WHEN District Court Judge Peter Surman asked Clive Holgate how he pleaded to corruption, an uncomfortable silence followed. The bespectacled, white-haired 53-year-old appeared to sway slightly. But there was no audible reply from his pursed lips. Leaping to his feet, defence lawyer Alexander King interjected. 'Your honour,' he began. 'My client has a severe speech impediment. It slows his ability to communicate.' In the spectators' gallery all eyes switched back to the stooped figure in the prisoner's dock of court number 24. 'N-n-n . . . not guilty,' stammered the disgraced Hong Kong Government building surveyor. The Holgate trial had begun. In the weeks that followed, Mr King mapped out a trail of evidence, embracing the companionship Holgate found in the hostess bars and nightclubs of Wan Chai, to his privileged Civil Service perks including a spacious flat on the Peak. It covered mahjong parlours, illegal bookmakers, high-stakes gambling, bribery, a glamorous hooker who became his wife, infidelity and a jilted lover, before ending abruptly in a Sai Kung bedroom littered with thousands of dollars in cash. Holgate's wife Pauline Sham Po-ling left that room on January 24, 1992 and was never seen or heard from again. Three months ago, he was arrested during a police investigation into her possible murder and released on police bail without being charged. When prosecutor Bernard Ryan accused the former surveyor of living beyond his legitimate means, Holgate claimed his missing wife had dumped the unexplained cash into his accounts and then vanished, leaving more than $300,000 hidden in the bedroom. But Judge Surman didn't believe it. Because Sham Po-ling was a prostitute - a grasping, selfish manipulator who conned at least one other lonely expatriate, former Commercial Radio general manager Nick Demuth, out of hundreds of thousands of dollars by telling him he had fathered her child. As tales of her antics began to unravel, those in the courtroom stared at Holgate with mounting fascination. What could have driven this demure and financially secure man to abandon his English wife and two children for the unsavoury side of Wan Chai? Holgate's first marriage was breaking down when he walked into the Crazy Horse Pub in Lockhart Road and met its charming hostess one night in 1973. In the Crazy Horse of today, across the road from its former namesake, scantily-clad young women slither around poles mounted on the stage and flirt with customers in the hope they will buy a $220 'hostess drink'. 'Now, all the girls here are Filipina and Thai,' said the club's bare-breasted mamasan, tipping beer into a glass. 'Back then, all of them were Chinese.' Back then it was Pauline Sham Po-ling who poured the drinks and clung to the fingers and words of the men who stopped in there. When Holgate first met Sham she was an attractive 23-year-old, as bubbly and energetic as he was awkward. 'The first time I saw them together she was pouring him a Carling Black Label beer,' a friend recalled. 'He called me over and said 'let me introduce you to someone'. Then with great ceremony he said: 'This - is Pauline.' After that he was always going to the bars where she worked.' Four years after they met, the beguiling prostitute had moved into the surveyor's Peak flat. In 1982, she gave birth to a son, Michael. And two years later, Holgate married her. But the couple shared little more than a roof and a name. She would often stay away for days at a time as her nights became a collage of sleazy bars, sleazier men and all-night gambling sessions. By then Clive Holgate realised he had married a stranger. His escape was the sea. Every weekend the surveyor clambered aboard his yacht The Seven Kings and let the wind pull him free of his scheming, cheating wife. On weekday evenings he sought solace in the bar of the Hebe Haven Yacht Club at Sai Kung. There he would tuck himself into a chair and while away lonely nights with crossword puzzles and whisky. Although he seemed to have little idea or interest in what his errant wife was up to, Ellie, a madam at another Wan Chai bar, knew that Sham was continuing her work as a hostess five years after her wedding. Sham was also deeply involved with another lonely expatriate who believed his charms had wooed her. Sham had met radio mogul Nick Demuth in 1977 - the same year she and Holgate moved in together. Demuth's Japanese wife was dying of cancer, and he turned to Pauline for comfort. They soon became lovers. When Michael was born in 1982, Demuth had no reason to doubt that the child was his. Sham had neglected to mention that she was married. He lavished his young lover with more than $1 million in cash. And when her more dangerous creditors came calling, it was he who paid them off. He tried to coax the new mother into breaking her ties with loansharks and triads, but Sham would hear none of it, snapping at him that he 'didn't understand the scene'. Seven years into their relationship the hostess had become bored with her 70-year-old benefactor. He began seeing less of her as she spent more of her time at a Tsim Sha Tsui restaurant she part-owned, the Lucky Dragon, which was staffed by former police. 