/ Language: English / Genre:thriller / Series: Jack Sheperd

Laundry Man

Jake Needham


Jake Needham

Laundry Man

“You don’t work. One group claims women support you. Another group claims you’re impotent.”

Ernest Hemingway

ONE

It began exactly the way the end of the world will begin. With a telephone call at two o’clock in the morning.

“Jack Shepherd,” I croaked.

“Hey, Jack, old buddy. How you been?”

It was a man’s voice, one I didn’t recognize. I sat up and cleared my throat.

“Who’s this?” I asked

“I’m sorry to call in the middle of the night,” the man said, ignoring my question, “but this can’t wait. I’m really in deep shit here.”

I was still struggling to place the voice so I said nothing.

“I need your help, Jack. I figure I got about a week here before somebody cuts off my nuts and feeds them to the ducks.”

“I’m not going to start guessing,” I said. “Who is this?”

“Oh, man, that’s so sad. You mean to tell me you even don’t recognize your old law partner’s voice?”

“I’ve had a lot of-”

“This is Barry Gale.”

That stopped me cold.

“Surprised, huh?” the man chuckled.

“Who are you?” I repeated.

“I just told you who I am, Jack. This is Barry Gale.”

I hit the disconnect button and tossed my cell phone back on the nightstand.

When it rang again, I silently cursed myself for forgetting to turn the damned thing off.

I sat up and retrieved the phone and this time I looked at the number on the screen before I answered. All it said was unavailable. I thought fleetingly of just hitting the power button, but I didn’t. Later, of course, I would wish I had.

“It’s not nice to hang up on old friends, Jack.”

“We’re not old friends.”

“Sure we are.”

“Look, pal, Barry Gale’s dead. I know it and I’m sure you know it. So unless you’re Mickey the Medium with a message from the other side, you can cut the crap. What do you want?”

“What makes you think I’m dead?” the man asked.

“Barry made a pretty flashy exit. It got a fair amount of attention.”

“You talking about the body they found in that swimming pool in Dallas?”

That was exactly what I was talking about. I said nothing.

“As I remember, and I’m pretty sure I do remember, that body had been in the water nearly a week before anybody found it so they couldn’t get fingerprints. Also I hear the guy’s face was too badly smashed up to recognize. Nobody thought it was worth bothering with DNA, and the ID was made from dental records.”

“So what? The dental records matched Barry’s, didn’t they?”

“Of course they did. They would, wouldn’t they?”

“Are you trying to tell me the body in the swimming pool in Dallas wasn’t Barry Gale’s?”

“Not likely, Jack. Not likely at all. Particularly not as we’re talking to each other on the telephone other right now.”

I tried it another way.

“Look, buddy, I’m a reasonably approachable guy. Why don’t you just tell me who you are and what you want and then I can go back to sleep?”

There was a brief silence and then the man started talking again in a tired voice.

“Your name is Jonathan William Shepherd, but your father started calling you Jack when you were a kid to keep your mother from calling you Johnny and it stuck. You graduated from Georgetown Law School and you’re admitted to the bar in the District of Columbia and in New York. Stassen amp; Hardy recruited you right out of law school and it’s the only place you ever practiced law. You and I made partner the same year.”

I said nothing. The man apparently didn’t care.

“Your home address was 1701 Great Falls Road. It was a big white house out in Potomac, Maryland. Regrettably your happy home dissolved when your wife, the lovely Laura, took up with that proctologist out in Virginia. Dr. Butthole, you called him. How am I doing?”

“Very impressive,” I said.

“I’m an impressive guy.”

“Is that it?” I asked. “You recite a few things you’ve found out about me somewhere and now I’m supposed to believe you’re Barry Gale risen from the dead?”

“Hell, Jack, I could go on all night. How about this? Your office at Stassen amp; Hardy was about as far away from the reception area as it was possible for you to get and still be in the same building with the rest of us. You had a big glass table that you used for a desk. Goddamn, Jack, I’m sure you were the only lawyer in the world with a glass desk. It was like you were trying to look purer than the rest of us. Was that it, Jack? Was that what the glass desk was all about? And, oh yeah, you had that big yellow couch with the deep cushions where you took naps in the afternoon.”

“Look, I still don’t know what this is all about, but-”

“We had a part-time receptionist, a little Vietnamese girl who was going to law school somewhere and worked as the relief girl on weekends. Remember? You fucked her right on that yellow couch one Saturday afternoon and then you admitted it to me a couple of weeks later after you’d sucked up an extra martini one night at the bar in the Mayflower Hotel. You seemed to be all cut up with guilt over it and said you hadn’t told anyone else. Had you told anyone else, Jack?”

In the silence I could hear the guy breathing and I was sure he could hear me, too, except I was probably breathing a lot louder.

Because he was right.

I hadn’t told anyone else.

The man went on before I could figure out what to say.

“You like living in Bangkok, Jack? I hear you’re a teacher now. In some business school. That right?”

“Yes. I teach at Chulalongkorn University.”

“No more lawyering? No more of that big-time stuff we used to do?”

“I don’t practice law anymore if that’s what you’re asking me.”

“Do you miss it?”

“Not particularly. I still do a little consulting sometimes.”

“Consulting, huh? Is that right?” The man barked an abrupt laugh. “You want to consult with me, Jack?”

“I don’t think so.”

“Still a fucking hard-on, are you?”

“I just don’t particularly like being the butt of some clown’s crappy little joke.”

“Oh, this is no joke, Jack. I wish to Christ it was, but it isn’t.”

I said nothing.

“Do you know that place called Took Lae Dee?” the man eventually asked. “The little food counter up in the front of the all-night Foodland on Sukhumvit Road?”

“Yeah. I know where it is.”

“Meet me there tomorrow, around midnight. Just grab a stool and I’ll find you.”

“Midnight?”

“Is that a problem for you?”

“Yeah, that’s a problem for me. What makes you think I’d even consider coming to some damned supermarket at midnight just because a wacko pretending to be a dead guy calls me up and tells me to? I don’t know how you found out all those things about me, but if you think that’s enough-”

The man started laughing.

“Oh, it’s more than enough, Jack.”

He laughed some more. Thunder rumbled somewhere in the distance and I listened to it without saying anything else.

“I know you, my friend. You’d never pass up a chance to hear a story like this. Never. Especially not when it’s coming from a guy who’s gone to all the trouble I have to make himself dead.”

And with that, the man hung up.

TWO

I tossed and turned for a while after that, but I knew I wasn’t going back to sleep anytime soon. Eventually I gave up trying altogether and I went into my study and took a Montecristo out of the humidor on my desk. I pulled open the sliding door and walked out on the balcony.

Generally Bangkok’s foreign residents went to considerable lengths to avoid breathing the city’s air until it had been thoroughly dried, adequately chilled, and comprehensively decontaminated. Not only was the stuff hot and soggy, usually it smelled spoiled and a little sour, like it had been breathed by way too many people already. But this was January, the middle of winter in Thailand, and the southernmost edge of a large dome of Siberian air had slipped down from China and momentarily broken Bangkok’s muggy heat. The air had turned pleasingly cool, even sweet, and it was richly thickened with the syrupy fragrances of frangipani, jasmine, and gardenias.

I cut and lit my cigar and I stood there smoking and looking out over the city for a long time.

When people in Washington first began to hear that I was leaving to live in Bangkok and teach at Chulalongkorn University, a few of them jumped to the conclusion I was making a point of some kind, abandoning the land of my birth for reasons that were probably political and no doubt wacky. Others who heard what I was doing-and I noticed this group seemed to be composed mainly of women-attributed my change of address to middle-aged male angst fueled by overly moist fantasies of slim, submissive Thai women serving me brightly colored tropical drinks with little umbrellas in them. Most people, of course, fell into neither of those categories. Most people just assumed that I had lost my damned mind.

Part of the problem was that the whole idea of living in a foreign country was just so strange to most Americans, particularly since very few of them had ever seriously entertained the thought, however fleetingly, themselves. After all, everyone wanted to come to America, didn’t they? Half the population of the earth was fighting to live in Orange County and work in a 7-Eleven, wasn’t it? Why in God’s name would an American even think of living anywhere else?

Before I had made the big jump, back in what now felt to me like another life, Barry Gale and I had both been partners in a large and well-connected Washington law firm. The firm was huge and, in spite of our common occupation, I had run across him only occasionally. Truth be told, I could remember very little at all about Barry Gale.

Except, really, for one thing.

Barry Gale had been both the outside legal counsel and a member of the board of directors of the Texas State Bank in Dallas when it was engulfed in scandal, a hugely psychedelic mess involving a bunch of Russian mobsters from New Jersey who had been using the bank to clean and press their income from a variety of rackets up and down the East Coast. The character at the center of the imbroglio was an Armenian named Jimini Zubokof, who was better known as Jimmy Kicks because he had once, so the legend went, personally taken his gleaming Ferragamos to an FBI informant and kicked the poor bastard to death.

Somehow Jimmy became inexplicably possessed by the idea of shifting his money-laundering operations to Asia-anywhere in Asia, really-and he demanded his people find a compliant bank somewhere that would serve his purposes. Of course, all Jimmy Kicks actually knew about Asia was how to order Chinese takeaway and he wasn’t even very good at that, so in the ensuing upheaval at Texas State Bank offshore accounts and foreign currencies were whizzing all over the place and quite a lot of money disappeared. Tens of millions of dollars, or so the press reports claimed, were lost by the bank through dealing forward contracts in the foreign exchange market, although whose contracts they actually were or how the losses had been incurred was never made entirely clear.

Just as the whole saga was turning into old news, the disappearance of one of the bank’s directors and the suicide of another freaked out the conspiracy buffs and the story jumped straight back onto the front pages. As far as I knew, no trace had ever been found of the director who vanished, but the so-called suicide had been dramatic enough to grab most of the attention anyway.

There was a guesthouse in North Dallas that the bank leased for the use of out-of-town directors. That was where Barry Gale had been found, at the bottom of the swimming pool, pinned to it by a manhole cover tied around his neck with barbed wire.

I drew on my Montecristo and exhaled a slow stream of smoke into the darkness. From somewhere I heard faint music and I listened quietly for a long while as the mournful voice of a young girl sang Thai love songs full of sorrow and loss. Her voice had a quavering, reed-thin quality, and the sound of it drifted over the city like wisps of river fog. The air smelled of ozone and rancid water. Lightning leaped soundlessly between clouds off in the distance, and the breeze cranked up a notch.

While I smoked I studied the city’s skyline in the distance. The towers were brightly lit, etched into the night sky by lights so blindingly white that they seemed to drain the color from everything around them. In the distance beyond the skyscrapers I could just pick out the floodlights on the soaring, golden spires and preposterous-looking green and red tile roofs of the Grand Palace. Once the heart of a dazzling, secret world ruled over by a god-king, this eccentric collection of whimsical structures had lately fallen on less glamorous times. The King had long since decamped for more modern quarters and the Grand Palace was now neither grand nor a palace. These days it amounted to little more than a faintly shabby tourist attraction for the hordes of foreigners that swept over Thailand year-around.

There was a sudden flash of lightning and moments later a single, crunching boom of thunder drove the air out of the night. I dumped my cigar into an ashtray and walked back inside. As I shut the door, the storm hit like a fist.

THREE

Chulalongkorn University is right in the middle of Bangkok and the Sasin School of Business is in the northwest corner of Chula’s main campus. Sasin is housed in two mid-rise buildings that make up for what they lack in construction quality with their mediocre design. My office was on the sixth floor of the larger of the two buildings, around on the south side. It was nothing special, but at least I had a fine view of the golf course at the Royal Bangkok Sports Club and the towers of the Silom Road financial district just beyond it.

I had slept poorly and woken at dawn so I went in on Monday morning a couple of hours earlier than usual. In spite of the rain during the night, or perhaps because of it, the new day was glorious. The sky was so blue it reminded me of Hawaii, and a promising breeze out of the south carried the smell of salt all the way up from the Gulf of Thailand. None of the secretaries had come in yet, so I walked down to the little kitchen at the end of the hall and made some coffee.

Mondays were particularly pleasant days for me since I had only one class scheduled. It was an eleven o’clock lecture course entitled “Legal Aspects of the Regulation of Multinational Corporate Acquisition Finance Transactions in the Countries of the Pacific Rim.” The kids called it “Wheel, Deal and Steal.” The course was a second-year elective that had never been very popular before I took it over, but now the enrollment was well above a hundred and the meetings had been moved to one of the large lecture halls across campus to accommodate the crowd.

My lectures were supposed to focus on case studies of the financing structures of major corporate acquisitions in Asia, but I always made an effort to sprinkle them with a few war stories to lighten up what otherwise would have been a dreary discourse on tax treaties, banking practices, and securities regulations. Almost all of my stories naturally concerned money-frequently very large amounts of it-and I had quickly discovered that money was an even better topic than sex for keeping students absolutely riveted.

The word around campus was that my lectures were entertaining and I suppose they were. Moreover, I was something less than the world’s toughest grader. If you turned up with reasonable regularity, course credit would be yours at the end of the semester without a great deal of fuss. I was a charter subscriber to Woody Allen’s Postulate: at least eighty percent of life is about just showing up.

There was another reason this particular course drew so well, however, one about which I had decidedly mixed feelings. My lectures generally featured anecdotes drawn from my own recollections of the bad old days, of gunslingers that had bought companies with big gestures instead of money and somehow gotten away with it for a while. Those stories were obviously popular with the students and that was what bothered me. I often got the uncomfortable feeling that they were less interested in absorbing the moral object lessons I was trying to impart than they were in figuring out how they could pull off the same kind of crap for themselves.

Regardless, today I was entirely free of the need to fret over what my students might make of my tales of greed and derring-do because I didn’t have to tell any. I was about to engage in the oldest ruse known to academia, the guest lecturer ploy. All I had to do today was appear attentive and not get caught closing my eyes.

I went down to the administrative office while I waited for Mr. Coffee to finish dripping, gathered the weekend’s harvest of incoming faxes out of the machine, and picked up copies of both the Wall Street Journal and the Bangkok Post. Flipping quickly through the faxes, I found only one addressed to me, a notice that the board meeting for Southeast Asian Investment in Hong Kong later in the week had been shortened from two days to one. That wasn’t particularly welcome news since I really enjoyed my all-expense-paid junkets to Hong Kong.

I walked back to the kitchen carrying the fax and the newspapers, picked out what looked like a clean mug from a cabinet above the sink, and poured myself some coffee. Then I returned to my own office, shut the door, dumped the fax on my desk, and settled back with the newspapers to do some serious coffee drinking.

Two newspapers and three cups of coffee later, I made a preemptive toilet stop, then strolled across campus to the lecture hall where I found the guest lecturer for the day waiting outside for me. My designated hitter was an old Bangkok hand named Dollar Dunne, an American-born lawyer who had been around Thailand for longer than anyone I knew. As unlikely as it might seem, Dollar actually was his real name, one hung on him by a mother who either had a strange sense of humor or, given his ensuing success dealing his way around the back alleys of Asia, was startlingly prescient.

Dollar and I made small talk until the class had all taken their seats, then I did a couple of quick announcements and gave Dollar the kind of effusive and deferential introduction my guests always said was unnecessary but would have been mortally wounded not to receive. After that, I settled into a seat up at the back of the lecture hall and smiled as Dollar leaned against the podium and launched into what were no doubt wildly embellished tales of his adventures as a legal mercenary stalking the commercial jungles of Asia.

Dollar was at least in his mid-fifties, but his wiry build and the way he wore his thick, silver hair in what was almost but not quite a Marine Corps buzz cut made him look much younger. His skin was perfectly tanned and his features still had a boyish, open quality to them. Instead of the predictable uniform of expensive suit and a white shirt, Dollar was wearing rumpled khakis and a green golf shirt that looked faded from many hours in the sun. His choice of wardrobe said a lot about him. He was probably happiest when he was doing exactly the opposite of whatever was expected. I had to admit the image Dollar affected, although a little studied for my taste, was pretty potent. It gave him a raffish quality that a lot of people found irresistible.

Dollar and I had first met back when I was still in living in Washington. Dollar’s firm had been lead counsel for a company called the Merchant Group that had gone suddenly and spectacularly belly up and left a good number of Stassen amp; Hardy’s banking clients holding embarrassingly empty bags. The Merchant Group had technically been a Luxembourg corporation with its operating headquarters in Bangkok, but in reality it was as Australian as a red kangaroo. Lyndon Merchant was an Aussie and mostly he ran the organization out of Perth. He called it a private international merchant bank, but I had never met anyone who could figure out exactly what that crafty assembly of buzzwords was actually supposed to mean.

What the company actually did was equally difficult to divine. It did deals, of course, as the players liked to say back when the expression was still socially acceptable if not exactly laudable, but there was no consistent quality to them. It bought random companies all over the world, mostly with money borrowed from gullible and greedy bankers whose primary interest was in pumping up their reported profits with fat fees; then it either flipped the companies quickly for a fast profit, generally to some sucker lined up in advance, or it cut the companies up, pulled the valuable assets out, and dumped what was left.

When Stassen amp; Hardy sent me out to Bangkok to fish around in the wreckage of the Merchant Group to see if anything was left for our clients to claim, it wasn’t long before I was up to my butt in a morass of untraceable fund transfers and funny-money loans involving shell companies headquartered in places like the Cook Islands, Vanuatu, and Tonga. The gamy odor of the whole sordid mess was unmistakable, but I couldn’t develop any solid connections between the Merchant Group’s operations and the usual suspects in international scams of that sort: the intelligence agencies, drug traffickers, and arms brokers who were generally skulking somewhere in the shadows. Dollar, as I recalled, seemed to find the whole muddle more amusing than sinister, and working that case with him turned out to be the finest graduate seminar in Asian commercial skullduggery I could ever have wanted.

Dollar was right in the middle of telling my students a few stories about the Merchant Group, winging his way to the considerable amusement of the class through some of the wilder conspiracy theories, when he suddenly looked up at the back of the hall and cut me a wink that was impossible to miss. A few of the kids twisted around in their seats to check out my reaction. I reflexively returned a half-smile, but Dollar’s gesture left me a little unsettled. The wink seemed to imply that Dollar and I shared some secret concerning the Merchant Group that he couldn’t impart to the class. If that’s what he thought, I couldn’t imagine what that secret was supposed be.

I was still thinking about that when the class started to applaud and I realized that Dollar had finished. The kids gathered their stuff, slid out of the narrow rows of theater-style seating that were tiered up off a center aisle, and began to make their way down to the main floor and out of the hall.

By the time I reached the bottom of the steps, the hall was almost empty and Dollar was leaning on the lectern at the front of the room waiting for me.

FOUR

“Was that wink supposed to mean something to me?”

“You’re getting kind of Canadian in your old age, Jack. Anybody ever tell you that?” Dollar eyed me for a moment and then he shrugged. “A kiss is just a kiss; a smile is just a smile; a wink is just a wink. Like that.”

I knew Dollar wasn’t normally one for empty gestures. Regardless, he obviously wanted to let this one slide, so I didn’t press the point.

“Anyway, forget that,” Dollar said. “I’ve got something I need to talk to you about.”

“Maybe we should move this outside, Dollar.”

The man’s voice came from behind me, and when I turned I saw John Hanratty slouched down in a seat in the front row right next to the entrance to the lecture hall. I hadn’t noticed John come in and I wondered what he was doing there. John wasn’t a lawyer, not as far as I knew anyway, although he worked for Dollar’s law firm in some capacity. I had never been absolutely certain what John actually did for Dollar’s firm, but I gathered he functioned as a sort of greeter for out-of-town clients when they came to Bangkok, something most of them were happy enough to do whenever they could come up with an excuse that their wives would buy. Clients were always flying in for what were euphemistically called conferences, only to spend most of their time on a stool next to John at one of the city’s justly famed go-go bars.

Everyone I knew called John by his nickname: Just John. The source of that nickname was a local legend. Whenever someone who knew only John’s first name asked for his last, so the story went, John would invariably reply, “It’s just John.” Popular rumor had it that Just John was retired from the CIA. That, of course, interpreted his gesture concerning his name as a penchant for secrecy rather than just an indication of friendliness. I thought the story far too colorful to be true, but I really didn’t know Just John all that well so I had never asked him about it.

“I didn’t know you were coming this morning, John.”

“Shit,” he grinned as he pushed himself out of his seat, “neither did I until a couple of hours ago.”

Just John was a big man and all of his features seemed slightly over-scale: big hands, wide forehead, barrel chest, prominent nose. He must have been in his sixties, but he was tanned and fit-looking despite a beer gut that rode his middle like a kangaroo’s pouch. His gray hair was long enough at the back to curl down inside the collar of the neat, button-down white shirt he wore tucked into sharply creased, dark gray trousers.

“Come on, Jack.” Dollar placed a hand against my back and nudged me gently toward the door. “Let’s take a walk.”

The three of us left the building and turned north across the campus. Just John said nothing at all, but Dollar and I made small talk as we strolled unhurriedly in the general direction of a massive, lumpy pile of masonry that looked like a bomb shelter built on the surface rather than underground. In actual fact it was an eight-story, windowless shopping center with a doubtful reputation where a lot of Chula students hung out between classes, eyeing each other over the vendors’ stalls heaped with knockoff clothing, cloned cell phones, and pirated DVDs.

Eventually I got bored with waiting for someone to tell me what this conversation was supposed to be about.

“What’s on your mind, Dollar?” I asked.

“As I recall, Jack, we referred Howard the Roach to you last year. That’s right, isn’t it?”

I nodded. Howard Kojinski liked to pose as a big-time financier, but he was actually one of those guys who seldom made it past the fringe of anything that mattered. He had earned his colorful moniker, so I understood, because of the way he operated on those rare occasions when he accidentally stumbled into something that involved real money.

Why are cockroaches so unpleasant? the question goes. It’s not because of what they eat, is the answer, it’s what they fall into and mess up.

“You organized a company for him in Hong Kong, didn’t you?” Dollar kept walking, his hands folded behind him. “Then you used it to set up an LA property deal he had going with a some Chinese hustlers.”

I nodded again and waited for Dollar to get to the point.

“Just John’s looking into what Howard’s been up to lately. What have you heard from the little asshole?”

“Nothing.”

Then I thought about Dollar’s question and realized how odd it was.

“Why would you think I’d heard anything from Howard?”

“Well, Jack,” Dollar gave me a tentative look, “you know more about manipulating corporate structures than anyone I’ve ever known. You’re the man when it comes to all that shit. If Howard had a problem with some of his funny-money stuff, I thought he might have called you.”

“And does he have a problem?”

“Sure he does, Jack. Howard always has a problem.”

“What is it this time?”

Howard claimed to have business interests all around the world, but all I knew for certain was that he had done a few minor real estate deals here and there and that he owned a California company named In The Pink Inc. The company had been a nearly defunct distributor of pornographic videos when Howard bought it, but even after he unloaded the porno inventory on some Iranian students, Howard loved the name of the company so much he never changed it.

The only other thing of any value that In The Pink Inc. owned was a small tract of land in Hollywood that was just east of the old Warner Brothers studio lot. There was nothing on the site but a run-down building occupied by something that billed itself as a karaoke club and Howard wanted to redevelop the property with a small strip mall. Another strip mall was just what LA really needed, of course, so he had somehow convinced three young Hong Kong Chinese disco entrepreneurs to put up the money. That had been the reason for setting up the development company in Hong Kong, or so I had been told. Regardless, before I even managed to get the titles to the land straightened out and the property transferred into the new company, Howard’s backers lost interest in the deal and he told me to forget the whole thing.

“Don’t tell me Howard’s strip mall deal is alive again?” I asked.

Dollar didn’t answer me right away. I got the feeling that he was still trying to read my reaction to Howard’s name.

“No, it’s not about all that,” Dollar finally said, but that was all he did say.

We had reached the edge of the campus and Dollar abruptly turned east and headed for Phayathai Road, a busy north-south thoroughfare that bisected Chula. I still couldn’t see where this was going, but I trailed along anyway, waiting Dollar out. Just John had dropped a few paces behind us, apparently losing interest in the conversation. I could easily see how that might be.

“Jack, I need to understand exactly how much you know about this mess Howard’s got himself in.”

“I just told you. I don’t know anything about Howard or any mess he’s in. I haven’t heard from him since last year.”

I couldn’t imagine why Dollar was suddenly so interested in Howard. I certainly wasn’t.

Then all of a sudden it occurred to me what all this might be about, and I stopped walking so abruptly that Just John stumbled into me from behind.

Dollar’s law firm hired me to consult with their clients on specialized corporate matters fairly frequently. I even had a small office of my own there and I thought Dollar knew me pretty well by now. I didn’t want any clients, and even if I did, I’d certainly be able to get them without stealing them from him. If that was what Dollar was implying now that he thought I was doing, I didn’t like it one little bit.

“Are you suggesting that I’m trying to hijack one of your clients, Dollar?”

“No,” Dollar quickly shook his head. “Nothing like that.”

I looked at him carefully. I wasn’t sure I believed him. It seemed to me that was exactly what he was suggesting.

“Then you’d better explain to me what you’re talking about,” I said.

Dollar shifted his eyes off mine. He glanced at Just John and then sighed heavily.

“Why don’t we just forget all this for now, Jack? If you haven’t talked to Howard recently, you haven’t. Just let me know if he calls. Will you do that for me?”

“What’s going on here, guys?” I looked back and forth between Dollar and Just John. “Why don’t you just lay it out for me?”

Dollar said nothing. It was Just John who answered me.

“Howard’s gone and done something stupid, Jack. We need to straighten it out.” John lifted his arms from his sides, palms up. “That’s all. We just want to be sure nobody gets hurt when we do.”

I didn’t understand what that meant, but at least one thing was coming through loud and clear.

“Is there something you’re not telling me here, guys?”

Dollar looked exasperated. “Jack, there’s a ton of shit we’re not telling you. Do you think we’re completely stupid?”

“If you’re not going to tell me what we’re talking about, then why in the world are we having-”

Dollar pointed a finger at me, cutting me off. “Keep your nose clean,” he interrupted. “We’ll be in touch.”

Then Dollar turned and walked away. Just John tossed me a little salute, half-smiled, and followed him without a word. Within a few strides they were moving crisply in lockstep. They looked to me like they were making directly for Phayathai Road. I figured Dollar’s driver was hovering somewhere there, idling in Dollar’s big Mercedes and ignoring the traffic backing up behind it, waiting patiently for the boss to appear.

I stood there and watched them go and I wondered for a moment if I would eventually find out what Dollar was talking about. Then I asked myself the really important question. I asked myself if I really wanted to know.

FIVE

As I walked slowly back to my office I pushed Dollar, Just John, and Howard the Roach firmly into the back of my mind. They weren’t my problem right then. It was this guy who claimed to be Barry Gale who required my attention.

Would I be naive to meet whoever called me just because he had pitched a tale that tickled my sense of the bizarre? But then, what could be the harm in it?

I couldn’t think of anyone I had offended enough to want to do me harm, at least not recently, and it seemed unlikely that anyone would mount such an elaborate ruse even if they did wish me harm. Someone could certainly get to me easily enough without going through all this. And what kind of mischief could take place in a supermarket crowded with other people anyway?

As improbable as it might seem, maybe my caller really had been Barry Gale? Who else could have known the things he knew?

Whoever turned up at Took Lae Dee tomorrow night — whether it was Barry Gale or not — he would have some kind of a story to tell. And then he would no doubt want something from me. I couldn’t imagine what that might be, but I figured I had better be prepared for anything. That is, of course, if I went down there at all. I still had a little time to make up my mind. Maybe the place to start doing that was with finding out more than I knew right then about Barry Gale and the body that had been found in that Dallas swimming pool.

I flipped through my mental Rolodex looking for somebody who might be able to help me and several good possibilities came to mind. Fortunately Bangkok was a dream of a location for people in the information business whether they were working for governments or involved in some private enterprise or, as was not infrequently the case, doing both at the same time. The city was the doorway to Southeast Asia, and the Thais didn’t much care what anyone did there as long as it didn’t involve them. That made Bangkok an irresistible base of operations for almost anyone who was up to anything they didn’t want too many people to know about.

I turned the alternatives over in my mind while I walked, but there was really no reason to do that. I already knew exactly who I needed to see.

When I got back to the building where my office was, I went straight down to the garage and got into my Volvo. A few minutes later I was headed north on Phayathai Road.

Darcy Rice lived in one of Bangkok’s older neighborhoods that was out near Chitralada Palace where the king maintained his official residence. It was a part of town where you seldom saw foreigners, and that suited Darcy just fine.

Her house was at the end of a tiny soi that branched off Wisut Kasat Road at an Esso station. If you didn’t know exactly where you were going, it didn’t look like a street at all, but just part of the station’s driveway. Behind the Esso station the soi made a sharp bend to the right and ran along a row of nondescript shop-houses for about a hundred yards until it dead-ended at a green metal gate set into a high ginger-colored wall. Thick stands of rangy bamboo tumbled over the wall from inside and gave the whole area a slightly overgrown appearance, but the bamboo had a very specific purpose. Concealed within it was a sophisticated security system that encircled the entire property. It was an exceptionally thorough piece of technology and it effectively ensured the total privacy of the occupants.

After Darcy retired from more than thirty years of working for the US government, some of it in Washington and the rest in various postings around Asia, she took her whole pension in a cash settlement and headed straight for Bangkok. I met Darcy shortly after she set up shop here. She had made it her business to look me up and introduce herself. At first I wondered why, but after I got to know Darcy better I understood perfectly well.

Darcy was in the business of collecting information and so she also collected people who had information. For a few months I heard from Darcy only occasionally, mostly when she needed me to explain some arcane twist of international finance, but gradually the calls and our visits increased in frequency and a friendship developed. Darcy had never spoken to me about her background except in general terms; however, I had no difficulty reading between the lines. CIA would have been an obvious guess, but I doubted it. My own theory was that Darcy had been with the NSA, the National Security Agency.

NSA was so secretive that it made the CIA look like the New York Times. What’s more, they did the stuff that few people even knew was going on-the computer break-ins, the telephone and email intercepts, the satellite surveillance, and the other black arts wizardry almost anybody out of the know would have been inclined to dismiss as paranoid fiction rather than real life. That was exactly the kind of stuff Darcy seemed to know all about.

Her computers occupied all of a two-story cottage across a swimming pool from the main house, and they were fat with data. There was little Darcy could not get access to. She could nail down details about intelligence networks and the activities of individual agents that conventional corporate investigative agencies had never heard of. The end of the Cold War had scattered a welter of unemployed, freebooting intelligence operators across the globe. A lot of them had tried to do the same thing Darcy had, but there were few others who could claim the sophistication of the operation she had created in Bangkok. It was nothing less than a private intelligence agency, one with capabilities equal to any competitor and to not a few governments.

At the end of the soi I stopped in front of Darcy’s gate and lowered the driver’s window. Before I could push the button on the intercom box, the gate split into two panels and began to swing inward. I gave a little wave in the direction where I knew the security camera was and the intercom speaker click-clacked in acknowledgment.

Parking on the gravel of the circular driveway, I got out and made my way up the short brick walk between rows of tropical plants so carefully tended and perfectly formed that they might have been shot out of plastic injection molds. Darcy opened the door and stepped onto the house’s wide front porch. She was a smallish woman, a few years past sixty, trim with a pleasant but forgettable face, and she wore her silver hair in a tightly fitted, masculine crop. As always when she was at home, she was dressed in a white silk blouse and an ankle-length sarong, today’s selection being in the brightest shade of saffron I had ever seen.

“It’s been a long time, doll.” She pecked me on the cheek and held my arm in a kind of embrace as we entered the living room of the house. “Where the hell have you been?”

“Out chasing women. What else is there to do in Bangkok?”

Darcy laughed and gestured me toward a couch in the elegantly proportioned living area. She sat on the one opposite and folded a leg up under her. A maid appeared almost immediately and placed sweating glasses of cold water in front of each of us, positioning them carefully on tiny squares of coarse, white cotton.

Darcy smiled at me and waited until the maid had glided silently out of the room before she said anything else.

“Nata is out in the cottage running some stuff. She ought to be in any minute.”

Nata had been Darcy’s companion for almost fifteen years and, not surprisingly, she was one of the primary reasons why Darcy had chosen Bangkok for her retirement. The daughter of a Thai general who had ended up on the wrong side of some long-forgotten military coup, Nata was a stunningly beautiful woman who must have been in her late forties. She was very slight with wispy, wide-set eyes, and she seldom wore make-up. Her skin was smooth and milky-looking, so white that you could go snow-blind just looking at it.

I was the pretty much the only foreigner I knew who hadn’t ended up in Thailand because of the women.

“So tell me, doll, what’s on your mind? I get the feeling you didn’t come all the way out here looking for a free lunch.”

“I guess I did in a manner of speaking. I need something.”

“Don’t we all?”

“I’ve got to meet somebody tonight, and I don’t want to sound completely stupid when I do.”

“Uh-huh.” Darcy’s face was professionally empty, waiting.

“I just need a little background. Nothing heavy duty.”

“Tell me the story. Let me decide that.”

I told Darcy about the telephone call and about my summons to Foodland that night. I also told her what I remembered about Barry Gale’s so-called suicide and the stories linking the Texas State Bank with money laundering by Russian mobsters. But I didn’t know much so that didn’t take very long.

“What I need is a digest of the press coverage around the time Barry Gale is supposed to have died,” I finished. “Can you manage that?”

“Exactly what are you looking for?”

“To be honest, I’m not sure. Anything that would prepare me for however this conversation tonight ends up going, I guess. Whatever that means.”

“I don’t see how any of the public stuff is going to help you figure out whether this really is your guy, if that’s what you’re trying to do.”

“Well…”

“Yeah, I know,” Darcy laughed. “You’d also like to see if I could come up with anything that might not have made the papers.”

“Something like that.”

“For you, Jack, anything.”

Darcy stood up and held out her hand.

“Let’s take a walk out to the cottage, doll.”

SIX

The building that Darcy called a cottage was actually the size of a whole house even if it didn’t look much like one. Had it not been for a door on the first level and two small windows on the second, it would have resembled a solid cube of stucco.

The first floor was a single brightly lit room with at least a dozen computer workstations positioned around its walls. Three matronly-looking Thai women, all apparently well into their sixties if not older, moved silently from station to station checking the screens and occasionally tapping a few characters on one of the keyboards. In the center of the room, on a low platform, there was a far more elaborate workstation equipped with four huge thin-panel displays supported by sleek, black pedestals.

Nata perched at the center of the platform in an orthopedic chair and rested her folded forearms on the table in front of a keyboard. She was looking from one display to the other, twisting her brows in concentration. A thin microphone on a chrome boom curved in front of her mouth and I had the impression she had been murmuring into it when we came in, but when she saw us she pushed herself back from the table and flicked the boom up over her head like a surfer chick flipping up sunglasses.

“Hey, Jack boy! Long time.”

“I was in the neighborhood, so-”

“Yeah, yeah. What is it this time? You never come to see me except when you want something.”

“That’s not entirely true,” I said, but it pretty much was.

Darcy stepped in and in a few clipped phrases related to Nata the high points of the story I had just told her about my call from the man claiming to be Barry Gale.

“This guy wants to meet you where?”

Nata’s question was addressed to me, but she was looking at Darcy when she asked it.

“Took Lae Dee.” I said. “It’s in Foodland.”

“The one on Sukhumvit Road? Down by the Ambassador Hotel?”

I nodded. I didn’t much blame Nata for wondering about that part of my story. I was wondering a little about it, too.

During daylight hours Sukhumvit Road was one of Bangkok’s principal arteries, four lanes jammed with vehicles and the Sky Train running on massive concrete pillars down its center. It slashed like a fault line across the part of the city where almost every foreigner in town lived. For miles it was lined with luxurious shopping malls, expensive restaurants, and many-starred hotels. It was generally thronged with people: well-heeled tourists, foreign residents, and those adventurous Thais who didn’t mind so much mixing with either.

In the hours after dark, however, a different breed took over Sukhumvit Road. Even at its most benign, Bangkok was part Miami and part Beirut, and there was nothing benign about midnight on the fault line. In the late, late hours, Sukhumvit Road became Blade Runner country.

I had always thought there had to be some kind of international network devoted to coaxing social rejects and dropout cases worldwide into coming to Bangkok, because come they did by the thousands. They walked away from third-shift jobs in places like Los Angeles, London, Sydney, Berlin, and Toronto, packed what they had, bought a cheap airline ticket, and made their way to the Land of Smiles. Some were looking for a cheap tropical paradise; others thought they’d found Sodom and Gomorrah; but almost every one of them was hoping in some way to make a fresh start on a life that up until then probably had little to recommend it. Many of these refugees from reality probably couldn’t have located the city on a map before they decided it was the place for them, maybe they still couldn’t, but now Bangkok had become their last, maybe their only hope.

In the empty hours it was this army of the dispossessed that took control of Sukhumvit Road. Tuk-tuks, little three-wheeled motorcycle taxis, flew up and down the street most of the night ferrying carousers between the two clumps of go-go bars that anchored the neighborhood: Nana Plaza on the west and Soi Cowboy about a mile to the east. They were all there: the lonely, the frightened, the guilty, the depressed, and the psychotic. Soaked with sweat, they rushed back and forth from one bar to another, reeking of that peculiarly sour, metallic odor habitually given off by the emotionally overmatched and underachieving. It was this floodtide of the lost and abandoned that owned Sukhumvit Road after midnight.

“So what do you want from me, Big Jack?” Nata asked.

“Whatever you can find out for me about Barry Gale. If I’m going into Indian country tonight, I want to go well-armed.”

Nata raised an eyebrow at me.

“Metaphorically speaking,” I added quickly.

Nata thought about that for a moment, her face a blank, then turned back to her keyboard and pushed a few keys. Boxes began appearing on one of the big screens in front of her. I watched her type Texas State Bank into a space in one of them and after ten or fifteen seconds a list rolled up on the other screen. She typed Barry Gale into another box and waited until a second list replaced the first. Then she typed something that appeared on the screen as nothing but a row of asterisks, hit the Enter key twice, and waited.

After a few seconds an index of news stories appeared back on the first screen, each entry providing a headline, a newspaper’s name, a date, and the first few sentences from the story. Nata started working her way methodically through every item, calling up the full text of some of the accounts. By the time she had been at it for ten or fifteen minutes, we knew pretty much everything the press had reported about the death of Barry Gale.

Barry had been at the bank’s North Dallas guesthouse for several weeks while preparing the Texas State directors for their formal meetings with the federal banking examiners. The examiners were awfully curious as to exactly how millions of dollars of the bank’s deposits managed to wander away without anyone noticing, and they were ready to ask the directors a lot of tough questions.

It was a Thursday afternoon when Barry told everyone he was exhausted and was going to knock off and go to Acapulco for a few days, so no one really wondered very much why they hadn’t heard from him until he failed to turn up for a conference with some Treasury Department people the following Wednesday. Then on Thursday, exactly a week after Barry had last been seen, a maintenance man found the body in a lap pool behind the guesthouse off Preston Road.

“Your ghost was right on the money,” Nata pointed out. “No useable fingerprints and the corpse’s face was too badly smashed up to get an ID except with dental records.”

“Was there an autopsy?” Darcy asked Nata. I had apparently been relegated to the roll of a silent observer.

“If there was,” Nata said consulting her screens again. “there’s nothing about it here.”

“That manhole cover looks like a pretty big loose end,” Darcy mused. “What do those suckers weigh? They’d have to go at least seventy-five, maybe a hundred pounds, wouldn’t they?”

Nata nodded absentmindedly, still studying one of the screens.

“Staggering around with a cast-iron manhole cover, using barbed wire to tie it around your neck, and then leaping into a swimming pool sounds looks to me like a pretty hard way to commit suicide,” Darcy said. “At least, it is if you’re doing the committing entirely on your own.”

“It sounds like the Russians,” Nata nodded. “Those guys love stuff like that.”

Darcy bent forward, reading a Dallas Morning News story over Nata’s shoulder. It concerned the unexplained disappearance of another director of the Texas State Bank about the same time Barry took the big swim, a guy named Harold Wilkins. The stories about Wilkins were pretty sketchy since Barry Gale’s drowning was so much sexier, but there was enough to work out the gist of what had happened. Darcy pointed to the monitor.

“Wilkins had been buying currency futures for a year or more before he disappeared. He was running all the positions himself using an account in the name of Westmoreland Oil and Gas, which was apparently a real oil trader in Dallas.”

“How could he do that?” Nata asked. “Wouldn’t somebody have started asking questions?”

“Not necessarily,” I offered.

Darcy and Nata both looked at me as if they had just remembered that I was there.

“If Westmoreland had been reasonably active in the foreign exchange markets hedging their exposure on future deliveries like most oil traders do, it would have looked normal enough. And I’m sure Wilkins would have been smart enough to route all the dummy accounts to himself. If he was, Westmoreland would never have noticed anything and there would have been nobody else to blow the whistle.”

Darcy and Nata took that in, glancing at each other, then all three of us went back to reading silently through the rest of the story. As we read, the rest fell into place. Wilkins had been using accounts he had set up in Westmoreland’s name to conduct his trading operations all right. He was buying and selling futures contracts in a half-dozen different currencies for what on the surface appeared to be routine hedging of exposure on crude oil deliveries that provided for payments in Japanese yen and Singapore dollars. When the market turned on Wilkins, however, his losses quickly began to pyramid.

He kept ahead of them for a while-mostly by running hard, shuffling papers fast, and doubling up his losses-but when the magnitude of the debacle became so large that he couldn’t hide it any longer, the entire mess collapsed in a heap. That was when Wilkins disappeared without a trace. He left his house to drive to the bank one morning and stepped right off into the twilight zone.

Two weeks later, Barry Gale-or someone-was found at the bottom of the swimming pool at the guest house. His suicide was quickly attributed to the working relationship between Gale and Wilkins. There was even some speculation that Barry Gale could have been the real mastermind behind the whole currency futures scam and that he might have been using the less experienced Wilkins as a front man; but with one man dead and the other missing, following up the speculation would have been difficult.

In the end, apparently no one even bothered to try.

SEVEN

When Nata finished reading the story, she looked at Darcy. “Maybe this guy Gale really is still around,” she said.

“Then who was the stiff in the pool?” Darcy asked.

No one said anything since the answer was pretty obvious. If Barry Gale was still alive, Wilkins was the prime candidate for the Esther Williams role. Moreover, that opened the possibility that Barry might have had something to do with arranging the casting.

“You think this guy might be indexed somewhere with EDGAR?” Darcy asked Nata.

“Who’s-” I started to ask.

“Never mind,” Darcy interrupted, and obediently I fell silent.

Nata typed briefly and then slid her hand over a trackball sitting next to the keyboard. As she rolled the cursor around one of the screens and clicked here and there, both she and Darcy leaned in closer. After a moment I saw them exchange a look and then Darcy leaned over Nata’s shoulder and typed a few keystrokes. After that they both watched the other screen in silence.

“That’s pretty amazing,” Nata finally said, more to herself than to Darcy or me.

She clicked the left mouse button on the trackball twice, looked at the screen for a long time in silence, and finally rotated her chair until she was facing me.

“I don’t know what to tell you, Jack.”

Up until then I thought we had been doing just fine.

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“I found the name Barry Gale in a keyword search of EDGAR’s primary data index,” Nata explained. “But when I went to the locations referenced in the search, there was nothing there. All the references came up as invalid entries.”

“Does that happen a lot?”

Darcy glanced at Nata for a moment and then shook her head. “Never.”

“What are you saying?” I asked, looking from one to the other.

“There are a couple of possibilities, I guess,” Nata took over again. “Three, really. Mistakes in data paths can occur. Maybe this is just the result of a simple input error.”

“But you don’t think so.” I was sure, at least, of that much. Nata’s face made it plain. “What else?” I asked.

“The references may have been there once, then deleted for some reason and the index entries were overlooked.”

“I didn’t think database entries were ever deleted, just updated.”

“Right. Usually they’re not.”

“So then what’s the third reason?” I asked.

Nata hesitated, glancing at Darcy, who nodded once.

“The entries may be encrypted with a unique key that we don’t have,” she said. “That’s never happened before either, but theoretically I suppose it’s possible.”

“And what would that mean?”

“There’s generally a turf battle of some kind going on in Washington, Jack. It might just be that one agency has something going and it’s taking particular care to make sure that another agency can’t find out about it. It could be that sort of thing.”

“Could be?”

“Look, Jack, we’re good, but we’re not perfect. Some of the really big hitters can bury stuff so deep we can’t get to it. To tell you the absolute truth, it hasn’t happened before, but it is possible.”

“Really big hitters? What are you telling me? What kind of database is this anyway?”

Nata felt silent, then glanced toward Darcy again. Darcy sighed and folded her arms.

“Don’t put me in a bad spot here, Jack. Let’s just say that it is a comprehensive summary of…” Darcy paused, weighing her words, “nonpublic U.S. intelligence data concerning foreign organized crime activity. If there was any real connection between your man, the Texas State Bank, and the Russian mob, it would be in here.”

“In other words,” I said, “you’ve hacked the FBI.”

“If we had, you wouldn’t want us to tell you, would you?”

I had always thought the expression about someone’s eyes twinkling was pure poetic exaggeration, but right at that moment Darcy’s actually did.

“So what can you tell me that won’t get me twenty to life?”

“My gut says you’re about to step into it here, Jack,” Darcy said. “I’d back off and let it go if I were you.”

That wasn’t exactly what I had been expecting to hear.

“Don’t you think that’s sensationalizing this thing a little, Darcy? How can it hurt just to meet a guy at Foodland and talk to him?”

“He may tell you something you’re better off not hearing,” she said.

What the hell was that supposed to mean?

“Do you want some help?” Nata asked.

“Help? Doing what?”

“If you’re really going to meet this guy, it might be a good idea to have somebody throw a loose net over you. That way you’d pick up on any surveillance that might be on you or any other funny business that might be going on.”

“I don’t like the sound of this very much.”

“You asked for our advice and I’m giving it to you.”

“Look, if there’s really something nasty going on here, the last thing I want is to get you two involved.”

“Oh, not us,” Darcy jumped back in. “You know my policy about avoiding operations. But we could find somebody to cover you without much trouble.”

“How about Mango Manny?” Nata asked, looking at Darcy.

“That’s a good thought,” she answered. “You know him, Jack?”

“I don’t think so. I imagine I’d remember meeting anybody with a name like Mango Manny.”

“His real name is Emmanuel Marcus. He’s a Brit. Used to be a top hitter in London, but he made a couple of silly mistakes and had to relocate on short notice.”

“Mistakes?”

“Oh, you know. Hit the wrong people a couple of times. That sort of thing.”

Darcy made it sound like the fellow had done nothing worse than misdirect a few Federal Express packages.

“Manny’s been in Bangkok… oh, four or five years now, I think. He owns Q Bar, that place on Soi 11 where the hipper-than-thou crowd hangs out. You’ve been there, haven’t you?”

“Nope. Too expensive for me. I’m more a Cheap Charlie’s kind of guy.”

“Manny’s very well connected. Plays golf with all the right generals and government ministers. But the important thing is that he’s got a really first-class organization.”

“You mean at his bar?”

“No, not that. Manny brought the marijuana business here into the twenty-first century. Really made it fly, so to speak.”

“He’s a drug dealer?”

Darcy looked down and kicked her toe at the carpet. “He’s more of a… management consultant. Besides, he won’t touch anything but grass. The man’s not a criminal, Jack.”

I took a deep breath.

“Just let me be sure I understand what you’re telling me here,” I said. “Just because you can’t find a couple of references to Barry Gale in your magic machine, you’re seriously proposing that I get some screw-up cockney hit man turned godfather to the Thai marijuana trade to work security for me when I go to the Foodland tonight to meet a dead guy. Have I pretty much got it?”

“Manny’s not a cockney,” Darcy said. “He went to Cambridge.”

“Oh well, that changes everything.”

“He’s really a pretty good guy,” Nata put in. “I think he just watched too many Bob Hoskins movies when he was young and never got over it.”

There was a little silence then and Darcy and Nata both watched me expressionlessly. In the quiet, I thought I could feel something stirring around me. I didn’t know what it was, but it felt large and unpleasant.

“What do you think I should do, Darcy?” I finally asked.

Darcy placed one hand gently on my back. She had the sort of look on her face I imagined a mother might give a son who was going off to war, a look that said there wasn’t a thing she could do but wish him luck and hope for the best.

“Be careful, Jack. Be very, very careful.”

EIGHT

When I got home I found some chicken in the refrigerator and leftover rice in the cooker. I heated them both in the microwave while I opened a Heineken, then I doused the chicken and rice in hot Sriracha sauce and took it into the living room so I could watch a replay of yesterday’s Redskins game on ESPN while I ate.

Anita got home around ten. As soon as she closed the door behind her she took a couple of quick little hopping bounds across the room and dived over the back of the couch. Then she rolled into my lap and hung one arm around my neck.

“I missed you, darling.”

I tilted my head down and kissed her lightly on the lips. “I missed you, too. How was London?”

“Cold. Wet. Dark. Like always. Am I interrupting your game?”

“Not really. I wasn’t paying much attention.” I groped for the remote control and pressed the mute button.

Anita and I had been together for a little more than a year. She was a true child of the world, having been born in Paris to an Italian mother and an English father and then moved to Hong Kong by her parents when she was ten. Later on she went to high school in New York and then graduated from UCLA with a degree in film.

Now she was a painter of considerable note, although I had to admit somewhat sheepishly that I’d never heard of her when we first met at a Sotheby’s auction in Bangkok. Actually, I suppose that I had never heard of many painters, except for a few who died in the fifteenth or sixteenth century and all of them had beards, but it wasn’t long before I discovered that Anita had a huge reputation in Europe as a young artist to be watched. I, too, thought she should be watched, although I was pretty sure what I was watching and what the European art critics were watching were completely different things. At least I hoped they were.

A few months after our meeting at Sotheby’s, Anita had simply packed up her whole studio and moved from London to Bangkok and it wasn’t very long after that she became white-hot in European art circles. She always said that it was the sensuality of Thailand that had given her work the push it needed to make that happen, but I naturally held to the theory that I might have been at least partially responsible.

Anita was much in demand among the art set in Europe these days and she traveled there frequently to do publicity for galleries that sold her work. Of course, she was also much in demand by me in Bangkok, and it pleased me beyond reason that she made such an effort to strike a balance between those two tugs on her life.

“So what have you been up to?” Anita asked me as maroon-and-gold uniformed giants silently smashed into blue-and-white giants on our television screen.

I hesitated before I answered, not entirely sure what to say about the call from the man who claimed to be Barry Gale. It was just a beat, but Anita jumped all over it.

“Ah ha! Out chasing bargirls, I’d bet.”

“Look here now, I’m not taking any crap from a painter. Particularly not one who flew all the way to London just spent to stand around some drafty gallery sipping Campari from a plastic glass and listening to strange men feign fascination with her paintings in a transparent effort to get into her pants.”

“Which bar is your favorite these days, my darling? Is it King’s Castle? That used to be the place to go in Patpong, wasn’t it? Or are you local boys avoiding the tourists these days and going to Soi Cowboy again? What’s hot there? Is it still Long Gun? Do they still do those lesbian shows like they used to?”

“I think you know way too much about way too many things.”

Anita grinned and brushed her lips quickly over mine, then she swung her feet to the floor and pushed herself off the couch. The graceful way she did it took my breath away.

“Don’t go away, big boy. Got to pee. Then I want to hear the whole story about your little honeys before I go over and scratch their eyes out.”

I would have married Anita in a moment, but she had never mentioned marriage and there was something that made me hesitate to ask. To do that would risk changing everything that made life so good right then, particularly if she said no, and that was a chance I was not prepared to take.

After Anita came back from the bathroom we leaned against each other on the couch and made small talk for a while but eventually, of course, I got around to telling her about the man who called my cell phone and claimed to be Barry Gale.

“That’s shocking, Jack,” she said when I’d finished.

The word took me aback a little. It sounded quaint and outdated somehow, out of place in a world that now had little room and less time for people who were shocked by anything. Yet it was a word that Anita wore well. I liked it on her.

“Do you think it really was him?” she asked.

“Well… maybe.”

“Then whose body was that in the swimming pool?”

“Got me.”

“Why would he fake his own death?”

“I don’t know.”

“Why is this man calling you now?”

“He didn’t say.”

“Well, Mr. Laconic, thank you for clearing everything up for me.”

“Hey,” I said, opening my hands in the universal gesture of coming clean. “You know what I know. It’s just not much.”

Abruptly, Anita pushed herself away from me and stood up. She walked to the window and stood there looking out at the city, her arms folded around herself as if the air had suddenly turned unexpectedly cool.

“Are you going out tonight to meet this man?” she asked without turning around.

I hesitated. I knew where this was going and it wasn’t anywhere good, but I couldn’t think of any way to bob and weave.

