Sun
Dec 22 2013 11:00pm

The Red Pole of Macau: New Excerpt

Ian Hamilton

The Red Pole of Macau by Ian HamiltonAn excerpt of The Red Pole of Macau, the third book in the Ava Lee international thriller series by Ian Hamilton (available December 31, 2013).

Family ties are stressed to the limit when intrepid forensic accountant Ava Lee must rescue her half brother, Michael, and his business partner, Simon, from a disastrous multimillion-dollar real-estate deal in Macau. When the developers turn out to be gangsters, Michael and Simon are threatened with bankruptcy and much worse. Ava struggles to salvage the deal and her family’s money, but then Simon is kidnapped, and the rules of the game abruptly change. Determined to keep her mentor, Uncle, out of the affair, Ava is forced to turn to a former client, the cunning and seductive May Ling Wong, for help. With time running out, Ava must use all her skills to outwit the gangsters, rescue Simon, and save her family’s future.

Chapter 1

Ava Lee woke to the sensation of lips kissing her forehead. She opened her eyes to semi-darkness and saw her girlfriend, Maria, hovering over her, her face in shadow. Ava extended her arms, but Maria shook her head and passed over the phone. “He says his name is Michael and that he’s your brother,” she said.

“I didn’t hear it ring,” Ava said. “And he’s my half-brother, from my father’s first wife. The one I told you I met in Hong Kong.”

“I think he first phoned half an hour ago. I didn’t answer it then. He’s called back every ten minutes since.”

Ava glanced sideways at the bedside clock. It was just past eight a.m., eight in the evening in Hong Kong, where she assumed the call originated. She reached under her pillow, pulled out a black T-shirt, and slipped it over her head. Then she held out her hand for the phone. “I’ll talk to him out here,” she said, rolling out of bed and walking to the kitchen. “Michael?”

“Yes.”

“This is an early call.”

“I’m sorry. I spoke to Dad last night,” he said, his voice strained. “He said he met you at the Toronto airport and explained that we are having some problems here. He said you were going to call me.”

“I was, later today.”

“I have to go out in about half an hour and I won’t be available for the rest of the evening. I didn’t want to wait until tomorrow for us to talk.”

“Daddy said there was an issue in Hong Kong. He didn’t say any more than that, and he didn’t tell me it was so urgent.”

He sighed. “I’m sorry.”

Ava sat at her kitchen table and looked down onto Yorkville Avenue. Her condo was situated in the very heart of Toronto, and the Yorkville district was one of the city’s trendiest, but at eight on a weekday morning the streets were devoid of shoppers and restaurant goers. Farther away she could see that Avenue Road, a main north–south artery, was jammed with commuter traffic. “What’s going on?” she asked.

“We’re in a bit of a mess.”

“Who is we?”

“My partner, Simon To, and me.”

“Explain what you mean by a mess.”

The line went silent. All Ava could hear was deep breathing, as if he were trying to gather together his thoughts and his emotions. “We own a franchise operation: some convenience stores and high-end noodle shops. We were looking at putting one of each into a large new retail mall in Macau, either renting the space or buying it. We were midway through negotiations when the developers asked if we’d like to up the ante, if we’d like to invest in the entire project. It’s something we’d always thought about, accumulating some real estate. Simon didn’t see how we could go wrong putting money into Macau. So we did.”

“How much money?”

“A hundred and fifty million.”

“U.S. dollars?” Ava said, shocked.

“No, Hong Kong.”

“So about twenty million U.S.?”

“Yes.”

That’s still a lot of money, she thought, but in Macau it won’t buy much land. “So you took a minority share?”

“Yes. As I said, it’s a large project.”

“So what’s gone wrong?”

“The development has run into all kinds of delays and we’ve been trying to pull our money out. They won’t let us. In fact, we’re getting leaned on to put in more.”

“And you don’t want to?”

“We can’t, and our bank is all over us about the hundred and fifty million.”

“The real estate developer is from Hong Kong?”

“No, he’s Macanese.”

“You obviously have a contract.”

“We do.”

“Have you spoken to lawyers?”