'I once met up with her there for dim sum,' a family friend recalled. 'She was ensconced at a table in the corner, surrounded by dodgy-looking men. 'A cigarette was hanging out of the corner of her mouth and she was punching numbers into a calculator.' His tone turned contemptuous. 'She was a real wheeler-dealer, that woman.' Sham and former police sergeant Ng Sai-kong, who was thrown off the force after being acquitted of a string of criminal charges including wounding with intent, shared a passion for gambling. In the late 80s they were inseparable and friends believed that they, too, had been lovers. 'They always appeared at the same time,' sales executive Allan Cheung said. 'I sometimes met them in restaurants and we would talk about horse racing.' When Mr Cheung first met Sham in 1989 it was through a haze of cigarette smoke while she was playing mahjong. His aunt was hosting the game of high stakes, with as much as $20,000 being wagered, and her flat echoed to the noise of clattering tiles. When the gambling was over, Sham and the sales executive exchanged tips on the next horse race meeting at Happy Valley. Mr Cheung met Ng when he came to collect her at the end of the night. 'They didn't look at each other lovingly,' Mr Cheung said. 'From their attitudes I think they had relations through deals - and some other things.' Sham was never a particularly lucky punter, but in 1990 her race track enterprises went disastrously off the rails. One of her regular illegal bookmakers later told police that her payments had become progressively more erratic as her losing streak lengthened. When she began dodging her creditors, Ng was forced to pick up the tab. In the 1991-92 racing season when jockey Basil Marcus snared his first jockeys' premiership with 66 winners, the surveyor's wife lost $300,000. But she never paid him the money and when he tried to find her, she went into hiding. Then Ng won almost $200,000. Believing them to be a couple, the exasperated bookmaker decided to extract Sham's debt from Ng's winnings. Enraged, Ng hunted the bookmaker down and demanded he be paid. But he stood firm and told the former sergeant to 'sort it out with Pauline'. When Sham went missing in 1992, police from the Missing Persons Unit asked Ng to a Kowloon station for routine questioning. But no action was taken. Ng and Holgate have much in common. Both are now in prison. Both were accused of corruption. And both were involved with Sham. If the intimacy between the former sergeant and his wife ever bothered Holgate, he kept his feelings quiet. The two men were drinking partners. ICAC officers, who launched an investigation into suspected corruption in Holgate's department, believed the two were also partners in crime. 'Ng was arrested and questioned in connection with the Holgate inquiry,' ICAC Principal Investigator Carmel Chow said. The sergeant-turned-property consultant was charged over organising bribes and convicted of theft and conspiracy to defraud. Ng formed a syndicate and coaxed a property investor out of $200,000 by vowing to turn the money over to a corrupt civil servant. This, Ng said, would guarantee approval of the investor's building application. Last month he was jailed for three years, although acquitted of the bribery charges. In 1984 Holgate purchased a property called Mandarin Villa for $600,000 and sold it four years later to Ng for $2 million. Evidence of the transaction raised judicial eyebrows during Holgate's corruption trial as the sale had gone through without lawyers or the usual documentation. Ironically, Holgate's pre-retirement leave from the Civil Service began last Tuesday, the day he was convicted and driven away in a prison van for the start of a two-year sentence. It marked the end of his 27 years with the Hong Kong Government, and may see him united with the former sergeant Ng Sai-kong.