Saturday, June 20, 2015

The Darkness in the Tree

Part One

Detective Sergeant Leung was not a happy man. He had fought long and hard to be transferred to the Criminal Investigate Division, the CID, and he had just received the info that he was to head up a three man team to investigate missing persons in the Tai Po area. Missing persons were the responsibility of the relevant station, not the CID. He went for the meeting scheduled with his boss, a Chief Inspector who had, so far, spent most of his tenure as head of E-Section behind his desk issuing orders. Leung knocked on the door and received an immediate ‘enter’. He opened the door to wafts of cigarette smoke and found Detective Chief Inspector Wong sitting beneath the ‘No Smoking in Government Offices’ sign puffing away on a Marlborough.

“Leung, take a seat”. Leung took a breath of relatively unpolluted air before entering the office and closed the door behind him.

“You are probably wondering why CID is investigating missing persons, eh?”

Before Leung could answer Wong carried on. He had little time for the opinions of his subordinates anyway.

“As of yesterday three persons, two females and one male, have gone missing in Tai Po within the week”.

“People go missing in Tai Po every day of the week,” offered Leung. He was met with a withering glare that silenced him. He would not speak again unless spoken to.

“The link between the three is that they were all know to have enjoyed walking in the park area that runs along the Lam Tsuen River. And then, today, another link came up. A boy handed in a wallet, the type that joggers strap around their arms to carry their IDs and cell phones. It belonged to one of the missing persons”. Leung was quick to note that Wong had not used the word, ‘victims’. “When we realised the link we asked Tai Po to send the boy here so that you could interview him”. He handed Leung a file containing whatever information they had on the victims, missing persons, Leung corrected himself.

“The boy will be here at ten. I told the desk to send him to you”. He was interrupted by his desk phone. He answered it and spoke briefly before turning back to Leung. “That’s him. He’s waiting at the front desk. Go and talk to him”.

Leung met the boy, a secondary school student of around 17 at the front desk and took him to an interview room. The desk had also given him the wallet wrapped in a plastic evidence bag.

He offered the boy, Andy Lo, a soft drink, and asked him how he had come to find the wallet. The boy related quickly and simply that he had been walking through the park and found the wallet. He had immediately taken it to the Tai Po Police Station. Although he didn’t say so Leung knew that it was a good excuse to miss lessons.

“Where exactly did you find it?” Asked Leung, producing a road map of the area that showed in brief detail the path that ran through the park. Andy Lo studied it for a moment and pointed to a spot about half way through the park.

“Are you willing to come with us and show us exactly where you found it?” Asked Leung.

“If the owner doesn’t claim it within three months I get to keep it, don’t I?” Asked the boy. Obviously a fine upstanding citizen thought Leung. There was an Octopus Card and a hundred dollars in the wallet. There was no sign of a cell phone and Andy Lo wasn’t volunteering any information on this issue. By law, any unclaimed item would be returned to the finder after 90 days.

Leung assured him that it would be returned to him and left the room to organise a car and round up the other members of the team. Within ten minutes they were on the way to Tai Po.

…..



The CID car dropped them off at the upmarket housing complex that lay next to the entrance to the park and Leung, two of his team and the boy, Andy Lo, walked across the footbridge into the green oasis that the park offered to the residents of the area. Leung asked Andy to show them exactly where he had found the wallet. Within a few moments they had reached the spot and Andy looked at the bushes on the right hand side of the foot path. He paused for a moment and then pointed to a spot between two bushes.

“There,” he said, “It was right there”.

“And when exactly was this?” Asked Leung.

“Yesterday, around 8:45, I guess”. The boy answered. Leung made sure that one of the team, a Detective Constable by the name of Wong was recording it all on his small camcorder.

“All right, Andy, you wait over there please. Let’s take a look around, see if we can find anything. The sweepers will have been through here at least twice since the wallet was found so look hard”.

A few walkers went past and Leung identified himself as a police officer and asked them to keep to the other side of the foot path. If there was anything to find he didn’t want it disturbed. The detectives crouched down and carefully examined an area two metres before and after the spot where the wallet had been found and it was after a few moments that Wong called him over.

