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41

Its around midnight when I finally decide to call Sukum to get the names of Mois surviving ex-husbands. Then I take a cab to the station to dig out the report from the nerds who hacked into Frank Charless computer. Then I take a cab to his penthouse on Soi 8.

Its about two in the morning, and most of the action is finished for the night at Nana Plaza when I pass. There is a drunken farang who has to hold on to the wooden guardrail of one of the bars in order to stand up, and a katoey who is trying to get him to his hotel. A bunch of whores are crossing the street to the Nana Caf'e, where it is possible to hang out until dawn, hoping a customer will show up. There is a line of taxis, too, ready to take stray jet-lagged farang to those unlicensed bars where youre scrutinized from behind a spyhole before they let you in (you dont have to be white, just foreign), and where you can drink and play with girls for as long as you have the dough. Soi 8, also, is very quiet but still carries the signs of a party neighborhood: girls with farang sitting on iron seats outside a closed bar; a Westerner in his late twenties singing to himself on his way home (an ancient European Cup song to the tune of Blue Danube: Vienna are shit, shit-shit shit-shit); a couple of cops standing by a lamppost, chatting.

At the apartment building they are surprised to see me and not too keen to let me into Charless suite-cant it wait till morning? Im in no mood for diplomacy, though, and opt for arrogance as a means of getting their attention. Now Im sharing the elevator with a sulky receptionist who opens the door to the penthouse and shrugs. She doesnt have the time or the patience to hang around, so she closes the door behind me and returns to reception. All alone in the silence of his death-which, I now realize, has quietly penetrated every aspect of his home-I decide to pause, trying to commune with his spirit. Were you murdered after all? I ask the bust in the Jacuzzi. If so, why? The response is ambiguous; I sense a kind of relief, even amusement, on the part of the deceaseds ghost, while I check out the Windows address book on the PC.

It takes less than a second to find the name, address, and telephone number of Robert Witherspoon, Mois American ex-husband. Interesting that Frank Charles had found the need to keep the coordinates on his computer. Still more interesting that Witherspoon is located in Hawaii. When I dig a little further into the computers secret chambers, I find a Skype account with Witherspoons name and photograph: a square-jawed, balding blond in his midforties, wearing a black T-shirt, is attached to the address book by means of a mug shot. I click on the glyph, and the monitor comes alive with the Skype home page. I double-click on Witherspoons mug shot. The program tells me my request to speak to him has been sent. My heartbeat seems to have doubled, and Im clutching the edge of the desk when Witherspoon himself appears on the screen. Now I realize I dont have a microphone or computer camera-but Charles must have owned such items to go with the Skype account. I rummage frantically in the drawers under the desk; a plug-in mike/headphone set and camera are in the bottom drawer. I plug them into the front of the PC, don the headset, and say in a rush, Good morning-is it still morning in Hawaii? My name is Detective Jitplee cheep of the Royal Thai Police. A few days ago I think you sent a DVD to my home?

A long pause, during which I imagine my words and image finding their way across the globe to Hawaii. Then: Yes, its still morning in Hawaii. What took you so long? Witherspoon says.

Im half Thai, I explain.

Witherspoon blinks into the computer cam as if he is trying to see me more clearly. Are you?

Didnt you know that?

I dont know scat. This guy, this Hollywood director, calls me out of the blue one day and asks me to tell him all I know about my ex-wife, the world-class witch named Doctor Mimi Moi. So I told him, which wasnt much. We got chatting. We must have Skyped each other about ten times, so were bonding in a way. He asked me to do him a favor. I said, What? He said, Im gonna send you a little package with an address on it. Just keep the package until you hear that Im dead-then send it to the address thats written on it.

Thats it?

Pretty much. Look, Id love to talk more, but Im due to go on vacation in about twenty minutes with my new girlfriend and I dont want to screw this one up. How about you call me in about a week?

I say, Huh? Somehow, what with the excitement of the chase, the last thing I expected was a key witness on vacation. Where are you going?

Witherspoon lets me have a wry grin. New girl, buddy, Im being spontaneous. Speak to you. He Skypes off.


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