THE KING OF MACAU (The Jack Shepherd International Crime Novels) (3 page)

BOOK: THE KING OF MACAU (The Jack Shepherd International Crime Novels)
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“We’re not asking you to get involved with the triads, just to—”

“You’re asking me to finger the triads for washing dirty money through the MGM casino and to find a way to stop them from doing it anymore. How is that not involved?”

Brady looked away. He didn’t say anything.

“Forget it,” I said. “I’m not your guy.”

“Will you talk to someone else before you make your final decision?”

“That is my final decision. I’m not going to change my mind.”

“We paid you a substantial retainer for this meeting, Jack. It seems only fair to ask you to give us just a little more time. If you don’t want the job at the end of the day, we certainly can’t make you take it.”

I had to admit that was a reasonable point of view. I could always give Brady his ten grand back and go home to Hong Kong, of course, but the idea of returning money I had already been paid wasn’t very appealing. The other possibility was that I could stick around a little longer and listen to somebody else try to persuade me to investigate the triads in Macau.

One way, I was out a fair amount of dough. The other way, I would have a few laughs.

“Who do you want me to talk to?” I asked.

I COULDN’T HELP BUT
smile when Brady told me, although I tried not to be obvious about it. I knew who Pansy Ho was, of course. Anybody who read the business papers in Hong Kong knew who Pansy Ho was.

Pansy was a daughter of Stanley Ho Hung Sun, one of fifteen or twenty children the old man was willing to admit to, and she had become quite successful in her own right as MGM’s local partner in Macau. Recently she had been keeping a low profile. Some of the gambling regulators in the US had begun pressing MGM Mirage to explain their involvement with Pansy in connection with MGM’s licenses in New Jersey, Nevada, Maryland, and other places in the United States. It wasn’t really Pansy who was making American gambling regulators nervous. It was her father.

Stanley Ho was at least ninety now and he had never been charged with any crime in Macau or anyplace else, but the stories about his supposed triad connections wouldn’t die. Ho and his companies held an absolute monopoly over all the gambling in Macau for nearly two generations, and he still controlled a couple of dozen major casinos as well as Macau’s whole transportation infrastructure. How could that be possible, people wouldn’t stop asking, without, at the very least, Ho making a few deals with the triads along the way?

American gambling regulators are particularly sensitive to anything that smacks of organized crime, even if the crime is Chinese, half a world away, and not actually all that well organized.

So Brady wanted me to meet Pansy Ho and talk to her about investigating the triads, huh?

That was worth hanging around for.

FOUR

BRADY AND I WENT
down to the third floor and were shown straight in to Pansy Ho’s office, which caused me to feel uncommonly important. I was pretty sure that was the whole idea.

I was a little surprised to see that Pansy’s digs were on the modest side. I suppose I expected something more Las Vegas, but what I found was an average-sized room that looked out on the Wynn Macau right next door. There was an antique wooden desk on one side and four wingback chairs upholstered in a bright red print sat around a mahogany coffee table on the other. Steve Wynn’s driver probably had a fancier office.

“Professor Shepherd,” Pansy said, coming around her desk and offering her hand. “Thank you for making time to see me.”

They weren’t going to quit with the professor stuff, were they?

“It’s just Jack,” I said.

While we were shaking hands I tried to look Pansy over without being too obvious about it. I could remember when men looked at women without risking indignation or a lawsuit, but that was a long time ago. These days, frank appraisal can get you in trouble. My guess was that Pansy was accustomed to appraising looks and wouldn’t mind, but I was about to tell her to shove her job offer so I figured a bit of caution was probably in order.

Pansy was a petite, good-looking woman who wore her jet-black hair in a neat, no-nonsense bob. On her left wrist was what looked like a Cartier tank watch with a brown alligator strap, and on her right were three tortoiseshell bangles that click-clacked together when she moved. I remembered reading somewhere that Pansy was over fifty, but I would never have guessed it. In her crisp white blouse, knee-length Dolce & Gabbana tweed skirt, and gold spike heels, somewhere around forty was far more believable.

“I’m told you had a very distinguished academic career, Jack. Your expertise in banking and money laundering seems to be internationally respected.”

