“Maybe you should just tell me how it all happened, and then we can see what to do about getting you out of here.”
The interview room was gloomy; lit by a set of fluorescent tubes, one of which was flickering just slowly enough to nag in the corner of his vision like a scratch on his retina. The walls were painted a shade of grey dull enough that it had to be a governmentally mandated shade. The table was steel, pitted and gouged from impacts he didn’t want to think about, and the metal chair he was sat in provided nothing in the way of comfort. Then again, he supposed he wasn’t there to enjoy the hospitality of the Hong Kong police force.
The detective sat opposite him, reclined in his chair, quite relaxed by the situation. He was freshly shaven – well, it wasn’t as if Chinese men were known for suffering from facial hair – clear eyed, didn’t smell. He had the look of a man who had recently put on fresh clothes, maybe even had a nutritious breakfast. At some point his wife would have made him a cup of coffee, maybe told him he shouldn’t smoke so much, packed him off to work with a smile and a kiss. He hadn’t been sitting in a concrete box for an interminable time, staring at his reflection in a mirror that he was doubtless being watched through, wondering what was going to happen to him.
“How – I’ve told you people how. He came round, drunk -”
“Would you call him a close friend?”
“Well, not exactly close – I mean, we’d go drinking sometimes, but I didn’t know him that well, I -”
“Not a close friend,” said the detective as he wrote those words down on a notepad. “So you two weren’t particularly friendly?”
“I didn’t say that. I mean, it’s just you don’t always know somebody that well, and -”
“So he didn’t often come round to your flat?”
“Well, no. I saw him when we went out in Lan Kwai, … in LKF.”
“Uncharacteristic visit, late at night,” he wrote down. “How did you feel when you met him in your flat? Angry?”
“Well, of course. I mean, you’ve seen what he did to my place.”
“It looks like there’d been a pretty severe kind of fight.”
“Exactly. The place was wrecked. Wouldn’t you be angry when – ”
“Fight took place in the flat.” He tapped his pen against the notepad.
“- oh.” His voice died as he wondered what the detective thought he’d admitted.
“Alfred. You came home late from work. You met a guy that you hardly know, in your flat, drunk. We know he was the belligerent type. You have a fight. It’s understandable, you’re angry. Then you throw him down your staircase. That’s maybe not so understandable. The court doesn’t tend to like that sort of thing.”
“It’s not like that! He’d already smashed the place up when I got home.”
“So you fought about that?”
“We didn’t have a fight. He was there to tell me something.”
“Alfred, I’ll say it again. You came home late from work. You meet a guy you hardly know, drunk, he’s just wrecked your flat. You and he fight – maybe he starts it. Who knows? We don’t have any witnesses at this point. Then you throw him down your staircase. Not so good.” He paused to let it sink in. “So perhaps if you confess now, the courts will be lenient. He’s English, you’re English. Maybe you just get sent back to the U.K.”
“I didn’t – I didn’t throw him down my stairs! Why would I call the police if I’d done that?”
“What do you mean, guilt? I didn’t do anything, you have to believe me.” He wanted his voice to come out strongly, but it was just a strangulated whimper.
“I’ll believe you when you confess.”
“But I’m not – “
“I didn’t fight him – “
“Confess!” The detective stood up and thumped his fist on the table. “Own up to this, and you can get some sleep.”
“But this wasn’t, I didn’t – “
He banged on the table again, leaning over it to put his face up to Alfie’s. “Confess!”
“I didn’t do anything!” Alfie wailed. “I just came home, and he – “
“Confess!” The policeman moved back, then walked around to the other side of the table, put his head next to Alfie’s ear. “If you own up to this, maybe they’ll go easy on you. Maybe you won’t end up in a rat-infested cell in Chi Ma Wan, with some triad sub-boss who’s been stuck inside for a decade pimping you out for cigarettes. Huh? You ever been out to the prison on Lantau? You think maybe it’s a summer camp? You think you’d last ten minutes?”
Alfie was crying. He didn’t want to give in, didn’t want to show he was weak, as if tears would be an admission of guilt. The detective leaned in closer to him, so Alfie could feel his breath, then stood up, walked back round to the other chair, and sat down again. He studied Alfie, as though he was sitting in a leptidorum and a particularly fascinating butterfly had landed in front of him.
Silence. When Alfie held no further interest for him, he got up and left the room.
A minute later, the policeman who’d come to the show on Monday walked in.
“Alfie? What are you doing here?”
“Inspector – Inspector Lam?” He felt himself begin to cry again – seeing a face that was halfway familiar, giving him hope that he might escape this room. He’d tried to tell the other police, the ones who had brought him from his flat on Rifleman Alley, that they should call Inspector Lam, but they’d ignored him. After all, meeting a policeman the day before was hardly much of an alibi. But now he was here, he’d listen to reason.
“Alfie,” said Lam, sitting down in the other chair. “I come to work this morning and hear you’re down here in the interview room, talking to my good friend Mr Lee.”
“He, he doesn’t believe what I’m telling him, he – “
“Alfie – sorry, do you mind if I call you Alfie?”
“That’s fine – “
“Thank you. Mr Lee, he’s a little, well, put-out. Would that be the correct English idiom?”
“Yes, you see he’s been looking for your friend Mr Barnes for quite some time, and he’s been wanting to speak to him, so he was really rather disappointed when the belligerent Mr Barnes turned up on the ground floor of your flat, sleeping the sleep eternal.”
