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The Borrowed, excerpt

From The Borrowed by Chan Ho-Kei, translated by Jeremy Tiang. Reprinted by kind permission of the author and translator.

Read in Chinese here.

This excerpt is from the second of the book's six novellas, set in 2003. Detective Sonny Lok and his mentor, Kwan Chun-dok, are working against the activities of rival Triad bosses Chor Hon-Keung and Yam Tak-Ngok.

'Commander, have you heard the rumour?' said Lok's subordinate Ah-gut, putting down his newspaper. It was eight in the morning on 16 January, and Lok had just walked into the office.

'What rumour?' Lok set down his briefcase.

'Eric Yeung Man-hoi was attacked last night, in a nightclub on Granville Road.' Ah-gut stood by the doorway.

'Eric Yeung Man-hoi? Who's that?' Lok couldn't connect this name to a case.

'Yeung Man-hoi, you know, that new movie star.'

Lok stared at Ah-gut, his expression plainly protesting, 'I'm not a tabloid reporter, how would I know this stuff?'

'Commander, even if you don't know who he is, we might have to take this case.'

'Sure, Granville Road is within our beat, and the victim's a public figure, we ought to... An actor getting beaten up. Will those entertainment journalists start bothering us? Those idiots don't even know what to ask...'

'No, Commander, Eric Yeung didn't file a police report, and this is just a rumour, I don't even know if it actually happened.'

Once again, Sonny Lok stared uncomprehendingly at Ah-gut.

'Just a rumour? Actors get drunk and make trouble all the time. If no one called the police, our unit has no reason to get involved.'

'This wasn't a bar brawl, he walked into an ambush. That's a Triad tactic.'

Lok now understood what Ah-gut was getting at. 'Boss Chor?'

'Probably,' Ah-gut grimaced. 'A fortnight ago, at a New Year's Eve party at Jay's Disco on Canton Road, Eric Yeung Man-hoi met Candy Ton – the singer, 17 years old, one of Boss Chor—'

'One of Boss Chor's Starry Night entertainers, I know.'

'Right, so Yeung probably had too much to drink, lunged at the girl, groped her and whatnot, and when she pushed him away, he started calling her a stinking whore, Boss Chor's plaything. Candy Ton left in a hurry after that. Then last week, Eight Day Week did an exclusive report with pictures, though with so many embellishments, who knows what really happened.' Eight Day Week was a gossip magazine that had skewed reporting down to an art form.

'So you think Candy Ton complained during their pillow talk, and Chor Hon-keung sent some thugs to teach the young pup a lesson?' The word was that Boss Chor had a fling with every actress and female model on his roster. If you wanted the boss to boost your career, you first had to offer him your body.

'That's my guess.'

'Why would Boss Chor wait so long to retaliate?'

'Yeung was in Shanghai to shoot a movie. Only got back two days ago.'

'Oh, I see.' Lok sat down, his hands intertwined before him. 'How bad are his injuries?'

'I heard not too bad, just some bruises on his pretty face, a few punches on his torso.'

'He didn't go to the hospital?'


'And he didn't call the police, so he probably knows who was behind it.'

'Seems likely.'

'Then there's nothing we can do.' Lok waved dismissively. 'He wasn't beaten to death, so we can't get involved. Even if public opinion forced us to do something, going by what's happened before, we'd just arrest some two-bit gangsters who'd say they came up with the whole idea, and Boss Chor keeps that innocent look plastered on his face, maybe even scares Eric Yeung into having a meal with him, so the papers have a picture of them being all buddy-buddy. Case closed.'

'This time it's different. There might be trouble ahead.' Ah-gut crinkled his brow.

'How's that?'

'There's no proof, and this only came out after the attack, but if it's true, this won't blow over as easily as before...' Ah-gut paused. 'Eric Yeung's biological dad is named Yam.'

Sonny Lok stared at Ah-gut, stunned. 'As in Yam Tak-ngok? Uncle Ngok?'

Ah-gut nodded.

Lok leaned back in his chair, tapping his forehead. This did put a wrinkle in it. Given the existing Chor-Yam rivalry, now that one had attacked the other's son, there might well be some payback to come.

'Any movement over at Hing-chung-wo?'