“Take a look, Boss”. He pointed to a leaf on a small tree just about a metre from the edge of the foot path. Leung peered at it. Thank the gods it had not rained overnight, and the sweepers only worked on the foot path. Leung took out his mobile phone and called for a forensics team. He sent one of his men back to the car for the evidence kit and cordon tape. The walkers and joggers were not going to be happy. The area was now a crime scene and no one was going to go through it until after the forensics team had finished their examination. Andy Lo would have to wait for a long time to claim the wallet.

The leaf and those surrounding it was covered in dried blood pieces of what appeared to be flesh.

…..

Leung waited until the forensics team had arrived and left Wong in charge. He and other DC returned to CID in Police Headquarters to await the report and put together everything they had on the case so far, the three victims, he felt he could now officially classify them as such, and see if there were any similarities. He also had to interview the persons making the missing person reports to see if anything could be gleaned from them such as the approximate time they had gone missing and if anyone knew for sure that they had gone to the park that day.

Calls were made and two of the three people concerned agreed to come in. The third was wheelchair bound and Leung arranged for a DC and a WPC to go and take a statement from her.

There was not a great deal he could do now until wait until the reports and information started coming in. And then he got the news about a fourth possible victim who had gone missing over a month ago, supposedly in the same area.

Leung called in one of his men and instructed him to compile a list of disappearances in the same area. At the same time he asked the officer to find out when the Tai Po Park had been officially opened. The results were not comforting.

According to official records and past police reports the park was officially opened 20 years ago and since then there had been 27 reports of missing persons, 17 of them had been connected one way or another with the park. At the same time word came down from DCI Wong that they were to carry out a bait operation. That entailed sending in a female police officer dressed as a jogger that would hopefully flush out the killer, or killers. She would, of course, be well protected and Leung asked to be placed in charge of the operation.

The next day the preparations began. Ten metres away from the scene there was a water control point. It was a small concrete structure just over a metre high on which they could mount an infrared camera. Technicians from the Technical Services Division arrived in plain clothes so as not to raise to much suspicion and worked quickly and efficiently to install it The control post would be set up at the park office 30 metres in the opposite direction. It was further away than he would have liked but there was no other suitable location and no way to conceal four to five officers and the monitors required for surveillance. There, Leung and his team would monitor the cameras and be ready to move instantly should anything untoward happen.

The Woman Police Officer chosen as the bait was Angie Yung, affectionately known to her colleagues as ‘Angelina’ after the famous actress because of her way of tying her hair in a pony tail. And also because of her rather prominent breasts which were the envy of her lady colleagues and a subject of locker room conversation among her male colleagues. While officially posted to PHQ she had applied for transfer to the CID and the Detective Training Course. The paper work was still going through but she had been interviewed and the transfer was only awaiting the completion of the paperwork.

Late in the afternoon of the day chosen for the operation Angie was wired with a transmitter. Due to the habit of joggers and walkers to carry iPods or similar the microphone and earphones would not raise any suspicion. Leung did the sound check himself. He had been on sting operations before and had been the bait himself, so he knew how it felt to be up the sharp end. Then it was only a matter of waiting for night fall and hoping for a quick result.

….

It was 7:45 and full dark. The street lamps were on but there were still areas of shadow that could conceal a potential assailant. Anyone entering the park was photographed and numbers were taken to ensure that anyone entering also left. However, they were other ways in which to enter the area. Leung and Angie went over the plan one more time and for the seventh time he checked the reception of her transmitter. Then it was time to go. The plan was for Angie to jog up to the end of the path and then walk back slowly, as if she had injured an ankle. It was twenty minutes later that the officers in the control room received word from Angie that she had reached the end of the path and was starting back. The plan was for her to pause at the point where the victim’s wallet had been found and make it look as if she was checking her ankle.

The walk back up to that point was a test of her nerves. Angie was a brave woman and had shown her mettle in several instances, but tonight every shadow was a potential hiding point and walking slowly was more frightening than the jog in the opposite direction. To make matters worse the street lamps started flickering. She whispered this to Leung who cursed under his breath. There was no way he could do anything about having them checked at that moment in time. Then she was there. She stopped and as per the plan started flexing her ankle. A noise in the bushes startled her and she made a prearranged signal to let the officers know that she had heard something. Leung and the others were ready to go but had their eyes glued to the infrared monitor. Apart from Angie there was nothing to be seen.