“Yes, I thought I would.”

“Why are you going to do that?”

“To find out what the phone call was all about.”

“You don’t have any idea what you’re getting into, do you, Jack?”

I could have told Anita about the background I had dug up through Darcy. I could have even told her about Darcy offering to get Mango Manny to go with me. On the other hand, Anita didn’t like Darcy much and, even if she had, the idea that Darcy thought I should have a semi-retired Cockney hit man for backup wasn’t going to do much to ease her concerns. I kept quiet about all that.

“You’re going alone?” Anita eventually asked when I said nothing.

“Yes.”

“All by yourself?”

“That’s what ‘alone’ means.”

“I’m not stupid, Jack.” Anita whirled around and fixed me with a hard stare. “But sometimes I think you are.”

I would have thought that diplomacy would come naturally to someone who was half Italian, half British, and born in France; but in Anita’s case, it didn’t.

“Meeting this man alone is really stupid, Jack. You could be killed.”

“Oh, Anita, don’t be ridiculous.”

“Ridiculous? Didn’t you just tell me that the embassy had been warning Americans to keep a low profile and to be alert?”

“The embassy does that all the time, Anita.”

“Do they? They warn Americans in Thailand to be careful all the time?”

“They warn Americans everywhere to be careful all the time. Look, the embassy’s just covering its ass. Nobody really pays any attention to these things.”

“Well, maybe you should.”

“Now don’t go getting-”

“You Americans are all alike, aren’t you, Jack. All a bunch of tiny John Waynes at heart. Well here’s a flash for you. Life is not a movie. You’ve got to have the sense to know when to be afraid.”

“Look, come over here and sit down.” I patted the cushion next to me with my open palm. “Let’s start over.”

Anita stayed where she was just long enough to make it unmistakable that she was sitting because she chose to, not because I had asked her to. Then she walked over and perched on the couch.

“I didn’t see any danger in going tonight or I wouldn’t go, Anita.”

“You didn’t see any danger in going to a dangerous part of town and waiting for some nut who called out of a clear blue sky claiming to be a dead man? You really don’t see any danger in doing that in the middle of the night?”

“It’s not a dangerous part of town, it’s a supermarket. And midnight isn’t really the middle of the night.”

“Don’t pull that lawyer crap on me, hot-shot.”

“Look, Anita, when was the last time you heard of a foreigner being assaulted by anyone in Bangkok?”

“The week before last.”

“What are you talking about?”

“That French photographer. It was in all the papers.”

Come to think of it, Anita was right. A couple of weeks before, a motorcyclist had shot to death a middle-aged Frenchman walking back to his apartment after an evening spent drinking at the Crown Royal in Patpong. The foreign community had fretted about that for a few days, but the whole incident quickly slid off their radar when the Bangkok Post reported that the Frenchman’s Thai wife and her nineteen-year-old Thai boyfriend had hired the shooter.

“I figured I’d be safe,” I said, “since you were out of town.”

“Ha, ha, ha, ha.”

“Look, Anita, I wouldn’t go if I’d thought it was dangerous. And besides, I promise to be very careful.”

Anita folded her arms again and drew her mouth into a tight line.

“If it’s not dangerous, why are you going to be careful?”

She had me there. Never argue with an Italian woman who was born in France, I reminded myself for not the first time.

“I’m very tired,” Anita suddenly announced in a voice that made it clear my sins would not be forgiven anytime soon. “I’m going to take a shower and go to bed. Good night, Jack.” And with that she stood up and left the room.

I still had a couple of hours to kill before I had to go out to meet Barry Gale. With no prospect of peace on the horizon, I got another beer and went back to watching the Redskins.

NINE

About two dozen high-backed wooden stools with gray seat cushions faced the narrow, L-shaped counter. I slid onto an empty stool and looked around. A small vase of flowers sat on the counter next to a stainless steel water pitcher and a bottle of chili sauce. The flowers were plastic, but somehow they still looked tried and bedraggled. I knew just how they felt.

Took Lae Dee is really nothing more than a little food-service counter stuck up at the front of an all night Foodland where a lot of foreigners shop. Its name translates from Thai as “cheap and good.” At least, it does if you pronounce it right. Since few foreigners struggling with Thai can manage the tones, Took Lae Dee sometimes comes out with a rising rather than a falling tone, turning the translation of its name into “sorrowful and good.” Took Lae Dee is a major hangout for the Bangkok nightshift so I always thought those two dueling translations framed the place pretty accurately.

Behind the counter a Chinese-looking woman in a white cap scraped fried rice from a wok onto a plate. A plastic ID badge with a tiny picture was clipped to her apron and made her look more like someone employed in a defense plant than a counter girl at an all-night diner. Another cook was showing off, flipping a wok full of noodles into the air and then slapping the wok smartly with a long-handled ladle before catching them again. When he saw me watching him, he flashed me a big grin and bowed slightly from the waist.

On the other leg of the counter three Arabs in white robes sat drinking tea and whispering quietly among themselves. Beyond them, two sweating, middle-aged men spoke German to each other and halting English to their young Thai companions. The older of the two men was with a girl who was round and dark with a pleasant face and a nice smile, probably not long out of some upcountry rice field. The other had a stunner draped all over him.

The stunner was tall and slim with skin like poured honey and a cascade of glistening black hair hanging around her shoulders. Stylishly dressed in a short, red leather skirt, white blouse, black spike heels, and a matching belt with a heavy silver buckle, she was a real showstopper. The guy looked like he was about to have a stroke from all the attention he was getting from such a gorgeous creature. I suspected he might very well, not right at the moment perhaps, but almost certainly a little later when he got down to business and discovered his dazzling companion was actually a katoey, a man. The guy was about to learn the most fundamental rule for hitting the streets after midnight in Bangkok. Very little is ever what it seems to be.

“Help you, sir?”

The girl who walked up behind me was young, not more than eighteen probably, with big eyes and a slightly dumpy air about her. I wondered what she saw when she looked at the Germans and their companions for the night.

“Gafair dam.” Black coffee.

The girl bobbed her head and scribbled briefly on a thick pad before walking away. A few moments later a different girl, one of those who was scurrying around behind the counter, put a white ceramic mug down in front of me. I watched her pour the coffee and nodded in acknowledgement of her slight smile. I was jumpy enough already and really didn’t need the caffeine, but I lifted the mug anyway and reflexively sipped at the thick, bitter brew. With my free hand I pushed myself around on the stool and warily checked out what I could see of the interior of the supermarket.

I spotted the man almost immediately. He was half obscured by a tall stack of Diet Coke cans, looking me over without trying to hide it. I saw him glance at a woman standing next to him and place his hand on her arm. Then she followed his eyes and examined me too.

The man was a westerner about my age. He was wearing khaki shorts, an expensive-looking golf shirt hanging over his belt, and dark loafers without socks. Either he was completely bald or he had shaved his head cleanly and his scalp gleamed in the light. Oddly, he had a thin rim of neatly trimmed gray beard that ran all the way from ear to ear. The overall effect was to make his oval face look almost upside down. At a glance the man was largely interchangeable with the lean, tanned, middle-aged Western guys you could find around any of the five-star hotels in town favored by visiting executives. Well off, poised, cocky almost.

The woman was another story. I doubted she was interchangeable with anybody.

She was probably in her twenties and looked Chinese, except that she was at least six feet tall. Slim, graceful, and feminine in spite of her height, she was dressed in loose, dark slacks and a man’s white shirt. Her dark eyes looked tranquil, yet something gave her a quality of vigilance. She made me think of a cat lazing in the shade of a summer’s day, ready to spring into motion at the first sign of a pigeon.

I was already willing to bet this was the guy who had called me; and since the woman looked as if she was standing guard over him, I wondered briefly if that meant I was going to turn out to be the pigeon.

The man gave a little tug on the woman’s arm and they started toward me. When they were still fifteen or twenty feet away, she moved slightly to one side and leaned back against the chrome railing separating the store’s grocery section from the counter where I was sitting. Her posture remained relaxed and she cupped her hands around the top rail and stretched her legs out in front of her, crossing one ankle over the other. When she did, I couldn’t help but notice that they were very nice ankles indeed.

The man slid onto the stool next to me. “I didn’t think you’d recognize me,” he said.

But he was wrong. I did recognize him.

I had no earthly idea how it could be. It made no sense at all. But there was absolutely no doubt in my mind. This was Barry Gale.

I took another sip of my coffee just to have something to do and studied Barry over the rim of the cup. He was leaner than he had been back in Washington and his facial features appeared to have been scrambled up somehow, although I realized it might have been the absence of hair and the addition of the beard that gave me that impression. He looked different, but he looked the same, too.

“You’ve changed some,” I finally said.

“That was the idea, Jack. That was the whole idea.”

Barry’s eyes went away from mine, sought out the woman leaning against the chrome railing, and then came back to me.

“I had some redecorating done.”

“Redecorating? You had plastic surgery?”

“I guess I should have asked them to make me look more like Keanu Reeves and less like Jerry Ford, but I didn’t give it enough thought at the time. We were in a hurry.”

“Who’s ‘we’?”

Barry ignored my question and looked away at a thick-legged blonde woman who might have been Russian pushing through one of the checkout stands with a white plastic bag. She was holding the hand of a tiny Thai girl who didn’t appear to be more than twelve.

Suddenly Barry dug down into his baggy shorts and produced what looked like a card of some kind, thrusting it out and wiggling it at me.

“They fixed me up with a whole new life, Jack. Look here.”

At first I thought the card was a driver’s license, but when I took it from Barry I saw it was actually a Hong Kong identity card. It certainly looked authentic enough, although I was certainly no expert on such things, and had what was probably supposed to be Barry’s picture laminated onto it. As with most ID cards, however, the photograph had a vaguely generic look to it and I wouldn’t have sworn an oath that it was the same man who was sitting in front of me right now. The name on the card was Arthur Daley.

“Stupid fucking name they picked for me though. Can’t imagine where they got it. Normally I wouldn’t give a rat’s ass, but I ask you, could I ever be somebody who’s called Arthur Daley, Jack? Could I?” Barry took the ID card back from me and shoved it into his pocket again. He shook his head. “Shit, man, no way.”

“For Christ’s sake, Barry, what the hell is going on here?”

“I’m not sure I know, Jack.”

Barry spoke quickly, furtively, his eyes rolling around the room.

“I’m living in a dark place and I don’t know how to get out of it. God help me, but I think you might be the only guy who can do anything to help me.” He turned his head and looked at me as if he could hardly believe things had come to that.

Since I didn’t know what to say, I said nothing. Instead I glanced away and ran my index finger around the rim of my coffee cup.

“Let’s walk a little, Jack. Sitting in one place for too long makes me real nervous these days.”

Barry stuffed a red hundred-baht note into the wooden cup that held the check for my coffee and stood up, taking my elbow and tugging on it. I did nothing to resist and we left the store in silence. Threading our way through the jam of empty tuk-tuks and parked motorcycles, we turned right and walked out to Sukhumvit Road.

When we got there Barry stopped and glanced cautiously in both directions. The usual late-night groups of foreigners were still trolling the sidewalks for action, but they were pretty well thinned out to the hardcore. Even the traffic on Sukhumvit was starting to move at something like a normal speed rather than crawling along bumper-to-bumper as it did for most of the day. As far as I could tell, there was nothing going on that should make Barry nervous.

Barry apparently agreed with my assessment. He shoved both hands into the pockets of his shorts and turned east, walking slowly with his head down. I followed, waiting for him to say whatever he wanted to say, but he just stared intently at the rough concrete of the sidewalk as if he might be trying to divine some message that had been left for him there.

I shot a quick glance over my shoulder and saw that the tall woman was following us at a discreet distance. However much Barry might have drifted off into his private reverie, she was more than making up for it with her concentration on both of us. I caught her eyes full on when I turned back, but she didn’t look away-didn’t even blink-and after a moment I did both.

Barry cleared his throat tentatively as if he didn’t know exactly what to say. Then abruptly he started talking anyway.

“Okay,” he said. “Here’s the whole thing.”

TEN

“How much do you know about what happened at Texas State Bank, Jack?”

“A little bit. I did some research after you called.”

“Then you know who Harold Wilkins is?

“The other director. The one who disappeared.”

“Harold Wilkins had been fronting for Russian mobsters for years. At first it was just some nickel-and-dime money laundering, but eventually Harold started thinking bigger and somehow he managed to cut a deal with Jimmy Kicks. Jimmy had a soft spot for banks in crappy, middle-sized shitholes like Dallas because he didn’t like dealing with sophisticated people. He always figured that sophisticated people were the most dangerous, and yokels were the greediest. Me, I’m not so sure. It might be exactly the other way around.”

I just listened and kept my mouth shut.

“Jimmy’s mules delivered bags of cash to Wilkins from the big Russian drug operations in the Northeast. Then Wilkins would see that all the money was booked to legitimate bank depositors, companies whose names he’d used to set up dummy accounts without them knowing anything about it. He always picked companies that were big cash operations, of course. Pawn shops were his favorite, but he liked restaurants and motels, too.”

“A lot of people like motels.”

Maybe Barry didn’t get the joke or maybe he didn’t think it was funny. Either way, he ignored me and went on talking.

“After the deposits were booked and a decent interval had passed, Wilkins would start funneling them out of Texas State and into Jimmy’s foreign bank accounts in a series of small transactions so they wouldn’t attract any attention.”

Two backpackers, a boy and a girl in their twenties who looked Scandinavian, passed us on the sidewalk. They were trudging doggedly in the opposite direction, bent forward under the weight of two massive yellow and black nylon packs. Barry fell silent until they were both out of earshot, then he went on talking.

“I guess it was inevitable an idiot like Harold would eventually get sticky fingers. He started wheeling and dealing with the money while it was lying around in the accounts he’d set up at Texas State. He figured he could use the float to make a few bucks playing the foreign exchange markets before he shifted the money out to Jimmy’s offshore accounts.”

“How did Jimmy catch him?” I asked.

“Jimmy didn’t. Wilkins was just unlucky. There was an audit while the stupid prick was off chasing pussy in New Orleans with the rest of the rubes.”

“The auditors were onto him?”

“No, it was strictly some routine stuff. They just started pulling foreign exchange contracts at random. They were spot-checking the bank’s exposure when it occurred to somebody that the number of positions was pretty big for a bank the size of Texas State. It didn’t take long for them to see that almost all of the positions had been opened by Wilkins. That was when the whole fucking thing came unraveled.”

“But didn’t they just close the positions the auditors found? How could the losses have been so big?”

“I told you, Wilkins was an idiot. I don’t think he got the market right even once. Every time a contract went bad he’d cover it by doubling his next position. By the time the auditors got on to him he was so far underwater he was shitting seaweed.”

“How much did he lose?”

Barry hesitated, and I glanced over at him just in time to see a sly look slide across his face. “Just over $60,000,000 according to the auditors’ final report.”

“I still don’t see how it could have been so much.”

“It wasn’t.”

I looked at Barry and shook my head. “You lost me.”

“Wilkins really did piss away a million or so fucking around with foreign exchange futures-that much of the story was true-but that was dog shit to Jimmy. It only mattered because it gave him an idea. He started wondering what would have happened if Wilkins had been thinking bigger? And that was when it came to him.”

“What came to him?”

“That if he could find a way to hang some really big losses around Wilkins’s neck instead of just the lousy million or so he had actually pissed away Wilkins would take the fall for the whole pile of shit. If Jimmy handled it just right, he could waltz away with all the phony losses without the slightest chance anybody would ever work out what really happened. I got to hand it to the guy, Jack. The concept was golden.”

“But not unless-”

“Yeah, that was problem, of course. Jimmy had to have an inside man at the bank to pull that kind of thing off. I’d been put in charge of investigating Wilkins by the rest of the board and given full authority over all the bank’s foreign exchange operations.” Barry turned his head and gave me a rueful look. “I guess I was the obvious choice.”

“Why would you do something like that?” I asked, not at all certain I really wanted to know.

“Jimmy told me he’d put twenty percent of whatever I could scam for him into a Hong Kong bank and give me a fresh start anywhere I wanted.”

Barry kicked at a pebble with his toe. It rattled off a garbage can on the sidewalk and bounced into the gutter.

“That’s the real American dream, isn’t it, Jack? To disappear into some tropical paradise, rich and reborn?”

“I don’t think-”

“Americans have been reinventing themselves since the fucking pilgrims hit the beach,” Barry interrupted. “It’s one thing we’re really good at. Today we just do it a little faster than we used to, that’s all.”

I said nothing, but Barry didn’t seem to care.

“Of course, if you’re going to go to all the trouble to start over again, you want to do it rich, and I was sure as hell going to do that. I knew I could get forty or fifty million out of Texas State without breaking a sweat. That would mean at least eight or ten million for me.”

Barry suddenly brightened and barked a quick laugh.

“You ought to understand starting over better than anybody, Jack. That’s why you walked away from Washington and moved to Bangkok, isn’t it?”

I didn’t bother to argue with Barry. His suggestion that we had both done more-or-less the same thing was so outrageous I just let it pass.

“How did you pull it off?” I asked him instead.

“It was easy. I phonied up a bunch of new contracts for bigger sums than Wilkins had ever dreamed of. Then I slipped them into the system with his trades so they’d look right. After that, I reviewed the trading accounts myself and claimed to have discovered them. How the hell was I going to get caught? Nobody really knew what had been going on but Wilkins, and who the fuck was going to believe him when he said most of the contracts I found weren’t his? Hell, the contracts I stuck in didn’t even have to be good phonies since everybody was more than ready to believe that a boob like Wilkins would have made a mess out of his own swindle.”

Barry smiled. It looked to me like it was trying not to, but he just couldn’t stop himself.

“Eventually I gave my solemn opinion to Texas State that legally they had to make good on every one of the contracts I’d found, and they did. When the smoke cleared, I’d creamed off just under $50,000,000 for Jimmy. That meant I’d cleared almost $10,000,000 for myself.”

We were just in front of the Ambassador Hotel when a pudgy local man broke out of the pack of touts that habitually lay in wait there to ambush passing male tourists. He approached us in an odd, crablike gait, scuttling almost sideways.

“Massage, boss? Many sexy girl.” The tout poked a tattered brochure toward Barry. “Take look?”

Barry didn’t say anything, but he turned his head very slowly and looked at the man. The tout didn’t say another word. He just jerked the brochure away and darted back to the safety of the other touts. I could feel the men following us with their eyes as we walked on by and I wondered what the man had seen in Barry’s face that frightened him so badly.

“That was when Jimmy got an even bigger idea,” Barry continued as if nothing had happened. “He was sick of getting screwed by banks, he told me. He had the $50,000,000 I’d just stolen for him already sitting around in offshore banks, less my cut of course, so he told me he figured this was his big chance.”

I just listened.

“Jimmy wanted his own bank. I knew of one that was available and I thought we could get it for close to the $50,000,000 that I’d scammed out of Texas State. Jimmy told me if I’d throw in my $10,000,000 with his $40,000,000 and could do the deal for that amount, he’d give me a free hand to run the bank and a thirty-five percent shareholding.”

Now I was staring so hard at Barry I stumbled over an uneven joint in the sidewalk that jutted up unexpectedly in front of me.

“What are you telling me here, Barry? The Russian mob not only asked you to buy a bank for them, but to put some money into the deal yourself and become their partner? And you did it?”

“I didn’t become partners with the whole fucking mob, Jack, just with Jimmy Kicks. Don’t go all hysterical on me here.”

“You can’t be serious.”

“Serious as shit, Jack. A chance to own thirty-five percent of an international bank and run it however I wanted to? I’d have been nuts to say no.”

“How could you even think of fronting for the Russian mob, Barry?”

“Now don’t get so high and mighty on me, Jack. We both crawled out of the same fucking pile of crap. You took your way out, I took mine. What the hell’s the difference?”

“That’s the second time you’ve tried the say that we both took the same road, and this time I’m not going to let it slide. There’s nothing remotely similar about the choices you and I made, Barry. Not a damned thing.”

“Tell me the difference.”

“The difference is that I didn’t fake a suicide and go into business with a bunch of Russian mobsters.”

“No, Jack, that’s not it.”

Barry produced the faintest of smiles.

“The difference,” he said, “is they didn’t ask you to.”

ELEVEN

We passed a McDonald’s that was closed for the night. Barry abruptly left the sidewalk and climbed the half-dozen stained concrete steps that led up to the darkened entrance. When he reached the last step, he turned around and sat down, looping his arms around his knees and lacing his fingers together.

“Was that Wilkins in the swimming pool?” I asked as I climbed up and sat down next to him.

“Who the hell do you think it was, Jack? The fucking tooth fairy?” Barry sounded genuinely annoyed. “Look, Wilkins was a dead man anyway. You don’t steal from somebody like Jimmy Kicks and then tell your grandchildren funny stories about it.”

“So you let them kill Wilkins to cover for you, and you took off.”

“Jack, I didn’t fucking let Jimmy Kicks do anything. Harold was going to get gutted. That’s all there was to it. Jimmy offered to use Harold’s body to fake a suicide for me and give me a clean start if I’d do the bank deal for him. It was just that simple.”

Barry looked off into the darkness and for a moment I wondered what he was seeing there.

“What bank did you buy?” I asked eventually.

“The Asian Bank of Commerce.”

I stared at Barry. The ABC was a very minor Philippine bank that would have been utterly unknown had it not been making headlines over the past few months with sensational allegations of corruption on a grand scale. The cast of characters rumored to be involved was colorful if a touch familiar: the usual contingent of corrupt government officials, fabulously wealthy sheiks, shady arms dealers, out-of-control intelligence agencies, and Asian criminal gangs. In fact, about the only international villains who hadn’t been getting press in connection with the ABC were Russian mobsters.

“How could you buy control of the ABC for the Russian mob without anyone finding out?” I asked.

“It was no big deal. I set up a string of shell companies to hold the stock and some corporate cut outs that kept anyone from tracing its real ownership. I used a private investment fund registered in the British Virgin Islands, a venture capital group in Luxembourg, a Panamanian shipping line, two Hong Kong insurance brokers, and a whole bunch of companies that owned companies that were in partnerships that owned other companies. Hell, Jack, you know how it’s done. You’re better at putting together that sort of stuff than anyone I ever knew. Except maybe me.”

“You sound like you’re proud of what you’ve done, Barry.”

“A little, I suppose. It was a cute deal. I did a hell of a job.”

I just shook my head and said nothing.

“Oh for God’s sake, Jack, lighten up. You know the old saying. Every man loves the smell of his own farts.”

In spite of myself, I had to laugh. “Did you just make that up?”

Barry shrugged. “Old Icelandic proverb.”

I chuckled again and shifted my weight on the step. I knew I should just keep my mouth shut, but I was curious.

“So how did you deliver the bank to Jimmy?” I asked.

“It wasn’t too tough. When the peso went down the toilet a few years ago, the ABC was fucked. They tried to sell some convertible bonds to raise capital, but the market just laughed. My shell companies scooped up most of the bonds for a couple of cents on the dollar, then we converted them all into common stock.”

“And that gave you control of the Asian Bank of Commerce.”

“Only nobody knew it because we used about thirty different companies to buy and convert the bonds. It looked like a whole bunch of different companies each had a small piece.”

I doubted that. It certainly wouldn’t have looked that way if anyone was paying attention. On the other hand, Manila wasn’t much of a financial center and Barry had probably struck on one of the best places in the world to find exactly the right combination of credibility, stupidity, and greed he needed to make his deal fly. What passed for the banking authorities in the Philippines were mostly local politicians, none of whom would have particularly cared what Barry and his friends were actually doing with the ABC as long as they were taken care of.

The gist of the story that Barry had told me was beguilingly simple, but the implications were breathtaking. On the surface, he had just bought a broken-down bank that was operating in a reasonably respectable place and used a string of untraceable shell companies to control it. As a practical matter, however, Barry had done nothing less than hijack an entire country as a front for a gang of Russian mobsters.

“It sounds to me like you and your new pals are on the train to glory, Barry. So why are we having this conversation? I can’t believe you’ve discovered a sudden need to confess your sins.”

“Well…” Barry rolled some words around in his mouth for a few moments, but he didn’t seem to like the taste of any of them. “It’s this way, Jack. The bank’s wiped out. Somebody scammed us.”

He said it exactly like he was pronouncing a death sentence. For Barry, it probably was.

“In the last three months we’ve lost more deposit money than we can cover from capital. I swear to God I don’t know who took it, but eventually Jimmy’s going to decide it was me.”

I could feel a chill coming off Barry. He glanced past me toward the street and I turned and followed his eyes. The tall woman was standing on the sidewalk about fifty feet away. She was looking into some shop windows and seemed to be paying no attention to us at all.

“They’ll get me, Jack. If I can’t fix this, they’ll get me; and it doesn’t matter a fig how many people I have out there protecting me.”

“This is going a little fast for me, Barry.”

“Yeah, it went a little fast for me, too. But listen up now. Once you know what I’m about to tell you, there’ll be no turning back.”

“It’s not a question of turning back. I’m not going anywhere.”

“Maybe, maybe not,” Barry shrugged. “But you’ll know what I know, and that will make you a threat to them.”

“I’m not a threat to anyone, because in just about a minute I’m going to get up and walk off.”

“No, you’re not.”

“I’m not?”

“Not a chance, Jack. I know you. You wouldn’t miss the rest of this for the world.”

I sighed and motioned vaguely for Barry to continue. What could it hurt just to listen?

“Whoever hit us, they got to us through our overseas depository accounts and drained most of our foreign currency holdings. About $180,000,000 disappeared a couple of months ago. Poof! Just like that. Somebody cleaned us out and then burned us to cover their tracks. That’s when all that shit about the bank started turning up in the papers.”

“$180,000,000?”

“Give or take.” Barry nodded slowly at me. He did it carefully, like a man with a really bad headache. “As a practical matter, Jack, it’s like this. The Asian Bank of Commerce has been robbed. Somebody else’s crooks fucked my crooks.”

I would have laughed, but I didn’t have the heart.

Barry stood up and stretched, then he went back to walking east along Sukhumvit again, moving slowly with his head down. I stood up, too, and walked along next to him, keeping pace. Barry seemed to have lost interest in conversation, which was okay with me since it gave me a chance to think.

I had always operated on the assumption that I had a fairly sophisticated understanding of the Asian financial scene. Finding out that a regional bank, even a modest one, had been taken over by Russian mobsters came as a considerable surprise to me, to say the least.

Regardless of Barry’s confidence that he had perpetrated his coup in complete secrecy, I doubted that. I was absolutely certain there had to be quite a few other people around who knew all about it. It was a common enough conceit among foreigners doing business in Asia that they had some kind of advantage over the locals and were invariably a step or two ahead of them. That was a presumption that many people I knew had ultimately come to regret.

Government officials, particularly those in Third World countries like the Philippines and Thailand, might seem sleepy to foreigners, but in my experience most bureaucrats around the region had a shrewd eye for opportunity. They were usually far from stupid, even if they played the part of bumbling provincials. I didn’t believe for a moment that every one of them had missed Barry’s little ploy. Of course, as long as the arrangement wasn’t general knowledge and the payoffs kept arriving regularly-tea money was the polite euphemism used in Asia for the practice of such official bribery-no one would make a fuss.

There were still an awful lot of screwy things about Barry’s story. It was unlikely, probably impossible, for vast amounts of money to have disappeared from ABC accounts all over the world at exactly the same time without the active collusion of somebody inside the bank. How could Barry not have thought of that since that was exactly the way he had scammed Texas State Bank in the first place? But he didn’t seem to have thought about it; or if he had, he chose not to mention it to me.

“So what does Jimmy have to say about all this?” I asked after a while.

“Are you fucking kidding me, Jack? You remember Harold Wilkins? He only lost one million dollars and you know what happened to him.”

“In other words, you haven’t told Jimmy?”

“No fucking way, man. No way he’d believe I wasn’t scamming him. Why do you think I’m hiding out in Bangkok?”

I glanced back at the woman again. She was about fifty feet back, right where she’d been since we left Foodland.

“So what are you going to do, Barry?”

“The way I figure it, I’ve got only one chance. I have to find that money and prove to Jimmy that I had nothing to do with it disappearing in the first place.”

All of a sudden Barry stopped walking and pointed his forefinger at me.

“You know more about international banking and money laundering than anyone I know, Jack. I need your help.”

“Me? You want me to help you find your money?”

“Money’s hard to hide. It always leaves footprints. A guy who knows how can follow them anywhere. You’re the best there is, Jack, so you’re my guy. I need you to find the footprints and tell me where they lead.”

“You have got to be kidding me,” I said.

Barry looked back at the woman trailing us and held her eyes briefly. Then he lifted his left index finger and pointed to a pedestrian bridge just ahead of us that crossed over Sukhumvit Road to the Sheraton Hotel. Immediately she walked toward us, passed by without a word, and started up the concrete steps to the bridge. Barry kept his eyes on me.

“Come on, Jack. You can do this. Help me here. I’m twisting in the wind.”

“Look, Barry, even if I was willing to help you, and even if I somehow found the bank’s money, what good would it do? Somebody else would still have it and you’d still be screwed.”

“Yeah, but you haven’t heard the rest of my plan yet.”

The woman was about halfway up the steps, walking lightly on the balls of her feet like someone poised for a fast take off. There was no one within earshot, but Barry leaned slightly toward me anyway as if he wanted to be certain he was not overheard.

“After you find the money,” he whispered, “I want you to steal it back.”

Then Barry turned away, jogged up the steps, and caught up with the woman near the top. I just stood there and followed them both with my eyes as they crossed the bridge and disappeared into the Sheraton. I was too dumbfounded to do anything else.

TWELVE

The next morning I overslept. I showered and dressed as quietly as I could in order not to wake Anita, got the Volvo out of the garage, and made straight for Starbucks. With any luck, I could soak up enough caffeine and sugar to set me up nicely for my ten o’clock class. The course was a real yawner, even for me-a lecture series on the application of American securities regulations to capital raisings in the United States by foreign companies-and I assumed my students really hated it. Today in particular, without a caffeine high and a sugar buzz I didn’t have a hope in hell of getting through it.

There were some people I knew who vilified Starbucks as an American corporate giant heartlessly homogenizing the unique cultures of the world in the headlong pursuit of profits. Strangely, I had noticed that the people who put the most energy into their vilifying were generally other Americans, mostly the kind you met abroad who were trying way too hard to be perceived as high-minded citizens of the world rather than just Yanks on the loose. I liked Starbucks. The coffee was good, the food was okay, and the chairs were comfortable. If that made me a closet imperialist, I could live with it.

It was a nice morning again by local standards. The night winds had come and gone and they had left behind a dazzling blue sky without the usual layer of brown crud to spoil it. I whipped up Ploenchit Road and pulled into the McDonald’s parking area just behind the Grand Hyatt. Smiling at the brown-uniformed security guard who came over to check me out, I transferred a red one-hundred-baht note smoothly into his lightly sweating palm.

“Korp khun maak krap.” Thank you very much, I told him. Then I went on my way ignoring the prominently posted signs that said the parking was for McDonald’s customers only. That was something I had to admit I loved about Thailand. The joyous, unrestrained air of corruption that permeated everything made life pretty simple once you learned to go with it.

I selected a plump cranberry-and-bran muffin, got a grande low-fat latte, and carried them both to a window table looking out onto Ploenchit Road. Someone had abandoned a copy of the Bangkok Post on the table and I flipped to the front page to skim the headlines while I ate. Reading an English-language newspaper in Thailand was always an adventure. Reading a Thai-language newspaper was probably an adventure, too, but I couldn’t read Thai nor could any other foreigner I knew, so I wasn’t absolutely sure.

When I first moved to Bangkok, I discovered that the Bangkok Post wasn’t anything at all like an American newspaper. The usual fare of graphic crime stories and breathless accounts of various groups demanding special treatment, preferably at the expense of other groups, was largely if not entirely absent from the pages of the Post. Instead, the Post seemed to make do with photographs of watch shop openings and incoherent stories about Thai politics, although I was never certain whether it was the stories or the politics that was more incoherent. When I got through reading the Post, which seldom took more than ten minutes, I was usually pretty certain that nothing much had happened anywhere in the world that was of any significance at all. That always put me in a good mood.

My head was buried in the sports section when I heard a familiar voice at my elbow.

“Sawadee krap, Ajarn.” Good morning, Professor.

Jello’s real name was Chatawan Pianskool and I had never been absolutely certain what the source of his nickname was. I always surmised it might have something to do with his physique, but I wasn’t sure. Jello was a big man with a prominent potbelly, which was unusual for a Thai. He was one of those guys a lot of people took lightly when they first met him since he was almost a cartoon of a jolly fat man, but that didn’t seem to bother Jello. On the contrary, it was something he frequently turned to his advantage.

Jello was a Thai police captain and he had been assigned to the Economic Crime Investigation Division as long as I had known him. Whatever Jello didn’t know about what was happening in Bangkok just wasn’t worth knowing, at least when it came to finance and commerce.

“You waiting for someone, Jack?”

“Nope,” I answered, folding the Post and tossing it onto the empty table next to me. “Sit down, partner.”

Just then a half-dozen giggling college girls tumbled in through the door and we both glanced over at the commotion. Barelegged and smooth-skinned, they were uniformly so slim that they looked like a clump of reeds waving in the wind. They were all dressed in the customary Thai university uniform: tight white shirts, sling-back heels, very short black skirts, and wide brown belts looped loosely around waists so tiny they looked as if they had to be optical illusions. Even at that age, there was a gliding grace about most Thai women that left men slack-jawed.

Jello and I both paused respectfully to take in the passing procession. In a lot of countries, two middle-aged men watching college girls in a coffee shop meant trouble, but in Thailand it was different. Feminine beauty was the country’s pride, not the humdrum landscape of its countryside. To admire it when you were in its presence was as acceptable as enjoying an ocean view in Hawaii.

When the girls had passed, Jello pulled out a chair and laid two chocolate croissants on a napkin alongside a large coffee.

“What’s new, Arjan?” he asked.

“Not much,” I said. “Same old same old.”

I had absolutely no intention of telling a senior ECID cop about Barry Gale. At least not yet.

“You working on anything important for Dollar these days?” he asked.

“Nope, nothing really.”

“Seen Dollar recently?”

“Not for a couple of days. Why are you so interested in Dollar this morning?”

“I heard something a little strange about him.”

I said nothing, but my antenna quickly deployed and made a couple of quick rotations. Jello wasn’t a man for idle gossip. Something was coming.

“I talked to Just John about an hour ago,” Jello went on. “John told me Dollar got beaten up last night.”

“Beaten up? Oh, come on. John must have been pulling your leg.”

Jello picked up his cup and blew on the coffee before he tasted it. He didn’t say anything and I saw he wasn’t smiling.

“I don’t think so, Arjan. He said that Dollar and some client got jumped by two guys when they came out of the office last night.”

“Dollar’s office? Dollar was mugged coming out of the United Center?”

“Yeah, in front of that Delifrance on the ground floor. I hear he put up a flight. Even knocked over one of those tables with the umbrellas when they were all rolling around.”

“What time was this supposed to have happened?”

“About ten.”

I still couldn’t believe it. Jello looked unimpressed by my skepticism, but that did nothing to change my point of view.

“Was Dollar hurt?” I asked.

“Apparently not. He didn’t even bother to report it to the police.” Jello’s mouth was half full and he dribbled a few crumbs of croissant onto the table.

Residents didn’t get mugged in Bangkok, only tourists, and even then mostly Taiwanese tourists for some reason. That approach had apparently become something of a firm rule among muggers since Taiwanese tourists seldom had much interest in returning at their own expense to testify against them, even if the mugger was unlucky enough to get caught-which he almost never was.

“Who was the client?” I asked.

“What client?”

“The one Dollar was with when he was mugged.”

“Oh.” Jello started in on the second croissant and sipped at his coffee again before he answered. “Just John didn’t say.”

It was hard to believe that Dollar could have been mugged coming out of the United Center on Silom Road at ten o’clock at night. That was one of the highest profile spots in Bangkok, and at that time of night the sidewalk should have been crowded with punters going back and forth to Patpong just down the street.

“Why don’t you call Dollar and ask him what really happened?” Jello suggested.

I looked at my watch. Coming up fast on ten. I had to get going or I would be late for my class.

“It all sounds like a lot of nothing,” I said. “I gotta go. I’ve got a class to teach.”

We said our goodbyes and I headed out. As I pushed out through the door, I glanced back over my shoulder.

Jello was still sitting quietly at the table, twisting his coffee cup with one hand and polishing off the second of his chocolate croissants with the other. He licked the last crumbs off his thumb and forefinger and stared straight ahead at the street, apparently thinking about nothing more important than the traffic flowing past on Ploenchit Road.

But I knew Jello and I knew that wasn’t true. Something had just happened, only I couldn’t figure out what it was.

THIRTEEN

My ten o’clock class went surprisingly well. The sugar and caffeine did an impressive job. I had just walked into my office after the class when my telephone rang.

“Hello.”

“Could you come to the office tomorrow afternoon to talk over a couple of things, Jack? About five or so would be good for me.”

If Dollar could be brusque, I supposed I could, too, so I ignored his question.

“I was going to call you later,” I said. “I heard you got knocked around last night.”

There was a short silence.

“Where did you hear that?” Dollar asked after a moment.

“Jello told me. The way I hear it, Just John told him.”

“Jello? The ECID guy?”

“Yeah.”

Dollar let that hang there for a moment, and then I heard an exasperated grunt.

“Figures.”

I waited a moment for him to offer some explanation, but he didn’t.

“So is it true?” I finally asked him.

“Well…” Dollar hesitated. “It was no big deal.”

“No big deal.”

“No.”

“What happened?”

“It’s not much of a story.”

I waited Dollar out. Eventually he filled the silence.

“We were coming out of the office and two kids jumped us while I was calling my driver. The little shits were probably just a couple of pill heads trying to grab our briefcases. It happens.”

“Not really. Not in front of the United Center at that time of night.”

“Sure it does.”

“You hurt?”

“A little, I guess. Bruises, and I’m sore as hell, but I’ll live.” I could almost hear Dollar thinking before he went on. “Look, just keep this under your hat, would you?”

“If it’s such a big secret, why did you tell Just John about it?”

Dollar paused for a long time and I sensed he was trying to decide how much he had to say to make me let it go.

“It’s his job to look after firm security,” he finally said. Then he fell silent again.

That was the first I had heard of that. I always thought Just John was just a glad-hander and a boozer. Dollar telling me that he did security work for the firm opened up several questions-most conspicuously, exactly what was John supposed to be securing Dollar’s law firm from. But before I could ask, Dollar started talking again.

“Anyway, a couple of tourist police came along right after we ran the fuckers off. Eventually John would have found out even if I hadn’t told him myself. That would have pissed him off real good. This town is too goddamned small for me sometimes.”

It seemed odd to me Dollar would care one way or the other if Just John was pissed off. Who worked for whom? But another question elbowed past that thought and went right up to the front of the line.

“Who’s ‘we’?” I asked Dollar instead.

“What?”

“You said ‘we’ were coming out of the office and ‘we’ ran them off.”

Dollar hesitated, and suddenly I knew exactly what he was about to say.

“Howard the Roach,” he muttered just as I was thinking exactly that. “Look, Jack, I could have told you something else instead of admitting right off that it was Howard, but you’d probably-”

“Was he hurt?” I interrupted.

“Not really,” Dollar replied after a second’s hesitation. It seemed to surprise him that I hadn’t asked him something else and the relief in his voice was evident.

“I’m glad to hear that,” I said.

I thought about the conversation Dollar and I had about Howard a couple of days ago and I wondered again what Dollar wasn’t telling me.

“Look, Jack, can you come around tomorrow like I asked?” Dollar asked when I said nothing else. “It’s important.”

“I’m going to Hong Kong tomorrow.”

“Hong Kong?” I could swear Dollar sounded startled. “Why Hong Kong?”

“Board meeting. Southeast Asian Investments.”

“Oh, yeah.” There was a tinge of relief in Dollar’s voice for some reason. I was certain of it. “How long you going to be there?”

“A couple of days.”

“Then how about Saturday morning? You free then?”

Whatever Dollar had on his mind must really have been important. As far as I knew, no lawyer in Bangkok had ever gone to the office on a Saturday before.

“I could manage that if you want.”

“I know you’ll probably be tired from the trip and all, and I hate to ask, but-”

“It’s okay,” I interrupted, taking Dollar off the hook. “I’m only going to Hong Kong, not Honduras. It’s not a problem.”

“Okay, yeah. Good.”

Dollar took a breath and rushed on.

“Look, Jack, there was one more thing I was calling about.”

No surprise there. I had already worked out from Dollar’s voice that there had to be something else.

“You haven’t heard from Howard since last night, have you?”

“Oh Christ, you’re not going to start all that again?” Dollar’s obsession over whether Howard was talking to me was taking on comic proportions. “If you don’t believe that I haven’t heard from Howard, why don’t you just ask him yourself?”

“I don’t know where he is.”

“I don’t understand. Didn’t you just say he was with you last night?”

Dollar cleared his throat. “Yeah, but I can’t find him this morning.”

“Where’s he staying?”

“He’s been at the Four Seasons, but I called there and they said he checked out.”

“Well, I can promise you he’s not sleeping with me.”

I let the silence that fell after that stretch on a bit.

“What is it you’re not telling me here, Dollar?”

I could hear him take a deep breath.

“If Howard hasn’t called you, Jack, why did he have your cell phone number written across the top of his notes?”

“I don’t understand.”

“What’s not to understand?” Dollar sounded annoyed. “Yesterday afternoon in the office I was looking at some notes Howard had about this deal he’s working on. Your cell phone number was written on the top of the first page.”

That stopped me. I had never given Howard my number. I was absolutely certain of that. As far as I knew, it was pretty tough to get anybody’s local cell phone number unless they gave it to you, at least not legitimately.

“I don’t know how Howard got my number, Dollar. I haven’t heard from him. Other than that I just don’t know what to tell you.”

“You sure?”

“Goddamn it, Dollar, I’m tired of all this crap!”

“Yeah,” Dollar sighed, “me, too. Sorry, Jack. Rough night.”

Then the obvious occurred to me.

“Are you asking me all this because you think those guys were after Howard? Is that why he took off?”

“Who knows? Who the fuck knows why that silly little shit does anything.”

“Well, it seems to me that a guy gets-”

“So you’ll be at the office on Saturday?” Dollar interrupted.

His voice rose to make a question out of it, but of course it wasn’t a question since I’d already told him I’d be there.

“Eleven,” he said. “Okay?”

It was clear that Dollar wanted to put an end to our conversation about Howard the Roach before it got any more specific, and I had had more than enough of Howard for the moment myself so I let him.

For several decades Dollar had worked the territory around the Pacific Rim, a place that was a mystery as dark as the creation for most westerners, and as far as I knew he had always done it with confidence, style, and not a little grace in spite of the high wire I suspected he might have been walking from time to time. I had never known Dollar to be rattled. Until now. Something had him pretty well shaken up. That was impossible to miss, even on the telephone.

I was suddenly glad I was flying to Hong Kong the next day. Getting away from Bangkok would be a deliverance.

First Barry Gale drops out of the sky wanting to pull me into the same scheme that had him on the run. Then Dollar gets involved in some kind of a mess with our old client Howard the Roach and doesn’t want to come clean with me as to what it is. The horseshit was all around me and rising quickly.

Screw it, I decided, enough time wasted on these clowns. Time to do something worthwhile. I took the elevator down to the parking garage and was still thinking about where to go to lunch when the elevator lurched to a stop and the door slid open.

I saw the man immediately. The way he was bending into my Volvo, I could hardly have missed him. Still, he was such an unexpected sight it took me a moment to react.

I had left the top of the Volvo down as I usually did when it was parked in the faculty garage and the man was taking full advantage of that. His back was to me and he was leaning over the driver’s door, reaching into the car with both hands. I couldn’t see what he was doing, but it seemed unlikely he was leaving me a winning lottery ticket.

The man was a westerner, and when I thought about it later it seemed to me that his appearance must have been average in every respect because absolutely nothing about it came back to me except for one thing. He was wearing a suit and tie. It was a dark blue business suit, and it would have been unexceptional anywhere else, but it made him pretty conspicuous in Bangkok where the heat made shirtsleeves the usual style for men.

When I stepped out of the elevator and started toward the Volvo, the man must have heard my footsteps on the concrete. He immediately straightened up, and without turning, began to walk quickly away.

“Hey! Excuse me!”

The man didn’t answer. Instead he quickened his pace and angled off toward a stairwell on the opposite side of the building.

“Hey!” I shouted as I broke into a trot.

The sound of my feet echoed loudly in the garage and the man bolted.

The door to the stairwell had been propped open with a concrete block, and in a dozen quick strides he reached it and shoved the block away with his foot. The man disappeared through the door and it clanged shut behind him. I knew from the click it made that it would be locked.

It was of course, and I could only stand and listen as the man’s footsteps clicked down metal steps to street level. Then I heard another door open somewhere below, and after a moment, close.

When I got back to my car I looked it over cautiously but saw nothing unusual. I felt foolish letting the idea of a bomb even cross my mind, but the thought was there and I couldn’t make it go away by pretending it wasn’t.

Seeing nothing obvious in the car’s open interior, I swung back first the driver’s door and then the passenger door. I felt carefully under the front seats, then folded them forward and checked just as carefully in the back seat and on the floor. Finally, I bent down and looked underneath the car like I’d seen people do in the movies. As far as I could tell everything seemed normal enough there, too, so I pushed myself to my feet again, reached in, and popped the Volvo’s hood release.

I stood with my hands on my hips and stared into the engine compartment wondering exactly what I thought I was looking for. I put my hand on a couple of cables and hoses and jiggled them and gave a tentative shake to a black, circular thing on top of the motor that I was reasonably sure was the air filter. I was certainly no mechanic and probably hadn’t had the hood open more than twice since I had bought the car, but I thought everything looked pretty much as it should. At the very least I was certain that there wasn’t a bundle of dynamite hanging off anything. When I started to feel foolish enough, I closed the hood quietly and leaned on it until the catch clicked shut.

Just because some pretty strange things had been happening to me recently it didn’t mean that I had to turn some ordinary-looking guy poking around my Volvo into a car bomber. Probably it was just somebody who liked convertibles, I told myself, and no doubt I scared the crap out of him when I bellowed like a madman as soon as the elevator door opened. Why had I jumped immediately to the conclusion that the guy was up to no good without even giving him the chance to explain?

Jesus, I thought to myself, if I’d thought before that I needed to get out of town for a while, I was absolutely certain of it now.

FOURTEEN

I went into the office late Wednesday morning to collect the stuff I needed for the board meeting in Hong Kong. My Cathay Pacific flight didn’t leave until four in the afternoon and I had nothing pressing to do so when Jello pushed the door open and stuck his head in I had my feet on the desk and was reading the Wall Street Journal.

“Hey, Jack,” he said. “You don’t look very busy.”

“I’m not,” I said, lowering the paper. “Just killing time. I’ve got a flight to Hong Kong later this afternoon.”

“You hungry?”

“Nah,” I said, shaking my head. “Not really.”

“Yeah, you are.”

“I’m sorry?”

“I said you’re hungry.” Jello jabbed his thumb over his shoulder toward my door. “Let’s go.”

I folded the Journal and laid it on the desk while I thought that one over. “What’s going on?”

“We need to talk, Jack.”

“I see,” I said, but of course I didn’t. “You want to tell me what this is all about?”

“Not really, but I will.”

Jello looked uncharacteristically somber, so I stopped arguing with him. I swung my feet off the desk and followed him into the corridor, locking my door behind me. There would be plenty of time to come back for my things before I went to the airport.

“Did you talk to Dollar yet?” Jello asked as we walked toward the elevator.

“Yeah,” I said. “Yesterday.”

“So was he really mugged?”

“More or less.”

“What does that mean?”

“He said it was just a couple of kids trying to grab their briefcases.”

Jello grunted slightly, but he didn’t say anything else.

We rode down to the lobby in silence and then walked outside to where Jello had left a brown Toyota parked in Sasin’s circular driveway. He started the car and drove off. I let the silence go on until we had left the campus, passed the Princess Hotel, and turned into Phayathai Road.

“Where are we going?”

“Anna’s.”

Anna’s Cafe was on Soi Saladaeng, a quiet street that cut directly across one of Bangkok’s most venerable residential neighborhoods just beyond the shadows of the office towers bunched together at the south end of Silom Road. I liked Anna’s a lot, partly because the food was good and the surroundings were pleasant, but even more because I thought of it as a kind of monument to the extraordinary adaptability and endurance of Thais.

When the Bank of Thailand gave up trying to support the currency in the mid-nineties, the country’s financial collapse had wrecked almost everybody. Financiers fled the country, corporate executives turned to selling sandwiches, and one particularly luckless investor put a gun to his head in front of the stock exchange and pulled the trigger. He missed. That struck a lot of foreigners as the perfect metaphor for how Thailand had gotten into such a mess in the first place.

Property developers were particularly hard hit. Dependent on loans from local banks to keep all their plates spinning, most of the plates came crashing down when the banks stopped lending in a knee-jerk reaction to the financial crisis and starting calling in the loans they had already made. Even now, years after the economy had begun to grow again, Bangkok was still littered with the rotting carcasses of huge structures that had been abandoned by ruined developers who couldn’t afford to finish them. Some parts of the city looked like a movie set being readied for another remake of ‘Planet of the Apes.’

The developer who had owned the site where Anna’s now stood had been luckier than most when the crash came and the bank loans disappeared, having gotten no further than building a sales office touting an improbable high-rise condominium. What to do? An American property developer would no doubt have called his lawyers and sued everybody he could think of. The Thai developer, in happy contrast, had taken the ruined condo’s sales office and turned it into a stylish and profitable restaurant.

We turned between Anna’s gateposts and followed the driveway to the parking area at the back of the restaurant. Jello took the first open spot he found. He got out, slammed the door, and started toward the front entrance without looking back. I followed him wordlessly.

Anna’s was a one-story, white-pillared building of vaguely colonial design with a wide, red-tiled veranda running all the way across the front. Most people preferred to sit indoors since the large dining area was airy and spacious, but the weather was still unusually cool and the veranda looked inviting. I wasn’t particularly surprised when Jello walked to the end furthest from the front door and settled himself at a round teak table shaded by a white canvas umbrella. I pulled out a chair and joined him, folding my arms and leaning forward attentively against the table in hopes that my posture might encourage him to resume the conversation.

Jello sat slouched down, his body relaxed, but his dark eyes flicked around with the alertness of a pool shark cruising a game. “I like to sit out here when I’ve got some serious thinking to do,” he said.

“And is that why we’re here now? To do some serious thinking?”

A boy with an uncertain smile and fluttering hands brought us menus before Jello could answer.

“Not really,” he said as scanned one of the menus. “We’re here to have lunch. Okay if I order for us both?”

Without waiting for an answer, Jello ordered several Thai dishes and two bottles of Heineken and the waiter scurried away. That apparently marked the end of the pleasantries. After that Jello got straight to the point.

“What do you know about a man named Howard Kojinski?” he asked in his cop’s voice, the one that gave away nothing, but implied everything.

After being mentioned as far as I could recall exactly never, Howard the Roach was now popping up everywhere I went like crab grass after a wet winter.

“Couldn’t you have asked me that on the telephone?”

“You never know about telephones. Shouldn’t say anything on a telephone you’re not ready to read in the newspapers tomorrow morning.”

Jello’s reluctance to use the telephone for what seemed to me to be an innocent enough inquiry would have verged on the comic if Dollar’s recent obsession with Howard hadn’t already been worrying me. I was pretty sure now that nothing involving Howard the Roach was likely to turn out to be innocent, or for that matter, comic.

“For instance,” Jello went on, “what do you know about his background?”

The answer of course was little or nothing. Howard was Dollar’s client, not mine. I had always worked on the premise that I was advising whatever firm hired me, not any specific client of theirs. The clients were their problem, not mine.

“Not a lot,” I said truthfully. “He told me once that he was from Poland.” I thought about it some more. “Isn’t he an accountant?”

“What kind of work have you and Dollar been doing for Howard recently?”

“Whoa,” I said, and raised my right hand, palm out. “What does that mean?”

“It’s a simple question. Seems clear enough to me.”

“Then I’ll give you a simple answer. I won’t tell you. I’m not going to talk about anything that Dollar’s firm is doing for its clients, and you ought to know better than to ask me to.”

The young waiter returned and set sweating bottles of Heineken on cardboard coasters in front of each of us. Jello waved the proffered glass away, wrapped a big hand around the green bottle, and downed half of it in one hit. When the boy reached to put a glass in front of me, I shook my head as well, and he snatched it back and moved away.

“Don’t give me that lawyer crap, Jack. Just tell me the truth.”

God knows I wasn’t all that fond of being a lawyer, but every time somebody said that kind of thing to me it still rubbed me the wrong way.

