is the fourth novel in the Asian Saga that so far consists of:
A.D. 1600…………….. Shogun
A.D. 1841…………….. Tai-Pan
A.D. 1945……………. King Rat
A.D. 1963………….. Noble House
James Clavell's
A Novel of Contemporary Hong Kong
Published by Dell Publishing Co., Inc. 1 Dag Hammarskjold Plaza New York, New York 10017
Copyright© 1981 by James Clavell
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without the written permission of the Publisher, except where permitted by law. For information address Delacorte Press, New York, New York.
Dell® TM 681510, Dell Publishing Co., Inc. ISBN: 0-440-16483-4
Reprinted by arrangement with Delacorte Press Printed in the United States of America
First Dell printing-March 1982
I would like to offer this work as a tribute to Her Britannic Majesty, Elizabeth II, to the people of Her Crown Colony of Hong Kong—and perdition to their enemies.
Of course this is a novel. It is peopled with imaginary persons and companies and no reference to any person or company that was, or is, part of Hong Kong or Asia is intended.
I would also like to apologize at once to all Hong Kong yan—all Hong Kong persons—for rearranging their beautiful city, for taking incidents out of context, for inventing people and places and streets and companies and incidents that, hopefully, may appear to have existed but have never existed, for this, truly, is a story. . . .
June 8,1960
11:45 P.M. :
His name was Ian Dunross and in the torrential rain he drove his old MG sports car cautiously around the corner into Dirk's Street that skirted the Struan Building on the waterfront of Hong Kong. The night was dark and foul. Throughout the Colony—here on Hong Kong Island, across the harbour in Kowloon and the New Territories that were part of the China Mainland—streets were almost totally deserted, everyone and everything battened down, waiting for Typhoon Mary. The number nine storm warning had been hoisted at dusk and already eighty– to a hundred-knot gusts came out of the tempest that stretched a thousand miles southward to send the rain horizontal against the roofs and hillsides where tens of thousands of squatters huddled defenseless in their shantytowns of makeshift hovels.
Dunross slowed, blinded, the wipers unable to cope with the quantity of rain, the wind tearing at the canvas roof and side screens. Then the windshield cleared momentarily. At the end of Dirk's Street, directly ahead, was Connaught Road and the praya, then sea walls and the squat bulk of the Golden Ferry Terminal. Beyond in the vast, well-protected harbor, half a thousand ships were snug with all anchors out.
Ahead on the praya, he saw an abandoned street stall ripped bodily off the ground by a gust and hurled at a parked car, wrecking it. Then the car and the stall were sent skittering out of sight. His wrists were very strong and he held the wheel against the eddies that trembled his car violently. The car was old but well kept, the souped-up engine and brakes perfect. He waited, his heart beating nicely, loving storm, then eased up onto the sidewalk to park in the lee, well against the building, and got out.
He was fair-haired with blue eyes, in his early forties, lean and trim and he wore an old raincoat and cap. Rain drenched him as he hurried along the side street then ducked around the corner to hurry for the main entrance of the twenty-two-story building. Over the huge doorway was the Struan crest—the Red Lion of Scotland entwined with the Green Dragon of China. Gathering himself he strode up the broad steps and went in.
"Evening, Mr. Dunross," the Chinese concierge said.
"The tai-pan sent for me."
"Yes sir." The man pressed the elevator button for him.
When the elevator stopped, Dunross walked across the small hall, knocked and went into the penthouse living room. "Evening, tai-pan," he said with cold formality.
Alastair Struan was leaning against the fine fireplace. He was a big, ruddy, well-kept Scotsman with a slight paunch and white hair, in his sixties, and he had ruled Struan's for eleven years. "Drink?" He waved a hand at the Dom Perignon in the silver bucket.
"Thank you." Dunross had never been in the tai-pan's private quarters before. The room was spacious and well furnished, with Chinese lacquer and good carpets, old oils of their early clipper ships and steamers on the walls. The big picture windows that would normally overlook all Hong Kong, the harbor and Kowloon across the harbor were now black and rain streaked.
He poured. "Health," he said formally.
Alastair Struan nodded and, equally coldly, raised his glass in return. "You're early."
"Five minutes early is on time, tai-pan. Isn't that what Father hammered into me? Is it important that we meet at midnight?"
"Yes. It's part of our custom. Dirk's custom."
Dunross sipped his wine, waiting in silence. The antique ship's clock ticked loudly. His excitement increased, not knowing what to expect. Over the fireplace was a marriage portrait of a young girl. This was Tess Struan who had married Culum, second tai-pan and son of their founder Dirk Struan, when she was sixteen.
Dunross studied it. A squall dashed the windows. "Filthy night," he said.
The older man just looked at him, hating him. The silence grew. Then the old clock chimed eight bells, midnight.
There was a knock on the door.
"Come in," Alastair Struan said with relief, glad that now they could begin.
The door was opened by Lim Chu, the tai-pan's personal servant. He stepped aside to admit Phillip Chen, compradore of Struan's, then closed the door after him.
"Ah, Phillip, you're on time as usual," Alastair Struan said, trying to sound jovial. "Champagne?"
"Thank you, tai-pan. Yes, thank you. Good evening, Ian Struan Dunross," Phillip Chen said to the younger man with unusual formality, his English very upper-class British. He was Eurasian, in his late sixties, spare, rather more Chinese than European, a very handsome man with gray hair and high cheekbones, fair skin, and dark, very dark Chinese eyes. "Dreadful night, what?"
"Yes, it is indeed, Uncle Chen," Dunross replied, using the polite Chinese form of address for Phillip, liking him and respecting him as much as he despised his cousin Alastair.
"They say this typhoon's going to be a bastard." Alastair Struan was pouring the champagne into fine glasses. He handed Phillip Chen a glass first, then Dunross. "Health!"
They drank. A rain squall rattled the windows. "Glad I'm not afloat tonight," Alastair Struan said thoughtfully. "So, Phillip, here you are again."
"Yes, tai-pan. I'm honored. Yes, very honored." He sensed the violence between the two men but dismissed it. Violence is a pattern, he thought, when a tai-pan of the Noble House hands over power.
Alastair Struan sipped again, enjoying the wine. At length he said, "Ian, it's our custom that there be a witness to a handing over from tai-pan to tai-pan. It's always—and only—our current compradore. Phillip, how many times does this make?"
"I've been witness four times, tai-pan."
"Phillip has known almost all of us. He knows too many of our secrets. Eh, old friend?" Phillip Chen just smiled. "Trust him, Ian. His counsel's wise. You can trust him."
As much as any tai-pan should trust anyone, Dunross thought grimly. "Yes sir."
Alastair Struan set down his glass. "First: Ian Struan Dunross, I ask you formally, do you want to be tai-pan of Struan's?"
"Yes sir."
"You swear by God that all of these proceedings will be kept secret by you and not divulged to anyone but your successor?"
"Yes sir."
"Swear it formally."
"I swear by God these proceedings will be secret and never divulged to anyone but my successor."
"Here." The tai-pan handed him a parchment, yellow with age. "Read it aloud."
Dunross took it. The writing was spidery, but perfectly legible. He glanced at the date—August 30, 1841—his excitement soaring. "Is this Dirk Struan's writing?"
"Aye. Most of it—part was added by his son, Culum Struan. Of course we've photocopies in case of damage. Read it!"
" 'My Legacy shall bind every tai-pan that succeedeth me and he shall read it aloud and shall swear before God in front of witnesses in the manner set forth by me, Dirk Struan, founder of Struan and Company, to accept them, and to ever keep them secret, prior to taking to himself my mantle. I require this to ensure a pleasing continuity and in anticipation of difficulties which will, in the following years, beset my successors because of the blood I have spilled, because of my debts of honor, and because of the vagaries of the ways of China to which we are wedded, which are without doubt unique on this earth. This is my Legacy:
" 'First: There shall be only one tai-pan at one time and he hath total, absolute authority over the Company, power to employ or remove from employment all others, authority over all our captains and our ships and companies wherever they may be. The tai-pan is always alone, that being the joy and the hurt of it. His privacy must be guarded by all and his back protected by all. Whatsoever he orders, it shall be obeyed, and no committees or courts or inner circles shall ever be formed or allowed in the Company to curb this absolute power.
" 'Second: When the tai-pan stands on the quarterdeck of any of our ships he takes precedence over the captain thereof, and his battle orders or sailing orders are law. All captains will be so sworn before God, before appointment to any of our ships.
" 'Third: The tai-pan alone chooses his successor who shall be selected only from an Inner Court of six men. Of these, one shall be our compradore who shall, in perpetuity, be from the House of Chen. The other five shall be worthy to be tai-pan, shall be good men and true with at least five whole years of service in the Company as China Traders, and shall be wholesome in spirit. They must be Christian and must be kinsmen to the clan Struan by birth or marriage—my line and my brother Robb's line not taking precedence, unless by fortitude or qualities over and above all others. This Inner Court may be advisors to the tai-pan if he so desires, but let it be said again, the vote of the tai-pan shall weight seven against one for each of them.
" 'Fourth: If the tai-pan be lost at sea, or killed in battle, or vanished for six lunar months, before he hath his successor chosen, then the Inner Court shall elect one of their members to succeed, each having one vote, except the vote of the compradore shall count four. The tai-pan shall then be sworn in the same manner set forth before his fellows—those who voted against his election in open ballot being expelled at once, without remuneration, from the Company forever.
" 'Fifth: Election to the Inner Court, or removal therefrom, shall be solely at the tai-pan's pleasure and, on his retirement which shall be at a time when it pleasures him, he shall take no more than ten parts of every hundred of all value for himself, except that all our ships shall always be excluded from any valuation . . . our ships, their captains and their crews being our lifeblood and our lifeline into future times.
" 'Sixth: Each tai-pan shall approve the election of the compradore. The compradore shall acknowledge in writing prior to his election that he may be removed at any time, without need for explanations, that he will step aside should the tai-pan wish it.
" 'Last: The tai-pan shall swear his successor, whom he alone chooses, in the presence of the compradore using the words set down under my hand in our family Bible, here in Hong Kong, this thirtieth day of August in the year of our Lord 1841.' "
Dunross exhaled. "It's signed by Dirk Struan and witnessed by – I can't read the chop characters, sir, they're archaic."
Alastair glanced at Phillip Chen who said, "The first witness is my grandfather's foster father, Chen Sheng Arn, our first compradore. The second, my great-aunt, T'Chung Jin May-may."
"Then the legend's true!" Dunross said.
"Some of it. Yes, some of it." Phillip Chen added, "Talk to my auntie Sarah. Now that you're to be tai-pan she'll tell you lots of secrets. She's eighty-four this year. She remembers my grandfather, Sir Gordon Chen, very well, and Duncan and Kate T'Chung, May-may's children by Dirk Struan. Yes. She remembers many things. …"
Alastair Struan went over to the lacquered bureau and very carefully picked out the heavy threadbare Bible. He put on his spectacles and Dunross felt the hackles on his neck rise. "Repeat after me: I, Ian Struan Dunross, kinsman to the Struans, Christian, sweareth before God in the presence of Alastair McKenzie Duncan Struan, eleventh tai-pan, and Phillip T'Chung Sheng Chen, fourth com-pradore, that I shall obey all the Legacy read out by me in their presence here in Hong Kong, that I shall further bind the Company to Hong Kong and to the China trade, that I shall maintain my main place of business here in Hong Kong while tai-pan, that, before God, I assume the promises, responsibility and the gentleman's word of honor of Dirk Struan to his eternal friend Chen-tse Jin Arn, also known as Jin-qua, or to his successors; further, that I w—
"What promises?"
"You swear before God, blind, like all the tai-pans did before you! You'll learn soon enough what you inherit."
"And if I won't?"
"You know the answer to that!"
The rain was battering the windows and its violence seemed to Dunross to equal the thumping in his chest as he weighed the insanity of such an open-ended commitment. But he knew he could not be tai-pan unless he did, and so he said the words and made the commitment before God, and continued to say the words read out to him.
". . . further that I will use all powers, and any means, to keep the Company steadfast as the First House, the Noble House of Asia, that I swear before God to commit any deed necessary to vanquish, destroy and cast out from Asia the company called Brock and Sons and particularly my enemy, the founder, Tyler Brock, his son Morgan, their heirs or any of their line excepting only Tess Brock and her issue, the wife of my son Culum, from the face of Asia. . . ." Dunross stopped again.
"When you've finished you can ask any questions you want," Alastair Struan said. "Finish it!"
"Very well. Lastly: I swear before God that my successor as tai-pan will also be sworn, before God, to all of this Legacy, so help me God!"
Now the silence was broken only by the rain slashing the windows. Dunross could feel the sweat on his back.
Alastair Struan put down the Bible and took off his spectacles. "There, it's done." Tautly he put out his hand. "I'd like to be the first to wish you well, tai-pan. Anything I can do to help, you have."
"And I'm honored to be second, tai-pan," Phillip Chen said with a slight bow, equally formally.
"Thank you." Dunross's tension was great.
"I think we all need a drink," Alastair Struan said. "With your permission, I'll pour," he added to Dunross with untoward formality. "Phillip?"
"Yes, tai-pan. I—
"No. lan's tai-pan now." Alastair Struan poured the champagne and gave the first glass to Dunross.
"Thank you," Dunross said, savoring the compliment, knowing nothing had changed. "Here's to the Noble House," he said, raising his glass.
The three men drank, then Alastair Struan took out an envelope. "This is my resignation from the sixty-odd chairmanships, managing directorships and directorships that automatically go with the tai-pan position. Your appointment in my stead is equally automatic. By custom I become chairman of our London subsidiary— but you can terminate that anytime you wish."
"It's terminated," Dunross said at once.
"Whatever you say," the old man muttered, but his neck was purple.
"I think you'd be more useful to Struan's as deputy chairman of the First Central Bank of Edinburgh."
Struan looked up sharply. "What?"
"That's one of our appointments, isn't it?"
"Yes," Alastair Struan said. "Why that?"
"I'm going to need help. Struan's goes public next year."
Both men stared at him, astounded. "What!"
"We're going publ—
"We've been a private company for 132 years!" the old man roared. "Jesus bloody Christ I've told you a hundred times that's our strength, with no god-cursed stockholders or outsiders prying into our private affairs!" His face was flushed and he fought to control his anger. "Don't you ever listen?"
"All the time. Very carefully," Dunross said in an unemotional voice. "The only way we can survive is to go public . . . that's the only way we can get the capital we need."
"Talk to him, Phillip—get some sense into him."
Nervously the compradore said, "How will this affect the House of Chen?"
"Our formal compradore system is ended from tonight." He saw
Phillip Chen's face go white but he continued, "I have a plan for you—in writing. It changes nothing, and everything. Officially you'll still be compradore, unofficially we'll operate differently. The major change is that instead of making about a million a year, in ten years your share will bring you 20, in fifteen years about 30."
"Impossible!" Alastair Struan burst out.
"Our net worth today's about 20 million U.S. In ten years it'll be 200 million and in fifteen, with joss, it'll be 400 million—and our yearly turnover approaching a billion."
"You've gone mad," Struan said.
"No. The Noble House is going international—the days of being solely a Hong Kong trading company are gone forever."
"Remember your oath, by God! We're Hong Kong based!"
"I won't forget. Next: What responsibility do I inherit from Dirk Struan?"
"It's all in the safe. Written down in a sealed envelope marked The Legacy.' Also the Hag's 'Instructions to future tai-pans.' "
"Where's the safe?"
"Behind the painting in the Great House. In the study." Sourly Alastair Struan pointed to an envelope beside the clock on the mantelpiece. "That contains the special key—and the present combination. You will of course change it. Put the figures into one of the tai-pan's private safety deposit boxes at the bank, in case of accidents. Give Phillip one of the two keys."
Phillip Chen said, "By our rules, while you're alive, the bank is obliged to refuse me permission to open it."
"Next: Tyler Brock and his sons—those bastards were obliterated almost a hundred years ago."
"Aye, the legitimate male line was. But Dirk Struan was vindictive and his vengeance reaches out from his grave. There's an up-to-date list of Tyler Brock's descendents, also in the safe. It makes interesting reading, eh Phillip?"
"Yes, yes it does."
"The Rothwells and the Tomms, Yadegar and his brood, you know about. But Tusker's on the list though he doesn't know it, Jason Plumm, Lord Depford-Smyth and, most of all, Quillan Gornt."
"Not only is Gornt tai-pan of Rothwell-Gornt, our main enemy, but he's also a secret, direct male descendent of Morgan Brock— direct though illegitimate. He's the last of the Brocks."
"But he's always claimed his great-grandfather was Edward Gornt, the American China Trader."
"He comes from Edward Gornt all right. But Sir Morgan Brock was really Edward's father and Kristian Gornt his mother. She was an American from Virginia. Of course it was kept secret—society wasn't any more forgiving then than now. When Sir Morgan became tai-pan of Brock's in 1859, he fetched this illegitimate son of his out of Virginia, bought him a partnership in the old American trading firm of Rothwell and Company in Shanghai, and then he and Edward bided their time to destroy us. They almost did— certainly they caused the death of Culum Struan. But then Lochlin and Hag Struan broke Sir Morgan and smashed Brock and Sons. Edward Gornt never forgave us; his descendents never will either —I'd wager they too have a pact with their founder."
"Does he know we know?"
"I don't know. But he's enemy. His genealogy's in the safe, with all the others. My grandfather was the one who discovered it, quite by chance, during the Boxer Rebellion in '99. The list is interesting, Ian, very. One particular person for you. The head of—
A sudden violent gust shook the building. One of the ivory bric-a-brac on the marble table toppled over. Nervously Phillip Chen stood it up. They all stared at the windows, watching their reflections twist nauseatingly as the gusts stretched the huge panes of glass.
"Tai-fun!" Phillip muttered, sweat beading him.
"Yes." They waited breathlessly for the "Devil Wind" to cease. These sudden squalls came haphazardly from all points of the compass, sometimes gusting to a hundred and fifty knots. In their wake was always devastation.
The violence passed. Dunross went over to the barometer, checked it and tapped it. 980.3.
"Still falling," he said.
Dunross squinted at the windows. Now the rain streaks were almost horizontal. "Lasting Cloud is due to dock tomorrow night."
"Yes, but now she'll be hove to somewhere off the Philippines. Captain Moffatt's too canny to get caught," Struan said.
"I don't agree. Moffatt likes hitting schedules. This typhoon's unscheduled. You … he should have been ordered." Dunross sipped his wine thoughtfully. "Lasting Cloud better not get caught."
Phillip Chen heard the undercurrent of fury. "Why?"
"We've our new computer aboard and two million pounds worth of jet engines. Uninsured—at least the engines are." Dunross glanced at Alastair Struan.
Defensively the old man said, "It was that or lose the contract. The engines are consigned to Canton. You know we can't insure them, Phillip, since they're going to Red China." Then he added irritably, "They're, er, they're South American owned and there're no export restrictions from South America to China. Even so, no one's willing to insure them."
After a pause Phillip Chen said, "I thought the new computer was coming in March."
"It was but I managed to jump it forward," Alastair said.
"Who's carrying the paper on the engines?" Phillip Chen asked.
"We are."
"That's a lot of risk." Phillip Chen was very uneasy. "Don't you agree, Ian?"
Dunross said nothing.
"It was that or lose the contract," Alastair Struan said, even more irritably. "We stand to double our money, Phillip. We need the money. But more than that the Chinese need the engines; they made that more than clear when I was in Canton last month. And we need China—they made that clear too."
"Yes, but 12 million, that's … a lot of risk in one ship," Phillip Chen insisted.
Dunross said, "Anything we can do to take business away from the Soviets is to our advantage. Besides, it's done. You were saying, Alastair, there's someone on the list I should know about? The head of?"
"Marlborough Motors."
"Ah," Dunross said with sudden grim delight. "I've detested those sods for years. Father and son."
"I know."
"So the Nikklins're descendents of Tyler Brock? Well it won't be long before we can wipe them off the list. Good, very good. Do they know they're on Dirk Struan's oblit list?"
"I don't think so."
"That's even better."
"I don't agree! You hate young Nikklin because he beat you." Angrily Alastair Struan stabbed a finger at Dunross. "It's time you gave up car racing. Leave all the hill climbs and Macao Grand Prix to the semiprofessionals. The Nikklins have more time to spend on their cars, it's their life, and now you've other races to run, more important ones."
"Macao's amateur and those bastards cheated last year."
"That was never proved—your engine blew up. A lot of engines blow up, Ian. That was just joss!"
"My car was tampered with."
"And that was never proved either! For Christ's sake, you talk about bad blood? You're as stupid about some things as Devil Struan himself!"
"Yes, and—"
Phillip Chen interrupted quickly, wanting an end to the violence in the room. "If it's so important, please let me see if I can find out the truth. I've sources not available to either of you. My Chinese friends will know, should know, if either Tom or young Donald Nikklin were involved. Of course," he added delicately, "if the tai-pan wishes to race, then that's up to the tai-pan. Isn't it, Alastair?"
The older man controlled his rage though his neck was still choleric. "Yes, yes you're right. Still, Ian, my advice is you cease. They'll be after you even more because they detest you equally."
"Are there others I should know about—on the list?"
After a pause, Struan said, "No, not now." He opened the second bottle and poured as he talked. "Well, now it's all yours—all the fun and all the sweat. I'm glad to pass everything over to you. After you've been through the safe you'll know the best, and the worst." He gave them each a glass and sipped his. "By the Lord Jesus, that's as fine a wine as ever came out of France."
"Yes," Phillip Chen said.
Dunross thought Dom Perignon overpriced and overrated and knew the year, '54, was not a particularly good one. But he held his peace.
Struan went over to the barometer. It read 979.2. "We're in for a bad one. Well, never mind that. Ian, Claudia Chen has a file for you on important matters, and a complete list of our stockholdings —with names of the nominees. Any questions, have them for me before the day after tomorrow—I'm booked for London then. You'll keep Claudia on, of course."
"Of course." Claudia Chen was the second link from tai-pan to tai-pan after Phillip Chen. She was executive secretary to the tai-pan, a distant cousin to Phillip Chen.
"What about our bank—the Victoria Bank of Hong Kong and China?" Dunross asked, savoring the question. "I don't know our exact holdings."
"That's always been tai-pan knowledge only."
Dunross turned to Phillip Chen. "What's your holding, openly or through nominees?"
The compradore hesitated, shocked.
"In future I'm going to vote your holdings as a block with ours." Dunross kept his eyes on the compradore's. "I want to know now and I'll expect a formal transfer of perpetual voting power, in writing, to me and following tai-pans, tomorrow by noon, and first refusal on the shares should you ever decide to sell."
The silence grew.
"Ian," Phillip Chen began, "those shares . . ." But his resolve wavered under the power of Dunross's will. "6 percent… a little over 6 percent. I … you'll have it as you wish."
"You won't regret it." Dunross put his attention on Alastair Struan and the older man's heart missed a beat. "How much stock have we? How much's held by nominees?"
Alastair hesitated. "That's tai-pan knowledge only."
"Of course. But our compradore is to be trusted, absolutely," Dunross said, giving the old man face, knowing how much it had hurt to be dominated in front of Alastair Struan. "How much?"
Struan said, "15 percent."
Dunross gasped and so did Phillip Chen and he wanted to shout, Jesus bloody Christ, we have 15 percent and Phillip another 6 percent and you haven't had the sodding intelligence to use what's got to be a major interest to get us major funding when we're almost bankrupt?
But instead he reached forward and poured the remains of the bottle into the three glasses and this gave him time to stop the pounding of his heart.
"Good," he said with his flat unemotional voice. "I was hoping together we'd make it better than ever." He sipped his wine. "I'm bringing forward the Special Meeting. To next week."
Both men looked up sharply. Since 1880, the tai-pans of Struan's, Rothwell-Gornt and the Victoria Bank had, despite their rivalry, met annually in secret to discuss matters that affected the future of Hong Kong and Asia.
'They may not agree to bring the meeting forward," Alastair said.
"I phoned everyone this morning. It's set for Monday next at 9 A.M. here."
"Who's coming from the bank?"
"Deputy Chief Manager Havergill—the old man's in Japan then England on leave." Dunross's face hardened. "I'll have to make do."
"Paul's all right," Alastair said. "He'll be the next chief."
"Not if I can help it," Dunross said.
"You've never liked Paul Havergill, have you, Ian?" Phillip Chen said.
"No. He's too insular, too Hong Kong, too out of date and too pompous."
"And he supported your father against you."
"Yes. But that's not the reason he should go, Phillip. He should go because he's in the way of the Noble House. He's too conservative, far too generous to Asian Properties and I think he's a secret ally of Rothwell-Gornt."
"I don't agree," Alastair said.
"I know. But we need money to expand and I intend to get the money. So I intend to use my 21 percent very seriously."
The storm outside had intensified but they did not seem to notice.
"I don't advise you to set your cap against the Victoria," Phillip Chen said gravely.
"I agree," Alastair Struan said.
"I won't. Provided my bank cooperates." Dunross watched the rain streaks for a moment. "By the way, I've also invited Jason Plumm to the meeting."
"What the hell for?" Struan asked, his neck reddening again.
"Between us and his Asian Properties we—"
"Plumm's on Dirk Struan's oblit list, as you call it, and absolutely opposed to us."
"Between the four of us we have a majority say in Hong Kong —" Dunross broke off as the phone rang loudly. They all looked at it.
Alastair Struan said sourly, "It's your phone now, not mine." Dunross picked it up. "Dunross!" He listened for a moment then said, "No, Mr. Alastair Struan has retired, I'm tai-pan of Struan's now. Yes. Ian Dunross. What's the telex say?" Again he listened. "Yes, thank you."
He put down the phone. At length he broke the silence. "It was from our office in Taipei. Lasting Cloud has foundered off the north coast of Formosa. They think she's gone down with all hands. . . ."
August 18,1963
8:45 P.M. :
The police officer was leaning against one corner of the information counter watching the tall Eurasian without watching him. He wore a light tropical suit and a police tie and white shirt, and it was hot within the brightly lit terminal building, the air humid and smell-laden, milling noisy Chinese as always. Men, women, children, babes. An abundance of Cantonese, some Asians, a few Europeans.
' 'Superintendent?"
One of the information girls was offering him a phone. "It's for you, sir," she said and smiled prettily, white teeth, dark hair, dark sloe eyes, lovely golden skin.
"Thanks," he said, noticing that she was Cantonese and new, and did not mind that the reality of her smile was empty, with nothing behind it but a Cantonese obscenity. "Yes?" he said into the phone.
"Superintendent Armstrong? This is the tower—Yankee 2's just landed. On time."
"Still Gate 16?"
"Yes. She'll be there in six minutes."
"Thanks." Robert Armstrong was a big man and he leaned across the counter and replaced the phone. He noticed her long legs and the curve of her rump in the sleek, just too tight, uniformed chong-sam and he wondered briefly what she would be like in bed. "What's your name?" he asked, knowing that any Chinese hated to be named to any policeman, let alone a European.
"Mona Leung, sir."
"Thank you, Mona Leung." He nodded to her, kept his pale blue eyes on her and saw a slight shiver of apprehension go through her. This pleased him. Up yours too, he thought, then turned his attention back to his prey.
The Eurasian, John Chen, was standing beside one of the exits, alone, and this surprised him. Also that he was nervous. Usually John Chen was unperturbable, but now every few moments he would glance at his watch, then up at the arrivals board, then back to his watch again.
Another minute and then we'll begin, Armstrong thought.
He began to reach into his pocket for a cigarette, then remembered that he had given up smoking two weeks ago as a birthday present to his wife, so he cursed briefly and stuck his hands deeper into his pockets.
Around the information counter harassed passengers and meet-ers-of-passengers rushed up and pushed and went away and came back again, loudly asking the where and when and how and why and where once more in myriad dialects. Cantonese he understood well. Shanghainese and Mandarin a little. A few Chu Chow expressions and most of their swear words. A little Taiwanese.
He left the counter now, a head taller than most of the crowd, a big, broad-shouldered man with an easy, athletic stride, seventeen years in the Hong Kong Police Force, now head of CID—Criminal Investigation Department—of Kowloon.
"Evening, John," he said. "How're things?"
"Oh hi, Robert," John Chen said, instantly on guard, his English American-accented. "Everything's great, thanks. You?"
"Fine. Your airport contact mentioned to Immigration that you were meeting a special plane. A charter—Yankee 2."
"Yes—but it's not a charter. It's privately owned. By Lincoln Bartlett—the American millionaire."
"He's aboard?" Armstrong asked, knowing he was.
"With an entourage?"
"Just his Executive VP—and hatchet man."
"Mr. Bartlett's a friend?" he asked, knowing he was not.
"A guest. We hope to do business with him."
"Oh? Well, his plane's just landed. Why don't you come with me? We'll bypass all the red tape for you. It's the least we can do for the Noble House, isn't it?"
"Thanks for your trouble."
"No trouble." Armstrong led the way through a side door in the Customs barrier. Uniformed police looked up, saluting him instantly and watched John Chen thoughtfully, recognizing him at once.
"This Lincoln Bartlett," Armstrong continued with pretended geniality, "doesn't mean anything to me. Should it?"
"Not unless you were in business," John Chen said, then rushed on nervously, "He's nicknamed 'Raider'—because of his successful raids and takeovers of other companies, most times much bigger than himself. Interesting man; I met him in New York last year. His conglomerate grosses almost half a billion dollars a year. He says he started in '45 with two thousand borrowed dollars. Now he's into petrochemicals, heavy engineering, electronics, missiles—lots of U.S. Government work—foam, polyurethane foam products, fertilizers—he even has one company that makes and sells skis, sports goods. His group's Par-Con Industries. You name it, he has it."
"I thought your company owned everything already."
John Chen smiled politely. "Not in America," he said, "and it is not my company. I'm just a minor stockholder of Struan's, an employee."
"But you're a director and you're the eldest son of Noble House Chen so you'll be next compradore." By historic custom the com-pradore was a Chinese or Eurasian businessman who acted as the exclusive intermediary between the European trading house and the Chinese. All business went through his hands and a little of everything stuck there.
So much wealth and so much power, Armstrong thought, yet with a little luck, we can bring you down like Humpty-Dumpty and Struan's with you. Jesus Christ, he told himself, the anticipation sickly sweet, if that happens the scandal's going to blow Hong Kong apart. "You'll be compradore, like your father and grandfather and great-grandfather before you. Your great-grandfather was the first, wasn't he? Sir Gordon Chen, compradore to the great Dirk Struan who founded the Noble House and damn nearly founded Hong Kong."
"No. Dirk's compradore was a man called Chen Sheng. Sir Gordon Chen was compradore to Dirk's son, Culum Struan."
"They were half-brothers weren't they?"
"So the legend goes."
"Ah yes, legends—the stuff we feed on. Culum Struan, another legend of Hong Kong. But Sir Gordon, he's a legend too—you're lucky."
Lucky? John Chen asked himself bitterly. To be descended from an illegitimate son of a Scots pirate—an opium runner, a whoring evil genius and murderer if some of the stories are true—and a
Cantonese singsong girl bought out of a filthy little cathouse that still exists in a filthy little Macao alley? To have almost everyone in Hong Kong know your lineage and to be despised for it by both races? "Not lucky," he said, trying to be outwardly calm. His hair was gray-flecked and dark, his face Anglo-Saxon and handsome, though a little slack at the jowls, and his dark eyes only slightly Asian. He was forty-two and wore tropicals, impeccably cut as always, with Hermes shoes and Rolex watch.
"I don't agree," Armstrong said, meaning it. "To be compradore to Struan's, the Noble House of Asia . . . that's something. Something special."
"Yes, that's special." John Chen said it flat. Ever since he could think, he had been bedeviled by his heritage. He could feel eyes watching him—him, the eldest son, the next in line—he could feel the everlasting greed and the envy. It had terrified him continuously, however much he tried to conquer the terror. He had never wanted any of the power or any of the responsibility. Only yesterday he had had another grinding row with his father, worse than ever before. "I don't want any part of Struan's!" he had shouted. "For the hundredth time I want to get the hell out of Hong Kong, I want to go back to the States, I want to lead my own life, as I want, where I want, and how I want!"
"For the thousandth time, you'll listen to me. I sent you to Am—"
"Let me run our American interests, Father. Please. There's more than enough to do! You could let me have a couple of mill—"
"Ayeeyah you will listen to me! It's here, here in Hong Kong and Asia we make our money! I sent you to school in America to prepare the family for the modern world. You are prepared, it's your duty to the fam—"
"There's Richard, Father, and young Kevin—Richard's ten times the businessman I am and chomping at the bit. What about Uncle Jam—"
"You'll do as I say! Good God, you know this American Bartlett is vital to us. We need your knowl—
"—Uncle James or Uncle Thomas. Uncle James'd be the best for you; best for the family and the bes—"
"You're my eldest son. You're the next head of the family and the next compradore!"
"I won't be by God!"
"Then you won't get another copper cash!"
"And that won't be much of a change! We're all kept on a pittance, whatever outsiders think! What are you worth? How many millions? Fifty? Seventy? A hun—"
"Unless you apologize at once and finish with all this nonsense, finish with it once and for all, I'll cut you off right now! Right now!"
"I apologize for making you angry but I'll never change! Never!"
"I'll give you until my birthday. Eight days. Eight days to become a dutiful son. That's my last word. Unless you become obedient by my birthday I'll chop you and your line off our tree forever! Now get out!"
John Chen's stomach twisted uneasily. He hated the interminable quarreling, his father apoplectic with rage, his wife in tears, his children petrified, his stepmother and brothers and cousins all gloating, wanting him gone, all of his sisters, most of his uncles, all their wives. Envy, greed. The hell with it and them, he thought. But Father's right about Bartlett, though not the way he thinks. No. This one is for me. This deal. Just this one then I'll be free forever.
They were almost through the long, brightly lit Customs Hall now.
"You going racing Saturday?" John Chen asked.
"Who isn't!" The week before, to the ecstasy of all, the immensely powerful Turf Club with its exclusive monopoly on horse racing— the only legal form of gambling allowed in the Colony—had put out a special bulletin: "Though our formal season does not start this year until October 5, with the kind permission of our illustrious Governor, Sir Geoffrey Allison, the Stewards have decided to declare Saturday, August 24 a Very Special Race Day for the enjoyment of all and as a salute to our hardworking population who are bearing the heavy weight of the second worst drought in our history with fortitude. . . ."
"I hear you've got Golden Lady running in the fifth," Armstrong said.
"The trainer says she's got a chance. Please come by Father's box and have a drink with us. I could use some of your tips. You're a great punter."
"Just lucky. But my ten dollars each way hardly compares with your ten thousand."
"But that's only when we've one of our horses running. Last season was a disaster. … I could use a winner."
"So could I." Oh Christ how I need a winner, Armstrong thought. But you, Johnny Chen, it doesn't matter a twopenny tick in hell if you win or lose ten thousand or a hundred thousand. He tried to curb his soaring jealousy. Calm down, he told himself. Crooks're a fact and it's your job to catch them if you can—however rich, however powerful—-and to be content with your rotten pay when every street corner's groaning with free silver. Why envy this bastard—he's for the chopper one way or another. "Oh by the way, I sent a constable to your car to take it through the gate. It'll be waiting at the gangway for you and your guests."
"Oh, that's great, thanks. Sorry for the trouble."
"No trouble. It's a matter of face. Isn't it. I thought it must be pretty special for you to come yourself." Armstrong could not resist another barb. "As I said, nothing's too much trouble for the Noble House."
John Chen kept his polite smile but screw you, he thought. We tolerate you because of what you are, a very important cop, filled with envy, heavily in debt, surely corrupt and you know nothing about horses. Screw you in spades. Dew neh loh moh on all your generations, John Chen thought, but he kept the obscenity hidden carefully, for though Armstrong was roundly hated by all Hong Kongyan, John Chen knew from long experience that Armstrong's ruthless, vengeful cunning was worthy of a filthy Manchu. He reached up to the half-coin he wore on a thin leather thong around his neck. His fingers trembled as they touched the metal through his shirt. He shivered involuntarily.
"What's the matter?" Armstrong asked.
"Nothing. Nothing at all." Get hold of yourself, John Chen thought.
Now they were through the Customs Hall and into the Immigration area, the night dark outside. Lines of anxious, unsettled, tired people waited in front of the neat, small desks of the cold-faced, uniformed Immigration officers. These men saluted Armstrong. John Chen felt their searching eyes.
As always, his stomach turned queasy under their scrutiny even though he was safe from their probing questions. He held a proper British passport, not just a second-class Hong Kong passport, also an American Green Card—the Alien Card—that most priceless of possessions that gave him free access to work and play and live in the U.S.A., all the privileges of a born American except the right to vote. Who needs to vote, he thought, and stared back at one of the men, trying to feel brave, but still feeling naked under the man's gaze.
"Superintendent?" One of the officers was holding up a phone. "It's for you, sir."
He watched Armstrong walk back to take the call and he wondered what it would be like to be a policeman with so much opportunity for so much graft, and, for the millionth time, what it would be like to be all British or all Chinese, and not a Eurasian despised by both.
He watched Armstrong listening intently, then heard him say above the hubbub, "No, just stall. I'll deal with it personally. Thanks, Tom."
Armstrong came back. "Sorry," he said, then headed past the Immigration cordon, up a small corridor and into the VIP Lounge. It was neat and expansive, with bar facilities and a good view of the airport and the city and the bay. The lounge was empty except for two Immigration and Customs officers and one of Armstrong's men waiting beside Gate 16—a glass door that let out onto the floodlit tarmac. They could see the 707 coming onto her parking marks.