She stood up and looked about her, listening intently for any noise. Apart from distant traffic noises there was nothing. Then something touched her shoulder and she spun round and went into a fighting pose. It was a branch, dangling down from the tree above her, strange that she hadn’t noticed it before. There was nothing else. She was physically exhausted now from the tension and ready to call if all off. She stood up and looked in the direction of the control room and suddenly something reached under her right arm, snaked across her body and around her back. She gasped as she was hauled bodily into the air, whatever had grabbed her crushed her breasts painfully against her chest. She sensed that she was several feet off the ground and pulled at the branch crushing her. Vines wrapped themselves around her face and across her mouth which she opened involuntarily, gasping for air. Then she was face to face with something. Her consciousness was fading rapidly but she knew it was evil. It was like a storm cloud, dark and malevolent, and she knew it was laughing.

Leung and his team watched in numb shock as Angie was lifted off her feet by something unseen and ran out of the control centre, weapons drawn. They raced to the spot where Angie had disappeared and used high-powered flashlights to peer up into the tree above them. There was nothing. No sign of Angie.

Leung called out, hoping for an answer when Angie’s body landed amongst them, and around them. She had been severed in half and in the instant that Leung saw her he realised that there was massive tissue loss in her upper torso.

….

Leung sat in his desk in E-Section, PHQ, staring into middle space. He had been sitting like that for hours judging by the lightening sky. He glanced at the wall clock and saw that it was just after 6:00 a.m.

On their return to PHQ the team had made statements. Angie’s remains had been delivered to the morgue and the duty coroner had been called. DCI Wong had made an appearance and made conciliatory noises before leaving as early as was politely possible. Leung had gone to his desk and sat there, going over and over in his mind what had happened. Reliving the moment when Angie’s mutilated body had fallen to the ground

He was still sitting there when DCI Wong returned at 9:15. For once Wong was not his usual sarcastic self. He asked about the other members of the team. DC Wong, Leung told him, was in shock and had been sedated at Queen Mary Hospital. The others had appointments with the Force psychologist, as had Leung himself. But he had other plans for the day as well.

The press had gotten hold of it, despite a blackout issued by PHQ but the results were better than expected as it created a fear psychosis which kept even the news ghouls and sightseers away from the crime scene.

Being a member of the Criminal Investigation Division and a Detective Sergeant, Leung was entitled to draw any weapon, within reason, he wanted. He handed in his trusty .38 revolver, which fortunately, he had never had to use in anger and asked for a nine millimetre Glock. He would have preferred something more powerful but the .45 caliber 1911s that the force had in stock were somewhat antiquated.

Despite being asked to take official leave he returned to the park. The area had been cordoned off and police officers posted at various points along the foot path. They travelled in pairs and never let the other out of sight. They acknowledged Leung but did not speak unless spoken to. They saw the sadness and fatigue in his face. He walked the entire length of the footpath and stopped at the tree on both legs of his walk.

It was after 7:00 p.m. before he climbed back into his car and drove home.

….

He was woken by the ringing of his mobile at 6:45. It was DCI Wong asking him to get into PHQ as quickly as possible. Had there been a break in the case, he asked for details, but Wong had already hung up. Leung showered and dressed and arrived at Wong’s office just before nine. For once Wong was not smoking. He was in the company of two men, neither of whom Leung knew. Wong introduced them as Edwin Chan, from the office of the Secretary for Security and Professor Law from the Botanical Gardens. Sec for Sec, as the Secretary for Security was known, had taken over control of the case. It was too high profile and had been blown out of proportion by the press. Reports of a murderous, wild animal running rampant in the Tai Po area had been reported in the international press. Whoever, or whatever was responsible had to be found and stopped immediately.

Leung looked at Professor Law and Chan anticipated his question.