“Look,” I said, giving my indignation free reign to strut its stuff, “why don’t you just ask Dollar if you want to know something about his firm and its clients? Leave me out of it.”

Jello nodded, looking off toward where a chubby blonde woman was getting out of a taxi. She had leathery skin and was wearing a red dress that was much too tight and far too short. Lugging two large Fendi shopping bags, she struggled up Anna’s driveway toward the front door, the bags slapping awkwardly against her heavy thighs.

“I’m going to tell you something I shouldn’t, Jack. I’m going to tell you because I think you’re entitled to know exactly what’s going on here, but you’re not going to be happy to hear it.” Jello sounded like a librarian who was about to describe the best way to burn books. “Are you okay with that?”

“Look, Jello, you’re buying lunch. You can tell me anything you want to, but I’m not going to talk to you about Dollar’s clients and nothing you can say is going to change that.”

The waiter reappeared, settled his tray on the empty table next to ours, and stilled his hands long enough to serve the food. Jello inspected each plate as it was placed on the table-somtam, a papaya salad with chilies; stir-fried morning glory in oyster sauce; prawn curry; lemongrass chicken; and spicy noodles. Apparently everything met with his approval because he began spooning bits of each dish onto his plate of rice even before the waiter had collected the tray and withdrawn.

Jello ate for a while, saying nothing while I served myself, and then as I started to eat, he cleared his throat lightly.

“Howard Kojinski isn’t an accountant from Poland.”

“Really?” I hoped my tone of voice reflected my general lack of interest in the subject.

“He was born in New Jersey, did ten years in the U.S. army, mostly in Germany, and then became an airline reservations agent. A few years later he somehow wound up working as a mid-level coke mule for the Colombians. He got busted making a run to Houston and did a few months in prison in Texas.”

“Gee,” I said. “That’s fascinating.”

Jello ignored me and went on.

“He must have used his time there making friends and learning new skills because he went to Hong Kong right after that and set himself up running a small-time money laundry. He turned out to be pretty good at it, and now he moves cash all over Asia for a lot of people you don’t want to know about. Recently we think he’s become the primary money launderer for a group of major Burmese heroin producers.”

I burst out laughing. I gathered that wasn’t exactly the reaction Jello had been expecting.

“You think that’s funny?” he snapped.

“Christ, I think it’s hysterical.”

I shook my head and finished off the Heineken.

“Look, Jello, unless you’re just generally full of crap, you’ve got the wrong man. Howard the Roach couldn’t launder money if you gave him a new Whirlpool with a sign on the door that says ‘In Here, Stupid.’ If the Burmese are using Howard to handle their cash, I can promise you it’s a giant step toward wiping out the drug trade in Asia.”

I was still shaking my head. How anyone who knew Howard could think he was equipped to handle anything more complex than taking a whiz without soaking his shoes was utterly beyond me.

“Howard doesn’t just move money around for these guys,” Jello continued, apparently unimpressed with my skepticism. “He invests it for them. Suddenly Howard Kojinski has started turning up in all kinds of strange places.”

“Such as?”

“I can’t tell you that, Jack.”

I snorted, and Jello looked annoyed.

“Have you told Dollar any of this?” I asked.

Jello sighed deeply and his expression softened. “Yeah, sort of.”

“What does that mean?”

Jello chugged the rest of his Heineken and stuffed a heaping spoonful of somtam into his mouth right behind it.

“I told him and he said it was bullshit, but he refused to tell me anything about Howard’s business. He said it would be a breach of ethics.”

“Yeah, well, there’s your answer.”

“But it’s not bullshit, Jack. That’s the point. It’s all absolutely true.” Jello tapped the empty Heineken bottle against the table with a crisp little rat-a-tat-tat. “That’s when I started wondering if Dollar might be involved, too.”

“Involved in what?”

Jello just sat there impassively, looking at me with dead cop eyes.

I shook my head. “Please tell me you’re not saying you think Dollar Dunne and Howard the Roach are working together to launder money for a bunch of Burmese heroin producers.”

Jello didn’t say anything. He just looked at me with what might or might not have been a slight smile. Then he nodded.

What in the hell was happening here? First Barry Gale was in cahoots with the Russian mob and now Dollar Dunne is supposedly moving money for Burmese drug lords? Whatever happened to the good old days when the worst thing you could accuse a lawyer of was ambulance chasing?

“How long have you known Dollar?” I asked Jello.

“Nine or ten years. A little longer maybe.”

“And you’re sitting here now, seriously telling me that all of a sudden you’ve decided he’s the kind of a guy who launders drug money?”

“I think he may be, Jack. God help me, but I think he may be.”

Jello spun the empty Heineken bottle in his big hand.

“Are you willing to help me find out for sure?” he asked.

I should have seen that coming, I thought to myself. I should have seen that coming, but I hadn’t.

“All I want you to do is poke around a little, Jack. Nothing heavy-duty. Just keep your eyes and ears open, really, then let me know what you see and hear.”

“You can’t be serious, Jello. Dollar’s been your friend for a long time. He’s my friend, too.”

“Friendship’s got nothing to do with this.”

“Yes, it does. I’m not spying on Dollar Dunne, Jello. Not for you or for anyone else.”

I pushed back from the table and stood up while Jello watched expressionlessly.

“That’s the end of this conversation, Jello.”

“I can see that.”

“Now I’m going to get a taxi back to my office and you’re going to let me do that without arguing about it. Then I’m going to forget we were ever here today and I’m going to forget about everything you’ve said, and you’re going to let me do that, too. Do we understand each other?”

Jello just looked at me without answering. After a moment I turned my back on him and started walking toward Silom Road.

He didn’t try to stop me, and this time I didn’t look back.

FIFTEEN

Although Thai International had more flights out of Bangkok than any other airline, I was on the Cathay Pacific four o’clock to Hong Kong.

I usually fly Cathay or Singapore Airlines instead of Thai because of something an official in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs had once told me at a cocktail party. He was a man who had to fly a lot and, being a government official, he had no choice but to fly on Thai. Making small talk at the party, I had asked the man how he thought Thai compared to other airlines. “Whenever you fly Thai International,” he told me with a glum expression, “always remember that your pilots got their jobs exactly the way everyone else in Thailand got their jobs.”

I’ve never quite forgotten that. So I fly Cathay Pacific.

The man sitting next to me introduced himself even before I had my seatbelt buckled. In spite of my best efforts not to, I learned in short order that he was a microchip importer from San Francisco and that he was going to Hong Kong to meet with a financial consultant after attending a trade show of some kind in Bangkok. This financial consultant, the man explained to me, was going to reorganize his entire company using offshore banks so that he could completely avoid paying any taxes. The scheme had something to do with utilizing offshore deposits to guarantee loans made to him through California banks, but I was paying as little attention as possible and that was all I got. The guy was reading a book to prepare for his meeting and he held it up for me to see. I glanced over politely and had to bite my tongue to keep from laughing out loud. The book was called Offshore Money Havens: How to Live Tax Free for the Rest of Your Life.

When the guy asked me what kind of work I did, I thought fast. We were going to be sitting together for the next three hours and telling the truth seemed to be an absolute guarantee that every one of them would be hell on earth. I briefly considered telling him I was an Internal Revenue Service agent on overseas assignment, but that would have been just plain cruel. Instead, I said I was a life insurance executive from Minneapolis, which was the dullest thing I could come up with at short notice. It must have been a good choice because the man didn’t say another word to me for the rest of the trip.

Why was it that so many Americans look at offshore banking as some sort of occult wizardry? I had a sudden vision of huge airplanes stuffed with microchip importers from San Francisco whizzing endlessly around the globe in search of a fabled and mystical land called Offshore, a place forever beyond the reach of greedy governments, combative creditors, and vengeful ex-wives. I myself have always pictured Offshore as a land ruled by Peter Sellers, but now that he was dead, I imagine that Rowan Atkinson must have taken over the throne. I wondered what people spend their days doing in Offshore. What do they eat? What do they wear? Do they have sex? Well, I could guess the answer to that one. Not with all that money around. Money is so much more interesting than sex for almost everyone.

My flight landed in Hong Kong exactly on time. Southeast Asian Investments had sent a driver to the airport and the fellow made the trip to the venerable Mandarin Oriental Hotel on Connaught Road in what must have been record time. Still, it was after nine when we got to the hotel. That was too late to do anything in particular, but too early just to sit in my room. Watching Hong Kong television was too awful a thought even to consider.

I stuck my head in the Captain’s Bar off the Mandarin’s lobby, but the place was filled with middle-aged Englishmen entertaining their Chinese daughters. It was a depressing scene and I didn’t go in. I had skipped the meal on the plane so I briefly considered the possibility of a late evening snack in one of the hotel’s restaurants, but eventually I gave up trying to make a decision and just set out walking to see where I would end up.

I liked walking in Hong Kong. In winter the climate was balmy and the humidity was low and in every season the intensity of the place was overwhelming. Bangkok was a tropical city. No matter how busy it might be, there was always a languor in the air you could never quite shake. Hong Kong, on the other hand, was all energy all the time. It was like being inside a pinball machine.

Leaving the Mandarin, I turned right and walked east toward the Wanchai district or, as it had been dubbed by the American troops who took their R amp;R there during the Vietnam War, the Wanch. The Wanch had a history, but like a lot of history most of it was made up. From the day William Holden first came to Hong Kong, moved into a hotel filled with good-hearted whores, and fell in love with Suzie Wong, it was the Wanch which became the real Hong Kong in the eyes of the world.

Nightlife in the Wanch never attained the status of Bangkok’s, of course, not even at the height of the Vietnam War when thousands of fresh-faced kids from places like Nebraska and Ohio flooded its streets, all of them looking for a Suzie Wong of their own. Most of the bargirls in the Wanch were more like bar grandmothers who put on their make-up with a garden trowel, but maybe that wasn’t so important when you were nineteen years old, it was three in the morning, and the ninth bottle of San Miguel had just gone down so smoothly and, best of all, stayed down.

I circled around the golden glass-clad bulk of the Admiralty Centre, its bronze-mirrored surface twisting and shimmering with the city’s garish nighttime light show. Heading up Queensway, I fought my way through the crowds still jamming the sidewalks even at this hour. Almost entirely Chinese, the throng pulsed and surged as if driven by some otherworldly energy source.

About a half-mile down Lockhart Road, I spotted the dirty brick facade of the Old China Hand pub which was something of a local monument. The Hand had been a Hong Kong expat hangout longer than anyone I knew could remember. I could hardly imagine the deals and schemes that had been whispered of within its dingy interior.

On a whim I cut diagonally across the road and ducked inside the dark wooden door stained black from decades of exposure to Hong Kong’s rancid air. The room was as gloomy as I remembered it, and like most expat bars in Hong Kong it was chilled down to the temperature of a meat locker. The room was mostly empty. I slid into a chair at a table and in a few moments a dumpy Filipina girl of indeterminate age shuffled over. She was dressed in jeans and a man’s shirt and she expressionlessly thrust out a menu that looked dirty and dog-eared.

“A pint of San Miguel,” I said, not bothering with the menu. “And fish and chips if you’ve got any left.”

The girl pulled the menu back and walked away without a word. I gathered they still had some fish and chips. Or maybe not. Welcome to Hong Kong, I told myself.

From a loudspeaker somewhere up near the greasy ceiling, Tony Bennett crooned about leaving his heart in San Francisco. I spotted a table near the door with some newspapers and magazines heaped on it so I got up and rummaged through them for something to read while waiting for my beer. To my surprise, I found some books under the pile. They were mostly dog-eared paperbacks, but a slim, red-bound hardback caught my eye and I picked it up to see what it was.

When I saw the title on the front cover, I chuckled. Normally, you wouldn’t expect to find A Register of Hong Kong Banking Institutions among the reading matter in a run-down pub, but this was Hong Kong after all and making money was just about the only thing that anyone thought about. Barry Gale’s banking misadventures with the Asia Bank of Commerce popped into my mind and I flipped the book open to the index. Sure enough, about a third of the way down the first page, I found a listing for the ABC.

When I turned to the page number listed in the index, I found very little there. The ABC had nothing but a restricted banking license in Hong Kong, which meant it had a little capital, but not much, and that it was legally entitled to take only very large deposits and make certain kinds of corporate loans. No vaulted lobby, no cute tellers, no toasters with every new account. At least the book listed an address for the ABC. The Hong Kong office was on Duddell Street, a steep lane that ran from Queen’s Road up to Ice House Street a few blocks west of the Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank building.

Duddell Street was only about a ten-minute walk from the building where Southeast Asian Investments had its offices and I thought about that for a moment. I would have plenty of time after the board meeting tomorrow. It would probably be a waste of effort, but I might as well check out the address and see what was there. My flight back to Bangkok wasn’t until early evening and I really had no plans for the afternoon other than to pick up some Cuban cigars since they were both cheaper in Hong Kong and better quality than the ones sold in Bangkok.

I jotted down the address. Then I put the book back on the table and picked up a copy of the South China Morning Post that was stained yellow with spilled beer. At least I hoped the stain was spilled beer.

Back at my table, I found a pint of San Miguel waiting and I opened the newspaper and took a long pull. Most of my students seemed to imagine that becoming a director of a company in some major financial center like Hong Kong was a ticket to a glamorous life, an express ride straight to the place where the real players hung out. I glanced around at the grimy pub in which I sat drinking beer and reading an old newspaper and smiled. If they could only see me now, huh?

For a moment I thought about the guy who sat next to me on the flight up and wondered if he was tucked up in bed somewhere nearby dreaming of Offshore. Was that really what I was all about now, getting paid to help people and companies hide their business operations and avoid taxes? Like every young lawyer I had started out imagining myself as an architect of events that mattered; but then almost before I knew it, the work-a-day business of making a living had taken over my life and those inspiring dreams had faded. In spite of all evidence to the contrary, I nourished my conviction that those youthful dreams were not altogether dead. Something was still waiting for me out there, I was sure of it, something that was going to count for a lot. I just had to recognize my chance when I saw it and have the courage to grasp the moment when it came.

The dumpy girl shuffled over, her feet making scrapping sounds against the floor.

“No fish,” she snapped and shuffled away again.

Jai yen yen, I reminded myself. Stay cool, man.

SIXTEEN

I got to Southeast Asian Investments about nine the next morning which gave me time to drink some coffee and eat a few of the pastries heaped on a silver platter in the middle of the board table before anyone else showed up. The board meeting started promptly at nine-thirty.

Directors from outside the ranks of management are generally trivial appendages on any board. Most outside directors are just semiretired old geezers — or college professors, which most people think are more or less the same thing — who have nothing much better to do than show up for meetings a few times a year. We are seldom expected to do anything other than keep our mouths shut, stay awake, and vote the way the company’s management tells us to vote.

After the board sat through a seemingly endless Power Point presentation about a Mekong River hydroelectric project that of course no one understood, we listened to a droning recitation on the future of the shrimp industry in Cambodia that was so dull I think one director may have passed away during it without anyone noticing. We dutifully voted to approve both projects and management rewarded me for my support with a small retainer to review the shrimp farm’s financial structure.

The meeting ended just after twelve and a light lunch was served in the boardroom. I made small talk with some of the other directors and picked at the buffet until a decent interval had passed, then I said my goodbyes and slipped away. Crossing Des Voeux Road, I walked through the Landmark, a ritzy shopping mall that joined the bases of two of Central’s principal office towers, and emerged on Queen’s Road. Across the street, just where Central began to slope sharply up toward the Peak, I spotted Duddell Street.

It was narrow and so steep that the sidewalks were actually flights of stained concrete steps. I watched the street numbers carefully as I climbed and all the way at the end of the street I finally located the address that the book had for the Asian Bank of Commerce. It was an altogether unexceptional office building of no more than a dozen floors faced with black-streaked brick that had probably once been yellow. An elderly Chinese man wearing a dirty undershirt and baggy gray trousers sat slumped on a folding metal chair next to the glass and metal entry door. He snorted and spat as I passed, but I didn’t take it personally.

Inside the building the small lobby was dim and smelled faintly of urine. I examined the directory between the elevators and, sure enough, found a listing for the Asian Bank of Commerce on the ninth floor.

When I got out of the elevator, I saw only three offices on that floor and none of them looked much like a bank. One was a dentist’s office, one seemed to be a sweatshop with an Indian tailor hovering hopefully just inside the open door, and the third was something called Hong Kong Directors Limited. When I spotted the large board at the end of the corridor with columns of small wooden signs hanging from brass hooks, I realized that Hong Kong Directors was the place I was looking for after all.

Hong Kong Directors was apparently a corporate services office, one of dozens scattered around Hong Kong that catered to foreign companies too small or too unimportant to have local offices of their own, but who nevertheless needed a formal address in Hong Kong. Corporate services companies existed all over the world, but they were most in demand in places like Hong Kong, Luxembourg, and the Cayman Islands where countless thousands of companies register themselves as residents for the purpose of minimizing taxes or maintaining confidentiality while conducting their real business elsewhere. Companies fronted by corporate services providers were often referred to as “brass plate companies” since very little evidence of their existence could be found other than the brass plate generally hung somewhere to identify the provider as the legally registered address of its clients. Hong Kong Directors must have been operating in the low end of the market. Its plates were wood.

I realized immediately that my chances of finding out anything about the Asian Bank of Commerce from Hong Kong Directors were pretty slim. No corporate service company would give out any information about a company registered with it other than whatever local law required, and in Hong Kong that wasn’t much.

So, expecting very little, I opened the door and went inside. Very little was exactly what I found.

The reception area was small. It appeared that Hong Kong Directors didn’t receive very many visitors. Three folding metal chairs were lined up along the wall to the left and opposite them was a wooden desk piled high with stacks of paper. A young Chinese girl slumped over the desk. She had badly permed hair, skin blotched with acne scars, and a dimple in her chin deep enough to hide Easter eggs. Perhaps she had a great personality, loved small children, and would make a wonderful wife for someone, but somehow I doubted it. I got the feeling her plainness was more than skin deep.

The girl ignored me as long as she possibly could, but I stood my ground and waited her out. Eventually she squinted up at me through a pair of glasses with lenses that looked like the bottoms of Coke bottles.

“You wait,” she said, and pointed to the chairs along the wall.

“I only have one quick question.”

“You wait,” she repeated emphatically, and started making small brushing movements with her right hand, the sort you would use to shoo a cat away.

I walked over to one of the straight chairs and sat down, folding my arms and fixing the girl with a stare I hoped was unsettling. Apparently it wasn’t. She took her time shuffling through the stacks of files in front of her and never even looked at me. Eventually she extracted a page from a file and for some reason held it up to the light as if she was trying to see through it. Hoping she was about to glance my way again at least, I gave her my warmest smile and crinkled my eyes in a way I thought emphasized what an honest, open fellow I was, but I was wasting my time. The girl lowered the paper, returned it to the file without a glance at me, and went back to plowing slowly through the rest of the folders.

Eventually she ran out of things to pretend to do and peered over at me. “What you want?”

“I have a question about one of the companies registered with you: the Asian Bank of Commerce.”

The girl looked puzzled, as if the request was a novel one. Then she made an odd noise. “Whaaaa…”

“I just need some general information about the company,” I went on quickly, hoping for the best. “Who its directors are, where it’s organized, that short of thing.”

“No information,” the girl snapped. She looked down and pulled another stack of files toward her.

“For Christ’s sake,” I muttered as I stood up and took a step toward her desk, “all I want to know is what’s in the public filings. The company is licensed as a bank in Hong Kong and the registration information is public. I’m not asking you for the damned books.”

The girl spun around in her swivel chair so hard that I thought she was about to corkscrew herself right through the floor. Reaching into a cabinet behind her, she flipped through several piles of paper and then extracted a single sheet. She spun back around and wordlessly thrust it out toward me.

I took the sheet and started to return to my chair to read it, but I needn’t have bothered. There was nothing on it except the name Asian Bank of Commerce, the address of the building where I was, and one other sentence: “Contact Mr. Wang at Hong Kong Directors during business hours.”

I turned back to the girl, laid the sheet back on her desk, and tried my hard stare again.

“I would like to know who the directors are.”

“No information,” she repeated without looking up.

“Is Mr. Wang here?”

“Not here.”

“When will he be in?”

“Not here.”

I took a business card out of my wallet and laid it on the desk in front of the girl.

“When Mr. Wang comes in, would you please-”

The girl ignored my card. Instead, she jerked up the telephone receiver, stabbed at a button, and began to bark something into the receiver in rapid-fire Cantonese, rotating her chair until her back was to me.

I’d had enough. I left.

I stood out in the corridor for a moment wondering if I should have tried to push the girl a little rather than give up so easily. Maybe I could at least have found a way to irritate her enough to force Mr. Wang to make an appearance. My eyes wandered over the rows of wooden signs hanging on the wall while I considered the possibilities, but then I noticed something that suddenly caused me to forget all about the dimple with ears.

Down near the bottom of the second column of signs, stuck among the generic names that sounded exactly like the empty corporate shells they were, was a company name I recognized immediately: Cambodian Prawn Ventures Limited. That was the company vehicle Southeast Asian Investments was using for the shrimp farm investment we had just been discussing at the board meeting, the very company whose financial structure I had just been hired to review.

That was quite a coincidence, I reflected.

The same Hong Kong corporate services office that SAI was using to administer their company engaged in Cambodia shrimp farming was also administering the Hong Kong operations of the Asian Bank of Commerce, whatever they actually were. No doubt several hundred other investment companies used Hong Kong Directors to manage corporate vehicles for them as well, but that was still quite a coincidence.

“Ah, screw it,” I murmured, burying the bones of the conspiracy theories that were rattling faintly in the back of my mind. It really was just a coincidence, I told myself. It had to be.

When I got back to the Mandarin Hotel, I stopped at the cigar shop in the lobby and bought a couple boxes of Montecristos. I didn’t really feel like going up to my room, so I went into the Captain’s Bar and ordered an espresso. Since it was still early in the afternoon, I had the place more or less to myself and I cracked one of the boxes and took out a cigar. The waiter noticed what I was doing and brought me a cutter and some matches when he served my espresso.

I began the ritual of cutting and lighting my cigar, but my mind was on Barry Gale and the ABC. Until Sunday night I’d barely even heard of the Asian Bank of Commerce, but suddenly I seemed to be stumbling over all kinds of connections with it. What the hell was really going on here?

My personal policy for dealing with perplexing questions was pretty simple. I had long ago learned that there was always somebody somewhere who already knew whatever it was I needed to know, and if I asked them nicely, well… sometimes they would just tell me. The problem, of course, was how to find whoever it was who already knew what I needed to know.

I smoked the Montecristo and tapped my forefinger against my espresso cup.

In this case, fortunately, that problem was easy enough for me to solve. I knew a guy and this guy would know all about the Asian Bank of Commerce, especially the part that no one else wanted to talk about.

I lifted the cup and downed the espresso in three quick sips. It was rich and strong and I savored the jolt as the caffeine hit me.

Even better, the guy was right here in Hong Kong.

The question wasn’t how much this guy knew, it was whether he would tell me what he knew. Try as I might, I couldn’t think of any way to find out but to ask him.

SEVENTEEN

I went up to my room and stashed the cigars I had bought, then pulled out my cell phone and checked the address book. Sure enough he was there. I hadn’t talked to Archie Ward in a long time, but it had been even longer since I’d cleaned out my address book.

I dialed his direct line at the main office of the Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank. The woman who answered told me that Archie Ward no longer worked there, but of course that had been more or less what I’d expected her to say. Brushing aside the woman’s categorical insistence that she couldn’t help me, I gave her my name and told her that I was at the Mandarin.

Archie Ward was a redheaded, pathologically profane Aussie I had met a couple of years before. He told me then that he was a technology security specialist for HSBC and he had hired me to review a series of transactions that the bank thought had an unusually ripe odor to them. Large amounts of money had been moving back and forth between the bank’s main office in Hong Kong and some of its branches in Europe and Asia, and the coordinated way the transfers had been occurring had caused Archie to suspect that the bank was unwittingly facilitating some pretty questionable transactions.

Archie told me he had tracked all of the transfers among HSBC’s offices easily enough, but was having trouble understanding the movements of the funds once they had left the bank’s own system. He said that was why he needed my help, but of course it wasn’t. What he really wanted to know was exactly who was behind the transactions since he hadn’t been able to find out on his own. I understood that, and he knew I understood that.

Archie never said exactly who had referred him to me, but he used the name of a Washington lawyer I had known for a long time. When I called the fellow he gave Archie the sort of vague endorsement that was the traditional indication of an official sanction of some kind, although the lawyer was unwilling to be more specific. The whole assignment had felt a little screwy, but I liked Archie, and I had no real doubt that he was one of the good guys, so I had given him a hand without asking too many questions.

It hadn’t taken me long to figure out the corporate structure HSBC’s customer had been using to conceal the source of the funds. It was clever, but not that clever, and within a couple of weeks I knew that the instructions for the transfers had really been coming from a Greek-born arms dealer who now operated out of a ritzy beach resort about an hour north of Sydney. Somehow I got the impression Archie already knew that. He just hadn’t been able to prove it until I did it for him.

Naturally the connection between the source of the transfers I had uncovered and my friend Archie’s colorful Aussie accent struck me as something less than pure coincidence. By that time it was pretty obvious to me that Archie wasn’t actually employed by HSBC at all. To tell the truth, I had no doubt at all that Archie really worked for ASIS, the Australian Secret Intelligence Service, but following accepted etiquette in such matters I pretended not to know. And for his part, Archie pretended not to know that I knew.

Archie had called me a few times after that with some general questions about corporate finance which happily I had been able to answer for him. He always ended our conversations by saying that he owed me one. This seemed to me as good a time as any to collect on the accumulated debt.

I had a couple of other Hong Kong numbers in my diary for Archie, too, so I called those for good measure. One was a mobile that didn’t even ring and had apparently been abandoned, but at the other number a woman’s voice answered with a simple, “Yes?” I smiled at her Australian accent, obvious even from that single word, and told her I was calling for Archie. Before she could protest her ignorance that any such person existed, I gave her my name, said I was at the Mandarin, and asked for Archie to call me there. Naturally, she said she didn’t know what I was talking about. I thanked her and hung up.

One of the numbers must have worked, maybe all of them, because about twenty minutes later the telephone in my room rang.

“You got your cell phone with you?” Archie spoke without preamble.

“I do.”

Before I even had a chance to give him the number he hung up. It was only a few seconds before it rang.

“Hello.”

“Good on ya, mate. She’ll be right now.“

“I won’t even bother to ask you how you got this number, Archie.”

“Shit, mate. I wouldn’t fucking tell you anyway.”

“So…” I hesitated a moment. “What’s new?”

Archie started laughing so hard I thought he might hurt himself.

“What’s new? Jack Shepherd, you are without a doubt the only bloke I’ve ever known who would have the nerve to ring me up and ask, ‘What’s new?’ You Yank ratbags are too much. You really are.”

“Just being friendly.”

“Well, mate, I’m as busy as a one-legged bloke in an arse-kicking contest, so let’s have it. What’s on your mind?”

“It’s all probably just a lot of nothing, Archie, but I need to collect on one of those favors you owe me. Something a little strange has come up and I thought you might be able to give me some background.”

“Reckon I probably can if I want to. What’s the subject?”

“The Asian Bank of Commerce. You ever heard of it?”

There was a short silence.

“Bloody oath,” Archie sighed after a few moments. “What are you doing mixed up with those bodgie mongrels?”

“Well, it’s a little hard to explain, but-”

“Never mind. Can you meet me right now?”

“Yeah, I guess so. Sure. Where are you?”

“Don’t worry about that. Just pay attention, Jacko. Do exactly what I tell you to do.”

I paid attention, then following Archie’s instructions I took the lift downstairs and left the Mandarin by the front entrance. Climbing a short flight of stairs just on the other side of the hotel’s service drive, I joined the rivers of pedestrians flowing through the networks of overhead walkways that knitted Hong Kong together and walked to the Star Ferry terminal.

The Star Ferry had been running back and forth across Victoria Harbour for over a century. The little green-and-white double-decked vessels crossed the harbor from the wharf on Hong Kong Island, docked at Tsim Sha Tsui at the tip of the Kowloon peninsula and then traveled back again, moving almost continuously over the same ten-minute route all day and through a good part of the night.

When each ferry bumped with practiced ease into its berth, a Chinese sailor in a blue uniform swung open an iron gate to allow boarding passengers to stream on even as disembarking passengers were still being funneled off in the opposite direction. After the ferry was filled-and it happened very quickly, like everything else in Hong Kong-a loud bell rang, a large traffic signal hanging over the gate snapped first to yellow and then to red, and a sailor-suited man pushed the iron gate firmly shut, stemming if only for a moment the relentlessly advancing crowds. Of course, there were always a last few stubborn stragglers determined to slip around the gate’s closing edge and leap across to the deck of the ferry as the gangway was being hauled away, all that in spite of the fact that another green-and-white ferry would be slipping into the wharf almost as soon as the first one was clear and the whole process would begin again after only the slightest interruption. This was Hong Kong after all. Wasted time was wasted money.

At a few minutes after five I was standing in front of the Star Ferry terminal waiting for Archie. I glanced at my watch and contemplated my immediate future. The traffic to the airport would be horrible. If I was going to make my flight to Bangkok, I probably had a half-hour at the very most to talk to Archie, get back to the hotel, grab my bag, and check out.

That looked pretty unlikely right then, and I knew that this unscheduled excursion would almost certainly cause me to be stuck in Hong Kong for another night. Anita was going to be less than thrilled about that. Actually, I was less than thrilled about that, too. Things had been a little strained with Anita ever since my Sunday night rendezvous with Barry Gale so I was eager to get home. And yet, here I was standing in front of the Star Ferry waiting for Archie Ward. I began to polish the story I would be telling Anita a little later on the telephone.

The walkways of the ferry building were jammed with commuters on their way to Kowloon and the crowds shouldered past me as I shifted my weight from foot to foot. Finally I saw Archie coming from the direction of the Post Office building. He was easing through the throng in such a practiced way that there was hardly a ripple around him and for a moment I envied the evident deftness he had developed for living in a city as combative as Hong Kong.

Archie grinned as he eased up next to me and gave my shoulder a warm squeeze.

“G’day, mate. How you keeping?”

“I’m good, Archie.”

“Still teaching in Bangkok?”

“Yeah, still teaching. You still with…” I wasn’t sure exactly how to put it, so I said the first thing that popped into my head, “the bank?”

Archie chuckled. “Nah. I’ve changed jobs.”

He produced a pack of Marlboros from his shirt pocket and held them out to me. When I shook my head, he extracted one with his lips, lit it using a red Bic, and exhaled in a long, steady stream.

“Got no perks anymore, Jacko. No more promotions, no insurance, no pension. Just me, my shoeshine, and my smile.”

“When did that happen?”

“A few months ago.”

“Your idea?”

“Too bloody right. I’d been watching all those little ratbags who used to be Mossad or Shin Bet quit and then use their contacts to make heaps in the arms or drug business. Big fucking bickies they were scoring, mate. And there was me without a brass razoo to me name.”

The idea that my friend Archie had coolly set himself up in the business of dealing guns or smuggling drugs startled me, and my face must have shown it.

“No, Jacko, that shit’s not for me. But now a lot of your other blokes, they don’t give a flying fuck. That mob’s cunning as dunny rats and they make a few quid, I’ll tell you. Only problem is that most of them aren’t around long enough to spend any of it.”

“So what are you doing, Archie?”

He pulled at his cigarette, acting like he was thinking, maybe wondering if he ought to be saying what he was saying, but I knew better. Archie Ward liked to play the cheery little Aussie larrikin who didn’t really care about anything other than sinking a few tinnies with his mates down at the pub, but I seriously doubted he had ever uttered a word in his life that hadn’t been carefully weighed in advance. Whatever he was about to tell me, Archie thought there might be something in it somewhere for him.

“I’m completely independent now, Jacko. Everybody knows that I’ve got the good oil on just about everybody. Now I sell what I know to whoever offers me the best price. Sometimes it gets a little shonky, I got to admit but, bloody hell, the rest of the time it pays off like a busted pokie machine.”

Archie paused and shifted his eyes around, sizing up the crowd. Finally, he looked back at me and pointed to the ferry entrance.

“Let’s go,” he said. “Hanging around out here we stick out like a dog’s balls.”

EIGHTEEN

I followed Archie as he dropped some coins in a turnstile and we joined the river of humanity moving up the stairs and then down a ramp toward the ferry. Archie was in the lead, but when a loud bell started clattering and the green light flashed to yellow, the black iron gate at the bottom of the ramp began to close. The crowd surged forward and I lost sight of him.

When the light snapped to red, a few people started to run as well as they could in the tight quarters. Bouncing on my toes to see over the crowd, I could tell that the gate was closing so I edged past an old woman carrying a stack of white food boxes from which drifted some pungent although unidentifiable smell, bounced off a very large and red-faced German tourist and, in the clear for a split second, took two fast side steps, twisted to my left and lunged through the last crack of open space as the gate clanged shut behind me. I trotted down the ramp and crossed the gangway just as the sailor began to haul on the rope that hoisted it away from the dock.

Archie was leaning on the rail, waiting for me, a half-smile on his face.

“Still pretty good moves, leastwise for an old guy,” he said as I pushed in next to him.

“Is this all really necessary?” I asked.

“What?”

“The ferry ride. Where are we going?”

“Nowhere. We’re just mucking around.”

“Couldn’t I have just come to an office somewhere?”

“Nope.”

I wasn’t really as annoyed as I sounded. Riding the Star Ferry had always been one of my favorite things to do in Hong Kong anyway. The ferry’s engines throbbed and white water churned as we pushed away from the wharf with a slight shudder and began moving out into the harbor.

“Friend of yours?” Archie asked.

“Who?”

“Over there, at the gate.”

Archie gestured vaguely past me in the general direction of the wharf. The crowd had drifted back to wait for the next ferry, but there was a tall man who was still standing right up against the gate as if he was watching the ferry leave with considerable regret. He was wearing a dark raincoat and looked to be Chinese.

I shook my head. “No. Don’t know him.”

“Didn’t think you would.”

Archie and I watched the man until the next ferry sliding into the berth blocked our view.

“Are you saying this guy is following me, Archie?”

“Maybe. He was watching us before we got on. Maybe that was just a coincidence; maybe not.”

Before I could ask him what that was supposed to mean, Archie walked up to the glass-enclosed cabin that walled off the fifty or so seats at the front of the ferry. Instead of sitting, Archie stood right in the bow, turned his back to the stunning panorama of Victoria Harbour and looking over the crowd on the ferry. I wasn’t sure what else to do, so I stood next to him and watched the next ferry maneuvering into position at the wharf even while we were still pulling away. My eyes sought out and eventually found the man in the dark raincoat again. He was still standing at the gate, both hands hooked through the bars, and he was still looking unhappy. Surely Archie’s imagination was on overtime, I told myself.

“Look, Archie-”

He waved me into silence. “Let’s give it a minute, huh, mate?”

I leaned back and folded my arms, waiting for Archie to decide he was ready to talk.

“Okay,” he said after we were clear of the wharf and no one had taken any of the seats near us, “I’m listening, Jacko.”

Archie tilted his head toward me while he continued scanning the crowd. I told him most of what I knew about the Asian Bank of Commerce, but I adjusted the story on the fly so that I could talk around the resurrection of Barry Gale rather than bring that up right away. Archie remained expressionless throughout my tale, but the moment I stopped talking, he grinned at me.

“What is it you’re not telling me?”

I sighed. “I thought I was better than that.”

“You’re pretty good. But it’s still London to a brick you wouldn’t tell me the whole thing the first time.”

“Well, it seems better to me if I-”

“Just lay out what you know, Jacko. Give me everything and I’ll let you have a mate’s rate on some good advice.”

I trusted Archie and I really didn’t have anything to lose, so I started again. I told Archie the story one more time and this time I included the part about the second coming of Barry Gale. By the time I had finished, the ferry was bumping against the pier in Kowloon and the passengers were beginning to move toward the gangway. I started to join them, but Archie just shook his head and offered a little downward flutter of his right hand in a gesture that obviously meant we were going to continue our voyage.

“Are we just going ride back and forth on this damned thing all day?” I asked.

Archie gave no sign that he had heard me and stood silently as the ferry filled once again with passengers and shoved off to begin its trip back across the harbor. I looked at the ferry that was approaching the spot on the wharf we had just vacated and wondered if the man in the dark raincoat was vainly trailing in our wake or if he was still somewhere back on the Central side waiting for us.

It wasn’t until we had wallowed out into the harbor again that Archie finally spoke.

“Are you certain this man you met was really Gale?”

“No doubt at all.”

“Well Christ, mate.”

The ferry slid into a trough left by a passing ship and floundered up the other side, forcing us to shift our balance and lean into the roll of the deck.

“And he said he’d taken over the Asian Bank of Commerce using Russian mob money?”

“He did.”

“Do you believe him?”

“I can’t imagine why anyone would lie about a thing like that.”

“Yeah, but did you believe him?”

I tried to look as credible as possible, although I wasn’t entirely certain what constituted a look of credibility while riding a ferry back and forth across Victoria Harbour.

“He was scared to death, Archie.”

“Maybe it wasn’t Russian mobsters he was scared of.”

“Then who?”

“The way I hear it, it wasn’t the Russian mob behind the Asian Bank of Commerce. It was somebody… bigger.”

“Bigger?”

Archie hesitated. He was either going to tell me what he knew or he wasn’t and there wasn’t anything more I could say to convince him one way or the other.

“Russian mobsters make for sexy stories,” he went on after a while, “but the truth is that most of them are just jackasses. When it comes to these huge international conspiracies they always get blamed for, well… they’d be well and truly buggered, Jacko. Reckon they’d have Buckley’s chance of making any of them work.”

I kept my mouth shut and just listened.

Archie looked at me for a long time, then he cleared his throat. “It was Chinese money, Jacko. That’s what funded the takeover.”

“You mean the triads?” I asked.

“No, nothing like that.”

“Then what?”

Archie’s head bobbed around on his shoulders as if it had become momentarily detached.

“Military?” I asked. “Government?”

“Not officially.”

“You mean it was Chinese intelligence.”

Archie nodded.

“The ABC was where they stashed the bribe money?” I asked.

“Yeah, something like that.”

I thought back to my midnight walk and talk in Bangkok with Barry Gale.

“If that’s true, Archie, Barry Gale doesn’t know it.”

“So what?”

“But Barry Gale was running the ABC. If he didn’t know it, how could it be true?”

Archie rolled his eyes and looked away.

“I think you’ve been in Asia too long for your own good, partner,” I said. “Everything that happens out here looks like some huge conspiracy to you.”

“Everything that happens out here is some huge conspiracy, Jacko.”

The wharf in Central was coming up fast. I looked over what I could see of the walkways around it, but there was no sign of our friend in the dark coat. Archie’s imagination had apparently gotten out of hand there. Maybe his tale of Chinese money being behind the ABC fell into the same category.

“Who was this bribe money supposed to belong to?”

“The usual suspects. A bunch of generals, a couple of ministers. It even went as high as the Politburo, I hear.”

“Who was paying? And what for?”

Archie didn’t seem to notice I had asked him anything. He pulled out his pack of Marlboros, then changed his mind and pushed them back into his shirt pocket.

The ferry’s engines churned into reverse as the pilot edged toward to the wharf. A sailor stood by the gangway with the rope to lower it wrapped around both hands and a few people in the crowd rose and began to shuffle toward the exit.

“This is the end of the trip, Jacko.” Archie’s voice was flat. “That’s all I’m saying. We’re square now.”

“Just one more thing, Archie.”

He shifted his eyes to mine.

“Did these Chinese generals and politicians get their money before the ABC collapsed?”

The ferry bumped the pilings and we stumbled slightly. Almost immediately I heard the sound of winches squealing followed by the crash of the metal gangway as it hit the concrete pier. The crowd surged forward and Archie turned away and began moving along everyone else, but I stuck to him as if we were handcuffed together. When he finally spoke his voice was so low I could barely pick out the words through the rumble of shuffling feet and the bursts of Cantonese crashing around us like mortar shells.

“That’s the funny part,” he said without looking at me. “I hear it all disappeared without a trace.”

“Do you know where the money went?”

Archie turned his head slightly and shifted his eyes onto mine. “You know how difficult it is to see anything when you look straight at it in the dark, Jacko? The harder you look, the harder it is to see. They tell me that to see something clearly when the light’s bad you ought look at it out of the corner of your eye, like soldiers do when they’re fighting at night.”

“What in the hell are you talking about, Archie?”

Archie watched me as we shuffled forward with the crowd toward the gangway. He looked as if he was waiting for me to say something else, but I couldn’t imagine what it was, and when I didn’t, he slipped back into the rhythms of his Australian vernacular.

“Those Chinese blokes are mean as cat’s piss when it comes to money, Jacko. I reckon that whoever did them is rooted. That’s what I reckon.”

“Rooted?”

“Fucked, Jacko. When they find whoever the poor wanker is who’s got their money, his dick will be in the dirt before he knows what hit him.”

Archie grinned at me then for a second and, entirely unexpectedly, he winked.

“I just hope it wasn’t you, matey.”

Then he took three quick strides over the gangway and disappeared into the crowd as completely as if he had never been there at all.

NINETEEN

When I got back to Bangkok on Friday morning, Anita pouted briefly to make sure her displeasure at the extra night I had spent in Hong Kong was officially noted. Nevertheless, harmony was fully restored by evening and when we left for the Polo Club the night ahead was looking pretty promising.

I had the Volvo’s top down as we drove south on Soi Langsuan. Winter in Bangkok can be short but, with luck, the string of temperate days and chilly nights sometimes hangs in through February. This year we had been very lucky. The cool breezes were still drifting south from China and the air remained sweet and balmy, ripe with benevolence.

Anita seemed besotted by the softness of the night. Her head was tilted back against the headrest and her eyes were closed. She was wearing a straight black dress that left her bare legs visible halfway up her thighs. I could hardly force myself to watch the road and my eyes kept drifting over every time the traffic thinned. I was getting another fix when I realized Anita had opened her eyes and was looking straight back at me.

“What?” I asked.

“Nothing.”

Not nothing. That much I was pretty sure of.

“Okay.” She leaned over, knitted her hands together over my shoulder and rested her chin on them. “I like you in a tux, handsome, but remind me again why we’re on our way to a stuffy club tonight wearing these costumes.”

“The Kingdom of Thailand has a new minister of finance and we are honoring him.”

“We?”

“Well… Citibank and Standard Chartered Bank are honoring him. You and I are mostly along for the ride.”

“And exactly why are they honoring him? Has he done something good?”

“Not yet. But we live in hope.”

A red-and-cream bus suddenly changed lanes and cut right in front of us. It was so jammed with people that it looked as if some of them were about to squirt out through the windows. I braked hard and muttered a curse, but Anita didn’t seem to notice.

“Do we have any role in all this honoring?”

“Not really. I imagine they invited me because they thought I’d bring you. We’re more or less decoration.”

“Ah… decoration. I do so love being decoration.”

Anita turned her head away and closed her eyes again.

“Was else is it you have on your mind, Jack? There’s something you’re not telling me.”

“Is it that obvious?”

“It is to me.”

I hadn’t said anything to Anita about Barry Gale asking me to find the ABC’s missing money and I had also omitted mentioning Jello’s story about Dollar’s apparent connections with some pretty unsavory people. I had initially decided that telling Anita either story would accomplish nothing other than to make her uneasy for me, yet now I wondered why I had looked at it that way. Something about driving through the Bangkok night seemed to transform the dime-novel tales Barry and Jello had spun me into narratives with an almost operatic quality to them, so impulsively I started recounting both stories to Anita in spite of my earlier resolution not to.

I tried to stick strictly to what I actually knew, and it wasn’t all that much so it didn’t take all that long. I finished just as we got to the narrow soi that led into the Polo Club. I slowed at the gate as a uniformed guard saluted and pushed aside his little red-and-white wheeled barrier, but Anita didn’t speak again until I had pulled into an empty parking place and shut off the engine.

“My God, Jack. What have you gotten yourself into?”

“I’m not into anything, Anita. I have absolutely no intention of being involved in any way with Barry Gale.”

“But you’re already involved with Dollar, and if he’s-”

“Jello’s wrong about that. Dollar’s as straight as anybody I’ve ever known.”

“I thought you told me that Jello knew everything that was worth knowing about what happened in Bangkok.”

“He does, usually, but this time he’s got it wrong,” I repeated doggedly. “I know Dollar Dunne and there’s no way in hell he’d launder money for drug dealers. Absolutely no way.”

Anita was shaking her head as I walked around and opened her door. I helped her out and she stood quietly looking at me until I had closed the door again.

“I’ve asked you to be careful, Jack. I’ve asked you over and over. And then you tell me something like this.”

“None of this has anything to do with me, Anita.”

Anita thought about that for a minute and then smiled sadly. “But it will.”

“Look, I already said I have absolutely no intention-”

Anita suddenly reached out with her forefinger and put it against my lips. I stopped talking. She smiled, a little sadly once again it seemed to me and shook her head. We walked under the trees toward the club’s entry and in the silence I listened to the sound of her high heels clicking against the stones that paved the parking lot.

We started up the short flight of brown brick steps that led to the club’s main building and Anita suddenly looped her left arm through my right. “Hey, boy, I’m just a painter,” she said. “What do I understand about stuff like this?”

I always figured she understood plenty.

“I’m sure you know what you’re doing, Jack. You always do.”

I smiled and pulled her toward me.

I hoped to hell she was right.

The Polo Club is the nouveau offshoot of the Royal Bangkok Sports Club, a notoriously exclusive mid-city club famed for its decades-long waiting list, crummy golf course, and membership roster of old Thais who didn’t much like foreigners. The main building is a low-slung, rambling structure of brown brick set off with wooden trim and surrounded by lush tropical landscaping. Dark-tiled corridors-each with a peaked roof covered in cedar-shakes and open on the sides-link the main building with the half-dozen or so other buildings in the complex. The Polo Club even sports a modest equestrian trail and a handful of horses, probably so the name of the place will make some kind of sense. Occupying a prime block of real estate in the very heart of central Bangkok, the Polo Club seems to rise from the city’s haze like some sort of suburban mirage.

Citibank and Standard Chartered were no doubt holding their reception there in order to make the biggest possible splash. After all, the new minister of finance was an Oxford graduate who had done a brief turn at Harvard Business School. Even better, he was reported to like foreigners well enough and, everyone present fervently hoped, perhaps even foreign banks. He was the kind of Thai many other Thais referred to among themselves, at least when they were certain their voices weren’t carrying too far, as a brown Brit.

Ministers of finance came and went fairly rapidly in Thailand and the next time around the foreign banks might not be so lucky. They were more likely to get a local politician from Ubon Ratchathani, someone who hadn’t been able to stand foreigners since his daughter married a shoe salesman from Brisbane and ran off to live in Queensland. That was why most of the foreign banks figured they had better grab the chance to kiss this particular minister’s butt while it was still around to be kissed.

When we mounted the steps, a short gray-haired man in a dark suit stepped forward and pressed his hands together in a wai, the graceful Thai gesture of greeting that is nuanced in ways foreigners are helpless to unravel. I returned the wai in my normal clunky fashion and then offered my hand, too, just to make certain I had touched all of the cultural bases.

“Khun Teuk, may I introduce-”

“Completely unnecessary, Jack.” Teuk beamed like a man who had just won the lottery. “Everyone in Bangkok knows Anita.”

“You are very generous, Khun Teuk.” Anita tilted her head gracefully to one side and waied. She did it a lot better than I did, and Teuk beamed again.

“Please, this way.” Teuk pointed up the walkway toward the gardens that flanked the swimming pool. “It was such a nice night that we decided to move things outside.”

“I wondered where everyone was.”

“Well, the guest list is a little smaller than usual. We didn’t invite every hanger-on in town this time.” He giggled slightly, a nervous high-pitched whinnying sound. “Almost everyone is here already. Don’t know what Bangkok is coming to. People showing up on time? Next it’s going to be locusts.” He whinnied again.

When Teuk turned away, Anita leaned slightly toward me.

“Who the hell is that?” she stage-whispered without turning her head.

“A guy from Citibank. I’m not really sure what he does.”

“So these are the kind of people you hang around with when I’m away, huh?”

I couldn’t think of any answer to that, but a waiter with a tray of drinks intercepted us at just that moment and bailed me out. We each selected a Campari and soda, and then stepped down off the walkway into the gardens and looked around.

A luxuriant, emerald-green lawn bordered with mango, oak, and gum trees stretched fifty yards or more from where we stood to the polo field on the south. To the east a thick grove of tall palms protected the deep lawn from the intrusion of the city. The trees were hung with white fairy lights and wicker tables and chairs had been set up under them in small groups. Formally-dressed people mingled on the lawn, while a string quartet played Mozart on a platform almost hidden under a bank of white orchids. The night was a study in jade and auburn sprinkled with black and white.

“Jack!”

I heard the voice calling me and looked around.

“Over here, Jack!”

A hand was flapping at us from a group of men standing near the center of the lawn so I took Anita’s elbow and we started over. About halfway there the crowd parted and I saw that the hand belonged to a government official I saw around town occasionally.

Anita went back into her stage whisper.

“Do I know him?”

“I don’t think so.”

I kept my eyes on the group and tried to answer Anita without moving my lips.

“His name’s Tammarat something or another, but everybody calls him Tommy.”

“Another Citibank guy?”

“Nope. Officially, he’s a deputy to the spokesman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. But if you don’t already know that he’s really something at the NIA, he’ll be happy to drop hints until you get the idea.”

“NIA?”

“The National Intelligence Agency.”

Anita glanced over to see if I was joking.

“You mean he’s a spy?” she asked.

“Yeah, something like that, I guess.”

“A Thai spy?” Anita was beginning to giggle. “Who does he spy on? Laos?”

“Jack, Jack!” Tommy rushed toward us before I could think what to say to that and clasped my right hand with both of his like a politician working the crowd. “And this must be the famous Anita.”

Anita couldn’t hold back any longer. She burst out laughing, and Tommy’s manner changed abruptly. His eyes went flat, examining first her and then me.

I improvised. “There was this joke I heard yesterday when I was in Hong Kong, Tommy, and I told it to Anita while we were walking in. I think she just got it.”

“Ah…” Tommy looked at me without expression. “That must be why you’re late tonight. Telling funny jokes is very time-consuming.”

“Waiting for Anita to get dressed is very time-consuming.”

I felt Anita’s hand brush my elbow. “Jack, I see Laura over there. Would you excuse me?”

She favored Tommy with her most charming smile, waied and slipped away.

I didn’t know anyone in Bangkok named Laura, of course, and I was certain that neither did Anita.

TWENTY

Tommy watched silently until Anita had disappeared into the crowd, then he placed his hand in the small of my back and nudged me in the direction of the men he had been talking to.

“Come over here a minute, Jack. I want you to meet some people.”

Tommy made the usual introductions all around, and as usual I missed almost everyone’s names except for the last man Tommy introduced.

“Jack, you know Manny Marcus, don’t you?”

“Q Bar?” I asked as we shook hands, and the man nodded without saying anything.

Mango Manny’s double-breasted black jacket was buttoned tightly over his paunch and with it he wore a yellow tie, black shirt, and huge diamond ring. His thinning hair, unnaturally black, was slicked back against his skull and even in the low light it glinted and glistened. In spite of the darkness, Manny wore gold Cartier sunglasses with very dark lenses. I knew the shades were Cartier because they said so on both earpieces.

“Some mutual friends of ours recently suggested I call you,” I ventured carefully, not sure how much I should say but not wanting to pretend I had never heard of Manny either.

Manny took off his Cartiers, folded them carefully, and pushed them into his breast pocket.

“Too bad you didn’t,” he said.

“I didn’t see any reason to bother you.”

Manny let his eyes linger on mine for a moment. “No,” he said, “you probably wouldn’t.”

While I was still trying to work out what that was supposed to mean, I felt Tommy’s hand on my back again.

“Jack, I need to talk to you about a little business matter without bothering our friends here.”

Tommy mumbled apologies to the group and then nudged me away out of their earshot. He draped one arm over my shoulders and lowered his voice.

“Do you know where the squash courts are?”

Tommy’s question didn’t make much sense so I didn’t answer right away. Was Tommy about to challenge me to a squash game? That didn’t seem likely.

“The squash courts, Jack. Are you listening to me?”

“I heard you. Why are you asking me about squash courts?”

Tommy looked at me levelly.

“They’re out near the main entrance,” he said. “Just on the other side of-”

“I know where they are.”

“Then why didn’t you just say so?”

“Even by your standards of non sequitur, Tommy, I thought you were kidding.”

“This is no time for jokes, Jack. You are walking in deep shit, my friend, and I’m trying to help you here.”

