My hand reached furtively for the door handle. However, even before I had time to turn it, the taxi stopped abruptly and I was unceremoniously dumped out into the street.
Was this an opportunity? Could I now make a dash for it while Khan was paying the driver? But, the Indian had attached a vice-like hold to my wrist and I sensed the more I tried to wriggle free the stronger his grip would become. Oddly too, he made no attempt to remove his wallet, so I surmised he had either paid the taxi driver in advance or there was some secret arrangement between the two of them. This sobering thought made me more convinced than ever I was now in real danger. Khan, clutching my arm, proceeded to frogmarch me down a side alleyway. I had no idea where I was. And, despite my pleas for help, the bustling hordes of Chinese going about their daily business displayed little interest in us.
At the end of the narrow alley the “Professor” propelled me roughly inside what looked like a derelict warehouse. It appeared to be entirely empty, unlit and falling apart. At the far end of the interior courtyard I could just make out a dilapidated staircase with a handrail that had been ripped away in large sections. The building must have been condemned for many years and I imagined there was little likelihood that, even if Ian sent out a search party, it would never consider looking for me in here.
My heart pounded so furiously I thought it might explode. But I was feeling so numb from fear that I knew I was incapable of putting up even a weak struggle. Breathing heavily, Khan pushed me up four crumbling flights of stairs. I was convinced now this was my last hour upon the earth unless I could somehow untangle my disordered thoughts and dream up an effective method of escape.
On the fourth floor I was pulled through a maze of small, bare rooms. I was fervently praying that, if only by the instinct of pure terror, I would be able summon up the strength to wriggle free from Khan’s grasp and negotiate my way back through these gloomy, winding passages if an opportunity arose. I attempted to make some feeble excuse to leave.
”Look, Professor Khan, I didn’t realize how late it was. I have an appointment at the newspaper in half an hour. I really must be getting back now. If I’m not at the office by 4.30 they’ll start looking for me.”
My voice trembled. I was only too aware how lame I sounded. And, anyway, I should have known my excuse would fall on deaf ears. The “Professor” just wasn’t in the mood to listen.
“We’re here!” he announced, his fist still locked tightly around my wrist.
Strangely, as is often the case in life-threatening circumstances, I suddenly felt calm. Whatever was going to happen to me would soon be over. Everything was now out of my control. It was puzzling but I found that my fate, whatever it may be, was welcome.
There was a small room in front of us. A man was sitting behind a desk reading the racing pages of a newspaper under a naked bulb swinging from the ceiling. I noted that beside him was a telephone so, at least, I thought, if it worked there was some form of communication with the outside world. Despite the fact that I knew I would never get the opportunity to use it, this thought provided me with the faintest glimmer of hope.
The man looked up briefly. “Good afternoon, Sir, take number 11 as usual. The lady will be with you in a minute.”
From this remark it was not hard to surmise that the “Professor” was a regular visitor to this “establishment”. The man behind the desk proffered a key in his hand, without looking up from the sports pages. Khan then manoevred me roughly down a passageway lit only by another bare bulb suspended by a single wire. Cockroaches and woodlice, alerted by our approaching footsteps, scattered in all directions as we made our way down the wooden corridor.
I noticed there were plenty of doors off each side. Some closed tight, others half open. I was able to catch a glimpse inside one or two as we passed. Each room appeared to contain a double bed, some of them already occupied by gyrating, moaning couples. It was obvious now I was in some seedy illegal brothel. Khan skilfully guided me into a room at the end of the corridor, the number 11 amateurishly marked out in white paint on the door. He slumped down on the bed without a word, panting slightly from the exertion and the oppressive heat inside the room. I realized I still hadn’t seen his eyes and, for some reason, this thought scared me most of all.
I perched on the rough wooden chair nearest the door, my mind less agitated. I had to plan my escape. But, at the same time, I was acutely aware that any plan I concocted would be doomed from the start.
“I would like to explain what’s going to happen.” Professor Khan abruptly broke his silence. It dawned on me this was the first time he had spoken to me since our meeting in the hotel.
“The lady will deal with me first, so you will watch. If you have any questions don’t hesitate to ask. Understand?”
I nodded weakly.
“Good. You will have to undress, of course,” he continued. “Anyway you will see the procedure with me and you will do the same!”
