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THE STORYTELLER FROM HONG KONG

by DAVID FUNG

Table of Contents

  1. THE PREFACE
  2. THE SIGHTING
  3. SOUNDING OUT THE ADVERSARY
  4. THE DEAL
  5. THE COLLABORATION
  6. Chapter one: The First Kill according to The Porcupine
  7. THE NEW VERSION
  8. Chapter Two: The Colombian Adventure according the Porcupine
  9. RUBBING SALT ON THE WOUND
  10. Chapter Three: The Locked Room Murder according to The Porcupine
  11. THE THAW
  12. Chapter Four: The Case of the Sinister Black Glove according to Charles Garcia
  13. THE TOILET FIXER
  14. Chapter Five: The Case of the not so Peaceful Demonstration according to Charles Garcia
  15. FORBIDDEN LANGUAGE
  16. Chapter Six: Close Encounter with the Dragon Lady according to Charles Garcia
  17. THE AIR-CON FIXER
  18. Chapter Seven: Cops and Robbers according to Charles Garcia
  19. OLD FRIEND GONE
  20. Chapter Eight: The Case of the Virgin Patient according to Charles Garcia
  21. OF MARRIAGE AND FISHING
  22. Chapter Nine: The Case of the Missing Jockey according to Charles Garcia
  23. LUST AND EMPTINESS
  24. Chapter Ten: The Men Who Can°¶t Be Killed according to The Porcupine
  25. MR. JONES AND THE BUTTERFLY
  26. Chapter Eleven: The Case of the Japanese Serial Killer according to Charles Garcia
  27. THE MIRROR DOUBLE
  28. Chapter Twelve : A Tale of Two Lovers according to Charles Garcia
  29. LAST CASES


ONE

THE PREFACE

I AM UNDER GREAT PRESSURE writing this preface. I am struggling to make it entirely my own work. The original title of this book was MEMOIRS OF T.B.C.I.T., the last five letters standing for The BEST COP IN TOWN, which is me, Charles Garcia. But I was told by the Porcupine, whom I have coerced into working with me that this title was no good, a bit contrived, even sounded cheap. Finally, I had it changed to THE STORYTELLER.
But basically, this book is my memoirs, about a police officer's life in Hong Kong and Macao. Personally, I still think the original title is better. Contrived it may be, it serves to reflect the bizzare life here, as the cases in my book will reveal.
I am fifty-four years old, a Portuguese born in Macao, retired and writing my memoirs in Macao.
Macao is a tiny seaport an hour's ride by ferry from Hong Kong. I own a house here.
Both Hong Kong and Macao are on the coast of South China, two famous colonies formerly under British and Portuguese rules respectively. They were made even more famous when China demanded their return to Chinese sovereignty and Britain and Portugal meekly conceded. If you have never heard of these two places, you must be living in a place without television or newspapers. Hong Kong was returned to the Chinese in 1997. Macao followed suit shortly afterwards.
I still believe that I am the best cop ever to emerge from Hong Kong and Macao. I have cracked almost every case I have ever come across. I rose up the ranks to be one of the top twenty men in the police force in Hong Kong. I could have remained in that position if not for the fact that the British government had to hand the colony back to China in 1997 and it was more convenient that the top men be local Chinese. Being a Portuguese had no chance at all.
I have also been in Internal Affairs, the Political Branch and the Anti-corruption Branch where I helped, as a matter of speech, chopped off some heads. I have later also dabbled in security consulting and even politics. No policeman I know of in Hong Kong has done all that.
Now that I'm retired and writing about it all, my memoirs should prove interesting reading material. But there is always this nagging feeling that something is amiss. I realize what is missing the moment I catch sight of Joseph Bickford The Porcupine again. He's the one that got away. My record would be perfect if not for him. He has slipped through my fingers twice. Now I realize that I have been trying not to think about him. That is the nagging feeling.
The sight of him is opening my old wounds.
It must have been over twenty years since I last saw The Porcupine. That was when he eluded me the first time. The second time, I didn't actually see him with my own eyes. This man has never looked dangerous, even less so now. If you were making a movie and needed to cast a jovial, chubby, very harmless looking little man, The Porcupine would be the perfect choice. He could easily be the target of a hit man, certainly not the hit man himself. But he was a hit man, now retired. Life is so deceiving on the surface.
It is so unfair for such a man to survive and live in retirement. But there has been nothing I could do about it. Nobody ever had anything on him. He disappeared a long time ago, not to evade me, just vanished. I heard several years ago that he had retired.
This time when I spot The Porcupine again, I am in Macao writing my memoirs.
The chief breadwinner here was and still is a flourishing gambling industry catering mainly to the Chinese tourists from Hong Kong and Taiwan. Being a Portuguese, I have mixed feelings about both hand-overs. Britain and Portugal helped develop and shape both places and should take credit for that. They don't deserve the humiliation of giving back what they have built. But when you get to the bottom line, life is all about survival for the fittest. China is getting fitter and fitter while Britain is still a lioness but has lost all her teeth, all talks and no bite. Portugal is even worse off. You don't hear Portugal having her say on international matters anymore.
I don't particular like the British but they had provided me with a good life. I was born in Macao and as with most Macao-born Portuguese, is fluent in Cantonese---- which is the common Chinese dialect these parts---, English and of course Portuguese. Which gave us an advantage over the local Chinese majority. That, however, did not mean more opportunities unless you didn't want to look far ahead and content to be a policeman in Macao all your life. That would be a fine job. You could trample all over the local Chinese and get to take the usual bribes. I would say 95% of all Portuguese policemen in Macao were corrupt. This was a colony of which the main industry was gambling. The gambling industry is like an open wound. It breeds maggots. But maggots can grow just so big. All the big shots came directly from Portugal. I guess Lisbon didn't trust us local born Portuguese that much. So the real chance was to go to Hong Kong. The writing had actually been on the wall. The favored currency in Macao was Hong Kong dollars, not the Portuguese issued Patacas. In the casinos here, when you place your bet in Patacas and wins, you will be paid in Patacas. When you place your bet in Hong Kong dollars and wins, you will in theory be paid in Hong Kong dollars. But they will try to pay you in Patacas unless you protest. In Hong Kong, we were useful to the British. We were non-Chinese but were fluent in Cantonese and English. We knew how to step on the Chinese and had no qualms about it. Those days in Hong Kong, the British were first class citizens with the Chinese third class. We were in between. The Chinese were shit to us. We Portuguese and the Chinese were shit to the British. We were just the better shit. We were like slave handlers, respected by neither the master nor the slaves, but we got a better deal than the slaves. The Chinese, who was the majority in Hong Kong, was like a huge sausage sandwiched between two thin slices of bread of different colors. The strangest stories evolved under this extraordinary combination.
I started out as a maggot in Macao but soon found my way to Hong Kong.
I thought my life was successful until The Porcupine appears again.
What am I going to do with him? I can pretend that he does not exist but I know that won't do.
He is to change entirely the way I am to write this book.
His reappearance has caused me to rewrite this preface five times already. In fact, this is the sixth writing.
Later, The Porcupine even suggested changing the title of this book. I have given in to his pressure. But this piece of preface is still mine to write. Maybe I have to keep rewriting it because I am trying to write the preface even before the book is finished. It is only about 3/4 finished at this writing. This man Joseph Bickford has such manipulating power that my book is threatening to become more and more his book. This man can square a circle just by talking about it. This preface must remain mine and mine to write only.

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TWO

THE SIGHTING

IT IS A HOT and humid July night, just after midnight. Charles Garcia is with two old friends at the bar of the Casino Lisboa in Macao when he spots Chin.
One of the friends is Ricky Cruz, formerly a local Portuguese police inspector who has retired just before the hand over. A small dark man in his late forties with a thick black moustache and pimple-gutted face like the skin of an orange, Cruz thinks this a wise move since the Portuguese would no longer be the superior race. "We may actually have to work," he has said earlier, "It's not worth it. Not at this kind of pay." He would pack up and move back to Portugal later. For the meantime, he is just relaxing and indulging in a little gambling. After a losing streak, they have retired to the bar. Cruz said it would be wise to wait for the wind to change. When Macao was under Portuguese rule, they would deliberately let him win some money every time he came. But not any more. Now he has to play it straight.
The third party is Jimmy Parker, a Briton who was a police inspector in Hong Kong. He has also left the force after the hand over, seeing no future for him in police work, but stayed on to do some private security work.
Garcia and Parker do not like gambling but Cruz is to some degree addicted. They tagged along as there was no better place to go and the drinks were free.
Parker is a big man, also in his late forties with reddish close- cropped hair. He has small but intense blue eyes. Several white scars mar his pink face and neck, which make him look tough. Though he has maintained modestly that these are souvenirs received during barroom brawls, which he had lost. He is always loud and sarcastic.
He swirls his scotch, looks around in disgust and remarks, "Looks like they are still doing well. Looks good on the surface anyway. Like we are visiting hell."
"Like hell. And that's looking good?" asks Garcia.
"A prosperous casino should have a hellish atmosphere," joins in Cruz, "lots of people without souls congregate here."
"That, old chap," laughs Parker loudly, "is precisely what I meant."
They have a point here. The ceiling of the casino is designed somewhat like the Sistine Chapel in Rome. Looking down at the tables is a giant dome, hand- painted intricately with angel-like figures. But a chapel would never be so noisy, with so many people cursing, only a few shouting in excitement at their good luck. And most of the people, mainly Chinese, smoke, the cigarette smoke rising like an eternal blue haze, which even a potent air-conditioning system fails to clear entirely. Some parts of hell should look like that.
Having said what he has said, Cruz is a little sheepish. "I only came here to relax," he explains, "I never gamble away my life savings. Not like all those crazy people around us." As his self- defense seems lost on his companions, he quickly changes the subject. "Look at them. All those ugly people with lots and lots of money to burn. It's so unfair, that ugly people get all the money." For it is known that the small people wager huge sums in Macao, dwarfing all other gambling establishments in the world. In return, Macao offers no extravaganzas like those in Las Vegas. The profit margin is astounding.
"That's fairness for you." Snorts Parker, "Those who don't get the money get the looks. Those who get the money look shit. It would be grossly unfair if one gets both. Of course God sometimes slips. We two look like shit without the money while our good friend Garcia here is so handsome he could be the better-looking brother of Sean Connery. He gets all the girls and he's so stinking rich. And he is fifty four years young looking forty five."
Cruz eyes Garcia with some envy. Garcia just smiles modestly. It's not the first time someone says that. That's all true, maybe except for the part about girls. He has never married and does not have a female companion at the moment.
Anyway, Garcia is too busy to comment on that because that is when he catches sight of The Porcupine.
The man is at a blackjack table to their right, contemplating the cards before him.
"See that chubby Eurasian in a grey shirt?" Asks Garcia of his companions..
Being ex-policemen, Cruz and Parker know better than to look directly. Cruz turns right all the way, pointing to the lobby, pretending to talk to Parker about something there. Parker follows his finger and pretends to answer. In the process, both men take a good look at the man.
Cruz turns back halfway, now facing the man but focusing on his left. "A loser," he mutters, "chewing furiously on something, must be a piece of chewing gum. His eyes tell you that his soul is lost. A winner would get his soul back momentarily. If he was chewing gum, he would chew with affection."
"Know him?" Parker is curt.
"I'm not sure." Garcia answers. But what he is not sure is what to do. Then he decides. "I want to know all about this man. Can you do it?"
Parker looks at Cruz, since Macao is Cruz's turf.
"No problem," Cruz promises without looking at the man again, "I still got my connections. I'll find out what he is or what he is not for you."
He fishes out a mobile and begins to dial.
"Once a copper, always a copper." Mutters Parker.
Both have no intention to ask why Garcia wants to know about this man. Between cops, some questions are just never asked.
Cruz gets up, walks in small circles on the lush carpet, speaking softly into the mobile for about two minutes, then returns and retrieves his drink.
Then they see a Chinese youth with hair dyed golden appears behind The Porcupine, puts his hand on the latter's shoulder and speaks into his right ear. The Porcupine chews on his gum some more, gets up and leaves with the youth with golden hair.
"You work that fast?" Parker asks Cruz in awe.
"Not my man," Cruz says, "I think our friend there is in trouble. You just don't put a hand on somebody's shoulder when he's gambling. That is considered very bad luck by the Chinese."
"So that was not a friend." Says Garcia.
"I'd say he's a thug sent by a loan shark," says Cruz, "maybe your friend is behind on his payments."

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THREE

SOUNDING OUT THE ADVERSARY

JODEPH BICKFORD, OR THE MAN Charles Garcia believes is Joseph Bickford The Porcupine and whom we will call The Porcupine at the meantime, has a hotel room above the casino. He did not rent it. The room came with his boat ticket from Hong Kong. Most regular players get this kind of VIP treatment. The policy is to lure you here by every means possible. You usually leave without your money. Regulars joke about a trip to Macao as "taking a bath". You invariably get cleaned up.
The Porcupine has returned to his room about an hour after he left the casino with Golden Hair. He is a rather small Eurasian with dark hair and skin fairer than the ordinary Chinese, is handsome as with most men with mixed blood, but not so handsome as to becoming a heartthrob with girls. Especially now that he is in his early fifties and a little plump, and that he is always a sloppy dresser.
He is handsome in a way that even when he was young, he would give the opposite sex the impression that he is a caring, intelligent man that could be trusted. Women would think that he could be counted on but would not turn on by him in a sexual way. But very few women would be impressed if they have seen him giving away his money like it is going out of style at the blackjack table. He is just one of many Eurasians so abundant in Hong Kong and Macao, the result of over one hundred years of ruling by the British and Portuguese with inter-racial marriages becoming more and more commonplace. Unlike the post war concoctions produced in Japan, these Eurasians are generally not discriminated against by the local Chinese majority who tend to judge on personal achievements rather than the blood or colour of skin. They are discriminated against by the British and Portuguese though. Now The Porcupine's face is glistening with sweat, which also soaks his now very shabby grey shirt. He is still chewing gum and looks very tired.
The room is small, containing just enough furnishing for a guest to have a good sleep. For most people who come to Macao for the gambling, they only go to sleep reluctantly when they have lost their shirts. A sleep yes, but a good sleep is doubtful.
The first thing The Porcupine does is to turn on the air-conditioning. Then he walks over to the window, lifts a corner of the blind, sighs and looks out, waiting for the cool air to take effect. He sees that his room is almost on top of the giant legs. The legs is a famous feature of the casino. They are in the shape of a woman's naked legs, sculpted with cement, several stories high and straddling the main entrance. Meaning that anybody entering would have to pass under the crotch of a giant woman. The Chinese consider the private parts of a woman unclean and passing under it brings extreme bad luck, especially at gambling. The management of the casino must have been the champion believer or they would not have gone the length to build this. Still, people came through between these legs into the casino. Some were skeptics. For others, the lure of gambling was just too strong. Some did complain and over time, side doors were opened to get around the big crotch. Still, people lose their money one way or another. It's actually simple math. The casinos have overpowering odds. They have to be, because they invented all the rules.
The air in the room has begun to cool. The Porcupine takes a deep breath and releases the curtain. He has already unbuttoned his shirt and kicked off his shoes. Now he starts to pull down his pants. He is wearing a pair of washed out blue jeans, which tends to cling to one's legs and usually won't just drop to the floor. He has to stoop to pull each leg off.
His left leg is up in the air and not yet cleared of the pant leg when Charles Garcia silently steps out from the small bathroom behind him. Garcia's right foot whips out, slamming the man's right ankle, which is the only foot supporting his body at the moment. The ankle leaves the floor. The man loses his balance totally. His legs tangled in the jeans are no help. He lands on the floor heavily, sprawling in a grotesque position. His head somehow ended up under the bed and the wad of chewing gum has found its way on the gray carpet, glistening like a pearl.
The Porcupine untangles his head from under the bed, turns and is looking at the muzzle of Garcia's gun.
"No, no, please don't," he holds up his hands before his face and pleads frantically in English as Garcia is obviously an English speaker, "I have no money."
"Prove it." Garcia orders softly, also in English.
The Porcupine gets up on his knees, pulls out the side pockets of his jeans, one of which contained a weathered black wallet. He shakes the contents of the wallet onto the carpet, showing some cards and a few small bills. He pats his back pockets to show they are obviously empty. The pocket of the grey shirt yields a pack of Spearmint chewing gums, half empty.
"The credit cards are all overdrawn. This bankcard is useless. I don't have any money in the bank." Says The Porcupine.
"Get up and sit on the bed," Garcia orders and retreats to sit in a small sofa at the corner between the bed and the door.
The man starts to pull up his jeans.
"No," Garcia again orders, "leave it there, between the legs." Police training has taught him that when no handcuffs are available, this would be a good way to subdue a suspect, especially if the suspect was wearing jeans, which is difficult to fling off in a hurry.
The Porcupine sits down on the edge of the bed, jeans down between his short fat legs.
Garcia suddenly chortles, "Leopard prints?"
He is referring to what the man is wearing under the jeans. The logical guess for such a man would be boxers in plain color. But now showing is a tong in leopard prints.
The man shrugs and waits.
Garcia waves his gun. "Do you really think I'm here to rob you?"
The Porcupine frowns in puzzlement. Garcia, as usual, is immaculately attired. Even at around 3 a.m. on a hot summer's night, he has managed to look fresh in an expensive cream-colored three- piece suit. His grass green silk tie should worth at least three days' rent of this room. His dark hair, which has only a few speckles of silver, is combed tidily back, with not a strand out of place. He moves his wrist slightly and a slim platinum Piaget half shows its diamond-studded face from under the cuff of his pale yellow cotton shirt. He indeed looks like a six-foot version of Sean Connery in his prime. People just don't go mugging dressed like that.
"What do you want?" asks The Porcupine.
Garcia's gun raises slightly to aim at The Porcupine's forehead, his grey eyes hard as metal.
"No," The Porcupine shakes his head in disbelieve, "you are not going to kill me over such a small sum of money. Besides, I have already reached an agreement with°K." He stops. Garcia certainly does not look like an executioner sent by a loan shark either.
"I'm going to kill you." Garcia says softly.
"Why?" asks The Porcupine, the small dark eyes on his quivering face peering at Garcia, trying to find some hint of an answer.
"You don't remember me?" Garcia asks.
The Porcupine looks hard at Garcia, but his eyes betray nothing. "I don't know you."
"Try going back twenty years." Garcia suggests.
The man ponders a little more. "I still don't know you." He insists.
"I am Charles Garcia, retired police detective superintendent of the Royal Hong Kong Police. You have slipped through my fingers twice before, but you are not going to get away this time. You have put on weight, your voice is deeper, and you have improved your English a lot. But you are Joseph Bickford, nicknamed The Porcupine. The nickname means that you should be approached with caution. Joseph Bickford from an English father and a Chinese mother. The father in fact was an Eurasian who was a British subject. Father and mother separated when you were only a young child. You grew up in Hong Kong and is a Hong Kong citizen. I can recite your file backwards."
"Ah," the man's face brightens, "mistaken identity. I am not Joseph Bradford°K"
"Joseph Bickford." Garcia corrects him.
"Anyway," the man waves, 'I am not Joseph Bickford. I am Frank Lawson. Here, look at my cards." He stoops to retrieve the cards from the floor. Among them is a pale blue laminated card with his photograph on it. It is an identity card issued by the Hong Kong Government. By law, citizens are required to carry it at all times.
"Means nothing." says Garcia in contempt, "Faked papers is a basic tool of trade for a professional hit man."
"A what?" The Porcupine exclaims incredulously, "I am Frank Lawson, head clerk for Grant & Wasser law firm in Hong Kong. That's why I speak good English. You have to speak good English to work in a law firm in Hong Kong, you know. The laws there are based on English laws and they are still trying cases in English." He selects a business card and offers it to Garcia, which Garcia ignores.
The man sighs and shows his palms, "What can I say, except that you are making a mistake? I am not the man you are after."
"You are Joseph Bickford, and I'm going to kill you." Says Garcia.
"If you are so sure," The Porcupine is suddenly quite calm, "you would have shot me in the back outright."
"You seem to have pulled yourself together quite well." Garcia observes.
"I have worked in a law firm for almost thirty years." The Porcupine explains, "This is not the first time somebody pulled a gun on me. Our firm handle criminal cases. We get our share of nasty clients. A couple hours ago, a thug sent by a loan shark accosted me. He had a gun on him. But we settled over a few drinks. People with guns don't want to shoot unless there is absolutely no other way out. You don't want to shoot me. So, why don't we work this out in a civilized way?"
In Hong Kong, a head clerk in a law firm is a unique position. He does not just do the paper works as his title hints. He is a lawyer's right hand. A lawyer learns his trade in law school, but that is not enough. He needs to know the people, the culture and the dirty tricks. That's where a head clerk comes handy. A head clerk has no formal degree but he knows every trick in the book. A good head clerk is an invaluable asset. He advises the lawyer as to the way a case should be handled and he negotiates the fees. He is always a good negotiator.
If this man is really what he claims to be, a head clerk in a law firm, he would be a good negotiator too.
"I could kill the wrong man just to make sure and then go after the right one." Says Garcia.
The Porcupine shakes his head slowly. "There would be no satisfaction that way," he says, "I don't think you want to do that. Maybe I can help you find this Joseph Bickford. I have my connections."
"What connections?" Sneers Garcia, "You can't even get away from a loan shark."
"That I cannot do." admits The Porcupine, "You owe somebody money, you must pay back. I cannot cancel a debt for you. But my connections can help you postpone payment on a better term. This I have done for myself a short while ago. If you are looking for a man, there maybe something I can do to help you."
Garcia smiles wryly. "You have me there again, Joseph. You slipped through my fingers twice, then vanished. Now when I see you again, you deny that you are Joseph Bickford. What am I going to do with you?"
"Speaking as the head clerk of a law firm," says The Porcupine, "I'd say that you turn me in. "
"You know I don't have any evidence," says Garcia, "You are not on the run. You just got away with it and then disappeared. Besides, I'm retired. I'm not on the force anymore. I can't reopen a case."
"So why are you here?" Asks The Porcupine bluntly.
"I know you are Joseph Bickford The Porcupine." Garcia says.
"If I can prove I am somebody else, would you leave me alone?' Asks The Porcupine.
"No." answers Garcia.
"Can I pull my pants up?"
"No."
"Then what are you going to do?"
"Hey, I'm supposed to be the one asking questions." Snarls Garcia.
The Porcupine throws up his hands, "Okay, go on, ask me questions."
Garcia says nothing.
Somehow, the bastard has again gained the upper hand, like before. How can I beat him at his own game? But I'm still holding some aces. I have sounded him out earlier. He is physically weak now. He is trying to talk his way out. I can kill him now or come back to kill him anytime.
"Can I say something." Asks The Porcupine.
"Go on."
"In the law firm," says The Porcupine, "when a client comes with a case, he does not get to see the lawyer right away. He sees me first. It is not important whether he is on the right or wrong side. I always ask what is it that he wants, then try to figure out a way to get him what he wants. His case may be a sure loser, but I can always manage to let him get something for his money. The most important question in life is what do you want. You don't seem to have made up your mind on that. What do you want?"
"Why don't we all sleep on that?" Garcia says, "Come to me tomorrow night at this address. Half past nine." He hands the man a card. "And don't try to skip town. You leave, you are dead."
"As you wish." The Porcupine shrugs. He is obviously in no position to refuse.
Garcia gets up and walks towards the door.
The Porcupine starts to pull up his jeans.
Garcia whirls around suddenly at the door, gun cocked pointing at The Porcupine. "Changed my mind." He snarls.
"No, wait." Shrieks The Porcupine, hands flying to shield his face.
The gun cracks and the bullet hits The Porcupine on the forehead.
The Porcupine spins around, frantically searching for blood on his face, wondering why he is still alive.
There is no blood.
Garcia laughs. "Toy gun. Shoots plastic bullets. I wouldn't be caught carrying a real gun around. But I can assure you that someone would use a real gun on you if you tried to run."
He throws the gun on the bed and leaves.
Feels so good to scare the daylights out of him. I will beat him. I swear I will.
The Porcupine picks up the gun after Garcia is gone and takes a better look. "Jesus," he mutters "nowadays, toy guns look so real. There should be a law against making this shit."
He tosses the gun into the wastebasket, pulls off his jeans and goes into the bathroom to take a bath.

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FOUR

THE DEAL

CHARLES GARCIA HAS a beautiful place on the top of a small hill, overlooking the tiny city that is Macao. It is a small cream-colored bungalow, single story, built at the turn of the century but has gone through some modern modifications, notably the air-conditioning and a wide picture window overlooking the winding, tree-lined road leading up to the house. The sea is in the back. The best houses here choose not to face the sea because Macao is situated at the mouth of the Pearl River estuary. With the muddy river flowing endlessly into it, the sea always has a dirty yellowish tint.
Garcia's ancestors had bought this house some seventy years ago. The Portuguese still own some of the better properties here. The new government is quite civilized. It is up to the Portuguese to hold on or sell out and leave. Garcia has no money problem so he never planned to sell his house. He is especially proud of the plants. The plants are very old. They are living history. You can spend millions to build a new house but you just can't have very old trees in the garden and very old vines clinging to the walls.
Macao is a very small place. With an area of around 33.8 square kilometers, anywhere is within fifteen minutes' drive. Some 436,000 people, the majority being Chinese, work and live here in laid back style. As it caters to big-spending gambling tourists, most luxurious goods are available and tax-free. It is a perfect place to do some serious writing.
The Porcupine has kept his appointment. This time in a dark red shirt and grey pants, and still chewing gum. He sits in the sitting room, half-sunken in a huge cream-colored genuine leather sofa, his feet resting on lush white carpet, the long hair of which half-burying his gray socks. Across the sitting room is a lavish dining room, big enough for a dinner for eight. The inside of the house is exquisitely decorated and furnished like a picture out of the brochure of a high end Scandinavian furniture store.
The Porcupine looks out of place here, for his shirt and pants are cheap, run-of-the-mill stuff. He has the sense of leaving his unpolished leather shoes out on the porch without Garcia asking. His grey socks, also cheap, though clean, somehow seem threatening to leave stains on the white carpet. Garcia, on the other hand, is at his usual dapper best. He is wearing a beige polo shirt, long-sleeved, a pair of pure white cotton trousers, with a pair of beige socks to match, all expensive stuff.
Garcia has shown The Porcupine around the house. The study with its high-tech equipment, the luxurious bedroom which The Porcupine would have no reason to go in, a playroom with a pool table and an antique pinball machine, the gleaming bathroom and kitchen. Garcia has not, however, shown The Porcupine the garage at the back of the house.
Now The Porcupine is floating in that sofa, relaxed. That he is relaxed, however, could be menacing to the host. For this means that he could become careless and spoil the place any moment. It is a beautiful place all right, but some would not call it comfortable. But then it is Garcia's idea to talk and work here.
The air conditioners in the house are not on to let in the cool natural sea breeze. Garcia has opened a bottle of his vintage wine but has it to himself because The Porcupine would drink only cold beer from the refrigerator, which Garcia considers poor taste. But The Porcupine is at least honest about it.
"Don't waste good wine on me," The Porcupine has said, "I can't tell a ten-thousand-dollar bottle of wine from a bottle of urine."
This Garcia has to admire. He couldn't help telling The Porcupine about the people who passed themselves off as connoisseurs. Garcia would treat them with a bottle bought at the local supermarket for HK$30 (US$4), poured first into a decanter of course to hide the label. They would roll the cheap wine between their cheeks, utter the usual "ahs" and proclaim it excellent stuff. Good body, pleasantly fruity, excellent year, etc.
"There are three kinds of people," The Porcupine has commented, "The gentleman which I am not, the creep which I am. But by far the worst is the hypocrite."
He did not point out which category Garcia belonged to.
He has gone through the outline of Garcia's memoirs on a laptop.
Garcia has been waiting for his comment but all The Porcupine has said was, "Good, very good." Which meant absolutely nothing.
The whole bottle of wine has been consumed. Half a dozen empty beer cans is in a tray on the coffee table. Then Garcia falls asleep on the couch and snores.
The Porcupine slurs, "Hey, wake up. Let's talk some more."
He reaches out for Garcia, but falls short and crashes onto the floor.
He gets up on his knees and tries again.
He gets hold of Garcia's arm this time and shakes it. Garcia snores some more.
Suddenly, The Porcupine is dead sober.
He stands up straight, looking hard at Garcia. Garcia snores lightly.
The Porcupine turns quickly and disappears into the study. He re-emerges two minutes later, stops and looks hard at Garcia again, before turning and slipping out of the front door.
The Porcupine lets himself out of the elegant antique wrought-iron gate of the front garden and starts down the winding road leading from the house in a quick trot.
He has taken three turns when he hears the powerful roar of a sports car. Headlights flood him as a metal gray open top vintage Aston Martin bears down on him.
The Porcupine freezes at the roadside.
The car screeches to a halt inches from hitting him. Garcia is in the car, now sober as ever. He crooks a finger to beckon to The Porcupine. The Porcupine sighs and climbs in beside him.
"Don't tell me you were going out for a walk." Says Garcia when they are back in the house.
"I didn't know I was a prisoner here." Says The Porcupine.
"You don't leave until I tell you to," says Garcia, "especially not with one of my cheques."
"What cheque?" The Porcupine's eyes flash white with innocence.
Garcia waves a chequebook. "This was in my study drawer. You took out the last cheque along with the stub. Very clever, as the remaining cheques are still in consecutive order, it would be a long time before I found out a check was missing. But I was a very good cop and I still am."
The Porcupine fishes out a fresh stick of chewing gum from the pocket of his now sweat soaked shirt, sticks it into his mouth clumsily and starts to chew furiously without saying anything.
Garcia takes a remote control from under the coffee table, flips on the big screen TV in the living room. The Porcupine's image appears on the screen. It is a videotape playing, showing The Porcupine in Garcia's study, opening a drawer in the desk, takes out a checkbook and doing something to it.
"The age of hi-tech," gloats Garcia, "everything is recorded by security cameras."
"So call the police."
"The cheque please." Garcia extends his right palm.
The Porcupine opens his mouth, pushing out the wad of gum with the tip of his tongue. It is not the usual wad of gum. Garcia can see the shreds of paper mixed into it. The Porcupine has put the stolen cheque into his mouth and chewed it along with the gum.
Garcia curses and tries to snatch it. But the wad disappears quickly back into The Porcupine's mouth.
The man swallows, his Adam apple bobs up and down a few times.
"Evidence gone." He smiles.
Garcia snarls as he whips out a gun from under his shirt and points it at The Porcupine.
"A real gun this time, I assume?" The Porcupine says calmly, "But you don't want to shoot me."
Garcia takes a deep breath, turns and goes through a French door out onto the porch, disappearing into the darkness of the garden.
The Porcupine produces a fresh stick of gum and puts it into his mouth.
Garcia is back a few minutes later, gun gone.
The Porcupine spreads his hands, "Why don't you let me go and forget all about this?"
"No." Says Garcia.
"Now we are back where we started. What exactly do you think you want?"
The bastard is playing the game so well. But he is right. Make up your mind about what you really want.
"I'm retired," says Garcia, "and you are retired, right?"
"I'm not retired," The Porcupine says, "I'm still working for my law firm. I'm on annual leave right now."
His story checks. What Cruz has found out for me is exactly what he has told me. I don't know how he does it, but his story checks as the background check performed by Ricky Cruz has shown. Or is he really Joseph Bickford The Porcupine? I can't find out by way of comparison because I have not talked to him that many times before. But he must be Joseph Bickford. The resemblance is no mistaking.
"I can't put you away for lack of evidence," says Garcia, "so you have nothing to fear."
"Except that I'm not Joseph Bickford."
"I'm writing my memoirs," Garcia says, "and I'm writing you in. I want the truth from you. I have found you again after all these years. Now that everything is over, you tell me the truth and I put them in my book."
"Now that would make very interesting reading," says The Porcupine, "but I'm still not Joseph Bickford."
"Like you said," Garcia says, "it all depends on what you want. And I know you need money."
"Now you're getting interesting," beams The Porcupine, "how much are we talking about?'"
"I have bought your debt from the loan shark." Says Garcia, "I can write it off and then pay you the same amount again."
"How about doubling that?" says The Porcupine.
"Done." Says Garcia. The doubling part he has expected.
"Very good," says The Porcupine, "I'll tell you this. I'm still not Joseph Bickford. But I'm an excellent storyteller. Much, much better than you are. We will start tomorrow night. You provide me with some facts and I'll tell you the story."
"Why not now?" asks Garcia.
"I have to make my rounds at the casino," says The Porcupine, "I get bored easily talking to you."
"Okay," Garcia glares at him, "but don't expect me to bail you out again."
"Maybe I'll get lucky this time." Says The Porcupine.
At last I have made him agree to talk. He who talks most eventually slips. I'll get him all right.

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FIVE

THE COLLABORATION

THE PORCUPINE RETURNS TO THE BUNGALOW in a taxi the following night, still chewing gum. He is glowing. He carries with him a small handbag, which is obviously new. The handbag is bulging with, what he can't wait to reveal, cash.
The Porcupine throws stacks of rubber-banded large bank notes on the coffee table. A chunky gold Rolex on his wrist dazzles Garcia's eyes. A gold Rolex is a favorite accessory among gamblers. It can easily be pawned up to 70% of its bought value. You pawn it when you need capital, buy one back when you have won. Maybe too late to get back the original one, but the same thing is widely available in shops next to pawnshops, second or third hand or even more. You can never tell the times each of these watches has changed hands.
"I see you got lucky." Comments Garcia dryly.
"I have won more than enough to pay you back." Laughs The Porcupine.
"And then?" asks Garcia.
"We stick to our deal." Says The Porcupine.
"I'm surprised." Says Garcia.
"Luck is something you can never hold on to," says The Porcupine, "you have brought me luck, I'm going to hold on to you."
"The money doesn't have legs. It won't run away by itself if you quit gambling."
"We all know what we shouldn't do." Says The Porcupine, "Knowing is easy. The hard part is not doing it. What makes life so interesting is that so many things we shouldn't do are there for us to do. Anyway, it's time to go to work." He rips open a can of cold beer for himself and then asks, " Where were we?"
"You have gone through my outline last time and I have asked you what did you think." Garcia reminds him, "Well, what do you think?"
"Like looking at a conveyer belt." Says The Porcupine.
"A what?"
"You have outlined a lot of cases you have cracked, but I see no surprise elements. A crime is committed, you gather the evidence, then put your man away. Everything falls into the right place."
"Well, it's the way it happened." Garcia's face darkened.
"Then it's not worth writing about." Says The Porcupine, "Like I said, the all important question is, what do you want? To whom do you want to sell your book?"
"This is not a commercial project." Says Garcia.
"Ah, you don't need the money." says The Porcupine, "Maybe you are rich enough to publish it yourself, so you don't have to take any nonsense from a publisher or an editor. But still, you want it to be read, right? In order to make it read, you have to make it salable. You watch movies, do you?"
"I've had my share." Says Garcia.
"A movie, a romantic movie for instance. If it opens with boy meets girl, then they fall in love, get married, have beautiful children and then ends with the family living happily ever after, would you be satisfied? No. Because it's like watching a conveyor belt working. The same parts are always transported to the right places. You watch it for a while and you fall asleep, or leave cursing. That's why a good story always has a catch. Boy meets girl, he falls in love with her but she loves someone else. Or maybe she with him but he is married with a wife who doesn't understand him. He can't leave his wife for one of a dozen reasons. And so on. If something is wrong with the conveyer belt, you sit up and pay attention, wondering how things would turn out."
"You mean I should lie about it?" Asks Garcia.
"No. How about putting some more truth in it?"
"What do you mean by that?"
"Nobody is perfect. How about telling some of your imperfections? Maybe some blunder? That way, the reader will be on your side. That's salesmanship."
"If you are so good, how come you are in such a tight spot?" Garcia's face is red, and not from the amount of alcohol he has consumed.
"Your question answers itself. " says The Porcupine, "I'm imperfect. The one thing that's ruining me is my love of gambling. But I'm a good salesman, and I tell good stories."
"I want to tell true stories." Says Garcia.
"No true story is entirely true," says The Porcupine, "Let's say you have gone to a brothel and a girl there gave you gonorrhea-----"
"I don't go to brothels!" Snaps Garcia.
"Okay. Suppose a writer is writing a success story about himself and he had the unpleasant experience of getting gonorrhea from a prostitute. Or maybe one time he has peeped at the girl in the opposite window changing without his wife knowing, would he write about it?'"
"We are not dealing with pornography." Shouts Garcia angrily.
"What I'm talking about is dramatization. What to put in, and what to leave out. It depends on the kind of a story the writer was writing. For a story about success, he would leave the dirty part out. For a study on the dark side of human nature, however, he would put in the sordid details, even if he had to invent some. You want me to tell you true stories and write about it, but you yourself would throw in only some empty shells. That's no good." Says The Porcupine.
"Why don't you tell me a story first and show what you can do?" Garcia compromises.
"As you are paying me to do so," says The Porcupine, "it is only right for me to start the ball rolling. Yes, I will tell you some really good stories. I will start with my first kill. You can put it in your book as another chapter if you like it. By the way, you must have read that Bible of criminology, THE MIND OF A KILLER by Christopher Van Houten?"
"Of course." Says Garcia.
"Not that I'm so widely read," says The Porcupine, "That book happens to be on the desk of my boss and he sometimes quotes from it. Chapter two, quote, a killing is sometimes born out of necessity, unquote. Remember?"
"Sure." shrugs Garcia.
The Porcupine shuffles through some notes given to him earlier by Garcia. Garcia notes with envy that The Porcupine does not need reading glasses even at his age, which is 51 according to Garcia's source. Garcia himself however does, having tolled with his glasses on to produce these notes in front of his computer, although he has put away his glasses now. No need to let The Porcupine see them. There is no need for him to read anything in the presence of this Joseph Bickford.
"This is also about the first time Joseph Bickford has eluded you." Says The Porcupine, "This case is not in your outline. Not writing about it is lying. Writing about it makes interesting reading. I will tell it the way Joseph Bickford would. A dramatization based on materials provided by you. Just a story of course, since I'm not Joseph Bickford. Now, tell me what you think had happened, then I'll tell you my version and you can write it down. I can tell stories but I'm not good at writing them." °@

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SIX

Chapter one: The First Kill according to The Porcupine

ACTUALLY THIS WAS the first time I had killed a man. It was necessary. You would have killed him too if you'd got the guts.
It was a hot, humid summer's night. Just like this night when I am telling this. But time slips back some twenty-three years.
Temple Street. On the peninsula side that was Kowloon. Hot but quiet. It was quiet and peaceful in most parts of Hong Kong then, hardly a soul on the streets after midnight. Nowadays, you can never be more than twenty feet away from people at all hours.
The man was Kwok. He had called me on the phone just before midnight and told me to come to him. I was already in bed. I got up and went hurriedly as he was the Big Brother of our gang.
I ran up the two flights of wooden stairs to this flat. The stairway was pitch dark. There should have been a light bulb on the ceiling but as it was, someone always stole the light bulb and after a while, nobody would bother to put on a new one any more.
I could hear the sound of pounding inside the door, as if someone was doing a serious massage. I found the doorbell by feel and pressed it. It didn't ring. So I knocked.
Inside, someone yelled, "Harder, harder." obviously not to me.
I knocked some more. Then someone opened the battered wooden door with a creak. It was the kind of wooden door that needed to be bolted with a horizontal bar inside, no lock and key.
It was Ho, a member of our gang, who opened the door.
I went in and Ho just pushed the door shut. There was no bar to bolt it.
I had never been to this place before. I didn't know what was going on or why I was summoned.
I walked in further and saw this half- naked man on the floor. He was covered with bruises. Blood seeped from under him. I didn't know who he was as his face was facing the wall. But he groaned and I knew he was still alive.
The place was bare and had a musty smell. Must be a vacated flat. Kwok was sitting in a battered folding chair, which was the only furniture.
It was the kind of old fashioned flat with no rooms except the bathroom and the kitchen. Oblong in shape, one end of it comprised the front door with the other end opening to a veranda facing the street. There were no windows on both sides.
There was no light on. The only light was the streetlight coming from outside the veranda. The electricity probably had been disconnected. That's why the doorbell had not rung. I guess we were just trespassers here.
Another man was standing to the right of Kwok. He was Poon, whom I knew but was not particularly friendly with. We had played soccer together a few times in the public playground.
"Kick him! And this time harder." Kwok ordered in a high-pitched voice.
Ho and Poon proceeded to kick the man on the floor. The man just groaned but did not move. He seemed too weak to struggle.
Lucky for him, Ho and Poon were not working very hard and were just going through the motions.
"Harder!" Kwok screamed and clapped his hands.
He looked drunk to me but I could smell no alcohol in the air.
"You too." Kwok turned suddenly and yelled at me.
I was startled and ready to run. Then I realized that he was ordering me to join in the beating.
"Er-----"I hesitated. This was not my cup of tea. Besides, I didn't even know the man on the floor.
"Do it or you will join him on the floor." Kwok screeched. He seemed to have trouble with his breathing. Some part of his respiratory system was obstructed somehow. What was certain was that he had a heavily stuffy nose. Much later, I learned from books that some people have this problem when highly excited. The common example is that when a person is sexually aroused, his or her nose would become stuffy as small vessels in the nose are dilated. Some actually get drunk.
Kwok was drunk with the violence he was incurring.
I quickly decided on a way to get around this. I retched, rushing into the toilet and pretended to be sick. It turned out I didn't need to pretend. The toilet was so dirty and the smell so foul my whole dinner tumbled out.
The trio almost bowled over with laughter.
Kwok called me a coward loudly.
Well, better to be a coward.
Fortunately, the water supply was still intact and I could clean up before going out again.
My cowardice was a welcomed interruption for the man on the floor too. For the beating had stopped. He turned weakly to face the ceiling and I could see his face for the first time.
I was horrified to see that he was Tam, a young man from our neighborhood. Tam did not know me but I recognized him because he had been dating a girl I secretly admired. He used to ride a bicycle to the small store she worked to visit her. Her parents owned the store. They would chat and she would smile her sweetest. I was not his competition, mind you. Tam was a decent kid and I always thought he and the girl were just right for each other. The girl didn't even know I existed. I just watched her from a distance. I mean, you would love to look at something really beautiful but never wanting to possess it too.
"What has he done?" I asked.
"He stared at me," said Kwok, "and I brought him here to be my guest."
It was then that I realized that Kwok was totally mad. Mad enough to kill with the scantiest of excuses.
He was the bully at the playground we used to play soccer. He would chase away others so we could have the soccer field all to ourselves. Kwok was not a particularly big man, in fact no bigger than me. But he was known as "Crazy Kwok" as he would go berserk at the slightest provocation. People didn't think it worthwhile to fight him. Besides, it was rumored that his old man was a big shot in the triad. This had never been proven. He just used to boast about it, and this was not the sort of thing people would press for proof. I have watched Kwok in a couple of playground fights. He won both times, chasing away bigger opponents. Years later, a boxing coach explained to me that it is fearlessness that counts most in a fight. "If you show you are not afraid for your life and would kill to win, your opponent would lose the will and back off. He would not think it worthwhile to stay on."
I had met this Kwok and Poon and Ho and a few others playing soccer at the playground. We were all young men in our early twenties with nothing much to do. We drifted together and Kwok sort of adopted us and became our leader. Probably because we were lazy and Kwok was aggressive enough and we were content to let him do the hard work to lead us, and because Ho and Poon were stupid. That they were all Chinese and I was the only Eurasian made no difference. As long as we could communicate. I was fluent in Cantonese because I had grown up among the locals. My English was acquired and polished later. We had not been up to anything evil, just play soccer and tell tall tales, not until tonight.
"Well," I said, "looks like he's had enough."
"Yes," Kwok laughed, "now we're going to give him a treat."
He waved and Ho picked up a thin red plastic bag in the corner on the floor. He shook out the contents and I saw they were plain breads. Ten in all, each about six inches long in the shape of a large mango.
"Now eat, " Kwok ordered Tam, "Eat them all. You would be insulting me further if you leave one crumb."
I was again horrified. A big man would be very full eating three of these. Tam had to eat ten, and without water.
Tam was obviously in no mood for eating, nor was he in shape to eat by himself.
"Feed our guest," Kwok ordered, "you too, Joe."
We proceeded to force feed Tam with the bread. He was too weak to refuse. We just stuffed chunks into his mouth. He swallowed sometimes, but threw up from time to time, creating a mess. Ho and Poon were stupid morons. They thought this funny. Earlier, they had been reluctant to beat Tam simply because it was too much hard work. They were mocking Tam the whole time. I was even more horrified to hear that they had earlier force-fed Tam six hardboiled eggs. There were eggshells on the floor. And they had been torturing Tam at the whims of Kwok for twelve hours, starting at about noon.
Tam was going to die. Kwok was far from finished with him.
It was then that I remembered the times Kwok had boasted about killing several people in this manner. I had never taken him seriously, but now I realized that he must have told the truth. He had talked about torturing a man this way. The next step would be to burn the victim with cigarettes. And the most horrible part was that he had talked about killing one person who refused to help him with the torturing. He had talked about disposing the bodies in an old mine. I didn't know where the mine was but he had said there were numerous bottomless pits in the mine. He would throw the bodies into the pits and they would never be found.
He would kill me too if I tried to stop him. Ho and Poon was stupid and would listen to him. Maybe I could escape but Tam would certainly die. Tam did not deserve to die. But Kwok must die.
Any other person in the same situation would probably be just thinking of running away or going to the police somehow. But I decided that Kwok must die. Maybe it was the killer instinct in me.
"Now you believe me, do you?" Kwok was addressing me.
It was chilling. He was proving it to me. That's why he called me here.
Tam threw up again and I deliberately cupped my hands to harvest the vomit. Then I flung my hands in disgust. The filth splattered all over the faces of the three men. They swore and tried to wipe it away. I ran into the toilet, yelling at them that the better way would be to wash it off with some water.
Ho and Poon followed me but Kwok ran into the kitchen. It was too crowded in the small toilet and besides, he instinctively wanted to be in a class of his own.
I cleaned my hands while Ho and Poon stooped to wash their faces. I rushed out to grab the folding chair. Ho and Poon didn't know what hit them. I hit both of them from behind, hard on the back of the head with the chair, first Ho and then Poon. They collapsed like sacks of flour.
Kwok had finished cleaning his face and was coming out of the kitchen. He was pulling his shirt up to wipe his face so he didn't see me waiting for him.
"You okay?" I asked.
He thought I was there to help him and was off guard. "Sure I'm okay." He answered.
He let go of the shirt and I slit his exposed throat cleanly with the knife. The knife was extremely sharp. One swipe and his throat split open. Blood spurted out as if from a burst pipe. He flailed blindly, unable to find his own throat. He fell to his knees, eyes opened wide, the eyeballs threatening to pop out of their sockets. Then he collapsed on the floor, twitched and died.
Tam had been facing the wall again, so he didn't witness all this. Anyway, he was semiconscious and was oblivious to what was happening around him.
I ran out the front door, taking the knife with me.
It was at this moment the police arrived. Sirens were wailing downstairs. Why were they here? Why hadn't they arrived sooner?
Boots were thundering up the wooden stairs.
There was only one way for me to go. Up.
I ran up the remaining flights of stairs silently and came out on the roof of that five-story building. I looked around and cursed. That particular building turned out to be standing alone so there were no adjacent buildings to provide alternative stairs for me to run down and escape safely.
I would not jumped off the roof to my death.

THE POLICE FOUND me some twenty minutes later, unconscious on the roof, a bump in the back of my head bleeding.
When I was patched up and released from hospital, I was face to face with Charles Garcia for the first time. He was with homicide then and it was his job to interrogate me.
I maintained that I was forced, along with Ho and Poon by Kwok to torture Tam when a big stranger barged in, killed Kwok and knocked out Ho and Poon. I escaped to the roof but the stranger caught up with me. The last thing I knew was a blow to the back of my head.
Of course you can guess by now that I had bumped my head against the wall myself and pretended to be unconscious.
Garcia did not believe me but he did not beat me into confessing, as was the normal practice then, probably because my lawyer had arrived.
Garcia said he was certain I had killed Kwok but they could not find the knife even after a thorough search. Without a murder weapon to tie me in, he had to let me go. It was because of this incidence that I got the nickname The Porcupine. I looked a little plump like a porcupine, but not defenseless as I was covered with quills. Press me and I would shoot out my quills. You don't approach me with caution, and you get hurt too.
Tam recovered with no permanent damage. A few weeks later, I watched, from a distance of course, that he was well enough to ride his bicycle to visit his girlfriend. They talked and she laughed happily. My heart glowed with warmth. I had done the right thing. They did not have to know what really happened.
Three questions would pop up as you are reading this.
Where did the knife come from?
Where had it gone afterwards?
How come a street-delinquent like me could summon a lawyer so quick? At that time in Hong Kong, a lawyer was a luxury only the rich and powerful could afford.
These are also the questions Mr. Garcia puts to me when I am telling him this story. After more than twenty years, I can finally disclose the secrets.
The knife was taken from Ho after I knocked him out. It was a spring-handled stiletto. I knew he carried this knife with him at all times. He was extremely proud of it. "Blow a hair against the blade and the hair would break in two," he had used to boast. This was never put to test, but the knife was very sharp all right, he used it to shave his legs. He was stupid, but not stupid enough to admit he had the knife after what had happened. Besides, he was not sure it had been his knife that had killed Kwok as the murder weapon was never found.
When I got to the roof and discovered there was no escape route, I knew I had to get rid of the knife. Throwing it down into the street would not do, as it would surely be found. I did not know enough then that I could wipe my fingerprints off. But in hindsight, this might not have been a good idea as the police was very powerful at the time. They could press my fingers onto the handle to get my prints if they had gotten hold of the knife.
I knew I still had a little time. The police would search the roof eventually but not immediately.
I looked around and saw a pipe standing on the opposite roof about 15 feet away. It was a pipe that led straight down under the building and connected to the toilet pipes of each floor. When a toilet was flushed, the air would rush up through this pipe to release the pressure. This pipe also led to a septic tank underground. The building I was on top of was an older building with no flushing toilets, so it did not have a similar pipe. °@
The opening of the pipe was about six inches across.
I carefully gauged the distance and threw the knife over. There would be no second chance. It was a stroke of luck. The knife dived squarely into the pipe. There were clinks as it slid down along it, to sink into the septic tank underground. It would still be there if the building has not been torn down to give way to a new high-rise. Anyway, it should be rusted beyond recognition after all these years.
As to the lawyer, I really can't explain it. To this day, I still don't know who sent him. The lawyer himself probably knew but he would not tell me. Maybe it was someone who had seen the killer instinct in me and decided I had the potential. I became a professional hit man after that. The lawyer arranged some training for me but essentially, the ability emerged itself. I did several jobs for him in five years. Then the lawyer died, he was a very old man. I was never contacted by the same source again and I was on my own.
I can see that Mr. Garcia does not believe me as I tell it now. But what the hell, I'm just telling a story.

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SEVEN

THE NEW VERSION

GARCIA IS WITH Parker and Cruz again. They are drinking but this time in a small Portuguese restaurant. Garcia has chosen not to go to the casino because he knew that The Porcupine would be there. The Porcupine is taking a break again. Work a little and play hard, he has said.
Cruz strikes up conversation after a long silence and asks Garcia, "My information of any use to you?"
"What?" Garcia pretends to have forgotten about it, "Oh, that. I made a mistake. I thought it was a man I knew."
Must drop the subject entirely, for I may kill The Porcupine eventually. I have checked his story. The septic pipe part may be true. An old colleague working in the police archive department has reviewed the file and did find an old photograph showing such a pipe on the opposite roof. However, the building in question has been torn down long ago. An office building is standing at the site now, twenty stories high. I have taken his fingerprints from the beer cans and have them checked. They are different from those on Joseph Bickford's old file. But he must be Joseph Bickford. °@
As for the Bible of criminology, a forensic criminologist I know in Hong Kong has returned, "Never heard of the book THE MIND OF A KILLER, nor a writer named Christopher Van Houten in this field. Is this a practical joke? If this is the Bible of criminology, then I must be an infidel."
Garcia's face flushes once more with hidden anger.
The bastard, playing me for a fool. But I'll play him with his own game. He will get carried away sooner or later. And he will slip.
"Let's get laid." Parker suggests suddenly without shame.
"Yeah," Cruz grins, "why not? Same place?"
They have chosen not to ask Garcia.
The two men begin to brag about their previous sexual adventures. Macao would be an ideal place if you were looking for cheap flesh. Pretty girls come from all over the world holding tourist passports, others illegal immigrants from China, all hungry for cash and willing to do almost anything for a modest price. Then the two men start to argue angrily because Parker wants to try a new place he has heard about and Cruz is against it.
Garcia puts down his glass. "You boys go ahead. I got work to do."
The two men make no effort to persuade Garcia to go along. They know that he is not into this kind of thing.
Garcia drives around in his Aston Martin for a short while and decides to go home. There is not much to do in Macao at night if you don't like the casinos and the prostitutes.
He is surprised to find The Porcupine waiting for him, sitting on the front porch, this time in a plain white shirt. The Rolex on The Porcupine's wrist is gone. But even with the Rolex, he would still be lengths behind Garcia comes to dressing. Garcia is all black tonight, long-sleeved black silk shirt and black trousers and black patent leather shoes, all made to measure. His Piaget is much more expensive then a gold Rolex too. But The Porcupine is the kind who never tries to dress up to impress.
"Poor luck?" asks Garcia as he opens the front door with his key.
The Porcupine spreads his hands, "Easy come, easy go."
"You are not here to ask for money, are you?" Garcia is suspicious.
"Not tonight," says The Porcupine, "how about play a little and work hard for a change? Let's get to work."
Garcia turns on the laptop to let The Porcupine review the written version of The Porcupine's first story. While The Porcupine is at it, he opens another bottle of wine for himself.
"Good stuff, right?" The Porcupine grins when he is through.
Garcia shrugs.
"I've been thinking," says The Porcupine, "it may be a good idea to put in some sex. I can tell you a lot of----"
"Leave that out." Garcia snaps.
"Nowadays, Every movie has it."
"I said leave that out!" Garcia's face is red.
"What's wrong with you?" asks The Porcupine, "You don't like women or something? You married?"
"That's none of your damn business."
"Okay, okay" The Porcupine again spreads his hands, "no sex. I was thinking about this at the casino. Maybe that's why I couldn't win a single hand. It's not a good idea after all."
"You have stories to tell, tell." Garcia says impatiently.
"Well, about the story last time, about my first kill," says The Porcupine, " I think I want to change something. About that knife I said I threw into the septic pipe, didn't you find it hard to believe that I did it at the first try?'
"I'm skeptic all right," Garcia says, "but you couldn't get a second chance as it was."
"Actually, it's like this." The Porcupine gestures, his hands like indecisive butterflies, "There were coils of old wire on the floor of the roof, discarded by some electrician when he put in new ones long ago. I took a length of wire, tied one end of it onto a piece of loose concrete which could be found all over the floor as the building was old and crumbling. I used a piece of concrete because the knife was not heavy enough for this purpose. I swung this piece of concrete and tried to land it into the opening of the pipe. Every time I missed, I just collected the wire and retrieved the piece of concrete. You know, just like a fisherman casting and reeling in. I succeeded on the third try. The piece of concrete dropped neatly into the opening of the pipe. I held on to the wire, tied the other end of it onto the handle of the knife and then let go. The piece of concrete sunk and pulled the knife over and down with it. Done. Period."
Garcia glowers at him.
"Isn't this better?" asks The Porcupine.
"I prefer the truth." Answers Garcia.
"There is no truth or untruth in this," says The Porcupine, "I'm just telling a story, remember?"
"All right," says Garcia, "I'll put down the first version, and note that you have changed your story later."
"Now that's realism for you." Smiles The Porcupine broadly.
The slimy cunning bastard, two versions, even though I have this on tape, it could not be held as a confession. But as long as he keeps talking, he will slip.
"Now tell me," Garcia changes the subject, "how many times have you killed?"
"I don't remember," says The Porcupine, "probably close to a thousand."
"Please." Says Garcia resignedly.
"It is like this." The Porcupine explains, "When I was a kid, I lived next door to a man who operated a chicken stall in the market place. You know how it was. Stacks of wire cages crammed with live chickens. A customer, usually a housewife or a woman servant responsible for the family cooking, selects a chicken. She turns it around, blows apart the fine hair around the ass hole to see if it is fat enough. She pays the man and the man kills the chicken for her. He must have been killing fifty chickens a day. I once asked him whether it bothered him killing chicken day in and day out. He told me not a bit. He was just doing a paid service. Anyway, a chicken would be better off meeting an early death than lived to be cooped up in a dark and crammed wire cage. Later, I worked for him part time for pocket money. I killed maybe ten chickens a day. It is easy. You bend the chicken's neck and cut its throat, then let the blood run into the gutter by the curb. But the cut must be clean and swift though. You show some mercy, not cutting deep enough, the chicken would struggle out of your grip, flutter around, spewing blood and feather all over the place. That would turn your stomach. I worked there for maybe three months. That would be close to a thousand kills. I slit Kwok's throat the same way, clean and swift. I had good practice."
Garcia is silent.
"I know," The Porcupine continues, "What you asked was how many men have I killed. Well, I have lost count. It's like the money you make. The first month's salary in your life, you would remember where every cent has gone. After that, it would be just money earned and spent."
"But certainly not more than two figures." Garcia surmises.
"I'd say more than ten, under fifteen. I'll tell you about them as each comes to mind. But, back to my first story. I told it based on the information you provided." The Porcupine gestures at the written notes still on the coffee table. They are now neatly clipped. Garcia is meticulously clean and tidy. "You have never mentioned how come the police got to the scene so fast."
"I got an anonymous tip on the phone, that someone was going to be killed at that address." Garcia says, "Honest. I don't know who the caller was"
"I hadn't known I was going to kill Kwok." Shrugs The Porcupine, "Maybe the man who saw the killer instinct in me also predicted that and wanted to see how I could get away. Or maybe the caller simply meant that he was afraid Tam would be killed."
"Maybe." Says Garcia.
"Anyway, it's an interesting case." Says The Porcupine.
"Now about the second time you got away from me." Starts Garcia.
"All in good time," The Porcupine waves one hand while holding up a magazine he has been fingering. It is one of the TIME magazines Garcia has kept under the glass top of the coffee table. It is an old issue, the cover of it announcing a feature story about Colombia. "Ah, Colombia. I must tell you about the time I worked for Escober."
"Escober who?" Garcia's eyes bulge.
"The notorious Colombian drug lord." Says The Porcupine.
"Oh, that Escober." Garcia squints at him.
"I see you are not going to believe me. All right, forget about it." Shrugs The Porcupine.
"No," says Garcia, just a little short of pleading, "you are here to tell your stories."
I have to hand it to him. I'm beginning to like to see how he spins his tales.
"I'll tell you about this Colombian adventure of mine. If you like it, it could be one more chapter in your book." Says The Porcupine.
"Good." Says Garcia.
"That was in my free lancing days," begins The Porcupine, "I had my reputation. Like the old Chinese saying, a large tree attracts the wind. Escober contacted me. He flew me to his estate in Medellin. He's crazy, you know."
"I've heard." Says Garcia.
"I can never forget him," says The Porcupine, "He almost finished me off with his crazy ways. With him, craziness acquires a new dimension. Maybe he's with Satan now. He showed me a piece of Holy Relics he owned when I met him. It was a piece of bone from the body of St. Margaret Castelle of Italy. He didn't kill her though. She died in 1320. He bought it on the black market. By the way, the trading of Holy Relics is called simony."
Another trap, this time with an obscure word? Another headache, I'll have to check it out later. I have
to remain noncommittal. I'll never step into this kind of trap again.

back to top


EIGHT

Chapter Two: The Colombian Adventure according the Porcupine


IT WAS EXTREMELY COLD. Winter in Seoul, Korea. Heavy snow covered everything outside. It was the first time I was exposed to ice and snow, not counting the times I opened the refrigerator. People pay for packaged tours to come here to watch the snow. But for me, it only added up to four letters: C-O-L-D.
I was cooped up in my hotel room, miserable. I did have some illusions about the snow before the trip. I had seen the pictures and it was really beautiful. I had sat in front of the window looking at the beautiful snow. After a while, I was bored stiff. It was like looking at a painting before the artist got to work, just the frame and an empty canvas. Some good things only look good at a distance. Night had fallen and I couldn't even see the empty canvas.
The room had central heating and was quite warm. But the heating made my skin chap and itchy. I couldn't sleep and I had little to do. I should have been gone in the afternoon but my contact failed to show on time. He did fax me an apology though. So I decided to wait one more day.
I felt lost. Like an orphan. And in the middle of a snowstorm too.
I finally exiled to the lobby downstairs at about midnight. It was heated by the same system but at least it was big and the ceiling quite high, allowing the air to flow more freely.
I sipped at a beer and longed for the sunshine at home.
Then there was sunshine.
Maybe it was the perfume. Or maybe it was the effect of pheromone, which was all the rage in recent years. I actually felt her presence behind me before I saw her.
The room sort of brightened. Then she walked around me and stopped in front of me.
"Is this seat taken?" she asked in English. She smiled at me and the room brightened even more.
The lobby was almost empty. She had the choice of several dozen seats and she was asking about the one beside me.
"Please." I gestured as gracefully as I could. I had seen James Bond do this in the movies and had practiced it at least a thousand times in my mind, though this was the first time I had the chance to actually do it. It somehow didn't come out right.
But she sat down all the same.
She continued to smile at me. "Buy me a drink?" she asked.
I bought her a drink.
She was a young Korean woman in her early twenties. Must be the most beautiful woman in Korea, certainly the most beautiful woman in this hotel. She was wearing a black gown that seemed to have a life of its own, clinging where it should and not clinging where it shouldn't. Or maybe it was just her body. As if molded with the finest cream, soft yet vibrant, the slightest movement sent her flesh rippling but never lose shape. The gown was a Versace. But no clothing can do that to my body. I guess she was making the Versace look good more than it was making her look good.
And she had an angel of a face. Except her teeth, which was pearly white but slightly crooked. But I wouldn't have preferred it otherwise. A perfect set of teeth would only remind you of a tube of toothpaste.
I didn't speak Korean. She started out in English so we conversed in English.
She just sat there sizing me up, smiling her mysterious smile and fondling her drink, which was a Perrier, saying nothing. I also didn't say anything, for I'm never good at talking to an extremely beautiful woman. It was like a dream come true. Only dreams don't come true for me, not this kind of dream anyway. So I stopped dreaming fast.
Being an unattractive man has it merits, you can always be dead sure it's not your body a woman is after.
But what was she doing here? What did she want?
She could not be a high priced prostitute as this was a five-star hotel where this kind of thing was strongly discouraged. I had chosen this hotel because I didn't want some prostitute to solicit me and I might mistake her as my contact. Not that this temptress needed to solicit, she would be too busy saying no.
She must want something.
I didn't ask. She wanted something, she won't just leave without saying it.
So I just sat there returning her smile.
She didn't even tell me her name, nor did she ask mine.
She was finished with the Perrier about five minutes later without ever touching it to her lips.
She stood up, leaned down and whispered into my left ear, "Ten minutes. Your room."
Then she was gone.
I sat there without moving for four minutes as I suspected my left ear was on the verge of melting down and I had to give it time to harden again or it would be in danger of falling off.
Then I returned to my room.
The air was much better somehow. I was tingling, nothing like the beginning of a new adventure.
There was a knock on the door three more minutes later. She was late.
I was sitting on the couch. I told her to come in, half expecting it be somebody else. But it was she.
She walked in and locked the door, still smiling her mysterious smile.
I noticed she was carrying a large handbag, which was not with her before, with something heavy and bulging inside.
"What do you want?" I asked harshly.
I had to be harsh to break the spell or I just might fall for whatever she was up to. The power of a beautiful woman should never be underestimated.
"I'm Susan." She introduced herself, standing before me, the handbag slung over her right shoulder.
"So pleased to meet you, Susan. What do you want from me?"
"A game." She said, licking her slightly crooked front teeth with the pink tip of her tongue.
I was silent.
She let down the handbag, put one hand inside and came up with a bunch of cord, scarlet red, tied neatly into a roll like a fat sausage. "You know what this is?" she purred.
I knew. You can find these in anyone of those sex shops. The kind you use to tie up your lover. Actually just ordinary nylon cords in unusual colors with a huge price tag.
"You want me to tie you up?" I asked.
"No," she said, "I tie you up."
I didn't think that after I'd been tied up, her boyfriend would charge in and rob me. This was not the kind of place this kind of thing would happen. I was not a worthy target either. But I said, "Thanks but no thanks." I had no wish to be in a vulnerable position.
"Then I have made a mistake," she pouted, "You are no fun at all."
"That you are right," I said, "How about watching TV together?"
She replaced the cord, slung the handbag back over her shoulder and headed for the door.
I said nothing. I didn't think she would give up on me so easily. There was something else heavy and bulging inside that handbag.
She went out and closed the door. Then she opened it again and stepped back in, again locking it.
"You are not easy to yield to temptation." She smiled again.
"I never believe anything too good to be true." I said.
She sat down on the bed, took a gold lighter and a pack of cigarettes out of the handbag and lit up after I refused her offer of one of those. Smoking somehow fitted her more now that she had shown she was no angel.
"I would be disappointed if you fell for the cord thing." She blew a stream of smoke in my face.
"So what do you want from me?" I asked again.
"I'm a messenger," she sad flatly, "Mr. Escober sent me."
"Who?"
"Mr. Escober from Colombia." She said, "You do cocaine?"
"No," I said, "but I don't have to to know who you are talking about."
"Though Mr. Escober prefers people to associate him with emeralds." She said flashing the large diamond emerald ring on her finger.
I looked at her in silence. You would be skeptical too. Here we were in the middle of a snowstorm in Korea and she was telling me she had come from half a world away to solicit me.
"Of course there is proof." She said.
She opened the handbag a little wider and let me had a glimpse of its content.
There was something else inside all right. That something else were stacks of American currency bound by rubber bands.
She threw the bag on the bed. "Fifty thousand dollars up front. Want to count it?"
"No." I said. I didn't think she would cheat me on that when she was giving me $50,000 without me asking for it.
Cash is still the second most persuasive thing in the world. I have yet to decide on the first.
"That's only half," she said, "Fifty thousand more afterwards."
"What afterwards?" I asked, trying to get a hold of my racing mind.
"Mr. Escober wants you to do a job for him." Said Susan.
"What kind of job?" I asked.
"The kind you are so good at." Susan said.
"But I'm not available at the moment." I said.
"The Dolphin is not coming," she said, "We have bought him out."
Now I knew she knew what she was talking about. The Dolphin was the contact I was expecting, and she came up with the code word.
I said, "Still, I have to know what the job is about."
"People don't refuse an offer from Mr. Escober." She said, "There will be a private jet waiting for you at the airport tomorrow morning, 9 a.m., be on it."
"Well," I said, "It's still a long time from 9 a.m., so why don't you fill me in? Is it asking too much to want to know more about this job I'm going to do?"
"It is," Susan said, "because I don't know. Mr. Escober will tell you about it himself. I only know what I need to know."
She got up and walked to the door.
I said, "You just leave fifty thousand dollars like that? What if I disappeared with it?"
"You will want the other half." She smiled. She stopped at the door and turned. "By the way," she asked, "Were you not even a little tempted by me? Or am I getting too old?"
I sighed. "Believe me, my dear, resisting you was the hardest thing to do in my life. Consider it a monumental achievement on my part."
"That's better," she smiled, "we'll get together afterwards. That's a promise."
She turned and left.
I locked the door and started to count the money.
There was $50,000 in the handbag, or $100,000, depending on which way you looked at it. For each bill had been cut neatly in half. I only got half of each bill.
I understood what she meant by the other half.