'Not at the moment, though I've spoken to Intelligence, and they'll let us know if anything crops up.' Ah-gut scratched at his cheek. 'Prevention is better than cure. If we can get both sides to hold their fire ahead of time, or we swoop in and arrest the lot at the first sign of violence, that'd be best.'

Lok nodded. Ah-gut was a veteran of many years on the Yau-Tsim Crime Unit, and his work was excellent. Having such a subordinate gave Lok a little relief from the hot potato he'd just caught.

'Actually,' said Ah-gut thoughtfully, 'Given Yam Tak-ngok's personality, it's unlikely he'll pick a fight directly with Boss Chor. He seems to be pulling back from the scene, and Hing-chung-wo has lost so many men that Hung-yi is sure to win anything they start.'

'But will he be able to stomach his own son being humiliated like that?'

'It's hard to say. Back when Boss Chor kicked Yam aside, the old guy just took it, for the sake of keeping the peace.' Ah-gut gestured at the photo of Uncle Ngok on Lok's notice board. 'This dude's an old school gangster, not some upstart like Chor.'

'Even if he can swallow it, his gang might feel the need to take revenge on behalf of their boss.' Lok jerked his thumb at the few photos below Yam's.

'Possible. Harder to prevent than street-fighting. And what if...'

'What if someone does attack Boss Chor, and innocent people get dragged in?'

'Yes,' Ah-gut nodded. 'No matter who wins, as soon as there's public violence, we're in trouble. Boss Chor swans around as the head of an entertainment company. If he gets blatantly assaulted and we’re not seen doing anything about it, people will say the police must be useless against the Triads.'

'I'll formally notify Intelligence. Open a file for this case, and let Mary know that you two will be keeping tabs on Hung-yi and Hing-chung-wo, as well as verifying that rumour you were talking about. Hopefully this time we'll get a jump on them.'

'Yes, Commander.' Ah-gut stood a little straighter to accept the order. As he turned to go, he suddenly thought of something else. 'Even if we don't manage to stop them, and some Hing-chung-wo lowlife strikes first, that might still be good. We can't deal with Boss Chor anyway, why not fight evil with evil? We get a freebie, and everyone's happy.'

'Ah-gut, I'd love to see Boss Chor get torn limb from limb, but if we went down that route, what kind of police officers would we be? Besides, if it came to a gunfight here in the city, I don't think I'd ever forgive myself if some child got caught in the crossfire.'

'Yes, Commander, you're right.' Ah-gut stood at attention again and raised his hand in a salute before departing.

There was a thick layer of mud at the bottom of the lake; best not to stir it, to keep the water as pristine as possible. Scoop away this muck very carefully, a little at a time. Too large a disturbance and you'd foul the whole lake, destroying its ecology.

The following day, Intelligence confirmed that Eric Yeung had indeed harassed Candy Ton two weeks previously, and had also been ambushed the day before. The most important fact – his parentage – was also verified.

Lok got the detailed report from Ah-gut. Eric Yeung was twenty two years old, born to a nightclub mama-san named Yeung, when Yam Tak-ngok was forty three. Brought up by his mother, he seldom saw his dad, who never used his underworld connections to give his son a leg up in showbiz – so no one had known of their relationship. A year ago, Eric Yeung got a lot of public attention for playing the hero's sidekick in a film, and hadn't stopped working since. With only four movies under his belt, he was already considered a rising star.

After the attack, neither Hung-yi nor Hing-chung-wo acted any differently. The informants provided no unusual reports, apart from that Uncle Ngok had issued instructions that he would personally sort out the matter of his son and Boss Chor, and that his gang should stay out of it – it'd be disrespectful to him if they retaliated on their own. It was as Ah-gut said, Yam Tak-ngok was very patient, for a Triad leader.

Sonny Lok opened the next folder to read about Candy Ton. She'd joined Starry Night three years ago, and after a massive publicity boost in the middle of last year, her sweet voice and attractive looks propelled her into the limelight. The case file didn't mention her relationship with Boss Chor, but in Sonny Lok's eyes, she was no different to any low-ranking member of the underworld. The petty thugs worked themselves to the bone for the organization, smuggling drugs, starting fights, pimping, all in order to climb up the ranks, with no idea how they were being exploited. Candy Ton was offering her body and youth to Boss Chor in exchange for fame – but she was merely a money tree to him. She and the gangsters would end up in the same place by different paths.

