Dylan opened his eyes. His head was spinning. Where on earth was he? His head cleared slightly and he looked around. It was very dark, he could hardly see a thing. A little light shone through a crack in a door. So far as he could see, he was in an empty room. A metal room. Perhaps a container? What was he doing there?
He groaned. He did not seem to be injured apart from his splitting headache. Bit by bit it came back to him. He had gone to AEL’s office in Central for a meeting with Donny. That had lasted about an hour and he had left their office in good time to go to Eastern Magistracy. The AEL office was situated in a quiet little side street off Lan Kwai Fong. As he left the building, he remembered being attacked by a number of men, he had no chance, he was overwhelmed. He must have passed out, as he remembered nothing else until waking up. But why? Had he been kidnapped? It made no sense at all to him, surely there were more important and richer people than him in Hong Kong? Dylan had no money at all, neither had Ben. He groaned again. A door opened and a shaft of sunlight hit him, causing him to turn away from the light. Three men entered. They were Chinese. He did not recognize them. The door closed. Darkness again, until a torch shone in his face. One of the men spoke.
“Ah, Mr. Roberts, how are you?” he said. Dylan could not see his face, or those of the other two. He spoke in a perfect English accent.
“Where am I?” said Dylan.
“You have no need to worry about that. Suffice to say you are in the New Territories, where no-one will find you. Please do not think about escape, it would be futile.”
“Escape? You mean I am your prisoner?”
“I prefer to think that you are our guest. I apologise for the rather spartan surroundings, sadly it is necessary.”
“Can I go now?” The English speaker translated this into Cantonese and all three men laughed.
“I’m sorry, Mr. Roberts, you will be our guest for a couple of days, hopefully no longer. It all depends upon your partner. I am sure he will do the right thing.” Dylan’s head was clearing and he could now think straight. He had been kidnapped, incredibly. What did they want?
“Look, I think you’ve made a big mistake. I’ve got no money, and neither does my partner. We’re broke. So is the firm. We can’t pay a ransom. Why don’t you kidnap Li Ka Shing instead, he’s got a few dollars.” The man laughed again.
“Mr. Roberts, we don’t want money.” Dylan was puzzled.
“Then what do you want?”
“I guess that there is no harm in telling you, you’ll find out soon enough. I hope you do anyway. Mr. Roberts, we are very interested in the outcome of the Tang Clan case, which we know your firm is handling.”
“Oh” said Dylan. He was beginning to understand. “You’re a triad then.”
“We prefer to call ourselves patriots, Mr. Roberts. The litigation is not in Hong Kong’s interests. It should be discontinued.”
“You mean it’s not in your interests. Are you a member of the Tang Clan?”
“No, Mr. Roberts, I am not. It is however the greedy element of the Clan who are instructing you in the litigation, they do not have the interests of the majority of the New Territories’ people at heart. A finding in favour of the Plaintiffs in the litigation would be disastrous for the New Territories.”
“And no doubt financially disastrous for you too.” The man laughed again.
“Yes, you may say that I have a vested interest in the outcome, Mr. Roberts. But that, of course, is incidental.”
“Of course.” There was a moment’s silence.
“You do realize of course”, said Dylan, “that my firm cannot discontinue the litigation without instructions to that effect from the five representatives of the Tang Clan. They will never give those instructions.”
“We’re working on them, Mr. Roberts. But I hope Mr. McCann does not hold his legal principles too highly. I am sure he will do the right thing. I am sure he wants nothing to happen to you.” Again an ominous silence.
“You mean you would kill me?” The man translated again, to raucous laughter.
“Oh, yes, Mr. Roberts, we would undoubtedly kill you. Have no doubt about that. I am a well-educated man, Mr. Roberts, but I am afraid my colleagues have not had such luxury. I’m sure however it won’t come to that. Here is some food, eat it, my friend, you could be here for quite a while. There is a portable toilet in the corner, no expense spared”, he said in a mocking tone. “I will come back in a few hours to see you again, my friend.” With that, the three men left the room, and there was darkness again, save for the crack of light from the door.
Ben had gathered the whole firm together in the conference room that evening and had told them to say nothing to anyone. He had impressed upon them the danger that Dylan faced should the kidnapping come to light. This was the advice he had received from Stan Baxter, who had been involved in a number of kidnappings in the force. He recommended not telling the police as yet. He would do some digging himself with his team. On Stan’s advice, Ben had not yet told Jacob and Wai. Ben did not think for one moment that they were involved in the kidnapping, but as Wai was a member of the Tang Clan, he did not believe he could take him into his confidence as yet.
It was 2nd December. Exactly three months to start of trial. There was so much work to do. The final pre-trial review was the following morning, which Ben was trying to turn his mind too, without much success. Ben honestly thought they would not be ready for trial. It was the type of case that demanded the resources and facilities of a big firm. It was stretching Roberts McCann to the very limit. As it was, Ben felt that they were not doing the case justice. Everyone was working flat out, but he felt it was not enough. The Government had armies of lawyers. It was, he felt, an uphill battle, which they were losing.
And now this. On top of Tyler’s murder charge, Dylan had incredibly been kidnapped. He had less than two days to file that Notice of Discontinuance in court, or Dylan could die. He shook his head. How had it come to this? Only a few months ago, he was cheerfully losing theft cases in Eastern Magistracy with hardly a care in the world. He recognized that greed had led him to accept the Tang Clan case, and greed was leading them to tragedy.
