Authors: Stephen Leather
Inspector Zhang and the Disappearing Drugs
By Stephen Leather
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,
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
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.