"Evening, Sergeant Lee," Armstrong said. "All set?"
"Yes sir. Yankee 2's just shutting down her engines." Sergeant Lee saluted again and opened the gate for them.
Armstrong glanced at John Chen, knowing the neck of the trap was almost closed. "After you."
"Thanks." John Chen walked out onto the tarmac.
Yankee 2 towered over them, its dying jets now a muted growl. A ground crew was easing the tall, motor-driven gangway into place. Through the small cockpit windows they could see the dimly lit pilots. To one side, in the shadows, was John Chen's dark blue Silver Cloud Rolls, the uniformed Chinese chauffeur standing beside the door, a policeman nearby.
The main cabin door of the aircraft swung open and a uniformed steward came out to greet the two airport officials who were waiting on the platform. He handed one of the officials a pouch with the airplane's documents and arrival manifests, and they began to chat affably. Then they all stopped. Deferentially. And saluted politely.
The girl was tall, smart, exquisite and American.
Armstrong whistled quietly. "Ayeeyah!"
"Bartlett's got taste," John Chen muttered, his heart quickening.
They watched her come down the stairs, both men lost in masculine musings.
"You think she's a model?"
"She moves like one. A movie star, maybe?"
John Chen walked forward. "Good evening. I'm John Chen of Struan's. I'm meeting Mr. Bartlett and Mr. Tchuluck."
"Oh yes of course, Mr. Chen. This's very kind of you, sir, particularly on a Sunday. I'm pleased to meet you. I'm K.C. Tcholok. Line says if you . . ."
"Casey Tchuluck?" John Chen gaped at her. "Eh?"
"Yes," she said, her smile nice, patiently passing over the mispronunciation. "You see my initials are K.C, Mr. Chen, so Casey became my nickname." She turned her eyes on Armstrong. "Evening. You're also from Struan's?" Her voice was melodious.
"Oh, er, excuse me, this, this is Superintendent Armstrong," John Chen stuttered, still trying to recover.
"Evening," Armstrong said, noticing that she was even more attractive close up. "Welcome to Hong Kong."
"Thank you. Superintendent? That's police?" Then the name clicked into place. "Ah, Armstrong. Robert Armstrong? Chief of CID Kowloon?"
He covered his surprise. "You're very well informed, Miss Tcholok."
She laughed. "Just part of my routine. When I go to a new place, particularly one like Hong Kong, it's my job to be prepared … so I just sent for your current listings."
"We don't have published listings."
"I know. But the Hong Kong Government puts out a government phone book which anyone can buy for a few pennies. I just sent for one of those. All police departments are listed—heads of departments, most with their home numbers—along with every other government office. I got one through your Hong Kong PR office in New York."
"Who's head of Special Branch?" he asked, testing her.
"I don't know. I don't think that department was listed. Is it?"
A slight frown stood in her eyes. "You greet all private airplanes, Superintendent?"
"Only those I wish to." He smiled at her. "Only those with pretty, well-informed ladies aboard."
"Something's wrong? There's trouble?"
"Oh no, just routine. Kai Tak's part of my responsibility," Armstrong said easily. "May I see your passport please?"
"Of course." Her frown deepened as she opened her handbag and handed her U.S. passport over.
Years of experience made his inspection very detailed indeed. "Born Providence, Rhode Island, November 25, 1936, height 5 feet 8 inches, hair blond, eyes hazel." Passport's valid with two years left to run. Twenty-six, eh? Fd've guessed younger, though there's a strangeness to her eyes if you look closely.
With apparent haphazardness he flipped carelessly through the pages. Her three-month Hong Kong visa was current and in order. A dozen immigration visa stamps, all England, France, Italy or South American. Except one. USSR, dated July this year. A seven-day visit. He recognized the Moscow frank. "Sergeant Lee!"
"Yes sir?"
"Get it stamped for her," he said casually, and smiled down at her. "You're all cleared. You may stay more or less as long as you like. Towards the end of three months just go to the nearest police station and we'll extend your visa for you."
"Thanks very much."
"You'll be with us for a while?"
"That depends on our business deal," Casey said after a pause. She smiled at John Chen. "We hope to be in business for a long time."
John Chen said, "Yes. Er, we hope so too." He was still nonplussed, his mind churning. It's surely not possible for Casey Tcholok to be a woman, he thought.
Behind them the steward, Sven Svensen, came bouncing down the stairs, carrying two air suitcases. "Here you are, Casey. You're sure this's enough for tonight?"
"Yes. Sure. Thanks, Sven."
"Line said for you to go on. You need a hand through Customs?"
"No thanks. Mr. John Chen kindly met us. Also, Superintendent Armstrong, head of Kowloon CID."
"Okay." Sven studied the policeman thoughtfully for a moment. "I'd better get back."
"Everything all right?" she asked.
"I think so." Sven Svensen grinned. "Customs're just checking our stocks of booze and cigarettes." Only four things were subject to any import license or customs duty in the Colony—gold, liquor, tobacco and gasoline—and only one contraband—apart from narcotics—and totally forbidden: all forms of firearms and ammunition.
Casey smiled up at Armstrong. "We've no rice aboard, Superintendent. Line doesn't eat it."
"Then he's in for a bad time here."
She laughed then turned back to Svensen. "See you tomorrow. Thanks."
"9 A.M. on the dot!" Svensen went back to the airplane and Casey turned to John Chen.
"Line said for us not to wait for him. Hope that's all right," she said.
"Shall we go? We're booked into the Victoria and Albert Hotel, Kowloon." She began to pick up her bags but a porter materialized out of the darkness and took them from her. "Linc'll come later … or tomorrow."
John Chen gawked at her. "Mr. Bartlett's not coming?"
"No. He's going to stay in the airplane overnight if he can get permission. If not, he'll follow us by cab. In any event he'll join us tomorrow for lunch as arranged. Lunch is still on, isn't it?"
"Oh yes, but…" John Chen was trying to get his mind working. "Then you'll want to cancel the 10 A.M. meeting?"
"Oh no. I'll attend that as arranged. Line wasn't expected at that meeting. That's just financing—not policy. I'm sure you understand. Line's very tired, Mr. Chen," she said. "He just got back yesterday from Europe." She looked back at Armstrong. "The captain asked the tower if Line could sleep in, Superintendent. They checked with Immigration who said they'd get back to us but I presume our request'll come through channels to you. We'd certainly appreciate it if you'd approve. He's really been on the jet lag trail for too long."
Armstrong found himself saying, "I'll chat with him about it."
"Oh thanks. Thanks very much," she said, and then to John Chen, "Sorry for all this trouble, Mr. Chen. Shall we go?" She began to head for Gate 16, the porter following, but John Chen pointed to his Rolls. "No, this way, Miss Tchu—er, Casey."
Her eyes widened. "No Customs?"
"Not tonight," Armstrong said, liking her. "A present from Her Majesty's Government."
"I feel like visiting royalty."
"All part of the service."
She got into the car. Lovely smell of leather. And luxury. Then she saw the porter hurrying through the gate into the terminal building. "But what about my bags?"
"No need to worry about those," John Chen said irritably. "They'll be in your suite before you are."
Armstrong held on to the door for a moment. "John came with two cars. One for you and Mr. Bartlett—the other for luggage."
"Two cars?"
"Of course. Don't forget you're in Hong Kong now."
He watched the car drive off. Line Bartlett's a lucky man, he thought, and wondered absently why Special Intelligence was interested in her.
"Just meet the airplane and go through her passport personally," the director of SI had told him this morning. "And Mr. Lincoln Bartlett's."
"May I ask why, sir?"
"No, Robert, you may not ask why. You're no longer in this branch—you're in a nice cushy job at Kowloon. A positive sinecure, what?"
"Yes sir."
"And Robert, kindly don't balls up this operation tonight—there may be a lot of very big names involved. We go to a great deal of trouble to keep you fellows abreast of what the nasties are doing."
"Yes sir."
Armstrong sighed as he walked up the gangway followed by Sergeant Lee. Dew neh loh moh on all senior officers, particularly the director of SI.
One of the Customs officials was waiting at the top of the gangway with Svensen. "Evening, sir," he said. "Everything's shipshape aboard. There's a .38 with a box of a hundred shells unopened as part of ship's stores. A Verey Light pistol. Also three hunting rifles and a twelve-bore with ammo belonging to Mr. Bartlett. They're all listed on the manifest and I inspected them. There's a locked gun cabinet in the main cabin. Captain has the key."
"You need me anymore, sir?"
"No, thanks." Armstrong took the airplane's manifest and began to check it. Lots of wine, cigarettes, tobacco, beer and spirits. Ten cases of Dom Perignon '59, fifteen Puligny Montrachet '53, nine
Chateau Haul Brion '53. "No Lafite Rothschild 1916, Mr. Svensen?" he said with a small smile.
"No sir." Svensen grinned. '"16 was a very bad year. But there's half a case of the 1923. It's on the next page."
Armstrong flipped the page. More wines and the cigars were listed. "Good," he said. "Of course all this is in bond while you're on the ground."
"Yes sir. I'd already locked it—your man's tagged it. He said it was okay to leave a twelve-pack of beer in the cooler."
"If the owner wants to import any of the wines, just let me know. There's no fuss and just a modest contribution to Her Majesty's bottom drawer."
"Sir?" Svensen was perplexed.
"Eh? Oh, just an English pun. Refers to a lady's bottom drawer in a chest of drawers—where she puts away the things she needs in the future. Sorry. Your passport please." Svensen's passport was Canadian. "Thanks."
"May I introduce you to Mr. Bartlett? He's waiting for you."
Svensen led the way into the airplane. The interior was elegant and simple. Right off the small hallway was a sitting area with half a dozen deep leather chairs and a sofa. A central door closed off the rest of the airplane, aft. In one of the chairs a stewardess was half asleep, her travel bags beside her. Left was the cockpit door. It was open.
The captain and first officer/copilot were in their seats, still going through their paper work.
"Excuse me, Captain. This is Superintendent Armstrong," Svensen said, and stepped aside.
"Evening, Superintendent," the captain said. "I'm Captain Jan-nelli and this's my copilot, Bill O'Rourke."
"Evening. May I see your passports please?"
Both pilots had massed international visas and immigration stamps. No Iron Curtain countries. Armstrong handed them to Sergeant Lee for stamping. "Thank you, Captain. Is this your first visit to Hong Kong?"
"No sir. I was here a couple of times for R and R during Korea. And I had a six-month tour with Far Eastern as first officer on their round-the-world route in '56, during the riots."
"What riots?" O'Rourke asked.
"The whole of Kowloon blew apart. Couple hundred thousand
Chinese went on a sudden rampage, rioting, burning. The cops— sorry, the police tried to settle it with patience, then the mobs started killing so the cops, police, they got out a couple of Sten guns and killed half a dozen jokers and everything calmed down very fast. Only police have guns here which is a great idea." To Armstrong he said, "I think your guys did a hell of a job."
'Thank you, Captain Jannelli. Where did this flight emanate?"
"L.A.—Los Angeles. Line's—Mr. Bartlett's head office's there."
"Your route was Honolulu, Tokyo, Hong Kong?"
"Yes sir."
"How long did you stop in Tokyo?"
Bill O'Rourke turned up the flight log at once. "Two hours and seventeen minutes. Just a refueling stop, sir."
"Just enough time to stretch your legs?"
Jannelli said, "I was the only one who got out. I always check my gear, the landing gear, and do an exterior inspection whenever we land."
"That's a good habit," the policeman said politely. "How long are you staying?"
"Don't know, that's up to Line. Certainly overnight. We couldn't leave before 1400. Our orders're just to be ready to go anywhere at any time."
"You've a fine aircraft, Captain. You're approved to stay here till 1400. If you want an extension, call Ground Control before that time. When you're ready, just clear Customs through that gate. And would you clear all your crew together, please."
"Sure. Soon as we're refueled."
"You and all your crew know the importing of any firearms into the Colony is absolutely forbidden? We're very nervous about firearms in Hong Kong."
"So am I, Superintendent—anywhere. That's why I've the only key to the gun cabinet."
"Good. Any problems, please check with my office." Armstrong left and went into the anteroom, Svensen just ahead.
Jannelli watched him inspect the air hostess's passport. She was pretty, Jenny Pollard. "Son of a bitch," he muttered, then added quietly, "Something stinks around here."
"Since when does CID brass check goddamn passports for chris-sake? You sure we're not carrying anything curious?"
"Hell no. I always check everything. Including Sven's stores. Of course I don't go through Line's stuff—or Casey's—but they wouldn't do anything stupid."
"I've flown him for four years and never once . . . Even so, something sure as hell stinks." Jannelli wearily twisted and settled himself in his pilot's seat more comfortably. "Jesus, I could use a massage and a week off."
In the anteroom Armstrong was handing the passport to Sergeant Lee who stamped it. "Thank you, Miss Pollard."
"Thank you."
"That's all the crew, sir," Svensen said. "Now Mr. Bartlett."
"Yes, please."
Svensen knocked on the central door and opened it without waiting. "Line, this's Superintendent Armstrong," he said with easy informality.
"Hi," Line Bartlett said, getting up from his desk. He put out his hand. "May I offer you a drink? Beer?"
"No thanks. Perhaps a cup of coffee."
Svensen turned for the galley at once. "Coming up," he said.
"Make yourself at home. Here's my passport," Bartlett said. "Won't be a moment." He went back to the typewriter and continued tapping the keys with two fingers.
Armstrong studied him leisurely. Bartlett was sandy haired with gray-flecked blue eyes, a strong good-looking face. Trim. Sports shirt and jeans. He checked the passport. Born Los Angeles, October 1,1922. He looks young for forty, he thought. Moscow franking, same as Casey Tcholok, no other Iron Curtain visits.
His eyes wandered the room. It was spacious, the whole width of the airplane. There was a short central corridor aft with two cabins off it and two toilets. And at the end a final door which he presumed was the master suite.
The cabin was fitted as if it were a communications center. Teletype, international telephone capability, built-in typewriters. An illuminated world time clock on a bulkhead. Filing cabinets, duplicator and a built-in leather-topped desk strewn with papers. Shelves of books. Tax books. A few paperbacks. The rest were war books and books on generals or by generals. Dozens of them. Wellington and Napoleon and Patton, Eisenhower's Crusade in Europe, Sun Tzu's The Art of War. . .
"Here you are, sir," broke into Armstrong's inspection.
"Oh, thank you, Svensen." He took the coffee cup and added a little cream.
Svensen put a fresh, opened can of chilled beer beside Bartlett, picked up the empty, then went back to the galley, closing the door after him. Bartlett sipped the beer from the can, rereading what he had written, then pressed a buzzer. Svensen came at once. "Tell Jannelli to ask the tower to send this off." Svensen nodded and left. Bartlett eased his shoulders and swung around in the swivel chair. "Sorry—I had to get that right off."
"That's all right, Mr. Bartlett. Your request to stay overnight is approved."
"Thanks—thanks very much. Could Svensen stay as well?" Bartlett grinned. "I'm not much of a housekeeper."
"Very well. How long will your aircraft be here?"
"Depends on our meeting tomorrow, Superintendent. We hope to go into business with Struan's. A week, ten days."
"Then you'll need an alternate parking place tomorrow. We've another VIP flight coming in at 1600 hours. I told Captain Jannelli to phone Ground Control before 1400 hours."
"Thanks. Does the head of CID Kowloon usually deal with parking around here?"
Armstrong smiled. "I like to know what's going on in my division. It's a tedious habit but ingrained. We don't often have private aircraft visiting us—or Mr. Chen meeting someone personally. We like to be accommodating if we can. Struan's owns most of the airport and John's a personal friend. He's an old friend of yours?"
"I spent time with him in New York and L.A. and liked him a lot. Say, Superintendent, this airplane's my comm—" One of the phones rang. Bartlett picked it up. "Oh hello Charlie, what's happening in New York? … Jesus, that's great. How much? … Okay Charlie, buy the whole block. . . . Yes, the whole 200,000 shares. . . . Sure, first thing Monday morning, soon as the market opens. Send me a confirm by telex. …" Bartlett put the phone down and turned to Armstrong. "Sorry. Say, Superintendent, this's my communications center and I'll be lost without it. If we park for a week is it okay to come back and forth?"
"I'm afraid that might be dicey, Mr. Bartlett."
"Is that yes or no or maybe?"
"Oh that's slang for difficult. Sorry, but our security at Kai Tak's very particular."
"If you have to put on extra men, I'd be glad to pay."
"It's a matter of security, Mr. Bartlett, not money. You'll find Hong Kong's phone system first class." Also it will be far easier for Special Intelligence to monitor your calls, he thought.
"Well, if you can I'd appreciate it."
Armstrong sipped the coffee. "This's your first visit to Hong Kong?"
"Yes sir. My first time in Asia. Farthest I've gotten was Guadalcanal, in '43."
"Sergeant, Engineers. Construction—we used to build anything: hangars, bridges, camps, anything. A great experience." Bartlett sipped from the can. "Sure I can't give you a drink?"
"No thanks." Armstrong finished his cup, began to get up. "Thanks for the coffee."
"Now may I ask you a question?"
"Of course."
"What's Dunross like? Ian Dunross. The head of Struan's?"
"The tai-pan?" Armstrong laughed outright. "That depends whom you ask, Mr. Bartlett. You've never met him?"
"No, not yet. I do tomorrow. At lunch. Why do you call him the tai-pan?"
"Tai-pan means 'supreme leader' in Cantonese—the person with the ultimate power. The European heads of all the old trading companies are all tai-pans to the Chinese. But even among tai-pans there's always the greatest. The tai-pan. Struan's is nicknamed the 'Noble House' or 'Noble Hong,' hong meaning 'company.' It goes back to the beginning of the China trade and the early days of Hong Kong. Hong Kong was founded in 1841, January 26, actually. The founder of Struan and Company was a legend, still is in some ways —Dirk Struan. Some say he was a pirate, some a prince. In any event he made a fortune smuggling Indian opium into China, then converting that silver into China teas which he shipped to England in a fleet of China clippers. He became a merchant prince, earned the title of the tai-pan, and ever since, Struan's has always tried to be first in everything."
"Are they?"
"Oh a couple of companies dog their heels, Rothwell-Gornt particularly, but yes, I'd say they were first. Certainly not a thing comes into Hong Kong or goes out, is eaten or buried or made without Struan's, Rothwell-Gornt, Asian Properties, Blacs—the Bank of London and China—or the Victoria Bank having a finger in the stew somewhere."
"And Dunross himself? What's he like?"
Armstrong thought a moment, then said lightly, "Again it depends very much whom you ask, Mr. Bartlett. I know him just a little, socially—we meet from time to time at the races. I've had two official meetings with him. He's charming, very good at his job. … I suppose brilliant might sum him up."
"He and his family own a lot of Struan's?"
"I don't know that for certain. I doubt if anyone does, outside of the family. But his stockholdings aren't the key to the tai-pan's desk. Oh no. Not of Struan's. Of that I'm very certain." Armstrong locked his eyes on Bartlett's. "Some say Dunross is ruthless and ready to kill. I know I wouldn't like him as an enemy."
Bartlett sipped his beer and the little lines beside his eyes crinkled with a curious smile. "Sometimes an enemy's more valuable than a friend."
"Sometimes. I hope you have a profitable stay."
At once Bartlett got up. "Thanks. I'll see you out." He opened the door and ushered Armstrong and Sergeant Lee through it, then followed them out of the main cabin door onto the landing steps. He took a deep breath of air. Once again he caught a strangeness on the wind, neither pleasant nor unpleasant, neither odor nor perfume—just strange, and curiously exciting. "Superintendent, what's that smell? Casey noticed it too, the moment Sven opened the door."
Armstrong hesitated. Then he smiled. "That's Hong Kong's very own, Mr. Bartlett. It's money."
11:48 P.M. :
"All gods bear witness to the foul luck I'm having tonight," Four Finger Wu said and spat on the deck. He was aft, on the high poop of his oceangoing junk that was moored to one of the great clusters of boats that sprawled over Aberdeen harbor on the south coast of Hong Kong Island. The night was hot and humid and he was playing mah-jong with three of his friends. They were old and weatherbeaten like himself, all captains of junks that they owned. Even so, they sailed in his fleet and took orders from him. His formal name was Wu Sang Fang. He was a short, illiterate fisherman, with few teeth and no thumb on his left hand. His junk was old, battered and filthy. He was head of the seaborne Wu, captain of the fleets, and his flag, the Silver Lotus, flew on all the four seas.
When it was his turn again, he picked up another of the ivory tiles. He glanced at it and as it did not improve his hand, discarded it noisily and spat again. The spittle glistened on the deck. He wore a ragged old undershirt and black coolie pants, like his friends, and he had ten thousand dollars riding on this single game.
"Ayeeyah," Pockmark Tang said, pretending disgust though the tile he had just picked up made him only one short of a winning combination—the game somewhat like gin rummy. "Fornicate all mothers except ours if I don't win!" He discarded a tile with a flourish.
"Fornicate yours if you win and I don't!" another said and they all laughed.
"And fornicate those foreign devils from the Golden Mountain if they don't arrive tonight," Goodweather Poon said.
"They'll arrive," Four Finger Wu told him confidently. "Foreign devils are glued to schedules. Even so, I sent Seventh Son to the airport to make sure." He began to pick up a tile but stopped and looked over his shoulder and watched critically as a fishing junk eased past, chugging quietly, heading up the twisting, narrow access channel between the banks of boats toward the neck of the harbor. She had only riding lights, port and starboard. Ostensibly she was just going fishing but this junk was one of his and she was out to intercept a Thai trawler with a cargo of opium. When she was safely passed, he concentrated on the game once more. It was low tide now, but there was deep water around most of the boat islands. From the shore and flats came the stench of rotting seaweed, shellfish and human waste.
Most of the sampans and junks were dark now, their multitudes sleeping. There were a few oil lamps here and there. Boats of all sizes were moored precariously to each other, seemingly without order, with tiny sea alleys between the floating villages. These were the homes of the Tanka and Haklo people—the boat dwellers—who lived their lives afloat, were born afloat and died afloat. Many of these boats never moved from these moorings but stayed locked together until they sank or fell apart, or went down in a typhoon or were burnt in one of the spectacular conflagrations that frequently swept the clusters when a careless foot or hand knocked over a lamp or dropped something inflammable into the inevitable open fires.
"Grandfather!" the youthful lookout called.
"What is it?" Wu asked.
"On the jetty, look! Seventh Son!" The boy, barely twelve, was pointing to the shore.
Wu and the others got up and peered shorewards. The young Chinese was paying off a taxi. He wore jeans and a neat T-shirt and sneakers. The taxi had stopped near the gangway of one of the huge floating restaurants that were moored to the modern jetties, a hundred yards away. There were four of these gaudy floating palaces —three, four or five stories tall—ablaze with lights, splendiferous in scarlet and green and gold with fluted Chinese roofs and gods, gargoyles and dragons.
"You've good eyes, Number Three Grandson. Good. Go and meet Seventh Son." Instantly the child scurried off, sure-footed across the rickety planks that joined this junk to others. Four Fingers watched his seventh son head for one of the jetties where ferry sampans that serviced the harbor were clustered. When he saw that the boatman he had sent had intercepted him, he turned his back on the shore and sat down again. "Come on, let's finish the game," he said grimly. "This's my last fornicating hand. I've got to go ashore tonight."
They played for a moment, picking up tiles and discarding them.
"Ayeeyah!" Pockmark Tang said with a shout as he saw the face of the tile that he had just picked up. He slammed it onto the table face upwards with a flourish and laid down his other thirteen hidden tiles that made up his winning hand. "Look, by all the gods!"
Wu and the others gawked at the hand. "Piss!" he said and hawked loudly. "Piss on all your generations, Pockmark Tang! What luck!"
"One more game? Twenty thousand, Four Finger Wu?" Tang said gleefully, convinced that tonight old devil, Chi Kung, the god of gamblers, was sitting on his shoulder.
Wu began to shake his head, but at that moment a seabird flew overhead and called plaintively. "Forty," he said immediately, changing his mind, interpreting the call as a sign from heaven that his luck had changed. "Forty thousand or nothing! But it'll have to be dice because I've no time now."
"I haven't got forty cash by all gods, but with the twenty you owe me, I'll borrow against my junk tomorrow when the bank opens and give you all my fornicating profit on our next gold or opium shipment until you're paid, heya?"
Goodweather Poon said sourly, "That's too much on one game. You two fornicators've lost your minds!"
"Highest score, one throw?" Wu asked.
"Ayeeyah, you've gone mad, both of you," Poon said. Nonetheless, he was as excited as the others. "Where are the dice?"
Wu produced them. There were three. "Throw for your fornicating future, Pockmark Tang!"
Pockmark Tang spat on his hands, said a silent prayer, then threw them with a shout.
"Oh oh oh," he cried out in anguish. A four, a three and another four. "Eleven!" The other men were hardly breathing.
Wu spat on the dice, cursed them, blessed them and threw. A six, a two and a three. "Eleven! Oh all gods great and small! Again— throw again!"
Excitement gathered on the deck. Pockmark Tang threw. "Fourteen!"
Wu concentrated, the tension intoxicating, then threw the dice.
"Ayeeyah!" he exploded, and they all exploded. A six, a four and a two.
"Eeeee," was all Pockmark Tang could say, holding his belly, laughing with glee as the others congratulated him and commiserated with the loser.
Wu shrugged, his heart still pounding in his chest. "Curse all seabirds that fly over my head at a time like that!"
"Ah, is that why you changed your mind, Four Finger Wu?"
"Yes—it was like a sign. How many seabirds call as they fly overhead at night?"
"That's right. I would have done the same."
"Joss!" Then Wu beamed. "Eeeee, but the gambling feeling's better than the Clouds and the Rain, heya?"
"Not at my age!"
"How old are you, Pockmark Tang?"
"Sixty—perhaps seventy.-Almost as old as you are." Haklos did not have permanent records of births like all village land dwellers. "I don't feel more than thirty."
"Have you heard the Lucky Medicine Shop at Aberdeen Market's got a new shipment of Korean ginseng, some of it a hundred years old! That'll stick fire in your stalk!"
"His stalk's all right, Goodweather Poon! His third wife's with child again!" Wu grinned toothlessly and pulled out a big roll of 500-dollar notes. He began counting, his fingers nimble even though his left thumb was missing. Years ago it had been hacked off during a fight with river pirates during a smuggling expedition. He stopped momentarily as his number seven son came on deck. The young man was tall for a Chinese, twenty-six. He walked across the deck awkwardly. An incoming jet began to whine past overhead.
"Did they arrive, Seventh Son?"
"Yes, Father, yes they did."
Four Fingers pounded the upturned keg with glee. "Very good. Now we can begin!"
"Hey, Four Fingers," Pockmark Tang said thoughtfully, motioning at the dice. "A six, a four and a two—that's twelve, which's also three, the magic three."
"Yes, yes I saw."
Pockmark Tang beamed and pointed northwards and a little east to where Kai Tak airport would be—behind the Aberdeen mountains, across the harbor in Kowloon, six miles away. "Perhaps your luck has changed, heya?"
5:16 A.M. :
At half-dawn a jeep with two overalled mechanics aboard came around Gate 16 at the eastern end of the terminal and stopped close beside the main landing gear of Yankee 2. The gangway was still in place and the main door slightly ajar. The mechanics, both Chinese, got out and one began to inspect the eight-wheeled main gear while the other, equally carefully, scrutinized the nose gear. Methodically, they checked the tires and wheels and then the hydraulic couplings of the brakes, then peered into the landing bays. Both used flashlights. The mechanic at the main landing gear took out a spanner and stood on one of the wheels for a closer inspection, his head and shoulder now well into the belly of the airplane. After a moment he called out softly in Cantonese, "Ayeeyahl Hey, Lim, take a look at this."
The other man strolled back and peered up, sweat staining his white overalls. "Are they there or not, I can't see from down here."
"Brother, put your male stalk into your mouth and flush yourself down a sewer. Of course they're here. We're rich. We'll eat rice forever! But be quiet or you'll wake the dung-stained foreign devils above! Here …" The man handed down a long, canvas-wrapped package which Lim took and stowed quietly and quickly in the jeep. Then another and another small one, both men sweating and very nervous, working fast but quietly.
Another package. And another . . .
And then Lim saw the police jeep whirl around the corner and simultaneously other uniformed men come pouring out of Gate 16, among them Europeans. "We're betrayed," he gasped as he fled in a hopeless dash for freedom. The jeep intercepted him easily and he stopped, shivering with pent-up terror. Then he spat and cursed the gods and withdrew into himself.
The other man had jumped down at once and leaped into the driving seat. Before he could turn on the ignition he was swamped and handcuffed.
"So, little oily mouth," Sergeant Lee hissed, "where do you think you're going?"
"Nowhere, Officer, it was him, him there, that bastard son of a whore, Officer, he swore he'd cut my throat if I didn't help him. I don't know anything on my mother's grave!"
"You lying bastard, you never had a mother. You're going to go to jail for fifty years if you don't talk!"
"I swear, Officer, by all the gods th—"
"Piss on your lies, dungface. Who's paying you to do this job?"
Armstrong was walking slowly across the tarmac, the sick sweet taste of the kill in his mouth. "So," he said in English, "what have we here, Sergeant?" It had been a long night's vigil and he was tired and unshaven and in no mood for the mechanic's whining protestations of innocence, so he said softly in perfect gutter Cantonese, "One more tiny, insignificant word out of you, purveyor of leper dung, and I'll have my men jump on your Secret Sack."
The man froze.
"Good. What's your name?"
"Tan Shu Ta, lord."
"Liar! What's your friend's name?"
"Lim Ta-cheung, but he's not my friend, lord, I never met him before this morning."
"Liar! Who paid you to do this?"
"I don't know who paid him, lord. You see he swore he'd cut—"
"Liar! Your mouth's so full of dung you must be the god of dung himself. What's in those packages?"
"I don't know. I swear on my ancestor's gr—"
"Liar!" Armstrong said it automatically, knowing that the lies were inevitable.
"John Chinaman's not the same as us," his first police teacher, an old China hand, had told him. "Oh I don't mean cut on the cross or anything like that—he's just different. He lies through his teeth all the time to a copper and when you nab a villain fair and square he'll still lie and be as slippery as a greased pole in a pile of shit. He's different. Take their names. All Chinese have four different names, one when he's born, one at puberty, one when he's an adult and one he chooses for himself, and they forget one or add another at the drop of a titfer. And their names—God stone the crows! Chinese call themselves lao-tsi-sing—the Ancient One Hundred Names. They've only got a basic hundred surnames in all China and of those there're twenty Yus, eight Yens, ten Wus and God knows how many Pings, Lis, Lees, Chens, Chins, Chings, Wongs and Fus and each one of them you pronounce five different ways so God knows who's who!"
"Then it's going to be difficult to identify a suspect, sir?"
"Full marks, young Armstrong! Full marks, lad. You can have fifty Lis, fifty Changs and four hundred Wongs and not one related to the other. God stone the crows! That's the problem here in Hong Kong."
Armstrong sighed. After eighteen years Chinese names were still as confusing as ever. And on top of that everyone seemed to have a nickname by which they were generally known.
"What's your name?" he asked again and didn't bother to listen to the answer. "Liar! Sergeant! Unwrap one of those! Let's see what we've got."
Sergeant Lee eased aside the last covering. Inside was an Ml4, an automatic rifle, U.S. Army. New and well greased.
"For this, you evil son of a whore's left tit," Armstrong grated, "you'll howl for fifty years!"
The man was staring at the gun stupidly, aghast. Then a low moan came from him. "Fornicate all gods I never knew they were guns."
"Ah, but you did know!" Armstrong said. "Sergeant, put this piece of dung in the wagon and book him for smuggling guns."
The man was dragged away roughly. One of the young Chinese policemen was unwrapping another package. It was small and square. "Hold it!" Armstrong ordered in English. The policeman and everyone in hearing distance froze. "One of them may be booby-trapped. Everyone get away from the jeep!" Sweating, the man did as he was ordered. "Sergeant, get our bomb disposal wallahs. There's no hurry now."
"Yes sir." Sergeant Lee hurried to the intercom in the police wagon.
Armstrong went under the airplane and peered into the main gear bay. He could see nothing untoward. Then he stood on one of the wheels. "Christ!" he gasped. Five snug racks were neatly bolted to each side of the inner bulkhead. One was almost empty, the others still full. From the size and shape of the packages he judged them to be more M14's and boxes of ammo—or grenades.
"Anything up there, sir?" Inspector Thomas asked. He was a young Englishman, three years in the force.
"Take a look! But don't touch anything."
"Christ! There's enough for a couple of riot squads!"
"Yes. But who?"
"Or Nationalists—or villains. These'd—'
"What the hell's going on down there?"
Armstrong recognized Line Bartlett's voice. His face closed and he jumped down, Thomas following him. He went to the foot of the gangway. "I'd like to know that too, Mr. Bartlett," he called up curtly.
Bartlett was standing at the main door of the airplane, Svensen beside him. Both men wore pajamas and robes and were sleep tousled.
"I'd like you to take a look at this." Armstrong pointed to the rifle that was now half hidden in the jeep.
At once Bartlett came down the gangway, Svensen following. "What?"
"Perhaps you'd be kind enough to wait in the airplane, Mr. Svensen."
Svensen started to reply, stopped. Then he glanced at Bartlett who nodded. "Fix some coifee, Sven, huh?"
"Sure, Line."
"Now what's this all about, Superintendent?"
"That!" Armstrong pointed.
"That's an M14." Bartlett's eyes narrowed. "So?"
"So it seems your aircraft is bringing in guns."
"That's not possible."
"We've just caught two men unloading. There's one of the buggers"—Armstrong stabbed a finger at the handcuffed mechanic waiting sullenly beside the jeep—"and the other's in the wagon. Perhaps you'd be kind enough to look up in the main gear bay, sir."
"Sure. Where?"
"You'll have to stand on a wheel."
Bartlett did as he was told. Armstrong and Inspector Thomas watched exactly where he put his hands for fingerprint identification. Bartlett stared blankly at the racks. "I'll be goddamned! If these're more of the same, it's a goddamn arsenal!"
"Yes. Please don't touch them."
Bartlett studied the racks, then climbed down, wide awake now. "This isn't a simple smuggling job. Those racks are custom made."
"Yes. You've no objection if the aircraft's searched?"
"No. Of course not."
"Go ahead, Inspector," Armstrong said at once. "And do it very carefully indeed. Now, Mr. Bartlett, perhaps you'd be kind enough to explain."
"I don't run guns, Superintendent. I don't believe my captain would—or Bill O'Rourke. Or Svensen."
"What about Miss Tcholok?"
"Oh for chrissake!"
Armstrong said icily, "This is a very serious matter, Mr. Bartlett. Your aircraft is impounded and without police approval until further notice neither you nor any of your crew may leave the Colony pending our inquiries. Now, what about Miss Tcholok?"
"It's impossible, it's totally impossible that Casey is involved in any way with guns, gun smuggling or any kind of smuggling. Impossible." Bartlett was apologetic but quite unafraid. "Nor would any of the rest of us." His voice sharpened. "You were tipped off, weren't you?"
"How long did you stop at Honolulu?"
"An hour or two, just to refuel, I don't remember exactly." Bartlett thought for a moment. "Jannelli got off but he always does. Those racks couldn't've been loaded in an hour or so."
"Are you sure?"
"No, but I'd still bet it was done before we left the States. Though when and where and why and who I've no idea. Have you?"
"Not yet." Armstrong was watching him keenly. "Perhaps you'd like to go back to your office, Mr. Bartlett. We could take your statement there."
"Sure." Bartlett glanced at his watch. It was 5:43 A.M. "Let's do that now, then I can make a few calls. We're not wired into your system yet. There's a local phone there?" He pointed to the terminal.
"Yes. Of course we'd prefer to question Captain Jannelli and Mr. O'Rourke before you do—if you don't mind. Where are they staying?"
"At the Victoria and Albert."
"Sergeant Lee!"
"Yes sir."
"Get on to HQ."
"Yes sir."
"We'd also like to talk to Miss Tcholok first. Again if you don't mind."
Bartlett walked up the steps, Armstrong beside him. At length he said, "All right. Provided you do that personally, and not before 7:45. She's been working overtime and she's got a heavy day today and I don't want her disturbed unnecessarily."
They went into the airplane. Sven was waiting by the galley, dressed now and very perturbed. Uniformed and plainclothes police were everywhere, searching diligently.
"Sven, how about that coffee?" Bartlett led the way through the anteroom into his office-study. The central door, aft, at the end of the corridor, was open. Armstrong could see part of the master suite with its king-size bed. Inspector Thomas was going through some drawers. '
"Shit!" Bartlett muttered.
"Sorry," Armstrong said, "but this is necessary."
"That doesn't mean I have to like it, Superintendent. Never did like strangers peeking into my private life."
"Yes. I agree." The superintendent beckoned one of the plain-clothes officers. "Sung!"
"Yes sir."
"Take this down will you please."
"Just a minute, let's save some time," Bartlett said. He turned to a bank of electronic gear and pressed two switches. A twin cassette tape deck clicked into operation. He plugged in a microphone and set it on the desk. "There'll be two tapes, one for you, one for me. After your man's typed it up—if you want a signature I'm here."
"Thank you."
"Okay, let's begin."