He paused, but I stayed poker-faced. What the hell was Tommy talking about?

“I want you to go to the squash courts at exactly ten and wait there. Someone wants to talk to you.”

“Who-”

“Just be there, Jack,” Tommy interrupted. “And for Christ’s sake try to be discreet about it for once in your life, would you?”

Then he shoved his hands deep into his pockets and walked away from me without a backward glance.

I looked at my watch and saw that it was a quarter to ten so I spent the next few minutes wondering what I was going to do. Once or twice I caught a glimpse of Anita across the garden, but I got a distinct impression she was keeping her distance. I wasn’t sure I blamed her. So far the cast of characters she had encountered in my company made that look like a smart choice.

An unnaturally thin German girl dressed in arty black cornered me for a few moments against the rose bushes and gushed on about a television documentary she was making concerning female homosexuality among the hill tribes. Then two English stockbrokers I knew spent a few minutes trying to convince me that the Thai stock market was just about to take off. It all added up to standard Thai cocktail party chatter: nothing but sex and money.

At five minutes to ten I looked around for Tommy, but he was nowhere to be seen. Helpless to resist the intrigue, I abandoned my empty glass on a nearby table and headed toward the club’s front entry. Anyone who saw me would probably assume I was going to the toilet, but instead of turning left I turned right just past the bowling green and went through the door to the squash courts.

Only a single dim light was burning, so I flipped on the big overheads and looked around. All three courts were empty, of course, as were the wooden bleachers that rose a half-dozen tiers behind each of them. Feeling a little silly I sat down in the first row behind the court furthest from the door and waited. The bright lights glared off the white walls, throwing my reflection into high relief on the glass back wall of the courts. I thought I looked a little fuzzy.

After a few minutes the door opened and a young, well-dressed man stepped inside, quickly closing the door behind him. He was tall for a Thai and lanky, and he moved with a confidence that made him look a little dangerous. I had never seen him before, I was sure of that, and the expression on his face suggested that he had probably never seen me before either.

“You Khun Jay?”

The man’s voice was polite, but he seemed a little twitchy. He had such a thick accent that I saw it was going to be difficult understanding whatever it was that he wanted to tell me.

“Jack, not Jay. It’s Jack Shepherd.”

“Arai na krap?” What?

“I said I’m Jack Shepherd. Not Jay Shepherd.”

There was a hint of puzzlement in the man’s nod.

“Krap. You wait please.”

The man stepped back outside, but just as I was standing up to follow him the new minister of finance walked in.

“Mr. Shepherd,” he nodded pleasantly. “Sit down. Please.”

I sat down.

The minister stood in the doorway studying me for a moment, a half-smile on his face, and then he walked over and sat a few feet away on the same bleacher where I was. He settled himself comfortably, crossing his legs at the knee, and then he leaned forward slightly and laced his fingers together, resting his hands in his lap.

He was an average-sized man, probably in his sixties. His patent leather shoes gleamed even in the low light and he wore his tuxedo like a man who was accustomed to wearing a tuxedo. He had a full head of silver-gray hair, hard black eyes, heavy-rimmed glasses, and the patient air of a traveler forced to camp out temporarily with barbarians.

“It is a very dull party, isn’t it, Mr. Shepherd?”

“It was until about thirty seconds ago.”

The minister chuckled appreciatively, then he reached into the inside pocket of his jacket and extracted a black leather Dunhill cigar case. Pulling off the top he held it out to me and I saw the brown and white bands even before he spoke.

“Cigar, Jack? Montecristos are your brand, aren’t they?”

I glanced from the cigars to the minister’s face, but he was expressionless.

“No? You must have picked up all you needed when you were in Hong Kong.”

The minister selected a cigar for himself, closed the case, and returned it to his jacket. Then he dipped into a side pocket and removed a cutter and a box of matches. He inspected the Montecristo, clipped the end, and lit it. I noticed he took his time about doing it.

“I think I’m getting the message here, Minister,” I said quietly as he drew on his cigar.

“No, Mr. Shepherd, we haven’t gotten to the message yet. All I’ve done is convey that we know a great deal about what everyone around here is doing. Including you.”

“Who’s we?”

The minister took another puff on his Montecristo, then resumed, ignoring my question.

“We know, for example, that you made some inquiries in Hong Kong concerning the Asian Bank of Commerce. May I ask why you were you pursuing that particular line of inquiry up there, Mr. Shepherd?”

“I thought you already knew what everyone around here was doing. Including me.”

The minister laughed, apparently genuinely.

“We do, Mr. Shepherd, but sometimes we have a little trouble understanding why they do it.”

I said nothing.

“Actually, Mr. Shepherd, I don’t suppose it matters. My message to you tonight is the same regardless of your motives.”

The minister took another puff on his Montecristo, but he kept his eyes locked on mine.

“You must stop asking questions about the ABC.”

“And why is that, sir?”

“You might embarrass someone, Mr. Shepherd. If names happen to come up in the course of your inquiries-names of people who are, let us say, politically prominent and might have had some small, perhaps even accidental involvement with the ABC-you might cause them to lose face. You know Asia well, I am told. Surely you must know how bad a thing it is to lose face.”

“Accidental involvement? I don’t understand.”

The bleachers squeaked as the minister shifted his weight.

“You Americans have become obsessed with what you insist on calling transparency in government, Mr. Shepherd. But those of us who actually do the work of governing understand that we must occasionally engage in undertakings that we would not particularly like to become public. Frequently, those activities involve financial arrangements, and naturally those arrangements are generally routed through helpful banks like the ABC. It’s just the way things are done in Asia, Mr. Shepherd. It has always been so, and it will always be so.”

“Just for the sake of conversation, Minister, what do you suppose might happen if some of these arrangements you’re talking about looked as if they might become public?”

“Oh, I don’t really know, Mr. Shepherd.”

The minister waved his Montecristo in a little zigzag motion.

“But we have a saying here in Thailand that you might do well to remember: When the elephants move, the grass is trampled.”

The minister slowly stood, rolling his shoulders and stretching slightly.

“I always thought that was an African expression,” I said, watching him.

His eyes flickered for a moment, met mine, and then looked away. With his left hand in the front pocket of his jacket and his head tilted down, he walked toward the door that led back out of the squash courts. When he reached it, he took his hand out of his pocket, put it on the knob, and looked back over his shoulder.

“Actually, Jack, I think you’ll find it’s an old Icelandic proverb.”

Then he pushed through the door and was gone.

TWENTY ONE

I didn’t sleep sleep very well that night and predictably woke up way too early on Saturday morning. I lay quietly for a while, one hand resting lightly on the smooth skin of Anita’s thigh, replaying in my mind the way her body felt under my hands the night before. Anita was still sleeping deeply so I slipped quietly out of bed and padded into the kitchen to make some coffee.

My meeting with Dollar was looming in only a few hours and I pushed Barry Gale and the ABC into an unused corner of my mind while I dumped coffee into the filter and filled the coffeemaker with water. Before I saw Dollar I had to decide what I was going to tell him. Was I going to ask him about my conversation with Jello and the suspicions Jello had voiced about what Dollar and Howard might be doing together, or was I just going to let the whole thing slide?

While the coffee dripped I went back to the bedroom and pulled on some running shorts and a T-shirt and laced up my Nikes. Then, after draining two mugs and flipping half-heartedly through the Post, I drove over to Lumpini Park in the mood to do a little running and a lot of thinking.

I parked the Volvo on Soi Sarasin just in front of a strip of bars shuttered tightly against the morning but still smelling vaguely of cigarettes and spilled beer. It was the beginning of another cool day and I wondered vaguely if some kind of cosmic invoice for our pleasant weather was going to be presented to the city later in the year. If it ever arrived, I figured it would be a doozy.

Crossing the street and threading my way among the food venders half-blocking the park’s north gate, I broke into a lope on the broad walkway just inside. In front of me, off through a gap in a grove of banyan trees, patches of early morning sunlight were glistening on the lake and a light breeze rattled the fronds of the spindly palm trees that lined the walkway. In a few minutes I reached the edge of the lake and moved onto the grass. I found my rhythm quickly and I adjusted my stride and paced myself for a longer run than usual since I had a good deal to think about.

I knew I either had to tell Dollar immediately what Jello had said to me or I could never tell him at all. If I kept quiet today and then said something about it later, Dollar would read my hesitation as having at least half-believed Jello in the first place-and of course, he would be right.

I had done a fair amount of work with Dollar and I had never seen anything that would suggest he was involved in money laundering; but I didn’t know Howard nearly as well and I could hardly claim to have the same conviction with respect to him. Either way, Jello had put me in a real bind. If what he said turned out to be true and I somehow ended up helping Dollar and Howard do their laundry, no matter how inadvertent my participation might be, Jello would be able to point out that I had done it in spite of being on notice as to what they were involved in. That would put me a long way up my own personal shit creek, and I would unquestionably be lacking the proverbial paddle.

The more I thought about it, the clearer it became that was exactly what Jello had in mind. He knew the position he was putting me in when we had our conversation at Anna’s. He was squeezing me. There was no nicer way to put it.

Although I doubted Jello knew anything specific about my meeting this morning with Dollar or about any of the frequent appearances Howard had been making in the conversations Dollar and I had been having recently, he would still no doubt have surmised that Dollar would eventually ask me to help out with Howard’s work again-and then I’d have no choice but to ask Dollar if there was anything behind Jello’s story. Jello had boxed me in with consummate skill. I couldn’t see any path out of the trap he had so carefully constructed, except of course for the one he obviously wanted me to take.

A major attraction for me of running in Lumpini Park was that the joggers there generally included a significant number of tanned, athletic-looking young women pushing gracefully around the lake with firm, confident strides. Just trying to look good for them usually kept me going pretty well. This morning, however, the pickings were slim. I was a little early and the only other runners I saw were two local men pumping doggedly along together without much apparent enthusiasm. I passed them easily. A few minutes later, just after I had crossed a narrow metal bridge over a tiny sliver of water, I glanced back to see how the two men were doing, but I couldn’t see them anymore.

I was still wondering where they had gone when a woman suddenly appeared from a stand of banyan trees near the edge of the lake and fell into stride right next to me. When I glanced over, I did a long, slow take.

It was the woman who had been with Barry Gale at the Foodland.

She was wearing black shorts, a white halter-top, and a black baseball cap that said Oakland Raiders over the light gray bill. She ran easily, gracefully, her feet springing off the grass as if they were touching down on hot coals. Other than describing her features as Asian in a general way, I still couldn’t put a specific place of origin to her. The bone structure was too fine-high, wide cheekbones and a rounded European-looking nose-and now that I studied her closely I could see that none of the separate parts of her face really looked Asian at all except perhaps for the slightly tilted, deep brown eyes.

The woman neither turned her head toward me nor spoke.

Running shoulder to shoulder as we were, I could see that she was actually a little taller than I was, and since I was an even six feet that made her pretty tall for a woman. She was slim, but with distinct muscle definition, and she looked strong. Her complexion was the color of cinnamon, although her arms and legs were darker, burnished by strong sun to the color of cafe au lait, and her smooth skin glistened in the morning light as if it had been polished. She had pulled her shiny black hair back into a ponytail that, in scale with the rest of her, looked two feet long, and it rotated behind her head as she ran like a little propeller driving her forward.

“I was born in Hong Kong, Mr. Shepherd.”

The woman’s eyes stayed forward when she spoke.

“My mother was Chinese, but my father was American. He could never manage the tones in Cantonese, so we always spoke English at home.”

Her accent was half British and half American, and her diction and phrasing were those of someone well-born or well-educated, perhaps both.

“Should I tell you the answer to the other question that everyone asks me?”

“Sure.”

“It’s, no, both of my parents were rather short, actually.”

I chuckled and waited for the woman to go on, but she fell silent again. We ran on like that for a while, not speaking, the rhythmic slapping of our shoes against the grass the only sound marking our progress.

Eventually my curiosity overcame me and I wiped the sweat from my face on the sleeve of my T-shirt.

“This obviously isn’t a coincidence,” I said.

She let a dozen strides go by before she answered. “I thought this might be the best way for me to talk to you without attracting attention.”

Off to our right, three boys who couldn’t have been more than ten were practicing martial arts under the watchful eyes of an old man sitting on a folding stool, a straw hat low over his eyes. Each boy was carefully turned out in a white robe with a belt tied around his waist, and they all stood facing the old man in a neat row, concentrating with remarkable intensity for such small boys.

“Then I figure you’ve got about eight minutes to say whatever it is you want to say,” I said, raggedness creeping into my voice. “After five miles I generally drop dead, and that lamppost we just passed was my four-mile mark.”

One of the boys flung himself into the air and executed what looked to me like a pretty nifty spinning kick. As he did, he loosed an earsplitting shout that caused my companion to swivel her head sharply toward him.

There was another silence after that and this time it began to annoy me.

“Look, lady, if Barry thought sending you around would intimidate me somehow, you can tell him he doesn’t remember me very well.”

“My name’s not ‘lady.’“

“Oh? As I recall, you were a little hazy on that point when you introduced yourself.”

Now my eyes were forward, too, waiting her out.

“My name is Elizabeth Staley. Most people call me Beth.”

I stepped up my pace a bit, running faster as we passed a group of Japanese men who had just appeared from somewhere. They looked like a visiting sumo team, but they moved with remarkable grace and economy, gliding along as easily as marathoners. The woman effortlessly matched me stride for stride.

“Who the hell are you, Beth?”

She glanced at me and said nothing so I gave her another nudge. “I get the feeling you’re a cop of some kind.”

“I work for a private company, Mr. Shepherd. We provide personal security for Mr. Gale.”

“You’re a bodyguard?”

“I am a private security officer.”

I snorted, probably a little louder than really necessary to make my point.

We reached the south side of the park and I started to turn back toward the lake where my usual finishing line was, but Beth pointed in the other direction to where a green wooden picnic table sat empty under some low-hanging gum trees.

“You and I need to talk, Mr. Shepherd.”

“What about?”

“There are some things you need to know.”

“There are a lot of things I need to know, but I doubt you’re going to tell me about any of them.”

Beth smiled and I noticed it was a very nice smile.

“You might be surprised,” she said.

Maybe she was right. Pretty much everything these days seemed to be a surprise to me.

“This way,” Beth went on, pointing again at the picnic table, “if you don’t mind.”

I slowed down and looked at Beth. “Look, before this goes any further-”

But Beth couldn’t hear me. She had already turned away and was running toward the picnic table at the same even pace she had maintained all the way around the lake. She was already halfway there.

I shook my head and followed.

TWENTY TWO

We sat together on top of the table, our feet resting on one of the benches. I could hear the city coming awake out beyond the tree line that surrounded the park.

“What’s this all about, Beth?”

“I’m concerned about you.”

I didn’t know what to say to that, so I said nothing.

“They may know you’re helping Mr. Gale,” she went on after a moment. “They may think you know what happened to the money and come after you.”

“But I’m not helping Barry.”

“Then why were you making inquiries in Hong Kong about the Asian Bank of Commerce?”

I stared at Beth. How could she know that?

“You weren’t exactly making a secret of it,” she said as if she were reading my mind. “You even left your business card at the bank’s registered office.”

Archie must have been right after all. Somebody was following me when I was in Hong Kong. Was it somebody Beth sent or was it somebody else? And regardless of who it was, why on earth had anybody been interested enough in what I was doing in Hong Kong to go to the effort of following me around? I hadn’t even been particularly interested in what I was doing in Hong Kong.

“It doesn’t matter why you were doing it,” Beth went on before I could ask her any of the questions piling up rapidly in my mind. “I wanted you to know that you’re safe.”

“Safe?”

“We’ve had a loose net on you ever since your meeting with Mr. Gale.”

That was the second time in a week someone had used the phrase “loose net” in connection with me. I didn’t like the sound of it now any more than I had the first time.

“That was you following me in Hong Kong?”

“We weren’t following you. Some colleagues of mine were running counter-surveillance procedures. Mr. Gale asked me to keep an eye out for a few days to see if anyone followed you after your meeting.”

“You’re scaring me, Beth.”

“I don’t mean to. You were clean in Hong Kong. You should know that.”

“I can’t tell you how happy it makes me.” Then the obvious question occurred to me. “Did Barry send you here to tell me all this?”

Beth shook her head. Droplets of sweat dislodged from her hair rolled down her forehead, and into her eyes. She wiped them away with her hand.

“I just thought you ought to know I have you covered,” she said. “I didn’t want you to worry.”

I studied Beth and wondered about what she was really saying, but she wouldn’t meet my eyes.

“I guess I don’t get any of this,” I finally said.

“It’s not very complicated. Barry is afraid somebody may try to get to the missing money through you. He asked me to keep an eye out to make sure that doesn’t happen. That’s what I’m doing and I wanted to tell you that.”

Something behind me caught Beth’s attention and she looked away over my shoulder. I turned to follow her eyes and saw two men were walking toward us across the grass, the same two men who had disappeared earlier after I ran past them. Both of them were sweating and suffering badly in the morning heat and humidity and they looked even less like real runners now than they had when I passed them by the lake. I glanced at Beth and saw she obviously knew who they were so we sat and waited in silence until they got to the table.

Beth said something to the men in a language I didn’t recognize and I realized then they weren’t locals after all. The language sounded vaguely like a Chinese dialect, but I didn’t know a single word of any Chinese dialect so I couldn’t be sure. Beth had a question in her voice when she spoke-I was pretty sure of at least that much-and one of the men nodded quickly in response, giving a single crisp snap of his head. After that both men waited patiently while Beth looked off into space for a few moments.

“Okay,” she finally said.

Then she added something else in whatever language it was she was speaking and both men immediately turned and walked away without another word.

Beth took a deep breath and wiped both hands over her face.

“It looks like somebody may be interested in you after all,” she said.

“You mean somebody is following me?”

“There does appear to be surveillance of some kind operating.”

I blinked at that. “You have got to be kidding.”

Beth shook her head.

“Who is it?” I asked.

“I don’t know.”

“Are you saying that Jimmy Kicks-”

Beth interrupted, waving my question away.

“I don’t know. We’ll keep you covered with a counter-surveillance team until I’m sure what’s going on. Just keep on doing whatever you normally do and don’t worry about it.”

“Counter-surveillance team? Look, Beth, what the hell is really going on here?”

“I already told you-”

“All of a sudden you sound more like a spook than a bodyguard to me, Beth. Is that it? Are you really a spook?”

“I am exactly who I told you I am, Mr. Shepherd. I am not associated with any intelligence agency.”

Beth’s response had a oddly wooden quality to it and I wondered for a moment if there was a message for me somewhere in there between the lines.

“It’s no concern of mine whether you believe me or not,” Beth went on before I could decide. “Mr. Gale pays me to provide security for him and I answer only to him. He asked me to monitor you for surveillance. Now it seems you may be tagged and I’ve got to tell you that I’m not real thrilled.”

“Well, that makes two of us, Beth.”

“The reason I’m not real thrilled,” she continued, her tone neutral, “is that now I’m going to have to pull some people off Mr. Gale to cover you and that leaves me weak if anything goes down with him. I don’t like to be weak.”

She paused and looked at me to make sure I appreciated the point.

“You must not tell anyone about any of this, Mr. Shepherd. You would be putting yourself in danger, and possibly others as well. If you are under surveillance, this changes everything.”

“Like what exactly?”

“It will be difficult for you to see Mr. Gale again.”

“That’s not a problem. I don’t want to see Mr. Gale again.”

“Don’t make jokes, Mr. Shepherd. This isn’t a game. I don’t think you understand what you’re up against here.”

“Oh, I think I do, Beth. I’m not up against anything because I’m not involved with Barry Gale and I don’t intend to get involved with Barry Gale.”

“Then why were you-”

“I had some time to kill in Hong Kong and I was curious.”

“Curiosity killed the cat.”

“Gee, I wish I’d said that.”

The corners of Beth’s lips lifted in a smile, but her eyes didn’t join in. “You’re not taking me seriously, are you?”

“Well… no.”

“These are serious people. It’s risky to underestimate people you don’t know and don’t understand. I doubt they have underestimated you and that gives them the advantage.”

“Hold on, Beth.” I tried to put just the right tone of appeal into my voice without coming off like a wimp. “Can you just lay it out for me? What the hell is going on here?”

“I’m only the hired help, Mr. Shepherd.”

“But you could tell me, couldn’t you?”

Beth hesitated, and for a moment I thought she was about to say something, but then she looked away.

“It’s up to Mr. Gale. My job is just to make sure no one bothers you. We’ll be around. Don’t worry. You’ll be fine.”

She smiled and there was something like an apology in her eyes, but I knew that was all I was going to get out of her.

“You really have nothing to worry about, Mr. Shepherd. In spite of what you may have assumed, I’m not just some bimbo. I did eight years with Special Branch Counterintelligence in Hong Kong. I’m very good at my job. I have expert ratings with a dozen kinds of firearms.”

“Are you saying that you may have to shoot somebody to protect me?”

Beth chuckled slightly, but she didn’t reply. She just slipped off the picnic table, nodded at me, and broke into a jog toward the park’s main gate on Ratchadamri Road. I watched her until she reached the gate, passed through it, and disappeared.

I pushed myself off the table, too, and started walking back to where I had parked the Volvo.

It was utterly inconceivable to me that there could be people watching me at that very moment. I was just an unimportant lecturer at an insignificant business school in an inconsequential country in an unimportant part of the world. I couldn’t believe that anyone-other than perhaps Anita-gave even the most minuscule of damns about where I was going or what I was doing.

The more I thought about it, the more certain I became there was only one sensible explanation for all this: Barry was trying to scare me. He must have concocted this whole ridiculous story and then sent this woman and the two guys around to make it look real. Barry probably figured if he could frighten me badly enough, I would jump into his arms in sheer terror and then he would have me right where he wanted me.

I had thought for a moment there that Beth might be about to tell me what was really going on. Could I really believe she had come to meet me without Barry knowing about it? There had been something, I thought, an instant in which she seemed to want to tell me everything-and I had almost been ready then to believe that she really was there on her own-but I was probably mistaken. Men in general tended to become unreasonably hopeful and stupidly optimistic in the company of beautiful women, and I was no different. That was probably all there had been to that.

When I got back to the Volvo, I glanced up the street and immediately spotted a man sitting behind the wheel of a blue Toyota van parked a short distance along Soi Sarasin and on the opposite side. He looked like a Thai, but he was wearing a green baseball cap and dark glasses, and it was hard to tell for sure.

The man was probably just waiting for someone, I told myself. He really didn’t appear to be paying any attention to me and there was nothing unusual about him or about what he was doing. Nevertheless, I found myself keeping a wary eye cocked in his direction while I started the Volvo, made a U-turn, and headed back toward my apartment.

When I turned the corner onto Wireless Road, I glanced up at my mirror and saw the man was still there. He hadn’t moved. He hadn’t even looked at me as far as I could tell. Then both he and his blue van slipped out of sight and all I could do was wonder.

TWENTY THREE

Anita was still sleeping when I got back so I showered and shaved as quietly as I could. I left a note reminding her of my meeting with Dollar and then went back downstairs to the garage and got back into the Volvo again. I had nothing in particular to do before eleven o’clock, but I thought it might be pleasant to head on down to the United Center, treat myself to a peaceful breakfast somewhere, and then just hang around the office and shuffle papers until Dollar showed up.

I drove south on Soi Chidlom and caught a red light next to the Central Department Store. While I sat there waiting for it to change, I watched the army of sales clerks arriving for work streaming into the huge store through the employees’ entrance. They were overwhelmingly young and mostly female. Although I had the Volvo’s top down and was quite comfortable in a blue cotton shirt with the sleeves rolled up, most of the salesgirls wore coats over the white blouses and black skirts of their uniforms. Bulky nylon parkas in bright shades of red and yellow seemed to be the favored choice. One tiny girl even sported a purple ski hat pulled all the way down over her ears.

The Thais hated cool weather. At the first sign of sliding temperatures, they hauled out parkas fit for winter in Alaska and swapped their flip-flops for fur-lined mukluks. The city’s foreign residents usually reacted to the onset of winter in a somewhat more measured fashion. At most, we rolled down our sleeves.

When I got to Soi Sarasin and made a right in the direction of the financial district, I involuntarily glanced toward the spot where I had parked the Volvo that morning while I was running in Lumpini Park. The blue van was gone and presumably the man in the sunglasses and baseball hat had gone with it. I wondered briefly if I ought to take that as a good omen, maybe even a sign that everything would start getting back to normal and in a few days I would be laughing. No, that was going way too fast. This morning I’d settle for just getting through breakfast without squinting suspiciously at the waitress.

After parking in the United Center garage I walked downstairs to the Delifrance. I went through the short line and selected a plate of hard rolls and cheese, picked up a cafe au lait, and then took everything to a table outside on the tiny front terrace. I watched the morning traffic while I carved slivers of cheese onto the crusty bread and sipped at my coffee. When I was done with both, I went back inside, got another coffee, and sat quietly over it for a long time, thinking.

Jello’s story about Dollar still seemed ridiculous to me; but in an entirely different way, so was Dollar’s tale about being mugged leaving his office with Howard the Roach. I was sitting right where it had supposedly happened. The blue-and-white canvas umbrella under which I was drinking coffee might have been the very one Dollar claimed to have knocked over in the struggle. I could scarcely believe something like that had happened to them at all, let alone right here in the heart of Bangkok’s financial district. But if it hadn’t happened, if Dollar had made up the story, why had he done that?

As I thought about it all and sloshed the coffee around in my cup, a scene from an old movie suddenly popped into my head. Three Days of the Condor was one of those CIA conspiracy films that had been so popular right after Watergate when a lot of Americans decided they could believe anything about the kind of people who were running the country. In the movie Robert Redford was the honorable man sucked by accident into an intricate government plot to do something that no one really understood, but that in any event required the killing of a bunch of other honorable people to achieve some obscure end for someone-maybe the CIA, and maybe not. Redford was the hero of the movie, of course. He was cool. He was steady. And he projected a steely determination not to let the bad guys get away with it. Whatever it was.

I had stumbled across the movie on HBO one night a couple of weeks earlier. Watching it again for the first time in more than twenty years, it was my own reaction that surprised me, not the film itself. Redford no longer seemed to me to be the hero of the story. On the contrary, his unyielding determination to do right even if it put him or the other people around him in danger seemed tired and dated.

The real star of the film for me now was a character actor named John Houseman, a sort of benighted Santa Claus figure wearing a rumpled blue suit and speaking with a British accent. Houseman’s character was a lot older than Redford with a view of the world that was both wearier and less hopeful that wrongs could be righted just by the conviction they should be. He was the director of the CIA, and while you were pretty sure he wasn’t one of the bad guys, you weren’t absolutely sure he was one of the good guys either.

There was a moment in the movie when Houseman was reminiscing to one of his subordinates, a stiff-necked young bureaucrat played by Cliff Robertson, about the early days of the American intelligence community when he had been one of Alan Dulles’s boys, a crusading young hotshot battling the Nazis in World War Two. Robertson listened politely to Houseman’s recollections, as we all do sometimes to old men who may have told the same stories a few too many times, and when Houseman was finished, Robertson just sat there, not quite certain as to how he was supposed to respond. Finally, Robertson asked Houseman politely, “So, do you miss the action now, sir?”

Houseman seemed to consider that possibility as if for the first time, and slowly and deliberately he began to formulate a reply.

“No, I miss…”

Houseman paused, searching for exactly the right word, and you hung there while the old man rolled the possibilities around in his mouth until he found just the one he was looking for.

“… the clarity. What I miss is the clarity.”

He drew the word out…clar-i-tee…and Robertson nodded, but you could tell he didn’t understand what the hell Houseman was talking about. I wasn’t sure that I understood back then either. But I did now.

No, I didn’t miss the action any more than Houseman did. I didn’t miss the action one damned bit. I missed the clarity.

Clarity was what had brought me to Bangkok in the first place, and clarity was what I had found. If I let it slip away, one day I would end up just like that: living in the past, reminiscing to some young dunce who didn’t know what I had lost or care much one way or the other how I had lost it. I thought I had managed to creep quietly out of the big ocean and slide undetected into my small pond without anyone really caring I had gone, but all of a sudden I was getting more attention than a Hezbollah float in the Rose Parade.

Oh Lord, don’t do this to me. Don’t take it all away.

I looked at my watch. It was a little before ten-thirty. Since Dollar and I weren’t supposed to meet until eleven, I still had half an hour to kill, maybe a little more if Dollar showed up as late as he usually did.

If Howard and Dollar really were up to something, there would almost certainly be some hint of it in Howard’s case files. I could probably find it if I looked carefully, at least I could now that I knew what I was looking for, and there was time to look before Dollar showed up. What could it hurt?

In the lobby of the United Center a gray half-light illuminated a sleepy-looking security guard flipping through a newspaper behind a wooden desk. I walked to the elevators and pushed the button, but the guard never even glanced at me. Like most Thai security guards he probably wouldn’t have bothered to look up if I had ridden an elephant into the building.

On the fifteenth floor, I walked to the glass doors at the end of the hall where the big gold letters were dramatically backlit against a stark white wall:

DUNNE, ANDERSON, LORD amp; AMPORNPHAKDI

INTERNATIONAL ATTORNEYS AND COUNSELORS AT LAW

I did work fairly regularly for Dollar’s firm and I kept a tiny cubbyhole of my own there to avoid dragging client files back and forth to my office at Sasin, so I had a key. I took it out, bent down, and turned it in the floor lock. When I did, for a moment I thought I heard voices coming from somewhere inside.

It seemed unlikely anyone was there unless Dollar had shown up early after all, and that seemed really unlikely. When the lock snapped over I stood and pushed the door open and waited silently for a moment, listening, but I heard nothing else. I decided I must have been mistaken. I closed the door behind me and relocked it.

My office was the first door down the hallway to the left, just past the black marble counter manned during the workweek by two receptionists. It was a tiny windowless cell situated in the inside portion of the hallway ring, an area mostly set aside for toilets, storage, and a kitchen. I flipped on the lights and settled into my chair, swiveling around and pulling open the bottom drawer of the big cabinet file behind my desk where I kept my working files.

I flipped quickly through the drawer, and then I went back and checked it methodically again from front to back. At first I thought that perhaps I had just overlooked them, but I hadn’t. All of Howard’s files were gone.

Had I returned them to the file room? I was reasonably sure I hadn’t, but then it had been a while since I had last looked at any of them and I supposed it was possible.

The main file room was a few doors down the corridor from my office, but when I turned the handle I discovered it was locked. I pulled out my office master key and pushed it into the deadlock. It didn’t turn. I jiggled it a couple of times, pulled it out and put it in again, but clearly it wasn’t going to open the door no matter how many times I tried.

I was certain that I had never found the file room door locked before, at least not during office hours, but then I never came in on weekends so I couldn’t say for sure whether it was normally locked then. Regardless, my key was supposed to be a master-presumably it fit every lock in the office-so I made a mental note to ask someone on Monday why I couldn’t get into the file room.

Walking back down the corridor I was just opening my office door when I heard a noise in the distance. This time I was certain. It was a voice.

I followed the sound across the darkened reception area and toward the opposite corner of the building. It led me straight to Dollar’s office. Dollar must have shown up early after all. That was out of character for him, I mused, so whatever our meeting was about, it had to be something that was making him anxious.

Dollar’s door was standing slightly ajar and I had my hand on the knob before it registered that it wasn’t Dollar’s voice I heard inside. I stopped and listened quietly. I couldn’t tell who it was or make out what the voice was saying, but it sure as hell wasn’t Dollar. He must have someone else with him, I decided. With a sinking heart I realized that it was probably Howard the Roach.

Dollar hadn’t told me Howard would be here or I might not have turned up. I still hadn’t decided whether to tell Dollar about Jello’s suspicions, but with Howard also here that was going to be even more difficult to do. It appeared that Jello was going to get his way. His trap was about to snap shut on me with a bang.

I knocked lightly. Then I pushed the door open and stepped inside.

TWENTY FOUR

I was surprised to see that there was just one man in the office after all. I was even more surprised to see that man was neither Howard the Roach nor Dollar Dunne. It was someone I had never seen before, and he was sitting in the chair behind Dollar’s desk talking on the telephone. He glanced at me and immediately hung up.

The man was a well-built westerner with big ears, the lean face of a chain-smoker, square shoulders, and an even squarer haircut. He was wearing an inexpensive-looking blue suit with a crisp white shirt and a red and blue striped tie neatly secured in a Windsor knot and he had an unblinking stare, rather like a stuffed owl it occurred to me.

“Who the fuck are you?” he snapped. His accent was American with a trace of rural twang in it, too.

For a moment something seemed terribly familiar about the man and I just stared at him. Then I realized what it was. He looked like George Bush on steroids.

“I said who the fuck are you?” the man repeated.

“I work here,” I answered, feeling lame and defensive in spite of myself. “What are you doing in Dollar’s office?”

The man studied me carefully, but he didn’t say anything.

“Okay,” I said. “I’ll call the police and they can deal with you.”

“Not necessary,” he said, and then he held up something in his right hand. It was a small black folder with an ID card on one side and a gold badge on the other. I stepped closer and looked at the card: Special Agent Franklin D. Morrissey, United States Federal Bureau of Investigation.

I was still taking that in when I heard the sound of rapid footsteps in the hallway and Dollar burst into the office. He saw the man in his chair before he saw me and nodded slightly to him, but then he realized I was standing there and stopped dead, staring at me.

“What the hell are you doing here?”

Dollar looked awful, like a man who hadn’t slept in days. His eyes were cloudy as if they couldn’t quite focus properly and he was pale underneath his golfer’s tan. I had never seen him like that before.

“You asked me to come in for a meeting at eleven.”

“About what?”

“I have no idea. Probably something about Howard, if I had to guess.”

“Howard?” Morrissey spoke up. “Howard Kojinski?”

I looked at Dollar, not sure what to say, and I saw him staring steadily at Morrissey.

“What the hell is going on here?” I asked, but nobody answered me.

Dollar jammed his hands in his pockets and flopped down on a leather sofa off to the side of his desk. He swung his feet up onto the coffee table, crossing them at the ankle, and looked at Owl Eyes.

“You may as well tell him,” Dollar said.

Morrissey snorted slightly at that, but he nodded. “The local cops found Howard a little before seven this morning,” he said.

I sat down slowly in one of the chrome and leather chairs in front of Dollar’s desk. I had no doubt at all what was coming next.

“You’re saying he’s-”

“Yep,” Owl Eyes finished for me. “Deader’n shit.”

“Where did they find him?”

“He was hanging from a girder underneath one of the bridges over the river, the Taksin Bridge.”

That took me by surprise and I’m sure it showed.

“Suicide?” I asked.

Owl Eyes blinked for what couldn’t have been more than the second time since I had found him sitting in Dollar’s chair.

“Nope,” he said, “the mechanics don’t work. He had help.”

“Then you’re saying Howard was murdered?”

Owl Eyes nodded.

“And hung off a bridge over the river?”

Under a bridge. He couldn’t have got there by himself. The little shit didn’t jump.”

I said nothing. I didn’t know what to say.

Dollar asked me to wait in the reception area while he talked to Morrissey, which seemed odd to me, but it was Dollar’s office, so I did. After a few minutes Morrissey came out and sat down on the other couch opposite me.

“Somebody on a ferry spotted the body just after dawn this morning and called the cops,” he told me.

“Was that when it happened?”

“Could have been anytime last night.”

“Then you don’t really know what happened.”

“We don’t know jack shit. There’s a Pepsi bottling plant just upriver from the bridge. Anybody who had been watching from there could probably have seen who strung the little bastard up, but it was the middle of the night, so-”

Morrissey stopped talking and spread his hands.

I was still trying to get a grip on Morrissey’s story when the glass doors from the hallway opened and Jello came in trailed by four cops in skin-tight brown uniforms with white Sam Browne belts and big guns riding high on their hips.

“What are you doing here, Jack?”

Jello’s rumbling voice had an edge in it and right then it rubbed me the wrong way.

“I just found out a friend of mine was murdered last night,” I snapped.

Jello’s face softened. He looked embarrassed and for a moment I almost regretted being so harsh.

“I know,” he said. “That’s why I’m here.”

Jello gave Morrissey a long look. “Would you mind letting me have a minute here, Frank?”

Owl Eyes shook his head and walked back down the hallway in the direction of Dollar’s office. Jello waved the uniformed cops outside, then he came over and sat down next to me. I looked at Jello when he didn’t say anything right away.

“Why the scout troop?” I asked, indicating the cops waiting beyond the glass.

Jello seemed embarrassed again.

“I want to look around and see if there’s anything here that might be connected with the murder,” he said.

Now I could see why he looked embarrassed.

“Uh-huh,” I said. “And maybe while you’re at it you’ll see if you can dig up anything to prove that bullshit story you gave me about Dollar laundering drug money for some Burmese drug lords. Is that what you had in mind?”

“Look, Jack-”

I was on my feet and pointing toward the front doors before Jello could say anything else.

“To hell with you, man! Fuck you and the little elves who rode in with you! Get the hell out of here.”

Then I turned and shouted down the hallway.

“Hey, you back there! Special Agent whoever-the-hell-you-are! You get out, too!”

Morrissey reappeared so quickly that I wondered if he had been standing just around the corner listening to what Jello and I were saying. Dollar was right behind him.

“You’ve got no authority here,” I snapped at Morrissey.

“Don’t make any difference. I can get as much as I need.”

“Then you just do that. It’ll be good practice for you.”

“What’s this all about, Jack?” Dollar asked. “It won’t do any harm to let them look around.”

I thought about just blurting out what Jello had told me right there, but I didn’t. Dollar had no way of knowing he was the real target of the search, and he seemed so shaken by Howard’s murder that I couldn’t bear to pile that on him today.

“Please take my word for it, Dollar. It’s a really lousy idea.”

Dollar just nodded as if he hardly cared, then he sank down on a couch and stared off toward where the uniforms stood waiting outside. The same unfocused look he had worn when he first walked into his office was back in his eyes.

“Where’s Just John, Dollar?” I asked, squatting down next to him.

“John?” Dollar raised his head slowly. “Just John?”

“Yeah. Can I call him? Do you know where he is?”

“I think he’s…” Dollar paused. “I don’t know where he is. I think he’s out of the country.”

Morrissey looked at Dollar as if he was going to say something, but I bounced up and held up my hands.

“Don’t,” I said to him. “Don’t say a word. Just get the hell out of here.”

The cops out beyond the glass doors had stopped talking to each other and were now watching me standing there with my hand out like some demented traffic cop. Morrissey looked at me for a moment, then he shrugged slightly and opened the door.

“Come on, Jello,” he said. “It’s no big deal.”

“Jack…”

Jello started to say something, but then he just trailed off and stood there in silence until with drooping shoulders he turned away and followed Morrissey out the door. When he was outside, Jello stopped and looked back through the glass at me. I kept my face blank, and finally he gave a shrug and turned and walked with Morrissey toward the elevators.

After Jello, Morrissey, and cops were all gone, I walked around the office turning off lights to have something to do while I gave Dollar a chance to pull himself together, but when I got back to the reception area he was still sitting the same wayI had left him, just staring off into space. I watched for a minute, but he never moved or spoke. He just sat there in exactly the same lifeless way.

No matter how hard I might try to explain it in some other way, I had no doubt at all what I was seeing on Dollar’s face and in the slump of his body. It wasn’t surprise, and it certainly wasn’t grief. It was fear. Dollar was a man who had seen a sign, and he was terrified by it.

As I stood there watching Dollar, I asked myself why I was being so fiercely protective of him. I had known him for a long time, of course, but the truth was I really didn’t have the slightest idea what his real connections with Howard might have been. I didn’t even know who Howard the Roach really was.

I thought about it a while, but I still couldn’t come up with an answer that made any sense. That was probably my own kind of sign, a sign that it was time for me to go home. Dollar would have to finish this on his own. I turned away, pushed through the glass doors, and left.

TWENTY FIVE

The rest of Saturday I just hung around the apartment with the telephone unplugged and the answering machine shut off. Anita had gone to her studio to paint and I didn’t do much except look out the window and think about Dollar and Howard. It wasn’t grief over Howard’s death or dismay that Dollar may have been involved in some shady deals that had suddenly drained the life out of me. It was my growing conviction that all of this had something to do with me. I just couldn’t figure out what it was.

After breakfast on Sunday, Anita went back to her studio again and I sat drinking coffee and looking out the window some more. A rainstorm was coming in from out over the river to the west and thinking of the river caused me to picture Howard the Roach dangling above it from under the Taksin Bridge. Suddenly I wanted to see that bridge; I wanted to see where they had found Howard.

I put on some jeans and a polo shirt, slipped into a pair of old Topsiders, and went down to the Volvo. By the time I got on the road most of the rain had stopped, but I kept the top up since the wind was still shoving clouds of fine mist over the city. I got on the expressway and drove west.

I didn’t know that part of town very well and the only place that came readily to mind where I might be able to park and look at the Taksin Bridge was a Marriott that was on the river not far from it. When the Marriott appeared on my left, I turned in. I parked in front of the hotel, got out of the car, and walked around to a sort of garden that was on one side of it. Through a line of bare flagpoles that lined the walkway along the bank of the river, I could look directly at the Taksin Bridge.

I walked slowly over the edge of the river, sat down on a low concrete wall, and stared at the bridge. Now that I was here, I couldn’t imagine why I had come. What did I expect to find? The rope from which Howard had dangled still hanging over the water? A banner draped over the superstructure with the name of Howard’s killer written on it?

A light breeze rose from the water and the empty pulley ropes began to swing against the aluminum flagpole above my head. The impacts clanked out mournful little chords, hollow sounds, like tin drums tapping out a clumsy cadence for Howard’s passage to the other side. The simple truth was that Howard was dead, somebody had killed him, but it had nothing to do with me. That was all there was to it.

Suddenly the only thing I could think about was how hungry I was, which I took to be a pretty good sign, so I stood up, dusted off my pants, and went into the Marriott to find someplace to eat. I wandered around inside for a while until I stumbled on a large, sunny room with big windows overlooking the river where there was a Sunday brunch buffet. The place was only about half full so I settled myself at an empty table by a window and ordered a Heineken. I got a plate and helped myself to some mee krob and peek kai from the salad table, then loaded on a couple of pieces of tuna sashimi and two sticks of chicken satay for good measure. I got back to my table just as a slight young girl in a black uniform and a white apron was pouring my Heineken.

“Korp khun krap,” I said. Thank you.

The girl gave me a shy smile, bobbed her head, and slipped quietly away.

I had polished off most of the plate of salad and was halfway through the Heineken when I glanced up and spotted a familiar face eating alone at a table across the room.

Bar Phillips was a columnist for the Bangkok Post, and probably had been since just after the invention of moveable type. His column was called ‘Bar By Bar’ and it had been a weekly staple in Bangkok for longer than anyone now alive could remember. The kind of stuff Bar wrote about was badly out of style now, even a little distasteful to some people, but that apparently had had no effect on him at all. He merely continued doing what he had done for decades: chronicling his rounds through the city’s go-go bars and massage parlors, reporting the comings and goings of the city’s legion of foreign saloonkeepers, and generally holding forth on anything else that took his fancy about Bangkok’s legendary nightlife.

Bar and I first met not long after I had joined the faculty at Chula. He had apparently come into a bit of money somehow and since we had some friends in common-not surprisingly, since Bar seemed to know everybody in Bangkok-he had approached me for help with setting up and operating a string of bank accounts outside Thailand. I never really knew where his money came from or exactly how much of it there was. Bar offered vague explanations, mostly starring the usual panoply of dead relatives, but I didn’t believe him and I don’t think he expected me to. On the other hand, I didn’t sense anything ominous about his money’s origins either so I had been happy enough to help him out. I hadn’t really see that much of him since then, but I was always happy to run into him. He loved me like a son.

When I walked over to Bar’s table carrying what was left of my Heineken, he glanced up at me without expression.

“What the fuck do you want? Can’t you see I’m trying to eat?”

Loved me like a son, he did.

I sat down anyway and between trips back and forth to the buffet tables over the next hour Bar and I made small talk. After he polished off the last of a large bowl of bread pudding, he bent down and took a package of tobacco and a pipe out of a plastic shopping bag on the floor by his feet. Packing the bowl of the pipe, he tapped the tobacco down with a metal tool, then struck a match and puffed away until he got it going. It all looked like an awful lot of trouble to me. Maybe that’s why I smoked cigars.

Slumping forward on his forearms, Bar took several long draws on his pipe and the aroma of cherry wood blended with the odor of garlic, fish sauce, and chilies. It smelled better than it sounds.

“You got something on your mind other than food, don’t you, Jack?” he said.

Bar drew on his pipe again and exhaled an enormous cloud of smoke. He didn’t appear to care whether I told him what it was or not, but he probably assumed I would anyway. And I did.

“You heard about the man they found hanging under the Taksin Bridge?”

Bar nodded so I told him about my encounter with Jello and the FBI agent at Dollar’s office. He listened without expression.

When I finished, Bar crooked a finger at a passing busboy, muttering something to him that I missed, then folded his arms and went back to puffing on his pipe as if he was sitting all alone at the table. I was just on the verge of asking him what that had all been about when the boy reappeared with a copy of the Bangkok Post and handed it to Bar. He flipped through it until he found what he was looking for, and then he folded the paper over and laid it in front of me.

The story he pointed to was short, not more than six column inches, and it was down at the bottom of an inside page. The headline was ‘American Tourist Found Dead.’ But it was the subheading that got my full attention: ‘Police Call It Suicide.’

“The reporter must have screwed up the story,” I said. “Howard was certainly no tourist, and the FBI agent said it was a murder. He said it would have been impossible for Howard to have hung himself.”

“Who was this guy?” Bar asked. “One of the local legats?”

Most American embassies had at least one FBI agent assigned to them, sometimes more if it was in a country like Thailand where criminal investigators could find a lot to do. To keep from offending the host country, FBI agents were always technically referred to as legal attaches, legats in State Department talk.

“I don’t know. I assumed he was with the embassy. What else would he be doing here?”

“What was the guy’s name?”

“Frank something.” I thought a moment. “Frank Morrissey.”

Bar dipped back down into the plastic shopping bag and produced a mobile phone, one of those old green Motorola’s that was about the size of a World War II walkie-talkie.

“Who are you calling?” I asked him.

“The American Embassy.”

“Isn’t it closed on Sunday?”

“Not to me.”

I watched as Bar finished dialing and hoisted the huge handset to his ear.

“Duty officer, please,” he said after a moment.

There was a wait, apparently first for his call to be switched and then for it to be answered.

“Hey, Barney. It’s Bar Phillips.” Bar listened for a couple of beats. “Uh-huh.”

While Bar listened some more, I studied his expression, but it gave nothing away.

“No problem, pal,” he eventually said, “but I need a favor in return. There’s an FBI guy named Morrissey who is either attached to the embassy or in town on some kind of temporary duty. You know him?”

He listened for a moment, then said, “Yeah, that’s right. His first name is Frank.”

Bar glanced at me and I nodded quickly.

There was a pause, then Bar said, “No shit,” followed by a long, low whistle. “Hang on a second Barney.”

Bar lowered the telephone, slipped his hand over the mouthpiece, and looked at me.

“He says Frank Morrissey used to be one of the legats all right, but he’s been retired for three or four years. Lives somewhere in Florida, he thinks.”

“So what’s he doing back here now?”

Instead of answering my question, Bar asked me one of his own.

“What did this man in Dollar’s office look like?”

I described the man as well as I could, including his natty dress and cool demeanor.

Bar lifted the headset back to his ear. “Barney, let me ask you something. Is Frank Morrissey a middle-aged guy of average size and weight who’s a sharp dresser and comes across as serious and intense?”

I could hear the laughter coming from the other end of the telephone without Bar taking it away from his ear.

“I see,” he said after listening for a moment longer. “Well, I’m sure it’s all some kind of mistake. Thanks a lot, pal. I owe you one.”

Bar pushed the disconnect button and lowered the heavy headset to the table.

“He says Frank Morrissey is probably older than I am. He also says he’s a fat slob who looks like an unmade bed and never stops talking shit.”

“This guy showed me his ID, Bar. And both Jello and Dollar knew him. He had to be legit.”

Bar sat impassively, saying nothing.

I pointed to the telephone. “You’ve probably got a secret weekend number for Jello, too. Call him. He’ll tell you.”

Bar shook his head. “Not a good idea.”

“Why not?”

Bar shook his head again and looked away.

“Oh, come on, Bar,” I said. “Tell me you’re not about to say there was a conspiracy between Dollar and Jello to pass this fellow off as an FBI agent just to fool me.”

“Okay. Then I won’t tell you that.”

I was starting to get a headache.

“Look, Jack, think about it. Somebody doesn’t just kill this poor bastard you knew, they dangled his body off a prominent landmark where all sorts of people could see him twisting up there in the wind. Now doesn’t it strike you as a pretty clear message of some kind?”

I said nothing. Bar was obviously right.

“Then some guy masquerading as an FBI agent shows up before the body’s cold,” Bar went on. “And a few minutes later, Jello walks in with enough manpower to turn the whole place over.”

“But then Jello just left. He didn’t do anything.”

“You scared them off when you threw your fit.”

I thought back to the empty look in Dollar’s eyes on Saturday morning and wondered again why I had been so protective of him.

“But if you’re right, wouldn’t that mean Jello and Dollar know who killed Howard?”

“Sharp as a fucking cue ball, aren’t you, pal?”

The busboy materialized and began quietly gathering dirty dishes. Neither of us said anything else until he had wiped down the table and withdrawn.

“You sure you’re not a player here, Jack?” Bar asked quietly when the boy was well out of earshot.

Bar produced the metal tool again and started poking at the bowl of his pipe, narrowing his eyes in concentration. He looked like a plumber examining a jammed toilet and unhappily contemplating what he had to do next.

“I’m just a teacher now, Bar. I’m not a player in anything anymore.”

“They don’t always ask you if you want to play, Jack. Sometimes they just stick you in the game.”

And with that Bar pushed himself up from the table with surprising nimbleness.

“Got to go,” he said grabbing his bag. “Good luck.”

As I watched Bar walk away, it occurred to me that he had stuck me with the check, but I didn’t mind. I figured it was pretty good value.

It was early afternoon and the dazzling shimmer of the sunlight on the river just beyond the windows made the table where I sat seem like a good place to think about what Bar had said and let some time pass. I ordered another Heineken and watched the river. The beer was rich and thick and time and possibilities swirled around me as if my thoughts were no more than pieces of flotsam floating on the river’s currents.

Then they passed, and they were gone.

TWENTY SIX

There were a lot of things I could have done with the rest of my Sunday afternoon. I could have gone to my office and prepared my lectures for next week’s classes. I could have headed over to Lumpini Park and pounded around the lake until I sweated out the sense of foreboding rising within me. I could have retreated to my apartment, locked the door, and gone back to bed. That’s probably what I should have done.

Instead, I drove out to Dollar’s house. It wasn’t that I particularly wanted to see Dollar, but he and I were going to have a serious conversation pretty soon-that seemed absolutely inevitable-and I figured there was nothing to be gained by putting it off. I could have called first to see if he was at home, but of course I didn’t. The trip might turn out to be a waste, but I figured I would take that risk. Catching Dollar by surprise would make for a far more compelling conversation than letting him know in advance that I was coming.

Dollar lived on the river north of the city, not far from the international school where a lot of the city’s foreign residents and a few wealthy Thais with pretensions sent their children. I had been there four or five times for parties but had never actually been inside the house. Dollar’s parties always took place on the lawn, a sprawling, close-cropped expanse of grass impenetrably walled with towering banyan trees and rolling as smoothly as a putting green down a gentle slope to the Chao Praya River.

On party nights the lawn was bathed in white light from powerful floods tucked discreetly in the trees and a string quartet from some university was usually out there floating Mozart and Bach off on the heavy night air. Dollar’s smartly-dressed guests generally represented more nationalities than I could name and, as they wandered among linen-draped tables engaging in pleasantly ambiguous conversation, they generally made certain that they were noticed by everyone else who was there. The first time I had gone to one of Dollar’s parties, I remembered standing quietly at the top of the slope and looking down across the lawn for a long time. The illumination was so white, so flat and colorless, and the people and the table settings looked so faultless, so perfectly formed, the whole scene made me think of a tiny diorama atop a really expensive wedding cake.

Dollar’s house was a rambling two-story affair of no particular style, but it was large and comfortable looking, the kind of a place in which you had no difficulty imagining a man living. The story around town was that Dollar had been married three times-once to a Japanese woman, once to a Chinese, and once to an Indonesian-and each woman had in turn left him. Dollar had no children, none that anyone had heard about anyway, and as far as I knew he lived alone except for the Thai couple that cooked and cleaned for him.

