The Ambassador's Wife
When his cell phone rang, Inspector Samuel Tay considered ignoring it. But then he always considered ignoring it and he almost never did, so he answered it just as he usually ended up doing.
The caller was a sergeant Tay didn’t know. He told Tay the Officer in Charge of the Special Investigations Section of CID wanted him to come the Singapore Marriott urgently. Tay asked what was going on. The sergeant said he didn’t know.
Oddly enough, Tay was at that moment only a few blocks from the Marriott. He was stretching his lunch hour a bit browsing in Sunny’s, a used bookstore whose cheerful disorder was almost an act of public rebellion in tidy little Singapore. Sunny’s was on the third floor of Far East Plaza only a couple of hundred yards up Scotts Road. Was that just a coincidence, Tay wondered, or was he being summoned because the OC somehow knew he was at Sunny’s? He doubted his personal habits were that well known, but in Singapore you could never be absolutely certain about a thing like that.
Tay took the steps down to street level and walked quickly up Scotts Road. As he dodged through the sidewalk crowds he tried not to think too much about where he was going. He didn’t just dislike the Marriott, he loathed the goddamned place.
The Singapore Marriott was a thirty-three story octagonal-shaped tower crowned by a gigantic Chinese-style roof that loomed over the corner of Scotts and Orchard Roads, the busiest intersection in the city. The roof was no doubt supposed to soften the building’s appearance by making it look vaguely reminiscent of a traditional Chinese pagoda. Tay thought that was ridiculous. What it really made the building look like was a giant dildo. Worse, the stupid roof was green with something right at its peak that resembled a red pom-pom. The Marriott not only looked like a giant dildo, it looked like a giant dildo wearing a green rubber with a red tip on it.
Merry fucking Christmas everybody.
It broke his heart sometimes, this city of his. Back before the Marriott had been built, there was a traditional Chinese department store on that very same corner. It was a glorious building, each of its five floors wrapped in graceful, iron-arched galleries supported by tiled colonnades. Tay remembered the mysterious air they had cast over the structure, the way they had obscured its interior in dim shadows and enveloped it in an unnaturally soft, almost dreamlike light. Parallel lines of dark green shutters bordered every floor of the store and, as Singapore’s warm winds blew in and out of the half-open windows, the shutters clicked and clattered together with a sound that came back to him now with absolute clarity even after almost forty years.
Buildings like that were all gone, as gone as if they had never existed at all, and now the city was mostly somewhere he did not know, somewhere he had never been. For over thirty years the people who decided such things, the bastards, had been tearing down glorious structures just because they were old. Sometimes they even replaced them with new structures touted as modern versions of whatever they replaced. They never were, of course. They never were anything, really, other than just new. Through the merciless grinders of progress the soul of a city had passed, along even with Tay’s own soul, and each of them had emerged as…well, he really had no idea.
Sometimes Tay thought he could close his eyes and see everything again just as it had been before, back when he was eight years old and Singapore was thrilling to him; but he wasn’t absolutely sure anymore he really could. Was he seeing something he actually remembered, or was he only seeing something he hoped he remembered?
The older Tay got, the harder it was for him to tell.
TAY’S sergeant, Robbie Kang, was waiting for him just inside the Marriott’s main entrance. Kang had long, black hair and a fair complexion and was tall and gangly for a Singaporean. He was wearing his customary short-sleeved white shirt with a button-down collar and a pair of dark chinos.
“What’s going on, Sergeant?”
“They didn’t tell you, sir?”
“All I know is that somebody called to say the Chief wanted me here fast. And when the big bull trumpets, I answer the call.”
Kang didn’t smile, so Tay stopped smiling.
“What is it, Sergeant?”
“We’ve got a deceased woman upstairs, sir. A homicide. It’s…” Kang hesitated and Tay could see his Adam’s apple bob as he swallowed. “I’m told it’s messy, sir. Very messy.”
Inspector Tay did not like messy. He and Sergeant Kang didn’t talk about it, but Tay knew Robbie Kang knew perhaps all too well. He really did not like messy.
“You haven’t looked at the scene yourself yet, Sergeant?”
“No, sir.” Kang shoved his glasses up the bridge of his nose with his forefinger. “Not yet.”
Tay had never before had to deal with a woman found dead in one of the city’s five-star hotels, not even a neatly expired woman let alone one who had become deceased in such a manner that Sergeant Kang felt compelled to describe it as messy. And he really didn’t want to start now.
Even after nearly twenty years as a policeman, each time he approached the scene of a violent crime he struggled against a squeamishness he feared might yet master him entirely. For years he had watched his colleagues out of the corner of his eye searching for someone else who shared his secret weakness, but he had never found anyone at all. As far as he could tell, his colleagues thought nothing of spending an afternoon poking around the charred corpses of two children killed in a suspicious apartment fire and then going straight out for a rare steak.
Tay couldn’t do it. Whatever gene might be required to achieve that sort of detachment, he lacked it.
For a fleeting moment, Tay toyed with telling Sergeant Kang that he could no longer bear any of it. He would not on this day stand gazing down at broken bones, unsupported flesh, and extruded innards. He would not squat down next to a glistening heap of blood and tissue, poke at blood-drenched clothing, and try to still his pounding heart while he fought against nausea. He would not do that again. Not ever again.
But Tay said none of that.
What he said was this.
“Okay, Sergeant, let’s get to it then.”
The elevators were only a few steps away. Kang pushed the call button and one opened immediately. Inside, Kang touched twenty-six, Tay heard a slight humming sound, and the elevator doors closed as silently as they had opened. As he and Sergeant Kang levitated in an air-conditioned hush, Tay tilted his head back against the polished wood paneling and shut his eyes.
Singapore was normally an uncomplicated place to be a policeman, particularly one who investigated homicides. In Tay’s tiny country — its five million people an ethnic stew of Chinese, Malays, Indians, Caucasians, and Eurasians together with a smattering of almost every other race on earth — there were few criminals and even fewer killers. No more than a couple of dozen murders were committed in Singapore each year, almost all of which were the result of domestic violence. But that Singapore’s few killers mostly killed people to whom they were related did nothing to make the killings any easier for Samuel Tay to take.
In his two decades in the Criminal Investigation Department of the Singapore Police Force, Tay had seen enough dead bodies to last him several lifetimes: bodies broken in stairwells and bodies dumped in alleys; bodies battered by cricket bats and bodies crushed with tire irons; bodies opened with gaping knife wounds and bodies flattened by cinder blocks; bodies beaten into raw meat with golf clubs and bodies ripped into unidentifiable shreds by dogs; bodies in bed with their hands neatly folded and bodies in the harbor with crabs crawling out of them. Tay had stared at all kinds of dead bodies and he could remember each and every one of them with a clarity verging on the pornographic.
Murders in Singapore weren’t the romanticized duels between clever killers and plodding investigators that ended up as Michael Douglas movies. They were mostly sad and sordid events perpetrated by people who had lost money, lost a job, lost a spouse, lost hope. When Tay entered the places where desperation had taken control of people and turned them into killers, he could feel their sadness and despair pressing down on him. It was as real and palpable as a shroud.
Was he just getting old or was the carnage getting worse? When Tay first began investigating murders, he assumed he was dealing with people who were more or less like the people policemen had always dealt with, but he wasn’t so sure of that anymore. More and more these days, Tay found himself thinking that the truth of it was really quite simple: we are worse people now than we were twenty years ago, and every year we get even worse.
Tay didn’t want to believe that, he really didn’t, but so help him God, at the bottom of whatever passed for his soul these days, he was certain it was true.
“Here we are, sir,” Sergeant Kang said when the elevator doors opened.
“What’s the room number?”
Before Kang could answer, a blue-uniformed patrolman appeared from somewhere. “I’m sorry, sir, but this floor is closed to all-”
Tay lifted his right hand, palm outward. “CID-SIS. I’m Inspector Tay and this is Sergeant Kang.”
“Yes, sir. Could I see your-”
“What room, Robbie?” Tay asked again, cutting off the patrolman.
Tay strode off down the corridor and Sergeant Kang pulled his plastic-coated warrant card from his back pocket and draped the chain around his neck. The patrolman barely glanced at it. Instead, he shot a look toward where Tay had already disappeared.
“He’s okay,” Kang said. “He’s just having one of his twitchy days.”
“If you say so, sir.”
The Marriott has only sixteen guest rooms on each floor. All of them face the outside of the tower while a wide corridor carpeted in wine red and bordered with brown-and-white marble traces the building’s octagonal shape around the core where the three passenger elevators and the service elevator are located. The corridor itself is entirely white. White walls, white doors, white ceiling. Lighted by a soft glow from the wall sconces spaced evenly along both sides, the whole effect is tranquil to the point of being spooky.
There were four men outside the door to room 2608. Three wore dark suits and were arrayed in a sort of arc facing the doorway, in front of which the fourth, a uniformed patrolman, stood with his arms folded. The grouping made Tay think of a tiny band of Christmas carolers waiting for a choirmaster to lead them in song.
“I’m Inspector Tay,” he announced when he got to where the men were standing. “And this is Sergeant Kang.”
“Oh, thank Christ. I’m Bill Barwell. I’m the general manager.
Tay examined the man who had spoken and registered both his American accent and the chummy way he had introduced himself. Was anyone actually named Bill? That was just a nickname for William, wasn’t it?
“This is Mike Evans, my Executive Assistant Manager,” Barwell continued, indicating the man on his left, “and my other colleague is Ramesh Keshar, our Chief of Security.”
Tay glanced at Evans, whose short hair and well-scrubbed face unmistakably marked him as another American. So far, Tay thought, this had all the makings of an authentically crappy day. First the stupid building, and now all these Americans.
Tay didn’t dislike Americans. Not as such. Not really. Some of his best friends…well, no, it wouldn’t be true to say that. Tay had to admit that there were a number of things he admired about Americans. Their self-assurance, their boldness, their generosity, their even-handedness, their easy manner, their willingness to take risks. Most of all, he admired their sense of absolute certainty that the world would step aside and make room for them wherever they went merely because they were Americans.
Neither any of those character traits nor that kind of self-confidence were commonly found in the Singaporean temperament so Tay’s experience in dealing with people like that was limited. Actually, to be entirely honest, Samuel Tay didn’t really understand the first thing about people like that. He supposed that was why Americans made him uneasy. They scratched him where he didn’t itch.
Tay ignored both Barwell and Evans and looked at the security man.
“You’re a local hire?” Tay asked him.
“Yes, sir, I am,” Keshar said. “Singaporean born and bred.”
Tay nodded at that. At least there was one person he could talk to here who wasn’t an American.
Sergeant Kang took out a notebook and turned to Barwell. “Did you discover the body?”
“Me? Oh, good Lord, no. Not me.”
“Then who was it, sir?”
“Someone from housekeeping, as I understand it.” The manager flicked his eyes to Keshar. “Is that right, Ramesh?”
“Yes, sir. She was running her regular room checks. When she found the body, she called me and I came right up.”
“Where is the maid now?” Tay asked Keshar.
“She’s a housekeeping supervisor,” the manager interrupted. “Not a maid.”
Tay kept his eyes on the security man and waited.
“Downstairs in my office,” the security man eventually replied when he saw that Tay intended to ignore the general manager until he did. “The poor woman is hysterical. I left her with my secretary.”
“Where did this…” Tay shot a quick glance at the manager, “housekeeping supervisor telephone you from?”
“Probably the service area. I’m not really sure. She certainly wouldn’t have stayed in there to call.” Keshar inclined his head toward the door to 2608 and Tay noticed he looked away from it when he did.
“You’ve been inside the room?” Tay asked.
“Just long enough to verify what the housekeeping supervisor told me. No longer than I had to.”
Tay finally shifted his eyes back to the manager. “You, sir?”
“No, no.” The man shook his head quickly and his pale skin seemed to grow even paler. “Jesus Christ, no. Not me.”
Tay found himself enjoying the manager’s discomfort and kept his eyes on him until the man glanced away. Only then did Tay turn his attention back to Keshar.
“What did you do when you went into the room?”
“I just rang the…it’s actually a one-bedroom suite, Inspector. Not an ordinary room. I rang the bell several times. When there was no answer, I let myself in with my security card.”
“And you could see the deceased from the doorway?”
“No, sir. She’s in the bedroom.”
“How could you be sure the woman was deceased? Did you check for vital signs?”
“There isn’t any doubt she’s dead, Inspector. Go in and see for yourself.” Keshar clamped his mouth shut and seemed to struggle for control.
“What did you do after you confirmed the presence of the deceased?”
“I got out of there, you can bet. I made sure the door was locked, then I went downstairs to Mr. Barwell’s office.”
“You didn’t just call him?”
“No, I went right down to his office. I guess I could have telephoned from somewhere, but that just didn’t seem like the right thing to do.”
“I called the police as soon as Ramesh told me about this, Inspector,” the manager cut in. “We waited for the officers at the concierge desk and then brought them directly up here.”
Tay continued ignoring the manager. “Who is the room registered to?” he asked the security man.
“They haven’t told you?”
“Told me what?”
“About the room. The registration.”
“Ah, I see.” The security man hesitated, cleared his throat unnecessarily, and then he plunged ahead quickly. “There is none.”
“You’re saying you’ve lost the registration information for this room?”
“No, that wouldn’t be possible. I mean the suite isn’t registered to anyone. This suite is empty.”
Tay glanced toward the door to room 2608. “Apparently not.”
“Yes,” the security man nodded. “Apparently not.”
“When was it last occupied? At least as far as you know.”
“Not for some time. A week or so?” The security man glanced at the manager, who nodded. “Something like that. I can get you the exact date.”
“And the name and address of the last occupant.”
“Yes, Inspector, of course.”
Tay pursed his lips and thought for a moment while everyone waited in respectful silence.
“Sergeant, put patrolmen at all the lifts. The stairs, too. No one except our people on this floor until I tell you otherwise.”
“Inspector,” the manager spoke up, “there are nine guests staying on this level and they will have to-”
“Yes, we’ll need a list of them along with all their registration information. Also a list of everyone else who has checked out but may have stayed on this floor any time within the past week.”
“Naturally, Inspector. But as for the guests who are on this floor now-”
“You’ll have to make other arrangements for them. Sergeant Kang will get a patrolman to accompany each of them back into their rooms to retrieve their personal belongings as soon as possible.”
The manager didn’t see, of course, but he was smart enough to recognize there was no point in arguing with Tay.
“Thank you, gentlemen,” Tay said. “If you will wait downstairs in your offices, either Sergeant Kang or I will be down shortly to talk to you further.”
Keshar looked for a moment as if he was about to say something else, but then he merely nodded. The manager, however, was less reticent.
“I am completely at your service, Inspector, as are all the members of my staff,” he said in his most sincere voice. “This is a terrible thing. Terrible. And we want to do everything we can to help you bring whoever did this horrible thing to justice. Of course, at the same time, we naturally would prefer that the hotel’s involvement in this unpleasantness be kept to the absolute minimum and we hope you will do your best to help us to accomplish that end.”
Tay hardly thought it worth the effort to point out that a hotel with a murdered woman lying in a presumably unoccupied suite was about as involved in unpleasantness as it was ever going to get. Instead, he just held out his hand to Keshar.
“May I have your passkey, please?”
“Of course, Inspector.”
The security man fished a plastic card out of his pocket and handed it to Tay, who turned it over several times and examined it with evident curiosity.
“We have electronic locks rather than mechanical ones, Inspector. The way they work is-”
“I know how they work,” Tay interrupted. “I’m a policeman, not an idiot.”
Keshar looked embarrassed. “I didn’t mean…”
Tay waved him into silence and turned to the patrolman standing in the room’s doorway.
“Take these men downstairs, Officer. Then stay with the maid who found the body until either Sergeant Kang or I come down to interview her. Make certain she doesn’t talk to anyone until then.”
“Yes, sir.” The patrolman saluted and spread his arms as if to herd the three men away.
“Now wait, Inspector.” The manager stood his ground for a moment. “I really do think we ought-”
“Thank you for your cooperation, sir. Someone will talk with you downstairs. Please return to your office now.”
The manager puffed out his cheeks and bounced on his toes for a moment. He looked as if he might be about to say something else, but then he just gave a little shrug and allowed the patrolman to shoo him away along with the other two men.
Sergeant Kang followed them to the elevators and watched until the door closed; then he organized the other patrolmen on the scene to seal off the floor. When he returned to 2608, Tay was standing in the corridor exactly where Kang had left him. Kang would have sworn that Tay had never moved a muscle the whole time he was gone, and perhaps he hadn’t.
“Right, sir. The floor is closed off. Anything else?”
Tay took a deep breath and tugged at his right earlobe. He said nothing.
The Forensic Management Branch would have been dispatched by now, Kang knew. Perhaps their van full of equipment was even in the driveway twenty-six floors below.
“Do you want to go in now, sir, or wait for FMB?”
When Tay still said nothing, Sergeant Kang shifted his weight from one foot to another and waited. The silence stretched on with no end in sight and eventually Kang spoke again.
“I think, sir, that we might-”
“I don’t give a shit what you think, Sergeant,” Tay snapped. Almost as soon as the words were out Tay wiped an open hand across his face and sighed heavily.
“I’m sorry, Robbie.”
“It’s all right, sir.”
“No, it’s not. I’m sorry. Really.”
“Not to worry, sir.”
“Is the boss here yet?”
“Not yet, sir. But I’m sure he will be shortly.”
Tay nodded several times, apparently more to himself than to Kang, then rubbed absentmindedly at his face again.
“Okay, Sergeant,” he said after a few moments of silence. “Let’s find out what we’ve got.”
Tay slid the security man’s card into the slot in the lock with two fingers, taking care not to touch the mechanism. A tiny light above the slot switched from red to green and there was an audible click. Using only the knuckles of his left hand, Tay pushed at the door to 2608.
It swung open without a sound.
Tay’s first impression, however incongruous it might have seemed when he thought about it later, was of the view. It was dazzling.
