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Nine thirty A.M. in the car park of the University of Hong Kong Chan and Aston waited for Dr. Lam. Only five minutes late, the dentists black Mercedes drew up. Lam spoke a few words to his driver, then climbed the stairs with the two policemen to the radiation laboratory. Vivian Ip was waiting. She gestured to the lead-glass cabinet. All yours, she said to Chan.

Chan pointed to the small reddish-colored block in the far corner on the other side of the glass. Whats that?

Lam peered through his thick spectacles. May I? He slipped his hands into the concertina arm sockets and manipulated the metal instruments until he was able to lift the block. He used the pincers to squeeze it and observed the dent that was retained by the material. He withdrew his hands.

I dont know. Unless I hold it in my hands, I cant give a professional view.

Vivian Ip assessed him with her quick eyes. So what would be a professional guess? I mean, if you came across something like that during the course of your dental practice, what would you assume it was?

She looked at Chan, who nodded approval.

Gum. You all must have had to bite on it at one time or another. It retains the bite so a dentist can tell which teeth are proud of the others, where the pressure points are, how to design false teeth, that sort of thing. Actually there are a hundred and one uses for it in a dentists surgery.

Does dental gum have the same ingredients as chewing gum? Chan asked.

I have no idea. Actually it doesnt much matter what you use; anything that would retain the bite would do. Something with resins and latex would be normal. Coloring to make it easier to work with.

Aston was beginning to catch up. Could it be used to construct a dental record-you know, upper left incisor missing, that sort of thing?

Lam looked from Aston to Chan. Impossible. He thrust his hands in his pockets, walked up and down in front of them as if addressing a seminar. If the purpose of the exercise was to construct a dental record from a distance without the patients mouth to look at, gum would have only a secondary function. Youd need detailed photographs of the mouth, taken with a miniature camera; thats what one would rely on to identify crowns, fillings, et cetera. The gum would be used as a cross-check, to see if there were any special features to the bite-a gap not obvious from the pictures, half a bicuspid missing, that sort of thing. It would take a professional, of course. He adjusted his spectacles, looked at Chan and smiled. So I was right; it wasnt food between the victims teeth.

Chan nodded at Vivian Ip, then led Lam and Aston back down the stairs to the car park where Lams Mercedes was waiting. The interlude had taken less than fifteen minutes and could be said to have produced a major breakthrough. On the other hand, Chan complained in the taxi to Aston, it could also be said that they were back to square one: Who were the bodies in the vat? Who were the heads in the bag? He told the taxi driver to take them to the address of a small and very exclusive surgery in a small commercial building on the Peak near the tram stop, where they had made an appointment with Hong Kongs most expensive cosmetic surgeon.

Blond hair and blue eyes are two of mankinds less successful genes. Men can expect to be balding by their mid-thirties, and women will likely be shortsighted. Both sexes will be prone to skin cancer if they spend much time in the sun. The tendency of other races to emulate North European genes through cosmetic surgery is a function of Hollywood and the advertising industry. In Asia, though, the curve is declining rapidly. In the eighties I would do on average forty or fifty eye jobs a year. Nowadays, maybe ten.

The speaker, Dr. Alexander Yu, smiled; as he did so, slanted lids closed tight as oyster shells. A gene, surely, designed for a race that for ten thousand years looked up from intense green paddy to squint at the sun.

Eye jobs? Aston, blond and blue-eyed, said.

The so-called epicanthic fold, also known as the Mongolian eye fold-Ive got it-is an inward fold of the upper eyelid across the inner corner of the canthus; its what makes us look slit-eyed. Everyone from Mongol extraction has it, so, as a matter of fact, do some American Indians and some Poles and Scandinavians. Now and then women pay to have it removed. He gestured to the wall, which was adorned with before and after photographs. Chan stood to examine them.

Well, every profession must market itself according to its skills. His stomach turned at the monstrous victims of facial burns, traffic accidents, violent assaults, all of whom had reachieved a degree of aesthetic normality at Yus expensive hands. In between the monsters were interspersed the faces of perfectly normal Chinese women-rich Chinese women, Chan suspected-who had paid Yu to modify the so-called Mongolian fold. The result was hardly Caucasian; in the after photos eyes no rounder than Chans peered out of distinctly flat, high-cheekboned Han faces.

Is it a degrading castration of ones own racial identity? the physician continued. Frankly, yes. I never like doing it.

But you do it anyway? Aston said.

I charge double for my time. He laughed. Anyway, the issue is quickly becoming academic. Its like the fad among African Americans in the late fifties to try to have the kinks removed from their hair. That sort of genuflection to the master white race has gone out of style over here too, where even maids and chauffeurs know that the future belongs to Asia. I wasnt expecting the reverse effect to begin for at least another decade, though. So far theres only been one example. Thats why I knew exactly who you were talking about when you telephoned.

At a nod from Chan Aston took out Moiras photograph of her daughter, Clare, passed it over Yus desk.

Yes, thats her. Before, of course.

Dyou have an after shot? If you do, wed really appreciate an opportunity to copy it.

Yu shook his head. Alas, no. I practically begged her and offered to cut my fee, but she refused. It wasnt a bad job either. To be honest, I was going to create quite a stir in the journals, but without the pix theres no impact-not at my end of the profession.

Chan nodded. It was an answer hed expected. You only took care of the eye shape. What about the eye color and the hair?

Eye color is the easiest to change. Tinted contact lenses. For hair she already had a wig. Short, straight, black, thick and Asian. Yu grinned.

Aston took out the picture of the Eurasian reaching up to the strip light. Yu studied it.

Definitely. Can I have a copy?

That afternoon from home, after a shower, Chan telephoned Emily at all her numbers. Nobody, not even a servant or secretary, responded at any of them. When he was about to leave for work, his own telephone rang. He picked up the receiver.

I love you. My prince, my benefactor.

Whats happened?

You did it to make me happy, didnt you?

Youre crazy.

You offered me money, imagine! Ill pay you if you like, anything you say. Just dont take me off the case. Not yet.

Get to the point, Im in a hurry.

Wheelchair Lees excitement sprang out of the telephone like a demon. I will, I will. Oh, this is big, big, big. Big enough to hurt the 14K very badly. Just dont ask me to keep quiet. Itll take me a couple of days. Ill have someone tell you where to meet me. We have to be careful so as not to spoil the party. Watch this space.

Lee hung up.

From the police station Chan telephoned Emily again at home and at her office. Chan supposed shed given instructions not to be disturbed, a Hong Kong princess withdrawing behind a curtain of cash now that the thrill had faded. Anger accumulated through the day and by early evening was burning a hole in his stomach. By nighttime he had decided to take a taxi up to the Peak again. He promised himself one full-blooded slap across her face. Some satisfactions were worth a career.

| The Last Six Million Seconds | c