THE KING OF MACAU (The Jack Shepherd International Crime Novels), страница 1
WHAT THE PRESS SAYS ABOUT JAKE NEEDHAM
“Tight and atmospheric, Needham’s Jack Shepherd novels are thrillers of the highest caliber, a perfect combination of suspense and wit that will satisfy even the highest of standards. Jake Needham is a man who knows Asia like the back of his hand.” – The Malaysia Star (Kuala Lumpur)
“In his raw power to bring the street-level flavor of contemporary Asian cities to life, Jake Needham is Michael Connelly with steamed rice.” – The Bangkok Post
“Jake Needham is Asia’s most stylish and atmospheric writer of crime fiction.” – The Singapore Straits Times
“Needham certainly knows where a few bodies are buried.” – Asia Inc.
“Jake Needham has a knack for bringing intricate plots to life. His stories blur the line between fact and fiction and have a ‘ripped from the headlines’ feel…Buckle up and enjoy the ride.” – CNNgo
“What you will not get is pseudo-intellectual new-wave Asian literature, sappy relationship writing, or Bangkok bargirl sensationalism. This is top class fiction that happens to be set in an Asian context. As you turn the pages and follow Jack Shepherd in his quest for the truth, you can smell the roadside food stalls and hear the long tail boats roar up and down the Chao Praya River.” – Singapore Airline SilverKris Magazine
“For Mr. Needham, fiction is not just a good story, but an insight into a country’s soul.” – The New Paper (Singapore)
JACK SHEPHERD IS THE kind of lawyer some people call a troubleshooter. At least that’s what they call him when they’re being polite.
Shepherd is the guy people go to when they have a problem too ugly to tell anyone else about. He locates the trouble for them, and then he shoots it. Neat, huh? If his life were only that simple…
One of the world’s largest casino operators hires Shepherd to stop a massive money laundering operation targeting its casino in Macau, a tiny place on the South China Coast that is the biggest gambling center on earth. While Shepherd is looking for the source of the black money moving through the MGM Macau, a frightened man who claims to have detailed knowledge of the most secret schemes of the North Korean government approaches him. All Shepherd’s new pal wants in return for spilling all those secrets is political asylum in the United States and a house in Hawaii.
Plunged into a modern-day Casablanca on the South China Sea — a bubbling caldron of gangsters, gunrunners, money launderers, hustlers, gamblers, con men, and spies — Shepherd joins forces with the beautiful and enigmatic daughter of a man everybody calls the King of Macau to shut down the black money flow and bring his defector in alive.
Move too fast, and he’ll lose control of everything. Move too slow…and Macau just might kill him.
THE KING OF MACAU
A Jack Shepherd Crime Novel
Ebook edition published by
Half Penny Ltd.
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Karl Marx wrote that history repeats itself
the first time as tragedy,
the second time as farce.
And the third time, he might have added, as North Korea.
– Fareed Zakaria, The Washington Post
Don’t matter how you do it,
just do it like you know it.
– Jerry Jeff Walker
ONCE UPON A TIME—
No, I can’t begin that way. You’re going to think this is a fairy tale. And this story is anything but a fairy tale, although I admit there are things here that might at a glance make it sound a bit like one.
It does, after all, take place in an exotic land you may not believe is real. Take it from me, Macau is real. It is a centuries old city-state occupying a tiny spit of land on the South China coast. Its name is sometimes spelled as Macao, and there’s your first clue about the place right there. When people can’t even agree on how to spell its name, you ought to know right up front that you’re pretty much fucked if you think you’re ever going to figure it out.
All of Macau taken together doesn’t add up to more than a dozen square miles, but it is still the biggest gambling town on earth. It already has thirty-three casinos including the massive Venetian Macao, the largest casino in the world, and new casinos are constantly under construction. Macau is closing in on $50 billion a year in gambling revenues, several times the gambling revenues of all of Nevada combined. The place is Las Vegas on steroids, and that’s no fairy tale.
But there’s something else, too.
AT THE HEART OF this story is a man many people call a king, although Macau was never actually a kingdom, and Ho Hung Sun was never a real king.
After four hundred years as a Portuguese colony, the Portuguese sailed away in 1999 and Macau became a Special Administrative Region of China. At the time, Ho owned all the gambling casinos in Macau. Every single one of them. A bit of every dollar thrown on Macau’s tables and fed into its slot machines ended up in the pockets of Ho and his family, and all that money made Ho Hung Sun, who always introduced himself to westerners as Stanley Ho, nothing less than the king of Macau.
The power Stanley Ho’s gambling monopoly gave him over Macau was simply more power than the Chinese government was willing to allow anyone to wield in their new Special Administrative Region, but even the Chinese moved cautiously around Ho. It wasn’t until 2002 that they finally came to an accommodation with him and began granting new gambling licenses to big international players like the Las Vegas Sands, the Wynn Resorts, and MGM Mirage.
