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DETECTIVE BARRY GILBERT STUDIED THE body of Edgar Cheng Lau: his arched back, his bent left knee, and extended right leg. Edgar’s big toe pointed with ballet-like grace toward the kitchen door. An elegant corpse, poetic in the positioning of its limbs. His bloodstained shirt, pulled up to his ribs, revealed a flat well-muscled stomach and a ragged gunshot wound. He was about thirty-five. His pale hand clutched a ball of blood-soaked Kleenex; he looked as if he’d been trying to stanch the flow of blood from his wound. His Chinese eyes, partially open, gazed at the French doors, contemplated them in the disturbing dullness of death, as if he found meaning in them—as if beyond their rain-speckled panes he saw things only a dead man could see.
The middle of December, Christmas ten days away, and nothing but rain; no snow, just rain, beating on the old slate shingles of the third-floor dormers, on the tar-and-pebble roof above, on the street outside. Gilbert looked around. Chinese ink drawings hung on the walls. The futon furniture—a sofa and chair—had been slashed, the stuffing pulled out, as if someone had been looking for something inside them. A camera sat on a table. 7-Up cans, crushed to flat little disks, lay piled in a broken bamboo cradle. Books filled the shelves, some Chinese, some English, many on photography, some on Chinese history, a few on Vietnamese history. Dozens of them had been yanked from the shelves and tossed to the floor. Rainwater had been tramped across the hardwood floor in ill-defined footprints. A step ladder stood in the middle of the living room. A torn piece of bloodstained newspaper lay beside it.
Gilbert walked over, had a closer look: a triangular piece of newspaper, ripped from one of the Chinese dailies, stained with small dry smears, slightly crumpled, as if someone had been trying to wipe blood with it, sitting here far from the main pool under Edgar’s body. What could it mean?
Gilbert’s partner, Detective Joe Lombardo, sixteen years his junior, smart, young, handsome, came out of the bedroom with a photograph album. He also carried a nine-round clip of ammunition. Lombardo flipped through the photograph album as he approached Gilbert, his dark eyes scanning the photographs with Mediterranean intensity.
“What’s with the clip?” asked Gilbert.
Lombardo held up the magazine. “Forty-five caliber,” he said. “I found it between the mattress and the box spring,” he said.
“No gun?” asked Gilbert.
“No gun,” said Lombardo. “But take a look at these photos here.”
He showed the photograph album to Gilbert, flipped to a page roughly in the middle. The photographs were old, black-and-white, shot on 35-mm film. The deck of a ship. Crowded with men, women, and children, all East Asians, their bodies wasted and thin, their eyes sunken, their expressions hopeless, as if they’d been adrift a long time. The ship, badly pocked with rust, looked barely seaworthy. A few older men stood around the deck with rifles. Some looked out to sea, others stared sullenly at the camera. One of them had a bandoleer of machine-gun ammunition crisscrossed over his chest. Two black pigs tethered to the railing ate what looked like a large snake.
“Boat people?” said Gilbert.
“That’s what I thought,” said Lombardo.
“He’s got Vietnam history books over there,” said Gilbert. “A lot of stuff about the war.”
The two detectives looked at Edgar Lau. Then back at the photographs. Then at the camera on the table. A Pentax 35-mm. A professional camera. Lombardo turned the page. More photographs, these ones in color, taken with a different camera. Standard Kodak film. The photographs showed the pockmarked ship from the deck of a much larger ship, way down in the well of the blue sea, not so crowded anymore, not as many children. The people on the boat looked up, peering from under the brims of wide straw hats. Another photograph showed sea-worn East Asians climbing aboard the much larger ship, struggling up a rope ladder, all of them skinny; brown stick people with shaggy black hair. Then photographs of white people on the bigger ship, some in uniform, two or three in regular clothes, one man wearing a shirt with a large collar, a garment identifiably from 1970s.
“That’s a Dutch flag up there,” said Lombardo, pointing to the ship’s mast.
Gilbert glanced at their victim. Had the man been on that boat, he wondered, maybe as a child a long time ago? Why else would he have this photograph album? He gave the album back to Joe.
“We voucher the clip,” he said.
“I agree,” said Lombardo.
Gilbert turned to the victim. He took a few distracted steps toward Edgar Lau.
“Barry?” said Lombardo.
Gilbert didn’t answer. He knelt beside Edgar. A handsome face. Skin the color of ripe wheat, a strong jaw, wide cheekbones, black hair, but with a streak of turquoise dye in it, like his nineteen-year-old daughter Jennifer had. The detail stuck, Edgar connecting to Jennifer, Jennifer connecting to Edgar, each saying something with a bit of blue dye. A rebel? Perhaps. A small earring pierced his left ear. He had a striking nose, a nose not often seen on a Chinese, strong, with a Roman bridge. He wore Levi’s and a black leather belt studded with hobnails.
“Poor bugger,” said Gilbert.
Lombardo turned, pointed to the French doors. “The killer came in the back,” he postulated.
