Curse Of The Denizen: 4

Curse Of The Denizen: 4

Curse of the Denizen: 1

The next morning when I woke up my mystery woman was still fast asleep beside me. It was as if I’d slipped her a date rape drug. I left her naked under the bed sheets and headed down to the front desk. Cynthia Payne had finished her night work and Johnny Edgecombe had replaced her as our daytime concierge.

“Do you know if Chiang Tao slept in his apartment last night?” Johnny asked before I had a chance to speak.

“Why?”

“Because a three girl stripogram team turned up to surprise him this morning but I could get no answer to calls to his room and knocks on his door. Such as shame as one of the strippers was really cute.”

“Tao was here last night. I was with him in the games room and after he went up to his apartment I’m told he had a visitor.”

“He must have gone out somewhere then.”

“He could be ill,” I suggested. “We both drank a lot last night. I could climb up from my balcony to his to find out. I’ll do that and tell you what I find.”

“Don’t be silly!” Johnny told me. “I’ll give you a master key and you can let yourself in through the front door.”

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I don’t know what propelled me to this action beyond a sense of adventure and foreboding. Somehow I knew that Tao was dead. I let myself into my friend’s apartment and I saw what I’d seen in my dream. I sprang back into the hall and rushed down to the desk.

“Quick! Come up, there’s something wrong!” I shouted at Edgecombe.

Johnny followed me to the dead man’s flat. Chiang lay face down on his living room floor. The carpet was stained with blood. His clothes were soaked with the red stuff too. Had it not been for his clothes I wouldn’t have known it was Tao. When we turned him over we saw his face and neck had been hacked to pieces. It was as if some savage thing had torn him apart with its teeth and claws. His flesh had been ripped and rent so that not one recognisable feature was left.

Edgecombe called the police from Tao’s apartment; then sped off to fetch Dr Crippen, an American medic who lived in the building. I cleared the scene of evidence that suggested a woman had committed the crime. On a chair was a pair of white kid gloves. I picked them up and put them in my pocket. Among the portraits on display was the face of the avenging angel who at that very moment was asleep in my bed. I took that photograph too.

The room was in some disarray, but not in such disorder as to suggest a desperate struggle had taken place. Two chairs and a table had been knocked over. There were gouts of blood on the woodwork of a bookcase. I spotted a blotch on the back of one of the books, The Art Of War by Sun Tzu. The strange anti-Maoist message I’d seen in my dream was written in blood on the wall. Something lay on the carpet a short distance from the dead man’s feet. It was a man’s collar, twisted and stiff with coagulated blood. As I stared at it a wild wonder began to take shape and to grow in my brain.

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“Feng what’s the matter? What’s this murder Edgecombe’s told me about? Good grief! What’s that anti-Masoist rant written in Tao’s blood on the wall? Shake in you shoes bureaucrats! Stalinists denounced by the ultra-left indeed! No wonder Lenin branded left-wing communism an infantile disorder! My God, this whole building has such terrible feng shui! I wish I’d never bought an over-priced so-called luxury apartment in The Denizen.”

It was Dr. Crippen who spoke. He’d come into the room while I was staring at the collar.

Hawley Harvey Crippen is a man who has taken high medical honours but having private means he doesn’t have a regular practice. His hobby is madness. He’s a student of what he calls obscure diseases of the brain and insists everyone has a screw loose somewhere. That out of every happy smile insanity peeps even if it is only the shadow of a shade.

Some strange stories are told of Crippen. His office is in Harley Street and while there is a plate on his door, his patients are few and far between. They aren’t always welcome even when they do appear. Still it’s useful to have a doctor in The Denizen and when push comes to shove he’ll take a look at any neighbour who needs his assistance. Tao used to speak of him as ‘the Denizen Doctor.’

Crippen was still in the prime of life, perhaps forty, of medium height, sparely built, clean-shaven, with a high forehead like Shakespeare and coal-black hair. I always felt that he regarded every one he knew as a possible subject for experimentation. I felt no dislike for him but I suspected he despised me.

“Yes.” I replied. “I too wish I’d never bought into The Denizen development, the feng shui is awful! Look at the mad butchery the warped alignments of the building have led to here!”

“To put things in perspective, this bad craziness is no worse than the Manson family being inspired by The Beatles to write things like Helter Skelter in their victim’s blood on the walls of their California cult crime scenes back in the 1960s!”

“Did you know that The Beatles took their name from a now forgotten horror novel by a fellow called Richard Marsh.”

“So it’s alleged, but The Beetle and The Beatles aren’t quite the same thing. Besides Marsh was a pen name. The author was a notorious criminal called Richard Bernard Heldmann.”

To underline his sense of superiority, Crippen looked away from me and began to whistle the tune I Was Kaiser Bill’s Batman. He knelt by the dead man on the floor, his usually impassive face alert and eager.

