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20

Theyre not supposed to keep a suspect for more than twenty-four hours without handing them over to the police. Theyve made an exception in Mary Smiths case because they had to take her to the hospital for a laxative, where she was kept under tight supervision with a special toilet to catch the condoms. Now the condoms have all been sent off to forensics for tests and nobody thinks they contain anything less than high-quality smack.

Immigration took the opportunity to throw Mary Smith in with another offender, a French woman who was caught with a small amount of cannabis. The French woman speaks perfect English, and Immigration secretly filmed and voice-recorded Marys night with her. I watch the part of the video where Mary slips a hand between the French womans thighs and they turn to kiss like old lovers.

Recidivists, the customs officer says, both of them. You can tell by looking. These girls love jail, they just dont know that they love it.

Smith is in her midtwenties, longish, light brown hair which needs washing, crumpled backpacker pants and shirt. An unhealthy paleness haunts her otherwise unremarkable features; she looks like a young woman who is frequently sick from junk. She speaks English in two shades of gray: estuary and Cockney. During my interview with her, I understand completely where the customs officer is coming from. Its not something you can explain to anyone who is not in the business, but cops come across it all the time: people in the grip of a psychological need for incarceration. Its a fatal attraction like any other. Some people scare themselves to death with vertigo as a precursor to jumping off buildings; young men with a morbid fear of violence join the Marines and get themselves killed; there are leprophiles and AIDSphiles, most of whom succumb to their chosen diseases in the end; and there are recidivists, people who, from a fantastically early age, know that their destiny lies in prison. Mary Smith, for example, knows all about Thai jails, even though shes never been in one. She knows they will likely hold her in the womens holding prison at Thonburi, where Rosie is incarcerated. She also knows the name of the prison where she will likely serve out her time. She knows about the punishments, the occasional sexual assault by bull dykes, the likely effect eight or more years will have on her mind, and there is a quiet joy behind the shock, a slow-eyed relief that all the important decisions will be made by someone else from now on-and love will be simply a series of stolen opportunities with short shelf lives. The world recently got very simple for Mary Smith.

I say, Maybe I can help with the sentence. Theres a huge difference between eight years and twelve-believe me, Ive seen it.

What difference?

Eight years, theres still something left, some tiny memory of how to function in a free society, something you might just be able to build on-and youre still quite young. In eight years youll be-let me see-

Thirty-six.

Right. Thirty-six. Still of childbearing age. Still with a lot of future in front of you.

I dont want a future. I hate future. I definitely dont give a fuck about having kids.

I nod sagely. But twelve years, thats something else, every programming you ever received out of jail, from birth onward, will have been erased from your mind. All of your responses, even the most basic, will have been replaced with jail responses, even down to using a toilet-youre going to be doing it our way for the rest of your life.

Our way? She uses a sneer to convey the allegation of hypocrisy.

I scratch my left ear. Lets cut the crap, Mary. Twelve years is too long. As the jails little farang whore you might just about get away with eight and still be viable, after that youll be some toothless toy for the dykes to play with, you wont even get to choose who uses the dildo or where they shove it, much less what they make you do with your mouth. Better talk.

My plain words seem to have had an effect. I dont know anything. If I did I would have talked by now, wouldnt I?

Who told you where to go when you got to Bangkok?

Someone on the road.

Where did they tell you to go?

Kaosan Road. Some little side street behind the Coca-Cola truck.

The Coca-Cola truck is famous; it hasnt moved for more than thirty years. Actually, its a Pepsi-Cola truck, but we always think Coke. Where were you when you heard about business to be had on Kaosan Road?

She shrugs. Everybody knows. Its one of those things people talk about on the road.

Backpackers?

Sure.

But the precise address-where did you get that?

Nepal. Kathmandu.

From?

The place where I was staying.

What was the name?

The Newar Guesthouse.

I let a couple of beats pass. The Newar? Wheres that?

Up the top of Thamel, just behind where they sell all those kukri knives.

Not Freak Street?

Freak Street? Of course not, nobody goes there anymore. The Newar is the other direction, I told you, at the top of Thamel, nowhere near the market. Freak Street is next to the market.

Who gave you the name and address to go to in Kaosan Road?

A backpacker.

Man or woman?

Woman.