The drapes in the living room were open and the suite’s big windows offered an unobstructed panorama all the way south to the Straits of Singapore. Hundreds of cargo ships rode at anchor on a glassy smooth sea, each waiting its turn to enter the Pasir Panjang Terminal which was presumably the largest container port in the world. Tay had never really been certain whether it really was the largest in the world or whether that was just local boasting, but then he had never really cared much either.
Off to the right, the towers of the financial district marked the entrance to the Singapore River where, in simpler times, wharves had lined the banks and fleets of flat-bottomed barges called bumboats had ferried cargos of rice, rubber, and tin to ships moored out in the Straits. Somewhere along the way the bumboats had been swapped for steel containers and the wharves for cranes and the traffic had started running in the other direction. Instead of taking out rice, rubber, and tin, cargo ships calling in Singapore now brought in Sony PlayStations, Samsung flat screen TVs, and Apple iPhones. That, Tay supposed, was what people meant when they talked about progress.
In front of the windows was an L-shaped seating area with a couch and a chair, both upholstered in some kind of nubby, darkgreen fabric. There were also two side tables, two lamps with heavy brass bases, and a coffee table with a thick, oval-shaped glass top. On the right was a light-colored wooden desk that matched the end tables, and on the left was a large cabinet with a television set inside it, an old-fashioned-looking model with its cables coiled haphazardly into a corner. The furniture was tired-looking and didn’t really seem to fit the room. The carpet was worn and had several burns and stains as well as a big wrinkle across it. The drapes were made of some kind of heavy, neutral-colored fabric and looked as if they could use a good cleaning.
The whole effect, Tay thought, was slightly shabby. Certainly not what he would have expected a suite in a five-star hotel to look like, but then he supposed he really hadn’t seen all that many suites in five-star hotels, so what did he know? After all, he reminded himself this was just a Marriott, not the Four Seasons. Maybe the hotels where everyday business travelers stayed always looked like this.
Without stepping into the room Tay squatted and examined the carpet. He placed his hand flat against it. It was dry to the touch and when he lifted his hand and sniffed his palm there was no odor. He raised his eyes and scanned the room. It looked normal enough. No furniture shoved around, no tables tipped over, nothing pushed to the floor.
Tay raised his head and tasted the air. It was cold. Someone had set the air-conditioning very low. And there was death in it. The rancid, raw meat odor of blood mixed with the stink of urine and feces. It was a smell like no other he had ever known.
When Tay stood up, his knees creaked loudly. Sergeant Kang was behind him and Tay wondered to himself if Kang had heard. Yes, of course he’d heard, but then what difference did it make? Would Robbie be surprised that he was starting to creak at the joints? Would he somehow be disappointed in Tay for starting to turn into an old man? No, of course he wouldn’t. What a lot of nonsense it was even to think about it.
Tay handed Kang the security card he had used to open the door. “Return this when you go downstairs please, Sergeant.”
Kang nodded quickly, a single jerk of his head, and slipped the card into his shirt pocket.
Across the living room a door was ajar. Tay assumed it led to the bedroom where the security man said he had found the body. Watching carefully where he placed his feet, he crossed the suite.
The door was a little more than half open, but the room beyond was dark and Tay could make out almost nothing inside. He nudged the door with his elbow and in the light from the living room window saw a light switch to the right of the door. He used the side of his hand to flip it up and two bedside lamps flared to life.
Tay looked away. If he had not, he knew he would have vomited then and there.
It was worse than he expected. Much worse. Later he would say it was the worst he had ever seen, and he thought he had seen more than any man should have to see.
The woman lay spread-eagled on the room’s king-sized bed. Her head and shoulders were held upright by two pillows and her legs pointed to the doorway where Tay was standing. They were open at an unnatural angle. The woman’s face appeared to be looking straight at Tay, or it would have been if she had a face. It was crushed beyond recognition.
Tay breathed slowly in and out and tried desperately to bring himself under control. His mouth was drier than he could ever remember it. He tried to swallow, but couldn’t. A few more breaths, he told himself, just take a few more breaths, slow and deep. Gather the moisture in your throat. Roll it around. Take your time.
WHEN he thought he might be ready to try again, little by little he moved his eyes back to the bed.
The woman was nude. Her body was slim and appeared to be fit and toned, but it looked as if she was still in the rigid stage of rigor mortis so it was difficult to be sure. Her skin might once have been tanned, but now it was gray, except around her hips and buttocks and at the bottom of her legs where Tay could see the dusky purple lividity where stagnated blood had accumulated. It struck Tay there was remarkably little blood anywhere around her on the bed.
Where the woman’s face had been there was nothing now but a dark mass of tissue spread out in a coagulated lump like a tray of ground meat in a supermarket display case. The light from the bedside lamp glistened off patches of white bone shining through raw flesh and her swollen tongue, bitten half through, hung from where Tay assumed her mouth must have once been. The woman’s hair had been deep brown or even black, and clumps of it were stuck into the matted tissue like soiled straw spread on a garage floor to mop up oil stains.
The body had been posed after the woman was murdered. There was no doubt of that. Her hands were neatly folded beneath her breasts and her legs were spread open at a freakish angle. Something between them flashed in the light and in spite of himself Tay looked more closely. There was a metallic object of some sort protruding from the darker mass of the woman’s pubic hair.
For a moment Tay did not know what it was; and then he did.
He was looking, he realized all at once, at the rear end of the barrel of a chrome-colored flashlight. The rest of the flashlight, at least six inches of it beginning with the lens, had been pushed up the woman’s vagina.
“Oh, bloody hell,” Tay heard Sergeant Kang whisper from behind him. “Shit, oh shit, shit, shit.”
Tay said nothing. He was fighting too hard to control his nausea.
Inspector Tay and Sergeant Kang were waiting outside in the corridor when the Forensic Management Branch arrived. There were three men, two wearing black vests over their sport shirts with FORENSIC on the back in white letters. The third man wore a short-sleeved white shirt with a dark striped tie. Each of them carried a small aluminum case and a black cloth duffel bag.
The man with the tie stopped in front of Tay. “Ready for us?”
Tay’s face was pale and he was leaning against the wall as if it were holding him upright. He just grunted and waved toward the open door. The man nodded and said nothing. One glance at Tay told him all he needed to know.
The three men organized their bags into a neat row just outside the door to the room. One of them produced paper shoe bags and a box of latex gloves, and Tay and Kang watched silently as all three slipped the protective coverings over their hands and feet. The shoe bags were white, but the gloves were bright red and they struck Tay as looking unreasonably cheery.
The man with the tie squatted just outside the open door and surveyed the room’s interior while the two men in black vests leaned over his shoulders and did the same thing. They stayed like that for quite a while, whispering a few words to each other now and then, but they kept their voices low and Tay and Kang couldn’t make out what they were saying. For his part, Tay was just as happy he couldn’t.
Tay had gone twenty-nine days without smoking a cigarette. That was his longest streak to date by a good bit, but he had no doubt it was over now. He had a headache and he would have given a month’s pay for a cigarette right that minute. Just one fucking cigarette. Was that too much to ask? He didn’t even care what brand it was. He’d take anything.
Kang didn’t smoke, so he wasn’t going to be any help, and leaving the crime scene to go and buy a pack of cigarettes was too unseemly an act to contemplate seriously. Or maybe it wasn’t.
Tay was still trying to decide when he saw the Officer in Charge of CID-SIS coming down the corridor. Deputy Superintendent of Police Goh Kim Leng stopped directly in front of Tay and looked him over carefully.
“Is it that bad?” he asked.
Tay didn’t reply.
“Yes, sir,” Kang responded instead. “It is.”
Goh had a full head of thick, silver hair that men half his age regarded with envy, and he habitually wore dark, gold-rimmed sunglasses. He was of medium height, but looked shorter because of his broad shoulders, barrel chest, and thick, heavily muscled neck.
“You sure you’re okay, Sam?” he asked again.
“Yes, sir,” Tay nodded carefully, trying not to make his headache any worse. “I’m just great, sir.”
“You don’t look so great.”
“Thank you, Chief.”
The OC didn’t smoke or Tay would have goddamn well asked him for a cigarette. He doubted any policeman in the history of the Singapore Police Force had ever before asked a senior officer for a cigarette, but the truth of it was that he really didn’t give a rat’s ass right at that moment. Christ, was he the only man in Singapore who still smoked? Yes, he thought he probably was.
“I’d better have a look,” the OC said as he leaned into the hotel room and glanced around. “You coming, Sam?”
“I’ll be right out here, Chief,” Tay said.
Tay and Kang waited in the corridor while the OC went into room 2608. Kang chewed absentmindedly at a hangnail while Tay passed the time envisioning himself smoking a Marlboro. He sharpened his memory as much as he could and tried to conjure up the taste of the nicotine and the edge he felt as it entered hisbloodstream and rushed to his brain. It didn’t work.
Fuck this zen shit, Tay thought. He didn’t care what anyone said. He was going downstairs to buy some cigarettes and he was going to do it right now.
But before Tay could will himself into motion, a grim-faced OC emerged from the room, leaned against the wall, and folded his arms.
“Do we know who she is?” he asked.
“Not yet.” Tay struggled to control his nicotine fit by studying the swirling patterns in the wine-red carpet. “The hotel doesn’t have anyone registered in the room. According to their records, it ought to be empty.”
The OC’s mouth tightened into a thin, hard line. “The FMB says they got clean prints. If she’s local, we’ll know who she is within a half-hour. If she’s not, we’ll compare the visitor entry records with the exits and see who’s unaccounted for. We should get an ID pretty quickly.”
Tay’s eyes shifted slightly at that and the OC caught it.
“What is it, Sam?”
“Somehow I have the feeling it isn’t going to be that easy, Chief.”
“No,” the OC shook his head slowly, “maybe it won’t be.”
Tay looked off to his left as if a repository of constructive thought lay somewhere down the corridor, but he didn’t say anything else.
“What about the security cameras?” the OC asked.
“I’ve asked for copies of the tapes from all the hotel’s cameras for the last three days,” Kang answered.
That was news to Tay, so he listened carefully.
“We’ll look at them,” Kang continued, “but I think finding anything useful is a long shot, sir. The state of the deceased leaves us without an identifiable face to look for, and there’s an international electronics trade fair going on now. The traffic in and out of the hotel would have been very heavy. Unless this woman really stands out for some reason, I doubt we’ll see anything that might help us.”
The OC let out a long, tired sigh. “I want you to stay with this until it’s done, Sam. It’s going to scare the hell out of a lot of people.”
“It certainly scares the hell out of me, Chief.”
“You and Sergeant Kang drop everything else until this case is cleared. Tell me what you need and you’ll get it. Just wrap it up and do it quickly.”
“What about the press, sir?” Kang asked.
The OC looked momentarily puzzled. “What press?”
“At least two hotel employees have seen the body. Rumors are probably spreading already.”
The OC looked at Tay. “What do you think, Sam?”
Tay made a vague movement with his head that could have meant anything. “I’ll take care of it,” he said. “I’ll have a word with Public Affairs and get them to put out something vague. If they handle it right, we can probably keep The Straits Times out of it until we have something concrete.”
“What about the other papers?”
“They won’t be a problem,” Tay said. “They never are.”
Kang grunted and both the OC and Tay looked at him.
“You disagree, Sergeant?” the OC asked.
“Not exactly, sir. I was just thinking…well, what about the foreign press? It seems to me this is the kind of thing that could easily be blown out of proportion.”
“And what would you say the proper proportion is, Sergeant?” Tay snapped before the OC could respond. “When you find a woman with her face beaten in who’s been stripped naked and had a flashlight jammed up her private parts, how would you fix the proper proportions for that, Sergeant? I’d really like to know.”
“What I meant, sir, was-”
“That murdered women in five-star hotels might damage the tourist trade?”
“No, sir.” Kang cleared his throat. “That something like this might damage the country’s image in general, sir. Foreigners being killed in luxury hotels here in Singapore and all. It makes us look like some Third World shithole.”
“Why do you think the woman’s a foreigner?”
Kang saw the trap he was falling into and trailed off into an embarrassed silence. He looked down at his hands as if he wanted to make certain that none of his fingers were missing.
“You didn’t mean to say foreigner at all, did you, Sergeant?”
Kang had hoped Tay would let it go. Clearly he wasn’t.
“You meant to say ‘white,’ didn’t you? You meant to say white people being killed in luxury hotels isn’t good for Singapore’s image, didn’t you, Sergeant?”
Kang shifted his weight and jammed his hands deep into his pockets. He didn’t even try to answer Tay’s question. He had said far too much already.
“Don’t worry about it, Sergeant,” the OC said after a few moments passed in an uncomfortable silence. “Go on downstairs and finish the interviews.”
Kang nodded and walked quickly away. The OC pushed himself off the wall.
“Fix this, Sam,” he said. “I’m depending on you.”
“Yes, sir. I’ll do my best.”
“Do better than that. Do whatever you have to. Just fucking fix it.”
Sergeant Kang completed the interviews in less than half an hour because nobody had anything useful to add to what little he and Tay already knew. Kang left the hotel’s executive offices and found Tay waiting for him in the coffee shop.
Tay was at a table in the outside section at the front of the hotel, the part that was supposed to look like a Parisian sidewalk cafe but didn’t. On his table were a small box of aspirin, a water glass, an espresso cup, two packs of Marlboro Reds, a purple plastic disposable lighter, and an ashtray. The aspirin box was open, the espresso cup and water glass were empty, and Tay was just finishing a cigarette, clearly not his first from the look of the ashtray.
“Hotel shops are wonderful places, Sergeant. They sell nearly everything a man could possibly want.”
Kang pulled out a chair and sat down. He pointed at the red Marlboro box.
“Thoe are the strong ones, aren’t they, sir?”
“Don’t start, Sergeant.”
“If you’re going to begin smoking again, sir, don’t you at least think the light ones would-”
“Are we all done here?” Tay interrupted. “Do they need us upstairs for anything else?”
Kang shook his head. “The FMB guys will be a while yet, but I don’t think there’s anything more for us to do. Not unless you want to have another look at the scene before they move the body.”
Tay gave Kang a long look.
“I didn’t think so,” Sergeant Kang said.
Tay shook another Marlboro out of the pack and lit it. He exhaled a thick cloud of smoke and leaned forward, resting his elbows on the table.
“Do we have all the statements?”
“Statements from the manager, the security chief, and the maid-”
“You mean the housekeeping supervisor.”
“Right, sir, the housekeeping supervisor. I’ll type them up later and you can look at them all if you want, but I don’t think you’ll find anything in them.”
“What about the other guests on the floor?”
“Patrolmen have talked to three who were on the twenty-sixth floor last night, one who was on the twenty-seventh, and three who were on the twenty-fifth. We’re tracking the others down along with all of yesterday’s checkouts on those three floors, but so far no one seems to have heard anything unusual.”
“Somebody must have heard something. You can’t beat anybody that badly without making a hell of a lot of noise.”
“Unless she was tied up and gagged.”
Tay looked at Kang and raised his eyebrows.
“The FMB supervisor says there are marks on the woman’s wrists and ankles,” Kang went on. “He says he’s not sure yet, but they appear to be consistent with restraints of some kind.”
“You know, sir … ah, like she was-”
“Having kinky sex?”
“Yes, sir. Exactly.”
“Wonderful,” Tay muttered as he stubbed out his cigarette. “Sex and death. My favorite subjects.”
Two Japanese-looking men carrying black leather briefcases passed close to the table and Tay watched them until they were gone.
“Is there any evidence the woman had intercourse before she died?” he asked when the men were out of earshot.
“We won’t know for sure until the autopsy.”
“Even then,” Kang went on, “if it was normal vaginal intercourse, it may be difficult to tell for sure whether it was forced.”
“Why would it be difficult … oh, the flashlight.”
“Yes, sir. The flashlight.”
“Maybe we can at least find out where that came from.”
“We already know, sir.”
“There’s one in every room. The hotel has them in the closet for emergencies.”
Tay picked up the empty espresso cup and slipped his forefinger through the handle. Letting the cup drop, he watched it swing back and forth.
“What did they find in the room?” Tay asked after the cup stopped swinging.
“That’s what’s strange, sir. It’s not what they found; it’s what they didn’t find. No suitcases, no toilet articles, no clothing. She certainly wasn’t staying there.”
“What about the clothes she was wearing?”
Tay blinked at that. “Her clothes were gone?”
“Well, even if there is an electronics trade fair in town, she sure as hell didn’t walk into the Marriott completely naked.”
“No, sir. Probably not.”
“What about her jewelry? Rings? A watch?”
“No, sir. Nothing like that. Both her hands show marks from rings, but they’re gone now.”
“Somebody cleaned up. And they made a thorough job of it.”
“Yes, sir. A guy takes everything, packs it into a suitcase or maybe a laundry bag, and walks out. Who notices a man walking out of a hotel with a bag?”
Tay leaned back, knitted his fingers together behind his head, and thought for a moment.
“What makes you think it was a man?” he asked.
“Oh come on, sir. No woman could have done that.”
“A woman just couldn’t do something like that, sir.”
“Don’t be naive, Sergeant. You need to get out more.”
“Well, sir, at the very least you have to admit no woman’s strong enough to beat another woman that badly.”
“Really? You obviously haven’t met any of the women my friends have been fixing me up with recently.”
Tay thought about what Kang had just told him for a second, maybe two.
“There won’t be any prints in the room,” he said. “Not the woman’s. Not the killer’s. He was too careful for that.”
“Probably not, sir. FMB says the whole room’s been wiped down. But they’re still checking everything anyway. Maybe there’s something that didn’t get wiped.”
“Have they found anything at all that would help identify her?”
“Do they know what was used to beat her face in?”
“Can they tell if the beating was the cause of death?”
“They’re not sure.”
“Are they at least certain she’s dead?”
“Pardon me, sir?”
Tay drummed his fingers on the table. He picked up the half empty box of Marlboros and then put it down again.
“Have our esteemed colleagues even managed to come up with a time of death?” he asked.
“They say she’s still in rigor, but the air conditioning was turned down so much it might have delayed the time it took her to reach it. They’re just guessing, but they figure it was something like twelve to twenty-four hours ago.”
Tay looked at his watch. He already knew more or less what the time was, but he looked at his watch anyway.
