Ben reached his desk early the next morning. It was Thursday, the trial started the following Monday. At 9.30am Patty said Wai was on the line. Oh dear, thought Ben, Wai usually was a late riser and such an early call could only mean trouble. No doubt a rant about Professor Davids, he thought gloomily. He picked up the phone.
Wai did want to talk about Davids. He thought the man was a genius! He and Jacob had spent the small hours of the morning talking about the case and Chinese history in general, and it was clear to him that Davids knew his onions.
“So Davids was alright, was he?” asked Ben warily.
“Alright? More than that, man, it’s probably the best thing we’ve done on this case so far, getting him!” said Wai.
“He didn’t....how can I put it ...swear a little?”
“Swear?” Wai sounded perplexed. “He’s the most kindly soft- spoken man I’ve ever met. Are you OK today?”
“Yes, yes, just a little tired, it’s all getting to me.” Must have been on his medication, he thought. “Look, do you think we’ve got everything ready for trial? I don’t want any last minute disasters.”
“I think we’re OK. All the bundles are filed and served. What about Counsels, have you sent the briefs yet?”
“Yes, to all three. Gordon Stewart is arriving today on the afternoon flight. We’ve put him in the Shangri-la, he wanted a suite, that’s more money we want from you.”
“Don’t worry, you know you’ll get it.”
“I know. Richard Yap is fully clued up. We have a conference with him and Gordon Stewart tomorrow afternoon, get as many as the reps down as possible. “
“I will, but I still think it’s a waste of time and money. What can be done or said so close to trial?”
“On, you know I want to protect this firm, I want the clients to hear it from Stewart’s mouth that they are taking an almighty gamble by proceeding to trial, when such a decent offer is on the table.”
“You have instructions, Ben.”
“Yes we do. I just want to be satisfied in my own mind that clients understand fully what’s going down. I frankly doubt that they do.”
“Whatever, we’ll be there. I already have Professor Yau on standby at the Chinese University, we went through his statement this week, he’ll be good. He knows his stuff.” Ben had to remind himself of Yau’s evidence. Ah yes, the expert on Chinese history and Chinese customary law.
“All our lay witnesses up to speed?”
“We’ll be seeing all thirteen this weekend, no point doing it earlier, all witnesses are Tang Clan members, we are having a big meeting on Saturday to go through everything.”
“Right. Oh, hello”, said Ben to Dylan, who had appeared bleary- eyed in his room. “Well, I think we’re in good shape if we have to go ahead. We’ll take Gordon out tonight with Richard Yap if he wants to go out. Hopefully he’ll be too tired.”
“There’s one thing you must do before trial”, interrupted Dylan.
“What’s that?” asked Ben.
“Have sex with Mandy again. Might get us some brownie points.”
“Shut up! Wai, very good, I’ll see you tomorrow. I’ll call if anything happens in the meantime.” With that, they said their goodbyes. Ben looked at Dylan.
“Are you making a habit of this? It’s not 10.00am yet. Anyone who didn’t know would think you were a proper lawyer. Come to think of it, you didn’t come home last night, did you?”
“It wasn’t my fault, honestly” said Dylan. “Donny had some people from Warner Brothers in town, he asked me to look after them. It’s potentially massive, not only may AEL get their latest touring show, we can be their Asian lawyers.”
“And looking after them entailed staying out all night?”
“These guys had never been to Hong Kong before, they wanted to see the sights. I showed them what I could. We all ended up in this massage parlour in Mongkok. I fell to sleep and woke up an hour ago. Actually, I don’t feel too bad. Probably a good idea too, don’t think the triad kidnappers would be looking for me in Hotel Paradise. Want a coffee?”
