Inspector Zhang smiled fondly at his wife as she placed his kaya toast in front of him. Kaya could be bought in a bottle in any supermarket but Mrs. Zhang made it herself, slow cooking coconut milk, eggs, sugar vanilla and a hint of pandan leaves, using a recipe that had been handed down from her grandmother. She spread it on a slice of wholemeal toast with a little butter and served it with a soft-boiled egg, just the way he liked it. “You make the best kaya toast in Singapore,” he said.
“You can buy it in McDonald’s these days,” she said.
“You can buy many things in McDonald’s but nothing they sell comes close to your cooking,” said Inspector Zhang.
“Such sweet talk,” she said, blushing prettily and sitting down opposite him. She poured more coffee into his cup.
Inspector Zhang took a bite out of his toast and sighed with contentment. “I would have married you for this toast alone,” he said.
Mrs. Zhang giggled and put her hand over her mouth. She’d done that on the first date, more than thirty years earlier and it was one of the many things he loved about her.
His mobile phone rang and he sighed. It was in the pocket of his suit jacket, hanging on the back of the sofa.
“I’ll get it,” said his wife. “You finish your breakfast.”
She went over to the sofa, retrieved his phone, and took the call. She pulled a face and took the phone over to him. “It is the Senior Assistant Commissioner,” she said. “He wants to speak to you.”
Inspector Zhang swallowed and took the phone from her. “This is Inspector Zhang,” he said.
“Inspector, I am sorry to bother you so early, but I need to see you this morning,” said the Senior Assistant Commissioner. “Can you come to office at the start of your shift today?”
“Of course, Sir,” said Inspector Zhang. “Can you tell me what it is in connection with?”
“It is of a highly confidential nature, Inspector. I shall explain when I see you.”
The line went dead and Inspector Zhang frowned at the phone.
“He sounds different,” said Mrs. Zhang. “Not like the man we used to know.”
“He is Senior Assistant Commissioner now,” said Inspector Zhang. “He is a very important man.”
“He is your friend.”
Mr. Zhang put the phone down next to his plate. “We haven’t been friends for a long time,” he said.
“I don’t think he remembered me,” said Mrs. Zhang.
“It has been a long time since we socialized. More than twenty years.”
“Twenty-five,” she said. “We had a celebratory drink, do you remember, when he was promoted to sergeant.”
“Was that twenty-five years ago?” mused Inspector Zhang. “You know, I think you are right.” He looked at his watch, finished his coffee, and picked up his phone.
Mrs. Zhang helped him on with his jacket, then kissed him on the cheek. “I shall cook you fish head bee hoon tonight,” she said.
“You spoil me,” said Inspector Zhang, but he was already looking forward to his favourite dish.
He drove to police headquarters at New Phoenix Park. The block that housed the police was next to a twin block occupied by the Ministry of Home Affairs. The Senior Assistant Commissioner’s office was on the sixth floor, a corner office with a huge desk and a wall full of framed commendations.
Inspector Zhang had to wait for fifteen minutes on a hard chair until a secretary showed him into the Senior Assistant Commissioner’s office. The Senior Assistant Commissioner seemed much older than the last time that Inspector Zhang had seen him. As he sat down Inspector Zhang tried to remember when he’d last seen the Senior Assistant Commissioner and decided that it had been almost five years when they’d both attended the funeral of a former Deputy Commissioner. The five years had not been kind to the Senior Assistant Commissioner. His hair was thinning and he’d put on weight and there was an unhealthy pallor to his skin.
There was a cup of tea in front of the Senior Assistant Commissioner and he stirred it thoughtfully as he looked at Inspector Zhang. “Was that May-ling I spoke to this morning? Your wife?”
“Yes it was,” said Inspector Zhang.
“How long have you been married now?”
“That is a long time,” said the Senior Assistant Commissioner.
“It feels like only yesterday,” said Inspector Zhang.
“You are a lucky man,” said the Senior Assistant Commissioner. “May-ling was a beautiful woman.” He sipped his tea.
“She still is,” said Inspector Zhang. “The most beautiful woman in Singapore. And the best cook.”
“I am divorced,” said the Senior Assistant Commissioner., putting down his cup.
“I am sorry to hear that,” said Inspector Zhang.
The Senior Assistant Commissioner shrugged. “This job puts a strain on relationships. The hours. The nature of the work.” He sighed. “Anyway, I did not ask you here to complain. I asked you here because I have a problem. A problem of a sensitive nature.”
“You can of course rely on my discretion,” said Inspector Zhang.
The Senior Assistant Commissioner frowned and then nodded slowly, “Yes, I know that, Inspector Zhang. You are one of the most conscientious officers on the force. Not a blemish on your record. Not a single black mark.” He sat back in his executive chair. “And you have the reputation of being a detective who can solve mysteries.”
Inspector Zhang smiled but said nothing. He could see that the Senior Assistant Commissioner was troubled, and he had learned over the years that people said most when they were not interrupted.
“I have a case which could be considered as a mystery. A mystery that…” The Senior Assistant Commissioner shrugged. “Well, frankly Inspector Zhang, it has stumped me.” He sighed and placed his hands face down on his highly-polished desk. “Have you come across Inspector Kwok. Inspector Sally Kwok.”
“I don’t believe so,” said Inspector Zhang.
“She is something of a high-flyer, marked for great things,” said the Senior Assistant Commissioner. “She is currently on attachment with the Drugs Squad. I personally assigned her what should have been a very straight-forward drugs case but somehow it has turned into a…” He shrugged and sighed. “A mystery. That is the only word for it. A mystery.” He stood up and walked around behind his chair and leant his arms on the back. It was, Inspector Zhang realised, a very defensive posture.
“A Customs team discovered a consignment of heroin in a container that had arrived at the port,” said the Senior Assistant Commissioner. “It was a chance thing, a drugs dog was on the way to a job when he walked by a container that had just come off a ship and he indicated that there were drugs inside. The container was opened and a hundred kilos of Burmese heroin was discovered in cardboard boxes. Ten boxes, each of ten kilos. The street value in Singapore would be about thirteen million US dollars. It was a huge haul. We had the heroin but we wanted to catch the men who had imported it. That is when I called in Inspector Kwok.”
