“Stand up, please, defendant!”
Ben stood up with his client. Both looked at the magistrate. “The Defendant is convicted of the charge of burglary.” “Fuck”, muttered Ben under his breath.
“I beg your pardon, Mr. McCann?”
“Er... I said bad luck, Your Worship.”
“Nothing to do with luck, Mr. McCann. Your client is a thieving scoundrel. Sentencing adjourned to 20th November, Defendant remanded in custody for 2 weeks pending usual reports.”
“Your Worship, I’m afraid I will be out of Hong Kong on 20th November.”
“Well, that is bad luck, Mr.McCann. The court does not run to your timetable. We’re adjourned.”
The bailiff took Ben’s distressed client away to the cells. Ben turned to Jimmy, his clerk.
“I’m sorry, Jimmy. You know what Smith’s like, there’s little more I could do.”
“Don’t worry, sir. A fine job, as usual. I better go and see client.” Jimmy left the court to go to the cells downstairs, no doubt to collect the money from the punter, if he hadn’t already done so. Ben was left alone in Court Number 1, fuming. This was the sixth trial he’d lost in a row for Jimmy, and although he didn’t think it was his fault, he wondered if he’d lost his touch. Jimmy and the rest of his clerks would be giving cases to others firms soon, if things went on like this. Why give cases to Ben if he lost every one?
Ben wearily left the court, and lit up, even though he had sworn to give up and it was a no-smoking area. He stared at Hong Kong’s now not so fragrant harbour through one of the many dirty windows at Eastern Magistracy. He thought about his small firm, which was giving him sleepless nights. Why bother, he often thought to himself? He had left a prestigious firm in Hong Kong to set up his own law practice with his mate Dylan Roberts five years ago, and despite working himself to the bone, things seemed no brighter. Ben’s wife, Debbie, who left him a couple of years ago to return to England, had complained from the very start about the lack of money and nights spent away from home. Ben sighed. He didn’t want to blame everything on his partner Dylan, but things were now getting beyond a joke. Dylan was presently in Manila trying to obtain investment for his client’s proposed battery factory in the Philippines. “No problem, Ben. It’s virtually certain. And we get 10% of the company!” he had said.
Familiar words. Ben had heard it all before. Dylan was his soul buddy and best mate. Tall and good looking, and when he wanted to be, a brilliant lawyer, Dylan’s plans were however becoming increasingly manic.
Mind you, at least Dylan had ambition. The two other solicitors Ben and Dylan employed were happy if they had the price of a pint in their pocket. And, as the firm relied upon them to a large extent for it’s income, things weren’t exactly booming.
Luigi De Agostini, despite his name, was a 42 year old lawyer from London, who drank more than George Best in his prime. A personal injuries specialist, on his day an excellent lawyer, he was becoming more and more unreliable. Forever on at Ben for payment of commission due to him, Ben had to constantly remind him that unless he put the bills in, his back-pay due would never be paid. Luigi would then mutter, “Oh, what the hell”, and meander down to the nearest Wanchai bar for another night on the Carlsberg.
Then there was Tyler Scott. Ben had a soft spot for Tyler, who was best man at his wedding all those years ago, when they had both just qualified as solicitors in England, and their futures looked rosy. At the wedding, Tyler went on to deliver the most incompetent best man’s speech ever heard in Christendom. Amazingly, after that, Tyler decided his legal career lay as an advocate. Tyler had accepted Ben’s call to come to Hong Kong to help out for a short while on an influx of Vietnamese legal aid cases that the firm had fortunately obtained. Tyler was supposed to be employed for 6 months. Now, Ben calculated, he had been there 3 years. He was a good mate and a good lawyer. The problem was that the firm simply couldn’t afford him, unless there was an upswing in business soon.
“I’ve got the money, Mr. McCann,” said Jimmy, interrupting Ben’s thoughts. “It’s nearly three o’clock, do you fancy a massage down North Point?”
