Lee waited five minutes before following Lam out. He wished he’d not taken so much time – otherwise he would have avoided Kwan, who was storming down the corridor towards him.
“Where the hell have you been?” he demanded. “And where’s Gray?”
“He wasn’t at the airport” Lee said. “I got there, and he wasn’t waiting for me.”
“You were meant to pick him up from Immigration.”
“They wouldn’t help me without a warrant. And they wouldn’t tell me if he was even in the country.”
“Can’t you even do something as simple as this?” Kwan poked a finger in his chest.
“Hardly simple – ” Lee protested, but Kwan was already shaking his head at the incompetence of it all.
“Do I have to do all your thinking for you, Lee? What have you done this week? Anything?”
“Well, there’s the suspect in there” Lee gestured to the interview room. “The David Barnes case.”
“The case? The case? What do you think we’re doing here, blowing water?”
“No, I -”
“There is no case. From what I hear, somebody you were not competent enough to find when he was missing, turns up dead at the bottom of a staircase, and rather than congratulating fate on doing your job for you, you decide you might as well arrest a gweilo and bump your lamentable success rate up a bit by accusing him of murder.”
“We haven’t charged him with murder yet, he’s just in for question-”
“Good. Well you’re not going to charge him, and you’re not going to question him. You’re going to give him a cup of tea and a sandwich, pat him on the back, apologise for keeping him here all night, and send him home.”
“We’re just going to release him, just like that? Isn’t it a bit suspicious that – ”
“What’s suspicious, Lee? A gweilo gets drunk enough to fall down some stairs and die? If we arrested people for that, the cells would be too full for us to handle. And what did I tell you yesterday? We have the Sevens starting at the end of this week, we do not want controversy.” Kwan kept jabbing him in the chest so that he was forced to move back against the wall. Kwan leaned in close, and the stink of whatever he’d been eating wafted over Lee’s face.
“You think you’re pretty clever, don’t you, Lee? Well one big case a couple of years ago isn’t enough. I need results from you, and not just ones you magic up by picking on every random person you can lay your hands on. Get that man out of here and back home where he belongs, and then start solving some cases.”
He turned and stamped away down the corridor to the lifts, not paying Lee any further attention. Again, that reference to the Kowloon Wallpaper Murders. His finest moment, so early in his career, and now his boss seemed duty bound to always tell him how he was unimpressed by it. But it had been impressive, hadn’t it?
No point dwelling on it now. He reached over to the handle of the interview room door. Time to let Alfie out. Although he was only doing so because Kwan had told him to. Kwan, who Lam thought was responsible for killing Sammy. Something about that sounded wrong. Of course, if he let Alfie out, that would be what Kwan wanted – if he didn’t, Kwan would think he suspected something. Better to play the obedient underling for the moment, but he’d be watching Alfie. It didn’t seem like a coincidence that one of his missing persons would reappear all of a sudden, dead, without there being some foul play involved.
He turned the handle.
“Time to go.”
Alfie looked up. “Where are you taking me? Why hasn’t my lawyer come yet?”
“You don’t need a lawyer where you’re going.”
Alfie looked terrified.
“Relax. You’re going home.”
* * *
He got back to Rifleman’s Alley at eleven that morning. The police didn’t bother to pay for his taxi, which he thought was a bit rich having kept him locked up in that room since eleven the previous night. The alleyway was empty, the stalls shut up. Evidently the crime scene tape across the front door of his building had deterred them from their normal activities. Alfie shook his head, pushed underneath the tape and tramped upstairs to his apartment. At that point, all he could think of was sleep. He didn’t want to think about Barnsie falling down his stairs, or his flat being a ruin, or that he’d not turned up at the office today and would have to explain later on that he’d been in the basement of a police station for the previous twelve hours.
He pushed open the door of his flat and yelped – for a moment, it seemed as though the previous evening was repeating itself. On the floor of his flat a woman with shoulderlength blonde hair, wearing a crumpled grey trouser-suit, was sitting, weeping. She looked up at him.
“Esther? What are you doing here?”
Alfie gestured around the room. “A friend of mine came round last night and … well, he was a bit untidy.”
“Untidy? This place is wrecked, and there’s police tape all over the door downstairs and up here. What happened, really?”
Alfie considered telling her, but his sister looked terrible. The story of Barnsie and his leap down the stairs could wait for another time. It could probably wait until another life before he told her. “Esther, I don’t really want to talk about it right now. I’ve had to make a statement to the police, that’s why I’ve been away. When did you get here?”
“One … two hours ago? I saw the tape on the door, you weren’t answering your phone, so I came up to see if you were in, or if … for the last hour I’ve been here, thinking you were dead, not knowing what to do …” She stood up, hugged him to her. Alfie was exactly the same height as her when she wasn’t wearing heels, and she squeezed him, sobbing against his shoulder.
“But … well, sis, it’s a nice surprise to see you, but what are you doing here?”
“Dennis,” she said, letting go of him, and sitting down on the upended sofa. “Could I – could I have a drink?”
“Something a bit stronger, Alfie, please?”
“Sure.” There were a few bottles of beer left in the fridge – Barnsie had gone straight for the whisky, it appeared. With the week he’d had so far, it felt like he could do with a beer there and then.