Inspector Zhang nodded but said nothing. It was indeed a big haul, and the Senior Assistant Commissioner must have had a reason for giving such a big case to a mere inspector.
“The container had been hired by an import-export company who were acting on behalf of customers who were bringing in goods from Thailand, but who didn’t need a complete forty-foot container,” continued the Senior Assistant Commissioner. “Basically the import-export company paid for the container and then found customers who wanted to bring in goods. It was a mixed consignment. Along with the boxes of drugs there was furniture, soft goods, toys, and foodstuffs. The container was to be taken to the warehouse of the import-export company where it would be opened and the goods delivered to the various customers. The plan was for Inspector Kwok’s team to follow the boxes of drugs to the customer who had paid for them. It should have been a simple enough case but that’s not how it worked out.”
The Senior Assistant Commissioner sighed. “It wasn’t the first time that the customer had taken delivery of boxes in a container from Thailand,” he said. “They were in fact a regular customer. But the customer never actually met anyone from the import-export company. All charges were paid for in Thailand, by a company that apparently does not exist. Or at least does not exist now. The shipping costs were paid in full from Thailand along with instructions of what to do with the consignment. Basically the boxes were to be taken to a delivery address and left there.”
He walked around his chair, sat down, and poured himself a glass of water from a bottle. He didn’t offer any to Inspector Zhang, and slowly sipped some before continuing.
“The delivery address was never the same, but it was always an apartment in a block in the Geylang area. The delivery men would take the boxes to the apartment and would find a key under the mat outside the door. They would unlock the door, place the boxes in the apartment, then relock the door, put the key back under the mat, and leave. They had apparently done that four times over the past year. The consignment we found was the fifth.”
He took another sip of water.
“So, Inspector Kwok liaised with the delivery company and obtained the address from them. She then arranged for our technical department to install CCTV cameras in the hallway of the apartment building and for human surveillance outside the building. Her team then monitored the delivery of the drugs and watched on CCTV as the delivery men went inside the apartment, delivered the boxes, and then left. The men arrived at the apartment, retrieved the key, and took the boxes inside. A few minutes later they left, locked the door, and put the key back under the mat. Inspector Kwok and her team then settled down to wait for the drugs to be collected.” He sighed. “Seven days they waited. Round-the-clock surveillance, three teams of four. I personally signed off on the budget.”
The Senior Assistant Commissioner picked up a pen and tapped it on the desk. “On the seventh day she called me and said that she thought something had gone wrong, that perhaps the criminals had discovered that the apartment was under surveillance. I gave her permission to abort the operation and to enter the apartment.” He put down the pen and interlinked his fingers. “Inspector Kwok did so and discovered that the drugs had vanished. The apartment was empty.” He sighed again. “So you see, Inspector Zhang, we have a mystery. I believe it is what crime writers call a closed room mystery.”
“A locked room mystery, yes,” said Inspector Zhang. “It is a staple of crime fiction.”
“And I gather that you are something of an expert in the field,” said the Senior Assistant Commissioner.
“Hardly an expert, Sir,” said Inspector Zhang, feeling his cheeks redden at the compliment.
“There’s no need for modesty, Inspector,” said the Senior Assistant Commissioner. “Everyone knows of your success in solving the murder of the American businessman found in his locked hotel room. I need you to apply your expertise to this case. I need you to find the missing drugs and apprehend the criminals.”
“I should be most happy to assist,” said Inspector Zhang.
“I have asked Inspector Kwok to meet with you at the apartment,” said the Senior Assistant Commissioner. “Hopefully you will be able to cast some light on the situation.” He handed Inspector Zhang a piece of paper on which was written an address in Geylang.
“I shall certainly do my best,” said Inspector Zhang.
The Senior Assistant Commissioner leaned back in his chair. “Answer me a question,” he said.
“If I can.”
“Why are you still an inspector? Why did you never move through the ranks. You were one of the cleverest at the Academy. Everyone said that you were destined for great things within the force.”
Inspector Zhang shrugged. “I am happy being a detective,” he said. “I am not a good manager. And I am not suited for politics. You need to be good at both to reach the top.”
“You are happy as an inspector?”
The Senior Assistant Commissioner sighed. “It is certainly much harder the higher one climbs,” he said. “There are some days when I wish I was back handling cases and solving crimes.”
“There is a feeling of satisfaction from cracking a case, that is certainly true,” said Inspector Zhang.
“But then I think of the salary, and the pension, and the respect,” said the Senior Assistant Commissioner. “I could never give that up.” He waved at the door. “Anyway, thank you for agreeing to help, and as I said, I will be relying on your discretion.”
Inspector Zhang drove back to New Bridge Road where Sergeant Lee was waiting for him in the CID office. She was wearing a pale blue suit and had her hair clipped up with a large navy blue clip. He explained that they had to postpone their current investigations as the Senior Assistant Commissioner’s assignment took precedence.
He decided to let the sergeant drive as that would give him time to think. Inspector Zhang did not enjoy driving and generally found it stressful, even in rule-conscious Singapore. He settled back in his seat as Sergeant Lee drove out of the car park. “So do you know Inspector Sally Kwok?” he asked as they headed towards Geylang.
“We were at the Academy together,” she said.
Inspector Zhang looked across at her, surprised. “Is she your age?”
“A year younger, I think.”
“She has done very well to make inspector at twenty-three,” said Inspector Zhang. “I myself was not promoted until I was thirty-five.”
“She is what they call a high-flyer, Sir.”
“But twenty-three? You are an able detective, Sergeant Lee, Your record is second to none. But you are still a sergeant.”
“Yes, Sir,” said Sergeant Lee. “I am aware of that.”
“What I mean, Sergeant Lee, is that Miss Kwok must be an exceptional police officer to have been promoted so quickly.”
“One would assume so,” said Sergeant Lee.
“Was her ability discernable at the academy?”
“Not her ability, no,” said Sergeant Lee. “But I think we all knew that she was destined for great things.”
“You intrigue me, Sergeant Lee,” said Inspector Zhang, taking off his spectacles and polishing them.
“I don’t mean to,” she said.
“I sense that there is something you are not telling me.”
Sergeant Lee flashed him a tight smile and she made a left turn. “I’m not one to gossip, Inspector.”
“I am very well aware of that,” said Inspector Zhang. “Your discretion is one of your many excellent qualities. But as I have been told to assist Inspector Kwok, anything you can tell me that might help me would be greatly appreciated. And be kept in total confidence, of course.”