Although Stanley Ho still operates about half of Macau’s casinos, his power is not what it once was. Like King Lear, the king of Macau is old and knows his kingdom is slipping away.
But that is not the end of this story. It is really only the beginning.
Because here’s the thing…
Stanley Ho has a beautiful daughter, and her name is Pansy.
IT DOES SEEM RICH material with which to contrive a modern-day fairy tale, doesn’t it? An exotic land, a once powerful king now grown old, and the king’s beautiful daughter.
Of course, there is still something missing. We need a handsome prince to ride in on a white horse and save the king’s beautiful daughter.
That, more or less, is where I come in.
NOW I’M NOT BAD looking, although calling me handsome might be stretching a point or two, but I haven’t got a horse, not one of any color, and sadly I’m no prince. I’m only a lawyer. At least that is what I say when someone asks me what I am. The whole truth is rather more complicated than that.
I don’t research points of law or figure out tax codes or go to court. I solve problems. The sort of problems most lawyers don’t want to know about.
When people are being polite, they call me a troubleshooter. I’ve never been sure what that actually means, but I have to admit I rather like the sound of it. I find the trouble and I shoot it. Neat, huh? If things were only that simple.
This is what I really do: I fix the shit nobody else wants to touch. I work by myself, I keep a low profile, and I don’t get personally involved. I’m like a surgeon. I show up, cut the son of a bitch, patch him up as well as I can, and I’m out of there.
I am being glib, of course, something I have been accused of more than a few times in my life, generally by a woman. The things I actually do to earn a living aren’t nearly that str
I GOT AM EMAIL from a man named Gerald Brady. He said he wanted to see me about a matter of considerable importance. I had no idea who Gerald Brady was, and I learned nothing from doing a quick Google search other than that Gerald Brady was a far more common name than I imagined.
Mr. Brady asked me to meet him the very next day at the MGM Hotel in Macau, and he demonstrated his bona fides by having a bank check for ten thousand dollars delivered to my office in Hong Kong within an hour of my reading his email. That was pretty persuasive. So that afternoon I made the one-hour jetfoil trip across the Pearl River delta to Macau and checked into the MGM, where a very nice suite was waiting for me exactly as Brady said it would be.
I had no idea what he wanted to talk to me about, of course, but I doubted very much it would involve writing a memo on some point of corporate law. People don’t call me when they want a memo. People call me when they have a problem they have to fix, a problem that scares them so badly they can’t talk to anyone else about it. People call me when there isn’t anyone else they can call.
My name is Jack Shepherd.
You should keep that in mind. There might come a time when there isn’t anyone else you can call either.
THE FIRST SHOT WENT wide and the second shot went high, and I have absolutely no idea where the third shot went.
By the time I heard it, I was flat on my belly behind a black Rolls Royce that someone had fortunately left parked in the driveway right where I was standing. The concrete smelled of rain and the car smelled of wax, and the silence that followed the three shots was so complete I could have counted the tiny ticks from the car’s engine cooling in the night air.
I could have, but I didn’t. I was too busy trying to figure out what was happening. And more important, whether it had anything to do with me.
I had been in Macau for only a few hours. Surely I hadn’t pissed anybody off that quickly, at least not enough for them to want to shoot me.
Then again, I’d been wrong about things like that before.
WHEN THE SHOOTING STARTED, I was just standing there looking at the early February fog filling Macau’s narrow streets. The thin, wispy light made the whole place feel even more romantic and mysterious to me than it usually did. The upper half of the Grand Lisboa Hotel, a golden-hued monstrosity of a building that was supposed to resemble a gigantic lotus blossom, was gone, lost in the grey-white shroud lying on the city. Wrought iron balconies, cobblestone alleyways, flickering streetlights, and the indecipherable Chinese characters of the road signs were all rendered in feathery soft focus by the gauzy billows of fog. It was like walking into a black and white movie. I felt like Robert Mitchum waiting on a misty street corner for Jane Russell to appear.
I had spent the last hour or so killing the evening by strolling around the casino at the Wynn Macau. The brightly lit rooms, the crowds of Chinese gamblers, the haze of smoke over the tables, and the brittle anticipation breathed in and out by a thousand gamblers in near perfect synchrony had held me for a while, mesmerized by the great world of vice and dissipation. But I’m not a gambler myself, at least not when it comes to casinos, and I felt no personal tug from the tables, so after a while II lost interest and walked out through the Wynn’s east entrance with the vague idea of having a nightcap at the Lisboa Hotel’s famous Whiskey Bar.
Then I heard the sound of the shots ricocheting off the concrete and I wasn’t Robert Mitchum anymore. I was just a middle-aged guy trying to dig a hole in a driveway.
THE SHOOTER, WHOEVER HE was, started firing again and I gave up the thought of risking a glimpse over the hood of the Rolls before it was completely formed. I could tell from the sound of the reports that the shots were coming from a handgun, probably a nine. At least the little creep wasn’t wielding an AK-47 on full auto like some LA gangbanger.
