The path stopped at the quayside, then led up the hillside. In the darkness, Lam kept tripping over the steps, his left leg growing more useless with every minute. The path eventually led to the other side of the island, would get him to Tung Chung if he had four hours and daylight to work with, but he had to get through the night first.
He could hear the crowd chanting. That suited him fine. The longer they milled around Wong’s hut, the further he could get. But they wouldn’t stay there forever. Sooner or later they’d be organised and start looking for him, and then it wouldn’t matter how long he’d been limping along the path. He had to hide.
The ruined old police station was behind a chainlink fence. He threw the package over, then scrambled up the fence, ignoring the barbed wire tearing at his jacket, and then tumbled down the other side onto a bed of dried leaves and moss. He tried to stand again – couldn’t – and then began to crawl away from the fence, up the slope towards the walls of the police station.
Lam kept on crawling to the walls of the old police station, then moved along the edge of it. There was a doorway a few yards away, a frustrating distance with this dead limb he was dragging behind him, a few steps in normal life. Trying to move as quietly as he could, he crawled inside the ruined building, then sat back against the wall, exhausted.
He waited, listening for the approaching crowd. The chanting was continuing, he thought, athough hard to tell now he was further away and shielded both by the hillside and the mass of the old police station. It might be getting closer, or perhaps they’d just have sent some people out to look for him while the rest stood down there, trying to draw his attention.
At this point, being found by a bunch of idiots of Constable Yeung’s ilk was not the most pressing concern. It was surviving this bite to his leg. In the past ten minutes, it had gone numb from the hip down, refusing to obey any of his attempts to make it bend. He needed out, and he needed a visit to hospital. Some kind of nerve toxin, something that was shutting parts of his body down. There had to be a remedy for this, back in civilisation.
Lam pulled at the package he’d taken from under Wong’s hut. Lying there in the ruins on Lantau, he realised that Sammy couldn’t have found it. There was no reason for him to put something like this, whatever it was, back under the hut. He hadn’t looked, hadn’t discovered it. Kwan must have just panicked, assumed he had found it, and had him rubbed out like an ant. For what? Did Kwan even know what was out here?
His hands scrabbled, undoing the oilskin wrapping. Inside, there was a bundle of four leather-covered notebooks, tied together with twine. In the dim moonlight, mottled by the trees above him, it was hard to make out what was on the pages. If he were going to read them, he’d need to use his flashlight. But doing so would immediately identify him to anyone watching from the path.
He nestled up close to the wall, pulled the jacket off and wrapped it around his flashlight, trying to seal away as much light as possible, stop himself from being seen from the path. The chanting had died away: Lam took that to mean that they were on their way now, hunting for him.
He began to look through the books. They were written in a crabbed hand, multiple crossings-out and parts of pages torn out and then taped back in again. A map of Shanghai from before the Japanese invasion, criss-crossed with red marks, tracing out a shape of some sort. He leafed through: photographs of old men, the eyes scratched out, scribbled over with a pen. Lists of names, red crosses against each one. Another map: Hong Kong, arrows pointing at it from every direction, again, another spiral of red marks across it.
He skimmed, flipped through pages, looking for something meaningful. More names, dates against them, red crosses against each one. More photographs of old men, long since dead, every one with the eyes scratched out. A series of small headshots, inch-by-half-inch oblongs of card, dead men staring out from fifty years ago. unseeing.
I did this. The words, scratched like the remains of a bloody spider stuck on the page, above a newspaper clipping, the death of a Shanghai banker, 1938, gunned down on the street. I did this – another newspaper clipping, this time a mayor, garotted in his bed, along with his mistress. I did this. Page after tattered page of murders, car crashes, poisonous snakes, mysterious illnesses, each one called out, underlined, claimed.
Lam turned back to the banker, dead in 1938, then flicked forwards again. Twenty five pages of deaths, each one claimed in that same red writing. Deaths from more than sixty years ago, yelling out at him. This can’t have been Wong’s. He was an old man, seventy? Maybe eighty? But that would date him as eight years old when the banker had been shot. It must be some heirloom, passed down through the family.
He heard footsteps, curses, flicked the flashlight off. Men ran past the police station, along the path and up the hill. He held his breath, not daring to exhale until they had gone past. They’d be back though, eventually. They’d have to realise that he hadn’t hightailed it to Tung Chung, that he was still around. Lam tried to flex the muscles in his leg, but nothing happened. No response at all, just the cold numbness. He looked down at his leg in the murky shadows, and hardly even recognised it as part of his body. He wasn’t going to be walking out of here.
After five minutes, he risked turning the flashlight back on again, pulling his jacket over his head like a monk’s cowl now, hoping that would shield any light from escaping.
