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Lust, Caution

Eileen Chang

A gripping, intensely atmospheric story of love, espionage and betrayal in wartime Shanghai,Lust, Caution is accompanied here by four more shimmering tales of Chinese life.

‘Dead, she was his’

Lust, Caution

Though it was still daylight, the hot lamp was shining full-beam over the mahjong table. Diamond rings flashed under its glare as their wearers clacked and reshuffled their tiles. The tablecloth, tied down over the table legs, stretched out into a sleek plain of blinding white. The harsh artificial light silhouetted to full advantage the generous curve of Jiazhi’s bosom, and laid bare the elegant lines of her hexagonal face, its beauty somehow accentuated by the imperfectly narrow forehead, by the careless, framing wisps of hair. Her makeup was understated, except for the glossily rouged arcs of her lips. Her hair she had pinned nonchalantly back from her face, then allowed to hang down to her shoulders. Her sleeveless cheongsam of electric blue moiré satin reached to the knees, its shallow, rounded collar standing only half an inch tall, in the Western style. A brooch fixed to the collar matched her diamond-studded sapphire button earrings.

The two ladies – taitais – immediately to her left and right were both wearing black wool capes, each held fast at the neck by a heavy double gold chain that snaked out from beneath the cloak’s turned-down collar. Isolated from the rest of the world by Japanese occupation, Shanghai had elaborated a few native fashions. Thanks to the extravagantly inflated price of gold in the occupied territories, gold chains as thick as these were now fabulously expensive. But somehow, functionally worn in place of a collar button, they managed to avoid the taint of vulgar ostentation, thereby offering their owners the perfect pretext for parading their wealth on excursions about the city. For these excellent reasons, the cape and gold chain had become the favoured uniform of the wives of officials serving in Wang Jingwei’s puppet government. Or perhaps they were following the lead of Chongqing, the Chinese Nationalist regime’s wartime capital, where black cloaks were very much in vogue among the elegant ladies of the political glitterati.

Yi Taitai was chez elle, so she had dispensed with her own cape; but even without it, her figure still seemed to bell outward from her neck, with all the weight the years had put on her. She’d met Jiazhi two years earlier in Hong Kong, after she and her husband had left Chongqing – and the Nationalist government – together with Wang Jingwei. Not long before the couple took refuge on the island, one of Wang Jingwei’s lieutenants, Zeng Zhongming, had been assassinated in Hanoi, and so Wang’s followers in Hong Kong were keeping their heads down. Yi Taitai, nonetheless, was determined to go shopping. During the war, goods were scarce in both the unconquered interior and the occupied territories of the Mainland; Yi Taitai had no intention of wasting the golden purchasing opportunity offered by a stopover in the commercial paradise of Hong Kong. Someone in her circle introduced her to Jiazhi – the beautiful young wife of Mr Mai, a local businessman – who chaperoned her on her shopping trips. If you wanted to navigate Hong Kong’s emporiums, you had to have a local along: you were expected to haggle over prices even in the biggest department stores, and if you couldn’t speak Cantonese, all the traders would overcharge you wickedly. Mr Mai was in import–export and, like all business people, delighted in making political friends. So of course the couple were incessantly hospitable to Yi Taitai, who was in turn extremely grateful. After the bombing of Pearl Harbor and the fall of Hong Kong, Mr Mai went out of business. To make some extra money for the family, Mai Taitai decided to do a little smuggling herself, and travelled to Shanghai with a few luxury goods – watches, Western medicines, perfumes, stockings – to sell. Yi Taitai very naturally invited her to stay with them.

‘We went to Shuyu, that Szechuanese restaurant, yesterday,’ Yi Taitai was telling the first black cape. ‘Mai Taitai hadn’t been.’

‘Oh, really?’

‘We haven’t seen you here for a few days, Ma Taitai.’

‘I’ve been busy – a family matter,’ Ma Taitai mumbled amid the twittering of the mahjong tiles.

Yi Taitai’s lips thinned into a smile. ‘She went into hiding because it was her turn to buy dinner.’

Jiazhi suspected that Ma Taitai was jealous. Ever since Jiazhi had arrived, she had been the centre of attention.