Four days after the attack – 20 January – Intelligence had nothing new to report, while the gossip magazines murmured that Yeung Man-hoi had been beaten up, pointing the finger at Boss Chor. Of course, warned by the last incident, they didn't dare use his actual name, saying only that Yeung 'might' have offended 'someone' powerful in those circles, and he only had himself to blame. Lok breathed a sigh of relief that they all failed to mention the likeliest source of conflict – Eric Yeung's parentage.

Even with neither Triad making a move, Lok couldn't relax. He decided to give his mentor a call.

'Hi, Sonny, I'm surprised you have the time to chat,' came Kwan Chun-dok's voice.

'A little,' Lok kept his voice light. 'I was calling to ask how you were, and to see if you had time next week for a meal.'

'I'm tied up with this Wan Chai prostitution ring. They're connected to a group that trafficks young girls from the Mainland by making them believe there are proper jobs waiting for them. I won't have time next week.... but aren't you occupied with the case of Yam Tak-ngok's son?'

Lok was momentarily stunned, not having expected his mentor to cut straight to the chase like that. Since the subject had come up, he decided to ask his questions directly.

'That's right. Sifu, have you heard anything new? Like who was responsible?'

'Almost certainly Boss Chor,' said Kwan simply.

'I'd guess so too. And now there might be open conflict between them. I don't want assassinations or gang brawls happening on my turf.'

'You don't need to worry about that. It might have been different five years ago, but today Yam Tak-ngok won't attack just like that, and he's not going to send his men to their deaths just because of his son. If it came to the crunch, Hing-chung-wo would be outnumbered ten-to-one.'

'Sure he won't send anyone to confront Boss Chor?'

'He's in the same position as us: unless anyone can get rid of Chor's entire gang by the roots, how would any of us dare touch even a hair on his head?'

'Sifu, I've got a question. Could Boss Chor have known from the start that Eric Yeung was Uncle Ngak's bastard son?'

Can’t be, Chor's never given two hoots about other people's families – I can't imagine he'd have noticed this detail. Besides, why pick on a rival's son?'

'Reduce the other side's power? Attack their reputation?'

'Eric Yeung Man-hoi isn't part of Hing-chung-wo, hurting him won't help Hung-yi. Besides, it was Yeung who started it by harassing Candy Ton – could that be why Yam Tak-ngok didn't do anything? This is just business as usual – someone insults a Starry Night singer, Boss Chor sends thugs to “teach them a lesson”.'

Sunny Lok thought his mentor had a point, but still felt uneasy. 'Do you think we ought to leave things here?'

'As for that... Well, I won't lie to you, HQ Narcotics is investigating Yam Tak-ngok – they have lots of proof they can use directly against him—' An electronic beep cut in. 'Ah, call-waiting. Let's stop there, call me another time about dinner.'

'Sir—' But before Lok could say any more, his mentor had hung up.

Kwan's last words made Lok nervous. Was this drug bust supposed to deal with Yam? Was it taking advantage of Hing-chung-wo's state, weakened by Hung-yi and ripe for the picking? A quick strike might make the police look good. Yet if Hing-chung-wo were disbanded, wouldn't the main beneficiary still be Chor Hon-keung?

Sonny Lok shook his head and dismissed the thought. The Crime Unit wasn't Special Duties nor Anti-Triad, they were in charge of keeping law and order, tackling serious crime. Whether or not Hing-chung-wo was annihilated, his job was to prevent the crime situation from getting worse, to prevent further disruptions to the lives of ordinary people. As for getting rid of drugs and dealing with the swaggering Triad bosses. that was their colleagues' job. They had to trust their fellow officers.

But on 22 January, six days after the attack on Eric Yueng, Sonny Lok's premonition came true.


'Commander, we've had a suspicious message.' Ah-gut rapped on Lok's open door.

'What's it say?' Sonny looked up from the document he was studying.

'Um, I think it's best if you see it for yourself.'

