The Gift Excerpt
The black rotary dial phone on Kwong’s nightstand rang. The third ring managed to intrude itself into the drone of his snoring. On the fifth ring, he rolled his massive bulk over and picked up the receiver.
“Inspector Kwong. I’m so sorry to call you at this ungodly time. It’s Sergeant Lao.”
“What time is it, Sergeant?”
“Two-forty three, sir.”
Kwong closed his eyes in the dark, then opened them and said, “Very well. What do you need?”
“We just received an anonymous call that a bomb has been planted in the Lucky Fortune Fireworks factory. We’ve been trying to call the owner, a Mr. Bertram Cho, but he doesn’t answer his phone.”
Kwong tried to focus on what he was hearing, “And what do you want me to do about it, Sergeant?”
“As it happens, Mr. Cho lives in your very building, on the seventh floor, 7A in fact.”
“I see. A happy coincidence.”
“A bomb squad is already on its way. Could you tell him what’s happening and find out if he can give us any information that might be of help?”
Kwong yawned and answered, “Of course, Sergeant. I’ll go right up and talk to him, then call you back.”
“Thank you, sir. That’d be most helpful.”
“Yes, Sergeant. That’s why you called me at this dreadful hour.”
He hung up the phone and pulled himself up out of bed, put on his robe and found his cane. He took the elevator up to seven and knocked on the door to 7A. An anonymous call, he thought. Someone is either crazy or is on the outs with the would-be bomber. This time, he rang the bell and shortly heard footsteps inside.
The door opened a crack, and a bespectacled face looked out.
“Mr. Cho? I’m Lawrence Kwong, from downstairs.”
“Inspector Kwong?” the face asked, and the door opened. “Bertie Cho, Inspector. Something serious must have brought you here. Please, come in.”
“Thank you, Bertie. I’m afraid we do have a serious situation. We’ve received a call that someone’s planted a bomb in your fireworks factory.”
“Bloody hell!” shouted Cho, “We’d best leave now! Just wait a minute, and I’ll get dressed.”
“Where’s your factory, Bertie?”
“The other side of Wan Chai.”
“I’m afraid that it’ll be leveled by the time we get there. A bomb squad is already on the way. And there’s a way for you to help us more right here.”
“All right, Inspector. What can I do?” Cho led him into the kitchen and turned on the light.
“Do you have any idea who might want to cause you harm?” asked Kwong.
“That bastard, Chiang Kai-shek,” answered Cho without hesitation.
“His name is also Lawrence, no offense intended.”
“None taken, Bertie.”
“Lawrence Yiu. I call him Chiang, because he’ll steal from anybody. Even the Bank of China, if he could.”
“I see. And, do you think he’d stoop to bombing your company?”
“He’s been trying to buy it from me, but his offers are ludicrously low. He owns the Happy Valley Fireworks Company and is looking to expand. I just turned him down flat three days ago.”
“Assuming Yiu is the culprit, do you have any idea where he might hide the bomb?”
Cho scowled, “Yiu is such a bloody bastard, he’d probably put it in my office.”
“Very good, sir. May I use your telephone?”
“Certainly, Inspector. It’s right there on the wall.”
Kwong punched in the number for headquarters, and Sergeant Lao picked up on the first ring.
“Kwong here, Sergeant. Tell the bomb squad to check out Mr. Cho’s office before they waste their time on the roof or anywhere else. And put out an APB for a Mr. Lawrence Yiu. He’s the owner of Happy Valley Fireworks, and an unhappy competitor.”
“Very good, Inspector. I’ll call you when we have news.”
“Thank you, Sergeant.”
Kwong hung up the telephone and turned to Cho. He started to say something, then frowned and said, “The Sergeant will be calling back on my phone.” He looked Cho up and down and asked, “You’re a Scotch man, if you go by Bertie. Am I right?”
“Absolutely, Sherlock,” laughed Cho.
“Would you mind spending a little time down in my flat while we wait for news? I have some 18-year old Dalmore to while away the time.”
“Dalmore? The quintessence. Happy to join you.”
