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45

A top vans and cars parked aslant, magic lanterns spilled indigo light, beckoning to a police Halloween. Walkie-talkies crackled; stern male voices speaking in English and Cantonese cut across the nights cicada static. Chan had the taxi drop him a hundred yards down the hill; he walked cautiously, like a fox crossing ice. Closer, halogen lamps burned caves of light out of the tropical darkness. An ambulance waited in the drive, its back doors open, disclosing stark white sheets and crimson blankets stacked neatly at the feet of stretchers. In the intensity of one of the floodlights a tall figure turned, one hand covering its eyes; under the hands shadow Chan made out an almost featureless face the color and texture of potato, a mouth waiting for a cue. Under the mouth the body wore the full dress uniform of a chief superintendent of the Royal Hong Kong Police Force. The mouth sagged with relief when Chan emerged from the night.

Incredibly fast response, even for you, Riley said. Just this minute left a message at Mongkok. Tried to get you at home too. How on earth did you get here so fast?

Taxi, Chan said. What happened?

Unclear as yet. Damned tricky one, though. The publicitys going to be as bad as if the governor died. Theyre draining the pool. I called you just in case theres a connection to your mincer case. Id heard that you intended to question her.

At back around the swimming pool more halogen lamps bored into the water, bounced brittle light off the tiled surround and painted white masks over serious English and Chinese faces. From somewhere a sucking sound accompanied the descending water level that fell perhaps an inch every thirty seconds. No one had thought it worth trying to save the naked woman in the center; she remained anchored, apparently by her neck, while her body and legs swooped toward the surface in a perfect frozen dive. Everyone in the business saw there was no life in it to save. Yellow fluid dribbled slightly from the gaping mouth; intelligence had forsaken those eyes hours ago.

When the water level sunk to waist-height, Emily turned to face him. Two U-shaped scars under her breasts revealed a secret vulnerability. Chan regretted his curses.

For now wed better treat it as suspect homicide? Riley said, coming up behind him, his voice rising into a question.

Of course. Out of the corner of his eye Chan saw the Chinese technicians dusting the Italian marble table with meticulous Oriental care. Sweaty hands on smooth surfaces made the most beautiful prints: Sleep with me. No.

When the water was at knee height, Chan jumped in, knelt to examine the chain that held her. It was padlocked through a thick patent leather belt that was buckled around her neck. An extra hole had been bored in the leather. At the other end the chain was padlocked to a cast-iron grille at the bottom of the deep end. Her hands were handcuffed behind her back. Just under her thighs on the tile surface of the pool lay three keys. First impressions were finely balanced: A suicide dressed up as murder? Murder masquerading as suicide? Or merely an elaborate suicide with an element of self-mockery: The belt around her throat was Chanel; the two padlocks were solid brass and glinted gold in the water. Chan borrowed paper and pencil from a detective constable. With Riley hovering over his shoulder he sketched the swimming pool, the position of the body.

Of course, unless its related to the Mincer Murders, its out of our area. Well have to give it to Central.

Chan stepped back, sketched the position of the house in relation to the pool. In the morning. Until then its ours. And if it is related, I dont want to come in cold on another detectives screwup.

Quite.

Chan looked at Riley. Best not touch anything, sir. I wouldnt want you to become part of the chain of evidence. Have you touched anything?

The question had the desired effect. Riley retreated to the collection of vehicles on the other side of the house. Chan followed him. In one of the police vans he found a video recorder which he took to the pool at the back. Everyone moved out of the way when he started to shoot. It was an automatic reflex: Overall shot of area; relationship of pool to house; film closely around the perimeter; zoom in on body; pause over cigarette butts, if any, broken fencing, if any, bushes. From the corner of his eye he saw that the technicians had finished dusting the marble table. He panned slowly from pool to table: Sherlock Holmes used cocaine. It had to be you; theres really no one else I can talk to.

There was no point videoing the inside of the house. Three officers had reported that there were no signs of disturbance. Pausing over her with the camera still whirring as she lay, now faceup on the bottom of the pool, Chan acknowledged a failure of professional objectivity. Through the lens he saw a fine, strong spirit, lost in a cloud.


| The Last Six Million Seconds | c