I pulled the Volvo to the side of the road and parked close to the high concrete wall that pinned Dollar’s house against the river. You couldn’t see the house from the street because there was only one opening in the wall, a black metal drive gate that slid open like a huge peephole. Set into the larger gate was a door for any callers who had the misfortune to be on foot.

I’m not certain exactly how long I sat there looking at the gate and doing nothing else. I kept asking myself if I really wanted to do this. I didn’t, but I was going to do it anyway. I got out of the car and pressed the intercom button quickly before I had a chance to change my mind.

While I was waiting for someone to answer, I reached down and rested my hand on the handle of the little door within the drive gate. As I touched it the door drifted open, propelled by nothing more than the weight of my hand. The motion was so smooth and silent that it was a little eerie, but I pushed the door the rest of the way open and stepped inside.

The front of Dollar’s house was a solid wash of white stucco without a single window or opening other than a big pair of dark teak doors that Dollar swore he had personally taken from a Khmer temple near Angkor Wat. Naturally I had never believed that for a moment and I doubted anyone else had either. I knew that the other side of the house, the side that faced the river, was exactly the opposite in style. It was an unbroken curtain of glass that opened the whole house to a sweeping view of the Chao Praya River with its constant traffic of longtails, rice barges, tourist boats, ferries, and ambiguous vessels whose real tasks you hesitated to guess.

I started up the walkway to the front, but finding the door in the gate open and seeing no sign of life made the whole scene feel a little spooky. On impulse I angled off across the grass and circled around to the back. It wouldn’t hurt to have a quick look around before I just blundered up and rang the bell.

As I rounded the northeast corner of the house, Dollar’s spectacular view of the river captured me just as it always did. For a moment I stood absolutely still and watched a long train of teak rice barges, tethered nose to tail like a column of elderly circus elephants, wallow noiselessly downriver toward the Gulf of Thailand. So peaceful was the sight that when I finally turned back toward Dollar’s house and glanced inside through the glass curtain wall it took several moments for me to register what I was looking at.

The living room was in shambles. It looked like a bulldozer had run through it from one end to the other. Lamps were broken, chairs overturned, tables smashed, and every book pulled from the long shelves flanking the fireplace and dumped into piles on the floor. Two once-plush couches lay on their backs with their bases toward the windows. The rich blue of their silk upholstery had been sliced into ribbons as if some maniac had attacked them with a broadsword.

I stood and stared, rooted to the spot by the appalling yet still mesmerizing magnitude of the destruction.

“Looks like a real messy burglary, doesn’t it?”

Startled, I jerked my heard toward the sound of the voice and was confounded to see Bar Phillips standing with his arms folded across his chest looking into Dollar’s house alongside me.

“What are you doing here?” I asked.

Bar’s eyes searched around as if he might find the answer inscribed on the sky.

“I figured you might be coming out to see Dollar,” he finally said.

“What’s that got to do with you?”

He lifted his arms and let them flop back to his sides in a gesture that combined bewilderment with exasperation. “Well… I thought maybe someone ought to watch your back.”

“The hell you did. You’re a reporter and you smelled a story.”

Bar made a face at that and fished his pipe out of his shirt pocket.

“You flatter me, boy. All I write anymore is a load of shit. Nobody’s thought of me as a real reporter in thirty years.”

“Then why the sudden concern about my welfare? If you thought I was walking into trouble, you could have just told me back at the Marriott. You didn’t have to follow me all the way out here.”

Bar stuck the pipe in the corner of his mouth and chewed on it without any indication that he planned to light it anytime soon.

“I always do what I can for my friends. But I only do what I can, not what I can’t.”

I took a long breath and let it out slowly. “Does that mean anything?”

“Nope,” Bar responded cheerfully. “Living in Thailand’s made me a happy convert to the church of creative ambiguity.”

Bar walked up to the glass, put his hands around his face to block the glare, and briefly studied the interior of Dollar’s house.

“Man,” he said, puckering his lips as if he were lining up a particularly difficult putt. “They did a good job of making it look like a burglary, didn’t they?”

“What are you talking about?” I asked. “You don’t think this is a burglary?”

Bar glanced at me. It was plain he relished my puzzlement. Then he started back around the house toward the front. Not having any better idea, I followed.

When Bar got to the big teak doors, he rattled the brass handles with both hands, but they were securely locked. I reached past him toward the doorbell, but Bar gave me such a look of disdain that I pulled my hand back without touching it.

Bar dug in his trouser pocket and pulled out his pipe tool. Flipping from it what looked like a stainless steel toothpick about three inches long, Bar slid the pick into the keyhole above the handle on the right hand door, bent forward slightly from the waist, and began to jiggle it gently between the thumb and forefinger of his right hand, chewing on his lower lip in concentration.

I burst out laughing. “You’ve got to be joking.”

Bar didn’t answer, but after a few seconds I heard a soft click and he didn’t have to. He straightened up and turned the knob with his left hand while retracting the pick and pocketing the silver tool with his right.

“Okay,” I said. “Maybe you weren’t.”

TWENTY SEVEN

As soon as we got inside it was obvious that the whole house had gotten the same treatment as the living room. Whoever had turned the place over had clearly done a thorough job of it. I followed Bar silently from room to room. Nothing seemed to have escaped unscathed.

“Very professional,” Bar said with a note in his voice that sounded almost like admiration. “Really very professional.”

I didn’t know what to say. The house just looked like a mess to me. I would have to take Bar’s word for the fact that it was a professional mess.

“What makes you think this wasn’t just a burglary?” I asked.

Bar gave me a disgusted look and started down a hallway that looked like it led to the bedrooms.

“Holy Christ,” I murmured softly when I got to the end of it and looked around.

The master suite consisted of a huge bedroom with a line of walk-in closets on one side and a small study with floor-to-ceiling bookshelves on the other. The king-sized bed was in the middle of the room, its headboard a futuristic-looking rack of reading lights and telephones shuffled together with an elaborate collection of video and sound equipment. The whole setup faced a curtain of glass that overlooked the river and I glanced involuntarily toward the ceiling. I was a little surprised not to find a mirror up there.

The room had been spectacular once, but now it looked like a garbage dump. Clothes, shoes, papers, framed pictures, files, and books were heaped in a massive pile at the center of the room. The place looked like someone had begun to build a bonfire, but had been interrupted before they could ignite it.

Bar crossed the room to the walk-in closets and shoved aside a long chrome and glass table overturned in front of them. He checked the first closet, then pushed his head into each of the others and examined them as well. When he had finished, he turned to me and delivered his verdict.

“Dollar’s on the run.”

“Christ, Bar. I’d be halfway to Madagascar by now if I came home and found that someone had worked my place over like this.”

“No, that’s not it. He took off before any of this happened.”

“And this you know exactly how, Sherlock?”

“His luggage is gone.”

Dollar was a big fan of Halliburton bags, a line of outrageously expensive suitcases made of silver-colored magnesium favored by airline pilots, people in the oil and gas business, and guys who delivered drug money in old episodes of Miami Vice. Dollar even carried a Halliburton briefcase, a flashy companion that had no doubt cost him more than the university paid me every month. He always said his Halliburtons were indestructible, but it never even occurred to me that he carried them because they were practical and long lasting. Dollar just liked their style.

“Maybe whoever hit the place took the luggage,” I said.

Bar shook his head. “This wasn’t just some kids cored on amphetamines. Anyway, they’d take pillow cases, not a matched set of expensive luggage that’s easy to ID and hard to get rid of.”

“Yeah, the stuff is indestructible,” I said.

“What?”

“Never mind.”

While Bar squatted and probed at the papers and clothing piled in the middle of the bedroom, I walked into the study area and righted a black leather swivel chair that had been pushed onto its side. I wheeled it around behind Dollar’s desk and sat down.

The desk had been thoroughly ransacked, too, yet whoever had done it had left it looking a little neater than the other things in the room. Dollar’s computer had been pushed off to one side, but it looked intact and all the pieces seemed to be connected in the usual way. I hit the power-on button just to see what would happen. I heard a musical chord and a light blue background appeared on the screen.

Dollar’s computer was a Mac, not the Windows PC I would have expected him to have. I wasn’t much of a computer guy, and I knew absolutely nothing at all about Apple stuff, so I just sat and watched the screen while it filled with icons and windows popped open displaying file names and application titles that meant nothing at all to me.

Bar heard the chord and came over and stood behind me where he could see the screen.

“We’ve got Macs at the Post,” he said. “I can probably figure this out.”

When the computer’s start-up routine was done he leaned across me, cupped his right hand over the mouse and scooted it around, selecting something from the bar of commands that ran across the top of the screen. He clicked the mouse button and all the icons immediately changed. Then he clicked it for a second time, and they changed again. Although the names of the files remained the same, each little folder now had on top of it a small cartoon figure which was decked out in the uniform of a Hollywood-style spy-dark glasses, fedora pulled down low, and a belted trench coat that was an odd electric blue color.

“Crypto shit,” Bar snorted. “PGP, I think.”

Bar might well have lapsed into Turkish. “What does that mean?” I asked.

“Dollar’s encrypted all his files, probably using a program called Pretty Good Privacy. It’s supposed to be uncrackable. Without his password, you can’t read anything.”

Bar abruptly lost interest in the computer and began examining an answering machine that was near it on the desk.

“Why would Dollar encrypt the files on his home computer?” I asked, not ready to give up yet. “Doesn’t that mean he’s got something pretty important on it?”

Bar grunted. “It’s no big deal. Any ten-year-old can get PGP on the Internet for nothing, and they say it’s almost as good as what the CIA uses. Anyway, Dollar’s too smart to leave anything that really matters just lying around on a computer in his bedroom, even if it’s encrypted.”

Without taking his eyes off the answering machine, Bar gestured vaguely in the direction of the computer. “All that’s probably nothing. Anyway, forget it. Without knowing the password, you’ll never get in.”

The answering machine was a digital model without any tapes in it. Bar put it down on the floor, plugged it in, and turned it on. When he pressed the play button, there was a brief silence, the sound of a dial tone, and then a beep.

“Hang up,” Bar observed.

After a few moments, a disembodied voice issued from the machine in a slightly spooky cadence.

“That… was… your… last… message,” the voice intoned.

Then the machine clicked off.

“I hate it when answering machines do that,” Bar said. “It sounds like they’re telling your fortune.”

I looked at Bar without saying anything. He ignored me and poked with his foot at the mound of debris in the middle of the bedroom.

“Whoever tossed this place either took what he was looking for or didn’t find anything,” he said. “Either way that still doesn’t leave anything for us to look for.”

I stood up from behind the desk and dusted my hands off on my jeans. “I guess you’re right. We ought to call the cops.”

Bar twisted his head around and looked at me as if I had suddenly begun to speak in tongues.

“Why in Christ’s name would you want to get the cops involved?”

“Dollar might be in some kind of danger.”

“Bullshit, Jack. He’s probably shacked up in Monte Carlo with a couple of French chickadees by now. Besides, Thai cops couldn’t find Santa Claus at the North Pole.”

He was right about that, of course, but then I thought back to the look I had seen on Dollar’s face the morning after Howard’s body had been found and I was less sure that Bar had the part about Monte Carlo right. Regardless, the thought about calling the cops had been an American’s reflex. In Thailand nobody ever called the cops.

“I’ll make some calls,” Bar said. “Somebody’s got to know something.”

I didn’t say anything.

“Let’s keep this between ourselves for now,” Bar added. “Maybe it’s something we shouldn’t know about.”

“What does that mean?” I asked.

Bar just shook his head and walked back up the corridor and out the front doors. When we left, I made sure the button on the back of the front door handle was pushed in so that the doors would lock behind us. It was a silly gesture perhaps, but it just didn’t seem right to walk out and leave Dollar’s house unlocked no matter what condition it was in.

After Bar had gotten into his old Toyota and driven away, I started to get into my car, too, but then the thought occurred to me that perhaps I ought to make a quick circuit of the wall surrounding Dollar’s house and make sure everything was secure. It was a gesture as pointless as locking the front door, but it still seemed to me to be the least I could do for Dollar under the circumstances.

About a hundred feet south of the big gate, Dollar’s whitewashed wall joined his neighbor’s black stone wall. That left me nothing much to see in that direction so I turned around and walked back the other way. At the north end of the property, I found a narrow gap between Dollar’s wall and his neighbor’s. It was a small area where both houses stored their trashcans and all of the cans were the aluminum kind with rigid sides and heavy lids that you hardly ever saw anymore. The way the cans were arranged told an obvious story.

Two small cans had been drawn up against two large ones to form a staircase right up the side of Dollar’s whitewashed wall. I stepped up on the first can, climbed onto the second, and found myself standing just below the top of the wall. From there, swinging over it and dropping down the other side would have been a piece of cake. I had no doubt that Dollar’s visitors had come in this way and then left by opening the gate from the inside.

When I turned to climb down, the lid on one of the larger cans popped loose and inside it I spotted some files that looked just like the ones that Bar and I had found scattered over the floor of Dollar’s bedroom. But why would whoever ransacked Dollar’s place put files in a trashcan? Plainly they wouldn’t, so that could only mean that Dollar must have thrown out all this stuff sometime before his unexpected visitors arrived.

That could be pretty interesting, I thought, so after I got down I pulled the lids off the other cans as well to see what else I could find. All of those appeared to contain nothing but the usual kind of household garbage-old newspapers, empty Coke cans, plastic milk bottles, and unidentifiable organic matter emitting seriously unappetizing odors. None of those things looked nearly as interesting as the files in the first can, so I closed up the other trashcans and gave my full attention to the one that had caught my eye in the first place.

I dumped it out onto the ground and used my foot to stir through the contents. At a glance it seemed to be nothing more than the usual accumulation of office trash, but since I’d come this far I squatted down and began to sift methodically through everything. There were piles of American Express vouchers, a lot of mobile phone bills, statements from several different banks, and bundles of correspondence. Opening one of the bundles, I sat on the ground and began to read. In less than five minutes I knew what I had found.

Nothing.

The stuff was just a bunch of correspondence going back a number of years between Dollar and some investment managers in London. Other than confirming Dollar had a bit of money put away, which I already assumed, and that he kept a close eye on it, which I could have guessed, none of the correspondence told me anything at all. I flipped through a second bundle and found more of the same. A third was mostly contract notes confirming securities trades as well as a few monthly position statements for some brokerage accounts. I had pretty much given up the idea finding anything interesting and had begun tossing everything back into the trashcan when a CD slid out of one of the bundles I hadn’t bothered to look through and fell to the ground. I picked it up and examined it. It looked new, but there was no label on it. I thought back to the Mac in Dollar’s bedroom. Did it have a CD burner in it? I couldn’t remember.

I turned the disk around in my hands. Was it a backup copy of some of Dollar’s important personal files? Or was it just a pirate copy of some computer game he had bought at the night market and then discovered didn’t work?

Maybe there was more here that I thought. Apparently I needed to look more carefully. I set the disk to one side and piled everything else back in the trashcan. When I finished, I picked up the disk, then I grabbed the handle of the trash can with my free hand and carried both of them around to the front of the house. I placed the CD gently on the Volvo’s front seat and dumped the complete contents of the can into the trunk.

Howard the Roach was dead and now Dollar Dunne seemed to be on the run. I still had absolutely no idea why, but there was no doubt in my mind of at least one thing: whatever the reason, and whatever this thing really was, it was getting closer and closer to me. I figured I had better find out exactly what was going on before some asshole showed up at my door to tidy up loose ends and I discovered one of those loose ends was me.

I would have hoped for a more dignified way to do that than digging through garbage. Still, I had to start somewhere, didn’t I?

TWENTY EIGHT

Anita was still at her studio when I got home so I found a big trash bag under the kitchen sink, took it down to the garage, and scooped all of Dollar’s garbage out of my trunk. After I had lugged everything back upstairs to the apartment, I got out my laptop and settled down in one of the leather chairs in front of the windows to look at the CD I had found in Dollar’s trash.

There appeared to be only one file on the CD, but the name of it was BACKUP and I thought that was pretty encouraging. I double-clicked on the icon above the file name to see what was in it, but I was disappointed when nothing appeared on my screen other than a dialogue box inviting me to tell Windows what program it should use to open the file.

“If I knew what program to use, I’d have used it in the first place, wouldn’t I, you moron?” I muttered at the laptop. “You’re supposed to be the computer here. You tell me.”

My laptop didn’t say anything, of course, so more or less at random I tried a few of the programs that the dialogue box suggested-Word, Excel, even Internet Explorer-but nothing worked. That pretty much brought me to the limits of my technical expertise, and I just sat there staring at the useless little icon for a while. All at once, however, it dawned on me what the problem was.

The computer I had seen in Dollar’s bedroom had been a Mac, hadn’t it? So if this CD actually did contain a backup of documents that Dollar had copied off his home computer, then what I had here were Mac files and that was a format that Windows couldn’t read. The utter incompatibility between Macs and PCs had always struck me as one of the more peculiar idiocies of what was supposed to be a brave new high-tech world; but regardless, I was now left with absolutely no idea what to do next.

I fidgeted for a while, but when no course of action likely to resolve the technical conundrum occurred to me I closed the laptop and turned my attention to the garbage bag instead. At least garbage seemed like something I ought to be able to handle. Pulling it around in front of me, I emptied the contents out onto the floor.

The first thing I did was to arrange everything by category. Amex receipts in one pile, telephone and utility bills in another, and then securities trading confirmations, brokerage account statements, and correspondence each in their own piles. I also found a bunch of documents that I hadn’t noticed before. They looked very official, but I couldn’t be certain what they were since they were written entirely in Thai, which I couldn’t read a word of. I set all those aside in a separate stack, and then I pushed back in the chair, folded my arms, and contemplated where to begin.

The Amex receipts looked easiest, so I gathered them up and shuffled through them, looking for patterns. At a glance, they covered exactly the sort of travel and entertainment expenses that I would have imagined Dollar had been incurring for decades. About half of them were for charges in Thai baht and the rest were in an assortment of United States dollars, Japanese yen, Hong Kong dollars, UK pounds, and Australian and Singapore dollars. Maybe Dollar had just been cleaning out some old files and had decided to toss his out-of-date receipts like most all of us did from time to time.

Taking it another way, I sorted all the receipts into their own separate categories-restaurants, hotels, airlines, merchandise, and those I couldn’t figure out-but that didn’t suggest any pattern either. Then I tried sorting them by currencies and had a look at them that way. Still nothing.

Then, just to touch all the bases, I sorted the receipts by the localities where the purchases took place. The Bangkok stack was the largest, closely followed by a stack for Phuket, then a much smaller one for Hong Kong. After that, the receipts were all over the place, so I gave up.

Okay, so Dollar lived in Bangkok-I knew that, of course-and he liked to get away to Phuket as often as he could. Didn’t we all? What did that prove?

With a sigh I pushed the Amex receipts aside and began to work my way through the telephone bills, the confirmations of the securities trades, and the brokerage statements. Thai telephone bills contained no details about numbers that had been called, so that was a dead end, but I got a pad and made notes of the names of the securities firms and the people whose names appeared in Dollar’s correspondence. Then for good measure I went back over the Amex receipts again and made lists of the hotels and restaurants were Dollar had been doing most of his charging. It was probably all a waste of time, but if Dollar didn’t turn up pretty soon, I was going to have to start looking for him somewhere.

When Anita eventually came in around ten, the living room of our apartment was largely buried under a layer of receipts, documents, letters, and notes.

“Good God, Jack! What in the world are you doing?”

I tried to tell her, but since I wasn’t altogether certain, it wasn’t easy.

Anita gently lowered herself into an empty space on one of the couches. Her face reflected her bewilderment.

“And you think this stuff will tell you where Dollar’s gone?” she asked.

“Well… maybe.”

“But why does it matter? Dollar’s a grown man. Surely he’s entitled to go anywhere he wants without you snooping through his garbage to try and figure out where he is.”

“Something’s wrong, Anita. One of Dollar’s clients has been murdered in a very public way; Dollar is apparently in hiding himself; and his house has been ransacked by somebody who must have wanted to find something pretty badly.”

“Even if that’s all true, Jack, it’s got nothing to do with you.”

“Yes, it does.”

“What?”

“I don’t know yet. That’s why I’m looking through all this crap. I’m trying to find out.”

“Well, have you allowed for the possibility that you might be wrong, that you’re not involved in whatever Dollar is up to?

“I am, Anita, somehow. I’m absolutely sure of it. I can feel it.”

“Maybe it’s only gas you’re feeling, my darling. What did you have for lunch?”

“That wasn’t very helpful.”

“I wasn’t trying to be helpful. I was trying to show you how ridiculous all of this looks. Dollar may well be doing something that you don’t understand, but why must you understand it?”

Anita had a good point, I knew, so I said nothing.

“You have absolutely no business getting involved in any of this, Jack. No business at all.” Anita’s hands motioned vaguely in the air. “You never think of how these upheavals you’re always getting yourself involved in affect me, do you? We’re trying to be a sort of a family here, and yet you still act like you’re a man without a responsibility in the world except for yourself. You go running off on your little crusades without giving the first thought to me.”

She turned to look out the window and then almost immediately glanced back.

“Your stupid curiosity is going to be the end of us some day. Maybe you’re one of these men who’s just not meant to be married.”

“I don’t know what to say to that.”

“Neither do I, Jack. Neither do I.”

I took a long breath and slowly let it out.

“This really isn’t fair,” I said.

“No, I suppose from your point of view it isn’t, but as a great man once said, ‘Fuck fair.’“

“Anita, please try-”

“I’m going to bed now, Jack. Feel free to play with your little scraps of paper as long as you like.”

Anita turned around and walked out of the room and I looked out a window so I wouldn’t have to watch her go. Even after she was gone I kept looking out that window. I just sat there for a long time with my arms folded and stared out at the lights of the city.

I could have dismissed everything Anita said as simple petulance. Maybe she’d had a bad day at her studio and was just taking it out on me. But I wasn’t willing to let it be that easy. There was something she had said that hit a nerve, something I couldn’t shake off by blaming it on her. Maybe I really was the wrong kind of guy for a woman to share a life with. Maybe being that kind of guy was a God-given talent-something like being able to sing opera or throw a ball through a hoop-and it was a talent I just didn’t have. Anita didn’t seem to think I had it, and I supposed she knew me about as well as anyone.

I walked around the living room after that collecting all of the stuff I had gotten out of Dollar’s garbage and dumped it all back in the garbage bag except for the Thai-language documents I had set aside earlier. Then I removed the CD from the drive in my laptop, put it in a manila envelope together with those documents, and took everything down to the Volvo. The envelope went on the front seat and the garbage bag into the trunk.

Even if Anita was right about me, especially if she was right about me, maybe I was better off focusing on what I could do than worrying about what I couldn’t; so I started the car and drove to Darcy’s place.

I had no doubt that Darcy and Nata could tell me what was on the disk and in the Thai-language documents. I was certain that both were important to me somehow. I just needed to know if I was right.

And yes, Anita, I will admit it to you honestly, I wanted to know.

TWENTY NINE

I left the envelope with Darcy and Nata and slipped away quickly, pleading fatigue. Back at the apartment I took the coward’s way out and slept in the guest room, then went to my office early on Monday morning. Barely halfway through my first cup of coffee, Darcy called.

“Nothing all that dramatic after all,” she said when I answered the telephone.

It was unnecessary, of course, for Darcy to tell me what she was referring to.

“I’ve emailed you a copy of what was on the disk, but you’re probably going to be disappointed. It was a backup all right, but it was just an address book. Nothing else. Might be something there for you, but…” Darcy trailed off.

“Was it encrypted?”

“Yeah.”

“So how’d you open it?”

“I used the password.”

“But how did you know what Dollar’s password was?”

“People are pretty predictable. When they pick a password, they always use something they won’t have any trouble remembering. That’s why nearly everyone picks just some ordinary word, or maybe a phrase that’s pretty well known. Either that, or they pick a combination of numbers that represent a date or something they can easily remember.”

I listened, making a mental note to change my ATM code as soon as we hung up.

“First we tried a random number crack of four through eight digits. When that didn’t work, we ran the file against English, Thai, French, Spanish, and Italian dictionaries and then for good measure against a database of a few hundred thousand proper names, places, and phrases that people sometimes use for passwords. It only took about twenty minutes to crack Dollar’s password.”

“What was it?” I asked.

Berghof. That mean anything to you?”

“Doesn’t it have something to do with World War II?” I thought about it briefly. “That’s what Hitler called his vacation house in the Bavarian Alps, isn’t it?”

“That’s right. It seems an odd choice of password for Dollar. Was he a World War II fanatic?”

“Beats me,” I shrugged. “How about those documents I gave you, the ones in Thai?”

“Those might be a little more useful to you. They were property transfers.”

“For what?”

Darcy hesitated, and from something in the way she did it I knew I wasn’t going to like whatever it was coming next.

“You really can’t tell very much from a Thai title deed until you compare the property description with a detailed map of the area where the transfer took place but, as nearly as I can tell, these transfers all involved large tracts of land in Phuket.”

That might explain all those American Express receipts Dollar had from Phuket, it occurred to me.

“Maybe Dollar was working on a hotel development there,” I said. “Who were the transfers made to?”

“They were all corporate, and all the names looked to me like shelf companies. It’ll take a while to find out who’s really behind them. You know that better than I do.”

“But I still don’t see why Dollar would throw title deeds away. Whoever the property was transferred to, the title deeds themselves are still important documents in Thailand.”

“These weren’t originals. They weren’t even complete. My guess is that they were just copies that were attached to something else he was working on, probably as exhibits of some kind just to prove that the transfers had actually taken place.”

“I still don’t see it, Darcy. A man who’d go to the trouble of encrypting his address book wouldn’t just toss copies of transfers like that into the trash. There’s too much information on them. He’d shred them first.”

“He would if they were real.”

That stopped me.

“What do you mean?”

“Now I’m not absolutely sure about this, Jack, but my guess is the transfers you found are all forgeries.”

I blinked at that.

“Not even particularly good ones,” Darcy continued. “My guess is that your man had a pressing need to show somebody that he had purchased a whole hell of a lot of property that he hadn’t, so he manufactured these title deeds to show where a whole bunch of money had gone.”

I thought about that and said nothing.

“Look, I got some real hot stuff running today, so I’m afraid I’ve got to leave all this with you for now. Why don’t you have a look at that address book and see if anything jumps out at you, then we’ll talk again in a few days.”

I thanked Darcy and we said our good-byes and hung up.

After going down to the coffee room and refilling my mug, I logged onto the university email system and retrieved the address book Darcy had sent me. It turned out to be a single file she had converted to plain text so I was able to open it easily enough. I started reading through it, but my mind was mostly on those title deeds and I figured it was probably a waste of time.

I didn’t get any further than the second screen before I realized just how wrong I was.

The fifth entry down the second page was neatly typed all in capitals.

Asian Bank of Commerce.

Next to the name was a number-a phone number, I assumed, since it had seven digits-but there was no address and no country or city code. It could have been a Bangkok number, but it just as easily could have been a number in Teaneck, New Jersey.

What really stopped me, however, was something that appeared in parentheses immediately following the telephone number.

It was a name.

Arthur Daley.

My mind clicked straight back to Took Lae Dee when I had been perched on a stool studying the Hong Kong ID that Barry Gale had handed me.

Christ, I thought. Jimmy Kicks’ gangster bank and the name on Barry Gale’s phony Hong Kong Identity Card were both right here in Dollar’s computer address book.

What could that possibly mean?

Okay, I lectured myself in a stern voice, don’t jump to any conclusions here. Think this through clearly.

So there might be some kind of connection between Dollar Dunne and Barry Gale. That was all Dollar’s address book was actually telling me, wasn’t it? Finding the ABC and the name on Barry’s phony ID in Dollar’s address book certainly didn’t prove that there was also some kind of a connection between Barry Gale and Howard Kojinski’s body twirling away under the Taksin Bridge, did it? And it absolutely didn’t prove there was any connection between whatever might be going on here and my own relatively minor involvement with Howard and Dollar or with Barry Gale’s effort to recruit me to help him find the money missing from the ABC. Right?

Horseshit. Who was I trying to kid?

How much longer was I going to sit there looking at Barry Gale’s cover name in Dollar’s computer address book and tell myself that it might only be a coincidence? How long was I going to try and convince myself that it really meant nothing, and more importantly, that it had absolutely nothing to do with me?

Over the last few days two big trains had been rumbling through my life-one carrying Barry Gale and Jimmy Kicks, and the other carrying Dollar Dunne and Howard the Roach. I had felt both of them gathering speed, relentlessly building momentum toward something, although I hadn’t had the slightest idea where either one was headed.

But now I knew. Both trains were barreling right down the same track, heading straight for each other.

And I was standing directly between them.

I NEEDED HELP before I got crushed, and Stanley Ratikun was the only guy I could think of to go to with something like this. For a couple of decades Stanley had been the managing partner of one of Bangkok’s oldest international law firms. Then he retired and became director of the Sasin Institute of Business Administration at Chulalongkorn University, which made him more or less my boss. At least technically.

It was a post of considerable prestige, although Stanley really didn’t need the prestige. He had been born in New York, but his grandmother was obscurely related to the Thai royal family and he still had his Thai passport. That was one of the two reasons that his law firm had represented just about every significant international corporation that did any business at all in Thailand after the mid-sixties. The other was that Stanley and the other members of his firm were all first-rate lawyers.

Stanley and I had never exactly been pals, of course, and I hadn’t really even known him all that well back when he persuaded me to abandon the real world for Bangkok and join the faculty at Chula. Still, I had come to know him pretty well since then and in particular I respected the old-fashioned sense of righteousness against which he seemed to test everything he did. Stanley was hardly the sort of guy you hung out with at the Titty Twister ogling the go-go dancers and talking crap while you chugged back the Singhas, but he was a guy I trusted.

I was pretty sure Stanley would play it straight with me when I asked him flat out about Dollar. He wouldn’t necessarily tell me everything he knew just because I asked him to, but I didn’t think he would exactly lie to me either.

When I walked up two floors to Stanley’s office I saw through his half-open door that he was on the telephone. I gave him a little wave and leaned against the wall outside his office waiting for him to finish his conversation.

After Stanley hung up, he smiled broadly and gestured at me to come in.

THIRTY

I told Stanley almost everything. I told him about my telephone call from Barry Gale and I told him about what had happened afterwards. Nothing I said seemed to surprise Stanley very much. He did lean forward once and steeple his fingers. The gesture came about the time I was describing the man in Dollar’s office who had claimed to be an FBI agent named Frank Morrissey, and I thought I saw a flicker of something like dismay cross his face at the same time, but I might have been mistaken.

All I left out was the part about my ferry ride with Archie Ward in Hong Kong and Archie’s intimations that the Asian Bank of Commerce had been a front for Chinese bribe money rather than the Russian mob operation that Barry had claimed it was. I didn’t think I had the right to drag Archie’s name into whatever was going on here, and more to the point, I wasn’t absolutely sure I really believed him. To do that I would also have had to believe Barry either didn’t know the Chinese were involved with the ABC or had made up the whole business about Jimmy Kicks just to mislead me, and neither of those possibilities made any sense at all.

I wound up by telling Stanley about the reference I had found in Dollar’s address book to the Asian Bank of Commerce and the notation next to it of the name on Barry’s phony Hong Kong ID. Then I fell silent.

Stanley’s only response was to purse his lips slightly. “That’s it?” he asked.

“Yeah,” I said, not bothering to hide my disappointment. I had just told Stanley what I thought was one hell of a story and he was sitting there like I had strolled into his office and asked to borrow a cup of Nescafe.

Stanley got up and walked to the window and stood with his back to me for a time. Eventually he turned around and leaned against the sill, his arms folded in front of him.

“I don’t see how any of it explains why this client of Dollar’s was killed, even if everything you say is true, Jack.”

“I think Howard stumbled over something he shouldn’t have. Maybe it involved the ABC and maybe it didn’t, but I think whatever it was scared him badly enough to make him tell someone about it. And I think the person he told was Dollar.”

Stanley’s face was impassive.

“If Howard started talking to Dollar,” I continued theorizing, “maybe that’s why he was killed. It would certainly explain why Dollar looked so shaken up when Howard’s body was found and why he went to ground so fast after that.”

“So you’re saying that Jello was right, Jack? That this man Howard was laundering money for the Burmese and that Dollar was helping him?”

“Howard might have been doing something like that, but not Dollar. Dollar plays it fast and loose, but I know him. He’s not someone who would work for a bunch of drug producers just for money. If Dollar was involved in anything like that, there’s got to be something else going on.”

“Such as what?”

“Look, I know this may sound a little nuts to you, Stanley, but just follow me through it. What if the Asian Bank of Commerce was being used in some kind of intelligence operation? Say the FBI was working through the ABC, maybe using it to cover up something they didn’t want to be caught doing, and that was what Howard stumbled over? What if that’s what he told Dollar about?”

“Are you saying that the FBI killed Howard Kojinski to shut him up about their offshore banking activities, Jack?”

“No, I’m… well, I don’t know. Somebody killed him.”

That sounded awfully lame, even to me, but there it was.

Stanley returned to his desk and settled himself behind it, knitting his hands behind his head.

“Even assuming this theory of yours has any substance to it at all, Jack, what does it have to do with you?”

“Howard was walking around with my home telephone number written on a file and Dollar was doing a funny kind of dance all around me that had something to do with Howard. My guess is that they had a problem and they were edging toward asking me to help them out somehow. Maybe the problem even involved the ABC, but I can’t be sure of that. Anyway, then Barry Gale comes back from the dead and starts chatting me up in strange places in the middle of the night.”

“I still don’t see what you’re getting at.”

“Look, Stanley, think of it this way. If somebody thought that Howard was talking too much about the ABC-and maybe they even killed him because of that-and this same somebody thought that not only Dollar and Howard, but also Barry Gale might be talking to Jack Shepherd, what kind of conclusion do you think they would draw? Don’t you think they would probably decide I’m right in the middle of everything?”

“Why are you telling me all this, Jack?”

“You’re a pretty plugged-in guy, Stanley. You hear whispers. You know what the whispers are saying.”

“I’ve been away from the firm a long time.”

“But you’re still a player, Stanley. We both know that.”

“You’re giving me way too much credit. These days I’m just another retired old fart living out his golden years doing things that nobody cares very much about.”

This wasn’t getting me anywhere. It was time to chuck one across Stanley’s bow and see if I could get his attention that way.

“I’m only trying to find a safe place to get out of the way, Stanley. If I stumble around here and fall over something I shouldn’t, or if I mess up things I didn’t even know were happening, you’re going to think back to this afternoon and remember how you blew your chance to prevent it.”

Stanley swiveled his chair slightly away from me and studied his left hand briefly as if he had just realized how interesting it really was.

“I think you should have a little history here, Jack. There probably are a few things you ought to know.”

I nodded and after a short pause Stanley started talking, choosing his words with obvious care.

“It is true that my former law firm has done work over the years for various branches of the United States government, the kind of work that requires a special form of trust. It makes exotic copy in the press to talk about front companies and foreign banks, but the plain fact is that the world is a complicated and dangerous place. As we all understand domestic law enforcement cannot be done solely by uniformed officers cruising the streets in brightly painted cars, we must also accept a nation’s international affairs cannot always be conducted by announcing one’s undertakings publicly.”

Stanley had consciously or unconsciously slipped into his college lecturer’s cadence.

“Consequently, when national interests require a country to work quietly beyond its own borders to defend its security, it is commonly accepted that such work is frequently undertaken through the structure of apparently private businesses. That is a convenient arrangement for both the country that is pursuing its interests and the country in which those interests are located. It gives both of them the security of deniability, something essential to the conduct of modern foreign policy. In any event, these private businesses require organization and administration, which obviously cannot be done by the governments and such tasks are frequently undertaken by discreet, well-connected law firms who are experienced in such matters.”

I liked Stanley, and I usually enjoyed his lectures, but this time I wasn’t in the mood to learn how to make a watch. I just wanted to know what the hell time it was.

“Are you saying your old firm is in the business of camouflaging the FBI behind corporate front companies, Stanley? How about the CIA? You got a few of their fronts in your client files, too?”

Stanley sighed deeply.

“I am trying to communicate to you the subtlety of such an undertaking in all its forms, Jack, but-if you must put it so crudely-I guess the answer is yes. Yes, my former firm has had a long-standing relationship with the government of the United States. And, yes, from time to time it has represented companies through which the FBI, the CIA, the DEA, and even quite a few agencies you’ve almost certainly never heard of have conducted their affairs here in Asia.”

My first reaction was to laugh out loud.

“You mean In The Pink Inc is really a CIA front?”

Stanley didn’t smile, not even a little.

“What does Howard the Roach have to do with any of this?” I asked.

“I must remind you again, Jack, that I retired several years ago. The firm’s current activities are entirely out of my hands.”

“Yeah, sure.”

“You don’t have to believe me, but it is true.”

Stanley sounded genuinely wounded I wasn’t taking him at his word and he sat silently for a while after that, apparently weighing just how much he was actually going to have to tell me to keep me happy and quiet.

“Howard once laundered money for a variety of people in which the United States government had an interest,” Stanley resumed after a moment. “The short answer is that ultimately he got caught doing it. He was then persuaded to turn his talents to the public good rather than face prosecution.”

I figured I had better push Stanley’s narrative along before old age overtook us both.

“So you’re telling me that Jello was right, aren’t you, Stanley? Howard and Dollar were laundering money for someone, but it wasn’t for Burmese drug dealers. It was for an American intelligence operation.”

“Jello was only half right at best. Howard and Dollar did manipulate large sums of money from time to time, it is true, but they always did it with the full knowledge of the United States government and only in support of legitimate American interests. You can’t call that money laundering.”

Stanley shook his head firmly. I wondered if that was entirely for my benefit or if some of the effort was going into convincing himself.

“No,” he repeated, “you really cannot call what Howard and Dollar were doing money laundering.”

I didn’t bother to argue with Stanley and instead pressed the more important point.

“So who were they working for? Was it the FBI?”

“It would be better, Jack, if we just left it-”

“Oh Jesus, I get it now.”

“I doubt-” Stanley began, but I cut him off before he could get wound up again.

“Stanley, let’s be absolutely clear about this. Are you telling me Howard was laundering money for some cockamamie CIA operation and Dollar was helping him do it? Is that what they were going to ask me to get involved in?”

“You’ve been watching too many movies, Jack.” Stanley’s voice was level, but I could hear an edge in it now. “Don’t try to reduce the real world to something simple enough for teenagers to understand while they’re stuffing popcorn in their mouths. You’ll end up looking like an idiot every time.”

“And don’t jerk me around like some dimwitted student, Stanley. You and your little buddies were having a great time playing spook until somebody took it all too seriously and killed Howard. That scared the shit out of Dollar because he knew he might be next on the list, so he took off. How am I doing so far?”

“That is not right!” Stanley sounded seriously angry now. “And I will not say that because it is not true!”

“Then you can explain it however you think you should,” I said.

“What makes you think that I have to explain anything to you, Jack?”

“Because you don’t want me to mess anything up, Stanley. You’re up to your neck in some deep shit here and you really don’t want me to keep asking questions about it.”

“Will you keep asking questions?”

“You bet your ass I will. I will keep asking questions until I understand exactly what the hell I’m involved in here. Am I coming through loud and clear?”

Stanley gave a heavy sigh as if all the air had suddenly been let out of him and then his eyes went dead.

A stillness settled over the office after that and we both sat for a while without saying anything else. Outside the windows the sun was hanging just above a thin wisp of clouds streaking the horizon somewhere beyond the river. Then the setting edge of the sun touched the clouds, the room darkened slightly, and grayness filtered over us like a warm mist.

THIRTY ONE

Stanley turned toward me. He leaned forward on his elbows, his eyes seeking mine.

“The loss of British control over Hong Kong was a tremendous problem for the West,” he said. “We tried to pass it off as inconsequential, but that was not the case. Hong Kong had been our only real window on China since the end of World War II. It provided our best, sometimes our only access. In one stroke we were cut off from the few assets we had in China and we largely lost our ability to collect and evaluate intelligence data from there.”

I had a sudden flash of memory, a vivid image of balancing in the bow of the Star Ferry with Archie Ward as we wallowed through the oily swells of Victoria Harbour.

“Everything in the biggest nation on earth, developments that ranged from stepped-up drug smuggling operations by the Chinese army to the production status of intercontinental missiles capable of delivering nuclear warheads anywhere in the world, would soon be a complete mystery to us. The West had almost no human intelligence sources in China anymore, and those few sources we had we were desperate to keep supporting regardless of the loss of Hong Kong as a point of access. We had to find a way to keep supplying our assets with the resources they needed to keep operating.”

Archie had been cautiously scanning the crowd around us while he hinted at a variety of connections between the Asian Bank of Commerce and money being covertly funneled into China. None of it had really made much sense to me then. I had a feeling it was about to.

“Howard Kojinski had connections with several different agencies of the United States government and in working on their behalf he utilized a great many banks and front companies for his operations. His role was to assist with reestablishing and resupplying the points of access in China that we had to maintain in order to keep the information flowing.”

“Who exactly were we renewing access to in China, Stanley? Who were we resupplying?”

“I would presume, Jack, that we were resupplying the guys on our side. That’s the way it usually works.”

“You mean the dissidents? The democracy activists?”

“Yes,” Stanley said, measuring his words. “And some others.”

Thinking back on my conversation with Archie Ward, I didn’t recall him including any democracy activists or political dissidents among the people who were unhappy about the money missing in the collapse of the Asian Bank of Commerce. As I remembered it, he had fingered a long list of corrupt Chinese generals and government ministers instead.

“What did Dollar and Howard have to do with this resupplying, Stanley?”

“My former firm was working with Howard and these government agencies to establish the mechanisms that were required for his operations.”

“What agencies?”

“You wouldn’t know them if I gave you their names and addresses, Jack.”

“Try me.”

Stanley looked for a moment as if he might, but then he abruptly leaned back and folded his arms.

“Dollar directed the legal work involved in organizing and operating the companies that were used to mask the funds involved in these operations. He was the man who was ultimately responsible for the money. Howard was just the bagman.”

I noticed that Stanley had begun referring to both Howard and Dollar in the past tense and wondered if that had any significance.

“That’s all I know, Jack. If I knew more than that, I probably wouldn’t tell you anyway, but I don’t. That’s it.”

“Do you know who killed Howard, Stanley?”

He shook his head slowly.

“Do you know why he was killed?”

Stanley shook his head again.

“Do you think it might have been because somebody neglected to tell Howard what he was really being used for?” I asked. “That when he found out somehow, it scared the crap out of him and he started shooting off his mouth? Could that have been the reason?”

“I’ll bet you’re one of those people who think that the CIA killed Marilyn Monroe.”

“Didn’t they?”

Stanley had about half a smile on his face.

“Are you saying, Jack, that Howard’s murder was organized and directed by some shadowy operatives of the American intelligence community in order to keep him quiet about these China operations?”

“You don’t think it’s possible?”

Stanley shook his head. “No. I don’t think it’s possible. For two reasons. First, no matter how endlessly fascinating the tales may be, the government of the United States does not, in my experience, kill its own citizens in order to advance vast and obscure conspiracies. The real nuts aren’t in Washington, Jack. They’re in Hollywood.”

“And the second reason?”

“It would have been far too hard for them to do. Never forget, these are the same kind of people who couldn’t convict OJ.”

“Then who did kill Howard, and why is Dollar on the run?”

“I don’t know, Jack. That’s the God’s truth. I just don’t know.”

I held Stanley’s eyes and we sat like that, hooked together, until he glanced away again. Then there was another silence and we both hid in it for a while.

“There’s something else I want to know, Stanley.”

He raised his eyebrows and waited.

“Who is Just John?”

“He’s a good man, Jack.”

“That’s not exactly what I meant.”

“I know,” Stanley said, “but I think it’s important to say that first.”

“He’s not just some retired old duffer who runs errands and pours drinks is he? What’s John’s connection? Is he the firm’s CIA man in residence?”

“Would you believe me if I told you John was retired from the State Department?”

“No.”

“Well,” Stanley said, spreading his hands, “there you go.”

We looked steadily at each other, neither of us blinking.

“How did John get hooked up with Dollar?” I asked.

“The firm were asked by a National Security Council staff member to provide a local cover for John about two years ago. The whole operation of reestablishing our access channels into China was a big, complicated undertaking with a lot of moving parts that could come unstuck and cause considerable embarrassment all-around. Having someone around whose job it was to prevent that from happening seemed sensible so we readily agreed to the request.”

“Then Just John’s not CIA? He’s with the NSC?” I briefly considered the implications of that. “Doesn’t that mean he works for the White House?”

“Don’t be naive, Jack. Who the hell knows who John really is or who he really works for? And frankly, who cares? John Hanratty, or whatever his name really is, is one of the good guys. He represents the highest levels of American authority and he is doing work that is essential to the preservation of national security. Isn’t that good enough for you?”

“Not really. Not with Howard Kojinski swinging under the Taksin Bridge, Dollar on the run, and somebody stalking me around Bangkok. No, it isn’t nearly good enough.”

“Well, it’s going to have to be good enough, Jack.”

I had one really big question left to ask and I decided I’d better get to it before whatever goodwill I had with Stanley was completely exhausted.

“Where does Barry Gale fit into all this, Stanley, and what is he trying to get me involved in here? Is it something to do with these spy games you guys are playing with the Chinese?”

Stanley met my eyes squarely and he didn’t blink. He obviously wanted to convince me he was telling me the whole truth, at least as far as he knew what the whole truth was.

“I have no idea what this man Gale wants with you, Jack. I never heard of him until you told me about him today. But none of the rest of this has anything at all to do with you. That I can promise you.”

“How can you be so sure?”

“Look, even if Howard or Dollar were going to ask your advice on some technical details concerning the work they were doing as you suspect, I’m certain they had no intention of cutting you in on the whole picture. Besides, they never got around to asking or telling you anything at all, did they? You are clearly not involved in this in any way, and I can’t see how anyone could think otherwise.”

“Then why am I under surveillance?”

“I doubt you are. But if you are, it must have something to do with Gale or his gangster buddies. It has nothing to do with your work for Dollar.”

“You’re sure it’s not Just John who’s keeping tabs on me?”

Stanley smiled for the first time in what seemed to be hours.

“You’re not that interesting, Jack. John Hanratty moves in higher circles than either of us. I sure he couldn’t care less what you’re doing.”

“Let’s put this plainly, Stanley. Just for the record. As far as you know, does any agency of the United States government have any interest in me at all?”

“Not unless it’s the IRS, Jack.”

Our conversation went on for a while after that as conversations sometimes do even when they’re already over, but nothing else of any importance was said by either of us. By the time I left Stanley it was dark, and I went back downstairs to my own office and just sat there a while thinking.

In real life, coincidences really did occur sometimes. When I thought about what Stanley had told me, I could see now why the Asian Bank of Commerce could have been in Dollar’s address book. According to Barry Gale, the bank was in the business of facilitating shady dealings for foreigners in Asia by providing them access to compliant banking facilities and bankers who didn’t ask too many questions. That would have been just the ticket for Howard and Dollar in setting up their Chinese money runs. Maybe there wasn’t any more to it than that. Probably Barry Gale would have known nothing about how Dollar and Howard had been using the ABC, so his sudden appearance in my life might well have nothing to do with them at all.

That still left unanswered the question of who killed Howard, of course, and exactly what Dollar might be hiding from now also remained a mystery; but Stanley was probably right about that, too. I had never actually been involved in whatever Dollar and Howard were doing. Regardless of what the answers to those two questions ultimately turned out to be, those answers would have nothing to do with me.

Looking at everything that way made me feel a lot better. I stood up, stretched, and collected my briefcase. It was time to go home.

As the elevator whirred down to the garage, I thought to myself again that it really did look like I was in the clear with regard to whatever Dollar and Howard might have been up to. Now if I could only find some way to get rid of Barry Gale, my life would be pretty much back to normal.

I climbed into the Volvo and drove home. I held onto that thought the entire way, enjoying it beyond all reason.

THIRTY TWO

When I got and took the elevator upstairs the first thing I noticed after the door opened at my floor was the faint odor of cigar smoke.

I reminded myself yet again either to clean up my act and cut down on my smoking or at least get the apartment aired out every now and then. It was a wonder to me that one of my neighbors hadn’t already complained to the residents’ committee and started a movement to get me thrown out of the building. It wasn’t until I opened the door to my apartment, dumped my briefcase, and crossed the entry hall into the living room that I realized the smoke I smelled wasn’t quite as stale as I had first thought.

“These are pretty good,” Tommy said, gesturing with the lighted cigar in his hand. “I generally prefer Cohibas, but Montecristos were all I could find around here and, like you Americans say, don’t look in the mouth of a horse that is a gift from somebody.”

“It’s ‘Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth.’“

“Whatever.” Tommy took a long draw on the Montecristo. “My English may be a little rusty. Maybe you ought to help me with it, Jack.”

Tommy seemed to have made himself entirely at home there in my apartment. Although the living room was dim and he hadn’t turned on any lights, he looked comfortable enough settled as he was into one of the two leather chairs that were turned at right angles to each other in front of the big front window. The cigar he was holding was about half smoked, so I gathered he had probably been there for a while.

“Don’t just stand there, Jack. This is your apartment. Come in, come in.”

Tommy’s tone was so avuncular that for a moment I wondered if I had forgotten some arrangement we had made for him to be waiting there for me. I hadn’t, of course, and I stood looking at him as he took another long pull on the cigar and exhaled in a steady stream.

“Where’s your girlfriend, Jack?”

“She’s out. Somebody’s having a birthday party at the Oriental.”

My response was automatic and I immediately regretted it. Why did I owe Tommy an explanation for anything? After all, he had gotten into my apartment somehow and was lurking there in the dark waiting to ambush me when I came home. In my book that hardly entitled him to start asking questions, much less to get any answers.

“Okay, fine.” Tommy’s voice filled the room with a hearty, good-natured boom. “That’s good.”

I wondered what was good about it from Tommy’s point of view.

“How did you get in here?” I asked.

“You ought to be more concerned about how I’m going to get out of here, Jack. That’s what I’d be worried about if I were you.”

“What the hell is that supposed to mean?”

“Why don’t you just sit down? This won’t take long.”

Tommy tapped the Montecristo against a green celadon bowl he had put on the floor by the chair to use as an ashtray. He smiled slowly in what I gathered he thought was a reassuring way. Other than grabbing Tommy and flinging him bodily through the living room window, I didn’t see what else I could do. And that didn’t seem like too hot an idea, so I sat down.

I watched Tommy as he smoked quietly, smiling in a vague sort of way and looking off in the direction of the lights along Ploenchit Road. He had a soft, almost pink face, and he wore plain, black-rimmed glasses. His dark hair was neatly cut and he was conservatively dressed in a dark suit that was neither snappy nor expensive, a white shirt, and a plain tie with a muted pattern. He didn’t seem to notice that I was looking him over or, if he did, to care very much.

“You weren’t expecting me tonight, were you, Jack?” he asked, still looking out the window.

“I wasn’t expecting anybody.”

“But you should have been, Jack. You should have been.”

He took a quick draw on his cigar and twisted his head toward me when he exhaled, pointing his free hand toward the humidor that was sitting on a desk across the room.

“You want a cigar or something?”

“It’s my apartment, Tommy. If I want a fucking cigar, I’ll get it myself.”

He nodded slowly at that, but I noticed he had stopped smiling.

“Okay, here it is,” he said.

Tommy tapped the arm of the chair lightly with his fingers.

“We asked you to stay away from the Asian Bank of Commerce, Jack. We asked you nicely. Then we find out that you’re still asking all kinds of questions about the ABC; you’re searching through people’s houses and looking at their personal papers; and you’re pitching all these crazy conspiracy theories. Why would you do things like that, Jack? Are you trying to fuck with us?”

“Well,” I said, “I guess that qualifies as getting straight to the point.”

Tommy started smiling again, but this time it was in a way I didn’t much like. I thought about asking him how he knew all that, but decided it would be pretty much a waste of time.

“You see, Jack, the way it works around here is that I’m responsible for looking after some things.”

“Things like what?”

“Money. Banking. Investments.” Tommy puffed at the Montecristo again and I started wishing I had taken him up on his suggestion that I have one, too. “You know the things I’m talking about.”

I didn’t know, but I nodded anyway.

“Those things get fucked up and some people start thinking that I fucked up. Suddenly that would make me a problem for them. And I don’t want anything like that to happen. I don’t want to be a problem for these people. You can understand that, can’t you?”

“I can understand that,” I said.

I still didn’t have the slightest idea what Tommy was talking about, but I figured that if I let him keep talking, eventually he would tell me.

“But you see here’s the thing, Jack. When Barry told me that he had brought you in on the whole deal, I started worrying.”

I stared at Tommy. “You mean Barry Gale?”

Tommy nodded.

“Barry told you what?”

“That he’d brought you in to help with some problems at the ABC.”

“Look, Tommy, I’ve seen Barry Gale exactly once in the last two years, and I promise you that he didn’t bring me into anything.”