The two men left Cho’s and went down in the elevator to Kwong’s flat.
“Funny I haven’t run into you before, Lawrence, but I’ve only been here for a year. I’m loving Aberdeen. How long have you lived here?”
“Obviously, you like it, too.”
“It’s a pleasant break from the city. My office is in Tsim Tsa Tsui.”
“Yes,” said Cho. “Worlds apart.”
Kwong let them into his flat and led Cho to his study. He pulled out a bottle of Dalmore and poured two glasses, neat.
“All right, Bertie?”
Bertie lifted his glass and said, “Here’s to good police work.”
“We hope so,” smiled Kwong.
“If you don’t mind my asking,” said Cho, “how do you afford Dalmore on a policeman’s salary?”
“A very dear friend,” answered Kwong. “has put me in touch with the distillery. They send it to me by the case.”
“Yes, I would imagine, a dear friend indeed,” smiled Cho. “It’s too rich for my wallet, except on very special occasions.”
“Speaking of special occasions, the New Year is here next week. Your factory must be full to bursting with product right now.”
“You have that right, Lawrence. If the whole thing went pop, it would be like a lightning storm, and the insurance companies would pay a lot to make up for my loss.”
“So, if you were an unscrupulous owner, like Yiu, what’s to keep you from bombing your own factory?”
Cho smiled and said, “Yes, and that might go for me, as well? I’ve heard that you’re a digger, Lawrence, always looking for the truth. That mess you ran into last summer with Pearl River was, no doubt, because someone thought they needed payback.”
“Someone did. And the Triad nearly disappeared because of it.”
“A fitting ending to a less than honorable plan,” if I do say so,” said Cho. “I’m happy to see you back in business.”
“Bertie, I’m sure that you know that I wasn’t suggesting that you’d do your own factory.”
“We think along the same lines, Lawrence. I never suspected that for a moment. But I realize why you have to consider all the possibilities. Or you wouldn’t be a Chief Inspector, would you?”
Kwong sipped his Scotch and smiled, “It really is a pleasure to meet you, sir.”
The black rotary dial phone in Kwong’s study rang, and Kwong picked up, “Kwong here.”
“Sergeant Lao, Inspector. The bomb team found the bomb, not only in Mr. Cho’s office, but hidden in his bar. How’s that for personal?”
“And it’s been defused?”
“Piece of cake, sir.”
“Excellent, Lao. And thanks for calling me when you did. Good night.”
“Good night, Inspector.”
Kwong hung up and looked at Cho, “The fool put the bomb in your bar.”
Cho howled with laughter, and said, “Might I have another finger of Dalmore before we both go back to bed?”
Kwong entered police headquarters after walking up from the Star Ferry, the main form of exercise that he enjoyed. Sergeant Hsieh, the receiving sergeant, smiled when he saw him and announced, “Very well done, Inspector, for such an early hour. Mr. Yiu has been apprehended and has confessed to planting the bomb.”
“I must say,” said Kwong, “I do enjoy solving cases without leaving home.”
He went down the hall toward his office. His assistant, Matson, was slaving away over a hot computer monitor and drinking his second cup of coffee.
“Good job, Lawrence. Pretty nifty, a little home work,” laughed Matson.
Kwong smiled, “It was all the owner’s work. I just shared a little Dalmore with him.”
“The case gets even better when all the details come out.”
“Evidently so. I’ll talk to you later.” Kwong went to his office and hung his coat on the walnut hat rack, then crossed to the small lunchroom and made himself a pot of English Breakfast tea. He set it on his desk and called Bertie Cho while he waited for it to steep.
“This is Bertram Cho,” the voice answered.
“Bertie, it’s Lawrence Kwong. It’s a lot brighter now than at three in the morning. Yiu is in jail, and he’s confessed to putting the bomb in your office. I don’t think he’ll be attempting to do any more business with you for a while.”
“That’s very good news, Lawrence. I appreciate the call. I was just leaving home for a meeting. I’ll talk to you later.”
“Excellent, and have a good day.”