In the main office, Lok's team were huddled around Ah-gut's desk, on which was a pile of letters. The topmost one was a manila envelope, about 8 inches long, with 'Inspector Lok, Yau-Tsim Crime Unit' scrawled on it in marker pen.

'No postmark – it didn't come in the mail,' noted Ah-gut.

No one here would treat an unknown item lightly, but the thinness and size of the envelope suggested it wasn't a bomb.

Lok gingerly lifted it. A quick feel suggested it held a CD, but he was still extremely careful as he slit the tape, in case razor blades or anthrax were in there too.

But no, there was nothing except a CD, encased in card.

On the card, in the same writing as the envelope, was a message seemingly scribbled in haste: 'I'm just a cowardly reporter, scared of getting into trouble.'

'An anonymous tip-off?' said Mary, squinting at the writing. Mary was the only woman on Lok's team; a staunch feminist, she more than held her own in the male-dominated environment.

'Looks like it.' Sonny Lok pulled out the disc and examined both sides. It was a regular writable CD like you could buy anywhere, unmarked, its surface wiped clean of fingerprints.

'Ah-gut, you're better with computer stuff.' Lok handed the CD over.

'There's just one file...' Ah-gut pointed at the folder on his screen, which showed only something called movie.avi, created that day at 6.32am.

'Open it,' said Lok.

Ah-gut started the player and dragged the file into it. The indicator showed the clip was 3 minutes 28 seconds long.

A pitch black screen, then after two seconds, a street. Nighttime. No one around, just boarded up worksites and streetlamps. Not even a single car, and just one pedestrian, seen from the back.

'Looks like Jordan Road, near Ferry Street,' Mary said, indicating a corner of the screen. West of Jordan Road was the Kowloon West reclamation project—a massive public works undertaking to create almost a thousand acres of new waterfront property—next to an underwater tunnel, Kowloon MTR station on the Tung Chung line, and so on. Numerous construction projects were underway at the moment, and it was predicted that when complete, these would turn Kowloon into a bustling district. In front of the reclamation project was Jordan Road Ferry Pier, once Kowloon's busiest transport hub.

'No sound, Ah-gut?' asked Lok.

'Image-only.' Ah-gut clicked on 'about this document' to show it had no sound files.

The cameraperson was following the walker, a woman in a voluminous jacket, shouldering an enormous bag. Long black hair flowed from underneath her woolen cap. She wasn't very tall, and walked slowly. Yellowish streetlamp light made it impossible to tell the actual color of her clothes.

'What is this, amateur porn?' joked Cheung, a young officer.

Lok was about to snap at him when the woman on the screen suddenly stopped and looked nervously to her left. She seemed startled by some sound.

Seeing her profile for the first time, Lok felt a rush of blood to his head. He had a sudden realization what he was about to see.

'That's Candy Ton!' Ah-gut had recognized her too.

Now everything started happening very fast. Candy Ton began running, disappearing off the right side of the screen. The cameraperson seemed agitated too, and the frame wobbled a few times before moving to the left, where four men in masks, baseball caps and worker's gloves were pursuing Candy, wielding metal pipes and cleavers. They sprinted across the screen from left to right. The camera paused a second, then jolted around as it tried to catch up with them.

Rounding a corner, the four men were closing on Candy. The shortest one was also the fastest, and got to her first, reaching out to grab her collar as if he wanted to drag her to the ground. Unexpectedly, Candy Ton lashed out and caught her attacker right in the face with her fist. The short man seemed taken by surprise, and slumped on the ground, clutching his nose with his left hand. Candy got away, but this had slowed her down, and now the other three were just a few meters away from her.

The camera showed that there was no one else around, and the sidewalk ahead stopped abruptly. A pedestrian bridge led up from the dead end, and Candy rushed towards it. The camera was some distance away, but happened to be at just the right angle to capture her expression perfectly. She clambered up the stairs, her face twisted in the fear and panic of someone facing death. She almost fell but managed to grab the handrail awkwardly and continue without slowing her pace. Her shoulder bag had disappeared – she must have dropped it while turning the corner, but there was no time to think of that, because in those few seconds, the men had arrived at the stairs too, and looked close to catching up.