Sergeant Lee pursed her lips for several seconds as if she was having trouble reaching a decision, then she nodded slowly. “Inspector Kwok is very pretty,” she said. “She has something of a hypnotic effect on men.”
Inspector Zhang smiled. “Hypnotic?”
“In the way that a cobra can hypnotise a rabbit before striking,” she said.
Inspector Zhang chuckled as he put his spectacles back on. “And do you think that perhaps the Senior Assistant Commissioner is of the rabbit persuasion?”
“Inspector, I couldn’t possibly say such a thing,” she said, her cheeks reddening.
“Sergeant Lee, I was joking,” said Inspector Zhang. “It’s just that the thought had occurred to me that if she was such a good police officer that she was promoted to inspector at twenty-three, how did she manage to misplace a hundred kilos of Burmese heroin?”
Sergeant Lee pulled up in front of a twelve-storey apartment block. There was a black Lexus already parked there and next to it a young woman in a belted raincoat that looked like something that Philip Marlow might have worn in a Raymond Chandler novel. It was a wonderful coat, thought Inspector Zhang as he climbed out of Sergeant Lee’s car. A real detective’s coat.
“Inspector Zhang?” said the woman.
“Indeed,” said Inspector Zhang. “You are Inspector Kwok?”
She flashed him a wonderful smile. “Thank you so much for coming,” she said, hurrying over to him. “This is a nightmare, an absolute nightmare.”
She was very pretty, and looked younger than twenty-three. Her hair was shoulder length, black and glistening, her cheekbones were as sharp as razors, her skin as flawless as a porcelain figurine. She held out her right hand, the nails perfectly manicured and painted blood red. Inspector Zhang had a sudden impulse to take the hand and kiss the back of it in the style of Hercule Poirot but he resisted the urge and shook it instead. “I am here to be of service,” he said. He turned to introduce his Sergeant. “And this is Sergeant Lee.”
Inspector Kwok nodded curtly at Sergeant Lee and gave her the faintest of smiles, before turning back to Inspector Zhang. “The apartment is on the eighth floor,” he said. “A very auspicious number.”
“Not always,” said Sergeant Lee, her voice little more than a whisper and Inspector Zhang doubted that Inspector Kwok had heard but he nevertheless gave the sergeant a stern look.
Inspector Kwok took them over to the entrance to the building and tapped a four-digit code into the keypad. The lock clicked and she pushed open the door. There was a reception desk but it was unmanned. “There is a security guard at night but not during the day,” said Inspector Kwok. There were two elevators and one was already on the ground floor, its door open. They rode up together to the eighth floor.
“Actually, Inspector Kwok, we were at the Academy together,” said Sergeant Lee.
“Really?” said Inspector Kwok, her face a blank mask. “There were a great many entrants that year, I seem to remember. So, Inspector Zhang, you solved the case of the body in the five star hotel, didn’t you?”
“I did,” said Inspector Zhang.
“I must say that I do not like mysteries,” said Inspector Kwok. “I like there to be clear physical evidence that proves how a crime was committed and who committed it.”
“Often one has to be able to read the evidence,” said Inspector Zhang. “It is a question of spotting the clues and understanding their significance. That is what I enjoy about a mystery. “
“And you did not use any forensic evidence, is that correct?”
“Sometimes forensic evidence is not necessary,” said Inspector Zhang. “Sometimes we detectives rely too much on technology and not enough on ze little grey cells.”
Inspector Kwok frowned and was just about to ask him what he meant when the lift stopped and the doors opened. She stepped out and Inspector Zhang and Sergeant Lee followed her. As the lift doors closed behind them, Inspector Kwok pointed up at a smoke detector in the ceiling. “This is our surveillance camera,” she said. “It feeds a signal down to an empty apartment on the second floor. It was on twenty-four hours a day and we digitally recorded everything.” She pointed at a door just six feet away from the camera. “And this is the apartment. Number eight-four-two.”
The number was on a small plastic sign at eye height. Below it was a small security viewer so that anyone inside could see who was at the door before opening it. There was a single lock below a round steel doorknob.
On the floor was a rubber matt with the word WELCOME on it in large black capital letters.
“And the key was under the mat, I am told,” said Inspector Zhang.
“Exactly,” said Inspector Kwok. She took a brass key from her pocket and showed it to him.
“Please place it in the position it was on the day that the drugs were delivered,” said Inspector Zhang.
Inspector Kwok knelt down, lifted a corner of the mat and placed the key on the floor. Then she let the mat fall back into place and straightened up. “Just like that,” she said.
“Now, show me exactly what happened,” said Inspector Zhang.
Sergeant Lee took out her notebook and began taking notes.
“The two men from the delivery company came up in the lift with the boxes,” said Inspector Kwok. “I was down on the second floor with the Drugs Squad team. They arrived on this floor and one of the men moved the mat to get the key, and unlocked the door.”
“And how were they carrying the boxes. There were ten cardboard boxes, were there not?”
Inspector Zhang nodded. “Ten boxes, each containing ten kilos. Each kilo was wrapped in plastic. So there were ten packages in each box, and ten boxes. The men had five boxes each, stacked on a trolley. One of the two-wheeled trolleys that porters use.”
“And they drove the boxes here from where?”
“From the company’s bonded warehouse, inside the container port.”
“And of course you examined the drugs in the warehouse?”
“So the men brought the drugs up to the eighth floor. What happened then?”
“They unlocked the door and took the trolley’s inside. They put the drugs in the middle of the room and then left.”
“Did you see them do that?”
“What do you mean?” she asked.
Inspector Zhang pointed at the smoke detector. “The camera allows for coverage of the hallway, but if the door is closed you would not be able to see inside the apartment. Did they close the door when they went inside or leave it open.”
“They closed it,” she said.
“And there is no surveillance camera inside the apartment?”
“No, Inspector Zhang. There is not.”
“That is a pity,” said Inspector Zhang. “So what happened next?”
“The two men were inside for two minutes. They reappeared with their trolleys and went back downstairs. We then waited for the drugs to be collected. But no one came.”
“You waited for a week, I gather?”
“Yes. A week. And then I spoke to the Senior Assistant Commissioner who said that we should go in and check and when we went in, the drugs had gone.”
