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They came for Chan at lunchtime. Two tall Chinese with thick Shanghainese accents walked into Mongkok Police Station and up the stairs to his office. Neither would give his name or state his business at reception; no one had the courage to stop them, however. Chan did not resist and was not surprised to see Cuthbert in the back of the black Mercedes waiting in the car park behind the police station. He and Cuthbert found nothing to say to each other. Chan remembered a small room, an old man and black-and-white photographs hanging from a string that depicted people being taken to their executions.

At the top of the Bank of China a feast was in progress. Chan sat next to Cuthbert at a huge circular table. Xian sat directly opposite Chan. The detective had never seen any of the other sixteen men who sat around picking and sucking loudly at the crabs that ended every now and then with a soft thuck in a pile of shells in the middle. Chan saw that they were all about the same age as Xian. Apart from the general himself, who was wearing a black mandarin robe, the guests were in off-the-peg two-piece suits, black, gray or navy blue. None wore a necktie.

After the crab a very old man served choi sam, abalone, steamed rice, crispy duck. The lunch finished with soup and then sliced oranges. Chan and Cuthbert ate nothing.

The old man came around again with balloon-shaped brandy glasses, which he filled from a bottle labeled VSO Cognac.

Xian raised his glass, said something loudly in Mandarin to which all the other old men assented.

I give you human suffering, Cuthbert translated.

Everyone drank except Chan and Cuthbert. Xian put down his glass, stared at Chan. Whenever he spoke, Cuthbert translated.

I see our chief inspector from Hong Kong doesnt like my toast.

There were murmurs from around the table. Xian held up one hand. The murmurs ceased. Its all right, I understand. Its not a jolly sort of toast of the kind the British and Americans like. But thats because they are hypocrites. Open your eyes. Its never been clearer that the happiness of the few depends on the misery of the billions. This is the capitalist system that has been forced upon us. You who have one foot in the West should be pleased with our new enlightenment.

He paused for a moment in thought. His eyes rested on Chan. In my youth, when I was only a little younger than you, I believed passionately in Marxist-Leninist-Mao Zedong Thought. So did General Wen, General Chen Yu, General Wu, General Guo, General Pu Xinyu, General Zuo, General Lao, General Tang, General Zhang, General Wang, General Li, General Yao, General Pan, General Ge, General Yu Wei. As Xian went around the table, each of the old men nodded. We all did. In 1952 I had the honor of attending a report given by the great Zhou Enlai in the Cherishing Humanity Hall in Zhongnanhai in Beijing. I listened attentively while he spoke for seven hours. Of course I understood nothing, but how could a man who spoke for seven hours be wrong? How could Mao be wrong? How could Lenin and Marx be wrong? So for forty years we watched China grow poorer from being right, while the West grew richer from being wrong. When the Soviet Union finally disappeared, we all wondered what we had done with our lives. Worst of all, we wondered what we had done to China. How did it come about that the West was right after all? Political power came out of a gun, Mao said. Well, in China we had plenty of guns but not much power. So we started selling our guns, the other generals and I. Overnight things started to change. People wed never met before from countries wed never heard of came to see us, asking to buy our guns. America sells arms too. More than we do. More than anyone. The British and the French too. We had started to do things right. But it wasnt enough. Our guns are too old-fashioned, too inefficient to compare with American and British weapons.

We sat down to lunch one day, the other generals and I, to work out what it was that was still missing. Being Chinese, we looked to history. Where had the British money come from to enable them to build the biggest empire in the world, to build their factories, their warships, their airplanes? Where had American money come from? Westerners work no harder than Chinese, but they make a thousand times more money, because of the start they have on us. What did it consist of, this start? It took us a whole lunchtime to work it out. Slaves and narcotics. After the slaves and narcotics phase of capitalism, who knows, we might even have democracy in China. But were a long way behind, and we have to start in the way approved by history. Arent you pleased weve taken the path to freedom?

No, Chan said.

He expected a blow or a bullet. Anything except the slowly accumulating rumble of laughter from the old men around the table. Xian was whinnying so hard his neighbor had to thump him on the back. He waved a hand.

You can go, Chief Inspector. Theres no harm you can do. Tell the world about us; start a revolution. Well just march in a few weeks earlier. Youre a good Chinaman-stubborn and old-fashioned. I used to be like you before the West educated me. You solved your case. While you were solving it-Xian paused for another burst of whinnying-we bought an atom bomb. There was an explosion of laughter around the table. I tell you, Im starting to like the American way. Its so easy. You dont need to study dialectical materialism; money talks. Go. The system you served so loyally is finished. All that Boy Scout stuff is over. Nobodys buying truth anymore-least of all the British and the Americans. Youre in China now.

| The Last Six Million Seconds | c