The Lake Ching Murders - A Mystery of Fire and Ice

BOOK: The Lake Ching Murders - A Mystery of Fire and Ice
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A MYSTERY OF FIRE & ICE
THE LAKE CHING MURDERS
DAVID ROTENBERG

NERO

Published by Nero Books,
an imprint of Schwartz Media Pty Ltd.
Level 5, 289 Flinders Lane
Melbourne Victoria 3000 Australia
email:
[email protected]
http://www.nerobooks.com.au
First published in Canada
by McArthur & Company, Toronto, 2002
First published in the United States
by St. Martin’s Press, New York, 1998
Copyright © 2009 David Rotenberg
All Rights Reserved.
No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form by any means electronic, mech anical, photo copying, recording or otherwise without the prior consent of the publishers.
The National Library of Australia Cataloguing-in-Publication entry:
    Rotenberg, David (David Charles)
    The Lake Ching murders : a mystery of fire and ice / David Rotenberg.
    ISBN: 9781863954334
    813.54
Design & Composition: Mad Dog Design Inc.
Printed in Australia by Griffin Press

For my mother, Gertrude Rotenberg, who never had a chance to read this one

Acknowledgements

Writing a novel can’t be done without a great deal of support and encouragement. First and foremost from my wife, Susan Santiago, and my two kids, Joey and Beth. Then my father and brothers — then my friends who mean more to me than they often understand.

A special thanks to Bruce, Michael (aka The Papal Envoy), David and Scott — and to the many many gifted actors who have allowed me into their hearts and minds.

Then there is Ruth Cavin, my incredibly talented editor. How do you adequately thank someone for her tireless effort to keep me on track?

And finally, to my translator, friend and the original Zhong Fong — Ms. Zhang Fang.

Author’s Note

In
The Lake Ching Murders
I have been — at times — light-handed with Chinese geography, flora and fauna. Unlike in
The Shanghai Murders
where you can actually walk the routes that Zhong Fong walked and see the things he saw, in this novel if you attempted to retrace Fong’s steps you would find yourself quite lost. This was done only for the purpose of helping the fiction and is in no way intended to be disrespectful.

CHAPTER ONE
A TELEGRAM FROM ANOTHER LIFE

Lily’s English was, at the best of times, difficult to understand unless you knew a lot of English and a whole lot of Lily. Zhong Fong possessed the requisite knowledge in both instances. So when he retreated to the crumbling cinder-block structure that passed as the village’s police station, he was reasonably sure he could decipher what Lily was trying to tell him.

Just fifty-four months ago Fong had been the head of Special Investigations, Shanghai District. Lily had been his inside source and confidante in forensics. But that was fifty-four months ago. A past life — or so it had seemed until the arrival of Lily’s missive. Fong slowly tilted the telegram forward to catch the rays of the setting sun through the sheet of cracked plastic that took the place of a windowpane. He needed as much light as possible to read these days.

Lily’s voice spoke in his head as he read her words:
HEY HO SHORT STUFF
[stop]
HOW FAR NORTH IS EATING YOU?
[stop]
CAR FULL LET YOUR RICHARD FREEZE NOT
[stop]
WATCH OUT
[stop]
TONS OVER HEAD GOING DOWN ON YOU SOON
[stop]
REAL SUCKING TONS, YOU NEED A HAT
[stop]
YOURS WHENEVER, WHYEVER
[stop]
WHATEVER — LILY.

Lily loved to speak, but only sort of spoke, English. She had an ear for the idioms and a nose for the slang, but no sense of how the language really worked. Unlike Fong, who had studied it seriously, Lily had picked up her English from TV and tourist hotels. The combination of Jerry Springer-speak and pimp lobby-hustle produced an extremely unique form of the language.

The telegram’s surface darkened. Fong looked up. A cloud had drifted in front of the sun. He rubbed his eyes with his calloused fingers and returned to Lily’s words. Communication of any sort was a rarity for him since he’d been banished to internal exile west of the Wall. There were no telephones in the village. There were no fax machines or computers. He was allowed into the telegraph office, but was not permitted to send messages, just to receive them — and this had been the only one since he’d arrived. He had no access to a vehicle and, as a convicted political felon, he wasn’t allowed beyond a two-mile perimeter of the town. His only contact with what he had taken to thinking of as “the great over there” was the weekly Communist Party newspaper. It gave him just enough information to let him know that he was completely cut off from anything that really mattered. And that was exactly as Beijing intended.

In theory he was still a police officer, but that was just some bureaucrat’s idea of a joke. In fact, all he was allowed to do was wait — indefinitely if Beijing wanted it so — to plant his feet deep in the dusty soil of this far distant edge of civilization, wither and then to rot in obscurity. A just reward for a traitor.