‘Liao Taitai took us all out last night. She’s been on such a winning streak the last couple of days,’ Yi Taitai went on to Ma Taitai. ‘At the restaurant, I bumped into that young Mr Li and his wife and invited them to join us. When he said they were waiting for guests of their own, I told him they should all join us. After all, it isn’t often that Liao Taitai gives dinner parties. Then it turned out Mr Li had invited so many guests we couldn’t fit them all around our table. Even with extra chairs we couldn’t all squeeze in, so Liao Taitai had to sit behind me like a sing-song girl at a banquet. “What a beauty I’ve picked for myself tonight,” I joked. “I’m too old a piece of tofu for you to swallow,” she replied. “Old tofu tastes the spiciest,” I told her! Oh, how we laughed. She laughed so much her pockmarks turned red.’

More laughter around the mahjong table.

While Yi Taitai was still updating Ma Taitai on the goings-on of the past couple of days, Mr Yi came in, dressed in a grey suit, and nodded at his three female guests.

‘You started early today.’

He stood behind his wife, watching the game. The wall behind him was swathed in heavy, yellowish-brown wool curtains printed with a brick-red phoenix-tail fern design, each blade almost six feet long. Zhou Fohai, Wang Jingwei’s second-in-command, had a pair; and so, therefore, did they. False French windows, and enormous drapes to cover them, were all the rage just then. Because of the war, fabrics were in short supply; floor-length curtains such as those hanging behind Mr Yi – using up an entire bolt of cloth, with extra wastage from pattern matching – were a conspicuous extravagance. Standing against the huge ferns of his backdrop, Yi looked even shorter than usual. His face was pale, finely drawn, and crowned by a receding hairline that faded away into petal-shaped peaks above his temples. His nose was distinguished by its narrowed, almost rat-like tip.

‘Is that ring of yours three carats, Ma Taitai?’ Yi Taitai asked. ‘The day before yesterday, Pin Fen brought a five-carat diamond to show me, but it didn’t sparkle like yours.’

‘I’ve heard Pin Fen’s things are better than the stuff in the shops.’

‘It is convenient to have things brought to your home, I suppose. And you can hold on to them for a few days, while you decide. And sometimes she has things you can’t get elsewhere. Last time, she showed me a yellow kerosene diamond, but he wouldn’t buy it.’ She glanced icily at Mr Yi before going on: ‘How much do you imagine something like that would cost now? A perfect kerosene diamond: a dozen ounces of gold per carat? Two? Three? Pin Fen says no one’s selling kerosene or pink diamonds at the moment, for any price. Everyone’s hoarding them, waiting for the price to get even more insane.’

‘Didn’t you feel how heavy it was?’ Mr Yi laughed. ‘Ten carats. You wouldn’t have been able to play mahjong with that rock on your finger.’

The edges of the table glittered like a diamond exhibition, Jiazhi thought, every pair of hands glinting ostentatiously – except hers. She should have left her jadeite ring back in its box, she realized; to spare herself all those sneering glances.

‘Stop making fun of me!’ Yi Taitai sulked as she moved out one of her counters. The black cape opposite Ma Taitai clatteringly opened out her winning hand, and a sudden commotion of laughter and lament broke the thread of conversation.

As the gamblers busily set to calculating their wins and losses, Mr Yi motioned slightly at Jiazhi with his chin towards the door.

She immediately glanced at the two black capes on either side of her. Fortunately, neither seemed to have noticed. She paid out the chips she had lost, took a sip from her teacup, then suddenly exclaimed: ‘That memory of mine! I have a business appointment at three o’clock, I’d forgotten all about it. Mr Yi, will you take my place until I get back?’

‘I won’t allow it!’ Yi Taitai protested. ‘You can’t just run away like that without warning us in advance.’

‘And just when I thought my luck was changing,’ muttered the winning black cape.

‘I suppose we could ask Liao Taitai to come over. Go and telephone her,’ Yi Taitai went on to Jiazhi. ‘At least stay until she gets here.’

‘I really need to go now.’ Jiazhi looked at her watch. ‘I’m going to be late – I arranged to have coffee with a broker. Mr Yi can take my place.’

‘I’m busy this afternoon,’ Mr Yi excused himself. ‘Tomorrow I’ll play all night.’

‘That Wang Jiazhi!’ Yi Taitai liked referring to Jiazhi by her full maiden name, as if they had known each other since they were girls. ‘I’ll make you pay for this – you’re going to treat us all to dinner tonight!’

‘You can’t let your guest buy you dinner,’ Ma Taitai objected.

‘I’m siding with Yi Taitai,’ the other black cape put in.

