. She fluttered her eyelashes; that really was rather funny.

He closed the door, changed from cotton shorts to swimming shorts, brushed his teeth, omitted to shave, stepped out onto the foredeck.

With the engines off and the anchor line pinning the boat to a deserted spot on the surface of the Pacific Ocean the true identity of the 120-foot luxury cruiser was unmasked: a plastic toy in the hands of Ocean, the monster god. Water stretched in every direction like a lesson in infinity. Acid light poured over the decks, the paint, the fantasies of night. At dawn the sky was too hot to contemplate, the sun a whiteness too powerful to squint at. On a gleaming white life ring in its stainless steel housing Chan read the word EMILY, etched in blue.

The air was certainly cleaner than Mongkok; too clean-he needed a cigarette. He returned to his cabin, took a pack to the galley, where the cook had left a glass jug under a dripping coffee-maker. He filled a mug, added three sugars and milk, took the coffee out to the stern deck. On the swimming platform Emily screwed regulators into air tanks. From above he watched her breasts fall forward almost out of the neoprene as she bent over the steel cylinders. She was big-boned for a Chinese, but there was no extra flesh. Hers was an athletes body, full of health and appetites. Dont let her seduce you, Cuthbert had said.

She gave him a sincere smile when he joined her, touched his forearm.

I am sorry for waking you like that. Its just me; Im one of those people born without any subtlety at all. Up front, no depth, a primal type with the sense of humor of a twelve-year-old, thats me. I even crack up at knock-knock jokes.

Knock, knock.

Whos there?

Mustafer.

Mustafer who?

Mustafer fag before I dive.

He watched her double up. You dont really find that funny?

She nodded, helpless.

Fuck Cuthbert.

Underwater with a scuba tank on her back Emily was lithe, playful, artistic, funny: a human porpoise. On the coral bed eighty feet under the boat she lay on her back, blew air rings of silver that wobbled lazily to the surface. As soon as Chan floated down to her level, he felt her hand on his thigh. He had not brought a wet suit; he wore only a T-shirt and swimming trunks. She found his testicles under his shorts. He liked her firmness of touch, her hunger, the humor of a submarine seduction.

Emily beckoned to him to follow. She stopped by the boats anchor, pulled him toward her. He could see her eyes glittering behind her mask. People died like this.

He felt his heartbeat double as he allowed her to pull open the Velcro fastenings to his buoyancy jacket. Carefully she slid it off him, his life in her hands. He chomped firmly on the mouthpiece. She used the Velcro straps to hitch the jacket and tank to the ring of the anchor chain. He hung in the sea with only the rubber windpipe tying him to his air. Through the water he felt her lust. Dont let her, but this was a seduction Cuthbert might have appreciated. For denizens of the edge, there was no greater aphrodisiac than the proximity of death. How had she guessed that eighty feet underwater was the one place where he would find her irresistible?

She pulled off his shorts, taking care to leave him his weight belt, tied them too, gestured for him to remove his T-shirt.

At the same time she pulled off her own buoyancy jacket, tied it next to his, managed to unzip her wet suit and remove it without losing the weight belt. Chan thought it would be funny if they lost the weights now and shot to the surface.

They sucked life from mouthpieces joined to umbilical cords joined to the tanks that had nestled next to the anchor. Between the fins and the masks they both were naked except for the weight belts: two monster frogs in a breeding ritual. Her breasts and thighs, the whole surface of her skin glistened with the liquid silk of the sea.

She clung to the anchor line in front of him, offering him her buttocks. As he reached down in slow motion, he found her hand already there ready to guide him. Without weight, without friction, he had to press her pelvic bone hard with his hand to avoid losing her to the sea. The bubbles from her mouthpiece reached a crescendo, then subsided with her slowing loins.

Wood, earth, metal, air, fire, water: Chan remembered in the Taoist system water was the origin of pleasure. He remembered too that other Taoist wisdom: Sex was the lesser climax, foreshadowing the greater one of death. He held that thought while he hung in the sea, spent.

Already Emily was replacing her wet suit. Following her, Chan watched while she fed giant rays that emerged from small hillocks in the sand of the seabed.

During breakfast on the rear deck under an awning Chan avoided the pity in Cuthberts eyes. Jenny and Jonathan were faintly embarrassed. Curious how sensitive people could smell coitus through eighty feet of salt water. Only Xian seemed unaware of a subtle change in the social order. He slurped congee while the others ate toast with coffee.

Cuthbert broke the silence. How was your dawn dive?

It was unbelievable. Chan concentrated on his toast.

Emily, was it good?

There was no sign of mischief in the diplomats face, but then he was English.

Wonderful, just wonderful. Tell them, Charlie.

Giant rays-some of the biggest Ive seen. Emilys trained them to come when she taps her tank.

With food, I expect? Cuthbert asked.

Of course. Theyre not stupid. Whenever I come, I first tap the tank, then give them some dried shrimp. Now all I have to do is tap the tank and they rise from the sand.

