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42

Chan installed his fax machine in the only room with a spare shelf, the kitchen. Ten yards of flex made a trail to the telephone jack in the dining room.

Japanese, Korean, German, Italian, Chinese, French; he found the English section at the back of the Panasonic manual. There was a facility for ten autodial numbers, but Chan only needed one. He recorded Moiras fax number, slid a sheet of paper into the machine until the rollers pulled it partway through. He waited, fascinated, while the machine digested his short note, murmured to itself, confirmed with three bleeps that the transmission had reached the Bronx and pushed the sheet out again. He reread it: Thanks for the fax. It was good to hear from you. Id like to see you again too. Ho lak ngoh yiu: Well, I must go now. Joi gin: See you. Charlie.

Proud of his achievement, Chan shaved and went back to work, anxious for those photographs.

A messenger finally arrived at 10:00 A.M. with a large brown envelope bearing the words On Her Majestys Service in bold black type. Across it someone had used a red stamp: Police, Secret. Aston watched while Chan tore the flap and spilled a small pack of photographs onto his desk. He was about to check through them when the telephone rang. At first the noise on the line sounded like static, then acquired a more human cadence.

Its me, Saliver Kan said, still clearing his throat. I think I can get what you want. Itll take a few days, and its going to be expensive.

How expensive? Chan used his hard bargaining voice.

Ten million.

During the Ming dynasty, or perhaps even as early as the Warring States period, a formal procedure developed applicable to the first stages of a trade: The vendor states an absurd price; the purchaser walks out of the shop and returns only when the vendor offers to negotiate, usually in a submissive tone (Okay, okay, come back, well talk). The age of the telephone replicated this everyday piece of theater with a form of words that has become equally hallowed over the years. Fuck your mother, Chan said, and replaced the receiver.

One by one he began to sort through the pictures. From the camera that hed placed by an entrance, several shots taken in quick succession showed a pair of blue jeans-ragged-and bare feet in plastic thongs. The image was blurred from the speed of the subjects movement, almost a run, Chan guessed. The telephone rang again. He ignored it. From one of the pillars a camera had caught a pair of emaciated hands like claws reaching up to the strip light. Aston came to stand by his side and picked up the telephone.

Chiefs busy, he said in passable Cantonese. Chan glanced up for a second, then returned to the pictures. He says five million, Aston said in English with his hand over the mouthpiece, but by then Chans hearing was drowned by a rush of perception that drained the blood from his cheeks. He stared at a blurred image of slightly tilted Eurasian eyes, short, thick black hair and a fine face with which he was familiar.

Phone back later, Aston said into the telephone, and hung up. He stood by Chans shoulder, stared at the picture that Chan found so disturbing-and understood nothing.

In his last year of school in the New Territories Chan had participated in some Outward Bound courses, products of the character-building aspect of the English education system. One afternoon the teacher and the group had left Chan all alone in the bush with a compass, a map, a flask of water and some rations. It should have been a simple map-reading orientation exercise, but the compass was jammed. Chan wandered around in the muggy heat, pretty sure of his direction but continually frustrated by the way the paths ran. Dense cloud obscured the sun. By nighttime he was feeling desperate, though he supposed that they would come looking for him eventually. Then with the change in temperature that occurs at night the clouds dispersed and the stars came out. He checked the Big Dipper, the last two stars of which, they had told him, always pointed to the North Star. There it was, the North Star, almost precisely where hed least expected it to be. Shaking his head, he turned the map through 180 degrees and walked in the opposite direction. He was back at camp in an hour. Detection was sometimes like that.

With Aston watching he took a small knife with retractable blade out of a drawer, cut the photograph of the Eurasian face horizontally just under the eyes and placed the lower half over a copy of the picture of Clare that Moira had brought. He glanced up at Aston, who stared, disbelieving.

But shes dead, Aston pointed out. Its her murder were investigating.

Chan looked into his eyes for a moment and then away. It was a hard lesson for the young, who had such rigid views on life, that victim and perpetrator were often interchangeable roles. It was a rare case where one did not, sooner or later, acquire attributes of the other. For the murder victim to turn into possible murderer, though, that did pose problems. And of course there was no proof. What sane cop would bet a blurred photograph against dental records? But Chan knew he was right.

Check with every cosmetic surgeon with a practice in Hong Kong, Chan said. Start with the best, the most expensive, and work down.

As he spoke, the telephone rang again. Three million and its a deal, Kan said, after a long snort.

Two, Chan said.

Two and a half.

Two.

Fuck your mother. By the submissive voice in which Kan spoke, Chan knew that the deal was concluded.

Fixing himself a late lunch of fried noodles at home, he stood and watched the fax machine roll out a message: Wow! That was a quick response. Sure do appreciate it; at my age a girl doesnt like to be kept dangling. Say, do you have any old cop stories I havent heard? Thats about the only thing I miss from NYPD, those canteen yarns. Ill trade you. Jai gin.

Chan thought for a moment, wrote his reply and watched the machine go to work. If Moiras daughter was still alive, who was dead? Who knew?

Back at his desk he tapped a Benson out of the box and stared at the blurred Eurasian face in the photograph. He put the cigarette to his mouth and dialed Emilys number at the same time. He was surprised that the billionairess answered her own telephone.

Chan lit his Benson. Hi.

Who is this?

Your scuba buddy.

He listened to her breathing.

Ive been expecting you to call.

I know.

Come round tonight. I have a dinner engagement thatll take most of the evening, so make it about eleven-thirty.

Shall I bring your present?

A long pause. Yes, why not?

That evening he waited until the police station was reduced to its night skeleton staff. Then he strolled to the tea room and bent down under the sink to retrieve the plastic bag he had found concealed in The Travels of Marco Polo, after the trip on Emilys boat.


| The Last Six Million Seconds | c