A questionable encounter

Lee had followed Bruton-Jones for an hour or so before he felt suspicious.

It wasn’t what Bruton-Jones was doing, or the blonde woman who’d been waiting in his apartment. It was the guy in the drab jacket and jeans who was doing a bad job of remaining inconspicuous, following the two of them as they wandered across Hong Kong.

Somebody else was following them. Why was that? It wasn’t a bodyguard, or at least anyone who was concerned for the couple’s security; he was too far back from them to assure them of any safety. He was doing a bad job of watching them in shop window reflections, then panicking and waving for a cab when he saw them change up from walking around to a faster mode of transport.

So it was a tail. Who from?

Lee was more worried that they would spot the tail, and get spooked, and cancel their rendezvous with Kwan, than trying to figure out who the tail was. He was so focussed on there was a clandestine meeting between his boss and the suspect, that it took him all the way to the hotel in Happy Valley before he decided that couldn’t be it.

Only when the tail stood opposite the hotel, striding up and down and trying to look like he had some authority over the patch of pavement, did Lee put it together. He had been following a policeman, who had been following Bruton-Jones. A policeman sent by Kwan, most likely. But if Kwan wasn’t in league with the guy in the hotel, why would he have let him loose and then put a tail on him?

He knew something. Bruton-Jones knew something, and Kwan knew that he knew, and was trying to keep an eye on him, but away from the police station, away from Lee. Why would that be? Only because he wanted to stop Lee and Lam from finding out. Which in turn was bad, because that meant Kwan was already paranoid about the two of them.

Or Kwan was already paranoid in general, but that didn’t explain the tail. Maybe he’d had Bruton-Jones released to screw with Lee’s head just because he was that sort of person, and then realised he needed to get him back under arrest but couldn’t lose face by telling Lee to do it.

Or maybe it was a double bluff and Kwan was in the hotel right now with Bruton-Jones. Which would mean he had some omniscient view of all Hong Kong and was only doing all of this to really screw with Lee’s head.

No. That was ridiculous. He wished Lam was around to talk to. He’d pick a way out of the web that Lee had woven for himself. Lee took out his phone and rang him. It sent back a China ringtone – had Lam skipped the country? Or was it just his phone, posted to Shenzhen as an elaborate way of confusing anyone who called him?

“This is Lam.”

“Andy, it’s Lee.”

“What have you got going on?”

“I’m following our man with the unfortunate staircase. Where are you?”

“On a boat. Can’t talk now. I’m going to follow up on something I might have missed.”

He thought he could hear engine noises in the background – but perhaps it was just the street.

“Lee?”

“Yes?”

“I’ll be back tonight. Meet me in … Soho. There’s a bar in Elgin Street, opposite some terrible cabaret place. Ten o’clock.”

“Elgin Street.”

“Right. Got to go.”

Lam closed the line. So no help there. He was going to have to do this himself. He shrugged. There was a point when you had to take some responsibility for yourself, he supposed.

Getting the room number of Bruton-Jones wasn’t difficult – a quick flash of his warrant card and hushed tones suggesting it would be good for the hotel to be of assistance, and then he was heading up in the lift. He disdained the concierge’s offer of calling for assistance – this was a private conversation with a person of importance, a copy of the room keycard would do – and headed to the room on his own.

It was silent when he listened to the door. He tapped once, twice, not wanting to disturb anyone, then swiped the key and pushed the door open.

Instead, the room smelt of stale body odour and booze. The blonde was asleep on the bed, Bruton-Jones was conked out in a chair by the window. Lee crept over to them, wondering whether they’d been drugged, if Kwan had already been there to talk to them, then finish them off.

No. The stench of beer was unmistakable. Lee stood there for a moment, face close to Bruton-Jones, quivering, trying to hold in the laughter. He’d been following a couple of drunks around Hong Kong all day, assuming they’d be part of some evil scheme of Kwan’s, and for what? To find them tucked up asleep in a hotel room in Happy Valley. Really not a productive day.

“Did you have anything to do with David Barnes? Really? Nothing? Nothing at all?” he whispered.

He carried on standing there, face close to Bruton-Jones for a minute more, breathing in his boozy breath, wondering why he could suddenly feel relaxed staring at the face of this idiot, when looking at his son’s face just brought up feelings of aggravation, until he realised he was standing in a hotel room with two people who were dead drunk, and then he collected himself and crept back out.

Still, he figured that maybe Kwan did think Bruton-Jones was up to something, or on to something, and that even though he wasn’t, even though he was the sort of person who slept all day in a chair in a hotel room, drunk enough to ignore the woman with him, it might still be worth seeing what he did next, or what the tail did. Besides, he had to have something to share with Lam that evening. So he waited in the lobby of the hotel, and ate peanuts from a small glass bowl, and chuckled to himself at the plainsclothesman wandering up and down outside, trying to be inconspicuous.

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