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It appeared and disappeared with the rhythm of the waves: the top of a bag with a dab of green from the ropes that tied it. No more gambling.” About ten minutes later in a world without coordinates it seemed to Aston that it was the floating bag that drifted alongside the boat, rather than the other way around.
The freshening wind was cutting the mist into scarves that floated around the boat and tore against the radio mast to reveal a corpse-gray sky. In a short-sleeved white shirt with epaulets, shorts, long socks, Aston leaned gratefully into the spray that had started to rinse him every time the bows bashed against the burgeoning waves.THE SECOND TREATY of Peking of 1898 was one of the more bizarre treaties of the British colonial era.The British had already occupied Hong Kong, a small island off the south coast of Canton in southern China, by 1841, and extended their occupation to a small part of mainland Canton, known as Kowloon, by 1860.If it kept its present course, it would miss Hong Kong by a safe margin, but name a typhoon that was predictable. Every map of Hong Kong shows that the territorial waters belonging to the People’s Republic of China begin very close to the western end of the Soko Islands.Name too a typhoon that did not kill at least a few people, especially at sea. The first whitecaps were dancing on top of stubby waves. Private and commercial craft from Hong Kong passed regularly across the invisible line in the sea, usually on their way to Macao, but it was forbidden for officials in uniform to do so, especially aboard craft bearing the queen’s arms.Small whitecaps for the moment, but that could change. The Chinese Navy, always sensitive to foreign incursions, had never forgiven the theft of Hong Kong by bullies in British uniforms more than a hundred years before. The message had been redirected by the local Lantau police station to the RHKPF’s headquarters in Arsenal Street on Hong Kong Island and then on to Chan’s desk at Mongkok.
Chan yelled in Cantonese to the captain up in the wheelhouse. “A clear plastic bag, very large and of industrial quality, with apparently gruesome content,” the tourist had said. It had been his first break in a triple murder inquiry with which Chan had conspicuously made no progress for over a week.
From the bows Chan called over his shoulder: “Slowly ahead. Cantonese expletives exploded in the muggy air when those closest saw what was in the bag.
Then, as they drew it up, Aston saw too and retched loudly over the side.
Typhoons-“big winds” in Cantonese-start to gouge holes in the South China Sea in early April and are well into their stride by the end of the month, when the sea is already the temperature of bathwater and humidity runs at between 90 and 100 percent. Standing at the bows of , a fast motor launch belonging to the Royal Hong Kong Police Force, he moved his eyes in an arc from the sea to the sky. Sometimes the turbulence could be five hundred miles away yet drag down local clouds so dark that visibility disappeared in the middle of the day.
Clouds like solar eclipses, except they lasted longer and fascinated no one.
By his side Inspector Richard Aston, twenty-four years of age, blond, imitated his movements.