Paul Ulrich - USA
The manila folder, held together by flimsy rubber bands, hit the glass top of Constable Lee’s desk with a thud. The desk’s neat surface, supporting a computer monitor and framed photo of two small girls, shuddered. Quickly, the records clerk who had dropped the folder next to the picture looked around the empty police office.
She leaned over Lee’s shoulder and hissed into his ear. “In case anyone asks, I didn’t bring this to you. And it all goes into archives tomorrow morning. Nine a.m. Sharp.”
Lee nodded, gave her a tired smile, and fished into the file to retrieve the contents—four video tapes, some photos, news clippings, and a half-inch stack of hand-written, typed, and photocopied forms.
Lee sniffed the air and called out to the short woman waddling away,
“I love your new scent.” She kept walking.
He turned back to the materials now strewn over the desk. The first headline from the month-old newspaper screamed, “LEGCO LEADER LEAPS TO HIS DEATH AFTER SWITCHING VOTE!”
Lee scanned the lead of the year’s top story for the last of umpteen times: “Rising star Dr. Gu, the charismatic and flamboyant co-sponsor of resolution 2012 is dead, of an apparent suicide.”
The article juxtaposed a shot of a handsome, smiling face against the image of a crumpled body on the pavement outside a luxury, Mid-Levels high-rise. Lee peered into the photo’s dark eyes, trying to read the mind behind them. He read on.
“Gu inexplicably voted “NO” after forging a coalition that even the CE said he would not veto if two-thirds of LegCo agreed to it.”
Lee methodically examined every document from the file before glancing at the clock. It was already after 8 p.m. so he hurried across the room and placed the first of the four tapes into the office’s video machine. Next to the machine were three metal cabinets, labeled “Ongoing”, “Resolved”, and “Cold Cases”.
As soon as Lee pressed the “play” button, the sound of a gavel and the voice of the legislature’s president rang out, “Order! Order!” Pandemonium had enveloped the LegCo chamber. Shouting in anger, many of the members had leapt to their feet; others, with mouths gaping, merely stared at the blinking lights of the vote tally:
RESOLVED: That Hong Kong citizens shall directly elect their Chief Executive in 2012.
The resolution had failed to reach the needed two-thirds majority by one vote.
The scene in the chamber’s press and viewers’ gallery was even more chaotic. Reporters raced out the narrow aisles to get spots by the bank of microphones set up for the usual, post-vote sound bites. However, today these would not be the customary talking heads pontificating.
On the way out, someone must have jostled the LegCo camera, for the images that Lee watched were jerking wildly—first to the ceiling, then back to the floor.
Lee pressed rewind, checked his notes, and stopped the machine’s counter at the appropriate spot. The camera, minutes before the vote, was panning the key members and had settled on Gu. It went into close-up. The normally dapper man, one of Hong Kong’s most eligible bachelors, was wearing his trademark, open-collar, pink shirt with white, vest handkerchief, but he looked worried. Gu had placed his hand on a colleague’s knee and was whispering into his ear. The other man nodded and frowned.
Lee sifted through the papers for an affidavit, mouthing the words aloud: “Pressure, pressure. I’ve got pressure.” Was that all Gu said?
A door slammed, and a phlegmy throat cleared itself. Lee didn’t have to turn around. He knew who it was.
A gnarled hand, with fingernails stained yellow from nicotine, picked up the file photo.
“Don’t tell me you’re at it again.”
“Sarge, he said he had pressure.” Lee swiveled in his chair and looked up at the older man.
“Don’t we all. Don’t we all.” Eyes bloodshot, Sergeant Zeng reeked of alcohol. He wiped his nose. “Are you coming to the promotion party or not?”
Waving his hand as if dispersing an unpleasant odor, Lee said, “Something tells me you started already. Just take a look at these…”
He replaced the first tape with the second. On the screen, a gaggle of LegCo members were forming behind the still-empty row of microphones as Gu’s image darted past, his arm raised as if to ward off a blow. Then a quick wave to clamoring reporters and he was out the door. Lee played Gu’s movements in slow motion.
“See. He’s not carrying anything. No bulge in the pant pockets, not even the handkerchief.”
“What a fag.”
“Now look. Still nothing.” Lee had put in the third tape, the silent scenes of a LegCo security camera, showing Gu flagging down and climbing into the back of a taxi.
“So what’s the point?”
Lee leafed through the affidavits and read aloud from one. “The driver said he took Gu straight to his apartment building.” Lee unfastened a paperclip from the sheet and held up a tiny, computerized receipt. “You remember we got this from Gu’s pocket: 5:24 p.m. If you were planning to kill yourself, would you save a taxi stub?”
“Force of habit.”
Lee plopped in the last tape and fast-forwarded for several minutes, pausing occasionally on the soundless, grainy, black-and-white images. Seen from above, an empty elevator’s door opened. Dr. Gu’s profile backed into view. His head was nodding slowly as if talking to someone out of the elevator camera’s range, and his outstretched arm held the door open from the lift lobby.
Lee tapped on the clock numbers at the top right of the video screen. “5:31 p.m. but it should have taken less than a minute, not seven, to walk from the taxi drop off to this bank of elevators.”
“Maybe the clocks were off.”
“We checked. Remember?” Lee pressed the play button. “The building doorman said Gu came in with another man.”
The image of Gu entered the elevator alone, pressed 32, and paced like a caged tiger. Lee hit “pause”.
“I asked them to enhance these shots. Now you see it clearly in his hand. He’s holding something—white. Like a rolled up sheet of paper. Probably the same one we found crumpled in his hand. The letter.”
“What a weirdo. He types up his own suicide note before signing it.”
“That’s just it. Why do that? Besides, he didn’t have time to type it up at home before jumping. It wasn’t folded in his pockets. So where did it come from? Someone, the guy who entered the building, the one we don’t see outside the elevator, must have handed it to him.”
“Lee, forget it. Look, you’re talking crazy here. Even if, and I say if, any of this is true, what are you leading to? Then you get to motive. You don’t want to go there. The guy was unstable. That’s clear. Leave it at that. Now come on. Let’s go.”
Sergeant Zeng sighed and pulled a cigarette from his shirt pocket. He furrowed his brow and headed for the door. “I’ll expect you in ten minutes. Any later, and you’ll get reassigned to traffic duty for a month.”
Lee watched the back of his boss slowly diminish down the corridor. After he had left, Constable Lee gathered up the tapes, returned to his desk, and neatly placed the original contents of the folder back into the folder. Then he carefully emptied the contents of his desk’s drawers into a satchel and put in the girls’ photo frame on top. Lee quickly typed at his computer and reached over to a nearby printer to retrieve one page, which he signed, folded, and put into an envelope, addressed to Sergeant Zeng.
In large, black letters, Lee wrote “NOT” across the outside of the manila folder and carried it to the filing cabinet, marked “RESOLVED”. Lee idly thumbed through the other folders inside the cabinet, arranged alphabetically. There were the cases of the Thai woman found bound and dead in a secure-access area of Hong Kong’s Inland Revenue Department; the rogue cop, slain in an attack on two colleagues to steal their guns and bullets; the LegCo member beaten by thugs in broad daylight at a busy McDonald’s; the former mistress of the brother of a popular opposition politician, her headless skeleton bearing witness to a death from natural causes.
In turn, Lee pulled out each file and marked “NOT” across the front. He then slid the case of the suicidal (or suicided) LegCo member into the right spot, gathered up his satchel, and left for home.