Was that why Edgar stared at the French doors with a look of such perplexity on his face? Gilbert gazed at the French doors, twelve panes of glass in each, the white paint flaking from the frames, showing older green paint underneath, the corners of each frame darkened with mildew. Beyond the windows the rain came down like a deluge—black, inky, rattling against the metal fire escape like inmates rattling their bars before a prison riot.
“No sign of forced entry,” said Gilbert.
“And the victim has an ammunition clip,” said Lombardo. “Which means there’s got to be a gun. Only we just haven’t found it yet.” The clip an undeniable signpost, an intimation of a problematic investigation. “A man who owns a gun wouldn’t leave his back door unlocked.”
Here was the mystery. Not only the clip, but the French doors, unlocked, the water tracked onto the floor, no splintered latches or broken locks, just Edgar Lau opening the door for his killer, maybe talking to his killer, but ultimately succumbing to his killer. What did that say about the relationship between the victim and his attacker? Gilbert got up. Edgar knew his murderer. His killer had entered without protest or resistance. Perhaps words had been exchanged. Then the murder weapon had been fired. And the apartment had been searched.
“I’d like to talk to the first officer again,” said Gilbert. “What’d he say his name was?”
Lombardo took out a damp notebook and consulted the second page. “Kennedy,” said Lombardo. He looked up. “Donald Kennedy. From the 52 Division. Your old division.”
Gilbert nodded, thinking of 52 Division down on Dundas, a big white building, his home during his years in patrol, a squat building with as much Chinese writing on the big glass doors as English writing.
“Was there anything else in the bedroom?” he asked.
“Lots,” said Lombardo. Gilbert caught a whiff of Lombardo’s musky cologne. “Luggage packed on the floor and several quotes for plane tickets to San Francisco.”
The two detectives walked to the bedroom, the soles of their wet shoes squeaking against the floor. As they crossed the hall, Gilbert spotted scratch marks on the hardwood floor. He knelt and had a look at them: four scratch marks configured into the corner points of a rough rectangle. He remembered the ladder. He looked up and saw an access panel recessed into the ceiling leading to the attic, a dirty handprint visible on the white paint, and a sticker of the Rolling Stones’s famous mouth-and-tongue logo in the corner.
“We’ll check the attic later,” he said.
They continued into the bedroom.
Two Samsonite suitcases stood packed on the floor beside the bed. A small writing table, badly scarred, with some green paint splattered in the left top corner, stood next to the bed. Ink and brushes rested on the desk. Several samples of skilled Chinese calligraphy lay on top of the blotter, the scimitar-like strokes constructed delicately one against the other like a fragile house of cards. Gilbert moved these samples aside and found quotes for airline tickets—the price for two fares, Toronto to San Francisco.
“I wonder who he was taking?” asked Gilbert.
Lombardo looked around. “He’s a bachelor,” he said. “It takes one to know one.”
Gilbert scanned the wall. “Look at this photograph,” he said. Edgar loved his photography, that was for sure.
A framed photograph hung on the wall: a man and a boy sitting on a small yellow motorcycle with a wide eucalyptus-lined boulevard in the background; street and shop signs not in Chinese but in Vietnamese, U.S. soldiers in battle fatigues and helmets standing on street corners. The man and the boy smiled, their teeth broad and white in their brown faces. Both were wiry, strong, resembled each other. The boy carried a bamboo cage full of pigeons.
“Is that him?” asked Lombardo, pointing to the boy. “Is that our victim?”
From out in the hall Gilbert heard heavy footsteps coming up the stairs. He looked at the street scene closely. A boy in that faraway time in that faraway place, smiling happily on the back of this yellow Honda motorcycle. Was this smiling boy Edgar Lau? The ceaseless December rain on the tar-and-pebble roof sang a soft song overhead. The boy wore an orange windbreaker. The man wore thin, much-washed clothing, as if he were too poor to afford anything new to wear. Yet, incongruously, he had a glittering gold watch on his wrist. Gilbert looked at the boy again. He definitely thought he detected a resemblance to the man lying out in the dining room.
“I think it might be,” he said.
“Joe?” a voice called.
“We’re in here,” answered Lombardo.
The two detectives left the bedroom and went out to the hall where they found Constable Donald Kennedy of 52 Division, first officer on the scene. Despite the unusually mild December weather, Kennedy wore a navy-blue police parka, a fur cap, and standard-issue winter boots. He was a large, ruddy-faced man, a drinker by the look of him, with a rust-red mustache and sharply focused blue eyes, eyes that looked wide and surprised and chiseled out of azure marble. His lower lip sagged, as if he had a deficit in his muscles there, hung pink and moist above his chin, as pendulous as a piece of uncooked liver.
“The CSU is here,” said Kennedy. Kennedy had a challenging manner. He seemed to think he owned the scene, and that he might have to defend it at any moment, even against Gilbert and Lombardo. “They’re coming up with their equipment.”
“I just want to ask you,” said Gilbert, “is the victim known to you at all?”
