THE SPEECH OF HIS LIFE
Ben had hurried to the High Court building, disturbed by Dylan’s tone. Dylan had said that he could not say anything on the telephone. Ben’s mind had raced as he caught a taxi through the tunnel to the court. He took the elevator to Court 25 and was surprised to find everyone, Clan members and Counsel included, outside the court.
“What’s going on?” he asked Dylan.
“Come here”, said Dylan grimly, and led him into a conference room adjoining the court. He closed the door behind them and stared at Ben.
“None of our Tang Clan witnesses are willing to give evidence”, he said.
“Apparently all thirteen members of the Tang Clan who are supposed to give evidence received telephone calls last night, warning them that if they gave evidence both they and their families would face repercussions. And I don’t think it was put as politely as that.”
“Do we have any idea who made these calls?”
“No direct evidence. No names were mentioned. But Wai is convinced it was Chan Chi Wah’s doing. He has the most to gain by the Tang Clan losing.”
“Or someone in the Government.”
“Well, said Dylan, “I know the Government may have some unsavoury characters in it, and I still don’t trust Mandy, but it’s hard to imagine them doing such a thing, or getting someone else to do it.”
Ben silently agreed. At that moment he saw Chan Chi Wah pass the window of the conference room. He gave Ben a thumbs-up sign. Ben knew immediately that Chan was behind it. He was livid.
“That...that...little bastard. Let’s call the police!”
“About what? We have no evidence at all that his cronies made the threats. The police might make an investigation, but it won’t do the case any good in the long run. I thought about telling the judge, but again what is the point?”
“Are all thirteen witnesses here?” said Ben grimly. “Yes”, replied Dylan. “Right, we have to speak to them. Now.”
“If you think it’ll do any good. Wai has been trying all morning.”
Richard Yap knocked and came in the room. “I’ve had to tell Richard and Gordon all about it”, said Dylan.
“Benjamin”, began Richard, “this is disastrous news. Without our witnesses we have no-one to introduce the rent book as evidence, or the stone inscriptions. Or evidence of the lantern lighting ceremony at the temple. It is not enough for our experts to give that evidence. It must come from the Tang Clan.”
“I know, Richard. I’m going to speak to them all now, en masse. Please can you ask the judge to give us another thirty minutes.”
“I will tell his clerk. He is however puzzled as to why we are already over one hour late in starting. I cannot give Ronnie an answer either.”
“Tell him that our witness for this morning hasn’t turned up yet.”
“That’s what I’ve already said. Frankly, however, as we have thirteen of them, it’s not a very good excuse.”
“Try your best, Richard”, said Ben, stepping out of the conference room. That’s what you’re getting paid for, he thought. “OK, Wai, come here. Get all thirteen witnesses in here now. No other Tang Clan members.”
Wai obeyed and rounded them all up. One by one they trooped into the small room. There was hardly room for them all. Ben stood at the front of the room with Dylan. Jacob also stood there, perspiring. Ben asked Wai to do the interpreting, and took a deep breath.
“I think you all know who I am. I have seen most of you before over the past few years. For those who don’t know, my name is Ben McCann and I am one of the senior partners in the firm who represents the Tang Clan in this case.”
There was a murmur of acknowledgment.
“As you all know, this case has been brought because the Tang Clan claim that the temple on Fanling hills belongs to them. That your ancestors built the temple centuries ago. That the money in court, representing Tang Clan land seized and sold by the Government, belongs to the Tang Clan. For nearly forty years, you have fought a running battle with the Government over title to the temple. The Government have never taken you seriously. They do now. They are scared. Scared that they are going to lose. And there is a fair chance of that. The Tang Clan have paid to my firm millions of dollars to pay expert witnesses and Counsel to fight this case. My firm has spent nearly four years in preparing the case for trial. Frankly, it has nearly bankrupted us. We have done little work other than Tang Clan work for the past four years.” Ben took a breath.
“Now, however, there is a great danger that you are going to throw it all away at the last minute because you are refusing to give evidence in court. I know you have all received threatening phone calls. That can be the subject of a police report if you individually so wish. But a decision has to be made now as to whether you testify. Without your evidence, the Tang Clan loses. All that money spent, thrown away. All that money in court, thrown away. And not only that. As we’ve warned you previously, the consequences of defeat for the Tang Clan would be disastrous. The Government will likely be awarded a costs order against the Clan should they win the case. Their costs will be in the region of US$5-7 million. They will seize Tang Clan lands and sell them to satisfy the costs order. The Tang Clan will have little, if any, land left. It will, in effect, mean the end of the Clan. Are you really willing to see that, because of phone calls from some nutcase, no doubt on behalf of the same person who kidnapped my partner months ago? Fight for the Clan, I ask you, and the memory of your ancestors. Please, give evidence. Please.”