Id like to see that, Cuthbert said.

By lunchtime the atmosphere had altered again. Prolonged immersion in fresh air and sea had released everyones tension. Cuthbert had lost ten years.

By God, that was something, he said when he returned from a shower. Such beauty, makes you never want to look at a desk or a telephone again. He winked at Chan.

They ate lunch slowly, exchanging comments like a family that had been together years. Afterward they allowed their bodies to sag in sun chairs or on the swimming platform.

Chan caught subtle looks passing between Jenny and Jonathan. Emilys eyes consumed his body. Remembering the morning, he smiled. Warm water and copulation went together like duck and rice. Only Xian seemed on edge, anxious to get back to land.

Everyone except Jenny drank a beer while lounging in the sun; then one by one with sketchy apologies they retired to their cabins.

Chan returned to the swimming deck and thought about diving naked into the sea again. He was quietly smoking and staring out at the electric blue ocean when the boat boy approached with a red envelope that bore the name Chief Inspector Chan in green felt tip pen. Inside, a single sheet of paper carried a two-word message: knock, knock?

Chan smiled. He could feel her will dragging him in invisible chains toward her stateroom. For a moment he toyed with the amusing idea of ignoring her message and observing the savagery of her revenge, or the humor of her pleading-her reactions were hard to predict. On reflection, though, he padded back down the corridor. Abovewater perhaps she would talk.

Cuthbert lay down on his bunk. It was so hot he gave in and turned on the boats air conditioning. He had prepared his diskman and travel alarm. He set the alarm, replaced the Gregorian chants with Mozarts Concerto for Clarinet.

When the alarm bleeped, he pressed a button that activated a radio receiver: nothing except the sound of Xian snoring. Cuthbert removed the headset. As he did so, he heard Emilys voice penetrating through the wall from the stateroom next door. Cuthbert put his ear to the wall.

Admit it, have the guts: They turn you off, dont they?

I didnt say that.

Christ, if you didnt have to be such a fucking detective, you wouldnt have noticed. Men cant feel saline; its guaranteed.

Lets just say Im impotent and leave it at that.

You werent so fucking impotent this morning-before you knew. I saw your face when you saw the scars.

Im sorry, yes, I saw the scars.

And now all you can manage is a wet fish between your legs.

Im practically impotent. Submarine erections are all I can manage.

Prick.

Look, what dyou want me to say? You have a hang-up about your tits, your implants. What do I know? Why is it my problem?

A long pause. Then Emilys voice: Go on, fuck off, go back to your cabin.

Dyou have to be quite such a bitch?

A short pause.

No, sorry. Im upset. Its not like me. At least it is when this happens.

So-

Yes, Chief Inspector, its happened before. Chinese men have got to be the most fastidious in the world.

Choose a South African.

What?

A particularly insensitive race-up your street.

A pause.

Come here, kiss me.

Sound of a short kiss.

Thats better. We can be friends. Im sorry I lost it. Youre right, Im paranoid about what I did to my body for no good reason at all. I wasnt even especially flat-chested.

Just wanted to be perfect?

Whats wrong with that?

Money doesnt buy it. Or maybe it does, what do I know?

Why dyou keep saying that?

What?

What do I know?

You know.

I know?

Yes, you know.

I know why you keep saying, What do I know?

Dont you?

Sound of laughter.

Christ, I actually like you. How did this happen? A down-and-out cop with the worlds worst nicotine habit. Youll probably be dead from lung cancer by next week.

Maybe you like short-term relationships. Look

Look what?

You want me to go?

No. Stay. Just a few minutes. I want to tell you something.

Cuthbert waited. The pause was so long he wondered if theyd found a way to overcome the problem, when Emily began to speak. She spoke in a precise voice, as if reciting from a briefing.

In 1982, after Margaret Thatcher went to China and it was clear that there would have to be some deal between England and China about the future of Hong Kong, my father went to Beijing. He was part of a high-powered delegation that included some of the most successful businessmen and women in the territory. They wanted to see Deng Xiaoping, but he palmed them off on to one of his senior cadres. It doesnt matter who they actually saw, but the point the delegation wanted to make was that Hong Kong was per capita by far and away the most successful city in the world, commercially speaking. They delicately suggested that some care was needed in the handover of power if international business confidence was to be maintained. The cadre they spoke to said-and this is important-I dont know what youre all so worried about. Look what a good job we did in Shanghai in 1949.

A pause. Then Chans voice: Shanghai was a disaster after 1949. It went from the most prosperous port on the Pacific Rim to an overpopulated Third World dump that can hardly feed itself.

Exactly.

So why did you tell me all that?

Its your reward, Chief Inspector. You thought by fucking me, you might get some clue to your murder mystery. Im giving you a clue. You can go now. When you need another clue, you know where to come.

A pause.

This is all a game to you?

Isnt that what they say about the rich, all we have to do all day is play games?

There was a long pause.

Im going.

Sound of a door opening and closing. Silence.



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