Inspector Zhang waved at the door. “If you would be so good as to open the door,” he said. “Exactly as you did then.”
Inspector Kwok nodded, bent down and retrieved the key and inserted it into the lock. “The lock and the key are new,” she said. “It is a security lock and has to be turned twice to lock and unlock.” She turned the key twice and opened the door, then pointed to a metal strip that ran around the doorframe. “You can see that the door has been reinforced, too.”
Inspector Zhang studied the metal reinforcing and nodded. “They wanted to make sure that the apartment was secure,” he said. “Not surprising when you think about the value of a hundred kilos of heroin.”
Inspector Kwok stood to the side to allow Inspector Zhang in first. He stepped over the threshold. It was a small apartment, a square room about fifteen feet by twelve feet, with a sliding window that led out onto a small balcony that overlooked another apartment block. There were two doors to his left, and one to the right. There was an old Toshiba television set on a black sideboard, a plastic sofa and a wooden coffee table with circular stains dotted over it and cigarette burn marks around the edge.
Between the two doors to his left was a teak veneer storage unit with Chinese figurines on one shelf and Chinese books on another. There were two glass doors in the unit, behind one was a collection of earthenware teapots and behind the other was a half-empty bottle of Chivas Regal whisky.
One of the doors led to a small kitchen with an old rattling refrigerator and a grease-encrusted stove. Inspector Zhang opened the refrigerator. It was empty. A cockroach scuttled from underneath the stove, got half way across the toiled floor, then turned around and went back the way it had come.
The other door led to a small shower room with a washbasin and toilet. There was no toilet paper, Inspector Zhang noticed, and no soap or shampoo.
The door on the other side of the sitting room led to a bedroom with a double bed with a white-painted headboard, a matching side table and a large wooden wardrobe. Inspector Zhang opened the wardrobe, but there were only half a dozen wire coat hangers inside.
“The apartment was just like this when you entered?” he asked.
“Exactly,” said Inspector Kwok.
Inspector Zhang knelt down carefully and peered under the bed. Another cockroach scuttled away and disappeared under the skirting board.
“We looked everywhere,” said Inspector Kwok.
“I’m sure you did,” said Inspector Zhang.
“But as you can see, it is a small apartment and there are no hiding places.”
Inspector Zhang tapped the floor with his foot.. The bedroom floor was tiled, as was the sitting room, bathroom and kitchen. It was the same pale green tiles in all the rooms.
“How long were the men in the apartment?” he asked.
“Two minutes. Three at most. They left the boxes and then they took the trolleys back to the van.”
Inspector Zhang nodded thoughtfully. He looked up at the ceiling. It was plaster, painted white.
He went over to the bedroom window and opened it. He peered out. Down below was a car park. There were no ledges or balconies, and no external pipework that would have allowed someone to have climbed out.
“We had a car down there with two undercover police officers,” said Inspector Kwok. “They had the rear of the building under constant surveillance.”
Inspector Zhang craned his neck to look upwards.
“If anyone had lowered the drugs up or down through the window, we would have seen it,” Inspector Kwok said.
“One would hope so,” said Inspector Zhang.
He pulled his head back in and looked over at Sergeant Lee., who was standing at the bedroom door, taking notes. “What do you think, Sergeant?”
Sergeant Lee looked up from her notebook. “It is a mystery, Inspector Zhang,” she said.
“Indeed it is. Do you have any thoughts on how we might solve it?”
She frowned thoughtfully. “The drugs were brought into the apartment and they are clearly not here now,” she said. “They must therefore have been removed. The question is how were they removed? If they were not lowered out through the bedroom window, then perhaps through the sitting room. There is a balcony there.”
Inspector Zhang went through to the sitting room and opened the sliding glass door that led to a small balcony where there was an air-conditioning unit and three large ceramic plant pots which were filled with soil and the remains of long-dead flowers.
“We had the front of the building under observation, obviously,” said Inspector Kwok. “During the time we had the building under surveillance no one appeared on the balcony.”
Inspector Zhang examined the plant pots. They were each over two feet high with paintings of feeding cranes and bamboo on the side. They were of poor quality and the glaze was cracking.
Inspector Zhang tipped one of the plant pots on its side, then up-ended it and with a grunt lifted it up. Soil spilled out over the balcony.
He did the same with the other two plant pots. They both contained nothing but soil. Inspector Zhang stared down at the dirt thoughtfully. “So, the drugs are not on the balcony and they did not leave by the windows.” he said quietly. “There are therefore only two possibilities. Either they are still in the apartment but so well hidden that we cannot see them, or they were removed by some other route.”
“But how is that possible?” asked Inspector Kwok. “We have searched everywhere.”
Inspector Zhang walked through to the kitchen. There was a broom leaning behind the door and he picked it up. He turned it upside down and methodically tapped the handle against each of the tiles on the floor. They all made a dull thudding sound as he hit them. He did the same in the shower room, and then repeated the process in the sitting room and the bedroom. Every tile sounded the same.
“Inspector Zhang, we checked the floor,” said Inspector Kwok. “And the ceiling. Both are completely solid.”
“I’m sure you did,” said Inspector Zhang. “But there is no harm in my checking for myself.”
He walked around the apartment, tapping the ceiling at regular intervals. He checked the kitchen, the shower room, the sitting room and the bedroom. There was no difference in sound anywhere, no indication that there were any trapdoors or hidden compartments. The ceiling was as solid as the floor.
Inspector Zhang gave the broom to Sergeant Lee and she returned it to the kitchen.
“Did you speak to the occupants of the apartments on either side of this one?” Inspector Zhang asked Inspector Kwok.
“Of course. There is an old couple to the left. He is a retired schoolteacher and his wife is bed-ridden. Their bedroom is next to the kitchen and bathroom of this apartment. To the right is a young Indian girl with two young children. Her husband is a construction worker in Dubai. She only leaves the house to go shopping or to occasionally take the children to the park. We checked her side of the party wall and there is no way anyone could have gotten through.”
Inspector Zhang stood in the middle of the sitting room, looking around. “So, we are sure that the drugs did not pass through the walls, or through the floor or the ceiling, or go out of the windows.”
“That is correct, Inspector Zhang.”
“And you saw the ten boxes being brought in? Each box would be how big, exactly?”