Ben grunted his assent. He wasn’t pissed off with Dylan, perhaps one of these days a crazy scheme of his might work, nothing ventured, nothing gained. Mind you, he’d been saying that to himself for the past five years. It was too close to trial anyway to feel pissed off. He felt excited, and relieved. All the work the firm had put in over the past years was reaching a head. He was frankly sick to death of the whole case, and wished it was over. The ever- present threat of kidnapping or violence, or both, was no fun. Neither was living with Dylan. He wanted his life back. And his wife, if possible. He planned a trip to England after the case to see if there was any possibility of a reconciliation. If that meant returning permanently to the U.K., so be it. He hadn’t told Dylan about his plans yet. Dylan would survive anyway, particularly if he had a few million in his pocket.
Jennifer came in to hand him the morning mail. Ben had the usual involuntary movement in his trousers as he gazed at her. Jennifer never wore anything particularly revealing, but today she was as daring as she had ever been. A black t-shirt just low enough to reveal a bit of cleavage, and tight black pants.
“You look handsome today”, she said cheekily. It was her manner which delighted him constantly and made him feel young too. Christ, what he would pay for a night with Jennifer.
“And you look very pretty too” replied Ben. It was his customary reply. “How’s your boyfriend? Finished him yet?” He stared at her heaving chest.
“No!” “Ah, what a pity. You know I’ll be here, waiting, if you ever do.”
“You’ll be waiting a long time, then”, she laughed, and then skipped away with a final grin. Dylan entered with the coffees.
“Flirting with the staff again? Good job there’s no sexual harassment laws in Hong Kong, we’d be done every week because of you.”
“Very funny. It’s good for staff morale.”
“Oh yes, I’m sure Jennifer loves a middle aged man leching after her every day. Fancy a game of tennis at lunchtime?”
“We can’t, we have to pick Gordon Stewart up at 2.30pm.”
“You’re joking! We were at the airport yesterday!”
“I know, but it’s courtesy, and he expects it, what can we do?”
“Bloody Queen’s Counsels, think they’re better than the rest of us. I suppose we can have lunch in the airport pub.”
“You know it’s Tyler’s bail application again tomorrow morning. Can you go with Counsel? I have a private conference with Richard Yap in the morning, to discuss settlement matters. I don’t think Richard is fully aware of the politics in the Tang Clan and I want to speak to him before our con in the afternoon with the clients.”
“No problem, but who’s doing the bail application, if not Richard?”
“Dermot Maclean, as a favour to us. He’s an experienced criminal guy.”
“Yes he is. Hope he’s sober.”
“You know he’s a piss-head.”
“That was years ago, he’ll be fine.”
“Hope so, for Tyler’s sake. God, this coffee is disgusting.”
Ben spent the rest of the morning going over the written opening prepared by Richard Yap. It spanned over twenty pages, and not only was it rather boring, it was at times completely unintelligible. Ben had tried hard to get used to the particular nuances of the case, the various Chinese concepts, both of history and law, but it proved to be very difficult. Well, he didn’t need to know it all, he said to himself, as long as Yap and Stewart knew what they were talking about, they had a fighting chance.
They both met Gordon Stewart at the airport. To Ben’s relief, he was a charming man, with no sign of vulgarity whatsoever. He did seem rather eccentric, but this was only to be expected, thought Ben, from a top English Queen’s Counsel, who was reputedly the world’s leading legal expert upon charities. It was costing client an arm and a leg, but Ben was glad to have him on his side. Certainly, the Government’s Counsels could not compete intellectually. Dressed in tartan trousers and blue anorak on arrival, he resembled a favourite grandfather. His shock of white hair and spectacles only added to this impression. Ben liked him a lot immediately and was suddenly looking forward to the fray.
To his and Dylan’s relief, however, Gordon didn’t feel up to dinner, he said he had much to prepare. All the court bundles had been sent to his hotel room, Ben had checked his room and everything had appeared to be in order. They checked him in at the Shangri- la, and said their goodbyes, arranging to meet at Richard’s chambers the following day for the conference with clients. They took the Airport Express train back to Central.