Armstrong was suddenly uneasy. "Would you please tell me what you know about the illegal cargo found in the main gear bay of your aircraft, Mr. Bartlett."
Bartlett repeated his denial of any knowledge. "I don't believe any of my crew or any of my people are involved in any way. None of them has ever been involved with the law as far as I know. And I would know."
"How long has Captain Jannelli been with you?"
"Four years. O'Rourke two. Svensen since I got the airplane in '58."
"And Miss Tcholok?"
After a pause Bartlett said, "Six—almost seven years."
"She's a senior executive in your company?"
"Yes. Very senior."
"That's unusual, isn't it, Mr. Bartlett?"
"Yes. But that has nothing to do with this problem."
"You're the owner of this aircraft?"
"My company is. Par-Con Industries Incorporated."
"Do you have any enemies—anyone who'd want to embarrass you seriously?"
Bartlett laughed. "Does a dog have fleas? You don't get to head a half-billion-dollar company by making friendships."
"No enemy in particular?"
"You tell me. Running guns is a special operation—this has to have been done by a professional."
"Who knew about your flight plan to Hong Kong?"
"The visit's been scheduled for a couple of months. My board knew. And my planning staff." Bartlett frowned. "It was no real secret. No reason to be." Then he added, "Of course Struan's knew —exactly. For at least two weeks. In fact we confirmed the date on the 12th by telex, exact ETD and ETA. I wanted it sooner but Dunross said Monday the 19th'd suit him better, which is today. Maybe you should ask him."
"I will, Mr. Bartlett. Thank you, sir. That will do for the moment."
"I've got some questions, Superintendent, if you don't mind. What's the penalty for smuggling guns?"
"Ten years without parole."
"What's the value of this cargo?"
"Priceless, to the right buyer, because no guns—absolutely none —are available to anyone."
"Who's the right buyer?"
"Anyone who wants to start a riot, insurrection, or commit mass murder, bank robbery, or some crime of whatever magnitude."
Armstrong smiled and shook his head. "They don't have to shoot at us to take over the Colony, or smuggle M14's—they've got guns a-plenty of their own."
"Nationalists? Chiang Kai-shek's men?"
"They're more than well supplied with all sorts of armaments by the U.S. Government, Mr. Bartlett. Aren't they? So they don't need to smuggle this way either."
"A gang war maybe?"
"Good God, Mr. Bartlett, our gangs don't shoot each other. Our gangs—triads as we call them—our triads settle their differences in sensible, civilized Chinese fashion, with knives and axes and fighting irons and anonymous calls to the police."
"I'll bet it was someone in Struan's. That's where you'll find the answer to the riddle."
"Perhaps." Armstrong laughed strangely, then said again, "Perhaps. Now if you'll excuse me …"
"Of course." Bartlett turned off the recorder, took out the two cassettes and handed one over.
"Thank you, Mr. Bartlett."
"How long will this search go on?"
"That depends. Perhaps an hour. We may wish to bring in some experts. We'll try to make it as easy as possible. You'll be off the plane before lunch?"
"If you want access please check with my office. The number's 88-77-33. There'll be a permanent police guard here for the time being. You'll be staying at the Vic?"
"Yes. Am I free to go into town now, do what I like?"
"Yes sir, provided you don't leave the Colony, pending our inquiries."
Bartlett grinned. "I've got that message already, loud and clear."
Armstrong left Bartlett showered and dressed and waited until all the police went away except the one who was guarding the gangway. Then he went back into his office suite and closed the door. Quite alone now he checked his watch. It was 7:37. He went over to his communications center and clicked on two micro switches and pressed the sending button.
In a moment there was a crackle of static and Casey's sleepy voice. "Yes, Line?"
"Geronimo," he said clearly, into the mike.
There was a long pause. "Got it," she said. The loudspeaker went dead.
9:40 A.M. :
The Rolls came off the car ferry that linked Kowloon to Hong Kong Island and turned east along Connaught Road, joining the heavy traffic. The morning was very warm, humid and cloudless under a nice sun. Casey settled deeper into the back cushions. She glanced at her watch, her excitement growing.
"Plenty time, Missee," the sharp-eyed chauffeur said. "Noble House down street, tall building, ten, fifteen minutes never mind."
This is the life, she told herself. One day I'll have a Rolls of my very own and a neat, polite quiet Chinese chauffeur and I'll not have to worry about the price of gas. Not ever. Maybe—at long last— this is where I'm going to get my drop dead money. She smiled to herself. Line was the first one who had explained about drop dead money. He had called it screw you money. Enough to say screw you to anybody or anything. "Screw you money's the most valuable in the world . . . but the most expensive," he had said. "If you work for me—with me but for me—I'll help you get your screw you money. But Casey, I don't know if you'll want to pay the cost."
"What's the cost?"
"I don't know. I only know it varies, person to person—and always costs you more than you're prepared to pay."
"Has yours?"
"Oh yes."
Well, she thought, the price hasn't been too high yet. I make $52,000 a year, my expense account is good and my job stretches my brain. But the government takes too much and there's not enough left to be drop dead money. "Drop dead money comes from a killing," Line had said. "Not from cash flow."
How much do I need?
She had never asked herself the question before.
$500,000? At 7 percent that'll bring $35,000 a year forever but that's taxable. What about the Mexican Government guarantee of 11 percent, less 1 for them for their trouble? Still taxable. In tax free bonds at 4 percent it's $20,000 but bonds are dangerous and you don't gamble your drop dead money.
"That's the first rule, Casey," Line had said. "You never risk it. Never." Then he had laughed that lovely laugh of his which disarmed her as always. "You never risk your screw you money except the once or twice you decide to."
A million? Two? Three?
Get your mind on the meeting and don't dream, she told herself. I won't but my price is 2 million cash in the bank. Tax free. That's what I want. 2 million at 5i4 percent tax free will bring $105,000 a year. And that will give me and the family everything I want with enough to spare forever. And I could better 5V4 percent on my money.
But how to get 2 million tax free?
I don't know. But somehow I know this's the place.
The Rolls stopped suddenly as a mass of pedestrians dodged through the tightly packed lines of cars and double-decker buses and taxis and trucks and carts and lorries and bicycles and handcarts and some rickshaws. Thousands of people scurried this way and that, pouring out of or into the alleys and side roads, spilling off the pavements onto the roadway in the morning rush hour. Rivers of human ants.
Casey had researched Hong Kong well, but she was still not prepared for the impact that the incredible overcrowding had made upon her.
"I never saw anything like it, Line," she had said this morning when he had arrived at the hotel just before she left for the meeting. "It was after ten when we drove here from the airport, but there were thousands of people out—including kids—and everything— restaurants, markets, shops—were still 'open."
"People mean profit—why else're we here?"
"We're here to usurp the Noble House of Asia with the secret help and collusion of a Judas Iscariot, John Chen."
Line had laughed with her. "Correction. We're here to make a deal with Struan's, and to look around."
"Then the plan's changed?"
"Tactically yes. The strategy's the same."
"Why the change, Line?"
"Charlie called last night. We bought another 200,000 shares of Rothwell-Gornt."
"Then the bid for Struan's is just a blind and our real target's Rothwell-Gornt?"
"We still have three targets: Struan's, Rothwell-Gornt and Asian Properties. We look around and we wait. If things look good we attack. If not, we can make 5, maybe 8 million this year on our straight deal with Struan's. That's cream."
"You're not here for 5 or 8 million. What's the real reason?"
The Rolls gained a few yards then stopped again, the traffic heavier now as they approached Central District. Ah Line, she thought, your pleasure covers a multitude of piracies.
"This first visit to Hong Kong, Missee?" broke into her thoughts.
"Yes, yes it is. I arrived last night," she said.
"Ah very good. Weather very bad never mind. Very smelly, very humid. Always humid in summer. First day very pretty, heya?"
First day had started with the sharp buzz of her citizens band transceiver jerking her out of sleep. And "Geronimo."
It was their code word for danger—beware. She had showered and dressed quickly, not knowing where the danger was coming from. She had just put in her contact lenses when the phone rang. "This is Superintendent Armstrong. Sorry to bother you so early, Miss Tcholok, but could I see you for a moment?"
"Certainly, Superintendent." She had hesitated. "Give me five minutes—I'll meet you in the restaurant?"
They had met and he had questioned her, telling her only that contraband had been found aboard the airplane.
"How long have you worked for Mr. Bartlett?"
"Directly, six years."
"Have there ever been any police problems before? Of any sort?"
"You mean with him—or with me?"
"With him. Or with you."
"None. What's been found aboard, Superintendent?"
"You don't seem unduly worried, Miss Tcholok."
"Why should I be? I've done nothing illegal, neither has Line. As to the crew, they're carefully picked professionals, so I'd doubt they have anything to do with smuggling. It's drugs, isn't it? What sort of drugs?"
"Why should it be drugs?"
"Isn't that what people smuggle in here?"
"It was a very large shipment of guns."
There had been more questions, most of which she had answered, and then Armstrong was gone. She had finished her coffee and refused, for the fourth time, the home-baked, warm hard French rolls offered by a starched and smiling boy-waiter. They reminded her of those she had had in the south of France three years ago.
Ah, Nice and Cap D'Ail and the vin de Provence. And dear Line, she had thought, going back to the suite to wait for him to phone.
"Casey? Listen, th—"
"Ah Line, I'm glad you called," she had said at once, deliberately interrupting him. "Superintendent Armstrong was here a few minutes ago—and I forgot to remind you last night to call Martin about the shares." Martin was also a code word, meaning, "I think this conversation's being overheard."
"I'd thought about him too. That's not important now. Tell me exactly what happened."
So she told him. He related briefly what had occurred. "I'll fill in the rest when I get there. I'm heading for the hotel right now. How's the suite?"
"Fantastic! Yours's called Fragrant Spring, my room's adjoining, guess it's normally part of it. Seems like there are ten houseboys per suite. I called room service for coffee and it arrived on a silver tray before I'd put the phone down. The bathrooms're big enough for a cocktail party for twenty with a three-piece combo."
"Good. Wait for me."
She sat in one of the deep leather sofas in the luxurious sitting room and began to wait, enjoying the quality that surrounded her. Beautiful Chinese lacquered chests, a well-stocked bar in a mirrored alcove, discreet flower arrangements and a bottle of monogrammed Scotch—Lincoln Bartlett—with the compliments of the chief manager. Her bedroom suite through an interlocking door was one side, his, the master suite, the other. Both were the biggest she had ever seen, with king-size beds.
Why were guns put on our airplane and by whom?
Lost in thought she glanced out of the wall-to-wall window and faced Hong Kong Island and the dominating Peak, the tallest mountain on the island. The city, called Victoria after Queen Victoria, began at the shoreline, then rose, tier on tier, on the skirts of the sharply rising mountain, lessening as the slopes soared, but there were apartment buildings near the crest. She could see one just above the terminal of the Peak's funicular. The view from there must be fantastic, she thought absently.
The blue water was sparkling nicely, the harbor as traffic-bound as the streets of Kowloon below. Liners and freighters were anchored or tied up alongside the wharves of Kowloon or steaming out or in, their sirens sounding merrily. Over at the dockyard Hong Kong side was a Royal Navy destroyer and, nearby at anchor, a dark-gray U.S. Navy frigate. There were hundreds of junks of every size and age—fishing vessels mostly—some powered, some ponderously sailing this way and that. Crammed double-decker ferries darted in and out of the traffic like so many dragonflies, and everywhere tiny sampans, oared or powered, scurried unafraid across the ordered sea-lanes.
Where do all these people live? she asked herself, appalled. And how do they support themselves?
A room boy opened the door with his passkey, without knocking, and Line Bartlett strode in. "You look great, Casey," he said, shutting the door behind him.
"So do you. This gun thing's bad, isn't it?"
"Anyone here? Any maids in the rooms?"
"We're alone, but the houseboys seem to come in and out as they please."
"This one had his key out before I reached the door." Line told her what had happened at the airport. Then he dropped his voice. "What about John Chen?"
"Nothing. He just made nervous, light conversation. He didn't want to talk shop. I don't think he'd recovered from the fact that I'd turned out to be a woman. He dropped me at the hotel and said they'd send a car at 9:15."
"So the plan worked fine?"
"Very fine."
"Good. Did you get it?"
"No. I said I was authorized by you to take delivery and offered the initial sight draft. But he pretended to be surprised and said he'd talk to you privately when he drives you back after the lunch. He seemed very nervous."
"Doesn't matter. Your car'll be here in a few minutes. I'll see you at lunch."
"Should I mention the guns to Struan's? To Dunross?"
"No. Let's wait and see who brings it up."
"You think it might be them?"
"Easily. They knew our flight plan, and they've a motive."
"To discredit us."
"But why?"
"Maybe they think they know our battle plan."
"But then wouldn't it have been much wiser for them not to do anything—to sucker us in?"
"Maybe. But this way they've made the opening move. Day One: Knight to King Bishop 3. The attack's launched on us."
"Yes. But by whom—and are we playing White or Black?"
His eyes hardened and lost their friendliness. "I don't care, Casey, as long as we win." He left.
Something's up, she told herself. Something dangerous he's not telling me about.
"Secrecy's vital, Casey," he had said back in the early days. "Napoleon, Caesar, Patton—any of the great generals—often hid their real plan from their staff. Just to keep them—and therefore enemy spies—off balance. If I withhold from you it's not mistrust, Casey. But you must never withhold from me."
"That's not fair."
"Life's not fair. Death's not fair. War's not fair. Big business is war. I'm playing it like it was war and that's why I'm going to win."
"Win what?"
"I want Par-Con Industries bigger than General Motors and Exxon combined."
"For my goddamn pleasure."
"Now tell me the real reason."
"Ah, Casey, that's why I love you. You listen and you know."
"Ah, Raider, I love you too."
Then they had both laughed together for they knew they did not love the other, not in the ordinary sense of that word. They had agreed, way back in the beginning, to put aside the ordinary for the extraordinary. For seven years.
Casey looked out of the window at the harbor and the ships in the harbor.
Crush, destroy and win. Big Business, the most exciting Monopoly game in the world. And my leader's Raider Bartlett, Master-craftsman. But time's running out on us, Line. This year, the seventh year, the last year ends on my birthday, November 25, my twenty-seventh birthday. . . .
Her ears heard the half knock and the passkey in the lock and she turned to say come in but the starched houseboy was already in.
"Morning Missee I'm Number One Houseboy Daytime Chang." Chang was gray haired and solicitous. He beamed. "Tidy room plees?"
"Don't any of you ever wait for someone to say come in?" she asked sharply.
Chang stared at her blankly. "Missee?"
"Oh never mind," she said wearily.
"Pretty day, heya? Which first, Master's room or Missee's?"
"Mine. Mr. Bartlett hasn't used his yet."
Chang grinned toothily. Ayeeyah, did you and Master tumble, together in yours, Missee, before he went out? But there were only fourteen minutes between Master's arrival and leaving and certainly he did not look flushed when he went away.
Ayeeyah, first it's supposed to be two men foreign devils sharing my suite and then one's a she—confirmed by Nighttime Ng, who of course went through her luggage and found serious proof that she was a true she—proof reconfirmed this morning with great gusto by Third Toiletmaid Fung.
Golden pubics! How vile!
And Golden Pubics is not only not the Master's chief wife—she is not even a second wife, and oh ko, worst of all she did not have the good manners to pretend she was so the hotel rules could be honored and everyone save face.
Chang chortled, for this hotel had always had astounding rules about ladies in men's rooms—oh gods what else is a bed for?—and now a female was living openly in barbarian sin! Oh how tempers had soared last night. Barbarians! Dew neh loh moh on all barbarians! But this one is surely a dragon because she stared down the
Eurasian assistant manager, and the Eurasian night manager, and even old mealy-mouth, Chief Manager Big Wind himself.
"No no no," he had wailed, so Chang had been told.
"Yes yes yes," she had replied, insisting that she have the adjoining half of the Fragrant Spring suite.
It was then that Honorable Mong, chief porter and chief triad and therefore leader of the hotel, solved the unsolvable. "The Fragrant Spring suite has three doors, heya?" he had said. "One for each bedroom, one for the main room. Let her be shown into Fragrant Spring B which is the inferior room anyway, through its own door. But the inner door to the main sitting room and thence to the Master's quarters shall be tight locked. But let a key be left nearby. If the mealy-mouthed whore unlocks the door herself. . . what can one do? And then, if there happens to be a mix-up in bookings tomorrow or the next day and our honorable chief manager has to ask the billionaire and his strumpet from the Land of the Golden Mountain to leave, well so sorry never mind, we have bookings enough and to spare and our face to protect."
And so it was done.
The outer door to B was unlocked and Golden Pubics invited in. That she took up the key and at once unlocked the inner door—who is to say? That the door is open now, well, certainly I would never tell any outsider, my lips are sealed. As always.
Ayeeyah, but though outer doors may be locked and be prudish, the inner ones may be flung wide and be luscious. Like her Jade Gate, he thought pensively. Dew neh loh moh I wonder what it would be like to storm a Jade Gate the size of hers? "Make bed, Missee?" he asked sweetly in English.
"Go right ahead."
Oh how truly awful the sound of their barbarian tongue is. Ugh!
Daytime Chang would have hawked and cleared the spit god from his mouth, but that was against hotel rules.
"Heya, Daytime Chang," Third Toiletmaid Fung said brightly as she came into the bedroom after knocking half-heartedly on the suite door long after she had opened it. "Yes, Missee, so sorry, Missee," in English, then again to Chang in Cantonese, "Haven't you finished yet? Is her dung so sweet you want to dawdle in her drawers?"
"Dew neh loh moh in yours, Sister. Watch your tongue or your old father may give you a good drubbing."
"The only drubbing your old mother wants, you can't help me with! Come on, let me help you make her bed quickly. There's a mah-jong game beginning in half an hour. Honorable Mong sent me for you."
"Oh, thank you, Sister. Heya, did you really see her pubics?"
"Haven't I told you already? Am I a liar? They're pure golden, lighter than her head hair. She was in the bath and I was as close as we are now. And, oh yes, her nipples're pinkish, not brown."
"Eeee! Imagine!"
"Just like a sow's."
"How awful!"
"Yes. Did you read today's Commercial Daily?"
"No, Sister, not yet. Why?"
"Well their astrologer says this is a very good week for me and today the financial editor says it looks as though there's a new boom beginning."
"Dew neh loh moh you don't say!"
"So I told my broker this morning to buy a thousand more Noble House, the same Golden Ferry, 40 of Second Great House and 50 Good Luck Properties. My bankers are generous but now I haven't a single brass cash left in Hong Kong I can beg or borrow!"
"Eeeee, you're plunging, Sister. I'm stretched out myself. Last week I borrowed from the bank on my shares and bought another 600 Noble House. That was Tuesday. I bought in at 25.23!"
"Ayeeyah, Honorable Chang, they were 29.14 at close last night." Third Toiletmaid Fung made an automatic calculation. "You're already 2,348 Hong Kong ahead! And they say Noble House's going to bid for Good Luck Properties. If they try, it will send their enemies' rage to boiling point. Ha! The tai-pan of Second Great House will fart dust!"
"Oh oh oh but meanwhile the shares will skyrocket! Of all three companies! Ha! Dew neh loh moh, where can I get more cash?"
"The races, Daytime Chang! Borrow 500 against your present winnings and put it on the daily double on Saturday or the double quinella. 4 and 5 are my lucky numbers. …"
They both looked up as Casey came into the bedroom. Chang switched to English. "Yes Missee?"
"There's some laundry in the bathroom. Can you have it picked up, please?"
"Oh yes I fix. Today six o'clock come by okay never mind." These foreign devils are so stupid, Chang thought contemptuously. What am I, an empty-headed dung heap? Of course I'll take care of the laundry if there's laundry.
"Thank you."
They both watched fascinated as she checked her makeup in the bedroom mirror, preparing to leave.
"Her tits don't droop at all, do they, Sister?" Chang said. "Pink nipples heya? Extraordinary!"
"Just like a sow's, I told you. Are your ears merely pots to piss in?"
"In your ear, Third Toiletmaid Fung."
"Has she tipped you yet?"
"No. The Master gave too much and she nothing. Disgusting heya?"
"Yes. What can you do? People from the Golden Mountain are really very uncivilized, aren't they, Daytime Chang?"
9:50 A.M. :
The tai-pan came over the rise and barreled down the Peak Road in his E-Type Jaguar, going east toward Magazine Gap. On the winding road there was but a single lane each side with few places to pass and precipitous on most corners. Today the surface was dry and, knowing the way so well, Ian Dunross rode the bends fast and sweetly, hugging the mountainside, his scarlet convertible tight to the inside curve. He did a racing shift down and braked hard as he swooped a bend and came up to an ancient, slow-moving truck. He waited patiently, then, at the perfect moment, swung out onto the wrong side and was past safely before the oncoming car had rounded the blind corner ahead.
Now Dunross was clear for a short stretch and could see that the snaking road ahead was empty. He jammed his foot down and slid some corners, usurping the whole of the road, taking the straightest line, using hand and eye and foot and brake and gearshift in unison, feeling the vast power of the engine and the wheels in all of him. Ahead, suddenly, was an oncoming truck from the far corner and his freedom vanished. He geared down and braked in split-second time, hugging his side, regretting the loss of freedom, then accelerated and was away again into more treacherous bends. Now another truck, this time ladened with passengers, and he waited a few yards behind, knowing there was no place to pass for a while. Then one of the passengers noticed his number plate, 1-1010, and she pointed and they all looked, chattering excitedly one to another, and one of them banged on the cabin of the truck. The driver obligingly squeezed off the road onto the tiny shoulder and flagged him on. Dunross made sure he was safe then passed, waving to them with a grin.
More corners, the speed and the waiting-to-pass and the passing and the danger pleasing him. Then he cut left into Magazine Gap Road, down the hill, the bends trickier, the traffic building up now and slower. He overtook a taxi and jumped three cars very fast and was back in line though still over the speed limit when he saw the traffic motorcycle policemen waiting ahead. He changed down and passed them going the regulation 30 mph. He waved good-naturedly. They waved back.
"You really must slow down, Ian," his friend, Henry Foxwell, Senior Superintendent of Traffic, had said recently. "You really should."
"I've never had an accident—yet. Or a ticket."
"Good God, Ian, there's not a traffic copper on the island who'd dare give you one! You, the tai-pan? Perish the thought. I meant for your own good. Keep that sp"eed devil of yours bottled for Monaco, or your Macao Road Race."
"Monaco's professional. I don't take chances, and I don't drive that fast anyway."
"67 mph over Wongniechong isn't exactly slow, old chap. Admittedly it was 4:23 A.M. on an almost empty road. But it is a 30 mph zone."
"There're lots of E-Types in Hong Kong."
"Yes, I agree. Seven. Scarlet convertibles with a special number plate? With a black canvas roof, racing wheels and tires, that goes like the clappers of hell? It was last Thursday, old chap. Radar and all that. You'd been to … to visit friends. In Sinclair Road I believe."
Dunross had contained his sudden rage. "Oh?" he said, the surface of his face smiling. "Thursday? I seem to remember I had dinner with John Chen then. At his apartment in Sinclair Towers. But I thought I was home long before 4:23."
"Oh I'm sure you were. I'm sure the constable got the number plate and color and everything all wrong." Foxwell clapped him on the back in friendly style. "Even so, slow down a little will you? It'd be so boring if you killed yourself during my term. Wait till I'm transferred back to Special Branch—or the police college, eh? Yes, I'm sure he made a mistake."
But there was no mistake, Dunross had said to himself. You know it, I know it, and John Chen would know it and so would Wei-wei.
So you fellows know about Wei-wei! That's interesting.
"Are you fellows watching me?" he had asked bluntly.
"Good God no!" Foxwell had been shocked. "Special Intelligence was watching a villain who's got a flat at Sinclair Towers. You happened to be seen. You're very important here, you know that. I happened to pick it up through channels. You know how it is."
"No, I don't."
"They say one word to the wise is sufficient, old chap."
"Yes they do. So perhaps you'd better tell your Intelligence fellows to be more intelligent in future."
"Fortunately they're very discreet."
"Even so I wouldn't like my movements a matter of record."
"I'm sure they're not. Not a matter of record."
"Good. What villain in Sinclair Towers?"
"One of our important capitalist dogs but suspected secret Commie fellows. Very boring but SI have to earn their daily bread, don't they?" . "Do I know him?"
"I imagine you know everyone."
"Shanghainese or Cantonese?"
"What makes you think he's either?"
"Ah, then he's European?"
"He's just a villain, Ian. Sorry, it's all very hush-hush at the moment."
"Come on, we own that block. Who? I won't tell anyone."
"I know. Sorry old boy, but I can't. However, I've another hypothetical idea for you. Say a hypothetical married VIP had a lady friend whose uncle happened to be the undercover deputy chief of the illegal Kuomintang Secret Police for Hong Kong. Say, hypo-thetically, the Kuomintang wanted this VIP on their side. Certainly he could be pressured by such a lady. Couldn't he?"
"Yes," Dunross had said easily. "If he was stupid." He already knew about Wei-wei Jen's uncle and had met him at a number of private parties several times in Taipei. And liked him. No problem there, he had thought, because she's not my mistress or even a lady friend, however beautiful and desirable. And tempting.
He smiled to himself as he drove in the stream of traffic down Magazine Gap Road then waited in line to circle the roundabout and head down Garden Road toward Central, half a mile below, and to the sea.
Now he could see the soaring modern office block that was Struan's. It was twenty-two stories high and fronted Connaught Road and the sea, almost opposite the Terminal of the Golden Ferries that plied between Hong Kong and Kowloon. As always, the sight pleased him.
He weaved in and out of heavy traffic where he could, crawled past the Hilton Hotel and the Cricket Ground on his left, then turned into Connaught Road, the sidewalks jammed with pedestrians. He stopped outside his front entrance.
This's the big day, he thought. The Americans have arrived.
And, with joss, Bartlett's the noose that'll strangle Quillan Gornt once and for all time. Christ, if we can pull this off!
"Morning, sir." The uniformed doorman saluted crisply.
"Morning, Tom." Dunross eased himself out of the low-slung car and ran up the marble steps, two at a time, toward the huge glass entrance. Another doorman drove the car off to its underground parking and still another opened the glass door for him. He caught the reflection of the Rolls drawing up. Recognizing it, he glanced back. Casey got out and he whistled involuntarily. She carried a briefcase. Her sea-green silk suit was tailored and very conservative, but even so, it hid none of the trim of her figure or the dance to her stride and the sea green enhanced the tawny gold of her hair.
She looked around, feeling his eyes. Her recognition was immediate and she measured him as he measured her and though the instant was short it seemed long to both of them. Long and leisurely.
She moved first and walked toward him. He met her halfway.
"Hello, Mr. Dunross."
"Hello. We've never met, have we?"
"No. But you're easy to recognize from your photos. I didn't expect to have the pleasure of meeting you till later. I'm Cas—
"Yes," he said and grinned. "I had a deranged call from John Chen last night. Welcome to Hong Kong, Miss Tcholok. It is Miss, isn't it?"
"Yes. I hope my being a woman won't upset things too much."
"Oh yes it will, very much. But we'll try to accommodate the problem. Would you and Mr. Bartlett care to be my guests at the races on Saturday? Lunch and all that?"
"I think that would be lovely. But I have to check with Line— may I confirm this afternoon?"
"Of course." He looked down at her. She looked back. The doorman still held the door open.
"Well, come along, Miss Tcholok, and let battle commence."
She glanced at him quickly. "Why should we battle? We're here to do business."
"Oh yes, of course. Sorry, it's just a Sam Ackroyd saying. I'll explain another time." He ushered her in and headed for the bank of elevators. The many people already lined up and waiting immediately moved aside for them to get into the first elevator, to Casey's embarrassment.
"Thanks," Dunross said, not noticing anything out of the ordinary. He guided her in, pressed 20, the top button, noticing absently that she wore no perfume or jewelry, just a thin gold chain around her neck.
"Why's the front door at an angle?" she asked.
"The front entrance seems to be on a slight tilt—it's not quite straight—I was wondering why."
"You're very observant. The answer is fungsui. When the building was put up four years ago, somehow or other we forgot to consult our house fungsui man. He's like an astrologer, a man who specializes in heaven, earth, water currents and devils, that sort of thing, and makes sure you're building on the Earth Dragon's back and not on his head."
"Oh yes. You see every building in the whole of China's on some part of the Earth Dragon. To be on his back's perfect, but if you're on his head it's very bad, and terrible if you're on his eyeball. Anyway, when we did get around to asking, our fung sui man said we were on the Dragon's back—thank God, otherwise we'd've had to move—but that devils were getting in the door and this was what was causing all the trouble. He advised me to reposition the door, and so, under his direction we changed the angle and now the devils are all deflected."
She laughed. "Now tell me the real reason."
"Fung sui. We had very bad joss here—bad luck—rotten in fact until the door was changed." His face hardened momentarily then the shadow passed. "The moment we changed the angle, everything became good again."
"You're telling me you really believe that? Devils and dragons?"
"I believe none of it. But you learn the hard way when you're in China that it's best to act a little Chinese. Never forget that though Hong Kong's British it's still China."
"Did you learn th—"
The elevator stopped and opened on a paneled hallway and a desk and a neat, efficient Chinese receptionist. Her eyes priced Casey's clothes and jewelry instantly.
Cow, Casey thought, reading her loud and clear, and smiled back as sweetly.
"Morning, tai-pan," the receptionist said smoothly.
"Mary, this is Miss K. C. Tcholok. Please show her into Mr. Struan's office."
"Oh but—" Mary Li tried to cover her shock. "They're, they're waiting for a…" She picked up the phone but he stopped her. "Just show her in. Now. No need to announce her." He turned back to Casey and smiled. "You're launched. I'll see you shortly."
"Yes, thanks. See you."
"Please follow me, Miss Tchuluck," Mary Li said and started down the hall, her chong-sam tight and slit high on her thighs, long silk-stockinged legs and saucy walk. Casey watched her for a moment. It must be the cut that makes their walk so blatantly sexual, she thought, amused by such obviousness. She glanced at Dunross and raised an eyebrow.
He grinned. "See you later, Miss Tcholok."
"Please call me Casey."
"Perhaps I'd prefer Kamalian Ciranoush."
She gaped at him. "How do you know my names? I doubt if even Line remembers."
"Ah, it pays to have friends in high places, doesn't it?" he said with a smile. "A bientot. "
"Out, merci," she replied automatically.
He strode for the elevator opposite and pressed the button. The doors opened instantly and closed after him.
Thoughtfully Casey walked after Mary Li who was waiting, ears still tuned for every nuance.
Inside the elevator Dunross took out a key and inserted it into the lock and twisted it. Now the elevator was activated. It serviced the top two floors only. He pressed the lower button. Only three other persons had similar keys: Claudia Chen, his executive-secre-tary; his personal secretary, Sandra Yi; and his Number One Houseboy, Lim Chu.
The twenty-first floor contained his private offices, and the Inner Court boardroom. The twenty-second, the penthouse, was the tai-pan's personal suite. And he alone had the key to the last private elevator that connected the basement garage directly with the penthouse.
"Ian," his predecessor tai-pan, Alastair Struan, had said when he handed over the keys after Phillip Chen had left them, "your privacy's the most valuable thing you have. That too Dirk Struan laid down in his legacy and how wise he was! Never forget, the private lifts aren't for luxury or ostentation, any more than the tai-pan's suite is. They're there just to give you the measure of secrecy you'll need, perhaps even a place to hide yourself. You'll understand better after you've read the legacy and been through the tai-pan's safe. Guard that safe with all you've got. You can't be too careful, there's lots of secrets there—too many I think sometimes—and some are not so pretty."
"I hope I won't fail," he had said politely, detesting his cousin, his excitement huge that at long last he had the prize he had worked so hard to achieve and gambled so much for.
"You won't. Not you," the old man had said tautly. "You've been tested, and you've wanted the job ever since you could think. Eh?"
"Yes," Dunross had said. "I've tried to train for it. Yes. I'm only surprised you've given it to me."
"You're being given the ultimate in Struan's not because of your birthright—that only made you eligible for the Inner Court—but because I think you're the best we've got to follow me, and you've been conniving and pushing and shoving for years. That's the truth, isn't it?"
"Struan's needs changing. Let's have more truth: The Noble House is in a mess. It's not all your fault, there was the war, then Korea, then Suez—you've had bad joss for several years. It'll take years to make us safe. If Quillan Gornt—or any one of twenty enemies—knew half the truth, knew how far we're overextended, we'd be drowned in our own useless paper within the week."
"Our paper's good—it's not useless! You're exaggerating—as usual!"
"It's worth twenty cents on the dollar because we've insufficient capital, not enough cash flow and we're absolutely in mortal danger."
"Is it?" Dunross's voice had sharpened for the first time. "Roth-well-Gornt could swallow us in a month if they knew the value of our present accounts receivable, against our pressing liabilities."
The old man had just stared at him without answering. Then he said, "It's a temporary condition. Seasonable and temporary."
"Rubbish! You know very well you're giving me the job because I'm the only man who can clean up the mess you leave, you, my father, and your brother."
"Aye, I'm gambling you can. That's true enough," Alastair had flared at him. "Aye. You've surely got the right amount of Devil Struan in your blood to serve that master if you've a mind."
"Thank you. I admit I'll let nothing stand in my way. And since this is a night for truth, I can tell you why you've always hated me, why my own father has also hated me."
"Can you now?"
"Yes. It's because I survived the war and your son didn't and your nephew, Linbar, the last of your branch of the Struan's, is a nice lad but useless. Yes, I survived but my poor brothers didn't, and that's still sending my father around the bend. It's the truth, isn't it?"
"Yes," Alastair Struan had said. "Aye, I'm afraid it is."
"I'm not afraid it is. I'm not afraid of anything. Granny Dunross saw to that."
"Heya, tai-pan," Claudia Chen said brightly as the elevator door opened. She was a jolly, gray-haired Eurasian woman in her mid-sixties, and she sat behind a huge desk that dominated the twenty-first-floor foyer. She had served the Noble House for forty-two years and succeeding tai-pans, exclusively, for twenty-five of them. "Neh hoh mah?" How're you?
"Ho ho," he replied absently. Good. Then in English, "Did Bart-lett call?"
"No." She frowned. "He's not expected until lunch. Do you want me to try to reach him?"
"No, never mind. What about my call to Foster in Sydney?"
"That's not through either. Or your call to Mr. MacStruan in Edinburgh. Something's troubling you?" she asked, having instantly sensed his mood.
"What? Oh, no, nothing." He threw off his tension and walked past her desk into his office that overlooked the harbor and sat in an easy chair beside the phone. She closed the door and sat down nearby, her notepad ready.
"I was just remembering my D Day," he said. "The day I took over."
"Oh. Joss, tai-pan."
"Joss," she repeated, "and a long time ago."
He laughed. "Long time? It's forty lifetimes. It's barely three years but the whole world's changed and it's going so fast. What's the next couple of years going to be like?"
"More of the same, tai-pan. I hear you met Miss Casey Tcholok at our front door."
"Eh, who told you that?" he asked sharply.
"Great good God, tai-pan, I can't reveal my sources. But I heard you stared at her and she stared at you. Heya?"
"Nonsense! Who told you about her?"
"Last night I called the hotel to see that everything was all right. The manager told me. Do you know that silly man was going to be 'overbooked'? Huh, if they share a suite or a bed or don't, never mind I told him. This is 1963 and the modern age with lots of liberations, and anyway it's a fine suite with two entrances and separate rooms and most important they're our guests." She chortled. "I pulled a little rank. . . . Ayeeyah, power is a pretty toy."
"Did you tell young Linbar or the others, about K. C. being female?"
"No. No one. I knew you knew. Barbara Chen told me Master John had already phoned you about Casey Tcholok. What's she like?"
"Beddable would be one word," he said and grinned.
"Yes—but what else?"
Dunross thought a moment. "She's very attractive, very well dressed—though subdued today, for our benefit I imagine. Very confident and very observant—she noticed the front door was out of whack and asked about it." He picked up an ivory paper knife and toyed with it. "John didn't like her at all. He said he'd bet she was one of those pathetic American women who're like California fruit: great to look at, with plenty of body, but no taste whatsoever!"
"Poor Master John, much as he likes America, he does prefer certain, er, aspects of Asia!"
Dunross laughed. "How clever a negotiator she is we'll soon find out." He smiled. "I sent her in unannounced."
"I'll wager 50 HK at least one of them knew in advance she was a she."
"Phillip Chen of course—but that old fox wouldn't tell the others. A hundred says neither Linbar, Jacques or Andrew Gavallan knew."
"Done," Claudia said happily. "You can pay me now, tai-pan. I checked very discreetly, this morning."
"Take it out of petty cash," he told her sourly.
"So sorry." She held out her hand. "A bet is a bet, tai-pan."
Reluctantly he gave her the red one-hundred-dollar note.
"Thank you. Now, a hundred says Casey Tcholok will walk all over Master Linbar, Master Jacques and Andrew Gavallan."
"What do you know?" he asked her suspiciously. "Eh?"
"A hundred?"
"All right."
"Excellent!" she said briskly, changing the subject. "What about the dinners for Mr. Bartlett? The golf match and the trip to Taipei? Of course, you can't take a woman along on those. Shall I cancel them?"
"No. I'll talk to Bartlett—he'll understand. I did invite her to Saturday's races though, with him."
"Oh, that's two too many. I'll cancel the Pangs, they won't mind. Do you want to sit them together at your table?"
