As Murray had so rightly calculated, Khan called me the very next morning.
“What happened to you yesterday, Miss Kennedy?” he asked casually.
“I’m so sorry,” I replied.
Despite my fears, I was trying my best to sound contrite.
“I really did have to get back to the newspaper urgently. I did warn you I might have to leave early.”
Hoping he believed me, I repeated, “I really am very sorry, Professor.”
For the sake of Murray Todd and the many, as yet, unmolested virgins of Hong Kong, I tried to sound suitably convincing.
Khan was evidently fooled enough to ask me, “Can you make it at the same time today? The Chinese lady is very anxious to help you. She thought you appeared extremely agitated and in need of a great deal of attention.”
You bet I was agitated, I thought but aloud I said, “She’s probably right. I have been through a lot lately.”
“How about 3pm at the Peninsula again?” he asked.
At least, as Murray had so correctly predicted, Khan was being consistent.
“OK, I’ll be there!” I enthused as I briefly relished the spectacle of Hong Kong’s serial rapist being apprehended in the hotel lobby as he gripped my arm for the second time.
Curiously just then, the words of Eliza Doolittle’s song from “My Fair Lady” sprang to my mind.
“Just you wait, Professor Khan, just you wait! You’ll be sorry but your tears will be too late!”
Despite my dread at meeting him again I was almost humming the tune aloud. You’ll live to regret this, I silently mouthed into the phone. I may appear dumb but I’m not as dumb as I seem. Believe me, “Professor” Khan you’re in for a nasty shock!
I telephoned Murray’s private number and he made the necessary arrangements. He called me back later that evening to brief me and to give me a physical description of Len Rogers, his “top” detective who had been assigned to the job. He told me his height, his hair and eye colour and even what clothes he would be wearing so I would have no difficulty identifying him in an instant and from a distance.
I felt supremely confident, not to say patriotic above and beyond the call of duty, as I made my way to the Peninsula the next afternoon. I had never before been given the opportunity, in any capacity, to serve a police force and I was determined not to let Murray Todd down now by losing my nerve. I little considered the real danger I might be in or the risk I was about to take on his behalf. Had I for a moment done so I would probably have acted very differently.
At 2.45pm, as instructed, I reached the hotel lobby. Casually I looked around me. No sign anywhere of a man matching Len Roger’s description. I waited until 2.50pm and then began to experience nagging doubts. Suddenly I felt very vulnerable and very naive. Had I got the instructions right? Had Murray really ordered Len Rogers to be on duty? Had the detective forgotten, been held up or had an accident on his way here? Had he turned up at the wrong hotel? Had I mistaken the Hilton for the Peninsula? Had he? Was he supposed to make his presence known to me first, or I to him? Would he, in fact, ever turn up at all? Or was I now on my own? All these questions invaded my mind and filled me with terror.
I crossed over the lobby to the front desk, in full view of the revolving doors, picked up a telephone and called Len Roger’s direct line. A woman answered. That can’t be right, I thought, and asked for him by name.
“I’m sorry he hasn’t come in to work today. I think he may be sick.”
“Are you sure? “ My heart lurched.
“Can I take a message?”
“No!” I gulped, trying to make sense of it all.
“Can someone else help you?” the tone at the other end was flat, unsympathetic and indifferent.
I wanted to scream at her that I was doing her police force a big favour but I didn’t have time for explanations.
So I replied, “No, somebody else can’t help!” All the while I was fearfully scanning the lobby in case Khan, too, had decided to arrive early.
“You could try this number…” the woman offered robotically.
I was beginning to panic. I scribbled down the other number she gave me, dialed it and, once again, asked for Detective Inspector Rogers.
“I’m sorry, Miss, we haven’t seen him all day. He may be in tomorrow. Do you want to leave a message or would you like to speak to someone else?”
“No,” I whispered weakly. I replaced the receiver in shock. I was now trembling uncontrollably. “Nothing can go wrong, nothing can go wrong!” I repeated Murray’s words to myself over and over like a wish-fulfilling mantra. But, deep down, I knew that, despite his persistent reassurances, something had, indeed, gone dramatically and irrevocably wrong.
The telephone I had been using was right in the centre of the lobby and any minute now Khan would arrive and see me there. I rushed headlong into one of the darkened passages that connected to the reception area. I dived into the nearest open door, which happened to be an airline office.
“Can I use your phone?” I pleaded, visibly shaking.
“There’s one in the lobby!” A girl, paying scant attention to me, gesticulated unhelpfully towards the direction from which I had just come.