“Is that so?”

“Yeah, Tommy. That’s so.”

“Well, Jack,” Tommy pulled a face. “I’m having a little trouble there.”

“Why is that?”

“Because Barry also told me something else.”

“Yeah?”

“He told me you were looking into how the ABC had been disbursing its funds recently, that you were looking for some assets of theirs that had gone missing.”

“Well, if you believed that, Tommy, you’re shit out of luck.”

Tommy took another puff and then he turned the cigar around and examined the ash that had built up at its tip as if he was looking for something that might be hidden in it.

I waited, but Tommy didn’t say anything else. The longer the silence went on, the more threatening it felt, so I started talking again.

“Look, Tommy, Barry Gale showed up here in Bangkok right out of the blue last week. He told me-”

“I know what he told you,” Tommy interrupted.

Then Tommy went back to his cigar again, leaving it entirely up to me to carry the conversation. I wouldn’t have minded so much, but not knowing what we were talking about was a considerable handicap.

I decided to give Tommy a little jab, just to see what developed. “So I guess it was your people who swung Howard off the Taksin Bridge, huh? And that would also no doubt be your people following me around town instead of the FBI or the CIA.”

I thought Tommy looked startled for a moment and then tried to cover it by drawing slowly on the cigar and carefully tapping off the ash against the bowl at his feet. It was a technique I had used on a few occasions myself when I wasn’t sure what was happening, so I thought I recognized a slight opening. I pressed him before he could regroup.

“Didn’t know I’d picked up on your flunkies, did you, Tommy? Maybe you’d better find yourself some higher quality guys.”

Now I could see clearly how surprised Tommy was. I figured I was on a roll and kept pushing.

“The real question, of course, is why you have guys tailing me in the first place. It wouldn’t be that you’ve lost Barry Gale, would it? That you think by sticking with me you can find him again? Because if it is, you’re shit out of luck there, too. I have no idea where Barry Gale is.”

Now Tommy was staring at me as if I had gone mad.

“What the fuck you talking about?” he snapped.

“I’m talking about you having me followed.”

Tommy looked disgusted. “What do you take me for, Jack? I’m not some criminal; I’m an official of the Thai government. If I wanted to know where you were, I’d just stick a bug up your ass.”

He snorted and started to turn away, but then he stopped. “What’s this shit about the FBI and the CIA?”

Okay, so maybe I had that part wrong. I tossed out a hapless-looking gesture to buy some time to decide where to go from here. Under the circumstances, it came easily.

“It was just a figure of speech,” I said. “I’ve had a feeling that someone is following me, but I don’t know who it is. I guess I’m still just spooked by Barry Gale showing up the way he did.”

“Yeah,” Tommy nodded, “he’s a spooky kind of guy.”

I could see that my mention of the CIA was still turning in Tommy’s head, so I tried to change the subject before he had any more time to think about it.

“I’m really enjoying your little visit, Tommy, but are you going to tell me anytime soon what it is you want?”

“Yeah, Jack, I’ll tell you right now.”

Tommy bent over and punched out his cigar in the celadon bowl with a half-dozen stabs that looked just as harsh and brutal as he obviously wanted them to. Then he took a handkerchief from his pocket, wiped his hands, and stood up.

“Forget about the ABC, Jack. Back off. Do you understand me?”

“I’m not involved with the ABC, Tommy, and I’m not helping Barry Gale. There’s nothing for me to back off from.”

Tommy turned and walked out of the living room and I followed him into as the entry hall. He opened the front door, but then he stopped and looked back at me over his shoulder.

“That’s not the way I hear it, Jack, and I usually hear things right. I’ve warned you to back off and I’m not going to warn you again. Get as far away from the ABC as you can. Believe me, it’s the only thing you can do now.”

I was in some kind of game that nobody wanted to tell me the rules for and I felt like a fool. I didn’t like being a fool and something in Tommy’s tone made me angry.

“Yeah? And what are you going to do if I don’t back off, Tommy? Kill me?”

“You know better than that, Jack. Thais are gentle people with peaceful hearts. We’re not violent like you Americans are.”

“I’m glad to hear it.”

“Then, on the other hand, you know Bangkok, too, Jack.”

Tommy let his eyes hang on me through the pale blue haze of cigar smoke drifting in the apartment.

“It’s tough to get much done without occasionally having somebody shot.”

In the dim light and still air the cigar smoke began breaking into long, spiraling wisps, elegant little whorls that floated gracefully away into the darkness at the ceiling.

“Good night, Jack. Thanks for the cigar.”

THIRTY THREE

I went back into the living room and got a Montecristo out of my humidor. After cutting it and lighting it, I dropped down in the same chair where Tommy had made himself at home, crossed my legs, and sat staring out at the city. Sometimes I really did wonder what I was doing in this place.

Bangkok was an enigmatic city at the best of times, a place where the mystery of what you couldn’t see was surpassed only by the ambiguity of what you could. But it was also a place of sensual immediacy and lush, transporting power. Something magical always seemed to be dangling just out of reach.

Living in Bangkok, I sometimes felt like I was playing out a scene from The Third Man-lurking warily in the shadows; picking my way through markets, temples, and bars; dodging gangsters, conmen, and terrorists; trolling the streets of the city like Holly Martins searching the back alleys of Vienna for Harry Lime in 1945. Holly Martins did have one thing on me, however. At least he knew what he was trying to find.

The Kingdom of Thailand thrived on its contradictions and it was with these contradictions that it contrived to seduce you. Thai people were generally placid and charming. Somehow they had combined Buddhist stoicism and the upheavals of modern life into a brew of ambivalence that beguiled the Western soul. Mai pen rai-never mind-was the national motto. Who could resist that?

Eventually I gave up thinking about it all and went to bed. Anita still hadn’t come home and I lay there wide-awake, helpless to turn off the conversation with Tommy. There was something in it I was missing, I was certain of that; but I couldn’t put my finger on what it was no matter how often I played it back in my mind.

There was at least one thing that was clear enough, however: I was up to my ass in something I didn’t understand and I was sinking fast.

I was pretty sure nobody but Dollar Dunne or Barry Gale could tell me what was actually going on. Other people might have part of it-people like Stanley and Beth and Tommy-but I was certain now that only Dollar and Barry had all of it. I had to find at least one of them, but which one should I start looking for? Maybe it didn’t matter. I had no better idea where to start looking for one than I did the other.

Actually, to tell the truth, my prospects of finding either of them didn’t seem all that great. I noticed Barry hadn’t bothered to leave his number with me when we had met at Took Lae Dee and, what with him being dead and all, I doubted he would be in the book. And as for Dollar, from the way his house had been ransacked, I didn’t figure he had left a forwarding address with anyone either.

There had been something in the way Tommy spoke about Barry Gale that left me with the feeling he knew exactly where Barry was, but from the message he had delivered that evening I was equally sure he wasn’t going to tell me. After all, how could Tommy not know where Barry was? Surely Tommy was able to keep track of just about anybody in Thailand who he wanted to. What was that he said to me? If I wanted to know where you were, I’d just stick a bug up your ass.

That was a pretty funny line. At least it was for a Thai spy.

I tried again to get to sleep, but there was something in my conversation with Tommy that worked at me. I couldn’t stop thinking about it, but I just couldn’t get my hands around whatever it was long enough to grab on to anything solid.

A few minutes later, thinking again what a funny crack that had been, there it was.

I’d stick a bug up your ass.

I jumped out of bed, pulled on some shorts and a T-shirt, slipped into a pair of loafers, and went straight down to the garage.

I got into the Volvo and lowered the top, and then I got out again and tried to stand exactly where I had seen the man in the dark blue suit standing when I had caught him leaning over my car in the faculty garage. When I bent forward just the way he had, my hands ended up where the steering column passed underneath the dashboard. I ran them carefully over the bottom of the column and up under the dash. Now that I knew what I was looking for, it didn’t take me long to find it.

The man had hidden the device behind the ignition wiring. I carefully pulled it loose and stood there weighing it in my hand. It was a tiny black plastic box half the size of a cell phone. At a glance, it even looked as if it might be a part of the car, but it had a small magnet attached that held it firmly to the back of the dashboard and I didn’t think Volvo put its cars together with magnets.

I examined the little box, wondering what its range was. That was probably why I had never seen anybody following me. They didn’t have to stay close enough to me to be seen. Whoever had planted the tracking device was probably just holed up somewhere with their feet on a desk, drinking lousy coffee and watching a little red dot crawl around a big wall map. Tommy had seemed genuinely puzzled when I accused him of having me followed and now I understood why.

I stood there in the silent garage holding the gadget for a while, then I walked down a few parking slots, squatted behind a big Mercedes with heavily tinted windows, and snapped the thing up into a hollow in its rear bumper. I rattled it a couple of times to make certain it was secure, then I stood up and wiped my hands on my T-shirt. The Mercedes belonged to an elderly man I only knew enough to nod to, but rumor had it he was a local godfather who controlled a lot of the underground casino action in Bangkok. There was also a widely-held view that he had a great many interesting political and military connections.

My neighbor’s travels would probably prove highly entertaining for whoever it was sitting out there watching that little red dot. I chuckled to myself about that all the way back upstairs.

TUESDAY IS MY busiest teaching day. Two lectures, a seminar on developing effective financial plans for start-up companies, and scheduled office hours for students who want to come in and suck up a little keep me pretty busy all day. I threw myself energetically into all of it, hoping that it might help me to clear my head, but whatever else I was doing my thoughts kept coming right back to the problem at hand.

I had to find either Barry or Dollar and work out what the hell was going on. If I didn’t, I would keep flailing around until I drowned or somebody put me out of my misery. It really was just that simple.

Talking to Stanley had been interesting, and listening to Tommy’s threats had been a real kick, but it seemed to me that I had been doing very little recently other than talking and listening. Something a lot more energetic was clearly called for if I was going to get this monkey off my back.

The time had come for me to hit the streets. To roll up my sleeves. To start digging. Any of those cliches would cover it fine. The idea was simple enough. If I really wanted to find either Dollar or Barry, I was going to have to get off my ass and do it.

The only real problem was I had no idea at all as to how to go about finding somebody who didn’t want to be found. Fortunately, I thought I had a way to cover that. Someone who was no doubt a lot better at that sort of thing than I was came to mind.

Mango Manny probably had eyes and ears in places most people didn’t even know were places. I didn’t know what Darcy had told Manny about me and I couldn’t guess what he might be prepared to do to help me out, but I figured there was only one way to find out for sure.

When my last student appointment of the day was over I went home and made myself a tuna sandwich and some iced tea. Anita was still at her studio so I polished both of them off sitting alone at the kitchen table and flipping through the International Herald Tribune. After that, I showered and changed into khaki slacks, a white shirt with a button-down collar, and a blue blazer. Then I got out the Volvo and drove over to Q Bar.

It might be a little early to check out the action, but it was exactly the right time to find out if a semiretired British hit man with connections to all the wrong people might be willing to do me a little favor.

THIRTY FOUR

Q bar is a stylish two-story structure of raw concrete and black glass set off by itself on a quiet back soi in Bangkok’s fashionable Sukhumvit district. Half obscured by groves of gum trees and tall stands of spindly bamboo, it looks less like a bar than the home of a very hip witch nestled away deep in a cartoon forest.

Nevertheless, a bar it is, although hardly just another pedestrian saloon. The place is a shifting kaleidoscope of gorgeous Thai women and flamboyant gay men, flat-eyed Chinese millionaires and hard Israeli hustlers, chubby Arab conmen and twitchy German smugglers, eager American drug runners and expressionless Japanese gangsters. Q Bar is nothing less than a Whitman’s sampler of the international riffraff that Bangkok sucks up like a vacuum cleaner, and by eleven every night it is crammed top to bottom with the beautiful people. Everyone who is chichi enough to count for anything in Bangkok has to turn up at least once a week or risk losing his standing.

It wasn’t yet quite eight o’clock when I bumped the Volvo over the gravel of the parking lot across the street from Q Bar. The lot was almost empty so I parked in a dark corner away back from the street. There weren’t that many Volvo convertibles in Bangkok and I wanted to avoid advertising my presence too blatantly to anyone who might happen to be passing by.

After I locked the car, I walked across the narrow soi and up the walkway that led past a parked rickshaw to Q Bar’s improbably turreted entry. I made my way up the narrow staircase just behind the bar and found a table to myself off on one side of the large outdoor terrace on the second floor. I remembered that the last time I had been there everybody had been puffing cigarettes like it was an entrance requirement and by eleven the interior had become one huge blue cloud. Most of the year, sitting outside in Bangkok’s humid night air wasn’t most people’s idea of a good time, but at Q Bar it sure beat the alternative.

I ordered a beer and waited. Sure enough, in a couple of minutes Mango Manny slid into the chair opposite mine.

He was dressed quite differently from the way he had been at the Polo Club and I wondered if he might have been tweaking the cheeks of the local high society types a bit back then with those gangster duds. Tonight Manny wore a dark gray tropical-weight wool suit that must have cost at least five thousand dollars and a crisp, white-on-white dress shirt without a tie. Then I registered the thick gel coating his hair and the diamond ring on his left pinkie and I decided that Manny still left the same general impression that he had at the Polo Club: a low-fat Marlon Brando with a good tailor.

“What you drinking that Singha shit for?” he muttered as he sat down. “Tastes like fooking horse piss.”

Manny snapped out something to a hovering busboy. I had never heard Thai spoken with a cockney accent before and the combination produced an interesting if utterly unintelligible sound. The boy apparently had no trouble understanding Manny however because he nodded and disappeared. Moments later a white-jacketed waiter materialized. He poured Manny a cup of tea-white, no sugar, in a china cup that looked to me like Wedgwood-and then whisked away my Singha and replaced it with a Corona that had a dewy slice of lime tucked into its long neck. The bottle was so cold that the condensation formed a little pool on the metal table before I even touched it.

Manny took a pack of Marlboros out of the inside pocket of his jacket. He offered it to me, but I shook my head and sipped at my beer while he lit one. When he returned the pack to his jacket and I was certain I had his full attention, I put the Corona down and folded my forearms on the table.

“Darcy told me to come see you if I ever needed help, Manny,” I said. “I need some help.”

He nodded, drawing on his cigarette, then he sipped tentatively at his tea and nodded again in what I took to be a gesture of permission for me to continue.

While I told Manny the story of Barry Gale and the Asian Bank of Commerce, he sat quietly and puffed on his Marlboro, taking an occasional sip of tea. At the mention of Tommy’s nocturnal appearance in my apartment and his parting threat, Manny raised his eyebrows slightly, but he didn’t say anything.

I intended to tell Manny everything. I assumed he knew Dollar since everyone else seemed to, and I was even going to tell him about the apparent connection I had stumbled on between Dollar and Barry Gale, but somewhere in the middle of the telling, I changed my mind. It wasn’t that I didn’t trust Manny-frankly I wasn’t absolutely sure whether I could trust him or not in spite of the weight that Darcy’s endorsement carried-it just seemed to me that keeping a few cards in my hand wouldn’t really hurt anything.

I wound up my tale with a description of the tracking device I had found in my car and I finished talking at exactly the same time Manny finished his Marlboro. He took out the pack back out of his jacket and shook out another, tapping it against the table a couple of times before lighting it. This time he left the pack lying on the table next to his cup. I took that as a good sign.

“All this shit got anything to do with that geezer they found under the bridge?” he asked.

“No.” I bit my lip slightly. “At least, not as far as I can see right now.”

I was prepared to edit the truth a little, but I hated flat-out lying to a man whose help I was asking for.

Manny stared directly at me, his face as flat as a dinner plate, and he continued to watch me while he took a long hit on the fresh Marlboro. He almost looked to me like he was sniffing the air for the scent of danger, and I wondered briefly if he had found it. Apparently not, because before long he shifted his eyes away from my face and focused somewhere out over my shoulder.

“So what you want from me, mate?”

“I need to find either Dollar Dunne or Barry Gale. Darcy says your people have the whole country wired. I was hoping you might be willing to help me.”

“I thought you said you weren’t involved. Now you want to find these buggers?”

“Look, Manny, think about it. I’m right in the middle of something here and I don’t know what it is or how to get out of it. When you start discovering surveillance devices in your car, you know you’re on somebody’s shit list. I can’t think of anybody but Dollar or Barry who can tell me whose list I’m on and how to get off it.”

Manny looked doubtful. The tea had grown cold and he pushed it aside with the back of his hand.

“Where these geezers gone?”

“Nobody knows.”

“Somebody always knows.”

“It’s not me. That’s why I’m here.”

“You think they’re together.”

“No, probably not.”

“But you saying you got no idea at all where either one of them might be?”

“Well…”

Many leaned back, folded his arms and waited.

“There’s some other stuff I didn’t tell you about,” I said after a few moments.

Manny nodded. He looked anything but surprised.

“I’ve got a hunch-and this is just a hunch, Manny-that one or both of them might be in Phuket.”

“Little birdie must a told you that, huh?”

I sighed. So much for keeping a few cards in my hand.

I explained to Manny about the connection I had found between Dollar and Barry Gale, and I told him what I had heard about Dollar laundering money for American intelligence. I didn’t tell him where I had heard it or what Stanley had said the money was going to be used for, and I noticed that he didn’t ask. Manny was a smart guy, all right. There were some things that smart guys didn’t really want to know.

But I did tell him about all the American Express receipts from Phuket I’d found in Dollar’s garbage and the package of property transfers that Darcy thought were fakes.

“It might mean that Dollar was using a property development scam in Phuket to launder money through the Asian Bank of Commerce and that Barry was hooked into it,” I said. “So maybe one or both of them have gone to ground somewhere down there.”

Manny didn’t say anything.

“It’s pretty thin,” I admitted.

“Bugger thin. It’s fooking transparent.”

“Yeah, well, it’s all I got.”

Manny’s eyes shifted off mine and were still for a long moment before he spoke again. “You know, you’re the second bloke today who’s come around asking me about these tossers,” he said, still not looking at me.

“You’re kidding me.”

“I look like Mr. Bean to you or what, mate?”

“Sorry, Manny, just a figure of speech.”

I waited for him to go on, but he didn’t say anything else.

“So who else was looking for them?” I finally prompted.

Manny said nothing. I gathered I was asking him to break his personal code of ethics, and I also gathered that he wasn’t going to do it.

“Then what can you tell me?”

Manny looked pained. “I hear there’s a shooter looking for your boys.”

“Both of them?”

Manny nodded.

Somebody was looking for both Barry and Dollar, presumably to kill them? Who the hell could that be?

I couldn’t imagine that Jimmy Kicks would want Dollar dead — as far as I knew, Jimmy didn’t even know who Dollar was — and it seemed equally unlikely he would want Barry dead, at least not yet. Jimmy hadn’t found out where the ABC’s money had gone yet and he would certainly want to know that before he said goodbye to Barry.

It seemed just as unlikely to be the Chinese. Archie Ward had said they were unhappy that their money had disappeared, of course, but they probably wouldn’t be trying to kill anyone yet either. With Howard already gone, if they killed Dollar and Barry, too, then the only person left alive they might figure could find their money for them would be…

Son of a bitch,” I muttered when I suddenly saw where that line of reasoning was going to take me.

Manny didn’t say anything. He just scraped back his chair and stood up.

“You had your dinner yet, mate?”

Without waiting for me to answer, he turned and walked away. Shortly after that the waiter brought me another Corona, a plate of rice, and a pungent dish of garlic squid in a rich, black bean sauce. I gathered that might be the last I would see of Manny that evening, and it was.

By the time I finished eating, Q Bar was jammed with the late-night crowd and I had already become bored with watching the beautiful people preen for each other. All the women were too dazzling and blase for me and all the men were too gay. Or maybe it was the other way around. I couldn’t decide for sure.

I worked my way through the thick crowds down to the first floor and walked back across the street to where I had parked the Volvo.

Maybe Manny would decide to help me find either Barry or Dollar, or maybe not. Maybe I was right and one or both of them were holed up in Phuket, or maybe not. Wherever Barry Gale had gone to ground, I would bet my last dollar he was close by. Dollar, on the other hand, might be another matter altogether. I was certain he would turn out to be an awful lot further away.

It was a nice night, clear and comfortable. I threaded my way among the Mercedes, Jaguars, and BMWs crammed into Q Bar’s parking lot and I was only a few yards away from the Volvo when another car turned in. Its headlights swept across the lot and for just a moment they showed the silhouette of somebody waiting for me in the Volvo’s front passenger seat. I stopped dead.

Sliding into the shadow of a van parked next to a Mercedes, I watched for several minutes but it was too dark to see anything very clearly and no other lights hit the Volvo at the correct angle to light up the interior again. Eventually, of course, my curiosity overcame my caution. I edged away from the van and worked my way toward the Volvo keeping in what I hoped was the car’s blind spot. I moved around to the passenger side and crept toward the door in a half crouch.

It never occurred to me that it might be Dollar there in the front seat of my Volvo until I got up to the door and got a good look through the window.

And it certainly never occurred to me that Dollar might be dead until I opened the passenger door and his corpse shifted and fell out onto the ground.

THIRTY FIVE

There were no visible wounds on Dollar’s body, at least none I could see when I bent over him, and no blood at all, which made him look kind of spooky just lying there. I touched his neck without expecting to find a pulse, and of course there wasn’t one. While I was certainly no expert on such things, I guessed he must have been dead for quite a while. He was very pale, his skin almost transparent, and the body was cold.

It was obvious that Dollar had been killed somewhere else and then deposited in the front seat of my locked car as a message, just as leaving Howard dangling underneath the Taksin Bridge had undoubtedly been a message, too. With Howard, I had no idea who the message was for. With Dollar however-try as I might to conjure up some comforting ambiguity-the intended recipient was obviously me. I still wasn’t absolutely certain what the message actually was, but I was beginning to get a pretty good idea.

At least discovering Dollar’s body propped up in the front seat of my Volvo had made one thing abundantly clear. The only choice I had left was to find Barry Gale.

I HAD NEVER realized before how much crime scenes in real life look like the ones on television. Of course, I couldn’t remember ever being at a real crime scene before, and maybe the Thais watch a lot of television, so perhaps that explains it.

Yellow tape was strung across the parking lot’s entrance and blue bubble lights rotated lazily on the two police cars parked just in front of it. A half-dozen policemen in tight brown uniforms, high boots, and white helmets stood around not doing much and another half-dozen people in civilian clothes, mostly short-sleeved shirts and dark trousers, were bunched up around Dollar’s body peering down at it. Little knots of people stood here and there in the street watching the action beyond the yellow tape and tongues of color from the bubble lights on the police cars flicked back and forth across them. Every so often the blue light would catch someone’s face and for a moment a pale and ghostly image would hang there in the night air.

Someone had set up three mercury vapor floodlights on tall aluminum stands and their illumination made everyone in the parking lot look waxy and artificial, almost dead. Everyone, strangely enough, except Dollar. The wan, yellowish light made him look more alive somehow, and I almost expected any minute to see him get up off the ground, brush off his suit, and walk over to ask me for a cigar.

Instead it was Jello who walked over.

I was leaning on a concrete block wall at the back of the parking lot. I hadn’t seen Jello since that Saturday morning at Dollar’s office, although I was anything other than surprised to find him here now. Jello took up a post against the wall next to me and nodded slightly. I nodded back. Both of us stood there without talking and kept our eyes on the parking lot.

For my part, I was watching people I couldn’t identify walk around doing things I didn’t understand. I didn’t know what Jello was watching. I wasn’t even sure I wanted to.

A tall woman in a dark brown uniform circled Dollar’s body firing off photographs from various angles. When a flash of her strobe light caught me squarely in the eyes, I blinked and looked away.

“I don’t know what to say, Jack.”

“How did it happen?”

“Broken neck, they think.”

Broken neck. Just like Howard. What a surprise, huh?

“How long ago?”

“Probably four to six hours.”

I did the math while I watched the tall woman with the camera circle Dollar’s body again. I had parked in the lot around eight and come back to the car just before ten. It was now almost eleven. If Jello was right, that meant Dollar had been killed about the time I was deciding to drop in on Manny.

I hadn’t even known where the Volvo was going to be until nearly eight. Had someone been following me, just hauling Dollar’s body around town and looking for a chance to stuff it into my car? Or was there another locator device somewhere in the Volvo? Maybe I had only found the one they meant for me to find. If that was the case, then whoever was watching me could just have sent somebody over to where the little red dot had stopped on their map, popped open the passenger door, and jammed Dollar’s corpse inside. I felt sick running through the possibilities.

“I want to find out who did this, Jack.”

I looked at Jello’s eyes and saw something else.

“No, you don’t,” I said. “You just want to find out what Dollar was up to because you think it would look good in your intelligence files.”

“I don’t have to find out. I know exactly what he was up to.”

“Bullshit you do.”

A stout, middle-aged Thai in a long-sleeved white shirt buttoned at the cuffs stood looking down at Dollar’s body with his hands on his hips. Then he glanced up abruptly and stared straight at my face, almost as if he was comparing it with Dollar’s and trying to decide why Dollar was lying there on the ground instead of me. Finally, the man jammed his hands in his pockets, turned, and walked away in the direction of the yellow tape.

“Dollar and Howard were laundering money all right, Jack.” Jello’s eyes flicked around the parking lot as he talked. “That much of what I told you was true. But it wasn’t drug money.”

“So what was all that crap you gave me about Burmese drug dealers?”

“I was afraid Dollar and Howard were going to ask you to help them without telling you what they were really doing. I thought if I gave you the drug-money story, it would scare you off.”

“So what were they really doing?”

Jello ignored my question.

“I imagine you know by now that the guy you found in Dollar’s office wasn’t really FBI,” he said instead.

I just looked at Jello and said nothing.

“He works out of the American Embassy. We’ve met a few times, but I don’t know who he really is. He carries FBI ID, but I think he’s probably CIA.”

“Imagine that,” I said.

“Look, Jack, you weren’t supposed to be there so what the hell did you expect me to do?” Jello sounded exasperated. “Say, ‘Hey, Jack, let me introduce you to a man I think is a CIA case officer investigating the murder one of American intelligence’s favorite money launderers right in the middle of an operation?’ You think I should have done something like that?”

“Maybe that would have been a good idea.”

Then I realized what Jello had just said.

“What kind of an operation?” I asked.

“Fuck, Jack, just forget I ever said it. Shit rolls downhill here like every place else. Local boys like me are nothing in this kind of deal. I fetch files and I pass along native wisdom. They don’t tell me anything. You think I like that, man?”

“Nobody makes you do it.”

“You don’t think so?” Jello’s anger sounded genuine. “If you think nobody makes me do it, you’ve got a lot to learn about power, Jack.”

We went back to watching the festivities in the parking lot and let the tone of anger and resentment dissipate.

“There’s something else,” Jello said quietly after a while and I was anything but surprised. “Some of the money Dollar and Howard were moving is missing.”

“Yeah?”

I made an effort to sound disinterested. It wasn’t all that hard.

“The rumor is that fifty or sixty million dollars is unaccounted for.”

If Jello expected me to be impressed, he must have been surprised. I had dealt with numbers like that too long to wet my pants just because somebody mentioned a huge amount of money.

“Is that what this is really about, Jello? Some money?”

“Shit, Jack.” Jello sounded disgusted, although whether at my question or at himself I wasn’t sure. “That’s what it’s always about.”

There was a rustle of movement near the street and several uniforms trotted toward the opposite side of the police cars that were parked across the driveway. Jello saw them and pushed himself away from the wall.

“Be right back,” he said.

I watched the yellow waves ripple across his Hawaiian shirt as he walked away. How much did Jello really know, I wondered? He had just admitted to a few tidbits, of course, but confessing to what you think someone else already knows hardly amounts to a particularly impressive demonstration of candor, even if people who did it usually tried to make it look that way. Maybe he was stumbling around in the dark nearly as much as I was.

Across the parking lot Jello talked briefly to one of the uniforms, then he reached down with one big hand and lifted the yellow tape for someone. He turned around and started back to where I was waiting, and I saw Just John walking next to him, hands jammed deep in his pockets.

“Been away, John?” I asked when they got to where I stood in the shadows against the wall. “Incidentally, have I told you what a bang-up security job you’re doing for Dollar? Keep up the good work, man.”

“Why are you so cranky, Jack?”

“I can’t imagine.”

John settled into a comfortable lean on the wall right next to me.

“Maybe there’s nothing I can do for Dollar anymore, Jack, but there’s something I can do for you,” he said.

“Oh please, tell me you’re not about to run the good-cop-bad-cop routine on me.”

“I’d be happy to spell everything out for you,” John said, “You want to hear it?”

I looked away from both of them, but I nodded slightly.

“Two guys bagging money for a major national security operation both get themselves whacked within a week. The only live connection either Jello or I can find between these two guys is a business school professor whose hands are so clean you could lick sugar off them. That doesn’t make any sense to us. That make any sense to you, Jack?”

“I’m not the only guy around who knew both Howard and Dollar.”

“That’s not the connection we’re talking about and you know it.”

Just John shook his head. I thought he was trying way too hard to get something like regret and even a little sadness into the gesture. It ended up just looking silly.

“We’re here to help you work this thing out, Jack, but you keep feeding us dog turds and calling them Twinkies.”

I took a breath and looked toward where two elderly men, one very short and the other very tall, were wheeling a metal gurney in the direction of Dollar’s body. As it rattled and knocked across the gravel, several dozen pairs of eyes silently tracked its progress toward where Dollar lay sprawled just outside the open door of my Volvo.

“We know about Barry Gale,” Just John said, his voice flat. “We know that both Howard and Dollar were dealing with him. Are you dealing with him, too, Jack? What’s your connection with Barry Gale?”

“We were partners in the same law firm once. Other than that, I don’t have a connection with him.”

“Under the circumstances, that’s pretty hard to swallow.”

“Yeah? And what circumstances are those?”

“Look at it from our point of view, Jack. Barry Gale shows up here in Bangkok. He has a quiet little meeting with you. A week later, two guys who were using his bank to front a major intelligence operation are dead and the money they were responsible for is gone. I suppose that’s just a coincidence, is it?”

“What are you saying, John?” I snapped. “That I helped Barry Gale set up Dollar and Howard in order to steal that money? Or maybe you’re saying I killed Howard and Dollar and took the money all by myself.”

John didn’t answer me, but then I hadn’t really expected him to.

The gurney clattered to a stop beside my Volvo. The policemen who had been grouped around Dollar’s body stepped back and the two old men with the gurney stepped forward. What was left of Dollar Dunne was in their hands now. The rest of us could only stand there and watch.

THIRTY SIX

“Who do you work for, John?” I asked, my eyes still on the gurney that was there to carry Dollar away. “Do you really work for the White House? Or are you just some bored little spook with a cubicle in Langley who’s way over his head in something he doesn’t understand?”

One of the men spread a bright orange body bag on the ground next to Dollar and pulled open the zipper. The sound scraped across the parking lot like a sharp object being pulled over glass.

“Ultimately we all work for the White House, Jack.”

I started to say something, but John held up one big hand.

“Let’s get back to the main point here, can we? Neither Jello nor I can figure out how you got in the middle of all this, Jack. We need to know exactly what your role really is. We really need to know right now.”

“I don’t have a role.”

“Yes, you do, Jack. Yes, you do.”

I expected the two men to lift Dollar’s body into the bag, one holding the shoulders and the other the legs, but they didn’t. Instead they went around to the same side of the body, gave it a push, and rolled it over on top of the bag. Then one of the men bent down and yanked the sides of the bag up around the body, wiggling it until Dollar was completely inside. The other man grasped the zipper and walked it closed, causing the same awful scraping sound to echo across the parking lot for a second time. After that, the two men moved to opposite ends of the bag, hefted it, and dumped it onto the gurney.

“This happened because of some bullshit CIA scheme you’re running, didn’t it, John? This happened because the CIA was using Dollar and Howard to funnel tens of millions of dollars to corrupt Chinese officials to keep them spying for you, didn’t it?”

Just John looked surprised in spite of what I gathered was his best effort not to.

I winked at him. “Gotcha.”

John gave a little snort and looked down at his shoes. “Stanley Ratikun must have told you about the NSC thing. Did he tell you the Chinese story, too?”

I didn’t say anything, but of course I didn’t have to. Just John knew he was right.

“What else did he tell you?” John asked me after a moment.

“Not much.” I thought back briefly over the conversation I’d had with Stanley. “Not anything really.”

All three of us watched silently as the gurney rattled away toward the street. When it reached the edge of the parking lot, one of the brown uniforms lifted the crime-scene tape and the two attendants wheeled the gurney under it. Then they turned left behind a white Toyota van and disappeared from sight.

Just John pushed at the gravel with the toe of his shoe.

“This happened, Jack, because $43,600,000, plus change, is unaccounted for.”

“Christ, you guys go first-class, don’t you? What did you think you could get for $43,000,000? Mao’s body?”

Just John gave me an imitation of a smile. “That’s not my point.”

“Then what is your point?”

“Dollar and Howard knew where that money went.”

“Well, my guess is you’re going to have one hell of a hard time sweating it out of them now.”

“You still don’t get it, do you, Jack? That’s why somebody stuck Dollar’s body in your car. They think you know where the money is.” John leaned close to my ear. “And they wanted to remind you that they know where you are.”

“For Christ’s sakes, John, I’m just a college teacher!”

I pointed angrily toward where Dollar’s body had disappeared behind the white Toyota van.

And he was just a lawyer. Guys like us push papers around when somebody tells us to. That’s all we do. It’s guys like you who screw around with stupid schemes that get people killed, not us. I don’t know where any money is, and I’ve got nothing to do with whatever is going on here. How many times do you want to hear it?”

John’s sigh was long and deep.

“Let me run it down one more time for you, Jack. Dollar and Howard were using the ABC to handle enough black money that somebody is willing to kill people to get at it. Barry Gale fronts the ABC. Gale disappears one day, then he turns up in Bangkok and goes straight to you. You get curious and start sniffing around the ABC and that idiot Tommy turns up in your apartment and tells you to back off.”

John saw me blink.

“Gotcha,” he grinned. “Yeah, sure we know about Tommy going to your apartment, but that’s not what you should be focusing on here, Jack. Focus on what this looks like to us when we put it all together. Focus on how it looks to anybody wondering where you fit in. How do you think it adds up?”

Just John waited patiently for me to meet his eyes before he finished.

“It adds up to you being the link between Howard and Dollar’s operation and the ABC, Jack. That’s how it adds up.”

“That’s not how it is,” I said.

The people who had been in the parking lot began to drift away and first one then the other of the mercury-vapor lights snapped off. As hard as I tried, I couldn’t get that orange bag out of my mind and the darkness only made it more vivid. It was almost as if the bag had left behind a vapor trail where it crossed the lot, a luminescent orange wake that still hung in the air all the way from the door of my Volvo out into the street.

“Look, I can’t help you,” I finally said, not knowing what else to say. “Why don’t you just go find Barry and ask him what’s going on?”

“Jello and I sort of thought you might do that for us.”

“I don’t know where he is.”

“Oh, fuck, Jack.” Just John sounded genuinely disgusted. “When are you going to show us some respect, man? You figure we think you’re down here in Bangkok’s favorite hot spot to check out the action? Or maybe just because you were dying for a beer?”

“An unfortunate choice of words.”

“Not for me, Jack.”

“You know a lot of people,” Jello said. “And you’re not the kind of guy to sit around and wait for something to happen. We figure you either know where Barry Gale is or you have some way to contact him.”

“Somebody has been following me around town for weeks already, John, and we both know who it is. So what’s the problem? You’ve already found out who I know and where I go. And you know I’m not hanging out with Barry Gale.”

I had no doubt at all now that it was John’s people who’d been on my tail-that would certainly account for the high-tech tracking device-although it was dollars to donuts that nobody had let Jello in on the plan.

That immediately raised an even thornier question, however, one I wasn’t sure I was too keen on answering for myself right then.

If it really was Just John’s people following me, were they the people who killed Dollar and left his body in my car? Or, at the very least, wouldn’t they know who did?

I thought back for a moment on my conversation with Stanley.

In my experience, the CIA does not go around killing American citizens in order to advance vast and shadowy conspiracies.

Maybe not, it occurred to me now, but how about in order to hide small and fucked-up ones?

“I’ve got nothing to do with any of this,” I repeated stubbornly.

“Then, Jack, you’re going to have to give us something,” Just John said. “Something that might make us believe you.”

“Like what?”

“Like Barry Gale.”

“I don’t have Barry Gale.”

“Get him.”

A patrolman started rolling up the yellow tape and the spectators continued to thin out. In another few minutes the parking lot would be empty, as empty as if nothing had ever happened there at all.

Some son of a bitch is going to kill me if I don’t get myself out of this, I thought. Sure as hell, some son of a bitch is going to kill me just like he did Dollar and Howard, and I’m not even going to know why.

“Barry Gale told me that the ABC was raided by somebody and lost a lot of money,” I finally told John and Jello. “He’s scared shitless that the Russian mobsters who set the whole deal up in the first place will think that he scammed the bank himself.”

“So why did he come looking for you?”

Just John asked the question like a man who already knew the answer and just wanted to see if I would tell him the truth.

“He asked me to help him find the money and get it back.”

“What did you tell him?”

“I said I wouldn’t get involved and I haven’t seen him since. That’s all I know. I can’t help you find him.”

Just John’s eyes were locked on mine.

“Yes, you can, Jack. And I’m absolutely sure that you will.”

I didn’t respond, but I could feel John watching me as my eyes drifted away from his and back across the parking lot.

The Volvo’s passenger door was still hanging open and the car’s interior light was shining like a beacon in the darkness. It was the only indication left of the spot where Dollar’s body had been lying when two men zipped it into a bright orange bag and hauled it away.

THIRTY SEVEN

When I got home, Anita was packing for a trip to an art show in Hong Kong. She had so much stuff spread around the bedroom that I could hardly find a place to walk much less sit down, but boy was I glad to see her. Actually, I would have probably been glad to see almost anybody about then who had no interest in killing me; and as far as I knew, Anita didn’t. At least not right at that moment.

Anita asked me how I had spent the evening. I thought it was probably best to keep things simple. So I lied.

My reward was that we went to bed early.

When I woke the next morning, I lay still and kept my mind empty as long as I could. Eventually, in spite of my best efforts at inducing amnesia, a fresh surge of foreboding overwhelmed me. I got up and, taking care not to wake Anita, I pulled on some running shorts and an old Jerry Garcia T-shirt, then padded out to the front door to pick up the Bangkok Post.

I put on some coffee and while it was dripping I flipped through the Post looking to see what spin they would put on Dollar being found dead inside my car the night before. I didn’t immediately see any mention at all of it, so I fixed a bowl of bran flakes, poured a mug of black coffee, and took everything over to the kitchen table so I could read the paper more carefully while I ate. I was finishing the bran flakes and was halfway through my second cup of coffee when I realized why I hadn’t noticed the story the first time I looked.

It wasn’t there.

Maybe the Post was just trying to avoid scaring the tourists, but I was suspicious that there was more to it than that. First there had been that odd little story they had run passing off Howard’s death as a suicide, and now there was no mention at all of Dollar’s murder. The killing of a prominent member of Bangkok’s foreign community was a newsworthy enough event, so why was the Post ignoring it?

Maybe they got the story too late last night to make their deadline. Maybe the Post was just lazy and printed whatever was given to them and nobody had handed them the story all neatly wrapped up. Maybe whoever was responsible for Dollar’s murder had enough leverage to tell the Post what they could print and what they couldn’t.

Maybe I was getting paranoid.

I slipped back into the bedroom, put on my running shoes, and took the stairs down to loosen up a little. When I pushed open the metal door at the bottom of the stairwell, I looked glumly at the empty space in the garage where the Volvo usually was.

It hadn’t been until the tow truck drove into the parking lot the night before and backed up to the Volvo’s bumper that it had occurred to me I wouldn’t be driving home after the cops were done. The tow truck driver brought over the clipboard for my signature and I tried to ask him where they were taking my car, but his English was limited and my Thai didn’t include the vocabulary for having my car towed after a dead body had been removed from it. I figured I could ask Jello about it later.

When I watched the man hooking up to the Volvo, it suddenly occurred to me that the garbage bag full of stuff from Dollar’s house was still in my trunk. If the Thai cops found that, I figured the fun would really begin; but Jello and John were both still standing around and trying to retrieve the bag would have made me pretty conspicuous. I just left it where it was and hoped for the best. After all, a couple of years back the local cops had impounded a truck and never noticed a dead body in the back until the smell became impossible to ignore any longer. I always had sheer incompetence going for me.

I walked briskly down the driveway wheeling my arms in ineffectual warm-up gestures, turned into Soi Chidlom, and jogged slowly toward Ploenchit Road. The morning air was fresh and the slight breeze blowing from the north kept the humidity down. I made the traffic light on Ploenchit, crossed over, and jogged south on a narrow soi running alongside a shaded canal.

The waters of the little canal looked fresh and blue and the grassy bank was lined with tall trees that knitted at their upper branches into an almost continuous canopy. The softly shifting mottle of morning light through the branches dappled the water in a way that made me think of Monet, and it wasn’t often that anything in Bangkok made me think of Monet.

When I got to the Polo Club it was still too early for the gate attendants to be paying much attention so on impulse I dodged past the traffic barrier, tossed the uniformed guard a quick salute, and ran inside before he could stop me. Of course, it was unlikely he would have stopped me anyway. Thai security guards seldom challenged foreigners regardless of where they were going, and a foreigner mad enough to be running the streets of Bangkok in a Jerry Garcia T-shirt before seven o’clock in the morning would have been one to avoid in particular.

I ran across the parking lot, loped down the wide brown-tiled walkway between the tennis courts and the bar, and emerged onto a large field of neatly clipped grass. Circling it between white railings was a sand track about fifteen feet wide with a yellow sign that warned me to watch out for passing horses. Although the track wasn’t meant for runners, I soon settled into a comfortable jog on the loosely packed sand.

With Howard and Dollar both dead and too many people starting to look at me as the only remaining link to the ABC’s missing money, Barry Gale was the only person left who might have a way to call off the dogs. I had to find Barry and I thought I could do that. Maybe Manny would help me and maybe he wouldn’t, but either way I could do it. I was starting to feel certain of that.

The next time I passed behind the club’s huge swimming pool I left the track and took the steps up to the pool area two at a time. I flopped down in one of the blue lounge chairs on the deck surrounding it, fell back against the cool cotton cover, and gave in to fatigue, my chest rising and falling in deep heaves until my pulse rate got close to normal. Pushing myself into a sitting position I pulled up my knees and checked out the early arrivals filtering into the club.

There weren’t many. A portly, middle-aged Thai with an ancient-looking wooden tennis racket was patting balls gently against the backboard on one of the tennis courts. In the pool, two elderly foreigners who I took to be husband and wife were swimming together, stroking slowly but methodically back and forth from one end to the other, staying side by side as they swam. I liked the look of that and I wondered briefly if someday Anita and I would grow old the same way, just staying together and stroking methodically along side by side. I hoped so.

It was while I was watching the old couple that I noticed the man in mirrored sunglasses. He was sitting alone at a table in the shadows at the front edge of the tennis pavilion. He looked familiar, but the distance and the sunglasses made him difficult to place. Then he raised his hand and waved me over and something about the gesture caused my memory to click.

It was Mango Manny.

I walked over and dropped into a chair across from him. “I didn’t know you were a member of the Polo Club, Manny.”

“Too bloody right I’m not. You high society fuckers would never let a working-class boy like me into a place like this.”

“Hey,” I protested, lifting up my T-shirt and wiping sweat from my face. “Leave me out of this. I’m not a member either. I’m just passing through.”

Manny was wearing sharply creased pearl-gray slacks and a matching silk shirt. He looked liked he might have come straight from Caesars Palace and, for all I knew, he had.

“So what are you doing here so early this morning?” I eventually asked when he didn’t say anything else.

“Waiting to talk to you.”

I looked closely at Manny. He had to be kidding.

“Why would you be waiting here for me? I didn’t even know I was going to be here until a half-hour ago.”

“I know things, mate. Just like you know things.”

“Yeah? Well, I only know things after they happen. Knowing things before they happen is kind of spooky.”

Manny just shrugged, but I understood what he was saying.

Foreigners in Bangkok, even long-time residents, forget how conspicuous they actually are. Since most Thais politely pretend not to notice us, we drift into the agreeable sensation that we are going about our lives almost invisibly, although nothing could be further from the truth. Everywhere a foreigner goes in Bangkok, there is someone who sees him go there. Everywhere a foreigner is in Bangkok, there is someone who knows he is there. And that information is always available to people who know how to get it.

I looked at myself in Manny’s mirrored sunglasses. Droplets of sweat rolled down my face like silver balls bouncing down a pinball machine.

“Would you take those damned glasses off, Manny?” I asked when I was through admiring myself. “They make you look like a gangster.”

I watched the muscles of Manny’s face around the edges of the silver mirrors covering his eyes and I tried to decide whether or not he was smiling. Then he took the glasses off. He wasn’t smiling.

“I’m sorry about Dollar,” he said.

“Yeah, me, too.”

“A good bloke, he was.”

I nodded.

“But over his head,” Manny added. “Way over his head.”

I didn’t say anything.

“I think maybe you’re over your head here too, mate. You want some help?”

“I’ve already asked for help. You didn’t offer any.”

Manny let that pass.

“You still looking for that other geezer? Barry Gale?”

“I am.”

“How do you think you can find him?”

“You found me this morning when I didn’t even know where I was going. How tough can it be to find a bald American who’s hiding out with a six-foot tall Chinese woman?”

“Not tough for me,” Manny said. He picked up his glasses and twirled them in his fingers, first one way then the other. “But a lot tougher for you, I reckon.”

“Maybe you’re underestimating me.”

“Probably not.”

He had me there.

Then all at once I got the message. “You already know where Barry is, don’t you, Manny?”

He nodded.

“Thailand?”

Manny nodded again.

“But not in Bangkok.”

Manny shook his head.

“Why are we playing this stupid game, Manny? You said you wanted to help. If you know where Barry is, just tell me for Christ’s sake.”

“Let’s just say I do tell you where this bugger is, mate. What you gonna do then?”

“I’m just going to talk to him, Manny. Just talk. That’s all.”

“You want me to have somebody talk to him a little first, maybe loosen him up?”

I examined Manny’s face for some sign he was kidding. I didn’t see any. “I’ll certainly keep your offer in mind.”

Manny nodded as if that sounded reasonable enough to him. He put his glasses back on and turned his head away.

“So after you talk to this guy, then what?” he asked.

I said nothing. I hadn’t actually worked that part out yet, but I didn’t want to tell Manny that. I watched the elderly couple climbing out of the pool. The old man lifted a towel and began wiping the woman’s back.

“You’re a pretty cocky guy, mate. A lot of shit’s going down here you know fuck all about.”

“Meaning?”

“These bastards are mental. I’ve done stuff for them once or twice, but I won’t touch them now. They’re out of control.”

“Who’s out of control, Manny?”

Manny slowly turned his head until he was looking me full in the eye. I watched myself in his glasses.

“I used to think they were coppers, maybe even CIA, but I’m not sure anymore. For fuck’s sake, mate, even I don’t know who these guys really are. Shit, some of them may not know who they really are.”

We sat for a while after that without talking. The old man finished drying the woman’s back, and then she picked up a fresh towel and began gently rubbing down his chest and stomach. The whole concept still looked pretty good to me.

“I want to know where Barry Gale is, Manny.”

“I know that.”

“And I want something else. I want to get to him without a whole goddamned parade behind me. Can you do that for me? Get me to him without anybody knowing where I’m going?”

“They want Barry Gale, not you, mate. So why don’t you just let me give him to them?”

“No,” I said. “I don’t understand what’s really going on here and I’m not giving up anybody until I do.”

“Why are you really doing this, mate?”

“Because whatever is happening has gotten two people killed already and I don’t want to be responsible for anyone else ending up dead. Least of all me.”

Manny turned away and watched four middle-aged foreign women swatting a tennis ball lightly back and forth on one of the courts. They shrieked and giggled like young girls, bouncing around the court without much apparent interest in playing well. The sunlight made long glistening streaks through the thin sheens of perspiration that coated their smoothly tanned arms and legs.

“But you want me to tell you where this guy is. And what if you’re the next one to get killed? I’m not responsible for you then?”

“I’m going to find Barry Gale with or without your help, Manny. You can’t do anything to change that. You can make it easier for me, or you can make it harder. But you can’t stop me.”

Manny took off his sunglasses. He folded the glasses and clasped his hands together in front of him on the table, but he didn’t say anything.

“I was right about Phuket, wasn’t I?” I said. “That’s where Barry is.”

I watched and waited.

Finally, Manny sighed heavily. “You not gonna kill him?”

“I already told you, Manny. I’m just going to talk to him.”

“And then just leave him and walk away?”

“Unless he had anything to do with killing Dollar. Then I’ll blow the whistle on him.”

Manny looked sideways for a while after that and I waited for him to go on, knowing now that he would. Finally he shifted his eyes back and stared hard at me.

“I’ll get you where this geezer is without anyone knowing about it, but after I do that you’re on your own. I’ve got people to protect and I’m not going to fuck around with a bunch of crazy bastards just so you can satisfy your curiosity.”

I nodded. That made sense.

“That’s my offer. Take it or leave it.”

“I’ll take it. Where’s Barry?”

Manny ignored my question. “Can you leave now?” he asked instead.

“The sooner the better.”

“Okay, let’s go.”

“Sure. Let me go home and change and I’ll meet you-”

“Forget it,” Manny interrupted. “Now means now. They know you came to see me last night. They probably know I’m talking to you now. I’m not going to fuck around, let them get set up, then put my lot in danger.”

“I can’t go anywhere in these sweaty jogging clothes, Manny. And Anita was still asleep when I left. I’ve got to at least tell her where I’m going.”

“You tell her nothing. The less she knows, the better off she is.” Manny produced a cell phone from somewhere. “I’ll get some clothes for you.”

“I’ve got to talk to Anita,” I said. “I can’t just disappear.”

Manny shook his head.

“I’ll get a message to her that there’s some kind of business emergency. Now go take a piss or something while I get the rest of this shit fixed for you. I’ll be waiting for you out front in five minutes. You’re not there, I’m gone.”

THIRTY EIGHT

I washed my face and dried off as well as I could in a men’s toilet and ten minutes later I was at the entrance to the Polo Club buckling myself into the passenger seat of Manny’s Porsche which was exactly the color of a ripe lemon. Before I was even done Manny accelerated out the main gate past the poker-faced security guard, and still in second gear swung south on Wireless Road.

“Why are you doing this, Manny?” I asked.

Manny said nothing.

“Regardless,” I went on after a moment, “I want you to know I really appreciate it.”

“Wait till you find what happens to you, mate. Then you decide how much you appreciate it.”

A blue-and-white city bus chugged away from the curb in front of us. Manny corkscrewed around it with two practiced flicks of his wrists, downshifted, pulled a hard left into Rama IV Road, and headed east. Manny didn’t appear inclined to offer any indication where we were going so I sat back and awaited developments.

“I’ve set everything up to get you to Phuket on the quiet,” he eventually said without looking at me. “You were right about that. He’s holed up down there.”

“Okay.”

“After that some of my people will show you where this wanker is, but that’s all I’m going to do.”

“Fine.”

“Even then, if there’s some kind of a cock up…”

Manny didn’t finish the thought, but I got the point anyway.

“I understand.”

“You’ve got to do every fucking thing my people tell you to do. Every fucking thing. We clear on that, mate?”

“We’re clear,” I said.

I settled back and folded my arms, placing myself entirely in Manny’s hands. Strangely, that felt like a completely sensible thing to do.

An island resort off the coast of Thailand about five hundred miles to the south of Bangkok, Phuket is set in the turquoise splendor of the Andaman Sea and soaked by sunshine nearly year-round. It’s a glamorous, alluring vacation hideaway that has become justly famed among sailors, golfers, skin divers, and social glitterati all over the world.

Phuket has also attained a certain kind of fame among another quite different group-international criminals on the lam. The weather is good, the living is easy, the food is terrific, and the women are, well, Thai. Best of all, if the local police unaccountably notice them at all, rascals on the run are generally offered the option of making a modest contribution to the authorities in order to renew their invisibility. Most of the world seems to think of Thailand as not much more than an asylum for the morally impaired anyway-it’s the cuisine and the sex, the popular theory goes-so what better place is there for a scoundrel to lie low?

Morning traffic was building as we took the ramp up to the expressway. Still rolling, Manny flipped a note toward the tollbooth, downshifted, and accelerated away. I tilted my head back and listened to the distinctive, high-pitched whine of his Porsche running up through the gears. Manny cradled the black, leather-covered steering wheel in his palms like a man entirely at home with the little car. His elbows slightly bent, his hands in the approved racing positions of ten o’clock and two o’clock, he snapped his elbows right and left as he dodged from lane to lane.