Dunross frowned. "She should be at my table, guest of honor, and sit him next to Penelope, guest of honor."
"Very well. I'll call Mrs. Dunross and tell her. Oh and Barbara —Master John's wife—wants to talk with you." Claudia sighed and smoothed a crease in her neat dark blue chong-sam. "Master John didn't come back last night—not that that's anything out of the ordinary. But it's 10:10 now and I can't find him either. It seems he wasn't at Morning Prayers."
"Yes, I know. Since he dealt with Bartlett last night I told him to skip them." Morning Prayers was the jocular way that insiders in Struan's referred to the daily obligatory 8:00 A.M. meeting with the tai-pan of all managing directors of all Struan's subsidiaries. "No need for him to come today, there's nothing for him to do until lunch." Dunross pointed out of the window at the harbor. "He's probably on his boat. It's a great day for a sail."
"Her temperature's very high, tai-pan, even for her."
"Her temperature's always high, poor bugger! John's on his boat —or at Ming-li's flat. Did you try her flat?"
She sniffed. "Your father used to say a closed mouth catches no wee beasties. Even so, I suppose I can tell you now, Ming-li's been Number Two Girl Friend for almost two months. The new favorite calls herself Fragrant Flower, and she occupies one of his 'private flats' off Aberdeen Main Road."
"Ah, conveniently near his mooring!"
"Oh very yes. She's a flower all right, a Fallen Flower from the Good Luck Dragon Dance Hall in Wanchai. But she doesn't know where Master John is either. He didn't visit either of them though he had a date with Miss Fallen Flower, so she says, at midnight."
"How did you find out all this?" he asked, filled with admiration.
"Power, tai-pan—and a network of relations built up over five generations. How else do we survive, heya?" She chuckled. "Of course if you want a little real scandal, John Chen doesn't know she wasn't the virgin she and the broker claimed she was when he first pillowed her."
"No. He paid the broker . . ." One of the phones rang and she picked it up and said "Please hold one moment," clicked on the hold button and continued happily in the same breath, ". . . 500 cash, U.S. dollars, but all her tears and all the, er, evidence, was a pretend. Poor fellow, but it serves him right, eh, tai-pan? What should a man like him at his age want virginity to nourish the yang for—he's only forty-two, heya?" She pressed the on connection. "Tai-pan's office, good morning," she said attentively.
He watched her. He was amused and bemused, astounded as always at her sources of information, pithy and otherwise, and her delight in knowing secrets. And passing them on. But only to clan members and special insiders.
"Just one moment please." She clicked the hold button. "Superintendent Armstrong would like to see you. He's downstairs with Superintendent Kwok. He's sorry to come without an appointment but could you spare them a moment?"
"Ah, the guns. Our police're getting more efficient every day," he said with a grim smile. "I didn't expect them till after lunch."
At seven this morning he had had a detailed report from Phillip Chen who had been called by one of the police sergeants who made the raid and was a relation of the Chens.
"You'd better put all our private sources on finding out the who and the why, Phillip," he had said, very concerned.
"I already have. It's too much of a coincidence that guns should be on Bartlett's plane."
"It could be highly embarrassing if we're found to be connected with it in any way."
He saw Claudia waiting patiently. "Ask Armstrong to give me ten minutes. Bring them up then."
She dealt with that, then said, "If Superintendent Kwok's been brought in so soon, it must be more serious than we thought, heya, tai-pan?"
"Special Branch or Special Intelligence has to be involved at once. I'll bet the FBI and CIA have already been contacted. Brian Kwok's logical because he's an old mate of Armstrong's—and one of the best they've got."
"Yes," Claudia agreed proudly. "Eeeee what a lovely husband he'd make for someone."
"Provided she's a Chen—all that extra power, heya?" It was common knowledge that Brian Kwok was being groomed to be the first Chinese assistant commissioner.
"Of course such power has to be kept in the family." The phone rang. She answered it. "Yes, I'll tell him, thank you." She replaced the phone huffily. "The governor's equerry—he called to remind you about cocktails at 6:00 P.M.—huh, as if I'd forget!"
Dunross picked up one of the phones and dialed.
'Weyyyy?" came the coarse voice of the amah, the Chinese servant. Hello?
"Chen tai-tai," he said into the phone, his Cantonese perfect. "Mrs. Chen please, this is Mr. Dunross."
He waited. "Ah, Barbara, good morning."
"Oh hello, Ian. Have you heard from John yet? Sorry to bother you," she said.
"No bother. No, not yet. But the moment I do I'll get him to call you. He might have gone down to the track early to watch Golden Lady work out. Have you tried the Turf Club?"
"Yes, but they don't remember him breakfasting there, and the workout's between 5:00 and 6:00. Damn him! He's so inconsiderate. Ayeeyah, men!"
"He's probably out on his boat. He's got nothing here until lunch and it's a great day for a sail. You know how he is—have you checked the mooring?"
"I can't, Ian, not without going there, there's no phone. I have a hairdressing appointment which I simply can't break—all Hong Kong will be at your party tonight—I simply can't go rushing off to Aberdeen."
"Send one of your chauffeurs," Dunross said dryly.
"Tang's off today and I need Wu-chat to drive me around, Ian. I simply can't send him over to Aberdeen—that could take an hour and I've a mah-jong game from two till four."
"I'll get John to call you. It'll be around lunch."
"I won't be back till five at the earliest. When I catch up with him he's going to get what for never mind. Oh well, thanks, sorry to bother you. 'Bye."
'"Bye." Dunross put the phone down and sighed. "I feel like a bloody nursemaid."
"Talk to John's father, tai-pan," Claudia Chen said.
"I have. Once. And that's enough. It's not all John's fault. That lady's enough to drive anyone bonkers." He grinned. "But I agree her temperature's gone to the moon—this time it's going to cost John an emerald ring or at least a mink coat."
The phone rang again. Claudia picked it up. "Hello, the tai-pan's office! Yes? Oh!" Her happiness vanished and she hardened. "Just a moment, please." She punched the hold button. "It's a person to person from Hiro Toda in Yokohama."
Dunross knew how she felt about him, knew she hated the Japanese and loathed the Noble House's connection with them. He could never forgive the Japanese either for what they had done to Asia during the war. To those they had conquered. To the defenseless. Men, women and children. The prison camps and unnecessary deaths. Soldier to soldier he had no quarrel with them. None. War was war.
His own war had been against the Germans. But Claudia's war had been here in Hong Kong. During the Japanese Occupation, because she was Eurasian, she had not been put into Stanley Prison with all European civilians. She and her sister and brother had tried to help the POWs with food and drugs and money, smuggling it into the camp. The Kampeitai, the Japanese military police, had caught her. Now she could have no children.
"Shall I say you're out?" she asked.
"No." Two years before Dunross had committed an enormous amount of capital to Toda Shipping Industries of Yokohama for two giant bulk ships to build up the Struan fleet that had been decimated in the war. He had chosen this Japanese shipyard because their product was the finest, their terms the best, they guaranteed delivery and all the things the British shipyards would not, and because he knew it was time to forget. "Hello, Hiro," he said, liking the man personally. "Nice to hear from you. How's Japan?"
"Please excuse me for interrupting you, tai-pan. Japan's fine though hot and humid. No change."
"How're my ships coming along?"
"Perfectly, tai-pan. Everything is as we arranged. I just wanted to advise you that I will be coming to Hong Kong on Saturday morning for a business trip. I will be staying for the weekend, then on to Singapore and Sydney, back in time for our closing in Hong Kong. You'll still be coming to Yokohama for both launchings?"
"Oh yes. Yes, absolutely. What time do you arrive Saturday?"
"At 11:10, Japan Air Lines."
"I'll send a car to meet you. What about coming directly to Happy Valley to the races? You could join us for lunch, then my car will take you to the hotel. You're staying at the Victoria and Albert?"
"This time at the Hilton, Hong Kong side. Tai-pan, please excuse me, I do not wish to put you to any trouble, so sorry."
"It's nothing. I'll have one of my people meet you. Probably Andrew Gavallan."
"Ah, very good. Then thank you, tai-pan. I look forward to seeing you, so sorry to inconvenience you."
Dunross put the phone down. I wonder why he called, the real reason? he asked himself. Hiro Toda, managing director of the most go-ahead shipbuilding complex in Japan, never does anything suddenly or unpremeditated.
Dunross thought about the closing of their ship deal and the three payments of 2 million each that were due imminently on September 1, 11 and 15, the balance in ninety days. $12 million U.S. in all that he didn't have at the moment. Or the charterer's signed contract that was necessary to support the bank loan that he did not have, yet. "Never mind," he said easily, "everything's going to be fine."
"For them, yes," Claudia said. "You know I don't trust them, tai-pan. Any of them."
"You can't fault them, Claudia. They're only trying to do economically what they failed to do militarily."
"By pricing everyone out of the world markets."
"They're working hard, they're making profits and they'll bury us, if we let them." His eyes hardened too. "But after all, Claudia, scratch an Englishman—or a Scot—and find a pirate. If we're such bloody fools to allow it we deserve to go under—isn't that what Hong Kong's all about?"
"Why help the enemy?"
"They were the enemy," he said kindly. "But that was only for twenty-odd years and our connections there go back a hundred. Weren't we the first traders into Japan? Didn't Hag Struan buy us the first plot offered for sale in Yokohama in 1860? Didn't she order that it be a cornerstone of Struan's policy to have the China-Japan-Hong Kong triangle?"
"Yes, tai-pan, but don't you thi—"
"No, Claudia, we've dealt with the Todas, the Kasigis, the Toranagas for a hundred years, and right now Toda Shipping's very important to us."
The phone rang again. She answered it. "Yes, I'll phone him back." Then to Dunross. "It's the caterers—about your party tonight."
"What's the problem?"
"None, tai-pan—they're moaning. After all, it's the tai-pan's twentieth wedding anniversary. All Hong Kong will be there and all Hong Kong better be impressed." Again the phone rang. She picked it up. "Ahh good! Put him through…. It's Bill Foster from Sydney."
Dunross took the phone. "Bill… no, you were top of the list. Have you closed on the Woolara Properties deal yet? . . . What's the holdup? … I don't care about that." He glanced at his watch. "It's just past noon your time. Call them right now and offer them fifty cents Australian more a share, the offer good till the close of business today. Get on to the bank in Sydney at once and tell them to demand full repayment of all their loans at the close of business today…. I couldn't care less; they're thirty days overdue already. I want control of that company now. Without it our new bulk-carrier charter deal will fall apart and we'll have to begin all over again. And catch the Qantas Flight 543 on Thursday. I'd like you here for a conference." He put the phone down. "Get Linbar up here as soon as the Tcholok meeting's over. Book him on Qantas 716 for Sydney on Friday morning."
"Yes, tai-pan." She made a note and handed him a list. "Here're your appointments for today."
He glanced at it. Four board meetings of some subsidiary companies this morning: Golden Ferry at 10:30, Struan's Motor Imports of Hong Kong at 11:00, Chong-Li Foods at 11:15 and Kowloon Investments at 11:30. Lunch with Lincoln Bartlett and Miss Casey Tcholok 12:40 to 2:00 P.M. More board meetings this afternoon, Peter Marlowe at 4:00 P.M., Phillip Chen at 4:20, cocktails at 6:00 with the governor, his anniversary party beginning at 8:00, a reminder to call Alastair Struan in Scotland at 11:00, and at least fifteen other people to phone throughout Asia during the day.
"Marlowe?" he asked.
"He's a writer, staying at the Vic—remember, he wrote for an appointment a week ago. He's researching a book on Hong Kong."
"Oh yes—the ex-RAF type."
"Yes. Would you like him put off?"
"No. Keep everything as arranged, Claudia." He took out a thin black leather memo-card case from his back pocket and gave her a dozen cards covered with his shorthand. "Here're some cables and telexes to send off at once and notes for the various board meetings. Get me Jen in Taipei, then Havergill at the bank, then run down the list."
"Yes, tai-pan. I hear HavergilFs going to retire."
"Marvelous. Who's taking over?"
"No one knows yet."
"Let's hope it's Johnjohn. Put your spies to work. A hundred says I find out before you do!"
"Good." Dunross held out his hand and said sweetly, "You can pay me now. It's Johnjohn."
"Eh?" She stared at him.
"We decided it last night—all the directors. I asked them to tell no one until eleven today."
Reluctantly she took out the hundred-dollar note and offered it. "Ayeeyah, I was particularly attached to this note."
"Thank you," Dunross said and pocketed it. "I'm particularly attached to that one myself."
There was a knock on the door. "Yes?" he said.
The door was opened by Sandra Yi, his private secretary. "Excuse me, tai-pan, but the market's up two points and Holdbrook's on line two." Alan Holdbrook was head of their in-house stockbroking company.
Dunross punched the line two button. "Claudia, soon as I'm through bring in Armstrong." She left with Sandra Yi.
"Yes, Alan?"
"Morning, tai-pan. First: There's a heavy rumor that we're going to make a bid for control of Asian Properties."
"That's probably put out by Jason Plumm to boost his shares before their annual meeting. You know what a canny bastard he is."
"Our stock's gone up ten cents, perhaps on the strength of it."
"Good. Buy me 20,000 at once."
"On margin?"
"Of course on margin."
"All right. Second rumor: We've closed a multimillion-dollar deal with Par-Con Industries—huge expansion."
"Pipe dreams," Dunross said easily, wondering furiously where the leaks were. Only Phillip Chen—and in Edinburgh, Alastair Struan and old Sean MacStruan—was supposed to know about the ploy to smash Asian Properties. And the Par-Con deal was top secret to the Inner Court only.
"Third: someone's buying large parcels of our stock."
"I don't know. But there's something smelly going on, tai-pan. The way our stock's been creeping up the last month . . . There's no reason that I know of, except a buyer, or buyers. Same with Rothwell-Gornt. I heard a block of 200,000 was bought offshore."
"Find out who."
"Christ, I wish I knew how. The market's jittery, and very nervous. A lot of Chinese money's floating around. Lots of little deals going on … a few shares here, a few there, but multiplied by a hundred thousand or so … the market might start to fall apart … or to soar."
"Good. Then we'll all make a killing. Give me a call before the market closes. Thanks, Alan." He put the phone down, feeling the sweat on his back. "Shit," he said aloud. "What the hell's going on?"
In the outer office Claudia Chen was going over some papers with Sandra Yi who was her niece on her mother's side—and smart, very good to look at, twenty-seven with a mind like an abacus. Then she glanced at her watch and said in Cantonese, "Superintendent Brian Kwok's downstairs, Little Sister, why don't you fetch him up—in six minutes."
"Ayeeyah, yes, Elder Sister!" Sandra Yi hastily checked her makeup and swished away. Claudia smiled after her and thought Sandra Yi would be perfect—a perfect choice for Brian Kwok. Happily she sat behind her desk and began to type the telexes. Everything's done that should be done, she told herself. No, something the tai-pan said … what was it? Ah yes! She dialed her home number.
"Weyyyyy?" said her amah, Ah Sam.
"Listen, Ah Sam," she said in Cantonese, "isn't Third Toiletmaid Fung at the Vic your cousin three times removed?"
"Oh yes, Mother," Ah Sam replied, using the Chinese politeness of servant to mistress. "But she's four times removed, and from the Fung-tats, not the Fung-sams which is my branch."
"Never mind that, Ah Sam. You call her and find out all you can about two foreign devils from the Golden Mountain. They're in Fragrant Spring suite." Patiently she spelled their names, then added delicately, "I hear they have peculiar pillow habits."
"Ayeeyah, if anyone can find out, Third Toiletmaid Fung can. Ha! What peculiars?"
"Strange peculiars, Ah Sam. You get on with it, little oily mouth." She beamed and hung up.
The elevator doors opened and Sandra Yi ushered the two police officers in, then left reluctantly. Brian Kwok watched her go. He was thirty-nine, tall for a Chinese, just over six feet, very handsome, with blue-black hair. Both men wore civilian clothes. Claudia chatted with them politely, but the moment she saw the light on line two go out she ushered them in and closed the door.
"Sorry to come without an appointment," Armstrong said.
"No sweat, Robert. You look tired."
"A heavy night. It's all the villainy that goes on in Hong Kong," Armstrong said easily. "Nasties abound and saints get crucified."
Dunross smiled, then glanced across at Kwok. "How's life treating you, Brian?"
Brian Kwok smiled back. "Very good, thanks, Ian. Stock market's up—I've a few dollars in the bank, my Porsche hasn't fallen apart yet, and ladies will be ladies."
"Thank God for that! Are you doing the hill climb on Sunday?"
"If I can get Lulu in shape. She's missing an offside hydraulic coupling."
"Have you tried our shop?"
"Yes. No joy, tai-pan. Are you going?"
"Depends. I've got to go to Taipei Sunday afternoon—I will if I've got time. I entered anyway. How's SI?"
Brian Kwok grinned. "It beats working for a living." Special Intelligence was a completely independent department within the elite, semisecret Special Branch responsible for preventing and detecting subversive activities in the Colony. It had its own secret ways, secret funding and overriding powers. And it was responsible to the governor alone.
Dunross leaned back in the chair. "What's up?"
Armstrong said, "I'm sure you already know. It's about the guns on Bartlett's plane."
"Oh yes, I heard this morning," he said. "How can I help? Have you any idea why and where they were destined? And by whom? You caught two men?"
Armstrong sighed. "Yes. They were genuine mechanics all right —both ex-Nationalist Air Force trained. No previous record, though they're suspected of being members of secret triads. Both have been here since the exodus of '49. By the way, can we keep this all confidential, between the three of us?"
"What about your superiors?"
"I'd like to include them in—but keep it just for your ears only."
"We have reason to believe the guns were destined for someone in Struan's."
"Who?" Dunross asked sharply.
"Yes. Who?"
"How much do you know about Lincoln Bartlett and Casey Tcholok?"
"We've a detailed dossier on him—not on her. Would you like it? I can give you a copy, providing it too is kept confidential."
"Of course. That would be very helpful."
Dunross pressed the intercom.
"Yes sir?" Claudia asked.
"Make a copy of the Bartlett dossier and give it to Superintendent Armstrong on his way out." Dunross clicked the intercom off.
"We won't take much more of your time," Armstrong said. "Do you always dossier potential clients?"
"No. But we like to know who we're dealing with. If the Bartlett deal goes through it could mean millions to us, to him, a thousand new jobs to Hong Kong—factories here, warehouses, a very big expansion—along with equally big risks to us. Everyone in business does a confidential financial statement—perhaps we're a bit more thorough. I'll bet you fifty dollars to a broken hatpin he's done one on me."
"No criminal connections mentioned?"
Dunross was startled. "Mafia? That sort of thing? Good God no, nothing. Besides, if the Mafia were trying to come in here they wouldn't send a mere ten M14 rifles and two thousand rounds and a box of grenades."
"Your information's damn good," Brian Kwok interrupted. "Too damn good. We only unpacked the stuff an hour ago. Who's your informant?"
"You know there're no secrets in Hong Kong."
"Can't even trust your own coppers these days."
"The Mafia would surely send in a shipment twenty times that and they'd be handguns, American style. But the Mafia would be bound to fail here, whatever they did. They could never displace our triads. No, it can't be Mafia—only someone local. Who tipped you about the shipment, Brian?"
"Tokyo Airport Police," Kwok said. "One of their mechanics was doing a routine inspection—you know how thorough they are. He reported it to his superior, their police phoned us and we said to let it through."
"In that case get hold of the FBI and the CIA—get them to check back to Honolulu—or Los Angeles."
"You went through the flight plan too?"
"Of course. That's obvious. Why someone in Struan's?"
"Both of the villains said …" Armstrong took out his pad and referred to it. "Our question was, 'Where were you to take the packages?' Both answered using different words: 'To 15 go-down, we were to put the packages in Bay 7 at the back.' " He looked up at Dunross.
"That proves nothing. We've the biggest warehouse operation at Kai Tak—just because they take it to one of our go-downs proves nothing—other than they're smart. We've got so much merchandise going through, it'd be easy to send in an alien truck." Dunross thought a moment. "15's right at the exit—perfect placing." He reached for the phone. "I'll put my security folk on it right n—"
"Would you not, please, just for the moment."
"Our next question," Armstrong continued, "was, 'Who employed you?' Of course they gave fictitious names and descriptions and denied everything but they'll be more helpful soon." He smiled grimly. "One of them did say, however, when one of my sergeants was twisting his ear a little, figuratively speaking of course"—he read from the pad—" 'You leave me alone, I've got very important friends!' 'You've no friends in the world,' the sergeant said. 'Maybe, but the Honorable Tsu-yan has and Noble House Chen has.'"
The silence became long and heavy. They waited.
Those God-cursed guns, Dunross thought furiously. But he held his face calm and his wits sharpened. "We've a hundred and more Chens working for us, related, unrelated—Chen's as common a name as Smith."
"And Tsu-yan?" Brian Kwok asked.
Dunross shrugged. "He's a director of Struan's—but he's also a director of Blacs, the Victoria Bank and forty other companies, one of the richest men in Hong Kong and a name anyone in Asia could pull out of a hat. Like Noble House Chen."
"Do you know he's suspected of being very high up in the triad hierarchy—specifically in the Green Pang?" Brian Kwok asked.
"Every important Shanghainese's equally suspect. Jesus Christ, Brian, you know Chiang Kai-shek was supposed to have given Shanghai to the Green Pang years ago as their exclusive bailiwick if they'd support his northern campaign against the warlords. Isn't the Green Pang still, more or less, an official Nationalist secret society?"
Brian Kwok said, "Where'd Tsu-yan make his money, Ian? His first fortune?"
"I don't know. You tell me, Brian."
"He made it during the Korean War smuggling penicillin, drugs and petrol—mostly penicillin—across the border to the Communists. Before Korea all he owned was a loincloth and a broken-down rickshaw."
"That's all hearsay, Brian."
"Struan's made a fortune too."
"Yes. But it would really be very unwise to imply we did it smuggling—publicly or privately," Dunross said mildly. "Very unwise indeed."
"Didn't you?"
"Struan's began with a little smuggling 120-odd years ago, so rumor has it, but it was an honorable profession and never against British law. We're law-abiding capitalists and China Traders and have been for years."
Brian Kwok did not smile. "More hearsay's that a lot of his penicillin was bad. Very bad."
"If it was, if that's the truth, then please go get him, Brian," Dunross said coldly. "Personally I think that's another rumor spread by jealous competitors. If it was true he'd be floating in the bay with the others who tried, or he'd be punished like Bad Powder Wong." He was referring to a Hong Kong smuggler who had sold a vast quantity of adulterated penicillin over the border during the Korean War and invested his fortune in stocks and land in Hong Kong. Within seven years he was very very rich. Then certain triads of Hong Kong were ordered to balance the books. Every week one member of his family vanished, or died. By drowning, car accident, strangulation, poison or knife. No assailant was ever caught. The killing went on for seventeen months and three weeks and then stopped. Only he and one semi-imbecile infant grandson remained alive. They live today, still holed up in the same vast, once luxurious penthouse apartment with one servant and one cook, in terror, guarded night and day, never going out—knowing that no guards or any amount of money could ever prevent the inexorability of his sentence published in a tiny box in a local Chinese newspaper: Bad Powder Wong will be punished, he and all his generations.
Brian Kwok said, "We interviewed that sod once, Robert and I."
"Yes. Scary. Every door's double locked and chained, every window nailed up and boarded over with planks—just spy holes here and there. He hasn't been out since the killing started. The place stank, my God did it stink! All he does is play Chinese checkers with his grandson and watch television."
"And wait," Armstrong said. "One day they'll come for both of them. His grandson must be six or seven now."
Dunross said, "I think you prove my point. Tsu-yan's not like him and never was. And what possible use could Tsu-yan have for a few M14's? If he wanted to, I imagine he could muster half the Nationalist army along with a battalion of tanks."
"In Taiwan but not in Hong Kong."
"Has Tsu-yan ever been involved with Bartlett?" Armstrong asked. "In your negotiations?"
"Yes. He was in New York once and in Los Angeles on our behalf. Both times with John Chen. They initialed the agreement between Struan's and Par-Con Industries which is to be finalized— or abandoned—here this month, and they formally invited Bartlett to Hong Kong on my behalf."
Armstrong glanced at his Chinese partner. Then he said, "When was this?"
"Four months ago. It's taken that time for both sides to prepare all the details."
"John Chen, eh?" Armstrong said. "He certainly could be Noble House Chen."
"You know John's not the type," Dunross said. "There's no reason why he should be mixed up in such a ploy. It must be just coincidence."
"There's another curious coincidence," Brian Kwok said. "Tsu-yan and John Chen both know an American called Banastasio, at least both have been seen in his company. Does that name mean anything?"
"No. Who's he?"
"A big-time gambler and suspected racketeer. He's also supposed to be closely connected with one of the Cosa Nostra families. Vin-cenzo Banastasio."
Dunross's eyes narrowed. "You said, 'seen in his company.' Who did the seeing?"
"The FBI."
The silence thickened a little.
Armstrong reached into his pocket for a cigarette.
Dunross pushed across the silver cigarette box. "Here."
"Oh, thanks. No, I won't—I wasn't thinking. I've stopped for the last couple of weeks. It's a killer." Then he added, trying to curb the desire, "The FBI passed the info on to us because Tsu-yan and Mr. John Chen are so prominent here. They asked us to keep an eye on them."
Then Dunross suddenly remembered Foxwell's remark about a prominent capitalist who was a secret Communist that they were watching in Sinclair Towers. Christ, he thought, Tsu-yan's got a flat there, and so has John Chen. Surely it's impossible either'd be mixed up with Communists.
"Of course heroin's big business," Armstrong was saying, his voice very hard.
"What does that mean, Robert?"
"The drug racket requires huge amounts of money to finance it. That kind of money can only come from banks or bankers, covertly of course. Tsu-yan's on the board of a number of banks—so's Mr. Chen."
"Robert, you'd better go very slow on that sort of remark," Dunross grated. "You are drawing very dangerous conclusions without any proof whatsoever. That's actionable I'd imagine and I won't have it."
"You're right, sorry. I withdraw the coincidence. Even so, the drug trade's big business, and it's here in Hong Kong in abundance, mostly for ultimate U.S. consumption. Somehow I'm going to find out who our nasties are."
"That's commendable. And you'll have all the help you want from Struan's and me. I hate the traffic too."
"Oh I don't hate it, tai-pan, or the traffickers. It's a fact of life. It's just another business—illegal certainly but still a business. I've been given the job of finding out who the tai-pans are. It's a matter of personal satisfaction, that's all."
"If you want help, just ask."
"Thank you." Armstrong got up wearily. "Before we go there're a couple more coincidences for you. When Tsu-yan and Noble House Chen were named this morning we thought we'd like to chat with them right away, but shortly after we ambushed the guns Tsu-yan caught the early flight to Taipei. Curious eh?"
"He's back and forth all the time," Dunross said, his disquiet soaring. Tsu-yan was expected at his party this evening. It would be extraordinary if he did not appear.
Armstrong nodded. "It seems it was a last-minute decision—no reservation, no ticket, no luggage, just a few extra dollars under the counter and someone was bounced off and him on. He was carrying only a briefcase. Strange, eh?"
Brian Kwok said, "We haven't a hope in hell of extraditing him from Taiwan."
Dunross studied him then looked back at Armstrong, his eyes steady and the color of sea ice. "You said there were a couple of coincidences. What's the other?"
"We can't find John Chen."
"What're you talking about?"
"He's not at home, or at his lady friend's, or at any of his usual haunts. We've been watching him and Tsu-yan off and on for months, ever since the FBI tipped us."
The silence gathered. "You've checked his boat?" Dunross asked, sure that they had.
"She's at her moorings, hasn't been out since yesterday. His boat-boy hasn't seen him either."
"Golf course?"
"No, he's not there," Armstrong said. "Nor at the racetrack. He wasn't at the workout, though he was expected, his trainer said. He's gone, vanished, scarpered."
11:15 A.M. :
There was a stunned silence in the boardroom.
"What's wrong?" Casey asked. "The figures speak for themselves."
The four men around the table looked at her. Andrew Gavallan, Linbar Struan, Jacques deVille and Phillip Chen, all members of the Inner Court.
Andrew Gavallan was tall and thin and forty-seven. He glanced at the sheaf of papers in front of him. Dew neh loh moh on all women in business, he thought irritably. "Perhaps we should check with Mr. Bartlett," he said uneasily, still very unsettled that they were expected to deal with a woman.
"I've already told you I have authority in all these areas," she said, trying to be patient. "I'm treasurer and executive vice-president of Par-Con Industries and empowered to negotiate with you. We confirmed that in writing last month." Casey held her temper. The meeting had been very heavy going. From their initial shock that she was a woman to their inevitable, overpolite awkwardness, waiting for her to sit, waiting for her to talk, then not sitting until she had asked them to, making small talk, not wanting to get down to business, not wishing to negotiate with her as a person, a business person, at all, saying instead that their wives would be delighted to take her shopping, then gaping because she knew all the intimate details of their projected deal. It was all part of a pattern that, normally, she could deal with. But not today. Jesus, she thought, I've got to succeed. I've got to get through to them.
"It's really quite easy," she had said initially, trying to clear their awkwardness away, using her standard opening. "Forget that I'm a woman—judge me on my ability. Now, there are three subjects on our agenda: the polyurethane factories, our computer-leasing representation and last, general representation of our petrochemical products, fertilizers, pharmaceutical and sports goods throughout Asia. First let's sort out the polyurethane factories, the chemical mix supplies and a projected time schedule for the financing." At once she gave them graphics and prepared documentation, verbally synopsized all the facts, figures and percentages, bank charges and interest charges, simply and very quickly, so that even the slowest brain could grasp the project. And now they were staring at her.
Andrew Gavallan broke the silence. "That's . . . that's very impressive, my dear."
"Actually I'm not your 'dear,' " she said with a laugh. "I'm very hard-nosed for my corporation."
"But mademoiselle," Jacques deVille said with a suave Gallic charm, "your nose is perfect and not hard at all."
"Merci, monsieur," she replied at once, and added lightly in passable French, "but please may we leave the shape of my nose for the moment and discuss the shape of this deal. It's better not to mix the two, don't you think?"
Another silence.
Linbar Struan said, "Would you like some coffee?"
"No thanks, Mr. Struan," Casey said, being careful to conform to their customs and not to call them by their Christian names too early. "May we zero in on this proposal? It's the one we sent you last month. . . . I've tried to cover your problems as well as ours."
There was another silence. Linbar Struan, thirty-four, very good-looking with sandy hair and blue eyes with a devil-may-care glint to theni, persisted, "Are you sure you wouldn't like coffee? Tea perhaps?"
"No thanks. Then you accept our proposal as it stands?"
Phillip Chen coughed and said, "In principle we agree to want to be in business with Par-Con in several areas. The Heads of Agreement indicate that. As to the polyurethane factories . . ."
She listened to his generalizations, then once more tried to get to the specifics—the whole reason for this meeting. But the going was very hard and she could feel them squirming. This's the worst it's ever been. Perhaps it's because they're English, and I've never dealt with the English before.
"Is there anything specific that needs clarifying?" she asked. "If there's anything you don't understand . . ."
Gavallan said, "We understand very well. You present us with figures which are lopsided. We're financing the building of the factories. You provide the machines but their cost is amortized over three years which'll mess up any cash flow and mean no profits for five years at least."
"I'm told it is your custom in Hong Kong to amortize the full cost of a building over a three-year period," she replied equally sharply, glad to be challenged. "We're just proposing to follow your custom. If you want five—or ten years—you may have them, provided the same applies to the building."
"You're not paying for the machines—they're on a lease basis and the monthly charge to the joint venture is high."
"What's your bank prime rate today, Mr. Gavallan?"
They consulted, then told her. She used her pocket slide rule for a few seconds. "At today's rate you'd save 17,000 HK a week per machine if you take our deal which, over the period we're talking . . ." Another quick calculation. ". . . would jump your end of the profits 32 percent over the best you could do—and we're talking in millions of dollars."
They stared at her in silence.
Andrew Gavallan cross-questioned her about the figures but she never faltered. Their dislike for her increased.
She was sure they were fogged by her figures. What else can I say to convince them? she thought, her anxiety growing. Struan's will make a bundle if they get off their asses, we'll make a fortune and I'll get my drop dead money at long last. The foam part of the deal alone will make Struan's rich and Par-Con nearly $80,000 net a month over the next ten years and Line said I could have a piece.
"How much do you want?" he had asked her, just before they had left the States.
"51 percent," she had replied with a laugh, "since you're asking."
"3 percent."
"Come on, Line, I need my drop dead money."
"Pull off the whole package and you've got a stock option of 100,000 Par-Con at four dollars below market."
"You're on. But I want the foam company too," she had said, holding her breath. "I started it and I want that. 51 percent. For me."
"In return for what?"
Casey waited outwardly calm. When she judged the moment correct she said innocently, "Are we agreed then, that our proposal stands as is? We're fifty-fifty with you, what could be better than that?"
"I still say you're not providing 50 percent of the financing of the joint venture," Andrew Gavallan replied sharply. "You're providing the machines and materials on a lease carry-back so your risk's not equivalent to ours."
"But that's for our tax purposes and to lessen the amount of cash outlay, gentlemen. We're financing from cash flow. The figures add up the same. The fact that we get a depreciation allowance and various rebates is neither here nor there." Even more innocently, baiting the trap, she added, "We finance in the States, where we've the expertise. You finance in Hong Kong where you're the experts."
Quillan Gornt turned back from his office window. "I repeat, we can better any arrangement you can make with Struan's, Mr. Bart-lett. Any arrangement."
"You'd go dollar for dollar?"
"Dollar for dollar." The Englishman strolled back and sat behind his paperless desk and faced Bartlett again. They were on the top floor of the Rothwell-Gornt Building also fronting Connaught Road and the waterfront. Gornt was a thickset, hard-faced, bearded man, just under six feet, with graying black hair and graying bushy eyebrows and brown eyes. "It's no secret our companies are very serious rivals, but I assure you we can outbid them and outmatch them, and I'd arrange our side of the financing within the week. We could have a profitable partnership, you and I. I'd suggest we set up a joint company under Hong Kong law—the taxes here're really quite reasonable—15 percent of everything earned in Hong Kong, with the rest of the world free of all taxes." Gornt smiled. "Better than the U.S.A."
"Much better," Bartlett said. He was sitting in a high-backed leather chair. "Very much better."
"Is that why you're interested in Hong Kong?"
"One reason."
"What're the others?"
"There's no American outfit as big as mine here in strength yet, and there should be. This is the age of the Pacific. But you could benefit from our coming. We've a lot of expertise you don't have and a major say in areas of the U:S. market. On the other hand, Rothwell-Gornt—and Struan's—have the expertise we lack and a major say in the Asian markets."
"How can we cement a relationship?"
"First I have to find out what Struan's are after. I started negotiating with them, and I don't like changing airplanes in mid-ocean."
"I can tell you at once what they're after: profit for them and the hell with anyone else." Gornt's smile was hard.
"The deal we've discussed seems very fair."
"They're past masters at appearing to be very fair and putting up a half share, then selling out at their own choosing to skim the profit and yet retain control."
"That wouldn't be possible with us."
"They've been at it for almost a century and a half. They've learned a few tricks by now."
"So've you."
"Of course. But Struan's is very different from us. We own things and companies—they're percentagers. They've little more than a 5 percent holding in most of their subsidiaries yet they still exercise absolute control by special voting shares, or by making it mandatory in the Articles of Association that their tai-pan's also tai-pan of the subsidiary with overriding say."
"That sounds smart."
"It is. And they are. But we're better and straighter—and our contacts and influence in China and throughout the Pacific Rim, except for the U.S. and Canada, are stronger than theirs and growing stronger every day."
"Because our company operations originated in Shanghai—the greatest city in Asia—where we were dominant. Struan's has always concentrated on Hong Kong which, until recently, was almost a provincial backwater."
"But Shanghai's a dead issue and has been since the Commies closed off the Mainland in '49. There's no foreign trade going through Shanghai today—it's all through Canton."
"Yes. But it's the Shanghainese who left China and came south with money, brains and guts, who made Hong Kong what it is today and what it'll be tomorrow: the now and future metropolis of the whole Pacific."
"Better than Singapore?"
"That will ever only be for Japanese." Gornt's eyes sparkled, the lines on his face crinkled. "Hong Kong is the greatest city in Asia, Mr. Bartlett. Whoever masters it will eventually master Asia. … Of course I'm talking about trade, financing, shipping and big business."
"What about Red China?"
"We think Hong Kong benefits the PRC—as we call the People's Republic of China. We're the controlled 'open door' for them. Hong Kong and Rothwell-Gornt represent the future."
"Because since Shanghai was the business and industrial center of China, the pacesetter, Shanghainese are the go-getters of China, always have been and always will be. And now the best are with us here. You'll soon see the difference between Cantonese and Shanghainese. Shanghainese're the entrepreneurs, the industrialists, promoters and internationalists. There's not a great textile or shipping magnate or industrialist who isn't Shanghainese. Cantonese-run family businesses, Mr. Bartlett, they're loners, but Shanghainese understand partnerships, corporate situations and above all, banking and financing." Gornt lit another cigarette. "That's where our strength is, why we're better than Struan's—why we'll be number one eventually."
Line Bartlett studied the man opposite him. From the dossier that Casey had prepared he knew that Gornt had been born in Shanghai of British parents, was forty-eight, a widower with two grown children, and that he had served as a captain in the Australian infantry '42-45 in the Pacific. He knew too that he ruled Rothwell-Gornt very successfully as a private fief and had done so for eight years since he took over from his father.
