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51

The next day Tara calls me. Do you think this indicates mind reading, synchronicity, magic? Me neither. I think Tietsin told her to phone me. Chanya and I are in bed, and I have to use that most provocative phrase in the English language: Im sorry, I cant talk right now. Then, to add a still more sinister note: Ill call you back later.

So now Chanya is up on one elbow stroking my face with ambiguous tenderness, licking my ear, and murmuring, Who was that, tilak? You can tell me, you know how guilty I feel, I can forgive you anything in this tranquil state the nuns taught me. Who was it?

Well, what can you do except play out the role dharma has provided? Yes, I do tell her about Tara, yes, I do go into detail about how lonely and needy I was at the time; but I do not give the slightest hint of how fascinated I continue to be by the Tibetan dakini. I dont mention Tantra, much less how intriguing the lady is in bed. Though I say so myself, my confession is a masterpiece of common or garden-variety hypocrisy. Afterward, Chanya of the shaved dome-womens skulls are so much more delicate than mens-lies on her back for five minutes, not saying a word, while I watch her diaphragm move up and down, her diminished breasts rising and falling in that half-starved frame.

Youre still fascinated by her, arent you?

Of course not.

For a cop youre a lousy liar. She stares down at her body. Im controlling it, look, she says, almost excited at proof she has made spiritual progress after all. All that choking jealousy, that awful dark emotion like soy thats been fermenting too long-Im free of it. Fantastic. Thank you, Sonchai.

Youre sure? You used to have a serious- Then it comes, from out of nowhere, a lightning twist of her superfine body and-wham-open hand to the right side of the face. What did you do that for?

To make it even easier to forgive you. Im so sorry, did I hurt you?

That was quite a clout. Im still rubbing my jaw when Tara calls again. Im sorry, Detective, I dont have any money. I want to talk to you. Please call me back.

Chanyas face has tightened. Call her.

No, I wont.

Oh yes you will.

What am I going to say?

Youre going to say your wifes just come back and its all over, dummy.

I find the number in the phones log and call Tara. Look, Tara, I have something to tell you. My wife came back last night. Weve decided to try again. Were in bed right now. Im sorry.

A pause, then: What are you sorry about? Congratulations. I want to speak to her.

I hold the phone away from my mouth and mime to Chanya that Tara wants to speak to her. She mimes back something like What the hell do I want to speak to your little Himalayan tart for? I shrug.

Now Tara is saying, Does she speak English? At the same time Chanya has suddenly become curious about this Tibetan mia noi, or minor wife, who has the balls to try to speak directly to First Wife in a classic three-hander like this. I shrug and pass her the phone. Chanya says yes a few times, then goes quiet. After about five minutes she gives me a quizzical look, says, Yes, thats right, Ive just spent a month in a Buddhist nunnery, then she gets up, throws me a glance both startled and intrigued, and leaves the room. I can hear her voice out in the yard, but I cannot distinguish her words. The conversation goes on for about twenty more minutes, mostly with Chanya listening to whatever Tara is saying. Then Chanya takes a long cold shower and finally returns to the bedroom, where I am sitting up expectantly and nervously with one of those ridiculous facial expressions we learn in school which says, I didnt do anything wrong, did I?

Lie down, lover, she says gently. Now, all you have to do for total atonement is tell me when I get it right. Where is that nerve exactly? Somewhere between the anus and the testicles, she said. Does it really work?

Yes, but youre not supposed to come.

I dont want to, Sonchai. I dont want to come ever again. That friend of yours makes so much sense. I have to admit, I stayed away so long because I wasnt sure I wanted to sink back into flesh. What I really wanted was to be with you on a genuine spiritual path. I think the Buddha sent this friend of yours as an answer. If I press right here, is that the point?

Forward a millimeter, I mutter. She told you her mantra, didnt she?

Yes.

What is it?

Im not telling you.

Try to remember me from time to time. Bliss can be pretty impersonal, you know.

Mmm, thank Buddha for that. Then, when shes settling down prior to the primeval rhythm: You have to send her money for the phone call. The poor things incredibly poor. Imagine having a mind like that and no money. She understood everything about me. Shes changed my life with one phone call.

You moved your finger.

Sorry.

(Try this at home by all means, ladies, but it might not work without the mantra.)

Well, farang, you saw it all yourself on CNN, just like me. Those were Tietsins prayer flags you were looking at on your TV at the opening of the Olympic Games-not only all over Beijing, but in a motley Tantric network all over the country, from Tibet to Shanghai, from Canton to Manchuria, from Yunan to Beijing, from Kashgar to Fuzhou, from Hailar to Lhasa, from Hohhot to Haikou, unmistakably Tibetan in their shaggy insistence, the majestic curved sweep of their cables from earth up to the highest available point, most frequently a telegraph pole, and in the universal magic of their colors: blue for sky, white for air, red for fire, green for water, yellow for earth, generally (but not always) in that order-which are having such an effect on the world. Did you get a chance to see viewers e-mails and text messages? I guessed immediately that the forty million dollars to invade China was spent not on the prayer flags themselves, but mostly on bribing a whole raft of Chinese officials to look the other way when the flags were hoisted for the benefit of the worlds cameras. Not that Tietsin will be too worried about the publicity. What interests him is the exercise of subtle power, the silent invasion of China by Tibetan thought, the promise to its misguided people of a better heaven than that offered by Marx, Mao, or Friedman: the slow but certain remodeling of the World Mind, starting with China, into something more civilized. To Tietsins way of thinking, he cant fail. Its only a question of time-and hes Tibetan. You did send a message of support, even though theres no oil in Tibet, didnt you? I know how committed you are to freedom and democracy.

Farang, its time to wind this up. I know you are itching to find out more about my spiritual development. Im still with the blade wheel-I fear it will be my companion for many incarnations-but, as Im sure you guessed, Chanya made a family decision that I would give up the position of consigliere. We have discovered the hard way that names matter. As a free spirit, buzzing around Vikorns ear urging restraint, I feel more myself; call me his consigliere, give me a quarter-million baht a month-and I feel enslaved. In my personal form of Buddhism, morality is organic and impossible to codify. You cannot grasp the way with your hand, nor even your mind; you have to let it lead you.

Oh, by the way, Rosie McCoy is still inside, but has adapted with genius: she has bribed the head screw to give her a private cell with computer and Internet connection. Her webpage charges three dollars a pop to download pix of her naked body in various erotic poses. Mary Smith is now in the same holding prison and has somehow managed to find favor with the big Nigerians, who protect her. Although the Frank Charles case remains officially a suicide, Sukum did get his promotion and became impossible to live with for a week, but he has not yet exchanged his Toyota for a Lexus; there is hope for his next incarnation.

Do not judge me too harshly, farang. (You know how you are.) In the wasteland where narrative rots, Good Thief may be the highest aspiration. Let he who is without karma cast the first stone.

I am yours in dharma, Sonchai Jitpleecheep.


| The Godfather of Kathmandu | Epilogue