THE PLANE WAS at the airport in the morning as she had said.
A big black guy about four inches taller than six feet greeted me at the arrival hall and took me on board.
Susan was on the plane smoking.
I returned the money, which she accepted with a small smile.
The plane took off and soon the snow was left behind.
The inside of the plane was like nothing I'd ever seen. It was more like the inside of a hotel if you didn't choose to look out the window.
I had a whole suite to myself. If I wanted to stretch my feet, I could go outside to a lounge which had a bar tended by the big, black guy. Susan had told me to get some sleep or watch the latest movies on the big wide screen occupying one wall of the room.
"Or you could prefer to watch me." She had said.
I tried to chat up the big black guy in the lounge but he answered in Spanish of which I knew only about ten words. He didn't speak English or didn't want to.
I retreated to my room. Having nothing to do, I flipped on the screen. A list of titles appeared.
There was a lot to choose from but the most interesting one had no words, only a small animated face of Susan smiling at me. I clicked on to it and a video was on.
The star was Susan. She was sitting on a huge bed in a bedroom undressing. She slipped out of her negligee and my heart thumped. She was completely naked underneath. She had such a beautiful body, the sure thing to kick-start my journey to heaven if I were a heart patient.
She changed position several times, smiling at me, leaving nothing to imagination. Then the big black guy came into the room. He was stark naked too. He was twice my size and that went for every part of his anatomy. He started to do unspeakable things to her that made that scarlet cord looked saintly. And she appeared to enjoy it.
I flipped it off.
Maybe Susan meant this as a preview of coming attraction, giving me a taste of what was to come. But she was wrong. That was completely not my cup of tea. I had a difficult time getting rid of the unpleasant taste in my mouth.
I just slept.

THE JET TOOK me to Bogota. There we switched to a small plane, which flew us to Medellin, 6,000 ft. high up in the mountains, where the headquarters of the drug cartel was supposed to be. We landed on a small airfield, switched again to an army helicopter.
Half an hour later, I was in the hacienda of Escober.
Night had fallen by then. Susan told me the Big Man would see me in the morning. I was treated to a dinner of sushi. Sushi, in the mountains of Colombia! But these were crazy people. Maybe I was lucky it was not a dinner of cocaine.
I got to see Escober, or I should say get to be seen by him, late the next morning.
Susan had led me through a maze of courtyards. Armed guards were present every step of the way. We entered a huge room that was straight out of Arabian Nights. A small, dark South American was waiting, lounging lazily in a couch. I had never met Escober and had not a clue what he looked like, but instinct told me I was not looking at him.
I wasn't. Susan introduced me to the man. He was called Lotto.
As Lotto shook my hand, a chill ran down my spine. His grip was very strong, but what bothered me were his eyes. His eyes never stopped shifting, like kois in a pond. And he looked at me the way a sushi chef would look at a fish he was about to carve. He had a heavy belt on his waist with seven scabbards, each holding a knife. They were not sushi knives but no less deadly. For they were throw knives.
He did not utter a sound, just released my hand and left.
Then Susan presented me to Escober. We were facing a large piece of smoke tinted glass that separated the room. It was obviously a one way glass. Escober could see me from behind but not I him.
I didn't know what to say.
There was silence and I focused on a small box covered with blood red satin perched on a black wrought-iron pedestal near the chair I was sitting. It was better than looking at a piece of glass seeing only my own reflection.
"Open it and have a look." A dry crackling sound from behind the glass, no doubt through a speaker system, advised me. He spoke with heavily accented English. I pictured a Mexican. The Mexicans in the movies had that same accent, they too were Spanish speaking people.
I stepped forward and lifted the lid of the box. Inside the box, nestling on black velvet was an odd object about an inch long, ash gray in color. I couldn't tell what it was. Looked like a splinter of old drifting wood.
"Pick it up." The voice behind the glass ordered.
I picked it up but still couldn't tell what it was. I hoped he wouldn't order me to eat it.
"It's a piece of human bone." The voice declared.
I dropped it abruptly.
Laughter echoed in the room.
"I didn't kill her though," the voice informed me, "I bought it with a chunk of emerald. This is a piece of Holy Relics, a piece of bone from the body of St. Margaret Castelle of Italy who died in 1320. It is said that to buy and sell this kind of stuff brings on eternal damnation. But I'm already on the side of Satan."
I wished he wouldn't ask me to kill God for him.
I didn't say anything. I had the feeling I was here to listen, to be told.
"That has nothing to do with the business at hand," said the voice behind the glass. "I have you brought here because I heard you are one of the best. I want you to kill a man for me."
But why me? I wondered. There must be at least a hundred other hit men at his disposal right here.
"You have just met Lotto. He is one of my best killers, and I want you to kill him for me." Said the voice behind the glass.
"But°K" I had to protest. Surely he could have Lotto shot anytime.
"It will be a fair fight between you and him." The voice behind the glass announced, "You will be given seven knives too. You two will be let loose in the jungle outside. Only one should come back alive to collect a reward of one hundred thousand dollars."
"But, but I don't work that way," I panicked, "I'm not a knife fighter. I'm not even a fighter."
"You can refuse and try to leave here on your own. But Lotto would still be after you."
I felt like drowning in an icy pool. The icy water was my own sweat. This must be a bad dream, only there was no waking up from it. I wanted to kick myself for giving in to the temptation of half of $100,000 to come here.
"Show time high noon." The voice behind the glass declared.
Then I somehow sensed that the speakers had gone dead.
There was a loud thud. A knife handle suddenly grew out of the red wooden column on my right, as if to remind me this was not a joke.
I turned. Lotto was smiling at me at the entrance, his small eyes still shifting. Then he vanished.
Susan gave me her hand. "Come," she said, "I'll take you to lunch."
Food was the furthest thing from my mind but I went along. If I could talk some sense out of these people, she was the only channel.
But there was no arguing with them. They were all mad.
"It's not that bad," Susan told me, "you are not asked to do anything you haven't done before."
"Lotto is not that good really," she told me again as we walked along, "he's just crazy. He has no fear of death, and people fear him for that. Just keep calm." Sounded like that boxing trainer. Only her life was not at stake.
"Why do you call him Lotto?" I wanted to know.
"Lottery," Susan answered, "can you ever predict the outcome of a Lotto draw?"
°@
LUNCH WAS a T-bone steak, American style. What does the Colombian eat? But then I 'd never heard of any restaurant serving Colombian food. Maybe it was not worth finding out. I had no appetite but I sucked the juice of the steak. I might need the energy.
I had no way out. I was in a strange place and there was little time. Susan was with me all along. She could or would offer no help. She just promised that she would go to bed with me if I came out of this alive. This would have been an incentive had she not shown me that video of hers.
Then it was noon and Lotto came.
We were on the porch facing the jungle. Several armed guards came with him.
Guns were pressed against my head. One of the guards produced the scarlet cord. He started to tie my hands behind my back with it.
"What is this?" I protested.
Susan giggled. "You get tied up after all."
Lotto gestured with a wide grin.
"It is sign language," Susan informed me, "he said he would be the hunter and you his prey. You run, he hunts."
Lotto was a mute.
"But your boss said it would be a fair fight." I screamed, first at him, then at her.
Lotto told me with his hands that it was not his decision, that the guards were doing this at their own free will.
Susan said apologetically, "I don't have the authority to interfere."
They strapped on a belt for me. A belt with seven scabbards and seven throw knives. But with my hands tied, they would be just more dead weight.
Lotto gestured again, still grinning.
Susan translated, "You have a one hour start. Then he will come after you."
She pointed at the thick, dark jungle ahead.
I argued, shouted, screamed, even challenged Lotto that he was too chicken to fight me hand to hand. They just ignored me.
Then I was marched out by the armed guards and propelled into the jungle.
I ran.

THE JUNGLE WAS hot and humid. Sunlight sometimes streamed down through the canopy overhead and stung my eyes. Where there was no sun, it was too dark for comfort.
But the worst part, at least for the moment, was the mosquitoes. I wonder if they could tell my hands were tied and couldn't swat at them. It was unspeakable to be itchy all over and not able to scratch with your hands. The best I could do was to deliberately let the small branches thrash my face, to drive off the mosquitoes and to relieve the itch temporarily.
I ran for about twenty minutes, then stopped. Anywhere would hardly make any difference. I had better conserve my energy and at the same time try to get the cord off.
But the man who had tied the cord knew what he was doing. The more I struggled, the tighter the knot. It was a sailor's or a boy scout's knot.
I could not scrape it off with the branches and tree trunks so abundant. Give me a whole day, I could have it worn to threads. But I had next to no time.
Then I heard Lotto coming.
A rustling to my left, a glint in the sunlight, I ducked. A knife thudded into a tree trunk one foot from me.
I hid in the shades.
Lotto's face appeared in a lighted spot, grinning. Then he vanished.
I moved cautiously, in a direction I thought would be difficult for him to circle behind me.
Fifteen minutes more of silent movements. The silence was unnerving. I wished Lotto would laugh, would mock me. But he was a mute.
Then a bird screeched in fright and took off. Another thud, a second knife grew out of the tree trunk next to my face.
I ran again.
An hour passed. I had been able to keep my distance. Lotto had thrown five knives at me and missed. He had only two knives left. But that was no consolation. Any one of them could kill me the next second. Besides, he was making up the rules. He could be carrying more knives or could decide to use a gun instead.
Then we were face to face.
We were at the edge of a clearing under the golden sun. I was squatting behind a clump of bushes and he stepped from the trees on the opposite side, a knife, the point of which held between the tips of his thumb and index fingers, poised to throw at me. He was sporting his widest grin.
It was his last grin.
I threw my knife at him. The knife glinted like pure gold in its flight under the sun.
His eyes widened with astonishment and his mouth popped open. Then the blade of the knife went straight into his mouth. He fell back. Somehow a scream escaped his mouth. Then he twitched and died.
I was lucky. I had aimed for his heart.
In the end, the knives he had thrown had proved his undoing.
Ten minutes before that, I had doubled back to one of the knives still embedded in a tree trunk. It was at just the right height. I turned my back to it and was able to push the cord against the blade. The cord was sliced apart like butter under a hot knife. When he came again, I was waiting for him with a knife from my own belt.
The first thing I did after that was to scratch my itches and to swat about ten thousand mosquitoes.
I was back at the house in twenty minutes. I did not trust these people, but where else could I go?
Susan greeted me with a big hug and kissed me a hundred times. She seemed genuinely pleased I had won.
Then she asked, "What happened to Lotto?"
"I tried to open up his vocal cord to give him back his voice," I answered, "the operation was successful but the patient died."
Then she offered me, of all things, a stick of chewing gum. I chewed it with relish, finding it pleasant and relaxing. That was when I fell in love with the stuff. Can't leave home without it.
I got to see Escober or that piece of smoke tinted glass again after I had washed, changed and eaten.
He congratulated me on my success and explained, "Lotto was completely insane. I was worried he would kill me someday. But I had to get rid of him on his own term. Because we would meet again in hell someday and I don't want him to have any excuse."
Not much of an explanation, I'd say.
But he did give me the money and had me flown out back to civilization. He even offered me that piece of Holy Relics, which I declined politely.
I didn't stay for that rendezvous with Susan either.
This is the only case in which I would reveal the identity of my employer. But then, to this day, I still don't know whether it was really Escober I dealt with that day. And I don't care, as long as I won't have anything more to do with these people.

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NINE

RUBBING SALT ON THE WOUND

THEY ARE DRINKING AGAIN, Garcia his vintage wine and The Porcupine his usual beer, chewing gum in between.
The night is cooler and the breeze just about right, cooling but never strong enough to scatter the papers.
The porcupine is reviewing the pages Garcia has written, this time on paper. He has complained the laptop tired his eyes too easily, something to do with radiation, he said. The radiation part was nonsense to Garcia. Some people are just not comfortable reading computer displays. Anyhow, Garcia has had the pages printed out.
Nothing like black and white on paper, The Porcupine has said.
Garcia has suggested the first two chapters of his book would be the two stories The Porcupine has told. Let the reader decide whether his stories are believable.
Garcia looks on at The Porcupine with hidden hatred. This man, who has outsmarted him twice, is still making him uneasy every second. Everything The porcupine says has to be checked and double-checked.
Garcia has no way of checking out the Colombian adventure but has inquired about the Holy Relics part. Failing to find the word "simony" in a dictionary, he asked the priest of his church about it over the phone. The priest was vague. He did not know the word but it seemed to ring a bell. He gave Garcia the phone number of a religious scholar. The learned man has returned, "Simony refers to the trading of Holy Relics, which is rampant in the black market. It is after the biblical sorcerer Simon Magus who tried to buy spiritical powers from the apostle Peter. Pieces of bones from the body of St. Magaret Castelle of Italy do exist and are available on the black market. She died in 1320. Her grave was dug up several hundred years later and a nun smashed her bones with a hammer to distribute the pieces to appropriate Catholic establishments."
How does The Porcupine know so much if he made up his story? I have checked that copy of TIME but that feature story about Colombia did not contain the details in The Porcupine's story. Is he really Joseph Bickford? The fingerprints didn't match. But he must be Joseph Bickford The Porcupine. How could he not be?
"Good," The Porcupine finally puts down the papers and comments, "that's what I call good reading, right?"
I have to admit that he's got something there. He is changing my book entirely, but for the better. I'm an open-minded man. I can take criticism and accept useful contributions. Yes, what I want is to write an attractive book.
"You know," Garcia says, changing the subject, "you are not in very good shape. You are overweight. You exercise?"
The Porcupine smiles mischievously, "I do run between the blackjack tables."
"Care for a game of squash tomorrow morning?" Asks Garcia.
"A new way to murder me?" Laughs The Porcupine.
"What about some light jogging?" Suggests Garcia.
"No thanks. Don't worry, I promise I won't keel over before finishing this." Says the porcupine. "I prefer not to stretch out the limits of my body with strenuous exercises. It's the only body I have and I want it to last as long as possible."
Excuses, excuses, but I know the real reason behind this. He has developed arthritis in his right elbow. His medical report in the files of his law firm told me. I have acquired it through my connections. I have not been a security consultant for nothing. What with the Personal Privacy Act all the rage, this kind of information is supposed to be impossible to get. But the reality is that you can still get it, only at a much higher price. It must be painful not to be able to move so freely anymore. Maybe that's why he has retired, the price of an unhealthy lifestyle. I will bring this up from time to time. Rub salt on the wound, to put him in his place.
"You don't seem to do any physical work at all." Says Garcia.
"Oh, no, don't underestimate me," says The Porcupine, "I can do very hard work when necessary. And I have worked hard. Which reminds me of the Tiger Fu case."
"The what?" Garcia's eyes widened.
"The Tiger Fu case, a classical example of the locked room murder." Says The Porcupine.
"That---ah, yes," says Garcia, "But the killers have been apprehended, though not charged for lack of evidence. Don't tell me you have anything to do with that."
"I haven't," Says the Porcupine, "but Joseph Bickford has. He did it."
"Well, that's a new story." Says Garcia.
"I'll tell you about it," says The Porcupine, "but only after you. I have already contributed two stories but you have yet to tell one."
"I will, I will," says Garcia, "but I'm not ready yet. Tell me about this Tiger Fu case first. I can insert it later in my book if necessary."
"Okay." Says The Porcupine.

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TEN

Chapter Three: The Locked Room Murder according to The Porcupine


IT WAS IN THE WINTER of 1985, before the Colombian incident, that I got a job at the Jade Dragon Restaurant, which was an old-fashioned Chinese restaurant in Hong Kong. It was bitterly cold, a particularly chilly winter. And it might as well be. For the job was as an apprentice in the kitchen, which meant I had to do anything the chef told me to. And the chef told me to do everything, except learning to cook. That was the normal practice then. You do cheap labor the first year. Cheap labor is harder in the hot summer, especially around a kitchen with huge stoves. That I was a Eurasian was again no problem, unless I didn't speak the dialogue, which was Cantonese. I was fluent in Cantonese, I was still young enough to be an apprentice and my slightly fairer skin was not such a standout.
I lugged crates of beverages around. You know, the kind of plastic crates each holding dozens of beers or soda pops, some in bottles and some in cans. They were piled high in the storeroom, in the corridor leading to the toilets and even out in the back alley, any space they could find. And they were moved around constantly.
I ran errands, I cleaned the kitchen and even cleaned the toilets. I ran out to the betting shop to place horseracing bets for the chef and others, including myself. They all liked gambling in the industry.
After the restaurant had closed at night, they would gather in one of the VIP rooms to play cards. A VIP room is a room reserved for the better customers. A customer gets a room to himself, complete with TV and karaoke to entertain friends or relatives.
The favorite game for the guys was 'thirteen cards'. Four players each get thirteen of the fifty-two cards in a deck and each arrange his cards in three tiers, three cards followed by five and another five. When there are more players, the odd ones out could place side bets. The bigger players get to hold the cards.
I always joined in on the game but never got to hold the cards because I was meagerly paid and usually lose.
When we were done, some of us just slept in the VIP rooms until the new shift began. I almost always slept in because I had no home to go to. At least that was my story.
I saw Tiger Fu for the first time the second night I started working there. For this was his favorite restaurant and he came four nights a week. His favorite dish was, of all things, the heads of roast geese, necks included. People in the food business call this 'the stick' because it looks very much like a walking stick. The stick is sold cheap or simply discarded. But Fu would have them chopped to pieces and served with some soy sauce from steamed fish. I had tried it once and I must admit it was the best food I'd ever tasted. Good things don't always come with a big price tag. Not like the raw goat's eye I had eaten in Ethiopia. But that's another story. Anyway, Fu would have a plate of the stick himself while treating others with expensive dishes such as shark's fin soup or braised abalone or steamed live fish.
Apart from that, Fu was a nasty man. He was the known boss of one of the biggest triad gangs and controlled a big slice of the pie that comprised of narcotics, prostitution and bookmaking. He had risen to the top by the time-honored way of kill or to be killed. In the underworld, you don't go to court to settle disputes. You kill. The more you killed, the more visciously you killed, the more you are feared and the bigger you grow. But you also become a bigger target yourself.
That's why Fu always came with four bodyguards.
The night Fu came, I was just rounding the corner of the corridor between VIP rooms. Two bodyguards were in front of him with the other two behind. Even if I didn't know who they were at the time, I started to retreat just because of the nasty looks on their faces.
It was too late. The two big guys in front just bumped me back as if I wasn't there at all. It was lucky for me that Fu's favorite room was just around the corner, or I would have been bowled along until I ended up inside the washroom.
Fu was not apologetic either. He also seemed not to have even seen me. I have heard that some underworld bosses were quite nice, but Fu certainly wasn't one of them. And he was ugly.
The two bodyguards in front went into the VIP room to check if it was safe. Then Fu went in. The remaining two stationed themselves outside the door.
The next time I came out of the kitchen to the corridor, I saw all four of the bodyguards were outside the door of that room. I was told later by the boys that Fu was left alone in the room to hold important conversations over the phone.
You could never be sure how many guests would come to Fu's room. They come and go, but never more than five at a time. Fu held court in his room while he wined and dined. Later in the night, heavily made-up girls would come. They were from the nightclubs.
Fu's room was a peculiar room. It was a testament that politics raises its ugly head as long as there are people.
The walls of this room were laid with bare bricks. You can see the rough cement binding each brick. No painting or even whitewash. It was supposed to be a kind of avante-garde style of inner decoration. It would be fine with modernized structures but got along poorly with this restaurant, which was one of the oldest in town. It just looked like the decorator had forgotten to put on the finishing touch. I was told this was the work of the owner's son who had studied abroad and had come back to help run the business. He insisted on modernization but was allowed to do only this one room. His father was too old to tend to the business and his stepmother was in power. The son was referred to as the Crown Prince while the stepmother the Dowager Queen. This room was the Crown Prince's first stake of claim in the ongoing power struggle.
That brick room stuck out like a sore thumb but it was okay with me. As long as Tiger Fu stuck to this one room, I had a good chance of killing him. For that was the reason I got this job.
Politics were rife among the employees too. Some of them were loyal to the Crown Prince while others the Dowager Queen. I was too unimportant and too new to take sides, which often got me caught in the crossfire. They gambled together but the differences were obvious. Sometimes, when I tried to place a side bet, I would be told by each side to place it on the other side because of my poor luck.
The chef was loyal to the Dowager Queen. When I went out to place horseracing bets for him, secret reports would be made and when I came back, the manager, who was on the other side, would reprimand me for doing personal things on company time.
I could do no right.
Then there was Doris. She was the PR for the restaurant. Her job was to wear a jade green embroidered cheongsam with extra high slits showing her long legs to station at the entrance of the restaurant greeting the customers. She was quite a good looking girl but that was all she was good for. She had an intense hatred for me. I was rumored to have tried to date her but was told off. Which wasn't true. The real reason was that once I had the misfortune to catch sight of her coming out of the men's room with Tiger Fu. I didn't try to explain to anyone. It would do me no good.
Life is like that. If there were only two people left on this planet, they would still scheme to control or eliminate each other.
All this gave me ample reason to leave after about a month.
One day, the manager told me to move all the crates inside from the back alley. I told him I had sprained my ankle and couldn't do it. I resigned on the spot.
I ran into the chef, or let him run into me across the street from the restaurant a week later. He grabbed hold of me and asked me to help him out as they had still not found someone to replace me and they were desperately short of hands. I was still on good terms with him and his side when I had quit mainly because I made the other side lose face.
I agreed to help him out because I had nothing to do at the moment anyway, but made it clear that I had to leave around midnight because I had to catch the last ferry to visit my parents who lived on an outlying island.
The manager turned a blind eye because they were so short of hands.
They never dreamed I would carry a gun inside. I hid the gun in a small windowless storeroom, which was actually a small cubicle in the wall. It was built to house cleaning equipment and only the cleaning lady and I would go into that room. That night the cleaning lady was not there because she had quit her job the day before. That's why they needed me so desperately.
Tiger Fu also came that night. My timing was perfect.
Around 10 p.m., I turned the corner of the corridor and saw all four of the bodyguards were outside the door of the brick room.
I slid quietly into the storeroom, took out the gun and fitted a silencer over the muzzle. Then I carefully removed a loose brick on the back wall and was able to peer into the brick room and looked at Tiger Fu.
That brick had taken me a whole month of hard work to fix. I had the chance to go to work the nights I slept in. I had to loosen it bit by bit so as not to show any give away sign. The old cement on the edges was still in place.
The storeroom was directly in back of the brick room. In fact it had been a small part of the room before that wall was erected. I could see Fu but Fu could not see me. There was a wooden cupboard by the wall on the other side. The lower portion of the cupboard was used to place some slippers for customers who cared to use them and had no backboard. The opening left by the loose brick was inside this portion of the cupboard, at the height of about twenty inches from the floor up. I could see through it only the lower half of Fu's body and as his eyes were on the upper half, he couldn't see me. Besides, it was dark down there.
Fu was sitting in an armless chair, clear of the table, half facing me, talking on the phone. I aimed at him through the opening and pumped all the bullets into him.
The slight pop pop of the gun did not escape the storeroom.
All the bullets went into Fu's chest and abdomen. He slipped from the chair and I could see his face, dazed and bewildered as his blood sucked his life from him rapidly. He didn't have time to figure out where the bullets had come from, and he couldn't move. He became even uglier, a squat, crewcut, toad of a man in his early fifties with a face only a mother could love. And he always wore clothes too loud.
The trickier part of my job was replacing the brick in a way that nobody would suspect later.
I had brought along a tube of instant cement bought at a hardware store. Lovely hi-tech stuff, not available just a few years before. I squeezed just enough cement on the top of the brick and pushed the brick carefully back in place. The cement would harden in a few minutes, making that brick immovable. They would have to tear down that wall to find out there was a different kind of cement. But there would be no reason to tear down that wall.
I placed the gun and the tube of cement into a red plastic bucket and covered them with a dirty washcloth. Then I came out of the storeroom calmly, through the kitchen and went out the back alley. Nobody suspected anything. I was performing one of my usual tasks, carrying dirty water out to pour into the gutter.
The alley was deserted. The night was still bitterly cold. I walked to a dumpster, took from it a black plastic bag I had placed inside before, put the gun and the tube of cement into the bag and placed the bag back into the dumpster.
Then I returned to the inside of the restaurant to work.
Ten more minutes had passed before all hell broke loose.
The bodyguards were slow to discover something was wrong because they dared not go into the brick room without their boss calling for them.
I could imagine their panic, going into that room to find their boss shot dead. Nobody else was inside that room and they had been guarding the only door the whole time.
When they were sure the killer or killers were not in the room, they rushed out and charged around waving guns and choppers. But they were like flies with their heads cut off, not knowing who or what or where to look for.
Lowly me was the last person they would look at.
Then the police came.
I excused myself to the chef since I had made it clear I had a ferry to catch.
I could have stayed longer and be safe but I was worried Charles Garcia might come. Though he was no longer with homicide then.
I retrieved the plastic bag from the dumpster in the alley, carried it to the seaside, which was two blocks away and threw it into the dark water.
The four bodyguards were instant suspects. They seemed the only ones who could have killed Fu. But the bullets that killed Fu hadn't come from their guns. They could have disposed of the murder weapon in the melee but that could not be proved. Although the police believed they were the killers, the murder weapon was never found and they were never charged.
But I heard afterwards that all four of them vanished without a trace sometime later. The underworld was not so forgiving and they needed no proof.

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ELEVEN

THE THAW

THE PORCUPINE IS CHEWING GUM AGAIN. Four empty beer cans are on the glass top of the coffee table, not littering but placed neatly in a row in a tray lined by a paper towel. Garcia winces again at the thought of chewing gum going along with beer. But he doesn't understand beer drinking anyway.
Garcia looks distraught. It may have something to do with the rain. A slight rain has started in the morning and has never let up since. The air-conditioning in the house is in full blast because the drizzle, instead of cooling the air, has only made it even more oppressively hot and humid.
Or it has a lot to do with Cruz. For Ricky Cruz has left Macao abruptly this afternoon. It has not been his plan. Cruz's wife and children has left for Portugal weeks ahead, leaving him to sell off or give away the things they could not bring with them. But Cruz misses them so much, he has decided to leave for Lisbon to join them ahead of schedule. He just gave everything away. Garcia has driven him to the airport.
Cruz has been a precious friend but he has now gone, never to return. There is no reason for him to return.
The phone rings. Garcia takes it on the cordless.
It's Jimmy Parker. Would Garcia care to come out for a drink? He is lonely, lost without Cruz. Garcia declines again. He is in no mood going out. He seems to be in no mood for anything.
He puts down the phone and looks at The Porcupine.
The Porcupine is going over what Garcia has written again, rustling the growing stack of paper.
I have checked on his story about the Tiger Fu case. Nothing could be verified as the Jade Dragon Restaurant has folded for more than five years. The building has been torn down and rebuilt. The old employees could not be located. But his story is plausible.
"Something eating you?' the Porcupine asks without looking up. He could sense it.
Garcia says nothing. He unbuttons the top of his pale green sports shirt. As usual, he is immaculate even in casual wear. The shirt is one of the best money can buy, but it still is not comfortable, not now.
Failing to get a response, The Porcupine reads on.
"You know, Joe, I'm beginning to like you." Garcia suddenly remarks.
"That's a huge improvement," The Porcupine puts down the papers, "what have I done right?"
"You seem a messy guy," says Garcia, "yet you put down every page you have read neatly. You chew gum and drink beer nonstop, but you put away every piece of used gum on a piece of tissue paper and goes into the kitchen to discard it in the rubbish bin. You clear away beer cans methodically without leaving even a little moisture on the glass top of my coffee table. You must have consumed a hundred cans of beer but have managed not to spill one single drop on my carpet or my sofa."
"Glad you appreciate that." Says The Porcupine, "It's been hard work for me too because I am in fact a messy guy. But I always have this respect for other people's lifestyle, and especially their home. A home is a man's fortress. You have told me on the outset that you live alone here and do all the cleaning yourself, not even using a part time maid. I guessed you must be the kind that would defend your fortress staunchly."
"It's no trivial thing really," says Garcia, "couples are known to divorce over this. And I have shown people the door for trivializing my house rules. I must thank you for respecting my lifestyle. You are the first person to do that."
"Not counting the checkbook thing?" The Porcupine asks dryly.
Garcia smiles, "At least you didn't spit the scraps on my carpet."
"Thank you," says The Porcupine, "but you are still not yourself tonight."
Garcia shrugs, "A good old friend of mine has left Macao today, gone for good."
"That's sad," says the Porcupine, "one usually has many acquaintances, but one you can call a good old friend is rare."
Garcia gulps down some more wine.
"You have something to say, say it," says The Porcupine, "downing it with wine won't make it go away. It's like the pit of a cherry. You don't swallow it, you spit it out."
"I'm about to tell you a story of my own." Says Garcia.
"Good, and it's about time," says The Porcupine, "but you don't have to tell it to me first. Just write it down directly. You are the writer."
"Two things," admits Garcia, "one, it's not in my original outline."
"That's not against the law." Says The Porcupine, "Anyway, your outline will not be published."
"Two," confesses Garcia sheepishly, "I've found out that I'm not good at telling stories. That's why I let you tell yours first."
"No problem," says the porcupine, "great men have employed ghost writers to pen their memoirs or biographies. You have already hired me. Why don't you tell me the facts and let me arrange the story? You can make alterations later. Two heads are always better than one."
"That's what I have in mind." Says Garcia, "I've discover this a very good way for me to work. You arrange the story and tell it, then I put in on paper."
" Good, and that's the way we will work." Says The Porcupine, "By the way, this story of yours, it has anything to do with this good old friend who has just left?"
"In fact it has." Says Garcia.

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TWELVE

Chapter Four: The Case of the Sinister Black Glove according to Charles Garcia


I HAVE KNOWN RICKY CRUZ since my early days in Macao. He was a few years my junior. We grew up together and used to fish and catch mud crabs on the beach. Now the fish and the crabs are all gone, leaving only polluted mud. Time seems to poison everything in its path.
We had been partners in the Macao police force for some time before we went our separate ways. I went to Hong Kong while he stayed on.
We had the chance to work together again when I was 45.
That year, on an overcast, chilly, winter morning, Judge Michael Harrison called me on my mobile. He told me to wait for him in a parking lot. He arrived in a taxi and got into my car.
He said, "We will talk as we drive along."
That was odd. He had a chauffeur driven Rolls Royce at his disposal but he wanted to ride in my modest sedan. He could also have summoned me to his chamber in the courthouse where we could talk undisturbed.
Harrison was British, as most powerful judges were those days in Hong Kong.
I could see right away that he was scared. He kept turning around to look as if he was afraid he was being followed.
I had to grip the steering wheel tighter every time he turned around. For he was a very fat man, close to 300 pounds at 6 feet 1 inch. I was afraid any sudden movement on his part would shift the balance of my car and cause an accident. My car was already sagging lower on his side due to his big weight.
He was sweating, which was not unusual for him even in the winter. He was just too fat. We had sometimes wondered if he was ever cold at all. But he was sweating even more this time.
We had driven along for some time and he still had not opened his mouth. Then it dawned on me that it was difficult for him to begin.
I said, "I think we should park on the top floor of that multi-story car park. We should be safe and not disturbed up there."
He agreed. He would not feel free to talk when we were in motion.
We stopped in the middle of the top floor, under a weak sun. There was no other car in sight. We could see well in advance if another car was coming up. It was a good place to talk in secret.
Harrison had been a lawyer and then a prosecutor before being appointed a Judge. Yet, despite his verbal skill and experience in court, his story tumbled out in almost incoherent fragments. That's what happens when you became a victim. We are all only human.
It turned out he had a mistress in Macao. A girl named Michelle. Michelle had called him at the courthouse early this morning. She was in hysterics.
She had woken up to find one black-colored man's glove on the night table next to her bed. Just that, but it was menacing enough. It meant that someone had broken into her bedroom last night while she slept, did something and then left.
Nothing was lost or disturbed. She was sure she had not been touched. The man, as it was a man's glove, could have left without her knowing it. But he wanted her to know. So he left a glove, a sinister calling card.
"He could have stood there watching her sleep," the Judge almost sobbed, "and she likes to wear very little in bed."
"Blackmail?" I asked.
"Not yet," said the Judge, "she has not received any call. Neither have I."
"She has a boyfriend?" I asked.
"What do you mean?" The Judge's eyes bulged.
It was not a good question. I've seen it too often. The husband would always be the last to know and to believe. When you love a woman enough, even with all the evidence stacked against her, his first explanation would be that you've got it wrong, you don't understand her. But I had to ask the question. Some husbands do know and tolerate.
"You don't understand her," Harrison said as if to mirror my thoughts, "she doesn't even have a male friend. She has only me."
Looking at Harrison, you would find it hard to believe. That a young woman would be loyal to this huge slab of fat, 65 years old, balding with a face closely resembling an English bulldog. What could she see in him? And he had very bad breath. The stench in the closed space of my small car was overwhelming.
But Harrison was a powerful man. He had helped put me where I was. You need a powerful man behind you to leapfrog over your competition up the ladder. Judge Harrison had been behind me all along. Of course I had to scratch his back from time to time. Like the time he had been drunk driving and slammed a car off the road down a slope. The other driver was in a coma for three days and his family was crying bloody murder. The Judge called me in and I fixed it for him. I found out the man had a brother in jail. Every family has a black or at least grey sheep. I talked to the man and he agreed to drop all charges and admitted he had swerved into the wrong lane, causing the accident. He didn't want anything to happen to his brother in jail.
That had just been a small itch on the Judge's back. Now it looked like he had an ulcer.
I said, "We have to work fast. I have to make a call to Macao first, please give me Michelle's address."
"What are you going to do?" Harrison wailed like a child. You would laugh if you had seen him in court, pronouncing sentences and reprimanding the accused, righteous as God himself.
"I have connections in Macao," I explained, "I'm going to get men sent to her house to protect her and have the phone tapped in case the party who had left the glove called."
He gave me the address and I called Cruz on my mobile.
Then I said, "You call Michelle."
"I am not going to call her." He wailed again.
He had kept this affair very secret. For he had someone behind him just as I had him behind me. That someone was his wife. His wife's family had people in high places in London. A scandal would certainly ruin him. She had come to live with him in Hong Kong six months ago. Rumors had it that she had doubts as to his fidelity. He had set up this place for Michelle in Macao some time before his wife came to Hong Kong. Even before that, he had been extremely careful. He had never gone to Macau to see her. Michelle would come to Hong Kong once or twice a month to be with him at a friend's house. And only for two or three hours each trip. He would explain his absence by saying he had a meeting with other judges.
"Call her on my phone. Your secret is safe with me," I said, "Michelle would be scared to death if you didn't tell her who is coming to her house."
I handed him my mobile and told him the name was Ricky Cruz and what Cruz looked like.
He made the call.
Then I breathed a sigh of relieve. I explained to him that I had done all that could be done at the moment. I would go to Macao myself to follow up. But before that, he had to tell me more.
"Do you think your wife would have anything to do with this?" I asked.
"Of course not." He retorted. Another question hard to stomach but had to be asked.
Then he explained, "I am certain my wife, Grace, does not know about Michelle. If she knew, she would have taken out her cane---"
"Her what?" I asked incredulously.
"She just doesn't do things that way." The Judge said without elaborating.
I got the idea. Grace must be the kind of person who could not hold any secret. I had heard she had been spoilt rotten growing up and was used to getting whatever she wanted, and was never afraid to give you a piece of her mind. In Judge Harrison's case, she would give him a caning. Typical upper-class British. I had the pleasure of never meeting Grace.
I told the Judge not to worry too much because Macao was a very small place and was in total control by the triads and the police. The two forces were linked by the common interest of protecting the gaming industry. They kept the bad guys under tight reins by giving them jobs linked to the casinos. The would-be troublemakers went into businesses like loan-sharking or offering protection to small businesses. Protection meant not doing what they usually did. Rob a tourist on the street and you are in big trouble, because this would scare away tourists, amounting to robbing the whole town. Which meant the kind of crime we were suspecting would be rare in Macao and the perpetrator should not be too hard to find.
"I want you to kill him when you find him." Said the Judge.
I looked at him.
"I mean," he spluttered, "I don't want him to get off so easily -----I mean, prosecution is out of the question°Kthe publicity -----"
"I'll call you first thing when I got him." I promised.
I dropped him off at the courthouse. Then I drove all the way to the heliport with all the windows down despite the cold to let out the stench. He must have been eating a ton of garlic each day or maybe it was just that all his teeth were rotting.
I chartered a helicopter to Macao and met Michelle for the first time forty-five minutes later.

THE PLACE WAS a nice bungalow on a hill, with a beautiful garden and an open courtyard. The sea was behind the house.
Michelle was entirely not the type of woman I had been expecting. She was a blonde in her early thirties, very fair, very pale and very frail. She was small, about 5ft. 1. She had thick, waist length hair in soft curls flowing down her shoulders and bosom. I suspected the weight of her hair was part of the reason she looked tired all the time. She could not have weighed more than 90 pounds, hair included. She was so pale and frail you could read her veins like a map.
She had a Greek Goddess sort of face with large, haunting and sad blue eyes. She was quite beautiful, not in a sexy way but in a way somehow suggesting she was from another planet. She seemed to float when she moved around. The idea of a secret boy friend was immediately deleted from my mind.
She was French and spoke with a typical French accent, with the th's coming out as ze's. And her first sentence, after I had introduced myself, was, "Why is he not here?"
I explained that Harrison was a judge and would be of no help in this kind of investigation, and that she was in perfectly good hands.
"He should be here." She insisted as tears streamed down her cheeks.
I couldn't comment on that. I gathered she was the kind of person that rarely smiles and looking at everything on the downside. She was not the kind of person easy to live with. But it was especially hard to believe she be the mistress of Judge Harrison. The Judge had explained that he had met her on a working trip to Spain, it was love at first sight and he brought her here, setting her up in this bungalow. Macao was convenient for him and as she had been born in Portugal, the place suited her in a nostalgic way. He had told me that she had no one and was like a child lost, and she needed him very much because he was, in his own words, like an island she had found in a rough sea. I had thought this a typical tale concocted by a mistress who was after his money. But now I believed him. Of course he had to pay dearly to support her but she was obviously not in this for the money. You never can tell what a woman sees in a man or a man in a woman. Sometimes the husband is right, you just don't understand her. People make strange bedfellows, so to speak.
I looked around her bedroom. The whole room was in lavender, as was the whole house. She was wearing a lavender gown and lavender slippers. Out of this world.
I could not see the glove as Cruz already had it sent to the lab to test for fingerprints. He had also looked for prints around the house. Cruz could work with efficiency when he had to work. There was no sign of breaking in. I asked Michelle and the hired helps questions but got nowhere. There were four hired helps, two maids, a chauffeur and a gardener, all Chinese. All of them had seen or heard nothing unusual.
Then Rosemary arrived. She was Cruz's wife.
When I had first arrived at the house, Cruz was the first to greet me at the door and he had muttered, "No meat at all." That was about Michelle.
Meat Cruz's wife had plenty. She was a little shorter than Michelle but was twice her weight.
Looking at Rosemary would banish any thought of me getting married. Not because of what she looked now but because of the change in her. I had been the best man at Cruz's wedding. Rosemary had been somebody else then, lithe, coy and girlishly beautiful. Then she started to balloon for no apparent reason. Three children later, she was twice her original weight. But the worst part was her temper. She was forever yelling at Cruz at the house. Cruz could do no right. But Cruz still loved her very much. The occasional prostitute, Cruz had explained, was to remind himself of the good old days with her and the sacrifice she had made for him. Cruz was the kind of husband I wish I had if I were to reincarnate as a woman in my next life.
Cruz had asked Rosemary to come because a woman companion for Michelle would be more appropriate at a time like this. Cruz and I left Rosemary with Michelle and went to work.
This was one of the few times Cruz had to really work.
He drove me through some narrow streets in an unmarked police car, screeched to a halt in front of an old brick building with a wide black doorway. It was a sort of union clubhouse for the Chinese and the door was open. We went into a big hallway downstairs.
Three police detectives, all Portuguese, were already there, holding down a small middle-aged China man on a table. The man had one black eye and bruises on his face. The detectives had already done the preliminary work.
"He talked?" Cruz asked with authority, hands on his waist.
The detectives shook their heads
Cruz walked around to the other side of the table where the man couldn't see him.
"You like to be beaten or what?" asked Cruz in Cantonese. Going to the man's blind spot was a psychological ploy. The man would anticipate a blow but he couldn't see it coming.
"Please, no," pleaded the man in Chinese, "We didn't do it."
"I'll tell you once more, and only once." Cruz said, "One of your men had broken into the bedroom of my friend's wife last night and left a black glove. I want this man." He slapped his own gloves on the table beside the man's face to emphasize his point. Then he told the man Michelle's address and that Michelle was a white woman. Then he said, "You have until 7 p.m. tonight."
The man nodded.
Cruz waved. The man was pushed to the ground and we all left.
Cruz and I got into the car. My mobile rang. It was the Judge.
"I'm working," I told him, "I think we should have our man before 7 p.m. I'll call you back."
Cruz had used a trick we called THE SQUEEZE. We both knew that the man inside probably knew nothing about the case. It was just a random pick. He was unlucky. But he was a pretty powerful thug in the triad. He would find our man for us just to keep Cruz off his back. We had stepped on his toes. He will step on others' toes until the culprit came up. That's the way we worked.
"Let's get something to eat." Said Cruz.
We went to a small Portuguese restaurant for our lunch.
We talked. It was mostly Cruz who talked. He complained about Rosemary. Her temper was getting worse and worse. He wished there were something he could do to make her happy. I told him I'd heard this had something to do with hormonal imbalance. Some women were particularly susceptible. Doctors recently had come to realize this as a widespread condition. They called it PMS, short for Premenstrual Syndrome. But they were short of effective treatment. Try to understand, they would advise. But to be fair, Cruz had done more than his share of understanding.
Cruz's mobile rang several times. Once was a report from the lab. Fingerprint tests yielded nothing, or too much. Michelle and the hired helps had all handled the glove before Cruz and his men got to the house. The perpetrator, on the other hand, had obviously been careful not to leave a single print on it.
After lunch, we went to have a steam bath and a massage. It was a good way to kill time.
We really had nothing more to do before 7 p.m. The triads were doing the job for us. Not that we were lazy, it was just that they had better ways to make the local Chinese talk. We did not believe it was the work of a non -Chinese. Expatriates were so few here and they all had proper things to do.

WE WERE AT THE same restaurant having dinner when the call came. The triads had produced a man and he was handed over at the police station.
I called a number the Judge had told me and left a message with the voice-mail. The Judge would be at home with his wife now and would not talk to me.
Then we finished our dinner and left for the police station.
Our man was a seedy little Chinese fellow, already beaten to a pulp. He had already confessed.
Cruz asked him a few questions in my presence, then he gave up in disgust.
The man couldn't even give us the time of day. He hadn't a clue what Michelle or her house looked like. He was just an illegal immigrant from China.
That's the trouble with THE SQUEEZE. Cruz wanted a man, the triads gave him a man. This man and his family would have been paid, he would confess to anything. A jail term would not be that unpleasant for him considering he couldn't even earn his meals outside.
The jails in Macao were full of this kind of convicts. Nobody cared about the truth, as long as the books were made to look good.
But that just won't do in our case. It was becoming clear this was not the work of the underworld. Cruz and I had to really work hard.
I spent the night in Cruz's house while Rosemary stayed with Michelle. My bungalow was on lease to a Portuguese businessman at the time. Cruz's house was not as expensive as Michelle's, but it was much more comfortable.
We waited, which was one of the things we should do. The person or people who had left the glove must want something. There must be a next step, a telephone call if it was blackmail.
But no call came. And no next step. The Judge received no call either, nothing.
Then Rosemary came home after dark. She screamed at Cruz for sending her to an ungrateful job. Cruz sought refuge in his study.
I talked to Rosemary. One thing the doctors had said about this PMS thing was right. The woman would only pick on her spouse. She could be quite normal with friends. Rosemary told me it was next to impossible to stay with Michelle. Michelle would whine about anything. On top of that, Michelle disliked her very much and didn't care to hide it. Rosemary didn't like her one bit either. But she said Michelle really loved the Judge very much. Michelle had been calling him on the phone all day and would throw a tantrum every time she couldn't get through. She couldn't get through one single time. The Judge did call once in the afternoon and Michelle was ecstatic, but had wept for a long time after that.
"I think he loves her very much too," Rosemary told me, "I wish my husband could love me half as much."
My heart wept for Cruz. I couldn't tell Rosemary how much Cruz loved her. It would just make things worse. Perhaps Rosemary knew at heart but liked to say otherwise.

THE NEXT morning, we got a lead.
Cruz's men had found the shop that had sold the glove. It was a brand new glove so it must have been bought not that long ago. And it was expensive and unique, not the kind you could buy just about anywhere. In fact, only this one shop sold it. It had been hand made by the owner. The owner remembered a suspicious looking Chinese man had bought a pair the afternoon before I came to Macao.
Macao was a small place and we found the man in the evening.

CRUZ AND I DROVE to the man's house in the bitter cold.
It was a decrepit brick house, single storied, the occupant of which did not seem the kind that would purchase a pair of expensive gloves like that. We kicked the door in. A shabby little man jumped out of the bed and clambered out a window.
We went back to the car. Cruz drove unhurriedly round the corner and our headlights found the man running in front of us. Cruz knew the streets and the alleys like the back of his hand.
Cruz took his time. A man could never outrun a car but Cruz wouldn't overtake him, just keeping a distance of about five feet behind. To instill terror now would help break the man faster later on.
The man ran until he was completely out of breath. His legs folded and he just slumped onto the pebbled surface of the street.
Cruz stopped just as the front wheel touched the man's legs. Then we got out and Cruz just kicked him around. The man was so out of breath he couldn't even beg for mercy.
Then Cruz dragged him onto the pavement and the questioning started.
Where was the other glove? As Cruz's men had searched the man's house and reported through his mobile that they couldn't find the other glove. What was the purpose of leaving one glove in Michelle's bedroom?
The story came out bit by bit.
The man did not deny he had bought a pair of gloves from that shop, but it was a present for his father. His wife had taken that pair of gloves back to his hometown in the Chinese mainland across the border. She was visiting relatives and she had left in the morning. Yes, he could have bought a lot of things the family needed with the money, but his father had been longing for a pair of gloves like that all his life. His father was old and ill and the winter was bitterly cold up North.
Why did he run? Because, the man confessed, he had stolen the money and thought he had been exposed and the police had come for him
Cruz kicked him aside and walked away in frustration, breaths white in the bitter cold of the night. I followed him. We didn't speak.
Although we were not used to care about the truth, we could see it. The man didn't seem to have lied.
We walked around, then circled back. Cruz called his men to take that poor little man back to the station for further questioning.
We got back to Cruz's house at 3 a.m., exhausted and perplexed, no nearer to solving the mystery. Who had done this? Why was there no second step?
Cruz opened the door with his key and ducked. A vase flew past his head, shattering on the driveway. A barrage of accusations followed. Rosemary was at it again.
Was this Cruz's home no more? Who did he think he was to come and go as he wished as if this was a public toilet? Did he know how hard a day she had? Just because a wife stayed home and he should think she didn't have work to do at all.
I just stood outside the house, embarrassed. It was not appropriate for me to put in a word this time.
Cruz tried to explain through the door. He had to work too. He was very tired too. But everything he said was like throwing more oil into a fire.
"I know you don't love me any more," screamed Rosemary, "why don't you just go away and never come back?"
"But I love you, Rosemary." Cruz pleaded.
"Would you love me like that man love Michelle, huh? Would you run around like mad for me if I had found a glove on my night table?'
"But nothing has happened to you." Cruz argued.
"Oh, I can make it happen. You have a lot of gloves in the drawer. I can put one on my night table. Come on in and look."
"Oh, you're not talking sense," Cruz threw up his hands in exasperation, "I'll talk to you later. Now I have to find a place for Charles to sleep."
He grabbed my arm and dragged me back to the car.
Another missile crashed near our feet. This time it was a plastic ashtray.
We got into the car. Cruz banged his head repeatedly on the steering wheel, "Dammit, dammit."
"You heard Rosemary," I reminded him, "I think your wife has just cracked our case for us."
"Holy cow!" Cruz bolted upright.

WE DRAGGED the owner of the shop that had sold the gloves out of bed. She was shivering, from the fear rather than from the cold.
But we were just there to ask more questions. Before, Cruz's men had asked about suspicious customers. Now we asked about the unsuspicious ones.
She told us of a western woman who had bought a pair of gloves the same day. It was Michelle. Michelle was very easy to describe.

WE DID NOT CONFRONT Michelle. I just called the Judge in the morning and told him. I was sure Michelle herself had put that glove on her night table and made up the story. Why? Because she wanted more attention from him. She wanted him to prove something. She wanted him to come to Macao to see her, maybe at least just this once.
I don't know what the Judge did after that. He didn't tell me and I didn't ask. But three weeks later, Michelle killed herself with an overdose of sleeping pills. She left a note saying she was sorry that her foolishness had caused misery and death to others. The unfortunate man who had bought a similar pair of gloves for his father had hung himself in his cell twenty-four hours after he was arrested. Cruz got hold of the note and kept it secret, just giving it to me to hand to the Judge.
The Judge paid for Michelle's funeral and she was buried in Macao. But still, he did not come to Macao.
Three months later, the Judge died of a massive stroke.