It seemed more of a command than an invitation and I noticed the corners of his mouth turn up into something that could possibly pass for a smile. I remembering wondering if this was how he addressed his pupils at the University of Bombay. But this sordid little brothel was a world away from the academic ivory tower I had imagined the “Professor” inhabited in his professional life.
I had no intention of showing him how terrified I was and how helpless I felt. But I realized, too, it would be hard to disguise the paralyzing panic that was again beginning to numb my brain and freeze my limbs. There was no doubt in my mind I had to get out of there, no matter the physical risk to myself. The question was, how? The woman would appear in the room at any minute. I could no longer delude myself that she was some amazing guru waiting to be discovered by the world. It was obvious now she was Khan’s main accomplice. And, if that was the case, I knew I wouldn’t stand a chance against two of them. Deep down I feared the “Professor” might become excessively violent if his sexual plans for me were thwarted.
Silently I begged him to remove his glasses, if only for a second. How could I possibly read his thoughts without seeing the eyes behind them? As he started to undress I was momentarily mesmerized by two kaleidoscopic images of myself, reflections of a girl, rooted to her chair, too terrified to run.
“I have to go to the bathroom!” I gasped, the words almost suffocating in my throat.
Those unfamiliar images of myself in his sunglasses had finally spurred me to do something or say anything just to get out of there. Khan waved his hand towards the adjoining toilet beyond the bed. This would have meant passing further into the room, adding unwelcome distance from my only escape route. I muttered some feeble excuse about needing privacy, bolted out of the room and back down the passageway. I knew Khan was following me. I heard his panting breath behind me and his heavy footsteps clattering on the uneven wooden floorboards.
“The ladies room, please!” I shouted to the man behind the desk. He pointed to a room opposite him without raising his eyes from the paper. I dashed inside and locked the door.
I made all the appropriate sounds, turning on the taps, flushing the lavatory, scrunching the harsh toilet paper, while, at the same time, trying to compose myself sufficiently to conjure up an escape plan. But this didn’t prove easy under such pressure. Panic, I discovered, has a numbing effect on the mind and, just when I needed it most, my brain obstinately refused to function coherently. All I could think of how I could I have been so stupid to admit to Khan I was alone in Hong Kong? Perhaps, that naive admission alone had been enough to persuade him to abduct, rape and, possibly, murder me?
There was nothing I could do. I was trapped. So, in the end, I dutifully emerged, submissively proffered my bruised wrists to the “Professor”, who was lounging outside the toilet, casually zipping up his flies. He immediately latched his big sweaty palm onto my arm and dragged me back to Number 11, muttering all the time what I assumed must be Hindu curses under his breath.
By the time we entered room number 11 again the Chinese lady was already there. She beamed and nodded at her Indian accomplice, scrutinizing me up and down. She muttered something to him in Chinese as she locked the door behind us. I noted with immense relief that she failed to remove the key. So, mercifully, there was a glimmer of hope. As long as I remained vigilant and as long as I didn’t fumble with the lock there might still be a chance. Thankfully Khan too, in his eagerness to get down to business, had overlooked confiscating the key.
In a fleeting moment of clarity I decided I would pretend to go along with Khan’s plans while, at the same time, preparing my escape. I began asking him some pertinent questions to make it look like I had a keen interest in his accomplice’s work. I tried to eliminate the panic in my voice by speaking slowly and calmly. I made a point of feigning an interest in his replies. In this way the “Professor” slowly regained his confidence in me and, while answering my queries, began to remove all his clothes. He then lay on his back on the bed, stark naked, his vast dark belly protruding upwards obscuring his vision of his stirring genitals below. The Chinese lady poured creams and oils over his legs and torso and began massaging him rigorously while reciting some soothing Chinese incantations.
The “Professor’s” glasses, the last vestige of his modesty, mirrored the steamy image of her plump little fingers pummeling away at his huge hairy chest and then down towards his massive thighs. And, while he was evidently enjoying the erotic stimulation from her experienced fingers, he ordered me to start getting undressed.
I had no way of knowing whether his eyes, still hidden behind the steamy glasses, were open or closed so felt I had no alternative but to obey his instructions. Very slowly I started undoing the buttons on the front of my dress. And when I considered Khan was sufficiently overcome by the musky-smelling oils, the heat of the small room and the over-efficient pumping of the plump little fingers, I decided to make a dash for freedom.
