How did the meeting end? Answer: I don’t know. Those two old pythons started knocking back the booze and reliving old battles as soon as I’d established substantial agreement on all terms of the proposed partnership and deal. Zinna had never owned a corporation before, so this was a brand-new ego adventure to get all puffed up about, and Vikorn had to gently dissuade him from designing the stationery; this wasn’t going to be the kind of operation where you do a lot of letter writing. Vikorn, of course, owned hundreds of corporations in various corruption-friendly locations around the world, but his sophistication did not extend to letters of credit-his were still mostly cash-only sales-and this new business tool also excited his ego: he was keen to try it out on his partners in Miami, who bought most of his yaa baa and liked to tease him about being a third-world ignoramus. So they got drunker and friendlier and after a while out came the jao paw’s favorite fantasy tool: the pocket calculator. If the Tibetan was on the level, their markup of the product on delivery to Europe or America would be 200 percent. Zinna saw an endless line of beautiful and cooperative young men visiting him in a six-star villa overlooking the Andaman Sea somewhere. Vikorn saw a massive global empire: he was not too old to go into something legal after the first five-year plan had leveraged his dough; maybe video games? In short, farang, both of them slipped amicably into that form of masturbation capitalism with which I am sure you are familiar, while I felt worse and worse. I couldn’t stop thinking about all the people we were going to poison, and how black my karma was going to be. When the two of them were too drunk to notice, I persuaded one of Zinna’s officers to find me a car to take me back to Krung Thep. He found a white Toyota limousine and a sergeant in fatigues to drive it. Then, just to honor his boss’s high spirits, he threw in a motorcycle escort as well. His intentions were good, but the effect was to increase my self-disgust. In fact, I was searching my mind to find something about myself that I still liked when my cell phone rang.
“Call me back, I don’t have any money,” a woman’s angry voice said in a UN accent.
The number on the log began with 977: Nepal. Not that there was any doubt about that. I called the number, and she let the phone ring for quite a while before she answered it.
In a hoarse, hard voice: “So, where the hell have you been?”
“Thought you’d take advantage of a poor third-world girl while you had the chance, then just dump her like a Kleenex, didn’t you?” She managed to insert a great, self-pitying clot of bloody, low-grade emotion into her tone, which had me frowning at the telephone, not believing what I was hearing.
“The Chinese killed all my family. I’m an orphan, and I’m a cripple, too. Is that the kind of man you are, to use and abuse a girl who was only looking for love and shelter? If I still had a brother he would go over there and punch you on the nose.” This was followed by what sounded like floods of tears.
“ Tara, I can’t believe this is you.”
She let a couple of beats pass, then said in her normal voice, “It’s okay, don’t worry, I was exorcising a demon. It’s good practice, you should do it too. Since the demon came from you, I thought you’d like it back. You felt slightly raped after our Tantric evening, didn’t you? Since then I’ve had to deal with a whole stream of minor goblins from the Southwest. That’s you. You must have been feeling like an abused teen to churn up those guys-you wouldn’t believe how ugly some of them are.”
“ Tara, this is just crap. It’s sheer low-grade, bargain-basement, boulevard occultism you’re doing here.”
“Oh, yes? Then how do I know you had a wet dream about me last night? You did, didn’t you? And I can tell you exactly what you did to me in that dream. Listen.”
I’m not telling you what she said next, farang, it’s too embarrassing. I broke out into a cold sweat. “ Tara, do one thing: at least admit you’re in league with Tietsin, that way I can try to explain you rationally to myself.”
“You know very well I never met him until you came into my life like a little orphan left on my doorstep. And what are you doing indulging in a need for rational explanations at this stage? You’re not supposed to still be a novice.”
I hesitated, then said, “ Tara, that was the most fantastic sex I ever had. I mean it. I didn’t understand what you were doing at the time, I admit that, but I’ve been thinking about it and I’m starting to understand. To sublimate like that really is the essence of Buddhism-it’s just a little unnatural at first.”
“Resigning yourself to only having one orgasm a year.”
She giggled. “Try being a refugee-a lot of deprivations come naturally to us after a while.”
I couldn’t help myself; the question almost asked itself: “ Tara, are you enlightened?”
“Who is ever going to say yes to that question, except a charlatan? Let’s say I’m conscious of being free from suffering.”
“An anesthetic for life? Congratulations. Must play havoc with lovers who aren’t at your level.”
“It was your idea, you made a pass at me, don’t forget.”
“I agree. I, of all men, should know the risks of an emergency lay. But let’s say you owe me one.”
A pause. “Okay.”
“Did you sleep with Frank Charles?”
A long pause.
“Is that a yes?”
“And you did it with him the same way you did it with me?”
“We said one question.”
“Only you didn’t distance yourself quickly enough, didn’t snuff out the incipient affair.”
“You were younger, after all, and maybe not so disciplined, not so above female vanity that having a famous American director fall at your feet didn’t still hold a teeny-weeny bit of temptation. I don’t think he first visited Nepal because he wanted to make a movie. I think he decided to make a movie in Nepal after he met you.”
“I’m hanging up.”
“He fell, didn’t he? Oh, he fell. You’re not like any woman any non-Tibetan man has ever met. You’re a fusion of the primeval wild and the enlightened future with no electricity in between. For this American brought up to believe that the answer to all anguish is to be found between the thighs of the perfect woman-the Madonna thing they all have-the zipperless fuck that takes you to nirvana without having to meditate first: you were it, all of it, for him, that poor starved angry man from the spiritual third world.”
“Detective, I’m not answering, haven’t you noticed?”
“He couldn’t get you out of his head. But there had to be something else to cause him to deteriorate like that. Something you did to him far beyond what you did with me, causing him to go up there to Kathmandu again and again-to meet you, was it? Or to pathetically pine for you? Or for you to do something to fix his head? He made you initiate him, didn’t he? He knew to keep asking until you couldn’t say no. And even though he couldn’t have been less suitable, being emotionally stuck at the age of about thirteen, even so, you went ahead and irresponsibly shared your mantra with him. That’s the real reason you got cold feet about me and called Tietsin. You didn’t want d'ej`a vu.”
Silence. She had closed the phone.
She didn’t kill him, though, I reflected into the silence. Even if it made psychological sense, which it doesn’t, she could never get out of Nepal. I saw her travel document; with paper like that she had difficulty leaving Kathmandu, never mind international destinations. A dakini of the Far Shore, she is a stateless exile over here on the left bank, frostbitten and occasionally suspected of prostitution. Naturally, all that makes me crazier about her than ever.