“Who told you that?”

I saw Pansy’s eyes flick to Brady, who remained expressionless. It was obvious that she didn’t want to come up with a name, or couldn’t come up with one so, being a gentleman, I took her off the hook.

“I taught international business at a university in Bangkok for a couple of years, that’s true, but I’m not sure you could call my academic career distinguished. I got fired because the university didn’t like the kind of people I hung out with.”

The welcoming smile on Pansy’s face never wavered.

“What kind of people were those?” she asked carefully.

“I represented Plato Karsarkis. He wanted me to get him a presidential pardon so he could go back to the United States. The university didn’t particularly want to be connected with a notorious international fugitive,” I shrugged, “so they sacked me.”

Pansy nodded slowly and studied a spot on her desk that didn’t seem to me to be all that interesting.

“Did you think Plato Karsarkis was guilty?” she asked after a moment, her eyes still on her desk.

It sounded as if this was going to turn into one of those ‘how-can-you-represent-a-man-like-that’ conversations. I hated conversations like that.

“To get a pardon you have to admit you’re guilty,” I said.

“Or at least you have to be convicted.”

“As he was,” I nodded.

“But do you think he was really guilty?”

I smiled. “You don’t really expect me to answer that, do you?”

Pansy smiled right back, and it was a very nice smile indeed. Warm and ironic at the same time.

“Let’s sit down,” she said, gesturing toward one of the wingback chairs. “Shall we?”

THE THREE OF US
made small talk about Macau while an assistant fussed around with another coffee service. I guess that’s one of the advantages of being in the hotel business. You got all the coffee you can drink. When the assistant finally left and closed the door, Brady got straight to the point.

“Jack says he’s not interested in our proposition,” he told Pansy.

“I never heard your proposition,” I corrected him. “We didn’t get that far. What I said was that I wasn’t interested in taking a job investigating the triads.”

“I didn’t ask you to investigate the triads.”

“You asked me to locate the source of money laundering activity that you admitted might be triad related. It’s the same thing. Any white guy who accepted a job like that in Macau would have to be out of his mind.”

Pansy made little patting gestures in the air with her hands. And very nice hands they were, I couldn’t help but notice. Her fingers were slim and tapered, and her nails were carefully manicured and finished in a deep red polish, a shade that fell about halfway on the scale between librarian and party girl.

“I think we’re getting ahead of ourselves here, Professor Shepherd.”

“It’s Jack,” I reminded her.

“Yes, okay, Jack. I understand you’ve been very successful in tracing funds for all sorts of people, including agencies of the US government. You’ve come highly recommended to us as an expert in international money laundering. All we want you—”

“Recommended by who?” I interrupted. “Or is it by whom?”

Pansy looked confused. “What?”

“You said I came highly recommended. I want you to tell me who highly recommended me.”

Pansy looked distinctly uncomfortable, although I couldn’t see why. It seemed to me to be a simple enough question, so that’s what I said: “It’s a simple enough question.”

“Yes, I see that. But I can’t tell you.”

“You can’t tell me who recommended me?”

“No.”

“That doesn’t make any sense.”

“I can well understand how you might come to that conclusion, but he asked me not to use his name.”

Still not one of my ex-wives, then.

“Why not?”

“You’ll have to ask—”

“Never mind,” I interrupted. “I’ve already had that conversation with Brady.”

Pansy and Brady once again exchanged a look. This time I didn’t even try to guess what it meant.

“PLEASE, JACK,” PANSY SAID,
“would you at least hear me out here?”

I nodded and she leaned toward me with an earnest expression on her face. I was sort of hoping she would stare deep into my eyes and place a hand on my thigh, but her eyes focused somewhere above my head and her hand stopped on my arm. I was left disappointed all around, but I nodded again anyway. It seemed to be the polite thing to do.

“I’m sure you’ve heard the stories about Dr. Ho,” she said.

Dr. Ho? Not ‘Dad’ or ‘my father’?

What Pansy chose to call her old man was none of my business, of course, but it did seem curious. And what was Ho a doctor of, anyway? I tried to imagine someone referring to Steve Wynn as Dr. Wynn and almost burst out laughing.