Inspector Kwok used her hands to demonstrate the size of the box. About fifty centimetres wide, twenty-five centimetres long, a foot wide, and twenty-five centimetres tall.
Inspector Zhang rubbed his chin. “And you have checked the sofa and the television?”
“Of course.” She moved the sofa so that he could see a long cut that had been made in the material at the back. “We took the television apart and the refrigerator. And the shower cubicle. And the bed. There is nowhere in the apartment where a hundred kilos of heroin could be hidden.”
Sergeant Lee came out of the kitchen. “What about the drains, Inspector Zhang?” she asked.
“The drains?” said Inspector Zhang, frowning.
“What if they unpacked the drugs and somehow dropped them down the drain? In the shower room or the kitchen.”
“Throw them away, you mean?”
“No, Inspector, I meant they could have wrapped the drugs in something waterproof and then sent it down the pipes to an accomplice down below. The accomplice could have intercepted the drugs before they reached the sewage system.”
Inspector Zhang. Nodded approvingly. “Why, Sergeant, I had no idea that you were so resourceful. What an intriguing idea.”
“Do you think it’s possible?”
“Sadly, no,” said Inspector Zhang. “The heroin was packed in one kilo packages, and they would not fit down the pipes in either the kitchen or the bathroom. Someone would have had to have repackaged all the heroin which would have taken hours and we know that there was no one else in the apartment.” He looked across at Inspector Kwok. “Is that not the case?” he asked.
“There was no one inside, we are sure of that,” said Inspector Kwok.
“But can you be sure?” asked Sergeant Lee. “Your men did not enter the apartment with the delivery men. There could have been someone hiding in the bedroom. They could have waited until the delivery men left and then repackaged the drugs and flushed them down the waste pipes to be collected by an accomplice downstairs.”
Inspector Kwok’s lips tightened in annoyance. “We had the apartment under constant surveillance and no one left the premises. There was no one there when we entered. Therefore we are certain that the apartment was empty all the time we had it under surveillance.”
“What about the recording of the CCTV footage?” asked Inspector Zhang. “Where is that?”
“We have taken it to New Phoenix Park,” said Inspector Kwok. “We wanted our technicians to check that there was nothing wrong.”
“What did you think might be wrong?”
Inspector Kwok shrugged. “The Senior Assistant Commissioner thought that perhaps the camera had been interfered with. That perhaps someone had blocked the camera somehow while they removed the drugs.”
“And what did the technicians find?”
“That the CCTV footage was fine. The simple fact is that no one entered or left the apartment while we had it under surveillance.”
“Then let us go and examine it ourselves,” said Inspector Zhang.
They left the apartment and Inspector Kwok locked the door and pocketed the key. They rode down in the lift together and walked through reception. “Before we go to New Phoenix Park, I’d like to see where your surveillance teams were,” said Inspector Zhang.
Inspector Kwok took them around to the back of the apartment block to the car park and showed them where the surveillance team had been parked. Inspector Zhang looked up at the building. They had a clear view of the bedroom windows. There was no way that the drugs could have been moved through the windows without being seen from the car.
They then walked to the front of the building. Inspector Kwok pointed at the apartment block across the road. “We were able to use an apartment over there,” she said. “I had two men in a bedroom on the fourth floor with a clear view of the balcony.”
“Can we go inside?” asked Inspector Zhang.
“It is just an apartment,” said Inspector Kwok. “It is owned by a prison officer who was happy to assist the police.”
“I would just like to see what the view is like. If it’s no trouble.”
Inspector Kwok nodded and took them across the road. There was an intercom by the entrance and she pressed the button for the apartment on the fourth floor and after a couple of minutes she went back to Inspector Kwok and Sergeant Lee. “The husband is at work but his wife is home and she’s happy for us to go up,” she said.
“Excellent,” said Inspector Zhang.
They went up to the fourth floor and the prison officer’s wife already had the door open for them. She was Indian in a bright blue sari and she offered them tea which Inspector Zhang politely declined. “We only want a quick look through your window, madam, then we shall be on our way,” he said.
Inspector Kwok pointed at a door. “We used that bedroom,” she said. “We had two men in there at all times, working in eight-hour shifts,” she said. The prison officer’s wife opened the door and smiled for them to go through. It was a small room with a single bed and a small built-in wardrobe and dressing table. There were no personal effects so Inspector Zhang assumed it was a spare bedroom.
There was a single window overlooking the apartment block opposite. Because the apartment they were in was on the fourth floor and the apartment where the drugs had been kept was on the sixth floor, it was impossible to see inside. In fact all that could be seen was the balcony. “One cannot see inside the apartment from here,” said Inspector Zhang.
“No, but they had a clear view of the balcony. And no one went onto the balcony throughout the surveillance.”
Inspector Zhang went up to the window and stood so close to it that his breath fogged on the glass.
“I do not wish to cast aspersions on your team, but you are sure that they were never away from their post?”
“They are professionals, Inspector Zhang. And they kept logs every fifteen minutes.”
Inspector Zhang nodded thoughtfully. “Very well,” he said. He turned around to face her. “Now it is time for me to look at the surveillance footage,” he said.
Inspector Kwok drove her Lexus to the New Phoenix Park headquarters. Inspector Zhang and Sergeant Lee followed her. “That is a very nice car,” said Inspector Zhang.
“Very expensive,” said Sergeant Lee.
“I did not see a wedding ring on her finger.”
“No, she isn’t married,” said Sergeant Lee. “Are you wondering how an inspector can afford a Lexus?”
“Like you said, it is an expensive car,” said Inspector Zhang. “Is she from a wealthy family?”
“No, her father is a waiter, I think. And her mother works in a department store.”
Inspector Zhang folded his arms. “And is there gossip, Sergeant Lee?”
“There is always gossip,” said the sergeant. “This is Singapore. Shopping and gossiping are our main occupations.”
“And what is the gossip concerning Inspector Kwok?”
“I really couldn’t say, Inspector,” she said. “She is a colleague and I am pleased for her.”
“Pleased for her?”
“Pleased at her rapid advancement. It is good to see a woman progressing through the ranks so quickly.”
Inspector Zhang looked across at her but couldn’t tell if she was being sarcastic or not. He folded his arms and they drove the rest of the way in silence.