The five people reached the bridge itself and disappeared behind its railings, so Lok and his team could only watch agitatedly until the cameraperson got there too – but the image stopped at the stairs, instead of climbing them.

'Why's he stopping?' cried Mary.

'I think... he got distracted by something?' Ah-gut didn't turn his eyes from the screen.

The camera now swerved to the side – and what came next terrified all of them.

Something lay on the sidewalk by the bridge. The watchers couldn't tell what it was at first, even though it was wrapped in a long coat, they didn't connect this thing to the idea of 'Candy Ton', because it was splayed at such an odd angle, arms clutching weirdly at the ground, one leg twisted up to the waist. The head, still in its woolen hat, hair straggling all over, was twisted to one side, and a dark liquid was oozing from it.

Most terrifyingly, that broken body spasmed a few times before finally growing still.

'Did... did she fall?' gasped Cheung.

'Maybe... she was pushed?' Ah-gut spoke slowly, trying to hide his unease.

The bridge was about three stories high, and to fall headfirst would probably cause as much damage as they saw, not to mention almost certain death from the impact to the skull.

So the reason the cameraperson had stopped chasing was that he'd heard a loud crash – of Candy Ton hitting the ground, thought Sonny Lok.

Now the camera turned upwards, and two figures emerged over the railings, one of them clutching a metal bat. And then – another surprise – one of them turned to look straight into the lens, before pulling back.

'That's done it,' muttered Ah-gut.

The image started shaking violently, jerking blearily sky, ground, streetlamp and bridge. The watcher was running for his life, not even stopping to turn off the camera. About half a minute later, the camera was inside a car – he'd made it.

And with that, the screen clicked back to dark. 3 minutes and 28 seconds.

'Candy Ton... killed?' Mary stammered.

'Ah-gut, notify the uniforms to seal off the overhead bridge at Jordan and Lin Cheung Road, and send a forensics team to the site. Mary, stay in the office, you'll be in charge of comms. Everyone else, come with me.' Lok had to suppress his rage to give these orders calmly. He hadn't felt so angry in a long time – although he couldn't stand celebrities like Candy Ton, no defenseless person deserved to be murdered by four thugs like that.

It wasn't far to the scene from Tsim Sha Tsui station, and they arrived a few minutes later. In the car, Lok tried to clear his mind and focus on the investigation.

'The cameraman was probably some entertainment rag paparazzo,' said Lok. 'Following her in the hopes of digging up more dirt about Yueng Man-hoi.'

'And he witnessed a murder instead, but didn't want to get involved, so just sent us the footage?' said Ah-gut.

'Probably.' Lok wrinkled his brow. 'No sound, so I'd guess print media. He'd have hoped a few freeze frames might be worth some cash.' Something along the lines of 'Eric Yeung gets beaten up, while sultry Candy Ton smirks' or 'Candy Ton and Boss Chor's secret rendezvous' would do wonders for sales.

'Mary says no one in the mail room remembers when this came in,' reported Cheung, coming off the phone.

'It might be one of those reporters who's always hanging out the precinct trying to get a scoop,' said Ah-gut. 'The entertainment reporter could have asked a crime journalist to drop it off, or maybe someone who recently transferred from crime to entertainment...'

'We can look into that later. IDing the cameraman isn't a priority,' said Lok.

'No one's phoned in a report – so did they move the body?'

'No idea. But if they've covered their tracks well, that'll make things harder for us...'

The look on Candy Ton's face in the video had given Lok a bad feeling. Yam Tak-ngok had given orders for his men not to do anything, because he'd take care of this on his own – was he thinking 'you've beaten up my son, so I'll take it out on your “daughter”?' Killing this singer meant Uncle Ngok could keep his dignity and settle the score without provoking a direct conflict with Boss Chor – the best way to end this standoff.

But murder was another matter.

Had the attack gone wrong? Maybe the intention had only been to scare her, but she'd panicked and leaped over the railing.

The team arrived at the deserted site. As the area was under development, there were no residents or shops nearby. An assault vehicle and eight uniforms had arrived and were securing the site, even though there was no one around. These officers looked a little bemused to be sealing off a perfectly ordinary bridge.