They needed to tread carefully around their hostess on the subject of her young house guest. Although Yi Taitai was easily old enough to be Jiazhi’s mother, there had never been any talk of formalizing their relationship, of adopting her as a goddaughter. Yi Taitai was a little unpredictable, at the age she was now. Although she had a dowager’s fondness for keeping young, pretty women clustered around her – like a galaxy of stars reflecting glory on to the moon around which they circulated – she was not yet too old for flashes of feminine jealousy.

‘All right, all right,’ Jiazhi said. ‘I’ll take you all out to dinner tonight. But you won’t be in the party, Mr Yi, if you don’t take my place now.’

‘Do, Mr Yi! Mahjong’s no fun with only three. Play just for a little, while Ma Taitai telephones for a replacement.’

‘I really do have a prior engagement.’ Whenever Mr Yi spoke of official business, his voice sank to an almost inaudibly discreet mutter. ‘Someone else will come along soon.’

‘We all know how busy Mr Yi is,’ Ma Taitai said.

Was she insinuating something, Jiazhi wondered, or were nerves getting the better of her? Observing him smile and banter, Jiazhi even began to read a flattering undertone into Ma Taitai’s remark, as if she knew that he wanted other people to coax the details of his conquest out of him. Perhaps success, she speculated, can turn the heads of even the professionally secretive.

It was getting far too dangerous. If the job wasn’t done today, if the thing were to drag on any longer, Yi Taitai would surely find them out.

He walked off while she was still exhaustingly negotiating her exit with his wife. After finally extricating herself, she returned briefly to her room. As she finished hurriedly tidying her hair and makeup – there was too little time to change her clothes – the maidservant arrived to tell her the car was waiting for her at the door. Getting in, she gave the chauffeur instructions to drive her to a café; once arrived, she sent him back home.

As it was only mid-afternoon, the café was almost deserted. Its large interior was lit by wall lamps with pleated apricot silk shades, its floor populated by small round tables covered in cloths of fine white linen jacquard – an old-fashioned, middlebrow kind of establishment. She made a call from the public telephone on the counter. After four rings, she hung up and redialled, muttering ‘wrong number’ to herself, for fear the cashier might think her behaviour strange.

That was the code. The second time, someone answered.

‘Hello?’

Thank goodness – it was Kuang Yumin. Even now, she was terrified she might have to speak to Liang Runsheng, though he was usually very careful to let others get to the phone first.

‘It’s me,’ she replied in Cantonese. ‘Everyone well?’

‘All fine. How about yourself?’

‘I’ll be going shopping this afternoon, but I’m not sure when.’

‘No problem. We’ll wait for you. Where are you now?’

‘Xiafei Road.’

‘Fine.’

A pause.

‘Nothing else then?’ Her hands felt cold, but she was somehow warmed by the sound of a familiar voice.

‘No, nothing.’

‘I might go right now.’

‘We’ll be there, don’t worry. See you later.’

She hung up and exited to hail a pedicab.

If they didn’t finish it off today, she couldn’t stay on at the Yis’ – not with all those great bejewelled cats watching her every move. Maybe she should have found an excuse to move out as soon as she had hooked him. He could have found her a place somewhere: the last couple of times they’d met in apartments, different ones each time, left vacant by British or Americans departed to war camps. But that probably would have made everything even more complicated – how would she have known what time he was coming? He might have suddenly descended upon her at any moment. Or if they had fixed a time in advance, urgent business might have forced him to cancel at the last minute. Calling him would also have been difficult, as his wife kept a close eye on him; she probably had spies stationed in all his various offices. A hint of suspicion and the whole thing would be undone: Shanghai crawled with potential informers, all of them eager to ingratiate themselves with the mighty Yi Taitai. And if Jiazhi had not pursued him so energetically, he might have cast her aside. Apartments were a popular parting gift to discarded mistresses of Wang Jingwei’s ministers. He had too many temptations jostling before him; far too many for any one moment. And if one of them weren’t kept constantly in view, it would slip to the back, and then out, of his mind. No: he had to be nailed – even if she had to keep his nose buried between her breasts to do it.

‘They weren’t this big two years ago,’ he had murmured to her, in between kisses.

His head against her chest, he hadn’t seen her blush.

Even now, it stung her to recall those knowing smirks – from all of them, Kuang Yumin included. Only Liang Runsheng had pretended not to notice how much bigger her breasts now looked. Some episodes from her past she needed to keep banished from her mind.

It was some distance to the foreign concessions. When the pedicab reached the corner of Jing’an Temple and Seymour roads, she told him to stop by a small café. She looked around her, on the off chance that his car had already arrived. She could see only a vehicle with a bulky, charcoal-burning tank parked a little way up the street.