“What happened?” Crippen asked as he broke off from his rendition of the 1967 novelty hit composed by British songwriters Roger Cook and Roger Greenaway, which gave its performer credit to the non-existent Whistling Jack Smith.

“We don’t know.”

“Who found him?”

“Me, then I called Edgecombe.”

“Was the body lying like this?”

“No he was face down. We turned him over.”

“The man’s been cut to pieces.”

“It looks to me like he’s been scratched to pieces.” I observed.

“These wounds are too deep to be scratches. It looks like several narrow blades were used, set in some kind of frame, or a row of spikes. The flesh has been torn open in regular layers. He’s been dead some time; he’s quite cold. Very curious indeed.”

As Crippen spoke he unfastened the dead man’s clothes, laying bare the neck and chest. When I looked I saw that the body too was covered in gaping wounds.

“Enough violence was used to kill Tao a dozen times.” I laughed. It served the bastard right for cheating at cards.

“Is that all you see?” Crippen said impatiently. “Can’t you tell a sharp-pointed instrument has been thrust right through his body? But how was this done without his clothes being shredded? It is extraordinary that with the exception of bloodstains, there is not a mark upon Tao’s attire. His clothes are intact. Are we to infer the murder weapon did not pass through them? Was Tao naked when he was attacked and then dressed after being ritually killed?”

“But those are the clothes Tao was wearing them when I saw him last night.”

“At what time?”

“About half-past eleven, perhaps a little after.”

“That’s within an hour of when he was murdered. Perhaps even less. That’s very odd.”

“Why is it odd?”

“Was he alone when you left him?”

“Yes.”

“Did you part on friendly terms?”

“May I ask why you inquire?”

“Feng, it is a question which will be repeatedly put to you. You should have an answer. It seems rather unfortunate that you quarrelled with him just before he was killed.”

“I did not quarrel with him.”

“No? Your unwillingness to answer my question indicates you didn’t part on the best of terms.”

“I’ll give the information to any one entitled to ask for it.”

“So you think I’m not entitled to ask?” Who would you answer? A cop? Do you know if any one saw him after you left him?”

“I believe his brother saw him.”

“Why do you think that?”

“I was told so by the night concierge.”

“When?”

“Last night or rather early this morning. Cynthia told me she’d seen Tao’s half-brother go up, and that he had just come down again.”

“What time was that?”

“Between two and three.”

“Tao was dead before the clock struck two and probably before one.”

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“I found this on the floor just before you came in.” I handed Crippen the blood-grimed collar.

“What is it? A collar?” As he turned it over he saw what I’d seen. “Here’s a name, Chan Wai-Man.”

“I believe Wai-Man is his brother’s name, they have the same mother but different fathers.”

Crippen gave me a dirty look.

“What do you infer from that?”

“Nothing.”

“You’re suggesting that when Chan came to see his brother he took off his collar and left it behind him on the floor? Why?”

“It was soaked with blood.”

Crippen stood up. “What else have you found?”

I fenced the question. I was not going to speak of the gloves or the photograph. “I haven’t looked. The collar was on the floor, I couldn’t help seeing it.”

“Let’s look together. Here’s a waste-paper basket, let’s see what’s in it. This appears to be a letter. Let’s see what we can make of it.” He read from the scrap of paper he was holding: “ ‘Men like you shouldn’t be allowed to live.’ That’s a strong assertion. And written by a woman in a bold hand. I would recognise that calligraphy if I saw it again. If the person who tore up the letter wanted to conceal its contents, they did so with little skill. Here’s another fragment. ‘Tonight I will give you a last chance.’ I wonder if tonight means yesterday? If so he had his very last chance. Here on another piece is part of a signature. ‘Woo.’ I know a Woo.”

I wondered if Woo was the woman in my bed, it seemed likely.

“Are you saying a woman did this?” I cried. “How could a woman be this violent?”

“I scent a woman in this murder. There are women who are as violent as men. But in this instance there is nothing to show that much strength was required. It is a question of what murder weapon was used. Let me be frank Feng. You are making a serious mistake trying to frame Chan Wai-Man. I know him well. He is a high ranking Triad and if he wanted to kill his brother he’d get someone else to commit the murder for him!”

“I wasn’t trying to finger Wai-Man.”

“Are you sure there aren’t nasty thoughts lurking at the back of your mind?”

“I know nothing of Chan Wai-Man. I have never met him. But he was seen leaving The Denizen early this morning in a great hurry. Since his brother has now been found dead I think he will be called upon to give some sort of explanation.”

“Then I say you lie.” Crippen said it quietly but with unmistakable decision.

While I was wondering whether to ram his teeth down his throat, Edgecombe came in with a cop at his heels. It was time for me to answer a few questions before returning to my chambers and the avenging angel who lay naked in my bed.

Curse of the Denizen: 5

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