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37

Sukum vomited at the end of the movie. He watched it all through with unnerving intensity, then threw up where he sat on my floor with the laptop. I had to fetch a towel, then wait while he took a shower and changed into some of my clothes, which are too big for him. All this seemed to take place in a time-free zone, with him in a kind of trance after the film, moving slowly and saying almost nothing. I can understand why he might have been revolted or shocked, but Frank Charless masterpiece seems to be having a different kind of effect on him. I sense that Sukum understands it on a deeper level than I am able to penetrate. But hes not a movie buff at all; I dont think hes ever watched anything more challenging than Spider-Man.

When we emerge from my house, its raining and I remember we are in for the fallout from some gigantic tropical storm that has been pummeling Vietnam. The sky is slate gray, and the winds from the east are shaking the tops of trees like rag dolls. In a cab on the way to the station, I find his silence unnerving and try to talk about the case. What about Mois other two husbands, the ones who survived-did you investigate them when you were trying to nail her?

Sure, he grunts.

And?

The first marriage lasted four years, the other six months. Her first husband was a Hong Kong Chinese. The second an American.

I note that hes answering more like a suspect than a cop, giving the minimum of information for each question, but I let it ride. Four years? Its hard to imagine Moi sticking out a marriage for that length of time.

She didnt. She was still young and trying to fit into the rules of her class, so she pretended the marriage was working. In fact, it failed after the first few months. Her husband found excuses to travel to Hong Kong and Taiwan a lot and after a while only visited Thailand rarely, until they formally announced they were divorcing.

And the other, the American?

Sukum allows himself a thin smile. That guy was no fool. He got the vibes early on and totally freaked after a year. He jumped on a plane to the States, but kept up some kind of business connection.

I say, Business connection? as any cop would, but Sukum wont look me in the eye. A business connection with the ex-wife, isnt that something we need to explore?

Why? Sukum says, looking out of the window. Were not investigating her, are we? We have a suicide, right?

I decide not to press the point. And the other two, the ones who died?

One was English; he died of a heart attack when he was only in his late thirties. The other was also farang, a Frenchman, he was hit by a small truck on Soi Eleven. Moi was out of the country on both occasions, which made everyone suspicious, but the autopsies didnt throw up anything sinister so there were no serious police investigations.

Detective Sukum falls into a heavy silence once again, as if he has returned to a place in which Frank Charless last movie plays over and over. Finally, I say, What is it, Detective? I know its a pretty bloody ending to that film, but youre a cop, for Buddhas sake.

I think he will not drag himself out of his trance, he takes so long to answer. After about five minutes he seems to hear my question for the first time, and turns his face to stare at the streets through the curtain of rain. Already the drains are overflowing with the volume of water, turning the street into a dirty yellow river. Sukum says, She killed him long before he finished the movie. She sapped his strength, stole his soul. Thats why he had to die-that big speech at the beginning, thats just a farang caught in a spiders web and trying to be smart and rational about it.

Moi? How can you know that?

Its what she did to me, he says, and holds his head with both hands. The more I worked on her case, the slower my mind became. She was turning me into a zombie. Dyou know how many times I screwed up the paperwork to get her prosecuted on tax evasion? And a thousand little things went wrong with my private life. My marriage collapsed, and now its just a cold, empty sham. Then she had the tea lady at the station slip me that LSD. Sure, I had a bad trip, but there was a lot more than that behind it. It was a bad trip thats lasted nearly ten years. My life has never been the same since I investigated her. Ive had no luck at all. Every day is hard work, battling demons at every turn. Ive tried every kind of amulet-cats eyes, antlers, khot stones, Buddha images. I even had a salika inserted under my skin. And Buddha knows how many monk baskets Ive donated.

His fear of Moi is so tangible, I reach out to touch his arm. He turns eyes on me that could be described as limpid pools of paranoia. Look, maybe you were right from the start. This case has your name all over it. I want you to have it. When I get a chance Ill ask the Old Man to formally sign it over to you so everyone will know you solved it, not me. His eyes contract somewhat; he seems to be wrestling with guilt when he adds, Im sorry.

When I continue to stare at him, he says, You still dont get it, do you? You lost control of this investigation the moment you visited her at her house. You just havent realized it yet. You have no idea how powerful she is. He lets a few beats pass. Of course, as a cop I could never tell anyone. They would have kicked me out for reasons of mental health. Or snuffed me. Im telling you now because youre already caught in her trap. He lets a couple of beats pass, then adds, I think you know what I mean.

Actually, I dont have a clue what he means. The case is over, isnt it? A suicide is a suicide. Im even more mystified later that day, when Lek sidles up to my desk with a peculiar expression on his face. He makes as if to lean over my monitor, then drops something on my desk, which looks like a piece of paper screwed up in a ball. When I catch Leks eye, he shrugs. I sense the need for secrecy, so I whisper, Whats that?

Lek whispers back, Dont ask me, darling. Im not even allowed to tell you who sent it.

I frown. Who sent it?

Im not allowed to tell you. At my stern glance he starts to melt, then giggles. Who dyou think? He made me swear on my next thousand years of karma not to tell you, but heres a hint: its a he and he owns a Toyota.

Sukum? Has he gone totally over the edge? I cast a glance in the good detectives direction. He appears to be fixated on a file he is studying.

Lek shrugs. I was beginning to wonder if you two had fallen in love and decided to use me as a go-between. I mean, thats what katoeys are for, really, isnt it? Were just lifes eternal voyeurs, good for carrying messages but not for anything more. He is giving me one of his prize pouts. I cannot help grinning while I dismiss him. When I flatten out the ball of paper I see it is a printout from Wikipedia:

Padparadscha is a pinkish-orange to orangey-pink colored corundum, with a low to medium saturation and light tone, originally being mined in Sri Lanka, but also found in deposits in Vietnam and Africa. Padparadscha sapphires are very rare, and highly valued for their subtle blend of soft pink and orange hues. The name derives from the Sinhalese word for lotus blossom. Along with rubies they are the only corundums to be given their own name instead of being called a particular colored sapphire.

I am scratching my head. Now Im carefully tearing the paper into shreds and throwing the pieces into the bin under my desk, in accordance with Sukums furtive instructions. When, about half an hour later, I see Sukum get up to go to the mens room, I follow and stand next to him at one of the booths. He instantly moves as far away from me as he can. When I say softly, Detective, he raises a hand, puts a finger over his lips for a brief moment, then zips up and exits without a word.


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