“Professor Law is here to advise us. You will take us both to the crime scene and let him examine the tree where WPC Yung was killed”. Leung doubted the purpose of the visit but kept his mouth shut. He arranged for a CID vehicle and the three of them set off for Tai Po.

Unbeknownst to Leung, Law had requested a mobile crane to be brought in. It was the type that electricians used to fix overhead lighting on the roads. He was to use it so that he could examine the upper branches of the tree. The officers on duty, still traveling and working in twos let them through the barriers and escorted them to the tree.

Professor Law climbed unsteadily into the mobile crane with his notebook and camera. Leung saw no reason to accompany him and stayed on the ground. Edwin Chan made a point of studying the bushes around the tree and avoided eye contact with Leung. After fifteen minutes Law climbed down out of the crane, as unsteadily as he had ascended and looked extremely happy to be back on the ground.

“Can you tell us anything of value,” asked Chan.

“Well,” said Law, “It’s a Tectona Grandis of the family Verbenaceae.” He smiled at Chan and Leung as if he had just solved the case. Leung did not think it wise to point out that there was a small plaque on the lower part of the tree that identified it as such.

“Can you tell us anything else? Asked Chan.

“Well, this particular type of tree has never been known to harm anyone, unless of course it fell over them.” He smiled at his own humour and if he was disappointed at the lack of response from Chan and Leung he hid it well. Leung had seen no point in the visit and this had just proved his point. What he didn’t see was the thing that was watching them from above.

In the next tree, on one of the upper branches crouched the Darkness. It was not at its strongest in the daylight, but was still incredibly powerful. To the human eye it resembled a static cloud of smoke or mist, varying from grey to dark grey. It had been in existence for a thousand years, created by a fool of a necromancer that thought he could control it. The necromancer soon found out to his dismay that no one could control something made of evil and elementals that could not be destroyed by any human device.

The Darkness looked down at Leung, recognising in him a potentially worthy foe, one that might give him some moments of amusement. Then it sent out a whispered command to an egret that was crouched in a nearby tree and the bird’s eyes gleamed. With a hoarse caw it rose up into the air and flew towards the sea.

The Darkness watched as Leung, Chan and Law left to return to PHQ.

….

Over the next five evenings, despite being ordered to stand down Leung carried out solo bait operations, offering himself to the killer. The Darkness watched him in amusement and was tempted to strike but decided that he was enjoying the game too much to end it so soon. It did however ensure that Leung was entertained with falling branches and flickering street lamps.

….

Leung attended the funeral of WPC Angie Yung. It was attended by the unit and of course, the Commissioner of Police, who took the time to speak with Angie’s parents and family. He assured them that he killer would be found and brought to justice.

After the funeral, Leung did not attend the customary dinner but instead returned home, changed into casual clothes and made his way to Tai Po. He decided not to use his car in case the killer had been monitoring his movements. The quickest way to get killed in this job was to underestimate your opponent.

He travelled to Tai Wo Station on the train and from there it was a ten minute walk to the beginning of the park. He showed his police ID to the officers at the barrier and walked into the park.

Nothing seemed to have changed except for the egrets, huge great migratory birds that frequented the Lam Tsuen River. It didn’t occur to him that it was unusual to see them in such numbers so far away from the water. Then he was at the tree. The crane had been removed days ago and there was nothing to indicate that it was anything other that what Chuen had said it was, a Tectona Grandis of the family Verbenaceae he read from the plaque. You didn’t need a university degree or to be a professor to be able to read a plaque.

There was a swoosh as something passed his over just feet away and he felt the flow of air. In shock Leung looked about himself and saw an egret climbing upwards. He watched as it settled in a tree near the building they had used as a control centre on the night of the bait operation. Leung eased his hand off the butt of the Glock that he had reached for unknowingly. The something touched his shoulder and he spun about in the opposite direction. This time he did draw the weapon and realised that he had not chambered a round. He racked the slide, arming the gun, but his training made him keep his finger out of the trigger guard. A branch was dangling in front of him, swaying in the wind.

The Darkness looked down at Leung, if it had a mouth it would have smiled.

