Chan classified his unsolved cases into two groups: where the identity of the perpetrator was unknown and he had no leads and where he knew who had done it but lacked crucial evidence. With regard to the second category, in his opinion it was a mistake for the perpetrator to antagonize the investigator to the point where the latter is driven to unlawful means. Emily had been murdered by whoever had framed him. Would Xian have used a Chanel belt?
Behind a banyan tree near the drive at the entrance to Beauchamp Villas, his service revolver in an arm holster, Chan waited for two evenings for the green Jaguar to leave. On the third evening he watched from the shadows while the diplomat drove away at his usual speed at about eight in the evening. He was wearing a dinner jacket and black bow tie. With the Jag’s sun roof open Chan could hear the chants of Gregorian monks fade quickly away. He emerged from behind the tree and walked up the drive. The heat was opressive. By the end of the short walk he was sweating and out of breath, but not only from the heat. Did everyone suffer from molten bowels on his first major crime?
He used his identity card to pass the security at the gate. On the fifth floor he took thin cotton gloves from his pocket and slipped them on; his hands shook as he used a skeleton key for the deadlock and a piece of flat plastic on the Yale. I am committing the first burglary of my career.
Apart from dim light that filtered through from the public lamps on the sidewalk, the apartment was unlit, empty. Closing the door behind him, he breathed in the delicious cool from the silent air-conditioning unit. Sweat cooled on his face and arms. The luxury of space calmed his nerves a little. He took out a small flashlight. He had stopped shaking, but he noted a profound division in his policeman’s psyche: He was an outlaw in another man’s home at night.
He framed me.
What to look for and where to start? His flashlight picked out the priceless carpets and the antique rifle on the wall. The collection of opium pipes in their glass case looked as untouched as a museum piece. Where does a scholar keep his secrets? He padded softly down the hall to the library.
On the lectern facing the window an open volume of poems in Chinese waited. The Englishman had made notes and produced one full translation:
Blue, blue is the grass about the river
And the willows have overfilled the close garden
And within, the mistress, in the midmost of her youth,
White, white of face, hesitates, passing the door.
Slender, she puts forth a slender hand;
And she was a courtesan in the old days,
And she has married a sot,
Who now goes drunkenly out
And leaves her too much alone.
Chan paused over the poem. Over the top of the page Cuthbert had scrawled the single word “Emily.” Flicking through the notes, Chan found some instructions the diplomat had given himself:
“Tell Hill fix mold on trees. Service car before end month. Change for Nepal (plus get visa). Cash to safe.”
Safe? His spirits fell. The ability to break into a flat or house was a skill a detective picked up during the course of business. Safecracking was an exotic specialization involving welding equipment, etc. Homicide didn’t do safes.
He found it behind a false facade in a corner of the room. It was about four feet high, two feet thick and two and a half feet wide-and locked. He was sitting on the floor in front of it, feeling futile and foolish, when the door opened and a light flicked on.
Cuthbert’s bow tie was undone and lay across the ruffs of his dress shirt. In his hand he held the largest revolver Chan had ever seen. The diplomat’s face was ashen.
“I thought you’d try the library first.” He strode further into the room. “You’ve been by the banyan tree for the past two evenings. I saw you. Telescope. You’ve deduced that I killed her and think perhaps I kept that tape recording.” Cuthbert raised the huge revolver, pointed it vaguely in Chan’s direction. “I feel as if I’ve been trying to get rid of you forever.”
“I finally noticed,” Chan said. “Big gun.”
Cuthbert grunted. Keeping the gun pointed in Chan’s direction, he walked over to the chesterfield, sat and emitted a long sigh. After a moment he raised the gun again, pointed it at Chan’s head. “Well, this is the moment of truth. If I killed her, I would have no choice but to kill you, would I? I could say you burgled me, which is true, and I fired in self-defense. I assume that bulge under your jacket is a service revolver.”
Chan closed his eyes. He heard Cuthbert pull the trigger. Chan was still shuddering seconds after the hammer clicked on the empty chamber.
Cuthbert threw the gun onto the carpet. “You really are the most unbelievable pain in the arse. And for a homicide detective, pretty damned ignorant about firearms. No ammunition has been available for the Civil War LeMat in over fifty years.”