“Then she was probably killed between noon and midnight on Monday,” he said.
Kang nodded. “Yes, sir.”
Tay stopped, thought a moment, and then asked, “What do you make of the curtains?”
“The curtains, sir?”
“They were open in the living room, but closed in the bedroom. Don’t you think that’s a little odd?”
Kang didn’t really, so he wasn’t entirely sure what to say.
“Look, Sergeant, if they were in the room during the day, they might leave the drapes open, but at night they’d have them closed. Why leave them one way in the living room and the other in the bedroom?”
“Maybe they came into the room during the day and then moved into the bedroom after dark.”
“That’s what I was thinking,” Tay said. “Which would make the time of death somewhere in the range of six to seven o’clock, wouldn’t it?”
“That makes sense, sir.”
Tay sat for a while after that with his face perfectly still. He reached for the open box of Marlboros again and shook out another cigarette.
“Her killer posed her, Sergeant. He posed her after he was done with her and stripped away her dignity. He wanted to degrade her. He wanted to tell us just how worthless she is.”
Tay picked up the lighter and flipped it open. He watched the flame burn, but he didn’t touch it to his cigarette.
“How about a drink, Robbie?”
“I’m afraid I can’t, sir. My wife and I are going out tonight. She organized something with this friend of hers and if I show up late she’ll murder me.” Sergeant Kang paused and looked down at his hands. “Sorry, sir. I didn’t mean any disrespect to-”
“I know you didn’t, Sergeant. Go on home. We’ll see where we are tomorrow morning. At least we ought to have the preliminary-report from FMB and maybe we’ll even have an ID on the body by then.”
“I hope so. Thank you, sir. Good night.”
After Sergeant Kang had gone, Inspector Tay lit the Marlboro and sat smoking it in silence. He watched the street and the crowds passing on the sidewalk and he wondered not for the first time what the hell he was doing there with a police warrant card in his pocket and the stink of death on his clothes.
The only child of an American-born Chinese man and a Singaporean-born Chinese woman, Tay had lived the whole of his life in Singapore. His father had been an accountant, a careful man who insisted that his family live modestly. When he died suddenly of a heart attack, Tay’s mother was shocked to discover she and her son had inherited a small fortune in real estate. She hadn’t even known her husband had been buying properties for two decades, let alone that his investments would leave her and her son quite comfortably off for the rest of their lives.
Regardless, she had quickly adjusted to the concept. Within a year, she moved to New York and acquired what she described to Tay as a Park Avenue duplex, although Tay noticed her address was actually on East Ninety-Third Street. When his mother married a widowed American investment banker who was a senior partner at some investment firm the name of which Tay could never quite remember, Tay was at the National University. He didn’t go to New York for the wedding. Actually, he couldn’t quite recall having been invited to New York for the wedding, but he supposed that was beside the point. He told himself he would have stayed in Singapore even if he had been invited.
By the time Tay graduated from university, he had chosen to his mother’s complete horror to make his career in police work rather than living the life of the idle well off she preferred for him. Looking back later on that decision, Tay could not for the life of him remember exactly why he had made it, but he had stuck with it regardless. As a brighter-than-average recruit who was dutiful and conscientious, he was soon promoted, first to general investigative work, then to the Criminal Investigations Department, and finally to the elite Special Investigations Section of CID.
After all this time, Tay thought he should have become accustomed to carnage and brutality, but he hadn’t. Each time he was called to a murder scene he still recoiled; and when he thought about it honestly, he knew exactly why that was.
It was not the violence Tay saw before him that caused the bile to rise in his throat at crime scenes. It was the violence he feared he had not yet seen, the violence that might even be hiding deep within himself. He had wondered many times if he could consciously bring about the death of another person and he had always answered that he could not. But he was not absolutely certain that was true. Whenever he was in the presence of unreasoning brutality, Tay found himself driven to examine his own soul; and he did not much like what he found there. He did not know exactly what it was, but he was sure of one thing. It made him afraid.
When Tay was done with his cigarette, he stubbed it out in the ashtray and pocketed both the box he had been smoking and the unopened one. On impulse, he left the purple lighter on the table next to the ashtray. He wasn’t entirely certain why he did that. Perhaps it was some sort of gesture of atonement for his weakness.
When Tay got outside he waved away the hotel doorman and stood for a moment watching a jagged, gray-green cloud rise in the west. It looked like a mountain range on the move, dark and dense and frightening. It seemed to be on the verge of overwhelming the city.
The sun was setting behind that seathing mass of clouds and it looked to Tay as though it would never come up again.
The first and most important truth about Singapore is this. It is hot. It is nasty, stinking, sweaty hot.
Although it was barely six the next morning when Tay opened his front door and stepped out onto his small porch, he could already feel the heat rising. The air was so heavy that the moisture was draining right out of it. Or maybe it was raining. In Singapore, sometimes it was hard to tell the difference.
Tay had been born in Singapore and he would no doubt die in Singapore, but he had never come to an accommodation with the savage heat and the sadistic humidity. If he owned both Singapore and hell, he would rent out Singapore and live in hell. How had people managed to survive there before air conditioning was invented; and why had they even tried? He had wondered about that for as long as he could remember and he still had absolutely no idea.
A storm had hit early in the morning hours and wakened Tay from a sleep so uneasy he almost welcomed the intrusion. The thunder made it sound as if massed cannon were shelling the city and the banana trees in his small garden had bent back and forth in the swirling winds, swishing over his bedroom windows like huge brushes against a snare drum. Sometime around six o’clock he gave up trying to sleep and got up and dressed.
Samuel Tay was not an early riser. He did not greet the new day cheerfully, anticipating the delights it might hold in store for him. Instead, he welcomed it warily, resigned to the new frustrations and the fresh disappointments it would surely bring.
Coffee generally improved his disposition in the morning, but this time it was so early that he doubted even it would help. Nevertheless, he made some anyway and drank two cups while he watched the BBC news channel on television. When he got bored with the news and shut it off, he saw that he had been absolutely right. The coffee hadn’t improved his disposition one damn bit.
For nearly a half-hour, Tay successfully avoided lighting a cigarette to go with his coffee, but then he began to wonder who he was trying to impress with his restraint. He found the trousers he had dropped on the floor the night before and fished the open pack of Marlboros out of a front pocket. That was when it came back to him he had abandoned the lighter in the Marriott coffee shop in a gesture of moral atonement.
Why on earth had he done an idiotic thing like that? Exactly whom was he trying to convince of his sincere remorse and good character? Tay wondered briefly if he had matches somewhere in the house, but knew he didn’t. He had thrown them all away along with his cigarettes the last time he had quit smoking.
He finally gave up, both on the cigarette and on trying to make himself feel better, and decided just to get dressed and go to work. Maybe he would even walk part of the way and stop somewhere for breakfast. Eat a nice greasy banana fritter. Maybe two. Yes, that sounded good. A sugar fix and another hit of caffeine. That might be just the ticket.
Standing now on his front porch, he saw the storm had passed and it had stopped raining. Or maybe it hadn’t. Tay eyed the sky with mistrust and took an umbrella out of the stand next to his door. Still, if this was rain, it had none of the drive, none of the interest it had shown during the night. The clouds seemed old and tired. Tay knew exactly how they felt.
He walked down to Orchard Road, crossed over, and followed it west toward the Mandarin Hotel until he came to a Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf. He bought a double espresso and two banana fritters and sat down at a table on which someone had thoughtfully abandoned a copy of that morning’s Straits Times. Taking a long pull on the espresso and biting into the first of the fritters, he glanced around the room. He was surprised to see it was almost full.
Four schoolgirls in green skirts and while blouses giggled and squealed in a back corner as they exchanged confidences. A darksuited man with a round Chinese face sat at a small table holding his coffee in one hand while with the other he methodically emptied his briefcase onto the table and then repacked it again. Three men and a woman conversed earnestly at a table covered with files, papers, cell phones, and empty coffee cups. Two young women came in wearing hip-hugging jeans slung so low that they threatened, or promised depending on your point of view, to reveal all at any moment.
What were all those people doing here? Tay wondered. Were so many people generally up and around Singapore at this godforsaken hour? Surely not.
Tay finished the first banana fritter and realized that, against all odds, he was beginning to feel moderately human. He took another long hit from the espresso, then started on the second fritter and unfolded The Straits Times.
As a rule Tay did not like reading newspapers in the morning. He thought their everlasting recitations of the tragedies, atrocities, and scandals that had occurred while he slept were a poor recommendation for the coming day, the one just past having turned out so revoltingly. If he read a newspaper in the morning at all, he tried to stick strictly to the sports pages and the supermarket ads. He found they passed the time without awakening his sense of foreboding.
This morning however, he had something specific on his mind. Public Affairs had told The Straits Times that the woman at the Marriott was probably a suicide and had asked them not to make too much of it and embarrass the hotel unnecessarily. There was nothing on the front page and Tay perked up. Apparently, the paper had bought it. Thank Christ for small favors.
Tay kept turning the pages until he eventually found the story. It was the third item in the Case File section, played after a piece about a policeman who had been using a hidden camera to take pictures up women’s skirts and another piece about a raid on a night club in Mohamed Sultan Road that resulted in twenty-three kids being arrested on drug charges. Well, that explained it. Who wanted to dig into something as mundane as a suicide at the Marriott when there were so many more interesting things going on around town? He refolded the paper, put it down, and let his eyes drift while he finished his espresso.
For the first time Tay noticed a woman at a table in the back. She was reading a copy of the International Herald Tribune and sipping from a large takeaway cup without a lid. She wore a black suit that looked expensive and small gold-rimmed glasses pushed halfway down her nose. As he watched her, she uncrossed her long legs and then re-crossed them in the opposite direction. He allowed his eyes to linger long enough to register three things. The woman was extraordinarily attractive; she was young enough without being too young; and perhaps most important, she was alone.
Tay instinctively began a more detailed assessment of his prospects, but before he could get very far, the woman lifted her gaze from the IHT and looked straight at him. Their eyes met and, following a brief moment of appraisal, she smiled. It appeared to be a genuine smile, even warm, but it caught Tay completely off guard. To mask his embarrassment, he glanced quickly around the room as if he was looking for someone, then put down his cup, stood up, and walked quickly away. After he was safely out on the sidewalk, he began almost immediately to wonder why he had done such a thing. Surely returning the woman’s smile wouldn’t have been unreasonable, would it? Particularly not since the woman had smiled at him first.
You’re a damned idiot, Sam Tay. Pass up too many opportunities like that and one of these days there won’t be any more.
Shaking his head at the depths of his own foolishness, Tay crossed Orchard Road to a 7-Eleven where he bought another disposable lighter, a blue one this time, and a fresh pack of Marlboro Reds. Then he walked about a hundred yards back up Orchard Road to the nearest taxi stand. The line was blessedly short and within ten minutes he was in the back seat of a Comfort taxi on his way to the Police Cantonment Complex on New Bridge Road.
Tay suddenly realized that the taxi was exactly the same shade of blue as the lighter he had just bought and he wondered for a moment about the coincidence. In spite of the healthy sugar and caffeine buzz he was carrying, he really couldn’t see what significance that fact might have, so he stopped thinking about it as abruptly as he had begun. Settling back against the seat and shutting his ears to the music blaring from the driver’s radio, Tay watched the streets and sidewalks slide by and tried very hard to think about nothing much at all.
AS soon as Tay got to his desk, he began work on the investigation papers for the dead woman at the Marriot. The investigation papers in every case were ultimately the responsibility of the designated investigation officer, although most IOs treated the job as the police equivalent of manual labor and assigned it to the first junior officer they saw who wasn’t fast enough to get out of the way.
Tay didn’t look at paperwork that way at all. He really didn’t mind dealing with the IP on his cases himself. To tell the truth, he rather enjoyed it. He sometimes thought he had the soul of an accountant rather than that of a policeman.
Tay even found dealing with the IP himself brought with it a sort of sense of personal redemption. Holding the progress of an investigation right there in his own two hands was both a symbolic and a practical act. It was symbolic in that it reminded him he was accomplishing something, and it was practical in that it prevented him from thinking he was accomplishing any more than he actually was.
Tay worked on the IP in silence for nearly an hour, methodically filling out the investigation diary with the details of his observations at the crime scene. He wrote until he was interrupted by a knock at his door. When he looked up, Sergeant Kang was leaning in.
“In a little early this morning, are we, sir?”
Tay had never understood how people who rose early could lay claim to such moral superiority over those who didn’t. Yes, Kang was usually in the office by eight and Tay seldom made it until nine-thirty or even ten; but then Tay was usually still in the office at six or seven, and there wasn’t a chance in hell that Kang could be found there after five. And yet Kang could still position himself as the zestful one and Tay as the lazy bastard who came in late. It hardly seemed fair.
“I brought your mail, sir.”
Kang dumped a small stack of something into Tay’s in-tray, but Tay was still thinking about Kang’s dig over his working hours and didn’t bother to look at it.
Didn’t his late evenings count for as much as Kang’s early mornings? They bloody well ought to; but where arriving early at the office was taken as the mark of an energetic man, staying late at the office was merely the indication of a man with no better place to go. It was all just so goddamned unfair.
“Did you get an ID on the woman at the Marriott yet?” Tay asked Kang, covering his annoyance.
“No hit from the prints in the local database, sir. It looks like she was a visitor.”
“What does Immigration say?”
“They’re generating a list of all the female entries during the last thirty days who haven’t exited yet. They ought to have it to us by this afternoon.”
“How many will there be?”
“No idea, sir.”
“When you get the list, I want you to check everyone on it by tomorrow. If there’s anyone you can’t account for, I want to know it by six o’clock.”
“I’m not sure I can do that, sir. There’ll probably be hundreds of names. I won’t have enough-”
“The Chief has already authorized whatever resources we need,” Tay interrupted. “I want that list checked by tomorrow. Get the men you need and get it done, Sergeant.”
Kang bobbed his head and started to close the door.
“And one other thing,” Tay added.
“Get her prints into the Interpol system. Maybe they’ll get a hit.”
“How much detail do you want me to include?”
Tay thought about that, tapping the cap of a felt-tip pen against his teeth with an audible clicking sound.
“Can you just send the prints without any details?”
“Well, sir, if we don’t give them any reason we’re looking to match them, the priority will drop pretty low.”
“Yeah, you’re right.” Tay thought some more. “Just tell them they’re unidentified prints from a crime scene.”
“Perfect prints from all ten fingers? Nobody will believe that, sir.”
“Just do it that way and let’s see what happens.”
Kang shrugged. “Right, sir.”
“What about Forensic Management Branch? When are we going to get their report?”
“Tomorrow, probably late, but it won’t say much.”
“FMB didn’t get anything?”
“There wasn’t much to get. They’re running the samples from the vacuum and the wipe-downs now, but they say they’d be surprised to find anything. The killer cleaned up pretty thoroughly. It almost looks like he knew exactly what he was doing.”
“No prints either?”
“A few partials from the back of the headboard and a couple of other places, but nothing good enough to return a match.”
Tay nodded at that and returned his attention to the IP on his desk. Kang took that as a signal that he was dismissed and closed the door quietly behind him.
Tay started back to work on the IP. Then, suddenly remembering the mail Kang had brought in, he put the file down, pulled his in-tray across the desk, and peered into it. There wouldn’t be anything but junk, of course; there never was. Still, each time he flipped through a new mail delivery, some combination of curiosity and hope always flared within him.
To his surprise, right on top of the pile there appeared to be an actual letter. He picked it up curiously and took a closer look. It was an airmail envelope with a metered stamp that carried the return address of a law firm in New York City. He checked to make certain the letter was actually addressed to him. It was.
Tay held the envelope for a moment without opening it. Perhaps he was being sued. He had never been sued and didn’t know what he would do if he was. But surely that couldn’t be what the letter was about. If he were going to be sued for something, it certainly wouldn’t be by anyone in New York. He had never even been in New York.
Eventually Tay opened the envelope and took out the letter. It was only a single sheet of paper. He read it, and then, not quite believing what he had just read, he read it again from the beginning.
The letter was from a man named Rosenthal whom Tay had never heard of. He said he was a lawyer representing Tay’s mother and wanted to notify Tay that his mother had had a stroke and was in Mt. Sinai Hospital in New York. She was expected to recover, but the prognosis was uncertain as to whether she might have permanent brain damage. That was all the letter said. Nothing else at all.
“My God,” Tay murmured to himself.
He had not spoken to his mother in…Tay thought about it, but he couldn’t remember for sure. Three years? Perhaps four?
There wasn’t any significance to that, not really. They certainly weren’t angry at each other. They had just somehow slipped out of each other’s lives. His mother had lived in New York for nearly twenty-five years now. She was married to someone he had met only a couple of times. Their lives no longer had anything to do with each other. It was just that simple. Was it really possible for someone to actually lose track of his own mother? He knew the answer to that. It was very possible indeed. It was one of those things that happened in life when you weren’t paying attention.
Tay looked at his watch. What time was it in New York now? He tried to work it out, but he wasn’t certain. And what was he going to do anyway? Telephone his mother and ask how she was? That didn’t seem like a very good idea. If she had had a stroke, perhaps her speech had been affected. He briefly considered calling her husband, but he hardly knew the man and hadn’t talked to him in ten years. He supposed he could always call this fellow Rosenthal who had written the letter, but what would be the point of that? Presumably he had already told Tay all he knew.
Maybe he should just go to New York and find out what the hell was going on, but that was out of the question, too, wasn’t it? He was responsible for finding the killer of a dead woman who had been viciously brutalized. Murder investigations didn’t wait around until you found a convenient time to fit them into your schedule. Tay would have to transfer the case to someone else if he went to New York. He didn’t really want to do that and, besides, flying halfway around the world on the basis of a half-page letter from someone he didn’t even know really made no sense at all.
Tay leaned back in his chair, swung his feet onto the desk, and shifted his gaze out the window. From his office on the fifteenth floor of the Cantonment Complex, he had a glorious view of the city. Straight ahead across the Singapore River lay the green patch of Fort Canning Park and off to the right were the glass and steel towers of the financial district. If Tay stood up and walked to the window and looked off to the left, he could even see the Marriott somewhere in the middle of the long line of luxury hotels scattered along Orchard Road. But then he wasn’t about to do that.