Bartlett shifted in the deep leather chair. "If you've got this rivalry with Struan's and you're so sure you'll be number one eventually, why wait? Why not take them now?"
Gornt was watching him, his craggy face set. "There's nothing in the world that I'd like to do more. But I can't, not yet. I nearly did three years ago—they'd overreached themselves, the previous tai-pan's joss had run out."
"It's a Chinese word meaning luck, fate, but a bit more." Gornt watched him thoughtfully. "We're very superstitious out here. Joss is very important, like timing. Alastair Struan's joss ran out, or changed. He had a disastrous last year, and then, in desperation, handed over to Ian Dunross. They almost went under that time. A run had started on their stock. I went after them, but Dunross squeezed out of the run and stabilized the market."
"Let's say he exercised an undue amount of influence in certain banking circles." Gornt remembered with cold fury how Havergill at the bank had suddenly, against all their private, secret agreements, not opposed Struan's request for a temporary, enormous line of credit that had given Dunross the time to recover.
Gornt remembered his blinding rage when he had called Haver-gill. "What the hell did you do that for?" he had asked him. "A hundred million as an Extraordinary Credit? You've saved their necks for chrissake! We had them. Why?" Havergill had told him that Dunross had mustered enough votes on the board and put an extreme amount of personal pressure on him. "There was nothing I could do. …"
Yes, Gornt thought, looking at the American. I lost that time but I think you're the twenty-four-carat explosive key that will trigger the bomb to blow Struan's to hell out of Asia forever. "Dunross went to the edge that time, Mr. Bartlett. He made some implacable enemies. But now we're equally strong. It's what you'd call a standoff. They can't take us and we can't take them."
"Unless they make a mistake."
"Or we make a mistake." The older man blew a smoke ring and studied it. At length he glanced back at Bartlett. "We'll win eventually. Time in Asia's a little different from time in the U.S.A."
"That's what people tell me."
"You don't believe it?"
"I know the same rules of survival apply here, there or where the hell ever. Only the degree changes."
Gornt watched the smoke from his cigarette curling to the ceiling. His office was large with well-used old leather chairs and excellent oils on the walls and it was filled with the smell of polished leather and good cigars. Gornt's high-backed chair, old oak and carved, with red plush fitted seat and back looked hard, functional and solid, Bartlett thought, like the man.
"We can outbid Struan's and we've time on our side, here, there, where the hell ever," Gornt said. Bartlett laughed.
Gornt smiled too but Bartlett noticed his eyes weren't smiling. "Look around Hong Kong, Mr. Bartlett. Ask about us, and about them. Then make up your mind." "Yes, I'll do that." "I hear your aircraft's impounded."
"Yes. Yes it is. The airport cops found some guns aboard." "I heard. Curious. Well, if you need any help to unimpound it, perhaps I can be of service."
"You could help right now by telling me why and who." "I've no idea—but I'll wager someone in Struan's knows." "Why?"
"They knew your exact movements." "So did you."
"Yes. But it was nothing to do with us." "Who knew we were to have this meeting, Mr. Gornt?" "You and I. As we agreed. There was no leak from here, Mr. Bartlett. After our private meeting in New York last year, everything's been by telephone—not even a confirming telex. I subscribe to your wisdom of caution, secrecy and dealing face to face. In private. But who on your side knows of our . . . our continuing interest?" "No one but me."
"Not even your lady treasurer executive vice-president?" Gornt asked with open surprise. "No sir. When did you learn Casey was a she?" "In New York. Come now, Mr. Bartlett, it's hardly likely we'd contemplate an association without ascertaining your credentials and those of your chief executives." "Good. That will save time." "Curious to have a woman in such a key position." "She's my right and left arm and the best executive I've got." "Then why wasn't she told of our meeting today?" "One of the first rules of survival is to keep your options open."
"Meaning I don't run my business by committee. Besides, I like to play off the cuff, to keep certain operations secret." Bartlett thought a moment then added, "It's not lack of trust. Actually, I'm making it easier for her. If anyone at Struan's finds out and asks her why I'm meeting with you now, her surprise will be genuine."
After a pause Gornt said, "It's rare to find anyone really trustworthy. Very rare."
"Why would someone want M14's and grenades in Hong Kong and why would they use my plane?"
"I don't know but I'll make it my business to find out." Gornt stubbed out his cigarette. The ashtray was porcelain—Sung dynasty. "Do you know Tsu-yan?"
"I've met him a couple of times. Why?"
"He's a very good fellow, even though he's a director of Struan's."
"He's Shanghainese?"
"Yes. One of the best." Gornt looked up, his eyes very hard. "It's possible there could be peripheral benefit to dealing with us, Mr. Bartlett. I hear Struan's is quite extended just now—Dunross's gambling heavily on his fleet, particularly on the two super bulk cargo carriers he has on order from Japan. The first's due to be paid for substantially in a week or so. Then, too, there's a strong rumor he's going to make a bid for Asian Properties. You've heard of them?"
"A big land operation, real estate, all over Hong Kong."
"Yes. They're the biggest—even bigger than his own K.I."
"Kowloon Investments is part of Struan's? I thought they were a separate company."
"They are, outwardly. But Dunross is tai-pan of K.I.—they always have the same tai-pan."
"Always. It's in their Heads of Agreement. But lan's overriding himself. The Noble House may soon become ignoble. He's very cash light at the moment."
Bartlett thought a moment, then he asked, "Why don't you join with another company, maybe Asian Properties, and take Struan's? That's what I'd do in the States if I wanted a company I couldn't take alone."
"Is that what you want to do here, Mr. Bartlett?" Gornt asked at once, pretending shock. "To 'take' Struan's?"
"Is it possible?"
Gornt looked at the ceiling carefully before answering. "Yes—but you'd have to have a partner. Perhaps you could do it with Asian Properties but I doubt it. Jason Plumm, the tai-pan, hasn't the balls. You'd need us. Only we have the perspicacity, the drive, the knowledge and the desire. Nevertheless, you'd have to risk a very great deal of money. Cash." "How much?"
Gornt laughed outright. "I'll consider that. First you'll have to tell me how serious you are." "And if I am, would you want in?"
Gornt stared back, his eyes equally level. "First I would have to be sure, very sure, how serious you are. It's no secret I detest Struan's generally and Ian Dunross personally, would want them obliterated. So you already know my long-term posture. I don't know yours. Yet."
"If we could take over Struan's—would it be worth it?" "Oh yes, Mr. Bartlett. Oh yes—yes it'd be worth it," Gornt said jovially, then once more his voice iced. "But I still need to know how serious you are."
"I'll tell you when I've seen Dunross."
"Are you going to suggest the same thought to him—that together you can swallow Rothwell-Gornt?"
"My purpose here is to make Par-Con international, Mr. Gornt. Maybe up to a $30 million investment to cover a whole range of merchandising, factories and warehousing. Up to a short time ago I'd never heard of Struan's—or Rothwell-Gornt. Or your rivalry." "Very well, Mr. Bartlett, we'll leave it at that. Whatever you do will be interesting. Yes. It will be interesting to see if you can hold a knife."
Bartlett stared at him, not understanding. "That's an old Chinese cooking term, Mr. Bartlett. Do you cook?" "No."
"It's a hobby of mine. The Chinese say it's important to know how to hold a knife, that you can't use one until you can hold it correctly. Otherwise you'll cut yourself and be off to a very bad start indeed. Won't you?"
Bartlett grinned. "Hold a knife, is it? I'll remember that. No, I can't cook. Never got around to learning—Casey can't cook worth a damn either."
"The Chinese say there're three arts in which no other civilization can compare to theirs—literature, brush painting and cooking. I'm inclined to agree. Do you like good food?"
"The best meal I ever had was in a restaurant just outside Rome on the Via Flaminia, the Casale."
"Then we've at least that in common, Mr. Bartlett. The Casale's one of my favorites too."
"Casey took me there once—spaghetti alia matriciana al dente and buscetti with an ice-cold bottle of beer followed by the piccata and more beer. I'll never forget it."
Gornt smiled. "Perhaps you'll have dinner with me while you're here. I can offer you alia matriciana too—actually it'll compare favorably; it's the very same recipe."
"I'd like that."
"And a bottle of Valpolicella, or a great Tuscany wine."
"Personally, I like beer with pasta. Iced American beer out of the can."
After a pause Gornt asked, "How long are you staying in Hong Kong?"
"As long as it takes," Bartlett said without hesitation.
"Good. Then dinner one day next week? Tuesday or Wednesday?"
"Tuesday'd be fine, thanks. May I bring Casey?"
"Of course." Then Gornt added, his voice flatter, "By that time perhaps you'll be more sure of what you want to do."
Bartlett laughed. "And by that time you'll find out if I can hold a knife."
"Perhaps. But just remember one thing, Mr. Bartlett. If we ever join forces to attack Struan's, once the battle is joined, there will be almost no way to withdraw without getting severely mauled. Very severely mauled indeed. I'd have to be very sure. After all, you can always retire hurt to the U.S.A. to fight another day. We stay—so the risks are unequal."
"But the spoils are unequal too. You'd gain something priceless which doesn't mean ten cents to me. You'd become the Noble House."
"Yes," Gornt said, his eyes lidding. He leaned forward to select another cigarette and his left foot moved behind the desk to press a hidden floor switch. "Let's leave everything until Tues—"
The intercom clicked on. "Excuse me, Mr. Gornt, would you like me to postpone the board meeting?" his secretary asked. "No," Gornt said. "They can wait."
"Yes sir. Miss Ramos is here. Could you spare her a few minutes?"
Gornt pretended to be surprised. "Just a moment." He looked up at Bartlett. "Have we concluded?"
"Yes." Bartlett got up at once. "Tuesday's firm. Let's keep everything cooking till then." He turned to go but Gornt stopped him. "Just a moment, Mr. Bartlett," he said, then into the intercom, "ask her to come in." He clicked off the switch and stood up. "I'm glad to have had the meeting."
The door opened and the girl came in. She was twenty-five and stunning with short black hair and sloe eyes, clearly Eurasian, casually dressed in tight, American washed jeans and a shirt. "Hello, Quillan," she said with a smile that warmed the room, her English slightly American accented. "Sorry to interrupt but I've just got back from Bangkok and wanted to say hello."
"Glad you did, Orlanda." Gornt smiled at Bartlett who was staring at her. "This is Line Bartlett, from America. Orlanda Ramos."
"Hello," Bartlett said.
"Hi … oh, Line Bartlett? The American millionaire gun-runner?" she said and laughed. "What?"
"Oh don't look so shocked, Mr. Bartlett. Everyone in Hong Kong knows—Hong Kong's just a village." "Seriously—how did you know?" "I read it in my morning paper." "Impossible! It only happened at 5:30 this morning." "It was in the Fai Pao—the Express—in the Stop Press column at nine o'clock. It's a Chinese paper and the Chinese know everything that's going on here. Don't worry, the English papers won't pick it up till the afternoon editions, but you can expect the press on your doorstep around the happy hour."
"Thanks." The last thing I want's the goddamn press after me, Bartlett thought sourly.
"Don't worry, Mr. Bartlett, I won't ask you for an interview, even though I am a free-lance reporter for the Chinese press. I'm really very discreet," she said. "Am I not, Quillan?"
"Absolutely. I'll vouch for that," Gornt said. "Orlanda's absolutely trustworthy."
"Of course if you want to offer an interview—I'll accept. Tomorrow."
"I'll consider it."
"I'll guarantee to make you look marvelous!"
"The Chinese really know everything here?"
"Of course," she said at once. "But quai loh—foreigners—don't read the Chinese papers, except for a handful of old China hands —like Quillan."
"And the whole of Special Intelligence, Special Branch and the police in general," Gornt said.
"And Ian Dunross," she added, the tip of her tongue touching her teeth.
"He's that sharp?" Bartlett asked.
"Oh yes. He's got Devil Struan's blood in him."
"I don't understand."
"You will, if you stay here long enough."
Bartlett thought about that, then frowned. "You knew about the guns too, Mr. Gornt?"
"Only that the police had intercepted contraband arms aboard 'the millionaire American's private jet which arrived last night.' It was in my Chinese paper this morning too. The Sing Pao. " Gornt's smile was sardonic. "That's The Times in Cantonese. It was in their Stop Press column too. But, unlike Orlanda, I am surprised you haven't been intercepted by members of our English press already. They're very diligent here in Hong Kong. More diligent than Orlanda gives them credit for being."
Bartlett caught her perfume but persisted. "I'm surprised you didn't mention it, Mr. Gornt."
"Why should I? What do guns have to do with our possible future association?" Gornt chuckled. "If worst comes to worst we'll visit you in jail, Orlanda and I."
She laughed. "Yes indeed."
"Thanks a lot!" Again her perfume. Bartlett put aside the guns and concentrated on her. "Ramos—that's Spanish?"
"Portuguese. From Macao. My father worked for Rothwell-Gornt in Shanghai—my mother's Shanghainese. I was brought up in Shanghai until '49, then went to the States for a few years, to high school in San Francisco."
"Did you? L.A.'s my hometown—I went to high school in the Valley."
"I love California," she said. "How d'you like Hong Kong?"
"I've just arrived." Bartlett grinned. "Seems I made an explosive entrance."
She laughed. Lovely white teeth. "Hong Kong's all right—provided you can leave every month or so. You should visit Macao for a weekend—it's old worldly, very pretty, only forty miles away with good ferries. It's very different from Hong Kong." She turned back to Gornt. "Again, I'm sorry to interrupt, Quillan, just wanted to say hello. …" She started to leave.
"No, we're through—I was just going," Bartlett said, interrupting her. "Thanks again, Mr. Gornt. See you Tuesday if not before. .. . Hope to see you again, Miss Ramos."
"Yes, that would be nice. Here's my card—if you'll grant the interview I guarantee a good press." She held out her hand and he touched it and felt her warmth.
Gornt saw him to the door and then closed it and came back to his desk and took a cigarette. She lit the match for him and blew out the flame, then sat in the chair Bartlett had used.
"Nice-looking man," she said.
"Yes. But he's American, naive, and a very cocky bastard who may need taking down a peg."
"That's what you want me to do?"
"Perhaps. Did you read his dossier?"
"Oh yes. Very interesting." Orlanda smiled.
"You're not to ask him for money," Gornt said sharply.
"Ayeeyah, Quillan, am I that dumb?" she said as abrasively, her eyes flashing.
"Why would he smuggle guns into Hong Kong?"
"Why indeed, my dear? Perhaps someone was just using him."
"That must be the answer. If I had all his money I wouldn't try something as stupid as that."
"No," Gornt said.
"Oh, did you like that bit about my being a free-lance reporter? I thought I did that very well."
"Yes, but don't underestimate him. He's no fool. He's very sharp. Very." He told her about the Casale. "That's too much of a coincidence. He must have a dossier on me too, a detailed one. Not many know of my liking for that place."
"Maybe I'm in it too."
"Perhaps. Don't let him catch you out. About the free lancing."
"Oh, come on, Quillan, who of the tai-pans except you and Dun-ross read the Chinese papers—and even then you can't read all of them. I've already done a column or two … 'by a Special Correspondent.' If he grants me an interview I can write it. Don't worry." She moved the ashtray closer for him. "It went all right, didn't it? With Bartlett?"
"Perfectly. You're wasted. You should be in the movies."
"Then talk to your friend about me, please, please, Quillan dear. Charlie Wang's the biggest producer in Hong Kong and owes you lots of favors. Charlie Wang has so many movies going that… just one chance is all I need. … I could become a star! Please?"
"Why not?" he asked dryly. "But I don't think you're his type."
"I can adapt. Didn't I act exactly as you wanted with Bartlett. Am I not dressed perfectly, American style?"
"Yes, yes you are." Gornt looked at her, then said delicately, "You could be perfect for him. I was thinking you could perhaps have something more permanent than an affair. …"
All her attention concentrated. "What?"
"You and he could fit together like a perfect Chinese puzzle. You're good-humored, the right age, beautiful, clever, educated, marvelous at the pillow, very smart in the head, with enough of an American patina to put him at ease." Gornt exhaled smoke and added, "And of all the ladies I know, you could really spend his money. Yes, you two could fit perfectly . . . he'd be very good for you and you'd brighten his life considerably. Wouldn't you?"
"Oh yes," she said at once. "Oh yes I would." She smiled then frowned. "But what about the woman he has with him? They're sharing a suite at the Vic. I heard she's gorgeous. What about her, Quillan?"
Gornt smiled thinly. "My spies say they don't sleep together though they're better than friends."
Her face fell. "He's not queer, is he?"
Gornt laughed. It was a good rich laugh. "I wouldn't do that to you, Orlanda! No, I'm sure he's not. He's just got a strange arrangement with Casey."
"What is it?"
Gornt shrugged.
After a moment she said, "What do I do about her?" "If Casey Tcholok's in your way, remove her. You've got claws." "You're . . . Sometimes I don't like you at all." "We're both realists, you and I. Aren't we." He said it very flat. She recognized the undercurrent of violence. At once she got up and leaned across the desk and kissed him lightly. "You're a devil," she said, placating him. "That's for old times."
His hand strayed to her breast and he sighed, remembering, enjoying the warmth that came through the thin material. "Ayeeyah, Orlanda, we had some good times, didn't we?"
She had been his mistress when she was seventeen. He was her first and he had kept her for almost five* years and would have continued but she went with a youth to Macao when he was away and he had been told about it. And so he had stopped. At once. Even though they had a daughter then, he and she, one year old.
"Orlanda," he had told her as she had begged for forgiveness, "there's nothing to forgive. I've told you a dozen times that youth needs youth, and there'd come a day…. Dry your tears, marry the lad—I'll give you a dowry and my blessing. . . ." And throughout all her weepings he had remained firm. "We'll be friends," he had assured her, "and I'll take care of you when you need it. . . ."
The next day he had turned the heat of his covert fury on the youth, an Englishman, a minor executive in Asian Properties and, within the month, he had broken him. "It's a matter of face," he had told her calmly. "Oh I know, I understand but… what shall I do now?" she had wailed. "He's leaving tomorrow for England and he wants me to go with him and marry him but I can't marry now, he's got no money or future or job or money. . . ." "Dry your tears, then go shopping." "What?"
"Yes. Here's a present." He had given her a first-class, return ticket to London on the same airplane that the youth was traveling tourist. And a thousand pounds in crisp, new ten-pound notes. "Buy lots of pretty clothes, and go to the theater. You're booked into the Connaught for eleven days—just sign the bill—and your return's confirmed, so have a happy time and come back fresh and without problems!"
"Oh thank you, Quillan darling, oh thank you. … I'm so sorry. You forgive me?" "There's nothing to forgive. But if you ever talk to him again, or see him privately … I won't be friendly to you or your family ever again."
She had thanked him profusely through her tears, cursing herself for her stupidity, begging for the wrath of heaven to descend upon whoever had betrayed her. The next day the youth had tried to speak to her at the airport and on the plane and in London but she just cursed him away. She knew where her rice bowl rested. The day she left London he committed suicide.
When Gornt heard about it, he lit a fine cigar and took her out to a dinner atop the Victoria and Albert with candelabra and fine linen and fine silver, and then, after he had had his Napoleon brandy and she her creme de rrlenthe, he had sent her home, alone, to the apartment he still paid for. He had ordered another brandy and stayed, watching the lights of the harbor, and the Peak, feeling the glory of vengeance, the majesty of life, his face regained.
Ayeeyah, we had some good times," Gornt said again now, still desiring her, though he had not pillowed with her from the time he had heard about Macao.
"Quillan …" she began, his hand warming her too.
Her eyes strayed to the inner door. "Please. It's three years, there's never been anyone . . ."
"Thank you but no." He held her away from him, his hands now firm on her arms but gentle. "We've already had the best," he said as a connoisseur would. "I don't like second best."
She sat back on the edge of the desk, watching him sullenly. "You always win, don't you."
"The day you become lovers with Bartlett I'll give you a present," he said calmly. "If he takes you to Macao and you stay openly with him for three days I'll give you a new Jag. If he asks you to marry him you get the apartment and everything in it, and a house in California as a wedding present."
She gasped, then smiled gloriously. "An XK-E, a black one, Quillan, oh that would be perfect!" Then her happiness evaporated. "What's so important about him? Why is he so important to you?"
He just stared at her.
"Sorry," she said, "sorry, I shouldn't have asked." Thoughtfully she reached for a cigarette and lit it and leaned over and gave it to him.
"Thanks," he said, seeing the curve of her breast, enjoying it, yet a little saddened that such beauty was so transient. "Oh, by the way, I wouldn't like Bartlett to know of our arrangement."
"Nor would I." She sighed and forced a smile. Then she got up and shrugged. "Ayeeyah, it would never have lasted with us anyway. Macao or not Macao. You would have changed—you'd have become bored, men always do."
She checked her makeup and her shirt and blew him a kiss and left him. He stared at the closed door then smiled and stubbed out the cigarette she had given him, never having puffed on it, not wanting the taint of her lips. He lit a fresh one and hummed a little tune.
Excellent, he thought happily. Now we'll see, Mr. Bloody Cocky Confident Yankee Bartlett, now we'll see how you handle that knife. Pasta with beer indeed!
Then Gornt caught a lingering whiff of her perfume and he was swept back momentarily into memories of their pillowing. When she was young, he reminded himself. Thank God there's no premium on youth or beauty out here, and a substitution's as close as a phone call or a hundred-dollar note.
He reached for the phone and dialed a special private number, glad that Orlanda was more Chinese than European. Chinese are such practical people.
The dial tone stopped and he heard Paul Havergill's crisp voice. "Yes?"
"Paul, Quillan. How're things?"
"Hello, Quillan—of course you know Johnjohn's taking over the bank in November?" "Yes. Sorry about that."
"Damnable. I thought I was going to be confirmed but instead the board chose Johnjohn. It was official last night. It's Dunross again, his clique, and the damned stock they have. How did your meeting go?"
"Our American's chomping at the bit, just as I told you he would be." Gornt took a deep drag of his cigarette and tried to keep the excitement out of his voice. "How would you like a little special action before you retire?" "What had you in mind?" "You're leaving end of November?"
"Yes. After twenty-three years. In some ways I won't be sorry." Nor will I, Gornt thought contentedly. You're out of date and too bloody conservative. The only thing in your favor is that you hate Dunross. "That's almost four months. That'd give us plenty of time. You, me and our American friend."
"What do you have in mind?"
"You remember one of my hypothetical game plans, the one I called 'Competition'?"
Havergill thought a moment. "That was how to take over or eliminate an opposition bank, wasn't it? Why?"
"Say someone dusted off the plan and made a few changes and pushed the go button … two days ago. Say someone knew Dunross and the others would vote you out and wanted some revenge. Competition would work perfectly."
"I don't see why. What's the point of attacking Blacs?" The Bank of London, Canton and Shanghai was the Victoria's main opposition. "Doesn't make sense."
"Ah, but say someone changed the target, Paul."
"To whom?"
"I'll come by at three and explain."
"To whom?"
"Richard." Richard Kwang controlled the Ho-Pak Bank—one of the largest of all the many Chinese banks in Hong Kong.
"Good God! But that's . . ." There was a long pause. "Quillan, you've really begun Competition … to put it into effect?"
"Yes, and no one knows about it except you and me."
"But how is that going to work against Dunross?"
"I'll explain later. Can Ian meet his commitments on his ships?"
There was a pause which Gornt noted. "Yes," he heard Havergill say.
"Yes, but what?"
"But I'm sure he'll be all right."
"What other problems has Dunross got?"
"Sorry, but that wouldn't be ethical."
"Of course." Gornt added thinly, "Let me put it another way: Say their boat was a little rocked. Eh?"
There was a longer pause. "At the right moment, a smallish wave could scuttle them, or any company. Even you."
"But not the Victoria Bank."
"Oh no."
"Good. See you at three." Gornt hung up and mopped his brow again, his excitement vast. He stubbed out his cigarette, made a quick calculation, lit another cigarette, then dialed. "Charles, Quillan. Are you busy?" "No. What can I do for you?"
"I want a balance sheet." A balance sheet was a private signal for the attorney to telephone eight nominees who would buy or sell on the stock market on Gornt's behalf, secretly, to avoid the trading being traced back to him. All shares and all monies would pass solely through the attorney's hands so that neither the nominees nor the brokers would know for whom the transactions were being made.
"A balance sheet it will be. What sort, Quillan?"
"I want to sell short." To sell short meant he sold shares he did not own on the presumption their value would go down. Then, before he had to buy them back—he had a maximum margin of two weeks in Hong Kong—if the stock had indeed gone down, he would pocket the difference. Of course if he gambled wrong and the stock had gone up, he would have to pay the difference.
"What shares and what numbers?"
"A hundred thousand shares of Ho-Pak …"
"Holy Christ . . ."
". . . the same, as soon as the market opens tomorrow, and another 200 during the day. I'll give you further instructions then."
There was a stunned silence. "You did say Ho-Pak?"
"It'll take time to borrow all those shares. Good God, Quillan, four hundred thousand?"
"While you're about it, get another hundred. A round half a million."
"But… but Ho-Pak's as blue a blue chip as we've got. It hasn't gone down in years."
"What've you heard?"
"Rumors," Gornt said gravely and chuckled to himself. "Would you like an early lunch, eat at the club?"
"I'll be there."
Gornt hung up, then dialed another private number.
"It's me," Gornt said cautiously. "Are you alone?"
"Yes. And?"
"At our meeting, the Yankee suggested a raid."
"Ayeeyah! And?"
"And Paul's in," he said, the exaggeration coming easily. "Absolutely secretly, of course. I've just talked to him."
"Then I'm in. Provided I get control of Struan's ships, their Hong Kong property operation and 40 percent of their landholdings in Thailand and Singapore."
"You must be joking!"
"Nothing's too much to smash them. Is it, old boy?"
Gornt heard the well-bred, mocking laugh and hated Jason Plumm for it. "You despise him just as much as I do," Gornt said.
"Ah, but you'll need me and my special friends. Even with Paul on or off the fence, you and the Yankee can't pull it off, not without me and mine."
"Why else am I talking to you?"
"Listen, don't forget I'm not asking for any piece of the American's pie."
Gornt kept his voice calm. "What's that got to do with anything?"
"I know you. Oh yes. I know you, old boy."
"Do you now?"
"Yes. You won't be satisfied just with destructing our 'friend,' you'll want the whole pie."
"Will I now?"
"Yes. You've wanted a stake in the U.S. market too long."
"And you."
"No. We know where our toast's toasted. We're content to trail along behind. We're content with Asia. We don't want to be a noble anything."
"No. Then it's a deal?"
"No," Gornt said.
"I'll drop the shipping totally. Instead I'll take lan's Kowloon Investments, the Kai Tak operation, and 40 percent of the landholdings in Thailand and Singapore, and I'll accept 25 percent of Par-Con and three places on the board."
"Get stuffed!"
"The offer's good till Monday."
"Which Monday?"
"Next Monday."
"Dew neh loh moh on all your Mondays!"
"And yours! I'll make you a last offer. Kowloon Investments and their Kai Tak operation totally, 35 percent of all their landholdings in Thailand and Singapore, and 10 percent of the Yankee pie with three seats on the board."
"Is that all?"
"Yes. Again, the offer's good till next Monday. And don't think you can gobble us in the process."
"Have you gone mad?"
"I told you—I know you. Is it a deal?"
Again the soft, malevolent laugh. "Till Monday—next Monday. That's time enough for you to make up your mind."
"Will I see you at lan's party tonight?" Gornt asked thinly.
"Have you gone bonkers! I wouldn't go if… Good God, Quillan, are you really going to accept? In person?"
"I wasn't going to—but now I think I will. I wouldn't want to miss perhaps the last great party of the Struans' last tai-pan. . . ."
12:01 P.M. :
In the boardroom it was still rough going for Casey. They would take none of the baits she offered. Her anxiety had increased and now as she waited she felt a wave of untoward fear go through her.
Phillip Chen was doodling, Linbar fiddling with his papers, Jacques deVille watching her thoughtfully. Then Andrew Gavallan stopped writing the latest percentages she had quoted. He sighed and looked up at her. "Clearly this should be a co-financing operation," he said, his voice sharp. Electricity in the room soared and Casey had difficulty suppressing a cheer as he added, "How much would Par-Con be prepared to put up, joint financing, for the whole deal?"
"18 million U.S. this year should cover it," she answered immediately, noting happily that they all covered a gasp.
The published net worth of Struan's last year was almost 28 million, and she and Bartlett had gauged their offer on this figure.
"Make the first offer 20 million," Line had told her. "You should hook 'em at 25 which'd be great. It's essential we co-finance, but the suggestion's got to come from them."
"But look at their balance sheet, Line. You can't tell for sure what their real net worth is. It could be 10 million either way, maybe more. We don't know how strong they really are … or how weak. Look at this item: '14.7 million retained in subsidiaries.' What subsidiaries, where and what for? Here's another one: '7.4 million transferred to—' "
"So what, Casey? So it's 30 million instead of 25. Our projection's still valid."
"Yes—but their accounting procedures . . . My God, Line, if we did one percent of this in the States the SEC'd have our asses in a sling and we'd end up in jail for fifty years."
"Yes. But it's not against their law, which is a major reason for going to Hong Kong."
"20 is too much for openers."
"I'll leave it to you, Casey. Just remember in Hong Kong we play Hong Kong rules—whatever's legal. I want in their game."
"Why? And don't say 'for my goddamn pleasure.' "
Line had laughed. "Okay—then for your goddamn pleasure. Just make the Struan deal!"
The humidity in the boardroom had increased. She would have liked to reach for a tissue but she kept still, willing them onward, pretending calm.
Gavallan broke the silence. "When would Mr. Bartlett confirm the offer of 18 million … if we accepted?"
"It's confirmed," she said sweetly, passing over the insult. "I have clearance to commit up to 20 million on this deal without consulting Line or his board," she said, deliberately giving them room to maneuver. Then she added innocently, "Then it's all settled? Good." She began to sort out her papers. "Next: I'd—"
"Just a moment," Gavallan said, off balance. "I, er, 18 is … In any event we have to present the package to the tai-pan."
"Oh," she said, pretending surprise. "I thought we were negotiating as equals, that you four gentlemen had powers equal to mine. Perhaps I'd better talk to Mr. Dunross directly in the future."
Andrew Gavallan flushed. "The tai-pan has final say. In everything."
"I'm very glad to know it, Mr. Gavallan. I only have final say up to 20 million." She beamed at them. "Very well, put it to your tai-pan. Meanwhile, shall we set a time limit on the consideration period?"
Another silence.
"What do you suggest?" Gavallan said, feeling trapped.
"Whatever the minimum is. I don't know how fast you like to work," Casey said.
Phillip Chen said, "Why not table that answer until after lunch, Andrew?"
"Yes—good idea."
"That's fine with me," Casey said. I've done my job, she thought.
I'll settle for 20 million when it could've been 30 and they're men and expert, and over twenty-one and they think I'm a sucker. But now I get my drop dead money. Dear God in heaven let this deal go through because then I'm free forever.
Free to do what?
Never mind, she told herself. I'll think about that later.
She heard herself continue the pattern: "Shall we go through the details of how you'd like the 18 million and …"
"18 is hardly adequate," Phillip Chen interrupted, the lie coming very easily. "There are all sorts of added costs. . . ."
In perfect negotiating style Casey argued and allowed them to push her to 20 million and then, with apparent reluctance, she said, "You gentlemen are exceptional businessmen. Very well, 20 million." She saw their hidden smiles and laughed to herself.
"Good," Gavallan said, very satisfied.
"Now," she said, wanting to keep the pressure on, "how do you want our joint venture corporate structure to be? Of course subject to your tai-pan—sorry, subject to the tai-pan's approval," she said, correcting herself with just the right amount of humility.
Gavallan was watching her, irritably wishing she were a man. Then I could say, up yours, or go shit in your hat, and we'd laugh together because you know and I know you always have to check with the tai-pan in some way or another—whether it's Dunross or Bartlett or a board or your wife. Yes, and if you were a man we wouldn't have this bloody sexuality in the boardroom which doesn't belong here in the first place. Christ, if you were an old bag maybe that'd make a difference but, shit, a bird like you?
What the hell gets into American women? Why in the name of Christ don't they stay where they belong and be content with what they're great at? Stupid!
And stupid to concede financing so quickly, and even more stupid to give us an extra two million when ten would probably have been acceptable in the first place. For God's sake, you should have been more patient and you would have made a much better deal! That's the trouble with you Americans, you've—no finesse and no patience and no style and you don't understand the art of negotiation, and you, dear lady, you're much too impatient to prove yourself. So now I know how to play you.
He glanced at Linbar Struan who was watching Casey covertly, waiting for him or Phillip or Jacques to continue. When I'm tai-pan,
Gavallan thought grimly, I'm going to break you, young Linbar, break you or make you. You need shoving out into the world on your own, to make you think for yourself, to rely on yourself, not on your name and your heritage. Yes, with a lot more hard work to take some of the heat out of your yang—the sooner you remarry the better.
His eyes switched to Jacques deVille who smiled back at him. Ah Jacques, he thought without rancor, you're my main opposition. You're doing what you usually do: saying little, watching everything, thinking a lot—rough, tough and mean if necessary. But what's in your mind about this deal? Have I missed something? What does your canny legal Parisian mind forecast? Ah but she stopped you in your tracks with her joke about your joke about her nose, eh?
I'd like to bed her too, he thought absently, knowing Linbar and Jacques had already decided the same. Of course—who wouldn't?
What about you, Phillip Chen?
Oh no. Not you. You like them very much younger and have it done to you, strangely, if there's any truth to the rumors, heya?
He looked back at Casey. He could read her impatience. You don't look lesbian, he thought and groaned inwardly. Is that your other weakness? Christ, that'd be a terrible waste!
"The joint venture should be set up under Hong Kong law," he said.
"Yes of course. There's—"
"Sims, Dawson and Dick can advise us how. I'll arrange an appointment for tomorrow or the day after."
"No need for that, Mr. Gavallan. I already got their tentative proposals, hypothetical and confidential, of course, just in case we decided to conclude."
"What?" They gaped at her as she took out five copies of a short form, legal contract and handed one to each of them.
"I found out they were your attorneys," she said brightly. "I had our people check them out and I was advised they're the best so they were fine with us. I asked them to consider our joint hypothetical needs—yours as well as ours. Is anything the matter?"
"No," Gavallan said, suddenly furious that their own firm had not told them of Par-Con's inquiries. He began to scan the letter.
Dew neh loh moh on Casey bloody whatever her names are, Phillip Chen was thinking, enraged at the loss of face. May your
Golden Gulley wither and be ever dry and dust-filled for your foul manners and your fresh, filthy, unfeminine habits!
God protect us from American women!
Ayeeyah, it is going to cost Lincoln Bartlett a pretty penny for daring to stick this . . . this creature upon us, he promised himself. How dare he!
Nevertheless, his mind was estimating the staggering value of the deal they were being offered. It has to be at least 100 million U.S., potentially, over the next few years, he told himself, his head reeling. This will give the Noble House the stability it needs.
Oh happy day, he gloated. And co-financing dollar for dollar! Unbelievable! Stupid to give us that so quickly without even a tiny concession in return. Stupid, but what can you expect from a stupid woman? Ayeeyah, the Pacific Rim will gorge on all the polyurethane foam products we can make—for packaging, building, bedding and insulating. One factory here, one in Taiwan, one in Singapore, one in Kuala Lumpur and a last, initially, in Jakarta. We'll make millions, tens of millions. And as to the computer-leasing agency, why at the rental these fools are oifering us, 10 percent less than IBM's list price, less our IVi percent commission—with just a little haggling we would have been delighted to agree to 5 percent—by next weekend I can sell three in Singapore, one here, one in Kuala Lumpur and one to that shipping pirate in Indonesia for a clear profit of $67,500 each, or $405,000 for six phone calls. And as to China . . .
And as to China . . .
Oh all gods great and small and very small, help this deal to go through and I will endow a new temple, a cathedral, in Tai-ping Shan, he promised, consumed with fervor. If China will drop some controls, or even ease them just a fraction, we can fertilize the paddy fields of Kwantung Province and then of all China and over the next twelve years this deal will mean tens of hundreds of millions of dollars, U.S. dollars not Hong Kong dollars!
The thought of all this profit mollified his rage considerably. "I think this proposal can form the basis for further discussion," he said, finishing reading. "Don't you, Andrew?"
"Yes." Gavallan put the letter down. "I'll call them after lunch. When would it be convenient for Mr. Bartlett… and you of course … to meet?"
"This afternoon—the sooner the better—or anytime tomorrow but Line won't come. I handle all the details, that's my job," Casey said crisply. "He sets policy—and will formally sign the final documents—after I've approved them. That's the function of the com-mander-in-chief, isn't it?" She beamed at them.
"I'll make an appointment and leave a message at your hotel," Gavallan was saying.
"Perhaps we could set it up now—then that's out of the way?"
Sourly Gavallan glanced at his watch. Almost lunch, thank God. "Jacques—how're you fixed tomorrow?"
"Morning's better than the afternoon."
"And for John too," Phillip Chen said.
Gavallan picked up the phone and dialed. "Mary? Call Dawson and make an appointment for eleven tomorrow to include Mr. deVille and Mr. John Chen and Miss Casey At their offices." He put the phone down. "Jacques and John Chen handle all our corporate matters. John's sophisticated on American problems and Daw-son's the expert. I'll send the car for you at 10:30."