I bit my lip trying, unsuccessfully, to suppress the tears that were rising beneath the surface.
“Here, use mine!” A gallant male employee, who could obviously recognize a damsel in distress, pushed a phone across his desk towards me. He pointed to a chair in front of him. “You look like you need to sit down.”
I was too tense to sit so I just nodded my thanks, dialed Murray’s number and asked to speak to the police chief urgently. The efficient voice on the other end asked me to hold, Superintendent Todd was on another line. It seemed hours before Murray picked up the receiver, although it was probably only a matter of seconds. I felt instantly comforted when I heard his booming, reassuring voice.
“What’s the problem, Caroline?” he queried blithely, “Haven’t you met our Bob yet?”
“No, he isn’t here. I’ve been waiting for ten minutes already.” I was almost screaming down the phone. Then I froze. Bob? Who the hell was Bob? Who on earth was Murray talking about? This was a new name to me. Perhaps, I thought, all along I had been looking for the wrong man.
“Who’s Bob?” I blurted out while attempting to compose myself. Perhaps I was the one who was being an idiot, who had failed to understand.
“Len Rogers unfortunately couldn’t make it today. He’s off sick with the flu but I’ve sent someone else in his place. One of our best men, in fact. No need for you to worry on that score, Caroline. I’m sorry I didn’t have time to warn you. Isn’t he there yet? I ordered him to be there at 2.45pm prompt.”
“Well, I don’t know if he’s there. I don’t know what he looks like and I don’t know what he’s wearing. But no, no one’s approached me yet. What do I do now?” The terror was welling up inside and I could sense my voice was beginning to sound hysterical.
Murray paused. “Well, can you go back into the lobby and wait a little longer? He will turn up, I promise you. Very reliable is Bob.”
I was somewhat reassured but still apprehensive. “Don’t you see, if I go back into the lobby and Bob isn’t there, well, it’s already 3pm. Don’t you understand? Khan will be waiting for me. He’ll grab me and make me leave and that’ll be the end of it. I don’t know if I can go through with it, Murray, honestly.” My tears were about to flow again.
“Please do this for us, Caroline. I know Bob’s there. He’s never let me down in the past. He’s probably even seen you already but hasn’t introduced himself for fear of blowing his cover.” He let this sink in before proceeding. “We have to catch people like Khan, Caroline, you can appreciate that. And you’re in a unique position to help us. Please do this for us. Bob is there. I know he is.”
My confidence had, by now, completely eroded but my sense of duty somehow prevailed. I agreed, reluctantly, to go ahead as planned. I replaced the receiver, sobbed my thanks to the somewhat startled young man in the airline office for lending me his phone and retraced my steps into the lobby. As I approached, I took a long, deep breath to compose myself.
As I had feared, Khan was already there waiting and, as soon as he spotted me, he made his way swiftly towards me. I waited for Bob to miraculously materialize from behind a pillar, an armchair or a potted plant to apprehend him but nobody did. As far as I could see no one was paying us the least attention. Nobody, it seemed, could have cared less as I acted out my own little drama, praying that Bob would appear as if by magic and tap Khan on the shoulder. Perhaps I should try stalling, I thought, in order to give Bob more time to approach us.
“You’re late!” Khan reproached me frowning, “Come, we’ll have to leave right away!”
He seemed more edgy than the previous day sensing, perhaps, that something was wrong. He grabbed my wrist as we passed a large velvet armchair. I desperately tried to think of some aversion tactics. Risking breaking my arm, I twisted myself around and somehow managed to loosen his grasp sufficiently to allow me to collapse sideways into the deep armchair.
He turned back in surprise, his mirrored glasses disguising his thoughts. Thoughts that I was sure were far from friendly towards me at that particular moment.
“I’m sorry, Professor,” I said, “I’m feeling just a little dizzy from the heat. I’ve been running around all day and I just realized I haven’t had anything to eat or drink yet. Do you mind if I order some tea and biscuits? Really I’m dying of thirst.”
And, without waiting for Khan’s objections, I beckoned a hovering waiter and ordered two teas.
I desperately hoped that service at the Peninsula was as sluggish as it had been at the Hilton Coffee shop. Khan muttered something inaudible under his breath, reluctantly let go of my wrist and perched proprietorially beside me on the arm of the chair. He started drumming his knuckles impatiently on his lap, obviously frustrated by this unforeseen delay.
“You could have had some tea at the other place,” he snarled.