“I’m sorry,” Chan said in Cantonese. “Your erudition is truly masterful. I am overwhelmed.” In English he added: “Even if you didn’t kill her, you framed me.” He was still twitching.
Cuthbert spoke in a clipped, bitter voice. “Because I was allowed to. London changed its mind-after a lot of coaxing, I might add. I had to use the governor to go over Henderson’s head to the minister. Henderson’s hopping mad. But I was right, damn it. There was no reason at all not to delay the case until after June; I was simply keeping you out of the way until then. Of course this was before you found that American lesbian and her friends. The cat’s out of the bag now. We can leave you to Xian. If we move fast, we can reinstate you prior to your assassination.”
Still in shock, Chan tried to concentrate. Bitter recrimination was not the reaction one normally expected from a murder suspect. Not in Mongkok anyway. “Who’s Henderson?”
Cuthbert sat back on the sofa, pinched the bridge of his nose. “A fat, androgynous glutton who runs Britain.”
“And you had me framed to get me off the case?”
“I have the authorization from the minister.”
“But I was kept on the case?”
“Thank Commissioner Ronald Tsui for that. I underestimated him. Quite the paper warrior.”
Chan remembered the way Tsui had not looked at him when they accused him of murdering Emily.
“Tsui knew I was innocent? He knew you set me up?” He could not suppress a note of hope. How very Chinese, to want to set the record straight with Authority as one was dragged before the firing squad.
“He knew nothing, but I think he guessed.”
“Ah, yes. Only the white mandarins would have shared the stratagem.” He endured Cuthbert’s stare. “I’m going to stand up now.” An odd thing to say; he found it difficult to believe that Cuthbert did not have some other weapon concealed, ready to attack.
“You may as well. I suppose we have things to discuss.”
Chan stood. When Cuthbert failed to produce an antique gun from his jacket, Chan flapped his arms nervously. Never burgle an Englishman; he may come home and want to talk. But Cuthbert seemed lost in thought.
“You faked the fingerprint evidence on Emily’s belt? It’s professional curiosity that makes me ask.”
The diplomat seemed to relax. He sat back a little on the sofa, sighed.
“MI6 are still capable of certain elementary tasks, not that one would trust them with something important. You’ve no idea how proud they are that they managed to break into Arsenal Street forensic laboratory without getting caught.” Cuthbert scowled. “For the best description of the English psyche, look to Lewis Carroll.”
Warily Chan moved around the room. He glanced back at the lectern.
“You didn’t kill her? You knew I was coming? And you wrote her name at the top of that poem?”
The diplomat stared at him. “Christ.” He shook his head. “I need a drink. Try not to think about anything while I’m gone. I’ve noticed it’s when you think that things most often take a turn for the worse.”
Cuthbert returned with a bottle of brandy and two balloon-shaped brandy glasses, which he placed on a coffee table near to the chesterfield. He poured until the glasses were about one-third full. Without waiting for Chan, he took two quick swallows. Chan saw that he had finished half the glass. Cuthbert took the silver cigarette case out of his jacket, threw a cigarette to Chan and lit one for himself, at the same time sitting down on the sofa. After an inhalation he swallowed the rest of the brandy and poured another glass.
“Drink,” Cuthbert said. “It may stop you thinking.”
Chan shrugged and picked up the glass. The Englishman had a point. Chan watched him swallow more brandy. He took a sip himself.
Cuthbert shook his head, apparently in disbelief. “D’you know that’s the only small talk I’ve ever heard from you? It takes a burglary, I suppose.”
“Don’t, it’s painful.”
Chan reached out to touch a book titled A Photographer in Old Peking. With Cuthbert watching he pulled it from the shelf and flicked through it. To Chinese eyes, even a non-Communist, the pictures reflected a period of shame. Caucasian predators had flooded the Middle Kingdom. The worst sold opium and ruthlessly exploited the people; the best found it all very quaint. To understand someone like Cuthbert, one had to look with Western eyes. With the distance of time and the skillful positioning of the camera lens there was a haunting beauty in The Opium Smoker and His Son, The Jujube Seller, The Altar of Heaven by Moonlight. It was long before the Cultural Revolution; the old walls were there, still intact, and of course the gates that foreigners like Cuthbert lamented so deeply since Mao destroyed them: Hsi An Men, Ti An Men, Tung An Men and Hou Men. Chan closed the book.