Farang?

Yes, farang. But she was only fronting for someone else, someone who had shares in the guesthouse. She happened to be doing business when I got there. She left before I did. I never heard from her again.

And who owns the guesthouse? Who is the real supplier? A shrug. Of course a girl like her would never be told a thing like that. Ever heard of the Nixon Guesthouse? She gives a blank stare.

On the way home the traffic moves like molasses, and its about eleven in the evening when I drop Lek off at the Asok-Sukhumvit interchange so he can take the subway to Klong Toey, where he recently took on a small illegal house at a knockdown rent. I think hes finally settling his home base in preparation for the operation that will turn him into a woman.

The first thing I want to do at my hovel is check my Kathmandu guidebook. I am unable to find either the Newar Guesthouse or the Nixon, but that doesnt necessarily mean anything, except perhaps that these two establishments are too basic even to qualify for the budget category. Or maybe they dont need to advertise?

Now I have a good reason to go back up to Kathmandu to investigate, and when I call Vikorn hes enthusiastic: Yeah, find out whos doing the snitching up there. I immediately wai my little red electric Buddha in the shrine I put up in my bedroom after Pichai died, roll a joint, and try to stop my mind from slipping, slipping, slipping away. Too late, a tiny dying body attached to a respirator pops up in my minds eye and I feel my heart starting to sink and hear the whirr of blade wheels. Then: Businessmen, they drink my wine. My cell phone is ringing. I forgot to turn it off before I lit the joint.

Its Sukum. His voice is glum. I finally managed to talk to her over the phone.

Who?

Mad Moi. Doctor Death.

At the Oriental? She talked to you?

Yes. Only to let me know she has a cast-iron alibi. At the time the American was killed, she was at one of those HiSo parties, with photographers everywhere. I didnt need to question witnesses, theres a whole webpage dedicated to the party, with pictures of her nearly naked in one of those ball gowns HiSo women wear, cleavage all the way down to her belly button. I guess her drug diet keeps her slim. She said the photographers will all have date and time features on their cameras, so I could probably work out to the minute where she was and who she was talking to for the whole of that night.

Why is she staying at the Oriental?

Because she is having her house on the river renovated. Shes booked the Somerset Maugham Suite for two months. Thats more than a years salary for me.

Maybe Im too sensitive, but I dont like the for me coda. I think its a reference to cops like myself who have alternative sources of income. I feel one of those twinges you get when someone activates the guilt chakra. Sukum adds, Of course, there is such a thing as remote murder.

Sure, but its a hard case to argue when the homicide is aggravated by cannibalism at the scene of the crime.

Sukum giggles. I really think you should speak to her. She just wont take me seriously. Its quite insulting.

Okay, Ill see what I can do.

Everything that happens in Thailand happens thanks to go-betweens; its our Chinese side. When I call my mother to tell her I need to get in touch with Doctor Moi, I can hear drunken farang and whores laughing in the background along with California Dreaming. Over the noise of the bar, Nong says theres no way she knows of getting directly in touch with the notorious aristocrat, but shell leave messages all over town for Moi to call me if she deigns. To my great surprise, Nong has a response from the doctor before dawn: she would be delighted to meet me to discuss the case.

By the time Ive showered and shaved, though, another mood kicks in. I remember Im consigliere first and cop second; Im despising myself all over again. Now that Pichais dead and Chanyas in a nunnery, why the hell am I stuck in this predicament? Because its a continuum. Karma. Im thinking, Blade wheel, I need the blade wheel. But when my cell phone starts ringing and I see from the screen it is Vikorn himself, I cannot resist pressing the green glyph.

So?

Smith wont talk, I say. She doesnt know anything. I hear a provisional sigh of relief.

Youre sure?

Yes.

Sonchai, Im asking you as jao paw. You know what Ill have to do if youre going soft here.

Im not going soft. Shes a typical low-grade mule; I would guess she was born into a one-parent family and brought up in city housing with no real prospects, considering her attitude, emotional underdevelopment, and general lack of inspiration or ability. If shed been talented she might have started her own pharmaceutical business by now, but being essentially of peasant orientation, she has turned herself into a dumb animal ideal for your operation. She couldnt talk if she wanted to.

Thank you, Consigliere, Vikorn says.


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