Leung grasped the end of the branch and gave it a tentative tug, not really knowing what to expect. And unbeknownst to him the egret he had seen earlier flapped into the air to gain height and then started a dive, behind it another started off from a nearby tree. The Darkness had become bored of the game. Leung was busy peering up into the tree and didn’t see the egret until it was too late. All he saw was a flash of white as the bird struck him full in the chest crushing his sternum and sending bone shards into his heart. Leung fell onto his back, numbed by the force of the impact, without realising it his finger had tightened on the trigger and he fired off two rounds which alerted the officers at either end of the park. As Leung lay on his back, fighting the pain in his wounded heart the egret, its neck broken by the impact, fluttered in its death throws on his chest, the second egret landed just above it and tore out Leung’s throat in one quick movement. It had flapped away, its bill covered in gore long before the officers arrived to find Leung’s mutilated body.

….

The Darkness watched Leung die from its point near the top of the tree, it felt the rush of energy flow into it as it did every time it caused the death of a living being. It had seen many men die over the centuries and would be sure to see many more. It sent whispered blessings to the egrets that had done its bidding and decided that it had had enough of Tai Po Park for now. There were other pickings to be had elsewhere, and other Leungs to torment.





Part Two

Edwin Chan, from the office of the Secretary for Security was not a happy man. He had fought long and hard to be transferred to the Department of the Secretary for Security and and he had just been told that he would be responsible for clearing up the business in Tai Po and to make sure that the fallout from the press coverage was kept to a minimum. Murders in Tai Po, and for that matter, police officers that fall out of trees and get killed by low flying birds were absolutely not the responsibility of Sec for Sec! He glared at his desk phones, one of which was a direct line to Sec for Sec and reached into his jacket pocket for another Tylenol. He knew that extended use of these pills would sooner or later, probably sooner, melt down what remained of his liver, but in order to get through the day he had to deal with the blinding headaches that had become a daily event ever since this business started. He popped the pill, swallowed it dry and leaned back in his chair, hoping for a few moments of peace to allow the medication to take affect.

He looked through the list of calls received that his secretary, Amy had handed him. Three were from a man named Huang, Huang Li Man to be precise. Obviously a Singaporean by the spelling of the name. Why they couldn’t just use the pin yin spelling that Hong Kongers used was beyond him.

Not more than five seconds had gone by when one of the phones shrilled.

Chan grabbed for it, at least it wasn’t the direct link to Sec for Sec, but the news was just as bad.

“Ah Sir,” said Amy. “Ms. Lau called, the boss wants you to see you now”.

Ms. Lau was Sec for Sec’s Personal Assistant and therefore the next best thing to the Goddess of Hell. Her every command was to be obeyed implicitly and immediately!

Chan groaned something into the phone and stood up. He was not looking forward to the next fifteen minutes.

He knew it was going to fifteen minutes and not more because Sec for Sec divided his day into 15 minute intervals. Some for him to be brought up to date on what was happening in Hong Kong, some for global events and some to be enjoyed by berating his subordinates; a pastime he thoroughly enjoyed.

Alphonse Lo, (silly bloody name, thought Chan) was one of the few department heads that still held a western first name. Ever since the handover it had become fashionable for department heads to do away with Christian first names and adopt the more traditional Chinese names. Lo was a career civil servant. During the British administration he had sworn absolute loyalty to the Crown and then at the time of the handover, sworn the same absolute loyalty to Beijing.

Ms. Lau kept him waiting for the mandatory three minutes before allowing him into the hallowed halls that contained Alphonse Lo’s office. You could house three Kowloon City families in here, thought Chan, as he entered the door, which he did every time he entered the door.

Alphonse Lo always pretended to be busy, it was his way of ensuring respect from his underlings. He motioned to a chair in front of his desk, spent another two minutes pretending to pour over some papers and then looked up at Chan.

“So, Chan. what news on this business in Tai Po?”

Actually, there was nothing new but Chan wasn’t going to admit that to his boss.

“Sir”, he began. “I’m working closely with the police to ensure that the culprit, or culprits are brought to justice within the shortest possible time. As of this morning I am still awaiting a call from DCI Wong”.

“I’m one step ahead of you Chan,” Smirked Lo. “There’s been an arrest”!