Tay made a pocket of air in one cheek, shifted it to the other, and then blew it out in one long stream. A feeling about this case was taking root within him and, as he threaded it back and forth through his mind, examining it first from one direction and then from the other, he saw at least one thing with unmistakable clarity. This case was going to turn into a real son of a bitch, a shit storm of the first order.
He didn’t know how he knew that, he just did. And now there was this, too. His mother was in a hospital in New York and there was a letter on his desk from somebody he didn’t know telling him she might have brain damage. Well, goddamn it all to hell, what in Christ’s name was he supposed to do about that? Was he supposed to drop everything and fly to New York and sit there holding his mother’s hand until they found out? His mother hadn’t held his hand for forty years. For all he knew she had never held his hand.
Tay had no life other than his job, a job his mother had always hated, and now she was trying to ruin it for him. At the precise moment when he was needed the most, she wanted to take him away from his job. Or maybe she didn’t. If she’d had a stroke and was now suffering brain damage, then she probably didn’t know what she wanted, did she?
Tay knew he was going around in circles and not making a great deal of sense, not even to himself. He tried to stop thinking about any of it and clear his mind altogether, but he couldn’t.
It might be a few days before they could even get an ID on the murdered woman, he thought. All he was doing right now was waiting. Waiting for the immigration list to be checked; waiting for Interpol to respond to the fingerprint request; waiting for the FMB report; waiting for the autopsy. None of that was going to happen for a few days. Maybe he could make a quick trip to New York and get back before any of it did happen, he thought to himself. But even as he did, he knew that was complete nonsense.
What he was actually waiting for was something else altogether, and he knew perfectly well what it was.
He was waiting for this whole fucking case to swoop down and take a humongous dump all over his sorry ass. In every fiber of his body he could sense it circling above him, and he would be goddamned if he would be sitting in a half-darkened hospital room in New York doing absolutely nothing useful for anyone when it finally let loose.
Yesterday he had so little to do he was spending his lunch hour browsing through the paperbacks at Sunny’s. Today there was a bloody goddamned maelstrom howling around him and his mother was in a hospital room halfway around the world with possible brain damage.
Jesus H. Christ on a motherfucking crutch. Good night, Irene. Put out the lights, will you?
On Thursday morning Inspector Tay tried to telephone the number on the letter from New York and got no answer. After thinking about it for a few minutes and counting back and forth on his fingers, Tay realized that he had miscalculated the time change. The International Date Line was a real bastard. He would have to call at night, Singapore time, in order to get through during business hours in New York, so he made a mental note to try again when he got home that evening.
The rest of Thursday was no more productive for Tay than had been his effort to call New York. The FMB report was put over until Friday and Sergeant Kang’s men continued working their way through the list of female visitors Immigration had provided without finding anyone who was missing. Tay could feel the case going dead around him and it wasn’t even forty-eight hours old. He was going to have to do something to get it moving, but what? Without knowing who the woman was, the investigation wasn’t going to go anywhere, and how were they to identify her with no papers, no clothes, no jewelry, nothing at all to work with? All they had was a set of fingerprints and so far they couldn’t match them to anyone.
Hoping to clear his head and start thinking about the case from a new perspective, Tay left the Cantonment Complex about five o’clock and walked up New Bridge Road all the way to the Singapore River. He cut through the Merchant Court hotel and found a table alongside the river at the Brewerkz where he had two gin and tonics and some kind of chicken dish, but he was unable to conjure up even a single novel idea as to how to identify the murdered woman at the Marriott. He sat for a while after he finished eating and drank two cups of coffee. Then he took a walk along the river and very slowly smoked three Marlboros, one after another. When night came on as suddenly as if a blanket had been dropped over the city, he found a taxi and went home.
A couple of hours later, just after nine, Tay remembered he had intended to call the lawyer in New York that evening, but then he realized he had left the man’s letter in his office and didn’t have the telephone number. Awash in his own foolishness and his failures of the day, Tay turned on the television and sat staring at it for two hours with only the dimmest realization of what he was seeing. Then he turned it off, brushed his teeth, and went to bed.
Tomorrow, he promised himself, would be a better day.
Or maybe it wouldn’t.
ON Friday morning Sergeant Kang brought Tay a copy of the FMB report. Just as Kang had predicted, there wasn’t a thing in it of any use.
“Any progress on the ID, Sergeant?”
“We’re almost through the visitor list, sir. Nothing at all yet.”
“This woman didn’t parachute in. If she’s not a local, she’s a visitor. There are no other possibilities.”
“Maybe she was in some kind of special group and isn’t on the regular visitor list.”
Tay thought about that. “What kind of group would that be?”
“I don’t know, sir. It was just an idea.”
“Well, I doubt that’s the answer, but maybe you’d better ask Immigration if that’s possible.”
Sergeant Kang started out of Tay’s office, but suddenly stopped and turned around again.
“I almost forgot, sir. The autopsy is scheduled for two o’clock. Since it’s right after lunch, and with the facilities being so conveniently located just across the street from here and all, I assume you’ll be popping over after you polish off a nice big plate of chicken curry?”
Tay had no intention of rising to the bait.
“Who’s the forensic pathologist assigned?” he asked instead.
“Don’t know, sir. You want me to find out so you’ll be sure to knock on the right door?”
“Get out of here, Sergeant.”
“Yes, sir.” Kang grinned and disappeared.
Tay’s lunchtime routine on Fridays had become for him a ritual of some significance. Today, especially today, he had absolutely no intention of altering it.
Instead of eating lunch on Fridays, he took a taxi to one of two places: Borders in Wheelock Place or Kinokuniya in Ngee Ann City. They were the two biggest bookstores he had ever seen and browsing through them without any specific purpose in mind was about as much fun as he had these days. Sometimes he bought some fiction. Sometimes he bought some nonfiction. Once, seized by a fit of something he was still unable to identify, he had even bought a book called Living and Working in France, but that had been an aberration.
Regardless of what books Tay bought, however, he was happy to know that he would have their company over the weekend. He didn’t drink much, he wouldn’t go shopping except perhaps at gunpoint, and he loathed golf. That left nothing much for him to do in Singapore on the weekends other than read books, and it was that pursuit that kept him going back either to Borders or Kinokuniya almost every Friday at lunchtime.
Tay had long ago decided that his custom of spending his Friday lunch hours in a bookstore had two particular benefits: one mental and one physical. The mental benefit was that the ordered ranks of books tidily subdivided into categories and subcategories testified to the existence of mankind’s thirst for understanding, and prompted Tay to contemplate there might be order and meaning in the universe after all. The physical benefit was that it forced him to skip a meal. He could stand to lose about five pounds. Maybe ten. He really could.
This particular Friday, it was Borders’ privilege to bask in Tay’s patronage. Trying to take his mind off the image of the battered body propped up on the bed at the Marriott, he splurged a little and loaded up. He bought the British edition of Esquire, which he thought far superior to the American version of the magazine, a breathtakingly expensive three-volume biography of Graham Greene, and a paperback copy of a Martin Cruz Smith novel set in Japan that he had intended to read when it first came out but had never gotten around to.
Tay was pleased with his purchases and when he spotted an empty table in the outdoor area of Borders Cafe he plunked himself down without giving a thought to the time. He ordered a cappuccino that was served to him in a white ceramic cup the size of a cereal bowl. He wasn’t certain whether smoking was allowed there, but there had to be some benefit in being a policeman so he said to hell with it and smoked two Marlboros fired up with his brand new lighter anyway. When he was done, he tucked the lighter carefully away in his pocket. This time he had no intention of abandoning it in some idiotic gesture intended to purge his guilt over smoking.
By the time Tay returned to the Cantonment Complex it was very nearly three o’clock. There were no messages of any consequence waiting for him and he gathered his long lunch hour had gone completely unnoticed. He was just trying to decide whether that amounted to good or bad news when his telephone rang.
It was a woman’s voice, a very nice voice, but one that Tay didn’t recognize. Nevertheless, its agreeable quality prompted him to admit his identity without undue delay.
“This is Susan Hoi,” the woman said.
That was no help. Tay was reasonably certain he had never heard of anyone named Susan Hoi.
“Yes?” he said as noncommittally as possible.
“I’ll have a preliminary report by the end of the day, but there are several things I thought you would like to know now.”
Tay found it terminally annoying when people started talking on the telephone as if you already knew exactly what they were talking about when you didn’t, even women with very nice voices. One thing pretty much cancelled out the other as far as he was concerned, and he felt completely relieved of any inclination he might normally have toward courteous behavior.
“Who the hell are you?” he asked the woman.
“I asked who you are. I’ve never heard of you. And I don’t have a clue what you’re talking about.”
There was a lengthy pause. Just when Tay had decided that the woman had hung up either out of embarrassment or anger — and, frankly, he didn’t really give a damn which one it might be — she spoke up again.
“Is this the Inspector Samuel Tay who is the investigating officer in case E/1225/09?”
“Why do you want to know?”
“I am Dr. Susan Hoi and I have just completed autopsying the deceased Caucasian female found yesterday in a room at the Marriott Hotel who is the subject of that case.”
A protracted silence followed during which Tay wallowed richly in his embarrassment.
“Oh, God,” he eventually sighed, not able to think of anything better to say. “I’m so sorry, but nobody told me-”
“Are you the investigating officer in that case?” the woman snapped. “Or just some asshole who happened to answer his phone?”
Inspector Tay cleared his throat. “Actually,” he said, “I think I’m probably both.”
The woman laughed — thank Christ, Tay thought — and the sound of it was unexpectedly warm and musical.
“I really am very sorry,” Tay said, trying to regain his footing. “I just get unreasonably annoyed when someone calls me and just assumes I know what they’re on about. No one told me who was doing the autopsy and you didn’t really say what report you were referring to.”
“Yes, when you’ve been absorbed in something like this for a while you do rather just assume that everyone else in the world is thinking about it, too.”
“I am thinking about it,” Tay said, “but right at that moment-”
“Look,” the woman interrupted again. “Let’s just start over. Shall we do that?”
“Yes. Fine. Let’s do that.”
“The reason I’m calling, Inspector, is that I thought you would like to come over and look at this before I close.”
“Look at what?”
“The deceased, of course. The woman from the Marriott.”
Tay cleared his throat yet one more time. “Thank you, doctor. It’s good of you to offer, but I have no doubt your report will cover everything quite satisfactorily. It won’t be necessary for me to view your work personally.”
“Oh, but I think it is. You do need to see this, and anyway you’re just across the street. You know where we are, don’t you? I’ll send someone out to wait for you in reception. Shall we say fifteen minutes?”
“Really, doctor, I can’t-”
“Fifteen minutes then,” Dr. Hoi interrupted again. “I’m looking forward to meeting you, Inspector.”
And with that she hung up.
Inspector Tay sat looking at the receiver for a long moment before he slowly replaced it in its cradle. He rubbed his eyes and slapped his forehead with his palm a few times. He knew he was trapped. He would rather have a root canal than to go over there and peer at that poor woman sliced open from neck to pelvis, but what was he going to do now? Call this doctor back and tell her he tended to throw up at the sight of dead bodies? No, that was out of the question.
The Centre for Forensic Medicine was located in a building called Block Nine of the Singapore General Hospital just on the other side of New Bridge Road behind the National Heart Centre. The building itself was a nondescript, modern two-story structure that looked to Tay like it could shelter almost any kind of commercial activity. But of course he knew all too well what actually took place inside Block Nine. Equipped as he was with that knowledge, the otherwise unremarkable structure with the aluminum chimney pipes poking out here and there took on a genuinely creepy appearance. Normally it would take him no more than five minutes to walk from his office in the Cantonment Complex to Block Nine. On this day, however, he wondered if he might be able stretch it out a little, perhaps even a lot.
Like, maybe, to a year or so.
A man was waiting for Tay in Block Nine’s tiny reception area. He was wearing a starched lab coat with a breast pocket full of ballpoint pens and shifting from foot to foot. He seemed very young, too young to be a doctor, and Tay wondered if he was. He also wondered briefly whether it was really that this man in particular looked so young or if everyone was starting to look young to him; and of course, if that was so, he knew full well what that meant.
“Are you Inspector Tay?”
“Yes, although I’m not particularly happy about it right now.”
The man looked doubtfully at Tay and pushed his gold-rimmed glasses up the bridge of his nose. Finally, he gave a little half shrug, which apparently signaled the end of his interest in whatever Tay may or may not have said.
“This way, please.”
Tay followed the young man through a door, down a long, white corridor, and through another door. Beyond the second door was yet another long, white corridor, but the man stopped abruptly and knocked lightly at an unmarked door on the right. Without waiting for an answer, he opened it and tilted his head to indicate that Tay should go through.
The prospect of dealing with whatever was on the other side of that door was decidedly unappealing and Tay tried to catch the young man’s eye hoping to see there some possibility, however slight, of a reprieve. The man wouldn’t look directly at him and Tay didn’t know exactly what to make of that, but he doubted it could be anything good. There seemed to be only two alternatives open to him. Fling up his arms and flee, or take a deep breath and walk through that door.
Tay took the coward’s way out. He walked through the door.
To his considerable surprise, the door did not open into some kind of Frankenstein laboratory where rows of partially dissected corpses were laid out on steel tables with unidentifiable fluids draining out of them. Instead, he found himself in an institutional looking office not all that different from his own. Behind the gray metal desk, a woman who appeared to be in her mid-thirties was writing in a file.
“Give me a second before I lose my thought,” she said, not looking up.
“Take your time.”
At the sound of Tay’s voice the woman shifted her eyes toward him without lifting her head and, although she continued to write, he saw her examine him with evident curiosity.
“Please sit down,” she said, moving her eyes back to the file she was working on. “I’ll just be a moment.”
Tay sat on a straight chair in front of the desk and took the opportunity to make his own assessment of Dr. Susan Hoi. She was a looker. He had not been prepared for that. Her hair was short and stylishly cut and, although mostly black, there were highlights that appeared almost red under the fluorescent lights of her office. Beneath her white lab coat he could just see what looked like a square-necked black dress and a single strand of pearls. Pearls and a little black dress to cut up dead bodies? Who would have thought?
The woman sat very straight in her chair, her shoulders back and squared to her work, and wrote quickly with long, fluid strokes. There was something about her posture that Tay found very attractive, enticing even, but how could that be? When encountering a beautiful woman, surely not many men found themselves attracted to her posture. Legs, of course; breasts, yes; face and eyes, naturally; even occasionally arms and hands. Tay had heard there were some men who were attracted to women’s feet, but he couldn’t see Susan Hoi’s feet under her desk and doubted he was one of those men in any case. But to be attracted to a woman’s posture? What in the world did that say about him?
Before he could decide, she closed the file, adjusted its position on her desk in an unconscious gesture of tidiness, and smiled at him with what seemed to be genuine warmth.
“I’m glad you could manage the time, Inspector.”
“It wasn’t time I was short of.”
“Oh, I see.” Dr. Hoi readjusted the position of the file, although it was obviously unnecessary. “Actually, no, I don’t see.”
Tay nodded a couple of times while he was trying to decide what to say. He could make some kind of idiotic excuse, he supposed. Or perhaps he could just tell her the truth. If he did that, he would no doubt either get high marks for honesty or come off as a complete jerk. Unfortunately, right off the top of his head he couldn’t think up a convincing lie so it looked like he was stuck going with the truth by default.
“It’s just that I don’t like looking at dead bodies,” Tay said. “The sight of them makes me nauseous.”
“But you’re the investigating officer in a homicide.”
Tay nodded in resignation.
“Oh, I see,” she said. “This must be your first.”
“No, I’ve been in CID-SIS for nearly fifteen years.”
“Fifteen years? And you’re still avoiding dead bodies?”
He waited for her to fill in the rest. It didn’t take long.
“So you’ve never attended an autopsy,” she said.
“Or examined the deceased after the autopsy was completed.”
“I see.” Dr. Hoi folded her arms over her chest and made a little clicking noise with her tongue. “Well, then. What shall we do here?”
“May I make a suggestion?” Tay asked, shifting his weight on the chair.
“By all means.”
“Why don’t you just tell me about what you wanted me to see? You could even draw some diagrams if it would help, or you know…”
Tay trailed off into silence, feeling like an idiot.
Dr. Hoi nodded slowly. “All right. That’s fine, I guess.”
She reopened the file she had been working on when Tay came in, glanced at it briefly as if to refresh her memory, then leaned back in her chair and steepled her fingers, unconsciously tapping the points of her forefingers against her lips.
“The deceased is a healthy, well-nourished Caucasian woman in her early to mid-forties. My guess is that she’s probably an American. I can’t be certain, of course, but both her dental work and the polish on her finger and toenails are consistent with an American origin. On the other hand, perhaps she’s French but gets her dental work done in the US and wears American nail polish.”
“That sounds pretty unlikely to me.”
“As it does to me.”
Dr. Hoi glanced down at her file again.
“From the temperature of the deceased, and taking into account the setting of the air conditioning in the room where she was found, my best guess is that the time of death was between eighteen and twenty hours prior to the discovery of the body.”
“That means she was killed…” Tay paused to calculate, “between five and seven Monday evening.”
Dr. Hoi nodded in acknowledgment of Tay’s mathematical acumen.
“Fingernail scrapings produced no organic matter and the body was relatively unmarked, except of course for the destruction of the face. There were, however, marks on her wrists and ankles that in my view are consistent with restraints having been placed on her in some fashion. At first I thought that might suggest the deceased had engaged in sadomasochistic sexual activity.”
Dr. Hoi glanced at Tay and in embarrassment he flicked his eyes to the blank wall just over her shoulder.
“On the other hand there was no evidence of recent intercourse, certainly no semen in the vagina, the anus, or the mouth. Of course, that’s not conclusive. The vagina was badly mutilated by the flashlight and I can’t be absolutely certain no penetration occurred, but the anus was intact and I saw no signs of penetration there. And, of course, her attacker might have used a condom.”
Dr. Hoi glanced at Tay again, but he was studying the wall with intense concentration.