Sonny Lok glanced at his watch: 9.53am. according to the timestamp, the CD was burned at half past six, and if the incident had taken place in the small hours, that was at most nine hours ago. There might still be some evidence left.

He and Ah-gut walked to the spot where the corpse had been. No obvious traces of blood, but if someone had swabbed the area with water, it would have dried in a few hours with the windy weather they'd been having. He ordered forensics to investigate, then started climbing – nothing out of the ordinary on stairs or bridge. The two men walked to the spot they guessed Candy Ton had fallen from, looking for blood or other marks on the railing.

'The criminals were wearing gloves, so probably no fingerprints,' said Ah-gut.

'We still have to check.' Lok knelt to examine the underside of the railing. 'Candy wasn't wearing gloves, and if we can find her prints, we'll know if she jumped or was pushed – the difference between murder and manslaughter.'

Leaving an evidence marker, Lok continued to the other end of the bridge. He couldn't think of any reason for her to have jumped, unless her pursuers had caught up with her, or if she'd been surrounded. The sidewalk ended at the bridge, so they'd have known she'd go up – and if they'd set others in wait at the other end, she'd have been trapped.

'Commander! They've found something!' shouted one of the forensics from below.

When Ah-gut and Lok got back down, the officer was pointing at the ground. 'Blood traces – lots of them.'

They'd sprayed luminol across the ground, revealing a patch roughly 50 by 30 cm, just where you'd expect from the video.

'So much blood – she must be badly injured. If she fell from above, there's probably no hope of survival,' added the officer.

'See if you can find other bloodstains. I want to know where the victim was moved – whether she was alive or dead,' said Lok.

'Commander.' Cheung approached. 'We retraced her steps, and found something.'

Lok followed him to the first street corner the cameraman had tailed her to. There was a construction site to one side, and some roadworks surrounded by barriers and steel boards.

'Here.' Cheung pointed into a hole about a meter deep. Next to some water pipes and electric cables shrouded in canvas was a handbag the color of tea. It had landed in a corner of the pit, and looked exactly like the one in the video.

After photographing it in situ, they grabbed it by the strap and hauled it up. The bag contained make-up, snacks, a notebook, some clothes, a cellphone and a wallet. Lok opened the latter and found an ID card with Candy Ton's name and photo.

'I guess the roughs didn't notice she'd dropped her bag,' said Ah-gut. 'It was pretty dark, and this hole would have been in shadow. It probably slipped off her shoulder as she turned the corner, and she didn't have time to stop to get it back.'

'Or she may have thrown it off to run faster,' said Cheung.

'However it happened, at least we've confirmed the victim's identity.' Lok stuffed the wallet back into the bag, and looked at the phone next. Her last call had been at 10.20 p.m., from 'Office', lasting a minute and twelve seconds. Every call before that was either 'Agent' or 'Office' – the only two numbers in her address book. There were no saved texts.

'Ah-gut, check this call log with the provider.' Lok handed over the phone.

'Since the last call's from “Office”, why not just go straight to Starry Night?'

'What if Candy deleted other call records?'

'Are you saying...'

'Just in case.'

What Sonny Lok couldn't understand why Candy Ton had been here in the first place, in the middle of the night. Jordan Road was undergoing development, and there were no nightclubs around here, nor even proper transport. As a public figure, she could have got anywhere she wanted by cab or having her agent drive her, yet here she was walking alone in this desolate landscape. Lok suspected this was some kind of secret meeting she'd been summoned to – which meant she might have got a call beforehand.

For there to be only two numbers in her phone, Candy must have been very isolated, or else in the habit of erasing her call log. Quite a few entertainment reporters often stole stars' phones to glean what they could from the calls and texts, so-and-so having an affair with so-and-so, so-and-so slamming so-and-so, all of these could be stir-fried into articles. It wasn't unusual for a cautious celebrity to make sure their phone didn't give anything away.

Who'd summoned Candy Ton to a midnight meeting? One that turned out to be a trap.

The answer flashed into Lok's mind: Yueng Man-hoi.

But if he'd asked her out, would she come? Surely she'd be more careful than that, especially knowing her boss was responsible for him being beaten up.

Unless she was being threatened, and had no choice.