Kwong poured himself some tea and sat for a minute, sipping the hot liquid. Something was missing, he thought. What was it? He tore a piece of paper from a ruled notebook and wrote, “Call me this evening, Sergeant.” And signed it “Kwong.” He put the note in an envelope, sealed it and walked down the hall to the reception office.
“Would you see that Sergeant Lao gets this when he comes on shift?”
“Sorry, sir, but he’s off duty for two days. He won’t be back until Wednesday evening.”
“That’s all right. It’s not urgent. I just have a question for him. Give it to him then.”
He walked back to his office and nearly ran into Matson, who came racing out of his own office.
“Sorry, Matson. What’s the hurry?”
“I have an appointment at the prison to see Jessica.”
“Oh, give her my regards. I’ll talk to you later.”
“I’ll check in when I get back.”
Matson snapped his fingers and scurried past him, and Kwong stood there in the hallway, trying to think of what it was that he knew was missing. He couldn’t put his finger on it. Lieutenant Lee came down the hall from his office and said good morning.
“What? Oh, good morning, Lee. It’s bright and sunny out there, if you’re going out.”
“Yes, I was already out there before I got to the office, Inspector. By the by, a nice job you did last night with the bomb threat.”
“Yes, easy, really. Didn’t do much. I seem to have forgotten something.” Kwong picked a bit of tea leaf from his tie. “Sorry, Lee. I need to look in my office.”
“No problem, sir. I’ll talk to you later.”
He went back to his office and sat down. The tea was tepid, and he dumped it in the philodendron pot behind his desk, then poured himself some hot. He spun around in his chair and pulled the sash cord on his window blinds, pulling them up to expose the large window with its third story view of the side of their garage and a portion of Nathan Road. The sidewalk was busy with shoppers and workers. He had never looked out his window before and wasn’t quite sure what made him do so now. He sipped his tea and jumped when the mail room clerk brought a small pile of papers and envelopes in and placed them in his inbox.
“Sorry, Inspector. Didn’t mean to startle you.”
“Never mind, Nathan. Just a little jumpy today. You know, I never noticed that your name is the same as our Nathan Road.”
Nathan grinned and said, “It’s a fairly common name. I’m no relation to the road, I like to say.”
“Yes, I’m sure. Well, have a good day.”
Matson had been visiting Jessica once a week since his return from San Francisco in early December. Today, it was about six months since she’d entered Ma On Shan Penitentiary for killing a retired judge she believed caused the death of her father. He checked in and went to the visitors’ room, which was actually half of an entire room divided by a Lucite wall with four counters and chairs on each side. Most of the visitors were mothers visiting their daughters. He was the only man again today.
She came into the room, beautiful in spite of her shapeless blue uniform and the sheared black hair that had been a platinum waterfall hanging to her waist when they had been together. She had loved to lie on him and bury him in her beautiful hair. She smiled at him and sat down in her chair, then placed her slender hand on the transparent wall that divided them. She had started doing this two months ago, and it had become a part of their meetings. A mental union that she seemed to like. He put his palm against the cool plastic and met hers. Her nails were cut short, lest they become weapons as they had been during their brief period of living together. He thought about how her long nails had dug into his back when they made love, and he longed for that wondrous pain again.
She smiled and said “Hi, Matson. You’re looking well.”
“Hi, Jessica. You look wonderful.” He paused and looked into her eyes, now tinged with sadness. “It’s been six months,” he added.
“Yes. Six very long months, and, if I’m lucky, to be followed by seven longer years.”
“I can wait, my darling.”
Tears came to her eyes, “No, I won’t let you. I committed a crime, but you shouldn’t have to pay for my crime by throwing years of your life away. You’re a wonderfully handsome and intelligent young man. I can’t take that away from you.” She bent down and began to sob. “Dammit, I’ve been practicing this over and over, and I told myself to keep control.”
She wiped her eyes and looked up at him. “Here, without you, I get by. I follow the rules, I have some friends, I know how to handle myself.” She wiped her nose on her sleeve. “But then I see you, and I fall apart.” The tears welled again, and she said, “Oh, my darling, be kind to me. Stay away!”
His head fell when he heard those words, and she said, “Oh, Matson. I’m sorry, but I’m stronger without you.”