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THIRTEEN

THE TOILET FIXER

"WHAT ABOUT THAT RAW goat's eye," Garcia asks, "the one you said you have eaten in Ethiopia?"
"Oh, that," smiles The Porcupine, "I've read about it in one of your magazines. Thought I could make up a story about it. But I couldn't. So we have to leave that out."
Garcia glowers at him.
And I believed him. Can I tell truths from lies no more? Or is it that I simply want to listen to another wild story of his?
They are at Garcia's house working again, reviewing the story Garcia has put on paper. This time the story about the black glove, told The Porcupine's way. Garcia thinks this should be chapter four, the first of the cases that are really his.
The Porcupine puts down the pages when he has finished, neatly clipped again. "You have changed nothing."
"I agree that's the way it should be told," Garcia admits.
He picked up an apple he has just bought from the wooden bowl and tossed it at The Porcupine. The Porcupine tries to catch it with his left hand. But it is too awkward as his left hand is on the wrong side. The apple drops on the carpet and rolls under the sofa. The Porcupine goes on his knees to retrieve it and returns it to the bowl. "Thanks, but I don't eat apples."
He knows his right hand is as well as grounded. I should do more of this. If just to wipe a little of that smugness off his face.
"Well, next story," says The Porcupine , "still your turn. Let me see." He picks up another stack of neatly clipped papers. It is Garcia's original outline. "We have strayed far enough from your original outline. Why don't we pick one out from here? Ah, we have just witnessed a peaceful demonstration. Here we have a ------mm, you have even put in a great title, A NOT SO PEACEFUL DEMONSTRATION. Excellent."
Earlier, Garcia has turned on the TV to catch the evening news, as is his usual habit. The news clip covered a peaceful demonstration in Hong Kong. They have watched it in disgust. A small group of people has demonstrated, saying that the government should redeem them because property price had plummeted like a rock. The police had dispersed the demonstrators after a while as a serious traffic jam was created. Then the organizers complained that the police was using unnecessary force and democracy was dead. Look at America, they said. Then, as if to slap them on their faces, the newscaster told of a demonstration in Seattle which the police responded with brute force.
"I ----er, don't think so." Says Garcia.
The Porcupine leafs through the pages. "Let's see. A man had led a peaceful demonstration that turned into a riot. After that, there was a power struggle in his group. He fell out with his comrades and became a target of assassination. You saved his life. But in the end, he killed himself. You think you have failed? But nobody can protect a man if he was determined to kill himself."
Garcia takes a deep breath and hesitates.
"Something on your mind?"
"No."
The Porcupine waits.
Garcia takes a deep breath again. "I don't think I can tell a good story from that."
"You've said that before. But we've completed the story about the Judge and his mistress. Reads pretty well, right?"
"You think you can tell a good story based on my notes, about this peaceful demonstration case?" asks Garcia.
"Frankly no," says The Porcupine, "because what you have put down here is full of holes."
Garcia shrugs.
"I think you have a paradox here," says The Porcupine, "MEMOIR OF T.B.C.I.T. That means you have to have cracked every case. But that's not possible unless you lie about it, you win some, you lose some. Now that you are in a position to tell the truth, I think you should tell it. By the way, I don't like the title either, MEMOIRS OF THE BEST COP IN TOWN, sounds cheap and unconvincing. Why not change it."
"No." Garcia snarls, the tone suggesting it is final.
"Well, it's your book. But let me tell you something. Admitting you have failed from time to time and telling the truth would only make you a better cop than T.B.C.I.T."
"That I have done in the preface. I have admitted I had failed to get you."
"So keep up the good work," says The Porcupine, "lay down the truth and let the readers be the judge."
"Well," Garcia hesitates again.
The Porcupine smiles slyly, "I have told you about dramatization before. Sure, you can lie a little. But tell all you can tell first, to form a framework. Edit and delete later however and whatever you see fit. It's like painting. First the charcoal outline, then comes the paint, then more coats of paints to cover whatever part you want to alter. But the framework must come first."
"All right, " says Garcia, taking a deep breath again, "but I must go to the toilet first."
He is nervous. Nervousness is a powerful diuretic, makes you want to pee.
Garcia comes out of the toilet a few minutes later cursing. The toilet has gone wrong, the floor of the bathroom is flooded.
"I'll see what I can do." Says The Porcupine.
"No," says Garcia," I'll call the plumber tomorrow."
"I don't think you can put up with this all night and still work." says The Porcupine, "Anyway, this is one of my strong suits. Have I told you about-----"
"Another story, about a toilet?"
"No. Just that I have done odd jobs after the stint at the chicken stall. I have fixed a lot of toilets."
The Porcupine rolls up his sleeves and goes into the bathroom.
Garcia can't help looking at his back with admiration. A professional hit man, a head clerk in a law firm, a storyteller, and now a toilet fixer too?
The Porcupine comes out twenty minutes later, wiping his hands with a paper towel and smiling. "Done. I have yet to come across a toilet that could beat me."
"Thanks." Says Garcia.
"Come on in, let me show you what has gone wrong." Says The Porcupine.
Garcia is reluctant.
"You should learn to do this," says The Porcupine, "since you like to do everything yourself in the house. You are not living with a plumber, you know."
Garcia shrugs and follows him into the bathroom.
The Porcupine points out to him that there were two problems. The pipe behind the toilet was probably clogged by too much toilet paper. That happens from time to time. Use the plunger, give it a few push. The second problem was with the water closet. Inside is an empty brass ball that floats. When the water level inside the closet is low, the brass ball drops, opening a valve to let water in. The water floats the ball. When the ball is raised to a certain level, it pushes the valve back, shutting off the water supply. A ring is attached to the ball to make the system work. In this case, the ring had been dislodged, which happens after you have flushed the toilet a number of times, and the water supply couldn't be shut off. The water kept coming out but could not go down the clogged pipe, the bathroom floods. The Porcupine has put the ring back in place.
"I won't tell you this if I were the plumber," says The Porcupine, "it would drive me out of business."
Garcia thanks him again. He does feel relieved. He could not work with the flooded toilet nagging him.
"Now," says The Porcupine, "let's get back to work. The case of the not so peaceful demonstration."

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FORTEEN

Chapter Five: The Case of the not so Peaceful Demonstration according to Charles Garcia


IT WAS SUPPOSED to be a peaceful demonstration, but we had been closely watching everything.
I was with Political Branch then. I didn't have an official title there because most of the operations in the Branch were covert. So officially, I was just a high-ranking police officer.
The main function of the Branch was to keep things under control. British control of course. Every government has an outfit somewhat like that. Keeping taps on demonstrations was one of our priorities. For if you let one get out of hand, it could topple a government.
There were four things very wrong with this demonstration. The first was that it was against a 10 cents rise on the price of a pound of bread by a giant supermarket chain. Rice was the staple diet for the people of Hong Kong, not bread. The second was the leader, a moron named Benjamin Wong. This man was not a threat, but those behind him were. The third was the timing. September was a bad month for a demonstration. The heat of summer alone was enough to make people edgy. The fourth was that this demonstration was taking place on the island side. The colony of Hong Kong comprised of an island, which was called Hong Kong and a peninsula 1500 metres opposite, which was called Kowloon. Beyond Kowloon was a vast span of sparsely populated flat land called New Territories. Further north beyond that was the Chinese mainland. The rest of the colony comprised of a number of outlying islands, which were even more sparsely populated. The jewel of the crown was the Hong Kong island, which was annexed to Britain in the Ching dynasty after the Opium War. In theory, Britain owned Hong Kong Island while the rest were just land leased to Britain by China. That was why all high officials of Hong Kong resided on the island side. Any activity that had the potential of developing into a riot was taken with extreme seriousness on the island side.
I had received a six-month training after I had been recruited so I've learned a lot about demonstrations. For starters, there is no such thing as a truly peaceful demonstration simply because nobody would call his demonstration a hostile one. Records show a lot of demonstrations had turned ugly.
You may disagree with me but you will get my point as this thing unfolds.
Benjamin Wong started at around 4 p.m., leading some fifty people, marching with banners and placards, waving their fists and shouting through loudspeakers, condemning the corporation that owned the market chain. But the headquarters of that corporation was at the outskirts of town on Kowloon side where it would be difficult to rally a crowd. So they singled out its biggest outlet downtown at Hennesy Road, the busiest road on the island, marching in circles in front of it making the usual racket. Curious people who ate bread only occasionally stopped to watch, then joined in to protest. The speakers had touched upon the subject of the stock market, which had crashed for no reason at all. People had lost money and didn't know who had robbed them. They needed the chance to pour out their anger. The issue about bread was soon forgotten. People waited for their turns to speak out against thieves in the stock market as if someone had put guns on their heads to force them to buy the worthless stocks.
Nobody was stepping out to answer them, so you could see no end to this demonstration. More and more people were waiting for their turns to speak out but were getting none. They became more and more frustrated and angrier and angrier. The suffocating heat of summer didn't help at all.
By 5:30 p.m., a riot was in the making. The dynamite was there. It would take only a spark.
We were watching closely, recording everything on video and waiting for orders to act. In particular, we watched for the people behind the scenes. And don't tell me nobody was behind this. Where had the growing number of those neat banners and placards come from? They couldn't have just fallen from the sky. They were expensive and needed time and money to prepare.
The usual strategy was to let the people blow off some steam, then start to disperse them, nipping a riot in the bud. And now was the time to act.
We were tired and tense. We wanted to get this over with. Put the fire out before it ran wild.
But the order was slow in coming. We were cursing, because we had found out from the grapevine why the order had not come through yet. London was putting it on hold.
There was a power struggle going on high up. We knew much more than this Benjamin Wong. Behind Wong was a powerful politician, a British woman Constance F. Pendergast. She along with some westerners had formed a group to help all the poor people in Hong Kong, or at least that was what they had been saying. Benjamin Wong was working for Ms. Pendergast. That was all Wong knew. What he didn't know was that Ms. Pendergast had backing higher up in London, people who wanted to take over from the existing power to run Hong Kong. Their ploy was to create a crisis, then accuse the existing power of being a lame duck. If you can't run things properly, move over and let us show you how. They were trying to stall in London, so that a riot could be in full bloom.
The order was slow in coming, so we just watched with our hands tied and cursing.
The fracas in the street went on for three hours, then four. The crowds were growing bigger. A lot of people had gone off from work and they were joining. The pleading from the police fell on deaf ears.
Then came the spark.
A man kicked the wheel of a car parked at the curb. A second man got bolder and jumped on top of the bonnet. A third and fourth men went further by overturning the car and ignite it with a cigarette lighter. But the latter two were no innocent citizens. They were known triads. We had them on tape. We were watching closely and videotaping everything.
Then another man shouted, "Down with the Government. Down with the British." We had him on tape too. We too recognized him on the spot as one of Benjamin Wong's colleagues.
The crowd followed suit and cars were burning everywhere.
A brick shattered the window of the supermarket. Where had that brick come from? A brick were hard to come by in the heart of a city where there was not one construction site nearby. Nonetheless, it was a brick.
The crowd poured into the supermarket, to loot and destroy.
The management of the supermarket had the foresight of closing early and let the employees go home. So no one was harmed.
I cursed along with my colleagues. Now you got a full- scale riot. You satisfied now, you sons- of-bitches?
Thirty more minutes later, the order came through. Stop it.
Ms. Constance F. Pendergast and her people had lost. Or had they?
Anyway, the British army rolled out of the barracks. Shots were fired. People were beaten and arrested.
The people in Hong Kong were like lambs. Basically, all they wanted was a peaceful life with food on the table. They were not that keen about ideology. I'd say the same goes with all the people in the world. People are good. Only the politicians are rotten. So it took only two hours to restore order.
But three people died and dozens were injured.
And Ms. Pendergast had the gall to appear on television to condemn the violence. The cause was good, she said, but some people had exploited the situation for their own gain.
And that's a peaceful demonstration for you.
Then came the purge.
We were busy picking up the troublemakers. We had our videotapes to go on. We rounded up the thugs, the fools, or the unlucky characters we wanted to give a hard time to.
Of course we could not touch Ms. Constance F. Pendergast. She had reached some kind of agreement with her adversary in London. Our order was that she and anyone who could embarrass her were strictly off limits. She had conceded defeat and now they wanted her intact. What could they do? The British had to hide their dirty linen too.

ONE WEEK LATER, Benjamin Wong called me on the phone. It was late in the afternoon. He said he wanted to talk to me in private.
I drove to pick him up.
I stopped at the foot of a slope at the outskirts of town. He poked his head out of the opening of a drainpipe some twenty feet up a slope and yelled in his broken English, "Come here up there, high safer." The pipe had been built inside the slope to dissipate rainwater in the soil to protect the slope from collapsing. The opening was about six feet across.
"Safer in my car," I yelled back in Cantonese, "you think anyone would try anything with me here? And speak Cantonese please. I may misunderstand you and have you shot."
I was fluent in Cantonese in a way few British could match. That's why I came in handy for the British.
Wong scurried down and got into my car and had it polluted once again. It had been Judge Michael Harrison the last time.
He looked like shit without washing and shaving for several days. But then he had always looked like shit. He had dry and cracked shoulder length hair, which he had claimed he would never wash and cut. Like Samson, he had said. Maybe he had misread his Bible. The Good Book never mentioned anything about Samson not washing his hair.
He was wearing his usual loose, rumpled tee shirt and filthy blue jeans and sandals, hippie-style. He was small and scrawny, about 5 feet 2, with a pair of protruding front teeth like Bugs Bunny but with the left one half broken away. Looking like a clown is no crime but he was indeed a clown. For some strange reason I never cared to ask, his role model was 'Che' Guevara, which he pronounced "G. Goofer", although he had a portrait of Elvis Presley on the front of his printed tee shirt.
Benjamin Wong was a moron with a muddled mind. I knew him better than himself because we had a thick file on him. He was a college graduate although God only knew how he had graduated. He couldn't hold a steady job, or any job for that matter. He wouldn't accept a post lesser than an executive as he was a college graduate, though he had never been offered anything even far less. He had always talked of a struggle to give the people of Hong Kong a better future and had demonstrated many times without anyone understanding what he was saying. The cause still sounds good, except his dream was to get a British passport and migrate to Britain. It was a dream many people in Hong Kong shared at the time. He had been just what Ms. Constance F. Pendergast needed.
I said, "When was the last time you have eat?"
"Yesterday morning."
"Okay, I'll buy you a meal."
He insisted it would not be safe to go to a restaurant.
I just looked at him. He swallowed and swallowed and then relented.
I took him to a small restaurant nearby. And he ate just like a man would eat without food for over twenty-four hours. Because of the late hour, the meal was in the form of beef and noodle, Cantonese style. It was probably the fastest Chinese food. The restaurant had a tank of spare rib without the bones, pre-stewed with five kinds of spices and soy sauce. The chef would put a portion of precooked noodle in a tank of boiling water, heating it for about two minutes, then ladle it out onto a bowl. Then he would spoon one portion of precooked beef on top, add some precooked and preheated chicken stock, garnish with some chopped chives and presto, the whole thing was ready to serve. The whole processed could be done in under five minutes. To prepare this at home would take one at least four hours as it would take at least that long to make the beef tender so that it would literally melt in your mouth. And in my book, it is one of the most delicious Chinese dishes.
Benjamin wolfed down three bowls.
Later, he puffed on the cigarette I 'd bought him.
"What do you want from me?" I asked.
He told me he could give me a few people we wanted.
"In exchange for what?" I asked.
"My protection."
"Why do you think we are interested in what you can offer?"
"You have come, haven't you. You wanted me badly too."
I had known exactly where he was hiding all along. We had been watching him all the time. I even knew how many times he had come out of that opening of the drainpipe to pee. We had not pick him up because our order was not to touch him since arresting him would embarrass Ms. Constance F. Pendegast. But I didn't tell him that.
"Why do you need protection?" I asked.
"Because some people are trying to kill me." He said.
I didn't say anything.
He said, "Do you know who wants me killed?'
"I didn't ask." I said.
"It's Constance F. Pendergast. She won't see me and won't answer my calls. She wants me dead so that nobody would tell she was behind all this. I can help you get her too."
I grimaced. He was so dumb. Didn't he know Ms. Pendergast was untouchable?
"Who else can you give me apart from Constance F. Pendergast?"
He gave me the names of three people. The three were his good friends, his colleagues in organizing the demonstration. "I know where they are hiding." He said.
That's a righteous activist for you. Now he would sell out his friends to save his own skin. And he was not ashamed of himself. These people had muddled minds. They could come up with a thousand excuses to justify their own actions. They could do no wrong. Only the whole world was wrong.
I didn't tell him his information was of no use to me. We knew exactly where those three were hiding too. We had also been watching them closely. We hadn't touched them for the same reason we hadn't touched him. Our orders were to leave them alone for the meantime. Maybe they could be of some use later. I didn't know what. The politicians could come up with surprising angles.
"Why have you picked me?" I asked
"Because I know you. You have picked me up for questioning before. I know you play fair."
I'm a fair man all right, but I was not doing a fair job then. Couldn't he get it through his thick head that I wouldn't have come without consulting my superior first? I'd been told to humor him, stall and just let him fade away.
"Okay, you want to stay alive," I told him, "the first thing you have to do is leave Ms. Pendergast alone. Get off her back."
"No. She had promised me two hundred thousand dollars and a British passport if things went wrong. She can't go back on her own words. I want you to get her and get me my money and passport."
Jesus Christ, he was so stupid. If I got her, how could he get his money and his passport? Besides, I wouldn't touch her with a ten-foot pole. She was British, she was too big for me.
"Okay," I said, "Here's the deal. You want to stay alive, you leave her alone, at least for the meantime. It is not wise to challenge her. It's your word against hers. Who do you think people would believe?"
He pondered for a few minutes. He knew but didn't know I knew that he had talked to the press. They had told him to get lost. They probably believed he had something, but this was a British colony. Some things you just don't print. Nobody wanted to dig his own grave.
"All right," he finally agreed, "but can you contact Catherine for me? You know, she's my girl friend."
I knew that too. I knew a lot more than he knew. But I wouldn't tell him.
"Can't you call her yourself?" I asked.
"Couldn't find her. " he said, "I don't know where she is. I hope she is safe."
"She is safe," I assured him, "she is just lying low to wait for this thing to blow over. What do you want from her? Tell her to join you and put her life in danger too?"
"I just want to tell her that I'm safe, that I love her. I will go to England with her later."
"I'll tell her for you." I lied. I wasn't going to tell her anything. Catherine wouldn't give a damn about him. Catherine worked for Ms. Pendergast. She had been just using him. She had a new assignment now. We knew everything.
"About the protection." He said.
He was hallucinating. Yes, three thugs had come for him three days ago. We had watched them rough him up a little and let him run away. These men were sent by Ms. Pendergast to warn him to leave her alone. They had not been trying to kill him.
He was a fool to contact me like that. I could send him to his death just as well if the word from the top said so.
I said, "If you want to stay alive, just go home and be a good boy. Forget Ms. Pendergast and everything about her." This was a sound piece of advice too. It was so simple and easy for him to get out of this jam.
"No." he refused.
"I'll send some men to protect you around the clock if you stayed home." I said, "I can't tell these men to stand guard outside that ridiculous drainpipe, can I?"
He thought for a long time and finally agreed.
I took him back to his place. Home was a nine-foot square room in a housing estate. It may be meager to some but this room was supposed to house nine people. The government had built these estates to house poverty-stricken people, charging them a minimal rental. It was at least an improvement over the wooden huts they had used to dwell in. Benjamin Wong got this room all to himself, courtesy of Ms. Pendergast. She had helped him hand in the application.
Benjamin had no family, nothing.
I did give him round the clock protection. I had reported this and was given the case. Just keep him alive and happy and out of trouble, the order was. I even visited him every evening just to make him feel safe.
Keeping him alive was easy, as long as he wouldn't step on toes again.
One week later, a man came to kill him.
I was visiting him in the evening and was taking a walk with him in the square downstairs when the man came. The man was waving a chopper and shouting obscenities, and he charged right at Benjamin Wong.
Wong should have hidden behind me, but instead he ran.
The man went after him and I ran after them, waving my gun and shouting at the man to stop. But the man seemed to be in a manic frenzy and just kept on going.
Then Wong somehow tripped and fell. The man raised the copper high over him. I fired and shot the man in the leg. The man toppled and I tackled him, wrestling the chopper away.
Two policemen arrived and arrested him.
Benjamin Wong was lucky.
Later, the man was found to be mentally disturbed. We found out that he had been imagining he had a beautiful wife and someone had kidnapped her on the street. He had been patrolling the streets all the time looking for her. That evening, a stranger had whispered to him that Benjamin Wong was the kidnapper and pointed out Wong for him. That Wong looked like shit made him the perfect casting as the kidnapper of a beautiful wife. The man grabbed a chopper from a meat stall and went after Wong. The stranger was nowhere to be found later.
I grilled Wong later and he admitted he had never stopped calling Ms. Pendergast and the people around her and threatening. He wanted his money and passport.
I wanted to kill him too. All the others had the good sense to lie low, finding regular jobs and forgetting about their good cause. Wong had to keep on making trouble.
"Don't ever do that again if you want to stay alive." I yelled.
That was the last time I could give him advice.
I was taken off the case the following day.
Three weeks later, Benjamin Wong was dead. He was found hanging inside his room. The door was locked from the inside. It was an open and shut case of suicide.
Yes, I had saved his life once, but how could I protect him when he wanted to kill himself?
Yes, that was on the official report.
But what was not on the report was that he had called me several times for help before his death. He told me that every night, at 11 p.m. sharp, some people would visit him and beat him up. He said they were plainclothesmen. He had reported that to the police but it was no use. He was reporting to the very people who were beating him.
I could not have intervened. He was not my case anymore.
If you knew people would come to beat you up everyday on the dot and there would be no end, and that you had no one to turn to, you probably would hang yourself too.
I did tell him repeatedly when he had called me that he should leave Constance F. Pendergast alone. I guess he had been too stubborn to listen. He wanted his money and his passport. He wanted his dream of migrating to Britain. In the end, he got an early passage to hell.
Constance F. Pendegast has returned to England long ago. I wonder if Benjamin Wong is on her conscience. Probably not, some people would come up with a thousand excuses to justify their actions. Just like Benjamin Wong did.

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FIFTEEN

FORBIDDEN LANGUAGE

THEY ARE WORKING together again, Charles Garcia and The Porcupoine, or the man Garcia convinced is Joseph Bickford The Porcupine.
Garcia is glad The Porcupine is here tonight, for the man has stopped working for several nights in a row to go to the casinos and Garcia has found it impossible to work without him. Like a color movie suddenly gone black-and-white. But The Porcupine has said he could feel his luck was changing. As it has turned out, The Porcupine has not won but has not lost either. He has come back tonight with his money still intact.
Garcia has commented this could be counted as a victory considering the odds the casinos have. It is also an improvement that The Porcupine could pry himself away from the tables with money still in his pocket. People usually leave only when they have lost their last dollar.
"I've been thinking," says Garcia, "about the stories you have told. About the men you have killed. Nobody would feel sorry for them."
"Of course," says The Porcupine, "they were the bad guys."
"You only kill bad guys?"
"Yes."
"Don't you think that a little hard to believe?" asks Garcia.
"No. Because it all add up. I would never say I was the good guy. But it stands to reason that they should be the bad guys. Stop to think for a moment. Why would you want a man killed? There must be a strong enough motive. That man must have done something very bad. He could not be a saint. And why would you hire a professional hit man to do it? You don't hire a hit man to kill someone defenseless, you would do it yourself if it was an easy job. That target must be very strong, probably a killer himself or at least he has killers around him. Whoever hired me may not be a good guy but neither would his target be."
"Makes sense." Garcia has to admit. Then he changes the subject, "Care for a game of pool?" as he has a poolroom right in the house. Rubbing salt again.
"No thanks," says The Porcupine, "haven't touched a cue for three years."
"So why not now?"
"Because," The Porcupine flexes his right arm carefully, "I have developed arthritis here. Can't shoot straight."
Garcia's heart sinks. Now that The Porcupine has brought this into the open, he sees the fun going out the window.
Then Garcia looks at his watch and flips on the television. It is approaching midnight and as usual he would catch the late news.
The ugly face of a middle-aged Chinese woman comes on. Mimi Chiu is being interviewed. Mimi is actually not bad looking but she is ugly. The ugliness comes from within. A new poll has shown that unemployment rate in Hong Kong has again risen, and the TV stations has scrambled to interview whoever was convenient and was not ashamed to shoot off his or her mouth about the subject. Mimi is an easy pick. She would never miss a chance to attack the government. That is what had made her famous, or infamous. Times are hard, she says, and the government is still hoarding its huge financial reserve, which is worth billions of dollars. Why doesn't the government wake up and distribute the money to save the poor? Give back to the people. The disparity between the rich and the poor is so great.
"Fuck her." Shouts Garcia.
The Porcupine raises an eyebrow. Such an outburst is not typical of Garcia. "But that would be a blow-job," The Porcupine says, "because her mouth is in her cunt."
Garcia explodes in laughter, and The Porcupine laughs too. They laugh so hard tears roll down their cheeks.
At least they have found common ground. Both despise this woman so much.
Mimi is a self-proclaimed democratic activist although her antics usually have little to do with democracy. But she has been trying to run for a senator seat and democracy is a convenient shield to hide behind. Because she is waving a democratic banner, to criticize her would be accused of anti-democracy. It is fortunate that she does not have that many followers. But she has made a name for herself and actually has some admirers. They believe her, applauding her misleading and irresponsible ravings as speaking the mind of the grass-root. The suggestion to distribute the financial reserve is a typical example. Poorly educated people would not understand that the financial reserve is not to be used like that. They would only think about billions in their own pocket, never stopping to do their math. There are close to 7 million people in Hong Kong. Sharing $7 billion would mean a paltry $1000 each. The government is always the villain, hoarding the money that should be given back to the people. What makes her so ugly is the fact that she only attacks the present government, which is pro-Beijing, never the old one under British rule.
"You know," says Garcia, "I can't decide who is worse, Constance F. Pendergast or Mimi Chiu."
"Given time and opportunities," says The Porcupine, "I'd say Mimi Chiu could catch up."
"You know," says Garcia, "to her followers, she is the Dragon Lady, but to those in the circle of politics, Mimi is the square cunt."
"Meaning?"
"Fits no man." Says Garcia.
The Porcupine guffaws. "But she is married and has children. That makes her husband the only man on this planet with a square dick."
They roar with laughter again.
Then The Porcupine points out, "You are not yourself tonight. I thought this kind of language is taboo in here."
"Was." Says Garcia, "Maybe I am myself tonight. What do you think I have been all my life, a monk? I was a cop. If you've been to the precinct, you would find all the foulest mouths in the world under one roof. We swear, curse and tell dirty jokes all the time. Praying is the hardest time for us because we have to watch our mouths. But then some of the men just don't care."
"That's one way to help relieve pressure. I'm glad you are loosening up. Makes life easier. Now we can shoot our mouths off. But of course I will still be careful not to mess up your place."
Garcia shrugs and spreads his hands.
"I sense you have something to say," says The Porcupine, "maybe something to do with Mimi Chiu."
"How'd you guess?" Garcia is amazed.
"It's not difficult. One thing always leads to another."
Garcia grins mischievously, "I'm thinking about the time I could have fucked Mimi Chiu. Physically, I mean."
"You don't say." It's The Porcupine's turn to be bug-eyed.
"That was an evil thing to do," says Garcia, "but I'm not sorry."
"Maybe not unlike my not being sorry about bumping off the bad guys?"
"I'll tell you about it ," says Garcia, "but I won't put it in my book. This thing is not in my original outline."
"You are not talking to the press," says The Porcupine, "you don't have to decide now. You can always pull it out later. You know, tell now censor later. We should have as much as we could to choose from."
"Actually, what I'm worrying about is a lawsuit." Says Garcia.
"Makes sense," laughs The Porcupine, "Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned, especially that woman happens to be the square cunt."
"I'll tell it anyway, just for the hell of it."

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SIXTEEN

Chapter Six: Close Encounter with the Dragon Lady according to Charles Garcia


IT WAS AN INCIDENT occurred shortly before I retired from the Hong Kong police force.
The Chinese were preparing to take over, but the British were still in control. The Chinese had around ten years to prepare and they were doing a good job. A blood changing was underway. Of my superiors who were British, half had retired, replaced by Chinese. Some older Chinese high officials were showing their true colors. Turned out they had been on the Chinese side all along. Or they had just bent with the wind and changed colors like chameleons. You never can tell.
But the Chinese had done a really good job. Later, on the day of the hand over ceremony in 1997, Chairman Jiang Zemin came to Hong Kong. Imagine the security arrangements, provided by the Royal Hong Kong Police, which was still on British payroll! Would he have come if he were not 100% sure of the inside job they had done? Don't ever underestimate them.
Anyway, at the time, the British were still struggling to hold on. They had no intention to give up Hong Kong so easily but they were too weak. All they could do was creating problems for the Chinese, dragging the latter's feet. Like the defense on the losing side of a soccer game, tripping a foot here and pulling at an elbow there.
I was under immense pressure. I was working for the British but had never been really loyal to them, because I am a Portuguese and would never make a first class citizen. The Chinese side had hinted to me many times that I'd better change camp because that was how the wind was blowing. But I was not Chinese either. And officially, I was still working for the British. I was treading thin ice. I just did my best to please both sides. That was never easy.
Mimi Chiu came to my office one afternoon.
She was already quite famous then for preying on the paranoia, the fear of the unknown of the people. She would speak out to predict what would happen to the people in 1997, that everyone would be in jail, purged, tortured, some would just vanish without a trace, and she would be a martyr. None of her predictions were to materialize later but of course she would never mention it. She also never mentioned direct election at that pre-1997 period, because it would embarrass the British as the Governor of Hong Kong was assigned by London, not elected by the people of Hong Kong. I had chosen to remain not because I intended to be a martyr. I was just being rational. I was sure China wanted Hong Kong back not because she wanted to kill off the people but because the place was like a goose that had been laying golden eggs. They would keep on collecting the golden eggs and at the same time making it a showcase of development.
I loathe Mimi Chiu the same way most Hong Kong people loathe her simply because she was trying to undermine my way of life.
But she had her followers. Some Chinese in Hong Kong are die-hard communist haters but it had nothing to do with ideology. They hate the communists simply because their families' lands had been taken away during the Revolution. Because of the communists, I have to work so hard for so little now, they'd say, with all that land, I could be a cripple and still have a good life. They would hold their grudges until they get rich, or die. They were not on the Nationalist's side either. If the Nationalists had not been so corrupt and inept and retreated to Taiwan, they would not have lost their land. They followed Mimi because she was attacking communist China every chance she got.
One thing Mimi Chiu never learned was to be nice. She strode into my office that day, head held high and nostrils flaring and rasped, "I've been waiting out there for two and a half hours."
She had been educated in the U.S. and spoke good English, not like Benjamin Wong. She was smaller in person, as most people look larger than life on TV, about 5ft. 2 in. and a little plump, but she acted as if she was seven feet tall and I was an ant on the floor.
"I'm sorry," I apologized without sincerity and without getting up, "I'm very busy."
I was of course not that busy. Letting her wait was just a way to downsize her, letting her understand she was here to ask for a favor. If she wanted it bad enough, she would wait.
"Do you know who I am?" She demanded.
"Of course, in fact I'm one of your fans." I said, trying very hard to keep a straight face, " What can I do for you, Ms. Chiu?"
"I want my brother released this minute."
"Oh, sorry, but who is your brother?" I asked. But of course I knew. We knew everything. We had an excellent information network. But we usually wouldn't flaunt what we knew.
She told me a name and some details connected. I picked up the phone and asked for the file.
The file took another fifteen minutes to arrive. All that time, I busied myself reading and signing papers on my desk and forgetting to ask her to have a seat, which further reduced her size.
Then I opened the file and went through it.
"Oh," I leaned back when I was through, "caught possessing drugs in a rave party, the quantities of which suggesting they were for sale rather then self-use. Let me see, GBH, known to be a date-rape drug but not illegal yet. But not the others, heroine, cocaine, ketamine, ecstasy, diazepam, estazolam. Jesus, you people in the drug business or something? One thing I can tell you is, my dear, your kid brother is in big, big trouble."
Of course she knew, or she wouldn't be here in person. A lawyer would be in her place.
"I want this case dropped." She snapped.
What nerve. Who did she think she was?
"I'm sorry. I'm afraid there's nothing I could do." I apologized, "You, of all people should know that ours is not a police state. No one is above the law. In fact, you have said so many times before. I think you'd better find him a good lawyer."
"Don't give me this rubbish," she snapped again, "Judge Owens told me to come to see you." She had this talent of flaring her nostrils like a hippo.
"Now that puts me in a tight spot," I said, "Judge Owens is a good friend, in fact he is my mentor. But the law is the law."
"Don't give me that, you clown," she snarled, nostrils flaring even wider, "you people can do whatever you want to."
All that waiting seemed not to have downsized her after all. She still didn't know how to be nice.
"Please," I held up my palms as if trying to push her away, "lucky we don't have the press here. Don't ever give them the wrong idea. We don't do things that way."
Although we both knew things were done that way sometimes, all over the world and everyday.
The mention of the press stunned her momentarily though. For if this thing got into the hands of the press, she would be ruined.
"Judge Owens, he told me you could help me." She softened at last, a little closer to begging now.
She should have been nice on the outset. She had an attitude problem. She had made me angry. She had made me want to play a game of cat and mouse with her.
"You know," I said, "for your brother's own good, I suggest you let this be a lesson to him. Let him go to jail. Let him know that crime does not pay. You let him get off the hook this time, you won't be able to control him anymore."
Mimi burst into tears. She took a packet of tissue paper to wipe her tears and blow her nose, facing me. She was ugly. A crying woman usually would soften a man, but not this woman. "My brother cannot go to jail," she sobbed, "jail is for other people."
I wanted to punch her.
"Okay, tell you what," I said, "Come back tomorrow. Maybe I can work out something."
"No, this can't wait." She cried.
She knew time was essential. She must get this done before the press got wind of it.
"But it takes time to get the wheels turning."
"What do you want? " she asked, "Whatever you want, you'll get it."
She shouldn't have said that. There were a lot of things she couldn't give me. But she was the expert coming to making empty promises. If I'm elected, I promise you everyone will have a good job, everyone will own a house, she had promised in her campaign. Promises she wouldn't have to keep because they had been made to the people. People were like lambs. But I was not the people. She should have just asked what I wanted.
"Okay," I said, "let me think."
I looked at her in silence, without blinking. She took a step backwards, sensing that I was stripping her naked with my eyes.
Actually I had received two phone calls before she came. The first had been from Judge Owens, on the English side. Judge Owens told me to help her out. "She's still useful to us." Judge Owens had said. I understood what he meant by that. With luck, Mimi just might still be able to instigate a riot. Hong Kong was to be handed back to China on July 1, 1997. A plan for the ceremony had been set. It would take only one riot to ruin everything. The ceremony could not be held due to the instability of the situation. The hand over would have to be postponed, maybe indefinitely. We knew that Mimi Chiu actually had the Americans behind her. The Americans did not wish the Chinese to succeed in anything, especially something of this magnitude. And Britain was America's ally. They were busy planting landmines while the Chinese were busy defusing them. Lucky for the Chinese, the British had pumped up the economy to a frenzy state just before the hand over. The stock market and the property market were skyrocketing. Jack it up so that it would fall hard after 1997 when the bubble burst. Everybody was making easy money, even the small men on the street. People just won't riot when they are busy making money. It is now history that there were crises but a riot did not take place.
The second call had been from a prominent Chinese businessman who was of course representing Chinese interest. Ironically, he too also wanted me to help out Mimi Chiu. But it made sense. Of course the Chinese knew all about Mimi Chiu. The man on the phone had made it plain that Mimi was just a clown who wouldn't amount to anything. The Chinese didn't want Mimi destroyed. Someone much better might take her place and give the Chinese a real headache. The Americans are na?ve. They have a long history of recruiting clowns for their covert operations.
But both callers had made the same point clear: Let her sweat and squirm first.
"I despise this woman so much," both had said. That was personal, and that made three of us.
"This dress you are wearing," I finally said, "I like it very much. You made it yourself?"
She told me it was a designer brand, French, very famous, the name of which I'd rather not reveal here to protect its image. Mimi always wore this brand. Of course I knew.
"Oh, can you take it off and let me finger it?" I said, trying, I thought unsuccessfully, to outdo her by making my eyes look more like those of a dead fish. My nostrils were nowhere near the flexibility she could manage too.
She was so shocked she almost turned and ran.
"You heard me." I reminded her softly.
"You ----you're not going to---" she stammered.
"You promised me I can have anything," I glanced at my watch, "you don't have much time. I have a meeting in fifteen minutes."
She swallowed hard. Then she started to unzip.
The dress fell to the floor and she was facing me with only her bra and her panties on. And she was ugly.
Of course you can't expect a woman in her forties with two children to look like Kate Moss. It was not her fault that she was ugly physically. I had nothing romantic or erotic in my mind either. It was just that this woman was shameless and I wanted to see how low she would stoop to get what she wanted. And I was beginning to see it.
She picked up her dress, put it on my desk and stepped back.
I threw the dress back at her. "Okay," I said, "put it on please."
"That's all?" She was surprised.
"Yes, that's all." I replied.
I think I could have done a lot more to her. I think I could have fucked her right then and there. But I couldn't do it. I was already fighting an upset stomach. It takes a lot to be a villain.
She put on the dress back on hurriedly.
"Your brother will be released in five minutes." I told her, "The evidence has somehow disappeared. We don't have enough to book him. Now get out of here."
She turned and fled.
Looking back, I think it was an evil thing to do, telling her to take off that dress. But I never felt guilty either. Though in hindsight, I'd say doing that was no help at all. It would only make her more antisocial. Maybe I should have told her that just being nice could open a lot of doors. She could have had a much easier time if she had been nice at the start, if she had been nice to Judge Owens and others. But I doubt she would have listened. Maybe it was in her genes. She just didn't know how to be nice.
I knew she would not tell Judge Owens or anyone about this undressing farce. Any humiliating incident on her part she would carry to her grave.
But I had indeed given her a sound piece of advice. Letting her brother off the hook would only make him more daring. But I have heard no more about him because Mimi Chiu had promptly sent him to live in the U.S. after that.

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SEVENTEEN

THE AIR-CON FIXER

THE RAIN HAS finally stopped and the sky has cleared after almost a week. A brisk cool wind is coming in from the sea, as if to signal that autumn has finally arrived. But that is misleading because it is only the beginning of August. Some days would be comfortably cool this time of year in Macao, but there is still the scorching September and October ahead.
The Porcupine has reviewed what Garcia had written about his encounter with Mimi Chiu, and both of them agreed that to publish this would certainly cause a lawsuit. But telling and writing about it makes both of them feel good.
"I will not delete this," Garcia says, sipping his wine, "makes good private reading."
The Porcupine laughs, "Like when I was a young boy. I would tear a particularly racy page from a dirty book and hide it in my pillow case."
"The guys in the precinct do that too." Garcia guffaws, "Mostly pictures from girlie magazines. They would just keep them in the drawers of their desks. But one guy has hidden a page between the pages of, of all things, a Holy Bible."
"God will not forgive him," The Porcupine smiles, "but will probably just spank him."
"By the way," Garcia asks, "how come you can find time to do all those jobs when you were working in a law firm?"
"Joseph Bickford did all those jobs," says The Porcupine, "I'm just a storyteller."
"I wish my job could have been more like yours," says Garcia, "taking out some target who doesn't deserve to live anyway. That doesn't happen in police work. Most of the time, we put away people we don't really want to put away while letting the people we want to put away walk free."
"Like Joseph Bickford?" The Porcupine sports a wide grin.
"Ah," Garcia waves, "at least I've got him in my book."
He is still being extremely careful and has not slipped. But I'm waiting. I won't let him get away even though I'm beginning to like him.
"Police work is not that bad either," says The Porcupine, "you've been telling about cases that were political. Politics always stinks. Now about this Cannon case in your outline. I've heard about it too. A straight cops-and-robbers case, good triumphs over evil, got you a medal too. This should be a pleasant story to tell."
"Yes," says Garcia, "let's work on this case."
At that moment, the weather turns suddenly. The cool breeze is suddenly no more. Hot air rolls in from the windows, making them feel like they were suddenly thrown into the inside of a furnace.
Garcia curses, "Can't trust the weather this time of year."
He grabs the remote control to flip on the air-conditioning, then goes to close the windows and the French door.
The air-con starts to shudder, then roars like a train.
Garcia's eyes widen with bewilderment, then he snatches the remote control to turn the thing off. He waits for a few seconds, then flips it on again.
Again the racket starts, this time it is a clanging sound, as if the machine has turned into a giant blender.
Garcia shudders and turns it off again.
"Damned," he curses, "have to call maintenance tomorrow. But they are busy this time of year. May take a few days just for them to come for an evaluation."
"But you have influential friends." The Porcupine smiles.
"Takes at least twice as long without those friends." Garcia grimaces, "What are we going to do in the mean time?
"We can always go to a hotel. They have comfortable restaurants. Or maybe we can just sit in the lobby."
"No." Garcia refuses without giving a reason.
I will not be seen with him in public. He may cease to exist in the future.
The Porcupine spreads his hands.
"What about you?" asks Garcia, "you have your connections too."
"My connections would take as long as yours," smiles The Porcupine, "so, I'd say we fix it ourselves."
"But I don't know the first thing about air-cons."
"I do." Says The Porcupine
Garcia looks at him with marvel.
"Yes, I have fixed air-cons before," says The Porcupine, "this happened before?"
"Not last year," says Garcia, "but the year before that, yes."
"I think I know what the problem is. You can tell from the noise. Just like when you are driving a car, if it makes a certain funny noise, you could tell from the noise what the problem is. Where's your toolbox?"
"What?"
"Your toolbox. You do have a toolbox around the house, don't you?"
"What do I need a toolbox for when I don't fix things myself?"
"Ah," The Porcupine waves with an air of tolerance, "I'll go get one."
"At this hour?"
"Sure, stores are all closed," says The Porcupine, "but I know some people. You could say people who can open doors for me."
"You don't have go to all that trouble."
Don't ask me to drive you.
"I'll call a taxi." Says The Porcupine, "And, don't worry. I know there is this fear that I may mess up your house. But you see, you have a window split type air-conditioning system here. Which means the motor and all the machinery are outside the house. There will be no working inside."
Garcia does sigh in relief.
The Porcupine is back in thirty minutes, carrying a brand new toolbox, filled with new tools.
He opens it and explains to Garcia what each tool is for, then charges him HK$700. It is now Garcia's toolbox and will remain in the house.
He also tells Garcia it is too complicated to teach him to repair an air conditioner, so he won't. Garcia will just help him a little with lifting the heavy parts when and if necessary.
Then Garcia watches in awe as The Porcupine proceeds to take apart the machine outside the house.
Garcia only has to lend a helping hand twice, to lift the motor out and back in, because The Porcupine's right elbow is too weak to do that on his own.
The thing is back to normal an hour later.
The Porcupine however warns Garcia this may not last. Garcia still has to call the maintenance men to do a thorough check.
Then The Porcupine takes a shower in Garcia's bathroom, promising that he would keep it clean, in mint condition. On that, Garcia trusts him thoroughly.
Then, they could go on with their work in the comfort of the artificial cool air.
Garcia tells about the case of the Cannon. It is to be chapter seven.

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EIGHTEEN

Chapter Seven: Cops and Robbers according to Charles Garcia


THE WORDS WERE cut neatly from colored tapes. They announced LIFETIME GUARANTEE, DON'T SETTLE FOR SECOND BEST, and so on, in Chinese and English and in a rainbow of colors. They were on the window of a watch and jewelry shop. The shop was one of the most famous in town, or had been. For it had closed down several months ago. The business just collapsed and the shop remained vacant. I didn't know what happened to the lifetime guarantee, but it showed that nothing is forever.
Some people just live for today. That was probably the reason behind the string of recent robberies.
We knew a lot about these lawbreakers. They were all illegal immigrants from the Chinese mainland , just across the border. They were ruthless. They would charge into a shop waving guns, with the inevitable AK-47s. A spray of bullets to the ceiling would deter any attempt to resist. They always targeted gold and jewelry or watch shops. They would smash the showcases with big hammers, snatch the merchandises, stuffing them into duffel bags and then shoot their way out.
It never stopped to puzzle me why gold shops and watch and jewelry shops in particular. I mean, these things need to be disposed of through a fence later, which causes extra trouble. They would of course only accept cash from the fence. So why not just go rob some place with a lot of cash, a bank for instance?
The experts in the police force surmised that gold and watches provide extra satisfaction. All that glitter was like a drug that would make them high. Plus there was a long history in China of people not trusting paper money. There had been a time, just before the communists came to power, that a bowl of rice would worth more than its weight in paper money. I don't know. It was also rumored that the shop-owners had actually hired these thugs to rob themselves. For some shops specialized in selling fake gold jewelry and brand-name watches to unsuspecting tourists. Business had been slow, so they resorted to unloading their stocks this way. After the robbery, they would tell the insurance company that real stuffs had been stolen and get compensated accordingly. Better than wait for the tourists who had been dwindling in numbers. All that glitter may not be gold after all.
Anyway, a robbery is a robbery and it was our job to catch the robbers. And that was what I was doing. I was positioned in this vacated shop, waiting for a robbery to take place. It was supposed to happen to the watch shop opposite, which also offered LIFETIME GUARANTEE on a piece of plate glass. Only that shop was still doing business. Our informer had told us this shop would be robbed this afternoon.
I was in the attic of this vacated shop and a sniper was with me. The attic had a row of low windows facing the street. These windows were open with the dark green blinds drawn. The light was not on in the attic so we were in the dark looking out the lighted street, which was quite crowded as this was one of the busiest parts of town. We could see clearly through the slits of the blind but could not be seen from the outside. We could also fire through the slits. It was a perfect stake out point.
Heavily armed undercover policemen were also staking out nearby and we were keeping contact using our own mobile phones. We didn't use the police radio as we suspected the robbers were listening in on the channel. That had probably been why they could get away previously. The press was also known to listen in on us in this manner.
We must have snipers because of the ruthlessness and the firepower of this gang. The leader of this gang was known as The Cannon and was reported to have served in the People's Liberation Army on the Chinese mainland. In contrast, Hong Kong was a colony, not a country, with no army of its own and drafting did not exist. People like The Cannon who were familiar with guns were like tigers let loose in a herd of lambs here. The Cannon and his gang had struck four times in two months, getting away with gold and jewelry worth around HK$20 million and killing four innocent bystanders in the process. They were suspected to have sneaked right back over the border after each heist, planned the next hit and came over again, making an arrest extremely difficult as the mainland across the border was out of our jurisdiction.
But this time, we were waiting for them.
The sniper with me was a young man with dark tanned skin named Michael. He was a Kurka, one of the Nepalese fighting men, who were known for their courage and fighting skill and had their place in the British army. He was on loan from the British army.
Michael kept playing with his rifle, aiming at the people in the street through his telescopic sight and saying, "Bang! Bang! Bang!"
"Jesus, will you cut that out." I finally snapped at him.
It was hard enough waiting in there. It was autumn but it was suffocating in that attic with the electricity cut so the air-conditioning was not working. We would not turn on the air-con anyway. And The Cannon was an hour late. Michael was annoying me.
"Well," he turned momentarily to smile at me, flashing glistening white teeth, "beats the boredom."
I wondered if this Bang, Bang part came with his training. Though I believed against it. What if he was too bored and just shot somebody for the hell of it or if the gun misfired? But I was not in the position to chaperone him.
Then there was an ear-piercing screech as a white sedan turned the corner at high speed, slammed into a parked car, spun and then stopped in the middle of the street. The driver revved again but the car stalled. Then the car doors exploded open and three men dove out, running away in three different directions.
My gun was out in a flash and Michael was busy keeping his sight on one of the men.
"Don't shoot." I yelled at Michael.
Instinct told me this did not seem like a robbery.
Then my mobile rang. It was connected to a speaker and was on automatically. The voice of our superior came through the speaker, "Don't shoot. It looks like a traffic accident. I'd say it's a stolen car. It has lost control and the car thieves are fleeing."
Michael relaxed. We were not here to catch car thieves.
Well. The car thieves were lucky. With cops crawling all over the area and they could still get away.
But my superior and I still cursed at the same time. Because the white car had been left in the middle of the busy street creating havoc. People stopped to look. Traffic was halted. Horns were blaring. The car would attract police and the robbers might just put their plan on hold.
We were wrong. The car was a distraction they had planned.
Almost at the same time, there were sounds of shots firing coming from the right below us. A window shattered to my right and I rolled onto the floor.
Curses came from the speaker. "They have robbed the shop opposite to our target and are coming out shooting. We've been watching the wrong shop."
That meant the shop under us to our right had been robbed. Maybe they had changed their mind at the last minute.
Shots were fired continuously.
More windows shattered. Michael was still huddling in front of his window.
"Get down." I yelled. His rifle with the telescopic sight was not effective under such close range.
Michael didn't respond. So I grabbed hold of his right ankle and pulled.
He toppled on top of me and I saw that half of his face was gone. He was dead. It must have been a lucky or unlucky shot. The robbers were spraying bullets on their way out and one of the bullets had hit Michael.
I reported this to my superior as Michael's blood spilled all over me.
My superior seemed too busy to give me further orders.
More shots were fired, mostly from the robbers. The undercover cops had shown themselves but were reluctant to shoot as so many innocent people were running around in panic.
Hong Kong had and still has one of the strictest gun control laws in the world. Citizens are strictly forbidden to own any firearm. Even possessing a real looking toy gun would get you into big trouble. There is no need for them to own a gun. And a policeman has to account for every bullet he carries. If he fired a shot, it must be under extremely reasonable circumstances and afterwards the shell and the bullet must be recovered, followed by endless paper works and then possibly an inquiry. To have shot an innocent bystander would be disastrous.
On the other hand, a robber would shoot indiscriminately.
I got up and ran to the stairs leading down to the rear of the empty shop below and raced downward. I had no particular plan in mind. But I felt I had to do something. I couldn't just stay cooped up in that attic.
As I reached the foot of the stairs, I heard the plate glass in front of the shop shattered by gunfire. Two men were shouting to each other in Cantonese, saying that they could escape through the rear of the shop as the backdoor opened to an alley leading to another street. The stairway hid me from their sight but I could catch a glimpse of them. They were The Cannon and his henchman nicknamed Big Eye. They were each carrying a duffel bag presumably filled with expensive watches. They were also each totting an AK47, the firepower of which was far superior to my pistol. And there were two of them. To confront them would be suicide. And I had no time to run back up the stairs.
An idea came to me in that split second. I dropped to the floor and laid there motionless, face down, my gun under my stomach. With Michael's blood all over me, I could feint dead. Of course there was always the chance they would spray me with bullets just to make sure. But I had to take the chance. There was no other way out.
They fell for it. They just charged by me and reached the back door, firing at a padlock that was holding the door close.
At that moment, they had their backs to me, and I came back to life. I rolled over and emptied my gun into their bodies.
They had no chance to react. They slammed into the backdoor and slid to the floor.
Big Eye died instantly. The Cannon turned to take one last look at me. His eyes were ugly and full of hatred. But the AK-47 had left his hand and he was too weak to reach and pick it up again.
I didn't stop firing long after they were dead and my gun was clicking empty.
They looked small and quite harmless in death, just two ordinary men in their early thirties, crewcut, not even particularly muscular, dressed in plain shirts, both wearing blue jeans and sneakers.
This was a feather on my cap. I later got a medal for it. Three more of the gang were arrested in less dramatic manners.
Sure I had shot The Cannon and his partner in the back. But there was no rule against that. We were not making a western movie.
A clear-cut case of cop getting robbers, I still feel good thinking about it. The Cannon and his bunch were animals.
At least that was what had happened according to my report.
But only I myself know the truth.
The truth is I hadn't planned it that way.
When I charged down that flight of stairs, I had tripped and fell halfway down, knocking myself out.
The Cannon and Big Eye must have thought I was dead with all that blood on me. So they just ignored me. They were in a hurry to get away. I came to when they were firing at the padlock. The thundering of the AK-47s probably helped waking me up. What I did the next second was instinctive. I had moved and my gun was in my hand. I had to shoot fast. And I was lucky.
Even if I had told the truth in my report, I doubt that it would be accepted. I guess I would have been told to keep quiet. The truth was not good for our image. They would have told me to rewrite the report. So I changed the facts and kept my silence. Good for my image too. I'm not a fool.

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NINETEEN

OLD FRIEND GONE

THE WEATHER HAS down turned. A storm is looming. The weather report on TV has warned of the threat of a tropical cyclone approaching. Outside Charles Garcia's house, the trees are swaying under a gusty, howling wind. August is typhoon season in these parts.
Garcia and The Porcupine are working in the house with the air-conditioning on, not having to worry about it going wrong again as the maintenance men has come earlier replacing some aged parts. However, Garcia has grumbled that it would take a long time for the trees to recover after a typhoon.
"The wind is strong, but that is a good sign." The Porcupine has consoled him, "beware of a sudden lull, quiet, with no wind at all. That's the worst. For it is very quiet inside the eye of a storm." as if he is also an authority on meteorology.
Garcia glowers at The Porcupine again. He is sore, not about the weather but about money. The Porcupine has asked for a substantial loan outside the payment agreed. He has been unlucky again and has to pay back the loan shark. Garcia has given him the money.
Why couldn't The Porcupine do something healthy and proper like him? Like jogging several miles in the morning, then go home to take a bath, go to church, and maybe a game of squash in the afternoon?
I wish he would play squash with me, as I've been playing alone lately. A good partner is hard to find these days. Only food for thought though, because I would not be seen in the public with him.
"Do you know how a casino works?" Garcia begins.
"Of course I do," answers The Porcupine, "or I wouldn't have gone to one."
"If you can find the time do some figuring, you would find that it is impossible for you not to lose----"
"You could have refused to loan me the money," says The Porcupine, "I have survived before you came along."
"Oh, Christ." Garcia throws up his arms.
"I remember when I was five years old," says The Porcupine after a few seconds of awkward silence, "I was given a blue balloon. It was elegant and beautiful. I liked it so much I wanted to understand it. I wanted to know what was inside. So I poked it with a needle. I found out there was nothing inside, but I also didn't have a beautiful blue balloon anymore. I've learned to enjoy something as it is without trying to find out what's inside."
Garcia is silent.
I'm not a good storyteller. I don't have a story to back up my point. But maybe it's better this way. He owes me money, he can't get rid of me. Let him be dependent on me. It is good to get hold of this major weakness in him.
"Talking about money," says Garcia, "that first night you were in this house, you stole a cheque from me. Did you really think you could get away with it?"
"No," The Porcupine grins, "I never planned to use that cheque. If I had forged your signature on that cheque and tried to cash it, it would be the dumbest thing I've ever done in my life. I was just testing you. To see how smart you really are and how bad you wanted me. Well, you are smart enough. You've got me where you wanted."
Somehow, Garcia does not have the feeling of being very smart.
The Porcupine laughs loudly. "You know. It's like the story of ONE THOUSAND AND ONE NIGHTS, in which a man tells a story every night to keep the King interested so the King would postpone executing him. No story that night, he would be without a head. And he has told stories nonstop for one thousand and one nights."
And he is telling me stories to keep me interested. For the money, or to buy time so that he could get away from me? Is he really Joseph Bickford or is he just a head clerk in a law firm like he has claimed? He knows so much about the cases. But then a head clerk in a law firm would know a lot about that too. It is his business to know.
"You know, the Chinese have a similar story." Says The Porcupine, "You must have heard of the book GOLD, VASE AND PLUM BLOSSOM. One of the greatest work of pornography or the greatest work of art ever, depending on how you view it. The story goes like this: A man was killed. His killer was a powerful official. The son of the man killed wanted revenge, but the official was too powerful. However, the official had one big weakness, his love of reading pornography. And a good pornography is always hard to come by. So the son started writing a book of pornography to present to this powerful official, a few pages everyday. The official would read them at night. It was excellently written and the official couldn't have enough of it. The official had this habit of licking his index fingertip wet to turn a page. Unbeknownst to him, the corner of each page had been treated with a slow acting poison. Every time he turned a page, he would ingest a little poison. When the book was finished, the official died of poisoning. This book is GOLD, VASE, AND PLUM BLOSSOM. The book became immortal but few could remember the name of the official."
Garcia glances at the neatly clipped pages on the coffee table instinctively.
"Of course there is no poison on these pages," The Porcupine laughs, "and you don't lick your fingertip before turning a page anyway."
Garcia's face is red. "Any more of your stories? How about the second time you got away from me?"
"All in good time," says The Porcupine, "I've decided to save this for second last. Because this case took place near the end of my career as a professional hit man. After that would be my last case."
He is reluctant to tell about this one. Maybe something in it would give him away. Okay, give him more rope. Let him hang himself.
"As this is your book," says The Porcupine, "you should tell more. What's next? Maybe it would have something to do with what's eating you."
Again, The Porcupine is right on target.
"Another good old friend has left." Garcia sighs, "Gone back to England."
"Ah, but at least you have two to your name whom you can call good old friends."
"That's the last of my good old friends in this part of the world." says Garcia, "His name is Jimmy Parker, and he's a fool."
"Maybe a fool makes an even better friend."
"A week ago, he fell in love with a prostitute here and told me he was going to marry her." Says Garcia.
"So they have left to live happily ever after in England?"
"No," says Garcia, "She's a Chinese girl holding a tourist passport. She has come to work as a hostess in a nightclub and that's where Parker had met her. And she told him she was a virgin, that he was her first man."
"Now that's a huge lie." Says The Porcupine, "She may be a good girl but she shouldn't have said that."
You would know that is a lie if you've been to the nightclubs in Macao. All the nightclubs in Macao are brothels, but they are probably the most honestly packaged in the world. In some other cities, you would be attracted by photos of pretty young girls displayed outside, only walking in to be stuck with some ugly animal, over the hill and probably old enough to be your mother, assuming that you are not older than thirty-five. Here in Macao, you would find the same photos outside, only they don't do enough justice to the girls inside, who are invariably more gorgeous. There is no need to cheat. The operators have endless supplies to choose from. You walk in, you are ushered into a VIP room, served drinks and a bowl of fruit. Then the Madame brings in two hostesses. These girls couldn't be older than twenty-two. They wear the skimpiest of costumes so that you could see outright their natural assets, the size of their breasts, the color of their nipples, even how much pubic hair. Nothing is left to imagination. If you want to be double sure, you could even lift the sheer nylon loin clothes to have a closer look. Then you pick one out of these two. But that is not final. The Madame takes the luckless one out, only to return with a fresh girl to let you have your final choice. With that kind of competition, you can imagine how hard each girl would try to please to get chosen. After that, you leave with your final choice, but not away from the building. For all nightclubs are inside a hotel and a paid room is already waiting upstairs. You just get into the lift and go up. Some girls are actually illegal immigrants who are afraid to go out on the streets. You go to your room with your girl and have about forty-five minutes to do whatever you want with her. And she would try her best to satisfy you and to get it over with quickly. Time is money for these girls. A girl could have up to ten rounds of this a night if she is lucky. Most girls could only stay for a few months. In that short period, she has to pay back a huge sum to the underworld before she could call any money her own. The whole thing costs you about HK$2,000, the equivalent of around US$250. It is 50% cheaper than nightclubs in Hong Kong and the service at least twice better. These girls would have to go through a short period of basic training before they are allowed to work in a nightclub. So any girl there who claims she is a virgin is lying.
"A man would believe anything when he meets the right girl." Garcia shakes his head.
"But at least she's the right girl." Says The Porcupine.
"All Parker could say about her was good sex. The best sex he ever had, and the same went for her too." Garcia says with disgust, "But you don't marry just for good sex."
"So what happened?" Asks The Porcupine.
"I found her and gave her a warning, also twenty thousand Hong Kong dollars for her to tell Parker she was no longer in love with him. She accepted. Parker didn't know anything about this."
"That's mighty considerate of you," The Porcupine scratches his head, "except that it leaves Jimmy Parker with a broken heart."
"Yes, he left with a broken heart." Says Garcia, "I know you won't agree with me, what with your blue balloon philosophy. But it will heal. The girl would break his heart anyway. What she was after was a British citizenship. She would drop him like last month's milk afterwards. Going home would help Jimmy. It has helped Ricky Cruz."
"Oh? By the way, how's Ricky doing?"
"He called me last week. His wife is a changed woman. She no longer screams at him."
"Good for him." Says The Porcupine, "Anyway, about Jimmy Parker, what is done is done. Let's just wish him the best." He is obviously not going to agree with Garcia on this matter.
Garcia treats himself with some more wine.
"Again, one thing leads to another. I suppose your next case has a lot to do with Jimmy Parker?" Says The Porcupine.
"Definitely. It's not in my original outline either. It's about a virgin. A true virgin."