Lok shook his head and stepped back from that line of thought. He'd gone too far into his own mind. There was limited information at his disposal, and he needed to analyze if more deeply before drawing any conclusions.

After a thorough search, the Crime Unit returned to the office. Some of them immediately began investigating everyone involved, as well as searching for eyewitnesses, starting with Jordan Road and working outwards. Sonny Lok personally visited Starry Night, where Candy Ton's agent said he hadn't heard from his client that day, and she was probably resting at home. After trying her home number and getting no response, and then identifying the bag Lok held as Candy's, he grew anxious. They headed to Candy's apartment in Kwun Tong, which was small enough that Lok could see at a glance nothing was out of place. The bed and trash can suggested she hadn't been home that night, though the agent said he'd driven her home around eleven.

'Did you actually see her enter the building?'

'Well, no... I dropped her off at the car park and left. I really didn't know...' He furrowed his brow, as if realizing what trouble he was in. Lok felt this man was probably more worried about explaining himself to his boss than about Candy's safety.

Lok went to the condo management office for security camera footage of the main entrance and elevator, but a quick scan showed no sign of Candy. If the agent was telling the truth, that meant she hadn't gone home after leaving his car, but had headed straight for her appointment on Jordan Road.

'So she didn't want him to know about this meeting?' thought Lok.

The agent said before her disappearance (Lok hadn't told him anything about the video) Candy had seemed perfectly normal. She was normally quite taciturn and didn't show much emotion – the sort of star who kept her head down and worked hard.

'She's down to earth, not like most girls her age, dreaming of stardom,' he added.

'And her family?'

'I don't think she has one,' said the agent vaguely.

'None at all?'

'Candy never talks about her personal life, only that her family's all gone.'

'Then who was her guardian? She joined Starry Night three years ago, when she was just 14. She'd have needed an adult's consent.'

'I... I don't know. Sir, I just work here. The boss asked me to be her agent, and I didn't ask too many questions.'

So that's how it was. Inspector Lok understood this man's predicament. Candy Ton might have been a runaway, and once he discovered her, Boss Chor didn't seem like the sort of chap who'd bother with red tape like a guardian's permission.

Having found no usable clues at Candy's apartment, Lok returned to the police station. The police hadn't let slip her name, only telling the press that someone had fallen from a bridge at Jordan Road the night before, Triads were involved, and investigations were underway. Forensics said Candy's fingerprints weren't on the railing, so she might have been thrown over by the toughs. And the blood traces stopped abruptly at the side of the road, suggesting the criminals had taken away the corpse – or the dying woman – in a car.

'Why move the body?' asked Mary. 'Triads murder in order to intimidate – they don't usually try to conceal their killings.'

'Which means they had a different motivation this time round,' said Cheung. 'Maybe the boss only told them to “send his regards” to Ms. Ton, but the ruffians got carried away and accidentally killed her?'

'Even if it was a mistake, why take away the corpse?' Mary was still confused.

'Because they knew they were in trouble,' answered Ah-gut right away. 'Think about it, Candy Ton was quite possibly Boss Chor's mistress. If Uncle Ngok wanted revenge, it'd be along the lines of kidnapping her and taking nude photos, that sort of thing. Murder is different – there's no coming back from that. In the underworld, if your men accidentally kill one of my people, then it has to be a life for a life. Those thugs would have feared getting killed in turn, but if they concealed the body, then she'd just be “missing”, and there'd be no death to be revenged, and Hung-yi would have no reason to demand their heads from Hing-chung-wo.'

'But someone taped the whole thing...' mumbled Mary, still trying to think it through.

'In any case, this isn't going to be easy,' said Ah-gut.

Inspector Lok listened in silence to his team's discussion. Ah-gut's view was logical, but something about it felt wrong.

'Commander, big trouble,' said Ah-gut the next morning, striding agitatedly into the inner office, where Lok sat staring at the photographs and relationship webs on his noticeboard. He was pointing outside, towards the main office.

Once again, the entire team was gathered around Ah-gut's desk, animatedly discussing the video of Candy Ton's attack on the screen.

'What's up, did you find something new in the footage?'

'No,' said Ah-gut, gesturing at the image. 'This isn't the CD we got yesterday, it's the internet – someone's put the video on the web.'