While trying to create the illusion that I was aroused by the events taking place on the bed in front of me and anxious to do as I was told, I slowly inched my way backwards towards the door. Careful not to arouse suspicion, I continued unbuttoning my dress with one hand while, with the other, I gently groped behind me for the key. Gradually, and without once averting my gaze from Khan, I twisted the key anti-clockwise desperately praying someone had bothered to grease it recently. Furtively I turned the handle, felt the door silently release itself, then abruptly swung my body around and, clutching my dress around my waist, ran blindly back down the narrow corridor towards what I hoped was the main exit.
I took a few wrong turns but eventually saw the collapsing exterior staircase in front of me. I leapt down, four or five steps at a time, praying they wouldn’t give way beneath me. I didn’t dare turn round, my ears constantly alert for the dreaded sound of heavy breathing and pounding footsteps in my wake. I heard a few angry shouts but was fairly certain that Khan could not be following immediately on my heels considering the state of undress I had left him in.
I tugged hard at the heavy warehouse door and finally catapulted myself out into the welcome chaos of the Kowloon alleyway outside.I remember thinking at that moment, thank God for the ten million Hong Kong Chinese. Only then did I realize that here I was, in broad daylight, in the middle of a teeming Kowloon street, with my bra exposed and my dress hanging down to my hips.
But there was no time to fix it now. I ran as fast as I could, not knowing, or even caring, where I ended up. When I felt sufficiently confident that I was out of immediate danger, I dived off the main road into a side street and through the revolving doors of a small hotel. Slipping my arms back into my dress and buttoning it up as hurriedly as I could, I fell, gratefully, into the nearest phone booth and called Ian at the newspaper.
“God, Caroline, I’ve been worried sick about you. Where the hell are you?” Ian sounded genuinely panicked.
“I’ve no idea,” I sobbed into the phone. I was so relieved to hear his voice.
“I’ll come and get you, just tell me where you are…. Jesus, Caroline, you gave me a fright!”
“You frightened? How about me?” I sniffed. I wiped my eyes and nose on my sleeve. “God, Ian, I’m so happy to hear your voice.”
“What happened, for God’s sake? No, don’t answer that. Just get me the address!” he ordered, “now!”
I left the phone dangling off the hook and, still nervously buttoning my dress, made my way to the reception desk. The receptionist looked up at me, devoid of any expression, “Yes, can I help?”
“The name of the hotel, please, and the address. Quickly!”
The receptionist handed me a card and I returned to the phone.
“I’m here, just give it to me! Quickly!”
I heard him scribbling down the details. “Now you just sit tight and wait for me. Don’t go anywhere, promise me!”
“I promise. Please hurry!”
Half an hour later Ian turned up. I was so relieved to see a friendly face that I broke down and wept all over again. He put his arms around me protectively.
”Don’t ever do that again, Caroline, you scared the life out of me!”
Ian held on to my hand the whole way back to his flat as though he expected me to disappear again.
Like the good newspaper reporter he was he gently probed the story out of me, sordid detail by sordid detail. It was all so recent and so vivid in my mind that it made me fearful simply reliving it. I was constantly looking around me to make sure Khan wasn’t somewhere nearby on the crowded ferry watching us, ready to pounce again as soon as Ian’s back was turned.
Back home Ian sat me down and forced a glass of brandy into my trembling hand.
“But I’m a teetotaler Ian, remember?” I protested, starting to giggle hysterically.
“Just drink it, girl! It’s an order!”
I took a sip, made a face and handed it back.
“No thanks. You have it, you probably need it as much as I do!”
“You bet I do!” Ian grabbed it and swallowed the contents of the glass in one go.
“Now, Caroline, I want your permission to call my friend, Murray Todd, Superintendent of the Police Force here. I think he should hear this story.”
In fact I needed little convincing. So Ian picked up the receiver and dialed Murray’s home number. He described the events thoroughly, beginning with the Maharishi press conference and ending with his own heroic role in my salvation. Murray, evidently very concerned, asked if he could come around immediately to question me.
Ian looked towards me, “Are you OK to do it now?” he asked, “or would you prefer in the morning?”