“What shall we do now” asked Dylan, staring out the window at the wild landscape of Lantau Island, where the Government had inexplicably chose to build the new airport.
“Well, I don’t know about you, but I’m beat. I’m having an early night, and it wouldn’t hurt you to have one too.”
“I’m serious. The next few days and weeks will probably be the most important of our professional lives.”
“Yes, I suppose so. We could be on the beach in a few weeks.” “Or in the proverbial gutter. We may as well give it our best shot.”
“OK. Tell you what, I’ll cook my special spaghetti carbonara tonight, shall I? It’s won awards.”
“A number of young ladies I’ve cooked for. The cream gets them every time.”
“Well, I’ve got no real desire to have sex with you, but I’ll take you up on the spaghetti offer.”
To Ben’s surprise, Dylan cooked an excellent meal, with a home- made onion soup starter. So he was good at something after all, Ben joked with him. They both had an early night. Ben rose early the next morning, and sat down with Richard Yap before 9.00am.
Ben wanted Richard to understand where Wai was coming from, and the representatives’ stance. Wai was wearing two hats, one as a member of the Tang Clan and one as an employee of Roberts McCann, and unfortunately Ben felt that there was from time to time a conflict between the two posts. Wai’s job as an employee was to pass on the advice from the firm, both from Counsel and the firm itself. It was Wai’s job to explain matters fully to clients, take instructions from them, and relay those instructions back to the firm.
At times, however, Ben felt that Wai had his own agenda. It was clear, from the correspondence between the Government and the Clan since the 1960’s, that the Government had treated the Clan with contempt, refusing to acknowledge their right to the temple, and even at times ignoring the fact that they had even made a claim to the temple. Managers had been elected in the sixties allegedly without the knowledge of the Tang Clan, and the Government had registered the invalidly appointed managers without question. Tang Clan lands belonging to the temple had been wrongfully appropriated by the Government, according to the Clan. Legal proceedings had been issued in 1992 by the Government with the express purpose of having the temple designated as being subject to a charitable trust, without the Tang Clan being given any notice of any proceedings.
In short, certain members of the Clan felt that the Government had humiliated the Clan over the years, and now it was time for vengeance. They wanted not only success in the litigation, they wanted to see the Government totally humiliated. Wai was certainly in this camp. He had said many times that he would rather the Tang Clan be made bankrupt than accept the present terms from the Government, which Ben found puzzling. Ben feared that this desire for total victory was blinding Wai to the fact that the present offer from the government was a reasonable one, and should be accepted.
Ben also felt that most of the representatives wanted to accept the offer. Nearly all the funding from this litigation had come from them. They were, individually, millions in debt. If the offer was accepted, the representatives would recover their legal costs from the fund held in court. It was no surprise to Ben that they would wish to accept the offer. He had had many rows with Wai on this point, and Wai had always said that the four representatives were unanimous in rejecting the offer. As the clients spoke no English, and Ben spoke no Cantonese, it was difficult to argue against this. That was why Ben wanted Richard to lay it on the line that afternoon, whether Wai liked it or not.
Richard listened carefully to Ben’s comments and promised to do his best. He too wanted the case settled, and sincerely believed the offer from the Government was a good one. Ben thanked Richard, and said he would see him in the afternoon conference, when his mobile rang. Excusing himself, Ben answered and spoke to Dylan.
“Well, there’s good and bad news. Which one do you want first?” said Dylan.
“Good”, said Ben.
“OK, there’s a fax from the Government, they’ve made another offer, I can’t see how it can be refused.”
“That’s fantastic, just hold on.” Ben told Richard of the new letter. “And the bad news?”
“Tyler lost his bail application”
“The same judge as last time. The money made no difference. He said there was a real danger of absconding. He’s stuck there until trial. Trial commences on 1st May. Three months or so.”
Ben was aghast. He forgot about the Tang Clan. What was going to happen to Tyler?