The cloud passed and an oblique ray of sunlight hit the paper. HEY HO SHORT STUFF, the first line, he knew was nothing more than a jab at his stature. The second line he assumed was the result of a common Mandarin mistake. Because there is no “ree” sound in Mandarin, the “tree” sound in English often went missing. So Lily wasn’t asking how the Far North was
eating
him, but rather how the Far North was
treating
him.

“Just great,” he said aloud.

CAR FULL LET YOUR RICHARD FREEZE NOT
puzzled him.
CAR FULL
was no doubt
careful,
but he couldn’t figure out
RICHARD. LET YOUR RICHARD
FREEZE NOT? Richard freeze not?

Then he remembered the night he and Lily had begun their unusual relationship. It was in Fong’s fifth year on the Shanghai police force. He’d already established himself as a comer, the force’s new black-haired boy. Until that evening he had known Lily only as an attractive, if gangly, techie who worked in the forensic labs.

The head of the crime site unit, Wang Jun, had sent him to forensics with a vial of unidentified pills found in the hotel room of a dead Tibetan. When Fong arrived at the lab, he was surprised to find the door unguarded. After a moment’s hesitation he entered the large dimly lit room. This place had always struck him as otherworldly. But that night its emptiness and silence made it even more surreal. Then, beyond the aisles and aisles of bottle-covered desks, he saw a large figure moving in the shadows at the far end. He was about to call out, but something warned him to hold his tongue. He crouched down and moved silently closer.

It was not one figure as he had first thought, but two. The one with his back to him was the young cadet who should have been guarding the door. The one pressed against the table was Lily. Her skirt had been thrown aside, her panties were in shreds at her feet, her eyes were closed tight. Hurt and fear etched cruel patterns across her face.

Fong leapt forward. As he did, Lily’s eyes snapped open. They locked on him. But there was no plea for help there.

She signalled him to go away, to creep away.

He did.

Later — much later — he returned to the lab and found her sitting on the floor in a darkened corner, a mug of steaming tea in her hands. He crossed the room to her and, not knowing what to do, stood over her. She looked up. Her face was pale. There was a welting sadness in her eyes.

“You saw.” It was a statement of fact. Her voice was harsh and carried accusation in its depths.

“Yes. I’m sorry.” He took a breath and asked, hopefully, “He is your boyfriend?”

The laugh that came from Lily hurt both of them. It was a Chinese laugh — one that understands that the world is a complex place. He turned away, but she reached out and grabbed him by the leg, “Don’t leave.”

He looked down at her, unsure whether he ought to kneel. “He’s not your boyfriend,” he said slowly.

“You’re not too bright, are you?”

“I’m not . . .”

Then in English she added, “Or too tall.” She put down her tea, pressed her back against the wall and rose to her full height.

“Too tall for what exactly?” he responded in his textbook English.

A flicker of a smile danced across her face. She went on in English, “To buy friend me.”

“To
boy
friend you?” he asked, confused.

“No! Or what stupid you? To
buy
friend me,” she shouted at him, her long arms whipping about like the strands of a canvas windmill after a heavy storm.

“Oh, you mean to
be
my friend … I think.”

She snapped back in staccato Shanghanese, “I said that. You deaf
and
short, or what?”

In Shanghanese he replied, “Maybe it would be better if we spoke in the Common Speech.”

Angrily, she shot back, “My Engrish enough good not you for?” Her chin was stuck out so far that Fong almost laughed. But he was glad he didn’t because that chin soon began to quiver and tears fell quickly from her deep, dark eyes. She moved past him and leaned against one of the long lab tables. A sharp cry escaped her lips before her hand could seal her mouth shut. Then she rolled forward, curling her spine.

He watched her and, as he often did, marvelled at the beauty of the female form. Its simple rhythm and flow. Its planes and contours. He stood in the darkened room for a long time until her crying cooled to tiny whimpers and then finally stopped.

“If he assaulted you, I’ll arrest him.”

She turned back to him, a twist of anger on her strong features. In her beautiful Shanghanese she hissed, “Yes, he assaulted me.”

Fong took out his notebook and pen and began to write. “What’s his name? I’ll find where he lives and …”

“And nothing. You won’t do anything.” She grabbed his book and pulled out the page. In response to Fong’s stunned look, she continued, “He’s named Tong Tzu. He lives off Nanjing Road near Xian. But you’re to do nothing with this information. He’s a party boss’s son.” Fong took back his book and headed toward the door. “Don’t be a jerk,” she said. “I’ll have justice in my own way.”

Fong turned back and took a long look at Lily. He didn’t know why, but he believed her. Six months later, when Tong Tzu was found blind and raving in a K-TV room at a tourist hotel, his body fluids almost 0.7 percent rubbing alcohol, Fong’s admiration for this wiry woman increased. It was Fong’s second major lesson in Shanghanese justice: bosses who overstep their bounds must be dealt with — but in an appropriately surreptitious manner.