“There’s also something else to keep in mind,” she went on when Tay wouldn’t meet her eyes. “Sadomasochism frequently doesn’t entail intercourse, at least not in the usual sense, so we can’t rule out the possibility of sexual activity based purely on the lack of any evidence of intercourse. She had been restrained, that we can say for certain, but the killer may have snapped the handcuffs around both her wrists and ankles simply for the purpose of killing her, not because they were engaged in some form of sexual activity.”
“Yes, definitely handcuffs. My guess is they were the plastic disposal type.”
“You mean like police cuffs?”
This time Dr. Hoi’s response came after a short but perceptible pause.
“Yes,” she said. “Quite similar or even possibly identical to police cuffs.”
A silence fell as Tay processed what he was hearing. Somewhere in the distance some sort of machinery whirred to life emitting a low-pitched humming sound.
“I gather you’re aware of the cause of death?” Dr. Hoi asked after a few moments had passed in silence.
“I assume it must have been the beating.”
“Certainly not. The woman was shot.”
Tay’s mouth dropped open.
“She was shot with a.22 caliber hollow point,” Dr. Hoi continued, “fired from a revolver with its muzzle placed in contact with her right ear.”
She made a little gun with her thumb and forefinger and then reached up and placed her forefinger into her ear.
“One shot,” she said. “Like this. Straight into the ear. Bam!”
It took Tay a moment to regain the power of speech, but when he did the words spilled out involuntarily.
“You’re shittin’ me.”
Dr. Hoi couldn’t suppress a smile. “No, Inspector, I shit thee not. This was why I wanted you to come over and look at the deceased yourself. Very unusual thing to see here in Singapore. Are you sure you won’t change your mind?”
“I’m sure.” Tay’s mouth was dry and he tried unsuccessfully to swallow. “Thank you.”
“Pity. As I said, very unusual thing.”
Dr. Hoi pursed her lips as if she was trying hard to recall something, although what it might be wasn’t clear to Tay.
“In any event,” she continued after a moment, “the entry wound is very small and completely hidden inside the ear. That’s probably why you missed it when you examined the deceased at the scene.”
“Probably,” Tay mumbled.
“The stippling is apparent once you find the point of entry and it leaves no doubt at all that this was a contact wound. The bullet took a downward path, entering through the primary motor cortex. There was extensive subdural hemorrhaging that ripped linear fractures through the entirety of her skull, then extended down to her neck. The consequential shock wave brought about major tissue trauma, which brought her nervous system to an immediate halt causing her blood pressure to drop like a rock.”
Dr. Hoi abruptly stopped talking.
“I’m sorry, Inspector. From the look on your face, I’m not sure you’re staying with me here. Is something distracting you?”
“Is something distracting me?” Tay rolled his eyes. “Jesus Christ, does a cat have an ass?”
Dr. Hoi burst out laughing. “You do have a very colorful way of expressing yourself, Inspector.”
“My father was an American. He willed me his vocabulary.”
“That must come in handy in your line of work.”
“Particularly now. I’m bowled over.”
“Yes, firearms deaths in Singapore are unexpected, aren’t they?”
“I can’t think of one in years.”
“Well, you have one now.”
“There was no blood,” Tay said.
“What?” Dr. Hoi asked.
“There was no blood around her ear. None on the bed either.”
“Ah,” Dr. Hoi said. “I see what you mean.”
“Wouldn’t there have been bleeding? If she was shot?”
“Some perhaps. Not very much. As I said, the damage to the brain would have caused her blood pressure to drop very quickly and the entry wound was quite small. You didn’t see any blood at all?”
“No. The bed had been stripped.”
“Well, there you are. There wouldn’t have been enough blood to soak through the sheets to the mattress. It would have been easy to clean up the body as well. Although, offhand, I’m not sure why a killer would-”
“Did you recover the bullet?” Tay cut in.
Susan Hoi opened the center drawer of her desk, removed a clear plastic vial that looked like a pill bottle, and placed it on the desk in front of Tay. When he picked up the vial, it rattled loudly in the quiet office. Tay saw it contained nothing but some flecks of vaguely yellowish metal that looked more like pieces of glitter than a bullet.
“A hollow point,” Dr. Hoi said. “It exploded just like it was meant to. Then it pulverized her brain. I have nothing for you but these fragments.”
“A hollow point,” Tay repeated, still trying to process what he was hearing. “So you don’t think this could have been a crime of passion, the result of some kind of-”
“Inspector, this was an execution,” Dr. Hoi interrupted. “The killer chose a.22 revolver loaded with hollow points, a weapon that is useless for anything except an execution. Whoever this woman is, her killer came prepared to murder her and then coldly did so.”
“Then why did he beat her so badly first?”
`”What are you talking about?” Tay asked. “Her face looked like hamburger.”
“The beating occurred postmortem,” Dr. Hoi said. “As you have already pointed out, there was relatively little bleeding. If the decedent had been alive at the time she was beaten, she would have bled a great deal.”
Dr. Hoi paused for Tay to frame another question, but when he didn’t she continued.
“Your killer handcuffed this woman’s wrists and ankles, put an assassin’s handgun against her right ear, fired one shot, and then used some sort of club to crush her face. The facial marks are consistent with the butt of a gun so I’d guess her killer shot her in the head and then used the same revolver to beat her face in.”
“Why would the killer beat her after she was already dead?”
“Rage?” Dr. Hoi shrugged. “That would be my guess, but you’re the detective here, Inspector. I just cut up dead bodies and try to find out what made them dead.”
Dr. Hoi leaned back and waited a few moments for Tay to speak again. When he didn’t, she fiddled briefly with her pen, then abruptly pushed herself away from her desk and stood up.
“That’s about all I have now, Inspector. I should get back to the report. I ought to have it completed by Monday and I’ll see that you get it immediately. Now unless there’s something else…”
“No, I don’t think so,” Tay said as he rose slowly to his feet. “Nothing else. Thank you.”
Dr. Hoi offered her hand and Tay took it. It was cool to the touch. He was suddenly seized by a wild impulse to pull it toward him, open her fingers, and press her palm to his forehead, but he resisted.
“Take a left outside and go through the door,” Dr. Hoi said.
“Follow that corridor all the way to the end and you’ll be back in reception.”
“Thank you, yes,” Tay said.
Tay sensed Susan Hoi was waiting for him to say something else, but he couldn’t think what it might be.
“Have a nice weekend,” she eventually said when he remained silent.
And then he left, closing the door behind him.
Tay followed Dr. Hoi’s instructions and before long found himself outside the mortuary, standing on a concrete walkway next to a lawn that was mowed as smooth and tight as a putting green. He got his bearings and began to walk back to his office, taking it slow.
That’s the ticket, Tay thought to himself. Take it slow. Take it all slow.
The afternoon was hot and clear and the sky was a dense, crystalline blue. It looked as perfect as the inside of a ceramic bowl.
This time Tay remembered to bring the letter from New York home with him, but when he called that evening he was unable to reach the lawyer named Rosenthal. A secretary told him that Mr. Rosenthal was at his house at the shore and wouldn’t be in the office again until Monday morning. Tay left both his home and his cell phone numbers, suppressing his annoyance at finding himself a supplicant to a man who not only could take his Fridays off but also had a house at some shore. He hung up wishing he had never made the call in the first place.
It rained all day Saturday and Tay did nothing but read the Martin Cruz Smith novel, smoke, and think about the murdered woman. He felt as if he were becalmed in the eye of a hurricane. All around he could hear the wind howling and feel the storm coming, but he had no way to guess when or from what direction it might strike. Major cases were like that, he knew. Periods when nothing happened followed by periods when everything happened. Something would come up. He had no idea what it would be, but he had no doubt he would be off and running again soon. It always worked that way. At least it always had.
His mother was a different matter entirely. There Tay lacked any experience of value to him in trying to assess the future. Assuming what Rosenthal told him in the letter was true, what did it all actually mean? More to the point, although he flinched from the nakedness of the question, he knew he was really wondering what effect it would have on his own life.
He simply had no idea at all.
ON Sunday morning Tay rose late, made toast and coffee, and then thought about what to do with the final day of his weekend. He knew a lot of people claimed Singapore was boring. ‘Singabore,’ tourists sometimes called it. Usually that annoyed him, but sometimes he thought those people might well have a point. Still, he realized there was another possible explanation for his lethargy, and he liked that one even less. Maybe it was he who was boring, not the city. Perhaps he was just turning into an old fart, cranky and tedious, and that was that.
When Tay finished breakfast, he considered starting on the three-volume Graham Greene biography he had bought on Friday at Borders, but it had stopped raining and the air had turned mild and dry. The day looked promising and it did seem a shame to spend it inside with his nose in a book. Graham Greene would go down better some other day, perhaps one when a tropical rainstorm was soaking the city or maybe when the air was so hot and heavy with humidity you had to haul yourself through it hand over hand. That was Graham Greene territory, not a pleasant summer’s day when people were outside enjoying themselves.
Instead of reading, Tay thought, perhaps he ought to go for a ride on his new bicycle. After all the whole idea of buying the thing was because he thought he should be getting more exercise. He could stand to lose some weight, and he might even find himself feeling better in a general sort of way. Actually, to tell the truth, he was a bit vague on the effects of exercise, but he was certain there were many and that they were all good.
Buying the bicycle had actually been suggested to him by Cindy Shaw, a woman who lived two doors up Emerald Hill Road. She was either a widow or divorced, Tay wasn’t sure which, and she had made her interest in him so plain it was slightly embarrassing. Ordinarily he would have been flattered at almost any woman’s attention. This was an exception, and not just because Cindy Shaw had long flat hair and a long flat face, although she did and he found neither characteristic particularly appealing. He had some trouble putting his finger on exactly what it was about Cindy Shaw that annoyed him so much, but the matter of the bicycle was as good a case in point as any.
Tay was unlocking his gate one evening when Cindy came out of her house on her way to somewhere and stopped to talk. When he mentioned he had been feeling tired lately, he was just making polite conversation, but Cindy seemed to take his comment as a cry for help and immediately launched into a long list of prescriptions for his malaise.
One of Cindy’s prescriptions was for him to buy a bicycle and start getting more exercise. He gave the idea no more thought until he had been whiling away a rainy Saturday afternoon walking around Suntec City and saw a display of bicycles in the Royal Sporting House. They were all Chinese-made and not too expensive and he had to admit they looked pretty sharp. All at once the idea of biking by the sea out along the East Coast Parkway or maybe through the Bukit Timah Nature Reserve seemed quite enticing, even sexy. On a whim, he bought one of the bikes, a red one, but it had been sitting in a spare room upstairs ever since. He had been afraid to ride it for fear Cindy Shaw might think he had taken her advice and who knew where that would lead?
Tay took a sip of coffee, now gone cold, and gave the largely novel notion of physical exercise careful consideration. Would his smoking be a problem? He had heard that smoking reduced your lung capacity or something like that, but he had no idea what his lung capacity was supposed to be so he wasn’t sure what that meant. Of course, he realized that he couldn’t smoke and ride a bicycle at the same time — that would be too unseemly even to consider — but he could always ride slowly, and he could stop every now and then and take a smoke break somewhere discreetly out of view. That was starting to sound like a plan.
Yes, Tay abruptly decided, he would ride his new bicycle today and to hell with whether Cindy Shaw thought he was taking her advice or not. Actually, he guessed he was taking her advice, so the real issue was what she would make of that if she saw him. Maybe she wouldn’t see him. And if she did, he could deal with whatever came of it, couldn’t he? He certainly wasn’t going to be intimidated by Cindy Shaw, at least not to the extent that he avoided doing something he really wanted to do, and right now, for some curious reason, he really did want to ride his new bicycle.
The dead woman at the Marriott was weighing on Tay and he knew that was more than likely the explanation for his inexplicable motivation toward physical activity. A woman beaten to death at the Marriott would have been bad enough, but at least that could have been the result of a violent quarrel between lovers. A woman shot in the ear with an assassin’s pistol at the Marriott was a whole different ball game. That couldn’t have been anything but a carefully planned murder, but they still didn’t even know who the woman was, much less why anyone would want to murder her. On Saturday, he had been comfortable enough placing his faith in serendipity. Now, on Sunday, serendipity didn’t feel like much of a strategy any longer.
Sergeant Kang had a few more names left to check from the list the Immigration Department had given them, but so far he had come up with nothing and that whole process was starting to looklike it was going to get them nowhere. The woman’s fingerprints had gone to Interpol, too, of course, but God only knew how long it would be before they replied, if they ever replied at all. Still, there was at least the possibility that Interpol would get a hit on the prints from some country and they would get their identification that way. If they ran both the whole list from Immigration and the prints through Interpol and still came up empty, Tay didn’t even want to think about where that would leave them.
He glanced at his watch. Although it was nearly noon, he could walk up to Orchard Road, have some lunch, and still be out on the bike by two. Was eating before going on a bicycle ride a good idea? He thought it was swimming you weren’t supposed to do right after eating, but he wasn’t absolutely certain. Maybe biking was a problem, too. In any event he wasn’t going to worry about it. He would just do what he wanted to do and see how it went.
After all, if he felt bad after lunch for any reason, he could always leave the bike ride for another day, couldn’t he?
Tay felt fine after lunch. To tell the truth, he had lingered over it a bit and felt absolutely wonderful, and he hadn’t wavered in the slightest in his conviction that spending the rest of Sunday afternoon on his new bicycle was an inspired idea. Why, it might even be the beginning of a whole new approach to life for him, mightn’t it?
He pulled on a pair of khaki shorts and a plain white T-shirt and laced up a new pair of Nikes he had bought at the same time as the bicycle but hadn’t yet worn. Then he buckled the strap of his black bicycle helmet under his chin and tugged it tight. The first time he tried on the helmet, he thought it made him look stupid, but now he wasn’t so sure. There was something racy and vigorous about the elongated shape of it and the purple stripes along its sides. He liked the way he looked in it just fine.
Hoisting his bicycle to one shoulder, Tay carried it down the stairs and through the front door. He wheeled the bike out to the sidewalk and closed the gate behind him.
That was when the man waiting there spoke to him.
“You’re Sam Tay, aren’t you?”
Tay had been so absorbed in juggling the bike and the heavy gate without hurting himself that he hadn’t noticed anyone on the sidewalk. He turned toward the sound and looked the man over. Tay was reasonably sure he didn’t know him. If they had ever met, Tay certainly didn’t remember it.
The man was just over six feet tall and almost completely bald on top. He had an unruly fringe of silver hair, a lush silver mustache, oddly tiny ears, and a face that looked Irish: slightly red tending to pink with a soft, almost powdered look to his skin. His shirt was white oxford cloth, long-sleeved with a button-down collar, and he wore it tucked into sharply pressed khakis with a red necktie and black tassel loafers.
“I’m sorry to surprise you this way,” the man continued when Tay didn’t say anything. “I wouldn’t have bothered you if it weren’t important. Normally, by now I’d be teeing off on the back nine myself anyway.”
The man tossed out a grin he evidently thought illustrated the accidental camaraderie he and Tay had just achieved, two guys whose Sundays were both being loused up by the vicissitudes of an unreliable world. The grin didn’t do a damned thing for Tay.
“Who are you?” Tay asked.
“I’m Tony DeSouza. I’m the legal attache at the American embassy.”
Ah, Tay thought, the local FBI man. He had always wondered why FBI agents insisted on calling themselves legal attaches when they were posted abroad. It seemed pretentious to him.
“What are you doing in front of my house?”
DeSouza served up another grin and this time tried to put something rueful into it, but Tay still wasn’t biting.
“We need to talk,” DeSouza said.
“Look…” DeSouza hesitated. “Can I come in?”
“How is it you know where I live?”
“I’m a trained investigator.”
“So am I, but I don’t know where you live.”
“It wouldn’t be hard for you to find out.”
“Perhaps not, but I don’t really care.”
“Look, Inspector, until about seven o’clock this morning I didn’t give a damn where you lived either. That was about the time the duty officer at the embassy woke me up and told me to get my butt over there to look at an eyes-only cable from Washington. Well, I got out of bed, got dressed, went over, and read the cable. And all of a sudden I started caring a whole hell of a lot where you live. It’s Sunday and so I presumed you wouldn’t be in your office until Monday, but that cable made it pretty damned important for me to talk to you without waiting until Monday. Now can we go inside and talk or do you want to tango around in the street a little more first?”
“I have a telephone. I assume you could have gotten the number as easily as you got my address.”
“I have the number. This isn’t the kind of thing you talk about on the telephone.”
Tay nodded slowly a couple of times. He was still annoyed at being ambushed in front of his own house on a Sunday afternoon, but curiosity was beginning to work at him.
“May I see your identification?” he asked.
DeSouza pulled a slim, black case out of his back pocket, opened and held it out. Tay thought the ID looked authentic enough and the picture seemed to match the man, but then he really had no idea what FBI credentials were supposed to look like so he had no way to know for sure whether it was genuine or not.
“You got any coffee inside, Sam?”
What the hell was it with Americans? Did they really think that their overly affable behavior passed for charm? As far as Tay was concerned, the casual familiarity with which most Americans engaged everyone they met was their single most annoying character trait, the clear winner in a very large field of worthy competitors.
“I don’t drink coffee,” Tay grumbled as he picked up the bicycle and turned it around. Opening his gate, he wheeled it back inside.
Tay took one of the two brown leather chairs facing the row of French doors that opened onto his small, brick-paved garden. DeSouza glanced around and then settled himself on the couch opposite the two chairs.
“Jeez,” DeSouza said. “Nice house.”
Tay watched DeSouza run his eyes over the floor-to-ceiling bookcases that covered two walls of the room. Then he glanced at Tay’s small collection of contemporary oil paintings on the other walls, none of which he could apparently identify, and spent somewhat longer examining the Turkish rugs spread on the dark-stained oak floor.
“They must pay you guys better than they pay me,” he said.
“It was my father who was well paid.”
“And he gave you this house?”
“He died and left it to me.”
“Huh,” DeSouza grunted. “How about that? Christ, a rich cop.”
“From where I sit, you look pretty rich to me. What does a house like this run around here anyway?”