Most of the café’s business must have been in take-out; there were hardly any places to sit down inside. Towards the back of its dingy interior was a refrigerated cabinet filled with various Western-style cakes. A glaringly bright lamp in the passageway behind exposed the rough, uneven surface of the brown paint covering the lower half of the walls. A white military-style uniform hung to one side of a small fridge; above, nearer the ceiling, hung a row of long, lined gowns – like a rail in a secondhand clothing store – worn by the establishment’s Chinese servants and waiters.

He had told her that the place had been opened by a Chinese who had started out working in Tianjin’s oldest, most famous Western eatery, the Kiessling. He must have chosen this place, she thought, because he would be unlikely to run into any high-society acquaintances here. It was also situated on a main road, so if he did bump into someone, it would not look as suspicious as if he were seen somewhere off the beaten track; it was central enough that one could plausibly be on one’s way to somewhere entirely above-board.

She waited, the cup of coffee in front of her steadily losing heat. The last time, in the apartment, he had kept her waiting almost a whole hour. If the Chinese are the most unpunctual of people, she meditated, their politicians are surely virtuosos in the art of the late arrival. If she had to wait much longer, the store would be closed before they got there.

It had been his idea in the first place, after their first assignation. ‘Let’s buy you a ring to celebrate today – you choose it. I’d go with you myself, if I had the time.’ Their second meeting was an even more rushed affair, and he had not mentioned it again. If he failed to remember today, she would have to think of artful ways of reminding him. With any other man, she would have made herself look undignified, grasping. But a cynical old fox like him would not delude himself that a pretty young woman would attach herself to a squat fifty-year-old merely for the beauty of his soul; a failure to express her material interest in the affair would seem suspicious. Ladies, in any case, are always partial to jewellery. She had, supposedly, travelled to Shanghai to trade in feminine luxuries. That she should try to generate a little extra profit along the way was entirely to be expected. As he was in the espionage business himself, he probably suspected conspiracies even where they didn’t exist, where no cause for doubt had been given. Her priority was to win his trust, to appear credible. So far they had met in locations of his choosing; today she had to persuade him to follow her lead.

Last time he had sent the car on time to fetch her. The long wait she had had to endure today must mean he was coming himself. That was a relief: if they were due to tryst in an apartment, it would be hard to coax him out again once they were ensconced. Unless he had planned for them to stay out late together, to go out somewhere for dinner first – but he hadn’t taken her to dinner on either of the previous two occasions. He would be wanting to take his time with her, while she would be getting jittery that the shop would close; but she wouldn’t be able to hurry him along, like a prostitute with a customer.

She took out her powder compact and dabbed at her face. There was no guarantee he’d be coming to meet her himself. Now that the novelty had worn off, he was probably starting to lose interest. If she didn’t pull it off today, she might not get another chance.

She glanced at her watch again. She felt a kind of chilling premonition of failure, like a long snag in a silk stocking, silently creeping up her body. On a seat a little over the way from hers, a man dressed in a Chinese robe – also on his own, reading a newspaper – was studying her. He’d been there when she had arrived, so he couldn’t have been following her. Perhaps he was trying to guess what line of business she was in; whether her jewellery was real or fake. She didn’t have the look of a dancing girl, but if she was an actress, he couldn’t put a name to the face.

She had, in a past life, been an actress; and here she was, still playing a part, but in a drama too secret to make her famous.

While at college in Canton she’d starred in a string of rousingly patriotic history plays. Before the city fell to the Japanese, her university had relocated to Hong Kong, where the drama troupe had given one last public performance. Overexcited, unable to wind down after the curtain had fallen, she had gone out for a bite to eat with the rest of the cast. But even after almost everyone else had dispersed, she still hadn’t wanted to go home. Instead, she and two female classmates had ridden through the city on the deserted upper deck of a tram as it swayed and trundled down the middle of the Hong Kong streets, the neon advertisements glowing in the darkness outside the windows.

