Central, Hong Kong Island
Ensconced in a high back chair at a Pacific Coffee in Central, Harvey took another look at the sudoku puzzle he had been working on. He had hoped the puzzle would take away some of his stress, he was still feeling gutted with what had happened at Alex’s shop. He knew that the fire had been deliberately set and the ring had been stolen, most likely by the man with the scarface.
He loved sudoku puzzles and always tried to complete them purely, finding the absolute numbers that only worked for certain squares and then determining the other open squares through elimination. He had learned early on that sudokus could be solved without any guess work. Each and every puzzle could be solved as long as one was patient enough to keep at it. Often he would write in the corners of empty squares possible numbers that could fit it. However, he hadn’t had to resort to that yet for this puzzle and he really wanted to finish it purely. He looked for patterns in the puzzle and was concentrating on the various sevens in it.
“Excuse me, is this seat taken? It’s quite crowded in here today.”
Harvey looked up into the smiling face of a middle aged Chinese gentleman wearing a charcoal grey suit. The man was indicating the seat across from him. Harvey smiled back and gestured for him to have a seat. “Please, go ahead”
Harvey took a look around. Indeed it had gotten quite crowded. He had decided to come here to relax after the incident in Stanley and had become absorbed with solving the sudoku. A young woman with particularly fine legs and wearing knee high black leather boots with lace stockings and a mini skirt caught his attention. He had better try Emma again he thought. He hit call log and pressed her name. The call bounced to voice mail. He didn’t bother leaving another message.
Back to the sudoku, he said silently to himself.
Harvey liked the way his mind could focus sharply when he was caught up in the puzzle. He had always liked working with numbers and was the top of his class in maths but he knew this wasn’t what initially drew him to sudokus. He liked the escapism, to get focused only on the puzzle and forget about everything else. And this was something he needed to do ever since the tragic death of his parents.
The Chinese businessman put down the newspaper he was reading and finished his coffee, then he stood up and looked at Harvey.
“Enjoy your puzzle. Thanks for the seat.”
“Cheers!” Harvey replied with a warm smile.
Harvey could hear a slight English accent in the man’s voice. The guy probably had spent some time in London either to study or help out with a family business over there. Hong Kong could be such a mixed bag wavering between friendliness to a mercenary, everyone for themselves, mentality. The rush hour experience on the MTR could bring out the worst in his fellow citizens. People would jockey for position in the queue, rush to get a seat and not hesitate to step in front of you or worse on your feet to be the first on the train.
He felt his phone vibrate in his pocket. He took it out and looked at call display.
“Hey Emma, you’re not gonna believe what happened to me today at the Red Lantern.”
Before he could continue she cut in.
“Tell me all about it when we meet up. I’m with Briggs on the Mid-Level escalator. Meet us on the podium of IFC. We know a great spot to watch the fireworks tonight. It’s going to be awesome. See you!”
“Okay, I’ll catch you up there,” Harvey replied before ending the call.
Returning to his sudoku, he quickly entered some numbers and was about to finish the puzzle with only eight boxes empty when he realised there was a problem. He had stuffed it up. He was going to end up with two numbers the same in one of the columns. “Great!” he muttered to himself. He left his paper on the table and got up to leave. Before he reached the door his seat was already taken.
Harvey headed down Stanley Street passing the shop where he bought a digital camera last year and walked up the stairs to reach the Mid-level escalator. He had read once that it was the longest escalator in the world and he believed it. It did a great job of moving people and was heavily used by both locals and tourists. Higher up on the hill it was a true escalator with moving stairs but down here it was like the moving walkways you see in airports. He couldn’t use it though as it only operated one way, it was late in the day and moving in the opposite direction he wanted, up the hill towards SOHO, so he took the cement walkway beside it.
Harvey was a fast walker and adept at weaving his way through the constant onslaught of people. He reached the open podium level of IFC, a huge complex which contained one of the tallest buildings in Hong Kong, within 15 minutes of leaving Pacific Coffee. It still amazed him that within such a large city the prime spot of the open podium level of IFC was nearly empty.
Had the word not gotten out that there was a roof top park with panoramic views of the harbour? he wondered. He hoped this secret oasis in urban Hong Kong would stay that way.