Manny was in the far right lane as we took the long curve just past the Din Daeng intersection and turned north toward the old airport, but I wasn’t particularly surprised when he abruptly shot across three lanes of traffic and roared off onto an unmarked connector road that I knew would eventually lead back to the new southbound expressway link. We weren’t going to the airport. I had been pretty certain of that from the beginning.

“I’m only fucking around,” Manny said as if he were reading my mind.

The tall limestone column of the Victory Monument flashed by on our left and Manny loosed a blast from the Porsche’s air horn at a motorcyclist who started to cross in front of us.

“These guys are pros. If they’re on you, we won’t lose them like this, but it’ll look like we’re bloody well trying.” Manny patted the dashboard of the Porsche with affection. “We’ll keep their attention right here for a while.”

Call me crazy, but I had always thought that when you were trying to lose somebody the last thing you wanted was to keep their attention on you. On the other hand, what did I know about such things compared to a guy like Manny?

“Fuck you, you cocksuckers!” he suddenly screamed, slamming both big hands against the wheel so hard I was afraid he would break it off the column. “I’m too good for any of you bleedin’ wankers!” He slammed his hands down again, harder, and this time the whole car rocked.

A blue Toyota pickup with a half-dozen kids sliding around in the bed began to drift slowly into the middle lane right at us, its exhaust pipe burping puffs of purple-black smoke. I involuntarily leaned back in my seat, but Manny flicked his elbows and blew right by the truck in without slowing down. He turned north on Rama VI Road, made a U-turn through the parking lot in front of the Ministry of Finance, then took Sawankhalok Road south past Chitralada Palace. Just across from the Royal Turf Club, he swung into the garage reserved for officials of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Fishing a laminated card out of the glove box, he thrust it at one of the two battle-dressed soldiers blocking the entrance. While they examined the card, I examined the M-16s hanging across their chests.

After only a second or two, the guard handed the card back to Manny. He took a couple of quick steps away from the Porsche while muttering something under his breath to the other guard, then both of them cracked to attention and snapped their right hands to their helmets in salute. Manny ignored them and roared into the garage. He cut straight across the bottom floor to the exit and, accompanied by another flurry of salutes from another pair of heavily armed sentries, shot out of the garage again into Sri Ayutthaya Road. I started to ask him why he had a pass to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs garage, particularly one that seemed to merit such deference from guys carrying really big guns, but then decided I didn’t really want to know.

Manny bumped in and out of a couple of other parking garages, tooled around the Parliament building a couple of times, and after checking his watch, headed south through the tree-lined residential streets of the oldest part of the city. Soon after that the Grand Palace came into view. The red-and-green rooflines of its fairy-tale structures shimmered like a mirage in the wispy morning sun and the fragments of colored glass embedded in the high walls glinted as fiercely as the precious stones they appeared to be.

Inside those parapets had once been the mysterious core of the fabled Siamese empire, but these days there were only mobs of footsore tourists wilting in Bangkok’s customary heat and humidity. Regardless, narrow pathways unchanged for a century still twisted among fanciful pavilions and the same stone giants, half human and half animal, still guarded a royal temple where thousands of candle flames flickered endlessly under the unsmiling gaze of the Emerald Buddha.

“Okay,” Manny said to me as we turned suddenly into the road leading to the main gates of the Grand Palace where the tour groups entered. “Look at the buses.”

I looked. Tourist buses were lined up nose to tail along both sides of the road like two freight trains parked in a rail yard.

“We’re out of sight now,” Manny took one hand off the wheel and pointed ahead. “I’m going to dump you out just before the last bus on the right side. You’ll see a bunch of Japanese there. Get on their bus with them. I’ll keep going back to the expressway and out toward the airport.”

“You’re joking.”

“Dead serious, mate.”

I was trying to decide what to say next when the Porsche slammed to a stop and Manny reached across my lap and shoved the door open. A large bus painted pink with giant green flowers idled next to us, and just as Manny had said a group of middle-aged Japanese was milling around near its open door.

“The driver’s my man. He’s a reliable bloke. Do what he says. You can trust him. Good luck, mate.”

Manny put both hands on the wheel and looked away. He didn’t offer to shake, so neither did I.

I just got out of the car and closed the door.

THIRTY NINE

I was standing in the street with my hands on my hips watching Manny’s yellow Porsche disappear when I heard a tapping sound behind me. The round-faced Thai at the wheel of the bus was beckoning through the window at me with his left hand and rapping on the glass with his right.

I walked around to the door and the Japanese all politely stepped back. There were about a dozen of them and they were carrying a collection of cameras, backpacks, and water bottles exactly like every other group of Japanese tourists I had ever seen. An elderly woman in a brown golf hat smiled and made little pushing gestures toward the open door of the bus.

“Arigato,” I said, stifling the urge to bow.

“Gud ruck,” she whispered as I passed.

The bus driver smiled when I mounted the steps. “Sawadee krap, Arjan.” Good day, professor.

I looked around and saw that the bus was completely empty, but the windows were very dark and from the outside no one would know that it wasn’t chock full of camera-wielding tourists trying to get just one more shot of the Grand Palace before flying back to the factory in Yokohama.

“My name Thavee. I be driver today.”

Although Thavee had the typically small build of a local lad, he was well fleshed out and his belly jiggled when he twisted toward me in the driver’s seat. He had shiny brown skin and jet-black hair trimmed short in a military cut, and he flashed me a toothy smile as he checked his big wing mirror. Without taking his eyes off it, he stuck out his right hand and made a rolling gesture. The Japanese outside obediently formed a neat line and began slowly climbing the steps into the bus.

Thavee pointed to the mirror, and I moved closer to him, looking over his shoulder.

A large black vehicle slowed as it came abreast of us. It was one of those big Ford Expeditions, the kind that was frequently seen around Washington bristling with Secret Service agents. The diplomatic plates marked it as belonging to the American Embassy. I could see the driver and the passenger were both westerners. I didn’t recognize either of them, but their fresh faces, short hair, white short-sleeved shirts, and gold-framed sunglasses left me in no doubt they were both government types; unless of course, they were just a couple of Mormons out sightseeing.

One of the men glanced toward the bus and I pulled back from the window.

“Mai pen rai, Arjan,” Thavee said. “Don’t worry. Cannot see you. Window very dark.”

The SUV slowed almost to a stop and the two men in it looked us over. The one in the passenger seat shifted slightly, studying the Japanese shuffling slowly into the bus; then he lifted a walkie-talkie to his lips and I could see his mouth moving. I had no idea what he was saying, but the big vehicle resumed speed while he was still talking and quickly disappeared down the road behind Manny so I wasn’t sure it mattered. I gathered we had passed inspection.

“You sit now, please,” Thavee said to me. Then he pulled a big handle and the bus door swung shut with a hydraulic wheeze that was downright liberating.

“Bag on back seat for you, Arjan.”

I made my way down the aisle past the Japanese who had been outside the bus but were now scattered around inside it. In the middle of a bench seat that ran all the way across the back, I found a dark blue canvas duffle bag with a heavy zipper. I picked it up as Thavee pulled away from the curb and edged into traffic, but I just held it on my lap for a while without looking inside. Up the aisle of the bus, I examined the backs of a dozen or so Japanese heads. Beyond them the blindingly whitewashed walls of the Grand Palace slid out of sight past the windshield.

What the hell am I doing here playing hide-and-seek with a bunch of spooks in mirrored sunglasses? Those guys were representatives of the government of the United States, weren’t they? Aren’t we all on the same side?

My sweaty jogging clothes were starting to stiffen up since Thavee, like all Thai drivers, set the air conditioning on quick-freeze whenever foreigners were around. I gave up trying to understand what was going on and decided just to settle for keeping warm.

I unzipped the black bag and found inside a change of underwear, a pair of jeans, a wide leather belt, a long-sleeved polo shirt, a dark windbreaker, and a pair of Topsiders. They all even looked to be approximately the right size, which didn’t surprise me at all. If Manny could guess I would be running through the Polo Club before even I knew I would be there, then coming up with my underwear size must have been a piece of cake.

I started to pull the clothes out of the bag when my hand fell on something else, something that did surprise me. Down at the bottom of the bag, tucked underneath the neatly folded clothes, were a handgun in a leather holster and a couple of spare clips. I removed the gun and the clips gingerly from the bag and my eyes reflexively darted around the bus to see whether anyone was watching. No one appeared to be paying the slightest attention.

I had fired handguns at ranges before, but I had never wielded one in anger and I hardly qualified as an expert on guns of any kind. Nevertheless I had no difficulty in identifying either the chrome-plated.45 or the black leather belt holster that could easily be concealed by almost any kind of jacket. Something exactly like the dark blue windbreaker that was also in the bag would do the trick nicely.

Didn’t Manny believe me? Did he still think that I really did intend to shoot Barry after I found him?

Then another possibility occurred to me, and it was a hugely unappealing one.

Maybe Manny already knew that Barry had something to do with Dollar’s murder and perhaps Howard’s, too. Maybe he knew I was the next name on Barry’s list. Maybe the.45 wasn’t there for me to use on Barry, but for me to protect myself from Barry.

I filed the thought away and shoved the gun and the spare clips back into the duffle. If Barry did have some kind of plan to kill me-and I still couldn’t imagine why he would or, even if he did, why he would be going about it in such an obscure way-I could probably talk him out of it somehow. I had made it successfully through four decades by talking people into and out of things, and so far I had done it without ever once getting into a gunfight. I didn’t have any intention of changing that now.

Sliding across the bench so that I would be partially hidden behind the empty seats in front of me, I pulled my T-shirt over my head and stripped off my still damp jogging shorts. When they hit the metal floor of the bus there was a little thud and then I remembered that I had shoved my cell phone into my pocket before I had left the apartment that morning, just in case Anita woke up before I got back and wondered where I was.

So why hasn’t she called?

I pulled on the polo shirt and the jeans, then I bent down and retrieved the phone. That was when I realized I had forgotten to turn it on, which might explain why I hadn’t heard from Anita. I sat there holding the phone for a moment and thought about calling her, but what was I going to tell her?

Darling, I’m riding in a bus with a bunch of phony Japanese tourists. I’m wearing some borrowed clothes and I have a.45 automatic in a bag on the seat next to me. Why? Well, it’s this way. I’m being slipped into Phuket by a semiretired British gangster so I can find a guy who’s been dead for a few years and who may be planning to shoot me. But don’t worry. I’ll be fine. And I’ll try to be home in time for dinner.

Nah, I decided. Maybe it would be better if I just waited to call Anita until things cleared up a little.

I snapped the cover of the phone shut without turning it on and tossed it into the duffle bag. Then I shoved my sweaty clothes and my running shoes in after it and zipped it up. I pulled on the Topsiders and unfolded the dark blue windbreaker to ward off the chill from the air conditioning. When I did, I saw the big yellow lettering across the back: FBI.

Very funny, Manny. Very fucking funny.

Outside the windows of the bus I watched the forest of container cranes lining the Chao Phraya River and realized we were passing the main port facilities on the river. That meant we were driving southeast. That wasn’t the direction we would be going if the bus were headed to Phuket, so I gathered I wasn’t going to Phuket overland. I settled back and wondered how Manny was going to get me there.

A little less than an hour later the bus passed through the old fishing town of Chonburi and the Gulf of Thailand came into view. Although it was flat and brown, hardly the stuff of great seascapes, the Japanese unlimbered their cameras, rushed to the right side of the bus, and started clicking frantically away. I had assumed of course that these were all Manny’s people and just part of the charade he had set up to get me out of Bangkok, but now I wasn’t so sure. They certainly looked authentic enough, pressing up against the windows and firing off their Canons and Nikons with little whoops of joy. They were either real tourists after all or this bunch was deeply into method acting.

I suddenly remembered there was a private airfield at Bang Phra, a little town just north of Chonburi, from which a flying club operated. I had been there a couple of times with friends who were members and it occurred to me that that might well be where we were headed now. Sure enough, as Bang Phra went by on our left, Thavee began to slow down. He raised his right hand above his shoulder, and without looking back, beckoned me forward. I slipped the strap of the duffle over my shoulder and walked up the aisle. I stood just behind him and balanced myself against the swaying of the bus.

“You know flying club?” Thavee asked without looking at me.

“I’ve been there.”

Thavee nodded a couple of times and bent forward to check both of his wing mirrors. As he downshifted and braked, I could see off in the distance a tattered windsock and a large blue-painted hangar with a metal roof.

“I park by hangar. Glider outside. Everybody get out to take picture with glider.”

He shot a look back over his shoulder to see if I was listening, although I couldn’t imagine what else he thought I might be doing.

“Wait for all to get away from bus, Arjan, then go inside hangar. Ike be there.”

“Are you telling me that this guy is going to fly me to Phuket in a glider?”

Thavee glanced back again and grinned.

“No problem, Arjan. You never fly in glider before?”

I shook my head.

“Then you want Thavee’s advice?”

“Sure.”

Thavee started a turn off the highway and then twisted around in the driver’s seat and gave me a long, serious look.

“Flap you arms hard, Arjan. Flap you arms hard.”

FORTY

The hangar doors were wide open. Two white gliders sat pushed against the rear wall, their wings overlapping like the carcasses of giant birds awaiting the arrival of a taxidermist. Otherwise the building was empty.

Could you actually fly to Phuket in one of these things? I had heard that gliders stayed up for hours when the conditions were right, but the only time I had seen one airborne it had been mostly going in circles and that was something I was already doing fine all on my own.

I took a few steps toward the back of the hanger and examined the two gliders more closely. They were odd aircraft, awkward and beautiful at the same time. Their fuselages were thin cylinders, just wide enough to hold two people sitting in single file under an elongated Plexiglas bubble, and their wings were long and spindly, impossibly fragile-looking. From the nose of each plane a huge steel ring extended up and forward, and I assumed that was where the tow rope was hooked up to the powered aircraft that hauled them several thousand feet into the air where they were then cut loose to make their own silent way back to earth.

While I was unhappily contemplating the place on each plane where the engines should have been, a miniature door in the right-hand wall of the hangar squeaked open. A woman leaned in and beckoned to me. She was tiny, probably weighing not more than a hundred pounds, and her gray hair was neatly bobbed. I might normally have taken the woman to be somewhere in her sixties, but the brown coveralls and black work boots she wore and the red bandana on which she was wiping her grease-stained hands made me wonder.

I walked toward her and when I got closer I saw the red stitching over the right breast pocket of her coveralls.

Ike, it said.

“Okay, hotshot,” she snapped. Let’s kick the tires and light the fires.”

Well, wasn’t that wonderful? Grandma Moses here was about to take me flying in an airplane with no engine.

“You’re Ike?” I asked.

“No son, I’m the fuckin’ Easter Bunny.”

I glanced back and forth between Ike and the two gliders for a moment, but then I gave up al hope of salvation and just pointed toward the gliders. “You want me to help you pull one of these out?”

Ike snorted in disgust and stalked away, leaving the little door standing open for me.

“Not those, hotshot,” I heard her say from somewhere outside. “We’re taking the tow plane. It’s back here.”

The tow plane was a yellow Piper Cherokee with a white stripe down its side. It looked old and a little tired and there was a big dent right in the middle of the vertical stabilizer. On the other hand, there was something about it that I liked a lot: it had an engine.

Ike did a quick walk around, wiggling the wing flaps and poking at some other parts I couldn’t identify. When she actually did kick the tires, I almost laughed out loud. Eventually, Ike pulled herself up on the wing, climbed from there into the cockpit, and strapped herself into the left seat. I followed, the duffle bag slung over my shoulder.

Strapping myself into the right-hand seat and stowing the duffle under my feet, I slammed the cabin door and snapped the bolt into what I hoped was the locked position. Ike fired the starter and a couple of minutes later she was gunning the engine and dancing down the bumpy asphalt strip. We were airborne.

The little plane climbed out quickly, its engine pulling more powerfully than I would have thought possible for its size. Below us was a monotonous configuration of brown and green sheets streaked with shards of muddy water. They were rice fields mostly: long, narrow strips laid out between widely spaced roads like the lanes in a giant’s bowling alley. The flat, marshy land surrounding the delta of the Chao Phraya River was an ideal place for growing rice. Building a city there, on the other hand, was a different matter entirely.

After a few minutes we popped like a champagne cork out of a marmalade-colored layer of crud and Ike leveled off in deep blue skies that seemed to go on forever. She nudged our course to the west, pointing us directly across the narrowest part of the Gulf of Thailand and toward the neck of land about fifty miles on the other side that connected Thailand with Malaysia far to the south. Off on our right, Bangkok spread all the way to the horizon. The place was a colossus, a thick forest of towering, mostly egg white buildings that choked the marshy plains as far as the eye could see. When you were on the ground, the city enveloped you, taking away your sense of perspective. Only from the air could you grasp the magnitude of it, and it never failed to overwhelm me.

Ike didn’t seem to have anything to say, so I kept quiet as well. We had flown in silence southward along the western edge of the Gulf of Thailand for almost an hour when I spotted the virtually uninhabited necklace of limestone islands that made up the Angthong National Park. As we came abeam of the islands, Ike pushed the Cherokee’s nose to the west and we headed inland over what I was pretty sure was the town of Surat Thani. Tracking to the southwest, we crossed over the isthmus toward the Andaman Sea where Phuket lay just off the coast.

Ike reached out, twisted some dials on the instrument panel, and pulled down the microphone.

“Phuket Center, Cherokee Hotel Sierra Golf Zulu X-ray is with you inbound thirty miles north of the airport at five thousand with negative traffic.”

“Hey, Ike. How’re you this morning?” an American-accented voice responded. “Ah… nothing in our pattern at this time, but we’re painting a northbound Thai heavy climbing through flight level one two zero at four miles ten o’clock of your position. There’s also a Bangkok Airways Otter about one four miles to your six o’clock at eleven thousand.”

Ike bent down and twisted her head to look up through the Cherokee’s left window.

“Got the heavy, Center. Zulu X-ray out.”

“Roger, Ike. Contact Phuket tower on one twenty three point seven. Have a nice day. Phuket Center out.”

“That didn’t sound like a Thai on the radio to me,” I said.

Ike’s eyes flicked over at me. “You’re not nervous, are you, hotshot?”

“No, I’m… yes, of course I am.”

Ike nodded as if that satisfied her, then she reached across and patted me on the knee.

“Relax, son. Aviation talk’s always in American. Prab went to the University of Oklahoma. Take it from me, he’s as Thai as tai chi.”

“Tai chi is Chinese.”

“You know what I mean.”

The fragile limestone stacks and placid surface of Phangnga Bay were coming up just left of our nose and beneath us was an unbroken carpet of mangrove trees.

“The Phuket airport doesn’t seem to be a great place for me to slip onto the island without being seen,” I said to Ike with what I hoped was an appropriately diplomatic note in my voice.

“It’s not. That’s why you’re not going there.”

“But weren’t you just talking to somebody about landing there?”

“Yep, because I’m going there. Just trust me, son. You’re in good hands.”

I figured Ike would explain what that was supposed to mean when she was good and ready.

Below us I watched the Phuket highway twisting south toward the Sarasin Bridges, the twin roadways that were the island’s only connection to the mainland. Off to the left Krabi’s famous beaches were strung out like pearls tucked into pockets of green satin. Waterfalls gushed down from the low mountains and in some places I could track the course of the rushing streams through the thick jungle canopy until they reached its edge and fell into the sea.

Ike changed some numbers on her dials again and took down the microphone.

“Ah… Phuket Tower, this is Cherokee Hotel Sierra Golf Zulu X-ray with you. I may have a little problem here.”

I stopped admiring the beaches and waterfalls and started listening very carefully.

“Go ahead, Zulu X-ray.”

“I’ve got a rough engine and… ah, I’m losing power pretty fast.”

The engine sounded okay to me. I looked at Ike sitting placidly to my left.

“Are you declaring an emergency, Zulu X-ray?”

“Negative, Phuket Tower. Not at this time.” Ike absent-mindedly keyed the mike three or four times. “Let me stay with it and see what happens. Be advised that I’m losing altitude and may be off your radar shortly.”

Ike pushed the nose of the Cherokee over gently, nudged our course back toward the east, and settled into a gradual descent in the general direction of Phangnga Bay.

“Can you make the field, Zulu X-ray?”

It was a different voice on the radio this time.

“Ah… say again, Phuket Tower. You’re breaking up.”

I’d heard every word. The radio sounded fine to me.

“I asked if you can make the field, Ike.”

“Cannot copy, Phuket Tower. Repeat. Zulu X-ray cannot copy.”

Ike reached for a toggle switch on the instrument panel to the right of the radio. When she flipped it, the dials went dark. Then she turned to me and winked.

With a snap of her wrists on the control wheel, Ike rolled the Cherokee up onto its left wing until we were ninety degrees to the horizon and then she peeled off like a World War II dive bomber making an attack run on a battleship. Another snap of Ike’s wrists and the little plane leveled off about fifty feet above the water. Before I could say anything, she banked through a hundred and eighty degrees and crossed inland over a beach. Then she banked steeply again just above the tree line and a short, empty stretch of asphalt road abruptly loomed up in the rainforest right in front of us.

As we roared over the end of the road, Ike hauled the plane’s nose up to a forty-five degree angle and jerked on a lever between our seats that looked a great deal like a parking brake but which I devoutly hoped wasn’t anything of the sort. Her right hand shot straight out, chopping off the throttle, and as the engine dropped to a purr I heard first the left and then the right landing gear squeal onto the road.

Ike pumped her toe brakes a few times and the little plane stopped rolling almost immediately. Gunning the throttle while she held one brake, Ike spun the Cherokee smartly on its left gear until it was lined up on the roadway pointing back in the direction from which we had just landed.

She reached over, popped my harness release, and shoved open the passenger door. The pulsing of the plane’s engine filled the cabin as she leveled her index finger toward the wing. I got the idea quickly enough and scrambled out, dragging my duffle bag.

“Don’t fall in the prop, son!”

Ike slammed the door shut behind me and I slid off the wing to the ground just as the engine gave another roar and the Cherokee began its take-off roll away from me. The whine of its engine made it sound like a very large and angry lawnmower and I clapped both hands over my ears to avoid the worst of the racket.

That was why I didn’t hear the jeep as it drove up behind me.

“She’s a hell of a pilot, yes?” a man’s voice shouted over the noise.

I turned around and saw a man wearing sunglasses and smoking a cigarette slumped over the steering wheel of an open jeep that was dented and covered with dried mud. His accent was thick and French and sounded like stale smoke.

“Now she’ll call the little fuckers in the tower with some stupid story about dirt in her fuel or some shit like that and then fly right on into Phuket just like nothing ever happened. Nobody will ever know she was here.” The man shook his head in admiration. “Big balls for an old lady. Big balls.”

I walked around the jeep and pulled myself up into the passenger seat. Pushing my bag onto the floor, I looked the man over. At a glance I took him for forty-five, maybe fifty. Fit looking and wiry with a bit of a burn on his face and forearms, his hair was very long and gray and it hung in a thick mop down to his shoulders. He was wearing a crisp khaki shirt with epaulets, matching shorts, and ankle boots with floppy green socks.

“Welcome to Phuket, Professeur. Just think of this as Casablanca with no fucking heroes.”

The man straightened up, flicked away his cigarette, and threw me a professional-looking salute.

“I’m Captain Tom, a genuine civilian no longer affiliated with any military unit, government agency, or other form of socially oppressive organization.”

“Captain of what?” I asked.

“Ah well, merde…”

The man shrugged in that elaborate sort of way that only looks right on a Frenchman.

“They used to call me Major Tom, but that sounded too bourgeois so I busted myself down to captain.”

Christ, another one.

The man checked his watch. “Enough of the small talk, Professeur. We shall go, no?”

FORTY ONE

Captain Tom dropped the jeep into gear and accelerated up the road.

There was no sign of life around us, but the foliage was so thick that the Taj Mahal could have been a hundred yards off in either direction and I would never have spotted it. As we came to the end of the asphalt surface, a track continued straight into the dense rain forest. I braced myself when we left the roadway, but the dirt was unexpectedly smooth. Captain Tom never even slowed down.

We drove for a few minutes in silence and then Tom glanced over and pointed to the storage space in front of my seat.

Monsieur Emmanuel said to get that for you.”

There was a dark blue nylon pouch in the open compartment. I pulled it out and unzipped it. Inside was a map of Phuket, a gold American Express card, and a California driver’s license with a picture that looked as much like me as any driver’s license photograph ever had. The credit card and the license were both in the name of Benny Glup, and the driver’s license had an address in Redondo Beach, a place just south of the Los Angeles airport where I had actually been once back in another life.

I held up the license and gave Captain Tom a look. “Benny Glup?”

Tom shrugged again, perhaps a little less elaborately this time since he was driving.

“It’s a name. You have a problem with it?”

“Probably no more than the real Benny Glup had, whoever the poor bastard is. Or was.”

“He never existed. The license is from of a batch of DEA covers a pal of Monsieur Emmanuel’s gave us.”

The shifting alliances among the players in Southeast Asia were a slippery thing, particularly when you were mostly on the outside looking in. I didn’t even want to try and guess what Manny might be doing for the DEA in return for a big bag of cover IDs.

I reached down between my legs and pulled out the duffle bag with my dirty clothes in it. Unzipping the duffle, I tossed the dark blue pouch inside.

“Those glasses are for you, too,” Captain Tom said, pointing to a pair of dark gray night-vision field glasses tucked under the edge of my seat.

When I added the field glasses to my duffle bag, something made me lift out the.45. Mostly I just wanted to see what Tom would say when he saw it.

His glanced over, but only briefly.

“Piece of faggot shit,” he said, hardly batting an eye.

Without slowing down, Tom bent forward and reached around to the small of his back. Lifting his shirt, he produced a black automatic with a nasty profile.

“Now take this sweet bebe here. Glock 30. All polymer. Even with a fifteen-round magazine it weighs less than thirty ounces and it’s got a trigger pull that’s silky as pussy hair. Load it with 230-gram hollow points and you can stop a truck if you can handle the kick.”

Tom shot me a quick look to check out my reaction.

“I could loan it to you. Better than that fucking piece-of-shit.45.”

“Couldn’t you just get me a bazooka instead?” I asked.

Tom tapped his fingers on the steering wheel and thought for a moment. “It’s no problem if you can give me a couple of hours.”

“That was just a joke, Tom.”

“Oh, oui,” he said, but he didn’t laugh.

After another twenty minutes the track we were following suddenly emerged from the folds of moist greenery and intersected a well-maintained asphalt highway with very little traffic. We turned south and before long I saw a pair of bridges up in the distance.

“Those are the Sarasin Bridges,” Captain Tom said when he noticed me looking. “Phuket is just on the other side, but Nai Harn Beach is all the way down at the south end of the island. We’ve still got at least another hour of driving.”

“Is that where Barry Gale is?”

“That’s where the Phuket Yacht Club is. Benny Glup has a room there.”

“I wondered what the credit card was for.”

“The room’s already taken care of-Monsieur Emmanuel’s got a friend at the hotel-but use the credit card for anything else you want. Order some champagne if you want. The bills don’t go to us anyway.”

“Forget the champagne, Tom. What about Barry Gale? When are you taking me to him?”

Captain Tom didn’t answer my question immediately. He kept his eyes fixed on the road and didn’t speak again until we had crossed the bridge and were rolling steadily down the divided highway on the other side.

Monsieur Emmanuel told me to take you to the Phuket Yacht Club, Professeur. My instructions are that you’re on your own from there.”

We slammed through a pothole and Tom fought to keep the jeep moving in a straight line. Slowing down didn’t seem to cross his mind as an option.

“The man you’re looking for is in a villa on the southwestern tip of the island. It’s a few miles east of the Yacht Club.”

Tom glanced over to check out my reaction. I tried not to give him one.

“I’m leaving mon bebe here with you. That map you have has a route marked out from the Yacht Club up through the ruins of an old tin mine and then onto a four-wheel track that circles above the main road and intercepts it just north of the villa.”

“Can’t I just use the regular highway?”

Captain Tom looked at me like I had just ridden in with a bunch of tourists, which in a manner of speaking I guess I had.

“That’s what they’d expect. Nobody would think you might be coming in from the east, and that could be worth something to you. Besides, the track takes you down on the compound from a little above it so you can see what you’re getting into before you get there.”

“Are you sure Barry Gale is there?” I asked.

“Not absolutely,” Tom admitted with what I thought was undue good cheer, “but we figure he must be. There is a guy there who meets the description. And we know there’s a tall Chinese woman with him.”

“What would it take to make sure?”

Captain Tom took both hands off the wheel and rubbed the back of his neck without slowing down. The muddy jeep wobbled along on its own for a moment.

“Well, somebody could go up there and ring the doorbell, I guess.”

I hoped the rest of the ideas Tom had were better than that.

“Do you know how this guy got to Phuket?” I asked, changing the subject.

Captain Tom looked at me strangely. “Is that a joke, too?”

“No. Why should it be?”

“That was how we found him so fast. I thought you knew.”

“Knew what?”

“That he flew down from Bangkok on a Thai Airways flight three days ago.”

“Why would I know that?”

“His ticket,” Captain Tom smiled. “It was in the name J. Shepherd.”

I chuckled and nodded as if I was appropriately amused.

What in God’s name was that crazy bastard up to? He was just daring me-or somebody-to come and get him.

The highway was largely deserted except for swarms of motorcycles and an occasional pickup truck. Off to our right I caught glimpses of the ocean through thick stands of rubber trees. Over the noise of the jeep I could hear the surf slapping against the rocky cliffs. The road suddenly dipped and then emerged from the trees and we were barreling along next to a crescent-shaped beach that was deserted except for a small frame building near the surf line that I took to be a restaurant. Just past the building, whatever it was, Captain Tom swung the jeep off the road and headed inland, bumping straight across a rocky, gently rising field as if he had driven it many times before.

We bounced in and out of rolls of black rock terraced like layers of icing on a birthday cake. Avoiding the worst of the gaps between the terraces, Tom guided the jeep at an angle across the rising ground until we had climbed a few hundred yards from where we had left the highway. When we reached a gap between two hillocks, he swung the jeep around until it was pointed right through them and then he stopped. From there we had an unobstructed view down the coast.

Pushing his seat back, Captain Tom stood up and rested his forearms on the top of the jeep’s windshield. With his forefinger he pointed off in the distance and I stood up next to him and shaded my eyes with the palm of my right hand. I followed the line of surf and rock south until it turned east, twisting back on itself and disappearing from view, but I saw nothing out of the ordinary.

“What am I supposed to be looking for?”

“See that house?” Captain Tom pointed again. “Right there on the end of the point?”

All I saw was a lot of rock.

“Try using the glasses,” Tom prompted.

I sat down and pulled the field glasses out of my bag, then stood up again.

“Look just where the coast seems to end right in the middle of that last gap,” Tom said.

I lifted the binoculars and slowly scanned the area to which Captain Tom was pointing, but I still couldn’t find a house.

“I see something that looks like a big wall.”

“That’s it. That’s all you can see from here. The wall goes all the way around the compound. There are several buildings in there, a main house and a couple of smaller ones. You’ve got to get above it to see down inside. Some people around here call it the Berghof.”

I lowered the field glasses and slowly tilted my heard toward Tom.

“What did you say?” I asked.

“Some people here call that house the Berghof,” Tom repeated. “It’s the name of a place in Germany where Hitler used to-”

“I know what the Berghof was,” I interrupted.

It was also the password Dollar had used to encrypt his files. What in the world did that mean?

I lifted the glasses again and swept them back and forth over the area, but there really wasn’t all that much to see. The wall was built of black lava rock that had been smoothly mortared together into a grim-looking barrier at least fifteen feet high. It appeared strong enough to stop tanks.

“Do you know who owns the house?” I asked.

Tom shook his head. “There’s been a lot of talk, but I don’t think anybody really knows.”

He thought for a moment longer.

“Somebody once told me it was owned through some chain of paper companies in different countries. That kind of thing.”

“Could you find out what the companies are?”

“Probably. Why, does it matter?”

“Maybe it doesn’t, but I’d like to know.”

I had noticed a pad and a pencil in the jeep’s storage box, so I sat down, pulled it out, and wrote down the number of my cell phone. I ripped the sheet off and handed it to Tom.

“Call me when you find out.”

“Certainement.

We slid back into our seats and Tom turned the jeep downhill. Within a few minutes we were back on the hard surface, traveling south at a good clip. Several miles passed before either of us spoke again.

“How did you end up here, Professeur?” Captain Tom eventually asked. “If I’m not being too personal.”

“You mean in Phuket? Today?”

“No, I mean in Thailand. It’s none of my business, I know, but you don’t seem the usual type.”

Captain Tom glanced over at me, then tossed out a real classic of a shrug, contorting his whole body into a dismissive gesture. “Ca ne fait rien. I was just making conversation.”

I always told people I had taken the teaching job at Sasin so that I could live the quiet life, but if that was true what was I doing in Phuket riding in a drug syndicate’s jeep with a loaded.45 at my feet chasing after a guy who had bought a Philippine bank for the Russian mob and used it to launder money to bribe Chinese politicians? Nobody had asked me to do it. As a matter of fact, the closer I got to Barry, the more people demanded that I not do it. So how could I answer Tom’s question? What in the world was I doing here?

“I don’t know, Tom,” I finally said. “I really don’t know anymore.”

Captain Tom nodded slowly as if he had been expecting me to say exactly that.

“Well, anyway,” I added for no particular reason, “I am here.”

“No, you’re not.” Captain Tom waggled his forefinger at me and grinned. “Ike wasn’t here. You’re not here. Shit, I’m probably not here either, Professeur.”

The jeep suddenly hit another hole in the road and Tom fought the steering to keep control as one front tire skidded down into the hole and back out again.

“But sure as Christ that motherfucking hole is here all right.”

Tom started to laugh and as his voice rose and fell I joined in, too. It felt damn good.

FORTY TWO

Tom stopped the jeep at the bottom of the long narrow driveway that sloped steeply upward to where the Phuket Yacht Club commanded a flamboyant view over the deep cove that sheltered Nai Harn Beach. Its white, futuristic-looking rooms were cantilevered into stacks across the cliff face and they glistened dazzlingly in the Phuket sun.

In spite of its name, the Phuket Yacht Club isn’t a yacht club, nor for that matter is it any other kind of club either. It is instead a lavish hotel whose doors opened readily to anyone with sufficient cash or the right kind of plastic.

“You’d be a little conspicuous if I drove you all the way up to the front door,” Tom said.

Oh, right. And just strolling into the kind of world-famous resort where you might stumble over Madonna shacked up with Prince Charles won’t make me conspicuous at all.

Tom got out of the jeep and flipped me the keys. I caught them in the air. Then he held out his hand and we shook.

“Good luck, Professeur.”

“Thanks, Tom. Don’t forget to get me a run down on the company that owns that house.”

“Oui. I’ll call you.”

Captain Tom snapped me a little salute and strolled away in the direction of an open-air beer bar at the edge of the beach.

On my own now, I slid into the driver’s seat and started the jeep. By the time I had reached the top of the driveway, parked in the lot, and walked into the lobby of the Phuket Yacht Club, I was already in trouble. I had forgotten who I was supposed to be.

Fortunately it came back to me. I walked over the desk and gave a smiling girl in a yellow silk sarong the name Benny Glup, stumbling over it a little when I did. She seemed very young to me, but then most Thai women seemed very young to me. Either they really were, or I wasn’t, and I didn’t like to dwell too much on which explanation was the more accurate.

The girl’s smile briefly changed to puzzlement, as I suppose any sensible person’s would when confronted by a man stumbling over his own name. She tapped a few keys on her computer terminal, puckered her lips into a little frown, tapped again, and then her smile quickly returned.

“Oh, Mr. Glup,” she sang out happily, as if she had personally been waiting for me most of her life.

“Yes, indeed I am.”

I made the claim decisively and noted with some satisfaction how convincing I sounded. Maybe I was getting the hang of this stuff.

“You already registered in room 324, Mr. Glup. It very nice suite. Very good ocean view.”

The girl tapped a few more keys. There was a gentle whirring sound and a card key popped out of a flat box next to the computer. She passed it over with another bright smile.

In spite of what Tom had told me, I held out Benny Glup’s gold American Express card. The girl shook her head.

“Your suite complimentary, Mr. Glup. Like always. Welcome back to the Phuket Yacht Club.”

Like always? Welcome back?

“I call boy for luggage?”

I held up my duffle bag and shook my head.

The young girl gave me another dazzling smile. “Have nice day, Mr. Glup.”

Gee, thanks for arranging everything so discreetly, Manny. But maybe next time a couple of high school bands marching around the lobby would be nice.

The suite was lovely, of course, decorated in muted colors with irritatingly perfect taste. This was a five-star resort after all, and I wondered what it cost people who paid actual money to stay here. I kicked off my shoes and lay back across the king-sized bed. Now that I apparently knew where Barry Gale was, I had to admit to myself that I wasn’t all that sure what to do next. Did I just go over there and demand to know what the hell he had gotten me into, or was there a better strategy?

I had been assuming I would have plenty of time to decide about that while I was searching for Barry, but it hadn’t worked out that way. Manny’s people seemed to have fingered him without breaking a sweat, although it looked like Barry had hung out enough signs to get himself found by Helen Keller.

Did that mean Barry wanted to be found, or had he just gotten careless? Either way, I supposed, the problem for me was essentially still the same.

What do I do now?

I stood up, lifted the duffle bag, and dropped it on the bed. Unzipping it, I dumped everything out. There wasn’t much. If I was going to hang around Phuket very long, I was going to have to do some shopping. Maybe Benny Glup’s American Express card would come in handy after all.

My dirty jogging clothes went into a drawer, my running shoes into the closet. I turned on my cell phone in case Tom called and it and the field glasses went back in the bag along with the map of Phuket, the driver’s license and the Amex card. The.45 I held in one hand for a moment, bouncing the extra clips around in the other hand. Finally I shoved them into the duffle, too, rolled up the blue FBI windbreaker, pushed it in on top, and zipped the bag.

A slight rumbling in my stomach reminded me that I’d had nothing to eat all day so I slipped back into the Topsiders, slung the bag over my shoulder, and went downstairs, wandering around the hotel until I found a round pavilion open to the ocean that I took to be a cafe. Since it was the middle of the afternoon the place was empty, which was just fine with me. I took a table near the rail where there was a spectacular view of the beach, ordered a club sandwich and iced tea from a smiling teenaged boy in a starched white jacket, then pulled out of my bag the map Tom had left me.

The red line somebody had drawn on it appeared to leave the paved roadway less than half a mile inland from Nai Harn Beach. Then it snaked back and forth across what looked like mostly open country and headed generally westward until it ended at a point near the sea, marked with a circle.

I contemplated the route while I ate my sandwich. There weren’t very many landmarks and it occurred to me that some basic reconnaissance might help me to make up my mind exactly what to do. If I drove the route that Tom had marked and took a closer look at the house, maybe something brilliant would occur to me. Bolting the last crusts of my sandwich, I signed the bill-ripping off Benny Glup’s signature with a flourish-refolded the map, and walked out to the jeep.

I found the place where the red line on Tom’s map began without a great deal of trouble. It was little more than a bumpy track that intersected the asphalt from the left and disappeared inland between two dilapidated wooden buildings, but I turned into it without hesitation. I drove for a long while through pineapple fields while the terrain rose steadily toward some rugged-looking hills to the west. When Captain Tom had stopped the jeep and pointed out the compound where Barry was supposed to be holed up, it seemed to me that we were on the ocean side of those hills, the opposite side to the one I was now approaching.

Beyond the pineapple field was a dense forest of rubber trees, all of them apparently planted about the same time, and the utter uniformity of their size and the geometrical perfection of the long rows gave the entire grove the unreal feeling of a cartoon. The track entered the rubber forest slipping between parallel ranks of spindly, white-streaked trees set barely ten feet apart and the afternoon light slowly went gray and spongy. Then abruptly I was out of the grove again and climbing once more in the harsh glare of the afternoon sun.

About ten minutes later I came upon a ramshackle one-story wooden building with the roof caved in and I wondered if it was the abandoned tin mine Tom had mentioned. I saw no other obvious evidence of a mine, but then again I really had no idea at all what a tin mine might look like, abandoned or otherwise, so I couldn’t be sure. Just beyond the mine, if that’s what it was, the road twisted sharply and I saw how far I had climbed.

Out along the horizon was the Andaman Sea. It was slate gray now rather than blue, and it looked to be turning rough in a rising wind. From somewhere, perhaps one of the craggy, shrub-clad islands just offshore where I had heard sea gypsies still lived, the steady breeze carried the pungent smell of salted fish drying in the open air. Up here the rain forest was thick and luxuriant. Fed relentlessly by the southwestern monsoons, groves of frangipani trees with their cloying fragrance were intermingled with deep stands of coconut palms, figs, and mangos. The jungle was damp and lush. You could hear the solitude.

The jeep pitched and bounced over the ground as the track became steeper. When I topped a little ridgeline, the ruts swung sharply right and paralleled it for a short run before cutting left again then surging over the top. On the opposite side of the ridge, the deep lushness of the rain-forest vanished, metamorphosing abruptly into a vast and ominous pan of bare limestone interrupted only intermittently by lonely clumps of scrubby trees bent and twisted into angry shapes by the winds that swirled up from the Andaman. The twin ruts became an almost invisible track over the rock and the jeep struggled for traction. About a half-mile further on, the track swung around a sharp outcropping of limestone and I saw just below me the compound that Captain Tom had called Berghof.

The track gradually descended for another four or five hundred yards on the other side of the outcropping until it dead ended at the compound. An asphalt highway emerged from behind a rise to the right and led directly to the main gates. I gathered that was what Tom had described as the main road.

I stopped and backed up until the jeep was out of sight down behind the ridge, then I got the binoculars out of the duffle and walked up the road again. When I found a place where I wouldn’t be too conspicuous, I settled myself in and braced my arms against the rock to steady the glasses. From my elevated vantage point, I could see almost every part of the compound clearly.

Two massive gates gleamed in the afternoon sun like teak polished to a high gloss. They were flanked with two equally massive brass torches, each of them sticking a good six feet over the top of the wall. Inside the wall was what appeared to be a main house with three smaller buildings grouped around it. I studied each of the structures through the glasses, taking care to angle the lenses so that the afternoon sun wouldn’t flash off them and give me away. There was no obvious security paraphernalia visible, but of course there wouldn’t be, would there?

One of the smaller buildings looked like a large garage with room for several vehicles. It had a huge tank next to it that might have been for gasoline storage. The other two small buildings looked like guesthouses, except that one had four satellite dishes on its roof: three small ones and one very large one. Either there was a sophisticated communications facility in there or somebody watched a whole lot of television.

The main house sprawled across most of the rest of the compound. It was built of black rock with shiny brass trim and oversized windows and doors. Overall, the whole effect was something like Wayne Newton does Phuket.

As I studied one of the smaller houses more carefully, the one without the electronic apparatus on the roof, a man came out. I was too far away to pick out his features with any clarity, but I watched him as he walked toward the inside of the front gate. I lost sight of him when my angle of vision was blocked by the compound’s wall, but I kept scanning with the glasses and in a moment he reappeared. It looked to me as if the man was walking the compound’s perimeter like a watchman making his rounds, and the automatic rifle he carried in the crook of his left arm pretty much sealed the deal.

I continued to follow the man as he paced the inside of the wall. Then something behind him attracted his attention and I saw him half turn, apparently talking to someone. I swung the glasses in the direction the man was looking and braced my arms to steady them.

A woman with her hands on her hips was visible in the half-open front door to the main house and she looked as if she was giving instructions to the man with the rifle. I didn’t need to see her face to know who she was.

Beth Staley was a hard woman to miss.

FORTY THREE

My cell phone began to ring and in the silence it sounded as loud as a siren. I trotted quickly back to the jeep, dug the phone out of the duffle bag, and flipped it open. Since I was on what looked like the dark side of the moon, I couldn’t believe it would work very well, but then a man’s voice sounded in my ear so clearly that it startled me.

“Professeur?”

“Tom?”

“Oui, Professeur. It is me.”

Captain Tom sounded happier after we had identified each other with certainty, but I thought there was still some kind of an odd note in his voice.

“Find out who owns the house?” I asked.

“That was another joke, right, Professeur? Like the shit about the bazooka?”

“Look, Tom, just tell me what you found out. All right?”

“Yes, all right.”

Tom paused a beat before he went on. There was something in the silence, but I couldn’t decide what it was.

“The land title is held in the name of a Thai company, but that company is controlled by another one registered in Hong Kong, and the Hong Kong company is jointly owned by two companies, both of them registered in the British Virgin Islands as nonresident trusts.”

“Figures,” I said. “Let me guess. The trustees for the companies are both lawyers who are somewhere else.”

“Both companies have the same trustee. And, yes, you are right. He’s a lawyer who is somewhere else.”

There was that odd note in Tom’s voice again.

“Who is it?” I asked.

“Why are you fucking me around like this, Professeur?”

“I’m not fucking you around, Tom. I just want to know who the trustee is.”

“You really don’t know?”

“No, I really don’t know.”

“That’s strange, Professeur. I believe you, but that’s pretty fucking strange.”

“Why, Tom?”

“Because the fellow we use to run down this kind of stuff never gets it wrong. He says the name of the trustee for both companies is Jonathan William Shepherd. That’s you, n’est-ce pas?”

There was a long silence. I knew Tom was waiting for me to tell him exactly what was going on. Since I didn’t have any better idea than he did, I said nothing.

“You still there, Professeur?”

“Yeah, Tom, I’m here. Look, let that go. I don’t want to talk about it right now.”

And even if I did, I had no goddamned clue what I could say.

Captain Tom must have been accustomed to people who didn’t want to talk about things because he changed the subject smoothly.

“Where are you now, Professeur?”

“I followed the route you marked on the map. I’m in a spot just above the compound and I can see it pretty well. Do you know how many people are in there?”

“Why? What are you going to do? Rush the place with that faggot.45 of yours?”

“Maybe.”

“Well, shit, Professeur.”

There was a short silence before Captain Tom went on.

“I don’t know who’s in there. The place isn’t that big, is it?”

“Looks pretty big from here. You don’t know for sure?”

“Jesus Christ, Professeur, I know fuck all for sure.”

I didn’t say anything else. Captain Tom obviously hoped I would tell him what I was going to do, but he wasn’t sure he should press the point.

“Hey, I was only making a joke about rushing the house,” he eventually said.

“Uh-huh.”

“I mean… you wouldn’t really do that, would you, Professeur?”

“Nope.”

“Hey, okay. You had me worried there for a minute.”

Then Captain Tom must have played back the last bit of our conversation and noticed that I had left his original question conspicuously unanswered.

“So what are you going to do?”

“You got a phone number for the compound, Tom?”

“Ah… no.”

“Didn’t think you would. Then I guess I’ll have to go down and ring the doorbell like you suggested.”

“Hey, Professeur, now wait a minute. If I were you, I’d think about it for a long time before-”

I cut Tom off before he could get wound up.

“Ground control to Captain Tom. Over and out.”

I hit the red power button and my cell phone went dead. I shoved it into the duffle and walked back to the rock outcropping that had become my observation post; then I raised the field glasses again. The compound looked quiet and sleepy in the late afternoon sun and the guard was no longer anywhere to be seen.

So I’m the trustee for the property, huh?

Of course Barry Gale was down there. He had flown to Phuket under my name and now here he was, surrounded by armed guards and in an elaborate compound owned by companies I appeared to control. Barry couldn’t have made it any clearer if he had installed a red neon sign on the roof.

Barry Gale wanted me to find him.

And now I had.

So why wait any longer to ask Barry what the hell this was all about? I certainly wasn’t just going to drive back down to the Phuket Yacht Club now and think about it some more over a Heineken. In my experience, life generally worked out best if you just kept moving in a reasonably straight line most of the time, even if a lot of people tried to make it seem more complicated than that. For example, if you wanted to ask someone a question, usually the best approach was to walk right up to them and ask it. That way, you got your answer without a lot of unnecessary screwing around. Of course, the answer was frequently a lie; but hey, it was a start, wasn’t it?

I lowered the glasses and looked around. Barry had picked a hell of a good bolt-hole. Other than using the main road or coming cross-country like I had, the compound was unapproachable. Nobody could get within five hundred yards of the place without being spotted, and even if somebody could get up to it the walls made it a fortress that would have given General Patton pause. With the gasoline storage and the communications equipment, Barry could probably hold out in there long enough to make anyone stalking him throw up their hands in exasperation and just go away.

Waiting until dark to approach the compound probably wouldn’t make any difference, but then again, it might. The element of surprise was always supposed to be a good thing, wasn’t it?

Okay, let’s just say that I managed to get down there without being seen. Then what?

I could check the place out, of course, see if there might be a way to get past the wall and slip by the guards. Maybe I could give Barry Gale a bit of a shock that way and that would help me get the truth out of him. Okay, so it wasn’t much-in fact, it probably wasn’t anything-but it was the cleverest plan I could come up with on short notice.

On the other hand, it occurred to me that armed guards aren’t particularly relevant unless whoever is being guarded expects someone to show up, so it was possible that the primary effect of me suddenly appearing out of the darkness might be to get my ass shot off. That insight caused me to recalculate the value of the element of surprise a few times, but I couldn’t make up my mind which way the balance fell so I decided not to worry about it.

It was just after five. I walked back to the jeep and settled into the passenger seat, waiting either for darkness to fall or rational thought processes to return, whichever occurred first.

It seemed unlikely there would be any other traffic the way I had just come-I hadn’t seen another vehicle the entire time I’d been driving-but just in case, I reversed the jeep along the track until I found a good spot to swing it around. I parked it facing out toward the ocean like I was up there to watch the sunset. If anyone did come up the road, I would probably look like just another loony tourist in a tropical daze.

I unzipped the duffle and pushed the glasses inside. When I did, I saw the.45 and lifted it out. I used to shoot some at a range in the Maryland suburbs just outside of Washington, but I hadn’t touched a handgun since I had been in Thailand and I had certainly never pointed one at a human being. What the hell did I think I was going to do with this one? Use it to threaten Barry?

In my personal experience with the somewhat less violent forms of coercion routinely practiced by lawyers, threats only worked when people knew you might actually carry them out. Did I look like a guy who would coolly pull the trigger on someone? And if I didn’t, or if I wasn’t, then what good was waving a prop around going to do?

I stepped out of the jeep and slid the.45 from of its holster. I dropped the clip, hefted it in the approved two-handed grip, and bent my knees into a Weaver stance just like I had been taught. I looked down the barrel, focusing on the front sight with my left eye open just as my instructor had repeatedly reminded me. Then I racked the slide and dry-fired, feeling the solid clunk of the hammer slamming down where the cartridge ought to be.

Okay, so maybe I could use it if I actually had to.

Lowering the.45 I popped the clip back in and worked the slide to chamber a round. Then I set the safety, pushed it back into its holster, and stuck the whole rig back in the duffle bag. I could always decide what I was going to do with it later.

I fiddled with the jeep’s passenger seat until I got it as far back as it would go. Then I climbed up and settled into it, propping my feet across the driver’s seat and leaning back against the door. The sun was a huge, shimmering disk of red, and the lower rim was just nudging the Andaman Sea. It would soon be dark.

I suddenly remembered a Chinese folk tale I had once heard about a green flash that supposedly occurs occasionally when the sun sets into the ocean, a brilliant halo of emerald light that flares outward just as the upper rim of the sun sinks beneath the sea. Good fortune and eternal happiness are supposed to come to anyone who sees the green flash, or so the tale went; but that sounded like far too romantic a notion for the Chinese and I had always doubted that part of the story. Still, it was a lovely thought and I started hoping it might be true since I could certainly use some of that good fortune and eternal happiness stuff right about then.

I wasn’t going to get my hopes up. The circumstances weren’t very encouraging. I could have been in one of Phuket’s many seafront bars about then, settled comfortably among the brown-skinned girls who were always around at the end of the day, wondering if tonight would be the night I would see the green flash at last; but instead I was slumped against the passenger door of a muddy jeep, all alone on the side of a deserted hill, waiting for it to get dark enough for me to creep up on a guy who was holed up in a walled estate that looked like it had been built by the Seven Dwarfs on their weekends off from the mine. Not really the greatest choice of venue for green flash spotting.

In the last light of the setting sun I glanced up the road toward the big outcropping where I had been watching the compound. A little further along that road, no more than a half-mile away, the answers to all my questions were somewhere inside a lonely compound, perched on the rocky tip of a remote tropical island and guarded by some rented guns.

And how, drawing on the sum total of my entire lifetime’s accumulated wisdom and experience, was I going to deal with that?

I was going to wait until it got dark, try to sneak inside, and ask Barry Gale if he would mind very much telling me what in Christ’s name was going on here.