Hong Kong University had lent a few of its classrooms to the Cantonese students, but lectures were always jam-packed, uncomfortably reminding them of their refugee status. The disappointing apathy of average Hong Kong people towards China’s state of national emergency filled the classmates with a strong, indignant sense of exile, even though they had travelled little more than a hundred miles over the border to reach Hong Kong. Soon enough, a few like-minded elements among them formed a small radical group. When Wang Jingwei, soon to begin negotiating with the Japanese over forming a collaborationist government back on the Mainland, arrived on the island with his retinue of supporters – many of them also from near Canton – the students discovered that one of his aides came from the same town as Kuang Yumin. Exploiting this coincidence, Kuang sought him out and easily struck up a friendship, in the process extracting from him various items of useful information about members of Wang’s group. After he had reported his findings to his co-conspirators, they resolved after much discussion to set a honey trap for one Mr Yee: to seduce him, with the help of one of their female classmates, towards an assassin’s bullet. First she would befriend the wife, then move in on the husband. But if she presented herself as a student – always the most militant members of the population – Yi Taitai would be instantly on her guard. Instead, the group decided to make her the young wife of a local businessman; that sounded unthreatening enough, particularly in Hong Kong, where men of commerce were almost always apolitical. Enter the female star of the college drama troupe.

Of the various members of the group, Huang Lei was the wealthiest – from family money – and he briskly raised the funds to build a front for the conspiracy: renting a house, hiring a car, borrowing costumes. And since he was the only one of them able to drive, he took the part of chauffeur. Ouyang Lingwen was cast as the businessman husband, Mr Mai; Kuang Yumin as a cousin of the family, chaperoning the lovely Mai Taitai on her first meeting with Yi Taitai. After taking Kuang and the obligingly talkative aide back home, the car then drove the two ladies on to the Central District, to go about their shopping alone.

She had seen Mr Yi a few times, but only in passing. When they finally sat down in the same room together – the first time the Yis invited her to play mahjong with them – she could tell right away he was interested, despite his obvious attempts to be circumspect. Since the age of twelve or thirteen, she had been no stranger to the admiring male gaze. She knew the game. He was terrified of indiscretion, but at the same time finding his tediously quiet life in Hong Kong stifling. He didn’t even dare drink, for fear the Wangs might summon him for duty at any moment. He and another member of the Wang clique had rented an old house together, inside which they remained cloistered, diverting themselves only with the occasional game of mahjong.

During the game, the conversation turned to the fabric Yi Taitai had bought to make suits for her husband. Jiazhi recommended a tailor who had done work for her in the past. ‘He’ll be rushed off his feet right now, with all the tourist trade, so it could take him a few months. But if Yi Taitai telephones me when Mr Yi has a free moment, I’ll take him. He’ll get them done faster if he knows it’s for a friend of mine.’ As she was going, she left her phone number on the table. While his wife was at the door, seeing Jiazhi out, Mr Yi would surely have time to copy it down for himself. Then, over the next couple of days, he could find an opportunity to call her – during office hours, when Mr Mai would be out at work. And they could take it from there.

That evening a light drizzle had been falling. Huang Lei drove her back home and they went back into the house together, where everybody was nervously waiting for news of the evening’s triumph. Resplendent in the high-society costume in which she had performed so supremely, she wanted everyone to stay on to celebrate with her, to carouse with her until morning. None of the male students were dancers, but a bowl of soup at one of those small, all-night restaurants and a long walk through the damp night would do just as well. Anything to avoid bed.

Instead, a quiet gradually fell over the assembled company. There was whispering in a couple of corners, and secretive, tittering laughter; laughter she had heard before. They had been talking it over behind her back for some time, she realized.

‘Apparently, Liang Runsheng is the only one who has any experience,’ Lai Xiujin, the only other girl in the group, told her.

Liang Runsheng.

Of course. He was the only one who had been inside a brothel.

But given that she had already determined to make a sacrifice of herself, she couldn’t very well resent him for being the only candidate for the job.

And that evening, while she basked in the heady afterglow of her success, even Liang Runsheng didn’t seem quite as repellent as usual. One by one, the others saw the way the thing would go; one by one they slipped away, until the two of them were left alone. And so the show went on.

Days passed. Mr Yi did not call. In the end, she decided to telephone Yi Taitai, who sounded listless, offhand: she’d been too busy to go shopping in the last few days, but she’d give her another ring in a day or two.

Did Yi Taitai suspect something? Had she discovered her husband in possession of Jiazhi’s phone number? Or had they had bad news from the Japanese? After two weeks tormented by worry, she finally received a jubilant phone call from Yi Taitai: to say goodbye. She was sorry they were in such a hurry that there’d be no time to meet before they left, but they would love to have her and her husband visit in Shanghai. They must come for a good long time, so they could all go on a trip to Nanjing together. Wang Jingwei’s plan to go back to Nanjing to form a government must have temporarily run aground, Jiazhi speculated, and forced them to lie low for a while.