“In your youth you had already decided to come East. You envisaged the life of a scholar-diplomat, with large old-fashioned Chinesestyle house, servants, Chinese mistress, occasional opium smoking with gentlemen with long white beards-that sort of thing?”
“And perhaps Emily was part of this dream? True, you were over forty by then, and in Hong Kong, not China, but you had position, privilege and money. You could build your dream. It’s what people do when they get money.” Chan walked up to the diplomat. “She loved you like a Chinese.” He hissed. “Fierce and true.”
Cuthbert winced. “At first, yes.”
“Until you sucked her into your game. You knew what Xian would do with her-”
“Damn and fuck Xian!” Chan stepped back when Cuthbert stood up and strode to the window. He turned to Chan. “He destroyed her. As he will destroy everything.” Chan saw the upper lip tremble, before he brought it under control. Cuthbert placed both hands on the lectern and looked down at the poem. He spoke slowly, enunciating every syllable.
“There must have been a dozen times over the past ten years during her insane tantrums when I wished to God she would do herself in. Then when she did”-he paused and swallowed-“I realized that I had loved her. Last night I was drunk as usual, and I saw her soul, so different to her personality. It was like the woman in that poem… unspeakably lonely, very female, very Chinese.”
The Englishman breathed deeply. “God knows why I left it lying around for you to find. Some sort of awful melodramatic reflex on my part, I suppose. I must have wanted your interrogation.” He took out the silver cigarette case, lit another cigarette, inhaled deeply. “She telephoned me just before, as she had on her previous suicide attempts. Unfortunately I wasn’t in. She left a message on my answering machine. She was dead by the time I arrived. Women handle guilt badly. To their credit, I suppose.” He shuffled among his papers on the lectern. “Or am I doing her an injustice? Here, you were supposed to find this as well.”
His hand shook slightly as he handed Chan a piece of red paper. Two lines were written in green felt tip:
If glory could last for ever
Then the waters of Han would flow northward.
Chan looked at Cuthbert.
“It’s from one of my translations of Li Po, ‘The River Song.’ It was on that marble table near her swimming pool. She knew I would be the one to find it. I think she meant that her brilliant day was over; she was bowing out. She’d had enough of all of us.”
Chan waited for the diplomat to recover. “And that tape recording?”
“Of that memorable night when you smoked opium with her? She’d hidden it in her bedroom. I removed it before calling the police. It was classified information after all.”
Chan kept quiet. There was never anything to say in reply to a true confession. He moved nervously around the book-filled shelves, spoke in an unnaturally light tone. “D’you know, I’ve always wanted a library like this? To have so many books, all in order on beautiful oak shelves. To be able to come in and handle them. To have the space to enjoy them. And the learning, of course. You read wenyen-classical Chinese. I don’t. That’s ironic.”
Cuthbert loosened a shirt button, then, seeming to make a decision, removed his jacket and threw it on the sofa. He had finished his second glass of brandy and showed no sign of drunkenness. Chan finished his.
Cuthbert poured two more. “You envy me, I envy you.”
“You’re mocking me.”
“Not at all. I envy you all the things you don’t have to think about. It must be marvelous, hunting down some half-witted murderer, preparing the evidence for court, potting him. You have a ninety percent success rate. Most people conclude you’re brilliant. I would conclude you’re underusing your gifts.”
Chan looked at the Englishman standing by the window. “You know what’s the weirdest thing of all about your culture? A morbid addiction to guilt. My ex-wife is English. She experienced no guilt herself, of course, but she could inflict it from a distance. You people can impose guilt on anything. If I listened to you, I could end up feeling guilty about solving so many crimes.”
Cuthbert smiled thinly. “I was merely explaining why you should not envy me. In your profession you are given soluble problems, like a crossword. Take the Mincer Murders. To you it was simply a case of identifying the victims and the perpetrators.”
