You’re kidding me! The judge really did that? Even numbers guilty, odd numbers innocent? That is kind of Oriental. I have some great stories for you too that I’m typing out. I just wanted to scribble this to let you know I’m thinking about you. Must be all of forty-eight hours since you last heard from me.
By the way, those sneaky little Chinese characters you added to your last fax-I tried to look them up in a Chinese dictionary in the public library. If they mean what I think they mean, I feel the same way.
Chan scowled at the fax, screwed it into a ball and threw it in the trash can. Well, I don’t feel that way anymore. You know she’s alive. Dental records: I know you knew.
On a summons from headquarters Chan left his office, took the underground to Admiralty and walked in the heat to Arsenal Street. At reception he called up to homicide on the third floor. An officer there said that the death of Emily Ping was being handled by Chief Inspector Jack Siu. Chan walked up the three flights of broad stairs. There was nothing on the walls except paint, nothing on the stairs except a nonslip synthetic product and no one in uniform going up or down at that particular moment, yet Chan reckoned that if he’d been transported there blindfolded, he would have known it was a police station. There was a subliminal message that went with law enforcement and attached itself to the walls and floors of police stations. Criminals learned to read it, but so did the police themselves. This was the first time Chan had been asked to assist in a death investigation other than as an investigator. Siu was waiting with his assistant, a young Chinese inspector. Siu smiled as he entered.
“Sorry to drag you over here. Unusual, isn’t it?”
Chan nodded, looked around the office. The wall behind Siu was a Bayeau tapestry in photographs of one man’s progress through the system: Siu as head prefect; Siu as police cadet; Siu graduating; Siu promoted to sergeant; Siu arresting two notorious triad killers; Siu promoted to senior inspector; Siu receiving a medal from the governor; Siu in full-dress uniform of chief inspector. Chan vowed to dispose of his own photograph featuring his bravery award as soon as he returned to his office. There were certain aspects of Chineseness that his Irish side couldn’t take.
“We received a copy of your memo-where you mention that your prints would be on the marble top. You’re right. They are.”
Chan allowed his eyes to rest on Siu for a beat too long. He was not surprised that Siu had checked. He was surprised that Siu had not asked Chan personally for a card with his prints. Without it there was only one way for him to have obtained Chan’s prints. Like everyone else who lived in Hong Kong, when Chan had applied for his identity card, he had submitted to fingerprinting. Normally those fingerprints were considered confidential information, not available to police except with the consent of the commissioner. Siu must have applied to Commissioner Tsui for permission to access confidential information relating to Chan. And Commissioner Tsui had consented.
Chan smiled. “Told you.”
Siu nodded. “She was a friend of yours?”
“Not exactly. She was a close friend of my brother-in-law. I spent a night on her boat with my sister, her husband and a few other people.”
“I’d better take the names of those other people.”
Chan hesitated. Siu waited. The young Chinese inspector leaned forward. Siu leaned back in his chair. “Would you like Inspector Ng to leave the room?”
Chan felt he was losing control of the situation. Why wait for a prompt from Siu? “Yes.”
With a shrug the inspector left the room and closed the door behind him. Siu took up a government issue pencil.
Chan recited: “General Xian, the political adviser, Mr. Milton Cuthbert, two bodyguards belonging to Xian, my sister, Jenny, her husband, Jonathan Wong.”
“That’s a pretty impressive list. Well connected for a humble cop, aren’t you?”
“I told you, she was close to my brother-in-law. He’s a partner in a law firm. It’s his business to know people like that. Also, there were crew for the boat and a Sri Lankan cook employed by Emily Ping.”
“Yes, we’ve spoken to the cook. She was asleep when you paid your visit. Not surprising, it was after midnight.”
“I didn’t see any servants, that’s true.”
“How about opium?”
“We found evidence of recent opium use in the house. We expect to find some in her blood. Know anything about that?”
“Were you lovers?”
“She ever make a pass at you? She had quite a reputation.”
“No, not really.” Chan could not believe he’d said that.
Siu pounced. “Not really?”
Chan felt the blood rising to his cheeks. “She asked me to sleep with her. I refused.”
“She said that?”
“I’d call that making a pass, wouldn’t you?”
“And when you refused, she asked you to smoke opium with her?”
“Why d’you say that?”
“We’ve spoken to other men. She was notorious. Sex, drugs-the only Western decadence she didn’t like was rock and roll. You visit a woman like her late at night, it’s not to play mah-jongg.”
“I know nothing about the opium,” Chan said, not knowing why he was lying. Wrong, he knew why he was lying. To admit to knowing about the opium was one step closer to admitting he had smoked with her. He’d caught people that way. If you have no odor, the dogs can’t track you, but he was ashamed to be thinking like that. There was an adage: The line between cop and crook may be too fine to be distinguished.
“Would you say she was going through some kind of change, questioning old values, the worth of her life-that kind of thing?”
“I told you, we weren’t close.”
“But so far as we know you were the last of her friends to see her alive. Did she use expressions of despair: “It doesn’t matter anymore,” “What’s the use?” et cetera?”
“Anything in her conversation to suggest she was abusing drugs?”
“Do you know of any previous suicide attempts?”
“Was she burdened by any heavy feelings of guilt or regret?”
“She never said so to me.”
“Why didn’t you screw her?”
“You were free, divorced. She was single, the most eligible spinster in Asia, the world probably. None of the other guys said no.”
“Because none of the other guys said no.”
Siu sat back in his chair, then stood up with his hands in his pockets. He gazed out of the window reflectively.
“She wasn’t a whore; how could you apply that word to a billionairess? She was voracious. She dominated with her vagina; she was like a man, a pelvic colonizer. Maybe that’s what you didn’t like. You have a strong independent streak. Everyone says so.”
“It’s not illegal.”
Siu nodded, forced a smile.
“Have you formed a view yet, suicide or murder?” Chan asked the question in a humble voice.
Sui shook his head. “I’ve never seen a case so finely balanced. To swim down to the drain in the pool, chain and lock yourself to it, then handcuff yourself behind your back”-he shrugged-“you would have to have lungs like bellows, but it could be done. Police cadets handcuff themselves for fun in all sorts of positions. You and I have done it?” Chan nodded at the half question. “Murder is a much simpler explanation, but why would a murderer leave the keys in the pool under her where there was just a chance of her retrieving them before she died?”
“Because the murderer wanted it to look like suicide? Maybe he dropped the keys in the water after she was dead.”
Siu nodded. “Of course, we thought of that.”
“But if it was murder, why no signs of struggle? She was a strong woman, athletic. Wasn’t she?”
Chan reddened again. “She swam like a dolphin. Good lungs.”
Siu stared at him. “Well, thanks for coming to see us. If we think it wasn’t suicide, we’ll need to speak to you again.”
Chan got up. “Anytime.”
Siu also stood. “How’s the mincer case going, by the way? Are all the rumors true?”
Chan forced himself to brighten. “Rumors are always true, you know that. As a matter of fact I might even have a lead. I’m meeting an informant tomorrow night.”
At the door he wished Siu good luck.