David went into his office and dropped the meeting documents onto his desk. He fell into the big executive chair and put his hands behind his head – he wasn’t even needed at the meetings, the cars were a status symbol and Hong Kong people would never stop buying them. The dealership was a tiny fraction of the company’s operation anyway. The strategic plan was basically “continue to sell expensive cars to status-conscious rich people.” He smirked at the irony; he owned a couple of these cars himself.
The smog was particularly bad, making the buildings on the other side of the harbour dimly visible shapes through the brown miasma. Being on the top floor was no advantage when the visibility was this poor. He felt a stab of conscience – the cars he sold were definitely adding to it. He was doing his best to promote sustainable energy to his mainland business associates and they were listening to him. The Central Committee was poised to make a huge step in the right direction – towards renewables – and he looked forward to selling electric vehicles powered by the limitless energy provided by the nearby Daya Bay Nuclear Power station until the region could go fully green.
He checked his messages – nothing particularly urgent, but he would be finishing late again and probably miss bedtime with the boys. His desk phone rang and he answered it.
‘It’s Monty from the car dealership down in Wan Chai, sir,’ Alicia said. ‘He says it’s very urgent? They have a big problem?’
David sighed with feeling. He’d just spoken to Monty at the meeting and everything had been just fine an hour ago. ‘Put him on.’ There was a click and he deliberately made his voice more bright and businesslike ‘This is Mr Hawkes, Monty, what’s the problem?’
Monty made some strange choking sounds and David stopped, confused. ‘Monty?’
‘Is okay.’ Monty choked again. ‘Please to come to office straight away, Mr Hawkes …’
‘Monty, what’s with the accent? You’re more British than I am – ’
‘Ha ha ha.’ The laugh sounded terribly forced and alarm bells started to ring in David’s head. ‘Is joke, sir, right? Please to come down to dealership right away, is friend here of yours wanting to buy car but we need you to sign documents to ensure that everything okay, just like every time we sell a car.’
Okay, now something was seriously strange, they didn’t need him to sign anything when they sold a car. That combined with the weird mock-Cantonese accent suggested trouble.
‘Certainly, Monty, I’m on my way, I’ll be there in ten minutes.’
‘Thank you s—’ The rest of it was cut off by the phone being slammed down.
David switched back to his secretary. ‘Alicia, something’s strange at the car dealership in Wan Chai. Contact security, have them send a couple of people up here, and then call the police and ask them to go to the shop and check it out. As soon as the security people are here I’m going down with them to see what’s going on.’
‘Yes sir. Really? What’s happening?’
‘It just sounded … strange. I hope I’m wrong.’
‘Are you sure it’s a good idea to go down there yourself?’
‘Anything to get away from this damn office,’ he said under his breath, and she snorted with laughter. She’d heard him. ‘Buzz the security guys in the minute they’re here.’
The security guys were obviously sceptical as they followed him for the three-hundred-metre walk to the dealership. The smog was even worse at ground level; a choking morass of diesel fumes hung in the thick humid air. It would be a long time before David and his wife Bridget would be able to take the boys back to visit the European side of the family in Scotland; the end-of-year break was still months away.
The dealership seemed perfectly normal when David arrived; a couple of portly, middle-aged businessmen in suits were perusing the latest models and Monty sat behind the desk at the back of the showroom. As David approached, Monty’s face froze into a rictus grin and he gestured with his head; he obviously wanted David to leave.
The two businessmen turned around and smiled when they saw David and the security guards.
‘The police are on their way, Monty,’ David said, trying to stay calm. ‘What’s going on?’
‘How long ago did you call them, Mr Hawkes?’ one of the businessmen said in a perfect English accent.
‘Long enough for them to be here soon.’ David put his hands in his pockets to control the trembling; the two businessmen had something about them that was seriously not right. ‘Can I help you gentlemen?’
One of the businessmen strolled up to David, then swung and struck one of the security guards hard on the temple with his fist and the guard fell. David jumped out of the way as the other guard pulled out a nightstick but the suited man grabbed it, wrenched it out of the guard’s hands, and felled him with it. He viciously struck the prone guard’s head a couple of times to make sure he was out, then hit the first one on the head again where he lay unconscious. He nodded to himself with satisfaction, obviously pleased with his work.
David stood riveted with shock, then quickly fell to one knee to check the fallen guards. The businessman didn’t let him; he grabbed David by the arm, twisted it painfully behind his back, and dragged David so that he was standing next to the other man.
David tried to stay calm as the two guards lay as if dead. He could be next. ‘Take anything you want, I can open the safe for you or give you keys to any of the cars. If it’s protection money, or a triad payback, or anything, we can talk about it.’ He grunted with pain as the bones of his arm were pushed close to their breaking point. ‘I’m CEO of the company that runs this business, I have authority to do just about anything, and we can talk. Don’t hurt anyone else!’
‘We know who you are, Mr Hawkes,’ the other businessman said. ‘That’s why we wanted you.’
Oh shit. David’s stomach turned to jelly. ‘I can arrange ransom. Not an issue. Just don’t hurt anyone else!’
A European woman that David vaguely recognised entered the store, wearing a pair of plain blue jeans and a black T-shirt. He tried to place her for a moment, then remembered who she was – her name was Emma Donahue or Donahoe or something. Australian woman; had been living with John Chen and John’s extremely precocious young daughter Simone before John was killed in some nasty triad business about ten years before. She’d taken over the management of John’s business empire as Simone’s guardian and had impressed everybody with her formidable intellect and managerial skills. She was a far cry from a typical Hong Kong businesswoman – plain-featured, make-up free and never dressed the part – but David had come to know her at many of the charity functions and had grown to like her blunt dry sense of humour. She’d mentioned something about buying a car before and was obviously here at exactly the wrong time.
Her eyes widened when she saw the floored guards, then went hard and cold when she saw the two suited gangsters holding David. She tapped her left hand with her right.
‘Tell Simone I need her right here and right now,’ she said with a voice of ice, then glared at the two gangsters. ‘You are making a huge mistake, this man is a friend of mine. I suggest you let him go now and run as fast as you can before Simone Chen turns up and shows you exactly what the daughter of the Xuan Wu is capable of.’