Wai was translating Ben’s speech as he went along. Ben was nearly in tears at the end of it. There was complete silence when Ben had finished. Then one member spoke up and said something in Cantonese to Wai. Wai nodded.
“He said that they would like a few minutes to think about it.”
“OK, no problem. We’ll be in the coffee lounge, we’ll be back in fifteen minutes.” Ben took the elevator to the first floor coffee bar with Dylan.
“That was brilliant”, said Dylan. “If that doesn’t do it, nothing will.”
“I fear the latter. I think we’re done for.” They sat down gloomily at a table and ordered a coffee each. Ben took out a cigarette and lit it.
“I thought you were going to give them up”, said Dylan.
“I may have no choice. If our witnesses refuse to give evidence, then I won’t be able to afford to buy cigarettes in future. I suppose that’s one good thing. Oh look, here’s Peachey.”
“Hi, you two” said Peachey, sitting down beside them. She had a flirting way about her, and despite the grimness of the moment, both Dylan and Ben appreciated her company.”
“Hello, Peachey”, smiled Dylan, “what would you like?”
“Just a glass of ice water, I’m looking after my figure.”
“Why don’t you let me do that?” grinned Dylan. Ben groaned inwardly. Their life was just about to be destroyed and Dylan was trying to get into their barrister’s pants. Mind you, I’ll give him 100% for effort, he thought. Peachey ignored the come-on.
“I heard the commotion this morning. What do you think is going to happen?”
“Your guess is as good as mine, Peachey”, said Ben.
“Are you married, Ben?” she asked.
“Well, as a matter of fact, I am. Why?”
“Oh, just wondered, the best ones are always married aren’t they? Oh shit.” Her mobile phone went off, and she hurried away, indicating that she would see them back upstairs.
“The young slapper!” said Dylan. “She was virtually asking for it!”
“Hardly!” said Ben, secretly pleased.
“Come off it, she could hardly have been more obvious if she’d taken off her pants! What I can’t understand is, why you, when I had made the first approach? She’s obviously a bit deranged.”
“Obviously”, said Ben. “You know she’s a good friend of Sebastian? She was telling me upstairs, he’s been saying nice things about us to her. Well, we better get back up, let’s find out whether we still have a law practice.”
“It’s not as bad as that. Apparently Bono has agreed to meet us for a drink when he comes here.”
“Oh whoopee, that makes me feel a lot better.”
They caught the familiar elevator to Court 25. Wai was waiting outside anxiously to meet them. He clearly had some news.
“Well?” said Ben.
“Good and bad news. Seven witnesses still refuse to give evidence. Six have decided to give evidence.”
“Which six?” asked Ben quickly. He was given the names. The most important witnesses were still available, thank God. He immediately spoke to Richard and Gordon and gave them the good news. They had to switch the order of witnesses, but that was no big deal. They could proceed.
“Wai, tell Tang Tai Lam he’s on now. We start in five minutes.”
“Yeah”, said Dylan “and tell the rest of them to disappear, we don’t want them here.”
“Don’t worry”, said Wai soberly, “they’ve already gone.”
“Good. Let’s get it on!”
The barristers, solicitors, Clan members and press piled into court. The press had no idea what had been happening. Neither had Judge Lee, who seemed very annoyed at being kept waiting for so long. Gordon did an excellent job, however, and the judge forgave him.
“Your first witness, Mr. Stewart”, said the judge.
“If it may please the Court, I call Mr. Tang Tai Lam.”
The rest of the morning passed peacefully as Gordon took Tang Tai Lam, the Chief Elder of one of the villages, through his evidence. He gave evidence of the history of the temple, which had been handed down as fact throughout the ages. He also gave evidence of the Lantern Lighting ceremony, which was performed every year at Chinese New Year at the temple by members of the Tang Clan. His evidence was cogent and to the point. Gordon was delighted with him.
He was more delighted with Ronnie Yuen’s cross-examination. He called Mr.Tang a liar in the box, and his vitriol was so strong as to be uncomfortable. Even Mandy gave Ben a glance during one particularly unpleasant exchange. Ben felt Yuen was taking the wrong line entirely with the witness, but it was good for their side. They adjourned at 4.30pm for the day, Yuen advising the Court that he would be most of the following day with Mr. Tang. Gordon and Richard seemed pleased as they walked out of court, although they disappeared before Ben and Dylan could have a chat with them.
The rest of the week followed the same familiar pattern. Gordon led his witnesses carefully and patiently through their prepared evidence, and then Yuen would lay into them like an out of control juggernaut. He did make some inroads, however, and was able to point out certain inconsistencies with the evidence. All in all, advised Gordon, he thought the first week had gone as well as could be expected, certainly no side was a clear winner. All six Tang Clan lay witnesses had finished their evidence by the Friday. Gordon had decided that Professor Yau, the historian, should start on the following Monday.
Unfortunately, something happened to prevent it.