We both know the Colonel is arriving in his limo, because his damned signature tune "The Ride of the Valkyries" is booming from the stereo as his car approaches. I go to the entrance and watch while his driver opens the rear door and more or less pulls him out (a beautiful cashmere Zegna sports jacket, fawn colored and somewhat crumpled, pants by Eddy Monetti on the Via Condotti in Rome, and his usual Wayfarer wraparound sunglasses).
The driver staggers toward me with Vikorn's arm over his shoulder. "It's fucking Saturday fucking night," the driver complains with a glare, as if it's all my fault. (We prefer not to investigate even capital crimes on Saturday nights in District 8.) The Buddhist path can be much like the Christian in that the karma of others often seems to get dumped on your shoulders from out of nowhere.
"I know," I tell him as I make way to let him pass, and Vikorn, sunglasses now thrust fashionably onto his hairline though slightly askew, also glares at me blearily.
There are padded benches in intimate little booths along the back wall of the club, and the driver dumps Vikorn down in one while I get some mineral water from the fridge and hand it to my Colonel, who empties the bottle in a few swigs. It is with relief that I observe the rodent cunning return to those frank, unblinking eyes. I tell him the story again, with a few commercially focused interjections from my mother ("she makes more for us in a month than all the other girls put together"), and I see that he already has a plan to maximize wriggle-room should things get difficult.
Within ten minutes he is close to sober, tells his driver to disappear with the limo (he doesn't want to broadcast that he is here), and is staring at me. "So let's go up and take her statement. Get an ink pad and some A4 paper."
I find the ink pad that we use for our business stamp ("The Old Man's ClubRods of Iron") and some sheets of paper from the fax machine, which Nong installed for those few of our overseas clients who don't have e-mail (we tried for hooker.com and similar domain names, but they had all been taken, including oldman.com; whore.org had of course been taken since the dawn of cyberspace, so we had to make do with omcroi.com), and follow him across the bar. He stares at Chanya's dress on the stool and cocks an eye at me.
"Fake or real?"
Gingerly I hold it up, hefting the weight of the blood it has absorbed. "Unclear."
He grunts much as Maigret used to do, as if absorbing a clue too subtle for my understanding, and we continue up the stairs, passing the bra without comment. I pick up the panties on the floor outside the room (almost weightless and apparently innocent of bloodstainsthey are more a cache-sex than a proper undergarment, with the rear panel no more than a bootlace that divides the buttocks). I hang them over a stray electrical cable for now. Chanya was too stoned to lock the door, and when we enter, she blesses us with a rapturous smile from that awesomely beautiful mouth, before returning to whichever of the Buddha heavens she has escaped to.
She is quite naked, stretched out on the bed with her legs akimbo, her full firm breasts pointing at the ceiling (an exquisite blue dolphin is jumping over her left nipple), her long hair shining like a fresh black brushstroke on the white pillow. She has shaved her pubic hair save for the subtlest filigree black line, which seems to point to her clitoris, perhaps as a road sign for drunk and fumbling farang. The opium pipe, a classic of about three feet of bamboo with the bowl two-thirds of the way down, lies beside her. The Colonel sniffs and smilesas with my mother, the sweet aroma of burned poppy sap holds fond memories for him, though of a radically different order. (He used to trade it up in Laos in the golden years of the B-52s.) The room is tiny and hardly big enough for the three of us when I bring two chairs and set them on opposite sides of the bed. The sex goddess between us begins to snore while Vikorn dictates her statement:
Excerpted from Bangkok Tattoo by John Burdett Copyright © 2005 by John Burdett. Excerpted by permission of Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
- PW Starred Review
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