“Do you have any idea how time-consuming and money-eating a process it is for a Hong Kong company to pursue one based in Macau?” he said, a trace of impatience in his voice.

Maybe you should have considered that before you did the deal, she thought. “So what do you think I can do?” she asked.

“Communications between them and us have been getting more difficult by the day. My partner can’t talk to them without losing his temper, and every conversation I have with these people just seems to make things worse. We need a fresh set of eyes and ears. We need a new perspective.”

“Michael, what did Daddy tell you I did for a living?” Ava asked.

“He said you were a problem-solver.”

“All I do is collect bad debts.”

“If things keep going the way they are, I’m afraid this could become one,” he said, his voice heavy.

“You don’t mean that,” she said.

“No, not really. We just need to find a way to negotiate ourselves out of this situation.”

“And you think I can do that?”

“Dad says if anyone can, it’s you.”

“It isn’t my usual line of work.”

“I don’t care, and we’d pay a fee.”

“I couldn’t charge one,” she said.

“Ava, please, whatever it takes to get you here, I’ll do it. We’re at an impasse.”

How strange is this? Ava thought. She had met Michael Lee exactly once, and then for only a few minutes in a Hong Kong restaurant, and now he was inviting, almost begging her into his life.

Ava was the younger daughter in their father Marcus Lee’s second family. He had married three times, and in the tradition of wealthy Chinese men, supported and loved each of his families. His first wife had given him four sons, of whom Michael was the eldest. It was understood that Marcus’s business and the bulk of his wealth would ultimately reside with the first family, and that Michael would become head of the entire clan if anything happened to Marcus.

Ava’s mother, Jennie, had given Marcus two daughters and a volatile relationship. It had become so fractious that Marcus eventually moved them to Vancouver, a city Jennie Lee couldn’t abide. She’d lasted two years there before taking Ava and her sister, Marian, to Toronto, where the girls were raised and educated. Marcus eventually had taken a third wife. She had given him two more children, a girl and a boy, and they now lived in Australia.

Jennie Lee had never worked. Marcus bought them a house and cars, paid the bills, and looked after the girls’ educations. He still talked to Jennie every day, and he visited Canada every year for a two-week stay. This year had been unusual. He had joined Jennie, Ava, Marian, and Marian’s husband and two daughters on a two-week cruise through the southern Caribbean, and then returned to Toronto to stay for another week with Jennie. He was still at her house, in the suburb of Richmond Hill to the north.

Ava’s mother had never been jealous about the first family. She knew that the first wife and her family would always be pre-eminent. All she asked was that Marcus be fair in his treatment of her and the girls. And he always had been. He talked to Jennie about his four sons from the first marriage, so she knew about them and had made their names known to Ava and Marian. But none of them had ever met until the week before.

The thing that Ava didn’t know was how open Marcus Lee was about her and Marian with the rest of his extended family. She would have assumed that Michael knew they existed, but it was still a surprise when he approached her in the Hong Kong restaurant and said he recognized her from pictures their father had shown him. He had known exactly who she was, and he seemed eager to start a relationship.

Ava found it unsettling. It was one thing to understand and accept the complicated layers of Marcus Lee’s life and to know where you fit among them. It was another to confront the physical reality of someone who until then had been just a name, just a shadow.

“Michael, I got home only yesterday. I’ve been on the road for more than a week. Is there anything I can do from here?” she said.

He hesitated.

She sighed. “Email the contract to me and I’ll look at it right away.”

“It’s all very basic stuff. I don’t see how that can help.”

“Michael, let me be the judge of that. After I’ve gone through it we can talk.”

“Okay,” he said, still sounding reluctant.

“And by the way, how much does Daddy actually know about your problem?”

“Why do you ask?”

“I expect I’ll be talking to him today. I don’t want to be indiscreet.”

“He knows about the size of it but I haven’t discussed all the details.”

“Then neither will I.”

“Thank you.”

“Look, I promise I’ll read the contract as soon as I get it, and then we can talk,” she said.

“I’ll email it right away and I’ll call when I get back from this function. It will be around midnight.”