But, thankfully, the waiter had vanished through the swinging doors into the kitchen and Khan was unable to cancel the order. And still there was no sign of Bob. I had to accept it now I was entirely on my own. The tears were welling up in my eyes again so, to help compose myself, I stared down at the floor, concentrating on the pattern in the carpet. But the thoughts wouldn’t go away. Where was Bob? How could Murray let me down like this? Why hadn’t Ian volunteered to come along too, just in case, as back up? Did any of them really care at all what might happen to me?
The waiter arrived with the tea. I poured it out as slowly as I could, deliberately spilling some onto the embroidered tablecloth as a delaying tactic. I started mopping it up, playing for time, anything to impede our departure and give me time to prepare my next move. It was obvious I could not count on Bob any more. I would have to save myself from this situation. Now I was furious with Ian for not having insisted he come along for my added protection. He was the one, after all, who instigated this “mission”.
As I proffered a cup of tea towards Khan I was thinking maybe I should create a scene in the lobby by shouting “Help me!” at the top of my voice and then, when I had people’s attention, I could tell them that Khan was a wanted man, that he was a serial rapist and he was trying to kidnap me. Glumly, I decided, they would just think I was the nut case and apprehend me instead.
The “Professor” pushed the teacup away. “You drink yours. I don’t want any,” he said petulantly. Behind his glasses, he appeared to be scanning the lobby nervously. It was possible he suspected a trap. “I better call the Chinese lady to tell her we’ll be late.” Khan lifted himself off the arm of the chair and, without ever turning his mirrored gaze away from me, wandered slowly over to the telephone at the front desk.
There was no doubt in my mind, now was the time to run. I had worked out that Khan would have to pay for the tea and, hopefully, if he tried to avoid it, someone from the hotel would accost him on his way out. This would give me a couple of vital minutes headstart. I realized that by some miracle I had been given this one chance and it would probably be my only chance. I must seize it at all costs. At the same time I was aware that both exit doors were in sight of the front desk. Khan could not help but see me leave. I looked at him and saw that, even now, his gaze had not left me for a second. Nevertheless I had no option now but to run.
I jumped up and flew out of the nearest exit. I knew Khan had spotted me but there was nothing I could do. I ran and ran, not realising in my panic that I was running entirely in the opposite direction. I was sobbing uncontrollably and everything around me was blurred but, for the moment at least, I was free!
I kept looking behind me. People in the street were suddenly aware of some small drama being acted out around them and briefly stopped what they were doing to stare at me. By now Khan, too, had emerged from the hotel and was giving chase, flailing his arms wildly in the air and shouting. I realized he couldn’t have waited to pay the bill. If he had stopped to do so, I might have stood a chance to elude him. And now, despite his massive weight, he was gaining on me.
It was then that it suddenly hit me. I had been running away from, rather than towards, the Star Ferry. This would have been fine if I had been content to run just anywhere. But all I could think of at that moment was the safety of Ian’s apartment. And now I realized that would entail doubling back past the hotel again, wasting precious minutes and, worse, risking running straight into the arms of Khan. But, being unfamiliar with the area, it was the only way I knew and, thus, I had no choice. Somehow I had retrace my steps. All the time, through my tears, I saw the image of the wild Indian streaking after me, accelerating his stride, shouting loudly and waving his fists.
I wanted to call out to everyone – anyone – to catch him, to impede him, that he was a criminal wanted by the police. But I had no breath and certainly no voice. All I could hear above the noise of my pounding heart and the traffic chaos of the Kowloon street was his booming voice. All I could feel was the weakness in my legs and the painful throbbing in my chest. And all I could see were people staring, gaping open-mouthed as I rushed full tilt past them.
No one volunteered to help. No one came to my rescue. I doubted if anyone even cared. I cut into a side street and plunged down some steps into a crowded basement shop. I watched, cringing, as Khan’s enormous legs thundered past the window. I waited a moment. Was it safe for me to go out? Would Khan double back if he didn’t see me ahead of him? Or worse still, would he suspect my hiding place and come looking for me? He would have no difficulty trapping me inside. Perhaps he had even seen me go in and was just waiting outside the door ready to pounce on me when I emerged. Certainly, too, he would have realized that I wanted to catch the Ferry so maybe he was already making his way there.
Having established there was no telephone in the shop, I had no alternative but to leave. I glanced cautiously out of the door. Khan didn’t appear to be around, or, at least, I could see no sign of him. Gingerly, I retraced my steps to the main road and then ran as fast as I could in the direction of the Star Ferry. This time I did not look back. I did not want to risk taking the wrong turn again. Nor did I want to see the heavy, sweating image of Khan bearing down on me.