Huang Lei was by now in serious trouble, up to his eyes in debt. And when his family cut off his allowance on hearing that he was cohabiting with a dancing girl in Hong Kong, the scheme’s finances collapsed.

The thing with Liang Runsheng had been awkward from the start; and now that she was so obviously regretting the whole business, the rest of the group began to avoid her. No one would look her in the eye.

‘I was an idiot,’ she said to herself, ‘such an idiot.’

Had she been set up, she wondered, from the very beginning of this dead-end drama?

From this point on, she kept her distance not only from Liang Runsheng, but also from their entire little group. All the time she was with them, she felt they were eyeing her curiously – as if she were some kind of freak, or grotesque. After Pearl Harbor, the sea lanes reopened and all her classmates transferred to Shanghai. Although it, too, had been occupied by the Japanese, its colleges were still open; there was still an education (of sorts) to be had. She did not go with them, and did not try to find them when she got there herself.

For a long time, she agonized over whether she had caught something from Liang Runsheng.

Not long after reaching Shanghai, however, the students made contact with an underground worker called Wu – doubtless an alias – who, as soon as he heard about the high-ranking connection they had made, naturally encouraged them to pursue their scheme. And when they approached her, she resolved to do her duty and see the thing through.

In truth, every time she was with Yi she felt cleansed, as if by a scalding hot bath; for now everything she did was for the cause.

They must have posted someone to watch the entrance to the café, and alert everyone the instant his car drew up. When she’d arrived, she hadn’t spotted anyone loitering about. The Ping’an Theatre directly opposite would have been an obvious choice, its corridor of pillars offering the perfect cover for a lookout. People were, in any case, always hanging around theatre entrances; one could easily wait there without arousing suspicion. But it was a little too far away to identify clearly the occupant of a car parked on the other side of the road.

A delivery bike, apparently broken down, was parked by the entrance to a leather-goods shop next door. Its owner – a man of around thirty, with a crew-cut – was bent over the mechanism, trying to repair it. Though she couldn’t see his face clearly, she was fairly sure he wasn’t someone she had seen before. She somehow doubted the bike was the getaway vehicle. There were some things they didn’t tell her, and some she didn’t ask. But she had heard that members of her old group had been chosen for the job. Even with Wu’s help and connections, though, they might not have been able to get hold of a car for afterwards. If that car with a charcoal tank stayed where it was, parked just up from the café, it might turn out to be theirs. In which case it would be Huang Lei at the wheel. As she’d approached the café from behind the vehicle, she hadn’t seen the driver.

She suspected that Wu didn’t have much faith in them: he was probably afraid they were too inexperienced, that they’d get caught and fall to pieces in an interrogation, implicating other people in the process. Jiazhi was sure he was more than a one-man operation here in Shanghai, but he’d been Kuang Yumin’s only point of contact throughout.

He’d promised to let them join his network. Maybe this was their test.

‘Before they fire, they get so close the gun’s almost up against the body,’ Kuang Yumin had once told her, smiling. ‘They don’t shoot from a distance, like in the movies.’

This had probably been an attempt to reassure her that they wouldn’t cut everyone around him down in an indiscriminate hail of fire. Even if she survived a bullet wound, it would cripple her for life. She’d rather die.

The moment had almost arrived, bringing with it a sharp taste of anticipation.

Her stage fright always evaporated once the curtain was up.

But this waiting was a torment. Men, at least, could smoke through their tension. Opening her handbag, she took out a small bottle of perfume and touched the stopper behind her ears. Its cool, glassy edge felt like her only point of contact with tangible reality. An instant later she caught the scent of Cape Jasmine.

She took off her coat and dabbed some more perfume in the crooks of her elbows. Before she’d had time to put it back on, she saw, through the tiers of a white display-model wedding cake in the window, a car parked outside the café. It was his.

She gathered up her coat and handbag, and walked out with them over her arm. By the time she approached, the driver had opened the door for her. Mr Yi was sitting in the middle of the back seat.

‘I’m late, I know,’ he muttered, stooping slightly in apology.

She sent him a long, accusing look, then got in. After the driver had returned to his seat, Mr Yi told him to drive to Ferguson Road – presumably to the apartment where their last assignation had taken place.

‘I need to get to a jeweller’s first,’ she told him in a low voice. ‘I want to replace a diamond stud that’s fallen out of one of my earrings. There’s a place just here. I would have gone before you got here, but I was afraid I might miss you. So I ended up waiting for ages on my own, like an idiot.’


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