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TWENTY

Chapter Eight: The Case of the Virgin Patient according to Charles Garcia


JIMMY PARKER AND I were on this case together.
The year was 1993, spring. We were called to a meeting, not in police headquarters but in the plush conference room of one of the largest real estate companies in Hong Kong.
I was twenty minutes late. I had witnessed a serious traffic accident on my way and had to stop to do what a police officer should.
Parker was pacing the lush carpet when I arrived, cursing, "The bastard. The bastard." Luckily he was not talking about me. Parker was notoriously fiery tempered. If you wanted a suspect to have a hard time, just give him to Parker.
The man who was chairing the meeting was one Stanley Chan. Chan is the most common name among the Chinese, probably the equivalent of Smith among the English. Stanley of course is a very common first name too. But there was nothing common about this guy. He was not on the police force. He was the right hand man of a real estate tycoon who owned this forty-two-story office building, the upper half of which housed the operation of one of his many companies. They were powerful people, the real estate men. We were instructed to cooperate with Stanley Chan. It was obvious he wanted something from us.
Stanley Chan was nice, not particularly handsome but nice and earnest. A MIT graduate, I've heard. He was in his early thirties, of the younger generation of entrepreneurs that had learned being obnoxious gets you nowhere. Just get the job done in the best possible way. Though he still couldn't do away with the expensive dark grey business suit at that time.
The conference room was on the top floor of the building and there were only the three of us.
"I'll be to the point." Opened Stanley Chan after Parker and I were served coffee.
He fiddled with a switch in front of him and the vast glass wall facing the harbor darkened, the panoramic view faded for the moment. The big LCD screen on the wall showed an enlarged photo of a European man in his fifties. He looked strange, especially his hair.
Parker commented. "Looks like Adolph Hitler without the moustache."
I didn't laugh, we were obviously not here for small talks. But Parker got it right. I didn't recognize this man, but in my book, anyone wearing his hair like that and with an expression like that could not be that normal.
"Meet Doctor Eugene Kramer," Stanley Chan proceeded to shock us, "a practicing gynecologist. We have everything about him in the files in front of you. He has done something unforgivable. He has raped a patient who was a virgin. She has gone to him for a routine examination. He gave her a shot to knock her out and then did it right there on the examination table."
"No nurse around?" Asked Parker.
It is the rule. That a male doctor examining a female patient should make it a point to have at least one female nurse around, to save embarrassment to the patient, but I think more to protect himself.
"Not this time." said Stanley Chan, "He had examined her several times before and she had come to trust him. But this time, he had sent the nurse away on an errand. And he wore a condom so no semen was left inside her. That was fortunate for her, and for him."
"We could still find some evidence." Parker said, "for instance a pubic hair." DNA testing was not that advanced at the time.
"A rape victim usually hesitates to report a case." Said Stanley Chan, "Worse. She would instinctively wash herself repeatedly, destroying most of the traces. As you are well aware."
He was right.
"Could she have lied about it?" I asked.
"Good point." said Stanley Chan, "You tend to trust the doctor. But no, she has not lied. She has no reason to lie about something like this. She is the daughter of a prominent businessman in Hong Kong. I'm sorry I have to keep the name secret. Evidence is not important anyway, since she and her family would have more to lose than the doctor if they cried foul."
Maybe she was the daughter of the boss of Stanley Chan? That was the question that came to my mind instinctively. But that was not a question to be asked.
"Doctor Kramer is not a man without background too." Said Stanley Chan, "He is from one of the richest families here. His mother is from a well to do Chinese family, married to a powerful German businessman. He has the power to fight."
"So what do you want us to do?" asked Parker.
Stanley Chan did not answer the question immediately as he was not through yet. "Doctor Kramer never has to practice for the money. With his family wealth, he could buy anything. I'd say he is fascinated with what money cannot buy. What better than deflowering a young virgin who is not for sale? And he has done this at least four times. Of course we can't prove it, but we have investigated carefully. A virgin would be reluctant to go to the police for fear that she may hurt herself more, and also it would only be her word against his. But she would talk to her good friends and words get around."
"The sick bastard." Parker muttered again. He had obviously been briefed before I arrived.
"So what do you want us to do?" I asked.
"The question is what can you do." Stanley Chan put both palms on the table as if trying to lower it a few inches, "We can't let him get away with this."
"Legally" I said, "there is nothing we can do without a victim coming forward."
"We're not here to discuss what we can do legally." Said Stanley Chan, "Yes, I work for my boss. But personally, there's nothing I'd like to see more than throwing this man in jail for what he has done. Must be jail. You know what they do to a rapist in jail, don't you?"
We knew. In Hong Kong, a rapist is considered the lowest of criminals. They would gang rape him first chance they got.
I thought for a moment. "I can't give you an answer now." I said, "We'll have to look this thing over carefully."
"Good," said Stanley Chan, "Also bear in mind that money and manpower is no problem. Whatever you're going to do, consider it a service to the society."
Parker and I thought so too. Doctor Eugene Kramer was making a lot of enemies.
"And this is strictly between us." Said Stanley Chan, "Be careful about who you talk to. This man has powerful friends too. You two are carefully chosen."

THE GIRL'S NAME was Novem. It was quite a popular English first name chosen by Chinese girls in Hong Kong. Most Chinese girls have an English first name in this bilingual community. Though the philosophy behind such a name has always intrigued me. Novem came from November. April, May, June, and Julie I could understand, but why November, the second last month on the calendar? I have never heard of a Decem though. And this girl had not been born in November.
Novem was about twenty-nine and unattractive. But she was the type that seemed fully convinced that had she entered a beauty contest, the crown would be hers for the taking, and that every male was lusting for her. Being born unattractive is no crime, but thinking otherwise is in my book.
She had a plain face, small breasts, little curve, with her thighs much longer above her knees than her slightly bowed calves in proportion. Her hair was freshly but overly set so that it looked like a wig. Her choice of clothing was ghastly too. A bright green sleeveless blouse mismatching a bright red and blue checkered miniskirt, a lemon yellow cardigan folded on her forearm, and a pair of orange sneakers, without socks. That it was a pair of Nike didn't help a bit. She was wearing heavy make up to hide unsuccessfully three large pimples. At least she had a set of nice looking teeth.
And she entered the room with her head held high, not looking at the two longhaired young men in the room with disdain. They were two more men lusting for her, although the truth was that they were trying very hard to keep a straight face.
I groaned, "Where did you find her?"
I was addressing Darkie. Darkie was the nickname of the young man beside me. He was called Darkie because he had darker skin, him being from a Pakistani father and a Chinese mother. I tell about this with no racial discrimination. You may not believe it, but I can assure you that the Chinese in Hong Kong are among the most racially fair people in the world. It was the westerners here who are discriminating. To the Chinese, a different colored skin simply means there is a difference in color. They call a white skin a kweilo, meaning a 'ghost fellow', and called this darker man Darkie, all without malice. And Darkie was happy with the name. He would introduce himself accordingly.
I and Darkie and Jimmy Parker were in the next room looking in through a one way glass. Darkie had recruited Novem for us, and Parker and I were looking at her for the first time.
"A decent virgin willing to sell her body is hard to find, you know." Said Darkie.
"And she is a virgin?" asked Parker, then, "But maybe she is. Who would go to bed with her?"
"She has been examined by your doctor and certified a virgin." Said Darkie, "I don't think she would go to bed with some man after passing the exam and ruin her chance of earning a big chunk of money. But I'll have her watched round the clock just in case."
"But she's disgusting" Said Parker.
"That's good." Said Darkie.
"What?" Parker scowled at him.
We were preparing an operation commonly known in our business as the STING. We had decided that to get Doctor Kramer, we had to catch him in the act, to catch him with his pants down literally. That was easier said than done. First, we had to find a real virgin willing to cooperate. She would be the bait. We had several policewomen who were quite attractive and talented. They had helped catch rapists in the park, posed as hostesses in nightclubs and so on. But they would be of no help in this case. The girl we would use had to be a real virgin. You can never fool a gynecologist who examines you. And she had to be willing to let the doctor do it. Above all, she had to have what it takes to get the doctor interested.
So we called in Darkie.
Darkie was a gigolo and a pimp. We did not trust him that much but we had something on him. His business was recruiting girls for nightclubs or even brothels. He was very handsome, especially his eyes. Pakistanis have beautiful eyes. He was considered quite harmless as he only sweet-talked girls into selling their bodies, never having to resort to violence. We had used him as an informer, so we turned a blind eye to some technically illegal things he had done, although we never forgot. There were a few times when he went to bed with underage girls. He had not known that the girls were a couple months under-aged and they had lied to him about their ages. And it was the girls who had seduced him. But it had been statutory rape nonetheless. We could put him away for a long time. But we had let that go because we thought he would be useful later.
Now, Darkie had produced Novem.
The nice thing about this case though was that not a soul was sympathetic to Dr. Kramer. Darkie would do it for the money and the pleasure. He said Novem too would do it for the money and to rid society of a worm. That was believable.
Using an outside girl was extremely dangerous. If the thing backfired, the ripples would be far reaching as you can guess. So we had to keep it as secret as possible. Novem would not get to see Parker and me. She would not even know we existed. Everyone she met would be under an assumed name. Darkie was the one pulling the strings as far as Novem knew.
The rooms we were in were inside a luxurious house in the suburbs, provided by Stanley Chan. The two young men with long hair in the next room were directors of TV commercials, also provided by Stanley Chan. They were here to coach Novem as to how to act when she confronted Dr. Eugene Kramer. They were loyal to Stanley Chan as Chan was giving them a lot of filming jobs.
After the coaching, the house would be quickly redecorated so that it would look like nothing now. Stanley Chan said the decoration job could be completed in three days. He should know as he was in the real estate business. In case Novem would come back with the police, the house would be nothing like she had described. The two directors also didn't have real long hairs. They were wearing wigs.
If things went wrong, Darkie would take the fall alone.
Now we were looking at Novem for the first time, and Darkie explained, "I think Novem is the perfect choice. I didn't just plucked her from the streets. I know her. We have gone through the files of this doctor and I have studied the suspected victims carefully. All of them are not attractive in the usual sense. Take it from an expert. Novem would be just right."
We had done a lot of covert works. One week ago, a small fire had broken out in the office building where Dr. Eugene Kramer's surgery was. It was a Sunday, the building was deserted, so the chaos of evacuation was avoided. Parker and I had gone to investigate. But the fire was caused by a harmless smoke bomb placed there by us, so there was nothing to investigate. We just used this as an excuse to get into the building. We had broken into Dr. Kramer's office and the office next door. We had taken out all his files and used the copier next door to make copies.
After that, we had analyzed the files. A virgin patient who had suddenly stopped visiting Dr. Kramer would be a suspected victim. We had studied them all, outside their homes or their workplaces, without them suspecting anything. All of them were indeed unattractive young women. Including the daughter of the powerful man behind this scheme. We had figured out who she was, but kept Stanley Chan in the dark. Darkie had not known about her either.
We had also scrutinized Dr. Kramer. He was fifty-five years old, educated in London and had been practicing in Hong Kong for the last twenty-five years. Pretty dull lifestyle. No known hobby at all. Said to spend his spare time studying medical journals. He had been married for twenty-two years, had no known extra-marital affairs, never a womanizer. Even his nurse and receptionist was not young or good-looking. His wife was very active in social circles, busy holding seminars, especially on TV, with topics ranging from how to make a marriage work to flower arranging, even how to raise children although she had none of her own. In my book, she must be lacking something at home and were seeking to make up or forget by keeping herself busy outside. It was said that she could be a bitch off camera and when confronting the small people.
Darkie had a point here. He was the expert. He had close contact with the sex business and he would know what kind of women would attract what kind of men.
Dr. Kramer was interested in women all right, not the pretty attractive ones, only vulnerable virgins.
Darkie had found Novem through a girl he had seduced and sweet-talked into working in a nightclub. Novem was a friend of hers, and Novem had an eye for Darkie too. But she would never go to bed with Darkie without a price, although Darkie too would never go to bed with her for any price. Novem had been tempted by a job in a nightclub but had decided the money was not good enough. Not that any nightclub would hire her. Novem had better things in mind. She had this dream of becoming a fashion model, God forbid. She was convinced she had what it took to become a world class supermodel if she had the money to go abroad for the proper training. Anyway, Novem needed a large sum of money to go abroad. She would sell her virginity for the money. As money was no object to Stanley Chan, Darkie had asked Novem to name a price. She did and Stanley Chan accepted.
So now we got our girl and were ready to roll.
Parker and I looked at each other and we both nodded.
"Give her a try and see what she can do." I said.
We left the coaching to Darkie and the two TV directors and left.
Yes, we were preying on human weakness. But that's the way usually to get things done.

PARKER AND I WENT to the house again to see the rehearsal a week later.
We were in the same room behind the same one way glass. The other side had been transformed into a doctor's surgery, exactly like that of Dr. Eugene Kramer. Every detail had been copied. We had taken a lot of photos the day we broke in.
Even the phony doctor in there was made up to look very much like Dr. Kramer. A nurse showed Novem in. The phony doctor and phony nurse were an actor and an actress. They didn't know what was going on. The TV directors had told them a pornographic film was being made. They had moonlighted for this kind of work before. As long as they got paid, they wouldn't ask any question.
Novem was wearing a dress and high heel this time, but with the same dreadful taste.
She sat down across the desk from the doctor and was asked questions. Then he asked her to undress for an examination. She took off all her clothes behind a screen and lied down on the examination table, legs spread wide and held high by a stirrup like contraption. The nurse was present.
We could see everything clearly as the surgery was designed in such a way that we could watch every part of it like we were looking at a stage from the front. Novem and the phony doctor and nurse had no knowledge of us watching, the other side of the one way glass being a huge mirror, ostensibly for them to be able to see their own acting.
Parker and I groaned and grimaced. She was not a pretty sight, but we had to watch.
The doctor began to go through the motions of examining her, according to the script. We had no idea how Dr. Kramer would behave at this point so it was up to the imagination of the scriptwriter, who was doubled by one of the directors.
The doctor was quite respectable and did a proper job.
Then he returned to his chair behind the desk.
Novem got dressed, sitting down in front of him again. He scribbled something on a file, telling her there was nothing seriously wrong with her and he would prescribe some pills.
All this had to be rehearsed and we had to watch because we must know if Novem could do the job when the time came.
She could do it all right. If she could do it with a phony doctor, she would have no problem doing it with Dr. Kramer.
Then Novem got up and left. She returned seconds later, again accompanied by the nurse. This was supposed to be her next visit, or the visit during which things were supposed to happen. This time, the nurse went out and didn't come back.
The examination act took place once more. And this time, the doctor panted and looked and looked, bug-eyed, all according to the script. We had all decided it would probably be something like this. Stanley Chan had told us the victim refused to recount the incident. We didn't blame her. It would be too painful an experience to relive.
Then the doctor stood up and started to shove himself between Novem's legs, with his pants on of course.
After about one minute, Novem screamed weakly.
Parker started to count immediately, "One---two----three---"
At the count of ten, the door of the surgery burst open and one of the directors charged in.
The phony doctor was mimicking the motion of pulling up his pants.
"Good." The director barked, "Very good. Let's do it once more."
Practicing makes perfection.

NOVEM had proved she could handle the job. So she made an appointment with Dr. Eugene Kramer the following week.
Nothing happened for three consecutive sessions but we were convinced that Dr. Kramer was as good as hooked because he had told Novem every time to come back next week. Novem was in perfectly good health and he had no plausible reason to do that.
On the fourth visit, we hit the jackpot.
She was inside Dr. Kramer's office. The time was 4:30 p.m. She was the last patient that day.
We heard Novem ask in Cantonese, which the doctor was fluent in, "Fanny, she is gone." Fanny was the nurse and receptionist.
We could hear everything. We had instructed Novem to place her handbag carefully on a chair every time. The handbag would be partially open. There were two mobiles inside the handbag, all on and connected to our mobiles and also connected to speakers. Two mobiles in case one would be disconnected accidentally.
Novem was letting us know the nurse was not with them.
Dr. Kramer was swallowing the bait, hook, line and sinker.
"If you mind," we heard Dr. Kramer said with his perfect Cantonese, "we can do this next time."
"Why should I mind?" said Novem coyly.
Parker and I cursed under our breath. We had instructed Novem not to lead him on. There was just no need. Besides, it would pose a danger when cross-examined by a defense lawyer. Luckily, she didn't go on overplaying it.
"I will give you an injection," said Dr. Kramer, "it is a new drug from America. I think it will help you."
Novem agreed.
We were very tense. We knew he would knock her out with the shot so that she could not resist. If the drug was too strong, she might not be able to scream at the right moment, We must burst in at exactly the right time. Novem had been instructed to wait until the moment of ejaculation, then scream. We wanted the seed of crime securely in the bag. This was the hardest part. Being a virgin, Novem had only a vague idea about a man's ejaculation. The TV director had to give her a lesson in sex education, complete with books and videos. Still, we could not be sure that she could be sure. We could not get a man to do it to her and show her.
Too soon, though there would still be a case, it wouldn't be perfect. Too late, we could not catch Dr. Kramer with his pants down. We wanted it to be an open-and-shut case.
Turned out we didn't have to worry.
Dr. Kramer only gave her a mild shot. So that she would be too weak to resist but was aware of everything. She could still make small sounds. Maybe he wanted to see and hear her reactions, the sick bastard.
As it was, she could keep us informed by moaning, "Your pants---don't---it hurts---" Smart girl.
There were shuffles. Dr. Kramer moaned.
Then we heard Novem scream.
"One----" Parker started to count.
Parker and I were in an empty office we had rented. It was just around the corner of the corridor, on the same floor of the same building. Every time Novem visited Dr. Kramer, we would wait in this office with our sound equipment on.
Parker kept counting as he and I burst out of our rented office.
We were in time to catch a glimpse of a young man shouldering down the door of Dr. Kramer's office and disappearing inside. Good, right on time. The young man was posing as Novem's boyfriend. He would later testify in court that he had come to pick Novem up and heard her screaming. Actually, he had been loitering in the corridor and had also heard Novem scream through his mobile.
He was of course not Novem's real boyfriend. But a boyfriend needs no certificate to prove.
Parker and I hurtled into Kramer's surgery at the count of thirteen.
The boyfriend was knocking Dr. Kramer around. Dr. Kramer's pants was still down, looking like Adolph Hitler having lost his moustache and was not in time to pull up his pants.
Parker and I had concocted a perfect story to explain why we were so quick to arrive at the scene. Parker had an appointment with a dentist, whose office was further down the corridor. I had accompanied Parker to lend moral support. We had stumbled across the case accidentally, unlucky for Dr. Kramer. The appointment with the dentist was real. Every time Novem went to Dr. Kramer, Parker would make an appointment with the dentist, half an hour later than Novem's appointment. When Novem had left safely, he would actually keep that appointment. The dentist had been perplexed as Parker complained of toothache while he had a perfectly healthy set of teeth. Parker had only saved himself from having a healthy tooth pulled by complaining about a different tooth every time.
It was an open-and-shut case all right.
Even though Dr. Eugene Kramer had powerful friends, no one would stand up for him. Nobody wanted to know him.
Maybe he even had a hard time finding himself a capable lawyer. That imbecile of a lawyer he hired repeatedly pointed out in court that Novem had enjoyed the intercourse and had climaxed four times. How on earth did he arrive at that number? And what was the difference whether she enjoyed it or not? Dr. Kramer was a rapist and he had done it in his surgery to a patient of his. The lawyer argued that Novem had led Dr. Kramer on but no one would believe that a virgin would do that.
Dr. Eugene Kramer got five years and had his license taken away for life. His wife divorced him the minute his appeal was thrown out.
He would be out of prison a long time now but nobody knows where he is. He just disappeared.
Stanley Chan has become a real estate tycoon himself and you can often see his photograph on the financial pages of the local newspaper.
Darkie has gone straight, opening a grocery store specializing in Pakistani foodstuff. He has married a plain but nice Chinese woman and has grown very fat, sporting a huge beer belly.
As for Novem, the last I've heard about her was that she had changed her mind about being a fashion model. She married two years after the Dr. Kramer incident, to the young man that had posed as her boyfriend, lucky girl.

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TWENTY-ONE

OF MARRIAGE AND FISHING

THE STORM IS BEHIND them with very little damage to Garcia's precious plants in the garden. Macao is smaller than a pinpoint on the map so the chance of a direct hit from a typhoon is pretty slim. The storm has changed course, moving into the Chinese mainland creating havoc, but Macao is intact. Most of the leaves in Garcia's garden has turned up their paler bellies, but that's all. Given a week, they would grow back to normal.
But still, the furrows on Garcia's forehead is not relaxing, he is worrying about his work. The Porcupine has finished reading THE CASE OF THE VIRGIN PATIENT and has put down the pages, neatly clipped again, but Garcia is still frowning.
"Great work," The Porcupine comments, "you see, your stories are far more believable than mine."
"What I'm worrying about is lawsuits," says Garcia, "how could we put all these in print without people suing? All the money in the world would not be enough to settle."
"The names have been changed." Smiles The Porcupine.
"But the facts are still there," Garcia says, "and I can't deny what I have been."
The Porcupine grinned wickedly and handed him a note he has just scribbled with Garcia's ballpoint pen." That's why we need these magic lines." He says.
On the paper is scrawled in bold letters: THIS IS A WORK OF FICTION. NAMES, CHARACTERS, PLACES ARE ALL FICTIONAL. ANY RESEMBLENCE TO ACTUAL PERSONS, LIVING OR DEAD, EVENTS, OR LOCALES IS ENTIRELY COINCIDENTAL.
"I have copied these in a bookstore. Appears in the beginning pages of every book of fiction." Says The Porcupine
"But that is for fictional works." Says Garcia, still frowning.
"So we simply change this into a fictional work."
"That's not what I had in mind. I never planned to write a silly novel."
"Let's face the real world, okay?" says The Porcupine, "Fiction or non-fiction is in the mind of the readers. If a novel is believable, the readers would think it is actually true, that the writer is only protecting himself by saying it is a work of fiction. On the other hand, if a book states that THIS IS A TRUE STORY but not believable, the readers would just laugh and brush it off as a lousy work of fiction, a scam. I once saw a movie, the title of which I can't recall. It opened with THIS IS NOT A FICTION, ANY RESEMBLANCE TO ACTUAL EVENTS AND PERSONS, LIVING OR DEAD, IS INCIDENTAL. But it was a slapstick comedy, nobody took it seriously."
The lines on Garcia's forehead relax for a second, then deepen again. "I don't know."
"That's why I suggest changing the title." Says The Porcupine.
"No!" Garcia almost cries, like a mother about to have her baby snatched away.
"Well, it's a book written in your name. Even if you claim it a fiction, you can't avoid a lawsuit because you cannot deny what you have been."
"Are you suggesting that I change the book into a fiction and also use a pseudonym?" Garcia hisses.
"Not saying it is a memoirs is all right." Says The Porcupine, "Or use a pseudonym and say it is a memoirs."
"And what is the title you have in mind?" asks Garcia.
"How about THE STORYTELLER?" The Porcupine suggests.
"I'll---I'll think about it." Garcia says, seeing his baby as good as taken away.
"You don't have to decide now," says The Porcupine, "You should relax, bearing in mind that we have already found a safety exit. All the work we have done would not be a waste."
Garcia is silent for a long time.
"Let's sleep on that. Change the subject now." Says The Porcupine.
It is a welcomed move. Garcia asks, "You ever married?"
"No." answers The Porcupine, "I don't even have a girlfriend."
"What do you do for your sex life?"
"No problem." says The Porcupine, "Just this afternoon, I have gone to a massage parlor. The service is excellent and dirt-cheap. Do you know how it is?"
At least he has told the truth this time. I have another contact here and I had him followed. He did go to a massage parlor in the afternoon.
"I've heard. Never been there myself though. You can tell me your version."
"It's called body massage, Thai style." Says The Porcupine, "I entered the front door and was greeted by several beautiful young girls in Thai costume. I was led into a large room with a giant glass wall on one side. Behind that piece of glass I could see about fifty beautiful young girls smiling at me, all naked from the waist up, each with a number plate on her shoulder. People call this the Gold Fish Bowl. All of the girls had come from Thailand. I was to pick one out of the fifty to serve me. It was difficult, so I just picked a lucky number, seven.
"Then I was ushered into a small room, one of the theme rooms. This one was a jungle room with a sunken pool surrounded by tropical plants, some false some real, like I was in a jungle in Thailand. Number seven came in. She was completely naked now. She was young, no more than nineteen, I thought. But she was well trained. She helped me take off all my clothes and then helped me into the pool. The water was warm. She suds me up and climbed all over me in the water, rubbing her body over mine like she was a giant sponge. I didn't speak Thai and she spoke very little Chinese or English, maybe just a few words like, 'You're so big.' But that was enough. I was not there to talk anyway. She washed me squeaky clean, then dried me up with a big towel and helped me onto the bed, which was camouflaged to look like a big slab of granite. She applied oil all over me and proceeded to massage me with her body. All the while, she was stimulating my erotic parts. I just lay there without moving. There was no need for me to move. Then she started to eat me. She could sense when I was excited enough, then climbed up and deftly sat on top of me, and we were doing it without me having to move a muscle. You would probably ask me about safe sex now. Well, the first time I had been here, I had called out frantically that she had forgotten about a condom. But she had not forgotten. A condom had already been hidden in her mouth and she had slipped it in place with the help of her tongue while she was eating me.
"I was one very satisfied customer some ten minutes later. She cleaned me with a wet towel and let me sleep for about twenty minutes. Then she bathed me again, this time properly. I left refreshed and happy."
The Porcupine is finished with his recount and finds Garcia squinting at him with obvious distaste.
"You really should try it some time." Says The Porcupine.
"Cheap sex like that, and you are satisfied?" Garcia said shaking his head.
"Sexual preference is like eating food. Like the story about three men looking at a live fish in a tank in a seafood restaurant. The first man is a sushi fan and thinks the fish is best eaten raw. The second man has no stomach for raw food and he thinks steaming is the way. The third man is a Buddhist and a vegetarian and he thinks the fish should be released back to nature. Who is right and who is wrong? I try not to pass judgement."
Garcia's face is red. "But what about your soul?"
"Yes, yes, I agree with you. The best partner should be the one you love and who loves you, body and soul together. But that's lovemaking. What we are talking about is sex."
Garcia's lips move as if to say something, but he keeps his silence as he thinks better of it.
"Well," says The Porcupine, "you started by asking if I was married, I told you no. Next, you would ask me why."
"Why?" Garcia ask, obviously glad their conversation is changing direction.
"If you had a sister or a daughter, would you give me her hand?"
"God, no! I mean, what with your gambling---"
"My gambling and other things."
"No offence," says Garcia, "but lesser men have married and have children."
"Maybe it's because I wouldn't settle for less," The Porcupine sighs, "the girls I wanted didn't want me. It's even harder for me now, old, broke and arthritic in one elbow. Anyhow, personally, I don't think the marriage system works. I've seen too many marriages failed and has yet to see a successful one."
"There are successful marriages."
"Maybe you mean those not yet fallen apart. They are just still holding together. If not falling apart means successful, then there are a lot of successful marriages. I think these are the people who are more willing to give and to endure the hardship. Marriage itself is so difficult, mainly because it involves two different people, who think differently and mature at different paces. Let's suppose a couple is made for each other at the start, and that they have found their other halves. So they get married and live together. But that's like planting two perfectly good trees of the same height side by side. They invariably grow at different rates. After some years, one would be much taller than the other. People are like that too. Some people mature more quickly while some people more slowly or don't mature at all. So after some years, they would become other halves for somebody else. And that goes only for the honest ones."
"What do you mean honest ones?"
"Most people cheat to get a marriage partner. When they are playing the mating game, they would only show their best faces, usually the man pretending to be better off financially than he really is, and the woman making up carefully and eating daintily with grace, and so on. After they are married, the truth comes out but then they couldn't care less. Like fishing, you know. A fisherman would put a piece of fat, delicious bait on his hook to lure a fish. Have you ever heard of a fisherman feeding a fish with his bait after the fish had already safely landed in his pail?"
"As if you've been through it all before." Says Garcia.
The Porcupine suddenly laughs aloud.
"What's so funny?" Garcia frowns.
"I know you've never been married too. I've asked around and I know."
"We are not talking about me."
"I was thinking, here we are, two men who have never married discussing the pros and cons of marriage, like two monks discussing the best way to prepare meat."
"We may not have been there, but we could see a lot."
"True." Says The Porcupine, "about the fishing part, I've been there myself. It was a long time ago. I had just done a job, got paid and also was on a winning streak. I had met a girl and told her I had billions, being in the oil business. I also promised to marry her. She had been fishing too, for a rich man to marry. She let me take her to bed and helped me spend my money. Then the money started to dwindle and she got hooked up, so to speak, with another rich man. The promise of marriage was forgotten. I was hurt deeply. But I'm glad we hadn't married each other, as it would never have worked out. But it was good while the fishing lasted. She married that man but later divorced, for reasons I don't know."
"Not all people are like that." Says Garcia.
"But most people are like that. I have also seen it happened to two other men who were my friends. They were both unattractive, young and earning very little. They met two unattractive girls, them fishing for husbands too. What the men wanted was actually sex. Well, the girls made it plain that no marriage, no sex. They got down to figuring and decided, what the hell, this was cheaper than going to brothels. So they got married. The first man made even less and his wife was complaining all the time, that she was cheated into marriage. The second man got rich a few years later and started having other women. When his wife confronted him, he just laughed, saying that she had blackmailed him with sex into marriage. He could not afford better women at that time. Now that he could afford better, it was only right that he should make up his losses. They asked for it themselves."
"You mean the women?"
"Both parties. I think all four had abused the marriage system and got what they deserved."
"Seems to you no one should get married."
"Not if they don't understand what marriage means."
Garcia is silent. He could not deny that the same is happening every day.
"My background makes it more difficult for me too," says The Porcupine, "but am I boring you?"
"No." says Garcia, "it is quite interesting. And your background?"
"I was born in a broken family. My father and my mother both disappeared when I was four years old, leaving me stuck with my aunt. Your childhood actually shape your way of thinking, you know. Now I would be enraged if someone piled food on my plate at dinner, all because of my aunt. She was not a nice woman. I had to do backbreaking chores for her and came dinner time, she would pile food on top of my bowl of rice, making like she cared about me very much. Actually she had selected all the bad pieces, the bones, the skins, even the inedible, to put on my bowl so that I could not pick at the better pieces, which she saved for her own children. I ran away before I was ten. I'm not that picky about prostitutes, but one type would always turn my stomach, the kind that looks or sounds even remotely like my aunt."
Garcia is silent again. What can he say?
"What about you?" asks The Porcupine, "you must have your own problem. I don't see a picture of a woman in this house, not even that of a female relative."
"We have a lot in common about this," admits Garcia, "but I'll tell you about it later. Let's talk about something else. Now, you are a gambler, but I don't hear you putting your money on horses."
"I do in Hong Kong sometimes," says The Porcupine, "but I've never been keen on horseracing. All races are fixed."
"Poking at that blue balloon again?"
"I wouldn't say that." says The Porcupine, "With my blue balloon, at least I get to hold the string. At the casino, I know my chances and that I will not be cheated. But in horse racing, they decide which horse is to win only after all bets are down. That's no fun. But I must admit that it would be fun to bet a little and see how the script turns out. You have to buy a ticket to see a movie too, even though you know nothing you will see will be true. The same goes with professional wrestling. It would be fun to bet on horses if you don't mind losing the price of a ticket. One thing about horseracing though, if you go to a racecourse with friends, all of you could win. You don't have to beat your friends and take their money. The same can't be said with a poker game or a game of bridge or majong. Although at the racecourse, the usual result would be all of you turned out to be losers at the end of the day."
"I see you don't know very much about horseracing."
"And you do?"
"I've never bet on horses in my life. I used to know very little about this game, until the case of the missing jockey."
"And that, of course, is our next story."
"Yes," says Garcia, "and that will be chapter nine. In this case, I got to be a real hero. And I mean a real hero."

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TWENTY-TWO

Chapter Nine: The Case of the Missing Jockey according to Charles Garcia


WHEN I WAS GIVEN the case, I knew very little about horseracing in Hong Kong. I think I should say I knew very little about the scene behind racing, but the industry itself I knew.
I knew the scale of betting. You probably won't believe me until you came and saw with your own eyes the figures dancing on the tote board.
We average two race meetings a week, beginning in September and ending in June next year. Then we have a break of three months, basically because these are the summer months too hot for racing and also because it is typhoon season. On an average racing day, with seven to ten races on the card, the total betting turnover was, and still is around HK$130 million, that is about US$16.25million. That from a population of less than 7 million. You don't believe it? I told you so. But it's true. Gambling was and still is strictly illegal in Hong Kong except betting on horses, which was called a sport. Nearby Macao also has racing but the turnover each race is only about HK$50,000. Hong Kong is tired of making world records year after year with no rival coming even close. I don't know which is the runner up, but it certainly would be at least fifty lengths behind.
Of this turnover, about 80% will be paid out, with the remaining 20% going to the RHKJC and the government as betting tax. RHKJC stands for the Royal Hong Kong Jockey Club, which has been changed to HKJC since the hand over in July 1997. The Club was and still is a non- profit private club, its share of about 8% goes to charity and public services.
All that money makes your mouth water, right? Well, that's the root of the problem. The scent of money attracts all kinds of undesirables. These people think the jockeys know and could control exactly which horse would win and they give the jockeys a god like status but at the same time use every trick in the book to control them, as I later found out.
Hong Kong also boasts of one of the most unique racecourses in the world. That is the Happy Valley racecourse, a small, tight circuit in a small valley, which is smack in the middle of the city. It is oval in shape, with a perimeter of about a mile. It has a history of over a hundred years. In the beginning, it was just a piece of flat land next to a cemetery. Over the years, buildings have sprung up around it and the area started to boom, until it has become one of the most affluent neighborhoods. The racecourse has become a piece of prime land the property value of which is hard to evaluate. A second racecourse has been built in the suburb of Shatin some twenty years ago, but the Happy valley racecourse is still in business. There has been no plan to redevelop it. The Club is too rich and too powerful.
It was at the end of May, a Saturday, a year after the Dr. Kramer incident. The current racing season was nearing its end with the weather getting hotter and hotter. There were eight races on the card in Happy Valley. Punters were busy selecting their choices for the first race, which was to start at 1:00 p.m. Ten minutes before the start, the speakers announced that there was to be a change of jockeys. Meridian Rose, the number 2 horse in the race and an overnight favorite, will be ridden by R. J. Crenna instead of the original declared Alex Riley, as the latter was indisposed. That was all the public knew. They went on with their betting, although considerably less money were put down on Meridian Rose as Riley was one of the leading jockeys while Crenna was relatively young and inexperienced.
At 5:00 p.m., I was called into my superior's office and was told that the jockey Alex Riley was missing, and my job was to find him as soon as possible. I was given a file.
"But°K" I started to protest.
My superior, an old man who in my mind was quite inept and was sitting where he was sitting only because he was a Briton, dismissed me with a wave of his hand and said, "Judge Peter Owens recommended you. You have any questions, you call him."
I thought this was probably because of my success with the Dr. Kramer case, Judge Owens was behind that too. So I took the file and left.
I called Judge Owens in my office fifteen minutes later. I did have a lot of questions. For instance, I was with Internal Affairs then, finding a missing person was not my line of work. And Riley, according to the file, was not yet a missing person. There was no evidence he was in any danger. He just didn't show up for his riding engagements and the RKJC couldn't contact him even after the last race was over. But if a man didn't like his job, he had the right not to show up at work. It happens all the time. You can fire him, you can even sue him afterwards, but you don't ask the police to find him. If you are an ordinary citizen and you go to the police station with a case like that, you would surely be thrown out. A person missing less than forty-eight hours is not considered a missing person. Besides, I knew so little about horseracing. And the file offered very little for me to go on.
But Judge Owens was short of answers too. He just told me that a friend in the Club had asked him to do this. He needed a man whom he can trust, and that was I. I was to find this Alex Riley as soon as possible and then call him. Just do it. He also told me who to and who not to ask for assistance.
If you knew what the Club meant, you did what you were asked. For it was said that the RHKJC was even more powerful than the Hong Kong Government. For all the stewards and members were the richest and most powerful people in Hong Kong. The Commissioner of Police was a member. The chairman of the biggest bank in Hong Kong was also the chairman of the Club. You must be rich, powerful and clean enough to be a member. With all the cream of people under one roof, it had to be the most powerful organization here.
So I did what I was asked to do.
But I hadn't a clue where to find this Alex Riley. Finding a man who presumably did not want to be found was no easy job, with almost 7 million people in Hong Kong, which measures around 1100 square kilometers. That Alex Riley was a white man made it a hundred times easier as the white was a minority. That Riley was a jockey made it ten more times easier as a jockey must be very small, looking like a child with a grown man's head. But it was still not easy. I had so little to go on and Judge Owens had made it plain that this was to be kept strictly confidential. To appeal on TV for help was out.

I CALLED PATRICK COLLINS, nicknamed "Ghost'. Collins was another high-ranking officer on the force. He was actually called 'Son of Ghost' and I was a 'Portuguese Ghost', again no malice here, simply that the Cantonese dialect is so rich in expressing complicated matters. All westerners are 'Ghosts'. Collins was a 'Son of Ghost" because he was a Eurasian, coming from an English father and a Chinese mother. He had white skin, dark brown hair and pale blue eyes, was fluent in English as well as Cantonese. He had been brought up in Hong Kong by his mother, his father having died early. His Cantonese was as good as mine, which was as good as any local Chinese. And he knew the local people as well as I did. His background made him an asset to the English, but not as much as I because he was a British subject, not expendable when necessary.
Collins was almost a native except the color of his skin. He preferred to talk to me in Cantonese, as the dialect was so rich in vocabulary coming to cursing and slang. I can give you off hand one hundred ways of cursing somebody in Cantonese.
I thought he could be of some help in this case, as he was known to be an avid horseracing fan. Not about the sport itself but about the gambling.
Collins answered by his mobile and told me to come join him in a cheap restaurant as he was finishing his dinner. They called this a 'tea and meal restaurant', catering mainly to the working class, in which you could have your tea or coffee or almost any kind of food and drink at cheap prices. Of course you had to pay the price of sitting in a cramped booth, often shared with strangers, in a place very crowded and noisy.
Collins was comfortable in a place like this, because he had been brought up here and it had become a way of life for him, and also because it was cheap. He was sitting in a booth alone when I arrived, sipping a mug of coffee as thick as muddy water, and smoking. The coffee came strong here, with cream already poured in. Cream was actually evaporated milk from a can. At least you get to decide how many lumps of sugar you wanted as the sugar bowl was on the table. If you prefer your coffee lighter, just don't finish your cup.
Collins knew I would be uncomfortable in a place like this, so he didn't ask me to sit down. He just waved at me as I entered, got up and took the bill on the glass top of the table to pay it to the cashier next to the door, cigarette dangling on his lips. No tip because there was no service. I have told him that I had had a take out sandwich, so he didn't ask me if I would like to eat something. We went out onto the sidewalk.
Collins was a handsome man as most Eurasians are but not that popular with girls as Darkie in my previous case. Mainly because he was a sloppy dresser and was brash, all the time making like he was a member of the triad and had respect for no one. He was wearing a cheap blue and white checkered shirt, a pair of blue jeans and sneakers. His shirttail was pulled out to hide his gun and a pair of handcuffs on his waist.
He took a last draw at his dying cigarette, discarded it on the top of a public waste bin which had a space for this kind of thing. He immediately took a pack out of his shirt pocket and fished out a fresh one. He was a chain smoker.
"I wish you would go easy on that." I said in Cantonese.
"Smoking can kill, right?" He grinned crookedly, hie pale blue eyes dancing, "I don't need you to give me that kind of lecture. My father had never smoked in his life and he died young, of lung cancer too." He waved the cigarette without lighting up, "However, I admit smoking is an annoying habit for non-smokers, so I won't light up if we are to talk in your car."
"Where would you prefer to talk?" I asked.
He pointed with the cigarette and promptly lit up.
He had pointed at the public playground just ahead. As it was smack in the middle of one of the most crowded area in the city, the playground was small, consisting of one soccer field big enough for two seven-member teams, and two basketball courts only, all paved with tarmac. The whole playground was surrounded by wire fences outside which were the sidewalks. There were two stands for spectators on both sides of the soccer field, comprised of wooden planks screwed onto steel frames.
We climbed up onto the top of the stand on the left side and sat on a plank, watching but not seeing a soccer match going on in the field, with Collins blowing smoke like a chimney. There was a gusty wind so it was quite cool and the smoke was carried away as fast as Collins could produce it. I was sitting up wind.
I told him about the missing jockey, wondering if he had known.
He knew. He said, "Alex Riley may not be alive now. Probably cut into twenty pieces and thrown into the sea to feed the fish." He said this in Cantonese, putting in about thrice as many cursing words. That's why he liked talking in Cantonese. I like that too sometimes. More colorful and you could express your feelings more vividly.
I raised one eyebrow and looked at him, silently asking why and by whom.
"I think it is the bookmakers. He probably had tricked them."
"You think they would kill just for that?" I asked.
We were both policemen and we knew the consequences of a murder. We could go easy on many things but not a murder. I didn't think the bookmakers would take that kind of a risk for any reason. For they had to close out after it.
"Well, just wishful thinking," admitted Collins, "I hate jockeys. That's what I'd like to do to them. All of them fix races and pull horses. I gave them my salary every month."
"Why not just stop giving away your money?"
Collins laughed, "The lure of winning a fortune is just too strong. In theory, nobody can keep you from winning billions on horses. The Jockey Club would never refuse paying out. That would not be possible in casinos. But in reality, it's like a shell game. You seem to see the stone under one of the three shells. But when you put your money on it, it would always turn up empty. The jockeys and the trainers win them all."
I didn't believe him even though I knew very little about betting on horses. What he said didn't make sense. I've heard of jockeys riding for decades only to die in a fatal fall, and trainers working until 65 to retire. If winning were so easy for them, just one race would set them up for life. I said, "Don't you think you are a little biased?"
"I am." He laughed, "that's probably why they didn't give me this case." He was with Criminal Investigations Department, to which this kind of cases should be given.
"I hope you don't mind them giving me this case." I said.
"Why should I mind?" he laughed again. "If they have given you a raise instead of me, I would mind. Work, I don't mind. Who wants to do more work?"
"They haven't given me much to go on. And I know very little about horseracing. I was thinking maybe you can help me out."
"No problem. What are friends for?"
"So," I said, "do you think this is serious?"
"Why do you think they called you in? You're a big gun."
"But the Club has a security department of its own."
"Maybe the big shots don't trust them. But the truth is their security department only take care of internal affairs, they don't have the authority to poke their noses around outside the Club."
"What do you think happened to Alex Riley?"
"Probably just ran away. "
"Why?" I asked.
"Must be because of money. Couldn't be anything else. You owe money you can't pay back, you run away."
"But according to you, money should be very easy to come by for Alex Riley. Just fix a race."
"Sometimes they trick each other. It's a dog eat dog world. If you ask me, he would be in Australia now. Wait a couple of days and he will call back to say he has given up his job, and that he won't be back. Case closed."
"That won't do. My order is to find him as quickly as possible."
"Maybe the big shots in the Club are worried about a scandal."
"That's a good reason. So I have to find Alex Riley as soon as possible."
"So just go through the motions."
"That won't do. You know me."
He shrugged, "So find him as soon as possible."
"Where do you think we should start?"
"Where do you think we should start in a case of missing person? We interview his friends, or his folks if he has them here."
"His wife is still here." I said.
"So let's start with her, although I doubt she would tell you the truth. Neither would his friends, that is if he has any friend."
"You know his wife?"
"I don't even know he has a wife. But she is a jockey's wife." Said Collins.
He was biased all right.
"Let's go." I said.
He followed me to my car, discarding the cigarette but did not light up again while he was in my car.
I asked him on the way, "How come a jockey would owe a bookmaker money?"
"It has a lot to do with the hot favorites. A bookmaker is worried about a hot favorite winning in a race, as he would have to pay out a huge sum. He negotiates with the jockey of this horse. The jockey would make sure that his horse won't come home first for a sum of money. If that horse won, the jockey had to payback according to the odds on the tote board. Let's say the jockey had received ten thousand dollars to make sure the horse won't win but the horse won at two to one, the jockey would owe the bookmaker twenty thousand."
This I believed. I said, "Do you think that's the case with Alex Riley?"
"I can't think of any other reason. This kind of thing happens all the time. I know of a jockey doing this in a very clever way. He was known to come in third on sure-win hot favorites most of the time. The public thought he was unlucky, calling him Mister Third. In fact he had put the money from the bookie for place on his mount, completing his mission and doubling his money every time. He has now retired and owns several big ranches, even a couple of islands in Australia."
"What happens if he can't pay back?"
"Run."
"And if caught?"
"I don't think he would be killed. But there have been cases of jockeys sustaining injuries and reported they had a fight in some bars. After that, they just couldn't ride as good as before and just fade away."

ALEX RILEY'S WIFE was a mousy little woman in her early thirties. Her name was Jane. She was an Australian too, obviously from the country as Alex Riley had been a country jockey before he came to Hong Kong. A plain Jane she was, very small, about 5 foot 1 and skinny, with lots of freckles, unattractive and plainly dressed. A typical ordinary housewife, she had deep brown hair and light brown eyes, which were showing the signs of recent tear shedding. If Riley had been making a lot of money, it was not showing on her. She was clean and neat though.
Her home was a small, modest flat provided by the Club. All jockeys were employees of the Club or trainers, screened carefully before getting their licenses. All trainers were employees of the Club too. Alex Riley was a Club Jockey. The flat was kept meticulously clean and tidy even though Jane was obviously distressed by the disappearance of her husband. The centerpiece of the flat was a shining lighted glass case filled with trophies won by Alex Riley in races. On the walls on both sides of the case hung photographs recording memorable moments in Riley's racing career. I had my first good look at Riley through these pictures---a snapshot of him in my file was inadequate. My first impression of him was that he looked like a farmer. Alex was far from a handsome man. He had red hair, deep sunken eyes and leathery skin and although he was only 33, he looked forty something as most athletes would. He was astonishingly small. One photo taken with Jane showed he was a little shorter than her, making his adult head looked borrowed from a photo of a grown man pasted onto a child's body.
Jane was distraught and had nothing to say of help. She didn't know where Riley was. He never called home. She was particularly upset that her friends, comprising mostly of fellow jockeys and their wives, didn't return her calls. She could offer no reason for his disappearance, and she was worried, begging me to find her husband for her. She didn't think he would have gone back to Australia without telling her.
I hugged her and promised I would do my best, then plucked the cigarette from Collins' lips, thrust it into his hand and said harshly, "You are going for a walk."
I dragged him outside the flat into the hallway and said, "Go downstairs for a cup of coffee, smoke your whole damned pack or something. Just get lost."
"What have I done?" He protested innocently.
"You are scaring her." I said. He had been brash and reckless, smoking in that flat, walking around like a thug and looking at her like she was some kind of a criminal.
"But that was the right thing to do." He grinned wickedly.
He was right in a way. When we cops want to get something out of a suspect, we usually work in pairs, with one of us acting menacingly while the other play the part of the nice guy. The nice guy would tell his partner to leave us alone. The suspect would be grateful and more willing to talk. Jane was not a suspect but I had sensed that she had something to say but wouldn't say it in the presence of Collins.
Collins went away smirking.
I went back inside and asked Jane for some tea, which I didn't really need but would give her something to do and remind her she was a good housewife. Which she was indeed, the tea was very good.
I made small talk with her, drinking tea. I complimented her on her housekeeping and asked about her life in Australia. She told me that although they had been here for three years, they had never gotten used to the new lifestyle. They were like novices suddenly thrust on stage under the limelight, her husband suddenly acquiring a god like status, with people hounding him for racing tips. It was difficult, for it was against the rules to divulge any information about a horse to anyone other than the owner or his representative of that horse. It had been a simple life being a jockey in Australia, where a jockey worked for trainers and addressing them 'Sir'. The trainers worked for the owners and addressed them 'Sir'. It was the other way round here. The jockey was 'Sir' to most people. Of course this had everything to do with money.
I listened with sympathy. With a woman, you have to be a good listener if you wanted her to open up. The sympathy was real though. I really liked her. She was a good woman.
With her typical Australian English, Jane told me that her husband was a talented rider, lured to Hong Kong by the ludicrous pay. They had been planning to pack up and go home after the end of the current season, as both she and her husband found it difficult to fit in here.
"For big money, you have to pay the price." I said, "But everything would be fine when you are home."
"What big money? " she said, "I don't even know where my next meal would come from."
"How so?" I was shocked.
"It's because of that woman." She suddenly bawled.
I held her gently in my arms and let her cry her eyes out, telling her it was all right. I didn't ask her about the other woman right away. You don't tell a crying woman to stop or ask her any question while she is crying. Just let the fire burn out itself. I just lent her my shoulder and kept handing her tissues I took from a clear plastic holder on top of the coffee table.
She stopped after a few minutes, apologized and went inside to freshen up. She was composed when she returned.
"I'm sorry," she apologized again, "maybe I shouldn't have talked about that woman."
"Don't talk if you don't want to." I said, "But my job is to find your husband as soon as possible. You've met the man with me. They didn't give him this case although he's a good detective. I'm from Internal Affairs but I was given the case, recommended by a Judge Peter Owens. I don't know why. Maybe they don't trust him that much." Let her distrust Collins and she would trust me. "The important thing is, you want to find your husband and so do I. More information won't hurt."
She opened up. She told me her husband had been going to nightclubs. At first, he was entertained in these establishments by some owners who were big spenders. Then he had gone to one of the clubs on his own because he was besotted with a girl there. Jane found out eventually, as a wife would know. She had confronted him and he confessed. He begged her to be understanding and let him have this last fling before returning home, and she had relented. She knew she was short on physical attraction. But then the money started drying up. It had become so bad that she was virtually broke. She didn't even have money to buy food for tomorrow.
I lent her some money and she was very grateful.
"Do you think your husband could have gone back to Australia?" I asked.
"Don't think so. For starters, I don't think he has the money to buy a plane ticket. But maybe that woman could pay for a trip and he has eloped with her. I don't know."
"I can ask her. How can I find her?"
She didn't even know her name, but she produced a book of paper matches. She had found it in her husband's jacket pocket. It was a book of paper matches given away by a nightclub and had the name of the club printed on it. Alex Riley was not a smoker but he had this hobby of collecting matchboxes.

IT WAS THE BLACK CAT Nightclub. I went there with Collins. It was almost 8 p.m. and night had fallen.
The club was open. They opened at around 4 p.m. to start the first shift, which they called 'tea dance time', catering mainly to office workers. The customers would come for a few drinks, each selecting a girl and then take the girls out to dinner, usually going to bed together afterwards. By 8:30 p.m., the place would be largely deserted, until around 9:30 p.m., when another class of customers would come for the 'night dance', which would end at 4:00 a.m. next morning. The people of Hong Kong still call this 'going dancing' as this kind of establishments used to be dancehalls and each of them still furnished a dance floor. But few customers would actually dance here unless they were very drunk. Few of the girls could or would dance anyway. The real money was in going to bed with a customer.
The place was relatively quiet when Collins and I arrived as most customers had gone out with their choice of girls. We were treated drinks in a VIP room with a karaoke which was not switched on, and no girl came. We were there to work. A male manager sat with us. His name was Jack and he was only one of the many managers here. There were a lot of managers, each responsible for a number of mamasans, with each of which responsible for a group of girls. The mamasan bit had been derived since dancehalls switched to Japanese style nightclubs. The inside of the Black Cat had seen better days and was in dire need of a redecoration job. I particularly didn't like the musty smell.
Collins was quite familiar with such places as his work often led him there and he was a regular customer too. And he knew Jack.
We were here to find this girlfriend of Alex Riley but we didn't know her name. It would be difficult if Riley was an ordinary man. But he was not an average Joe, he was a jockey, a leading jockey and a white-skinned Australian too. If Jack told me he didn't know anything about Riley, I would punch him right then and there because he would be lying to me.
Jack knew. Jack was a Chinese man in his mid-fifties, pale and very fat. He told us he couldn't have heard nothing about Riley as Riley was quite famous here, what with the girls vying to serve him in the hope of getting some inside racing tips. Most of the girls here liked to bet on horses. Jack told us the girl's name was Apple. Riley was besotted with her all right, coming in early in the evening to take her out. Always early as Riley had to get up no later than 5 a.m. each morning to trot horses. But Jack hadn't seen Riley in three weeks and Apple had not come to work for a week too. Jack called Apple's mamasan to inquire about her whereabouts. The mamasan has not come back to work yet because she only worked for 'night dance', but she promised to call back.
"Riley's tips any good?" asked Collins while we were waiting.
"Not that I know of." shrugged Jack, "They came in third or fourth most of the time, a few times last. But they were tips from a jockey." As if losing on a jockey's tips was worth your money.
"So Apple had won constantly?" Asked Collins.
Jack laughed, "If that is so, how come Apple is still working here? She would have quit long ago. Nobody works here because she likes the work."
There is an old Cantonese saying: you can expose a lie by doing your maths. And Jack had done just that. Apple had not been winning on horses with Riley's tips.
"Maybe Apple has quit," I said, "as she has not come to work for a week."
"I don't think that's the case," said Jack, "even if she had won heavily on a horse, she would have lost it all in the casinos in Macao. That woman lives for gambling."
Jack also told me that Apple could not have quit because she had not repaid some money she borrowed from the club. She was in deep trouble because the rule was if a girl had borrowed from the club, she had to show up everyday until she had paid back fully. Every absent day would be counted as an outside escort and she would have to redeem the club around HK$1,700, unless she was sick and had a letter from a doctor to prove it. As it was, Apple had already owed the club an extra HK$ 11,900. Her mamasan had been trying to reach her too.
"These girls," Jack shook his head and sighed, "they don't just live for today. They are spending next year's money and sleeping last year's sleep."
I told Jack about the disappearance of Alex Riley. Jack was shocked, as it was not in the news.
Was it possible that Apple had eloped with Alex Riley?
Jack didn't think so. Sure, Apple was known to give her money to men, but only young men from the triads, a couple of times young plainclothes detectives. Riley was just not her type. She was with Riley only for his money. Jack knew because he had heard Apple talking about Riley. She hated him. Riding her like a horse, she said, and he smelled of horse manure.
Jack also complained about business slacking, because of discos with rave parties springing up. Actually few of the customers here would go to discos, but the girls would. The girls would go first chance they got hold of some cash, to enjoy the atmosphere and the drugs. Good girls were harder and harder to come by. Hardest hit was the karaoke boxes and the bar. He knew because he had a small stake in a bar and it was losing money. Came every night about 10:00 p.m., these places would be almost empty as rave parties were starting at that hour.
Jack complained and whined for about forty minutes, and in the process had done away with half a dozen cans of Carlsberg beer. He had his weakness. It was his love of drinking that had led him into this business.
Collins never stopped smoking all that time.
Then the mamasan called. She had come to work and told Jack she still could not locate Apple.
"Tell her to move her butt here." Collins ordered, in Cantonese of course.
Jack told Collins to talk to the owner of the club, as Jack was reluctant to order a coworker around. Collins did just that. He knew the boss too.
The boss brought in the mamasan, whose name was Ruby. Ruby was a former hostess now in her forties. She told us she really didn't know where Apple was. She personally wanted to find Apple and skin her alive as Apple's absence was costing her too. But she reluctantly gave us the name of Apple's current boyfriend.