They walked into the building together and Inspector Kwok took them up to a meeting room on the second floor where there were several desktop computers and a large flat screen monitor on one wall. There was a technician waiting for them, a young woman in a pale green trouser suit, and she stood up as they walked in.
The technician arranged three chairs so that they could sit facing the monitor and then she sat down at one of the computers.
“What is it you would like to see, exactly?” asked Inspector Kwok. “We have seven days of surveillance video and in most of it nothing is happening.”
“When the drugs arrive, and then later when you and your team went inside,” said Inspector Kwok.
The technician nodded and tapped away on her computer keyboard. An image filled the monitor. The corridor outside the apartment. The apartment number was clearly visible on the door.
“You can’t see the lift but you will see the men come into view,” said Inspector Kwok. As she finished the sentence two men appeared on the screen, pushing trolleys. There were five boxes on each trolley. The older of the two was a Chinese man in his late fifties, grey haired and with a tired face. He was wearing blue overalls with the name of the company on his chest, as was his companion, a chubby Indian man in his early twenties.
The Chinese man stood his trolley by the door and bent down to take the key from under the mat. Inspector Zhang read the time code on the bottom of the screen. It was just after ten-thirty in the morning. Sergeant Lee was scribbling in her notebook and as he looked across at her she nodded at him, letting him know that she was making a note of the time. The man unlocked the door and pushed in his trolley, followed by the Indian. Then the door closed.
“They went inside and left the boxes in the sitting room, next to the sofa,” said Inspector Kwok.
The door remained closed for just under three minutes, then the two men reappeared with empty trolleys. The Chinese man relocked the door and put the key back under the mat, then the two men pushed their trolleys towards the lift.
“The door then remained locked for seven days,” said Inspector Kwok. “No one went in or out before me, seven days later.”
“And the room was under constant surveillance?”
“I was there eighteen hours a day and there were always at least two detectives in the observation room,” said Inspector Kwok. “And once we discovered that the apartment was empty I myself watched every second of the video, albeit speeded up, of course.”
Inspector Zhang rubbed his chin thoughtfully. “And the two men who delivered the drugs. Who are they?”
“The owner of the company, Mr. Yin. It was Mr. Yin who opened the door. And one of his workers. A Mr. Chandra.”
“And was there anyone else from the company involved?”
“There was a driver, but he stayed outside with the van.”
“Very well. Can we now jump ahead to when you and your team entered the apartment.”
The technician tapped on her keyboard again and the picture jumped. According to the time code they had advanced almost seven days. Inspector Kwok walked to the door, followed by two male detectives and two uniformed officers. She bent down, picked up the key and slotted it into the lock. She seemed to have trouble with the lock and she stepped aside to let one of the uniformed officers try. “I didn’t realise it was a security lock,” she said. “It had to be turned twice.”
The uniformed officer also had trouble with the lock, but eventually he opened the door and stepped aside to allow Inspector Kwok to go in. “And that was it,” said Inspector Kwok. “The drugs had gone. The apartment was empty. And during the seven days that we had the apartment under observation no one went in or came out.”
“And you have no idea where the drugs are, or how they were removed from the apartment.”
“It is a mystery,” said Inspector Kwok.
“But a mystery that we shall solve, Inspector Kwok.”
“Are you sure?” she asked.
“Inspector Zhang is an expert at solving mysteries,” said Sergeant Lee, looking up from her notebook. “It is what he does best.”
“Thank you, Sergeant Lee,” he said.
“So what shall we do?” asked Inspector Kwok. “How do we begin this investigation? Where do we start?”
“First I would like to talk to the owner of the company that delivered the boxes. Mr. Yin, you said his name is.”
“Yes, Mr. Yin. His company is based at the container port.”
“Then we should go and see him there,” said Inspector Zhang. “Perhaps we should all go in the same car. It might make things easier.”
“Absolutely,” said Inspector Kwok.
They walked out of the building together into the fierce Singaporean sun.
“We should use the Lexus, it is more spacious than my sergeant’s vehicle,” said Inspector Zhang.
“Exactly what I was going to suggest,” said Inspector Kwok, taking out her keys. Inspector Zhang climbed into the front passenger seat and Sergeant Lee got into the back.
Inspector Kwok was an assured driver and it didn’t take her long to get them to the container port. They showed their warrant cards to two security guards and headed for the bonded warehouse.
There were containers piled high wherever they looked in a multitude of colours, though all were one of two sizes — twenty feet long or forty feet. Even in metric Singapore, containers were still measured in feet.
In the distance there was a line of massive container ships with huge cranes swinging containers back and forth above them. There was a near-constant stream of loaded trucks heading towards the exit.
“Did you know that half of the world’s annual supply of crude oil goes through Singapore?” said Inspector Zhang. “And a fifth of the world’s shipping containers. More than a billion tonnes of goods go through here every year.”
“Singapore is one of the wonders of the world,” agreed Inspector Kwok. “We have achieved so much and yet we are a mere city state of just over five million people.”
“I do sometimes wonder how many of these containers have drugs inside,” mused Inspector Zhang. “There are so many of them that there isn’t time to check even a small percentage.”
“We were lucky with the Burmese heroin,” said Inspector Kwok.
“Up to a point,” said Sergeant Lee from the back of the car. Inspector Zhang turned to look at her and she smiled politely.
They pulled up in front of the warehouse. A man in a rumpled dark blue suit came out and greeted Inspector Kwok as she climbed out of the Lexus. It was the Chinese man from the video. Mr. Yin. Inspector Kwok introduced him to Inspector Zhang and Sergeant Lee and he solemnly shook hands with them both before taking them inside. The warehouse was filled with boxes and crates and two fork-lift trucks were ferrying more crates from a truck parked in a goods bay. One of the fork-lift drivers was the Indian from the surveillance video.
There was a small office in the corner and Mr. Yin took them inside. A secretary with badly-permed hair was putting files into a cabinet and Mr. Yin asked her to prepare tea for his guests.
Mr. Yin sat down behind his desk and the three detectives sat on high-backed wooden chairs facing him. “We want to thank you again for all your co-operation, Mr. Yin,” said Inspector Zhang.
“I am always happy to help the Singapore Police Force,” he said. “I am vehemently anti-drugs. I have two children myself and we must make sure that our youngsters are protected.”
