AN UNWELCOME DRINK
Ben sat in his office, fuming. Usually at that time on a Friday, 7.00pm, he would have been in Joe Bananas with Big Bob and the gang. He had however just left the conference at Richard Yap’s chambers and had much work to do before he could think of joining the lads. He was also distressed at what had happened.
Wai had again scuppered any chance they had of reaching agreement with the Government. The new offer from the Government had been so reasonable that, in the words of Gordon Stewart, he would be “almost negligent” in not advising clients to accept the offer. Richard Yap concurred. It went without saying that Ben and Dylan agreed heartily with them.
The Government had dropped their insistence that they have the majority on the Committee proposed to run the temple. All they wanted was some representation on the committee, say 3 members, whereas the Clan could have the majority, say 5. The Clan could therefore never be defeated on any crucial vote concerning the running of the temple. Ben and Dylan were excited, as Wai had consistently said that this was the only sticking point so far as he was concerned.
Wai had asked for a little time for the representatives to consider the question. Ben was perplexed at this, and said so, as he believed there was nothing to consider. The Government had caved in to all their demands. It was a complete victory so far as Ben was concerned. Gordon Stewart, as polite as ever, was however happy to give them half an hour to discuss. They left for a coffee, leaving the lawyers behind in chambers. When they returned, Wai advised that the representatives wished to turn down the offer. They wanted no Government representation on the committee whatsoever. To accept any Government influence, Wai reasoned, would be a matter of great humiliation to the Tang Clan. It mattered not whether it was a minority or majority.
The lawyers sat stunned at what Wai had to say. Yap went hammer and tong at the representatives in Cantonese, but they simply confirmed what Wai had said. Yap then said that he would call the Government Leading Counsel, Ronnie Yuen, to enquire whether the Government would accept no representation on the committee. The laughter down the phone told it’s own story. The trial would commence on Monday.
Ben and Dylan took Wai aside after the meeting. Dylan in particular laid into him, pointing out the dangers Wai was taking. He was risking over HK$500 million, and title to the temple, all because of a few minority Government representatives who had no power. What was worse, Stewart’s advice, as was Yap’s, was that if the trial proceeded, there was a good chance the Clan would lose. It was crazy. Wai replied that it was better to lose with dignity than to win with dishonour. Dylan nearly hit him. Ben felt like that too. It was tantamount to legal suicide.
Ben thus sat at his office, alone, and prepared to write a letter to the four representatives, pointing out that the firm, and both Leading Counsels, strongly recommended the acceptance of the Government’s offer. This letter was necessary in the event that the Clan lost. It would protect the firm from any action for negligent advice from any element of the Tang Clan. It took Ben an hour to draft it, and another hour to type it, Patty having long gone home. He finished about 9.00pm, and left the draft on Patty’s desk for her to tidy up the grammar in the morning. He looked at his watch. Time for a quick one, he decided. He turned off all the lights in the office, and locked the door, taking the elevator to the ground floor. He said goodnight to the caretaker as usual, and turned down the back street leading to Joe Bananas. As he did so, he was grabbed by each arm by a couple of men.
“Hey...what’s going on?” shouted Ben.
“Don’t worry, Mr. McCann, we’re just going for chat” said one of the men, and bundled him into the back of a car at the side of the road. There was no-one in this small alley. Ben realized that what had happened to Dylan was likely about to happen to him, and felt sick to his stomach. Surprisingly, they did not take him through the cross-harbour tunnel and into deepest Kowloon, as he feared and expected, but instead the car stopped at the impressive Grand Hyatt Hotel in Wanchai, walking distance from Ben’s office. Ben lost his fear as the men led him into the Champagne Bar in the lobby of the hotel.
The bar was empty, save for a couple that only had eyes for each other at the opposite end of the bar. Still, thought Ben, the men were not going to start anything here. There was one well-dressed man sitting on a sofa at the far end of the room. The men indicated that Ben should sit beside him, and they then left the bar. Ben approached the man, feeling he had little choice in the matter. As he did so, the man stood up, smiled, and extended his hand by way of greeting.
“Ah, Mr. McCann, what a delight to meet you at last” said the man. Ben stared at him. He was a Chinese man, quite tall, with gold dripping off virtually every part of his body, or so it seemed to Ben. He wore an expensive suit. Ben recognized his face from the newspaper. It was Chan Chi Wah, the third defendant in the legal proceedings.
“I take a very dim view of kidnapping, Mr. Chan, as do the police in these parts”, said Ben.
“What are you talking about, Mr. McCann, you are free to go at any time you like. I just thought that as we are both very busy men, it would be nice to find some free time to discuss matters.”
“So far as I know, Mr. Chan, we have nothing to discuss.”
“On the contrary”, smiled Chan, “I believe we have important matters to discuss. Now, please sit down.” Ben noticed the glint in his eyes. He sat down. On Chan’s insistence he ordered a beer.
“As you know”, said Chan, “I am the third defendant in the temple proceedings. You will also know that I am only named in the proceedings at all because I have the interests of the public of Hong Kong at heart. I made the court application, Mr. McCann, because it was breaking my heart to see the temple fall into such a state of disrepair over the years. There appeared to be no-one taking responsibility for it at all. I thought it would be in the public interest if the temple was recognized as a charity, with a committee set up to run the thing.”
“With you, of course, as the Chairman of the committee.”
“Well, one has a public duty, as you well understand, Mr. McCann.”
“I do understand, Mr. Chan. I understand that you would be in charge of HK$500 million.”
“Indeed, that would be my responsibility, Mr. McCann, one that I would take up for the benefit of the public.”
“I bet you would”.
“So you see, Mr. McCann, that I have altruistic intentions here. You must realize by now that the Tang Clan’s case for ownership of the temple is a complete sham.”
“I know nothing of the kind”, bristled Ben.
“Oh, come, come, Mr. McCann, I know you must do your best for your client, but sometimes one must think on a higher plane.”
“Have you finished, Mr. Chan, because I certainly have.”
“Not quite, Mr. McCann.” Chan’s eyes glinted again. “There is a lot at stake here. I do not expect you to be aware of the nature of New Territories politics. Suffice to say there would be a considerable shift in power if your clients win this case. I will not allow it. Under any circumstances. I hope you understand me.” He looked Ben directly in the eyes with a steely gaze.
“I know where you’re coming from, Mr. Chan. Don’t worry about that.”
“But I do worry about it, Mr. McCann, I worry about you, your partner, your firm, your family...how is your wife doing in England these days?”
“Are you threatening me, Mr. Chan?”
“Mr. McCann” laughed Chan, “You read too many detective novels. I know everything will turn out well for everyone. Good luck, Mr. McCann. I’m sure you will make the right decision, in the public interest, of course. The consequences of a Tang Clan victory...well, I’m sure I don’t have to elucidate further. Goodnight, Mr. McCann.” Chan shook hands and left the bar.
Ben sat in his seat and finished his beer. Things were certainly hotting up.