Initial investigations

Lam left the hut and stood outside. The ever-present waft of rotting shrimp was preferable to the stink inside the hut. Out on Lantau the air was slightly cleaner than back in Hong Kong, so it was almost pleasant to be there.

He took out his notebook and consulted it. The fire brigade had arrived at around 3 that morning, bumbled around and ruined any unburnt evidence, and called the police at around 5. Then, since it was their job to soak things with water rather than prevent interference with the evidentiary chain, they’d left. Lam called Yeung over from his post thirty yards away, where he had been poking something with a stick.

“What time did you get here?”

“Er… Six. Six thirty?” Helpless. Clueless.

“Don’t ask me, Yeung. Tell me.”

Yeung seemed to be struggling with a difficult mathematical problem, eventually split the difference. “Six fifteen?”

“Great. And how long had the officer you relieved been here?”

“Relieved?”

Lam sighed, wanted to hit somebody across the back of the head.

“When. You. Got. Here. How. Long. Had. The. Other. Policeman. Been. Waiting?”

Yeung brightened up. “Oh, there wasn’t one. There was just me on duty, so I came down from the station as soon as I could.”

“So for an hour and change, Grandad in there was gently smouldering and anybody could have wandered in?” Yeung’s cheerful expression deserted him.

“But -”

“You don’t have much sense of urgency about you, do you, Constable Yeung?” Lam would have begun to lecture him, but the forensics team arrived at that moment. In honesty, there wasn’t much of a scene for Yeung to have secured; it was hard to imagine what important evidence had survived a roasting and a soaking, only to be carried off before Tai O’s finest had finished his breakfast congee. Still, the forensics team would be able to tell him some useful trivia.

There would be a bullet from an unregistered gun, probably spirited across the border from China. There would be a statement suggesting an enlarged prostate would have killed Grandad soon enough, or perhaps a scientific estimate of the old man’s shoe-size. Useful for filling out forms.

“Andy” the technician greeted him. “Nice day for a barbecue?” He recognised the guy; Sammy Kam, happy to be out of the labs and poring over the paltry ‘evidence’ they had.

“Well Sammy, the problem is that he wanted a barbecue at three this morning, and that got the neighbours all cross. Now if you’d just hurry up and certify that he shot himself in the back of the head, we can go back to Wan Chai and get an early lunch.”

Sammy chuckled. “I’ll see what I can do. What’s his name, anyway?”

He had to consult his notes. “Wong. Wong Sui-Ming.”

“Well, that’s an interesting name, isn’t it? In as far as they don’t get much more average than this.”

Sammy walked into the hut, then came back out tutting to himself.

“Messy chap, wasn’t he?”

Lam nodded. “How are we going to shift him?”

“I parked the van at the other end of the village. We’ll need the boy genius standing over there to fetch that cute little police car they have hereabouts.”

“Yeung,” Lam called out. “Go fetch the car from the station.”

Yeung wandered off in the direction of the police station. Sammy had brought down a folding stretcher, which he began to put together. “There’s nothing really to examine here, is there?” Lam asked.

“No. We’ll have to take him back to Wan Chai and open him up, take a look around, but the cause of death is pretty clear. A nasty case of somebody-doesn’t-like-you.”

It was difficult for the two of them to get into the hut and finish setting the stretcher up. By the time they were done, they could hear Yeung parking the car outside, its tiny two-stroke engine puttering away.

“Ok” said Sammy. “Take the legs and we’ll roll him onto the stretcher. Careful now, we don’t want him falling apart on us.”

The body was light; as they moved it there was a sucking noise as it separated from the muck and slime on the floor. They rolled it onto the stretcher, then carried that outside.

“Interesting” said Lam, looking down at Wong’s corpse.

“Yes.” Sammy waved Yeung over. “Take a look at this, youngster. Chronic case of somebody-doesn’t-like-you, this one.”

While the back of the body had been burnt black by the fire, the front had stayed damp, flesh puffed up by the water until it looked like a sickly fish, dwelling for all its life under a rock. The face was squashed and distorted, the blue denim shirt and trousers stained and bloodied, and the three bullet holes in the chest quite clear now Wong was face-up.

Yeung ran off to be sick.

“Enough to drive you to drink, eh?”

“Shame you’re teetotal, Sammy.”

“Yes. If I could drink, not being able to drink would make me want to drink myself to death.”

“Ha. Come on, let’s get this one back to Central, then you can write me a nice report.”

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