“And to you?”
The diplomat seemed on the point of saying something, then stopped. He started again. “You conclude the investigation, and what was the case really all about? Answer: The general and his cronies who will be running this colony in a few weeks’ time are criminals who have made stupendous fortunes out of the export of heroin and arms and are now in the process of collecting uranium for weapons of mass destruction.”
“Truth can hurt. But it’s still the truth.”
“So you go to the media, tell the world. Six million people in Hong Kong who have been hoping for the best now know that they can expect the worst. The half who have other countries to go to flood the streets to the airport. The other three million riot. It becomes clear that Great Britain cannot contain the situation. So the People’s Liberation Army comes in early to keep the peace. Don’t you see? Xian cannot lose now. He’s holding all the cards. There never was a case to solve. It’s a power game we cannot win.”
Chan felt that Cuthbert was invoking a deeper level of responsibilty and wisdom than he was accustomed to work on. He found himself preoccupied by a different problem.
“You think he’ll kill me?”
Cuthbert shrugged. “It depends. Two days ago you demonstrated to his satisfaction that the 14K and Sun Yee On triad societies made a fool of him and chopped up two of his most senior cadres. I went to the length of recommending the assassination of Clare Coletti and her friends in the hope of keeping the thing secret. Of course I was aware of the futility, but one has to try. I heard today that the news has been leaked to Xian. I would guess that he won’t get around to thinking about you until he’s attended to what he will consider the more pressing aspects of the matter.”
“You hate Xian?”
Cuthbert poured the brandy and shook his head. “I would like to, but it’s difficult to hate a primal force. To hate Xian would be like hating typhoons or volcanic activity. He’s simply a fact of life. A fact of life, moreover, that the Western democracies prefer not to think about. Their awakening from deep liberal sleep is going to be interesting.”
“I don’t understand.”
Cuthbert handed him a glass. Chan lit a Benson. “Oh, I think you do. You must have noticed how the West is complacently convinced that human evolution will eventually produce worldwide democracy, a mirror of itself, in other words. They have no idea. Modern China is hardly twenty years old, if you count the Cultural Revolution as the moment when the old China was destroyed forever. That was also the moment when they destroyed old Peking-because it was beautiful. As a policeman you must know what animal finds beauty intolerable: the human mutant. The Beast. If the West had any sense, it would shiver in fear.”
“I would like to understand you.” Cuthbert looked at Chan in surprise. Spoken in Cantonese, the sentence indicated respect and genuine interest.
“You would? It’s not difficult. Just assume the West is one hundred and eighty degrees wrong in its assumptions. Suppose China is not the past but the future. Suppose that over the border they murder their female babies for a reason, oh, not a thought-out reason but a collective psychological reaction to a situation humanity was never designed to endure. See?”
“Too many people?”
“One point six billion at the last count. Have you any idea of the sheer administrative will required to feed such numbers? You’ve been to Beijing; you know that you need a measure of ruthlessness just to get on or off a bus. And by the year 2000 eighty percent of them will be male. Young and male.”
“What are you saying?”
“I’m saying that freedom, democracy, liberalism, these are quaint nineteenth-century concepts that have passed their sell-by date. In the very near future all such luxuries will be swept away by monsters who have been spawned by monsters to govern monsters. What will be required will be an extreme of callousness that will make the West faint. And there’s not a force on earth that will be able to contain the problem in China. I’m saying, my friend, that Xian is not a mere thug or warlord. He’s a visionary. He is the future.”
“And this is why he needs an atom bomb? Because there are too many people?”
Cuthbert shrugged. “I doubt that he’s bothered to think it through. It’s a fact, though, if lebensraum is what you’re after, nothing clears a space like nuclear radiation.”
“I still don’t understand. This monster, this beast who destroyed the woman you loved, you’ve spent much of your career doing as he tells you?”
Cuthbert fumbled with his cigarette case. His speech was becoming slurred. “I lick his arse.” He raised the unlit cigarette in one hand and moved his weight with a slight lurch from one foot to another. The black bow tie still lay across his dress shirt; he stared at Chan. His eyes were windows to incredulity. “I lick his arse.”