"Thanks, but there's no need for you to trouble."
"Just as you wish," he said politely. "Perhaps this is a good time to break for lunch."
Casey said, "We've a quarter of an hour yet. Shall we start on how you'd like our financing? Or if you wish we can send out for a sandwich and work on through."
They stared at her, appalled. "Work through lunch?'
"Why not? It's an old American custom."
"Thank God it's not a custom here," Gavallan said.
"Yes," Phillip Chen snapped.
She felt their disapproval descend like a pall but she did not care. Shit on all of you, she thought irritably, then forced herself to put that attitude away. Listen, idiot, don't let these sons of bitches get you! She smiled sweetly. "If you want to stop now for lunch, that's fine with me."
"Good," Gavallan said at once and the others breathed a sigh of relief. "We begin lunch at 12:40. You'll probably want to powder your nose first."
"Yes, thank you," she said, knowing they wanted her gone so they could discuss her—and then the deal. It should be the other way around, she thought, but it won't be. No. It'll be the same as always: they'll lay bets as to who'll be the first to score. But it'll be none of them, because I don't want any of them at the moment, however attractive they are in their way. These men are like all the others I've met: they don't want love, they just want sex.
Except Line.
Don't think about Line and how much you love him and how rotten these years have been. Rotten and wonderful.
Remember your promise.
I won't think about Line and love.
Not until my birthday which is ninety-eight days from now. The ninety-eighth day ends the seventh year and because of my darling by then I'll have my drop dead money and really be equal, and, God willing, we'll have the Noble House. Will that be my wedding present to him? Or his to me?
Or a good-bye present.
"Where's the ladies' room?" she asked, getting up, and they all stood and towered over her, except Phillip Chen whom she topped by an inch, and Gavallan directed her.
Linbar Struan opened the door for her and closed it behind her. Then he grinned. "A thousand says you'll never make it, Jacques."
"Another thousand," Gavallan said. "And ten that you won't, Linbar."
"You're on," Linbar replied, "provided she's here a month."
"You're slowing up, aren't you, old chap?" Gavallan said^ then to Jacques, "Well?"
The Frenchman smiled. "Twenty that you, Andrew, will never charm such a lady into bed—and as to you, poor young Linbar. Fifty against your racehorse says the same."
"I like my filly for God's sake. Noble Star's got a great chance of being a winner. She's the best in our stable."
"A hundred and I'll consider it."
"I don't want any horse that much." Jacques smiled at Phillip Chen. "What do you think, Phillip?"
Phillip Chen got up. "I think I'll go home to lunch and leave you stallions to your dreams. It's curious though that you're all betting the others won't—not that any of you could." Again they laughed.
"Stupid to give us the extra, eh?" Gavallan said.
"The deal's fantastic," Linbar Struan said. "Christ, Uncle Phillip, fantastic!"
"Like her derriere," deVille said as a connoisseur would. "Eh, Phillip?"
Good-naturedly Phillip Chen nodded and walked out, but as he saw Casey disappearing into the ladies' room, he thought, Ayeeyah, who'd want the big lump anyway?
Inside the ladies' room, Casey looked around, appalled. It was clean but smelled of old drains and there were pails piled one on top of another and some were filled with water. The floor was tiled but water-spotted and messy. I've heard the English are not very hygienic, she thought disgustedly, but here in the Noble House? Ugh! Astonishing!
She went into one of the cubicles, its floor wet and slippery, and after she had finished she pulled the handle and nothing happened. Sh^ tried it again, and again, and still nothing happened so she cursed and lifted off the top of the cistern. The cistern was dry and rusty. Irritably she unbolted the door and went to the basin and turned on the water but none came out.
What's the matter with this place? I'll bet those bastards sent me here deliberately!
There were clean hand towels so she poured a pail of water into the basin awkwardly, spilling some, washed her hands, then dried them, furious that her shoes had got splashed. At a sudden thought, she took another pail and flushed the toilet, then used still another bucket to clean her hands again. When she left, she felt very soiled.
I suppose the goddamn pipe's broken somewhere and the plumber won't come until tomorrow. Goddamn all water systems!
Calm down, she told herself. You'll start making mistakes.
The corridor was covered with fine Chinese silk carpet, and the walls were lined with oil paintings of clipper ships and Chinese landscapes. As she approached she could hear the muted voices from the boardroom and a laugh—the kind of laugh that comes from a ribald joke or a smutty remark. She knew the moment she opened the door, the good humor and comradeship would vanish and the awkward silence would return.
She opened the door and they all got up.
"Are you having trouble with your water mains?" she asked, holding her anger down.
"No, I don't think so," Gavallan said, startled.
"Well, there's no water. Didn't you know?"
"Of course there's no— Oh!" He stopped. "You're staying at the V and A so … Didn't anyone tell you about the water shortage?"
They all began talking at once but Gavallan dominated them.
"The V and A has its own water supply—so do a couple of other hotels—but the rest of us're on four hours of water every fourth day, so you've got to use a pail. Never occurred to me you didn't know. Sorry."
"How do you manage? Every fourth day!"
"Yes. For four hours, 6:00 A.M. till 8:00 A.M., then 5:00 till 7:00 in the evening. It's a frightful bore because of course it means we've got to store four days' supply. Pails, or the bath, whatever you can. We're short of pails—it's our water day tomorrow. Oh my God, there was water for you, wasn't there?"
"Yes, but. . . You mean the water mains are turned off? Everywhere?" she asked incredulously.
"Yes," Gavallan said patiently. "Except for those four hours every fourth day. But you're all right at the V and A. As they're right on the waterfront they can refill their tanks daily from lighters —of course, they have to buy it."
"You can't shower or bathe?"
Linbar Struan laughed. "Everyone gets pretty grotty after three days in this heat but at least we're all in the same sewer. Still it's survival training to make sure there's a full pail before you go."
"I had no idea," she said, aghast that she had used three pails.
"Our reservoirs are empty," Gavallan explained. "We've had almost no rain this year and last year was dry too. Bloody nuisance but there you are. Just one of those things. Joss."
"Then where does your water come from?"
They stared at her blankly. "From China of course. By pipes over the border into the New Territories, or by tanker from the Pearl River. The government's just chartered a fleet often tankers that go up the Pearl River, by agreement with Peking. They bring us about 10 million gallons a day. It'll cost the government upwards of 25 million for this year's charter. Saturday's paper said our consumption's down to 30 million gallons a day for our 3l/2 million population—that includes industry. In your country, one person uses 150 gallons a day, so they say."
"It's the same for everyone? Four hours every fourth day?"
"Even at the Great House you use a pail." Gavallan shrugged again. "But the tai-pan's got a place at Shek-O that has its own well. We all pile over there when we're invited, to get the slime off."
She thought again of the three pails of water she had used. Jesus, she thought, did I use it all? I don't recall if there's any left.
"I guess I've a lot-to learn," she said.
Yes, they all thought. Yes, you bloody have.
"Yes, Claudia?" Dunross said into the intercom.
"The meeting with Casey's just broken for lunch. Master Andrew is on line four. Master Linbar's on his way up."
"Cancel him till after lunch. Any luck on Tsu-yan?"
"No sir. The plane landed on time at 8:40. He's not at his office in Taipei. Or his flat. I'll keep trying, of course. Another thing, I've just had an interesting call, tai-pan. It seems that Mr. Bartlett went to Rothwell-Gornt this morning and had a private meeting with Mr. Gornt."
"Are you sure?" he asked, ice in his stomach suddenly.
"Yes, oh very yes."
Bastard, Dunross thought. Does Bartlett mean me to find out? "Thanks," he said, putting the question aside for the moment, but very glad to know. "You've got a thousand dollars on any horse on Saturday."
"Oh thank you, tai-pan."
"Back to work, Claudia!" He punched the number four button. "Yes, Andrew? What's the deal?"
Gavallan told him the important part.
"20 million in cash?" he asked with disbelief.
"In marvelous, beautiful U.S. cash!" Dunross could feel his beam down the phone. "And when I asked when Bartlett would confirm the deal the little scrubber had the bloody cheek to say, 'Oh it's confirmed now—I can commit up to 20 million on this deal without consulting him or anyone.' Do you think that's possible?"
"I don't know." Dunross felt a little weak in the knees. "Bartlett's due any moment. I'll ask."
"Hey, tai-pan, if this goes through . . ."
But Dunross was hardly listening as Gavallan ran on ecstatically. It's an unbelievable offer, he was telling himself.
It's too good. Where's the flaw?
Where's the flaw?
Ever since he had become tai-pan he had had to maneuver, lie, cajole and even threaten—Havergill of the bank for one—far more than ever he had expected, to stay ahead of the disasters he had inherited, and the natural and political ones that seemed to be besetting the world. Even going public had not given him the capital and time he had expected because a worldwide slump had ripped the markets to pieces. And last year in August, Typhoon Wanda had struck, leaving havoc in her wake, hundreds dead, a hundred thousand homeless, half a thousand fishing boats sunk, twenty ships sunk, one of their three thousand tonners flung ashore, their giant half-completed wharf wrecked and their entire building program smashed for six months. In the fall the Cuban crisis and more slump. This spring de Gaulle had vetoed Britain's entry into the Common Market and more slump. China and Russia quarreling and more slump. . . .
And now I've almost got 20 million U.S. but I think we're somehow involved in gun-running, Tsu-yan's apparently on the run and John Chen's God knows where!
"Christ all sodding mighty!" he said angrily.
"What?" Gavallan stopped, aghast, in midflow. "What's up?"
"Oh nothing—nothing, Andrew," he said. "Nothing to do with you. Tell me about her. What's she like?"
"Good at figures, fast and confident, but impatient. And she's the best-looking bird I've seen in years, with potentially the best pair of knockers in town." Gavallan told him about the bets. "I think Linbar's got the inside track."
"I'm going to fire Foster and send Linbar down to Sydney for six months, get him to sort everything out there."
"Good idea." Gavallan laughed. "That'll stop his farting in church—though they say the ladies Down Under are very accommodating."
"You think this deal will go through?"
"Yes. Phillip was ecstatic about it. But it's shitty dealing through a woman and that's the truth. Do you think we could bypass her and deal with Bartlett direct?"
"No. He was quite clear in his correspondence that K. C. Tcholok was his chief negotiator."
"Oh well . . . into the breach and all that! What we do for the Noble House!"
"Have you found her weak spot?"
"Impatience. She wants to 'belong'—to be one of the boys. I'd say her Achilles' heel is that she desperately wants acceptance in a man's world."
"No harm in wanting that—like the Holy Grail. The meeting with Dawson's set for eleven tomorrow?"
"Get Dawson to cancel it, but not until nine tomorrow morning. Tell him to make an excuse and reset it for Wednesday at noon."
"Good idea, keep her off balance, what?"
"Tell Jacques I'll take that meeting myself."
"Yes, tai-pan. What about John Chen? You'll want him there?"
After a pause Dunross said, "Yes. Have you seen him yet?"
"No. He's expected for lunch—you want me to chase him?"
"No. Where's Phillip?"
"He went home. He's coming back at 2:30."
Good, Dunross thought, and tabled John Chen until that time. "Listen . . ." The intercom buzzed. "Just a minute, Andrew." He punched the hold. "Yes, Claudia?"
"Sorry to interrupt, tai-pan, but I've got your call to Mr. Jen in Taipei on line two and Mr. Bartlett's just arrived downstairs."
"Bring him in as soon as I'm through with Jen." He stabbed line four again. "Andrew, I may be a couple of minutes late. Host drinks and that sort of thing for me. I'll bring Bartlett up myself."
Dunross stabbed line two. "Tsaw an, " he said in Mandarin dialect—How are you?—glad to talk to Wei-wei's uncle, General Jen Tang-wa, deputy chief of the illegal Kuomintang secret police for Hong Kong.
"Shey-shey," then in English, "What's up, tai-pan?"
"I thought you should know …" Dunross told him briefly about the guns and Bartlett, that the police were involved, but not about Tsu-yan or John Chen.
"Ayeeyah! That's very curious indeed."
"Yes. I thought so too. Very curious."
"You're convinced it's not Bartlett?"
"Yes. There appears to be no reason. None at all. It'd be stupid to use your own plane. Bartlett's not stupid," Dunross said. "Who'd need that sort of armament here?"
There was a pause. "Criminal elements."
"Not all triads are criminals."
"No," Dunross said.
"I'll see what I can find out. I'm sure it's nothing to do with us, Ian. Are you still coming Sunday?"
"Good. I'll see what I can find out. Drinks at 6:00 P.M.?"
"How about eight o'clock? Have you seen Tsu-yan yet?"
"I thought he wasn't due until the weekend. Isn't he making up our foursome on Monday with the American?"
"Yes. I heard he caught an early flight today." Dunross kept his voice matter-of-fact.
"He's sure to call—do you want him to phoneT'
"Yes. Anytime. It's nothing important. See you Sunday at eight."
"Yes, and thanks for the information. If I get anything I'll phone at once. 'Bye."
Dunross put the phone down. He had been listening very carefully to the tone of Jen's voice but he had heard nothing untoward. Where the hell's Tsu-yan?
A knock.
"Come in." He got up and went to meet Bartlett. "Hello." He smiled and held out his hand. "I'm Ian Dunross."
"Line Bartlett." They shook hands firmly. "Am I too early?"
"You're dead on time. You must know I like punctuality." Dunross laughed. "I heard the meeting went well."
"Good," Bartlett replied* wondering if Dunross meant the Gornt meeting. "Casey knows her facts and figures."
"My fellows were most impressed—she said she could finalize things herself. Can she, Mr. Bartlett?"
"She can negotiate and settle up to 20 million. Why?"
"Nothing. Just wanted to find out your form. Please sit down— we've a few minutes yet. Lunch won't begin till 12:40. It sounds as though we may have a profitable enterprise in front of us."
"I hope so. As soon as I've checked with Casey, perhaps you and I can get together?"
Dunross looked at his calendar. "Tomorrow at ten. Here?"
"You're on."
"No thanks. I quit a few years back."
"So did I—still want a cigarette though." Dunross leaned back in his chair. "Before we go to lunch, Mr. Bartlett, there're a couple of minor points. I'm going to Taipei on Sunday afternoon, will be back Tuesday in time for dinner, and I'd like you to come along. all
There're a couple of people I'd like you to meet, a golf match you might enjoy. We could chat leisurely, you could see the potential plant sites. It could be important. I've made all the arrangements, but it's not possible to take Miss Tcholok."
Bartlett frowned, wondering if Tuesday was just a coincidence. "According to Superintendent Armstrong I can't leave Hong Kong."
"I'm sure that could be changed."
"Then you know about the guns too?" Bartlett said and cursed himself for the slip. He managed to keep his eyes steady.
"Oh yes. Someone else's been bothering you about them?" Dun-ross asked, watching him.
"The police even chased Casey! Jesus! My airplane's seized, we're all suspect, and I don't know a goddamn thing about any guns."
"Well, there's no need to worry, Mr. Bartlett. Our police are very good."
"I'm not worried, just teed off."
"That's understandable," Dunross said, glad the Armstrong meeting was confidential. Very glad.
Christ, he thought queasily, if John Chen and Tsu-yan are involved somehow, Bartlett's going to be very teed off indeed, and we'll lose the deal and he'll throw in with Gornt and then . . .
"How did you hear about the guns?"
"We were informed by our office at Kai Tak this morning."
"Nothing like this ever happened before?"
"Yes." Dunross added lightly, "But there's no harm in smuggling or even a little gun-running—actually they're both very honorable professions—of course we do them elsewhere."
"Wherever Her Majesty's Government desires." Dunross laughed. "We're all pirates here, Mr. Bartlett, at least we are to outsiders." He paused. "Presuming I can make arrangements with the police, you're on for Taipei?"
Bartlett said, "Casey's very close-mouthed."
"I'm not suggesting she's not to be trusted."
"She's just not invited?"
"Certain of our customs here are a little different from yours, Mr. Bartlett. Most times she'll be welcome—but sometimes, well, it would save a lot of embarrassment if she were excluded."
"Casey doesn't embarrass easily."
"I wasn't thinking of her embarrassment. Sorry to be blunt but perhaps it's wiser in the long run."
"And if I can't 'conform'?"
"It will probably mean you cannot take advantage of a unique opportunity, which would be a very great pity—particularly if you intend a long-term association with Asia."
"I'll think about that."
"Sorry, but I have to have a yes or no now."
"You do?"
"Then go screw!"
Dunross grinned. "I won't. Meanwhile, finally: yes or no."
Bartlett broke out laughing. "Since you put it that way, I'm on for Taipei."
"Good. Of course I'll have my wife look after Miss Tcholok while we're away. There'll be no loss of face for her."
"Thank you. But you needn't worry about Casey. How are you going to fix Armstrong?"
"I'm not going to fix him, just ask the assistant commissioner to let me be responsible for you, there and back."
"Parole me in your custody?"
"How do you know I won't just leave town? Maybe I was gun-running."
Dunross watched him. "Maybe you are. Maybe you'll try—but I can deliver you back dead or alive, as they say in the movies. Hong Kong and Taipei are within my fief."
"Dead or alive, eh?"
"Hypothetically, of course."
"How many men have you killed in your lifetime?"
The mood in the room changed and both men felt the change deeply.
It's not dangerous yet between him and me, Dunross thought, not yet.
"Twelve," he replied, his senses poised, though the question had surprised him. "Twelve that I'm sure of. I was a fighter pilot during the war. Spitfires. I got two single-seat fighters, a Stuka, and two bombers—they were Dornier 17's and they'd have a crew of four each. All the planes burned as they went down. Twelve that I'm sure of, Mr. Bartlett. Of course we shot up a lot of trains, convoys, troop concentrations. Why?"
"I'd heard you were a flier. I don't think I've killed anyone. I was building camps, bases in the Pacific, that sort of thing. Never shot a gun in anger."
"But you like hunting?"
"Yes. I went on a safari in '59 in Kenya. Got an elephant and a great kudu bull and lots of game for the pot."
Dunross said after a pause, "I think I prefer to kill planes and trains and boats. Men, in war, are incidental. Aren't they?"
"Once the general's been put into the field by the ruler, sure. That's a fact of war."
"Have you read Sun Tzu's The Art of War?”
"The best book on war I've ever read," Bartlett said enthusiastically. "Better'n Clausewitz or Liddell Hart, even though it was written in 500 B.C."
"Oh?" Dunross leaned back, glad to get away from the killings. I haven't remembered the killing for years, he thought. That's not fair to those men, is it?
"Did you know Sun Tzu's book was published in French in 1782? I've a theory Napoleon had a copy."
"It's certainly in Russian—and Mao always carried a copy that was dog-eared with use," Dunross said.
"You've read it?"
"My father beat it into me. I had to read the original in characters —in Chinese. And then he'd question me on it, very seriously."
A fly began to batter itself irritatingly against the windowpane. "Your dad wanted you to be a soldier?"
"No. Sun Tzu, like Machiavelli, wrote about life more than death —and about survival more than war. …" Dunross glanced at the window then got up and went over to it and obliterated the fly with a controlled savagery that sent warning signals through Bartlett.
Dunross returned to his desk. "My father thought I should know about survival and how to handle large bodies of men. He wanted me to be worthy to become tai-pan one day, though he never thought I'd amount to much." He smiled.
"He was tai-pan too?"
"Yes. He was very good. At first."
"What happened?"
Dunross laughed sardonically. "Ah, skeletons so early, Mr. Bartlett? Well, briefly, we had a rather tedious, long-drawn-out difference of opinion. Eventually he handed over to Alastair Struan, my predecessor."
"He's still alive?"
"Does your British understatement mean you went to war with him?"
"Sun Tzu's very specific about going to war, Mr. Bartlett. Very bad to go to war he says, unless you need to. Quote: 'Supreme excellence of generalship consists in breaking the enemy's resistance without fighting.'"
"You broke him?"
"He removed himself from the field, Mr. Bartlett, like the wise man he was."
Dunross's face had hardened. Bartlett studied him. Both men knew they were drawing battle lines in spite of themselves.
"I'm glad I came to Hong Kong," the American said. "I'm glad to meet you."
"Thank you. Perhaps one day you won't be."
Bartlett shrugged. "Maybe. Meanwhile we've got a deal cooking —good for you, good for us." He grinned abruptly, thinking about Gornt and the cooking knife. "Yes. I'm glad I came to Hong Kong."
"Would you and Casey care to be my guests this evening? I'm having a modest bash, a party, at 8:30 odd."
"Just dinner jacket—is that all right?"
"Fine. Casey said you like the tux and black tie bit." Then Bartlett noticed the painting on the wall: an old oil of a pretty Chinese boat girl carrying a little English boy, his fair hair tied in a queue. "That a Quance? An Aristotle Quance?"
"Yes, yes it is," Dunross said, barely covering his surprise.
Bartlett walked over and looked at it. "This the original?"
"Yes. You know much about art?"
"No, but Casey told me about Quance as we were coming out here. She said he's almost like a photographer, really a historian of the early times."
"Yes, yes he is."
"If I remember this one's supposed to be a portrait of a girl called May-may, May-may T'Chung, and the child is one of Dirk Struan's by her?"
Dunross said nothing, just watched Bartlett's back.
Bartlett peered a little closer. "Difficult to see the eyes. So the boy is Gordon Chen, Sir Gordon Chen to be?" He turned and looked at Dunross.
"I don't know for certain, Mr. Bartlett. That's one story."
Bartlett watched him for a moment. The two men were well matched, Dunross slightly taller but Bartlett wider in the shoulders. Both had blue eyes, Dunross's slightly more greenish, both wideset in lived-in faces.
"You enjoy being tai-pan of the Noble House?" Bartlett asked.
"I don't know for a fact what a tai-pan's powers are, but in Par-Con I can hire and fire anyone, and can close it down if I want."
"Then you're a tai-pan."
"Then I enjoy being a tai-pan too. I want in in Asia—you need an in in the States. Together we could sew up the whole Pacific Rim into a tote bag for both of us."
Or a shroud for one of us, Dunross thought, liking Bartlett despite the fact that he knew it was dangerous to like him.
"I've got what you lack, you've got what I lack."
"Yes," Dunross said. "And now what we both lack is lunch."
They turned for the door. Bartlett was there first. But he did not open it at once. "I know it's not your custom but since I'm going with you to Taipei, could you call me Line and I call you Ian and we begin to figure out how much we're gonna bet on the golf match? I'm sure you know my handicap's thirteen, officially, and I know yours's ten, officially, which probably means at least one stroke off both of us for safety."
"Why not?" Dunross said at once. "But here we don't normally bet money, just balls."
"I'm goddamned if I'm betting mine on a golf match."
Dunross laughed. "Maybe you will, one day. We usually bet half a dozen golf balls here—something like that."
"It's a bad British custom to bet money, Ian?"
"No. How about five hundred a side, winning team take all?"
"U.S. or Hong Kong?"
"Hong Kong. Among friends it should be Hong Kong. Initially."
Lunch was served in the directors' private dining room on the nineteenth floor. It was an L-shaped corner room, with a high ceiling and blue drapes, mottled blue Chinese carpets and large windows from which they could see Kowloon and the airplanes taking off and landing at Kai Tak and as far west as Stonecutters Island and Tsing Yi Island, and, beyond, part of the New Territories. The great, antique oak dining table which could seat twenty easily was laid with placemats and fine silver, and Waterfbrd's best crystal. For the six of them, there were four silent, very well-trained waiters in black trousers and white tunics embroidered with the Struan emblem.
Cocktails had been started before Bartlett and Dunross arrived. Casey was having a dry vodka martini with the others—except for Gavallan who had a double pink gin. Bartlett, without being asked, was served an ice-cold can of Anweiser, on a Georgian silver tray.
"Who told you?" Bartlett said, delighted.
"Compliments of Struan and Company," Dunross said. "We heard that's the way you like it." He introduced him to Gavallan, deVille and Linbar Struan, and accepted a glass of iced Chablis, then smiled at Casey. "How are you?"
"Fine, thanks."
"Excuse me," Bartlett said to the others, "but I have to give Casey a message before I forget. Casey, will you call Johnston in Washington tomorrow—find out who our best contact'd be at the consulate here."
"Certainly. If I can't get him I'll ask Tim Diller."
Anything to do with Johnston was code for: how's the deal progressing? In answer: Diller meant good, Tim Diller very good, Jones bad, George Jones very bad.
"Good idea," Bartlett said and smiled back, then to Dunross, "This is a beautiful room."
"It's adequate," Dunross said.
Casey laughed, getting the underplay. "The meeting went very well, Mr. Dunross," she said. "We came up with a proposal for your consideration."
How American to come out with it like that—no finesse! Doesn't she know business is for after lunch, not before. "Yes. Andrew gave me the outline," Dunross replied. "Would you care for another drink?"
"No thanks. I think the proposal covers everything, sir. Are there any points you'd like me to clarify?"
"I'm sure there will be, in due course," Dunross said, privately amused, as always, by the sir that many American women used conversationally, and often, incongruously, to waiters. "As soon as I've studied it I'll get back to you. A beer for Mr. Bartlett," he added, once more trying to divert business until later. Then to Jacques, "fa va?"
Out merci. A rien." Nothing yet.
"Not to worry," Dunross said. Yesterday Jacques's adored daughter and her husband had had a bad car accident while on holiday in France—how bad he was still waiting to hear. "Not to worry."
"No." Again the Gallic shrug, hiding the vastness of his concern.
Jacques was Dunross's first cousin and he had joined Struan's in '45. His war had been rotten. In 1940 he had sent his wife and two infants to England and had stayed in France. For the duration. Maquis and prison and condemned and escaped and Maquis again. Now he was fifty-four, a strong, quiet man but vicious when provoked, with a heavy chest and brown eyes and rough hands and many scars.
"In principle does the deal sound okay?" Casey asked.
Dunross sighed inwardly and put his full concentration on her. "I may have a counterproposal on a couple of minor points. Meanwhile," he added decisively, "you can proceed on the assumption that, in general terms, it's acceptable."
"Oh fine," Casey said happily.
"Great," Bartlett said, equally pleased, and raised his can of beer. "Here's to a successful conclusion and big profits—for you and for us."
They drank the toast, the others reading the danger signs in Dunross, wondering what the tai-pan's counterproposal would be.
"Will it take you long to finalize, Ian?" Bartlett asked, and all of them heard the Ian. Linbar Struan winced openly.
To their astonishment, Dunross just said, "No," as though the familiarity was quite ordinary, adding, "I doubt if the solicitors will come up with anything insurmountable."
"We're seeing them tomorrow at eleven o'clock," Casey said. "Mr, deVille, John Chen and I. We've already gotten their advance go-through … no problems there."
"Dawson's very good—particularly on U.S. tax law."
"Casey, maybe we should bring out our tax guy from New York," Bartlett said.
"Sure, Line, soon as we're set. And Forrester." To Dunross she said, "He's head of our foam division."
"Good. And that's enough shoptalk before lunch," Dunross said. "House rules, Miss Casey: no shop with food, it's very bad for the digestion." He beckoned Lim. "We won't wait for Master John."
Instantly waiters materialized and chairs were held out and there were typed place names in silver holders and the soup was ladled.
The menu said sherry with the soup, Chablis with the fish—or claret with the roast beef and Yorkshire pudding if you preferred it—boiled string beans and boiled potatoes and boiled carrots. Sherry trifle as dessert. Port with the cheese tray.
"How long will you be staying, Mr. Bartlett?" Gavallan asked.
"As long as it takes. But Mr. Gavallan, since it looks as though we're going to be in business together a long time, how about you dropping the 'Mr.' Bartlett and the 'Miss' Casey and calling us Line and Casey."
Gavallan kept his eyes on Bartlett. He would have liked to have said, Well Mr. Bartlett, we prefer to work up to these things around here—it's one of the few ways you tell your friends from your acquaintances. For us first names are a private thing. But as the tai-pan hasn't objected to the astonishing "Ian" there's not a thing I can do. "Why not, Mr. Bartlett?" he said blandly. "No need to stand on ceremony. Is there?"
Jacques deVille and Struan and Dunross chuckled inside at the "Mr. Bartlett," and the way Gavallan had neatly turned the unwanted acceptance into a put-down and a loss of face that neither of the Americans would ever understand.
"Thanks, Andrew," Bartlett said. Then he added, "Ian, may I bend the rules and ask one more question before lunch: Can you finalize by next Tuesday, one way or another?"
Instantly the currents in the room reversed. Lim and the other servants hesitated, shocked. All eyes went to Dunross. Bartlett thought he had gone too far and Casey was sure of it. She had been watching Dunross. His expression had not changed but his eyes had. Everyone in the room knew that the tai-pan had been called as a man will call another in a poker game. Put up or shut up. By next Tuesday.
They waited. The silence seemed to hang. And hang.
Then Dunross broke it. "I'll let you know tomorrow," he said, his voice calm, and the moment passed and everyone sighed inwardly and the waiters continued and everyone relaxed. Except Linbar. He could still feel the sweat on his hands because he alone of them knew the thread that went through all of the descendents of Dirk Struan—a strange, almost primeval, sudden urge to violence —and he had seen it almost surface then, almost but not quite. This time it had gone away. But the knowledge of it and its closeness terrified him.
His own line was descended from Robb Struan, Dirk Struan's half-brother and partner, so he had none of Dirk Struan's blood in his veins. He bitterly regretted it and loathed Dunross even more for making him sick with envy.
Hag Struan on you, Ian bloody Dunross, and all your generations, he thought, and shuddered involuntarily at the thought of her.
"What's up, Linbar?" Dunross asked.
"Oh nothing, tai-pan," he said, almost jumping out of his skin. "Nothing—just a sudden thought. Sorry."
"What thought?"
"I was just thinking about Hag Struan."
Dunross's spoon hesitated in midair and the others stared at him. "That's not exactly good for your digestion."
"No sir."
Bartlett glanced at Linbar, then at Dunross. "Who's Hag Struan?"
"A skeleton," Dunross said with a dry laugh. "We've lots of skeletons in our family."
"Who hasn't?" Casey said.
"Hag Struan was our eternal bogeyman—still is."
"Not now, tai-pan, surely," Gavallan said. "She's been dead for almost fifty years."
"Maybe she'll die out with us, with Linbar, Kathy and me, with our generation, but I doubt it." Dunross looked at Linbar strangely. "Will Hag Struan get out of her coffin tonight and gobble us up?"
"I swear to God I don't like even joking about her like that, tai-pan."
"The pox on Hag Struan," Dunross said. "If she was alive I'd say it to her face."
"I think you would. Yes," Gavallan laughed suddenly. "That I'd like to have seen."
"So would I." Dunross laughed with him, then he saw Casey's expression. "Ah, just bravado, Casey. Hag Struan was a fiend from hell if you believe half the legends. She was Culum Struan's wife— he was Dirk Struan's son—our founder's son. Her maiden name was less, Tess Brock and she was the daughter of Dirk's hated enemy, Tyler Brock. Culum and Tess eloped in 1841, so the story goes. She was sweet sixteen and a beauty, and he heir to the Noble House. It was rather like Romeo and Juliet—except they lived and it made no difference whatsoever to the blood feud of Dirk against Tyler or the Struans versus the Brocks, it just heightened and complicated it. She was born Tess Brock in 1825 and died Hag Struan in 1917, aged ninety-two, toothless, hairless, besotten, vicious and dreadful to her very last day. Life's strange, heya?"
"Yes. Unbelievable sometimes," Casey said thoughtfully. "Why is it people change so much growing old—get so sour and bitter? Particularly women?"
Fashion, Dunross could have answered at once, and because men and women age differently. It's unfair—but an immortal fact. A woman sees the lines beginning and the sagging beginning and the skin no longer so fresh and firm but her man's still fine and sought after and then she sees the young dolly birds and she's petrified she'll lose him to them and eventually she will because he'll become bored with her carping and the self-fed agony of the self-mutilation— and too, because of his built-in uncontrollable urge toward youth. . . .
"Ayeeyah, there's no aphrodisiac in the world like youth," old Chen-Chen—Phillip Chen's father—lan's mentor would always say. "None, young Ian, there's none. None none none. Listen to me. The yang needs the yin juices, but young juices, oh yes they should be young, the juices young to extend your life and nourish the yang —oh oh oh! Remember, the older your Male Stalk becomes the more it needs youth and change and young enthusiasm to perform exuberantly, and the more the merrier! But also remember that the Beauteous Box that nests between all their thighs, peerless though it is, delectable, delicious, unearthly, oh so sweet and oh so satisfying as it also is, beware! Ha! It's also a trap, ambush, torture chamber and your coffin!" Then the old, old man would chuckle and his belly would jump up and down and the tears would run down his face. "Oh the gods are marvelous, are they not? They grant us heaven on earth but it's living hell when you can't get your one-eyed monk to raise his head to enter paradise. Joss, my child! That's our joss—to crave the Greedy Gulley until she eats you up, but oh oh oh …"
It must be very difficult for women, particularly Americans, Dunross thought, this trauma of growing old, the inevitability of it happening so early, too early—worse in America than anywhere else on earth.
Why should I tell you a truth you must already know in your bones, Dunross asked himself. Or say further that American fashion demands you try to grasp an eternal youth neither God nor devil nor surgeon can give you. You can't be twenty-five when you're thirty-five nor have a thirty-five-year-old youthfulness when you're forty-five, or forty-five when you're fifty-five. Sorry, I know it's unfair but it's a fact.
Ayeeyah, he thought fervently, thank God—if there is a God— thank all gods great and small I'm a man and not a woman. I pity you, American lady with the beautiful names.
But Dunross answered simply, "I suppose that's because life's no bed of roses and we're fed stupid pap and bad values growing up —not like the Chinese who're so sensible—Christ, how unbelievably sensible they are! In Hag Struan's case perhaps it was her rotten Brock blood. I think it was her joss—her fate or luck or unluck. She and Culum had seven children, four sons and three daughters. All her sons died violently, two of the 'flux'—probably plague—here in Hong Kong, one was murdered, knifed in Shanghai, and the last was drowned off Ayr in Scotland, where our family lands are. That'd be enough to send any mother around the bend, that and the hatred and envy that surrounded Culum and her all their lives. But when you add this to all the problems of living in Asia, the passing over of the Noble House to other people's sons . . . well, you can understand." Dunross thought a moment, then added, "Legend has it she ruled Culum Struan all his life and tyrannized the Noble House till the day she died—and all tai-pans, all daughters-in-law, all sons-in-law and all the children as well. Even after she died. I can remember one English nanny I had, may she burn in hell forever, saying to me, 'You better behave, Master Ian, or I'll conjure up Hag Struan and she'll gobble you up….' I can't have been more than five or six."
"How terrible," Casey said.
Dunross shrugged. "Nannies do that to children."
"Not all of them, thank God," Gavallan said.
"I never had one who was any good at all. Or a gan sun who was ever bad."
"What's a gan sun?" Casey asked.
"It means 'near body,' it's the correct name for an amah. In China pre-'49, children of well-to-do families and most of the old European and Eurasian families out here always had their own 'near body' to look after them—in many cases they kept them all their lives. Most gan sun take a vow of celibacy. You can always recognize them by the long queue they wear down their back. My gan sun's called Ah Tat. She's a great old bird. She's still with us," Dunross said.
Gavallan said, "Mine was more like a mother to me than my real mother."
"So Hag Struan's your great-grandmother?" Casey said to Lin-bar.
"Christ no! No, I'm—I'm not from Dirk Struan's line," he replied and she saw sweat on his forehead that she did not understand. "My line comes from his half-brother, Robb Struan. Robb Struan was Dirk's partner. The tai-pan's descended directly from Dirk, but even so … none of us're descended from the Hag."
"You're all related?" Casey asked, feeling curious tensions in the room. She saw Linbar hesitate and glance at Dunross as she looked at him.
"Yes," he said. "Andrew's married to my sister, Kathy. Jacques is a cousin, and Linbar . . . Linbar carries our name." Dunross laughed. "There're still lots of people in Hong Kong who remember the Hag, Casey. She always wore a long black dress with a big bustle and a funny hat with a huge moth-eaten feather, everything totally out of fashion, and she'd have a black stick with a silver handle on it with her. Most times she was carried in a sort of palanquin by four bearers up and down the streets. She wasn't much more than five foot but round and tough as a coolie's foot. The Chinese were equally petrified of her. Her nickname was 'Honorable Old Foreign Devil Mother with the Evil Eye and Dragon's Teeth.' "
"That's right," Gavallan said with a short laugh. "My father and grandmother knew her. They had their own trading company here and in Shanghai, Casey, but got more or less wiped out in the Great War and joined up with Struan's in '19. My old man told me that when he was a boy he and his friends used to follow the Hag around the streets and when she got particularly angry she'd take out her false teeth and chomp them at them." They all laughed with him as he parodied her. "My old man swore the teeth were two feet tall and on some form of spring and they'd go, crunch crunch crunch!"
"Hey Andrew, I'd forgotten that," Linbar broke in with a grin. "My gan sun, old Ah Fu, knew Hag Struan well and every time you'd mention her, Ah Fu's eyes'd turn up and she'd petition the gods to protect her from the evil eye and magic teeth. My brother Kyle and I…" He stopped, then began again in a different voice. "We used to tease Ah Fu about her."
Dunross said to Casey, "There's a portrait of her up at the Great House—two in fact. If you're interested, I'll show them to you one day."
