What a career I had ahead of me. My name, Jimm Juree, was synonymous with accurate crime reporting all over Thailand. Not even the simple dim fare left after the medusa had feasted on me could detract from my obvious affinity for my job. I was respected. I was one seat away from the senior crime reporter's leather chair. Saeng Thip rum had left little of the incumbent and everyone knew his health was shot and his days were numbered. They gave him six months. Then I'd be in. I'd all but been given the nod. The first female senior crime reporter in Chiang Mai Mail history. Only the second in the entire country. Me. Flying high.
And then, one hot early evening in August last year, my rice-paper balloon burst into flames and crashed to the ground. I obviously didn't pay enough tea money to the right people in a previous life. Our mother, Mair, despite her red-handed involvement in the affair, would continue to say it was fate. Karma, she called it, but I don't think it was any coincidence that she'd rediscovered Buddhism at roughly the same time the dementia started to kick in.
That evening, almost exactly a year ago, will be forever burned into the DVD of my soul. It plays over and over even when I'm not switched on. I see the scene. Hear the soundtrack. I know exactly which frame's going to freeze with the look of horror plastered over my face.
I'd had a great day, which made it all the worse. I mean, a great day. An old-timer in Maerim had been found shot through the temple with a pen gun. The police had arrested the teenager next door who had a history of trouble and a tattoo of a kitten impaled on a lance on his shoulder. I'd had dealings with him before. He had the devil in him, I knew, but I doubted he had the stomach for a killing. That takes an altogether different type of villain.
His grandparents had raised him, albeit badly, for the past thirteen years, ever since his bar-girl mother had dumped him and vanished without a trace. They obviously hadn't been able to do the job any better with him than they had with their daughter. I went to interview the grandparents. The police case file was officially closed and the boy was at the start of a long murky tunnel that would eventually spew him out in an adult prison for murder. He'd threatened the old-timer in front of witnesses and the police had found the murder weapon under his bedroll. They weren't looking any further. Dirt-poor family. No money for a lawyer. A nice neat victory for this month's statistics chart. Granny was distraught - unavailable for comment. But there was something edgy about Granddad. He'd been the old-timer's drinking buddy. They'd been friends since primary school. I could have marked his grunted responses and lack of eye contact down to angina or the fact he was missing his best friend, but I felt there was something else. He was a man who wanted to talk.
I went to the corner drink stand and returned with a half bottle of Mekhong whiskey. I suggested a toast to the deceased - wish him well on his way through nirvana to the next incarnation. Let's hope he does better there. Granddad poured the drinks without saying a word. There was a slight shake to his hand as he passed me my glass. He raised his drink to his lips but it paused there. He snorted the fumes and looked down into the glassy brown liquor as if he could see his conscience.
"We were drunk that night," he said, more to the whiskey than to me. I put down my own glass to listen. "We often got drunk but that night was more foolish than most. He'd just come back from Fang with half a dozen bottles of hooch and that sodding amulet. He'd bought it from some Akha hill tribesman, he said. It was magic, he said. He swore to me before he'd paid for it he'd seen the Akha stare down a rifle and not even flinch when his missus fired it at him. Bullet just bounced off him... he said."
That was the start of the confession and neither of us touched the Mekhong whiskey the whole time. But I considered it eighty-two baht well spent. It turned out the old-timer had been convinced the amulet made him bulletproof and as the evening wore on and they got drunker and drunker, the neighbor goaded his friend. "Go on! Shoot me. Shoot me if you don't believe me."
Excerpted from Killed at the Whim of a Hat by Colin Cotterill. Copyright © 2011 by Colin Cotterill. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Minotaur. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Blood at the Root
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