“Indeed,” said Inspector Zhang.
“Do you have children, Inspector?” asked Mr. Yin.
“I do not,” said Inspector Zhang. “But I am as concerned as you about the perils of drugs. As is our government. Which is why we execute drugs smugglers in Singapore.”
“Which is as it should be,” said Mr. Yin. He interlinked his fingers. “So how can I help you today?”
“We have a problem at the apartment where the drugs were left,” said Inspector Zhang. “We seem to have mislaid them.”
Mr. Yin’s forehead creased into a frown. “Mislaid?” he said.
“They have vanished,” said Inspector Zhang. “Into thin air it appears.”
“But that’s impossible.”
“I quite agree,” said Inspector Zhang.
The secretary appeared with a tray of tea things. She poured them each a small cup of jasmine tea and then went back to her files. Inspector Zhang inhaled the perfumed fragrance and then sipped his tea.
“Now I gather that you had made similar deliveries before,” said Inspector Zhang.
“Not me personally,” said Mr. Yin. “But our company has.”
“Why did you handle the delivery yourself on this occasion?”
“We thought it would be safer to have as few people involved as possible,” said Inspector Kwok. “Mr. Yin owns the company so he offered to help rather than send one of his delivery staff.”
“So Inspector Kwok had explained to you that there was heroin in the boxes?”
Mr. Yin nodded. “So you can imagine how horrified I was,” he said. “To have my company used in that manner, by drug smugglers. How dare they? I run a reputable business, Inspector Zhang, we pay our taxes, we obey the rules and regulations and believe me in this business there are more rules than you can shake a stick at.”
“I am sure there are,” said Inspector Zhang. “Now please tell me, this was the first time that you had delivered boxes to this particular apartment?”
“It was a different apartment for each delivery,” said Mr. Yin. “But always in Geylang.”
“And what did you think they contained?”
“It was always industrial coatings. In powder form.”
“And is it normal to deliver industrial coatings to an apartment?”
“A lot of small businesses are run from home,” said Mr. Yin. “And this was a relatively small delivery.”
“And always the same arrangement for the deliveries? The key under the mat?”
Mr. Yin nodded. “We were emailed instructions each time. We were given an address and told to leave the boxes inside.”
“Isn’t that unusual?” asked Inspector Zhang.
“As I said, delivering small consignments to apartments is not unusual,” said Mr. Yin.
“But leaving keys under mats. Is that not unusual?”
“I suppose so,” said Mr. Yin. “Though we often leave deliveries with neighbours.”
“You have to understand, Inspector Zhang. We handle dozens of deliveries every day, from single boxes to full containers. This was a relatively small job for us, the paperwork was all in order and they were a regular customer who also paid promptly. We had no reason to suspect that something untoward was going on.”
“I understand that,” said Inspector Zhang.
“Obviously if we had known…” Mr. Yin shrugged and left the sentence unfinished.
“I am sure,” said Inspector Zhang. He looked at his wristwatch. “I wonder if I might ask you for just a little more co-operation, Mr. Yin.”
“Of course. Anything.”
“Would you mind coming back to the apartment so that we can run through what happened?”
“I don’t understand.” Mr. Yin looked over at Inspector Zhang. “I thought you just needed my help to deliver the boxes.”
“It will not take very long,” said Inspector Zhang. “We can drive you there. We have a Lexus.”
“If it’s absolutely necessary, I suppose I could spare the time,” said Mr. Yin, reluctantly. “But I am very busy. This is our busy time of the year.”
“We will not take too much of your time, Mr. Yin,” said Inspector Zhang. He stood up and waved at the door. “The sooner we leave, the sooner we’ll be finished.”
They went outside and this time Inspector Zhang got into the back of the car with Sergeant Lee while Mr. Yin climbed into the front with Inspector Kwok. They drove back to Geylang in silence. Inspector Kwok parked the car and they walked together into the apartment block.
“This is the way you came on that day?” asked Inspector Zhang.
Mr. Yin nodded. “Yes. We had trolleys. One trolley each.”
“And on each trolley there were five boxes?”
Inspector Kwok opened the door and they went through to reception and up to the eighth floor.
“So you and your assistant arrived here and pushed the trolleys to the apartment?”
Mr. Yin nodded. “I went through all this with Inspector Kwok.”
They walked to the door of the apartment. “Do you have the key, Inspector?” asked Inspector Zhang. Inspector Kwok produced the brass key and Inspector Zhang nodded at the mat. “If you would be so good as to put it where it was that day.”
Inspector Kwok put the key under the mat and then stood up.
“Now, proceed exactly as you did on that day, Mr. Yin.”
“But I don’t have the trolley so it cannot be the same.”
“Please do as best you can,” said Inspector Zhang. He stood back and folded his arms.
Mr. Yin sighed, then bent down and retrieved the key. He inserted it into the lock and turned it twice antic-clockwise to open the door. He took out the key, pushed open the door and walked into the apartment.
The three detectives followed him.
“And then you closed the door?”
“Yes. I did.”
“So please do that now.”
Mr. Yin closed the door.
“And where did you leave the boxes?”
Mr. Yin pointed at the side of the sofa. “There,” he said.
“And then you left the apartment?”
“Yes,” said Mr. Yin. “Is that all you need from me?”
“Just bear with me a little while longer, Mr. Yin,” said Inspector Zhang. He walked around the sitting room, deep in thought.
“Inspector Zhang, I really think we have imposed on Mr. Yin’s public spiritedness quite enough,” said Inspector Kwok. “He has a business to run.”
“Soon,” said Inspector Zhang. “We are almost there.”
He walked into the bedroom and Sergeant Lee followed him. “Inspector Zhang, what are you looking for? We know that the drugs are not in the apartment.”
Inspector Zhang smiled. “I am not looking for the heroin, Sergeant Lee. I am looking for the boxes, and that is quite a different matter.”
“Yes, the boxes. They are key to this.” He smiled. “If you will forgive the pun.”
“Pun? What pun?” Sergeant Lee frowned in confusion.
Inspector Zhang sighed as he looked around the bedroom. “The bed was examined, of course. That only leaves the wardrobe.”
“The wardrobe is empty, Inspector Zhang,” said Sergeant Lee. She opened the doors to show him. “Coat hangers and dust, nothing else.”