“Do you really expect me to answer that?”
DeSouza shrugged. “Why not?”
“Look, if I walked into your house, wherever it is, and asked you what it’s worth-”
“Doesn’t matter. I’d tell you. It’s rented anyway.”
“Look, Agent DeSouza-”
“It’s Special Agent.”
The man sounded so earnest Tay almost laughed out loud. “Could I just have your full name again?” he asked instead.
“It’s Tony DeSouza. You can call me Tony.”
Tay shook his head. Americans.
“Hey, you want to hear a great joke?” DeSouza asked. “Stop me if you’ve heard it.”
“I left my gun upstairs.”
Tay just shook his head again.
“Okay, it goes this way,” DeSouza said. “A Sudanese, an Indian, and a Singaporean are each asked, ‘In your opinion, what is the nutritional value of beef?’ The Sudanese says, ‘What is nutritional value?’ The Indian says, ‘What is beef?’ And the Singaporean says, ‘What is an opinion?’”
DeSouza snickered in a way that seemed to Tay to have little humor in it. Tay remained silent.
“You’re not laughing,” DeSouza said when he stopped snickering.
“It’s an old joke. But even if it were a new joke, I probably wouldn’t be laughing. It’s not particularly funny.”
“I think it’s funny.” DeSouza snorted again as if to emphasize the point. “Jeez, you people got no sense of humor.”
Tay had a sudden urge for a Marlboro, but bit it back. He didn’t want to give DeSouza the satisfaction of seeing him reach for a cigarette.
“Let’s just cut the crap, Special Agent DeSouza. Can we do that? What is this all about?”
DeSouza smoothed down his mustache with two fingers. Then he leaned back on the couch and knitted his fingers together behind his neck.
“On Thursday, you sent a set of fingerprints to Interpol with a request for an ID. They passed them along to us. I’m here to tell you we got a hit for you.”
Tay kept his expression empty. This guy had sucker-punched him just as he had obviously intended to, but Tay wasn’t going to look surprised so that he could enjoy it.
“I assume the prints are from your so-called suicide at the Marriott a couple of days ago,” DeSouza continued when Tay didn’t say anything.
“What do you know about that?” Tay asked.
“Only what I read in the papers.”
“Do you have some interest in the case?”
“I didn’t until this morning. I didn’t until I saw the ID and worked out that’s whose prints you were trying to trace. Am I right?”
“Does it make a difference?”
“Why are you being such a hardass with me, Tay? My boss sends me an overnight cable that gets me out of bed at seven on a Sunday morning. I have to cancel my golf game to track you down, and then I come over here all friendly like to tell you who you got there at the Marriott and you treat me like something your dog just dragged in.”
“I don’t have a dog.”
“Probably couldn’t find one that could live with your sunny personality.”
DeSouza grinned and Tay saw something unpleasant in it.
“Why do I get the feeling, Special Agent DeSouza, that when you finally get around to telling me who my prints belong to it’s going to be somebody important.”
“Yeah,” DeSouza nodded slowly, “it is.”
“So stop playing games. Let’s have it.”
“Nope. I want something from you first. Are the prints from the woman you found at the Marriott or not?”
“Yes,” Tay said. “They are.”
“So the suicide story you put out was pure bullshit. Am I right?”
“It was a homicide.”
Tay hesitated. It rubbed him the wrong way to give DeSouza any information on the case, particularly the way he was dangling an identification of the deceased to get it. On the other hand, if the FBI had the woman’s prints the chances were good that she was an American citizen and the FBI would be entitled to know anyway. So Tay told DeSouza what little he knew, at least most of it. Somehow it slipped his mind to mention his conversation with Dr. Hoi or anything she told him about the actual cause of death.
“Damn,” DeSouza grunted. “Tied up and beaten to death, huh?”
Tay said nothing.
“Tortured and murdered.” DeSouza shook his head. “This one’s going to get hairy, my friend. This is going to hit a lot of people like another September 11. Terrorism has just moved to a whole new level.”
Tay wasn’t quite sure what to say to that. He had a murdered woman in a room at the Marriott. Yes, it was an American hotel and, in light of the sudden appearance of the local FBI man in his living room, almost certainly the woman was going to turn out to be an American, too. But that didn’t automatically turn her murder into a terrorist attack, let alone an attack anybody could begin to compare to September 11.
“Who is she?” Tay asked.
DeSouza made a funny little move with his head, turning it very slowly first one way and then the other, like a man who had a stiff neck and was working out the kinks.
“A citizen of the United States,” he said, “Elizabeth Jane Munson.”
The name meant nothing to Tay so he just looked at DeSouza without saying anything.
“You know who she is, don’t you?” DeSouza asked.
Tay shook his head.
“Then grab your balls, old buddy.”
Tay had absolutely no intention of doing anything of the sort, and when DeSouza bent toward him, he moved back a bit, just in case.
“Elizabeth Munson is the wife of Arthur Elliot Munson III. Art Munson is the American ambassador to Singapore. Your corpse is the ambassador’s wife.”
Tay’s jaw slackened in spite of his best effort to control it. “Jesus Christ,” he murmured.
On the movie screen of his mind, Tay replayed the second in which he had first seen the murdered woman’s body in the room at the Marriott. The smashed-in face, the degrading way she had been posed, the obscenity of the chrome-bodied flashlight poking out of the dark nest of her pubic hair. He felt sick then and he felt sick now. He fought the nausea as it built.
DeSouza watched Tay carefully, but he said nothing more. Eventually Tay took a long breath and slowly let it out again.
“Have you told her husband yet?” he asked DeSouza.
“I was only guessing why you were running those prints, remember? That’s why I tracked you down today. I wanted to be sure before I said anything to anyone, let alone the ambassador.”
“Is he here in Singapore?”
“The ambassador was in Washington most of last week,” he said after a moment, which Tay noticed didn’t exactly answer his question.
“Is he still there?”
DeSouza looked at his watch.
“It’s about three o’clock Sunday morning in DC. The ambassador’s staff assistant told me that he would be leaving there on Sunday and flying straight back here so I’m not sure if he’s left or not.”
“Do you know what flight he’s on?” Tay asked automatically, although as soon as he asked he realized he couldn’t see what difference it made.
“United through San Francisco. He’ll get here tomorrow night.”
“I’ll need to see him as soon as he gets in.”
Tay noticed DeSouza stiffen and he also noticed him try to cover it.
“Why?” DeSouza asked.
“His wife’s been murdered. I’m the investigating officer in the case. What else would you expect me to do?”
“For God’s sake, Sam, give the guy a break. He’s going to get off a twenty-four hour flight at midnight tomorrow feeling like shit warmed over and somebody’s going to meet him at the airport to tell him his wife’s been murdered by terrorists-”
“I think it’s a little early to-”
“Then you want to talk to him when he’s still jet-lagged to hell and in shock over what’s happened. Just cool it for a few days and we’ll arrange something.”
Tay didn’t like the reproachful note in DeSouza’s voice.
“I don’t need your permission to talk to someone who is relevant to my investigation,” he said.
“Actually…” DeSouza paused, looking at Tay with something on his face that was almost a smile, but not quite, “in this case you do.”
Tay said nothing.
“There are issues of protocol here,” DeSouza went on.
“Yeah. You know, diplomatic immunity and all that.”
“The American ambassador is going to invoke diplomatic immunity to avoid being interviewed about the murder of his wife?”
DeSouza held up his right hand, palm out like a traffic cop. “Now wait. I didn’t say that.”
“Then what did you say?”
“I said there were matters of protocol to be worked out. Look man, I’m just an FBI working stiff. All that protocol shit is State Department stuff and they’re welcome to it. If they ask my opinion, I’ll give it to them, but the question of who you see and when you see them is up to them.”
“And what is your opinion?”
“That they should arrange for you to meet with the ambassador.” DeSouza smiled his smallest smile. “As soon as it’s convenient for him.”
Tay eyed DeSouza for a moment and then let his gaze drift away. Through the French doors he watched a red bird land on the branch of a small tree in his garden. It was a brilliant scarlet color, almost luminescent, and Tay wondered, not for the first time, how it was that animals could live lives of wild freedom in urban areas like Singapore; and if they could, why people couldn’t manage the same trick. The bird looked around quickly, and apparently seeing nothing of interest, flew away again.
Tay brought his eyes back inside. “Did you know Mrs. Munson, Special Agent DeSouza?”
“Everyone in the embassy knew her, I suppose. This isn’t a large post.”
“So you knew her yourself?”
DeSouza shrugged. “Like I said, it’s not a large post. I saw her around here and there. At parties. Sometimes at the embassy. Like that.”
“You don’t seem all that disturbed about her being murdered.”
“I’m not. I didn’t like her.”
Tay nodded, but before he could decide what to say to that, DeSouza stood up and shook the creases back into his khakis.
“Anyway, Sam, I just wanted to let you know who you’ve got there. I’d better get back to the embassy. I’ve got a lot of work to do before the shit hits the fan.”
Tay remained seated.
“Now that I know why you were trying to ID Mrs. Munson’s prints,” DeSouza went on, “I’ve got a murder investigation to put together. The embassy will make arrangements for the body tomorrow and if you could get copies of your files over to me right away that would be a big help.”
DeSouza took a business card out of his shirt pocket and held it out to Tay.
Tay stood slowly, but he made no move to take the card.
“What are you talking about?” he asked.
“Now come on, Sam. Let’s not get off on the wrong foot here.”
DeSouza bent down and put his card on the coffee table, turning it so that it faced Tay.
“There’s no need to get into some hairy-assed jurisdictional quarrel,” he went on. “The FBI has authority in all cases involving terrorism against United States citizens wherever it occurs. The Diplomatic Security and Antiterrorism Act of 1986 establishes extraterritorial jurisdiction for American law enforcement in all acts of terrorism against citizens of the United States regardless-”
“How do you know this was an act of terrorism?” Tay interrupted.
“The American ambassador’s wife tortured and murdered? Come on, man. Don’t be naive. What else could it be?”
Tay pursed his lips and looked thoughtful. “A jealous lover?”
“Oh, come off it, Sam. If I were you, old buddy, I’d just be happy as hell to have somebody willing to take this one off my plate. Happy as fucking hell. You ought to give me a big sloppy kiss and send me flowers.”
“I think that’s pretty unlikely.”
Tay left the business card where it was and walked into the hallway. He opened the front door and held it until DeSouza caught up with him.
“By the way, Sam,” DeSouza said as he stopped on the threshold, “I really liked the suicide story. Maybe we’ll stick to that. Let me talk to some people and I’ll let you know how we’re going to handle the press. Of course, any announcements will come from the embassy from here on out so make sure your people are on side with that, will you? I’d hate for the ID to leak before we’re ready. We’d all look pretty silly.”
“Good afternoon, Special Agent DeSouza,” Tay said, opening his door a little wider. “I’ll be in touch.”
DeSouza looked for a moment as if he might be about to say something else, but didn’t. He just nodded and left.
Tay closed the door behind him. He walked slowly back to the living room and settled into the same chair where he had sat when DeSouza was there. He remained seated in it for several minutes, hardly moving, then he went upstairs, got a box of Marlboros and his disposable lighter, and came back down. He opened the French doors and walked out into his garden.
Two teak chairs with yellow canvas cushions flanked a small table under a tree, the same tree where the red bird had made its brief visit. Tay sat down heavily in one. After swinging his legs up into the other and crossing them at the ankle, he lit his first Marlboro of the day.
For the rest of the afternoon Inspector Tay sat quietly in his brick-paved garden, watching the birds come and go, smoking one Marlboro after another. He smoked them methodically, as if finishing the pack was a task he had set for himself and one he was determined to complete regardless of the challenges he encountered. Finally, as the day began to dim, he lit the last cigarette in the box, smoked it down to a tiny butt, and dropped it to the bricks under his feet.
At that moment the sky exhaled, breathing out the last gasp of light, and the silence expanded, becoming darkness.
Sergeant Kang walked into the squad room at his usual hour on Monday morning. He had a large latte in one hand and a Straits Times in the other. He was just settling himself at his desk and opening the paper to the sports section when Tay came in.
“My office,” Tay said as he passed Kang. “Now.”
Kang dumped the Straits Times before he went into Tay’s office, but he took the coffee with him. From Tay’s tone of voice, he knew he was going to need it.
“Close the door,” Tay said.
Kang closed the door and sat down. He had hardly popped the lid off his coffee before Tay told him about his Sunday visit from Special Agent DeSouza and the identity of the woman at the Marriott.
“The wife of the American ambassador?” Kang let out a long, low whistle. “Man, oh man.”
“There’s more,” Tay said. “And it’s worse.”
Tay told Kang about Dr. Hoi’s discovery of the gunshot wound.
Kang looked skeptical. “No one heard any shots fired,” he said. “No one heard anything at all.”
“There was just one shot,” Tay said. “And the killer probably muffled the gun. A.22 wouldn’t have made much more than a poof with a pillow wrapped around it.”
Kang still looked doubtful. “The pathologist really thinks someone beat this woman’s face in and then shot her?”
“No. They shot her first. Then they beat her face in.”
“She was beaten after she was shot?”
“She was already dead when she was beaten?”
“What about the flashlight? Was it put up her before-”
“I don’t know,” Tay interrupted quickly. “Ask Dr. Hoi if you’re that interested.”
Tay and Kang sat in silence for a while after that. This wasn’t the kind of thing that happened in Singapore. It wasn’t, but apparently it just had.
“I don’t understand, sir,” Sergeant Kang finally said. “Why would anyone do that? Why would anyone beat this woman’s face in when she was already dead?”
“Someone must have really hated Elizabeth Munson. I can’t see any other reason.”
“Either that or maybe someone just hated what she represented, being the wife of an American ambassador and all.”
Tay nodded, but he didn’t say anything.
“Do you think they might have smashed up her face just to make it harder for us to identify her?” Kang asked.
“We have her fingerprints and even her dental work. There wouldn’t be any point in that.”
“Then maybe this doctor just has it all wrong, sir.”
“Look, Robbie, I don’t know Dr. Hoi, but I imagine she can identify a gunshot wound when she finds one in a woman’s head. And I imagine she can figure out in what order specific injuries occurred.”
“Did you look at the body yourself, sir? At the gunshot wound?”
Tay didn’t bother to answer.
“We’ll have the full autopsy report today,” he said instead. “You can read all about it then if you want to. You can even go across the street and stick your finger in the wound. But, for Christ’s sake, for now just accept that the woman was indeed killed by a gunshot and she was beaten after she was dead.”
“Yes, sir.” The chair squeaked as Kang shifted his weight. “But if that’s all true, this wasn’t just an ordinary murder, was it? It was a cold-blooded hit, an assassination.”
“Of the American ambassador’s wife.”
Tay nodded again.
“She must have known whoever it was who killed her. She certainly wasn’t kidnapped by strangers and dragged into a room at the Marriott in the middle of the afternoon.”
“Maybe the killer forced his way in,” Tay offered.
Kang rubbed at the back of his neck, but didn’t respond.
“No,” Tay continued, “I don’t think so either.”
Kang nodded slowly, then took a deep breath and let it out again. “Man, that FBI guy must have gone crazy when you told him about the gunshot wound.”
“He probably would have,” Tay replied, “but I didn’t tell him about the gunshot wound. He thinks she was beaten to death.”
Kang looked puzzled. “I don’t understand, sir. Why didn’t you tell him that she was shot?”
Tay made a face. He thought about the various ways he could explain to Kang why he hadn’t told DeSouza about the gunshot wound and finally went with the simplest one. “Because he’s an asshole.”
Kang cleared his throat and looked away.
“Do you have the surveillance tapes from the Marriott yet?” Tay asked him after a moment.
“They’re supposed to send them over today.”
“Go pick them up yourself. And get a picture of Mrs. Munson from somewhere so you’ll know who you’re looking for.”
“I’m sure the American Embassy would have one.”
“Leave them out of this, at least for now.”
“But, sir, why wouldn’t you just-”
“Call that society magazine,” Tay interrupted, “the one that runs all those pictures from parties around town.”
“You mean Singapore Tatler?”
Kang crossed his legs and folded his arms. “Now that I think of it, sir, wasn’t there a picture of you in that magazine last year? With that woman you used to go out with who-”
“Never mind,” Tay cut in. “Just call them and see if they have any pictures of Mrs. Munson. Then get whatever they give you and compare them to the Marriott surveillance tapes until you find out when this woman came into the hotel and if she was with anybody.”
Kang smiled and let the matter of Tay’s photograph in SingaporeTatler drop. He knew it was a sore point with Tay and figured he had probably already annoyed Tay enough to last for quite a while.
“Okay, that’s it, Sergeant. Get going.”
TAY knew he should take what he had to the Chief, but he wasn’t certain what would happen when he did so he wasn’t in any big hurry to do it. He decided to sort out the files on his desk first and get his day into some kind of order.
He had two other murder cases open in addition to the body at the Marriott: a woman beaten half to death by her husband who claimed she attacked him first with a kitchen knife, and a Filipina maid whose body was found outside the building where she worked for two British expatriate bankers. The maid had either jumped or been pushed from the balcony and Tay wasn’t yet sure which it was, but it had certainly been no accident. Those two files went into the metal rack on the corner of his desk where he kept his open cases, but they went in the back.
Then he took the Marriott Unknown case file, replaced the label with a blank, and printed Elizabeth Munson on it. That file went in the front of the rack. The other files were just a lot of junk and he gathered them up and pushed them into a bottom drawer.
He was mostly stalling, he knew, but not altogether. He was the son of an accountant and organization for him was a virtue next to godliness. It was a messy, disorderly world out there. Tay’s policy was to keep his little piece of it as tidy as possible.
Eventually Tay could think of nothing else to do and no reason to wait any longer. He stood up and took a couple of deep breaths. It was time to make his way upstairs to the office of the Officer in Charge of CID-SIS and tell him what they had found out about the murder of the American ambassador’s wife.
Tay decided he would use the stairs. It took longer and the exercise wouldn’t hurt him either.
In the anteroom to the OC’s office, Tay stopped and stared in amazement. What in the world was going on here?