Lo enjoyed Chan’s look of consternation for a moment before explaining.

“They’ve arrested some bugger by the name of Huang Li Man at the scene of the murders. A Singaporean, by the ID he was carrying. They’ve taken him to Tai Po nick (Chan had to stop himself from grimacing, Lo enjoyed his command of English colloquialism and continually referred to police stations as ‘nicks’). Get there quick and find out who the bugger is”. Chan remembered the name from looking at his list of calls just moments ago and wondered what the connection was.

Chan was not sure whether to be pleased or annoyed but if it gave him an excuse to get out of Lo’s presence then it had to be good.

Amy had called ahead so the O.I.C. at the Tai Po Police Station had been expecting him. He was taken to the interview room where Mr. Huang was being held. There was an officer, a Police Constable, in the room with him, but they weren’t talking, the PC was there to keep an eye on him. Huang stood up as Chan entered the room and Chan immediately noticed that he was wearing a traditional Chinese robe. He offered his hand to Chan who ignored it and sat down opposite him at the table.

Unperturbed, Huang resumed his seat and introduced himself. Chan bought himself some time by going through the single sheet of paper in the file he had been given. There wasn’t much, his name, nationality and profession - researcher into ancient eastern customs - all the makings of a nutter thought Chan whose headache suddenly returned.

“Mr……Huang,” Chan took some time pronouncing the name, there was no need to be rude, at this point. “What were you doing in a closed crime scene?”

“I’m sorry,” said Huang. “May I ask your name and rank”. Chan realised he had forgotten to introduce himself. His first instinct was to offer his hand but he managed to suppress the gesture. He wanted this man to know he meant business. Chan introduced himself and mentioned that he was from the officer of the Secretary for Security.

“Then you are the man I have been trying to contact”, said Huang, smiling broadly.

“Mr. Huang, I don’t think you realise the trouble you are in. You have been taken into custody for entering a closed crime scene and there are reasons to believe that you did so with ill-intent”.

“I can assured you,” said Huang, “that this is not the case. In fact, I am here to offer you my assistance to halt the killer you are seeking”.

‘Halt the killer,’ Huang had said, why didn’t he say, ‘catch the killer’, thought Chan.

Chan couldn’t conceal his interest. “And what exactly do you know about ‘the killer’?” He asked the PC to get the OIC to join them right away. He turned back to Huang and asked him to wait. Any information he had regarding this case should be given in the company of a trained police officer. Moments later, the OIC, Superintendent Lai and a DCI from PHQ were in attendance. They sat quietly at the corner, present and listening, but not taking part in the questioning. When they were settled Chan asked Huang to continue.

“I think I should introduce myself first. My name is Huang Li Man, I am originally from Wu Han Province but I was taken to Singapore as a child by my parents. My profession is…..well, let’s go into that later…………”.

He continued, “I have been following this killer, for several years now. I first became aware of it in 2007 when there was a series of murders in Terengganu in Malaysia. It was there that I started my research. The next scene was Kluang, also in Malaysia. Then there were several in Singapore before it moved on to Sandakan in Sabah, East Malaysia. These killings all took place within a very short space of time, say 19 months. Then the trail went cold. The thing, it appears, had gone to ground”.

Huang had referred to the killer as ‘the killer’, ‘it’ and then ‘the thing’. However, before Chan could seek clarification Huang was continuing.

“About a year ago I heard about the murders in the Tai Po Park and came to Hong Kong. I’m sorry to tell you that my worst fears were realised. It is the same killer that was responsible for the deaths I mentioned earlier in Malaysia and Singapore”.

“What……..”. Chan was just about to ask, ‘what is it’, but managed to stop himself. “Who is it we are looking for, Mr. Huang?”

“No, you were correct the first time, Mr. Chan. It is indeed, not ‘who’ we are looking for, but ‘What’”.

“It is a demon, Mr. Chan. Nothing more, nothing less. A demon that has existed for over a thousand years”.

Would you like to read more?

3 comments:

Jürgen Bürger said...

Stewart, I like this one very much. Great. Thank you.

Stewart Sloan said...

Thank you very much.

Stewart Sloan said...

Thank you very much.