I was keen to get it over with and besides, I thought, perhaps it would give the police a better chance of catching the bogus “Professor”. And once they caught him I could finally relax and enjoy the rest of my stay in Hong Kong.
“Now’s fine.” I said, “Let’s do it.”
Less than an hour later Murray Todd arrived. He was a rather large, avuncular, red-haired Scotsman who I instinctively trusted. Falteringly I described my ordeal, yet again, omitting nothing. He listened, nodding occasionally, without comment until I had finished. While I was talking he alternately patted my knee and squeezed my hand to demonstrate his sympathy.
“Well, you’ve not had a very good experience on your first visit to Hong Kong then?” he joked but immediately became serious.
“I’m really sorry for you, Caroline,” he said, “Dreadful ordeal!” he tut-tutted, “but I want to reassure you we will do all we can. In fact we have been aware of this man, “Professor” Khan, or whatever other alias he chooses to go by, for several months now. He is a sexual pervert and has raped several women, both here and, I understand from the authorities in India, also there. So far we’ve never managed to get even close to catching him. But he doesn’t give up easily, that’s one thing about him we have managed to establish. He is very persistent and I am almost certain he will call you again. That’s his pattern. Now, if he does,” Murray turned to look me in the eye, “will you please make another appointment with him? Will you try to convince him that you didn’t really want to leave him but that you had a pressing engagement, or something, and you couldn’t have stayed a minute longer? Will you try to convince him you’re still interested?”
The red-haired Scotsman paused to look at me intently and, grabbing my hand to emphasize his point, he continued, “We desperately need help to catch this man and this is the first time we’ve been in a position to ask for it. I’m pleading with you, Caroline, and I don’t need to tell you, you’d be doing us a very great favour indeed.”
I looked doubtful. How could I willingly put myself through that ordeal again? But then, on the other hand, I thought, perhaps I should agree simply for the sake of other young women who could end up as Khan’s future victims. My mind wandered back to 1964, to New York, to that horrific night that had had such a deep and enduring effect on me, the night Kitty Genovese was stabbed to death outside her apartment building in Queens. And I remembered, with loathing, the 38 people who silently witnessed her cold-blooded murder but had done nothing to help her, not even call the police. And I recalled vividly the soul-searching questions I had asked myself at the time. Would I have acted any differently? Would I have risked my life to save Kitty’s? Would I have been brave enough to put myself between her and her killer? Perhaps this, then, was the time for me to prove myself. Perhaps this was the time to make amends. Perhaps this was the opportunity I had been looking for to answer those very personal questions.
Murray obviously read my thoughts. “I give you my word, Caroline, nothing can go wrong. A detective will be assigned to the case. He will be at your rendez-vous when you meet Khan and will apprehend him on the spot. You will be risking nothing, I assure you. Naturally we would prefer to arrest him and all his accomplices at the place where they operate, but I wouldn’t want to put you in any unnecessary danger.” He looked towards Ian, “In fact, my friend Ian would never allow me to risk your safety. Right Ian?”
Ian nodded vigorously, “Damn right!“
“So we shall just have to be content with arresting him in the hotel lobby or wherever else he chooses to meet you. Will you do this for us, please? “ It seemed Murray Todd was almost pleading with me. “Again, I promise you Caroline, nothing can go wrong.”
I looked at Ian, who smiled at me, “It’ll be alright, Caroline, I promise. If you can’t trust the police, who can you trust?” He winked and squeezed my hand.
So, foolishly, I agreed. Before he left Ian’s apartment, Murray thanked me effusively, pumping my hand and kissing me gratefully on the cheek. He handed me his personal phone number. “As soon as this bastard gets in touch with you and gives you a time and a place to meet, call me immediately and I shall assign our best detective to be there fifteen minutes earlier. I would also ask you to arrive there fifteen minutes ahead of time too so that the detective can make a sign to you to reassure you he is around to give you protection. OK?”
“OK, I’ll do it!” I answered impetuously but without a shred of enthusiasm. I felt like an unsung heroine. Here I was, I thought, offering to risk my life or, at least, my body for the glory of the Hong Kong Police Force and whether I ended up kidnapped, raped or murdered in a dingy rundown warehouse in the backstreets of Kowloon, who would ever hear about it, least of all who would care?