APPLE'S BOYFRIEND was a Chinese young man called Wah-D. Wah was a Chinese word popularly adopted by the less educated as a name for their children, it meaning 'China' or 'light.' The D was slang meaning 'little brother'. This combination of a name was particularly popular with the triads or triad wannabes. I can give you at least ten of them with the same namesake.
This particular Wah-D was a piece of shit. He was a small time drug dealer and Collins knew about him as this was in Collins' line of work. Collins knew how and where to find him. This kind of people had no permanent address. Collins knew where Wah-D's parents lived but that was of no use. Collins told me he had gone there several months ago to look for Wah-D in connection of a robbery. The father, a manual worker, had told him Wah-D didn't live there anymore. The last time he had seen Wah-D, this son of his had come home to ask for money and he refused. Wah-D punched him in the chest two times before leaving. "If you see him," the father had told Collins, "tell him never to come back."
According to Jack, Wah-D was just the type for Apple, and also for many girls working as hostesses in nightclubs. Jack didn't know exactly why but he had some theories. The first was that these guys didn't have to go to work and had time on their hands, making them perfect companions for the girls who work bizarre hours, who often won't go to bed until the sun had risen and not getting up until the sun has set, or didn't sleep at all. The Hong Kong people called them five-to-nine girls. The second was that as the girl was paying for everything, she got to call the shots, making love when she wanted to and going to have fun where and when she wanted to. This would not be possible with a paying customer or a man supporting her. The third had something to do with inferior complex, as a girl knew a customer or a man supporting her would never really respect her. She knew she would always be the inferior one. With a piece of shit, she would always be the superior one, or sometimes feeling they were two of a kind. The fourth was that if a girl had a dispute with someone, she could count on this piece of shit to stand up for her, maybe even with violence.
Anyhow, Collins did not go to Wah-D's parents to find him. He just made a few calls and found out where he was.
We left the Black Cat Nightclub, drove a few blocks in my car and pulled up by the curb opposite the entrance of a disco, which was the Big Daddy according to the neon sign. The street was quite busy but the Big Daddy was quiet. The young set won't arrive before 10 p.m. because coming too early would make them lose face, as if they had no better place to go. It was only 9:30. Fifteen minutes later, we saw Wah-D turning the corner. He was a small youth, about 5 ft. 2 and scrawny, not particularly handsome and was like last year's Christmas tree walking on the pavement. His hair was dyed green and purple and jelled in such a way that clumps of it stuck out like half-dehydrated pine needles. He was wearing a tight-fitting bright green shirt with a pair of dark red trousers, also tight with bellbottoms. A pair of pink sneakers with two-inch platform soles made him look taller but ridiculous. A pair of purple tinted sunglasses, without frame, adorned the bridge of his nose. Three golden bangles jangled on his left wrist.
He was walking towards the Big Daddy with a strange dance-like gait when he saw Collins getting out of my car. He immediately turned and ran. Collins went after him shouting. I started the car, overtaking Collins first and then Wah-D, swerving suddenly onto the pavement and braked. Wah-D slammed into my left fender with a thump, the purple glasses flying away. He pushed himself up and tried to run on but Collins was on him. The platform shoes didn't help in his running at all. Collins, who was ten inches taller, grabbed hold of the collar of his shirt from behind his neck, swung him around and punched him in the solar plexus. Wah-D sunk to his knees and, to my amazement, burst out crying like a baby.
Collins made good use of his Cantonese and cursed him nonstop. Who did he think he was? Not stopping for the Son of Ghost and running away? Then his feet found the pair of purple glasses and crushed it on the pavement.
"Please, give me a break, Sir Son of Ghost, give me a break," Wah-D sobbed, remaining on his knees, "I haven't done anything."
People stopped to look but nobody tried to intervene. Probably just one look at Wah-D had made them think he deserved a beating for whatever reason.
Collins knew people like Wah-D too well. He spun this piece of shit around and lifted his shirt, finding a small clear plastic packet taped to his back with a piece of duct tape. Collins ripped it off in one quick movement and Wah-D shrieked in pain.
Someone in the crowd exclaimed, "Small pills!" Which in Cantonese meant soft drugs. For the plastic bag was filled with pills and tablets of different colors, obviously soft drugs, to be pushed in the disco. Which made Wah-D's sympathizers even more scarcely. Another onlooker actually shouted, "Kill that piece of shit!"
"See," Collins got hold of a clump of Wah-D's pine needle hair, pulling him up, "see how many enemies you are making."
He shoved the piece of shit into the back of my car, the door of which I had pushed open, got in himself and pulled the door shut. I started the car.
Wah-D kept begging Collins to give him a break as we drove along.
"Let's see how well you can cooperate." Collins said, pushing a printed picture into Wah-D's face. It was a color picture of Apple, printed out from a computer in the Black cat Nightclub and given to us. Nightclubs had gone hi-tech too. Photos of girls working there had been scanned and filed to let the customers choose on the computer monitors in VIP rooms. These monitors were also used to select songs for karaoke.
I joined in to save time, "And don't tell me you don't know her."
Wah-D could see the picture under the streetlights flashing by. "But I haven't seen her for a week," whimpered Wah-D, "whatever she has done has nothing to do with me."
"Make her tell us," said Collins, "for we are looking for her."
Wah-D told us between sobs that he didn't know where she was. Sure, he had been her boyfriend until a week ago, but then she had stopped calling him and wouldn't answer his calls. He had gone to her rented room to look for her but she had not been there at all. So he thought she had 'dived', meaning she was on the run or in hiding.
"Why would she dive?" asked Collins.
Because he knew she had owed some loan sharks a large sum of money and couldn't pay back, Wah-D told us. Well, you owe money you can't pay back, you run.
"I hear she had someone taking care of her." I said.
"Ah, that ghost jockey," Wah-D sneered, "he is shit. He doesn't have much money, and he gave out false tips. Apple is in debt because of his tips."
"I told you so." Collins said to me.
I didn't counter that he was also the one who had told me jockeys could decide which horse would win.
"Which loan shark?" asked Collins.
Wah-D produced a name and Collins knew whom to call. He was not a CID for nothing.
I cruised around as the information came through. It was true, Apple owed HK$ 200,000 and was behind even with the interest. They were looking for her too, but she was nowhere to be found.
"You are out of luck," Collins told Wah-D, "you can't give me Apple, I have to take you back to the station and book you."
"Yeah," I said, "we were just thinking of buying a new punching bag. Now we got one." With people like Wah-D, there was no need for one of us to play Mr. Nice Guy.
"Please, don't," pleaded Wah-D, "I'll talk. But you must promise not to get me involved."
"I promise nothing," said Collins, "you have wasted enough of my time."
"Hit him some more." I said.
"No, please," Wah-D pleaded again, "she's in the hospital."
He talked.
A week ago, Apple had been in a bad mood because a few days before, the four horses Riley told her would win all came fourth. She had borrowed heavily to back them on wins. Now she couldn't pay back the money. They were at the beach at night drinking beer. She took some pills from Wah-D and swallowed them to forget her trouble. Somehow, it turned out to be a bad trip with her vomiting blood before passing out. Panicked, Wah-D rushed to a nearby phone booth to call the police, then hid in the trees until he saw an ambulance arrived to take her away.
He learned from the newspapers the next morning she was in a coma. He dared not go to the hospital to visit her. He hadn't told anyone about this and he didn't know how she was doing now. But as she had not surfaced, she must still be in the hospital.
"Ah, that one," Collins snapped his fingers, "so it's her. She's still in the public hospital. Hasn't come out of her coma yet. She had no papers on her. Nobody knew who she was."
"There is nothing else I can tell you." Said Wah-D.
Collins rolled down the car window, ripped open the plastic bag and held it outside. Wah-D watched, pain-faced, the pills falling out and disappearing as we drove on, as if his life was also dripping away. But he dared not make a sound. Then the last of the pills was gone and Collins let go. The plastic bag also disappeared, gone with the wind.
We drove along some more, then Collins said, "Please stop the car."
I pulled up by the roadside. We were in the countryside now. Collins got out of the car, grabbed one of Wah-D's bangles and pulled him out.
"What--- what are you--- going to do?" Wah-D asked, trembling.
Collins spun him around and gave him a push. Wah-D fell backwards, screaming as he rolled down a slope and disappeared into the darkness of the trees down below.
Collins got back into the front seat, pulled the doors shut and I started the car.
"Now what?" I asked.
"Maybe we should find another jockey and grill him, although I doubt it would be of any use."
"Suppose Riley is owing money too?" I said, "can you find out which bookie or loan shark?'
"I'll try. But I don't think they have him. If they had, Riley would have reported back by now, another case of getting hurt in a barroom brawl. But I'll try anyway."
He started calling with his mobile as I drove along aimlessly.
Collins made a lot of calls but from what I was overhearing, was getting nowhere. Then he asked me to stop because he wanted to smoke again.
I drove into an empty lot and parked. We were still in the countryside. He opened the door on his side and lit up, blowing the smoke outside so that I could still enjoy the air-conditioning.
"By the way," I asked, "how did Riley's rides fair today?"
"Meridian Rose won by two lengths hands down, and I didn't back her because of the change of jockey. He had two other rides. Two came home first and one finished fourth. Riley had given away a lot of prize money."
In Hong Kong racing, a jockey got a 10% cut of the prize money while the trainer got another 10%. A winner meant HK$50,000 to HK$100,000 depending on the class. As it was, the prize money had gone to substitute jockeys. It was a bad day for Alex Riley.
Then my mobile rang. I opened the top of it and glanced at the display of the number of the incoming call. "It's Jane," I said, "using her own mobile. I had taken her number and left her mine."
I took the call while Collins watched me intensely. I said very little, just the yes' and mms.
Finally, I said, "Okay, I'll be there in half an hour."
I switched off the phone and told Collins, "Alex Riley had called home and talked to his wife. Now he wants to talk to me."
"Where is he?" Collins asked, throwing away his cigarette and fiddling with his mobile.
"Victoria Park." I said, "sitting on a bench opposite the public lavatory."
"Who'd think of that," Collins laughed and pulled the car door close, "Victoria Park, opposite the public lavatory, you said? Let's go."
I moved my hand as if to start the car. Collins' right hand went to his waist and under his shirt. But I was faster. My gun was out in a flash, the muzzle jamming into his ribs. He froze. I grabbed his mobile with my other hand and took a look. It was still on just as I thought. I switched it off. Then I told him to put his hands on the dashboard.
"Now your friend knows Alex Riley is in Victoria Park. What was your plan? Kill me?" I said.
"You know I won't kill you," Collins grimaced, "I just wanted to stall for time so that they could get to him first."
"Who are they?"
"The bookmakers. I don't mind telling you because Riley knew who they are too."
"Why?"
"Why what? Why Riley ran away? I really don't know. Why they want him I know. They asked him to pull Meridian Rose. The other horses didn't matter. Meridian Rose must not win today, the stakes were too high. Riley promised to do it because he owes them half a million dollars. Then he disappeared and the horse won."
"What are they going to do to Riley if and when they find him?"
"Just give him a beating so he won't be able to ride as good as he used to. He would probably report it as injuries received from a fight in a bar."
"Well," I said, "when I was first given the case, I was told who to and who not to ask for help. The first one not to ask for help was you, you corrupted son of a bitch." I said that in about four times as many words in Cantonese. "I decided I would ask you since you must know a lot. It was a right decision."
"Damned, how can I ever outsmart you?"
"You can't," I said, "because you're not that smart."
I took his gun, told him to get out of the car and walked him to the edge of the lot where there were trees.
"Look," he said as we walked along, "there's big money in this. Why don't we work it out between us in a civilized way?"
"You mean in a corrupted way?" I shook my head, "You know me. Don't waste your time. And be careful of what you say. You have forgotten that I'm with Internal Affairs."
I took his handcuffs and cuffed him so that he was embracing the trunk of a large tree. Then I threw the keys into the darkness under the trees.
"You can find your gun somewhere on the ground if you can get out of this. If you can't, I'll come back for you when this is all over."
"What are you going to do?"
"Like you said, just stalling for time."
"I mean after this thing is over."
"Considering you a good friend, I'll let you off. After you have given me useful information of course."
I started to walk away.
"Hey," he yelled, "you've been taking your time. Do you think you can still beat them to Victoria Park?"
"No. But I lied. Riley is not in Victoria Park."
"Where is he?" he yelled.
"I'll tell you later," I yelled back, "but you got to learn to do without cigarettes for the time being."

ALEX RILEY WAS in fact not in Victoria Park. He was a long way off, at the beach near his home. There was a nice beach about twenty minutes' walk from his flat. A lot of people came to swim in the daytime. It was around 10:30 p.m. when I got there. A dozen people were still there, just dark shadows darting on the white sand or dark dots of heads bobbing on the silvery surface of the water under a full moon, all unrecognizable. It was a perfect place to get lost.
I parked the car on the side of the road overlooking the beach, got out and stood there looking at the black little figures moving around down there but not expecting to see Riley among them. Sure enough, after a few minutes, there was a shuffling behind me. I turned and saw Riley under the shadow of a tree. It was not light enough to see his face, but it was unmistakable, a child's body with an overgrown head.
"Alex Riley?" I said, "I'm Charles Garcia."
He stepped forward into the moonlight and extended his right hand. I took it and found it extra large and strong. I had been told that all jockeys had large and strong hands as they had to be able to hold the reins tight enough. And most of them were bow-legged too, just like Alex Riley.
Riley was wearing only a pair of swimming trunks and he didn't smell of horse manure, probably because he had spent the better part of the day here, under the sunshine and getting in and out of water.
He said, in typical down-under tongue, "Let's talk in your car."
We got into my car.
"You are not afraid of me?" I asked.
"My wife told me you are a decent man, and I've heard of Judge Peter Owens. He is all right."
"The RHKJC wants you badly. Can't you go to them?"
"I don't know who I can trust anymore." Said Riley.
"So what's your plan?"
"I want two plane tickets for me and my wife, to Sydney and as soon as possible. We don't want to come back."
"I think that could be arranged. But you have some explaining to do."
"So ask me questions."
"Why didn't you go to the Australian consulate?"
"I'm not exactly a saint myself. I'm worried about my record. I have to work back home too."
"Makes sense. I have to take you someplace for questioning. Judge Peter Owens' house. That okay with you?"
"No problem. Just give me a minute."
He got out of the car, disappeared into the shadows of the trees for a minute and came back dressed in a black tee shirt and a pair of khaki shorts and a pair of sandals. "I have my passport with me." He said.

I DROVE HIM TO Judge Owens' house. I had phoned the Judge after I left Collins and this was the Judge's instruction. We got to the house, which was actually Judge Owens' summerhouse. We didn't get to see the Judge because he was not there. I guessed he wanted to make it hard to prove that he had anything to do with this case.
Riley was treated with coffee and sandwiches, which he wolfed down.
I was in contact with the Judge through my mobile. The Judge told me to tell Riley the plane tickets were no problem but he had to answer questions. The questions were put to me on the phone by the Judge and asked by me. Riley would answer facing a speaker so that the Judge could hear clearly. A tape recorder was on the table so that everything would be on tape, except the Judge's voice.
Riley told us he had run away because of the Horse Meridian Rose in the first race. One bookmaker had told him he must make sure the horse won't win. He couldn't refuse because he owed the man HK$1/2 million. But at the same time, another bookie had told him he must win on the horse because today was the owner's birthday. He could not refuse either, because he owed this man HK$1/2 million too. He didn't know what to do. So he did not report to the racecourse, planning to buy a plane ticket to fly back to Australia. But his credit cards had all been suspended for failing payment. He did not have the cash. He tried to borrow from a fellow jockey and his wife but they didn't want to know him. He was lost. He just hid on that beach, trying to figure a way out but finding none. Then night had fallen. He missed his wife and didn't want her to worried so much. So he called her on one of his two other mobiles he had left home. They were given to him by the two bookies to use to talk in secret. These phones were registered under other people's name's so that they would not be tapped. He told his wife everything. His wife agreed with the leaving part, but couldn't come up with the money for the plane ticket either.
"Think of all the money I have made, and all the money won and lost on my rides," he said bitterly, "and I couldn't come up with a lousy few thousand dollars for a plane ticket. If I had the money, I'd be in Australia now and this won't happen. My wife could join me later."
"Both of you will get the ticket now." I said.
Riley said his wife told him about me and suggested he talk to me. He had decided it was worth the risk.
How come he owed so much?
All because of Apple. Apple had hounded him for sure win tips from the start. She refused to believe that there was no such thing as a sure win tip. How could there not be? He was the one holding the reins. The first time, he told her to put some money on three horses he thought had good chances. She laid out a total of HK$700 for all up wins and all three horses came home first, giving her a profit of about HK$5,000. That's when the trouble started. The next time he told her three horses had good chances, she borrowed heavily to back them, laying out HK$70,000. One of the horses came home second while the other two fifth and last. She blamed him and he had to give her the money to pay back the loan sharks. She kept betting bigger and bigger against his advice and kept on losing.
"I never told her which horse would win," said Riley, "she hounded me and as I loved her so much, I had to tell her which horses I thought had good chances. But she twisted my words and took them as sure wins. It had become so bad that I have given her all my money but that was not enough. Then one day, she told me not to call her again, that she was going to kill herself because she had owed the loan sharks one million dollars."
"Jesus, don't tell me you fell for it," I said, "a woman's trick as old as time itself."
He grimaced. "Only partly. I told her I would be responsible for this debt, but she must stop betting on horses. And that it was all over for us. I would not see her again."
"That for real?" I asked.
"Sure. I had sobered up. I had to get a grip on myself and pay back the debt bit by bit. The last thing I'd do for her."
"Good for you. In case you're interested, she has owed another two hundred thousand dollars. She's in hospital now, in a coma caused by an overdose of soft drugs, provided by her boyfriend who's a piece of shit."
"Riley sighed. "She's not worth it after all."
"Never was." I said.
Riley told me that Apple had arranged for him to meet two loan sharks separately, making him sign papers to acknowledge the debts, each for HK$1/2 million. Then the loan sharks sold the debts to two bookies. Riley found he couldn't even pay the interest on time, as they were not computing them the way he thought. For instance, a month actually meant ten days. Interest had piled upon interest. Then they put the squeeze on him.
They told him to pull horses to cancel the due interests.
"And you pulled horses?" I asked.
"No, I didn't. It was just that they didn't understand horseracing. It was easy. They told me to pull horses that were favorites. But actually all were false favorites and I knew they were hard to win anyway. I just did my usual job and played along. There was no other way out. You see, there are usually fourteen horses in a race, so each horse has only a fourteen in one chance to win. Losing is easy. The most difficult part is to say which one would be a sure win, because anything can happen in a race. Horses are animals with emotions. They can get health problems. They may suddenly lose interest to run on. They could bleed, they could go lame or they could be squeezed out. They may be boxed in, just like in a traffic jam. Even a Ferrari can go just so fast in a traffic jam. And the pace makes a race. If your horse is a front runner but could not lead, you will lose. If your horse must be ridden from behind but sees daylight at the start and is forced to lead, you lose too. There are at least a hundred reasons a horse can lose. There is just no sure win. Otherwise, why race them? A sure winner is a sure winner only after it had won the race. I myself have never put a cent on a horse. It's like working in a bank as a teller. Millions pass through your hands every day. But it's not your money. Don't even think about it."
I looked at him. He was happy for a moment talking about racing. He sure loved racing and understood it. I wished Collins could be there to hear him out.
Riley said the real test had come this morning. Meridian Rose was a sure winner on paper. He was afraid that if nothing out of the ordinary happened, she would win. But then she may lose too. But most terrifying was the other party's order to win surely. There just was no way to make sure. "You know, there was a TV commercial showing a horse number one storming from behind to win. They had hired four horses and four jockeys to act out this scene. It was legitimate race fixing. But number one just won't come up in time to win even though he was a much better horse. It took them one week and thirteen runs to perfect the scene. Fixing a winner is so hard. Anyway, I couldn't win or lose on Meridian Rose. I was a sure loser."
"Why didn't you report this to the Club?" I asked, again repeating Judge Owens' question like a parrot.
"I have to protect myself. And I didn't know whom to trust. That Meridian Rose must win to celebrate the owner's birthday scared me most. An owner must be a Club member, and this particular owner is a powerful member."
"Are you saying that he is one of the bookies you owe money to?"
"Definitely not. From what I know, he's a decent man. Maybe someone wanted to please him and did this without his knowledge. I don't know."
"Can you give me the name of the two bookies?"
"No. They didn't even tell me their full names, just called themselves Mr. Chan and Mr. Wong. Means nothing. I didn't even get to call them. They call me. They were wearing sunglasses when we met, I recognize their voices, that's all."
It didn't matter. I knew Collins could fill me in on this.
"What do you think they would do to you?"
"I don't think they would kill me. Probably just beat me up so that I will never ride as good."
"You think this had happened to other jockeys?"
"I don't know. Can't prove it."
"Are you saying you have never pulled a horse before?" I asked.
He smiled, shaking his head. "Every jockey has pulled horses. Losing is so easy. Me, I do what the owners or trainers tell me to do. There are times when an owner or a trainer feels his horse is too highly rated. He would tell me to go easy on the riding and handling, meaning the horse should finish further back than he really should, in the hope of dropping a class or a drop in handicap afterwards. There were also times when I was told although a horse had some chances but the owner was not in town, I should ride the horse in such a way that it would be hard to win. But sometimes that horse would still win. That happens when the three or four other horses better than him perform badly for whatever reason, and he would come home first. The only true tip I have ever given was don't ever put your shirt on a horse."
Judge Owens told me that was about it. I was to make Riley promise never to tell this inside story to avoid a scandal. In return, we would keep his record clean. That was easy. Riley wanted to protect himself too.
Then I drove Riley to the airport, put him on a night flight to Sydney after lending him some cash. His wife was to follow him tomorrow.
Afterwards, I called Judge Owens again and he congratulated me on a job well done. "I particularly appreciate the part about calling in Patrick Collins." He said, "I'd be very disappointed if you haven't taken the hint."
That old fox. Don't even hope to beat him in a chess game.
Three days later, the news had it that Riley had failed to fulfill his riding engagements because he had developed short term amnesia and had flown back to Australia, forgetting to fetch his wife.
As for Collins, I went back to the empty lot to pick him up after Riley had left. Collins had wet his pants because he was unable to go to the toilet. I took him back to my office and grilled him. He couldn't refuse to cooperate.
After that, a number of people connected either resigned quietly or 'dived'.
Apple regained consciousness three days later but I didn't contact her. She was a key witness but this thing must remain confidential and would not go to court. I don't know what happened to her afterwards.
Patrick Collins, the SON OF GHOST died four months later. He was found dead in an abandoned house, shot through the roof of the mouth by his own gun. It was determined as a suicide. His death had nothing to do with Alex Riley's case. For he had been under investigation by the ICAC.
Now, the ICAC is something worth mentioning.
ICAC stands for Independent Commission Against Corruption. As you can guess by the namesake, its work is against corruption, of any kind for that matter. And it is no ordinary organization. It was established in 1974 by the then Governor of Hong Kong Sir Maclehose. There was an Anti-corruption Branch already, but rumors had it that this was a joke, that it was just one more department on the take. So the ICAC was established to take its place. The ICAC was extremely powerful because it answered only to the Governor himself. It could investigate anyone just on suspicion and had the authority to bring anyone back to its headquarters for questioning, anyone but the Governor himself. In theory, they could even haul in the commissioner of police. No lawyer could get you out before they were through. And they usually knock on your door at dawn. Sounds like the Gestapo or KGB? Well, sort of. It was established because the Government, the police and most private establishments had been so corrupt London was afraid it might totally lose control. There was a huge clean up operation and a lot of people in high places either went to prison or had fled. Under these circumstances, even Britons were expendable. Strangely, it worked very well and Hong Kong has since become a clean city, largely corruption free, maybe the most corruption free city in the world. The ICAC is still in operation and as active. In theory, the operation of the ICAC is uncivilized, undemocratic and in violation of human rights. But it has and is working so well even the self proclaimed democrats and human rights activists choose not to speak out against it, and not because of the threat of a knock on the door at dawn.
As Patrick Collins was so corrupted, taking a lot of money from the underworld, losing it faster than he could take and not smart enough to keep it secret, he had become a logical target for the ICAC. They hounded him no end and he had no money to skip town. Swallowing a bullet seemed the only way out for him.

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TWENTY-THREE

LUST AND EMPTINESS

CHARLES GARCIA GETS out of bed at ten o'clock in the morning, having worked late last night. He has worked on the latest chapter of his book, based on the recorded narration of The Porcupine, which was in turn based on the story Garcia had provided. He has worked until 1:30 am., before finishing for the night, and was in bed by 2:00 a.m. A full eight hours sleep has revitalized him.
He takes a walk in the garden, breathing in the cool, fresh air under the morning sunlight. It is a fine day, not a cloud in the blue sky, and it is cooler, again falsely announcing that autumn is at the doorstep. The calendar will tell you it is still only late August.
Garcia does some light exercise in the garden, then goes in to take a bath before changing into his jogging outfit, which is expensive stuff as all his clothing are. He jogs down the road leading downhill from his house, until he has come to a small Portuguese restaurant at the end of a small street, and goes in to have his breakfast.
That the waitress in the restaurant is lethargic does not bother him, as he knows she has just gone through the breakfast rush hour and is expecting a break in pace. This waitress does not recognize Garcia as she is new here, having started working here for only three days. Although Garcia takes his breakfast every morning at about the same time after his jogging, he would not go to the same restaurant every time, only repeating his appearance about once every ten days. Even if she has been working in the restaurant for a long time, she would recognize him only vaguely, if at all.
Charles Garcia is a secretive person who does not like to be recognized by too many people. He is most comfortable eating where he is taken as a stranger.
Breakfast is simple, composing of a glass of orange juice, oatmeal and a piece of toast followed by a cup of strong black coffee. He consumes his breakfast slowly, reading the day's paper he has bought at the nearest newsstand on his way here. He has chosen to get up later than most working people so that he could have his breakfast at an hour when most people has gone to work and business would be slack in restaurants. He could eat and read his newspaper undisturbed.
After finishing breakfast and going through the whole paper, Garcia puts some money on the table covering the cost of the breakfast, tip included, and leaves, leaving the paper behind.
He flags down a taxi to take him home, obviously finding the uphill run or walk too strenuous for him. Although he is obviously quite fit, he is nonetheless fifty-four years old. He does not want to overuse his body, although this is not an idea copied from The Porcupine.
He takes another shower at home, dressed again, this time in all white. White silk shirt and a white linen suit, without necktie, and a pair of white leather loafers. He goes out of the door, seems to remember something, turns back, goes into the kitchen and squats in front of the sink, looking down at the brand new toolbox The Porcupine has bought for him, which is tucked safely under the sink. He pulls out the toolbox, opening it and looks at the array of tools, still shining and new as they have been hardly used. He picks up a screwdriver and then a wrench, inspected them curiously, turning them around in his hands and feeling their weights. He finally sighs and puts them back, shaking his head. "Can't get use to this kind of things," he mutters, "feels like I have too many thumbs. Probably too low-tech. Next time something breaks down and The Porcupine is not here, maybe I would still call in a handyman."
Then he straightens up, goes into the living room and sits down, picking up a remote control and fiddles with it.
The giant TV set lights up, and tapes from his security cameras begin to play. Scenes of activities in the house last time when The Porcupine was here are on, played in fast forward speed, with him and The Porcupine moving rapidly and jerkily, like scenes from a Charlie Chaplin silent film. He gestures and The Porcupine gestures, he pours wine and The Porcupine drinks beer, he jerks to the bathroom and back, The Porcupine jerks to the bathroom and back, The Porcupine jerks into the kitchen to fetch beer, The Porcupine putting empty beer cans into the trash can in the kitchen, The Porcupine discarding used chewing gum wrapped in tissue paper into the trash can, and finally The Porcupine leaving, calling it a day.
Garcia switches off the recorder and then the TV set with ease. The hi-tech stuff he is good at. He shakes his head and puts down the remote control, sitting there pondering for some fifteen minutes. He is aware that two things are occupying his mind all the time, his book and The Porcupine. And the two are closely related.
Garcia gets up and leaves his house again, this time going to the garage in the back. He emerges driving his vintage Aston Martin. His destination this time is a church, which is abundant in Macao. It is noon now, churchgoers at noon are rare, but Charles Garcia is no ordinary people. He goes into the church, kneels and closes his eyes and prays for about five minutes, then leaves. The church is deserted again.
Next stop is the Macao Jockey Club. He is there to use the excellent facility to play squash alone. He changes into another expensive sports outfit, which he has brought along and batters at the soft little black ball. This is strenuous exercise, less so when playing alone, but still leaves him soaked with sweat after half an hour, despite the cooling effect of the air-con. He leaves the court to take a shower, having changed when he re-emerges, back into the white silk shirt and linen suit.
He goes to lunch at 1:00 p.m., again in a small Portuguese restaurant different from the one he has patronized the previous day. Lunch is poached fillet of sole with a little rice, followed by a small bowl of fresh fruits. This time he has to eat with the lunchtime crowd as he could not pace it later, having eaten so little at breakfast and exercising so much afterwards.
Garcia goes home afterwards, changes into another set of casual wear, this time a grass-green tee shirt and a pair of rice-colored trousers, and goes into the study to continue working on his book.
It is now 2:00 p.m.

FOR THE PORCUPINE, GETTING UP at 2 p.m. is an early start. He would have gone on sleeping if not for the head-splitting thumping on the door of his hotel room.
"Who the hell is it?" Porcupine yells in Cantonese, under the pillow he has used to cover his head to escape the thumping in vain.
"Get up, you no good son of a bitch," a voice yells back outside the door, also in Cantonese.
The Porcupine groans and clambers out of bed, staggering over to open the door without looking at the visitor, then dives back onto the bed and buries his head with the pillow again, trying to go back to sleep.
The visitor is the young man with golden hair, the thug who has accosted him at the casino the first time Garcia saw The Porcupine again. His nickname is actually Golden Hair and he is chummy with The Porcupine now. Golden Hair takes down the 'DO NOT DISTURB' sign from the doorknob, strides into the room, throws it on the sofa in a corner, closes the door and starts to pull open the blinds, letting in the lovely sunshine, which is not so lovely to The Porcupine at the moment.
"What are you doing?" The Porcupine moans under the pillow.
"Get up." Golden Hair shouts laughingly.
"Leave me alone. I don't owe you any money."
"We're friends now, and I'm taking you to lunch." Golden Hair says, grabbing hold of The Porcupine's legs and pulls.
The Porcupine slides onto the floor. He is wearing the same thong in leopard prints, the only piece of clothing on his body now, and he is not a pretty sight. "What are you doing?" The Porcupine groans with eyes still closed.
"How can you arrive at your office on time if you don't get up even at two o'clock in the afternoon?"
"I'm on vacation now," The Porcupine sits up groggily, "I don't go to bed that late at night when I'm working."
"Well, you have promised last night to lunch with me half an hour ago." Says Golden Hair, giving a solid reason for his intrusion.
"Oh, have I? Ah, yes I have." The Porcupine opens one eye. "Okay. Give me ten minutes."
They are in the restaurant of the hotel half an hour later. It is quiet and calm here, in contrast with a Chinese teahouse, which The Porcupine has refused to go because he has a bad headache. The Porcupine does not like western style food that much but he prefers the quietness now. He could also order a cup of strong black coffee here, which he is sipping thirstily now.
Golden Hair has come to The Porcupine because he has asked The Porcupine some questions concerning a legal wrangle last night as The Porcupine, who is known to him as Frank Lawson, is a head clerk in a law firm and is considered an expert. The Porcupine was gambling then and has told him to come to lunch today at 1:30 p.m.
The Porcupine finishes his coffee and starts eating a bowl of noodles with fried pork chop while asking what is the problem.
Golden Hair explains that his mother lives in Hong Kong in a small rented flat, the lease contract of which is expiring and she has received a letter from the owner to give her notice that the contract will not be renewed and she has six months to move out. Golden Hair wants his mother to stay on.
"But the property market has nose-dived," says The Porcupine, "she could get a much better place at the same rent."
Golden Hair explains that his mother is six months behind with her rent and what he wants is not to pay the rent in arrears and also wrestle some money from the owner before leaving.
"Christ," sighs The Porcupine, "don't you people ever want to pay for anything?"
"You are the head clerk in a law firm. You are supposed to be very good at this kind of thing."
"Yes," says The Porcupine, "there are ways to squeeze more money out of the owner. But don't forget it's your mother who has to live there. She could ignore the notice to move and go on staying without paying the rent. The only thing the owner can do legally is to sue, which would be time consuming as the court is choked with cases like this and this may not come to court within a year. The owner may decide to cut his losses and settle with your mother, giving her some money to make her move away. But then he may not. He may choose to talk to another head clerk like me, who may hire some people to harass her."
"Let them come," Golden Hair waves expansively, "nobody scares me."
"I'm talking about your mother." The Porcupine slurps the last of the juice from the bowl, "Think about it. I can't decide for you."
"It's no use talking to you after all."
"I'm not God. Try praying."
"Okay, I'll think about it."
Then Golden Hair changes the subject and talks about his work. There was this girl last night who had borrowed HK$50,000 and lost it all. He took her to a hotel room and told her to phone her family to bring the money, which with interest had amounted to HK$55,000. It was literally kidnapping for ransom but it was the general practice of loan sharks in Macao. The alternative for the girl was to be escorted back to Hong Kong, locked up and then phone her folk for the money. But this would be more expensive, adding another HK$5,000 for expenses. The girl cried and refused to make the call, not wanting her mother to know.
"And she offered to have sex with me in exchange for her freedom." Golden Hair laughs.
"She any good in bed?" The Porcupine asks with apparent disinterest, staring into space.
"Are you kidding? She was working as a hostess in a nightclub where anyone could have her for two thousand Hong Kong dollars. I had to pay her fifty-five thousand for that?"
"You can't afford fifty-five thousand a pop anyway."
Golden Hair lets the sarcasm pass and says that he punched her around and she finally agreed to call her mother. The mother came with the money at dawn and took her back home.
"Good work." The Porcupine remarks, again without any interest.
Then Golden Hair asks what The Porcupine has been doing lately.
"You know." Says The Porcupine, "Gamble, eat, sleep, gamble. What else?"
"Don't kid me. Some nights, you just vanished completely."
"You've been following me?"
"No. But there are just so many casinos around and I'd know if you are not in any one of them."
"Yes, there is a deal," admits The Porcupine, "or I would not have extended my leave. Big money in it."
"What kind of a deal? Is it too much to ask?"
"Yes," The Porcupine says, still staring into space, "But I don't mind letting you in on it a little bit. I've been telling stories to an interested party, stories that are getting more and more expensive. The last of them maybe so expensive he may not be able to afford it."
"Stories!" Golden Hair sneers, "you are telling stories all right, to me. If you don't want me to ask, just say so. Don't give me this shit about telling stories."
"Don't ask." Says The Porcupine.

GOLDEN HAIR IS STILL sitting in that restaurant after The Porcupine has left. The Porcupine has asked him if he would like to take a steam bath and have a massage together, the decent kind. He has declined, as he had gone to one after collecting from the girl's mother and slept in that establishment until time to fetch The Porcupine. "My skin is still shriveled," he has said, "one more of those things and it will just peel off." The restaurant is still a quiet place. Golden Hair takes out his mobile and dials a number.
A man's voice answers in Cantonese.
"Mr. Jones?" Golden Hair asks, still in Cantonese. He could not speak English.
"Yes," the voice on the other side says, "you have something to tell me?"
"This man, Frank Lawson has just left." Says Golden Hair, "I had lunch with him and have extracted some information from him."
"Tell." Says Mr. Jones. He speaks Cantonese fluently but with just a shade of accent, giving away his race as a non- Chinese. Golden Hair knows as he has addressed him as Mr. Jones. What Golden Hair does not know is that Mr. Jones is actually Charles Garcia.
Garcia is now at home speaking through his mobile to Golden Hair in front of his computer. Garcia has connections other than Ricky Cruz and he has bought The Porcupine's debt from Golden Hair through one of his connections and in the process has also bought Golden Hair to be his informer. Golden Hair has this part time job of keeping an eye on The Porcupine, known to him as Frank Lawson, and reporting to this Mr. Jones. Golden hair has never met this Mr. Jones and does not know who or where he is. All Golden Hair knows is this cell phone number to report to. Golden Hair has no intention to find out more about this Mr. Jones, thereby jeopardizing his extra source of income.
"My partner told me he has gambled in the Casino Lisboa until eight o'clock this morning before going back to his hotel room to sleep." Golden Hair reports, "He has remained there until about two o'clock this afternoon when I dragged him out of bed and took him to lunch. While he was eating, he talked about a big business deal. He said he has been telling stories to an interested party and that the stories were getting more and more expensive, so much so that the party interested may not be able to afford the last of it. I'm not lying. He really said that. Maybe he's pulling my leg, I don't know. Telling expensive stories."
"You don't have to believe or not believe it." Says Garcia, "Just report the facts."
"That I'm doing." says Golden Hair, "He has not done anything unusual, only some nights he would vanish, going up the hill in a taxi to a bungalow----"
"That part I know and does not concern you. That bungalow is strictly off limits." Says Garcia firmly.
"Well that's about all now, Mr. Jones."
"Thank you, Golden Hair. You have done a good job. Keep up the good work. Goodbye."
"Goodbye, Mr. Jones."
Charles Garcia switches off his mobile, puts it down on the desk, swiveling left and right in his chair, pondering. Then he smiles, chuckling, "Expensive stories, huh? How expensive we will see. Money I have a lot. Life you have only one, Joseph Bickford The Porcupine"

DINNER FOR CHARLES GARCIA is at 7:00 p.m. Again he has driven to a Portuguese restaurant and he is still not being recognized, as he is not a regular. He is not a regular at any restaurant.
Dinner is a small steak followed by a glass of good but not particularly expensive port wine. Garcia finishes his meal in leisure, then goes out to take a walk.
A blonde young woman, obviously an American tourist, smiles at him flirtatiously, passes him by, then turns to look at him. She is quite good looking and is obviously impressed by Garcia's good looks. But Garcia is not the least bit interested, walking straight to the seaside as if she isn't there at all. She turns and walks on disappointed. Garcia is used to such flirtatious encounters. He is not easily moved.
Then a taxi cruises past him, stopping for a traffic light about to turn green. Garcia glances at its back seat. Inside is a young Chinese girl with flowing straight long hair. He could see only half of the left side of her face, as she is not looking at him. He suddenly tenses, then lunges forward, one hand outstretched, as if he has just found someone long lost.
But the light has turned green then and the taxi surges forward, leaving Garcia grabbing at empty space.
Garcia immediately turns and flags down a passing taxi, his hand almost striking the windshield of which in his haste. The taxi stops, he jumps in, thrusts a red colored bill at the driver and yells, "Follow that taxi."
The driver happily obliges. For it is a hundred-dollar bill in Hong Kong currency, more welcomed than the local currency. The starting fare in Macao is $10. You can't possibly spend $100 on a taxi unless you plan to ride around the city twice. And following a car is easy. Macao is such a small place and a traffic jam is so rare, making it hard to lose a car you intend to follow.
Still, the car with the girl has a thirty-second head start. Garcia can see from a distance away that it stops in front of the Casino Lisboa, the girl getting out and going through under the gigantic legs. By the time Garcia gets out of the car, she has disappeared, swallowed up by the crowd inside.
But Garcia could remember she was wearing a black halter and a silver pink short skirt, so he does not think he has lost her.
Garcia threads through the crowd, his eyes scanning the soulless faces in the blue cigarette smoke haze, looking for a girl with straight long hair wearing a black halter and a silver pink short skirt.
Then he spots her. She is standing before a dice table, with her back to him. Her hair is waist length, covering her back with her shapely shoulders and arms spilling out of the black halter on both sides. She has a slim waist, with slender legs on stiletto high heels supporting her weight. He stands there staring, waiting for her to turn around.
Suddenly, a hand grips Garcia's left arm. Garcia spins around nervously, his right fist ready to strike. Then he sees it is The Porcupine, grinning up at him.
"What are you doing here?" The Porcupine asks chewing gum, "Not looking for me I hope."
"In fact I am looking for you." Garcia lies.
"Good," The Porcupine shrugs, "I have lost interest in gambling anyway. Need some distraction. Back to work?"
"I'm in no hurry." Says Garcia.
He turns again to look at the girl. She still has her back to him.
"Somebody you know?" The Porcupine asks with shrewd observation.
Garcia does not answer immediately, for the girl has just turned around.
"Not very pretty." Comments The Porcupine, "Don't think she's your type."
For they could see her face now. Not a pretty face. She has small squinting eyes, eagle nose, with fat lips that has a huge amount of lipstick piled on so that it looks like a big gash on her face. She is also not as young as she looked from behind, maybe in her early forties. The expression on her face is cheap too, which is not born with but acquired. She has turned around because a young man with hair dyed rose-red has come up and spoken to her from behind. She completes the picture of cheapness by poking the guy in the ribs and letting out a barrage of cursing in Cantonese.
Garcia smiles and shakes his head, "I thought she was someone I knew."
The porcupine shrugs. "The kind that can tempt you to death from behind and frightens you to death when she turns around,"
"Well, let's go." Says Garcia.

"FIRST TIME I KNOW that you are aware women even exist." Says The Porcupine of their experience in the casino when they are safely in Garcia's house, with him chewing his gum between beers and Garcia sipping his vintage wine.
Garcia is silent, still thoughtful.
"Of course, if you don't want to talk about it, don't." says The Porcupine.
"There's nothing to talk about," says Garcia, "I thought that woman was someone I used to know, that's all."
"I just thought there might be a story in it." Says The Porcupine, "Since there is not, we can forget about it." He releases the piece of gum he has been chewing into a piece of tissue carefully, gets up and goes to the kitchen to dispose of it. He is carrying a fresh can of beer when he returns.
"Is a woman really beautiful? Will beauty last?" says The Porcupine, "What is beauty? Reminds me of a Buddhist saying."
"I know, " says Garcia, "Color is emptiness." The latter part of the sentence he says in Cantonese. "Meaning lust is actually a hallucination."
"I can't say you are wrong." Says The Porcupine, "Because the Buddhist scriptures are translated from Sanskrit, a lot may have been changed in the translation process. Also, any one sentence in the Buddhist scriptures can have so many different interpretations. Your interpretation is just one of many. Scholars have been arguing about this for centuries. I know better than to be a judge, or we would still be arguing this time next year and your book will be forgotten."
"And what is your interpretation?" asks Garcia.
"Buddhism scares me, for each sentence in the Buddhist scriptures is like a whole life or even the whole universe in a nutshell. The whole of the sentence you just mentioned is actually color is emptiness and emptiness is color. You can say that color is lust. For when you see a beautiful woman, you lust for her. That's color. But after you had her and the lust subsided, you would find her not that attractive. That's emptiness. But after a while, lust rears its ugly head again and you find her attractive once more. Emptiness has become color again. But my interpretation is that color refers to everything in life. Color does not exist until you shone a light on an object. Faint light makes everything seem grey. A strong light reveals different bright colors. A red light makes a white object red and a green object brown. True color does not exist---emptiness. Light makes colors. The sentence can also mean life is what you make of it. You can also say that everything is nothing, for the whole universe is composed of nothing but spinning electrons. Take anything apart thoroughly enough and you will find only electrons. Take apart a building, and you have only a pile of bricks. Take apart a brick, you get a pile of dust. Take apart a grain of dust and you get a pile of atoms. Take apart an atom and you will find a pile of electrons. Electrons, nothing, emptiness."
Garcia looks at him in awe. "I didn't know you are so much into Buddhism."
"I am not. " says The Porcupine, "I just collect titbits. I'm just a storyteller, a man of emptiness."
"I like you very much, Joe," Garcia shakes his head, "have you another story to tell me?"
"My turn now?"
"About time."
"I'll tell you the story about the men who can't be killed. A story that has something to do with the Buddhist way of thinking."
"Probably an interesting chapter ten." Says Garcia.

back to top


TWENTY-FOUR

Chapter Ten: The Men Who Can°¶t Be Killed according to The Porcupine


I WAS IN MALAYSIA, the land without winter that year, shortly before Hong Kong was returned to China. That was another period during which I simply vanished. I knew that Charles Garcia had tried to keep track of me in Hong Kong but had found I would vanish from time to time without him able to find out where I had gone. I had told the few of my acquaintances that I had saved enough money and was going abroad for a gambling trip. That was partly true, I would never miss a detour to a casino when I was abroad unless there was no such establishment in town. By this time however, Charles Garcia had already retired.
I was in Kuala Lumpur, but I did not have time for such an excursion this time around. For I had eaten too much of the seafood that was so abundant and cheap and got severe diarrhea. I almost died in that hotel room, dividing my time between the bed and the toilet. The house doctor didn't seem to help. I suspected that I recovered on my own strength, my sheer will to live. I spent another two days resting to regain my strength, then started to work.
I was working for the Mafia, the Italian Mafia. You may have heard the Mafia always takes care of its own problem with its own men, but that is just in principle. They need outside help sometimes. When a target is in Asia, they couldn't just dispatch a couple of Italian goons to do the job. The white skin of a European would be too conspicuous. There were a lot of people in Malaysia with mixed blood like me. We were still a minority but we could move about inconspicuously..
My first target was an Italian Tony Tomasi. My job was not to kill him, but to talk to him. He was in Kuala Lumpur for his health and was staying in a bungalow in the jungle. Turned out my ten days of sickness was not a waste of time because the man had not been in town all that time. He had been away to the United States for his treatment. I understood that he had bad asthma. Now that he had returned did not mean he was easy to approach, however. He had been a big shot in the Mafia, and although ousted, was still heavily guarded. And what I was about to do was not a friendly visit. I was to extract information from him. It wasn't easy at all. But an easy job would not be given to me.
I had spent time to study the house. I had even hired a helicopter to fly over it to take a good look. Only one road led to the bungalow, and to take this road to sneak close to the bungalow was out. For it was a dirt road of which the last thousand feet or so was in the open with nowhere to hide. I decided on the hard way, cutting through the impenetrable rain forest to approach the house from the rear. Impenetrable if you don't have a machete.
I started in the morning and spent about thirty-six hours chopping my way through, covering only about a thousand yards. But that was enough. I got to the rear of the house at about midnight. I knew the rear was unguarded but I was still cautious. And I was well equipped. I was wearing a night vision goggle, which enabled me to see in the dark, although everything turned green through it. This used to be state of the art high-tech stuff, first used by the American military forces but had now become quite common and could be bought cheap at surveillance equipment stores.
The bungalow was a sprawling single story building built with natural materials, namely bamboo and wood, with a slanted thatched roof, and was elevated by wood and bamboo stakes to escape the dampness of the jungle ground. A dim light shone weakly under each corner of the thatched roof. I could see no guard at the rear just as I had thought. Then I quietly snaked my way to the left and then to the right for a closer look. Then I stopped a little to the right of the house where I could see the front. I remained motionless and tense. For I could see no guard at all anywhere. No guard at the rear I could understand, but no guard at all was something else.
Something was wrong, it was too easy. There is an old saying in every culture, versions may differ but the message is the same: don't believe anything too good to be true. If it is too easy, it must be untrue.
I stayed there at the edge of the jungle in the darkness without moving for forty-five minutes, waiting and watching. There was a light on inside the mosquito screen of a window of what was probably a bedroom, and the door in the front was wide open. It was like an invitation for me to walk right in. But I was sure if I had done that, I would walk into a trap.
But what was I going to do? Turn back and abandon the operation? I was about to beat a retreat when a booming voice startled me, echoing my thoughts, "Don't tell me you are turning back."
It had come from a loudspeaker, probably mounted just under the thatched roof. A wheezing voice speaking in English with heavy Italian accent. It could be Tony Tomasi himself, as he was Italian and was suffering from asthma.
I didn't move and of course I didn't answer either. I didn't move because I was afraid that I would step into a trap. The voice could be a ploy to startle me into sudden movement.
"Why don't you come in?" the voice boomed again, "I've been waiting for you. Of course, this is not an order. You can turn back and leave if you wish."
I stood up slowly, dropping my rifle and unbuckled my belt, letting it fall to the ground with a pistol and a hunting knife holstered on it. I also kicked away the machete. I didn't think it would be wise for me armed going into that door and I was making it clear.
Then I took off my night vision goggle and walked towards that house. I didn't expect a hail of bullets, as this would not be the rule of the game. Anyone playing a game of cat and mouse with me would not kill me just like that. There would be no satisfaction.
A light went on inside the front door as I climbed the wooden steps of the front porch with my hands raised. Then I walked inside and found myself in a spacious living room with rattan furniture, and was face to face with Tony Tomasi. And I was shocked.
I had seen photographs and videotapes of Tony Tomasi, but I was seeing the skeleton of the man now, a skeleton still alive. He was completely bald and there was absolutely no flesh at all under his parchment like skin. His eyes were so sunken they were just two black holes. He was sitting in a wheelchair, his claw-like hands gripping the arms. A stand with an IV bag hanging was at his side, with a clear plastic tube leading to a vein on his left arm. He was wearing a pale green hospital gown and an oxygen mask. A young European nurse, the plain and efficient kind, was standing behind him.
I could hear the wheezing of his labored breath as I looked at him. Tony Tomasi had been a handsome man but was no more. He was obviously a dying man at fifty-six years of age.
I lowered my hands.
"If you have come to kill me," he wheezed smiling, "do it now and quickly. It would be considered an act of mercy."
The nurse touched him lightly on the shoulder to express sympathy.
"I'm----I'm not here to kill you, Mr. Tomasi," I stammered, "just talk."
"I was afraid of that." Sighed Tomasi, "Do you know why this house is unguarded? It is because I am dying of cancer, not asthma but lung cancer, and would welcome an early end. I do not have the courage to kill myself. But I guess they don't want to kill me because they want me to suffer longer. I have betrayed the Mafia. They should have killed me long ago."
He was a man that can't be killed. Maybe the Mafia didn't know he was that worse off. I was instructed to search for information here and to torture him to get it if necessary. But torture would be ineffective on a man who wanted to die and would die at the slightest act of violence.
"I don't understand," I said, "this is not what I have expected."
"What are you doing here?" he wheezed.
"They wanted me to kill a man for them. A Vietnamese called Doc Ho Lin. Only you know where he is and I'm supposed to find out from you." I had decided to leave the torturing part out.
He laughed, then convulsed with pain. The nurse held his shoulders gently. "Easy, easy please." She soothed.
"So torture me. Make me talk."
"I don't think so."
"So you have failed at your job."
"Maybe there are other ways to find out. Can I go now?"
"No." he wheezed.
"But you can't stop me as there are no guards here."
"Don't be stupid. Are you a paid assassin?"
"Yes."
"I'll give you the information you want plus a handsome bonus if you would do something for me. I want you to kill a man for me."
"I hope you are not asking me to kill my employer at a higher price. It is not possible, because, as you are well aware of, my employer is an organization. It is impossible to kill off a whole organization."
"No," he wheezed, "it is someone not connected."
"Why wait till now? You could have employed someone else long ago."
"I need someone who can be trusted and who is capable for this job."
"And you think you can trust me?"
"Trust is based on need. You need to do this job bad enough so that you can complete the job for them. That you are capable can be proved by the fact that you have been chosen by them and that you have come this far. This Vietnamese Doc Hoc Lin was a close associate of mine, not a friend, just an associate. He had worked for the Mafia twenty-five years ago, representing their interest in Vietnam. Vietnam had fallen or liberated and there was chaos. The Mafia had thought there could be gains in the chaos. But then Doc Hoc Lin had disappeared with a large sum of money and couldn't be traced. They have been looking for him. Then they found out one year ago that I had been in contact with Doc Hoc Lin. That was why I was considered a traitor, because I did not report Lin to them. I ran. I'm the only one who knows where to find Lin."
"Why protect this man when he is not even a friend?"
"I was not protecting him. I was contacted by Doc Hoc Lin but didn't know where he was. They didn't believe me. Thought I had shared the money with Lin."
"So you don't know where Lin was after all."
"I didn't. But I know now."
"Then we may have a deal."
"Here's the deal. You will be given a file and some money. " He waved.
The nurse turned to go inside, returning with a bulging manila envelope, which she handed to me. I opened it and found inside a file and a stack of American currency, in $100 bills. It was not a small sum.
"Aren't you going to ask me why I want this man killed?" Tomasi asked.
"If you want to tell me."
"He has taken away my mistress, the woman I love most in my life."
"Does it make any difference he live or die?" I asked, "No offence, but we all know your days are numbered."
"My days maybe numbered, but his are not. I don't want him to enjoy my woman that long."
"Makes sense. But what if the girl loves him?"
"Ah, a hit man with principles. I like that. But no, the girl does not love him. Neither did she love me. She was my pet and now his. You can love your pet goldfish without the goldfish loving you back, right? She is from a poor family and couldn't afford to love a man, but I know she would prefer me to him even now because he is a sadist and I am not. He has taken her against her own will. I was sick and on the run and he just took her away. Of course I don't want her back now. But he must be killed."
I was silent.
He laughed and convulsed with pain again. The nurse produced a small spraying bottle and removed his mask, sprayed something at his nose before replacing the mask. He was better. "I know what you are thinking," he said, "what if you have done this job and I died before giving you the information about Lin? Don't worry. I have left the information in a safe deposit box in a bank, the key to which is being kept by a prominent lawyer. In the event of my untimely death, he will go to the bank with you to open it. I will call him later to give him instructions. You will go to him in the morning. You will get your information provided you have done your job. "
"Don't you think I should talk to my employer about this first?"
"Talk if you want. But I think they have anticipated that I would make an offer like this. That's why they have sent you. The Mafia is not just gangsters with guns anymore. They have lawyers, economists, scientists and even psychologists working for them. They can figure out all the angles."
. "Then it's a good contract." I said.
"Good. You don't have to go through that jungle again. Take one of my cars. And don't bother to return it."
I turned to leave.
"One more thing," he said, "If I'm still alive after you have done this job, would you kill me for me?"
"No." I said.
"Shit." He wheezed.
That car was one of the best presents I've ever received in my life.

THE MAN I WAS TO KILL for Tony Tomasi was a Malaysian named Mustapha Minden. And he was a pirate, not the pirate of old who had terrorized the high seas though. He was the ringleader of a counterfeiting group, which produced pirated copies of almost every brand name goods in the world, including pirated CD copies of motion pictures and music. Tony Tomasi had given me a comprehensive file about this man, which only told me that killing him would be a very difficult job. But then, I was an expert on handling difficult jobs. And I must admit that killing him would be easier than cracking his counterfeiting outfit, for evidence was hard to get.
The first time I saw Mustapha Minden in person, I was about five hundred yards away from him. I was in Panang. He was coming out of a hotel after attending a conference, which was, ironically, about how to crack down on counterfeiting activities in the region. I wasn't there to kill him. I just watched. He was a man with a lot of enemies and he was well protected.
A limousine turned the corner and stopped in front of the hotel. Three bodyguards came out of the hotel. One of them pulled open the rear door of the car while the other two looked around cautiously. Then they nodded and five more men hurried out of the entrance. One of them was Mustapha Minden. The other four were bodyguards surrounding him. Mustapha Minden was a small squat man while the bodyguards were extra big guys. It would be difficult to shoot Minden from a distance, he was protected by a human shield. They were inside the car in a flash. The car, obviously bullet proof, began moving immediately. The front door of the car was still ajar with the upper part of a bodyguard still outside. This was standard security procedure. If something happened, that bodyguard would jump clear rapidly with his gun out. The car was well away when the bodyguard disappeared inside and the door closed.

I WAS WEARING a dark blue overall of a repairman. On the back of this uniform was the name of the local telephone company, in bold, orange letters, with a small logo of that company, also orange, on the left breast. I was carrying a toolbox, also with the same logo on its cover. The uniform and the logos were all fakes. I was posing as a repairman of that company. Being an ordinary looking man had this advantage. I could pose as any kind of professional and look the part, with the exception of a pop star.
The janitor of that building didn't suspect anything, not even glancing at the working pass I pushed in his face before letting me in. That pass was of course counterfeit too. The heavy rain the day before also helped. Penang was not a city renowned for its public utilities and a heavy downpour always saw a lot of telephones out of order. Now that the sun was out and it was a beautiful sunny day, it was time for the repairmen to earn their living.
I went in without haste, making like I was tired of the monotony of my job. I went into the backroom downstairs first, to check on the main exchange box, then came out and stepped into the elevator.
I emerged on floor 19 and went through the motions of checking the phone lines in the stairwell and the corridor. I saw no one and no one saw me. For this was a classy residential high rise which invariably was sparsely populated. Meaning there would be no children playing in the corridor and very little people coming out and going into the apartments, especially on this floor. There were only two units on each floor, apartment A and apartment B. I knew that apartment A on this floor was vacant.
When I was sure nobody was watching me, I let myself into 19A with my skeleton key. It was empty as expected, the occupants having moved out a month ago, leaving not one piece of furniture behind. The place had been cleaned and the maple wood floor was gleaming. I switched on the air-con, which was still working so that I could work without being bothered by the suffocating heat. I started to work in the master bedroom, hammering lightly along the foot of the wall.
I worked for three hours, then left. The janitor watched but not really seeing me going out.
The following day at noon, also a beautiful sunny day, I was fixing phone lines in another part of town, this time an office building. No problem also. A repairman from the utility company can get into any building. This time, however, I did not try to enter any unit. I concentrated on working in the stairwell between floor 15 and floor 16. I took my time and poked my head out of the window of the stairwell from time to time to look at a window belonging to room 1502. I could peer sideways into this window but could see very little as a gold-colored fabric curtain had been drawn. I could only see the windowsill behind the golden curtain. A stack of paper was on that sill, probably forgotten. The window was closed as the air-con inside the office was in full blast.
I looked again at 12:30 p.m. Five minutes ago, the window was still in the shadows. But the noon sun had moved and now this side of the building was sun-drenched. It was time to really work.
I took from my toolbox a piece of aluminum tube about one foot long. This tube was not as short as it looked, for there were other tubes inside, one smaller than the next one, so that when I pulled out the innermost tube, the length could be extended like a telescope. I pulled the innermost tube out, which was only about a foot long. Then I took out the next piece of equipment from the toolbox, a magnifying glass. I fitted the handle of the glass into the end of the innermost tube. Corresponding holes had been drilled onto the end of the tube and the handle of the glass, allowing me to put in a few screws to secure the handle of the glass in place safely. Then I pulled the tube to its full length. Now I got a ten feet long hollow pole with a magnifying glass secured to its smaller end. As I pulled the tubes out, the glass was extended out of the window of the stairwell. Then the glass was just outside the window with the golden curtain, where I was not able to reach with my arm. The glass glinted beautifully under the bright sunlight.
Yes, I was going to start a fire, in an almost primitive way, only a little more hi-tech than drilling a piece of wood, a very simple way which you and I would have learned as children.
I held the pole tightly with both hands, turning it slightly until the magnifying glass was in the right place at the right angle, focusing the sunlight into a small but extra bright dot onto the stack of paper inside the window. In no time, the paper around the bright dot was turning brown, then a wisp of smoke rose from the brown part. Suddenly, the whole stack of paper burst into flames. For the stack of paper had been on that windowsill for a long time and was baked very dry by the constant exposure to sunlight. Then the golden curtain caught fire too, proving the fabric was inflammable.
I hurriedly retracted the pole, turning it back into its original size but with the magnifying glass still protruding at the end. I put the whole contraption back into the toolbox and closed it. By this time, the whole window was in flames inside. I had gathered all my tools beforehand, so now I just lifted the box and left, walking down the stairs briskly. Then I heard the fire alarm piercing my eardrums. That was why I didn't try to use the elevator. The elevator would be stopped in case of a fire. I walked all the way down to the ground floor, leaving with the panicked crowd from the lower floors. I was not stopped.
I could not see what was happening inside that window but I could imagine. The fire may not burn long because the sprinkler system would be activated and put it out. But the water coming down from the ceiling would drench everything. Papers and office machines would be ruined. The people inside would be drenched too, but no life would be lost. But my plan was not to burn anybody to death.
Inside that window, room 1520 was one of the offices of Mustapha Minden, probably his headquarters dealing with the distribution of counterfeit goods. Minden himself was scheduled to be there later this afternoon. That the fire had started before he arrived would be considered a lucky escape, a failed attempt to assassinate him. He would decide to lie low in the meantime and stay in a safe place, which happened to be in the residential building I had worked on the previous day. In fact, it was apartment 18A, directly under apartment 19A, in which I had done my work.
It had been a stroke of luck that apartment 19A was vacant. But if not, I would think of something else. As it was, this particular apartment fitted into my plan neatly.
Before I did my work there, I had called the agent responsible for the leasing of this apartment, 19A, on the phone, telling him I had seen the place myself and liked it very much. That I had been looking for just such a flat for my boss who was in Switzerland at the time but would be in Penang three days later to look at it himself. I wanted the agent to hold the flat for me. To show that I could be trusted, I arranged to deposit the sum equaling one month's rent into the bank account of the agency, as I myself was out of town then too. I stipulated, however, that nothing should be touched inside, in fact no one should even enter the premises in these three days, because I wanted my boss to see exactly what I had seen. A little eccentric perhaps, but I was sure the agent would do exactly as he had been told. For he couldn't lose whichever way this thing turned out. He could at least pocket the money himself if I failed to show up in three days. Of course I had no plan to show up. He could have the money.
Exactly thirty-eight hours later, around 2:00 a.m., I was sitting in a car watching this building from a distance. It was a safe place all right. The building was facing the sea and there was not a single other building taller than four stories around. A man could walk around in apartment 18A with curtains open without worrying about getting shot at.
That was probably what Mustapha Minden was thinking now. I'd been watching and I had seen him moving in this morning, and he was in that apartment now. Of course he might have decided to go somewhere else. But he had decided on this apartment, which he owned. I was lucky again.
I was not going to shoot him. I was going to blow up the floor of the master bedroom in apartment 19A, directly above him. You must have heard about experts demolishing a building by placing explosive charges at strategic points so that they could take out accurately which pieces of a building they wanted. That was what I had done. All that hammering around was to place charges exactly where it would count.
I watched in my car until the lights in the master bedroom of apartment 18A went out. I waited for another twenty minutes. Minden would be asleep now, or at least he would be in bed. Anyhow, I could be certain that he was in that master bedroom now. I lifted up the front passenger seat. Underneath was a false bottom, from which I took out a remote control device. I switched on the remote control and pushed down the red button.
A soft explosion lit apartment 19A up with an orange glow. A split second later, the windows of the master bedroom in 18A shattered outwards, spewing smoke and dust. The floor of that room in 19A, which was also the ceiling of the same room in 18A, had sunk down completely.
I started the car and drove away, throwing the remote control into the sea when I was cruising along the bank.
I found out next morning from the newspapers that Mustapha Minden was dead, dying a much slimmer man, having crushed by the fallen ceiling.
I was glad he hadn't brought his mistress along.

TONY TOMASI DID NOT need me to kill him for him after all. He died three days later in his sleep. Perhaps he had struggled to stay alive that long, then when he heard the news of Mustapha Minden's death, he must have felt he could let go of his life finally.
I was sure he thought my work worth more than the money he had paid me. For when I went to see the lawyer, he gave me a check of the same amount, saying that it was from Tomasi. Then the lawyer went to the bank with me to open the safe deposit box. Inside was a letter from Doc Hoc Lin to Tomasi. Lin said in the letter that maybe they could renew their business relationship after all these years and do something big. The envelope had stamps and the postmark of Hong Kong on it.
The lawyer also told me something Tomasi had told him to pass on to me.
Lin had called Tomasi on the phone twice. The first time had been ten years ago. Lin said he called just to say hello. Tomasi's response was lukewarm. He said hello too and how was Lin doing and so on. Lin said he was doing fine but didn't reveal where he was or what he was doing. Tomasi didn't think Lin was doing fine, because he himself had told Lin he was doing fine but in fact he was in trouble. There had been a power struggle going on in the upper echelon of the Mafia and Tomasi was becoming more and more the underdog. Tomasi knew Lin very well. He thought the Mafia had been looking for Lin at the wrong places all these years. They had been looking for a Vietnamese living it up somewhere in Canada or America because Lin had gotten away with a lot of money. Tomasi thought Lin had lost the money somehow, or Lin would not have made that call ten years ago. The call had been a probe. Lin wanted to see whether there was a chance they could work together again. In fact, Lin was trying to ask for help. Lin would not have called if he was well off. He was the kind who would share his good fortune with no one. Whenever Lin approaches you, you can be sure that he is trying to take some kind of advantage. As Tomasi was not in good terms with the godfathers then, he would not have anything to do with a man the Organization had been hunting for. He did not report the call because he was afraid his rivals would twist the facts around and accuse him of having collaborating with Lin all along.
Lin called again one year ago. Tomasi's response was less than lukewarm this time because he knew he was dying. He still did not report about the call, as Lin hadn't reveal where he was. But the Mafia found out about this second call and that was the end of Tomasi's position in the Mafia. He was accused of collaborating with Lin. Tomasi ran.
Then three months ago, Tomasi had received this letter from Lin. Now he knew Lin was in Hong Kong. Tomasi didn't think he should give the letter to the Mafia because he was dying anyway and didn't want his rivals to take credit for finding Lin. But when I was sent to him, he knew he could use the letter to barter for Mustapha Minden's life, or death.
Tomasi had thought Lin was a refugee in Hong Kong, one of the boat people. The Mafia hadn't tried to look among the refugees from Vietnam.
I thought Tomasi was right.
I was back in Hong Kong three days later. And it was still hot because it was summertime in Hong Kong.

