Authors: Stephen Leather
INSPECTOR ZHANG AND THE DEAD THAI GANGSTER
Inspector Zhang looked out through the window at the fields far below.
There was so much land, he thought, compared with his own Singapore.
The near four million population of the island state was crowded into just 253 square miles and there was little in the way of green space.
But Thailand had green in abundance, criss-crossed with roads and dotted with small farms, and in the distance, mountains shrouded in mist. He closed his book with a sigh. It would soon be time to land.
“Are you okay, Inspector?” asked Sergeant Lee, removing her headphones. She was twenty four years old, and was wearing her hair long for a change, probably because while they were on the plane they weren’t strictly speaking on duty even though they had been sent to Bangkok by the Singapore Police Force.
“Of course,” said Inspector Zhang. “Why would I be otherwise?”
“I don’t think you like flying,” she said. “You did not eat the meal, you have not availed yourself of the in-flight entertainment system, and you seem – distracted.”
Inspector Zhang shook his head. “I am fine with flying,” he said. “In fact I have a Singapore Airlines frequent flyer card. Two years ago I flew to London with my wife, and the year before that we went to visit relatives of hers in Hong Kong.”
“London?” she said. “You went to London?”
“Just for a week,” he said. “It was always my dream to visit 221B Baker Street, and to follow the trail of Jack the Ripper.”
“Who lives at 221B Baker Street?” asked the Sergeant.
“Why Sherlock Holmes, of course,” said Inspector Zhang. “Though I have to say that it was something of a disappointment to discover that in fact there is no 221B and that the only building that comes close is the home of a bank.” He shrugged. “But it was fascinating to see where the evil Ripper plied his trade and to follow in his footsteps.”
“He was a serial killer in Victorian London, wasn’t he?”
“And never caught,” said Inspector Zhang. He sighed. “What I would give to be on a case like that; to pit my wits against an adversary of such evil. Can you imagine the thrill of the chase, Sergeant?”
“I’m just glad that I live in Singapore, where we have one of the lowest crime rates in the world.”
“For which we are all thankful, of course,” said Inspector Zhang. “But it does tend to make a detective’s life somewhat dull.” He sighed again. “Still, I have my books.”
“What have you been reading, Sir?” asked Sergeant Lee.
Inspector Zhang held up the book so that she could see the cover.
The Mysterious Affair At Styles
“It is one of my favourites,” he said. “It is the book that introduces the greatest of all detectives,
. I never tire of reading it.”
“But if you’ve already read it then you know how it ends,” said Sergeant Lee. “There is no mystery.”
“The solution is only part of the enjoyment of reading mystery stories,” said Inspector Zhang, putting the book into his briefcase. “Agatha Christie wrote thirty novels featuring Poirot and I have read them all several times.”
She frowned. “I thought that Sherlock Holmes was the greatest detective, not Poirot.”
“There are those who say that, of course,” said Inspector Zhang. “But I would say that Sherlock Holmes relied more on physical evidence whereas Hercule Poirot more often than not reached his conclusions by astute questioning.” He tapped the side of his head. “By using ze little grey cells,” he said, in his best Hercule Poirot impression.
The plane shuddered as the landing gear went down.
“Have you ever travelled abroad for work before, Inspector?” asked Sergeant Lee.
“This is the first time,” said Inspector Zhang.
He had been asked to fly to Thailand to collect a Singaporean businessman who was being extradited on fraud charges. At first the fraudster had fought his extradition but he had been denied bail and after two weeks in a crowded Thai prison he had practically begged to go home. He was facing seven years in Changi Prison and as bad as Changi was it was a hotel compared with a Thai prison where thirty men to a cell and an open hole in the floor as a toilet were the norm. Inspector Zhang had been told to take an assistant with him and he had experienced no hesitation in choosing Sergeant Lee, though he had felt himself blush a little when he had explained to his wife that the pretty young officer would be accompanying him. Not that there had been any need to blush, Inspector Zhang had been married for thirty years and in all that time he had never even considered being unfaithful. It simply wasn’t in his nature. He had fallen in love with his wife on the day that he’d met her and if anything he loved her even more now. He had chosen Sergeant Lee because she was one of the most able detectives on the Force, albeit one of the youngest.
The plane kissed the runway and the air brakes kicked in and Inspector Zhang felt his seat belt cutting into his stomach. The jet turned off the runway and began to taxi towards the terminal, a jagged line of wave-like peaks in the distance.
“And this is your first time in Thailand?” asked Sergeant Lee.
“I’ve been to Thailand with my wife, but we flew straight to Phuket,” he said. “I have never been to Bangkok before.”
“It is an amazing city,” said Sergeant Lee.
“And so big. I read on the internet that more than eight million people live there.”
“Twice the population of Singapore,” said Inspector Zhang. “But the crime rate here is much, much higher than ours. Every year the city has five thousand murders and at least twenty thousand assaults. In Singapore we are lucky if we have two murders in a month.”
Sergeant Lee raised a single eyebrow, a trick that the Inspector had never managed to master.
“Lucky, Inspector Zhang?”
“Perhaps lucky is not the right word,” admitted Inspector Zhang, though if he was completely honest the inspector would have had to admit that he would have welcomed the opportunity to make more use of his detective skills. In Singapore unsolved murders were a rarity, but he knew that in Bangkok hundreds went unsolved every year.