The tall teenager scanned the area for his friends and saw them sitting over in an area available to both the public and patrons of a rooftop bar. Briggs had a big smile on his face and was holding something in his hands. Emma was looking stylish as usual with her designer bag and cream coloured cashmere coat.
Briggs held up a bottle of champagne. Briggs was from Vancouver but had moved with his family to Hong Kong where his dad worked as a pilot.
“Hey dude, we’re going to watch the fireworks in style,” said Briggs.
“With your baby face I’m surprised they served you,” Harvey teased his good friend.
They were all over 18 years old and Briggs’ boyish looks made him popular with the ladies but Harvey liked to joke with him.
“Actually, I picked it up. Now tell us, what happened in Stanley?” Emma asked.
Briggs popped the cork off the champagne and poured them all a glass as Harvey told them about the ring and the man with the scarface.
“So you think the stranger was Japanese?” Emma asked. She wrinkled her brow as she looked at Harvey creating a crease between her eyebrows that he recognised when she was concentrating on something.
Harvey nodded his head. “He definitely wasn’t local or from the mainland.”
“Tell me again what he said about the ring?”
“I can’t remember the word but it sounded Japanese, something about the ring surface looking like the grain of wood.”
The line between Emma’s eyebrows deepened.
“I think scarface in the blue suit set that fire deliberately so he could steal the ring after you refused to sell it to him. But why was the ring so special? Why would a ‘collector’ take such drastic and dangerous steps to get the ring? This is a real mystery, Harvey.”
“There’s something else. Inside the ring the name Okanabe was inscribed,” Harvey told them.
“Well, that certainly sounds Japanese,” Emma replied. She lifted up her glass and offered up a big smile to them both. “I wish you both a prosperous and healthy year of the dragon.”
“Let’s not forget romance, eh!” chimed in Briggs.
“Cheers!” the three friends said together as they clinked their glasses and smiled at each other.
The three friends walked over to the side of the podium near Red Bar, which offered a clear view of the harbour to watch the fireworks. There was a chill in the air but the rain from earlier in the day had stopped and now there was a clear view over to the Kowloon peninsula and they could see the four black barges on the water that would send up the fireworks.
The crowd became silent as the fireworks started. The opening crescendo was of red stars that formed into the shape of figure eights. The awesome display was greeted by sighs of appreciation from the crowd. The fireworks soared up in brilliant colours and shapes. Some were of Chinese characters.
Harvey imagined a particularly relentless barrage that made him think of a star going supernova. As he watched in awe he felt grateful to have Briggs and Emma in his life. They were more like family than friends. Emma and he had started form one at St. Stephens in the same class. Emma proved popular at school for her warm personality and good looks, but it was her sharp intellect that Harvey was drawn to initially. They became study partners and their friendship had blossomed into the best he had ever known. Briggs had arrived when they were in form two and was in the same school house as Harvey, St. Andrews. Briggs was actually his last name. His first name was Todd but everyone called him Briggs. They were both good at sports and were selected to represent St. Andrew’s House in the inter-house football matches. Their love of sport had developed into a strong friendship. After all his misfortune, Harvey felt lucky to have them in his life.
When the fireworks ended, the three of them left IFC and took the Mid-Level escalator to Wyndham Street. They walked past the old Central police station which for years had been slated for redevelopment into a centre for art galleries, restaurants and public space but still sat undeveloped and empty. Hong Kong is famous for paving over its history, Harvey thought. The old police station had character and Harvey didn’t want to see it suffer a similar fate as many of its peers. To be pulled down or only used for high end shops and uber expensive flats.
Emma absolutely had to go dancing and persuaded Harvey and Briggs to go to Dragon-i, a famous club for the wealthy and hip. They walked up to the entrance which already had a queue of people waiting even though the night was young.
Emma spoke to the doorman.
“Hey Anson, how’s the club?”
“Hey Emma, good to see you again. With all the people out for Chinese New Year and the fireworks, it’s starting to get busy.”
The doorman made a sweeping gesture with his hand indicating that she could pass.
“Anson, can you do a favour for me and let these two in? They’re with me.”