That’s your big plan?

Well… yeah.

It really sucks.

By the time I glanced back at the sun, it was gone. The night had arrived with heart-stopping suddenness and the Andaman Sea looked as if it had turned to molten pewter. The tiny atolls just west of Phuket were a scattering of pebbles flung across its surface, quick-frozen into the hardening metal.

I hadn’t noticed if there had been a green flash or not.

Rats.

I’d really been counting on that.

FORTY FOUR

The moon rose round and full over my shoulder. It looked like a yellow flying saucer levitating out of the rain forest.

When I figured I had stalled as long as I could, I started the jeep, turned it around, and drove slowly up the track. Just before I swung around the rocks where I had been sheltering, I cut my lights. Then I stopped and stood up in the jeep, studying the compound again through the field glasses.

The brass torches flanking the wooden gates had been lit. They were blazing with gas flares that shot three or four feet into the air and cast an eerie, yellowish pool of light in front of the huge gates. There was a scattering of lights in a few of the building’s windows, but I saw no sign of anyone. The moonlight was bright enough on the slope for me to pick my way down through the darkness without serious risk, yet still not bright enough to make me unduly conspicuous. That was about as much good luck as I could hope for.

I unzipped the bag and took out the.45 and the spare clips. Positioning the holster in front of my right hip, I snapped it over my belt and stuffed the spare clips into my trouser pockets. Hauling the windbreaker out of the duffle, I turned it inside out to make the yellow FBI identification on the back a little less conspicuous-somehow I didn’t think that would strike exactly the right introductory note with Barry’s armed guards-then pulled it on over my polo shirt and jeans.

Taking a deep breath I shifted back into gear and eased the jeep on down the rough track without turning on the headlights. The tires made a swishing sound in the limestone dust as I rolled through the darkness toward the black rock wall.

After about three hundred yards the track dipped sharply and then rose again. When I reached the top of the small rise I stopped and reexamined the view ahead. From that point onward the track faded away, so I backed carefully down from the rise, pulled the jeep off where it couldn’t be seen from the compound, and cut the engine.

I got out, closing the door quietly behind me I took the field glasses and walked back up the rise. Stretching out flat so I wouldn’t be silhouetted against the sky, I raised the glasses.

From where I was the ground sloped down evenly to the compound and then dropped abruptly right behind it over a cliff and into the sea. The main road was a narrow line of gray asphalt that came in from the north, made a sharp dogleg west, and ended in a small pad in front of the gates. It was rough and unlit, really not much of a road, and it was deserted.

Now that I was closer to the compound I could see that in front of the gates there was a box set all by itself waist-high on a shiny post which had to be an intercom of some sort. Above the gates there was another box mounted on the wall. That one looked like a camera. I swung the glasses back and forth and didn’t see any other surveillance cameras along the wall. That was the good news. The bad news was that I couldn’t find any cover between the rise and the wall either, but with no surveillance and no sign of any guards outside the walls, maybe I wouldn’t need it.

While the light from the burning torches illuminated the area around the gate, the shadows around the rest of the wall were dark in spite of the moonlight. Unless Barry had himself some spiffy infrared sensors out there, it looked like I could make it unseen at least as far as the wall if I approached the compound from the side rather than head-on toward the gates.

I eased back down the rise and dumped the field glasses in the jeep. Moving perpendicular to the track, I jogged in a half crouch until I was far enough on the north side of the compound that I couldn’t see the gates any longer. Taking one more careful look around and seeing nothing, I drew a deep breath and ran as quietly as I could for the wall.

Sure enough I reached the base without any indication that I had been seen. I ended up at a spot that was dim enough to make me feel about as secure as I could hope to be under the circumstances. Up close, the wall was just what it had looked like through the field glasses. Solid rock, about fifteen feet high, and mortared so smoothly that climbing it wasn’t even worth thinking about. Staying in the shadows, I worked my way around the compound looking carefully for a weak point. I hugged the base of the wall and kept away from the gate, and I found nothing that was any help.

There were no other entrances at all and if there was even the slightest variation in the construction of the wall it eluded me. When I reached the corner of the compound opposite to the one where I had started, I leaned cautiously out of the shadows and studied the section of the wall where the gates were. It looked exactly the same as it did everywhere else.

The gates themselves were thickly varnished and seemed to fit together in the center with perfect precision. There was no hardware on their exterior, not even a handle or a plate suggesting a lock and I couldn’t see anything like a crack or a knothole through which I could try and sneak a peek inside.

It was an entrance designed to make anyone who approached it feel insignificant, a supplicant begging audience with the Black Prince, and that made me mad as hell. Barry Gale was a slug who had crawled into bed with the Russian Mafia. I knew for certain he had been involved in one murder back in Dallas and I had no doubt that he was somehow connected to the killings of Howard and Dollar as well. Yet here I was, skulking around in the darkness just to talk to the bastard. My right hand slipped inside my windbreaker and closed over the grips of the.45.

Let me get this straight, a little voice said. You’re going to pull that peashooter and blast your way in like Rambo, right through a pair of solid teak gates that would probably stop King Kong. Then you’re going to back down a bunch of goons armed with automatic rifles, scare the crap out of Barry Gale, and just lean back and listen while he spills everything. That’s what you’re going to do here?

With a sigh, I took my hand out of my jacket and looked around again. No, of course I wasn’t going to do that, but there was only one other alternative.

And I can’t believe I’m going to do that either.

Manny’s underground network had successfully smuggled me onto Phuket undetected. I had found Barry Gale’s secret bolt-hole, waited until I had the cover of darkness, and then crept all the way to his very gate without anybody spotting me.

So now I’m just going to walk up and ring the goddamned doorbell?

Wonderful plan, Jack. Really fucking wonderful.

I stepped quickly out of the shadows and rounded the corner into the wavering circle of light cast by the gas torches before I had any more time to think about how stupid I felt. There was a single, red button next to a white number pad on the intercom box and I gave it a solid push.

“Yes?”

The voice that rattled out of the box’s loudspeaker was cold and metallic. Worse, it sounded entirely unperturbed. So much for the element of surprise.

“I’m here to see Barry Gale.”

It was a wimpy thing to say and I had to bend down slightly to speak into the intercom, so I felt even wimpier. After all the maneuvering and calculating of advantages and possibilities, now I was just some jerk standing in the dark outside the castle and begging this faceless retainer for an audience with his master.

“Who is this?” the voice asked.

Banks of floodlights set back in recesses at the top of the wall suddenly came to life and bathed the entrance to the compound so brightly that the flames from the brass torches seemed to have been snuffed out.

I hit the button again. But this time I didn’t bend down.

“This is Jack Shepherd.”

Squinting against the glare, I let the button go, but then I banged it again with my fist and yelled at the little box. “And I’m sick of this goddamned bullshit. You can tell Barry he’s got ten seconds to open this gate or I’m coming back here with every cop I can find and maybe the fucking United States Marines, too.”

I slapped the box with one hand, turned my back on it, and started walking toward the gates, although I had absolutely no idea what I was going to do when I got to them.

“Don’t you know it’s rude to drop in on friends unannounced, Jack?” Barry Gale’s voice startled me and I swiveled toward where it seemed to have come from, but there was nothing to see except the black intercom box. “You could at least have called so the cook would have had time to put out an extra plate for dinner.”

“We’re not friends, Barry!” I was shouting back at the intercom box, but of course I wasn’t pressing the button so Barry couldn’t hear me. “And you can stick your goddamned dinner up your goddamned ass!”

Out of the corner of my eye I saw the gates move and I glanced back at them. The shiny teak panels opened a crack. A man slipped out of the compound and looked me over without expression. He was a local, not particularly big or formidable, but the black assault rifle in his hands more than made up for any personal deficiencies.

The man took a few steps in my direction, then stopped, moved off to one side, and gestured me forward with the muzzle of the rifle. His round, slightly shiny face was expressionless and my eyes kept shifting back and forth between it and the rifle. The man gestured again in an impatient way, this time clearly pointing with his free hand toward the opening in the gates. I walked forward keeping a wary eye on the rifle.

As I stepped between the thick teak panels, someone on the outer edge of my peripheral vision swept my legs cleanly out from under me. I went to the ground and knees pressed into my back as I tried to catch my breath. Practiced hands patted me down. When the hands came to the.45, they snapped the holster off my belt and paused. Then they started over me again. They took the spare clips from the pockets of my jeans, my wallet, and my keys.

“Stand.”

It was a man’s voice, and I felt the knees move and the weight lift off my back.

I pushed myself up slowly and dusted off with a show of casual deliberation. It was a childish gesture of defiance, but I did it anyway.

When I eventually lifted my eyes, I saw two Thai men a few paces in front of me watching with blank faces. One was the man who had opened the gate and the other might have been the guard I had watched through my glasses patrolling the compound, although I wasn’t sure. Both of them were armed, but their weapons dangled casually at their sides. That seemed to me to be a good sign.

“Nice jacket, Mr. Shepherd.”

It was a woman’s voice from behind me.

“I like the inside-out thing,” she added. “Very subtle.”

When I turned around, Beth was holding my.45. She had taken it from the holster, but unlike the men’s rifles, it wasn’t pointed at the ground. It was pointed right at my belly. So much for good signs. Next to her was one of the men I had seen that day in Lumpini Park, the big one. He was holding my wallet, keys, and the extra clips, so I gathered it was probably his knees that had just been in my back.

“What were you going to do with this thing, Mr. Shepherd?” Beth wiggled the.45. “Shoot Barry?”

“I doubt it, Beth. But you never know.”

Beth laughed just like she had laughed that morning we were running around the lake in Lumpini Park and even in this bizarre and secret place it still had the sound of a happy child in the park on a sunny morning.

“Jeez, that would have come as a real surprise to all of us. Particularly Barry.”

I tried to read the expression in Beth’s eyes, but now they were cop’s eyes and I couldn’t.

“Did you come here alone tonight, Mr. Shepherd?”

“What does it look like to you, Beth? You see an army somewhere out there behind me?”

She smiled with her mouth, but I could see her eyes doing calculations as she did. I wondered if she believed me, and what difference it might make if she didn’t.

Beth just stood and looked at me for a while, then all at once her body relaxed and she dropped the muzzle of my.45 until it pointed to the ground.

“Barry’s in the main house. He’s anxious to see you.”

“I’ll bet he is.”

“I’ll keep your sidearm and extra clips, Mr. Shepherd. You can get them back when you leave.”

At least Beth seemed to think I would be leaving. That was encouraging. I just hoped she and Barry were on the same page.

The big man standing with Beth gave her the clips then tossed my wallet and keys across the gap between us. I caught them both in the air, which pleased me unreasonably under the circumstances, and shoved them back into my pockets.

The big man walked to the gate and closed it again, securing it with quick, economical movements. Beth gestured me toward the entrance to the main house and fell into step behind me still carrying my.45.

“Just don’t shoot me in the ass,” I muttered.

FORTY FIVE

The green marble floor of the foyer was polished to the sheen of a frozen lake and the walls were painted with kitschy scenes of what life was presumably like a few hundred years ago in Phuket, at least for the white guys. A band of dark-skinned, laughing local girls, naked except for a few strategically draped palm fronds here and there enthusiastically serviced visiting sailors who were sprawled on the beach in varying stages of intoxication. It was just the right sort of stuff to go with the big brass torches outside.

“Straight through,” Beth said from behind me.

I crossed the foyer and we walked at a stately pace single file along a wide, gallery-like corridor. Through a pair of open doors at the far end I could see part of a large room furnished with comfortable-looking couches and chairs arranged in front of a stone fireplace surrounded by an elaborately-carved marble mantelpiece. Improbably enough for Thailand, there was a wood fire blazing away in the fireplace. It was a scene that suggested Barry Gale had to be standing somewhere just out of sight, probably wearing a burgundy silk smoking jacket with a wide black sash and stroking the head of an Irish Setter.

The gallery was lined with oil paintings in heavy, old-fashioned gilt frames and at a quick glance they seemed to be a spectacular collection. I was no art expert, but a couple of the paintings looked a lot like Gauguins, another appeared to be a Monet, and a large canvas that had been carefully lit by concealed pencil-spots might have been a Rembrandt.

“These aren’t real, are they?” I asked Beth.

She didn’t say anything, but I heard her grunt softly. I wondered if that meant that the paintings were real or that she thought any idiot ought to know they weren’t.

When we reached the big room at the end of the gallery, Beth pointed at one of the couches by the fireplace, then turned away and walked back toward the front door without a word. Neither Barry Gale nor the Irish setter were anywhere in sight, so I settled back on the couch and looked around.

The room could have been a Ralph Lauren store, crackling fire and all, an American fantasy of what British manor houses were supposed to look like but never actually did. I would bet some decorator from New Jersey had ripped a few pages out of an old Harpers amp; Queen, copied as much of them as he could, and then just made the rest of it up from there. In California the result might have been funny. In Phuket it was downright scary.

“What do you think of my place, Jack?”

Barry had come into the room from somewhere behind me, but I didn’t turn around.

“Pretty terrific, huh? You see the names on those pictures out there?”

He walked past the couch and settled into a red leather wing chair that was just in front of the fire, crossing his legs at the knee and stretching his arms out along the rolled arms of the chair. He was wearing slacks that looked like black linen, a matching long-sleeved shirt, and black loafers without socks. He looked tanned and rested, not at all like a man on the run.

“So who’d you buy the place from?” I asked him. “Donald Trump?”

“That’s a pretty good one,” he chuckled.

I chuckled, too. So far we were having a hell of a time.

“Nah,” he said after he was done chuckling, “the bank took it off a couple of locals. Two old queens who were part-time politicians, part-time real estate developers, and full-time fuck-ups. They only thought they were Donald Trump.”

Barry chuckled one more time for good measure.

“How about your girlfriend outside? Another foreclosure?”

“Beth has worked for the bank…” Barry paused to think about it, “oh, almost two years now. I brought her in myself. She doesn’t know anything about the heavy lifting, of course. Just the routine stuff.”

“Yeah, I can understand how that works. Heck, I’m the trustee for this whole setup here and up until a few hours ago I didn’t even know it existed.”

Barry smiled benignly at me. He was apparently enjoying this a lot.

“Okay, Barry, you got me.” I tossed out my best shrug. “I’ll just sit here until you feel like telling me what the hell’s going on. I really don’t know what else to do.”

Barry glanced over my shoulder, then suddenly stood up and walked past me. I twisted around and saw Beth standing just inside the gallery. She and Barry exchanged a few words that I couldn’t hear and then Barry walked back and resumed his seat by the fire.

“Came here by yourself tonight, did you, Jack?”

“That’s what they say.”

“I had it all worked out for you to show up eventually, of course, but I got to be honest with you. I didn’t think you’d manage it quite this fast.”

“I have friends.”

“So do I, Jack, and if you don’t give me a straight answer about how you got here so quickly you’ll find out who they are.”

So much for the chit chat part of our program.

“I found some telephone bills and other stuff at Dollar’s that pointed me to Phuket. Then I got a guy I know to ask around and he located this place. I couldn’t tell you how he actually did that even if I wanted to, which I don’t.”

Putting Mango Manny’s name on the table didn’t seem fair or necessary, so I didn’t.

“You don’t need to know any more than that,” I added.

“You’ve got a pair there big enough to bowl with, don’t you, Jack? Not many people tell me what I need or don’t need to know.”

Then Barry’s eyes started to dance.

“Okay, smart guy, so after your secret pal located me, he smuggled you into Phuket on a private plane or some shit like that. Is that about it?”

I nodded.

“Don’t you think someone might have seen you take off from Bangkok?”

“I didn’t say we left from Bangkok.”

“Then where did you leave from?”

“It doesn’t matter, but no one saw me leave.”

“And you’re just as sure that no one saw you arrive on Phuket?”

“Just as sure.”

“So you weren’t followed here.”

“My friend made sure of that.”

“So I guess if I shoot you through the head and bury you somewhere out there, no one will ever figure out what happened to you, huh? Except maybe this secret pal of yours.”

That thought introduced an unwelcome twist to the conversation, but I pushed on anyway.

“You’re not going to do that.”

“I’m not? Really?”

“No.”

“And you’d bet your life on that, so to speak.”

“I guess I already have.”

Barry nodded slowly as if he was weighing the wisdom of my wager. I certainly was.

“How come you’re so confident here, Jack? I don’t see it myself.”

“Because you want something from me.” I looked Barry in the eye and kept on talking. “You showed up in Bangkok and gave me that cock-and-bull story about being on the run because the ABC had been scammed and you were afraid the Russians would think it was you. But let me tell you what I think is really happening here.”

Barry watched me, but he said nothing.

“My guess is that you’ve run your own little con on the bank, skimmed off a bunch of money for yourself, and then led me here because you need me to help you come up with a way to cover your ass.”

“Very interesting theory, Jack, very imaginative. I’ve always said you were a smart guy and I was right. You really are a smart guy.”

“I can’t tell you how much I appreciate your confidence in me.”

“What’s more, you’ve almost got it all right. Still, I’m afraid you’re a bit off about one thing, and I have to say that it’s something pretty important.”

I said nothing.

“Here’s the thing, Jack. Once you showed up here, the job I wanted you to do for me was finished. I’ve got no more use for you anymore.”

Barry smiled. Not knowing what else to do, I smiled back. Then I just waited. I knew the rest was coming. Barry was just warming up.

“I bought the Asia Bank of Commerce for Jimmy Kicks just like I told you, a safe little money laundry in a nice out-of-the-way place. But it wasn’t long before I realized I was on to something really big here. Everybody needs a bank they can trust, Jack. Even crooks and criminals.”

Barry leaped out of his chair and began to pace the room while he talked, his arms wheeling wildly.

“There’s a river of dirty money out there, my friend! Drugs, guns, bribes, rackets, scams, outright theft. Shit, it’s a fucking ocean! I once saw a bunch of garbage bags in a Houston warehouse with fifty million dollars in them, just stuffed in there like trash. Have you ever seen fifty million dollars in hundred-dollar bills, Jack?”

I shook my head, but Barry hardly seemed to notice.

“Before I got this deal working, all anybody could do with all that money was buy some more dope or maybe a couple of shitty strip malls in Tampa. That’s not power, Jack. Cash is power! But not if it’s in bags in some fucking warehouse. If you can’t get your cash into the banking system, you might as well start using it to wipe your ass because that’s all it’s good for. It’s nothing but wastepaper.”

“A lot of people have tried large-scale money laundering, Barry. They always get caught.”

“All a bunch of fucking amateurs, Jack!” he sneered. “Just yokels with no vision!”

I nodded in encouragement and Barry took flight again.

“We put the word out discreetly that the ABC was a reliable bank owned by reliable people and that it didn’t ask a lot of questions about its depositors. After that, the damnedest stuff started turning up on our doorstep. You know why? Because we were part of the international banking system and when folks put their money with us it became part of the international banking system! After that I could send it any place in the world without anyone knowing anything at all about where it came from.”

“I wouldn’t want you to think I’m not enjoying our little chat here, Barry, but what the hell has any of this got to do with me?”

“Just be patient, Jack, hear me out. It was like this. First, of course, it was mostly just dipshit local scumbags who put money with us, but after the word got around, we had the Russians, the Burmese, the Colombians, the Mexicans, the South Africans, everybody! We started getting into bigger and bigger money, but most of it was just going right through us. I started thinking about ways we could hang on to a bigger piece.”

Why didn’t that surprise me?

“Then some Burmese jerk-offs brought us a deal they had going with the Chinese and I saw my chance. You know the army really runs the drug trade in China, don’t you, Jack? Well, these Burmese yahoos had done a deal with the Chinese army because they were swimming in raw morphine base and wanted to diversify into finished products. They agreed to finance the construction of four heroin refineries just across the border into China. The Burmese would provide the morphine base and Chinese army would look after the refineries and transport the processed heroin to the coast for shipment to North America and Europe. The deal was for everybody to split the proceeds from the operation right down the middle.”

I shook my head impatiently. It seemed to irritate Barry that I wasn’t hanging on his every word, but he went on anyway.

“The problem was how to get the money to finance the refineries and pay off the generals in China without anyone knowing where it came from.”

Barry was still watching me, reveling in relating his great adventure to someone he thought would truly appreciate its nuances. He wanted me to be interested in what he was saying. I was, of course, but I tried not to show it.

“The Burmese had a shitload of cash split up among a bunch of shell companies with accounts in American banks, of all places, which the stupid cocksuckers thought was so damned clever of them. The problem was, naturally, that they couldn’t figure out how to move any of it from the US to China without being conspicuous, but I saw the way to do it right away.”

Barry tapped the side of his head with one finger and hoisted his eyebrows. I struggled not to laugh.

“All the ABC had to do was arrange routine trade financing between the Burmese shell companies and a bunch of ordinary businesses the Chinese army controlled. Coal mines and toy companies, shit like that. We accepted the cash being held in the American banks as security for the loans. After that, we could shift the deposits around through our own system without anybody noticing. You following me here, Jack?”

“I think I can grasp the mechanics, Barry.”

“It was even simpler than you might think because here’s the twist I put on the deal. We took the Burmese funds out of the American shell companies as security for the loans to the Chinese, but we never made any loans.”

It took me a moment, but then I saw the brutal simplicity in what Barry was saying.

“You’re telling me that instead of laundering the money that came from the Burmese and passing it through to the Chinese, the Asian Bank of Commerce stole it?”

“Not exactly. I stole it, not the bank. I personally cleaned the motherfuckers out.”

“Why would you think you could get away with that?”

“Two reasons, Jack.”

Barry held up two fingers as if I might not be familiar with the number.

“First, what we had with the ABC was a sort of No Tell Motel for money. I mean, it’s like this. You’re at a nice little motel way out somewhere on the highway with a lady friend and you see your worst enemy with some big-tittied hooker. What are you going to do? Call his wife and say you saw him there? And then when your wife finds out you were there and she asks ‘What were you doing at the No Tell Motel?’ what are you going to say to her? Hey, it was foolproof, Jack. The money was never supposed to be there in the first place. So who the hell was going to complain that it was gone?”

“What’s the second reason?” I asked.

“Well, the second reason-and I’m sorry to have to tell you this, Jack-is you.”

“Me? I’ve got nothing to do with your deal, Barry.”

Barry smiled and there was something about the way he did it that I really didn’t like.

“Every business deal I have ever been in eventually works out the same way, Jack. Somebody gets fucked. You know what I mean?”

I nodded.

“So that’s what you’ve got to do with this deal. You’re the guy who’s getting fucked.”

FORTY SIX

“It’s this way, Jack. Even when you’re messing around with money that’s not supposed to exist, it still belongs to somebody, and they’ll still be plenty pissed when they find out it’s gone.”

“I can imagine.”

“Yeah, that was the problem I had. If the Burmese thought I had their money, they might not come after me publicly, but you can bet your ass that they’d do it privately. Sometimes it’s those private complaints that really end up fucking you in the ass. You know what I mean?”

“Not really. That’s not a problem I’ve ever had.”

“Well, Jack, that’s exactly what I’m trying to tell you here. You have it now.”

Barry tapped the side of his head with his index finger for the second time. He apparently liked that gesture a lot.

“Taking the money was easy, Jack, but I knew keeping it was a whole different deal. I needed a patsy, someone who was such a respected expert in international finance that it would be entirely believable that he was the scammer, not me. Someone exactly like you.”

“That’s nuts, Barry. Why would anyone in his right mind think that I had anything to do with all this?”

“Because your fingerprints are all over everything connected with it: the legal work, the fund transfers, even the corporate structures we used. It was all your work, Jack. You put it together.”

That didn’t make any sense. I had never had any thing to do with the Asian Bank of Commerce. The closest I had come to it was fifteen minutes in a corporate services office in Hong Kong trying to have a conversation with a human doorstop.

“You don’t know what I’m talking about, do you?”

He had me there. I shook my head.

“I own Southeast Asian Investments, Jack. Why do you think you got that invitation out of the blue to join their board of directors?” Barry grinned and spread his palms. “Hey, I always remember my buddies, don’t I?”

And just like that the pieces of the puzzle began to slide around in my mind and assemble themselves into a picture that actually made a sort of weird sense.

“The Cambodian shrimp farm deal they ask me to look into was really just a conduit for laundering money into China?” I asked carefully.

“Yep,” Barry nodded. “You’re strapped so tightly to ABC and Southeast Asian Investments that it won’t take even those Burmese idiots very long to work out that you’re the guy in the barrel here.”

“And what did I do with all this money I’m supposed to have taken?”

“Ah, Jack…” Barry spread his hands in front of him in the classic gesture of helplessness. “I only wish I knew. If I did, honest banker that I am, I’d send the information straight to the Chinese who were supposed to get the funds in the first place. You were just too smart for me.”

And that was when I started to laugh.

Barry looked puzzled. He figured I ought to be pissing myself right about then, certainly oozing some heavy sweat at the very least, but I wasn’t. I was sitting there laughing at him.

“Laugh if you want, Jack, but I hear both the Burmese and the Chinese are looking all over for their money. And they’re looking for you.”

I sat and shook my head. This was too good to be true.

“How much did you get?” I asked him. “How much did I get?’

“Nearly $50,000,000.”

I knew I might never get another moment like this again if I lived forever.

“Actually, it wasn’t quite that much, was it, Barry? It was more like $43,600,000. Plus change.”

I stared Barry straight in the eyes and relished every second of the silence that followed. He tried briefly to look unperturbed, but the effort was a dead loss.

“How the hell did you know that?” he snapped.

I could see the fear. Barry had lost control somehow. He didn’t know why or how, and that had scared the hell out of him. Slamming him right then was like slugging a drunk, but I did it anyway. I continued to stare straight into his wide black eyes and I swung from my heels.

“The money you stole was going to China all right, Barry, but it didn’t belong to any Burmese drug producers and it wasn’t meant for building heroin refineries in China. It was a CIA slush fund. It was bribe money the CIA was laundering to keep their Chinese networks going.”

Barry went completely white. I had never seen anyone go white before and I had always thought the expression to be mostly poetic license; but it wasn’t, and he did.

“Bullshit!” he sputtered.

For a moment Barry appeared to be fumbling for some even more forceful way to put his thoughts, but if that’s what he was doing, he was spectacularly unsuccessful.

“Bullshit!” he sputtered again, spittle accumulating at the corners of his mouth.

This time he pointed a finger at me, although I wasn’t quite sure what he thought that added to his point of view.

“Makes no difference to me if you believe it,” I said and tossed out my most ingratiating smile. “My ass isn’t hanging out here.”

“The hell it isn’t!” Barry jutted out his chin and I could hear his breathing accelerate. “It doesn’t matter whose money it really was. Whoever it is, they still think you’ve got it. You’re still the patty in this burger, old buddy.”

I shook my head. “How do you think I knew the exact amount of money you had taken, Barry? A guy connected to the Agency gave me the number.” And then I leaned in and added my coldest smile. “And he told me because the Agency already knew I didn’t have their money.”

Barry made a disdainful noise, but I could almost hear him thinking.

“Then why are they still on your ass, shithead?” he snapped after a moment.

“Because they want something else from me, Barry.”

“What the fuck could they want that’s worth more to them than $43,000,000?”

And there it was. We had come to the bottom line.

I smiled broadly when I answered.

“You, Barry. They want you.”

Right in front of me I saw Barry Gale deflate. Like an old balloon man slowly losing air, his arms contracted, followed by his legs, then his shoulders pulled back somewhere into his neck and he crumpled slowly into his red leather wing chair.

“That’s why I went through all that nonsense to get here without being followed. I wanted to hear your side of the story before I made up my mind what to do.” I started to laugh again in spite of myself. “Man, oh man. I can’t believe it. You’re even dumber than the spooks.”

Barry watched me as if I was far away and needed magnification. His eyes shifted back and forth and his jaw worked. He leaned forward in his chair like he was about to rise, but then he shifted his weight and sat back again. He crossed and uncrossed his legs.

Then an expression like release appeared on Barry’s face and I felt a shift in the air. All at once he looked like a man who had just made the pleasing discovery that the law of gravity didn’t apply to him.

“Is the money really the CIA’s?” he asked in a voice so soft and controlled that it startled me after his screaming fit.

“That’s what they told me. All $43,600,000 of it.”

“I don’t know. That doesn’t sound right to me.”

“Then what do you think the truth is, Barry?

“Shoot, I don’t know, Jack. The truth is a slippery business sometimes.” Barry took a deep breath and looked away. “What do you figure it’s going to cost me to fix all this, Jack?”

“I don’t know, Barry. I’m not really the guy to ask. You probably ought to talk to the spooks about that when they show up here, but I’ll bet they can be real hard asses when they find out that some tin-pot pimp for a bunch of Russian mobsters scammed them.”

Barry looked no more concerned than if we were negotiating the purchase of a car and I had suggested a price in which he was just slightly disappointed.

“So what do you do now, Jack?” Barry crossed his legs and leaned back, like a man making social chitchat without a care in the world. “You go back to Bangkok and you meet the Agency guys you know, I suppose, and you tell them…”

Barry stopped talking and seemed to search hard for a sensible answer to his own question.

“What do you tell them, Jack?”

Is that a trick question?

“I’ll probably tell them what happened to their money and where they can find you.”

“And then you think they’ll just let you walk away? You think after that you can just go back to teaching and they’ll forget all about you?”

I said nothing and Barry shaped his face into an expression of incredulity.

“Who do you think killed Howard and Dollar, Jack?”

Barry shook his head sadly like I had just missed the last question in the lightning round and he could hardly believe my lousy luck.

“You think they had something to do with setting up this deal and I whacked Dollar and Howard so they wouldn’t tell anyone about it? Is that what you think, Jack?”

“Something like that.”

Barry shook his head some more in mock amazement at my naivete.

“The CIA killed them both, Jack.”

“Give me a break, Barry. If you really think you can sell me that, you’ve been watching way too much TV.”

“Think about it. Why would anybody have been after Dollar and Howard? To find out where the money really went. I already knew where the money really went, Jack. It was the CIA that didn’t know. They were the ones after Dollar and Howard. Not me.”

“I can’t see that, Barry,” I said.

But I could.

Barry was right. He didn’t have to look for the money. He already knew where it was.

“So, the way I’m looking at this thing now, Jack, the spooks must have followed the money from Howard to Dollar, and now to…” Barry stopped talking and pointed his right hand at me, using his thumb and forefinger to make it into a little gun. “You see my point.”

I did. Ray Charles could see his point.

“It looks to me like you’re standing in a tricky load of goose shit here, Jack. So, just out of interest, tell me, what do you plan to do now?”

It was a good question, and right off the top of my head, I didn’t have a great answer.

Everything was going too fast. I was usually pretty good at thinking on my feet, but this was ridiculous. A half-hour of talking to Barry and I’d already accumulated an array of faceless adversaries big enough to throw a respectable masked ball. It was all getting so complicated that I probably should have been taking notes.

All at once Barry pushed himself out of the leather wing and strode past me. Beth had come in again and was waiting quietly for him at the end of the gallery. As he had before, Barry stood too close to her for me to hear what they were saying, but I could see Beth’s face and something that looked like disquiet in her expression as her lips moved. Barry folded his arms and glanced quickly back at me; then he said something and Beth frowned. After that, she said something else and Barry shook his head.

“I got to take care of something, Jack,” he called back to me without turning around.

“That’s okay. It’s past my bedtime anyway. I’ll probably just shove off.”

That caused Barry to turn around. It also caused him to jam his hands in his pockets and go back to chuckling.

“Nah, Jack. That’s not a choice for you right now. Make yourself at home. I’ll be back in a few minutes and we’ll get us some drinks, maybe have some sandwiches, and then we’ll cut a deal here. We’re both businessmen. We’ve done tough deals before. I’m sure we can work something out.”

Barry fixed me with a steady eye.

“That’s the truth, don’t you think, Jack?”

I shrugged and swung my feet up on the coffee table, settling back into the sofa’s deep cushions and clasping my hands together behind my head.

“The truth is a slippery business sometimes, Barry.”

Barry laughed loudly, too loudly for it to sound particularly convincing. Then he turned away and walked quickly up the gallery. Beth stayed close behind him.

FORTY SEVEN

I sat there quietly for a while watching the fire burn, which felt awfully odd. Here I was on a tropical island on the edge of the Indian Ocean, so for God’s sake what was I doing staring into a roaring fire?

Come to think of it, what am I doing here at all?

When I had set out to storm the Black Prince’s castle I figured I was right on the verge of getting everything under control. Of course, I always figured I was right on the verge of getting everything under control, but this time it wasn’t quite working out that way.

Maybe Barry was right. Maybe either the Agency really was responsible for killing Howard and Dollar, either because they were trying to get the Chinese slush fund back or because they were trying to cover up the embarrassing fact that it had existed in the first place. But why did that necessarily make me the next guy on their list? Even if I could bring myself to believe that agents of the United States government really went around murdering other Americans to keep them quiet, what in God’s name would these guys accomplish by killing me?

I didn’t know shit about whatever they were up to. That was precisely my problem.

I sat there for a while on the sofa with my hands laced behind my head trying to decide what I ought to do now. Surely after Barry came back I could finesse my way past him somehow and work something out. After all, finesse was my best punch, wasn’t it? A sharply focused argument here, a glib phrase there, baffle them with bullshit then run for the door. It had always worked before. Why not now?

Eventually I got bored with thinking about my predicament and started examining my surroundings. Although right at that moment it wasn’t the decor that had my attention, it was more a question of where the exits were.

I could see two sets of double doors at the opposite end of the room and of course I knew the gallery behind me that led to the front door. Then along the right-hand wall flanking the fireplace there were a half-dozen windows covered with shades of red-and-green tartan fabric.

I walked over and pulled one of the window shades aside. Outside I could see only a small section of the compound, but it looked like I was somewhere at the back. The area was deserted and the moon was just strong enough to illuminate everything with a soft, sourceless glow that under different circumstances might have been romantic. Floodlights, maybe even a pack of snarling German Shepherds, would have seemed more fitting to me, but I didn’t see any sign of either.

I walked to the end of the room and tried the left hand pair of double doors. Locked. Then I went to the right hand pair, placed my palm against the upper panel of one of the doors, and pressed gently. It swung open without a sound and I stepped through half expecting to trip some kind of alarm. But nothing happened.

In front of me was a windowless corridor that ran straight for about twenty feet and then ended at an ordinary single door that was standing half open. From just beyond it, I could hear the crackle of a radio. I walked quickly down the corridor and through the door. There was no one in the room.

My eyes swept over the small space. On the left-hand wall there was a rack with a dozen or more guns I had no trouble recognizing. They were AK-47s with folding stocks, nasty-looking pieces of hardware that provided serious firepower. I had played tennis with a couple of SWAT guys back in Washington and one day they had taken me out to their training range and let me mess around with some stuff they had taken off a street gang which included a Chinese-made version of the AK. Barry must have been scared shitless if he had stockpiled heavy-duty weapons like that.

In front of me there was a sagging leather couch and on the opposite side of the room there was a desk pushed up against the wall with a line of five television monitors mounted above it. The first, second, and third monitors showed gray-toned pictures that were apparently coming from various parts of the compound. The fourth monitor showed the area just inside the main gates. The gates stood open a few feet and I could see several of the guards hovering together in a little knot and watching something outside. Oddly, none of the guards seemed to be carrying weapons now.

But it was the fifth monitor that drew my full attention.

That one was displaying what had to be the picture from the camera I had spotted above the gate. In the glare of the lights shining down from the top of the wall, I could see two white Toyotas and a jeep right outside the gate and a group of men who had apparently just arrived in them. There were seven or eight in all, each wearing the chocolate-brown uniform of a Thai policeman. All but one were also wearing dark green combat helmets with red stripes running around them. The only man without a helmet appeared to be the officer in charge. The left side of his chest was emblazoned with a clipboard-sized pad of ribbons and he stood apart and just in front of the others.

I slid into the black swivel chair in front of the desk and leaned toward the monitor, studying it carefully.

Barry Gale had gone outside to meet the police and the scene on the monitor looked like a tableau that had been arranged around him. Beth was standing to his left, and to his right one of the guards appeared to be talking to the senior police officer and translating for Barry. The half-dozen or more uniforms behind the officer looked ready to move into action at a moment’s notice. In the foreground I saw three of Barry’s guards backing him up, but like the guards still inside they appeared to have discarded their weapons. Well, that would make sense, wouldn’t it? It would have hardly been smart to carry AK-47s out to meet the cops.

On the monitor I could see Barry shaking his head. His body language made him appear more exasperated than concerned, but I still wondered what was going on. There was something about the whole scene that didn’t look quite right to me, although I couldn’t put my finger on exactly what it was.

As I watched, Beth turned her head away from the conversation and lifted a handheld radio to her lips. When she spoke I could hear her voice coming through a loudspeaker that was mounted above the monitor rack.

“Activity in any other sector?” she asked.

“Negative,” a male voice with a Thai accent replied immediately. I gathered it was a guard posted somewhere else around the compound.

“Negative.”

“No.”

Two more voices. Okay, so there were a lot of guards around the compound.

What was it about the scene on the security monitor that looked so strange to me? Something was wrong, but whatever it was dangled just out of reach.

The senior police officer was talking to the translator again and pointing his finger at Barry. After whatever he had said was repeated in English, I saw Beth step forward and hold up both her hands, palms out, shaking her head vigorously. The man immediately raised a radio of his own, turned and spoke a few quick words into it.

As soon as he did, Barry turned around and started toward the gates, but several of the cops drew handguns and moved quickly to outflank him, and he stopped. I was still trying to work out what that was all about when two of the other uniforms produced folding submachine guns from somewhere and spread out expertly, covering Beth and her people through widely separated angles of fire.

Now I saw exactly what was wrong with the whole picture.

Thai street cops didn’t move like combat soldiers. Thai police generally moved more like the last customers in a pub emptying out at closing time. Regardless of their uniforms, these guys obviously weren’t police. They were military.

And they were there for Barry. I had no doubt about it.

Barry had stockpiled all this firepower and secured himself behind these walls. Then some guys showed up and he told his the guards to open the gates and put away their AKs and just because the men were wearing police uniforms the guards did it.

In Thailand, the army did all the really high-class hits. Cops were a lot cheaper to rent, of course, but they were not nearly as reliable.

What a schmuck Barry is, I thought. Stupid to the end.

FORTY EIGHT

“Wait a minute.”

It was one of the guard’s voices coming through the speaker.

I watched on the monitor as Beth raised her radio again. “What have you got?” she asked.

“More vehicles,” the same voice said. “Three. Coming up road.”

“What are they?”

“Four-wheel drives. Black ones.”

“How close?” Beth’s voice had an undertone of dread.

“Two minutes,” the guard replied.

On the monitor I saw Beth lower the radio and put her lips close to Barry’s ear. She spoke for a moment and Barry appeared to ask her a question, and when she nodded her head he suddenly broke into a run toward the half-open gates.

The senior uniform started after him, drawing his sidearm as he did, and the other uniforms spread out and covered the area with their guns. It didn’t look to me like anybody was actually firing yet, but I figured that was just a matter of time.

Beth moved to cut off the man in the officer’s uniform, which looked like it might give Barry time to make the gates. She reached for the man’s gun arm. The officer hardly glanced at her. He cleared the heavy-looking black automatic from his belt holster and kept coming. His gun swung up and out in a smooth arc.

I saw the barrel slam Beth on the side of the head, and I saw her go down.

Automatically, I pushed myself out of my chair.

So what are you going to do about it? You’re a college professor, not a tin-pot action hero.

I glanced over my shoulder at the rack of automatic rifles, but I felt a blanket of helplessness settling over me. There were six or eight heavily-armed and obviously well-trained men rushing the gates of Barry’s compound and my sole experience with combat weapons had been a half-hour at a SWAT range in Washington DC.

I glanced back at the monitor just in time to see the man in the police officer’s uniform level the muzzle of his handgun directly at me, pointing it straight into the lens of the camera. Reflexively, I ducked, and when I looked back up again the monitor’s picture had turned to static. If they were knocking out the surveillance systems, I knew what that meant. Barry was going down and they didn’t want any witnesses.

I had absolutely no intention of going down with him. I looked around the little room and for the first time noticed another door. Leaping up and grabbing the handle I twisted it.

Locked.

Then I saw the throw bolt just above the handle. It had been secured into a receiver on the doorjamb and I jerked it open and tried again.

This time the door swung open. A wave of heavy night air flooded in and the room’s lights jumped into the darkness. I banged the switch off with the heel of my hand before I attracted any unwanted attention. I started outside, but then I jumped back and grabbed one of the AKs out of the rack. I fumbled with the magazine in the glow of the security monitors until I remembered how to get it out. From the weight, I could tell it was full before I even looked.

I slapped the magazine back in and racked the cocking handle. If any of those bastards in the phony police uniforms came at me, I wanted something in my hands. I would decide later what to do with it.

I eased the door closed behind me and stood quietly, letting my eyes adjust to the faint blush of the moonlight. The compound’s wall was at least twenty yards away across open and exposed ground. From where I crouched, there appeared no more hope of climbing it from this side than there had been from the other.

Okay, they came up the main road and I had left the jeep behind a rise well away from it so they almost certainly hadn’t seen it and didn’t know Barry had a visitor. Maybe they wouldn’t even bother to search the compound after they finished rounding up Barry and his guards.

If they didn’t, I had one idea that might actually work.

One of the guesthouses was near a corner of the main house. If they didn’t know I was there, and if they’d already searched the guesthouse, and if I could get to it without being seen, maybe I could hide out there until this was all over.

A shit load of ifs and maybes, but it was all I had going for me.

Keeping low and pressing myself against the house I began to work my way toward the corner that I guessed was closest to the guesthouse. None of the windows I passed were lighted, but I stayed in a half crouch anyway and kept my body tight against the wall. When I reached the corner, I stopped and dropped flat to the ground. Wedging myself as close to the wall as I could and holding the AK against my chest, I turned my head to one side and inched forward in slow motion. I could feel grit against my cheek as my ear dredged up loose soil like a little backhoe.

When my left eye cleared the corner of the house, my heart sank. I could see four men standing twenty or thirty yards away, exactly halfway between the guesthouse and the main gate. Their backs were toward me, but it seemed hopeless to try and cross the open space without attracting their attention. Then I noticed a dozen or so people were lying facedown on the ground in a straight line just in front of the four men, their hands all cuffed behind them.

I was still trying to make sense of that when something else registered. None of the four men were wearing police uniforms. Instead they all wore loose-fitting blue windbreakers with big yellow letters across the back. The big yellow letters said FBI.

I was just wondering if these guys had gotten their jackets the same place I had gotten mine when a powerful beam of light hit me directly in the face. Momentarily blinded, I felt rather than saw a boot dig under my stomach. Before I could react, the boot flipped me over, then came down in the center of my chest and pinned me to the ground.

“Fuck a duck, Jack, why do you always have to do everything the hard way?”

I recognized the voice without any trouble at all.

“Get that damned light out of my face, Just John,” I said.

A big hand wrapped around my upper arm and jerked me to my feet, then relieved me of the AK.

“What the fuck is this, Jack?” Just John had himself a good chuckle while I spat the grit out of my mouth. “You actually know how to use one of these puppies?”

“Want to give it back and find out?”

Just John laughed some more and I looked him over. He was wearing black pants with a black T-shirt and had a heavy six-cell flashlight dangled at his side. Over his shoulder some kind of small submachine gun hung from a sling.

Standing quietly next to John was Jello. He was wearing a khaki uniform that had been stripped of insignia and carried only a service revolver, but it was out of the holster and pointed in my direction. Both men wore dark gray Kevlar vests and over them the same loose blue jackets the four guys around the corner had on.

“We’ve got him!” Just John called out to someone.

“What the hell are you doing here?” I asked him.

“We’re just real interested in you, Jack,” Just John said. “We like to try and keep in touch with you whatever you’re doing. You’re a million laughs.”

“How did you find me?”

“I can’t tell you exactly. A bunch of top-secret shit’s involved. I’m sure you understand.” John’s voice made it clear that he didn’t give a damn whether I did or not. “Let’s just say that turning on your cell phone wasn’t real clever, Jacko.”

I heard the boots crunching in the dirt behind me and I glanced back over my shoulder. It was same the man I had found sitting in Dollar’s office the morning after Howard’s body had turned up swinging under the Taksin Bridge, the man who had claimed to be an FBI agent named Frank Morrissey.

“Where’d you find him?” Phony Frank asked Just John, hardly glancing at me.

“Sneaking around back here. The stupid shit-”

Phony Frank waved Just John into silence. “It doesn’t matter. Just bring him around front with the rest of them.”

Then the man turned on his heel and disappeared back the way he had come.

“Is one of you heroes going to tell me what the hell’s going on here?” I asked after he was gone.

“We’ve got ourselves a sort of situation, Jack,” Just John said.

“No shit.”

Then I looked at Jello who had yet to say a word.

“Do you talk, or what, pal?”

“This isn’t my show, Jack. I’m just along for the ride.” Jello looked mildly embarrassed and nodded toward Just John. “If you want to know anything, ask these guys.”

“And exactly who are these guys?” I asked without taking my eyes off Jello.

He looked away. “Ask them whatever you want to, Jack. Just leave me out of it.”

“Leave you out of it? You’re wearing the jacket and you’re pointing a gun at me and all you’ve got to say for yourself is, ‘Leave me out of it’? From where I’m standing, old buddy, it looks to me like you’re just as much a part of whatever’s going on here as any of these other assholes.”

“Come on,” Just John said, “don’t give Jello such a hard time. He’s just doing his job,” He shifted the submachine gun strap slightly on his shoulder and tucked his flashlight under his left arm. “Let’s take it all one step at a time. Can you just do that for once in your whole goddamned life?”

“One small step for Jack Shepherd, one giant leap for mankind? Something like that, John?”

Just John grabbed my right arm with his free hand and pulled me around the corner of the house. Jello trailed behind as we walked toward where Phony Frank and the other men in the FBI jackets waited by the line of handcuffed people lying on the ground.

“You’re such a fucking wise-ass, Jack. You break me up. You really do.”

John didn’t really seem all that broken up to me.

FORTY NINE

Somebody had set up portable lights at the front of the compound and they switched them on just as we rounded the corner. When we walked into the pool of illumination, the men in the FBI windbreakers turned to look at us.

The compound’s gates were wide open. Just outside, scattered as if they had been abandoned in a hurry, were three black Cherokees as well as the old jeep and the two white Toyotas I had seen on the security monitor. The men in police uniforms were lounging against the Toyotas now, watching the proceedings without any apparent interest. I shifted my attention back to the FBI jackets and their prisoners.

I recognized Beth and several of Barry’s guards in the line of handcuffed prisoners lying on the ground, but there were also others I didn’t recognize. Beth twisted her head around and gave me a half smile. I didn’t see any blood on her face so I gathered she was okay.

The Thais in uniform may not have been police, but these guys in the windbreakers were all westerners and they looked like the real deal. Maybe they really were FBI. They certainly could be. The whole operation smacked of textbook FBI planning. Come in with such overwhelming force and massive firepower that resistance is futile and the target collapses without a struggle.

“Bring him over here!”

Phony Frank was beckoning impatiently at Just John from down at the end of the line of prisoners. Right in front of Frank, Barry was lying on the ground on his stomach, his hands cuffed behind him.

“Is that you, Jack?” Barry called out when he heard our footsteps approaching.

Barry tried to twist his head around so he could see us, but Just John put the toe of his boot on Barry’s neck and shoved his face into the dirt.

Phony Frank looked at me and pointed back down the line at the other people with their hands cuffed behind them. “You know any of these?” he asked.

I wondered for a moment what the right answer was, and what might happen if I got the wrong answer.

“I recognize some of them,” I said after a moment.

“From where?”

I couldn’t see where this was going.

“Look, partner,” I said, “these are just some people Barry Gale hired to do security for him. If you think you’ve nabbed a drug lord and his secret army, you’ve got a big disappointment coming.”

Phony Frank walked down the line and pointed at Beth. “What about her?”

“I think she was in charge of Barry’s security.”

“Well, she did a piss-poor job, I’d say.”

Phony Frank laughed and most of the other men who were standing around started laughing, too, but when he walked back up the line again and stopped directly behind Barry, everyone stopped laughing.

“Can you identify this man as Barry Gale?” he asked me.

Phony Frank pointed to where Barry lay on his stomach with his face in the dirt and his ass in the air.

“Not from this angle. We weren’t that close.”

Phony Frank nodded a couple of times as if that was a perfectly reasonable thing for me to say. Then he reached down with both hands and in one smooth motion jerked Barry up by an arm and a leg and flipped him onto his back. Poor Barry writhed about on the ground, his cuffed hands pressing up into his spine. He looked like a fish that had been gaffed, hauled into a boat, and then left to flap helplessly on the deck. He also looked terrified.

“For Christ’s sake help me, Jack,” he whined. “Don’t let them kill me!”

“Relax, Barry. It’s the Feds. They’re not going to kill you.”

“Oh man, Jack.” Barry breathed in heavy jerks, sputtering slightly from the dirt sticking to his lips. “You still don’t get any of this, do you, you stupid fucking shit?”

“So you’re positively identifying this man as Barry Gale,” Phony Frank interrupted, enunciating as carefully as if he were making a recording.

“I didn’t say that.”

“Well, is he or isn’t he?”

“I’m begging you here, Jack. Don’t let them kill me!”

Barry was trying to struggle to his knees, but Just John kept him down with one foot. The fear was right there in Barry’s eyes. I could see it easily enough, but I still didn’t understand it.

“Just who the hell wants to know, partner?” I snapped at Phony Frank.

I was starting to get very pissed with all the cloak-and-dagger stuff and I gave him a two-fisted stare.

“Answer the man, Jack. Just answer him,” Just John muttered.

He sounded like he was getting pissed, too, but whether at Phony Frank or at me, I couldn’t tell.

I folded my arms. “Not until someone tells me exactly what the hell is going on here.”

Just John sighed heavily and bent over. Dropping his flashlight, he reached out with one hand and flipped Barry back onto his stomach.

“The ABC was an intelligence operation from the beginning,” John said.

“What did Jimmy Kicks have to do with it?”

“He never existed,” Phony Frank smiled. “We made Jimmy Kicks up.”

I didn’t say anything. Suddenly I felt very stupid.

“We needed a bank to get some things done,” Phony Frank continued. “But then you know all about those things already, don’t you, Jack? That story about the Russian mob was just a cover for taking over the ABC. We had to have a reliable Asian conduit to fund a very sensitive operation. It’s as simple as that really.”

The wind was rising off the Andaman Sea, kicking up little puffs of limestone dust around the compound. It was so quiet I could hear the waves lapping against the rocks somewhere below.

“Who’s this ‘we’ you keep talking about?” I asked after a moment.

“This was a coordinated operation between the CIA and a special White House security unit,” John answered.

Special White House security unit? What’s that supposed to mean?” I asked. “Has Ollie North made a comeback I didn’t hear about?”

“That’s none of your goddamned business, Jack. You already know a lot more than you should and that’s another problem we’re going to have to deal with eventually.”

Just John’s voice was soft, but something in it made the back of my neck feel cold.

“Barry Gale scammed our operation for a great deal of money and we want it back,” John said. “On the other hand, we don’t want some fucking Congressman going on CNN someday and claiming we got the wrong guy, so we’re doing this by the book. Look over there, Jack.”

I looked where John was pointing and saw one of the guys in an FBI jacket was holding a video camera on us.

“If you’ll just look into the camera, smile real nice for the folks, and formally identify Gale, we can grab this bunch and it will all be a wrap. Now why can’t you just be a good boy, stop fucking around with something you don’t understand, and do that for us?”

“You a spy, John?”

“Nah, Jack, I’m just a guy who has to account for the money.”

I looked at Barry lying there helplessly on his stomach. I hated to be the one to finger him, but I knew it didn’t really make any difference. They had Barry, and although I almost felt sorry for the little shit now, the plain fact was they should have him.

I looked at Phony Frank and pointed to Beth and her people.

“They’re just hired hands,” I said. “Let them go and I’ll give you your ID.”

“No problem,” he said.

Phony Frank raised his right index finger and rolled it in a tight little circle. The men in FBI jackets started pulling the security guards to their feet and the rest of us watched in silence as they loaded most of them into the jeep and the two Toyotas. Then the guys in the police uniforms got in with the prisoners and closed the doors.

Two of the men in FBI jackets got into one of the Cherokees with the last three guards, then the one holding the video camera handed it to Jello and got in another Cherokee with the remaining FBI jackets and Beth. She nodded her thanks to me, but she didn’t say anything. One by one all five cars started and moved out in a convoy, the two Cherokees at the rear.

The compound was empty now except for the last black Cherokee and our own strange little tableau. Just John, Phony Frank, Jello, and I stood silently around Barry who was still facedown in the dirt with his hands cuffed behind him.

The wind off the ocean rose a little and more dust spiraled into the air.

FIFTY