That was when I realized Pansy was staring at me. She appeared to be waiting for me to acknowledge that I had indeed heard the stories about her father before she went any further. I assumed she meant the stories about Stanley Ho being connected somehow with the triads, the nature of his supposed connection varying wildly from one story to the next. I had indeed heard those stories. Nearly everyone I knew had heard those stories. So I ventured a small nod, not entirely certain what Pansy might think I was agreeing to. But a simple nod seemed harmless enough, and anyway, it looked like the only way I could keep the conversation going.

The nod seemed to satisfy Pansy, whatever she thought it meant.

“I want to tell you that those stories are not true,” she continued. “Dr. Ho has no connections whatsoever with the triads. He runs gambling casinos in the biggest gambling market in the world, so it is inevitable that criminals come to his casinos, but that does not mean he himself is a criminal.”

“A lot of people say your father has cooperated with the triads and that was why he wasn’t a suitable partner for a company like MGM Resorts in Macau.”

“Yes, I understand that.”

“They say you’re MGM’s partner here only because your father can’t be.”

“I understand that, too. But what do you say?”

“I don’t say anything. I have no idea.”

“We all have fathers,” Pansy snapped. “Even you, I suspect.”

That was true, of course, but I doubted it would be polite to point out that, as far as I knew, nobody had ever thought my father might be an organized crime boss.

“Would you like to be held responsible for everything your father has ever done, Mr. Shepherd?”

I noticed that Pansy hadn’t exactly addressed the question on the table. I also noticed I was no longer Jack. I wasn’t even Professor Shepherd. Now I was plain Mr. Shepherd.

“You’ve been in Asia for a long time,” Pansy continued while I was still contemplating the significance of my abrupt demotion. “You of all people must understand that triads are a fact of life here, particularly in Macau. People who say Dr. Ho cooperates with criminals do not live in this part of the world and so they do not understand how this culture works. But that does not stop us living our lives.”

I didn’t even want to try guessing what
that
meant.

WE TALKED ON FOR
another ten or fifteen minutes after that, or rather Pansy talked and I listened. I found that an occasional nod on my part was enough to keep things going. When Pansy was done with her pitch, she leaned toward me again and that earnest expression returned to her face.

“So do you understand what I’m saying, Mr. Shepherd?”

“I do.”

“If triad money is being laundered through the MGM and it is not stopped immediately, I will be blamed for it.”

“You probably will be.”

“That will be seen as validating all the old stories about my father and I will become a personal liability for MGM.”

“Yes, I think you’re right.”

“American gambling commissions have the power to shut down casinos if they suspect they have any kind of connection at all with organized crime anywhere in the world. To save their other assets, MGM will cut all ties to me if stories begin to circulate that triad money is being laundered through this casino. Getting to the bottom of this quickly and quietly may mean my personal survival.”

“I can see that.”

“I cannot allow that to happen.”

“You certainly cannot.”

“So you’ll help me?”

“No.”

Pansy’s head jiggled slightly as if she had been riding a bicycle down a perfectly smooth roadway and unexpectedly hit a speed bump. Which, in a manner of speaking, was exactly what she had done.

“What?” she asked. “Why not?’

“The way I see it, there are only two possibilities here.”

I held up two fingers. I felt a little stupid doing it, but I did it anyway.

“Perhaps this isn’t triad money at all, in which case you don’t have the problem you’re obviously so afraid you have, and you don’t need me.”

I paused and now it was Pansy’s turn to nod. She did.

“Or it is triad money, in which case a lone white guy running around a Chinese city trying to pin down its source is going to feel like a rabbit in a pen full of hunting dogs that haven’t been fed.”

I figured I was due for another nod from Pansy at about that point, but she remained motionless.

“It’s a no-win deal for me,” I finished, even without Pansy’s nod. “I don’t get involved in no-win deals.”

“Please reconsider, Mr. Shepherd. I really do need your help here.”

“Never kick a cow turd on a hot day. Harry Truman said that. Words to live by.”

BOOK: THE KING OF MACAU (The Jack Shepherd International Crime Novels)
11.28Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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