On the underground to Arsenal Street Chan watched a gweilo go into stress. Despite efficient air conditioning, sweat pods exploded over his red face, he started to shake and enlarged pupils indicated mounting panic. Chan wondered if he would have to be a good policeman and take the foreigner off the train, but at the next station the middle-aged white man found the control to squeeze himself out of the compartment onto the platform. Through the window Chan watched him lean against a wall and breathe deeply. Not a danger to society, apparently, just another Westerner who didn’t know how to be a sardine. None of the Chinese in the vicinity had noticed that a psychological event had taken place; they remained in a compacted upright state, minding their own business like good sardines.
At police headquarters a message at reception asked him to go straight to Riley’s office on the fourth floor. Riley stood up when Chan entered. So did Aston and a tall American in his fifties.
“Ah! Charlie.” Riley beamed and turned to the American. “This is the best goddamn detective on the Pacific Rim.” From somewhere he had acquired a cigar and an American accent. “Charlie, allow me to introduce our colleague from the other side of the world, Captain Frank Delaney of the New York Police Department.”
Delaney stood up, held out a hand. He was a little over six feet, balding elegantly from the brow, a handsome man. Chan noticed the soft brown eyes, a woman’s eyes, except that they fixed on him for a moment longer than was polite, performing a judgmental scan. A cop’s eyes after all. He wore a cop’s suit too: police blue in creaseless artificial fiber. Under it he wore a cream shirt, no tie.
“Charlie, I was just saying how grateful I am to you guys for seeing me at such short notice-”
“Not at all.” Riley waved his cigar. Chan waited.
“I saw the fax that Inspector Aston here sent off and figured the simplest thing was just to get on a damned plane. Expensive maybe, but if I can tie this one up on a twenty-four-hour trip, it frees me for more important things.” Delaney grinned. “Like the World Series maybe.”
Riley laughed loudly. “World Series, love it. You guys play the best kind of football.”
Aston exchanged glances with Chan; both looked at Delaney, who smiled.
Riley spoke around the cigar that he had clamped between his teeth. “I’ve booked a conference room on the second floor; we could mosey on down.” He led the way downstairs. The brass plate on the door read INTERVIEW ROOM, SENIOR OFFICERS ONLY.
They sat at a long brown table with a view over the street.
“Sure is an interesting place,” Delaney said. “Never been here before. Heard a lot about it, though.”
He bypassed Riley, looked to Chan for a signal.
“How can we help?” Chan said.
Delaney reached down to a slim plastic briefcase, placed it on the table. He unzipped it, took out a plain file, began leafing through.
“This is the fax Inspector Aston-”
“Dick, please,” Aston said.
“Right. This is the fax you sent, Dick. Now, I understand you’ve positively identified the girl, right?”
“Right,” Aston said. “One PI, two unidentified.”
“We obtained dental records,” Riley said.
Delaney nodded. “Can’t argue with that. And the girl is Clare Coletti, right?”
Riley nodded vigorously. “Sure is.”
“Well, we have a short file on Clare Coletti. It’s short because she was only ever busted for one thing, possession of marijuana. But it’s the kind of file that ties up with an awful lot of other files. Mob files. She was associated with the Corleone family in Brooklyn for about half her life. And toward the end she was associated with another kind of mob too. I guess you guys know all about the 14K Triad Society?”
Riley and Aston nodded.
“Right. Well, they have a branch in New York. All the big triads do. Most of the time they only do business within the Chinese community. They import heroin, run prostitution, run rackets, all the usual mob things. We don’t have an awfully good track record in nailing them for the usual reasons. First, as a social menace they just don’t compete with the local mob, or the Colombians, or the Sicilians-or the Russians these days. Second, they’re real hard to penetrate. We don’t have many Chinese cops who speak Cantonese or Mandarin or Chiu Chow, and we can’t afford to set them up as sleepers for years on end. A lot of the time we need them for interpretation and other work with the Chinese community. And then, frankly, and don’t quote me on this, there’s a feeling in the NYPD that comes down from the mayor himself that if all they’re doing is muscling their own people, well, let’s say that’s a containable problem.” Delaney looked at Chan. “I don’t want to cause offense here, but I guess most jurisdictions take a pragmatic view of resource allocation?”
“You betcha,” Riley answered for Chan.
Chan lit a cigarette, waved a hand. Delaney gave him a second look. Chan half closed his eyes as if listening to another voice.
“But just recently there have been some disturbing-very disturbing-developments. It’s like all the world’s major mobs have been seeing the sense of living in peace so they can exploit the rest of us. We know there’s been a number of deals between the American Mafia and the Colombians and a separate one between the Mafia and some Russian gangs. Then it became pretty obvious that our local boys were helping the 14K to shift heroin. The only way they can supply outside the Chinese community is by using the Italian mob; nobody else has the network, and the Chinese community is so insular that even the most desperate smack or crack addict doesn’t think about crossing from Mott Street to Mulberry Street to get a hit. Mott Street is Little Italy; Mulberry Street is Chinatown-they’re side by side in Lower Manhattan.”