THE SAGA OF THE BOAT people, the refugee who had escaped by boat from Vietnam after the fall or liberation, will be a dark page in the modern history of mankind in half a century when the debate is over and all the facts are known. Then maybe not, who knows how history would be written these days? But the people of Hong Kong know, about the hypocrisy, the cruelty and the ugliness of mankind through the handling of the boat people. We the people in Hong Kong are living testaments.
After the Americans had abandoned Vietnam, the Vietnamese fled their own country by the tens of thousands by boats, braving the rough sea to seek new lives somewhere else. That somewhere else was America, where they hoped to realize the American dream. But America was too far away for their skimpy boats. So the first stepping stone was Hong Kong,
Originally, they would go just anywhere their boats could take them. But words soon got back that they would be turned away cruelly to die in the raging sea by most countries except Hong Kong. Naturally, every other country denied they had turned boat people away, as it would be in blatant violation of human rights. But if they hadn't turned the refugees away, how come they didn't have refugee camps housing the boat people? Where had all those people gone? Pretty soon, all the boat people had made their destination Hong Kong. Only bad weather or bad navigation would see them entering the waters of any other country. And Hong Kong, whose human rights record is still being blasted by those countries who had no Vietnamese refugee camps, took them in as fast as they could arrive. The refugees were fed, clothed and housed. But they were still illegal immigrants who couldn't be just turned loose in the streets. So they were contained in specially built camps, one of them on an outlying island. They were permitted to go out to work in daytime but must return by nightfall.
The UNHCR, which is short for United Nations High Commission for Refugees, patted Hong Kong on the back. Keep up the good work, it had said, and we will foot the bill. They sent officials to inspect the camps, accepting complaints and blasting Hong Kong for being not good enough. However, it never made good the promise of footing the bill. Today, the UNHCR still owes Hong Kong over HK$100 million. The bill is gathering dust and forgotten. You just don't sue the UN for bad debts, do you?
The refugee camps in Hong Kong had housed tens of thousands of Vietnamese boat people. They ate, they fought, they slept and they bred. They were safe but they were never grateful. For they had not come because they liked Hong Kong. What they wanted was to go to America. They just waited here for their turns to be interviewed and accepted by America. The interviewing and screening process was slow. Very few could pass. America was reluctant to take them although they were a problem created by her. A handful of these refugees were accepted from time to time, as if the Americans were just putting on a show that they were responsible people. Meanwhile, the boat people complained and made all kinds of trouble. There had been a number of riots.
Why had Hong Kong accepted the boat people so generously? It has been said the British were trying to create a big bomb the Chinese couldn't defuse in the future. What could the Chinese do with tens of thousands of Vietnamese refugees on their hand? This theory, of course, has never been proved. You have to use your own judgement.
In time, most of the boat people finally came to realize that America was not going to accept them. Some accepted the offer to be sent back to Vietnam, which was not so worse off now. Others had chosen to remain and integrate into the local society to become Hong Kong citizens. The process was slow and painful but the result was inevitable. The last batch of voluntary Vietnamese repatriates flew out of Hong Kong in 1998 and all the camps were closed in 2000 with all the remaining refugees integrated into the society of Hong Kong. The big bomb had been defused, almost.
For some of the Vietnamese who had become Hong Kong citizens had also become the Vietnamese gangs. The Vietnamese gangs were secretive and hard to crack. Hard to crack because the police had very little idea what they were up to and what they had done. Even now, as I am telling this, Charles Garcia admits that he knows very little about the activities of the Vietnamese gangs, except that they sometimes turned up killed or are suspected to have killed. Vietnamese are Asians with yellow skin and look no different from the ordinary local Chinese. In fact, some of them are descendants of overseas Chinese. Most of these Vietnamese gangs spoke Cantonese fluently, and if not, would have learned to speak Cantonese fluently during their camp years. But they also spoke Vietnamese, which few of the people in Hong Kong could understand. That meant they could hear us but we couldn't hear them.
They were careful too, having come from a country where you could trust no one. The communists were not to be trusted, so were the Americans who claimed to be honorable but had betrayed them. The police had difficulty to eavesdrop on them or to question them.
The second generation of boat people, born or grew up in Hong Kong were better. Even though life in the camps had been far from ideal, they had not been hurt when they were outside. On the other hand, they had lived with fear when they were back in the camps. For despite what the people in the outside world had said about them, that they were democratic minded freedom seekers, a lot of them were just criminals who had left Vietnam to escape prosecution rather than political persecution. They had formed Northern and Southern gangs in the camps, battling for control. The Northern gang had come from North Vietnam and the Southern gang from Southern Vietnam. North and South could never get along and fights in camps had become the way of life. A lot of them had been killed, mostly assassinated in their sleep. Outside the camp, the Hong Kong people never did that to them. These second-generation boat people had learned to trust the local more than their own.
Mei Peach Than was one of the second-generation boat people. She had not been born in Hong Kong but was brought here by her father ten years ago when she was eighteen. She was now twenty-eight and she was Doc Hoc Lin's daughter. She was working as a waitress at a Vietnamese restaurant in Hong Kong when I found her. She was already a Hong Kong citizen. But that didn't mean it was easy to find her father. For Mei Peach was not living with her father. She lives with several other girls in a dormitory provided by the owner of the restaurant, which was just one block away.
Tony Tomasi had told me through his lawyer that Lin was cunning, his old profession having been a con man. He would have changed his name upon landing in Hong Kong. The officials in Hong Kong had no way to verify the name of an illegal immigrant without papers and would accept any name given. Tomasi had figured that Lin must have escaped from Vietnam and arrived at Hong Kong ten years ago as one of the boat people because that was when Lin first called him. At that time, telecommunication technology had already progressed to the extent that a man could call from just about anywhere in the world on a phone without revealing where he was. Lin at that time must have needed help from Tomasi, probably to get him out of the refugee camp and to America. But Tomasi's tone had suggested he would have nothing to do with him, so Lin didn't say much. Then came the call a year ago. That would the time when Lin had become a Hong Kong citizen and he had called Tomasi to see whether there could be something for them to do together. As Tomasi had rebuffed him again, Lin also didn't say much. Then came his letter three months ago. The letter was a bold move since Lin had now revealed that he was in Hong Kong. He must have been trying to make Tomasi think if he could use an old associate in Hong Kong. The letter had no return address so Tomasi had no way to contact Lin. Tomasi had surmised that the letter was Lin's way to tell him he was in Hong Kong and free. He would have called again had Tomasi not died on him.
Lin probably had had his last name changed to Than. That's why his daughter was Mei Peach Than. Now that Lin had left the camp, finding him might actually been easier because it would have been next to impossible for me to go into a closely guarded refugee camp to look for him and to kill him. The Mafia had given me a photograph of Lin to go on, but the photo was twenty-five years old and a man could change a lot in twenty-five years. But Tomasi also had said he knew Lin had a daughter whom he treasured very much and that she should be twenty-eight now. Now that was something to go on.
A professional hit man had to do the work of a private detective sometimes. He himself had to be a good detective too, because his own life could be at stake sometimes. I was a good detective.
I called on the North Vietnamese gang to help me, at a price of course. They may not sell out their own but would not think twice about selling out their rival. And Doc Hoc Lin was a South Vietnamese. A private detective I had hired arranged the deal. I told them I was looking for a man who looked roughly like the image on the old photograph. He would be fifty-three years old and probably had brought his wife and daughter along. The daughter would be twenty-eight now. They came up with a man they had known about with the name of Anuk Than. Than's wife had died on the boat but Than and his daughter Mei Peach who is twenty-eight now, landed safely. Than had vanished after leaving the camp but they knew Mei Peach was working in a Vietnamese restaurant.
I didn't just go up to Mei Peach and ask her where her father was. I didn't think she would tell me, as her father must have warned her. But I thought she would know where her father was. So I spent one week watching her, thinking she would visit her father on her day off. But she did not visit him on her day off. She spent the day with her boyfriend, going to the Ocean Park, had dinner in a French restaurant, went to a movie and then went back to her dormitory.
I didn't think it a good idea to confront her and ask her, then when she wouldn't tell me, torture her to make her talk. I was never good at torturing a woman. Besides, she was pretty and seemed a very nice girl. Yes, you could say I'm a hit man with principles. Torturing a nice pretty woman just wasn't my style. Besides, there are more than one way to skin a cat. There should be a more satisfying way.
I decided to work on her boyfriend. The boyfriend was a local Chinese young fellow Johnny Lee. I've had the private detective watching him too. I couldn't watch two people all at once. Johnny Lee was twenty-four, an electrician and a very good boy. If I could become his friend, I could get the information I wanted without them wiser.
There is a very old trick in the book to make friends. The trick is to become his savior, with the help of my private eye.
Most private detectives are shady characters. They tread the grey line between respectability and illegality. They have to or they wouldn't get any job done. This private eye Herbert Kwong promised to do a grey thing for me. He would pose as a thug trying to beat up Johnny Lee while I arrive at the scene in the nick of time to drive him away. I would become Johnny's savior. This would be an excellent way to introduce myself into his life, the recipe for instant friendship.
We were to act at night, after Johnny had left Mei Peach. We knew exactly his schedule. After he came off from work, which would be around 7:00 p.m., Johnny would finish his dinner, provided by his boss, and come to visit Mei Peach at around 8:30 p.m., when business would be slack at the Vietnamese restaurant, having seen off the dinner crowd. He would sit at a back booth of the restaurant, sipping at a coffee or lime tea and talk with Mei Peach or watch her work. The drink would be on the house, as the owner liked Mei Peach and Johnny very much. The owner was Mrs. Tong, a widow in her mid fifties, also from Vietnam, but not a refugee. She was from an overseas Chinese family in Vietnam, having left some ten years ago to come to live in Hong Kong and opened this restaurant. She was of course fluent in Vietnamese and had brought along with her a lot of Vietnamese recipes. All the waitresses were former inmates of boat people camps. This restaurant was thriving even though most others had been closing down one after another, what with the people of Hong Kong flocking across the border to the special region of Shenzhen on the Chinese side to enjoy the extra cheap foods and goods. Later, when I got to talk with this woman Mrs. Tong, she told me that she had a secret operating a restaurant. This secret was actually no secret at all, she told me. It was a rule most people have forgotten. The rule is to provide food that is delicious. People come to eat, what they want are tasty and fresh food, not some mush you push at them. Most people in the restaurant business tend to spend too much money on decoration and advertising without providing good eating dishes. If you have food tasting really good in a clean environment, throw in some good service and you have a winner in your stable. Sounded logical. And it had been Mrs. Tong's idea that Johnny should come in and have a free drink. Mrs. Tong was a very kind woman, treating the girls like her own daughters, she having no children of her own. She especially liked Mei Peach and Johnny Lee and thought they were made for each other. Johnny would sip his drink and hang around until 11:00 p.m., when Mei Peach got off. Then he would take a walk with her around the block before escorting her back to the dormitory. Then he would go home to sleep. They were obviously very much in love but physically restraint, just holding hands and a light kiss on the cheek to say good night, that's all. They had not gone to rent a room to make love in the week I had been watching them.
Good kids they were, and I was going to kill her father and his future father-in-law. But I had a job to do, and Lin, now Anuk Than, must be responsible for things he had done. The essential thing was not to let the young couple know who I really was and what was I up to. What they didn't know would not harm them.
I had gone over the script orally with Kwong several times and we were set to act that Monday night. We were watching the restaurant from a distance. This would be a grey thing for Kwong because trying to beat someone up was illegal, but then he really didn't plan to harm Johnny Lee. It was 11:15 p.m., and Johnny Lee and Mei Peach walked out of the restaurant holding hands. They were taking their usual walk. We would wait until Mei Peach was safely back in her dormitory and Johnny Lee was alone before making our move.
Then the unexpected happened. Four young thugs, all with their hairs dyed in various shades from gold to straw, came out of the shadows of an alley and surrounded Johnny Lee, with obvious sinister intent. One of them yelled, "Kill him." Then they started to attack Johnny.
Johnny pushed Mei Peach behind him, deflected a blow to his head but was punched in the shoulder by another blow. He staggered, then a foot caught him in the back of his leg and he went down. Mei Peach screamed and lunged forward to protect Johnny but was pushed away by one of the thugs.
"Come on!" I yelled at Kwong as I charged out of the shadows to Johnny's rescue.
"This will cost you more." Kwong said.
"You dirty dog." I said.
I was still a full ten yards away and could not reach them in time to save Johnny Lee from receiving more blows. But we human beings have one useful long distance weapon, the mouth.
"What are you doing?" I shouted at them at the top of my voice as I ran towards them.
They were startled, freezing for a split second. One of them flew back as Johnny Lee, now on the ground on his back, delivered a kick to his stomach. Johnny was not as vulnerable as I thought.
Then I reached them as Mei Peach was pushed away again. Kwong was hot on my heels although I hadn't promised him extra pay.
The thugs turned to me. They yelled something in Cantonese that we were minding other people's business.
"Leave him alone." I shouted.
They came at us. I punched one of them squarely in the nose and he screamed, spilling blood. Kwong sidestepped a fist and used his elbow to ram the owner of that fist in the ribs. The thug staggered back and groaned in pain. Johnny Lee leaped up and punched the third one in the back of his neck with both fists. The thug sunk to his knees.
Mrs. Tong charged out of the restaurant with a folding chair raised high and hit the fourth, who was just coming back after having kicked by Johnny Lee in the stomach, on the head.
The four thugs all turned and ran. Suddenly, it was all over.
Mei Peach was crying holding and kissing Johnny Lee.
Mrs. Tong stood there, still waving that folding chair with the other hand on her waist, loudly declared that nobody, she meant nobody, could touch her friends.
I said to Johnny Lee, "Are you all right?"
He said he was all right and thanked me and Kwong.
"Well," I said, "be careful next time." And started to walk away with Kwong.
Yes, we were leaving. There is an old saying in Chinese that sometimes retreating is one way to gain headway.
Sure enough, Mrs. Tong called us back and asked us in to her restaurant for some refreshment. It was the least she could do.
To make a long story short, we became instant friends, with me visiting the restaurant almost every evening.

JOHNNY LEE DID NOT know why he had been attacked because he thought he had no enemy.
I knew but I couldn't tell him.
It was two weeks later. I was having lunch with him. Not in Mrs. Tong's restaurant but in the coffee shop of a hotel, a classy, expensive but quiet place. It was his idea. I knew he had something to say.
In two short weeks, Johnny Lee, Mei Peach and Mrs. Tong had come to like me very much and trust me. I was a good storyteller and had told them a lot of interesting stories about life and the meaning of life. It is quite easy to make people like you as long as you don't try to take anything away from them while giving them something all the time. That was, not letting them know that I was going to take away something from them. I told them I was a businessman and an ex-cop, that Hubert Kwong was very busy running his public relations firm and would not come to chat with us. I needed Kwong on the outside. He was to watch Mei Peach closely to see if she would go visiting her father. But she never did. To Mrs. Tong, I was a more mature man who sometimes echoed her points about life. To Mei Peach and Johnny Lee, I was a father figure who seemed to have all the answers.
That's why Johnny Lee would come to talk to me alone.
Johnny Lee ordered a coffee and stirred it nervously with his spoon nonstop.
I finally said, "You don't have to stir it when you haven't put sugar in it."
"I'm sorry." He puts down the spoon and picked up a packet of sugar, tearing it apart too roughly so that the sugar grains spilled every which way except into his coffee.
I used the plastic covered menu to push the sugar together into a small mound and asked the waitress to clear it away. She glanced at Johnny Lee and smiled. Johnny Lee turned beet-red. An honest, good-natured young man, handsome in a boy-next-door way, he blushed because he could sense that the waitress was quite interested in him.
Johnny Lee kept apologizing.
"Something on your mind?" I asked.
"You have talked to Mei Peach," he said, "do you think she loves me?"
"What do you think?" I said, "Would she hold hands and take a walk with me?"
"I mean, maybe she thinks I'm not rich enough to marry her."
"Are you that poor?" I kept answering his questions with another question.
"I don't think so. I have a steady job. I'm a skilled electrician. I can be a good husband if she doesn't ask for too much."
"How much has she asked for?"
"Not exactly that. It's just that, if a girl is willing, she would not refuse to let me see her father, nor would she decline to meet my folks."
"I didn't know she refused that." I said, "Maybe her father is not an easy man to get along with, and she thinks she needs more time."
"But my folks are not hard to get along with."
"Have you tried to ask her why?"
"Of course I have. But she was vague."
"About marriage?" I asked.
"No. About meeting each other's folks. She did say she needed more time."
"See, I told you so. You should give her more time." I said. In fact I was stalling. I couldn't tell him what I knew.
Johnny Lee shook his head. "It's not that I'm in a hurry. It's just that I think there is something wrong and she wouldn't tell me. I can sense it. Especially after that fight in which we have met. She has asked, hypothetically, she said, what would I do if she should leave me? Would I find a decent girl and get married?"
"Jesus, don't ever answer that question. It's a woman's question to which no answer would be satisfactory. You didn't answer it of course?"
"No. I told her not to talk nonsense."
"Good." I said.
"But the fact remains that she has hinted that she might leave me. I know her well enough to know that she wouldn't say something like that if she has not been thinking about it. Maybe it has something to do with the fight that night. She has refused to talk about that fight. Maybe she has been thinking that I have a side I haven't told her about, a violent side. But, honest to God, I don't know why it happened. I have never lied to her. She knows everything there is to know about me."
"I believe you. What do you want me to do?" I asked.
"Talk to her. Maybe tell her that if she has a problem, she should bring it out into the open. Maybe we could solve it together."
"That I'll do," I promised, "but it will still take time. I have to wait until she wanted to talk to me. I don't think she's the type you can just approach and ask her to open up."
"You are right. You had a long talk with her that barbecue night. What have she told you?"
"Probably nothing you don't know already." I lied, "She's your girlfriend, not mine."
The night he referred to was last Saturday, when all of us went for a barbecue at the beach at around midnight, Johnny Lee and I and Mei Peach and Mrs. Tong and all of her girls. Johnny Lee had gone into the water for a swim. I was alone sitting on a rock looking at the sea under the moonlight. Mei Peach came over and said she wanted to talk to me. We had a talk. But I couldn't tell Johnny Lee what we had talked about.
"I'm confused," said Johnny Lee.
"What's her father like?" I asked. That was the first time I asked Johnny Lee anything about Mei Peach's father. It seemed the right time.
"I've never met him. But he certainly is a strange man. He won't even let her know where he lives. He would call her on the phone when he wanted to meet her. But that has been rare. She told me she has seen him only once after leaving the camp. She doesn't even have his phone number."
"Maybe that's the reason she wouldn't agree to let you meet him. She couldn't even find him."
"But what about my folks?"
"That's easy to figure out. Your folks would ask about her father and would suggest a meeting. But what would she tell them?" I said. That was true although I was still stalling him.
"Please help me." Johnny Lee pleaded, "I love her so much."
"I will." I reached across and patted him on his broad and heavy shoulder.
He had to go because he had work to do. I stayed sipping my coffee and thinking for a long time. Thinking about Mei Peach and what we had talked about.
I had talked to Mei Peach many times. She liked to talk to me because I had this talent of memorizing a lot of trivia and anecdotes and bringing them out at the right time, which she had found interesting and inspiring. She was a strange girl, Mei Peach, pretty but very strange. She had talked about her father in Johnny Lee's absence, like when I had finished dinner--which I had insisted on paying for---in that Vietnamese restaurant and she was not busy and Johnny had yet to arrive. Something about her father she didn't want Johnny Lee to know about. Mei Peach was pretty in a peaceful way. She had straight jet-black hair worn short, clear large black eyes that would look at you like she hasn't a worry in the world. If other girls were like wine, she would be a bottle of distilled water. But this picture of calm and peace was deceiving. An extraordinary storm was churning underneath. Johnny Lee had probably never seen her narrowing her eyes suddenly and extreme sadness bubbling up, crumbling the surface of this lake of calmness. It happened once when I had talked about reincarnation. Mrs. Tong was a stout non-believer and had insisted that once a human being was dead, there would be nothing, period, discussion over. Johnny Lee had said he wasn't sure what to think as he was still young and had never seriously thought about death. Mei Peach had said nothing but the picture of calmness had cracked momentarily.
The following night when I had finished dinner and chewing my gum waiting for Johnny Lee to come, she sat down across me and told me she was a firm believer in reincarnation.
What she meant was reincarnation in the Buddhist sense. According to Mei Peach, we had all come back to this life to pay off or to collect debts accumulated in our previous lives. That's why we would like or dislike someone at first sight without apparent reasons. The people we dislike were actually people we had owed nothing or had owe us nothing in our previous life so that we would have nothing to do with them. The people we liked at first sight and befriended were actually debtors or debt collectors. Our enemies were actually huge debtors or collectors. For instance, that I happened to be there that night to rescue Johnny Lee from a beating was because I had owed him in my previous life, and the thugs were trying to collect from Johnny Lee. If a person were cleared of all debts, he or she would become another Buddha in the western paradise and would no longer need to reincarnate. Mei Peach said her father had been accumulating a huge debt. He was not a good man, he had done evil things in Vietnam. That was why her mother had died on the boat here. It was a debt her father had to pay back. But her father didn't understand and continued to do evil things in the camp. What evil things she did not elaborate, I guessed it must have something to do with the killings inside. Mei Peach was afraid her father would pay dearly, so she was trying to pay for him. One way to redemption was doing good deeds. That's why she would give small sums to charity when she could afford it, in her father's name. She just hoped she could do more for him but she was so powerless. She had wiped her tears and told me that sometimes she just wished she were not his real daughter. Like the plots in soap operas on TV, in which a girl would find out she was actually not the daughter of an evil man but the long lost daughter of a decent man. But that would never be because the resemblance between them was so clear.
I had thought her way of thinking was dangerous but as long as she stops at giving money to charity, there would be no harm.
Then came the barbecue night when she came to shock me. She told me she knew about the thugs that had tried to beat up Johnny Lee. they had been sent by her father. She had told her father once when he called about her and Johnny Lee, but her father didn't want her to marry Lee. In fact he had called to tell her he wanted her to marry a friend of his. The man was 'Crocodile' Ngyuen. He was a big shot in the South Vietnamese gang. She had seen him in the camp and knew he had been lusting after her. They called him Croc, a man who looked very much like a big crocodile and three years older than her father. She thought he was disgusting. But his father told her Croc could help him rise again and insisted she marry Croc. Her father wouldn't take no for an answer. Sending the thugs was his way of showing his determination. Most modern girl would tell her father to get lost, but not Mei Peach. She thought maybe she had owed her father a lot in her previous life, that was why her father was doing this to her. Maybe if she should do as he ordered and could clear the debts once and for all. She said she would give anything for her father's well being because she loved him so much. Her mother was dead and her father was the only one she had. She was not asking me if she should do that, but was asking me how she could avoid hurting Johnny Lee and at the same time please her father. Now that was when her way of thinking was getting dangerous.
I thought long and hard before answering her. I had to show her the right way but at the same time make things work out to my benefit. She was another type of person who would find a thousand excuses to justify her own actions. It was obvious that Anuk Than or Lin, her father, didn't love her at all. She was just a big chip in his pocket, to be used when the chips were down. He was using her. But I wouldn't tell her that. You just don't tell a daughter her father does not love her because she would never accept it. Maybe she knew it but didn't want to accept it and came up with this debt thing as an excuse to justify her actions, so that she wouldn't have to stop loving her father.
"No," I had told her bluntly, "you can't avoid hurting Johnny if you did this. But let's discuss this debt thing in depth. I believe it too. But try thinking back. Why would one owe a debt?"
"I don't know." She said.
"Because one had borrowed, taking something one should not have taken. If he had not taken, or the other one had refused the loan, there would be no debt. Right?"
"I wish the whole world would be like that." She said.
"I think the reason this vicious cycle never ends is that when one collects from another, he collects more than he was owed, so that he owes the other person in return and will have to pay back in his next life, and so on. Now, if you listen to your father and marry this Croc, don't you think you will be letting your father to collect too much from you and making him owe you back?"
She was silent.
"All of us don't know how much we are owing or how much we are owed. But common sense should be our guide. Use your common sense. My common sense tells me that your father is asking too much of you. He would be over collecting if you don't refuse him."
She was silent again. I hoped my points were hitting home.
"Tell me something. If my brother were guilty of a misdemeanor and the court fined him five hundred dollars, would it be all right for me to pay the fine for him because he had no money?" I asked.
"Of course you can."
"But if he were guilty of murder and was sentenced to life imprisonment, would it be all right if I went to jail for him?"
"Of course not."
"Here's your guideline. Giving money to charity in his name is like paying the small fines for him. But you can't go to jail for him for serious offences. A man should be responsible for himself. Everything he does will come back to him eventually. There is nothing you can do to stop that. Think about it."
She was silent again. And that was about all I could do. What Johnny Lee had asked of me I had already done. Mei Peach would have to decide herself.
And I was in a tight spot. Even if I could find Lin now, how could I kill him? That would hurt Mei Peach most.
Doc Hoc Lin, or Anuk Than now was another man who can't be killed, not by me.

MEI PEACH WAS IN A TIGHT spot too, and she did the typical woman thing, she disappeared. Eight hours after I had the talk with Johnny Lee in the coffee shop, she vanished. Mrs. Tong had sent her to the corner to buy some rubber bands to be used in the cashier's counter at 10:00 p.m. and she hadn't come back. Mrs. Tong and Johnny Lee were very scared. They called me at 11:00 p.m. and I rushed to the restaurant. I told them it would be no use to report to the police because Mei Pearl was not a missing person yet. A young woman missing is considered more serious than a man missing by the police, but the police still wouldn't take the case unless she didn't come back overnight or there was evidence of foul play. I told them to keep calm and wait. I was calm because I had the private eye Hubert Kwong watching Mei Peach all the time and I would know where she had gone.
Kwong called me on my mobile at 11:45 p.m. and I took it outside on the curb, complaining the phone was receiving poorly inside. Kwong told me Mei Peach had run away to the outskirts of town and checked into a cheap guesthouse alone. She had been weeping all the time.
"Good," I said, "send in the goon now."
"This will cost you more." Said Kwong.
He had not charged me extra for the fight after all but this time he would, as he was not going to do it himself.
We waited in the restaurant some more and then I told Johnny Lee to take a walk with me to ease the tension. Johnny Lee really needed this because he was so tense he was trembling.
Somebody was waiting for us. We were approaching the opening of a dark alley when a man leaped out from the dark, charging at us waving a baseball bat. I pushed Johnny Lee out of the way, yelling at him to be careful and rolled onto the ground myself. This was one way to face a man with a stick or a long weapon in Chinese kung fu. It would be harder for my opponent to reach me on the ground and I could attack him on his lower body where it would be least protected by the bat. My feet clamped the guy's legs like a scissors in a flash and lifted him off the ground. Then I let go and he fell heavily, having lost his balance. The baseball bat flew out of his hand and was caught by Johnny Lee. Johnny Lee hit the guy with it on the shin and the guy screamed in pain. I wished Johnny Lee had gone easy on that bat because that guy had been sent by Kwong just to act out a scene. He was earning his money the hard way. I hurriedly grabbed hold of the man and pinned him to the ground, covering his body with mine so that Johnny Lee would not hit him again. "Now you're going to talk." I yelled.
He talked, with Johnny Lee waving the baseball bat menacingly. Although he was just reading a script he had memorized. He said he was sent by Mei Peach's father to warn Johnny Lee not to bother Mei Peach anymore.
"I'm not bothering her," Johnny Lee screamed, "I'm going to marry her."
"They are made for each other," Mrs. Tong also screamed. She had come out and was waving her folding chair again, "you tell him to talk to me."
I had to be careful to cover the guy so he would be safe from that folding chair. And I asked him what happened to Mei Peach, and at the same time whispered into his ears without moving my lips, "Hurry up, you fool." For he shouldn't have jumped us so close to the restaurant.
"You touch her and I'll kill you." Johnny Lee screamed again.
The guy told us he hadn't touched Mei Peach. She had run away herself. But they had had her followed and knew where she was hiding. He gave us the address of the guesthouse.
I took the baseball bat from Johnny Lee and threw it as far away as I could, telling the man to pick it up and beat it. He ran away in relieve.
Now we could go find Mei Peach and explain away how we had come to know where she was. There was no way she could find out that her father had not sent the man with the baseball bat. She would not believe it even if her father told her so himself.
Johnny Lee and I jumped into a taxi while Mrs. Tong returned to her restaurant to wait. I called Kwong on the way for reinforcement. Then I explained to him about Mei Peach's father not agreeing to Mei Peach marrying him. He was distraught but I told him not to worry, that things would turn out fine for them.
We arrived just in time to find Mei Peach being dragged out of the guesthouse by two goons. They were exchanging shouts in Vietnamese. It was the real thing this time around, these men were not sent by me. They were trying to stuff Mei Peach into a suburban van. We shouted at them to stop and they pulled out razor-sharp choppers from the van. I had to restrain Johnny Lee. Fortunately, my reinforcement arrived. Two vans screeched around the corner and stopped, the rear doors springing open.
Five men leapt out, brandishing baseball bats. Hubert Kwong was their leader. The two Vietnamese had choppers but they were outnumbered. Their choppers were struck away by the longer baseball bats and soon they were on their knee begging for mercy.
We made them talk. This time there had been no script. Turned out they were sent by Croc to kidnap Mei Peach because Croc had figured that her father would go back on his words. Croc knew Mei Peach would run and had her watched, not having believed what Anuk Than or Doc Hoc Lin had said that Mei Peach was willing.
If Mei Peach had any doubts about her own destiny, the doubts had gone now. She gave the two Vietnamese a dressing down in Vietnamese. Then she told us she had told them to report to their boss that she'll marry Johnny Lee and no one else.
I told Johnny Lee to take Mei Peach back to Mrs. Tong first. After they were gone, Kwong and I questioned the men again and found out where Lin was hiding. Then I let them go.
The whole play cost me a lot but it was money well spent. For everyone was playing into my hand. Later, Mei Peach was moved to a safe place to hide for the moment. I didn't think she had to hide very long.
I didn't go to kill Lin. I couldn't kill him. I will play the waiting game. The dominoes had started toppling.

DOC HOC LIN had changed his name to Anuk Than when he was in the refugee camp. Now that he had left the camp, he had it changed again to Ha Fung Chun, a Chinese name. He was Chinese now, and a Chinese herbal medicine doctor too, specializing in treating terminal cancer. The three words in his Chinese name actually meant 'summer meeting spring', hinting at life and flourishing.
He was back to his old game, being a con man. At the time of this writing, Chinese herbal medicine doctors are not required to apply for a license. All you need is to apply for a business registration, pay the registration fee and have the gall to claim you are an expert in the field and you are in business. Most Chinese herbal medicine doctors have their clinics inside herbal medicine shops, usually with just a desk and a sign. There is no way to tell a good Chinese herbal medicine doctor from a quack. It is all by words of mouth. You cure patients often enough, the patients would talk and words get around and business would boom.
Some Chinese herbal medicine doctors are quacks, having learned their trade by reading some books on the subject and would prescribe only common herbs that could not cure the patients but would not hurt them either. Words get around and these quacks usually can't even earn their meals.
Lin, now Ha Fung Chun was also a quack. But he was bolder by claiming to be an expert in curing terminal cancers, preying on the kind of patients most vulnerable. They had been declared hopeless by western doctors, but as nobody wants to die, would grasp at any straw, looking for a miracle healer. Ha Fung Chun was that miracle healer. If a patient died after seeing him, no one would blame him. After all, the western doctors had already declared the case hopeless. He would also claim that the patient had come to him too late, that the western doctors actually killed him by wasting precious time. And Ha Fung Chun charged exorbitant fees, on the basis that most people believe better things cost more. The family of a patient would usually be skeptical, but what could they say? Tell the patient that he should quit trying and just die? They could only watch the patient being bled dry.
Ha Fung Chun was also good at the art of packaging. This afternoon at about 4 p.m., he was dressed as usual in ancient Chinese costume, complete with a long grey beard, sitting at his desk in the backroom of this Chinese herbal medicine store, feeling the pulse of this new patient, caressing his full grey beard with the other hand. He had claimed he was the sixth generation of his family, which had all been cancer busters, and he was certainly looking the part. He was telling tall tales as he was feeling the patient's pulse. He was telling of the time when he had cured Mr. Lee, one of the richest men in Hong Kong, of lung cancer. That's why Mr. Lee was still going strong at seventy-eight. He had also cured the wife of the former Governor of Hong Kong of cancer of the uterus. Stories impossible to check. He also told this new patient that cancer was a debt from a previous life, and one had to suffer in order to pay off the debt. A story coined from Mei Peach's sayings no doubt. The patient, hairless and pale and frail and weak, actually brightened up as he thought of his shrinking debts.
Ha Fung Chun could have gone on and on had I not called him on the phone. I called the medicine store with my mobile, the owner took the call and I told him I wanted to speak to doctor Ha. He told me to hold on, put down the phone and yelled at the quack that it was his call. Ha Fung Chun got up, walked over to the counter and picked up the phone, saying hello.
I said in Cantonese, "Doc Hoc Lin?"
If he was shaken, he didn't show it at all. He said mildly, "I think you have got the wrong number." But he didn't hang up.
"Oh, sorry, its Anuk Than." I said.
"Wrong number." He told me again.
"But you certainly are no doctor." I said.
He slammed the receiver down.
The owner asked him what was the matter as he had paled visibly now.
"Oh, nothing. Wrong number. It was a lunatic." He recovered quickly and then announced calmly, "Please excuse me. I have to go to the washroom."
He went into the backyard of the store, slipped out the back door, ripped off the beard which was of course false, stuffed it into a waste bin and walked away, never to return to that store again.
Doc Hoc Lin knew his cover was blown, but probably couldn't figure out who had been on that phone call. But one thing was certain for him, he could no longer stay at that medicine store to play doctor anymore. He had to run, and to hide.
But he was too late. I was watching him going away through a pair of binoculars. I had been looking at him from a distance when I made that call. The medicine store was also bugged so that I could hear everything inside. Bugging that store had been easy, for it had no security measure at all. Just put a couple of bugs on two unwashed windowpanes had done the trick. Calling him on the phone had been a ploy to jolt him into running. Perhaps he himself knew that too, him being an experienced con man. But he had no choice. He had to run, and fast, hoping to outrun whoever was after him.
And I had to hand it to him. He was fast. He hadn't even waste time to think. He didn't even stopped to clean out his desk. He just turned and ran. Time was essential for him. Maybe he had been prepared. He had been a man on the run for twenty-five years and he knew he might need to run again any minute.
I watched him turn the corner and disappeared. Then my mobile rang. It was Hubert Kwong, the private eye. "I've got him." Kwong told me.
"Good." I said.
Kwong and I would take turns following him.
I put away my glasses and strolled unhurriedly to my car. Kwong would tell me when and where to pick up on Lin's trail again.

DOC HOC LIN, OR WHOEVER he was now, was prepared all right. He didn't even go back to the small flat he lived. He just went away as far away as he could. He went straight to the MTR station. MTR stands for Mass Transit Railway, which is Hong Kong's version of the tube. A man would disappear quickly if you were following him driving a car and he went to take the MTR. That was probably why Lin didn't take a taxi. But Kwong was prepared too. Years of private investigative work had taught him to be wary of this move. A couple of extra men in a car would solve this problem. A man could jump out of a car and be on foot in seconds.
Lin went straight to the other side of town, walking up a footpath and entered a wooden hut on a hillside. We stopped and watched from a distance. This was a poverty stricken part of town, with privately and poorly built wooden huts scattering on the slope. The government had been cracking down on the building of this kind of huts. Occupants of existing huts were being resettled gradually and the huts torn down. In a few years, they would be just history forgotten. In fact, at least half of these huts were vacant now. This particular hut which Lin had gone into was a comparatively new one as it had a roof of corrugated-plastic, in light green color. Older ones had corrugated-iron with tar poured on for roofs. The hut was isolated, about a hundred feet away from its nearest neighbor. Nobody else was inside obviously as Lin had unlocked a padlock on the outside before entering. Then Lin just stayed hidden inside without any sign of activity.
Then night had fallen and there was no light coming on inside the windows. I didn't think it was a good time for Lin to sleep. We could not peer inside as the windows, which were just plain wooden planks, were closed.
Kwong had some doubts. He suggested at dusk that perhaps Lin had killed himself and was now dead. I told him I didn't think so. No, not a man tough enough to have braved the raging sea to escape from Vietnam. Not a man who loved himself so much that he would sell his only daughter. Lin was up to something, but we didn't know what. One thing was sure though was that he was still inside that hut. I had studied the surrounding hillside and had come to the conclusion that there could not be some sort of secret tunnel out of the hut.
Then the Crocodile came.
I had no idea how Croc looked, but the moment he appeared, I knew it was him. Like a huge crocodile walking on its hind legs, that was how the man looked. Anyone who had seen him would instantly gave him the nickname 'Croc'.
Croc came with two men. They drew guns.
"Hey, Lin," Croc called in Vietnamese, "I know you are in there." I'll explain a little later how I had come to understand Vietnamese.
Lin did not respond. Croc waved and the two gunmen kicked the door in. Then they switched on flashlights as they made their way inside.
Lin was inside all right. And he was a picture of horror. He was sitting in a folding chair beside an old, battered wooden table. His whole face was bloodied and ruined as if he had just escaped from a fire. Croc shone his flashlight on Lin's face and asked with amazement, "What happened to you face?"
Lin grimaced. "I have put acid on it so that I couldn't be recognized anymore."
"Well, I can still recognize you." Croc waved with his gun and the two gunmen went outside the door to stand guard. "You can't run away from me." He pointed his gun on Lin's face and said again, still in Vietnamese.
"I'm not running from you," said Lin, "I'm running from the Mafia."
"Don't give me that shit again," Croc spat, "what Mafia?"
"Unless it was you who had called me at the medicine store, addressing me first by the name of Doc Hoc Lin and then Anuk Than."
"I didn't make that call."
"See," Lin spread his hands, "they're here."
"I don't believe it," Croc snarled, "that shit about Tony Tomasi and how he could help us big time."
"It's true. Except Tomasi died of cancer."
"How convenient," Croc sneered, " just like your patients dying. Dead men don't come asking for their money back."
"But why are you here," Lin asked, "I owe you nothing."
"You owe me a lot." Croc growled, "you owe me a wife. Where is your daughter?"
"She has betrayed me," Lin said, "the deal's off, okay? I owe you nothing. You have lost nothing."
"No. You promised me she would marry me, and I've told that to a lot of people. Now it's not going to be. Two of my men have been beaten to a pulp trying to bring her to me. You have made me lose face. That's what I've lost. I've become a laughing stock."
"So I'm sorry. Why don't you just tell them my daughter is not a good lay and you've changed your mind about marrying her? That would save your face."
"No. You have tried to con me. Pay back time now."
"I have nothing to repay you."
"I'm going to kill you."
"Don't even try," Lin's eyes glinted dangerously, "the whole house is wired with dynamite. One push at this button and we exist no more."
Croc's eyes widened. He couldn't help looking down at the table, trying to find the remote control. He found nothing of that sort. But he was distracted for a second and Lin had the chance to move. Lin's right foot flashed upwards and kicked the gun out of Croc's hand. Then he pulled a gun out from under the table. Croc yelled and dove for his own gun. Lin fired, but not at Croc. He was firing at both sides of the door, where the two gunmen should be standing guard. His bullets were well placed. The walls were just old thin wooden planks and the bullets went right through them like slicing through cheese, hitting the two gunmen. Both gunmen toppled and fell dead before they could make any move.
Croc was still on the floor looking for his gun when the resounding of gunfire subsided. Then he froze and raised his eyes slowly. He was right. The gun in Lin's hand was pointing at his head.
"I'm much better than you think," Lin said calmly, "and you have been taking me for granted."
"I'm----sorry." Croc stammered.
"Sorry will not do. I plan everything. I have left one bullet especially for you. I must use this bullet according to my plan."
"But ----" Croc opened his mouth again.
Lin fired, the bullet going straight into Croc's mouth and found its exit in the back of his neck. Croc was dead before he hit the floor.
Then Hubert Kwong and I appeared at the door, our guns pointing at Lin. "Drop your gun." Kwong ordered in Cantonese.
"I'll die taking at least one of you with me." Lin sneered. Now he was speaking Cantonese.
"No, you can't. We have counted your bullets too. You have used your last bullet." I said.
Lin pulled the trigger anyway and his gun clicked empty. Kwong pistol-whipped him on his face and he fell back on the makeshift bed in the house, squirmed and screamed for a full thirty seconds. For his face was raw, making the blow extremely painful.
Kwong picked up the gun Croc had lost and handed it to me. I took it and pointed it at Lin, putting away my own gun.
"I'm leaving now," Kwong said, "I've seen nothing and done nothing. I have nothing to do with all this." Then he walked out of the door. He was just a private eye, not a hit man.
Lin pushed himself up from the bed and glared at me. "Who the hell are you?" He asked.
"You guessed right." I said.
"So what are you waiting for."
"I can kill you now." I said.
"Of course you can." He said. He didn't understand what I had just said and I was not going to explain to him.
"Just one question." I said, "Where's the money? All five million of it, in American dollars, and that's five million of a quarter century ago."
"I don't have to tell you. I won't give you the satisfaction."
I pull a gadget out of my shirt pocket. It looked like a chrome fountain pen but actually it was one of those hi-tech miniature recorders. "You are on tape now. Now my employer will not be suspicious about me pocketing that money."
"All right," Lin shrugged, "believe it or not, I've lost it all. After the liberation, I thought I could buy power with all that money. Thought I could be a minister or something. Turned out that some people had so much power they didn't need to sell it. They just used their power to take away the money."
"Proves that there are smoother operators than you."
He closed his eyes and sighed, "At least dying at the hand of the Mafia is more honorable than being killed by a crocodile."
But the gesture of resignation was false. He suddenly lunged at me without opening his eyes. I fired. He fell back and died, his left eye turning into a large bloody hole.
"I told you I can kill you now." I said.
I wiped the gun clean with my shirttail, then put it into Croc's right hand. They had killed each other,
Then I left quietly. The nearest lighted hut was over five hundred feet away. Nobody had seen or heard us.
As to the part about understanding Vietnamese, it was Kwong who could understand it. Kwong was also from an overseas Chinese family and had grown up in Vietnam. That's why I hired him. We had this special boom, which when directed at the house, could amplify the sound inside so that we could hear everything. Kwong had translated to me on the spot. Pretty expensive surveillance equipment, that boom, but not something money couldn't buy.

JOHNNY LEE AND MEI PEACH married one year later, after her mourning period was over. Mei Peach had wanted me to give her away at the ceremony, but I declined, recommending Mrs. Tong instead. It was a right move because I had killed her father, although all she knew was that her father died in a gunfight with Croc. She had said I was right, that whatever a person had done would come back to him eventually.

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TWENTY-FIVE

MR. JONES AND THE BUTTERFLY

CHARLES GARCIA IS WORKING alone because The Porcupine has announced he would not come tonight. The Porcupine can get bored easily doing serious work and has to take nights off to go to the casinos. Then he would get bored at the tables and came back to work.
Yes, a man needs diversity, some spice in his life. However interesting a game is, playing it days on end would bore you stiff. Something different, even if it was serious work, would refresh you.
Working on his book is an extremely interesting game for Garcia, but he will get bored too. He also needs some excursion and he thinks he needs it tonight, later tonight.
Garcia has finished writing chapter ten, THE MEN WHO CAN'T BE KILLED, told by The Porcupine and put into writing by him. He has added finishing touches here and there, but mostly the story is as The Porcupine has told it. Garcia shakes his head in admiration as he goes over the story on his laptop for the last time. He is now working in the comfort of his living room, half-sunken in his genuine leather sofa. He always goes this last lap in the living room. A small excursion itself as he would be detached from all the gadgets in his study.
He shakes his head again as he finishes the last line.
He sure can tell some good stories, this Joseph Bickford. I can't be sure whether he has made them up entirely or they are true. Most probably, he has taken materials from stories he has heard, put them together to form new ones. However he does it, he is good, maybe too good. For like he has said himself, my stories are more believable than his. Still I would love to be in one of his stories. Like when I was a boy reading an adventure story in Boy Scouts' Own, I would give an arm or a leg to be the hero in it.
Garcia puts the laptop aside, takes off his reading glasses, also putting it aside, ponders for a moment, then suddenly leans down to his right, his right hand diving under the sofa and comes up with a gun. For there was a gun under the sofa, completely hidden from view by the long rich hair of the white carpet. A gun he can use when necessary. It would be too awkward carrying a gun around in a holster on his waist or under his arm when he is in the house.
Garcia points left and right with the gun, mocking a gunfight. Finally, he waves and puts the gun back in its hiding place. Then he leans forward and types on the laptop with one finger. Words appear on the LCD monitor, directly under the last line of chapter ten:
I have grown quite fond of this man Joseph
Bickford.
Should I kill him after this? Maybe not. No,
I have decided not to kill him after all.
He studies the freshly typed lines, shakes his head again before deleting them and closing the laptop. He takes the laptop back into his study, puts it on his desk and sits down again, hunching over his personal computer. He selects a file titled THE PREFACE, deletes the old contents and begins to type.
He is rewriting the preface of his book for the sixth time.
He is finished half an hour later, goes over it for the last time, then saves it and closes the computer.
It is midnight now.
Garcia gets up, goes into his bedroom and begins changing, this time into a black tee shirt and black slacks. Not his usual style, as these are ordinary cheap stuff, also a little ill fitting. Then he opens a drawer in his dresser and takes out from it a false mustache, sticking it on above his upper lips.
"Just like doctor Ha Fung Chun." He mutters to himself and laughs without humor.
Then he takes out a grey wig from the same drawer, slipping it on to cover his original hair, which is black with but a few silver strands. Now he is a greying man with a salt and pepper moustache. He puts on the finishing touch by putting on a pair of sunglasses with a large brown square plastic frame.
Charles Garcia has now transformed himself into another man.
In fact, he is now Mr. Jones.

THE MAN WHO OPENS the door for Mr. Jones is a small and wily Portuguese in his mid forties wearing a crumpled brown suit and sweat-stained white shirt without necktie. His attire goes with the house, which is a big colonial house and which has seen better days. The decorations, though once rich as a Roman palace, are peeling or falling apart. Like last night's makeup on the face of a fifty-year-old woman. Mr. Jones' black outfit also fits the place somehow. He has come in a taxi and has walked through a large garden, which has not been tended to for at least one year. The small Portuguese is a local-born by the name of Paul Reed, formerly with the Macau police force but now in the security business. In fact, Paul Reed is the security chief here. The underworld here sometimes would prefer to use a Portuguese ex-policeman as he still knows the place well and has his connections.
"You should have called first, Mr. Jones, so that I could make preparations especially for you." Paul Reed says, like a salesman in a jewelry store to a wealthy patron as he leads Mr. Jones through a rundown hall with a grand, sweeping stairway leading to the second floor. It could have been the set of the motion picture GONE WITH THE WIND in its heyday, but most of the marble steps are cracked now.
"It's all right," slurs Mr. Jones, "it's just a spur-of-the-moment thing." He slurs as if something is wrong with his tongue, obviously because he does not want his voice to be recognized when he switched back to Charles Garcia.
It makes no difference to Paul Reed though. To him, Mr. Jones is just another eccentric customer, very eccentric but willing to pay handsomely. As long as the money keeps coming, Paul Reed does not care who he really is under the heavy disguise. Knowing the real identity of this kind of customer may actually be dangerous. It would be safer if he does not try to find out. A trusted friend who is now back in Portugal has referred Mr. Jones to Paul Reed.
"But you have come at just the right time after all." Reed says, "A new shipment has just arrived. Give me five minutes and I'll show you."
Mr. Jones is led into a door under the stairway. The door opens into a large room, almost threadbare, with peeling and yellowed wallpaper, which was very expensive when new. There are only one table and three chairs in this large room now. Though far from new, they are obviously not leftovers from the happier days of the house, for they are just cheap modern folding table and chairs.
Mr. Jones sits down on one of the chairs and is treated with a small glass of brandy by Paul Reed, which Mr. Jones will never touch. Mr. Jones is oblivious to everything except the large mirror on one wall facing him. The frame of the mirror is of elegantly sculptured wood, gilded and obviously antique, but horribly mutilated, with some parts missing, not because it has seen better days but because the original piece of mirror has been taken out, replaced by a new one-way mirror. The changing job has been sloppy, at least on this side, with blobs of silicon gel showing at the edge. But it serves its purpose. Mr. Jones could look through the mirror into the next room, which houses a huge indoor swimming pool, safe with the knowledge that those on the other side could not see him, seeing only a large mirror on the wall. Some of the marble floors around the pool are also cracked but at least the room is kept clean and there is clean water in the pool.
There is no one in the poolroom now, but there will be, as Paul Reed explains to Mr. Jones, "I have given the order. They will be here soon."
Mr. Jones grunts. Paul Reed stands beside him and together they watch through the one-way mirror the empty pool. Mr. Jones wonders if Paul Reed knows the history of this house. It used to be the property of an aristocratic Portuguese family and had been kept well for several generations. But then the last generation produced a lone heir who was a black sheep and who had developed an unfortunate fondness to the casinos. He had lost his whole fortune in no time and the house was sold. The new owner has bought the house not for its grandeur but for its spaciousness that suits a different purpose.
Then the girls appear. A total of twelve young girls, none older than twenty-two but none younger than eighteen, coming out of a doorway in single file. They pass in front of the mirror, each doing several pirouettes before going on, like a parade in a beauty contest. Except they are all stark naked, without a stitch on.
For this is the training headquarters for girls to be working in the nightclubs. The girls are mostly from mainland China, they know they are being watched but think nothing of it. Sometimes photographers took pictures here, to be published in girly magazines. The same thing has been going on for years and is still going on now under the new government. Perhaps there are other priorities to deal with. Or perhaps this is a hard cash business the city still needs. Who knows?
Mr. Jones is a very special customer though. He will pay handsomely for this privilege.
"Splendid, right?" says Paul Reed, "This shipment arrived only a week ago. Training is almost complete and they are ready to go to work in a couple of days. I hope one of them would be lucky tonight."
For Mr. Jones is here to select a girl for himself. But he has left empty-handed the last two times, although he would never welsh on payment. Paul Reed really does not know what kind of girl Mr. Jones has in mind. If Mr. Jones would tell him, it would be easier. But Mr. Jones has never told him and he knows better than to ask. Paul Reed does not worry too much though because Mr. Jones will pay all the same.
Then a girl got lucky. Mr. Jones points and says, "This one."
"Ah, you like it skinny, Mr. Jones."
For the girl Mr. Jones has pointed out is a girl on the slim side, with small breasts. Not too skinny, just that some would prefer more flesh on her.
"I want her," says Mr. Jones, "is that a problem?"
"No problem." Says Reed.
Reed instantly corrects himself mentally about Mr. Jones liking it skinny. For Mr. Jones has been coming here for one year, about once a month. He has picked only two girls during all these months, having left empty-handed other times, but both of them were not skinny. One of them actually was plump. But there is one thing in common. The girl he has picked now has a small, strawberry-colored birthmark in the shape of a butterfly on her left inner thigh, right beside her pubic hairline. The previous two had something similar too. Three times in a row is definitely not a coincidence. Now Paul Reed knows what Mr. Jones wants, but he won't say it. He just makes a mental note.
"Good." Mr. Jones gets up.
"I'll make the preparation." Says Paul Reed.

THERE IS A KNOCK on the door half an hour later and Mr. Jones says, "Come in." in English. He is sitting on a chair in the sitting room of a small but comfortably furnished and air-conditioned house with a gun on his lap. As he says that, he puts a newspaper over the gun to cover it.
The door opens and the girl who is on the slim side steps in. Then the door closes itself. Paul Reed has pulled the door closed on the outside. There is no need for him to go in. He just turns, walks through a small but well tended garden, climbs into his car on the curb and waits. This is a house in the suburbs, unlived other times as Paul Reed vaguely remembers because he has sometimes passed through the neighborhood and couldn't help to look. Mr. Jones probably owns it. Paul Reed didn't care. It has been Mr. Jones' instruction to deliver the girl here and he has done just that. The money will be paid into his bank account as usual.
Inside the house, Mr. Jones and the girl look at each other. The girl is wearing a skimpy white dress with small yellow flowers complete with green leaves printed on it. The dress is like a cross between a one-piece swimsuit and a miniskirt. A pair of sandals is on her feet, all very easy to get out of. She is carrying a small black purse and her long hair has been tied up in the back of her head into a ponytail. She looks very good and not skinny at all.
"Mr. Jones," the girl speaks first, "I'm here. My name is Rose." She said that in Mandarin, making it obvious that she is from the northern part of China.
"Can you understand me?" Mr. Jones asks, also in Mandarin. Charles Garcia can understand spoken Mandarin quite well but is not so good coming to speaking the dialect. For Mandarin was not a favored dialect in Macau and Hong Kong until it has been confirmed that Hong Kong would be returned to Chinese sovereignty in ten years' time. He has tried to catch up but found it difficult, as he was not so young anymore. Slurring at the same time makes it tougher. Still, communicating should not be a problem. He just can't be as fluent with it as he is with Cantonese. Of course, Mandarin is now referred to as putonghua, which in Chinese means 'standardized dialect'. Smart move for the Chinese, because they use the same written words but speak so many different dialects that communicating orally has been such a headache.
"Yes, I can understand you," answers Rose, smiling with mischief, "but we don't need to say a lot, do we?"
"Probably not."
Rose takes a deep breath and begins to do the wrong thing. "Oh, you are so handsome, Mr. Jones, the man in my dreams." She says as she rushes forward and grabs Mr. Jones, holding him in her arms, only to find herself pushed away roughly, almost falling. This is obviously a trick she has been taught in training but is not working on this man.
"Stop that." Mr. Jones barks as he holds on to the newspaper on his lap tightly. For the gun has almost fallen out in the scuffle.
"What do you want me to do?" Rose asks, momentarily lost.
"You are a decent girl, not a prostitute." Rasps Mr. Jones.
Rose is still lost. She may have been a decent girl but she certainly is a prostitute now. She has come to Macau to sell her body.
"Never mind." Mr. Jones waves, "just go inside, take a bath and wait for me on the bed."
This part Rose can understand and also finds it easy. She walks into the bedroom and closes the door. She will find an adjoining bathroom inside.
Mr. Jones gets up, walks to the door carrying the gun, double-locked it. Then he goes over to place the gun on the coffee table, again covering it with the newspaper. The gun is a precaution, in case anyone would break in with extortion in mind.
Mr. Jones is in no hurry, as he has to give Rose time to take the bath. He goes over to check the windows, pulls the curtain, which has been opening a crack to allow him to peer outside, closed. Then he goes into the kitchen, pours himself a glass of water and sips at it slowly until the glass is empty. He looks at his watch. It is ten minutes after he has told Rose to take a bath.
Mr. Jones goes out to knock on the bedroom door. Rose asks him to come in. He turns the knob, opens the door and steps in.
Rose is lying on the bed, with a sheet covering her body from her chin down. She is obviously naked as her dress is draped over the back of a chair beside the bed, with a scarlet bikini panties now rolled into a ball slightly bigger than a large strawberry on the seat. Beside the panties is her little black purse. She is smiling at him demurely. Now she is playing the part of a decent girl.
Mr. Jones steps forward to the left side of the bed where there is a lot of space. The right side of the bed is close to the window, with just a two-foot gap in between.
Then Rose does the wrong thing again. She suddenly flings off the sheet, letting it slip onto the floor. Her whole naked body is now exposed, with her legs spreading wide.
Mr. Jones flinches. She is probably too young to know how to play the part of a temptress. Then maybe she is just doing what she has been trained to do. What she is doing would make most men climb the wall. Shallow men, that is. Mr. Jones is not a shallow man, he is a very special man.
"Am I good looking?" Rose asks in a husky voice.
But it seems that Rose can do no right. For Mr. Jones' eyes widens, then he shouts as he flies into a rage, "Where is the butterfly?"
"What?' She is startled and fails to catch the real meaning of the question. His imperfect putonghua and his slurring help little.
Mr. Jones grabs hold of her ankles and pulls her closer, spreading her legs even wider. The birthmark has gone. He lets go of one ankle and uses the hand to raise his sunglasses a little to have a better look. It's still not there.
"The butterfly." Mr. Jones shouts again and points with a finger.
Now she understands. "Oh, that. It was just a stick-on tattoo. I have washed it off. I thought I should be cleaner for you."
"You bitch," Mr. Jones growls vehemently, "you lied to me."
His right hand suddenly digs under the bed and comes up with a gun. Mr. Jones seems to have guns hidden all over the place. He presses the muzzle against her temple. "I'm going to kill you."
"Wait, wait," she pleads frantically, "I can put one on again. Maybe two, four? I have them in my purse."
Mr. Jones heaves a sigh and withdraws the gun. It is not her fault, just a misunderstanding. Stick-on tattoo is the in thing now and she has just been trying to catch up with the times.
She rolls off the bed and lunges for her purse, saying, "I'll put it on now, don't be angry."
She is so eager to please.
She takes out from her small black purse a small piece of plastic sheet, sits on the chair, legs raised and spread wide. "How many do you want?" she asks.
"Just one." Mr. Jones shakes his head in wonder, "and please do it in the bathroom."
Rose gets off the chair, goes into the adjoining bathroom hurriedly. Mr. Jones wishes she would close the door. But at least she is out of sight behind that door and he cannot see what she is doing.
Then she comes out again and faces him. The strawberry-colored birthmark in the shape of a small butterfly is now in place. But she is still too young to know how to do this kind of thing right. She walks up to him and stops real close. As he is sitting on the edge of the bed and she standing, her pubic hair actually brushes against his cheek.
Mr. Jones again pushes her away roughly and she falls onto the bed, bouncing. But she is still making a point to keep her legs spread.
"You want to play rough, it's okay," she giggles, "but please don't hurt me."
Mr. Jones glares at her. What is he going to do with her?
"This thing," she caresses the gun, "it's a toy gun, right? You are playing a game, right?"
She has not believed the gun was real. In the hand of Paul Reed, she would believe. But in his hand, no. If she had known it was a real gun, she would probably have run out of the house screaming, or just fainted.
Mr. Jones slides the gun back under the bed. "Yes," he says, "just a toy gun."
"Now I have a butterfly," she points with a well-manicured finger, "you like it? Want to touch it?"
"Look, here's the game." Mr. Jones says, "You are supposed to play the part of a decent girl, a virgin. You fall in love with me at first sight. Your first time is with me. You will say you love me, okay?"
"I'll try." Says Rose.
The part of a virgin should not be too hard to play. If she was a real virgin, she can just play it straight. If she was an ex-virgin, she can surely remember how it was the first time. She is of course not a virgin.
She lies back on the bed, closes her eyes. "I love you." she moans. Then she stops moving altogether.
After forty seconds of silence and immobility, Mr. Jones asks, "What are you doing?"
She opens one eye, "My first time, I was drunk and passed out."
"Jesus." Mr. Jones leaps up and walks a few circles in the room, his arms flailing.
"You want me to do anything, just tell me. Some things I don't know how to do, you can teach me." Rose says. She is trying so hard.
"Let's try this." Says Mr. Jones, coming back to sit on the edge of the bed and pulls open a drawer in the night table. He takes out from the drawer two tablets in orange color. "Take these." There is already a glass of water on the night table.
"What's this?" she asks, frowning. Taking drugs is something else.
"Just a couple of ecstasy," says Mr. Jones, "it will make you happy."
"Ah, that. I've tried it back home, in the discos."
She washes down the tablets with the glass of water.
Mr. Jones leans back on the headboard and waits. She leans back and waits too, smiling, for the drug to take effect.
Then her eyes glaze, her eyelids drop and her head falls limply on his shoulder. A snore escapes her nostrils.
"Hey, what are you doing?" Mr. Jones grabs her by the shoulders and shakes her.
She just snores in reply and keeps on snoring.
Mr. Jones lets her fall back, reaches under the bed and comes out with the gun again. He fires twice, the bullets producing two black holes on the mattress. The shots are deafening, having discharged so close to her ears. But she just keeps on snoring. She is sound asleep, a drug induced sleep that would last for hours.
The doorbell starts to ring again and again. Mr. Jones goes out of the bedroom.
"Hey! Hey!" Paul Reed is shouting outside the front door.
Mr. Jones unlocks the door and opens it. Paul Reed is pale and trembling and looking at him suspiciously. "What happened? I heard gunshots."
Mr. Jones has already put away the gun. He leads Paul Reed into the bedroom. Paul Reed shakes Rose like a rag doll, failing to wake her up but is relieved that she is still breathing and there is no blood.
"What happened?" Paul Reed asks again.
"Just a game," says Mr. Jones, "but it's a bad trip for both of us. You have to carry her back."

