“We’ll go in through the car park” said Lee. “Here, follow me through here.”
He led her down behind the back of the police station, to a large steel gate across the entrance. To the side of this was a smaller, person-sized metal door; he swiped them in. The parking area was deserted; the police vehicles were all out on the street, and only private cars and one police van were parked in there. Lighting only extended through the middle of the space. As they walked down the central illuminated aisle, Esther kept thinking she could see movements in the periphery of her vision. Nothing but shadows, she told herself.
“Lee,” she said, hurrying to catch up with him, “why is it so dark down here?”
“Environmental groups” he said without turning. “The government wanted to make a show of us saving electricity, so we turned off the lights in inessential areas. What, scared of the dark now?”
“I’m more scared of taxi drivers. Where’s your office?”
“Not far. Just a couple of floors up.”
He swiped them through the white double doors that led into the building proper, into a corridor painted an institutional shade of grey. “Come on here” he said, ducking through another doorway. She followed him into a room full of uniforms hanging from racks.
“Grab a jacket, put a cap on” he said. “And keep looking down: there’s surveillance cameras all through this building. We don’t want to be recognised.”
“Won’t they already know you’re here from your swipe card?”
“Thankfully not. I’d explain to you why, but we don’t have the time for a comprehensive rundown of why not all the security here is super tight.” Lee put on a police baseball cap, pulled the brim down to cover his eyes, then shrugged on a jacket. “OK, let’s go.”
Esther followed him back out. “You’re limping?”
“I must have done it in the crash. No time for it now.”
He hadn’t noticed it until now, but he was dragging his left foot a little. He tried to concentrate on other things; he knew that his pain tolerance had never been that high. If he looked down and saw bone protruding or something else awful, he’d be on the floor out cold. Better to press on through and hope to fix things later on.
His office was on the third floor; usually nobody worked late there. Most of the detectives on the late shift were on the second floor, so there was little chance of anyone seeing them. Still, they couldn’t risk the lifts. He opened the door to the stairwell, ushered Esther through, and then closed it behind him.
“Remember, keep your head down” he told her. “There are security cameras everywhere. I have a feeling you won’t want to be identified while we’re doing any of this.” They ascended, Lee feeling more lopsided with every step. All the time, all he could think about was how this was doing his promotion prospects no good at all. He wanted to laugh at the absurdity of this line of reasoning; when you thought that your boss was engaged in a conspiracy to somehow poison all the water in Hong Kong, and was responsible for the death of at least one person you’d worked with, then perhaps career advancement was not really a pressing concern; finding a career in a distant country as soon as possible was probably a more sensible objective to pursue.
“Are you sure you’re ok?” Esther asked. “You’re awfully quiet?”
“We don’t want to spend too much time making conversation” he said, breathing hard. As he reached for the handrail to pull himself up the stairs, he realised that his hand was clammy with sweat. When all this was over and done with, he’d probably have a day off, take Alfred to Ocean Park, something fun like that.
“I’ll go first” he said. “Just in case anyone else is in the office.”
He pushed open the doorway. The floor was dark; the lights were off, the only illumination being what there was from the streetlights outside, and the blue phosphoresence of the computer screens, each cycling through a government sanctioned screensaver message. “Be Careful – Be Clean! Don’t Drink Drive! Observe Proper Hygiene At All Times!”
The door from the stairwell opened onto a L shaped corridor between two meeting rooms, that led out into the main room, a wide space filled with desks divided by shoulder-high partitions. His office was at the opposite end, where he’d been lucky enough to get a window view. Lucky enough that he had to walk all that distance from where they’d come in.
“Where’s your office?” Esther whispered.
“Other end. Stay here. I’ll be right back.” He sank down and tried to creep across the space, concealing himself behind the partitions. Half way across the room his left leg gave out and he fell to the floor, stifling a yell as he hit his knee on the floor. He tried to stand up, lost his footing and had to grab hold of the side of one of the desk partitions to stop himself falling down again.
He could hear somebody moving behind him. He turned, tried to make out who it was in the dark – was it Esther? Was it somebody else come back? If it was, why didn’t they turn on the lights? Then Esther bumped into him.
“You startled me. What are you doing here? I said to stay back there.”
“I’m not hanging around there on my own, you know. I thought I’d come and give you some help. Anyway, what are you doing just standing here. Is this your desk?”
“No. Mine’s at the far end.”
“Well what are we waiting for?”
“Nothing. Nothing.” He started to limp away from her, one hand trailing along the top of the partitions in case he fell again.
Esther stayed close for a while, then wandered away from him, blundered into a chair or a potted plant or a filing cabinet, but whatever it was it made a tremendous crash.
“Esther!” he hissed. “Can you please try to keep the noise down?”
“Sorry. I’ve maybe had a bit … too much to drink.”
He shrugged, and forged his way on. The office wasn’t far now. The light from the external windows was good enough for him to see his way to his door. He crept over to it, looking right and left to check for any signs of habitation. No, that was fine, the whole floor was dark … except for a light from Kwan’s office.
“Esther, get back to the stairs. I think my boss is in his office.”
“Esther” he said through gritted teeth. “Get back to the stairs?”
“Huh? I can’t hear you” she stage-whispered. “I’ll be right over.”
He couldn’t pinpoint her position from her voice, but the series of crashes and bangs she made as she walked towards him, tipping over chairs, bumping into desks and knocking over small pieces of furniture, made her easy to locate. After a minute of this blundering she hoved out of the darkness.
“Ruddy untidy in here, isn’t it?”
“Well, it is now. I said get back to the stairs.”
Lee jerked his head towards Kwan’s office. “See that light? That’s my boss’ room.”
“He’s here? Right now?”
“Well, his light’s on.”
“So now what?”
“Now I get my gun, and we sneak out a bit quietly than when we came in.”
“Right. You don’t want to confront him?”
“No, Esther. I most certainly don’t want to confront him. Do you think I’m the only person with a gun in their desk drawer?”
“Well, just stay here. Keep your head down, and I’ll be right back.”
He crept forward again. His door was open – he hadn’t locked it before leaving this morning. That felt a very long time ago. Slowly, he pushed the door open, hoping there would be no tell-tale creak. The hinges rasped a little, but nothing for him to worry about. He stepped into the room, went straight for his desk. The service piece was there, an automatic, two clips of ammunition. He picked the gun up, as always dismayed by how heavy the lump of metal was in his hand. His list of disappearances was there on the desk – he picked that up too, and turned to go. Was there anything else he should take? Was there something he should do to disguise his visit?
He moved to go. Then he began to wonder – was there a way to get to Sammy’s computer from his? Maybe while he was here he could log on, check to see if there were any files that hadn’t been deleted. But then if he started poking around on his computer, Kwan would be bound to find out, figure something out – what was he thinking, anyway? If Kwan was in his office, working late, then he couldn’t afford to be tapping away on a computer while his boss got ready to walk over and arrange a convenient death for him. Best to take the gun and go.
He stepped outside the office door again, gently closing it. Esther wasn’t by the windows any more. Good, he thought: at last she had started listening to him and had gone back to the stairs to clear out. Then he heard her voice from Kwan’s office.
“Lee, come here. I think you want to see this.”