The plane came to a halt on the taxiway and the captain’s voice came over the intercom. “Ladies and gentlemen, I am sorry but there will be a slight delay before we commence disembarkation,” he said. “And in the meantime, would Inspector Zhang of the Singapore Police Force please make himself known to a member of the cabin staff.”
“That’s you,” said Sergeant Lee excitedly.
“Yes it is,” said Inspector Zhang.
Sergeant Lee waved at a stewardess and pointed at Inspector Zhang. “This is him.” She said. “Inspector Zhang of the Singapore Police Force. And I am his colleague, Sergeant Lee.”
The stewardess bent down to put her lips close to his ear and Inspector Zhang caught a whiff of jasmine. “Inspector Zhang, the captain would like a word with you,” she said.
“Is there a problem?” he asked.
“The captain can explain,” she said, and flashed him a professional smile.
Inspector Zhang looked across at Sergeant Lee. “I think you had better come with me,” he said. “It can only be a police matter.” He pulled his briefcase out from under the seat in front of him, put his book away and then followed the stewardess down the aisle with Sergeant Lee at his heels. There was a male steward wearing a dark grey suit standing at the curtain and he held it back for them to go through the galley to the business class section.
Three stewardesses were gathered in the galley, whispering to each other. Inspector Zhang could see from their worried faces that something was very wrong.
“What has happened?” Inspector Zhang asked the steward. He was wearing a badge that identified him as the Chief Purser, Stanley Yip.
“The captain would like to talk to you,” said the steward.
“He is by the cockpit.”
He moved a second curtain and motioned for the inspector to go through.
There were thirty seats in the business class section, two seats at each window and a row of two in the middle. A large Indian man wearing a crisp white shirt with black and yellow epaulettes was standing by the toilet at the head of the cabin, talking to a stewardess. He looked up and saw Inspector Zhang and waved for him to join him.
“I am Captain Kumar,” said the pilot, holding out his hand.
He was at least six inches taller than Inspector Zhang with muscular forearms and a thick moustache and jet black hair.
Inspector Zhang shook hands with the pilot and introduced himself and his sergeant. The pilot nodded at the sergeant then turned back to the inspector. He lowered his voice conspiratorially.
“We have a problem, Inspector. A passenger has died.” The pilot pointed over at the far side of the cabin and for the first time Inspector Zhang noticed a figure covered in a blanket huddled against the fuselage. The window’s shutter was down.
“Then it is a doctor you need to pronounce death, not an officer of the law,” said Inspector Zhang.
“Oh, there’s no doubt that he’s dead, Inspector.
In fact he has been murdered.”
“And you sure it was murder and not simply a heart attack or a stroke? Has he been examined by a doctor?”
“According to the chief purser he is definitely dead and there is a lot of blood from a wound in his chest.”
“Who put the blanket over the victim?” asked Inspector Zhang.
“The chief purser, Mr Yip. He thought it best so as not to upset the passengers. He did it before he informed me.”
“The body should always be left uncovered at a crime scene,” said Inspector Zhang. “Otherwise the scene can be contaminated.”
“I think it was probably the first time he had come across a crime scene in the air, but I shall make sure that he knows what to do in future,” said the captain.
“I still don’t understand why you need my services,” said Inspector Zhang. “We are on Thai soil, this is surely a matter for the Thai police.”
“It’s not as simple as that, Inspector Zhang,” said the captain. “I have already spoken to my bosses back in Singapore and they have spoken to the Commissioner of Police and he would like to talk to you.” He handed the Inspector a piece of paper on which had been written a Singapore cell phone number. “He said you were to call him immediately.” He waved a hand at the door behind him. “You are welcome to use the toilet if you would like some privacy.”
Inspector Zhang looked around the cabin.
The four cabin attendants were watching him from the galley and there were seven passengers sitting in the first class section all looking at him. “I think you’re right,” he said. “Please excuse me.” He nodded at Sergeant Lee. “Sergeant, please make sure that no further contamination of the crime scene occurs and make sure that everyone remains seated.” He handed her his briefcase. “And please put this somewhere for me.”
“I will, Sir,” said Sergeant Lee as Inspector Zhang pushed open the door to the toilet and stepped inside.
He closed the door behind him and looked around. The room had been recently cleaned and smelt of air freshener.
Inspector Zhang took out his cell phone and slowly tapped out the number that the captain had given him. The Commissioner answered on the third ring.
Inspector Zhang had never spoken to the Commissioner before, and had only ever seen him at a distance or on television, but there was no mistaking the man’s quiet authority on the other end of the line. “I understand that there is a problem on the plane, Inspector Zhang.”
“Yes, Sir, there is a body.”
“Indeed there is. And from what the captain has said, it is a case of murder.”
“I can’t confirm that, Sir, as I have not done anything in the way of an investigation. But the pilot tells me that the man is dead and that there is a lot of blood.
Sir, we are on Thai soil and as such any investigation should properly be carried out by the Thai police.”
The Commissioner sighed. “I wish that life was as simple as that,” he said. “There are a number of issues that require resolving before the case is passed over to the Thais, not the least the fact that we need to know exactly where the plane was when the murder was committed. If it was in international air space then it will be a case for us to handle in Singapore. We also need to take into account the nationality of the victim, and the perpetrator.”