As long as Tay could remember, the room had been furnished with two metal chairs, a table piled high with old magazines, and a gray metal desk, inevitably cluttered and unoccupied. There were still two chairs, but now they were upholstered in a rich blue fabric and looked stylishly uncomfortable. The table between them was glass and chrome and on it was nothing but a single white vase filled with fresh flowers, maybe chrysanthemums. Tay really didn’t know much about flowers.
The secretary’s desk, also glass and chrome with a blue upholstered swivel chair behind it, was decked out with a white flatpanel computer monitor and a matching laser printer. It was also decked out with a new secretary which, when Tay stopped to think about it, might well explain everything else.
“May I help you?” the woman asked.
She seemed quite young, although recently Tay noticed everyone seemed quite young to him, and she was undeniably very attractive. Her skin was cafe au lait brown and her hair was cut in bangs from under which darker brown eyes sparkled from a full, open face.
“Do you work here?” he asked.
“I’m Nora Zaini, sir. I started last week. I’m the OC’s new secretary.”
His boss had never had his own secretary before as far as Tay knew. He had always answered his own phone, or not answered it depending on his mood, and used somebody from the secretarial pool when he needed typing done. Was it possible the sudden appearance of this beautiful young Malay woman in the Chief ‘s outer office portended big changes in the wind?
“Is he in?” Tay asked, inclining his head toward the door leading to the inner office. Before the young woman could answer, the door opened and the OC appeared.
“It’s very nice, Chief,” Tay said, waving his hand at the newly decorated room. “I like it.”
The boss looked mildly embarrassed. “The whole thing was mostly…” he nodded toward his secretary, “Nora’s idea. She thought, well-”
“Absolutely about time to do something like this, Chief,” Tay cut in, taking the OC off the hook. “Look, I’m sorry to barge in without calling first, but I need to see you for a minute.”
“The woman at the Marriott?”
Tay nodded slowly and the OC nodded back. They went into his office and closed the door.
The OC sat listening in silence while Tay told him about DeSouza’s visit on Sunday afternoon and the identification of the murdered woman as Elizabeth Munson, wife of the American ambassador to Singapore. The OC leaned back in his chair and sighed, but before he could say anything Tay quickly moved on to Dr. Hoi’s discovery of the gunshot wound in Mrs. Munson’s ear. When Tay finished telling both stories, the OC closed his eyes and rubbed them with the heels of his hands.
“Oh boy,” he said.
The OC opened his eyes again and looked at Tay. Tay got the distinct impression the OC was hoping that he might be gone, but of course he wasn’t.
“Well,” the OC said after a small silence. “The American ambassador’s wife, huh? Shot in the head.”
“I met her once. At some damn party. Nice woman as I recall.”
“I wouldn’t know, sir.”
“You don’t have any reason to suspect the husband, do you?”
“Why would you ask, sir? Have you heard something that suggests we ought to?”
“No, no.” The OC waved his hands like he was shooing away flies. “It’s just that when a wife is murdered, the first person you always look at is…” he hesitated as if he was unwilling to voice the thought out loud. “Well, you know.”
“As we understand it now, sir, the ambassador was out of town when his wife was murdered.”
“Well, thank God for that at least. Having to investigate the American ambassador for the murder of his wife is a problem we can damn well do without.”
“Have you sent a copy of our file to this FBI guy yet?”
“I wanted to talk to you first.”
“Well, send it right now. Maybe if we’re lucky they’ll take over the whole damned case.”
Tay hesitated. “Sir?”
“Look, Sam, the FBI is better equipped than we are to deal with some terrorist shooting the wife of an American ambassador.”
“DeSouza doesn’t know about the gunshot.”
“Because I didn’t tell him.”
“You didn’t tell him about the gunshot?”
“No, sir. I didn’t tell him.”
“Why on earth not?”
Tay considered, if only briefly, giving the OC the same explanation he had given Sergeant Kang, but thought better of it.
“I didn’t want to give up everything we had until you and I talked about it, Chief.”
“I don’t see what that’s got to do with it.”
“Sir, we don’t even know for sure yet that the deceased woman really is Elizabeth Munson. All I can tell you for certain is that some guy carrying what looked like FBI credentials came to my house on Sunday and told me the Americans had identified the prints we sent to Interpol as hers.”
“You doubt that for some reason?”
“I think we should go slowly here, sir. Either way, this case is going to get a lot of attention and there will be a lot of people second-guessing everything we do. At least some of them will be trying to make us look like a bunch of local clowns. If something goes bad in the investigation, you can bet the FBI will blame us.”
“What are you saying, Sam?”
“Until we receive a formal notification of the ID from Interpol, let’s just continue to conduct our own investigation in the way we normally would. We’ll check all the available surveillance tapes carefully and see if we can find anyone at the Marriott who saw Elizabeth Munson there. Then I’ll do some very discreet digging into her background and see if we can identify a possible motive that might not be obvious. If we can place Elizabeth Munson at the Marriott and develop something on a motive by the time we receive notification of the fingerprint ID, our investigation ought to survive whatever scrutiny it gets.”
The OC looked at Tay for a long time in silence, pinching his lower lip gently between his thumb and his forefinger.
“I see what you mean,” he said after a while. “Okay, do it that way.”
“And I’d like to interview the ambassador,” Tay added quickly.
“Why? I thought you told me he was in the clear.”
“What I said, sir, was that as far as we know now the ambassador was out of town. We have to confirm that.”
The OC looked at Tay some more and scratched his chin.
“Do you really have to interview the man? Couldn’t you confirm where he was in some other way?”
“Well, sir, his wife was brutally murdered. If we don’t interview her husband at all, that wouldn’t look very good for us, would it?”
“I suppose not.”
“Do you think DeSouza would be willing to arrange it?”
“If we offer to give him a copy of our case file, it might be hard for him to say no. Getting cooperation from us ought to justify him giving cooperation in return.”
The OC snorted. “You mean cooperation like you hiding the real cause of death from him?”
Tay cleared his throat. “I’ll give DeSouza a copy of the autopsy report as soon as I get it, sir. He doesn’t need to know about a personal conversation I may or may not have had with Dr. Hoi before her report was provided to us. I’m sure if we seem to be acting open-handedly with him, then he’ll respond to us in the same spirit.”
“You don’t know the Americans very well, do you, Sam?”
“Not really, sir, no.”
The OC snorted again, this time putting some real feeling into it. “You’ll learn. This kind of thing is never a two-way street for them, not unless they’re sure they’re getting the best of it.”
“Then I won’t give him the files and the autopsy report.”
“Don’t climb too far up that tree, Sam. You’ll just end up getting hurt when you have to jump. Assuming the deceased really is who they say she is, we’ll have to give them everything eventually and you know it would be the right thing to do.”
“Let me call him about the file and ask if he’ll arrange the interview. Maybe there won’t be any problem.”
“I wouldn’t bet on that. Governments can get awfully sensitive about matters of protocol, whether or not there’s any good reason for it. And don’t forget about diplomatic immunity.”
“I thought diplomatic immunity only applied to charging someone with a crime, not conducting an interview.”
“It means whatever the country invoking it wants it to mean. You remember that.”
The OC stood up and stretched. “Get out of here, Sam. I’ve got to call a few people and give them a heads up on this one. I agree with you that we don’t have to know anything, at least not officially, until we get a formal reply from Interpol, but it’s all going to hit the fan then. We need to be ready for it.”
“Yes, sir. I’ll get someone onto the surveillance tapes and the background stuff right away.”
“Good. Do it.”
“What about the press, sir?”
The OC already had one hand on the telephone, but he quickly took it away again.
“What about the press?”
“I mean, if we haven’t told them and they find out-”
“It wouldn’t be responsible of us to tell the press anything on the basis of what we know now, would it, Sam? We’ll deal with that when we get a formal response from Interpol.”
The OC thought for a moment. “One other thing, Sam.”
“You sure you’re up to this one?”
Tay paused, now genuinely puzzled rather than just feigning it. “I don’t understand what you mean, sir.”
“I thought I was being pretty clear. Are you sure you’re up to handling this case? To deal with something this…” the OC hesitated, looking for the right words, “high profile.”
“Why wouldn’t I be, sir?”
“Well, Sam…” The OC hesitated again. “You’re not getting any younger, you know. There’s no telling where something like this is going to take you. You’ve got to have the energy for…well, you know.”
Tay looked away and made a show out of weighing the OC’s question, but he was doing nothing of the sort. He was furious and he knew if he looked the OC in the eye that the Chief would see it.
“I think I can handle it, sir.”
“Okay, I just wanted to let you off the hook if you wanted off.”
“Thank you, sir.”
“Watch your back on this one, Sam. God knows what you’re walking into.”
Tay consulted his shoes, but they told him nothing. Then, not able on his own to think of anything particularly constructive to say to that, he only nodded.
BACK downstairs in his office Tay sat for a long time and watched a white-faced clock hanging high on his wall as it advanced steadily toward midday. When he grew sufficiently bored with staring at the clock, he pulled a yellow pad toward him to make a list of things to do. He had written nothing on it when the telephone rang.
“Tay,” he said when he picked it up.
“Ah, Inspector. I’m so glad I caught you.”
It was a woman’s voice, one that sounded familiar, although Tay couldn’t immediately place it.
“This is Susan Hoi,” the woman continued, bailing him out.
“Dr. Hoi, yes.” Tay cleared his throat. “Of course.”
“I just wanted to tell you the full autopsy report on your deceased from the Marriott will be on your desk by three today.”
“Thank you for letting me know.”
Tay wondered if he should tell her about the identification they had, tentative or not, but with the completion of the autopsy report her job was done and there really wasn’t any reason to tell her so he said nothing more.
Then again, neither did she.
“Was there something else, Doctor?” Tay finally asked when the silence had stretched almost to the point of embarrassment.
Tay heard the hesitation in her voice and wondered what it meant.
“Actually there was,” she said. “Is this a bad time for you? You sound as if you may be busy.”
“No, it’s fine. Go ahead.”
“I was thinking about the case over the weekend. I might have something for you.”
“It might be better if we met to talk about it.”
“You mean now?” Tay asked.
“No, not now. How about…”
That hesitation again.
“Look, let me buy you a drink at the end of the day,” Dr. Hoi said. “Will that work for you?”
The invitation was so unexpected Tay didn’t immediately know what to say.
“You do drink, don’t you?” she asked when he said nothing at all. “You’re not one of those boring people who go to meetings and devote their lives communing with some higher power are you?”
“No, it’s not that.”
“Then is there a problem with today?” Dr. Hoi continued. “If there is, just say so. We can meet another time.”
“No, sorry. I just suddenly thought of something else. Today’s fine. Did you have a place in mind?”
“How about Harry’s Bar in Boat Quay? Six o’clock?”
Tay hated Harry’s Bar.
“Fine,” he said. “I love Harry’s Bar.”
Harry’s Bar was all dark wood and ceiling fans, a place that Tay figured was some local entrepreneur’s idea of what an American bar was supposed to look like but didn’t. Why would anyone think building such a place in Singapore was a good idea? Tay didn’t have a clue. Worse, it was usually full of Australian tourists. Either that or it was full of self-important local yuppies doing something or another in the financial district and wearing suspenders they thought looked classic but were actually twenty years out of date. He loathed the place.
“Harry’s Bar at six it is then,” Dr. Hoi said.
“Right,” Tay said. “I’m looking forward to it.”
After Dr. Hoi hung up, Tay thought about what it was she might want to tell him while he sat staring out the window at a British Airways 747 drifting over the towers of the city in the direction of Changi Airport. All at once he thought of a day twenty or more years earlier when he had stood on a street not far from where he was now and watched a supersonic Concorde, looking like a colossal prehistoric falcon, on almost exactly the same flight path. Back then, supersonic air travel had seemed a glorious vision of the future, but time passed and all thought of it ceased, and now the Concorde was nothing more than a vague historical oddity.
Could it have really been only that short a time ago that mankind had dreamed so extravagantly of taming time itself and bending it to our will? And why in God’s name had we given it all up so meekly, surrendering such huge dreams with so slight a struggle?
The thought caused Tay to wonder for a moment if he hadn’t surrendered his own dreams exactly the same way, so quickly and completely that he could hardly remember them now. If he had, like the Concorde, he supposed it really didn’t matter that much to anyone anymore.
He took a notebook out of a desk drawer and put it in his shirt pocket. Then, after a moment of hesitation, he took an unopened box of Marlboros and some matches, too, tucking them into his pocket with the notebook.
Tay stood up, slapped his open palm against his desk, and went to lunch.
Tay walked down New Bridge Road, turned right on Temple Street, and took his usual seat in a Chinatown dim sum place where he liked to eat whenever he had the time.
The idea came to him just as he was finishing his third char siew pau. He poured himself another cup of black tea and when he spotted a passing waitress with a tray of steaming hot egg tarts said to hell with tormenting himself about cholesterol and took two. As he ate the first, he cautiously turned his sudden inspiration over in his mind and tested its implications.
It had been nearly a year since Tay had seen Lucinda Lim, a divorcee he had once gone out with occasionally. Their relationship — Christ, how he hated that word — had not ended badly so much as it had just run out of gas and coasted to a stop.
Most of the people Tay knew thought Lucinda was quite a catch for him. She was young, gorgeous, spirited and, as if to demonstrate yet again the fundamental unfairness of life, the only daughter of one of Singapore’s wealthiest men. Those were exactly the same reasons most of Lucinda’s friends thought she could do a lot better than Sam Tay. It was true Tay had inherited some money, but Lucinda had no use for money. What she needed, her friends said, was a worthy companion for her excursions through Singapore’s world of the socially important and the culturally fashionable. Samuel Tay was a policeman. That ruled him out right there.
There were other reasons he and Lucinda hadn’t come to anything, of course. Tay preferred quiet evenings at home, sitting with his feet up reading a book, where Lucinda preferred to hit the party circuit with the chic and glamorous. It was on one of those excursions into what passed for high society in Singapore, one into which Tay had been drawn much against his better judgment, that he stumbled into the most embarrassing experience of his life.
Lucinda had coaxed him into going to Singapore Tatler’s anniversary ball, and as they entered the Four Seasons she positioned them directly in front of the mob of photographers who were recording the parade of arriving guests. When the strobe lights started firing, Tay reacted like a deer caught in headlights. He froze at the first flashes then, when the second volley fired, he turned his head and jerked away. The resulting photograph, inexplicably featured in the magazine’s next issue, had shown Tay looking as if he were trying to bury his face in Lucinda’s gloriously displayed cleavage. Tay couldn’t remember for sure how many months it took for people to stop pinning copies of that picture to bulletin boards around the Cantonment Complex, but it was far too many.
Tay wasn’t really sure he wanted to see Lucinda, or if she wanted to see him. He certainly didn’t want her to jump to any inaccurate conclusions as to why he was calling again after all this time, but he didn’t know anyone else he could ask about Elizabeth Munson. Lucinda loved gossip and whatever she knew or even thought she knew about what local social circles had to say concerning Elizabeth Munson she would probably tell him. For that, Tay decided, it was worth taking his chances on the possibility of personal complications.
Pulling his cell phone out of his pocket, he turned it on. He fumbled with the buttons until he remembered how to get into the address book and then fumbled some more until he found Lucinda’s telephone number. When he called the number, he got a mechanical voice telling him that Madam Lim was not able to take the call at the moment but would return it as soon as possible. Tay started to hang up since it was something of a religious principle with him not to talk to a machine, but then he bit his tongue and left a brief message asking Lucinda to ring him.
Tay polished off the second of the two egg tarts, finished his tea, then walked slowly back up New Bridge Road toward the office smoking a Marlboro. Unless you were in your own home, walking on the street was about the only place you could smoke in Singapore anymore and he had no doubt that some goddamned bureaucrat in some goddamned government ministry was plotting right at that very goddamned moment to stop him from doing that, too. He used to think of Singapore as a bastion of self-reliance and independence, but somewhere along the way it had turned instead into a nitpicking, overregulated nanny state where some government weenie tried to run every detail of your life. The whole idea upset him so much that he lit up a second Marlboro.
He was strolling past the delightfully named Horse Brand Birds Nest Company when he heard a cell phone ringing very close by. He looked around in annoyance until he realized that it was his own phone that was ringing. He had forgotten to shut it off again.
“My God, it is Sam Tay!”
Lucinda’s voice jumped out of the earpiece with all the alarming assertiveness Tay remembered, although he had to admit there was something quite nice about the sound of it after all this time. “I thought someone was playing a joke on me. How have you been, Sam? How in the hell have you been?”
“I’m fine, Lucinda. How are you?”
“Ah, Sam, I’m still in mourning for you. Wearing black every single day since you dumped me.”
“I thought you dumped me.”
“Yes, well, maybe I did, but being left makes for better drama than doing the leaving, don’t you think?”
In spite of himself, Tay chuckled. “Lucinda, I need to talk to you. Is this a good time?”
“For you, Sam, I am as free as a bird, always and forever.”
Tay knew he was supposed to say something witty to that, but he couldn’t think of anything so he settled for getting straight to the point. “It’s important and it may take rather a long time. Can I come around to your place?”
That brought a silence from Lucinda that Tay interpreted as slightly speculative so he figured he had better put an end to any suppositions in which she might be inclined to engage before they got out of hand.
“I’m working on a murder case that hasn’t become public yet,” he added quickly, “but when it does it’s going be a real mess. I think you might be able to help me with it.”
“Help you? With a murder case? A secret murder case? Oh, how exciting! Since you dumped me I’ve had so little to do with the criminal classes.”
Tay was momentarily at a loss for words, but words from him were entirely unnecessary since Lucinda started talking again almost immediately.
“I was just going to the club to play tennis, but I wouldn’t dream of that now. Do come over right away, Sam. Don’t waste a moment. Do you remember where I live?”
“I do if it’s in the same place.”
“Of course it is, Sam. I’ll never leave this house, not unless you ask me to move in with you and there’s no chance of that, is there? Are you coming right now? Have you had lunch?”
“Yes, thank you, I’ve had lunch.” Tay glanced at his watch. “I could be there in a half-hour. Would that be okay?”
“Wonderful, Sam, I’ll put some champagne on ice. Ciao!”