“What do you mean, you know he was belligerent? That’s the second time you’ve used that word.”
“I think we all know Mr Barnes was a bit of an angry sort, wasn’t he? A bit keen to use his fists?”
“I only went drinking with him. We never got into any fights.”
“And last night?”
“I keep trying to tell you, we didn’t have a fight.”
“So what was going on? Mr Lee’s told me about how your flat looked like the scene of a major dust-up, as you would put it.”
“There wasn’t a fight. It was Barnsie, he did it by himself. I hadn’t seen him for a month, and then I get home from work and find he’d smashed my flat up on his own, looking for booze. So obviously I wasn’t pleased to find him there.”
“Then he starts telling me this ridiculous story about where he’d been.”
“Where had he been?”
“He said he’d spent the last four weeks in a bar in Wan Chai -”
Alfie stopped mid-sentence, the words sounding ridiculous.
“Interesting, Alfie. That describes the basic modus operandi of most British males in Hong Kong. Not very special, is it?”
Lam was smiling at him, as though they were just having a friendly chat, the two of them, and Alfie had said something rather amusing; not laugh out loud funny, but just something the two of them might chuckle about when they repeated it to some other acquaintance.
“No,” Alfie said. “I don’t mean he was just on the lash. He’d – well, he seemed off his rocker. He kept going on about how he’d been trapped somewhere, and how it wasn’t safe to drink the water here, and you had to stick to alcohol to be safe – “
“So far, so much the same.”
“Yes, but that’s the thing. It wasn’t just that he turned up and he was drunk – he was terrified about something. And I’d have thought that it was just the booze, except he had this wound, like he’d been attacked by some sort of animal. This wasn’t just some bloke raving after a few too many.”
“And then what?”
“And then he panicked, and ran out of my flat again, and – well, he was wearing a blindfold.”
“Yes, Mr Lee mentioned this.”
“I don’t know why.” Alfie shook his head. “Well, I do know why – he was paranoid about not looking at me, in case somebody else saw him. I know, it doesn’t make sense. But that meant he couldn’t see where to step, and then he … oh, God. He’s dead. And you all think that I did it.”
“Well, Alfie, you must admit it doesn’t look very good from here. Have a think about it, eh?”
Lam got up.
“Wait – where are you going? Don’t leave me -”
“I’ll be back” Lam said, without turning to face Alfie. He left the room and the door swung close behind him.
Out in the hall, Kwan was there, tapping his left foor on the ground, beating out an angry tattoo.
“Where’s Lee? I’ve been looking for him.”
“We’re interviewing the suspect in the Barnes case.”
“Well what’s he doing that for?”
“Barnes was disappeared, Lee still has Missing Persons.”
“Never mind that now. I have other things for him to be getting on with.”
Kwan looked distracted, nervous even. It wasn’t like him to be in the station this early in the morning; his clothes were creased, his hair in disarray as if he’d been launched straight from bed rather than taking the time to get dressed properly. He smelt bad, but then he always smelt bad, so that wasn’t anything out of the ordinary.
Lee came out of the next door in the corridor, where he’d been watching Lam interview Alfie. Kwan turned, blocking his way. The corridor was narrow, and Kwan was a chubby man, so that wasn’t hard to achieve.
“Lee. You haven’t been answering my calls.”
“I’ve been trying to reach you for the last hour. Where have you been?”
“Down here with Lam -”
“Yes, I already know that. I don’t want you wasting time with this lump you’ve got here. I need you over at the airport.”
“There’s a man coming through from London, name of Gray. I want you to pick him up. He’ll be on the BA flight coming in this morning. Go fetch him and bring him back here immediately.”
Kwan stepped forward and tapped Lee on the chest. “Have you grown deaf?”
“No – “
“Then don’t ask stupid questions. There’s a gweilo called Gray, coming in on the BA flight this morning. Go to the airport, fetch him back here.” He tapped Lee on the chest with every word, as if this would add valuable emphasis.
“What does he look like?”
“He’s a gweilo, Lee. They all look the same, don’t they? Hold up a sign or talk to the team at immigration, get them to hold him for you. I don’t care which. Just get over there, and do it now.”
And Kwan turned and stamped off down the hall.
“What was all that about, Andy?”
“Who knows? Not like Kwan to be down here at six in the morning, is it?”
“Well, I’ll be off then. His master’s voice calls, we jump. What do you think of our boy in there?”
Lam shrugged. “Not a mark on him, is there? And this is a pretty stupid drunken-gweilo story he’s telling, but if they had had a fight, you’d expect a cut, or a bruise, or something. Maybe people do just fall down the stairs sometimes.”
“More to the point, if that’s just an accident, that’s one less case to worry about. We – well, you already have your dead white guy from outside the bank, and chauffeur duty for Kwan’s special guest, whoever that is. You get over to the airport, I’ll let this one sweat for a few hours, and then maybe we decide to charge him, or maybe you just count yourself lucky that old Barnes has turned up and you can cross him off your list.”
“Great. Thanks Andy. What time do you finish here?”
Lam looked at his watch. “I’ve hardly started today.”
“Me neither.” Lee sighed. “Well, maybe get a drink tonight when the shift’s over, eh?”
Lam watched him go, then went to get a coffee. He had a couple of hours to kill waiting for Sammy and the report on Grandad Wong.