MR. JONES IS BACK TO Charles Garcia half an hour later, and back in the comfort of Garcia's house. Garcia has taken a bath and changed into a set of dark red silk pajamas. It is 2:00 a.m. and he is in bed. But sleep would not come easy. He rolls left and right and changes positions almost nonstop. He is thinking that although he will still get up at ten in the morning, he would not be refreshed and it will be a bad day for him.

FORTY-FOUR HOURS LATER, at 10:00 p.m., Charles Garcia and The Porcupine are working again. The Porcupine has become bored with the casinos again and Garcia has put the butterfly incident behind him, not having told The Porcupine about it of course.
The Porcupine has gone over chapter ten, puts down the papers and smiles, "Very well written. Though I must say we seem to be running out of good stories." He leafs through a stack of notes, which is the revised edition of the outline of the book given him by Garcia, "most of what's left are not worth writing, are they?"
"They are," admits Garcia, "I have nothing to add to them, not even lies."
"The way I see it, only one is left, the case about the Japanese serial killer. It looks good."
"It is good."
"Let's do it."
"We will do it. But are you saying that you are running out of stories too?"
"Maybe I can come up with something. I'm a good storyteller. I can tell one thousand and one more. But I shouldn't tell more than you, it's your book."
"Are you saying that you will tell me your last two stories soon? The one about the second time you have slipped through my fingers, and the one about your last job?"
"Yes. But I must warn you. They are extremely expensive."
"Worth even more than I have already paid you?"
"I must say yes."
"That's not fair. We had a deal."
"Yes, we had a deal. Okay, I'll tell you about the second time I have outsmarted you for free, but for my last job, it will be another deal."
"What if I don't want the last story? You know very well that I'm dying to know the truth about that second last story. The last story maybe I can do without?"
"You will not be able to resist it." The Porcupine smiles a secret smile.
"So name your price and try me."
"All in good time." Says The Porcupine.
Garcia peers at him. "I think this is a trick. I think it is another story you have made up, about them being expensive. I think you are just trying to keep up the suspense."
"Maybe I am."
"We'll wait and see. By the way, have you gone to the nightclubs lately?"
"I prefer the massage parlors. Our next story has something to do with nightclubs?"
"More or less, yes. I was thinking about the girls working there. It is hell and they are willing."
"What do you know about hell?" asks The Porcupine.
"That's where we will likely to go. I suppose I will go to hell after I died."
"Are you that bad?"
"I don't know. I've been a cop all my life. Sometimes a cop had to do very bad things."
"Are you scared of going to hell?'
"I don't know. But if you are going to go to hell, you go to hell whether you're scared or not."
"You go to church?"
"Yes, every day. Probably when you are still in bed."
"Then there's no problem. You will go to Heaven. A preacher once told me believers will go to Heaven and non-believers will go to hell."
"So why didn't you believe?"
"He also told me there won't be any casinos in Heaven, only flowers and meadows and blue sky and my folks waiting for me. I don't want to meet my father or my mother or my aunt."
Garcia chortles. "You are only joking, right? Well, that was not a real preacher you have met, that's a religious salesman. I don't believe it would be that simple. You know, just like you being a believer in law and order does not mean you can break the law and not go to jail."
"So jail is hell. You'd rather stay here than go to hell?"
"Who wouldn't? Except that nobody lives forever."
"You like it here, no problem. Because you are in hell right now."
"What do you mean?" Garcia asks frowning.
"Most people believe the world we live in is a place somewhere between Heaven and hell. They would describe hell as a place with eternal fire. But what is fire compared with the ugliness of human beings? Look at this world. It is so imperfect it is much worse than the hell we describe. Can you imagine any place worse than this world? We all have imagined a better world, a world that does not exist here. This is hell, we are all in hell."
"Come to think of it, you have a point there. So after we died, we will all go to Heaven."
"Not that easy. One may come back here to hell. For all of us are inmates here. We have been condemned to this hell of a world because we have committed crimes in the better world, which is Heaven. We are here to serve our time and to learn. We get to see all the ugliness so we can learn not to be ugly again in Heaven. One dies when one's term is up and one will be subject to a review. Just like a prisoner going before a parole board. If he has learned his lesson and done well, he will get a parole. Otherwise, he will be thrown back into jail. If one has done well here, one will get a parole and go back to Heaven again. Otherwise, another term of jail, another life. We learn a little each term."
"Are you talking about reincarnation?"
"Yes, one new term in hell is one next life. We learn and get better each term. That's why there are good people, not so good people, not so bad people and bad people. Good people are those who have learned a lot and are probably having their last term in hell. Bad people are first-timers here, they still have a lot to learn. There are people that seem to have all the luck, they probably have earned it last term. Poor luck is actually a form of punishment for our previous crimes, just like hardened criminals are put in labor camps."
"Well," laughs Garcia, "then all we have to do is kill ourselves and we will get out of this hell."
"Don't even think about it," says The Porcupine, "because that would be the equivalent of breaking out of jail. You will be caught and put back for a longer term."
"Damn it, you're scaring me. Is this the thinking of Buddhism?"
"More or less. It's my interpretation." Says The Porcupine.
"If that's true, you are overturning a lot of laws."
"It is true only if you believe it. Again, I'm only a storyteller telling stories."
"I hope you are right too," smiles Garcia, "for then all of us would have the chance to do it all over again, but in different ways."
The Porcupine smiles too, "I'll probably won't gamble again in my next life."
"And won't kill again?"
"Definitely not."
"Now back to our work. My story."
"About this Japanese serial killer. This should be chapter eleven, if it is as good as it looks in your outline."
"You can make any story good."

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TWENTY-SIX

Chapter Eleven: The Case of the Japanese Serial Killer according to Charles Garcia


I WAS GIVEN A TOUGH case again. Maybe it's my imagination, but the Chinese have this old saying, the able ones get more work. Just because I had performed better, the more hard work they would pile on me. And I was not paid any better. I always envied my superiors. They didn't have to work at all. They just push the difficult cases at me and press for results. What would they do without me? But they were like slave drivers, they could always find new slaves.
Stephen Caine is another of those slave drivers. This Englishman had a completely bald and shiny head, shiny like a mirror. We used to joke that his wife probably had no need to buy a mirror. Just wait for him to come home and bow his head. That was probably true because he was so skimpy. He was still wearing that old tweed jacket with leather patches on the elbows when I stepped into his office. The patches had worn even thinner. Three years before this, when he had just been promoted my boss and I saw him for the first time, he was wearing this jacket. And he had been wearing this jacket almost everyday every winter. I suspected he had been promoted ahead of me partly because he was English and partly because he had a lot of skimping ideas in his proposals, saving a bit here and whittling off a bit there. And he had protruding, sorrowful eyes, like he was always wronged and begging for help.
He seemed to be begging for help as he pushed the file at me. Then he said with authority, "You have three days."
This was almost a joke. I had not even read the file and he was giving me three days to solve the case. I didn't answer. He was not asking a question. He was giving me an order. I didn't take his order seriously even though he was not joking. You must have seen it a thousand times in the movies. A superior giving his men three days to solve a case and then forgets about time altogether. I knew that if I couldn't crack the case in three days, he would not fire me or beat me up. He would not bite me too. He would just give me three more days, or maybe a week. If the case remained unsolved after a month, he would have forgotten about the deadlines altogether. The case would perhaps be passed on to somebody else or just filed and reopened from time to time.
I had three days. That was his way of saying that this case was important and a top priority. Any case was important to me though. I can't stand an unsolved case.
"Can I go through it first?" I asked.
"Yes, and do it now," said Stephen Caine, "you have any question, ask now. Don't come knocking on my door and ask again."
Meaning he didn't want any trouble. I should solve all the problems myself.
I glanced through the file. It was an interesting case.
"But I don't speak Japanese and don't understand Japanese." I said, "All I know is that the Japanese bow nonstop."
He didn't think it was funny. "It is partly because you don't under Japanese that this case is given to you. In case anything went wrong, we could say it was a misunderstanding, a result of cultural difference."
Meaning I could step on as many toes as I wished.
I didn't stay any longer for fear of him starting to negotiate a pay-cut for me.

MY FIRST STOP WAS to visit Jack the manager at the Black Cat Nightclub. The last time I visited him, I was working on the case of the missing jockey with Patrick Collins. Now Collins had gone and I hadn't seen Jack for over one year. He was still drinking beer nonstop and the Black Cat had still not undergone a renovation it so needed. The musty smell was as unpleasant as ever.
I had come this time as a paying customer and even tried one of the girls. I mean I let Jack nominate one of his girls for me. We played liar's dice and drank beer because I didn't think they would have good wine to offer. Red wine was very hot now because it was fashionable on the Chinese mainland. A lot of Hong Kong people went north and a lot of mainlanders came here to talk business and they all drank red wine. Suddenly, self-proclaimed wine connoisseurs were springing up, lying to each other about their knowledge of red wine. The mainlanders liked to drink their red wine mixed with 7up, showing just how much they knew about good wine. As a result, all kinds of red liquid that resembled red wine remotely had flooded the market, most of them cheap stuff if not just blatant counterfeits. The people were not wiser and just consumed anything they were served. Once I had made the mistake of drinking half a bottle and pretended I liked it. Next morning, I thought I had sprung a new head and both heads were competing to ache more. I had learned my lesson and limited myself to drink beer now. I didn't like beer a bit but at least I was safe in the knowledge that it was genuine beer I got.
The girl's name was Mandy and she drank beer like a fish taking in water. Meanwhile, she kept one hand on my thigh and kept kneading and caressing. She was trying for a 'quick kill', meaning arousing me as quickly as possible so that I would take her out and go to bed with her. When her hand got bolder and crept between my legs, I pushed it away roughly. She was disappointed since it was apparent that I was not aroused and would not go to bed with her. I didn't blame her. She could earn only about HK$400 sitting here all night, barely enough to cover her taxi fare coming to work and going home. Going to bed with a customer would net her an extra HK$1,500 and it would be just a few minutes' work.
I touched her chin lightly and said, "Don't worry. I'll pay you one thousand and five hundred dollars just for talking to me, okay?"
Mandy brightened up and started to talk and talked nonstop. She had plenty to tell about life in the nightclubs because she was twenty-nine and had been working as a hostess for seven years.
After an hour, she asked me to excuse her because she had to go the washroom. All that beer had to come out somehow. I told her to call Jack in on her way out.
Jack came in and I told him to tell Mandy not to come back and that he should put an extra HK$1,500 on my tab for her.
Jack arranged that by picking up the phone in the VIP room and talked to someone outside. Then he replaced the phone and asked, "You don't like her after all?"
"No, not that," I said, "I just want to talk to you alone."
Jack sighed. "I was right. I thought you had come here to work."
A waiter brought a metal bucket with half a dozen cans of Carlsberg in it immersed in ice water. Jack opened one and poured himself a glass after I had declined to refill my glass. He downed it in one gulp, then asked, "How can I help you?"
"I want to know everything about the Japanese customer. You know, the one that got into trouble."
"I've read about it in the newspaper," said Jack, "but I think you have come to the wrong club."
For the nightclub in question was the Minx. A hostess working in the Minx by the name of Peggy had been taken out by a Japanese customer a little after midnight two nights ago and had been missing ever since. This Japanese client was supposed to be the last person to have seen her alive. It was not unusual for a nightclub hostess to disappear for several days, even Peggy's mother did not think it a big deal. Except that the police had received a anonymous call five hours later at dawn that there was something suspicious on a distant beach. A patrol car had been dispatched to investigate and found among the rocks on the beach a woman's handbag and a pair of high heels, both with bloodstains on them. The handbag yielded three leads. An identity card belonging to a thirty-eight-year-old woman named Tsu Siu-fong. A paper packet used to hold weekly pay, issued by nightclubs, with the name of the Minx printed on it and the name Peggy scrawled on it with a blue ballpoint pen. And a business card with the name of Mamoru Tanaka, whose title suggested he was the CEO of the Hong Kong branch of a famous Japanese chemical company. The police checked on the Minx and found that Tsu Siu-fong was the real name of Peggy, and she was nowhere to be found. Her mobile had been turned off and she didn't respond to the call of her pager. This kind of girl could have gone to Macau to gamble for a few days and could not be contacted, except that she could not have gone through immigration without her identity card. It was not likely that she had gone for a night swim because it was winter. And the bloodstains suggested there was foul play. Frogman had searched the waters in the vicinity but found no body. The Minx was reluctant to co-operate because they did not want to be known to incriminate its customers. But another hostess in the Minx, who was a good friend of Peggy, confirmed that Peggy had gone out with a Japanese customer at a little after midnight. The girl could not recall the name of the Japanese customer, as Japanese names are so difficult to pronounce. Anyway, they had just referred to him as 'the Jap'. Peggy's mamasan admitted that that was true and that 'the Jap' was Suzuki Zan, meaning 'Mr. Suzuki', and that he was a decent man who would come about once a week and she did not believe that he would do anything violent. The Police had tried to contact Mamoru Tanaka, who they suspected was this Mr. Suzuki in the morning, but his secretary said Mamoru Tanaka was not available because he was in Tokyo. All this was on my file. Peggy or her body had still not turned up and Mamoru Tanaka was still not available.
Jack said I was in the wrong nightclub because he thought I should have gone to the Minx.
"I know," I said, "but the people in Minx wants to protect their customer and would have little to say."
"How can I help you?" said Jack, "I don't know anything first hand."
"Mandy had a lot to say about this. Let's see if you know what she knows."
"Jesus," Jack groaned, "don't listen to that little bitch. She likes to gossip and would make things up just so that she could keep on talking. You know the kind. I'd say no more than ten percent of what she said is true."
"See, we are already getting somewhere. What I know about this Jap has reduced by ninety percent."
Jack grimaced, "I really don't want to cause any trouble to the Minx people. I got friends there."
"You never know who your friends really are. Maybe someday you will need help from me."
"Well," Jack made a glass of beer disappear again in three seconds, "what I can tell you I can't prove."
"Let me worry about that. Now, do you know this Mr. Suzuki?"
"I don't know whether it's him. But I think Suzuki is just one of his aliases. He goes to most of the nightclubs in Hong Kong using different names. But we don't care. He is just the Jap."
"So he has been here too?"
"Yes, for several months in a row. Then he has switched to another one. It seems to be his habit, a new nightclub every few months. Probably the Minx this time around."
"Describe him."
Jack described the Jap to me.
Then I shoved a picture at him. "Is this him?"
"Yes, that's him no doubt." Said Jack.
It was a snapshot of Mamoru Tanaka. He was a prominent figure in the local business sector. I had a friend working as news editor in a local newspaper. I had called him for help, reciting the name on the business card. He recalled that Mamoru Tanaka had appeared on the financial pages several months ago, so he dug out the file and had the picture printed out for me.
So it was now established that Mamoru Tanaka was the one who had last seen Peggy alive and he was Mr. Suzuki. Jack was not the first witness to say that. I had shown Mandy the picture earlier and she had said the same. I wanted to be double sure.
"So what kind of a man is this Mamoru Tanaka?" I asked.
"I --er, don't want to go to court to testify on that."
"You may have to if you don't talk to your friend." I lied. Witnesses lie, prosecutors lie, lawyers lie too, so why shouldn't I lie a little?
"Well, I can't prove it. But this Jap is a pervert."
"But Mandy said he's a psychopath."
"See what I mean? There is a difference. He's a little abnormal. Most mamasans and girls know about him and wouldn't serve him. He had this special request for which he would pay double."
"Like what?" I asked.
"He would take a girl home, tell her to sit on a chair and take off her shoes. He would kneel down, take the foot in his hands, caress it, kiss it and suck the toes. He would finish in about ten minutes. Just that and nothing else, no sex. Then he would give her extra cab fare and let her go. Very few girl would agree to serve him."
"That's some easy way to make money," I smiled, "I wouldn't mind letting him suck my toes for that kind of money."
"Are you kidding? How do you know what he would do next? What if he bites your foot off?"
"I don't think so," I said, "that's just foot fetish. Biting a foot off is something else."
"Still, you can't blame the girls for being scared."
"Wouldn't there be a lot of arguments?" I asked, "Like a girl refusing the foot kissing bit."
"No. He would make it quite clear before hand. He would never force it. Only the older and not so pretty girls would be willing, better than sitting in the club the whole night without a customer. I think Peggy was willing too."
"What about the rope bit and the urinating and shitting bit?" I asked.
"Don't listen to Mandy. She has been mixing the facts with different people. That's the trouble with her kind, saying irresponsible things. The rope thing involved a different person. A Japanese customer too but it happened some ten years ago. He would tie up a girl and hang her up and do things to her. It had not been agreed on before hand. He was later arrested and jailed. The other two games involved another Japanese customer. He would pay a high price to have a girl urinating and passing stool in his bed, with him watching closely. That was so difficult to do. I mean these are very private things. You just can't do it with someone watching closely. And on a bed too. After a while, no girl would want to see him, and he has just faded away. He was not this Mamoru Tanaka. Tanaka just kissed feet and sucked toes, nothing else. He is not interested in sexual intercourse and as far as I know has done nothing on the violent side."
"You are not trying to protect him, are you?"
"Of course not. He's not even a friend, just a customer that has stopped coming. I'm just trying to be fair. I can't invent something bad about him just because he is not coming here anymore."
I'm beginning to like Jack. Yes, he's fair all right.
"But the fact remains that Mamoru Tanaka is the last person to have seen Peggy alive. What do you think have happened?"
"It would be reasonable to suspect that he has killed Peggy and dumped her into the sea."
"But you just said he was not a violent man."
"Maybe something else happened. Or maybe something happened to Peggy after Tanaka has left her. Who knows? It's your job to find out."
I didn't say anything, just sipped my beer slowly. I was waiting for Jack to say more. Sometimes it would be better to wait than asking questions.
Jack ripped open another can of Carlsberg and filled his glass. "I don't understand the Japanese. They seem to be the world champion in the field of sex deviations, no exaggeration. Just look at their magazines and their films. Quite a unique culture, theirs is. I've heard that there is a restaurant in Tokyo specializing in cooking shit. A customer comes in, selects a girl and then selects a menu for her to eat. He would come the following evening to eat her shit, prepared the way he wanted it. I don't know if it's true though. Three customers who goes to Japan regularly on business told me that."
"It is true, I assure you."
Jack had nothing to add.

IT IS A CRAZY WORLD, what people would do for money. Some would come up with the most audacious and silly scheme to swindle money from their fellow men and some are so greedy they would actually fall for it.
I was watching it unfold, this not so chilly winter afternoon, when the beautiful sun was sinking in the west. They say the hot summer was the peak season for crime, but ask any policeman and he will tell you not so. How come I am still working like a dog now that it's winter, he would ask you back. And I was still working too.
Two men were on the street corner bickering. The first man was holding a large steel ring with maybe a hundred gold rings strung on it while the second man was shoving some money at him. It seemed that the second man was trying to buy all the rings but the first man wouldn't sell. A middle-aged woman, looking like a housewife but looking very foolish, walked past them, then stopped, attracted by the glitter of gold. She approached to have a better look. The second man tried to block her view but the first man pushed him aside. The first man explained to the housewife that he was from the Chinese mainland, a total stranger here. He needed cash but had only these gold rings. He didn't know where he could sell them. He had asked the second man, who was a passer by, where he could find a goldsmith shop and the second man had offered HK$3,000 to buy all the rings. But surely, these rings were worth more than that? Must be at least HK$20,000. The housewife, being a woman, was no stranger to gold rings and could see outright that the bunch of ring should worth more than HK$100,000. That was, if they were real gold. The first man handed one to her and she bit it with her teeth. Sure enough, it was pure solid gold. She was about to tell the true value of the rings when the second man pulled her aside and made her an offer. They could pool their resources and buy all the rings at HK$20,000, then resell them to a goldsmith shop for HK$100,000 and share the profit. Only problem was, he had only HK$3,000 on him. If she could raise the balance of HK$17,000, they could complete the deal. The housewife was hesitant. Then another woman, an accomplice of course, approached and asked what was happening. She was told the story and she immediately came up with $1,000. The housewife, seeing her profit diluted by a few percent, didn't want any more newcomers to join in. So she told them to come with her and wait outside the bank, which was just across the street, for her to withdraw from her account the remaining HK$16,000. One of the oldest con game in the history of mankind and she was falling for it. The rest of the rings were of course just gold-plated and she was going to buy the lot for HK$16,000. The minute the money changed hands, the three would just run, with the real gold ring probably, leaving her holding a bunch of cheap gold-plated rings worth about HK$80.
I was still watching. I spoke into my mobile, "She's biting. Wait until the money and the merchandise have changed hands, or we wouldn't have a case."
The housewife went into the bank. The three swindlers smirked and waited outside. Then she came out with the cash, all HK$16,000 of it. She gave it to the first man and the man gave her the bunch of gold rings. I said, "Now." And my men pounced. The first man managed to wriggle free and started to run, stuffing the money into his pocket. But I was waiting for him. I stuck out one foot as he was running past me. His toe tripped on my foot, causing him to lose balance and flew forward like a rocket. His face hit a lamppost with a loud thud. The lamppost was unscathed but his face opened up like an over-ripe watermelon. He screamed as he saw his blood was all over the pavement. This was the most rewarding part for me. Getting these people in court was not enough because an idiotic judge might just give them a slap on the wrist.
The housewife was now wise to the game and screamed at the second man and the woman accomplice, both in handcuffs now. I still could not understand how come a woman so stupid would have that much money in the bank. A fool and his money should have parted long ago. Maybe it was greed that had made her hold on to her money tightly, and only greed could pry the money away from her.
A squad car arrived and they were all driven to the police station. The housewife was of course more than willing to testify against the trio. I was a key witness but I didn't go with them. I had been on the Mamoru Tanaka case and just happened to stumble across the swindle, so I called some detectives who happened to be in the vicinity on my mobile to come and deal with it. The swindlers were very unlucky. Usually, they could get away with it and we would have no way to find them afterwards.
I wished the Mamoru Tanaka case would be so easy.
I stayed in my watch place, which was a coffee shop for another forty minutes before leaving. It was now 5:30 p.m. and night was falling. I crossed the street, went into a commercial building and took the lift to the 21st floor. The door of the lift opened to a Japanese restaurant, the kind that claimed to be a private club, catering to Japanese only and very expensive. It was of course decorated in Japanese style and in good taste. The young Japanese girl in kimono, whose job was to greet customers, greeted me with bows and a smile. But the smile was a little stiff, as I was apparently not Japanese and not a regular. She said something in Japanese, which I could not understand. I replied in English, "I'm a guest of Mr. Mamoru Tanaka." Which she couldn't understand either except for the name.
She said something more in Japanese and I repeated what I had said.
She bowed again and said something with the help of a few gestures. I couldn't understand what she said either, but I could understand her hands. She was telling me to wait for a moment. I waited while she went inside.
One minute later, a young man in a dark blue suit, light blue shirt and a tie with black and red stripes came out and asked in English, "What matter?"
I replied in English, "I'm a guest of Mr. Mamoru Tanaka."
He pushed with both hands on my chest. "Go. No come back."
He was annoying me. I had been in Hong Kong for so long I could see through him. I said in Cantonese, "Your English is shit and you don't look Japanese to me. You speak Cantonese?"
He did. He said in Cantonese, "Please leave. This is a private club. Non-members are not welcomed." He was indeed a local Chinese.
He pushed me on my chest again, which made me very angry. He was not a big man, though young at about twenty-eight, was six inches shorter than me and he was pushing me. I chopped at his hands with my right palm. But I was chopping at thin air. His hands disappeared and somehow entwined like a snake my chopping arm. I found my arm being twisted in such a way I had to turn my back on him to prevent it from breaking. He continued to apply pressure upwards with my arm behind my back and I couldn't move. He knew how to fight. It must be judo or something.
The girl said something in Japanese, which I could still not understand but could gather from her tone that she was asking him to go easy on me.
The guy whispered in my ears, "I am already taking it easy on you. I could have thrown you on the floor. Now will you leave quietly?"
"No." I said.
"Wake up brother," he said, "if you think you can extort money from us, you are dreaming."
I was insulted. True, I was not a dapper dresser then, but I still couldn't have looked like a thug trying to extort money. I said, "Obstructing police work and assaulting a police officer could be serious offences."
He let go of me abruptly. I turned and straightened my jacket, smoothing away some imaginary dust I got from him.
"You a policeman?" He asked.
I took out my badge and gun, pushing my badge at his face and jamming the muzzle of the gun against his chin to make him grow taller. "Now, try pushing me again." I sneered.
"You did not reveal your identity in the first place," he said as if my gun was not there, " So I was not obstructing police work nor was I assaulting a police officer. The girl can be my witness. I don't think you would use your gun. And this is still a private club. You have no right to be here."
I backed away, putting away my badge and my gun. The guy knew his rights, so I'd better cut out the strong-arm stuff. I said, "All right. I want to talk to Mr. Mamoru Tanaka. And don't tell me he is not here. I saw him come up thirty minutes ago."
"You have no right to ask to see anyone here." said the guy.
"Just ask him," I said, "maybe he wants to see me very much."
"Mr. Tanaka does not want to see you."
"How do you know?"
"Because I am his personal secretary." He said and pushed a business card in my face. His name was Kenny Tsang, and he was Mamoru Tanaka's personal secretary all right, according to that card. And he looked the part.
I snatched the card and put it in my pocket. "Are you his bodyguard too?"
He smiled, "I'm pretty well paid."
"Look," I said, "I'm on an important case. I need the assistance of Mr. Tanaka to clear up a few points."
"You are interrupting his dinner."
"Damn it," I said, "I can bust you for lying to the police. You told us he was in Tokyo but he was in fact here all the time."
"Lying to the police may not be a crime. Lying under oath is. We have several lawyers inside, you care to ask them? Besides, I didn't lie. I was misinformed. I thought Mr. Tanaka has gone back to Tokyo but turned out he was home meditating and did not wish to be disturbed."
"You little rut. You know what you are doing? You are getting your boss into big trouble by keeping him away from me. Why can't he see me if he has nothing to hide?"
"I know my rights and his." Said Kenny Tsang, "You want to see him, you have to make an appointment. Maybe he will see you in a month. Or you can get some court papers and come back."
I really wanted to shoot him. We had started out on the wrong foot and it was not my fault at all. "You want to make it difficult," I seethed, "I could make it very ugly."
I could too. There were other ways than obtaining court papers. When Stephen Caine gave me the case, he had made it clear I could step on toes. I deliberately made the mistake of stepping on Kenny Tsang's toes, heavily. He yelped in pain, for he was wearing only socks. I said hurriedly, "Sorry, wrong step."
Kenny Tsang took a deep breath. But whatever he was planing to do, he did not have time to do it. For Mamoru Tanaka had come out himself. Kenny Tsang sprung into action and bowed at him. Mamoru Tanaka made a small gesture and said something in Japanese. He was talking mildly but his face was blank, void of any emotion. Then he turned and went back inside.
Kenny Tsang grinned at me. "This is your lucky day. Mr. Tanaka will see you now."
He led me inside with the girl in kimono keep bowing.
We went through the corridor to the outside of a room. Kenny Tsang pushed open the sliding door and bowed again to Mamoru Tanaka, who was sitting inside, at the same time giving me an order, "Take off your shoes."
I took off my shoes, went inside and sat on the tartarmi. Tanaka was a little taller than I had expected. He was not a bad looking man in his late thirties, dressed in a pink and white stripe shirt without a tie, inside a navy blue Ralph Lauren Polo golf pullover. His white trousers indicated that he had just come back from a golf course. He even looked an intellectual. He had been there drinking sake and eating sushi arranged on a boat made with bamboo. I was really interrupting his dinner. He didn't bow to me or offer me a drink. I had found out years earlier that although the Japanese liked to bow, they only bow to their peers or superiors or people they welcomed. I was not welcomed. And he didn't so much as looked at me, as if I wasn't there at all. And don't worry about them bowing to each other no end, in case you are interested. They would change position slightly with each bow so that they would not be facing each other soon. Then they could stop and each would go their own way.
"Mr. Tanaka," I said in English as I showed him my badge, "I am police superintendent Charles Garcia. I would like to ask you some questions concerning the disappearance of a certain young woman."
Mamoru Tanaka did not respond at all. I still wasn't there.
Kenny Tsang translated to him in Japanese.
"But Mr. Tanaka speaks English, at least a little," I said, still in English, "he could communicate with the girls in the nightclubs."
"I will be the translator," Kenny Tsang told me in Cantonese, "and please don't interrupt."
I couldn't be sure whether Mamoru Tanaka was saving face or just being shrewd. It is true that most Japanese would pretend not to understand a foreign tongue because they are proud of their own language. But on the other hand, it would be difficult for me to trip him with questions through an interpreter.
But I had no choice, it had to be done their way. I had found out through my editor friend that this was Tanaka's favorite restaurant and he used to be there almost every evening. Wait around here and I could find him. I was quite sure that if I could talk to him, he would be cleared and I could move on to the next suspect. But it was not to be so.
Through Kenny Tsang, Mamoru Tanaka said he never went to nightclubs and didn't know where the Minx was. He could not have gone out with a hostess named Peggy. He did not know what I was talking about. His business cards had been given freely to business associates and it could be that this Peggy had obtained his card from one of them. And that was that. What kind of man was Mamoru Tanaka? Was he stupid or something?
"Would you please tell him that some of the things can be proved?" I told Kenny Tsang, in English deliberately so that Tanaka could hear it too, "I can get at least ten people who can testify that he was at that nightclub that night and that he had gone there before many times. He is getting himself into big trouble by denying."
Kenny Tsang did not translate that to Tanaka and Tanaka still behaved as if I wasn't there. Kenny Tsang just said stonily, "Conversation is over. You are excused."
I got up and left in awe. What are they trying to do to themselves? Kenny Tsang saw me out.
I turned to him in front of the lift. "You must know he frequents the nightclubs. Why didn't you persuade him to cooperate?" I said, in Cantonese this time.
"Japanese are face loving people," said Kenny Tsang, "They do not like their private lives to go public."
"That's why he should tell the truth." I said, "He probably didn't harm that girl and had left her intact. I could haul him back to the police station for questioning because he had lied about going to the nightclub. That would probably make the front page."
"There is nothing I can do." Said Kenny Tsang, "You don't know them. He does not work for me. I work for him. There is a big difference. I don't tell him what to do. I don't even give him advice. If he needed my advice, he would ask for it. Otherwise, he would lose face. Even if I was right, he cannot do as I advised."
"Then tell him he could call me if he changes his mind." I said, giving Kenny Tsang my card.
He took it. "That I can tell him."

AN HOUR LATER, I WAS AT the Black Cat Nightclub wasting beer with Jack. Jack didn't ask me how my case was going. He was worrying about me wanting something from him and wishing that something would not be too difficult. He was wishing I had not come.
Finally, I told him, "I talked to Mamoru Tanaka or Mr. Suzuki an hour ago, he denied ever going to any nightclub."
"I didn't lie to you, "Jack almost dropped his beer, "look, I'm not the only one who had seen him." Jack's first reaction was thinking I had called him a liar.
"Like who else?" I asked.
"Like the people in the Minx."
"Think I could get them to testify?"
"I don't know. They probably would. But look, that Jap, he pays with his credit card, at least he did when he was here. Surely there would be a record somewhere."
"Can you dig out that record?"
"I don't know, it's a long time ago. But why don't you check with the Minx people? The Jap was there just a few days ago."
"Good idea." I said, "how come they never told me?"
"Perhaps because you didn't ask."
I called my people on my mobile to go to the Minx to check. That's why I liked to talk to Jack. He can make sensible suggestions sometimes.
Jack was frowning when I flipped off the phone. "He stupid or something?" said Jack, " He can't deny that. If you went to a nightclub and took out a girl, at least a dozen people would have seen you and recognize you."
"I was asking the same question myself. His secretary told me it's a matter of face."
"Could be," said Jack, "I would not like to admit I had taken out a girl even for sex. Foot kissing and toe sucking, well." He waved, "This guy married?"
"Not that I know of." I said, "I have a friend working for a newspaper. He said Mamoru Tanaka is definitely not married."
"Anyway, " Jack said, "if he lied about that------do you mind me saying it?"
"No. You've been a great help. Really, I appreciate it."
"One would lie about a thing like this only when he has something to hide. Don't you think you have enough to take him back for questioning?'
"Yes, even without the credit card record to prove it. But, assuming Peggy is dead, what's the use questioning him?"
"But, but----- "
"You need evidence to book a man. For a homicide, you need a body to prove it. I'm waiting, at least until a body is found."
"You are smart." Jack agreed.
"Do you think you can get a girl to testify that she had played this foot fetish game with Tanaka before?" I asked.
Jack shook his head. "Talking about it is one thing, going to court to testify is something else. If you were the girl, would you like a thing like this to be publicized, even if it was only your foot that got sucked?"
"No. I guess not. But maybe we could use some kind of leverage."
"Yes, like busting a girl on a drug raid and agreeing not to charge her in return for her to testify."
"You think you can find a girl like that. "
"Yes, assuming that this Tanaka had killed Peggy. I would like to get him. Even though I don't know Peggy, she is one of us."
"Can you find this girl for me now."
"Hard to say. I'll have to make a few phone calls and also ask around." Jack got up and went out.
Talking to Jack was fruitful all right. I knew my people.

I MET THE GIRL I had asked Jack to find for me at 2:30 a.m. She was Lisa, which was the name she used working in her nightclub. She was of course not a beauty and no young blood anymore. She was close to forty and was like last week's cut flower. Just like Jack had said, only the older and less attractive girls were willing to serve Mamoru Tanaka, alias Suzuki, and Lisa was one of them. Addiction to soft drugs had made her so slim she was actually scrawny, and she had an awful complexion. Attractiveness aside, Lisa was a nice woman. Jack was on good terms with her and when Jack had mentioned to her about the Peggy case, she said she was willing to do something about it. So Jack had arranged this meeting to save me the trouble of staging a drug bust.
We met in an all night coffee shop after she had gone off from work. According to the rules, she should have stayed at the nightclub until 4:00 a.m., but nobody would care about the rules after 2:00 a.m. anymore because virtually no customer would come at that hour and the early comers would be leaving or had left. If you don't get a customer by 2:00 a.m., you go home empty-handed.
Lisa was as different from Mandy as night from day. She was a woman of few words, very straightforward and honest and did not like to gossip at all. She would say what she knew and would admit she didn't know about something by simply saying, "I don't know."
Lisa told me that she had served this Jap about a year ago. Yes, he was the man in the photo, calling himself by another name she could not remember, as it was a Japanese name. Tell her a Japanese name again now and she could still not be able to memorize it. It could have been Suzuki and then not. But that was not important as it had been established now from the credit card record that it was Mamoru Tanaka, alias Suzuki who had taken Peggy out. Lisa told me the Jap had also taken her back to his home to do the foot thing. He had held her foot with one hand and masturbated with the other but did not take off his pants. Yes, it was sex, only in a very unusual form. Afterwards, he had given her HK$500 as cab fare, which was extremely generous, and told her to go home by herself.
"But he was a nice man," Lisa said, "very nice. I couldn't imagine that he would do something like that. That is, assuming that something drastic had happened to Peggy. After all, Peggy or her body has still not been found."
Lisa was right. But the key to finding Peggy or her body may rest on Mamoru Tanaka. Assuming that he had killed her, we must gather enough evidence to put pressure on him until he cracked.
After Lisa told her story, I was silent. Let the brains storm. Jack continued to consume beer.
After a while, Lisa said, "He was a nice man, I just hope he would keep his house cleaner."
"What do you mean?" I asked.
"It was a nice place, richly decorated, but there was a musty smell, as if nobody had lived there for a long time."
"Where was it." I asked.
She gave me an address. It was a residential building on the north side of the city. Floor thirteen, she could remember, as it had struck her that thirteen was considered unlucky by some westerners. Flat C, she could remember too because there were four units to each floor and they had turned right after getting out of the elevator to go to the last unit.
"But Mamoru Tanaka doesn't live there." I said. We had had him followed around the clock. He lived in a big house near the top of Victoria Peak where the rich and famous lived, unless he had moved recently.
"That's right," Lisa said excitedly, "he didn't live there. There was almost not a single little personal belonging in that flat. That's why I felt it was not lived in. Some rich people have this habit of keeping a flat just for bringing girls there for sex."
Jack put down his beer and sat up. "Maybe Peggy is in that flat."
"This is a very good lead," I said, "Let's see what we can do about it."

I WAS WATCHING THE BUILDING Lisa had told me about the following day at noon with one of my men. A good Chinese man named John Lau. We were in a car on a slope, taking turns watching through our binoculars. That building was an upscale residential building for rich people, thirty stories high, like a golden colored glass tower. But it was nowhere near as posh as Mamoru Tanaka's home, which was a two storied house boasting a large garden, a private swimming pool and a tennis court. It seemed that Tanaka had used this flat as a home away from home, a playground where he would bring the girls from the nightclubs to play his foot kissing game.
"You think he would bite?" John Lau said as I lowered my binoculars and he raised his to take over from me. It was tiring work for the eyes.
Earlier, I had gone to Mamoru Tanaka's office and asked to see him. I was turned away by the receptionist because no one could see Mamoru Tanaka without an appointment, just as I had expected. But I got to see his personal secretary Kenny Tsang, the man whose toe I had stomped on, also as expected. Kenny Tsang took me into a conference room and asked me what I wanted. I asked him if he knew about the flat Tanaka usually brought the nightclub girls to and where was it.
He had looked at me as though he thought I was out of my mind and said, "Haven't Mr. Tanaka told you that he never goes to nightclubs?"
"I could find out anyway from the girls." I had said.
"Suit yourself." He had replied. And that was that.
"I don't know," I said now, answering John Lau's question, "of course I hope he would bite."
"Want to bet?" Asked John Lau.
"I'm sorry. " He said a few seconds later when he didn't get a reply. For he remembered that I hated gambling. But most detectives like to gamble on anything, probably because their work is sometimes so boring.
Then he said, "He's here."
I raised my glasses. Sure enough he was here. Kenny Tsang had arrived in a taxi. He got out of the car and hurried into the building. If he was not going to visit flat C, 13th floor and that he happened to live in this building or have a friend living in it, it would be a coincidence of record setting scale.
"Give him a little time," I said, "circle round the block a couple of times."
John Lau started the car.
We went in seven minutes later, taking the lift to the 13th floor. I opened the lock of the front door of Flat C quietly with my skeleton key, then flung the door wide open.
Kenny Tsang was inside, in an awkward position. He was on his knees on the carpet in the living room, his jacket off and the sleeves of his shirt rolled up, with a washcloth in one hand and a blue plastic bucket by his side. There was blood on the cream colored carpet. He froze as the door was flung open. There was no time for him to hide anything.
"What are you doing here?" I asked.
"And what are you doing here?" asked Kenny Tsang, shrewd as ever even in his moment of panic, "This is private property. You can't just break in."
"I haven't broken in." I said, "the door was ajar. I thought something was wrong so I just push it open to take a look. Maybe you have forgotten to lock the door, right?" I looked sideways at John Lau.
"Right." Lau said.
"You got any witness to say otherwise?" I asked Kenny Tsang.
"No, but----"
"So what are you doing here," I asked, "You look very suspicious."
"I----I'm just cleaning the carpet."
"That looks like blood to me," I said, "somebody died here?"
"No."
"Seems that Mr. Tanaka has been bringing the nightclub girls here. He probably brought Peggy here too. Somehow, blood was left on the carpet last time and now you are trying to clean up the mess."
"I refuse to answer the question."
"You refuse to answer any question without the presence of your lawyer, right? Okay, call your lawyer. Meanwhile, you don't have to say anything. Anything you say will be used against you in a court of law."

DON'T EVER DISMISS GOLF as an old man's game or as a light exercise, because it isn't. Try hitting the ball and then walk to where it had landed. I had just tried. I hit the ball three times and walked the distances three times. My legs hurt and the club had grown heavier by the second. It was at least as demanding as jogging. I was sweating under my suit.
But it got me to where I wanted. For the third hit saw my ball landed about ten feet from Mamoru Tanaka. He was about to hit his ball when he saw my ball landed. This was unusual because he was playing alone on the course of this very exclusive club and should not have been interrupted like this. But I was a cop and I could do unusual things sometimes. A man in a suit was very unusual too on a golf course.
Mamoru Tanaka looked at my ball and frowned. Then he looked up and saw me walking towards him. Then he ignored me. He returned his focus onto his ball, turning his club, gauging the angle again and again without moving to hit the ball.
I got to within seven feet away from him. It was near enough in case he should decide to hit me with his club, though I guessed that the chance of this happening would be slim. "Good afternoon, Mr. Tanaka," I yelled against the brisk and quite cold wind under the late afternoon sun, "It took a lot of scheming to get to talk to you directly. But I have some interesting stories I'm dying to tell you."
He kept on behaving as if I wasn't there. He cocked his head to look at his ball, sidestepped a little and considered the new angle. But he didn't make the move to hit the ball. He could just hit the ball and walk away from me.
"I have gone to your pleasure house at thirteen C today at a little past noon. A girl had remembered the address and told me about it. I caught Kenny Tsang inside that flat, on his knees, seemingly to clean the carpet. There was blood on the carpet. Looked as though he was trying to protect you."
Mamoru Tanaka's hands trembled a little, as if, for a split second, he was about to drop his club. But he recovered quickly, stepping a little to the right and contemplated this new angle, still behaving as if I wasn't there.
"I have gone to your office in the morning and asked Kenny Tsang where was this flat and he had denied any knowledge about it. I did that because I thought it would pressure you or Kenny into going to the flat to destroy whatever evidence left. On the surface, I'd say Peggy was in this flat that night and something terrible had happened to her, leaving blood on the carpet."
Mamoru Tanaka stopped moving altogether and was frozen like a statue.
"But the strangest thing is that, before that, we had got into the flat at dawn to inspect it, suspecting that Peggy or her body was inside. We found nothing and there was no blood on the carpet then. Kenny Tsang would not say anything without his lawyer, so I let him go. He didn't know I knew he had not been trying to clean that carpet of blood but instead had been putting blood on it. It was his own blood, he had cut his own arm to produce it. Now, why should he did that unless he was trying to incriminate someone?"
Mamoru Tanaka just kept standing there, frozen.
"There is something fishy going on, Mr. Tanaka," I continued, "I don't know what it is. But if you want to talk, you can call me at this number." I took out my card, squatted to put it on the turf, putting my ball on top of it so it would not be swept away by the now buffeting wind.
Mamoru Tanaka moved slightly again, gauging a new angle, then he hit the ball with a powerful swing. The ball flew high into the air, then arced down to drop into a distant sand trap. Tanaka spoke to me for the first time, in English, "Thanks."
Then, still not looking at me, he started to walk briskly after his ball.
I turned and left.

I HAD LUNCH WITH JACK the following afternoon at around 3:00 p.m. It was a late lunch for me but a late breakfast for Jack, him having gone to bed later than 4 a.m. as usual.
Jack had called me earlier to suggest this meeting. I knew it must be something important, so I hadn't asked any question and just came.
Even at this hour, Jack was drinking beer, washing down his breakfast, which was a plate of fried rice, alternating with a sip of coffee. The coffee came with the rice but the beer would cost extra. He had explained that the coffee would sober him up while the beer sedate him.
Jack asked me how the case was going and I told him about catching Kenny Tsang with the blood thing and talking to Mamoru Tanaka at the golf course.
Jack was incredulous. "Why would Kenny Tsang do a thing like that?"
"Other than trying to incriminate his boss, I can't think of any other motive."
"And you let him go?"
"It is not a crime to drip some of your own blood on a carpet in a private premise. Even if Mamoru Tanaka complained, I could have done nothing. It was his flat and he must have given the key to Kenny Tsang himself."
"Well, it gets stranger and stranger."
"Well, Mamoru Tanaka had done something about it, " I said, "I called his office this morning asking for Kenny Tsang. I was told he didn't work there anymore."
"Where is he now."
"He won't get far," I said, "but I thought you have something to tell me."
"I---er," Jack looked around nervously, "excuse me a minute please. I have to go to the toilet."
It must be very important, him being so nervous he had to go the toilet first.
Jack went off to the toilet but it was not him who came back after a minute. A middle aged Japanese man came in his place. The man took Jack's seat and said in English, "It's all right, Mr. Garcia. Jack won't be coming back. I have asked him to arrange this meeting. He couldn't refuse a customer at his nightclub. And I hope you would forgive me for being so rude."
I shrugged, "As long as there's something in it for me."
The minute he had opened his mouth, I knew he was Japanese. The Chinese and the Japanese look no different on the outside, but to my mind, they speak the worst English, each in its own way though not necessarily in that order. Obviously, the English language is in direct conflict with their mother tongue. This man spoke English quite well grammatically but his heavy accent was unmistakably Japanese.
I could not decide what kind of man he was though. There are certain people you just can't put your finger on what they do for a living. This man was one of them. All I could say was that he was a well educated man in his early forties, tall and stocky, wearing an ash grey woolen pullover over a dark green shirt without a necktie and a pair of blue jeans and a pair of black and white sneakers of a Japanese brand. He had long wavy black hair, but not long enough to make him look like a hippie. He was quite handsome and had kind, intelligent eyes.
He presented me with a calling card, which told very little about him because there was only his name and a cell phone number printed on it. The name was in both Japanese and English. He was Kimiro Suzuki.
"Suzuki?" I said, "You must be kidding."
"Why?" He asked.
"Nothing. What do you want?"
"Just a few words about the Mamoru Tanaka case."
"What do you want to say?"
"From my experience, I'd say a man with foot fetish does not kill. I don't believe that Mr. Tanaka has killed that girl."
He was speaking my mind too. But I said, "You are experienced in dealing with perverts?"
"Yes," he said, "and serial killers. Some perverts are serial killers and some are not. I have files on Japanese serial killers but Mamoru Tanaka is not on the list."
"You have files? Just who are you?"
"I work for the Bureau of Security for Japanese Personnel Overseas."
"I don't see it on your card and I have never heard of such an organization."
"We work in discretion. We have no jurisdiction overseas and I'm never an official person."
"You have told me nothing new about the case."
"I'm here to offer you some advice."
"I can't leave Mamoru Tanaka alone just because you told me he is not a killer."
"Coming to that, how much would make it worthwhile to leave him alone."
"Say that again so I can be sure I didn't hear you right."
"I'm talking about money. Just name your price. We have a budget for that."
I took my handcuffs from behind my waist and slapped them on the table. "You are under arrest, Mr. Suzuki, for offering a bribe to a police officer."
He smiled calmly. "You don't have a witness, Mr. Garcia. It's just your word against mine."
My face was a little hot. "All right," I said, "this is your lucky day. But I'll tell you this, you can shove your money up you know where."
He smiled again, this time with appreciation. "You can't arrest me anyway." He took from his back pocket his wallet and opened it to show me his other proof of credential.
My lower jaw dropped. "From the Japanese consulate? You are a diplomat and you have diplomatic immunity?"
"Yes." He nodded.
"Are you serious about the money?"
"Yes. I was hoping you would name a price. Then I'll know who is blackmailing Mamoru Tanaka."
"Blackmail? He is being blackmailed?"
"Now you know."
Now I understood why Kenny Tsang had said I couldn°¶t extort money from him.
"Why didn't he tell me himself?" I said, "He has something to say, just say it to me. I'm very tired of him talking through another person."
"He is not speaking through me. He did not send me. In fact he has refused to admit there was a blackmail."
"Tell me more about the blackmail." I said.
"No." He said.
"So what is it that you want exactly?"
"Now that I know you are not the blackmailer, I want you to do your job. I have told you Mamoru Tanaka is not a killer. You don't have to believe me, but please don't reject the idea either."
I was tempted to tell him what I knew. But I was not quite sure what was it that he wanted.
I said, "Do you know when was the last time I had spoken to Mamoru Tanaka?"
"Yesterday afternoon, at the golf course. It was a brilliant move."
Suzuki had been doing his job. Jack couldn't have told him. Jack couldn't have told him that much in less than a minute.
"Have you talked to Kenny Tsang?"
"He does not work for Mamoru Tanaka anymore. He is a dishonest man but he is not the blackmailer."
"Mr. Suzuki, you talk in riddles. But the fact remains that if Tanaka is being blackmailed, he would have called the police. Unless he has something to hide."
"You don't understand us. But I can assure you that this Peggy is not dead and she will surface in the near future."
Then my mobile rang and I took the call. "Yes," I said to the mouthpiece, "good, I'll be back in fifteen minutes."
"Have to go now?" Suzuki asked as I closed the phone.
I looked him in the eye. "Do you want to bet that Peggy is not dead?"
He paled visibly. "You are not telling me that Peggy's body has turned up?"
"No. But perhaps it's worse for you. Mamoru Tanaka is in my office right now. He wants to talk to me. He said he wanted to confess that he had killed Peggy."
Suzuki was white as paper. "Shit," he said, "I'll arrange a lawyer for him."

I WAS VERY TIRED and needed another cup of hot coffee badly. But coffee was not provided in the office of Stephen Caine, my boss. Caine liked English tea, which he was drinking with relish and which I hated. So I just flopped down on the chair and rubbed my temple and eyes to ease the throbbing headache.
"Are you all right?" Kimiro Suzuki asked.
That Suzuki was present irritated me and was no help to my headache. "Don't you ever get tired?" I asked.
"I do," he smiled, "but we usually try not to show it."
Stephen Caine was behind his desk reading the papers I had given him with his sorrowful eyes, his cue ball like head reflecting the fluorescent light from the ceiling. It was Mamoru Tanaka's signed statement. I had spent six hours grilling him and that was the result I got. It was 11:00 p.m. now and I was tired and hungry.
Suzuki had been hanging around with two doctors and one lawyer but they were of no help. Tanaka had refused to be represented by any lawyer and rejected the claim of the doctors that he was under duress and was not responsible for what he said.
I didn't know how come Suzuki could be in Caine's office. But since it was all right with Caine, I could not object. I supposed that Suzuki had pulled some political strings, him being a diplomat.
So I just lounged in the chair rubbing my eyes and temples and wishing the headache would go away.
Then the aroma of hot coffee stimulated my nose. I removed my hands from my eyes and found Suzuki offering me a paper cup of hot coffee. He had another cup for himself. "I bought it from the vending machine," he said smiling, "I thought you needed one too."
I thanked him and enjoyed the coffee.
Caine frowned deeper and deeper as he read the statement. Then he threw it down and snapped, "This is shit." Then he picked it up again and handed it to Suzuki. It was in English as was the practice.
Suzuki glanced at it for a few seconds and shrugged. He must have had enrolled in some kind of speed-reading class to have finished reading that report so fast.
"That's why Tanaka has not been booked." I said, "His story doesn't hold water. I think he lied."
Just because a man had confessed to killing someone does not make him guilty. There must be some proof or at least his story must be convincing. Tanaka had insisted he had killed Peggy, having stabbed her to death with a knife, then chopped her up into small pieces in the bathtub, and then transported the pieces to the beach and threw them into the sea. That he had forgotten about her handbag and her shoes and they were later found. But he was a poor liar and his story was full of holes. He could not describe the beach. He had forgotten to describe the blood, as though he was talking about some meat bought at a supermarket. Meat from the market had been drained of blood, but not so with a human body freshly killed. There would be so much blood it would be all over the place. And he had not mentioned cleaning all that blood at all. Then when I asked him about the blood, he said he had soaked it up with her clothes. But her clothes would not be enough. He said he had used a knife from the kitchen. No, you can't dismember a human body with a kitchen knife. You will need at least a saw, a chainsaw would be better. He said he had done all that in an hour. No, you can't do all that to the body of a grown woman in an hour, even with a chainsaw.
"I told you he is unstable emotionally, just like the doctors had said. He's been hallucinating." Said Suzuki calmly.
"So why do you think he lied about that?" Asked Caine.
"I don't know," said Suzuki, "maybe I can find out if you let me talk to him."
"He doesn't want to talk to you." I said.
"So why not release him?" Said Suzuki.
"No," I said, "it is an offence to waste our time. And there is always the possibility that he had killed Peggy, only not how and where like he said."
Suzuki sighed, "I'm sorry. I don't understand how this could happen."
"I think you understand more than we do." I said, "How about letting us in on something? You know, you scratch my back and I'll scratch yours. Then maybe I could forget about him wasting my time."
"Sorry," said Suzuki, "I have told you what I can tell."
Just then, the phone on Caine's desk rang. Caine snatched up the receiver and snapped, "I told you I'm not to be disturbed---oh?---Okay, come right in."
He replaced the receiver and smiled at me, and for the first time since I had known him, his eyes were not sorrowful, actually dancing with humor. He said, "I want you to meet someone very important."
There was a knock on the door a few seconds later and Caine barked, "Come in."
The door opened and a Chinese woman sashayed in, led by a policewoman. The policewoman excused herself and left, closing the door behind her.
The newcomer was like another stick of last week's cut flower, but packaged expensively. A couple of dead minks was on her shoulders, draped over a black dress with the letter F printed all over it in gold. She was carrying a pink leather handbag with a pair of pink- framed sunglasses on the bridge of her nose, both adorned with the same letter in gold.
She said in Cantonese, "I'm Peggy. My mother told me that there has been a misunderstanding and I have come to clear things up."
"You mean you are that Peggy, of the Minx?" I asked. It occurred to me that I had never seen a photograph of her, having thought it useless to identify a woman presumed dead.
"Yes," she said, "I heard that you thought I was dead, but I'm not."
"So where the hell have you been?" I asked.
"I've been to Italy," she said, "I came back just an hour ago."
"You've been to where?" I asked.
She told us it was a strange story, so she didn't blame us for the misunderstanding. That night, after she had served Mamoru Tanaka, Mr. Suzuki to her, she left the flat and was waiting for a taxi on the street. The time had been about 2:30 a.m. A chauffeur driven limousine hadcruised up and stopped in front of her. The door of the car opened and she saw a Japanese man who looked prominent inside. He asked her if she wanted a lift. She accepted and when she was in the car, he gave her HK$ 1,000, just for riding in the car with him. Then he proposed a trip to Italy with him for a week, promising a HK$ 20,000 reward for her trouble, but they must leave right away. It was a windfall for her and she accepted without even thinking. He took her to the airport and took her onto a private jet. She was barefooted and her handbag was not with her then because there had been some necking in the car. She spent the night on the plane and was in Rome the next afternoon. Then she remembered her shoes and her handbag and the man, who had called himself Mr. Fujita, told her it was all right, he would buy her new ones. Her passport though was with her because she had to show it when boarding the plane. And he did buy her new things. She was wearing them now.
She said he hadn't touched her all through the trip, with him saying she was like a daughter to him. They just enjoyed the trip together. He had refused to let her call home, saying that it was part of the thrill of an unexpected vacation. For HK$20,000, not calling home was a small thing to her. Her mother wouldn't worry about her anyway. She had gone to Macau for ten days without calling to tell her mother once before.
Then she had been flown back safely. She had no way to contact this Mr. Fujita again because he had not left her with an address or a phone number.
"He didn't touch you all that time?' I asked, "Then how did you get that black eye?"
Peggy's right hand flew to her left eye, but it was no use. We had seen it. That she was wearing sunglasses at night was a sign that she was trying to hide something about her eyes, a black eye in this case.
Peggy was reluctant but talked anyway. There had been a misunderstanding. Mr. Fujita thought she had stolen his gold watch and hit her. I guessed she did steal the watch but was caught. But I let it go because that was really none of our business.
I took Peggy outside to make a statement and sign some papers to close the case. Meanwhile, I did not object to the release of Mamoru Tanaka. He left with Suzuki and the lawyer and doctors.
Then I went out to have a late dinner, sulking.