“I have to see you, Jess. Life without you would feel empty.”
“It’s empty meeting like this. You need to go out and have fun. There will be other women in your life. I can’t, I won’t keep you from that.” She squeezed her fist into a tight ball and pounded it on her chest. “Please, honey, stay away.”
“I’ll only do it for you, Jess,” he said, “but when can I come back? You can’t shut me out forever.”
“Okay, come see me on my birthday. No one else will.”
“When’s your birthday?”
She smiled, and the room lighted up as she said, “We were never together then, so you don’t know, do you? It’s April seventeenth. When’s yours?”
“June second. Maybe I could see you on both birthdays?”
“I’d like that, but seeing you every week makes me so sad. I can’t do it.” She dabbed her eyes and said, “Promise me you’ll go out with other women. I don’t want you to waste away because of what I did.”
The bell for the end of the session rang, and Matson got up from his chair.
“I’ll always love you, Jess.”
“I know, sweetheart.”
Kwong put his signature on the last form in his in box, slid it into the out box and leaned back with a sense of accomplishment. It had taken him a full two hours to go through all the day’s paper. Matson came into his office wearing his sportcoat.
“I’m going down to the Cork and Bottle, Lawrence, to get monged. Would you care to join me?”
Kwong smiled ruefully. He’d never heard Matson use that low-class word for drunk. Must be something he’d picked up when he was a tough street kid. He assumed that Matson’s meeting with Jessica hadn’t gone well, and he would need some company.
“I’d be happy to share a Scotch with you, Matson. I’m a little at sixes and sevens today myself.”
He got up and slipped on his Harris Tweed jacket, grabbed his cane and followed Matson into the elevator and out onto Nathan Road. The two men walked together in silence the eight blocks to the pub. Matson opened the door and held it for Kwong, and they chose a booth to the side.
Johnson, the bartender, came up to them and said, “Inspector, and Mr. Tai, how good to see the two of you. A little Lagavulin today?”
“Sorry, no,” answered Matson. “I intend to drink quite a bit, and the Lagavulin gets too pricey.”
“Then I have just the thing for you. Balvenie Doublewood 12. A lovely Highland at a quarter the price.”
“That sounds good. I’d like a glass, a second glass of ice and the bottle.”
Johnson raised his eyebrows, but only said, “As you wish, Mr. Tai.”
Kwong said, “I’ll just share his, so bring me a glass, too.”
“Very good, Inspector.”
When Johnson came back, he opened the bottle and poured each of them three fingers, then put the bottle down and said, “If you need anything else, let me know.”
Matson picked up his glass and drained it in two swallows. He wiped his mouth and said, “You know that since we returned from San Francisco in early December, I’ve been visiting Jess every week.” He poured a splash into his glass and drank it, “Today, she told me that she doesn’t want to see me.”
“For what reason, if I may ask?”
“Ask away, Lawrence. She says that in prison with the other women and the routine she can handle being away from me, but when she sees me, she falls apart.”
“I can understand that. I think you can, too,” said Kwong, taking a sip of his Scotch.
“Sure. I can understand it, but she says she doesn’t want me wasting my life waiting for her. She wants me to go out with other women.”
Tears came to his eyes, and he poured another shot and swallowed it. “How am I supposed to see other women when I love Jess so much it hurts?”
Kwong sipped his Scotch and said, “If Jess died, you’d go on. You’d meet new people. New women. You wouldn’t just wither away and die of lost love.
“I’ve been battling with myself all day over a detail in the attempted bombing, and now I realize that what I’m fighting has nothing to do with that. I’m missing Sarah. Until we met again in San Francisco, I’d managed to create my own life and lived it for forty years. Now that we’re back together, I don’t want to be away from her. She came over at Christmas and fell in love with Lan. While she was here, she told me that Lan is the daughter she always wanted from our marriage, which her family made sure never happened.
“I don’t want to live away from Sarah, but I can’t live with her, either in California or here.”
Matson poured another shot and said, “Jess has been in prison only six months. If we’re lucky, she still has seven or eight more years to serve. How am I going to wait that long without seeing her?”