Ava closed the phone. The sun was glistening off the windows of the condos across the street, taking, she imagined, the chill out of the spring air. It was her favourite time of year in Canada: the world coming to life, full of promise. The last thing she felt like doing was getting on another plane for Hong Kong. After scurrying around Wuhan in China, London, Denmark, Dublin, New York, and then London again, chasing money and forged art, she felt she deserved more than one day in Toronto.

She thought about going back to bed, but Michael’s problem was now bouncing around in her head. She turned on her laptop and scanned her email. As she did, a message arrived from Michael with the heading Contract. She opened the message and the attachment and scrolled down. Michael was right; it was a standard agreement.

They had partnered with a company called the Ma Shing Realty Corporation, which had secured a reasonably large plot of land on the Cotai Strip of Macau, the so-called Las Vegas of the East, with casinos such as the Venetian and Wynn. The plan was to build a shopping centre to service the casino customers. Michael and Simon would be given space for a convenience store and a noodle shop and thirty percent ownership of the complex in return for their investment.

On balance, Ava thought it looked like a well thought-out deal. Macau was booming, its sixteen casinos generating more income than Las Vegas’s hundred or more. She knew Chinese gamblers. Their money would be pumped into the tables, not hotel rooms, big-name boutiques, or expensive restaurants. Convenience stores and noodle shops were more their style, so the concept seemed sound. She checked the timeline. Ground should have been broken more than a year ago. Michael and Simon should already be occupying their spaces.

She went over the contract a second time, examining the wording, which was quite loose. There were no penalties if Ma Shing did not meet specified dates. There was also no exit provision for Michael. It didn’t say that his money was locked in, but there was no clause in the contract to trigger taking it out.

If her father hadn’t asked her to help and if Michael hadn’t been her brother, she probably would have told him that his best option was to be patient and wait for the centre to get built. But they both seemed so distressed that Ava wondered if something else was in play.

And then a thought occurred to her: Whose money is really at risk here? She reached for the phone to call Richmond Hill and then paused. Her father had been vague the day before, saying only that Michael had a problem. What more was he likely to say? Well, all I can do is ask, she thought, as she punched in the number.

Her mother answered on the fourth ring.

“You’re up so early?” Ava asked.

“Daddy has gone for a walk. I made him coffee and toast before he left.”

“I wanted to talk to him about Michael.”

Jennie Lee sighed. “Such a mess.”

“Has Daddy told you what’s going on?” Ava asked, realizing that maybe she didn’t have to talk to him.

“I’m not sure that—”

“Michael just called me and then he sent me some information.”

“So you should have everything you need.”

“Except I can’t make much sense of it.”

“You need to speak to your father.”

“I can’t imagine that he’ll tell me any more than he did yesterday.”

“And that’s not enough?”

“No. For one thing, I want to know if he’s involved in this investment.”

She could hear her mother inhaling and wondered whether she was holding a cigarette to her lips or airing out some tension. “He’s not involved—at least, not directly.”

Ava felt a door opening and barged through. “Michael said he borrowed the money they put into it. Did Daddy secure the loan?”

“No, but he might as well have.”

“What do you mean?”

“I don’t know how much I should tell you.”

“You should tell me absolutely everything if you want me to help.”

“That’s what I told your father, but he’s a little embarrassed about the situation.”

“Why?”

“He doesn’t think Michael and his partner did proper due diligence. He said that on his own, Michael is quite conservative and not much of a risk taker. His partner, Simon To, is another story. He’s aggressive, rude, and at times too greedy. Your father thinks that Simon talked or pushed Michael into this thing.”

“If the shopping centre gets built, it isn’t that bad a deal,” Ava said.

“But they don’t have time to wait.”

“What do you mean?”

“Your father said they’ve breached a loan covenant at the bank. The bank is demanding its money back. If they don’t come up with it, the bank will put them out of business.”

“Businesses go under all the time. If Daddy didn’t secure the loan then they have no recourse with him.”

“You don’t understand,” Jennie Lee said slowly. “They used Daddy’s bank to get their loan. Even though he hasn’t guaranteed anything, he expects the bank to start squeezing his business very soon. At the very least he thinks they will restrict his working line of credit. They could even refuse to renew the line of credit, and it’s scheduled for a review in three months.”

“He can find another bank.”

