“Dead?” Lee repeated. “Who’s dead?”
“Sammy. Sammy died last night.”
“It was a car crash. Up on the highway going through Kowloon Tong.”
“Damn,” said Lee, shaking his head. “When did you find out?”
“Just a minute ago. But this is the thing … ” Lam looked around. The entrance hallway to the police station was empty; nobody sat at any of the chairs on the walls on either side of the room. At the end of the hallway, the duty sergeant was not paying them any attention.
“Lee, something’s up. We can’t talk up here.”
“Downstairs in one of the interview rooms?”
“OK. Remember where that guy was we had this morning. Take the room next to him. You go down there first, I’ll be there in ten minutes.” Lam walked to the front doors and stepped outside. Lee walked down to the door by the duty sergeant’s counter, buzzed his pass against the reader and went inside. On the other side of the door was a corridor that led to the lifts. He ducked to the right instead, and took the stairs down to the basement, two at a time. It was a quiet time; most of the interview rooms were unoccupied. He peered through the spyhole in one door, saw that the guy they’d been questioning this morning was still sat there, failing to get comfortable, head in his hands as he leant against the desk or else sat back up, wriggling and trying to shift the tension in his shoulders.
Lee let the spyhole shut again, opened the door of the adjacent room and walked in. Inside, the light was off; the harsh fluorescents of Alfie’s interview room seeped through the one-way glass. He didn’t bother switching the light on. Instead he moved to the back of the room, past the recording equipment and the table and chairs, out of view of Alfie, as if he could see Lee through the mirror.
Sammy, dead. Obviously he’d encountered a few dead bodies in his time, not least the Kowloon Wallpaper Murders. But they had been victims, people that the police had to deal with as part of their duties, bodies to be tidied away and explained. They hadn’t been people that he had a passing acquaintance with, men he’d shared drinks with or women he’d been to karaoke bars with. In the last three months, dealing with these vanishing tourists, he’d come to know more about people he was concerned by, maybe begin to make guesses about what they were looking for, why they might have tried to disappear from regular society, what ambitions might have led to them becoming missing persons, but he’d never known any of them.
Whereas Sammy was somebody he would almost have counted as a friend. Always cheerful, whatever mess of humanity he was presented with. They had stood in that bloodsoaked alleyway off Queen’s Road just twenty-four hours ago, and he’d been there, treating it like one more run-of-the-mill inspection of a place, somewhere to pick up some DNA samples, some fingerprints, a blood spatter that would later make its way into a detailed report. Now Sammy had crossed over, into the realm of people that you read reports on, questioned whether the report was completely adequate or not, debated whether there was something meaningful in what he’d found, what conclusion it would drive them to, and then filed away in a cabinet somewhere.
And that was that. You were not exactly unremarked, but one day you could be collecting bloodstains, and the next you were just a bloodstain on a road somewhere, and a few weeks after that, everyone would have forgotten about you.
Lee felt cold for even thinking such things. He understood why Lam was more upset. Lam had worked with Sammy for a long time, maybe even a decade. He’d envied the two of them their rapport, the quick way they had of forming a conclusion together at the scene, the way that Sammy’s reports always felt tailored to support the case that Lam was working on. Lam always seemed to have that cold-blooded essence a policeman required, the stomach that didn’t churn when presented with messy, painful death in the way that Lee’s did. Lam was never worried by the deaths he encountered, never reduced to vomitting by the side of a crime scene like Lee had yesterday. So he supposed that Sammy’s death had hit Lam much harder than it had himself, for him to be acting like this now.
And yet … and yet it wasn’t just that Lam was upset at Sammy’s death. If that was all, they would have probably gone out of the police station, found a bar, toasted Sammy. They would have waited until their shifts were over, certainly; it might have been something that made them sad, but there was a job that they couldn’t just turn their backs upon. But instead, Lam was skulking around the station, trying to avoid being seen with Lee, demanding a secret assignation in the basement. Was there more going on than he realised?
Lam interrupted his reverie by coming in the room and shutting and locking the door behind him. He didn’t bother with the light switch either.
“So Sammy’s dead?” Lee asked, feebly. He felt like an insensitive clod for phrasing it that way, but his usual armoury of responses was empty here. Used to dealing with bereaved spouses, aggrieved victims, suspects, he was at a loss.
“Yes” Lam said, leaning against the door. “Car crash. 3.30 this morning.”
“Did he hit somebody?”
“No. Nobody else was involved, the road was empty. They found his car upside-down on the central reservation.”
“Shit. Did … did he have any family?”