I heard five more shots. None of the bullets hit the Rolls, and I counted the pings as they ricocheted off the driveway. Either the gunman was the world’s worst shot or he couldn’t bring himself to put holes in a Rolls Royce. That’s what I’d bet on. In Macau, wealth and its display were about the only things most people thought worth defending.
When I heard the rumble of a big bike revving hard and moving south toward the harbor, I figured that had to be the shooter beating it out of there and I resurrected the idea of taking a glance out from behind the Rolls. I pushed myself to my knees and did a quick head fake over the hood. Since that didn’t draw any fire and I didn’t see a shooter, I lifted my head and took a long look around.
Nobody was down and there wasn’t any sign of damage. All I could see was a lot of people running around like idiots. Macau was getting back to normal already.
SUDDENLY I REALIZED I wasn’t alone there behind that Rolls Royce.
A middle-aged man dressed in a dark grey suit and a white shirt without a tie was sitting on the ground and leaning back against the car’s rear door. He looked Chinese, with a square face and a head so large he made me think of a bobble-head doll. The man was serenely smoking a cigarette and he looked as if he had merely chosen the driveway behind the Rolls as a convenient place to relax and grab a smoke following a hard night at the tables, rather than as a shelter from flying bullets.
The man saw me looking at him and smiled politely. “It’s a real nuisance, isn’t it?” he said.
“You needn’t worry,” he continued while I was still thinking about his choice of words. “They probably just wanted to scare somebody.”
“They sure as hell scared me.”
“They almost never hit anyone. I doubt they even mean to.”
“Are you saying this sort of thing happens all the time?”
The man looked me over more closely. “I took you for a local,” he said. “Where do you live?”
He nodded his head very slowly as if that fully explained my ignorance about life in Macau, but he didn’t say anything else.
“Are you telling me attacks like this are common here?” I asked him again.
“It happens,” the man shrugged, looking uncomfortable now.
“I thought the gang violence ended when the Portuguese left and the Chinese took over.”
“All that ended when the Chinese took over was anyone talking about the violence.”
The man pushed himself up and brushed at his trousers with his open hands.
“You said they probably wanted to scare somebody. Who are you talking about? Who is ‘they’?”
The man dropped his cigarette and ground it out under the toe of one impeccably polished wingtip, but he stayed stubbornly silent.
“You mean the triads, don’t you?” I pressed. “You’re telling me those were triad shooters we were ducking.”
“I velly solly,” the man murmured. “I no speakee English.”
He shoved his hands in his pockets, trotted quickly up the steps, and disappeared into the lobby of the Wynn.
I WAS STILL ON my knees behind the Rolls Royce, and I felt pretty silly about that, so I got up and looked around. There were some people here and there who might be described as appearing anxious, but appearing anxious was pretty much the usual state of most people in a gambling town like Macau, and no one really looked like they had just survived a barrage of gunfire.
Near the end of the driveway two Chinese men in dark suits were punctuating their conversation with animated gestures. The loud, harsh cadence of their Mandarin made them seem as if they were about to start swinging at each other. I doubted they were. Mandarin is an angry-sounding language at the best of times. I remembered somebody once telling me that Mandarin isn’t a spoken language at all. It’s a screamed language.
Back in the other direction, a black and cream colored taxi was unloading two women and a man who could have been almost any nationality. The man was badly dressed in long black shorts, flip-flops, and a wrinkled t-shirt, but the two women were costumed as if they
I looked out toward Avenida 24 de Junho where the shooter’s bike roared away not two minutes before, and I watched as a young woman in a short yellow dress and red heels puttered past on a sea-blue motor scooter that looked like a Vespa. I doubted it actually was a Vespa, but rather almost certainly a Chinese copy. The woman was slim and small-boned with tightly cropped hair and a dazzling smile, and I wondered briefly if she was a fake, too, a sort of Chinese knock-off of Audrey Hepburn.
Then I stopped wondering about the people around me and started wondering about something far more important.
I started wondering what I was getting myself into there in Macau.
I DIDN’T SLEEP WELL that night, probably because being shot at makes you pretty jittery. Or maybe that’s just me…
After tossing and turning for a few hours, I woke around dawn to murky grey light creeping past the heavy wine-red drapes in the bedroom. For a minute or two there I couldn’t even remember where I was, but then I did, and I sat up, found the phone, and called room service for toast and scrambled eggs. And coffee. Lots and lots of coffee.
I showered, shaved, and dressed in khakis and a white shirt while I was waiting for breakfast. I pulled out a lightweight blue blazer, but I didn’t even think about putting on a tie. I stuck with the uniform I had settled on some time ago for first meetings with new clients. The jacket said I was a lawyer, but I figured the open-neck shirt added that I wasn’t anything like the rest of those pompous pricks.