“Yes, he probably can, but that doesn’t address the depth of obligation he feels towards Michael,” Jennie said, and paused. “Ava, there’s no way that Marcus Lee will stand back and let his son’s business go under. It would bring so much shame upon the entire family. He’s spent his life building a reputation, and he couldn’t bear to see it sullied. He’d sell everything he owns and give it to Michael rather than let him fail in such a public way.”

Ava was taken aback by the passion and certainty in her mother’s voice. She also noticed a tinge of anger. Michael Lee had no fans in Richmond Hill. “You do know that we’re talking about twenty million U.S. dollars?” Ava asked.

“Enough money to ruin your father,” Jennie said.

“And his ability to support the family?” Ava said.

“I don’t want to think about that. Your father will do what he thinks is best. It won’t change how I feel about him.”

Ava thought about her mother and about the two aunties and half-siblings she had never met. “I guess I’m going to Hong Kong,” she said quietly. “Even though I’m not sure there’s anything I can do.”

“You’ll figure out something when you get there.”

“Let’s hope.”

“Ava?”

“Yes, Mummy?”

“I am very proud of you.”

Ava paused, not sure how to respond. “Look, tell Daddy I called and that I spoke to Michael and I’m heading over there.”

“Will you phone him before you leave?”

Ava felt a presence behind her and turned to see Maria standing naked in the doorway of the bedroom.

“No, Mummy, there isn’t any need.”

“But if he calls you, you won’t tell him—”

“I won’t say anything about what we discussed.”

“I love you.”

“Love you too,” Ava said, and closed her phone.

“And I love you as well,” Maria said.

Ava stared at her and smiled. “Isn’t it time you got dressed for work?”

“You’re leaving?”

“Yes, I’m going to Hong Kong. It’s family business that I can’t avoid.”

“What time?” she said, her disappointment rippling across the room.

“Tonight.”

Maria shook her head of thick, curly black hair. “Then I’m going back to bed,” she said. “Join me.”

 

Chapter 2

Ava woke with a start, knowing where she was but for a moment not sure where she was headed. There had been too many planes in recent weeks. She looked out the window and saw the South China Sea shimmering under an early spring sun, sampans and fishing boats skirting the armada of huge ocean freighters waiting to be escorted into Hong Kong’s container port.

She stretched and made a quick bathroom run, then organized her papers and closed the notebook that detailed the job she had just completed. Ava kept a separate notebook for every case she took on. When the job was finished, successfully or not, the notebook went into a safety deposit box in a bank a few blocks from her condo. This notebook was now ready to join the others.

Before leaving Toronto she had received an email from Roxanne Rice, a go-between, advising Ava that the money she had recovered for her previous clients had been deposited, as agreed, into a Liechtenstein bank account and was waiting for Ava’s transmittal advice. Ava had sent it immediately, and an hour later she received confirmation that a wire transfer had been sent to the bank she and her partner, Uncle, used in Kowloon. The money would be there within two days. Ava had used the time on the plane to review all the numbers and the expenses attached to the job so she could know how much of the money arriving in Kowloon would be forwarded to the clients and how much she and Uncle would keep as their fee. It was their largest fee ever—more than twenty million dollars—but Ava was an accountant by training and didn’t like dealing in round numbers. She didn’t close the notebook until she had figured out their cut to the last cent. While Uncle didn’t care about that level of detail, Ava knew the clients would. Changxing and May Ling Wong were the most powerful business team in Wuhan City, in the province of Hubei, and May Ling was a numbers woman. They hadn’t been easy to work with, and Ava wasn’t going to give them—particularly May Ling—any reason to come back at her over a few dollars and cents.

The Wongs had hired Uncle and Ava to pursue the people who had foisted more than a dozen forged Fauvist paintings on them, paintings with a value of close to $80 million. Ava’s sole interest had been to find the perpetrators so she could persuade them to return the money they had stolen. Her and Uncle’s fee was thirty percent of everything they recovered. The Wongs, it turned out, had conflicting priorities. They wanted the money all right, but almost as important to them was taking revenge. Three innocent people had been killed at their instigation, and Ava had almost walked away from the job. She’d finished it on her terms, saving another life in the process. Still, even that act and the size of the fee didn’t make Ava feel any better about the way the job had gone. It had also left a rift between her and May Ling. Initially Ava had felt almost a kinship between them, an emotion May Ling felt even more keenly. But when the job turned sour, Ava had abandoned any thought of a relationship. May Ling had not, and she’d made it clear that she wanted to repair the damage that had been done. Ava was not interested.