“I’m having the 52 run a check,” said Kennedy.
“How long have you worked Chinatown?” asked Gilbert.
“Fifteen years,” said Kennedy. “I was out in 41 Division before.”
“Because I doubt he has a permit for that . . . that clip,” said Gilbert, nodding toward the magazine on the dining room table. “Or the gun that goes with it.”
“I doubt it too,” said Kennedy.
“He was still warm when we got here,” said Gilbert. Gilbert raised his eyebrows and looked at Constable Kennedy. “Any sign of life when you got here?”
“Barely. But he went ten-fifty-five on me two minutes after I got here.” The officer turned to Gilbert, serious, professional, his face as hard as a piece of frozen meat. “I told the paramedics not to touch him.” He nodded, glanced around the apartment. “I didn’t want them to wreck your scene.”
“And his mother lives downstairs?” asked Gilbert.
Kennedy nodded, then gestured toward the apartment door with nicotine-stained fingers. “She’s with Mr. Sung right now,” he said. He looked at Gilbert questioningly. “Foster Sung.” Kennedy gave the name a moment. “Know him?”
“Sure,” said Gilbert. Gilbert recalled an article in the pages of Toronto Life, a picture of an impeccably dressed middle-aged Chinese man standing over an architectural model of a proposed condominium development near the old Greenwood Racetrack. “He’s in real estate,” said Gilbert. He recalled a map of Toronto East, the Sung-owned buildings marked with little gold stars. “He’s a millionaire developer.”
“That’s the one,” said Kennedy, as if to Kennedy’s mind Sung had committed a felony by being so rich.
“And a friend of the Laus?” said Gilbert.
“Yeah,” said Kennedy. “He was down in the restaurant when the shooting occurred.”
“And he’s the one who called?” asked Gilbert.
“He’s the one,” said Kennedy.
When the two Crime Scene Unit officers reached the apartment, both out of breath from two flights of stairs, both wet from the rain, Gilbert pointed to the water on the floor as well as to the torn piece of newspaper with blood on it, and asked them to get pictures of both.
“I think I’m going to check the fire escape,” Gilbert told Lombardo.
“Okay,” said Lombardo. “I’m going to continue with the bedroom.”
The French doors opened onto a small balcony with a steel-slat floor and steel railings painted black, scourged by scabs of rust. Down below, a paved yard backed onto an alley. The alley ran north from Baldwin Street, curved left, then ran west toward Kensington Market. Gilbert took out his flashlight and turned it on. Rain streaked past the beam like a swarm of bugs. The smell of Chinese food drifted up from below. Gilbert descended the metal steps, stopping on the second-floor landing.
He peered into Mrs. Lau’s apartment. He couldn’t see the victim’s mother. He couldn’t see Foster Sung either. Just a neatly furnished living room, a dining room, and the kitchen beyond. A black Chinese folding screen with mother-of-pearl inlay depicting a landscape of mountains, pagodas, and willow trees partially hid a tailor’s mannequin.
Gilbert continued down the metal stairs until he reached the bottom. Clumps of mud dotted the pavement, amoeba-like in the rain. The kitchen door of the Champion Gardens Chinese Restaurant was open. He saw a chef in a chef’s hat, a slight but dapper man who glanced continually toward the front of the serve-through. He cooked at a large stove, tossed food—chunks of beef, bean sprouts, and snow peas—expertly in a battered old wok. Gilbert glanced to the top of the stairs, then through the kitchen door, and wondered if any kitchen staff had heard the gunshot over the heavy rain. The cook took a meat cleaver and whacked something on his cutting board. Then a timer went and he hurried from view.
Gilbert stepped off the landing into the yard. To the right lay a small garden, no more than a patch of mud, with a few stakes for plants, a wheelbarrow on its side, an empty fertilizer bag, a crude scarecrow with a baseball hat, an empty can of motor oil, and a stack of Chinese newspapers tied in a bundle, now a solid wet brick of newsprint. Gilbert walked across the yard to the alley. He looked up and down the alley. Turn left or right? he wondered. Rain trickled down his collar. Left went south to Baldwin Street, a few doors down, a broad residential street leading directly to, and in full view of, the bus-choked and car-clogged Spadina Avenue, not a place a killer would likely flee after his crime. So. To the right, then.
Gilbert followed the secluded curve past the back of Gwartzman’s Art Supplies, then turned west toward Kensington Market. Garages. Garbage cans. Litter. Tall grass grew around telephone poles and fences. Fences leaned this way and that. A dim streetlight near the end of the alley cast black shadows. Puddles stood in the potholes along the pavement. He shone his flashlight from side to side, hating the rain because the rain was destroying any possible evidence he might find out here—a footprint, a blood trail, tire tracks. When was the rain going to stop? He hadn’t seen rain like this in years. The jet stream blew far to the north these days, sucking up damp weather from the Gulf of Mexico, dumping it on southern Ontario and western New York. Only two dry days so far this month. No snow. Rain obliterating any and all evidence along his killer’s getaway route.