Sukum will not speak to me at the station. He will not even communicate via Lek. I think I’ve lost his support completely, and maybe I’ll even have to report him to Vikorn for holding out on me with information vital to my investigation, when I get a text message from an unidentifiable source:
Look under the near left leg of your desk. Be discreet.
Pretending I’ve dropped something, I do as instructed. Printed on a small piece of paper:
12:20 p.m., Taksin pier.
The important thing about Taksin pier is that it connects the Skytrain to the riverboats: you can take the train to the terminus, walk down the steps to the river, and buy your ticket for any direction: upstream, downstream, or across. I noticed that Sukum was in the same compartment of the same train as me, but he would not acknowledge me, so I make no attempt to approach him at the line for the boat tickets; on the other hand, I need to be close enough to him to find out where he’s going. In the event, he helpfully points downstream before scurrying off to wait for the boat on a bench as far away from me as he can find. Now the boat’s here, about seventy feet long and ten feet wide, a pilot at the back whistling his lungs out with Morse-like directions to the captain as he pauses for a moment at the jetty. The intense whistling brings excitement and a dash of fear as everyone hurries to get off and on. Finally Sukum and I are forced together by the crowd as we board.
We are hanging on to stainless-steel uprights at the stern of the ferry, designed to help people keep their balance during turbulence. Sukum is wearing an incredibly loud banana-and-mango tourist shirt, shorts which show his unexpectedly powerful legs (he’s built like a football player), dark glasses, and a straw hat, which he has to press down on his head when the boat speeds up. I intuit he would have preferred a more temperate climate for this meeting so he could have worn a raincoat with the collar turned up to his eye sockets.
“You’re half Thai, so you are the victim of superstition,” Sukum explains. He is embarrassed that his security precaution has forced him to shout into the oncoming wind, right into the ear of a farang woman tourist, who glares at him. “But you are also half farang, so you don’t have it in the marrow of your bones the way full Asians do.”
“You might have guessed. I myself didn’t see the connection until your mother mentioned she had spotted Moi with the victim, Frank Charles-then I got scared.”
“You’ve been watching me buzzing around like a fool all this while?” I yell.
“Correct,” he yells back. “I admit to a certain ego-based pleasure in knowing more about the case than the great Detective Sonchai Jitpleecheep. On the other hand, I have tried to discourage you. You can’t complain that I’ve been cynically watching you race toward death.”
“Like Moi’s two dead husbands?”
“Yes. Like them.” He screws up his face for a moment and shakes his head. “Farang say Asians are corrupt. Maybe we are, but it’s a disease we’ve developed some immunity to-most of the time we keep it under control, because we know in our hearts that too much corruption leads to destruction. Farang have no such instinct. Once they get into grabbing dough, they show no restraint.”
“You better give it to me in chronological order, Detective.”
“Not a chance.”
I frown. “What? You wear fancy dress and drag me here in the middle of the river just to give a half-minute lecture on differentials in global corruption?”
“Are you going to tell me any more?”
“If it is obvious your information comes from me, we both die. If I just give you a few clues to follow up, maybe only you die.”
Try as I might, I cannot fault his logic. “Okay. Give me one more clue to take me forward.”
“Look in the gem trade journals.”
He scans the crowd around us like a security camera before saying in a superior voice, “Yes, that’s it. Let’s change the subject. That file I sent you-the Japanese suicide your katoey got all worked up about, how’s it going?”
I’m so irritated I think if not for the crowd, I would punch him.