‘You don’t know any of the others? They’re…’
When half of the cigarette was gone she snapped her fingers. ‘Got it. Mai!’
‘Mai? Mai who?’
‘I don’t know; but Bill brought him home from the pub one night. I didn’t like him, but he and Bill seemed to hit it off. I don’t know what time Bill came to bed, but it was late and he was very drunk.’
‘That’s the only time you saw him?’
‘Yes. But I know that Bill saw him again at least once-for a drink, of course.’
‘When was this?’
‘’bout a month ago, bit less maybe.’
‘Well, that makes him look like the contact, but, God, it’s not much to go on. Mai-that all?’
‘Okay-big question, what pub?’
She stubbed out the cigarette and looked seriously at me. Her creamy skin was unlined except for a small frown mark between her eyes which was visible through a gap in the fringe. That mark deepened now.
‘I can’t remember the name, but I can take you there.’
I shook my head. ‘Come on, Erica, this is my line of work. You know the name of the place.’
The frown line deepened further. ‘I clean forget,’ she said.
I laughed. ‘Lucky you’re not a client; who’d employ a detective that easily caught?’
I shook my head. ‘Conflict of interest. You’ve got me, Erica. You can come along but you’ll have to stay in the car.’
‘If Mai sees you and he’s been up to some tricks with Mountain he could get nasty or he could run.’ I sat down behind the desk again. Like all the best-looking women, she was impressively stylish in the simple clothes: ‘You sort of stand out in a crowd.’
‘I’ll wear shades and a hat, five inch heels. I’m going too. I’m afraid I hold the whip, Mr Hardy. I’m inviting you along, not asking permission to go.’
I groaned. ‘How old are you?’
‘How’d you get to be so tough?’
She smiled. ‘A four foot eleven Chinese girl with four big brothers is tough or she’s a door mat. I’m just like everyone else-I like getting my own way. But I’m used to pushing for it.’
‘Okay, I’m pushed. Get ready to be bored.’
‘How d’you mean?’
‘You expect to roll up to the pub about nine tonight and spot him drinking scotch on his own in the saloon bar, don’t you? Then we take him aside for a little chat and he tells us all he knows about Bill. That it?’
She didn’t say anything but I guessed I’d described her fantasy about right.
‘It won’t be like that, I can tell you. He won’t be there tonight and probably not for several nights, if he shows up at all. He won’t want to talk to us and even if he does he won’t know much. He’ll lie to us. That’s the way these things work.’
She pursed her lips and looked determined. ‘I was bored for years and years before I met Bill, and I haven’t been bored since. I can take a bit of boredom now to get him back. Where will I meet you?’
‘How about nine o’clock at the pub?’
She grinned. ‘No way-I’m taking you, remember?’
‘I feel sorry for your brothers.’
She snorted, picked up her bag and went to the door. She leaned on the handle and looked back enquiringly. I was reluctant to see her go.
‘What about having some Chinese food together before we go?’
‘Is that supposed to be a joke?’
‘All right. How about eight at Li’s in Randwick.’
‘Is that near the pub?’
‘Give up, Hardy. See you at Li’s.’
She went out and I heard her heels clicking all the way down the quiet, no-business-as-usual corridor.
Li’s was too dark to be memorable. I felt my way through the bamboo curtains and the gloom to where Erica sat in a pool of candlelight and cigarette smoke. She’d already ordered; we ate the things that came and we talked- mostly about Mountain, although a little about her. She did every thing decisively: smoked, ate and drank her tea that way, and I began to feel that she was a good ally in the search for Mountain. The only trouble was that she could be a formidable enemy when and if we found him.
One of the nice touches at Li’s was that they turned on a small, concealed table light when they presented the bill. Erica insisted on paying half, and we went out into the Randwick night more or less evens, with her information giving her a slight edge.
The pub was in Kensington and had been adopted by the university students, which meant that the management had gone for maximum drinking space and minimum comfort. It had a large, outdoor terrace crammed with chairs, benches and tables in various stages of decay. The two main bars seemed to have been designed to promote deafness; the noise of the juke boxes, TV sets and pinball machines blended in with the raucous blast of Friday night student revelry. Erica had put on shades and high heels as she’d promised, and she looked exotic and mysterious as she peered through the glasses into the loudest bar.
I shook my head. ‘Be like drinking in a room with a taxiing 707. Let’s go out on the terrace.’
I got a white wine for myself and a gin and tonic for Erica, and we sat on the terrace which was filling up with kids who either didn’t like noise or were taking a break from it. There were just enough over-twenty-fives around for us not to look conspicuous.
‘Maybe it’s not a good night,’ I said. ‘End of week fun night.’
‘It was a Friday that Bill met him. He liked to get into all this on Friday; said it made him feel young.’
‘Christ, I can’t even remember what young felt like. He’s not going to be here, love. You know that.’
‘What’s this, Hardy’s first law of surveillance?’
‘Something like that.’ I drank a big gulp of wine and waited for it to make me feel young.
‘I’m going to take a look around.’
She knocked off her gin and tonic and wandered down through the sprawling bodies, all wearing jeans, all talking and laughing, all young. Blasts of music came from the bar and I held myself tense for a while until I realised what was wrong and relaxed: this wasn’t the sort of pub I was used to and I’d been waiting for the sound of breaking glass.
‘He’s here!’ Her voice was a hiss with tobacco and gin.
‘Are you sure?’
‘See for yourself, he’s in the… what d’they call it? The Scotch Thistle Room or something.’
She meant the slightly lower decibel bar, which had apparently aspired to a Caledonian decor before the student take-over. It had a tartan carpet much eroded by beer and cigarette ash, and framed, glass-covered pictures of Highland scenes, which were mostly obliterated by graffiti scrawled over the glass.
Erica pointed with her chin at the bar and sat down on a spare chair near the door, while I went over for a professional look. Trade was brisk along the length of the bar with the patrons two deep in some places. ‘Mai’ or ‘Majors’, call him Mai, got served with two drinks and took them across to a table near the middle of the room where another man and a woman were sitting. He wasn’t wearing his sunglasses tonight and his hair looked a few shades lighter than in the photo, but the reptilian eyes were unmistakable.
The woman at Mai’s table was about his age, mid-thirties. She was getting fat and trying to hide the fact in clothes too young for her. She didn’t worry me; I thought I could handle her.
The man was another story. He kept his eye on Mai as he delivered the drinks, and he didn’t seem too interested in his. The arms draped back over his chair would have been too well-developed to hold comfortably close to his torso.
I used the bar toilet and came back to Erica’s chair, which she’d turned slightly away from Mai’s field of vision.
‘No drink?’ she said.
‘No. We’ve got a problem.’
‘No problem. That’s him. We just bowl up and lay it on him.’
‘We don’t. Did you notice the guy with him?’
She shook her head.
‘Not a trained observer, see. He’s what we’ve learned from the television to call a minder.’