Some places are more convenient for murders than others. This is not a matter for the murderer to consider; generally murder is either a spur-of-the moment thing, a whim to be acted on at that particular time, or else it is something carefully planned. In the latter case, determination means that the murderer will kill, regardless of the location.
Convenience is not a consideration there. The murderer-to-be may have transportation worries, they may be concerned about how to escape capture afterward, or the nearest bar to sit and calmly await justice in, but the act itself cares little for the location.
Being murdered is thoroughly inconvenient, but the dead remain dead, and we will not make adjustments for their convenience; it is unlikely they will appreciate the effort. Convenience, however, is something that weighs heavily upon the police.
A murder at night, with no witnesses, no motive, no traces of a weapon: inconvenient. A murder in broad daylight, in a crowded space: also inconvenient. The former is hard to solve, and contributes unfairly to performance statistics. The latter involves taking many time-consuming, often contradictory witness statements, crowd control, the possible closure of public transport in an area, and worries for job security when politicians weigh in and suggest the role of the police is to prevent murders in plain view, to stop the rest of society being terrified by violent deaths.
It is thus a truth universally acknowleged in the law enforcement community that a detective faced with a stabbed-to-death spouse in the bedroom and a tearful confession written in the kitchen wants for nothing more, while the person responsible for apprehending whoever is dropping bricks from the tops of buildings onto busy shopping streets below, is in need of a wife and something else to take his mind off things.
Andrew Lam considered all this, and although the criminal in this case wasn’t likely to be as much as a nuisance as the Mong Kok Brick Bat, whoever it was had still operated with scant regard for his convenience.
The murder had been committed in Tai O, a old fishing village full of stilted houses, on the south coast of Lantau Island. To get there and not waste your morning sat in traffic driving from Wan Chai on Hong Kong island, you had to take a train out to Tung Chung, and then comandeer a car from the police station and drive up over the central ridge of the island and down a long and winding road to the bus stop at the start of Tai O.
Then you had to disembark and walk the rest of the way. There was the option of a local car to drive you, but that was no option at all, because on the narrow lanes of Tai O, the only police car in operation was four feet wide and six feet long, and self-esteem demanded that Lam didn’t make it look as though he’d stolen a small child’s go-kart to get around.
The murder had taken place in one of the huts furthest from where Lam entered Tai O: down the promenade, past the blue plastic barrels of fermenting shrimp paste, past most of the village dogs that trotted after him, and almost as far as the old police headquarters, collapsing into the hillside. It would almost have been convenient to take a boat round the island, disembark at the pier and walk down, but then he always got nauseous on boats, and it would not have been good to start his day with vomit on his shoes.
The huts were small buildings wrapped in aluminium, like some 1950s vision of the far future that had failed to be properly maintained. He was fairly sure aluminium couldn’t rust, but despite this the huts all seemed to be sickening for something, as if they themselves needed iron in their diet.
The murder had taken place in the third hut from the end of the houses; it was squashed up against the others like a drunk looking for support.
There had been shouting the night before, and the neighbours had banged on the walls to request quiet, but the shouting had continued and they had turned up the volume on their televisions. Nobody had heard the gun being fired: well, a silenced pistol wasn’t exactly quiet, but it wasn’t enough noise to cut through TVB at full throttle.
They had noticed when the heat from the flames began to penetrate into their own houses, at which point the fire brigade had been called, and arrived to eliminate most of the useful evidence with a hose.
Lam took his first look at the crime scene, peering in through the doorway of the gutted, soaked hut. He stood, looking at the body of the centenarian face down on the floor, wondering why anyone would kill somebody that old when natural causes were sure to do it for free. He stood there, in a tiny village that stank of rotting seafood, far from any reasonable transport, and he knew very well that this was not a convenient murder.