“Mr. Yin, come in here please,” called Inspector Zhang.
Mr. Yin walked into the bedroom. He looked annoyed. “I really must protest,” he said. “I have a business to run.”
“Would you be so kind as to help me move the wardrobe,” said Inspector Zhang.
“You want me to do what?”
“The wardrobe. Just help me move it.”
“Because I suspect there is something beneath it.” He smiled. “I can hardly ask the ladies, can I?”
He took hold of the left side of the wardrobe and waited until a reluctant Mr. Yin took hold of the right hand side. They both lifted and moved the wardrobe forward a couple of feet. Sergeant Lee gasped when she saw what had been hidden by the wardrobe. Flattened cardboard boxes. She bent down and picked them up. There were ten of them. “The boxes,” she said.
“Yes,” said Inspector Zhang. “The boxes.”
“But how can that be?” asked Inspector Kwok.
Inspector Zhang let go of the wardrobe and looked over at Mr. Yin. “Why don’t you explain, Mr. Yin?”
“I don’t know what you mean.”
“Yes you do, Mr. Yin. The drugs were never in the boxes. Not by the time you brought them up to the apartment. They might well have been in the boxes at the warehouse but at some point between there and here you and your assistant took the drugs out and it was empty boxes that you brought into the apartment.”
“Nonsense,” said Mr. Yin.
“There is no other explanation,” said Inspector Zhang. “You and he were the only people to enter the apartment. It can only have been you.”
“You cannot prove anything,” said Mr. Yin.
“I think I can,” said Inspector Zhang. He pointed at the collapsed boxes. “When you and your assistant entered the apartment neither of you were wearing gloves. Therefore if you did indeed conceal the boxes under the wardrobe, your fingerprints and DNA will be on the cardboard.”
Mr. Yin glared at Inspector Zhang for several seconds, then his shoulders slumped. “I have been a fool,” he said.
“I agree,” said Inspector Zhang. “When you were approached by Inspector Kwok you realised that she was providing you with a golden opportunity to cover your crime. You were the one bringing the drugs into the country, but of course she didn’t know that. You put the boxes in the van but on the way to the apartment you removed the heroin and resealed the boxes. The boxes on the trolleys were empty. And once inside the apartment out of sight of the surveillance camera you simply flattened the boxes and hid them under the wardrobe.” He turned to Inspector Kwok. “You may arrest Mr. Yin now,” he said. “The mystery is solved.”
Inspector Kwok had been staring at Mr. Yin with her mouth wide open and she jumped when Inspector Zhang spoke. She took out her handcuffs, fastened then to Mr. Yin’s wrists, and took him out.
Sergeant Lee was scribbling in her notebook.
“What are you writing, Sergeant Lee?” asked Inspector Zhang.
“Everything,” she said. She looked up from the notebook. “You knew he was guilty before you even brought him here, didn’t you? Before you even found the boxes.”
Inspector Zhang smiled. “Yes, that’s true. I did.”
“How?” asked Sergeant Lee.
Inspector Zhang tapped the side of his head. “By using ze little grey cells,” he said, in his best Hercule Poirot impersonation.
“Something he said at the warehouse?”
“Before then,” said Inspector Zhang. “When I watched the surveillance video footage at New Phoenix Park, I knew he was our man.”
“But all we saw was him delivering the boxes and leaving,” said Sergeant Lee. “Nothing else happened.”
“He unlocked the door,” said Inspector Zhang.
Sergeant Lee’s frown deepened.
“It was his first time at the apartment,” said Inspector Zhang. “But he knew that the key had to be turned twice to open the door. He unlocked the door without any hesitation, but how could he have known that it was a security lock and required two turns of the key?”
“He couldn’t,” said Sergeant Lee. “Unless he had already been to the apartment.”
“Exactly,” said Inspector Zhang. “You saw the problems that Inspector Kwok had when she tried to unlock the door the first time. But Mr. Yin had no such problems. Because he had already been to the apartment.”
“You solved the case, so why didn’t you arrest Mr. Yin? Why did you let Inspector Kwok arrest him?”
“It is her case,” said Inspector Zhang. “I was only brought in to assist.”
“You have saved her career,” said Sergeant Lee. “She will take the credit.”
“I solved the mystery, that is all that matters to me,” said Inspector Zhang.
“You are a wonderful detective, Inspector Zhang.”
Inspector Zhang smiled but said nothing.
Later that night, Inspector Zhang’s wife served him fish head bee hoon, a creamy vermicelli noodle soup with chunks of fried fish head, one of his favourite dishes. They were sitting at the dining table and the television was on, with the sound down low. Mrs. Zhang poured red wine into her husband’s glass and he smiled his thanks. On the television, a beaming Senior Assistant Commissioner was standing next to Inspector Kwok who was being interviewed by a reporter from Channel News Asia. Behind them were the ten cardboard boxes that had been opened to reveal the drugs inside. Mr. Yin had obviously given the drugs to the police, probably hoping to escape the death penalty.
“Isn’t that the case you were working on?” she asked.
“Yes,” said Inspector Zhang, watching as Inspector Kwok flashed the reporter a beaming smile. “Yes it is.”
“So why aren’t they interviewing you?”
Inspector Zhang took a sip of his wine. “I suppose I’m not handsome enough for television,” he said.
“You’re much more handsome than the Senior Assistant Commissioner,” said Mrs. Zhang.
“They eye of the beholder,” said Inspector Zhang.
Mrs. Zhang watched as the reporter continued to interview Inspector Kwok. “She’s very pretty,” she said.
“Yes, she is.”
“Is she a good detective?”
Inspector Zhang looked a little pained. “She will do very well in the Singapore Police Force,” he said. “She is destined for great things.”
“But she is not a good detective?”
“My own Sergeant Lee is better,” said Inspector Zhang.
“But not as pretty.”
Inspector Zhang raised his wine glass to her. “No, my dear. Not as pretty. And neither of them hold a candle to you.”
“Is there something going on between the Senior Assistant Commissioner and the pretty inspector?” asked Mrs. Zhang quietly.
“Why do you ask?”
“Just they way they stand together, the way that he keeps looking at her and once I saw him rub his wedding ring as if it was troubling him.”
Inspector Zhang chuckled softly. “My dear, you would make a great detective,” he said, reaching for his chopsticks and spoon.