As I approached the ticket office, totally out of breath, I caught a glimpse of him in the distance approaching from the opposite direction. I believed, and hoped, he hadn’t spotted me yet. I joined the queue that, mercifully, was not too long, bought my ticket and passed through into the welcoming, dimly lit interior. I watched fretfully as Khan shuffled backwards and forwards in front of the entrance, apparently making up his mind whether to buy a ticket or whether to wait a little longer. He was looking at his watch. By this time there was a large crowd of passengers behind me and I tried my best to blend in with it. My distinctive clothes and my long blonde hair did nothing to help camouflage my presence.
I saw Khan eventually join the queue to buy his ticket as the line of passengers in front of me started filing through the heavy metal gates towards the dock. I followed them, praying that, by the time Khan approached the barrier, the gates would slide shut in front of him, blocking his entry. At that precise moment he must have caught a glimpse of me and tried to roughly push, shove and fight his way through the human traffic to the head of the queue. I rushed with the crowd past the gates and onto the ferry. To look less conspicuous I huddled close to a group of tourists and watched his progress.
To my immense relief, the large metal gates slowly started to close. I saw Khan shoving his way through the jostling mob of people, desperately trying to reach the gates before they slammed together. He waved his arms hopelessly to the attendant to keep the gates open for him but, thankfully, the attendant appeared neither to notice, nor to care. Tempting a nasty injury, Khan somehow managed to squeeze his huge bulk through the closing gates and ran full tilt towards the gangplank. But, by then, the ferry was freed of its guy ropes and had started to shunt gently out of its moorings. To my relief I watched as Khan was left stranded at the water’s edge. The engine on the old ferry spluttered laboriously. I held my breath. We were moving so slowly away from the pier, would Khan risk jumping on board? Surely he wouldn’t be that desperate? If he did try it, would he make it?
Then I saw the welcome figure of the gate attendant, fearing for his job perhaps, spring towards Khan, grab him roughly by the collar and shove him back behind the gates to wait in queue. Finally I was safe. I was really safe. To the surprise of my fellow passengers, I sat down on the crowded deck and shed copious tears of relief.
Within fifteen minutes I had arrived back at Ian’s apartment and bolted the door firmly behind me. It remained double-locked for five days before I dared venture out into the streets of Hong Kong again. “Professor” Khan, after all, was still a free man and, as Ian pointed out, if he had my phone number, he might also know where I lived. It was possible, too, that because he had failed, perhaps for the first time in his career as a serial rapist, he might want to exact his revenge on me. How was I to know?
Murray Todd dropped by Ian’s flat later that same evening. He was acutely embarrassed and extremely apologetic. As well he should be, Ian whispered in my ear. It turned out that the very reliable Detective Inspector Bob had drunk one too many beers during his lunch break that day and, by the evening, Murray had “retired” him from his job.
Despite Murray’s very sincere regrets and offers to make amends, I swore that would be the first and last time I would ever again act as a decoy for any police force. He had seriously bungled the sting operation and put my life at risk. But I realized that I had also failed on two counts. I had not successfully put an end to “Professor” Khan’s sadistic career, nor had I effectively avenged the brutal murder of Kitty Genovese. The evening ended with Murray giving me a bear hug and one more grovelling apology.
As he left the flat I reminded him of my father’s favourite saying, “If you want a job done properly, do it yourself. “
Ian squeezed my hand. In his raw Glaswegian brogue he joked, “I think it’s high time you gave up being a teetotaler, Caroline. Now is the time to take a wee dram! “
Within a week officers from the Laotian and Vietnamese consulates had both advised me that my visas would take at least one more month to process. So, all things considered, I decided it was probably now time for me to leave Hong Kong. I remembered the invitation from my friends, Betsy and Henry to attend their wedding in Manila, and their offer now seemed irresistibly attractive.
2 thoughts on “Memoir Blog # 18 Nothing Can Go Wrong – Part 2”
What a nail-biter of a story! I can’t help but remark on the irresponsible methods of the PD and this Murray Todd. Thankfully today, this kind of police work would never fly precisely because it was so dangerous without having guaranteed or proper back-up (more than one person on the job to apprehend this scumbag and to protect you). I guess walkie-talkies weren’t standard issue back then. Regardless, you were extremely lucky to have escaped despite no help from either your friend Ian nor the HKPD. You were very brave but no doubt, traumatized as a result.
Thanks, Mohawkgrl, i really appreciate your comments. It was a fairly traumatizing experience but compared to what I was heading for, the war in Vietnam, I thought it probably was pale in comparison.