Well, now it’s officially over, Ava thought as she put the notebook into her purse. She looked out the window and saw Chep Lap Kok, Hong Kong’s international airport, on the horizon. Built on Chep Lap Kok Island, near Lantau Island on Hong Kong’s southwestern perimeter, it had been the world’s largest land reclamation and construction site before it opened just over ten years earlier. It had replaced Kai Tak, an airport with a single runway situated in the middle of Kowloon. There were those who still missed the romance of Kai Tak, the sight of the planes flying low over Kowloon Bay, their wing tips almost touching laundry that hung from the balconies of apartments that flanked the airport. But with the romance of the old, overburdened airport had come flight delays and slow customs and baggage lines. Ava much preferred the efficiency of Chep Lap Kok; as the plane touched down, she was thinking she could get through Customs and Immigration and claim her checked bag within fifteen minutes of reaching the gate. It took twelve.

She walked into the cavernous arrivals hall, with its great arching glass-and-steel roof, and looked quickly towards the Kit Kat Koffee House. Normally Uncle would be waiting for her there, an unlit cigarette dangling from his lips, the racing form or a Chinese daily newspaper open in front of him. He had been her partner and mentor for more than ten years. They had met in China, where they’d found themselves chasing the same thief for different customers. They joined forces to run the target to the ground. After the job was done, Uncle asked Ava if she would consider a merger. He was then in his sixties, maybe even seventies, a small, wiry man not much taller or heavier than her, with close-cropped hair that was still streaked with black, and dark eyes that conveyed more emotion than the actual words he spoke. He said that he had contacts all over Asia and more business than he could handle. What his business lacked was the accounting skills and the finesse she could bring. After working with the goons he had employed in China, Ava knew he wasn’t overstating things. And there was something about him that immediately appealed to her, a simplicity that was reflected in the black suits and white shirts he wore buttoned to the collar, and the direct manner in which he spoke.

People gossiped when they became partners, certain that the union of a sixty-year-old man and a twenty-something young woman had to be about more than just business. There were also rumours about Uncle’s former career, rumours that never ceased. He had been triad, people said, and the most senior of triad. She never asked him if it was true, because he was a man she thought she could trust. Ten years later, there was no one on earth she trusted more than Uncle.

Ava had debated the day before about telling Uncle she was coming back to Hong Kong, and decided in the end not to. She was there strictly on family business, she reasoned. He would probably understand that if she had told him, but knowing him as well as she did, he would still have insisted on helping her. She was uncomfortable with that for practical reasons. In the past he had involved her in jobs for personal friends, jobs for which he had waived his recovery fee. Ava had collected her share, though, and her fear was that if she brought Uncle into Michael’s business there would be a question of quid pro quo. He might not have asked, but she would have felt obligated to return the favour anyway. She could have lied, of course, and told him she was in Hong Kong for a holiday. But she never lied to Uncle.

So instead of climbing into Uncle’s Mercedes and riding with him and Sonny, his driver and bodyguard, she took a cab from the airport to the Mandarin Oriental Hotel in Central, the business centre of Hong Kong. The trip took an hour, about half an hour longer than usual in rush-hour traffic. Her agent had arranged for an early check-in, and Ava was showered and dressed by ten thirty. She travelled light: slacks, skirts, and Brooks Brothers shirts for business, T-shirts and track pants for downtime. When she last saw Michael, she had been in casual mode. Now she put on a pair of fitted black linen slacks and a white shirt with a modified Italian collar. She fastened the French cuffs with a pair of green jade cufflinks she had paid a fortune for in Beijing, and then pinned her shoulder-length raven hair into a bun and secured it with an ivory chignon pin, her lucky charm. She added the lightest touch of red lipstick and black mascara and then stepped back to look in the mirror. She was five foot three, and there wasn’t an ounce of fat on her 115-pound frame. Her friends couldn’t understand how someone who ate like a horse could stay so lean. But she jogged regularly and had a job loaded with stress. And then there was bak mei, the martial art that Ava devoted herself to.