Ben had already made up his mind. Of course the five representatives wanted the firm to continue with the case. No matter that the firm was barely doing an adequate job, it would be suicide for the Clan to instruct a new firm of solicitors at this stage, so close to trial. Ben always had his clients’ interests at heart, but this was different. He could not bring himself to believe that the kidnappers would kill his partner, but then again he found it inconceivable that Dylan had been kidnapped in the first place. He was not going to take the risk. That evening, alone in the office, Ben typed up himself a Notice of Discontinuance in the Tang Clan case. He would file it himself in court at 4.00pm this Wednesday, less than 48 hours hence, unless Stan could work a miracle. Ben had confidence in Stan, but honestly thought that miracles were beyond him.
Stan had a myriad of contacts in the underworld. Unfortunately, they did not include the triad element of Fanling, who clearly must have been involved in the kidnapping. A few calls to his mates in the police however gave him the address of a likely hangout for the Fanling branch of the Wo Sing Wo, which apparently held sway in the town. That Monday evening Stan paid a visit to the Blue Moon.
The Blue Moon was a sizeable bar in Fanling , in the marketplace. Stan thought it better to go alone, although he told his colleagues of his whereabouts, and they would be strategically placed in other areas of the town, contactable by mobile phone. He knew he was taking a risk – a “gweilo”, entering such an establishment - but he considered that he had no choice. He pushed open the door and entered the bar. It was 8.00pm.
The usual pandemonium of a Chinese drinking bar ensued. Finger games that involved shouting at high decibels, illegal card and dice games, and karaoke. What a racket, thought Stan. It continued for thirty seconds or so, until one by one, the bar clientele noticed Stan’s presence. After one minute, there was almost complete silence. Stan was a hard man, but he realized the danger he was in. Get on with it, he thought.
“I’m looking for Ah Man”, he said, in Cantonese. Speaking the local dialect was one of Stan’s many qualities. Twenty years in the police force made it obligatory. The following conversation also took place in Cantonese.
“He’s not here”, said one man, seemingly covered in tattoos from head to foot. As indeed were most of the customers present.
“Get out, gweilo. You don’t belong here”, said another. There was a moment’s silence as Stan considered his limited options. He was a Clint Eastwood fan and didn’t mind a scrap, but he had to admit even Clint may have thought twice about engaging this lot.
“It’s OK”, said another swarthy guy. “I am Ah Man”, he said to Stan.
Stan sized him up. A little under six feet, mid-twenties, skinny as a rake, Stan could take him, no problems. The problem was his thirty or so friends.
“Sir”, said Stan, “I am instructed by Roberts McCann, solicitors. I am a private investigator, my name is Stan Baxter. I am not a policeman. I wonder if we could help each other?”
There was a murmur around the bar. Ah Man lifted his hand for silence.
“You are a brave man, Mr. Baxter.” He smiled, which showed off his yellowing teeth. “You deserve an audience. Please, come with me.”
With some hesitation, Stan followed the youth through a door into a private room. He was frisked before entry by another man. Stan was unarmed, as always. The room was well decorated, with a table, armchairs, and a private bar. He sat down on one side of the table, Ah Man sat at the other. They were alone.
“How can I help you, Mr. Baxter?”
“Through my contacts, sir, I believe that your group are involved in the kidnapping of one of my clients. I don’t think I need to mention his name, or the reasons why he was kidnapped. I assume you know the details, and so I won’t waste our time. My clients want him back.”
Ah Man looked at him thoughtfully, but said nothing.
“My clients are not wealthy, sir. I think you know that. They have however managed to raise a sum of $200,000 which they ask you to accept for the safe return of their colleague.” This was true, Ben had authorized Stan to make this offer.
This did provoke some reaction. Ah Man guffawed.
“Ah, Mr. Baxter. I am not going to lie to you. You deserve respect for your bravery. My group are indeed involved in Mr. Roberts kidnapping. You will know however the demand for his safe return.”
“Yes, I have seen the note. You will know, sir, that it is impossible for the firm to come off the record whilst the Clan continue to instruct them. They have a retainer agreement.” Ah Man’s smile vanished.
“I know nothing of the sort, Mr. Baxter. I understand that you are talking about Law Society regulations, which are broken every day. I am talking about something far more important. I also have some people instructing me, Mr. Baxter, and they are very serious men. Very serious. They will stop at nothing, Mr. Baxter. Do I make myself clear?”
“Crystal clear, sir. In view of what you say however I am afraid I cannot help you. I shall report to my client and no doubt they will make the appropiate decision. Thank you for your time.” Stan moved to get up from his seat.
“Where are you going?” said Ah Man.
“I am leaving.”
“Sit down!” snarled Ah Man, no longer the perfect host. “Do you really think you can come here, get me to admit to kidnapping, and then toddle off home to your clients and God knows who else?”
“Sir, I will of course not breathe one word of this to anyone but my clients, I appreciate the delicate situation.”
“I’m not sure you do, Mr. Baxter.” He shouted and three burly men entered. He smiled again. “I think it’s time we had another chat with your Mr. Roberts.”