I did this. I served the master as best I could, until he sent me away. More dead. Families found in drainage ditches, stabbed, 1940. Then suffocations, bludgeonings, more stabbings. There were no more newspaper clippings, just handwritten notes now, each one numbered. A map, folded three times, tucked in the middle of the book, gave a clue; each number, neatly drawn on the map in pen.
The writing was growing neater as he went on through the book. By the time the numbers had curved their way down in a spiral from Shanghai to Guangzhou, the words were mature, clear. I lead the way, I draw the curve for him to follow, I wait in the belly of the beast. Lam looked at the map for a moment, recognising something, not knowing what.
Now there were diagrams, strange ornate spirals that had been painstakingly drawn on the pages of the book, like the picture in the floor of the hut. That was where he remembered them from, surely? Scribbled round them, annotations, notes from the writer to himself. I come, I wait, even here where he that crawls and chatters would look to rise.
There were other maps, more of Hong Kong, this time with the same spirals etched onto it; sometimes carefully, sometimes with crossings-out, lines redrawn in different colours. It was difficult to tell in the dim light what point he had been trying to make here. He looked at the spirals, could make no sense of them, flicked on through the book. The spirals, so familiar, clawing at the edge of his memory like splintered word catching on a finger, then breaking away…
End of the book now. I did all this, and I will do it again. I will rise forth and bring the master home. More newspaper clippings, from the 70s, the 80s. Drownings, people killed by knives dropped from apartment windows high above them, fires, car crashes. Numbers against each – he flicked back, found the numbered map of Hong Kong. A long spiral of claimed fatalities, circling the islands. Here on Lantau, there in Kowloon, there on the north coast of Hong Kong, then Aberdeen, then back out to Lantau again.
Footsteps again, more voices, coming back down the path. Lam flicked the flashlight off again. He heard complaints, that they had let him escape, that it didn’t matter, people would be waiting at Tung Chung for him. The voices receded again. Lam waited. He’d made enough of a mistake thinking that Yeung had left the hut with the others when he’d been hiding underneath it. He could lie there, with the diaries of a mad dead old man, claiming deaths, and wait. He could lie for a long time there… he felt himself becoming sleepy now. The cold was spreading slowly but inexorably from his leg into his stomach, icy fingers of numbness feeling up the sides of his ribs.
Lam tried pinching himself on the fleshy part of the inside of his bicep. He twisted, bringing a bit more pain to fight off the fogginess. Still the cold persisted, but the pain helped to shrug off the fatigue he was feeling. Bitten by an enormous crab, soaking wet, chased around Tai O by a group of chanting lunatics, reading a catalogue of sins rescued from under an old man’s hut…
The second book was written clearly, just like the end of the first. To begin with, it had names, dates against them, then relapsed into claims of I did this and I did this for the Master. Then another spiral, twisting around Hong Kong island. This will hasten the end. Complaints, questions – where was He Who Flows, He Who Waits For The Traveller ? It made no sense to him – was something told to a person who already knew what the answer was, or written by a man with no sense of the question.
The Bright Water. A lot of words on the dangers of drinking, how it was important not to bathe, not to touch the water by mistake. The Bright Water had a purpose, could not be diluted, could not be risked. He Who Flows Would Look Deeply Of Those Who Drink It, And I Must Stand Alone To Bring Back My Master. What was the obsession with water?
I did this. I did this to clean myself. Lam paused. He recognised what the book was written about. One of his first cases, almost twenty years ago, when he’d been a callow detective under the supervision of others, just there to follow the important men and write down what they’d told him. They’d gone to a flat in Kowloon Tong, three men and a woman, all dead. All drained of blood, the blood smeared on the floor. The case was never solved.
Now, lying there on the ground, beginning to struggle breathing, looking at the newspaper clipping, he remembered where he’d seen the spirals before. The blood in the flat, painted on the walls, down onto the floor, circles, spirals, just like in Wong’s notebooks. The spirals, never photographed or seen in the papers, demanded scrubbed from the crime scene by one of the commanding officers, put out of his mind along with the faces of the four dead in the flat …
He remembered now. These were the same. The same spirals, painted on the floor of the flat, carved on the floor of the flat, drawn over map after map from Shanghai down to Hong Kong, each spiral curving in on itself, another spiral curling closer to the centre of the island, each one pointing at something.
And then more on the water, I must keep myself dry, I must keep the water clean for He Who Flows, those who drink the Bright Water are just vessels. Ranting. Lam turned back to the pictures of the flat, the second case he’d gone on, being told it meant nothing, not sleeping for days after seeing the expressions on the faces of the dead. Now he knew. Now he knew it was all part of some grand design, seven decades of death, drawing a design across the whole of China. But for what?