“Do you think you’re going to be sick again?”
“No.” Lee stood up and turned away from the corner where he’d been retching. Doing so, he saw the corpse again, but by now there was nothing left for his stomach to heave up. He was safe for the moment.
“I did say you should brace yourself for it.”
“Thanks Andy. When are forensics arriving?”
“They’re on their way. I don’t suppose there was any evidence in that corner anyway.”
Andy patted him on the arm, as if to make him feel better. They walked away to the entrance to the alleyway, putting the body behind them. At least the constable who had been first on the scene looked queasy too; that made Lee feel better about vomitting. But it was still embarrassing. Here he was, newly minted as an Inspector, and turning grey and being sick at the sight of blood. Andy wouldn’t say anything; they were old friends, after all, but he didn’t want word of this getting out.
“Constable, how long were you been waiting here?”
“An hour before Inspector Lam arrived, sir.” He looked rattled. It wouldn’t have been pleasant to be there on your own with that.
“And you found the body yourself?”
“Constable,” Lee said. “We’re in an alleyway by the side of the Standard Chartered Building. We’re standing next to a doorway with two security cameras on it, guarding an alleyway that has absolutely nothing of any value on it. I’m just wondering … “
“I’m just wondering what you were doing down here. Mostly, you’d be patrolling down where there are people, correct?”
“Yes. I … “
He glanced around nervously.
“What is it, Constable? Come on, I won’t bite.”
“I – I was here for a cigarette.”
“Ah, the mystery solved,” Lee said. “You fancied a smoke, but you know you can’t smoke in uniform, so you slipped down here, to a little space completely hidden from the street, for a crafty cigarette. Not a problem, Constable. More of a stroke of luck that a man like you would happen across the body, rather than some untrained civilian who might damage the crime scene.”
It was a good place for a smoke; most people avoided the alleyway, preferring to walk through the atrium of the HSBC building to get between Queens and Des Voeux. The body itself was in a branch off the main alleyway halfway down, completely out of sight from either street. If it had happened last night, there would have been plenty of uninterrupted time to work on the body, sanitise all trace of the perpetrator.
“It’s fine,” Andy reassured him. “You’ve excelled yourself, Constable.”
“Yes,” said Lee. “And I think after this experience, you should probably finish your shift now.”
“Yes. Now. Go home, have a drink, try to get some sleep. You’ve seen enough here today.”
“I just go home?”
“Yes,” Andy joined in. “We’ve taken the notes from you, you don’t need to stand around here all morning. Off you go.”
He turned and began to walk away. Andy stopped him.
“Oh, and one thing, Constable Kwong. Don’t mention anything of this to anybody. This is a murder investigation, and we don’t want any leaks. Any leaks. Understood?”
They watched him leave.
“Kwan called you?”
“Yes, me too. Said he wanted us down here to see what was going on. And to make sure that no word got out.”
“How does a chief inspector get to find out about this so quickly, Lee? If that kid called it in an hour ago, he knew in less than fifteen minutes. I’d have thought Kwan would be happily asleep, that time of the morning, dreaming of new ways to torment us.”
“He’s an efficient guy, Andy. And I can see why this would spook him. A dead body, right in the middle of Central, the week before the Sevens? It’d be a disaster if something like this came out.”
“So he calls the two of us to come and secure things.”
“Yes. And that guy looks pretty secure.”
“Apart from not being able to stop you throw up.”
“No problem. This isn’t good though, is it?”
“How do you mean?”
“Well, like you say, an alleyway right in the middle of everything. OK, it’s back there, out of view of Queens Road and Des Veoux, but the entrance is right under the security cameras.”
“So … ?”
“So I’m expecting that those cameras didn’t see a thing. I’ve got a bad feeling that somebody did a good job of getting this guy down here, and we’re going to have a bad job trying to find them.”
“That much is true.”
“Still, I guess you’re the right man for the case. I’m just the guy standing here to keep an eye on you.”
“How do you make that?”
“Well, you’re in charge of missing persons, Lee. And he’s certainly gone missing from somewhere.”
The forensics team arrived shortly; Sammy Chan and another cheery man who changed into white overalls and fenced off the alleyway to stop anyone seeing what they were doing. Lee had first met Chan during the West Kowloon Wallpaper Murders, his happy demeanour unaffected by the decaying corpses Lee had discovered. The other, he hadn’t met, but all forensics technicians seemed the same; an overpowering desire to show they were unaffected by whatever crimes they happened upon.
“This is pretty nasty” said Chan.
“Yes” said Andy. “That was Lee, throwing up here.”
“No,” said Chan, leaning over the body. “Did you look at this guy at all?”
“We didn’t want to disturb him” Lee said. “We figured you’d be along soon.”
“Well, there’s not much left of him, is there? The body’s practically eviscerated.”
Chan teased up the back of the corpse’s bloodsoaked shirt. There was a deep cut across the back of the torso, on a level with the bottom of the rib cage, and the skin beneath that had been peeled back. When Lee looked, he started to feel the surge of vomit upwards in his throat again. Chan teased the flap of flesh back.
“Look – empty.”
Andy leaned over to look.
“You’re right.” The inside of the body was missing. Whoever had killed this man had carefully removed all the organs from his abdomen, leaving just a loose bag of skin and muscle. And all the blood, splattered across the alleyway.
“Organ harvesters? In Hong Kong?”
Lee covered his mouth, and moved away from the alleyway, away from the sight and the stench. Now that the morning was heating up, the body wouldn’t last for much longer here.
“We’ll take him straight to the morgue, Inspector,” Chan said.
“Thanks. Call me when you’re done.” Lee walked back to the sunshine at the end of the alleyway, to the crowds of commuters milling out of the MTR station and bustling towards their jobs, unaware that anything like this was happening so close to them.
Lam followed him out.
“Kwan told you to come dowh here.”
“Well, he had me go over to a dead body in Tai O yesterday. Didn’t want anybody to talk about it, a bit like today.”
“If he didn’t want anyone to talk about it, how come you’re talking to me about it now?”
“Well, we go back a long way, don’t we? And besides, if he trusts you to come and look at this dead body, I assume he’s happy for you to share my mystery too.”
“So you think these are related?”
“I don’t know. Maybe Kwan is just spooked with the rugby round the corner. Who knows who’s breathing down his neck, eh?”
“Still, maybe we should compare notes.”
“Certainly. Once you’ve promised not to throw up any more. I had quite enough of that yesterday.”