"Oh thanks—I'd like that. Is there one of Dirk Struan?"
"Several. And one of Robb, his half-brother."
"I'd love to see them."
"Me too," Bartlett said. "Hell, I've never even seen a photo of my grandparents, let alone a portrait of my great-great-grandfather. I've always wanted to know about my forebears, what they were like, where they came from. I know nothing about them except my grandpa was supposed to have run a freight company in the Old West in a place called Jerrico. Must be great to know where you're from. You're lucky." He had been sitting back listening to the undercurrents, fascinated by them, seeking clues against the time he'd have to decide: Dunross or Gornt. If it's Dunross, Andrew Gavallan's an enemy and will have to go, he told himself. Young Struan hates Dunross, the Frenchman's an enigma and Dunross himself is nitroglycerine and just as dangerous. "Your Hag Struan sounds fantastic," he said. "And Dirk Struan too must have been quite a character."
"Now that's a masterpiece of understatement!" Jacques deVille said, his dark eyes sparkling. "He was the greatest pirate in Asia! You wait—you look at Dirk's portrait and you'll see the family resemblance! Our tai-pan's the spitting image, and ma foi, he's inherited all the worst parts."
"Drop dead, Jacques," Dunross said good-naturedly. Then to Casey, "It's not true. Jacques is always ribbing me. I'm nothing like him at all."
"But you're descended from him."
"Yes. My great-grandmother was Winifred, Dirk's only legitimate daughter. She married Lechie Struan Dunross, a clansman.
They had one son who was my grandfather—he was tai-pan after Culum. My family—the Dunrosses—are Dirk Struan's only direct descendents, as far as we know."
"You, you said legitimate?"
Dunross smiled. "Dirk had other sons and daughters. One son, Gordon Chen, was from a lady called Shen actually, that you know of. That's the Chen line today. There's also the T'Chung line—from Duncan T'Chung and Kate T'Chung, his son and daughter by the famous May-may T'Chung. Anyway that's the legend, they're accepted legends here though no one can prove or disprove them." Dunross hesitated and his eyes crinkled with the depth of his smile. "In Hong Kong and Shanghai our predecessors were, well, friendly, and the Chinese ladies beautiful, then as now. But they married their ladies rarely and the pill's only a very recent invention—so you don't always know who you might be related to. We, ah, we don't discuss this sort of thing publicly—in true British fashion we pretend it doesn't exist though we all know it does, then no one loses face. Eurasian families of Hong Kong usually took the name of their mothers, in Shanghai their fathers. We all seem to have accommodated the problem."
"It's all very friendly," Gavallan said.
"Sometimes," Dunross said.
"Then John Chen's related to you?" Casey asked.
"If you go back to the garden of Eden everyone's related to everyone I suppose." Dunross was looking at the empty place. Not like John to run off, he thought uneasily, and he's not the sort to get involved in gun smuggling, for any reason. Or be so stupid as to get caught. Tsu-yan? Well he's Shanghainese and he could easily be panicked—if he's mixed up in this. John's too easily recognized not to have been seen getting on a plane this morning so it's not that way. It has to be by boat—if he has run off. A boat where? Macao —no, that's a dead end. Ship? Too easy, he thought, if it was planned or even not planned and arranged at an hour's notice. Any day of the year there'd be thirty or forty scheduled sailings to all parts of the world, big ships and little ships, let alone a thousand junks nonscheduled, and even if on the run, a few dollars here and there and too easy to smuggle out—out or in. Men, women, children. Drugs. Anything. But no reason to smuggle inward except humans and drugs and guns and liquor and cigarettes and petrol— everything else is duty free and unrestricted.
Except gold.
Dunross smiled to himself. You import gold legally under license at thirty-five dollars an ounce for transit to Macao and what happens then is nobody's business but immensely profitable. Yes, he thought, and our Nelson Trading board meeting's this afternoon. Good. That's one business venture that never fails.
As he took some of the fish from the proffered silver tray he noticed Casey staring at him. "Yes, Casey?"
"Oh I was just wondering how you knew my names." She turned to Bartlett. "The tai-pan surprised me, Line. Before we were even introduced he called me Kamalian Ciranoush as though it were Mary Jane."
"That's Persian?" Gavallan asked at once.
"Armenian originally."
"Kamahly-arn Cirrrannoooossssh," Jacques said, liking the sibi-lance of the names. "Tresjolie, mademoiselle. Us ne sontpas diffidles saufpour les cretins."
"Ou les English," Dunross said and they all laughed.
"How did you know, tai-pan?" Casey asked him, feeling more at home with tai-pan than with Ian. Ian doesn't belong, yet, she thought, swept by his past and Hag Struan and the shadows that seemed to be surrounding him.
"I asked your attorney."
"What do you mean?"
"John Chen called me last night around midnight. You hadn't told him what K.C. stood for and I wanted to know. It was too early to talk to your office in Los Angeles—just 8 A.M., L.A. time—so I called your attorney in New York. My father used to say, when in doubt ask."
"You got Seymour Steigler III on a Saturday?" Bartlett asked, amazed.
"Yes. At his home in White Plains."
"But his home number's not in the book."
"I know. I called a Chinese friend of mine in the UN. He tracked him down for me. I told Mr. Steigler I wanted to know because of invitations—which is, of course, the truth. One should be accurate, shouldn't one?"
"Yes," Casey said, admiring him greatly. "Yes one should."
"You knew Casey was . . . Casey was a woman, last night?" Gavallan asked.
"Yes. Actually I knew several months ago, though not what K.C. stood for. Why?"
"Nothing, tai-pan. Casey, you were saying about Armenia. Your family emigrated to the States after the war?"
"After the First World War in 1918," Casey said, beginning the oft-told story. "Originally our surname was Tcholokian. When my grandparents arrived in New York they dropped the ian for simplicity, to help Americans. I still got Kamalian Ciranoush though. As you know, Armenia is the southern part of Caucasus—just north of Iran and Turkey and south of Russian Georgia. It used to be a free sovereign nation but now it's all absorbed by Soviet Russia or Turkey. My grandmother was Georgian—there was lots of intermarriage in the old days. My people were spread all over the Ottoman Empire, about two million, but the massacres, particularly in 1915 and '16…" Casey shivered. "It was genocide really. There're barely 500,000 of us left and now we're scattered throughout the world. Armenians were traders, artists, painters and jewelry makers, writers, warriors too. There were nearly 50,000 Armenians in the Turkish Army before they were disarmed, outcast and shot by the Turks during World War One—generals, officers and soldiers. They were an elite minority and had been for centuries."
"Is that why the Turks hated them?" deVille asked.
"They were hardworking and clannish and very good traders and businessmen for sure—they controlled lots of business and trade. My granddad said trading's in our blood. But perhaps the main reason is that Armenians are Christian—they were the first Christian state in history under the Romans—and of course the Turks are Mohammedan. The Turks conquered Armenia in the sixteenth century and there was always a border war going on between Christian Tsarist Russia and the 'Infidel' Turks. Up to 1917 Tsarist Russia was our real protector. . . . The Ottoman Turks were always a strange people, very cruel, very strange."
"Your family got out before the trouble?"
"No. My grandparents were quite rich, and like a lot of people thought nothing could happen to them. They escaped just ahead of the soldiers, took two sons and a daughter out the back door with just what they could grab in their dash for freedom. The rest of the family never made it. My grandfather bribed his way out of Istanbul onto a fishing boat that smuggled him and my grandmother to
Cyprus where, somehow, they got visas to the States. They had a little money and some jewelry—and lots of talent. Granny's still alive … she can still haggle with the best of them."
"Your grandfather was a trader?" Dunross asked. "Is that how you first got interested in business?"
"We certainly had it drummed into us as soon as we could think about being self-sufficient," Casey said. "My granddad started an optical company in Providence, making lenses and microscopes and an import-export company dealing mostly in carpets and perfumes, with a little gold and precious stones trading on the side. My dad designed and made jewelry. He's dead now but he had a small store of his own in Providence, and his brother, my uncle Bghos, worked with Granddad. Now, since Granddad died, my uncle runs the import-export company. It's small but stable. We grew up, my sister and I, around haggling, negotiating and the problem of profit. It was a great game and we were all equals."
"Where … oh, more trifle, Casey?"
"No thanks, I'm fine."
"Where did you take your business degree?"
"I suppose all over," she said. "After I got out of high school, I put myself through a two-year business course at Katharine Gibbs in Providence: shorthand, typing, simple accounting, filing, plus a few business fundamentals. But ever since I could count I worked nights and holidays and weekends with Granddad in his businesses. I was taught to think and plan and put the plan into effect, so most of my training's been in the field. Of course since I've gotten out of school I've kept up with specialized courses that I wanted to take —at night school mostly." Casey laughed. "Last year I even took one at the Harvard Business School which went down like an H-bomb with some members of the faculty, though it's getting a little easier now for a woman."
"How did you manage to become hatchetman—hatchetlady to Par-Con Industries?" Dunross said.
"Perspicacity," she said and they laughed with her.
Bartlett said, "Casey's a devil for work, Ian. Her speed reading's fantastic so she can cover more ground than two normal execs. She's got a great nose for danger, she's not afraid of a decision, she's more of a deal maker than a deal breaker, and she doesn't blush easily.''
"That's my best point," Casey said. "Thanks, Line."
"But isn't it very hard on you, Casey?" Gavallan asked. "Don't you have to concede a hell of a lot as a woman to keep up? It can't be easy for you to do a man's job."
"I don't consider my job a man's job, Andrew," she replied at once. "Women have just as good brains and work capacity as men."
There was an immediate hoot of friendly derision from Linbar and Gavallan and Dunross overrode them and said, "I think we'll table that one for later. But again, Casey, how did you get where you are at Par-Con?"
Shall I tell you the real story, Ian lookalike to Dirk Struan, the greatest pirate in Asia, or shall I tell you the one that's become legend, she asked herself.
Then she heard Bartlett begin and she knew she could safely drift for she had heard his version a hundred times before and it was part true, part false and part what he wanted to believe had happened. How many of your legends are true—Hag Struan and Dirk Struan and what's your real story and how did you become tai-pan? She sipped her port, enjoying the smooth sweetness, letting her mind wander.
There's something wrong here, she was thinking now. I can feel it strongly. Something's wrong with Dunross.
"I first met Casey in Los Angeles, California—about seven years ago," Bartlett had begun. "I'd gotten a letter from a Casey Tcholok, president of Hed-Opticals of Providence, who wanted to discuss a merger. At that time I was in construction all over the L.A. area —residential, supermarkets, a couple of good-sized office buildings, industrial, shopping centers—you name it, I'd build it. We had a turnover of 3.2 million and I'd just gone public—but I was still a million miles away from the Big Board. I'd—" "You mean the New York Stock Exchange?" "Yes. Anyway, Casey comes in bright as a new penny and says she wants me to merge with Hed-Opticals which she says grossed $277,600 last year, and then together, we'd go after Randolf Opti-cals, the granddaddy of them all—53 million in sales, quoted on the Big Board, a huge slice of the lens market and lots of cash in the bank—and I said you're crazy but why Randolf? She said because first she was a stockholder in Bartlett Constructions—she'd bought ten one-dollar shares—I'd capitalized at a million shares and sold 500,000 at par—and she figured it'd be dandy for Bartlett Construetion to own Randolf, and second, 'because this son of a bitch George Toffer who runs Randolf Opticals is a liar, a cheat, a thief, and he's trying to put me out of business.' "
Bartlett grinned and paused for breath and Dunross broke in with a laugh. "This's true, Casey?"
Casey came back quickly. "Oh yes, I said that George Toffer was a liar, a cheat, thief and son of a bitch. He still is." Casey smiled without humor. "And he was certainly trying to put me out of business."
"Because I had told him to go—to drop dead."
"Why'd you do that?"
"I'd just taken over Hed-Opticals. My granddad had died the previous year and we'd flipped a coin, my uncle Bghos and I, who'd get which business. … I'd won Hed-Opticals. We'd had an offer from Randolf to buy us out a year or so back but we'd turned it down—we had a nice, small operation, a good work force, good technicians—a number of them Armenians—a little slice of the market. But no capital and no room to maneuver but we got by and the quality of Hed-Opticals was optimum. Just after I took over, George Toffer 'happened to drop by.' He fancied himself, my God how he fancied himself. He claimed he was a U.S. Army war hero but I found out he wasn't—he was that sort of guy. Anyway, he made me another ridiculous offer to take Hed-Opticals off my hands … the poor little girl who should be in the kitchen bit, along with the 'let's have dinner tonight in my suite and why don't we have a little fun because I'm here alone for a few days….' I said no thanks and he was very put out. Very. But he said okay and went back to business and suggested that instead of a buy-out we subcontract some of his contracts. He made me a good offer and after haggling a bit we agreed on terms. If I performed on this one he said he'd double the deal. Over the next month we did the work better and cheaper than he could ever have done it—I delivered according to contract and he made a fantastic profit. But then he reneged on a verbal clause and deducted—stole—$20,378, and the next day five of my best customers left us for Randolf, and the next week another seven—they'd all been offered deals at less than cost. He let me sweat for a week or two then he phoned. 'Hi, baby,' he said, happy as a toad in a pail of mud, 'I'm spending the weekend alone at Martha's Vineyard.' That's a little island off the East Coast. Then he added, 'Why don't you come over and we'll have some fun and discuss the future and doubling our orders.' I asked for my money, and he laughed at me and told me to grow up and suggested I better reconsider his offer because at the rate I was going soon there'd be no Hed-Opticals.
"I cursed him," Casey said. "I can curse pretty good when I get mad and I told him what to do with himself in three languages. Within four more weeks I'd no customers left. Another month and the work force had to get other jobs. About that time I thought I'd try California. I didn't want to stay in the East." She smiled wryly, i "It was a matter of face—if I'd known about face then. I thought I'd take a couple of weeks off to figure out what to do. Then one day I was wandering aimlessly around a state fair in Sacramento and Line was there. He was selling shares in Bartlett Construction in a booth and I bought—"
"He what?" Dunross asked.
"Sure," Bartlett said. "I sold upwards of 20,000 shares that way. I covered state fairs, mail orders, supermarkets, stockbrokers, shopping centers—along with investment banks. Sure. Go on, Casey!"
"So I read his prospectus and watched him a while and thought he had a lot of get up and go. His figures and balance sheet and expansion rate were exceptional and I thought anyone who'd pitch his own stock has got to have a future. So I bought ten shares, wrote him and went to see him. End of story."
"The hell it is, Casey," Gavallan said.
"You tell it, Line," she said.
"Okay. Well, then—"
"Some port, Mr.—sorry, Line?"
"Thanks Andrew, but, er, may I have another beer?" It arrived instantly. "So Casey'd come to see me. After she'd told it, almost like she's told it now, I said, 'One thing, Casey, Hed-Opticals grossed less than 300,000-odd last year. What's it going to do this year?'
" 'Zero,' she said with that smile of hers. 'I'm Hed-Opticals' total asset. In fact, I'm all there is.'
" 'Then what's the use of my merging with zero—I've got enough problems of my own.'
" 'I know how to take Randolf Opticals to the cleaners.'
" 'How?'
" '22 percent of Randolf s is owned by three men—all of whom despise Toffer. With 22 percent you could get control. I know how you could get their proxies, and most of all, I know the weakness of Toffer.'
" 'What's that?'
" 'Vanity, and he's a megalomaniac, but most of all he's stupid.'
" 'He can't be stupid and run that company.'
" 'Perhaps he wasn't once, but now he is. He's ready to be taken.'
" 'And what do you want out of this, Casey?'
" 'Toffer's head—I want to do the firing.'
" 'What else?'
" 'If I succeed in showing you how … if we succeed in taking over Randolf Opticals, say within six months, I'd like … I'd like a one-year deal with you, to be extended to seven, at a salary you think is commensurate with my ability, as your executive vice-president in charge of acquisitions. But I'd want it as a person, not as a woman, just as an equal person to you. You're the boss of course, but I'm to be equal as a man would be equal, as an individual … if I deliver.' "
Bartlett grinned and sipped his beer. "I said, okay you've got a deal. I thought, what've I got to lose—me with my lousy three-quarter million and her with her nothing zero balance for Randolf Opticals in six months, now that's one helluva steal. So we shook, man to woman." Bartlett laughed. "First time I'd ever made a deal with a woman, just like that—and I've never regretted it."
"Thanks, Line," Casey said softly, and every one of them was envious.
And what happened after you fired Toffer, Dunross was thinking with all the others. Is that when you two began?
"The takeover," he said to Bartlett. "It was smooth?"
"Messy, but we got blooded and the lessons I learned, we learned, paid off a thousand percent. In five months we'd control. Casey and I had conquered a company 53 Vi times our size. At D-hour minus one I was down to minus 4 million dollars in the bank and goddamn near in jail, but the next hour I'd control. Man, that was a battle and a half. In a month and a half we'd reorganized it and now Par-Con's Randolf Division grosses $150 million yearly and the stock's way up. It was a classic blitzkrieg and set the pattern for Par-Con Industries."
"And this George Toffer, Casey? How did you fire him?"
Casey took her tawny eyes off Line and turned them on Dunross and he thought, Christ I'd like to possess you.
Casey said, "The hour we got control I—" She stopped as the single phone rang and there was a sudden tension in the room. Everyone, even the waiters, immediately switched their total attention to the phone—except Bartlett. The color had drained out of Gavallan's face and deVille's. "What's the matter?" Casey asked.
Dunross broke the silence. "It's one of our house rules. No phone calls are put through during lunch unless it's an emergency—a personal emergency—for one of us."
They watched Lim put down the coffee tray. It seemed to take him forever to walk across the room and pick up the phone. They all had wives and children and families and they all wondered what death or what disaster and please God, let the call be for someone else, remembering the last time the phone had rung, two days ago. For Jacques. Then another time last month, for Gavallan, his mother was dying. They had all had calls, over the years. All bad.
Andrew Gavallan was sure the call was for him. His wife, Kath-ren, Dunross's sister, was at the hospital for the results of exhaustive tests—she had been sick for weeks for no apparent reason. Jesus Christ, he thought, get hold of yourself, conscious of others watching him.
"Weyyyy?" Lim listened a moment. He turned and offered the phone. "It's for you, tai-pan."
The others breathed again and watched Dunross. His walk was tall. "Hello? … Oh hel— What? …. No … no, I'll be right there. . . . No, don't do anything, I'll be right there." They saw his shock as he replaced the phone in the dead silence. After a pause he said, "Andrew, tell Claudia to postpone my afternoon board meetings. You and Jacques continue with Casey. That was Phillip. I'm afraid poor John Chen's been kidnapped." He left.
2:35 P.M. :
Dunross got out of his car and hurried through the open door of the vast, Chinese-style mansion that was set high on the mountain crest called Struan's Lookout. He passed a glazed servant who closed the door after him, and went into the living room. The living room was Victorian and gaudy and overstuffed with bric-a-brac and ill-matched furniture.
"Hello, Phillip," he said. "I'm so sorry. Poor John! Where's the letter?"
"Here." Phillip picked it up from the sofa as he got up. "But first look at that." He pointed at a crumpled cardboard shoebox on a marble table beside the fireplace.
As Dunross crossed the room he noticed Dianne, Phillip Chen's wife, sitting in a high-backed chair in a far corner. "Oh, hello, Dianne, sorry about this," he said again.
She shrugged impassively. "Joss, tai-pan." She was fifty-two, Eurasian, Phillip Chen's second wife, an attractive, bejeweled matron who wore a dark brown chong-sam, a priceless jade bead necklace and a four-carat diamond ring—amid many other rings. "Yes, joss," she repeated.
Dunross nodded, disliking her a little more than usual. He peered down at the contents of the box without touching them. Among loose, crumpled newspaper he saw a fountain pen that he recognized as John Chen's, a driving license, some keys on a key ring, a letter addressed to John Chen, 14A Sinclair Towers, and a small plastic bag with a piece of cloth half-stuffed into it. With a pen that he took out of his pocket he flipped open the cover of the driving license. John Chen.
"Open the plastic bag," Phillip said.
"No. I might mess up any fingerprints that're on it," Dunross said, feeling stupid but saying it anyway.
"Oh—I'd forgotten about that. Damn. Of course, fingerprints! Mine are … I opened it of course. Mine must be all over it—all over everything."
"What's in it?"
"It's—" Phillip Chen came over and before Dunross could stop him pulled the cloth out of the plastic, without touching the plastic again. "You can't have fingerprints on cloth, can you? Look!" The cloth contained most of a severed human ear, the cut clean and sharp and not jagged.
Dunross cursed softly. "How did the box arrive?" he asked.
"It was hand delivered." Phillip Chen shakily rewrapped the ear and put it back in the box. "I just … I just opened the parcel as anyone would. It was hand delivered half an hour or so ago."
"By whom?"
"We don't know. He was just a youth, the servant said. A youth on a motor scooter. She didn't recognize him or take any number. We get lots of parcels delivered. It was nothing out of the ordinary —except the 'Mr. Phillip Chen, a matter of great importance, to open personally,' on the outside of the package, which she didn't notice at once. By the time I'd opened it and read the letter … it was just a youth who said, 'Parcel for Mr. Phillip Chen,' and went away."
"Have you called the police?"
"No, tai-pan, you said to do nothing."
Dunross went to the phone. "Have you got hold of John's wife yet?"
Dianne said at once, "Why should Phillip bear bad tidings to her? She'll throw a temperament that will raise the roof tiles never mind. Call Barbara? Oh dear no, tai-pan, not… not until we've informed the police. They should tell her. They know how to do these things."
Dunross's disgust increased. "You'd better get her here quickly." He dialed police headquarters and asked for Armstrong. He was not available. Dunross left his name then asked for Brian Kwok.
"Yes tai-pan?"
"Brian, can you come over here right away? I'm at Phillip Chen's house up on Struan's Lookout. John Chen's been kidnapped." He told him about the contents of the box. There was a shocked silence, then Brian Kwok said, "I'll be there right away. Don't touch anything and don't let him talk to anyone."
"All right."
Dunross put the phone down. "Now give me the letter, Phillip." He handled it carefully, holding it by the edges. The Chinese characters were clearly written but not by a well-educated person. He read it slowly, knowing most of the characters:
Mr. Phillip Chen, I beg to inform you that I am badly in need of 500,000 Hong Kong currency and I hereby consult you about it. You are so wealthy that this is like plucking one hair from nine oxen. Being afraid that you might refuse I therefore have no alternative but to hold your son hostage. By doing so there is not a fear of your refusal. I hope you will think it over carefully thrice and take it into serious consideration. It is up to you whether you report to the police or not, I send herewith some articles which your son uses every day as proof of the situation your son is in. Also sent is a little bit of your son's ear. You should realize the mercilessness and cruelty of my actions. If you smoothly pay the money the safety of your son will be ensured. Written by the Werewolf.
Dunross motioned at the box. "Sorry, but do you recognize the, er . . . that?"
Phillip Chen laughed nervously and so did his wife. "Do you, Ian? You've known John all your life. That's . . . how does one recognize something like that, heya?"
"Does anyone else know about this?"
"No, except the servants of course, and Shitee T'Chung and some friends who were lunching with me here. They . . . they were here when the parcel arrived. They, yes, they were here. They left just before you arrived."
Dianne Chen shifted in her chair and said what Dunross was thinking. "So of course it will be all over Hong Kong by evening!"
"Yes. And banner headlines by dawn." Dunross tried to collate the multitude of questions and answers flooding his mind. "The press'll pick up about the, er, ear and the 'Werewolf and make it a field day."
"Yes. Yes they will." Phillip Chen remembered what Shitee T'Chung had said the moment they had all read the letter. "Don't pay the ransom for at least a week, Phillip old friend, and you'll be world famous! Ayeeyah, fancy, a piece of his ear and Werewolf! Eeeee, you'll be world famous!"
"Perhaps it's not his ear at all and a trick," Phillip Chen said hopefully.
"Yes." If it is John's ear, Dunross thought, greatly perturbed, and if they've sent it on the first day before any negotiation or anything, I'll bet the poor sod's already dead. "No point in hurting him like that," he said. "Of course you'll pay."
"Of course. It's lucky we're not in Singapore, isn't it?"
"Yes." By law in Singapore now, the moment anyone was kidnapped all bank accounts of the family were frozen to prevent payment to the kidnappers. Kidnapping had become endemic there with almost no arrests, Chinese preferring to pay quickly and quietly and say nothing to the police. "What a bastard! Poor old John."
Phillip said, "Would you like some tea—or a drink? Are you hungry?"
"No thanks. I'll wait until Brian Kwok gets here then I'll be off." Dunross looked at the box and at the keys. He had seen the key ring many times. "The safety deposit key's missing," he said.
"What key?" Dianne Chen asked.
"John always had a deposit box key on his ring."
She did not move from her chair. "And it's not there now?"
"Perhaps you're mistaken. That he always had it on the ring."
Dunross looked at her and then at Phillip Chen. They both stared back at him. Well, he thought, if the crooks didn't take it, now Phillip or Dianne have, and if I were them I'd do the same. God knows what might be in such a box. "Perhaps I'm mistaken," he said levelly.
"Tea, tai-pan?" Dianne asked, and he saw the shadow of a smile in the back of her eyes.
"Yes, I think I will," he said, knowing they had taken the key.
She got up and ordered tea loudly and sat down again. "Eeee, I wish they'd hurry up … the police."
Phillip was looking out of the window at the parched garden. "I wish it would rain."
"I wonder how much it'll cost to get John back," she muttered.
After a pause, Dunross said, "Does it matter?"
"Of course it matters," Dianne said at once. "Really, tai-pan!"
"Oh yes," Phillip Chen echoed. "$500,000! Ayeeyah, $500,000— that's a fortune. Damn triads! Well, if they ask five I can settle for $150,000. Thank God they didn't ask a million!" His eyebrows soared and his face became more ashen. "Dew neh loh moh on all kidnappers. They should get the chop—all of them."
"Yes," Dianne said. "Filthy triads. The police should be more clever! More sharp and more clever and protect us better."
"Now that's not fair," Dunross said sharply. "There hasn't been a major kidnapping in Hong Kong for years and it happens every month in Singapore! Crime's fantastically low here—our police do a grand job—grand."
"Huh," Dianne sniffed. "They're all corrupt. Why else be a policeman if it's not to get rich? I don't trust any of them. … We know, oh yes we know. As to kidnapping, huh, the last one was six years ago. It was my third cousin, Fu San Sung—the family had to pay $600,000 to get him back safely. … It nearly bankrupted them."
"Ha!" Phillip Chen scoffed. "Bankrupt Hummingbird Sung? Impossible!" Hummingbird Sung was a very wealthy Shanghainese shipowner in his fifties with a sharp nose—long for a Chinese. He was nicknamed Hummingbird Sung because he was always darting from dance hall to dance hall, from flower to flower, in Singapore, Bangkok and Taipei, Hong Kong, dipping his manhood into a myriad of ladies' honey pots, the rumor being it wasn't his manhood because he enjoyed cunnilingus.
"The police got most of the money back if I remember rightly, and sent the criminals to jail for twenty years."
"Yes, tai-pan, they did. But it took them months and months. And I wouldn't mind betting one or two of the police knew more than they said."
"Absolute nonsense!" Dunross said. "You've no cause to believe anything like that! None."
"Quite right!" Phillip Chen said irritably. "They caught them, Dianne." She looked at him. At once he changed his tone. "Of course, dear, some police may be corrupt but we're very lucky here, very lucky. I suppose I wouldn't mind so much about, about John —it's only a matter of ransom and as a family we've been very lucky so far—I wouldn't mind except for … for that." He motioned at the box disgustedly. "Terrible! And totally uncivilized."
"Yes," Dunross said, and wondered if it wasn't John Chen's ear, whose was it—where do you get an ear from? He almost laughed at the ridiculousness of his questions. Then he put his mind back to pondering if the kidnapping was somehow tied in with Tsu-yan and the guns and Bartlett. It's not like a Chinese to mutilate a victim. No, and certainly not so soon. Kidnapping's an ancient Chinese art and the rules have always been clear: pay and keep silent and no problem, delay and talk and many problems.
He stared out of the window at the gardens and at the vast northern panorama of city and seascape below. Ships and junks and sampans dotted the azure sea. There was a fine sky above and no promise of rain weather, the summer monsoon steady from the southwest and he wondered absently what the clippers had looked like as they sailed before the wind or beat up against the winds in his ancestors' time. Dirk Struan had always had a secret lookout atop the mountain above. There the man could see south and east and west and the great Sheung Sz Mun Channel which approached Hong Kong from the south—the only path inward bound for ships from home, from England. From Struan's Lookout, the man could secretly spot the incoming mail ship and secretly signal below. Then the tai-pan would dispatch a fast cutter to get the mails first, to have a few hours leeway over his rivals, the few hours perhaps meaning the trading difference between fortune and bankruptcy—so vast the time from home. Not like today with instant communication, Dun-ross thought. We're lucky—we don't have to wait almost two years for a reply like Dirk did. Christ, what a man he must have been.
I must not fail with Bartlett. I must have those 20 million.
"The deal looks very good, tai-pan," Phillip Chen said as though reading his mind.
"Yes. Yes it is."
"If they really put up cash we'll all make a fortune and it'll be h'eungyatt for the Noble House," he added with a beam.
Dunross's smile was again sardonic. H'eung you meant "fragrant grease" and normally referred to the money, the payoff, the squeeze, that was paid by all Chinese restaurants, most businesses, all gambling games, all dance halls, all ladies of easy virtue, to triads, some form of triad, throughout the world.
"I still find it staggering that h 'eung you's paid wherever a Chinese is in business."
"Really, tai-pan," Dianne said as though he were a child. "How can any business exist without protection? You expect to pay, naturally, so you pay never mind. Everyone gives h'eung you—some form of h 'eung you. " Her jade beads clicked as she shifted in her chair, her eyes dark dark in the whiteness of her face—so highly prized among Chinese. "But the Bartlett deal, tai-pan, do you think the Bartlett deal will go through?"
Dunross watched her. Ah Dianne, he told himself, you know every important detail that Phillip knows about his business and my business, and a lot Phillip would weep with fury if he knew you knew. So you know Struan's could be in very great trouble if there's no Bartlett deal, but if the deal is consummated then our stock will skyrocket and we'll be rich again—and so will you be, if you can get in early enough, to buy early enough. Yes.
And I know you Hong Kong Chinese ladies like poor Phillip doesn't, because I'm not even a little part Chinese. I know you Hong Kong Chinese ladies are the roughest women on earth when it comes to money—or perhaps the most practical. And you, Dianne, I also know you are ecstatic now, however much you'll pretend otherwise. Because John Chen's not your son. With him eliminated, your own two sons will be direct in line and your eldest, Kevin, heir apparent. So you'll pray like you've never prayed before that John's gone forever. You're delighted. John's kidnapped and probably murdered but what about the Bartlett deal? "Ladies are so practical," he said. "How so, tai-pan?" she asked, her eyes narrowing. "They keep things in perspective."
"Sometimes I don't understand you at all, tai-pan," she replied, an edge to her voice. "What more can we do now about John Chen? Nothing. We've done everything we can. When the ransom note arrives we negotiate and we pay and everything's as it was. But the Bartlett deal is important, very important, very very important whatever happens, heya? Moh ching, moh meng." No money, no life.
"Quite. It is very important, tai-pan." Phillip caught sight of the box and shuddered. "I think under the circumstances, tai-pan, if you'll excuse us this evening … I don't th—"
"No, Phillip," his wife said firmly. "No. We must go. It's a matter of face for the whole House. We'll go as planned. As difficult as it will be for us—we will go as planned." "Well, if you say so." "Yes." Oh very yes she was thinking, replanning her whole ensemble to enhance the dramatic effect of their entrance. We'll go tonight and we'll be the talk of Hong Kong. We'll take Kevin of course. Perhaps he's heir now. Ayeeyah! Who should my son marry? I've got to think of the future now. Twenty-two's a perfect age and I have to think of his new future. Yes, a wife. Who? I'd better choose the right girl at once and quickly if he's heir, before some young filly with a fire between her legs and a rapacious mother does it for me. Ayeeyah, she thought, her temperature rising, gods forbid such a thing! "Yes," she said, and touched her eyes with her handkerchief as though a tear were there, "there's nothing more to be done for poor John but wait—and continue to work and plan and maneuver for the good of the Noble House." She looked up at Dunross, her eyes glittering. "The Bartlett deal would solve everything, wouldn't it?"
"Yes." And you're both right, Dunross thought. There's nothing more to be done at the moment. Chinese are very wise and very practical.
So put your mind on important things—he told himself. Important things—like do you gamble? Think. What better place or time than here and now could you find to begin the plan you've been toying with ever since you met Bartlett?
"Listen," he said, deciding irrevocably, then looked around at the door that led to the servants' quarters, making sure that they were alone. He lowered his voice to a conspiratorial whisper and Phillip and his wife leaned forward to hear better. "I had a private meeting with Bartlett before lunch. We've made the deal. I'll need some minor changes, but we close the contract formally on Tuesday of next week. The 20 million's guaranteed and a further 20 million next year."
Phillip Chen's beam was huge. "Congratulations."
"Not so loud, Phillip," his wife hissed, equally pleased. "Those turtle mouth slaves in the kitchen have ears that can reach to Java. Oh but that's tremendous news, tai-pan."
"We'll keep this in the family," Dunross said softly. "This afternoon I'm instructing our brokers to start buying Struan's stock secretly—every spare penny we've got. You do the same, in small lots and spread the orders over different brokers and nominees—the usual."
"Yes. Oh yes."
"I bought 40 thousand this morning personally."
"How much will the stock go up?" Dianne Chen asked.
"How soon?"
"Thirty days."
"Eeeee," she chortled. "Think of that."
"Yes," Dunross said agreeably. "Think of that! Yes. And you two will only tell your very close relations, of which there are many, and they will only tell their very close relations, of which there are a multitude, and you'll all buy and buy because this is an inside-inside, gilt-edged tip and hardly any gamble at all which will further fuel the stock rise. The fact that it's only family will surely leak and more will jump in, then more, and then the formal announcement of the Par-Con deal will add fire and then, next week, I'll announce the takeover bid for Asian Properties and then all Hong Kong will buy. Our stock will skyrocket. Then, at the right moment, I dump Asian Properties and go after the real target."
"How many shares, tai-pan?" Phillip Chen asked—his mind swamped by his own calculations of the possible profits.
"Maximum. But it has to be family only. Our stocks'll lead the boom."
Dianne gasped. "There's going to be a boom?" "Yes. We'll lead it. The time's ripe, everyone in Hong Kong's ready. We'll supply the means, we'll be the leader, and with a judicious shove here and there, there'll be a stampede."
There was a great silence. Dunross watched the avarice on her face.
Her fingers clicked the jade beads. He saw Phillip staring into the distance and he knew that part of his compradore's mind was on the various notes that he, Phillip, had countersigned for Struan's that were due in thirteen to thirty days: $12 million U.S. to Toda Shipping Industries of Yokohama for the two super bulk cargo freighters, $6,800,000 to the Orlin International Merchant Bank, and $750,000 to Tsu-yan, who had covered another problem for him. But most of Phillip's mind would be on Bartlett's 20 million and the stock rise—the doubling that he had arbitrarily forecast.
No way—no not at all, not a chance in hell . . .
Unless there's a boom. Unless there's a boom!
Dunross felt his heart quicken. "If there's a boom . . . Christ, Phillip, we can do it!"
"Yes—yes, I agree, Hong Kong's ripe. Ah yes." Phillip Chen's eyes sparkled and his fingers drummed. "How many shares, tai-pan?"
"Every bl—"
Excitedly Dianne overrode Dunross, "Phillip, last week my astrologer said this was going to be an important month for us! A boom! That's what he must have meant."
"That's right, I remember you telling me, Dianne. Oh oh oh! How many shares, tai-pan?" he asked again.
"Every bloody penny! We'll make this the big one. But family only until Friday. Absolutely until Friday. Then, after the market closes I'll leak the Bartlett deal. . . ."
"Eeeeee," Dianne hissed.
"Yes. Over the weekend I'll say 'no comment'—you make sure you're not available, Phillip—and come Monday morning, every-one'll be chomping at the bit. I'll still say 'no comment,' but Monday we buy openly. Then, just after close of business Monday, I'll announce the whole deal's confirmed. Then, come Tuesday . . ."
"The boom's on!"
"Oh happy day," Dianne croaked delightedly. "And every amah, houseboy, coolie, businessman, will decide their joss is perfect and out will come their savings and everything gets fed, all stocks will rocket. What a pity there won't be an editorial tomorrow … even better, an astrologer in one of the papers… say Hundred Year Fong … or…" Her eyes almost crossed with excitement. "What about the astrologer, Phillip?"
He stared at her, shocked. "Old Blind Tung?"
"Why not? Some h 'eung yau in his palm … or the promise of a few snares of whatever stock you name. Heya?"
"Well, I—"
"Leave that one to me. Old Blind Tung owes me a favor or two, I've sent him enough clients! Yes. And he won't be far wrong announcing heavenly portents that herald the greatest boom in Hong Kong's history, will he?"
5:25 P.M. :
The police pathologist, Dr. Meng, adjusted the focus of the microscope and studied the sliver of flesh that he had cut from the ear. Brian Kwok watched him impatiently. The doctor was a small pedantic little Cantonese with thick-lensed glasses perched on his forehead. At length he looked up and his glasses fell conveniently onto his nose. "Well, Brian, it could have been sliced from a living person and not a corpse . . . possibly. Possibly within the last eight or ten hours. The bruising . . . here, look at the back"—Dr. Meng motioned delicately at the discoloration at the back and at the top —". . . that certainly indicates to me that the person was alive at the time."