“She said she doesn’t want to ever see you?”
“No. Her birthday is April seventeenth. She said I can visit her then, and again on my birthday in June.”
“That’s a couple of months. If you love her, wait. Don’t put her through the misery that she’s asking you to protect her from. I can see why it might be distressing, seeing you behind Plexiglas, not being able to touch you or hold you.”
“But seeing other women?” he said, emptying the glass.
“You went to a couple of parties in San Francisco with Melanie. It seemed like you enjoyed yourself, even though you didn’t allow it to become a romance. You can do that here. I’d advise you to do it, Matson, for her sake.”
After refilling his glass, Matson offered the bottle to Kwong, who said, “Thank you. I would like another,” and he poured some Scotch into his glass.
Matson took a deep breath and a swallow, then said, “I had completely forgotten that. We did have fun, but I spent most of the time telling her about Jessica. I’m not sure that I need to see any random women right now. I can’t bring myself to think that women are a dime a dozen. Maybe I should just concentrate on the work. I know there’ll be new cases that will fill my thoughts.”
“You’re ready to be celibate?” asked Kwong. “I don’t think that’s a wise idea for a good-looking twenty-two year old man. If you reflect a little, you’ll know that’s not what Jessica is asking for you. What about Mary Chow? There seemed to be a strong connection there.”
Matson smiled a little, “Yeah, Mary is something, all right.”
“You see?” asked Kwong, sipping his drink. “You can’t force yourself to die for seven years, and then maybe come back to life. I like Jessica. As you may recall, she said, ‘Let’s just see what happens.’ She’s a very smart young woman. She reminds me of Sarah at times.”
“Speaking of, what are you going to do about her?”
“Matson, you’re talking about seven years apart. Sarah and I spent forty. What happens between us will take time to sort itself out, but I reserve the right to miss her when we’re not together.”
Matson gave Kwong a smile and said, “Of course, you’ve earned that right, Lawrence. I keep forgetting what you two had to go through.” He looked down at his empty glass and said, “Would you be interested in some food to go with the drink? Maybe I don’t need to get monged after all, although I have to admit that I’m feeling a little glow right now.”
“And well you should. I’ve had five fingers of Scotch, and if you take a look at the bottle, you’ve put a huge dent in it.”
They motioned Johnson over, and Matson ordered a shepherd’s pie.
“What’s the fish today?” asked Kwong.
“True cod, today, Inspector.”
“That makes for a swift decision. Fish and chips, Johnson, if you please.”
Johnson cracked a smile and said, “I agree with you, sir. True cod happens to be my favorite, as well.”
“By the by, Matson,” said Kwong. “You mentioned earlier that your birthday is in June. What day is it? For some reason, in all the years we’ve known each other, we’ve never celebrated your birthday.”
“It’s June second, Lawrence, but I don’t like to celebrate it. It’s also the day my mother died. My lau lau and I generally go to the temple in remembrance.”
“I’m sorry to hear that. A shame to have a special day ruined like that.”
As they were digging into their lunches, Kwong looked up from his beer-battered cod and asked, “Do you and your lau lau have any plans for New Year dinner?”
“Well, I seem to have inadvertently become the head of the family with you and Lan. Since I’m not much for cooking, I’m thinking of taking us all down to the floating restaurant. You and Nuying are definitely invited.”
“That sounds like fun. I haven’t seen Lan for a while. She’s probably growing like a weed.”
“The way Mrs. Yee feeds her, I’m surprised that she hasn’t turned into a blimp, but she’s still a lovely slip of a thing.”
Matson put down his fork and took a modest sip of Scotch and said, “She’s definitely one young woman who will grow up to be a beauty. If she had wings, she’d look like an angel.”
“Last week, I got her a Black Forest plaid cape, and she looks wonderful in it. Of course, Mrs. Yee says she wears it all the time, because ‘Papa Kwong’ gave it to her.”
“Now there’s a happy ending to a story, Lawrence. Saving Lan from slavery and giving her a new life down here in Hong Kong is something we both can cherish.”
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