Ava had started practising martial arts when she was a teenager. She was quick, agile, and fearless. She’d soon surpassed those in her age group, and when she began to challenge her teacher, he pulled her aside and asked if she had an interest in learning from a true master. She said yes, and he sent her to see Grandmaster Tang in downtown Toronto. He taught a range of martial arts, but when it came to bak mei he had only two students, Ava and her friend Derek. Bak mei was always taught one-on-one: historically a father passing its secrets to a son, and in this case a mentor to his student. It wasn’t a pretty discipline—it was meant to cause damage. Its practitioners were taught to fend off attacks with short, power-laden hand strikes to eyes and ears and nerve endings, and kicks that never went above the waist. It had taken years for her to perfect her technique, to take all the energy and strength she could generate from her shoulders, arms, torso, legs, and twisting hips and focus it into the middle knuckle of one hand, a blow called the phoenix-eye fist. It was the most lethal strike in bak mei, and Ava had mastered it.

She began to prepare herself to call her half-brother. She hadn’t told him exactly when she would arrive because she wanted to take the time she needed to get settled. She turned on her computer and opened the notebook, which had Michael’s name written across the top of the first page. She had found that she retained details—names, numbers, leads, observations, all neatly recorded in pen—if she wrote them by hand. It had felt strange, though, writing Michael’s name.

In Toronto she had done what research she could on the Ma Shing Realty Corporation and had come up short. Neither English nor Chinese websites could give her more than a name and a Macau address. That was disappointing, though it was not unusual for a privately held Chinese company that had no need for self-promotion.

The Millennium Food Partnership, on the other hand, had spent a lot of money on their website. There were pictures and extensive biographies of the two founders, Michael and his business partner, Simon To. In one photo they stood side by side. Michael was tall, slim, wearing what looked like an Armani suit, his full hair slicked straight back. Simon To’s head barely reached his partner’s chin, and his suit may have been as expensive but it hung badly on a pudgy body. They had both been educated in Australia, graduating the same year from business school at the University of Melbourne, and had formed their company immediately thereafter, with the intention of buying up Hong Kong and—if they could—Chinese franchise rights to up-and-coming U.S. fast-food companies. All the big names were long taken, of course, so they were dealing on spec, trying to identify new firms they might sell to. After a couple of unsuccessful launches, they had regrouped and decided to create their own chain of noodle shops. So far, so good. They were running ten in Hong Kong and had about twenty franchises in China. When they’d accumulated some cash, they bought a string of 7-Eleven stores and now owned nine. The foray into Macau was the first time they had tried to combine both of their business models and also invest in real estate.

There were several videos on their site. One focused on the noodle shops, and was jammed with customers only too happy to offer rave reviews of the restaurant chain. Another featured Simon To pitching to potential franchisees in Cantonese. To Ava he looked overeager, stretching the benefits to the maximum and not bothering with caveats. The pitch in Mandarin was a touch more low-key but still aggressive, and it seemed to be targeting companies that could take on a licence for a province. To Ava he didn’t come across as trustworthy, but then she couldn’t count the number of deadbeats she’d met who looked entirely the opposite.

It didn’t take long for a receptionist to patch her through to Michael. In their last two conversations he’d been tentative and nervous. If anything, he was even worse now. He stammered a bit as he said he was happy she’d arrived in Hong Kong.

“How do you want to handle this? Do you want me to come by the office?” she asked.

“That would be a good idea.”

“I know where you are. I can be there in about twenty minutes.”

“That’s fine,” he said.

She hung a left when she exited the hotel and then continued on uphill. In Toronto it would have been a ten-minute walk, but pedestrian traffic in Hong Kong was a different animal. The sidewalks were crowded, and people were bunched at every corner. Ava had no choice but to go with the flow, stopping and starting like a car on a freeway during rush hour.