Fong pocketed his notebook and asked in Shanghanese, “Do you want anything?”

“Yeah.”

“What?”

“A promise you’ll not talk about this even to that gorgeous actress wife of yours.”

He was surprised that she knew about his marriage. “I promise.”

“Good, and one more thing.”

“What?” he asked totally at a loss as to what he could do to help Lily.

“A hug.” She opened her arms. He moved to her. The pain was still in her body — he could feel it. He held her close. Tremors began to take her then subsided. When they stopped, she hugged him harder then pushed him away, saying in English, “One of you Richards is enough for one night.”

He looked at her — lost again.

“Richards! Don’t talk Engrish yous?” she shrieked. The glass beakers on the desk behind him rattled in their stands.

“Richards?”

She shouted in Mandarin, “Cock, prick, pecker, member, thing.”

“Ah, Richard — you mean
dick,”
he said.

“Yes, Richard, like President Nixon. Richard.”


Dick
is the word you’re looking for,” Fong said, more than a little confused to be supplying this sort of linguistic information.

She didn’t answer him so much as dismiss him with a running commentary of
“Richard, dick, stick, shick,
who fuck give?”

When he left she was still muttering to herself in half-English, half-Mandarin. Fong thought of it as “Manglish.”

So
RICHARD
was
Dick.
Lily was telling him not to get his organ frozen off out here. Solid advice, but easier said than done. He looked at the next line.
WATCH OUT.
“Will do, Lily,” he said aloud.
TONS OVER HEAD
GOING DOWN ON YOU SOON.
Fong understood Lily’s attempt to underline her warning. And her emphatic addition of
REAL SUCKING TONS, YOU
NEED A HAT
was just her way of underlining the underline.

Fong stepped out the door and looked at the snowdusted fields. “Tons overhead going down on you soon, real sucking tons,” he said to the cold air. Then he sighed. He didn’t know if he was up to the challenge. To any challenge. He’d been out of commission, in every conceivable sense, for over four years. Four years — forever. The most serious problem he’d investigated during that time was a dispute between two village farmers over a misbegotten calf. The farmer with the cow blamed the bull; the farmer with the bull of course blamed the cow. The calf was beyond blame. Actually almost beyond recognition. Two legs and a stump. A bloated head. Ulcerous belly. A preternaturally ancient thing. A natural-born monster ready for the grave. Fong beat the poor thing to death with a tire iron and then ordered the owner of the bull to return half the stud fee to the owner of the cow.

This solution was greeted with toothless disapproval by Fen Tzu Hong, the only “officer” assigned to Fong’s command. “City nonsense. Both farmers hate you now. Make one pay and at least you have made one ally. Must have allies to live in China, dumb city man.” He wagged his old head in disbelief, “You will never learn.” He’d thrown up his liver-spotted hands and muttered, “A Shanghanese moron will always be a Shanghanese moron — a Shanghanese moron traitor.”

“Maybe you’re right, you old thief,” said Fong out loud. “Maybe you’re right.” His breath misted before him. He looked up at the cold night sky where the clusters of stars maintained their silent vigil.

Two days after Lily’s telegram arrived, just past midnight, Fong dreamt of the mongoose again. On his very first day in the village he’d seen a young mongoose kill a large snake. The lithe creature had leapt above the lunging serpent and come down, teeth first, just behind the reptile’s head. As it shook the lengthy snake to death, the mongoose stared unblinking at Fong. Then the rodent dumped the snake in the dust and ran between Fong’s legs into his hut. The thing was just a baby. Fong fed it and it kept him company through several long nights. Then one night Fong dreamt the mongoose. Dreamt his life. Dreamt honouring him. Dreamt him whole. The next morning, the animal was gone. But from then on Fong thought of the animal as sleeping inside him. At the base of his spine.

The crunch of a heavy vehicle coming to a stop in front of his mud hut awoke the mongoose. Before the second door of the vehicle slammed shut Fong had pulled on his pants and his padded Mao jacket, which had his one remaining valuable possession sewn into its lining. If he’d owned a hat, he would have put it on as Lily instructed — but he had no hat.

Fong knew that whatever was coming down on him was just outside his hut.

He went to open the makeshift door, but was a step too late. The rotted wooden planking splintered under the sharp blow of the butt of an automatic weapon. Two more blows and the thing fell off its ancient hinges. Fong was going to say, “I could have opened it for you and saved you the trouble,” but kept his mouth shut when he saw the size of the man with the AK-47 and the tall, thin, cruel-eyed northerner standing behind him.

BOOK: The Lake Ching Murders - A Mystery of Fire and Ice
12.48Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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