Have you noticed, farang, how even in the very finest of modern buildings the parking garages have all been designed by Stalin? I predict an architectural revolution one day, which will give us underground parking garages to die for, rather than in. (Our descendants will watch ancient footage and exclaim, How could they ever have put up with such drab parking garages?) Dismal is the word, and now I’ve finished the cr^epes suzette and don’t know what to do with the plate. I feel diminished. I’m going through my usual self-recrimination at having turned myself into a fool while flying by the seat of my pants: Why couldn’t you just play it straight for once, you just had to imitate a frigging Hong Kong jeweler, for Buddha’s sake, what the hell were you thinking of, still trying to prove you’re a cop and not a consigliere, who are you kidding? You will understand that in this state of mind, it is quite a relief when Ng roars up in a red Ferrari, opens the passenger door, and snaps, “Get in.” He is still in his Nehru jacket, but the gold jewelry has been safely deposited somewhere and his top buttons are undone, giving a quite different impression of the personality of the owner, whose voice has deepened a shade and lost its queenly intonation. I cannot resist handing the empty plate to one of the heavies, along with the silver fork, before getting into the car.
Now we’re all about torque as we roar up a turnpike, which leads up the mountain called Victoria fast enough to create our own bow wave. Lesser vehicles get out of the way: wealth here is a sign of power, and every Asian knows from bitter experience that might is right. We’ve turned off the turnpike before Ng speaks again.
“You have no investigative powers here.”
I nod humbly. “That’s right.”
“And by crashing our party you compromised yourself totally.”
“If a Hong Kong cop behaved like that I’d have his balls for batter.”
“That’s a good expression. Where did you get it?”
He allows himself the ghost of a smile. “One of my mothers was English. So was one of my wives.”
“Was your English wife male or female?”
For some reason Ng finds this question very funny. He’s still laughing when security lets us into his high-end condominium building.
Now we’re standing in a great split-level salon with floor-to-ceiling windows through which dark energy travels from the city below. At the back soft footlights illuminate two ten-foot commemorative portraits: a Chinese couple in frontal pose sitting on elaborately carved chairs draped in brocade, a lavish carpet at their feet, wearing winter gowns and fur-trimmed robes. The woman’s feet and hands are hidden, and they both wear long jade necklaces and elaborate headdresses with gold and silver ornaments. The resemblance to Doctor Moi’s ancestral portraits is so strong I want to know if they are the same; but when I step closer I can see that they are not. Ng watches me with curiosity. He is entirely at home, entirely relaxed. I’m the third-world nerd who provides a kind of foil. If I weren’t here, who would he feel superior to?
“My paternal great-grandparents,” he explains. “Before the revolution.”
“You are from Swatow?”
“I’m not from anywhere. Chairman Mao threw Mummy and Daddy into an oven when I was four. They say I cried out loud at the very moment their brains popped-that was my childhood over and the end of identity.” He waves a hand to forestall questions. “Distant relatives, foster parents, some of them foreigners-I wound up in Hong Kong. By age fifteen I was already an old man. I met a mind master and a benefactor. For a high price he shared his wisdom: Don’t try to be somebody. Don’t try to be nobody. You are already dead. Enjoy. Of course, the words mean nothing unless part of an initiation-in my case a kind of mental chemotherapy that annihilated all remnants of the notion of belonging.” He smiles at me without warmth or hostility-just a smile performing a function. “Shall I offer you a drink? Is it that kind of moment? Or shall I just spill my guts? Obviously, it’s too late to tell you to fuck off, now you’re my guest. I had to get you out of that party, didn’t I? That was smart of you; I doubt I would have bothered with you at all otherwise.” He pauses to reflect. “Actually, you were the perfect excuse. I’m so bored with those overblown Hong Kong functions.”
He stares out into the city night: quite beautiful, I have to say, with the fattest skyscrapers competing for attention with laser light shows, and the water of the harbor black behind them. When he speaks it is to the window.
“You probably don’t realize how mad Mimi Moi really is, nobody does who hasn’t lived with her.” He spares me a glance. “That must be why you’re here, right? Mad Moi, Doctor of Chemistry, the first and only Thai-Chinese woman to do chemistry/pharmacology at Oxford and get a First?” I nod. “Without her maid she can’t even dress herself-she really can’t. When we lived together I watched sometimes while the maid spread her knickers for her to get into in the morning. She refuses ever to bathe herself, the maid has to do it. And she’s hopeless with money. The maid has to control the purse strings.” He smiles, perhaps at my reflection in the window. “Now that’s a good cop point, isn’t it? But you’d be wrong to draw conclusions. It’s much, much deeper than that.” He shakes his head. “No, that maid doesn’t care about money, she’s already incredibly rich.” He smiles again, thinly. “Now I’ve really shocked you, yes? Probably the richest slave in the world. And d’you know that’s exactly what she is half the time? There’s nothing she doesn’t do for Moi, nothing she won’t do. She even puts medicinal cream on her hemorrhoids. The two of them have been an item since Mimi was born. But Mimi is a baby, Detective. A brilliant, witty, cynical, beautiful, charming, highly sophisticated, perfectly educated baby. Not unusual, perhaps, among the rich in any society. Anyway, the executive summary is that Mimi cannot live without her, and I dare say the maid would probably not consent to live without Mimi. Together they make up the two hemispheres of a perfect private world, and they know it.”
“No room for husbands?”
“Oh, as long as I didn’t seek attention I got on okay. I was relatively young, but not that young. I needed a trade. She wanted to prove to the world that she could catch a man as well as any other woman-I mean, at that stage in her life she was still pretending to be normal.”
“Trade? I thought you were a jeweler? We’ve already established that Doctor Moi is a pharmacist.” By the way he smirks I realize I’ve given him the information he wanted: how much do I already know? Not much, apparently, for he says, “I’ll have to educate you from the beginning, it seems. I’ll tell you what, why not stay the night? Don’t worry, I don’t fancy you in the least. Your wardrobe turns me right off.”