It was a standing joke between Ben and Jimmy. Despite having lived in Hong Kong for over ten years, Ben had never succumbed to the fleshy delights that Hong Kong had to offer, unlike his partner and most of his friends. It was not that he was puritanical, far from it, but for most of the ten years he had lived with Debbie, and had not felt the need for it. Anyway, he had to see a new client at their Wanchai office at 5:00p.m. He was heavily tempted to give the client a miss, but as they would struggle to pay the staff salaries this month, he supposed he should try and get a few dollars off whatever old crone or tramp should turn up.
“Sorry, Jimmy”, he laughed, “some other time perhaps. Have a good time, I’ll see you later.”
“Ok, boss, see you.” Jimmy left, and drove away in his brand new Jaguar. For the millionth time, Ben wondered why all the staff in the office were richer than him and Dylan. They all seemed to own flats, wore Rolexes and dated beautiful women. He walked slowly to the MTR underground station at Sai Wan Ho, past the numerous newspaper vendors and food stalls selling the morning dim sum. He paid his HK$11 and stood in a crowded carriage for the few stops to his office in Wanchai. For most of the way he was obliged to nestle his crotch into the behind of a rather attractive young Chinese girl. Ben had represented numerous men charged with indecent assaults on the MTR, all of whom had pleaded not guilty. He could see how easily it could happen. Finally the train reached Wanchai, and Ben made his laborious way up the escalators and onto Lockhart Road. He walked slowly past the familiar girlie bars, closed at this time of day, Popeye, Club Lady, Club 88, San Francisco, their walls covered with promises of excitement within, whilst making the short walk to his office.
The solicitors’ firm of Roberts McCann was located in a relatively smart office building close to the Wanchai MTR station, on the 16th floor in Gloucester Road, opposite the Law Courts. They had spent HK$200,000 on it’s decoration, a colossal figure for the firm. It was a functional office, built for criminal clients and your average civil punter. The firm had moved there a year ago from Kowloon due to the cheap rents on Hong Kong Island. To Ben’s frustration, however, the rents had gone down even further over the last year, and they were stuck with the tenancy for at least another eighteen months. Rather breathless, Ben finally reached the building, and took the elevator to the eighth floor. He tapped in the security code on the front door and entered the office.
“Hi, Patty”, said Ben to his Chinese secretary. “Is my new client here?”
“They’re here. One Chinese, one gweilo.” As with most Chinese people in Hong Kong, Patty referred to Westerners as ‘gweilos’, meaning ‘foreign devils’, and saw nothing wrong with it. It had been accepted into common usage, in fact, and westerners now used it themselves. “They’re in the conference room. Have you been naughty boy again?”
“No I haven’t, Patty, I’ve been to court, trying to pay your wages.”
“You lost again, ah?”
“Yes, thank you, I lost again.” Patty seemed to take great pleasure in every one of Ben’s losses. Why, he knew not. She also considered him a foreign pervert, which, all things considered, was probably unfair. We are all tarred with the same brush, he thought. She was salt of the earth though. Ben asked her for his messages.
“Ah, yes. Mr. Lee from the Bank of East Asia called about your overdraft, Miss Chan from Hong Kong Bank regarding your visa card, and American Express said they would cancel your account unless the overdue amount was paid by Friday. Oh, and Mr. Roberts called from Manila to tell you that the battery factory had fallen through, or something like that. He said he’d be back in Hong Kong early tomorrow morning”.
Ben sighed. He should have gone for that massage. He opened the conference room door and saw two males seated there, one Chinese, one gweilo, as Patty had said. They stood up.
“Ah, hello, gentlemen” said Ben. “I’m Benjamin McCann, good to meet you”. He handed over his card to the strange looking men. The gweilo was the spitting image of Robert de Niro. The Chinese guy was heavy set and looked tense, resembling an extra from a Jackie Chan movie. De Niro spoke first.
“Good afternoon, Mr. McCann. My name is Jacob Rosenthal, and this is my friend Ah Wai. We’re here to make you rich.”