“A wife. Two kids. One about Grace’s age, the other a few years younger.” Lam waved his hand, a gesture meant to convey that he didn’t know, or didn’t remember, or it wasn’t really something that was important now.
“They know yet?”
“There’s something else.”
“It’s going to be determined that it was a drink-driving incident. He had a blood-alcohol level of about point-three-six when they took him out the wreck. He was already dead at that point.”
“Andy, I’m sorry. I know he was a friend of yours -”
“Don’t you understand, Lee? Sammy didn’t drink. He never touched a drop.”
“What? Are you sure?”
“Of course I’m sure, Lee. We grew up together. He was a strict Buddhist. It wasn’t like Sammy just got off work yesterday, figured he’d drink a couple of bottles of whiskey and then roll his car down the highway.”
“So what are you saying?’
“What do you think I’m saying? Why do you think we’re meeting down here, where nobody could be listening to us?”
This was something that Lee hadn’t really thought about up until then. There were video cameras throughout the rest of the police station. Even if nobody ever wanted to watch a bored constable scratching his backside while he was waiting for a lift to come, there was always the opportunity to do so if you really wanted to. Everything was being recorded. Likewise down in the interview rooms, studded with cameras and microphones, some of them obvious, to ostensibly be turned off to grant interviewees privacy, while other, hidden ones carried on recording. But in the listening spaces adjacent to the interview rooms, no microphones. No video cameras. Just soundproofed boxes, one way valves letting sound in from the interviews, and nothing out. These were the most private spaces in the building.
“Something’s going on” Lee continued. “Sammy knew what it was, so somebody decided to kill him and make it look like an accident.”
“Something’s going on with what?”
“Well, I was in Tai O on Sunday, some old guy got shot to death up there then set on fire. Sammy was the forensic on site with me. He had an initial report for me, we were going to go through it today, then I’d see what other questions I had in mind, he might go back to the scene, check for anything we missed.”
“And the report’s gone.”
“I saw it on his desk yesterday. Neatly typed out, in a brown folder like all the rest. Sammy wouldn’t let me see it.”
“But he was always like that.”
“Yes, I know. A perfectionist, scared that if you looked at a draft, you’d jinx him and it would end up all being obviously false. Well, the folder’s gone. Somebody went into his office last night and took it.”
“He didn’t take it home with him?”
“Nothing in the car apart from Sammy and some empty bottles of Johnny Walker. Unless it’s spread across the highway and every car for the last nine hours has been driving over it. But even if he had taken it home, he still would have typed it up on the computer first.”
“And when I looked through his files, after I was told that he’d died drunk, it wasn’t there. Somebody has deleted that file, Lee.”
“How did you find out so fast that he was dead.”
“Your boss told me.”
“You think …”
This was crazy. He didn’t like Kwan, fairly hated the sight of him, to be honest, but the man was a by-the-book bureaucrat, a man who had risen up the ranks by always doing the right thing, what had been sanctioned by all the official proceedings of the police force. He was certainly a bully, the kind of man who enjoyed embarrassing the people who worked for him and pushing them around to run his errands, belittling their achievements, but that wasn’t the same as somebody who staged the death of a forensic technician.
“I think Kwan is involved in something.”
“You’re not serious. Maybe Sammy did get drunk this one time, maybe he’s always been drinking. Maybe you made a mistake about where the file should have been saved. Maybe -”
“Maybe a lot of things, Lee. But Kwan told me Sammy was dead, ‘your little drunken lab rat’ he called him, and he looked quite satisfied by it. And that was at six this morning, just after you left for the airport. How could he have known the cause of death? The preliminary test, yes, they did a rush job this morning, but that was only available an hour ago. Kwan knew. And that’s not to mention your little bullshit assigment this morning. I see you came back here without the imaginary person he sent you to fetch. So he wanted you out the way as well for some reason.”
Lee shook his head in bewilderment. “What does all this prove?”
Lam slumped down against the door a little. “Nothing much right now. A file vanishes, Kwan says something that he can say I misheard later on. It’s not anything concrete …”
“… but it’s something. What are you going to do?”
“I’m going to watch my back. Kwan is up to something, I don’t know what, but you should watch yourself too.”
Lam unlocked the door. “There’s something about that body in Tai O, that must be what it is. I’m going to act normal, like I don’t think anything is wrong, then head over there to have another look.”
“You want me to come with you?”
“No. If Kwan found out, he’d know we were both suspicious. I’ll sneak out there on my own, unofficially, call you tomorrow when I find out what’s wnat.”
With that, he popped the door open, slipped into the corridor and was gone.