Des Voeux Road in Central was a great address if you were near the Bank of China or the DBS Bank. Millennium wasn’t. It was in a smaller office building, with only one elevator serving ten floors. Ava took one look at the crowd already waiting in the lobby and climbed the stairs to the sixth floor.

The hallway had linoleum on the floor, cheap acoustic ceiling panels, and walls that were beige or green, depending on the light. Ava walked through a large plain wooden door that was flanked on either side by the company name, stamped in brass and mounted on a plastic plaque. She had seen the office entrance in their video and it had looked more impressive then.

Michael sat in the tiny reception area, a cellphone stuck to his ear. He turned to look up at her, his face visibly distressed. In two weeks he’s aged five years, Ava thought. He was beautifully dressed in a grey designer suit, a crisp white dress shirt, and a tightly knotted red tie. She looked at him and saw her father from her earliest memories: the same pointed chin, long, thin nose, and large, almost round eyes.

“We won’t do that,” he said to whoever was on the other end of the line.

Ava leaned against the wall, studying Michael. He was barely in control of his emotions.

“You need to talk to Simon; you need to talk to him or our lawyers. They both tell me we have no further liability, so I don’t know how you can make those claims,” he said, and gave her a weak smile.

She thought about backing out the door and leaving Michael to his call, but he suddenly stopped talking and looked at the phone. “Those sons of bitches hung up,” he said to her.

“What’s the issue?” she asked.

“They’re squeezing the hell out of us. They want us to put up another eighty million or walk away from the money we’ve already put into the project. We can’t do either.”

“How far along is the project? I know you’re behind schedule, but by how much?”

He grimaced. “The land hasn’t been touched, not a spade in the ground. It’s been more than twelve months. I’m beginning to think they have some zoning or government permit issues, although everyone denies it.”

“I didn’t realize it was quite that bad,” Ava said slowly.

“Well, it is, and now they want more money.”

“Why?”

“They claim one of the other investors pulled out and now we have to make up the difference. They say construction won’t start until all the money is in place.”

“Do they have a legal right to ask for the money?”

“No, no.”

“And you’ve told them that?”

“They don’t care. They keep asking for the money anyway, and not nicely,” he said. “They say Simon verbally agreed to put in extra money if they needed it, right after the deal was signed.”

“Did he?”

“He says no.”

“What does your lawyer say?”

“He says we don’t have to.”

“What does he think about your right to get your original investment returned?”

“There’s an addendum to the contract that says we’re entitled to make that request if the project hasn’t started within twelve months of the original signing date.”

“I didn’t see that in the papers you sent.”

“Sorry, I was in a hurry.”

“The twelve months is up now.”

“Yes, it’s been fourteen months.”

“And you’ve made the request?”

“Repeatedly.”

“And what do they say?”

“They say no, and when we persist, they tell us to sue.”

“And we’ve talked about how difficult that would be.”

“Even our lawyer agrees with that.”

Ava looked down at her brother, who seemed lost in his own thoughts. “It seems to me, Michael, that the Macanese probably want you to abandon your investment. Asking for the extra money is just them leveraging you.”

“We can’t walk away from that money, or even just let it sit,” he said absently. “The bank is already all over us for missing deadlines. We are in breach of some covenants and I’m afraid they’re going to call in the loan.”

“I understand.”

Michael finally seemed to see her. “I’m sorry,” he said, standing up. “I’m sorry to be so rude. Thank you for coming, Ava.”

He was about a foot taller than her, lean and fit. He looked down at her, an awkward smile on his face. He started to extend his hand, then pulled it back and leaned over to kiss her on both cheeks. “Thank you for coming,” he said again.


Copyright © 2013 by Ian Hamilton.

 

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Ian Hamilton has had a range of careers over the span of his life, from journalist to diplomat, but it wasn’t until a health scare that he sat down to write his first novel. Ava Lee was the heroine that came to him and so the series was born. Hamilton’s journalism has been featured in Maclean’s and Saturday Night Magazine. He is the author of The Disciple of Las Vegas, The Wild Beasts of Wuhan, The Red Pole of Macau, and The Water Rat of Wanchai. He lives in Burlington, Ontario, with his wife, Lorraine. He has four children and seven grandchildren.

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