"Why bruising, Dr. Meng? What caused it? The slash?"
"It could have been caused by someone holding the specimen tightly," Dr. Meng said cautiously, "while it was being removed."
"By what—knife, razor, zip knife, or Chinese chopper—cooking chopper?"
"By a sharp instrument."
Brian Kwok sighed. "Would that kill someone? The shock? Someone like John Chen?"
Dr. Meng steepled his fingers. "It could, possibly. Possibly not. Does he have a history of a weak heart?"
"His father said he hadn't—I haven't checked with his own doctor yet—the bugger's on holiday but John's never given any indication of being anything but healthy."
"This mutilation probably shouldn't kill a healthy man but he'd be very uncomfortable for a week or two." The doctor beamed. "Very uncomfortable indeed."
"Jesus!" Brian said. "Isn't there anything you can give me that'll help?"
"I'm a forensic pathologist, Brian, not a seer." "Can you tell if the ear's Eurasian—or pure Chinese?" "No. No, with this specimen that'd be almost impossible. But it's certainly not Anglo-Saxon, or Indian or Negroid." Dr. Meng took off his glasses and stared myopically up at the tall superintendent. "This could possibly cause quite a ripple in the House of Chen, heya?"
"Yes. And the Noble House." Brian Kwok thought a moment. "In your opinion, this Werewolf, this maniac, would you say he's Chinese?"
"The writing could have been a civilized person's, yes—equally it could have been done by a quai loh pretending to be a civilized person. But if he or she was a civilized person that doesn't necessarily mean that the same person who did the act wrote the letter."
"I know that. What are the odds that John Chen's dead?"
"From the mutilation?"
"From the fact that the Werewolf, or more probably Werewolves, sent the ear even before starting negotiations."
The little man smiled and said dryly, "You mean old Sun Tzu's 'kill one to terrorize ten thousand'? I don't know. I don't speculate on such imponderables. I only estimate odds on horses, Brian, or the stock market. What about John Chen's Golden Lady on Saturday?"
"She's got a great chance. Definitely. And Struan's Noble Star— Gornt's Pilot Fish and even more, Richard Kwang's Butterscotch Lass. She'll be the favorite I'll bet. But Golden Lady's a real goer. She'll start about three to one. She's a flier and the going'll be good for her. Dry. She's useless in the wet."
"Ah, any sign of rain?"
"Possible. They say there's a storm coming. Even a sprinkle could make all the difference."
"Then it better not rain till Sunday, heya?"
"It won't rain this month—not unless we're enormously lucky."
"Well if it rains it rains and if it doesn't it doesn't never mind! Winter's coming—then this cursed humidity will go away." Dr. Meng glanced at the wall clock. It was 5:35 P.M. "How about a quick one before we go home?"
"No thanks. I've still got a few things to do. Bloody nuisance this."
"Tomorrow I'll see what clues I can come up with from the cloth, or the wrapping paper or the other things. Perhaps fingerprinting will help you," the doctor added.
"I wouldn't bet on that. This whole operation is very smelly. Very smelly indeed."
Dr. Meng nodded and his voice lost its gentleness. "Anything to do with the Noble House and their puppet House of Chen's smelly. Isn't it?"
Brian Kwok switched to set yap, one of the main dialects of the Kwantung Province, spoken by many Hong Kong Cantonese. "Eh, Brother, don't you mean any and all capitalist running dogs are smelly, of which the Noble House and the House of Chen are chief and dung heavy?" he said banteringly.
"Ah, Brother, don't you know yet, deep in your head, that the winds of change are whirling throughout the world? And China under the immortal guidance of Chairman Mao, and Mao Thought, is the lead—"
"Keep your proselytizing to yourself," Brian Kwok said coldly, switching back to English. "Most of the thoughts of Mao are out of the writings of Sun Tzu, Confucius, Marx, Lao Tsu and others. I know he's a poet—a great one—but he's usurped China and there's no freedom there now. None."
"Freedom?" the little man said defiantly. "What's freedom for a few years when, under the guidance of Chairman Mao, China's once more China and has taken back her rightful place in the world. Now China is feared by all filthy capitalists! Even by revisionist Russia."
"Yes. I agree. For that I thank him. Meanwhile if you don't like it here go home to Canton and sweat your balls off in your Communist paradise and dew neh loh moh on all Communists—and their fellow travelers!"
"You should go there, see for yourself. It's propaganda that communism's bad for China. Don't you read the newspapers? No one's starving now."
"What about the twenty-odd million who were murdered after the takeover? What about all the brainwashing?"
"More propaganda! Just because you've been to English and Canadian public schools and talk like a capitalist swine doesn't mean you're one of them. Remember your heritage."
"I do. I remember it very well."
"Your father was mistaken to send you away!" It was common knowledge that Brian Kwok had been born in Canton and, at the age of six, sent to school in Hong Kong. He was such a good student that in '37, when he was twelve, he had won a scholarship to a fine public school in England and had gone there, and then in '39, with the beginning of World War II, the whole school was evacuated to Canada. In '42, at eighteen, he had graduated top of his class, senior prefect, and had joined the Royal Canadian Mounted Police in their plainclothes branch in Vancouver's huge Chinatown. He spoke Cantonese, Mandarin, sei yap, and had served with distinction. In '45 he had requested a transfer to the Royal Hong Kong Police. With the reluctant approval of the RCMP, who had wanted him to stay on, he had returned. "You're wasted working for them, Brian," Dr. Meng continued. "You should serve the masses and work for the Party!"
"The Party murdered my father and my mother and most of my family in '43!"
"There was never proof of that! Never. It was hearsay. Perhaps the Kuomintang devils did it—there was chaos then in Canton. I was there, I know! Perhaps the Japanese swine were responsible— or triads—who knows? How can you be certain?"
"I'm certain, by God."
"Was there a witness? No! You told me that yourself!" Meng's voice rasped and he peered up at him myopically. "Ayeeyah, you're Chinese, use your education for China, for the masses, not for the capitalist overlord."
"Up yours!"
Dr. Meng laughed and his glasses fell on to the top of his nose. "You wait, Superintendent Kar-shun Kwok. One day your eyes will open. One day you will see the beauty of it all."
"Meanwhile get me some bloody answers!" Brian Kwok strode out of the laboratory and went up the corridor to the elevator, his shirt sticking to his back. I wish it would rain, he thought.
He got into the elevator. Other policemen greeted him and he them. At the third floor he got out and walked along the corridor to his office. Armstrong was waiting for him, idly reading a Chinese newspaper. "Hi, Robert," he said, pleased to see him. "What's new?"
"Nothing. How about you?"
Brian Kwok told him what Dr. Meng had said.
"That little bugger and his 'could possiblys'! The only thing he's ever emphatic about's a corpse—and even then he'll have to check a couple of times."
"Yes—or about Chairman Mao."
"Oh, he was on that broken record again?"
"Yes." Brian Kwok grinned. "I told him to go back to China."
"He'll never leave."
"I know." Brian stared at the pile of papers in his in tray and sighed. Then he said, "It's not like a local to cut off an ear so soon."
"No, not if it's a proper kidnapping."
"It could be a grudge and the kidnapping a cover," Armstrong said, his well-used face hardening. "I agree with you and Dunross. I think they did him in."
"But why?"
"Perhaps John was trying to escape, started a fight, and they or he panicked and before they or he knew what was happening, they or he'd knifed him, or bonked him with a blunt instrument." Armstrong sighed and stretched to ease the knot in his shoulders. "In any event, old chap, our Great White Father wants this solved quickly. He honored me with a call to say the governor had phoned personally to express his concern."
Brian Kwok cursed softly. "Foul news travels quickly! Nothing in the press yet?"
"No, but it's all over Hong Kong and we'll have a red hot wind fanning our tails by morning. Mr. Bloody Werewolf Esquire— assisted by the pox-ridden, black-hearted, uncooperative Hong Kong press—will, I fear, cause us nothing but grief until we catch the bastard, or bastards."
"But catch him we will, oh yes, catch him we will!"
"Yes. How about a beer—or better, a very large gin and tonic? I could use one."
"Good idea. Your stomach off again?"
"Yes. Mary says it's all the good thoughts I keep bottled up." They laughed together and headed for the door and were in the corridor when the phone rang.
"Leave the bloody thing, don't answer it, it's only trouble," Armstrong said, knowing neither he nor Brian would ever leave it.
Brian Kwok picked up the phone and froze.
It was Roger Crosse, senior superintendent, director of Special Intelligence. "Yes sir?"
"Brian, would you please come up right away."
"Yes sir."
"Is Armstrong with you?"
"Yes sir."
"Bring him too." The phone clicked off.
"Yes sir." He replaced the receiver and felt the sweat on his back. "God wants us, on the double."
Armstrong's heart jumped a beat. "Eh? Me?" He caught up with Brian who was heading for the elevator. "What the hell does he want me for? I'm not in SI now."
"Ours not to reason why, ours just to shit when he murmurs." Brian Kwok pressed the up button. "What's up?"
"Got to be important. The Mainland perhaps?"
"Chou En-lai's ousted Mao and the moderates're in power?"
"Dreamer! Mao'll die in office—the Godhead of China."
"The only good thing you can say about Mao is that he's Chinese first and Commie second. God-cursed Commies!"
"Hey, Brian, maybe the Soviets are hotting up the border again. Another incident?"
"Could be. Yes. War's coming—yes, war's coming between Russia and China. Mao's right in that too."
"The Soviets aren't that stupid."
"Don't bet on it, old chum. I've said it before and I've said it again, the Soviets are the world enemy. There'll be war—you'll soon owe me a thousand dollars, Robert."
"I don't think I want to pay that bet. The killing'll be hideous."
"Yes. But it'll still happen. Again Mao's right in that. It'll be hideous all right—but not catastrophic." Irritably Brian Kwok punched the elevator button again. He looked up suddenly. "You don't think the invasion from Taiwan's launched at long last?"
"That old chestnut? That old pipe dream? Come off it, Brian! Chiang Kai-shek'll never get off Taiwan."
"If he doesn't the whole world's in the manure pile. If Mao gets thirty years to consolidate . . . Christ, you've no idea. A billion automatons? Chiang was so right to go after the Commie bastards —they're the real enemy of China. They're the plague of China. Christ, if they get time to Pavlov all the kids."
Armstrong said mildly, "Anyone'd think you're a running dog Nationalist. Simmer down, lad, everything's lousy in the world which is now and ever shall be normal—but you, capitalist dog, you can go racing Saturday, hill climbing Sunday and there're lots of birds ready to be plucked. Eh?"
"Sorry." They got into the elevator. "That little bastard Meng caught me off balance," Brian said, stabbing the top-floor button.
Armstrong switched to Cantonese. "Thy mother on your sorry, Brother."
"And thine was stuffed by a vagrant monkey with one testicle in a pail of pig's nightsoil. "
Armstrong beamed. "That's not bad, Brian," he said in English. "Not bad at all."
The elevator stopped. They walked along the drab corridor. At the door they prepared themselves. Brian knocked gently.
"Come in."
Roger Crosse was in his fifties, a thin tall man with pale blue eyes and fair thinning hair and small, long-fingered hands. His desk was meticulous, like his civilian clothes—his office spartan. He motioned to chairs. They sat. He continued to read a file. At length he closed it carefully and set it in front of him. The cover was drab, interoffice and ordinary. "An American millionaire arrives with smuggled guns, an ex-drug peddling, very suspect Shanghainese millionaire flees to Taiwan, and now a VIP kidnapping with, God help us, Werewolves and a mutilated ear. All in nineteen-odd hours. Where's the connection?"
Armstrong broke the silence. "Should there be one, sir?"
"Shouldn't there?"
"Sorry sir, I don't know. Yet."
"That's very boring, Robert, very boring indeed."
"Yes sir."
"Tedious in fact, particularly as the powers that be have already begun to breathe heavily down my neck. And when that happens …" He smiled at them and both suppressed a shudder. "Of course Robert, I did warn you yesterday that important names might be involved."
"Yes sir."
"Now Brian, we're grooming you for high office. Don't you think you could take your mind off horse racing, car racing and almost anything in skirts and apply some of your undoubted talents to solving this modest conundrum."
"Yes sir."
"Please do. Very quickly. You're assigned to the case with Robert because it might require your expertise—for the next few days. I want this out of the way very very quickly indeed because we've a slight problem. One of our American friends in the consulate called me last night. Privately." He motioned at the file. "This is the result. With his tip we intercepted the original in the bleak hours—of course this's a copy, the original was naturally returned and the . . ." He hesitated, choosing the correct word, ". . . the courier, an amateur by the way, left undisturbed. It's a report, a sort of newsletter with different headings. They're all rather interesting. Yes. One's headed, The KGB in Asia.' It claims that they've a deep-cover spy ring I've never even heard of before, code name 'Sevrin,' with high-level hostiles in key positions in government, police, business—at the tai-pan level—throughout Southeast Asia, particularly here in Hong Kong."
The air hissed out of Brian Kwok's mouth.
"Quite," Crosse said agreeably. "If it's true."
"You think it is, sir?" Armstrong said.
"Really, Robert, perhaps you're in need of early retirement on medical grounds: softening of the brain. If I wasn't perturbed do you think I'd endure the unhappy pleasure of having to petition the assistance of the CID Kowloon?"
"No sir, sorry sir."
Crosse turned the file to face them and opened it to the title page. Both men gasped. It read, "Confidential to Ian Dunross only. By hand, report 3/1963. One copy only."
"Yes," he continued. "Yes. This's the first time we've actual proof Struan's have their own intelligence system." He smiled at them and their flesh crawled. "I'd certainly like to know how tradesmen manage to be privy to all sorts of very intimate information we're supposed to know ages before them."
"Yes sir."
"The report's obviously one of a series. Oh yes, and this one's signed on behalf of Struan's Research Committee 16, by a certain A. M. Grant—dated in London three days ago."
Brian Kwok gasped again. "Grant? Would that be the Alan Medford Grant, the associate of the Institute for Strategic Planning in London?"
"Full marks, Brian, ten out of ten. Yes. Mr. AMG himself. Mr. VIP, Mr. Advisor to Her Majesty's Government for undercover affairs who really knows onions from leeks. You know him, Brian?"
Brian Kwok said, "I met him a couple of times in England last year, sir, when I was on the Senior Officers Course at the General
Staff College. He gave a paper on advanced strategic considerations for the Far East. Brilliant. Quite brilliant."
"Fortunately he's English and on our side. Even so . . ." Crosse sighed again. "I certainly hope he's mistaken this time or we're in the mire deeper than even I imagined. It seems few of our secrets are secrets anymore. Tiring. Very. And as to this," he touched the file again, "I'm really quite shocked."
"Has the original been delivered, sir?" Armstrong asked.
"Yes. To Dunross personally at 4:18 this afternoon." His voice became even more silky. "Fortunately, thank God, my relations with our cousins across the water are first class. Like yours, Robert —unlike yours, Brian. You never did like America, did you, Brian?"
"No sir."
"Why, may I ask?"
"They talk too much, sir, you can't trust them with any secrets —they're loud, and I find them stupid."
Crosse smiled with his mouth. "That's no reason not to have good relations with them, Brian. Perhaps you're the stupid one."
"Yes sir."
"They're not all stupid, oh dear no." The director closed the file but left it facing them. Both men stared at it, mesmerized.
"Did the Americans say how they found out about the file, sir?" Armstrong asked without thinking.
"Robert, I really do believe your sinecure in Kowloon has addled your brain. Shall I recommend you for a medical retirement?"
The big man winced. "No sir, thank you sir."
"Would we reveal our sources to them?"
"No sir."
"Would they have told me if I'd been so crass as to ask them?"
"No sir."
"This whole business is very tedious and filled with loss of face. Mine. Don't you agree, Robert?"
"Yes sir."
"Good, that's something." Crosse leaned back in his chair, rocking it. His eyes ground into them. Both men were wondering who the tipster was, and why.
Can't be the CIA, Brian Kwok was thinking. They'd have done the intercept themselves, they don't need SI to do their dirty work for them. Those crazy bastards'll do anything, tread on any toes, he thought disgustedly. If not them, who?
Must be someone who's in Intelligence but who can't, or couldn't do the intercept, who's on good terms, safe terms with Crosse. A consular official? Possible. Johnny Mishauer, Naval Intelligence? Out of his channel. Who? There's not many . . . Ah, the FBI man, Crosse's protege! Ed Langan. Now, how would Langan know about this file? Information from London? Possible, but the FBI doesn't have an office there. If the tip came from London, probably MI-5 or –6 would know it first and they'd've arranged to get the material at the source and would have telexed it to us, and given us hell for being inept in our own backyard. Did the courier's aircraft land at Lebanon? There's an FBI man there I seem to recall. If not from London or Lebanon, the information must have come from the aircraft itself. Ah, an accompanying friendly informer who saw the file, or the cover? Crew? Ayeeyah! Was the aircraft TWA or Pan Am? The FBI has all sorts of links, close links—with all sorts of ordinary businesses, rightly so. Oh yes. Is there a Sunday flight? Yes. Pan Am, ETA 2030. Too late for a night delivery by the time you've got to the hotel. Perfect.
"Strange that the courier came Pan Am and not BOAC—it's a much better flight," he said, pleased with the oblique way his mind worked.
"Yes. I thought the same," Crosse said as evenly. "Terribly un-British of him. Of course, Pan Am does land on time whereas you never know with poor old BOAC these days—" He nodded at Brian agreeably. "Full marks again. Go to the head of the class."
"Thank you sir."
"What else do you deduce?"
After a pause Brian Kwok said, "In return for the tip, you agreed to provide Langan with an exact copy of the file."
"And you regret having honored that."
Crosse sighed. "Why?"
"I'll know only after I've read the file."
"Brian, you really are surpassing yourself this afternoon. Good." Absently the director fingered the file and both men knew he was titillating them, deliberately, but neither knew why. "There are one or two very curious coincidences in other sections of this. Names like Vincenzo Banastasio . . . meeting places like Sinclair Towers . . . Does Nelson Trading mean anything to either of you?"
They both shook their heads.
"All very curious. Commies to the right of us, commies to the left …" His eyes became even stonier. "It seems we even have a nasty in our own ranks, possibly at superintendent level." "Impossible!" Armstrong said involuntarily. "How long were you with us in SI, dear boy?" Armstrong almost flinched. "Two tours, almost five years sir." "The spy Sorge was impossible—Kim Philby was impossible— dear God Philby!" The sudden defection to Soviet Russia in January this year by this Englishman, this onetime top agent of MI-6— British military intelligence for overseas espionage and counterespionage—had sent shock waves throughout the Western world, particularly as, until recently, Philby had been first secretary at the British Embassy in Washington, responsible for liaison with U.S. Defense, State, and the CIA on all security matters at the highest level. "How in the name of all that's holy he could have been a Soviet agent for all those years and remain undetected is impossible, isn't it, Robert?" "Yes sir."
"And yet he was, and privy to our innermost secrets for years. Certainly from '42 to '58. And where did he start spying? God save us, at Cambridge in 1931. Recruited into the Party by the other arch-traitor, Burgess, also of Cambridge, and his friend Maclean, may they both toast in hell for all eternity." Some years ago these two highly placed Foreign Office diplomats—both of whom had also been in Intelligence during the war—had abruptly fled to Russia only seconds ahead of British counterespionage agents and the ensuing scandal had rocked Britain and the whole of NATO. "Who else did they recruit?"
"I don't know, sir," Armstrong said carefully. "But you can bet that now they're all VIP's in government, the Foreign Office, education, the press, particularly the press—and, like Philby, all burrowed very bloody deep."
"With people nothing's impossible. Nothing. People are really very dreadful." Crosse sighed and straightened the file slightly. "Yes. But it's a privilege to be in SI, isn't it, Robert?" "Yes sir." "You have to be invited in, don't you? You can't volunteer, can you?" "No sir."
"I never did ask why you didn't stay with us, did I?"
"No sir."
Armstrong groaned inwardly and took a deep breath. "It's because I like being a policeman, sir, not a cloak-and-dagger man. I like being in CID. I like pitting your wits against the villain, the chase and the capture and then the proving it in court, according to rules—to the law, sir."
"Ah but in SI we don't, eh? We're not concerned with courts or laws or anything, only results?"
"SI and SB have different rules, sir," Armstrong said carefully. "Without them the Colony'd be up the creek without a paddle."
"Yes. Yes it would. People are dreadful and fanatics multiply like maggots in a corpse. You were a good undercover man. Now it seems to me it's time to repay all the hours and months of careful training you've had at Her Majesty's expense."
Armstrong's heart missed twice but he said nothing, just held his breath and thanked God that even Crosse couldn't transfer him out of CID against his will. He had hated his tours in SI—in the beginning it had been exciting and to be chosen was a great vote of confidence, but quickly it had palled—the sudden swoop on the villain in the dark hours, hearings in camera, no worry about exact proof, just results and a quick, secret deportation order signed by the governor, then off to the border at once, or onto a junk to Taiwan, with no appeal and no return. Ever.
"It's not the British way, Brian," he had always said to his friend. "I'm for a fair, open trial."
"What's it matter? Be practical, Robert. You know the bas-tards're all guilty—that they're the enemy, Commie enemy agents who twist our rules to stay here, to destroy us and our society-aided and abetted by a few bastard lawyers who'd do anything for thirty pieces of silver, or less. The same in Canada. Christ, we had the hell of a time in the RCMP, our own lawyers and politicians were the enemy—and recent Canadians—curiously always British —all socialist trades unionists who were always in the forefront of any agitation. What does it matter so long as you get rid of the parasites?"
"It matters, that's what I think. And they're not all Commie villains here. There's a lot of Nationalist villains who want to—"
"The Nationalists want Commies out of Hong Kong, that's all."
"Balls! Chiang Kai-shek wanted to grab the Colony after the war. It was only the British navy that stopped him after the Americans gave us away. He still wants sovereignty over us. In that he's no different from Mao Tse-tung!"
"If SI doesn't have the same freedom as the enemy how are we going to keep us out of the creek?"
"Brian, lad, I just said 7 don't like being in SI. You're going to enjoy it. I just want to be a copper, not a bloody Bond!"
Yes, Armstrong thought grimly, just a copper, in CID until I retire to good old England. Christ, I've enough trouble now with the god-cursed Werewolves. He looked back at Crosse and kept his face carefully noncommittal and waited.
Crosse watched him then tapped the file. "According to this we're very much deeper in the mire than even I imagined. Very distressing. Yes." He looked up. "This report refers to previous ones sent to Dunross. I'd certainly like to see them as soon as possible. Quickly and quietly."
Armstrong glanced at Brian Kwok. "How about Claudia Chen?"
"No. No chance. None."
"Then what do you suggest, Brian?" Crosse asked. "I imagine my American friend will have the same idea . . . and if he's been misguided enough to pass on the file, a copy of the file, to the director of the CIA here… I really would be very depressed if they were there first again."
Brian Kwok thought a moment. "We could send a specialized team into the tai-pan's executive offices and his penthouse, but it'd take time—we just don't know where to look—and it would have to be at night. That one could be hairy, sir. The other reports—if they exist—might be in a safe up at the Great House, or at his place at Shek-O—even at his, er, at his private flat at Sinclair Towers or another one we don't even know about."
"Distressing," Crosse agreed. "Our intelligence is getting appallingly lax even in our own bailiwick. Pity. If we were Chinese we'd know everything, wouldn't we, Brian?"
"No sir, sorry sir."
"Well, if you don't know where to look you'll have to ask."
"Ask. Dunross's always seemed to be cooperative in the past. After all he is a friend of yours. Ask to see them."
"And if he says, no, or that they were destroyed?"
"You use your talented head. You cajole him a little, you use a little art, you warm to him, Brian. And you barter."
"Do we have something current to barter with, sir?"
"Nelson Trading."
"Part's in the report. Plus a modest little piece of information I'll be delighted to give you later."
"Yes sir, thank you sir."
"Robert, what have you done to find John Chen and the Werewolf or Werewolves?"
"The whole of CID's been alerted, sir. We got the number of his car at once and that's on a 1098. We've interviewed his wife Mrs. Barbara Chen, among others—she was in hysterics most of the time, but lucid, very lucid under the flood."
"Yes sir. She's . . . Well, you understand."
"She said it wasn't unusual for her husband to stay out late—she said he had many late business conferences and sometimes he'd go early to the track or to his boat. I'm fairly certain she knew he was a man about town. Retracing his movements last night's been fairly easy up to 2:00 A.M. He dropped Casey Tcholok at the Old Vic at about 10:30—"
"Did he see Bartlett last night?"
"No sir, Bartlett was in his aircraft at Kai Tak all the time."
"Did John Chen talk to him?"
"Not unless there's some way for the airplane to link up with our phone system. We had it under surveillance until the pickup this morning."
"Go on."
"After dropping Miss Tcholok—I discovered it was his father's Rolls by the way—he took the car ferry to the Hong Kong side where he went to a private Chinese club off Queen's Road and dismissed the car and chauffeur. . . ." Armstrong took out his pad and referred to it. ". . . It was the Tong Lau Club. There he met a friend and business colleague, Wo Sang Chi, and they began to play mah-jong. About midnight the game broke up. Then, with Wo Sang Chi and the two other players, both friends, Ta Pan Fat, a journalist, and Po Cha Sik, a stockbroker, they caught a taxi."
Robert Armstrong heard himself reporting the facts, falling into the familiar police pattern and this pleased him and took his mind off the file and all the secret knowledge he possessed, and the problem of the money that he needed so quickly. I wish to God I could just be a policeman, he thought, detesting Special Intelligence and the need for it. "Ta Pan Fat left the taxi first at his home on Queen's Road, then Wo Sang Chi left on the same road shortly afterwards. John Chen and Po Cha Sik—we think he's got triad connections, he's being checked out now very carefully—went to the Ting Ma Garage on Sunning Road, Causeway Bay, to collect John Chen's car, a 1960 Jaguar." Again he referred to his notebook, wanting to be accurate, finding the Chinese names confusing as always, even after so many years. "A garage apprentice, Tong Ta Wey, confirms this. Then John Chen drove his friend Po Cha Sik to his home at 17 Village Street in Happy Valley, where the latter left the car. Meanwhile Wo Sang Chi, John Chen's business colleague, who, curiously, heads Struan's haulage company which has the monopoly of cartage to and from Kai Tak, had gone to the Sap Wah Restaurant on Fleming Road. He states that after being there for thirty minutes, John Chen joined him and they left the restaurant in Chen's car, intending to pick up some dancing girls in the street and take them to supper—"
"He wouldn't even go to the dance hall and buy the girls out?" Crosse asked thoughtfully. "What's the going rate, Brian?"
"Sixty dollars Hong Kong, sir, at that time of night."
"I know Phillip Chen's got the reputation of being a miser, but is John Chen the same?"
"At that time of night, sir," Brian Kwok said helpfully, "lots of girls start leaving the clubs if they haven't arranged a partner yet •—most of the clubs close around 1:00 A.M.—Sunday's not a good pay night, sir. It's quite usual to cruise, there's certainly no point in wasting sixty, perhaps two or three times sixty dollars, because the decent girls are in twos or threes and you usually take two or three to dinner first. No point wasting all that money is there, sir?"
"Do you cruise, Brian?"
"No sir. No need—no sir."
Crosse sighed and turned back to Armstrong. "Go on, Robert."
"Well sir, they failed to pick up any girls and went to the Copacabana Night Club in the Sap Chuk Hotel in Gloucester Road for supper, getting there about one o'clock. About 1:45 A.M. they left and Wo Sang Chi said he saw John Chen get into his car, but he did not see him drive off—then he walked home, as he lived nearby. He said John Chen was not drunk or bad-tempered, anything like that, but seemed in good spirits, though earlier at the club, the Tong Lau Club, he'd appeared irritable and cut the mah-jong game short. There it ends. John Chen's not known to have been seen again by any of his friends—or family."
"Did he tell Wo Sang Chi where he was going?"
"No. Wo Sang Chi told us he presumed he was going home—but then he said, 'He might have gone to visit his girl friend.' We asked him who, but he said he didn't know. After pressing him he said he seemed to remember a name, Fragrant Flower, but no address or phone number—that's all."
"Fragrant Flower? That could cover a multitude of ladies of the night."
"Yes sir."
Crosse was lost in thought for a moment. "Why would Dunross want John Chen eliminated?"
The two police officers gaped at their superior.
"Put that in your abacus brain, Brian."
"Yes sir, but there's no reason. John Chen's no threat to Dunross, wouldn't possibly be—even if he became compradore. In the Noble House the tai-pan holds all the power."
"Does he?"
"Yes. By definition." Brian Kwok hesitated, thrown off balance again. "Well yes sir —I … in the Noble House, yes."
Crosse turned his attention to Armstrong. "Well?"
"No reason I can think of, sir. Yet."
"Well think about it."
Crosse lit a cigarette and Armstrong felt the smoke hunger pangs heavily. I'll never keep my vow, he thought. Bloody bastard Crosse-that-we-all-have-to-carry! What the hell's in his mind? He saw Crosse offer him a packet of Senior Service, the brand he always used to smoke—don't fool yourself, he thought, the brand you still smoke. "No thank you sir," he heard himself say, shafts of pain in his stomach and through all of him.
"You're not smoking, Robert?"
"No sir, I've stopped . . . I'm just trying to stop."
"Admirable! Why should Bartlett want John Chen eliminated?"
Again both police officers gawked at him. Then Armstrong said throatily, "Do you know why, sir?"
"If I knew, why should I ask you? That's for you to find out. There's a connection somewhere. Too many coincidences, too neat, too pat—and too smelly. Yes it smells of KGB involvement to me, and when that happens in my domain I must confess I get irritable."
"Yes sir."
"Well, so far so good. Put surveillance on Mrs. Phillip Chen— she could easily be implicated somewhere. The stakes for her are certainly high enough. Tail Phillip Chen for a day or two as well."
"That's already done, sir. Both of them. On Phillip Chen, not that I suspect him but just because I think they'll both do the usual— be uncooperative, keep mum, negotiate secretly, pay off secretly and breathe a sigh of relief once it's over."
"Quite. Why is it these fellows—however well educated—think they're so much smarter than we are and won't help us do the work we're paid to do?"
Brian Kwok felt the steely eyes grinding into him and the sweat trickled down his back. Control yourself, he thought. This bastard's only a foreign devil, an uncivilized, manure-eating, dung-ladened, motherless, dew neh loh moh saturated, monkey-descended foreign devil. "It's an old Chinese custom which I'm sure you know, sir," he said politely, "to distrust all police, all government officials— they've four thousand years of experience, sir."
"I agree with the hypothesis, but with one exception. The British. We have proved beyond all doubt we're to be trusted, we can govern, and, by and large, our bureaucracy's incorruptible."
"Yes sir."
Crosse watched him for a moment, puffing his cigarette. Then he said, "Robert, do you know what John Chen and Miss Tcholok said or talked about?"
"No sir. We haven't been able to interview her yet—she's been at Struan's all day. Could it be important?"
"Are you going to Dunross's party tonight?"
"No sir."
"Yes sir."
"Good. Robert, I'm sure Dunross won't mind if I bring you with me, call for me at 8:00 P.M. All Hong Kong that counts will be there —you can keep your ears to the grindstone and your nose everywhere." He smiled at his own joke and did not mind that neither smiled with him. "Read the report now. I'll be back shortly. And
Brian, please don't fail tonight. It really would be very boring."
"Yes sir."
Crosse left.
When they were alone Brian Kwok mopped his brow. "That bugger petrifies me."
"Yes. Same for me, old chum, always has."
"Would he really order a team into Struan's?" Brian Kwok asked incredulously. "Into the inner kernel of the Noble House?"
"Of course. He'd even lead it himself. This's your first tour with SI, old lad, so you don't know him like I do. That bugger'd lead a team of assassins into hell if he thought it important enough. Bet you he got the file himself. Christ, he's been over the border twice that I know of to chat to a friendly agent. He went alone, imagine that!"
Brian gasped. "Does the governor know?"
"I wouldn't think so. He'd have a hemorrhage, and if MI-6 ever heard, he'd be roasted and Crosse'd get sent to the Tower of London. He knows too many secrets to take that chance—but he's Crosse and not a thing you can do about it."
"Who was the agent?"
"Our guy in Canton."
"Wu Fong Fong?"
"No, a new one—at least he was new in my time. In the army."
"Captain Ta Quo Sa?"
Armstrong shrugged. "I forget."
Kwok smiled. "Quite right."
"Crosse still went over the border. He's a law unto himself."
"Christ, you can't even go to Macao because you were in SI a couple of years ago and he goes over the border. He's bonkers to take that risk."
"Yes." Armstrong began to mimic Crosse. "And how is it tradesmen know things before we do, dear boy? Bloody simple," he said, answering himself, and his voice lost its banter. "They spend money. They spend lots of bloody money, whereas we've sweet f.a. to spend. He knows it and I know it and the whole world knows it. Christ, how does the FBI, CIA, KGB or Korean CIA work? They spend money! Christ, it's too easy to get Alan Medford Grant on your team—Dunross hired him. Ten thousand pounds retainer, that'd buy lots of reports, that's more than enough, perhaps it was less. How much are we paid? Two thousand quid a year for three hundred and sixty-six, twenty-five-hour days and a copper on the beat gets four hundred quid. Look at the red tape we'd have to go through to get a secret ten thousand quid to pay to one man to buy info. Where'd the FBI, CIA and god-cursed KGB be without unlimited funds? Christ," he added sourly, "it'd take us six months to get the money, if we could get it, whereas Dunross and fifty others can take it out of petty cash." The big man sat in his chair slouched and loose-limbed, dark shadows under his eyes that were red rimmed, his cheekbones etched by the overhead light. He glanced at the file on the desk in front of him but did not touch it yet, just wondered at the evil news it must contain. "It's easy for the Dun-rosses of the world," he said.
Brian Kwok nodded and wiped his hands and put his kerchief away. "They say Dunross's got a secret fund—the tai-pan's fund— started by Dirk Struan in the beginning with the loot he got when he burned and sacked Foochow, a fund that only the current tai-pan can use for just this sort of thing, for h 'eung you and payoffs, anything—maybe even a little murder. They say it runs into millions."
"I'd heard that rumor too. Yes. I wish to Christ … oh well." Armstrong reached for the file, hesitated, then got up and went for the phone. "First things first," he told his Chinese friend with a sardonic smile. "First we'd better breathe on a few VIPs." He dialed Police HQ in Kowloon. "Armstrong—give me Divisional Staff Sergeant Tang-po please."
"Good evening, sir. Yes sir?" Divisional Staff Sergeant Tang-po's voice was warm and friendly.
"Evening, 'Major," he said sweetly using the contraction of Sergeant Major as was customary. "I need information. I need information on who the guns were destined for. I need information on who the kidnappers of John Chen are. I want John Chen—or his body —back in three days. And I want this Werewolf—or Werewolves, in the dock very quickly."
There was a slight pause. "Yes sir."
"Please spread the word. The Great White Father is very angry indeed. And when he gets even just a little angry superintendents get posted to other commands, and so do inspectors—even sergeants, even divisional staff sergeants class one. Some even get demoted to police constable and sent to the border. Some might even get discharged or deported or go to prison. Eh?"
There was an even longer pause. "Yes sir."
"And when he's very angry indeed wise men flee, if they can, before anticorruption falls on the guilty—and even on innocents."
Another pause. "Yes sir. I'll spread the word, sir, at once. Yes, at once."
"Thank you, 'Major. The Great White Father is really very angry indeed. And oh, yes." His voice became even thinner. "Perhaps you'd ask your brother sergeants to help. They'll surely understand, too, my modest problem is theirs as well." He switched to Cantonese. "When the Dragons belch, all Hong Kong defecates. Heya?"
A longer pause. "I'll take care of it, sir."
"Thank you." Armstrong replaced the receiver.
Brian Kwok grinned. "That's going to cause a few sphincter muscles to oscillate."
The Englishman nodded and sat down again but his face did not lose its hardness. "I don't like to pull that too often—actually that's only the second time I've ever done it—but I've no option. He made that clear, so did the Old Man. You better do the same with your sources."
"Of course. 'When the Dragons belch .. .' You were punning on the legendary Five Dragons?"
Now Brian Kwok's handsome face settled into a mold—cold black eyes in his golden skin, his square chin almost beardless. "Tang-po's one of them?"
"I don't know, not for certain. I've always thought he was, though I've nothing to go on. No, I'm not certain, Brian. Is he?"
"I don't know."
"Well, it doesn't matter if he is or isn't. The word'll get to one of them, which is all I'm concerned about. Personally I'm pretty certain the Five Dragons exist, that they're five Chinese divisional sergeants, perhaps even station sergeants, who run all the illegal street gambling of Hong Kong—and probably, possibly, some protection rackets, a few dance halls and girls—five out of eleven. Five senior sergeants out of eleven possibilities. Eh?"
"I'd say the Five Dragons're real, Robert—perhaps there are more, perhaps less, but all street gambling's run by police."
"Probably run by Chinese members of our Royal Police Force, lad," Armstrong said, correcting him. "We've still no proof, none

—and we've been chasing that will o' the wisp for years. I doubt if we'll ever be able to prove it." He grinned. "Maybe you will when you're made assistant commissioner."