The doorman took a look at Briggs and Harvey and gave a quick nod. As they walked in, Harvey was impressed with the place. It was separated into two sections, one for dining and the other had a bar but both were relaxed and flowed into each other. Ambient lighting was provided by large red lanterns that hung from the ceiling at different heights and with tea light candles on the tables. Harvey recognised the chilled out music of the Thievery Corporation which matched the mood perfectly. And the food looked great, a fusion of Asian delicacies presented on black stone earthenware plates.
“This place is super cool. I really like it,” Harvey said to Emma.
“I knew you would,” Emma replied with a flash of her smile. “What do you guys want to drink?”
Harvey wasn’t used to ordering drinks at a bar. He remembered what his dad used to have when they were out.
“I’ll have a gin and tonic.”
“Excellent choice, I’ll get the same. Briggs?”
“Sounds good,” said Briggs giving a thumbs up.
Emma went off to get their drinks. Briggs noticed an attractive girl looking over at him. She was wearing a short white tank top that revealed her pierced navel and wore several large black necklaces. She flashed him a quick smile before walking over to the bar.
“Looks like you’ve made a friend. How old do you think she is?” Harvey asked giving his friend a playful elbow to his side.
“I’m guessing twenty, still in university and just visiting for the holidays,” replied Briggs with a sly smile on his face.
Emma walked up and handed out the drinks. “You boys have a mischievous look, what did I miss?”
“Not much, Briggs may have found a dance partner.”
Emma looked at Briggs and raised her eyebrows as she said, “That doesn’t surprise me. Cheers boys!”
Harvey enjoyed the drink. It wasn’t too strong and he liked the fresh taste of the lemon and tonic. The lights suddenly dimmed and the DJ started playing some up tempo dance beats. Ibiza had landed in Hong Kong. People left their seats and started dancing. There wasn’t a real dance floor so people danced all over. People were waving their hands in the air. Emma started to move her body to the music.
“Come on boys, don’t let me dance alone here,” she said motioning for them to get up.
They didn’t need much encouragement to get up. One of the staff was handing out glow light sticks, the kind that you snap in the middle and then glow neon. It wasn’t long before most of the crowd was up dancing. The girl in the white tank top appeared again.
“I’ll see you guys later,” Briggs said and then walked over to her.
Emma and Harvey looked at each other, smiled and at the same time both said, “The Briggs factor.” Their friend easily attracted girls and they had coined the phrase to describe his popularity.
Harvey was enjoying the evening out and had started to forget about the incident with the ring. Something caught his attention out of the corner of his eye. He wasn’t sure what it was that made him turn and look over to one of the curved booth tables along the wall. He noticed two men deep in conversation. One of the men looked to be a local Chinese in his thirties, the other man had his back to Harvey. He was a big man who thickly filled out his suit. It was the suit, that was what caught his attention, it was blue silk.
Harvey whispered in Emma’s ear, “I think scarface from Alex’s shop is at a table over there. I’m going to casually walk over there and listen to what they are saying.”
Emma looked over.
“Which guy?” she asked.
“Blue suit, he has his back to us.”
“I see him.” Emma replied. “Harvey I’ll go. He may recognise you.”
Harvey nodded his head in agreement.
Emma walked towards the table the men were sitting at. As she got closer she saw an opportunity, the couple sitting at the table beside the men suddenly got up and walked over to dance with the crowd. Emma sat at the vacated table positioning herself with her back towards the men. She could hear them perfectly and was surprised to hear them speaking in English.
“Tell me again Sato, why are you here in Hong Kong? Certainly not just to see me?” asked the Chinese guy.
“I had some other business to attend to,” replied the man in the blue suit. The man Emma now knew was called Sato.
“It must be very important to bring you all the way from Japan. When do you return?”
“Tonight, in fact, I should get going. Here are the details of the shipment I told you about that arrives to port next week.”
The man in the blue suit, Sato, stood up and shook the man’s hand. Emma turned to look at them and noticed a red scar on Sato’s left cheek. As she watched the man walk out of the restaurant her mind raced with a burning question.
Who is this guy Sato and what’s his ‘important business’ here in Hong Kong?