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34

Ever tried calling your Zurich-based Lichtenstein bankers outside office hours? I mean, even half a minute after five p.m. on a Thursday? You can see why theyre strong on clocks. Im calling the main banking man dealing with the Lichtenstein trust in a small matter of forty million dollars, to tell him to go ahead and courier the documents we talked about when I first spoke to him about my special shipment of Lapsang souchong tea for wholesale to Europe and the need to set up a Lichtenstein trust for that very purpose-a transparent excuse he didnt blink at-and hes gone home. Nor will he answer his cell phone, and his assistants cosmology is equally clockwork: shes gone home too. Finally, by going through the switchboard I get a secretary on overtime who knows what documents Im talking about; she agrees to send them, emphasizing that she is using her own initiative and risking a reprimand and that she is an Ethiopian refugee whose English is not great. That done, there is nothing to do but wait for a couple of days. Without having to rush around town, my mind starts to dig one of those big dangerous black holes.

Why am I doing this? Why? My son is dead, I dont need to worry about college fees ever again, and my partner has left me to go to a monastery. I dont need the dough! But Im stuck in this filthy continuum. Im not even particularly afraid of dying. But Im stuck in this filthy continuum. Last night I dreamed of future victims, all of whom looked like the girl on the autopsy table: vivid images of kids with giant hypodermic needles sticking out of their skulls. Im not made for this line of work, and yet everyone thinks I am, including Vikorn, Zinna, and Tietsin.

Why not concentrate on the Fat Farang file, you want to know? Well, apart from wallowing in a dark mood of self-disgust, Ive decided to let Doctor Moi sweat for a few days. I also need to rethink the whole strategy. So I decide to go to temple.

This time I go to the hyper-sacred Wat Bowonniwet. On my way in the back of a cab I think Im too tense, too uptight, too scared for a successful meditation. But when Im on my knees giving the Buddha the high wai, I feel Tietsins blade wheel start to spin. It is different on each occasion; this time I conceive it as a great Ferris wheel with giant spadelike cutters lumbering toward me. I know not to give in to terror; I know I have to stand my ground. And it turns out that the extreme state of mind induced by the hallucination reveals my true nature: bitter. At bottom with me it is not old-fashioned greed like Vikorns, or lust, like Zinnas-those two vices show at least a desire to be happy, however misguided. No, with me it has always been a clinging to bitterness as the last word on reality-like a modern thriller that leaves out all positive emotion and ends up as just a production line of death. But bitterness about what?

The blade wheel cuts a micron deeper with every turn. If Im honest, the bitterness seems to have been there all along, a kind of reluctance, even at my age, to be fully born into this catastrophe called life. It has been lying there forever, this perverse reluctance, driving everything. Do you know what I mean, mon semblable, mon fr`ere?

Two days later the documents have arrived from Zurich. Wow! Those banking lawyers really know how to pad! The old boys have to sign four copies with initials on every page, so the whole package-which I send out in neat A4-sized envelopes, plus red stickers with yellow arrows which tell them where to put their monikers-is about the size of a large hardback novel and just as heavy. When I get Lek to take Vikorns copies upstairs and then send the other set to his army chum for onward transshipment to General Zinna, he lets his long skinny katoey arms sag under the weight. Then I have to nag and cajole both Vikorn and Zinna to actually sign the things; theyre intimidated by the sheer size of the package and all that small print. Worst of all, they dont like using their ID cards when they go to the notary to sign. Also, Vikorn is nervous. The truth is that he has never dealt in such a large single shipment. Somehow, Tietsin got both old men into a mood of high bravado, and now that its pay-up time, our godfathers are getting twitchy; theyve never dealt with a Tibetan before. If, by some unforeseeable stroke of misfortune, they lost their forty million, they would both be in serious trouble. Zinna would be wiped out.

Finally, its all done, and I send the stuff off to Zurich so they can register the corporation in Lichtenstein. Im not sure there are any people in Lichtenstein; maybe theres just a large population of registered offices with a single robot to post letters and send them. Has anyone you know ever been there? You soon get into the did-they-really-land-on-the-moon mind-set, dealing with the virtual world of high finance. Then, out of the blue, a package addressed to me arrives at my home. It seems to have been sent by ordinary airmail from somewhere in Hawaii. I think: Hawaii? But the package makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end. Why is that? Oh, only because the bubblepak envelope is one of those designed exclusively for the shipment of DVDs. I am strangely reluctant to open it. I even leave it lying on the teak coffee table that Chanya and I bought at Chatuchak market on one of our lighthearted shopping sprees about a thousand years ago when the world was still innocent.

When I get to work, I tell myself Im being quite girlishly silly, and after ten minutes staring at my computer monitor and consulting the online I-Ching and the Yahoo! astrology page, both of which are wildly enthusiastic about my love prospects today, I sigh and take a cab back home. When I pick the package up from the coffee table, I experience the same sensation as before: hairs standing to paranoid attention, something crawling up my back, a distinct premonition of death. Whose? Okay, okay, Im opening it. Now I have it, an unmarked disk, shining brilliantly on one side; it is a Sony DVD, charcoal black on the reverse side with no title. I blow out my cheeks and scratch my ear before sliding it into my DVD player. At first I think it must be some kind of joke, for nothing appears on the screen. When I check the numbers flicking by on the counter, however, I see it must be a full-length movie of some kind. Finally, the monitor flickers into life-and there he is.


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