“Sure,” Riley said.
Delaney paused. “You guys mind if I take off my jacket?”
Under the jacket Chan saw an American muscle pack starting to melt, a man who had once looked after himself. His facial skin too was better than many Americans of his age; at least it was less lined, but there was a grayness underneath. Chan noticed a gold signet ring, the odd glimpse of a thin gold chain through the open neck of his shirt. Every now and then those soft brown eyes clouded and half closed in a wince. Chan wondered if the big American was fighting some kind of pain.
Aston sat on the edge of his seat.
“I can take you down the long route or the short route-I don’t mind,” Delaney said. “I guess what’s coming is sort of obvious.”
Riley looked at Chan. Noncommittal, Chan took a long draw on his cigarette. Aston seemed embarrassed.
“Maybe the short route. Or even the long one,” Riley said. “What d’you say, Charlie?”
Chan smiled at Riley. “I’ll let you decide, John.”
Delaney watched Riley hesitate. “Right. Well, the short route is just this. It seems that after her one and only drug bust Clare Coletti was cut off from the mob. Particularly, she was dumped by the middle-ranking mobster she’d been having an affair with since she was in her mid-teens. We have reason to think she had a heroin habit too. She was bright, though; got a B.A. from New York University under mob patronage. That’s what threw us. Why educate her, then dump her? After all, a mob isn’t so different from a corporation: You make an investment in a person or a machine, you want performance, right? In retrospect we wonder if the year or so Clare spent out in the cold was a ploy to shake our interest in her. We know that during that year she got interested in China-not a natural topic for a Bronx girl like her. Then about two and a half months ago she was seen getting on a plane bound for Hong Kong. On the same plane were two members of the New York chapter of the 14K Triad Society.”
Delaney pulled out two sheets of paper from his file, passed them to Chan. At the top of each sheet was a mug shot of a Chinese male. The sheet gave details of dates of birth, Social Security numbers. Both men were in their mid-thirties. Chan read that they were suspected White Paper Fans, finance officers. The first man’s name was Yu Ningkun; the second Mao Zingfu. Both were romanizations of Mandarin names. The two men were mainlanders and Mandarin speakers. He studied what seemed to be an extract from an NYPD file. Each was suspected to be an expert money launderer and part of the narcotics side of the business. Neither had a criminal record in the United States. Farther down the page he saw that they had emigrated from Shanghai in the late 1970s, probably through triad connections using the snakehead route down the Pearl River from Guangzhou.
While Chan was reading, Delaney said: “The fingerprints you sent us-ones you found on a plastic bag containing heroin?-they belong to these two guys.” Delaney coughed.
“The next thing I have to tell you is kind of, ah, delicate.” He coughed again. “As you probably know, when it comes to mob matters, we work pretty closely with the FBI. And the bureau has, ah, resources and powers we don’t have. I’d be obliged to you if you’d keep this confidential. Contrary to certain guarantees of privacy that American citizens enjoy, we were able to persuade the bureau to procure dental records, the dental records of Yu and Mao. I’ve brought copies for you to use.”
Aston’s mouth opened. “The FBI burgled their dentists?”
Aston reddened as he saw the long look exchanged between Chan and Delaney. Riley played with a government ballpoint.
“That’s not a very diplomatic question to ask, Richard.” Chan seemed almost amused. Not so Delaney.
Riley looked from Chan to Delaney. “Damn right.”
“Sorry,” Aston said.
“We won’t tell anyone,” Chan said. He patted Aston on the back. “He’s a good cop, smart. It’s just that he hasn’t mastered the diplomatic side of the business yet. Not like John here.”
Chan gave Aston a big smile. “Are there any other questions you have for Captain Delaney, Richard?”
Aston struggled. “No, no.” He waved a hand. “I suppose I’m missing something as usual, huh?”
Chan gave Delaney a wide grin. “We’ll have the dental records sent down to forensic in a minute. It should only take half an hour to get a preliminary view.” Chan looked at Riley. “I have a confession, John. Every time I try to get forensic to do something on the double, they look at me as if I haven’t got enough stripes to crack the whip. I wonder, someone with your authority…”
Riley stood up as if under orders. “Sure thing. If I have to, I’ll kick ass.”
When Riley had left the room, Chan said to Delaney, “Look, it’s getting late. How about you leave us the dental records, go back to your hotel to freshen up, meet us for a drink later? Such a long way you’ve come, Dick and I would like to show you a good time. Right, Dick?”
Delaney produced a big American smile. “Well, that’s good of you, Charlie, real good. To tell the truth, I was wondering what I was going to do while I was wide-awake with jet lag in the wee hours of the morning.”