I WAS STILL SULKING a week later about the Tanaka case. All that hard work had been for nothing. I was left no wiser than when I had first involved with the case. Like I was a diver sent down a dark water hole to find something but finding nothing. Then the job was over without me even knowing what I was supposed to find. There was so much I didn't know and there was no one to ask. Mamoru Tanaka had left for Japan the following day, having resigned from his post as CEO of that Japanese chemical company. Suzuki was of course gone. Even Kenny Tsang had gone, leaving for New York yesterday for a new job. We had no reason to stop him. He hadn't done anything illegal. And he wouldn't tell me anything anyway.
Making me feel even more like an idiot was the fact that I had nothing to do in the meantime, no new case. I was sitting in the second floor restaurant in the Repulse Bay Hotel, The Veranda, wasting my time, looking out on the beach where there was not a single swimmer under the noon sun. Winter was not for swimming.
I was sipping my coffee sulking when my view was blocked. I looked up and saw Kimiro Suzuki smiling down at me.
"Buy me a coffee?" he asked.
"Sure. Take two if you wish. Have a seat."
He sat down across me and ordered a coffee. He was in a dark grey business suit this time, suggesting he was doing serious work or travelling.
"You want something again?" I asked.
"No." he said, "I'm passing through Hong Kong and I thought I should pay you a visit to clear things up. I know you are very frustrated because the Tanaka case has closed and you still don't know what really happened and probably will never find out. You are a good cop, and frustration weakens a good cop."
"That's a professional hazard," I said, "and this is not the first time. Sometimes the frustration would be that you know too much but could do so little about it.
"I don't want a good cop weakened by this frustration," He said, "that's why I'm going to fill in the blanks for you. But of course, what I'm going to tell you is not official.'
I shrugged, "I'm not wearing a bug."
So he proceeded to fill in the blanks for me.
The story had started with Mamoru Tanaka's parents wanting a grandson. Tanaka was the only son and they had selected a girl for him to marry in Japan, so that he could produce an heir to inherit the family fortune, which was enormous. But Mamoru had not agreed to the marriage, partly because he didn't love the girl and partly because he had this foot fetish and he knew he couldn't have a normal sex life. He thought his parents didn't know about the foot thing and he couldn't tell them. But they knew and couldn't tell them they knew. So they dreamed up a scheme: stop this fetish for him and he would go back to be a normal man. Peggy was the key-figure to this scheme. She was not chosen. She was in this simply because she happened to be the last girl with Mamoru when they had decided to act. The parents had hired a man to act the part of a rich Japanese man who called himself Mr. Fujita, to take Peggy to Europe right after she had left Mamoru. They had stolen her handbag and shoes, stained them with blood and discarded them on the beach, then had someone called to tip the police off. It was intended to scare Mamoru, to let him realize that this kind of escapade could be dangerous. They had thought this to be harmless because when Peggy came back, Mamoru would be off the hook and wiser. But the scheme had backfired when somewhere along the line, someone found out about it and called Mamoru on the phone, lying to him that he should pay a ransom or Peggy's body would appear, and he would take all the blame. Mamoru was under immense pressure all right, but he was a shrewd businessman who did not believe in paying a ransom. He had worked his way to the post of CEO in his company himself, without the help of his wealthy family. He insisted the blackmailer should provide some proof that Peggy was still alive. Since the blackmailer did not actually have Peggy, he could provide nothing. So he just kept calling Mamoru to press for the money. Mamoru just wouldn't budge. By this time, Suzuki had come in because the Japanese consulate had heard about Marmoru Tanaka's case. Suzuki had Mamoru's phone tapped and found out about the blackmail. Suzuki also agreed that he should not pay any ransom without some kind of proof. Being a face loving Japanese and a very independent man, Mamoru had not asked for any help from the consulate and he could not admit to the police he had gone to nightclubs, to protect his family's name. Things had become even more complicated when Mamoru's rival in the company learned about the situation. This rival had been after Mamoru's chair for a long time and had even bought Kenny Tsang. It was through Kenny Tsang that he found out about the situation. That's why Kenny Tsang had gone to the flat to put blood on the carpet, thinking that if I, Charles Garcia went to the flat to investigate and found the blood, I surely would arrest Mamoru and create a scandal. But this devious scheme of Kenny Tsang backfired too when I went to the golf course to talk to Mamoru and told him about the blood on the carpet. Mamoru Tanaka went back to his office and fired Kenny Tsang right away, but not before Kenny Tsang had told him about his parent's scheme.
Now Mamoru's parents were desperate and they called him to confess everything, telling him that Peggy was coming back from Europe and would clear things up. Everything would be fine and the family could have a long talk to resolve their difference.
But Mamoru was not a man to be manipulated. He was extremely angry with his parents and extremely hurt that they would do this to him. So he went to the police station to ask for me and confessed that he had killed Peggy, knowing very well that Peggy would appear soon. It was his way to show his defiance. He would rather have a scandal than bow to his parent's pressure.
As it was, Peggy came back and there was no case.
After that, Mamoru had resigned from his post as CEO, another move to show what he would give up to be free.
Now that Mamoru was back in Japan, Suzuki told me, his relation with his parent had definitely not improved.
"It is so hard to be rich and to be the children of a rich family." Suzuki sighed.
And that was that.
"So," I said, "the present CEO of that company is Mamoru Tanaka's rival?"
"No," said Suzuki, "Mamoru's parents had seen to it that this would not happen. The post is still open. The board of directors has asked Mamoru to come back. He has not decided yet. But my work is finished and I would say that nobody came up the winner in this case."
"What about the blackmailer?"
"He has not won because he didn't get the money. He just didn't lose because we will never find out who he is."
"All in all, we've been taken for a ride," I said, " but it's still so sad that nobody has won."
"That's life. The world is full of losers." Suzuki said and look at his watch, "Oh, I must go now. I've got a plane to catch."
"Feels good to be able to get it off your chest, right?" I asked.
He looked at me, got up and was gone.

back to top


TWENTY-SEVEN

THE MIRROR DOUBLE

TAKING A WALK after dinner used to soothe Charles Garcia and elevate his mood. But it is not effective anymore these few days, not since the time when he had chased the girl into the casino, the girl with straight black hair in a black halter and a silver pink miniskirt. Especially not since the encounter with the girl who had a strawberry-colored birthmark in the shape of a small butterfly on the inside of her thigh, which had proved to be just a stick-on tattoo.
Garcia has found himself searching the evening crowd during his walks, looking for someone who really shouldn't exist. He has been like this even when he was jogging, having his breakfast or lunch, and even when he was in church alone.
What is he looking for? Who is he looking for?
Whoever he is looking for, it must be a young girl with long straight black hair who has a strawberry-colored birthmark in the shape of a small butterfly on the inside of her thigh. The most likely place to find this girl, or her look alike, should be Paul Reed's place. He could find her and have her too. The second best place should be the beach or the public swimming pool, where he could see parts of women's body he normally cannot see on the streets. But Garcia has not gone to Paul Reed's place again, neither has he gone to the beach. He just keeps on looking in the streets. Maybe he does not want to find her but can't help looking.
Garcia is taking his after dinner walk again and he can't help looking. A distant swirl of long straight black hair catches his attention. He looks and curses under his breath. For it is a slim young man with long hair.
A sudden shout on Garcia's right startles him. He turns, expecting a fist. But it is just a Chinese teenager and his friends, apparently tourists from Hong Kong, playing a game of rough house, chasing and pushing and punching at each other, and Garcia is caught in the middle. The youth has not shouted at Garcia, he was shouting over Garcia's shoulder at his friends. Garcia steps to the right to be out of his way. But the youth has stepped to his left at the same time, so Garcia is still in his way. Then Garcia is slammed by another youth from behind, making him lurch forward and almost falls.
Garcia turns angrily. The youth immediately apologizes. "I'm sorry, he pushed me." He said in Cantonese, pointing at one of his friends.
It was actually a mistake and the young man has apologized. But Garcia is in a bad mood. "Haven't you anything better to do?" Garcia snaps, "Why not suck my cock?"
"What? What did you say?" The young man's eyes widen dangerously.
And suddenly, Garcia finds himself surrounded by five very angry young men. For what he has just said is extremely insulting in Cantonese and his fluent Cantonese has made it unmistakable.
Garcia also finds himself snapping out of a dreamlike state. For he had for a moment turned the clock back to the time when Macao was still a Portuguese colony where he could step on the Chinese as he wished. But now a Chinese government is in place and a Portuguese is nothing, not even when he is an ex-police officer and a friend of Ricky Cruz. Besides, Ricky Cruz is gone.
"I asked what did you say." Demands the young man as he pushes Garcia in the chest, making him stumble backwards.
Another push from behind sends Garcia staggering forward again.
"I'm sorry," apologized Garcia meekly, "I shouldn't have said that."
"Let's kill this bastard." Another youth shouts from the left behind him.
Garcia instinctively turns left to face this young man and apologizes again, "I'm sorry."
"Forget about him," suggests anther youth, "he's just drunk. Let's go."
The young man who has suggested killing Garcia is pulled away by his friends. They just ignore Garcia and go on their way. Lucky they are all nice kids.
Garcia takes a deep breath. His right hand snakes under his jacket to his left armpit, as if he is going for his gun. But there is no gun. Years before, he would have pulled his gun and pistol-whipped them, then throw them in jail with some fabricated charges, but not now. Even though he still has some useful connections, there are things he just can't do in public. Wearing a gun is one of them.
Garcia shakes his head and goes on his way, heads lowered and legs seem heavy. He feels so small now. Times sure have changed.
Then he hears the voice of a girl behind him, saying in Cantonese, "Can you tell me where the ferry terminal is?"
A beautiful voice, like a silver bell ringing on a clear night.
Garcia swirls around, and there she is. The girl in his dreams, asking for directions from a passerby.
Darkness has fallen and there is only the light from the street lamps. But there is no mistaking. It is she. This time Garcia is not seeing a fleeting half face, a back, but a full frontal. A beautiful young girl of about nineteen, with long, waist-length straight black hair, her eyes so large and sparkling they would draw your attention from her other features. But Garcia can still see clearly her slightly pointed nose and perfectly formed lips. Maybe she has put on her face a little too much makeup, but a born beautiful girl has every right to make herself even more beautiful. She is wearing a white blouse with long sleeves, quite loose, probably to hide her breasts which are rather small. But she would not be perfect if she had large breasts. She is not a cow. A pair of tight-fitting blue jeans protects her slim waist and flat stomach while accentuating her small hips and long slender legs. She is quite small, around 5 ft. 2 but she is confident enough to wear a pair of high heels elevating her by only one inch. Too high the heels and her legs would look skinny. A small black handbag hangs on her right shoulder by a slim leather braid.
The lucky passerby she is asking for direction is a middle-aged Chinese man who knows an exceptional beauty when he sees one. He ogles and splutters and then answers, "It's too far away from here by walking. You should take a taxi. You should always take a taxi in Macao. Ten bucks will get you anywhere."
The girl thanks him and flags down a taxi.
Garcia flags down another taxi and tells the driver to follow her, throwing a HK$100 bill onto the front seat. The driver's free hand moves lightening fast and the bill vanishes. He is thinking that Garcia probably has made a mistake by giving him a hundred instead of a twenty, and he is not giving Garcia a chance to rectify this expensive mistake.
"Quite a beauty, huh?" The driver comments in Cantonese as he steps on the gas.
"Yes," Garcia answers, "and she is leaving, going back to Hong Kong, because she is going to the ferry terminal."
"So?" Asks the driver.
"I wish she would stay longer, or I have seen her earlier." Says Garcia.
The driver glances at the rearview mirror inside the car, from which he could look at his passengers. Something seems wrong with this man. Not a drunk as he could smell no alcohol. Probably mentally disturbed. He decides to say no more.
Garcia gets off the taxi at the ferry terminal. The girl is already inside. He half-runs to close the gap, slowing down only when he is a few steps behind her and follows her. This is not considered an unusual move, as there are other people quickening their steps too, eager to board their boat earlier and sit down. He is so close he could catch whiffs of her perfume, faint but jasmine unmistakably. She has good taste with her perfume too.
She obviously has her ticket already because she is striding without hesitation to the immigration counter on the departing side. Most tourists from Hong Kong would have bought return tickets beforehand.
Garcia stops at the yellow line signaling the end of the non-departure zone and watches her take from her small handbag her travelling papers to present to the immigration officer, who happens to be a woman too.
The officer checks the paper against a computer hidden behind the counter, glances at the girl before returning the papers to let her through. The girl goes straight to the boarding area, turns left and disappears behind a wall of glass bricks.
Garcia hesitates for a moment. For he is tempted to purchase a ticket to follow her so that he could watch her longer while she waits for her boat. But he decides otherwise because the LED panel on the wall shows that the next ferry will depart in five minutes, meaning she would board the boat straightaway instead of sitting on the benches in the waiting area. He could not choose to sit next to her on the boat because he could not find out the number of her ticket even if the seat was available.
Garcia just sighs and turns back, walking out of the terminal and onto the seawall. He is in time to see the boat, which is a hydrofoil, depart. But it is too far away. He could not see her, even if she had a window seat.
Garcia sighs and turns, climbs into a taxi by the curb and goes home.

THE PORCUPINE ARRIVES AT Charles Garcia's bungalow to work at 10:10 p.m. He gets off the taxi outside the wrought-iron gate and walks up the driveway, surprised to hear music drifting out from the house. It is Nat 'King' Cole singing MONA LISA.
"-------are you warm, are you real, Mona Lisa,
or just a cold and lonely lovely work of art°K"
The song ends and Garcia switches off the CD deck, which is on top of the tape recorder and which The Porcupine has never seen in operation before, with a remote control.
The front door is unlocked and The Porcupine lets himself in.
"Good," Garcia waves his hands, remaining half- sunken in his favorite sofa and slurs, "I've been waiting for you. There is something exceptional I want you to do."
"Not to enter a singing contest I hope." Says The Porcupine.
The first thing he does is not sitting down but to check the two wine bottles on the coffee table. They are both empty. Garcia has never consumed more than half a bottle when working with him. This explains the slur in Garcia's speech. He has had too much wine and is drunk.
The Porcupine takes the empty bottles and walks towards the kitchen, saying, "And don't ask me to bring you a fresh bottle, because I won't."
He returns with a tray on which are a can of beer and a glass of cold water, resting on a piece of paper towel. He hands Garcia the glass of water and sits down.
"You are a good friend," Garcia accepts the glass of water and waves with his other hand, "any other person tells me not to drink anymore, I'll tell him to go to hell. But you, I listen. See, no wine." Then he sings, "---or is this your way to hide a broken heart°K."
"Look," says The Porcupine, "if you don't feel like working tonight, it's okay."
"No, I want to work. I'm in the mood. I want you to help me write a beautiful story. A beautiful love story."
"Okay. Tell me your beautiful love story. "
"But you haven't asked me what is eating me. You can see through me every time. You can certainly see that I'm not my usual self tonight."
"Well, what's eating you, Mr. Garcia? You're not yourself tonight."
"You know what's been missing in our book so far? It's our women. The book is almost finished and we have never mentioned our women. Not once."
"I've told you about my women. What's missing is yours. And it's not our book, it's your book."
"Well, I'm going to tell you about my woman, the only woman in my life. The only woman I ever loved and still love."
"Why not make it tomorrow night? I don't want you to tell me under the influence of alcohol anything you shouldn't and regret it tomorrow.
"I can always kill you tomorrow." Garcia laughs loudly and waves again, " No. I won't kill you. I've decided not to kill you."
"See. You never told me you planned to kill me."
"That's why I like you," Garcia punches his left palm with his right fist. "You can always pinpoint my shortcomings and point it out. Nobody has ever done that. You are a pain in the ass but makes me feel good. Like a doctor sticking a needle into me. It hurts but it will make me feel good later."
The Porcupine is silent.
Garcia picks up the glass of cold water and downs it in one gulp.
"I'll get you another one." Says The Porcupine.
"No, I can do that myself. If I can't even get a glass of water for myself, then you will know that I'm too drunk, and you should leave and leave me alone."
Garcia pulls himself up and staggers into the kitchen.
There is some tinkering inside but Garcia returns with a glass of water. He puts it on the coffee table without spilling it and sinks back into his favorite sofa.
"See," says Garcia, "I'm not too drunk. Tell you a little secret," he cups his mouth with one hand, "I've never been drunk in my life. I know my limits. It is dangerous to be drunk because I would lose control. I must be in control, total control."
"We were talking about the only woman in your life." The Porcupine reminds him.
"And I have lost her." Garcia suddenly seems sober and looks at The Porcupine with something close to hatred in his eyes.
The Porcupine shrugs.
"I've been looking for her. Then I saw her again earlier tonight."
"That's good."
"I saw her in the street, asking for directions to the ferry terminal. I followed her in a taxi, watched her leave for Hong Kong. I probably will never see her again. She is still so young, so elegant, beautiful, so full of life. Barely turned nineteen."
"Are you telling me that you have found her again but did not speak to her and just let her go?"
"But I lost my love twenty-five years ago. She should be over forty by now. She couldn't be still nineteen."
"I see," says The Porcupine, "it's just someone looking very much like her."
"Yes," says Garcia, "it is said that everyone has a mirror double on this planet. Now I believe it."
"Then why didn't you try to talk to her, make friends with her? Who knows what will happen?"
"Do you know how old I am?"
"Is that important?"
"Ah, the blue balloon theory again. But I can't ignore the facts. I am fifty-four years old. Ten years from now, I'll be sixty-four and there will be a lot of things I can't do. But she will be only twenty-nine. Most probably I'll watch her being snatched away by a younger man. Or maybe I couldn't make it to sixty-four. November just don't go with May."
The Porcupine is silent again.
"Besides, she may not be a good girl. And she may not even like me. Who knows? Maybe she will break my heart right away. It would be much better to just let her go."
"Still the blue balloon theory. Don't try to find out what's inside."
"You see why you are a pain in the ass."
"Now, the story you want me to help you write."
"Yes, about the woman I love so much but have lost. I want you to make it sound real good so I can write it beautifully."
"You have paid me well. I'll do my best. Is this going to be chapter twelve?"
"Of course it is."
"Is it a case?"
"No, it is not a case."
The Porcupine looks at him. But Garcia's eyes are like granite. The Porcupine shrugs again, "It's your book."

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TWENTY-EIGHT

Chapter Twelve: A Tale of Two Lovers according to Charles Garcia


ALTHOUGH THIS IS NOT one of my cases, it had started with one.
I was heading a drug raid that night. Thinking back, life was so simple then. Drugs just meant heroin, and soft drugs were LSD and grass. Although the old timers would often say to me, "life was so simple then. Drug was just opium. Now we've got heroin, LSD and marijuana."
I was in the narcotics branch then and on the way up. I was very clean and righteous. I knew most policemen were corrupt then but there was nothing I could do about it. All I could do was not take the bribes and pretended I didn't know about it. You'd think that would make them isolate me and wanted me out. Not so, for I was someone they could use. When they wanted to bust a place, they would give the job to me. They would do the explaining later.
Why should they explain later? Because of the protection money. They would bust a joint for not paying enough, or behind payment, or a new joint whose owner had thought he could get away with not paying. I was known as the cop who wouldn't take bribes. They would tell me to bust them and explain later, "It was Charles Garcia. He's the cop who won't take any bribe. What can I do?" But for more money, they could make sure an owner would be informed before I make the bust.
Then there was the matter of statistics. They knew that no matter how successful the narcotics branch was, nobody would believe the drug problem had been eradicated. So they must make a bust from time to time to show they were doing the job. It would be embarrassing to bust a joint they were protecting. And that was when they could use me.
Heading a lot of busts helped my promotion prospect greatly.
The joints were mostly discos then. And it was a disco we raided that night, just another routine raid. It was summer and a lot of school kids were on summer vacation. Statistically, we must hand in more cases of drug abuse. We went into this disco and ordered the operator to turn the lights fully on and searched the teenagers at the premises for LSD or grass and asking them to show their identity cards. Those carrying drugs, not carrying identification cards and the under-aged would be brought back to the station. The former would be booked while the latter two would have to call their parents to come and get them. Calling the parents was most dreaded by the kids. Though I doubt it would solve any problem. Don't blame the parents and don't blame the kids, blame them both. That's the way I see it.
We were searching the kids, some Europeans were among them. Some of the kids were trembling and some defiant, under the bright light, when a teenaged English boy with straw blonde hair suddenly went berserk, under the influence of LSD no doubt. He let out a wild yelp and charged right at the entrance. Although young and gangling, four burly cops could not stop him and were just bumped aside.
We couldn't shoot him. He was just a kid who didn't know better. But we could not just let him go either. So six policemen started after him.
The kid made it to the entrance of the building, bumped into a glass case in the wall, which housed the fire hose. The glass shattered and some of the splinters flew out into the street. The kid made it out on the street and bumped into a Chinese girl passing by. He could have just kept on running but he was drug-crazed and in his twisted moment, he grabbed hold of the girl, picked up a shard of broken glass the shape of a dagger and pressed the point of it against her throat.
The girl screamed and struggled. A policeman shouted at her to keep calm to avoid getting hurt. Another policeman pleaded the kid to let her go because she had nothing to do with this and it was no big deal anyhow.
But the kid refused to let go. He demanded a million dollars in cash and a plane to fly him out of Hong Kong. He didn't know what he was saying and probably didn't mean it. He was just hallucinating. Everything was unreal to him. But the girl was real and that piece of glass was real. One wrong move and the girl's throat would be cut open.
Suddenly, it had developed into a hostage holding drama.
We hurriedly called for a negotiating expert. Though I doubted there was anything he could do. Nobody can predict the workings of a mind under the influence of LSD.
The kid kept yelling at the police. He was giving them ten minutes to come up with the money and the plane. God, how do you arrange $1 million and a plane in ten minutes? But then time may not be that important because to his twisted mind, ten minutes could be just ten seconds or one hour.
Then I appeared on his right. I had a gun pointing at the police and yelling at them, "Don't you try anything." Then to the kid, "Don't believe in anything they say. They are trying to trick you. Try to save yourself, run."
He looked at me in amazement. As I was in plainclothes, he did not know I was a cop. I was an enemy of the cops, therefore a friend. Nobody could refuse a friend. He had backed against the wall on the sidewalk. I was moving closer and closer to him while I spoke, with my back to him all the time. Then I was between him and the police.
"Run," I yelled at him, "run fast. The girl is no use. They will just shoot you and her as well. They don't care."
But the kid was too crazy to fully understand what I said.
"Where is the plane, and the money?" he screamed,.
"Why a million dollars?" I asked.
Luckily, the question penetrated.
"Because I want to give it to my mother, that's why."
"Where is your mother?" I asked.
"Dead." He said.
"Where?"
"She's in Heaven. Up there." He said. My trick worked, for he pointed at the sky with that shard of glass and its sharp point left the girl's throat for a moment. That was the moment I was waiting for.
I moved lightning fast. Because I was so close, I could grab hold of his weapon wrist and kept the point of the shard of glass turned away from the girl. And in that same split second, my gun barrel whipped him across the bridge of his nose.
He let go of the girl, spun around, but as I was still holding tight his wrist, he could not drop away, just sinking on his knees in front of me. His hand went limp. I picked the shard of glass away with two fingers and released his wrist. The policemen were on him like a pack of wolves, but he had already passed out.
I had saved the day, and had saved the life of the girl, the most beautiful girl I've ever seen.
The act of saving her had brought on a kind of excitement I had never known, as if I was really alive for the first time, having been just a walking corpse all my life.
I looked around for her.
But she was gone. She had left the scene in the confusion, nowhere to be found.
I looked around for an hour, then quit. But I was still feeling alive. I had to find her again, but how? How to find a girl who had been just passing by and whose name you don't even know among several million people?

BUT THERE IS SOMETHING called destiny, which cannot be explained by science simply because it is not a science but something else in another dimension. Coincidence could not explain my meeting her again by chance just the following day.
I was eating my lunch alone in a restaurant, in a part of the city far away from the disco I had raided the previous night. A part of the city I usually had no reason to go. I was there looking for a witness involved in another case. Having failed to find the man, I was thirsty and hungry and just went into the nearest restaurant.
I was wolfing down my plate of fried noodle when I heard her voice. She was laughing at something, a voice like a silver bell ringing on a clear night.
I turned to look and there she was, sitting in a booth directly behind me, having tea with a very ugly Chinese man. I turned back to my lunch and thanked god. This time she would not slip away. I was feeling more and more alive.
From what I was overhearing, she was trying to sell something to the man and he was stalling. All he wanted was to buy her body, or getting it free. I sat there listening to him, and I wanted to pull my gun and shoot him right then and there. I hoped she wouldn't be so foolish not to sense his real intention.
She wasn't. I heard her say, "I'm sorry, Mr. Luk. I don't think we can do business." Smart girl.
"Why don't we discuss it over dinner?" said the creep, "I know a place where they serve excellent wine."
"I don't think so." She said.
"We can still be friends, very good friends."
"We have ceased to be friends half a minute ago." She was firm but she was the kind that can never show malice even when she was angry.
"You have to do better than that if you want to close a sale."
"I'm not selling now. I have to go."
"No, don't go. Let's talk some more. You are so beautiful. I like you so much."
"Please."
I stood up, turned, moved one step left and was in front of them. I told the creep, "You are going now, not her."
Her eyes met mine and there was this unmistakable sparkle. She too was suddenly alive.
"Who the hell are you?" Asked the creep.
I showed him my badge.
"So you are a cop. So what? I'm not breaking any law sitting here."
"I'm also her fiance." I said.
She giggled and smiled the sweetest smile.
That did it. The creep was not afraid, but he realized that he was up against a brick wall. Trying to seduce a girl in front of her fiance was hopeless. He got up and left.
I took his seat. I saw that she was still wearing the same clothes as last night. An extremely beautiful girl of about nineteen, with long, waist-length straight black hair, her eyes so large and sparkling they would draw your attention away from her other features. But I could still see clearly her slightly pointed nose and perfectly formed lips. She was wearing no makeup at all. But a born beautiful girl could get away with that anytime. She was wearing a white blouse with long sleeves, quite loose, probably to hide her breasts which were rather small. But she would not be perfect if she had large breasts. She was not a cow. A pair of tight-fitting blue jeans protected her slim waist and flat stomach while accentuating her small hips and long slender legs. She was quite small, around 5ft. 2 but was confident enough to wear a pair of high- heels elevating her by only one inch. Too high the heels and her legs would look skinny standing up. She was carrying a medium sized brown leather briefcase.
"I'm sorry," I said, "I have caused you to lose a client. I'll make it up to you. Whatever you were selling, I'll buy it."
She giggled again, like an angel, if angels ever giggled. "You know what I was selling?"
"Sure. Life insurance."
"A policeman buying life insurance?"
"Why not? I'm a human being too. I will die someday."
"It's just that my company would be reluctant to insure you."
"Because of the high risk?"
"Yes. The premium would be much higher considering your occupational hazard."
"I guess you are not a good salesperson after all."
"I'm not. And I have decided to quit. And, thanks for saving me again."
"I'm glad you remember me. I'm Charles Garcia."
"Dawn Kim." She gave me a card, which showed that she was a sales representative of a large insurance company, a former sales representative if what she had said about quitting was true. "I don't work for them anymore, starting right now."
And she smiled. She had just failed to close a sale and lost her job, but she was smiling like she had not a worry in the world.
"We should drink to that," I said, "I mean coffee.
I told a passing waitress to get me a fresh cup of coffee.
"I must apologize for running away like that last night," she said still smiling the sweetest smile on earth, "but I don't want this thing to get into the papers. My family would worry about me every time I was late coming home. I hope you are not going to arrest me."
"I can't arrest you. You have the right to refuse to be a witness. But you sure have given me a hard time, explaining to the bigwigs why I should hit that kid with my gun. My colleagues would vouch for me of course, but not as good as the victim in the case itself."
"How can I make up for that?" She asked, looking me in the eyes.
Although I was not that experienced with women, I knew that was a strong hint that she was interested in me. Otherwise, she would just say thank you again and leave.
"We can be friends." I said.
"Meaning we can discuss this further over dinner?" She asked, "And I assume you know a place where they serve good wine?"
It just showed that sexual harassment is actually a double bladed sword. If a woman doesn't like a man, any kind of approach would be considered harassment. If she likes him, anything he says would be all right. She would even take the initiative. I felt a little sorry for that ugly man. How could he be sure if he hadn't tried? I was just lucky that I was chosen.
We made a date for dinner. She had to go back to the insurance company to resign from her job properly. I had to go back to the station to do some paperwork.
I picked her up in my car at seven in front of the building belonging to the insurance company. We went to the Repulse Bay Hotel.
Repulse Bay was one of the best swimming spots on the island side of Hong Kong. Not far from the center of town, it boasted a long stretch of fine white sand and water calm as mirror. And it was not a bit polluted then. Lovers liked to stroll and neck on the beach after dark. There was also the Repulse Bay Hotel, which served the most exquisite dinner, if you could afford it.
We had a candlelight dinner in the restaurant of the hotel and consumed a bottle of fine wine.
She told me about her work. That she had found it extremely difficult to sell a life insurance policy because she had to mention death to a prospective client. Talking about death was much more a taboo then. Very few people wanted to hear you tell them they could be dead tomorrow and should buy a life insurance policy for the sake of their family. Those who would stay and hear her out would usually be men who were after her body.
I told her about my work too. I told her about the kids in the discos. That we adults often commented that kids were like a different species, that they would do things frowned on by grownups. But when they had grown up themselves, they would frown on kids doing the same thing. They made me think of the dragonfly. In its larvae stage, it lives a fish's life underwater. Then one day, it would rise to the surface, sprouts wings and becomes an entirely different animal, taking to the sky and never to go underwater again.
Then Dawn suggested we go for a night swim.
There was a stall where we could rent swimming wear. We went into the water like a couple of kids, laughing and chasing each other.
Then we were out of the water holding hands. We sat down under the shade of some trees and kissed. I told her I loved her and she told me she loved me. I was feeling more and more alive.
Then I suggested, "I think we should take a shower and wash off the salt water."
"Take a shower where?"
"We could get a hotel room. We could talk all night long."
"Let's do it."
So we went up to the hotel and rented a room. And we made beautiful love. She had a strawberry colored birthmark in the shape of a small butterfly on the inside of her thigh at the end of her left upper leg. She told me she considered it a flaw but I told her I liked it very much. I kissed it again and again, telling her the birthmark was another thing that made her unique, standing out from other women.
She also thought her breasts were too small and I assured her it was not a problem. It would not be perfect if she had big breasts hanging there, as she was not a big woman.
I was surprised that she was still a virgin. We made beautiful love again and again.
I was very much alive. Because before that, I had thought I was impotent. I had tried it with girls a few times but couldn't do it. I had been limp as an earthworm. But with her, I was a love machine.
We made love until we were exhausted and fell asleep.
I woke up alone in the morning. She was gone.
I did not worry then because I was sure she would call me again. But she didn't.
I called her at noon. At the time, cell phones had not appeared and I could only call her pager, which was quite a piece of advanced communications equipment then. But she did not call back. I called the number of the insurance company on her card but they informed me Dawn Kim was not working for them anymore.
I called and called but she just did not respond. Then on the third day, the operator of her pager agency told me her number had been canceled.
I could not believe that she would not see me again. As a police officer, I found an excuse to check on her records at the insurance company and the pager agency. I found two different addresses, both were falsified, no such person at both. Even the number of her identity card she had filled in on the forms was false.
She was a girl who could choose not to exist anytime. She had said she loved me but she had chosen not to exist.
I had totally lost her.

I FOUND HER MIRROR DOUBLE one month later.
I was driving along a busy street at dusk when I spotted Dawn again. She was walking along the sidewalk, still in the same outfit except she was carrying a handbag now.
I stopped the car abruptly. Horns blared angrily behind me because it was a no waiting zone. I didn't care. They could tow away my car if they wanted.
I leaned over to open the door on the passenger side and yelled, "Dawn. Dawn."
She turned and looked at me in surprise. "You talking to me?" She asked.
"Hop in, Dawn." I said, "At least let me give you a lift."
She switched her handbag onto the other shoulder and climbed in. She said when I started the car again, "It's so hot. I wouldn't mind a lift even though I'm not going anywhere in particular."
"Good," I said, "let's just cruise around, Dawn."
"I'm not Dawn." she glanced at me, "You have a girlfriend named Dawn who looks very much like me?"
I looked at her. She was not Dawn. I could have sworn she was Dawn if she hadn't opened her mouth. But now that she had spoken to me for the third time, I knew she was not Dawn. The voice was different and the small facial movements were different too.
I didn't know what to do. I decided against saying sorry and let her go. But I didn't know what to say or what to do.
"Will I do instead of Dawn?" She smiled at me.
I didn't answer because I still didn't know what to say.
"What's in a name when all we want is to have a good time? You can just call me Dawn." She said.
"Okay. Call me Charles. And what's your idea of a good time?"
She pointed, "Let's swing."
It was the neon sign of a disco.
I parked the car and went in with her. It was a disco I had never raided so the people inside did not recognize me. She had asked me to call her Dawn but she definitely was not Dawn. Dawn had told me she hated discos and any place involved with drugs. But this girl enjoyed it very much.
We danced and danced and she just refused to leave. I couldn't leave by myself because I liked to look at her when she was not speaking. She looked so much like Dawn.
During the course of the evening, she had once offered me a pill, saying it would make me happy. I declined knowing it would be a dose of LSD. She obviously had been taking it herself because she seemed to be in another world. She refused to leave and I didn't want to leave.
One thing led to another and sometime past midnight, we found ourselves in a rented room. It was a room in a cheap guesthouse catering to lovers who wanted to spend a couple of hours undisturbed.
She poured herself a glass of water and washed down a pill. Then she started to make passionate love to me.
She too had a strawberry colored birthmark in the shape of a small butterfly on the inside of her thigh at the end of her left upper leg. She had small breasts too and she never stopped saying she loved me. I was very much alive again and I performed splendidly.
Then we slept, exhausted.
When I woke up about an hour later, I found her fully dressed and about to leave. She kissed me on the cheek and said, "I must go."
Then she walked to the door.
"Hey, wait a minute," I yelled, jumping out of bed.
She opened the door and stepped out.
I couldn't run after her because I was still naked. I kept yelling at her to wait for me while I got dressed hurriedly.
She didn't wait. By the time I had put on my clothes and dashed out, she was gone.
I never found her again too.
I had turned back into a walking corpse. I could never perform sexually with other women. That's why I never married and never had any girlfriend.
The only woman for me is Dawn and she is gone forever.

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TWENTY-NINE

LAST CASES

THEY HAVE WORKED ON the book for almost three months. It is September, still hot and is still typhoon season. A typhoon seems to finally hit Macao directly. This one is exceptionally fierce and gale force wind is already threatening to uproot the trees in Garcia's garden. The people from the observatory has appeared on TV to warn citizens to stay home and not to venture outside unless absolutely necessary.
They are in the safety of Garcia's house, Charles Garcia and The Porcupine, or the man Garcia believes is The Porcupine. The air is cool with the air-conditioning working smoothly. But Garcia is uneasy, glancing at the French windows from time to time, seeing the leaves occasionally turn white because the wind has whipped their lighter bellies up. There seems to be no escape for the old plants this time and there is nothing Garcia can do about it.
The Porcupine is going over the latest chapter Garcia has written and put on paper and is frowning.
It occurs to Garcia that The Porcupine has never done this. Before, when disagreeing, The Porcupine would not frown, but would simply state his points amiably.
But tonight is different. A lot is different tonight. There is some kind of excitement in the air. For it is understood that The Porcupine is going to tell Garcia about his second last and last cases. The second last case would reveal how The Porcupine had outsmarted him for the second time many years ago. And then there would be the last case, which The Porcupine has said would be very expensive. Garcia will see how expensive it is tonight.
Even The Porcupine seems to have come specially prepared. He has laid down two large packets of chewing gum on the coffee table when he was sitting down. One of the packets was white and the other green. The white packet is the usual Spearmint while the green one Doublemint. The latter Garcia knows, even though he is not a gum chewing man, offers a stronger mint flavor. And The Porcupine has explained that since he would have a lot of talking to do, he should have come, in his own words, heavily armed.
Garcia watches as The Porcupine reaches for another stick of gum, his eyes still on the papers. Still from the white packet, Garcia notes wryly, the heavy artillery would be for later.
A flurry of activity outside the window catches Garcia's attention again. A large tree, which is some distance from the house, is pressing almost all its leaves against the window, having bent grotesquely by the strong wind. It is dark out there and the leaves were visible now only because they are so near the window. Nothing could be done to save this tree, Garcia sighs without making a sound, unless the typhoon decides to change course itself.
Garcia turns back to The Porcupine and finds he has put down the papers.
The Porcupine clears his throat and is still frowning. Garcia waits. He also notes that it has taken The Porcupine unusually long to read those several pages this time.
"It is different this time," says The Porcupine, "you have changed your story a lot. I don't mean that you must write it the way I have told you. It is just that you have added something you have never told me. About this other girl, the mirror double of Dawn Kim. You haven't told me about her. Your story had ended with you not finding Dawn again. Then suddenly, you have written about this other girl. And it is unbelievable."
"I think it should be written this way." Garcia says simply.
The Porcupine says nothing. He just spits his gum onto a piece of tissue, wraps it up and place it carefully on the tray and takes another drink of beer. This time he does not say, "Well, its your book." It only means that he disagrees strongly with Garcia.
They are silent for five minutes, letting the sound of the wind ravaging the trees to fill the void.
Then Garcia starts, "Now, about your second last case."
"It's quite simple," says The Porcupine, "it can be explained in a few words. No need to devote a whole chapter to it. But you tell me what you think had happened, and I'll explain."
"Well," says Garcia, "I had received a tip off that you were going to kill a man. I took some men and rushed to this house where the target was supposed to be. You should remember it, this house at Prince Edward Road by the hillside. We heard a gun firing. We had the only entrance guarded, then went in. The target was shot dead inside. We searched the house, all three stories of it but couldn't find you, or the murder weapon. When we were searching the second floor, we heard a motor gunning behind the house. We looked out a window and saw a blue car speeding away. Looked like you had escaped from a window in the back. Except all the windows of that house were heavily barred. We had examined the window bars later. Every one of them was intact and not tampered with. Nobody could have gotten in and out through those windows. Now, how did you get away?"
"Did you see Joseph Bickford in the blue car?" Asks The Porcupine.
"No. Not exactly."
"And there were other people in that house?"
"Yes. But you were not among them."
"What if Joseph Bickford didn't do it? What if he had nothing to do with the case?"
"But, but-------" Garcia stammers, as though he is panicking.
"And the tip off. It was from Patrick Collins, Son of Ghost. You know how reliable Collins was. What if he had lied to you?"
Garcia turns white as sheet.
"The truth is Joseph Bickford The Porcupine never had anything to do with the case. He had never been near that house. Patrick Collins wanted to kill this target and let the hit man get away and blame it on The Porcupine. He knew about your obsession of catching The Porcupine and he used you. He tipped you off that The Porcupine was going for the target. When you were searching the second floor, another man just started the car behind the house and drove off. This second man had picked up the gun the killer had thrown out of the window. The real killer was in the house all the time and you had missed him. Collins had made a fool out of you."
Garcia is gripping the arm of the sofa so tight he is trembling and his knuckles are white.
"How----how do you know so much?" Garcia asks when he has finally found his voice again, "You couldn't have known."
"I'm a storyteller." The Porcupine says flatly.
"But I haven't told you----I haven't told anyone it was Patrick Collins who had tipped me off."
"You can't guarantee that Collins had not told anyone about it. But of course, Collins is dead a long time. There is no way you can get even. That's why this is not my second last case, not my case at all. My second last case is THE MEN WHO CAN"T BE KILLED."
Garcia's face remains white as a sheet and looks at The Porcupine carefully, "Now you are not telling a story. You have not made all this up. You are very well informed. You know damned too much. Now, who the hell are you."
"One thing leads to another," says The Porcupine, "and this question leads to my last case. My last case is just beginning. Because I'm a professional hit man sent here to kill you."
And The Porcupine is very fast. As he is saying this, his right hand reaches down to flip up his left pant leg, revealing a sheath strapped above the ankle. Fast as lightning, he draws from the sheath a knife, ten inches of gleaming steel blade with a serrated back.
Garcia is not slow. His right hand dives under his sofa at the same instant and comes up with the gun hidden underneath.
But The Porcupine has moved his right foot at the same time. He kicks Garcia in the wrist just as the gun emerges, sending the gun flying.
Garcia dives for his gun. But the gun has slid under the cabinet housing the video and audio equipment, where he could not reach in a hurry.
He rolls away on the carpet, just in time to see The Porcupine's knife whooshing by. He leaps up and tries to run for the French doors, through which he could escape to the outside of the house. But The Porcupine is ahead of him. The Porcupine is already between him and the French doors and the front door, cutting off his escape route out of the house.
The Porcupine is crouching low now, arms wide apart, the knife in his right hand pointing at Garcia. The jovial The Porcupine of old is gone. Now he is a knife fighter and Garcia is empty- handed.
"The arthritis is just a hoax," The Porcupine says, smiling with his mouth but not his eyes, "planted in my medical record. Now, you are going to die, Mr. Garcia."
Garcia spins around and dashes into the corridor, which is the only direction he could run. He disappears into his playroom, slams the door shut and locks it. But there is no escape in that room. The two windows are heavily barred, same as all the windows in the house. He could see the shadows of the trees swaying crazily outside but he could not get out.
The knob of the door rattles. The Porcupine is shouting outside, "You got any more guns, Mr. Garcia? I have your gun now."
Two shots thunder outside the door. The lock twists and falls inside onto the floor. The Porcupine has shot the lock off with Garcia's gun. Then the door is kicked open. The Porcupine steps in, holding the still smoking gun in one hand and the knife in the other. Garcia has retreated to the other side of the pool table. And The Porcupine is taking his time.
"You---you couldn't have brought in the knife," says Garcia, lips quivering, "there is a metal detecting device on the front door, like those at the airport. The alarm should have gone off."
"I've known about that from the beginning," smiles The Porcupine, "and I've brought in the knife a long time ago. Remember the toolbox? There is a false bottom in that toolbox. The knife has been inside that false bottom all the time. I just took it out and strapped it on my leg when I went into the kitchen to fetch my beer."
Garcia's hand flashed and a billiard ball flies straight at The Porcupine. It is a red ball, which has been on the table, forming a triangle together with the other colored balls.
The Porcupine fires and the red ball splits into two halves in midair, each half falling harmlessly on the floor.
"See, I'm very good with a gun too, because I'm a professional hit man. But I don't need a gun to beat you now." He throws the gun over his shoulder, and it lands on the floor of the corridor outside the door.
Garcia's eyes glint with fresh hope. With only the knife---
"You are weak, Mr. Garcia," sneers The Porcupine, "you have received police training and you think you can fight. But you've never been trained to fight as the underdog. You always won your fights because you had your gun and your badge to back you up. Now that the table is turned, you are just a weakling."
"Let's talk," says Garcia, "I have money. How much do you want?"
"You've been warned, Mr. Garcia, money is not enough. My last case will be too expensive for you because you have to pay with your life."
"But money can buy anything." Says Garcia as he grabs two more balls and threw them at The Porcupine again.
The Porcupine ducks and suddenly he is not there anymore. For he has ducked under the table.
Instinctively, Garcia jumps on top of the table to avoid being attacked at the lower part of his body, a cue in one hand and two billiard balls in the other. There is still the table between them, only now one of them is on top while the other underneath. They could not see each other but The Porcupine still has the upper hand because he has the knife. Garcia crouches low on the green felt, alert and waiting for The Porcupine to come out suddenly. And he has to turn constantly, because there are four sides to a pool table and The Porcupine could come out from under any one of them. But Garcia is betting on the side closest to the door, for the gun is on the floor just outside the door. And Garcia is planning to go for the door too. He gauges the distance. If he jumps hard and land on the floor and then----
"See, you are not a man to be trusted." Says The Porcupine under the table, " Even when you were talking money, you threw the ball at me. All right, you want a game of pool, I'll give you one."
Garcia crouches lower and is ready to jump. Then suddenly, a ball, a green ball shoots out from under the table, hits the wall with a bang, bounces back and slams Garcia squarely on the temple. The pain blinds Garcia and he couldn't help falling off the table.
When the pain has cleared, Garcia finds himself lying on the floor, with The Porcupine standing over him smiling. He tries to move but finds himself paralyzed. Then he saw the handle of the knife sticking out from his rib cage on his left. The blade of the knife has gone in, blood is seeping out, staining his shirt. It is a stark contrast, for Garcia is wearing a pure white silk shirt.
"See," says The Porcupine, looking down, "I'm good at pool too. Even pool without a table. I aimed at your shadow on the wall and the ball bounced back at just where I wanted."
Then The Porcupine grabs the back of Garcia's collar and pulls him out of the playroom, like a dead carcass, leaving a broken trail of blood, which is becoming unbroken as they progress and more blood seep out. Garcia sees the floor rushing past him, then he sees the gun on the floor approaching and tries to grab it. But he finds his hand not responding to the order from his brain. He couldn't move a muscle. Then the gun is behind him and is far away.
Then they are in the living room and The Porcupine lifts Garcia to prop him up in his favorite sofa. Strangely, Garcia finds there is no pain, only a stabbing sensation where the knife had went in when he was lifted and lowered. He feels only numbness now, and a little chilly.
He sees with irritation that the white carpet is stained with red blood.
The Porcupine could see through even this little thought of his. "Never mind the carpet," says The Porcupine, "you are going to die."
Garcia tries to move his lips and finds he could speak. "It's messy," he says, "not a clean cut at all."
The Porcupine sits down opposite him, leaning back, with his hands clasping over his stomach, very relaxed now. "It is not messy," he says, "it is a right cut, just where I have intended. There are certain acu- points on a human body. Stab at the right one and the victim can speak but cannot move. There will be little pain and the blood flows out slower. I have stabbed the right point. You have about half an hour to live. You can pray if you wish."
"Probably too late to pray, I guess," says Garcia, "you probably needed me alive to ask questions. I'll tell you this. Your employer is a fool to send you to kill me. I have a sealed envelope in the hands of my lawyer. In the event of my untimely death, the envelope will be opened and the contents sent to the right authority. Evidence I have accumulated over the years, proving how much he had taken. That corrupted son of a bitch. He must have heard that I was writing my memoirs, and decided to silence me. But I have never intended to expose him."
"I suppose you are talking about your old friend Judge Owens." Says The Porcupine.
"Yes. If you call an ambulance now, there may be a chance you can save him. Save my life and you can save him." Garcia coughs a little and a small red dot appears on the carpet about ten feet from him. He has never thought he could cough a drop of blood that far.
"Ah, you have been helping Judge Owens to take bribes." Says The Porcupine, "You are very rich but you have never mentioned in your stories how you got your money. But I know. You are a corrupted son of a bitch too. But you are clever and aimed big and played it safe. You only helped the bigwigs to collect and take your cut. Judge Owens has been just a middleman too. The corruption grapevine reaches high and far, very high and very far."
"Don't waste my time, damn it, call the ambulance. I may not live that long."
"Unlucky man, Judge Owens." The Porcupine chuckles and shakes his head, "It is not him who has sent me. I don't think he has time to worry about you. He is in England right now dying of stomach cancer. All those money he has scrounged, so that he would never starve again. But he is starving to death right now because his stomach is gone and he couldn't eat anything. Now, on top of that, he will have to face a corruption scandal."
Garcia's face couldn't get any whiter. "Judge Owens didn't send you, then who? The ICAC?"
"The ICAC don't kill."
"Then who?"
"You have so many enemies you can't guess who?"
"But you will tell me. I don't think I need to say please."
"You are right. Justice T. K. Chung sent me."
"Him? But I have no quarrel with him. I hardly know the man."
"You hardly know him because he is not corrupt and you have no use to him, or he has no use to you."
"There must be a mistake."
"Justice Chung had a daughter, his only daughter and he has no son. She was nineteen and she was eager to prove that she could make it on her own. She took on a job as an insurance salesperson. Then one day, she went home bleeding and in a daze. She was put into a hospital. The doctors found out she had been raped and had contracted VD. She had been a virgin before that. The doctors cured her body but not her mind. She had turned into a vegetable and refused to speak. That was twenty-five years ago. She was put into an asylum and she had never spoken again until one year ago when she finally opened up and told what had happened to her. She told her father she had used the name Dawn Kim to work. One night, she had been in a disco with some friends. She was there because she wanted to sell insurance. The police raided the disco that night. She had pleaded to be let go because she had done nothing illegal. She was afraid the incident would get into the papers and her family's name would be hurt. This police officer whose name was Charles Garcia took her to a hotel room on the pretext of further questioning. Then he spiked her drink with drugs and raped her. She told all that, then she hung herself in the middle of the night. She had a strawberry colored birthmark in the shape of a small butterfly on the inside of her thigh, and she had said it was the birthmark that fascinated you most."
"That's not true." Protests Garcia, the tip of his tongue flicking at his lips.
"What are you afraid of? You're going to die anyway. Why lie about it?"
"But----but I love her. I love her so much. And she loved me."
"You love her but you were shit to her. You just wished she would love you back. You son of a bitch."
"You---you don't understand."
"I understand very much. I admit that this is a common mistake of men. When he does something to a woman and he feels good about it, he would think that she should be feeling good too. But a lamb would not feel the same as the wolf. You had gone too far."
"Why didn't you just kill me outright? You didn't have to wait. You don't have to tell me this."
"The same reason you didn't kill me when you first saw me again. There would be no satisfaction that way. There must be a game of cat and mouse. You didn't kill me outright because you wanted me to tell all first and then you would have the chance to tell me why you must kill me."
Garcia is feeling a little colder.
"Justice Chung has recruited me to kill you. But we must make sure. Because his daughter had been in an asylum for twenty-five years and what she had said before she died might not be entirely true. I had to get it out from you. I've been investigating you for a whole year. The time was ripe when you have decided to write your memoirs. I have led you to tell stories just as you have led me to tell stories, each waiting for the other to give himself away. Well, you have slipped first by telling the story about the small butterfly. I knew you would slip first. It is common psychology. When someone has done something he is proud of, he would have the urge to tell the whole world. When someone has done something evil, he would want to tell the whole world too, but in a different way. He would hide the facts in a story or stories. In your case, you told a story about you and Dawn in love, changing the rape into a love story. But you still want the whole truth to be told. So you concocted another story about a mirror double and about drugs, especially about the drug. You are right about everybody having a mirror double on earth though. We had discovered one of Dawn's. That was the girl you had followed to the ferry terminal. Of course there is no such thing as a perfect mirror double. The girl had to be made up heavily to complete the resemblance. We also made her wear the same clothes Dawn had worn twenty-five years ago. It seems the blue jeans and the loose white blouse would never go out of style. I knew that would be the catalyst to make you squirming to divulge your secrets."
"Even if all that is true, I don't deserve to die. A rapist will not get the death penalty."
"It's too late to argue because you are dying, and there is no way to reverse it. But this is my job. Justice Chung gave me this job and he had made it clear that you must die a most horrible death. I have decided the pain should not be in the flesh but in the mind. I have to rip you apart, strip your soul naked so that not a shred of dignity is left. Though if it's up to me, I'll just let you live. Living would be worse than dead for a man like you. You have been living an empty life for a long time. You have no family, your parents are long dead and you have no brothers or sisters, not even a cousin. Yes, you have accumulated a lot of dirty money. I think it would be at least a billion. You've been careful, putting them in secret offshore accounts so that even the ICAC could not check on you. They are probably not wise to you because you've been living modestly, only buying a vintage Aston Martin after you have retired and in Macao. Yes, you have a lot of money, but that would just make your life even more empty because you don't have someone you love to share it. There is no joy in being rich without a love one to share your fortune. You have a lot of money, but you have nothing. You've been miserable"
"As if you are doing any better yourself." Garcia sneers.
"Yes, I have nothing too. But that's why I understand the pain. But at least I have my love of gambling. And I can sleep knowing that I haven't dragged a love one into sharing the burden of being broke all the time. You see, an empty man is actually happier broke. You life is more empty than mine, Mr. Garcia, that's why you want to write your memoirs. Lie and write about it, so that you can at least have some dignity left in a book. By lying about the cases, you think you can make people look up to you."
"I didn't lie about the cases."
"Oh, yes, you did. In the case of the sinister black glove, the poor man who had the misfortune of buying a similar pair of gloves did not hang himself. You killed him. You had beaten him to death in the cell, just because you were angry that he had wasted your time. Then there was Patrick Collins. He hadn't shot himself. You had set him up. He had come to you asking for protection in return for him testifying against the underworld. You pretended to agree to put him into a witness protection program and drove him to a safe house. Only it was not a safe house. It was a house belonging to the very underworld boss he wanted to testify against. Those people killed him and made it look like a suicide afterwards. How much did you get for this piece of sellout, Mr. Garcia? Then there is this Benjamin Wong in the case of the not so peaceful demonstration. It was you who led the men to beat him up every evening. And I'm just naming three cases."
"You son of a bitch. I should have killed you."
"Too late, Mr. Garcia. Oh, and about my going to the casinos, it is not as dangerous as going to Paul Reed."
"What Paul Reed?'
"I know about that too, Mr. Jones. You have stayed on in Hong Kong after the hand over because it was an easy place to find girls looking like Dawn Kim and have the same birthmarks. You still had your connections. You could feed these girls drugs and do it to them, making believe they were Dawn Kim. Then it had become harder and harder to do that in Hong Kong and you have returned to Macao, visiting Paul Reed as Mr. Jones instead. I don't know how many girls have you killed in this sick game of yours, but there must have been quite a few. But I know you have never really got the satisfaction you wanted because there is only one Dawn Kim in the world. Yes, life is empty and painful for you, Mr. Garcia."
"Sexual orientation is born with. I did not invent it."
"Yes. But it's your own cross to bear. Hurting other people to satisfy yourself is a no- no."
"I had decided not to kill you because you are a likable pain in the ass." Says Garcia, eyes suddenly glinting dangerously, "But now you have gone too far and I have changed my mind. I will kill you."
"How?'
"Charles Garcia giving orders," yells Garcia, "emergency code L thirty-two."
Suddenly, all the lights go out in the house. For a split second, they could still see the silhouette of the trees dancing crazily outside the windows. Then there are loud clanks that shake the floor and they could see nothing. There is total darkness, and very quiet. They couldn't hear the wind screaming and moaning anymore. The air-conditioning has also stopped humming.
Garcia's laughter echoes in the darkness. "The age of high-tech. There are steel shutters inside the windows and doors that could be voice activated. Activated by my voice only. I say the magic code words and they close. Now the house is airtight, electricity is cut and telephone dead. You can't call outside with a cell phone because the signal will be interfered with. You will live longer than I, but you will suffocate in a few hours. Yes, I can say the code words and things will return to normal. But how do you make me say it? How do you force a dying man to say anything? I always had this nagging feeling that someday, someone will come to kill me. And I've made the preparation so that we would go down together."
Garcia laughs loudly again. Then he stops abruptly because of the lack of response.
"Hey, Joe, Joseph Bickford, are you there?" Garcia yells. But only the echoes of his own voice in the empty darkness feed him back.
"No, you can't trick me." He yells again, "I won't say the code word to bring the lights back on to see if you're still there. I know you're there. You can't get out."
"I'm not trying to trick you." Says The Porcupine, his voice coming from the direction of the kitchen.
Then there is light. A flickering of fire illuminates the corridor leading to the kitchen. Then The Porcupine appears holding a candle.
Now Garcia remembers seeing a packet of candles in the toolbox. The Porcupine had explained to him too that the candles were to be used in case of a power failure.
The Porcupine comes to the coffee table, tilts the candle so that some melted wax drip onto the tray before standing the candle in the melted wax quickly. The fast hardening wax would hold the candle upright. And Garcia could see under the candlelight that The Porcupine is quite calm about it.
"You are burning precious oxygen." Garcia laughs again.
"I don't need that much oxygen." Says The Porcupine, picking up the green pack of chewing gum. "See, I have told you this green packet of chewing gum is the heavy artillery. In there are pieces of plastic explosives. I can blow my way out."
Garcia's lower jaw drops. "And what do you use for detonators?'
"Also comes prepared in the false bottom. You won't believe how many things that false bottom can hold."
Garcia is dazed for a moment, then laughs again. "Do you know about implosion? This house is airtight. No air can escape. If you start an explosion here, it would become in implosion. Both of us will be squashed into a bloody paste first."
"Not if you know your house well enough." Says The Porcupine, still placidly, "I have checked thoroughly. This house had gone through World War II, Macao was occupied by the Japanese at the time. Air raids were a daily ritual. So a tunnel was dug under the house, stretching underground to open on a hillside. The tunnel had served as a bomb shelter and an escape route. In an air raid, your folks would go hide in the tunnel. If the house was bombed, they would get out at the other end. The house had survived the bombings and when the war was over, the entrance to the tunnel in this house was sealed off. But the tunnel is still there. The opening is under the floor in your bedroom beside the bed. All I have to do is to blast through that part of the floor. It is a weak link there and requires only a little explosive. Not enough to cause a fatal implosion out here."
Garcia opens his mouth but no sound escapes. He wants to shout, "How could I not have known about this?" But he has decided against it because it would mean conceding another defeat.
The Porcupine calmly selects a few pieces of green chewing gum. Then he gets up and goes into the bedroom, carrying the candle with him.
Garcia is grinding his teeth. He wants very much to move but could not move in inch. And he feels a little colder again. He has lost a lot of blood.
Then The Porcupine comes back, puts the candle back in place, sat on the sofa cupping both hands to his ears.
A few seconds later, there is an explosion in the bedroom. Garcia is right about the implosion. His ears feel a strong pressure and the candle goes out. The Porcupine strikes a plastic cigarette lighter to light the candle again and again carries it into the bedroom. He returns again a minute later, putting back the candle in place and smiles, "the entrance to the tunnel is clear now. I can leave."
Garcia could actually sense some fresh air rushing in.
"I'll leave the candle with you." The Porcupine says, holding up a small flashlight and switching it on. "Save this for last, you know, to save on the battery."
Garcia remembers the flashlight had been in the toolbox too. The Porcupine had also explained to him that the battery could fail if unused for a long time, that's why he also had a packet of candles and a cigarette lighter as back up.
Garcia is so cold now he feels as if he is in a giant freezer. But he could do nothing. He can't even shiver. Could a man be too weak to shiver?
"Hey, what are you doing?" Yells Garcia as he sees Chin kneeling on the floor.
"Finding the center of this house."
"What for?"
"To wire the explosives. You will go up with the house. An implosion you said?"
"You son of a bitch."
"You won't be using it anyway."
"You are Joseph Bickford The Porcupine, aren't you?" Asks Garcia.
"No. I'm not him. Joseph Bickford died a long time ago. He never was a professional hit man. You made it up yourself. I'm just a mirror double of him. Everybody has a mirror double on earth somewhere. That's what you said."
"I don't believe you. But if you are not The Porcupine, who are you?'
"I'm not Frank Lawson either. Justice Chung is a senior partner of the law firm Grant & Wasser. He can make up the record of a head clerk if he wants. Even my fingerprints are not real. The first time I was in your house when I left prints on your beer cans, I was wearing plastic caps on my fingers. There were specially made fingerprints on the caps, matching those on the file of Frank Lawson. Actually those prints belonged to a man already dead. They were taken from a John Doe in the morgue. I don't exist"
"I don't believe you. You could be Joseph Bickford The Porcupine wearing those caps."
"Could be."
"I know you are Joseph Bickford. Now tell me something else. The stories you have told me. Are they true?"
"No," says The Porcupine, "I've made them all up. I'm a good storyteller, remember?"
"But some of them, some parts are very convincing. Seeing how good you are now, you could have done some of those things."
"Actually all of the stories are true."
"Come on."
"You see," The Porcupine laughs, "the problem with you is that you trust no one. I would not have answered those questions because I don't want you to have the satisfaction of knowing the truth. But I also know that whatever I tell you, you won't believe it anyway. So I feel free to answer them. You still can't be sure whether I am Joseph Bickford or whether my stories are true. You will die wondering. There is no truth in your life. You have been living a lie in which the truth has been lost forever."
"You son of a bitch."
The Porcupine is finished with the wiring and has now turned his flashlight on Garcia's laptop. He presses a button and a floppy disc pops out. He picks up the disc. "Ah, the whole book. What you have written so far is in this disc. And the disc in your computer in your study." He fishes out another disc from his shirt pocket to show it to Garcia. "No password needed I presume, since you don't consider these secret documents."
"What are you going to do with them?"
"Maybe I'll get the book published."
"But-------"
"Don't worry," says The Porcupine, "I will change all the names in it. And the title will be THE STORYTELLER FROM HONG KONG. You will never get any credit for it. But then again, I may just throw the discs into the sea. You won't have the satisfaction of knowing."
Garcia says nothing. For he is dead. His eyes are still open wide but the blinking has stopped. Half of his white silk shirt and white pants is red with his own blood.
"Time to go." Says The Porcupine, or the man who may or may not be The Porcupine.
He goes into the bedroom. The flashlight shows a jagged hole on the floor, revealing stone steps leading downward. Fresh air is coming up from underneath. He uses the flashlight to guide him and goes underground.
Ten minutes later, he has reached the other end of the tunnel, which opens onto a hillside. There are bushes blocking the opening so that it would not be easy to spot it outside. The bushes are not intended camouflage. It is just that the opening has been overgrown, not having been used all those years.
He pushes aside the bushes and steps out. Ten more feet down and he is on the road. It is a lower section of the winding road leading up to Garcia's house.
A sudden gust of strong wind sends him sprawling and rolls along the road. He has to catch hold of a passing lamppost and holds on to it for dear life to keep himself from being swept away. The force of nature is so powerful.
Then there is a lull and he lets go of the lamppost gingerly to raise his head to look up. He cannot see Garcia's house, only a rocky outcrop. But he knows the house is just beyond that outcrop.
He keeps gazing upwards, fascinated, although he could only see that outcrop. Then the wind strengthens again and he is again holding on to the lamppost for dear life. But his eyes are still fixed up there.
Then he sees a pink glow lightening up the sky momentarily as the house blows up. The sound of explosion comes almost a second later, and strangely muffled. Then the sky returns to darkness, with wind howling, as if nothing has happened. It seems that the wind has not only carried the sound but also the glow away so that the explosion has not been a spectacle at all. Perhaps this is a fitting end for a man like Charles Garcia. Even in death, he could not manage to go with a big bang.
Something black and round suddenly drops from the sky. It is a wheel from Charles Garcia's Aston Martin. It lands upright in the middle of the road and rolls along it downwards, fails to make the turn itself and is swallowed by the bushes at the roadside.
Then heavy rain lashes down, and he, who could be The Porcupine or the man who never existed, runs downhill along the road and disappears into the darkness.

_____THE END_____


2002/3/20

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