LUCINDA Lim lived in a big house on Cluny Road, a neighborhood that radiated exclusivity to the point that visitors felt unwanted. Perhaps that was because visitors were unwanted. Tay gathered that was exactly the point of building all those high walls with heavy gates. He couldn’t be bothered walking all the way back to the Cantonment Complex to sign out a car, so he found a taxi in Chinatown and directed the driver by memory.
Tay recalled the drive to Lucinda’s house clearly. He loved the thick jungle that swallowed the roadway just past the Botanical Gardens, leaving you wondering if you were still in Singapore at all. A tropical forest of palm and banana trees were knitted together over the roadway and bound with swirls of gray moss. They turned the last moments of a drive to Lucinda’s house into a slide down a dark, green, sweetly cooling tunnel.
Although he couldn’t summon up any recollection of Lucinda’s address, he thought he could find her place without too much trouble. The house, he remembered, was dark red brick with green shutters. It sat so far back off the road, as most of the houses in the area did, that nothing could be seen from Cluny Road but a pair of black iron gates. He recognized the gates as soon as he saw them.
When Tay told the taxi driver where to drop him off, he saw a flash of suspicion in the man’s eyes. He wondered briefly if he should show the driver his police warrant card to prove that he wasn’t a burglar casing his next job, but the idea of that was so humiliating he quickly pushed the thought aside. After he got out of the taxi, the driver gave him a long look. Tay just stared back without saying anything until the man finally drove off.
When he pushed the intercom button on the gate box there was no answer, but the gates began to swing open and he walked down the driveway toward the house. Even before he got there, Lucinda burst out the front door and stood watching him with her hands on her hips. He crossed the red graveled parking area at the front of the house and mounted the stairs to the veranda.
“You still don’t own a car, Sam?”
“No car. But I did buy a bicycle. That’s almost the same thing, isn’t it?”
Lucinda stared at Tay as if she was deciding whether or not he had gone completely mad, then broke into an enormous grin, threw her arms around him, and kissed him on both cheeks.
“God, some people never change, do they?”
He pecked at her cheeks in return.
“I keep trying,” he said, “but nothing much happens.”
Lucinda grabbed his hand and pulled him inside, closing the door behind them. Her hand felt warm and smooth. It was also somehow smaller than he remembered it.
“Come into the living room,” Lucinda said. “Would you like a drink? Champagne? Yes, of course. Let’s have some champagne, Sam.”
“Just a glass of wine maybe. I don’t like to drink during the day.”
“Ah yes, I forgot. The stalwart Inspector Samuel Tay manning the ramparts of the country, single-handedly repelling the onslaught of the barbarians and keeping us safe from criminals and the lower classes.”
“I wouldn’t put it exactly that way.”
“Of course not, silly. That’s why I did.”
When they reached the living room, Lucinda waved Tay toward the fireplace where two silk-upholstered couches and two wing chairs formed a cozy-looking group.
“Make yourself at home,” she said. “I’ll be right back.”
Lucinda disappeared through a door Tay knew led to the kitchen so he took his time crossing the living room and stopped to examine two paintings that had appeared on the walls since the last time he had been there. He didn’t recognize their style so he bent to try and decipher the artists’ signatures. Not surprisingly, that didn’t help either since Tay knew almost nothing about art. Lucinda, on the other hand, seemed to know a great deal, at least enough so that he had no idea how much she actually knew and how much was just bluffing.
He had just seated himself on one of the couches when Lucinda returned with two glasses of white wine. Handing one to Tay, she took the couch opposite him, curled her legs up under her, and lifted her glass in a toast.
“To old friends.”
Tay summoned up a small smile, but avoided catching Lucinda’s eye as he lifted his own glass and drank.
“Okay, Sherlock.” Lucinda took another sip, then put her glass down on the coffee table between them and folded her arms. “So what’s going on?”
“Does the name Elizabeth Munson mean anything to you?”
“You mean the American ambassador’s wife?”
Tay nodded and put his own glass down on the coffee table.
“Are you telling me she has something to do with your murder case?”
“In a manner of speaking.”
“She’s the victim.”
Lucinda’s right hand flew to her mouth. It was a movie pose, a stagey and artificial gesture, but somehow Lucinda made it look natural.
“Liz is dead?”
Tay nodded again.
“Oh, God.” Lucinda shook her head as if to clear it. “What happened? Can you tell me?”
“Oh, God,” Lucinda said again.
She took her hand away from her mouth and folded her arms, pulling them tightly around her body as if that would keep her safe from the malevolent forces loose in the land.
“I need to know whatever you can tell me about Mrs. Munson,” Tay said.
He thought he saw something like a flicker of wariness behind Lucinda’s eyes, but he might have been mistaken.
“Such as what?” she asked.
“Anything really. If I can start building up a picture of her life, it would be a start. Without that I can’t even begin to guess at a motive.”
“I only knew her socially.”
“How else is there? She was an ambassador’s wife. She didn’t have a professional life, did she?”
“No, I guess not.” Lucinda hesitated. “What I meant was that I didn’t really know her personally. I just saw her at parties now and then.”
“Go on,” Tay said.
He leaned back on the couch and took a notebook and pen from his shirt pocket.
“I’m interested in where you saw her,” he said. “Who she was with, what she was doing, that kind of thing. I’m also interested in what you may have heard about Elizabeth Munson in general, you know, around town.”
Lucinda raised one eyebrow at that.
“Why, you old gossip. You’re here because you want to hear the dirt, don’t you?”
Tay shrugged. “You never know what might be useful.”
Lucinda uncoiled herself from the chair and leaned forward.
“Where do you want me to start?”
“I haven’t any idea. Start wherever you like.”
Lucinda picked up her wineglass in both hands. She held it, not drinking while she seemed to think, and then she began to talk.
Over the next fifteen minutes, Tay heard all about last year’s Red Cross ball, the opening of the concert season at the Esplanade the year before, the Fourth of July party given by the American ambassador, and the charity premiere of the new Jackie Chan movie that was being planned for later in the year. He heard about small dinner parties and large cocktail parties, he heard about symphonies and operas. He even heard about a charity sale of used designer dresses and a golf tournament, the details of which he blocked out as well as he could.
Lucinda talked and Tay listened until both their glasses were empty. Eventually Lucinda was talked out and a silence fell. Tay did nothing to break it. He merely sat and waited to see what might come next.
“More wine, Sam?”
“Not for me, thanks.”
“I notice you didn’t write anything down.”
“It’s okay with me. I don’t mind. You can quote me on any of it.”
“I’m not trying to protect you, Lucinda. I just didn’t hear anything that was worth writing down, let alone quoting.”
Lucinda looked genuinely hurt and Tay immediately felt embarrassed he had spoken so brusquely.
“I’m sorry,” he said. “I didn’t mean to be rude. It’s just that you’ve been talking about parties and clothes. You haven’t told me anything at all about Elizabeth Munson. Who were her friends? How did she spend her time? What do you know about her private life?”
Tay leaned back and waited, congratulating himself on his choice of words. He was thinking how much more subtle private life sounded than sex life, which of course was what he was really asking about.
“I really don’t know about any of that, Sam. Like I said, I just knew Liz to see her at parties. That’s all. Really.”
Tay watched Lucinda’s eyes slide away from his as she spoke. She’s lying, he thought to himself, although he couldn’t imagine why.
He tried another tack. “Was Mrs. Munson happily married?”
Lucinda hesitated. Tay noticed her eyes didn’t return to his.
“You’re really asking me if she fooled around, aren’t you?”
“I suppose so. Yes.”
Lucinda inspected the space above Tay’s head. He felt a shift in the air. It was slight, but perceptible.
“I don’t know how to answer that, Sam. I saw her at functions with her husband sometimes and sometimes without him, but that’s normal for diplomatic couples. When I saw them together they seemed fine…”
Lucinda stopped talking and reached back for a memory.
“But don’t we all seem fine to others who don’t know the truth about us?” she finished quietly.
“No other men in her life?”
“None that I know of, but then I really wouldn’t know.”
Tay nodded slowly. Lucinda was holding something back. He had no doubt of that now, but he wasn’t at all sure how to get at whatever it was. Trying to bully it out of her certainly wouldn’t get him anywhere. It would probably just guarantee she would never tell him.
Tay put his notebook away and they made polite conversation for a while. Whatever it was Lucinda was holding out, he would let her have a few minutes to think about it. Then he would come back and ask her the same questions about Elizabeth Munson all over again. It amazed Tay how many times people answered questions differently when you gave them a second opportunity and refrained from mentioning their original answers. It was sometimes as if the first conversation had never taken place at all.
“Let’s get back to Elizabeth Munson,” Tay said after he figured a decent interval had passed. “The Americans think this was a terrorist attack.”
“A terrorist attack on an ambassador’s wife? Here in Singapore? That’s ridiculous, Sam.”
“Yes, I agree. It doesn’t feel right to me either, but so far I can’t point to anything else that might even conceivably amount to a motive for murder. If I can’t, the Americans are going to have their way about terrorism. That’s why I need you to tell me what you know about Mrs. Munson’s personal life. Maybe something there will point me toward another motive.”
Lucinda hesitated. She was uneasy now. Tay could see that plainly and he had no doubt that Lucinda knew he could see it. It wasn’t just Elizabeth Munson’s death. He was sure of that. It was something in the questions Tay had asked that was troubling Lucinda.
“I already told you, Sam. I didn’t really know her very well.”
Tay watched Lucinda as she glanced away again. He didn’t say anything at all. He knew now that if he kept silent eventually Lucinda would start to talk again and tell him whatever it was she was reluctant to say.
“There were rumors…” she began.
Then she stopped talking and shifted herself on the couch, crossing her legs first to the left and then uncrossing them and re-crossing them to the right. Tay waited patiently. He was ready to wait until next week if it took that long.
“Oh God, Sam, I shouldn’t say this.”
Lucinda took a deep breath and then let it out.
Tay waited some more.
“Okay, look.” Lucinda uncrossed her legs one more time and sat up straight. “There were rumors that she was having an affair with a woman and that she was going to leave her husband for this woman. I have no idea who the woman was or even if it was true. There. That’s it. That’s all I know.”
For a moment, Tay was so flabbergasted that words failed him.
“Elizabeth Munson was gay?” he asked when he regained his voice.
“What?” Lucinda sounded genuinely annoyed with him. “Gay? Samuel Tay, I said nothing of the sort.”
“But I thought you just said-”
“I said I had heard stories that she was having an affair with a woman. That certainly doesn’t make her gay.”
Tay didn’t know what to say to that. What else did it make her?
“Oh, Sam.” Now Lucinda sounded sympathetic. “You really do need to get out more. A great many women have affairs with other women at various points in their lives. It doesn’t mean they’re gay. These things are just … well, things that happen and, usually, they end and these women go back to their men.”
The first thing that came to Tay’s mind was the unselfconscious ease with which Lucinda had imparted that information to him. Did that mean she herself had…no, surely not.
After all, he had gone out with Lucinda for nearly two years and, naturally they had slept together, although he had to admit they had done so rather less frequently as their relationship wore on. He would have known, wouldn’t he? Could Lucinda have also been sleeping with women at the same time without him knowing it? Even the remote possibility of that opened up a whole house of horrors for Tay, savaging his already fragile sense that he might know anything at all about women.
They talked on for a few more minutes after that, but it was obvious to Tay that Lucinda really didn’t know any more than she had already told him. He was so distracted now anyway that he jumped at the first opportunity he could find to end the conversation and take his leave.
Tay would have to do something to get to the bottom of the story Lucinda had told him, but he couldn’t imagine what he might find when he did. For the moment, all he knew was that Elizabeth Munson’s female lover was a rumor among the ladies who lunch, nothing more than that. Still, something must have started the rumor and, since it had apparently continued to circulate right up to the day that Elizabeth Munson died, perhaps it was really true.
Even if it were true, it probably had nothing at all to do with her murder; but then maybe it did have something to do with it. Maybe, if he looked closely enough, he would even find the seeds of a motive somewhere in what Lucinda had just told him.
Tay sighed heavily. He didn’t even want to think about where that might take him.
IN the taxi on the way back to his office, Tay shook a Marlboro out of the box. Before he could put it in his mouth, the driver began to chant “no, no, no, no,” stabbing his forefinger over and over at a No Smoking sign taped to the dashboard.
He hadn’t even intended to light the damned thing and just figured the feel of it might help him to think more clearly, but he returned it to the box without arguing.
Welcome to Singapore, Tay thought, the country where every man is his own policeman.
He briefly considered asking the taxi driver if, in furtherance of his duty to maintain public order, he might also like to take over the Elizabeth Munson case, but then he thought better of it and said nothing at all.
When Tay got back to his office the autopsy report was waiting on his desk. He read it carefully, but it contained nothing new or unexpected. His conversation with Dr. Hoi had covered everything quite thoroughly.
Tay shuffled the other papers on his desk for a while without any great interest, thinking mostly about what Lucinda had told him. When he suddenly remembered he had more or less promised the OC he would send DeSouza a copy of their case file, it occurred to him he should do it now while there was almost nothing in it. Tay certainly wasn’t going to add anything about his little chat with Lucinda. Perhaps he would leave out the autopsy report as well, at least for now.
Sergeant Kang was out of the office examining the Marriott’s surveillance tapes, so Tay called the secretarial pool and asked one of the girls to take the file, make a copy, and courier it over to DeSouza at the American embassy. Tay briefly considered telephoning Kang and asking if he had found anything on the hotel’s tapes yet, but he decided that was silly. If Kang had found anything, Tay would already know about it.
Around five-thirty, Tay decided he’d had enough. If he left now, he could walk to Harry’s Bar to meet Susan Hoi rather than having to find a taxi. As a rule people in Singapore didn’t walk anywhere, but Tay walked whenever he got the chance.
Tay understood why most people thought he was crazy to walk anywhere in Singapore. It was hot out there, and sweaty. When he walked places rather than taking a taxi, he generally arrived at his destination with his shirt plastered to his back. Still, he thought it was worth it. He would have preferred walking in a cooler place, of course, but then he would not have the warm nights he loved so much, nights when the air itself seemed alive with possibilities. Maybe there was a city somewhere on earth that had cool days and warm nights. If he could find one, he would pack up and move there without a moment’s hesitation.
Boat Quay was a crescent-shaped strip of shophouses nestled in a bend of the Singapore River near the bottom of South Bridge Road. At night, workers fleeing the financial district overflowed its stylish restaurants and noisy pubs, but Tay had never been there before in daylight. He had the impression that during the day the area was frequented primarily by Australian tourists: heavy of leg, loud of voice, and clothed in their habitual uniforms of wrinkled T-shirts, baggy shorts, and flip-flops. Perhaps that wasn’t true, but just the threat of it had so far been more than enough to keep him well clear of Boat Quay whenever the sun was out.
Harry’s Bar was one of the oldest and best known of the pubs in the quay and it had a prime slot right at the beginning of the crescent. When Tay got there, the ground floor was already about half full of briefcase-carrying trendies. He checked the tables outside along the riverbank and then had a quick look upstairs. When he didn’t see Dr. Hoi in either place, he took a stool at the bar close by the front door and ordered a Campari and soda.
Lounging at a bar was an unexpectedly congenial feeling and it made him start to wonder if he really ought to think about getting out more. Had he even been a little unfair to Harry’s perhaps? Tay sipped at his Campari and glanced around, but before he could decide whether or not that was the case, Susan Hoi slipped onto the stool next to him and gave his elbow a little squeeze.
“Sorry I’m late.”
“Just got here myself,” Tay said and raised his arm to attract the bartender’s attention. “What will you have?”
“I’ll have whatever you’re having,” Dr. Hoi said.
Tay wondered if she even knew what he was having, but he didn’t ask. Catching the bartender’s eye, Tay pointed first to his drink and then to the empty space in front of Dr. Hoi, wiggling his finger back and forth a couple of times. It was a bizarre gesture when he thought about it, but it apparently made perfect sense to the bartender since the man immediately reached for a bottle of Campari and began mixing another drink for Dr. Hoi.
They sipped their drinks and talked for a while, altogether pleasantly Tay thought. It was the sort of small talk that two people of opposite sexes made when they didn’t know each other particularly well, but it was nevertheless entirely agreeable. Still, as Dr. Hoi talked about her work and asked Tay questions about his, he grew more and more curious. What was it she wanted to tell him about the Elizabeth Munson case that was so important she had to tell him in person, and why was she stalling now that they were here? He eventually grew tired of waiting to find out.
“You said on the telephone that you had some ideas about the dead woman at the Marriott,” Tay said.
“Yes,” Dr. Hoi conceded, “I did.”
She didn’t say anything else right away and Tay thought she looked as if she had gone utterly blank.
“So what are these ideas?” Tay prodded her.
“None. I don’t have any ideas about the woman at the Marriott. None at all. Not a clue.”
“I lied. I thought it would be pleasant to get to know you and that was the first excuse that jumped into my head. So I lied.”
Tay cleared his throat and looked off toward the other end of the bar where the bartender was drawing a draft of Tiger beer.
“Well,” Tay said, “I’m not sure what to say to that.”
“Are you angry?”
“No, certainly not angry. Surprised, I guess. You could have just asked me to meet you for a drink, couldn’t you?”
“I suppose so, but you would have said you were busy, wouldn’t you?”
She had him there, Tay knew, so he didn’t say anything.
“Yes, I thought so,” she went on. “You strike me as the kind of man who automatically deals with every unexpected invitation by saying he’s busy and then wonders later if he should have gone.”
What was that supposed to mean? Tay asked himself.
“I’m right, aren’t I?” she persisted.
“I don’t know,” Tay said. “Maybe.”
“Then I did the right thing,” Dr. Hoi said. “You’ve got to speak up for yourself if you see something you want, not just sit around and hope that it eventually comes to you.”
Tay was so flustered he didn’t have the first idea what to say. This was certainly his day to be set back on his heels by women, wasn’t it? Maybe Lucinda Lim and Susan Hoi were both crazy people. Perhaps that was all there was to it.
No, that wasn’t fair. They both probably thought he was the crazy one. After all, they were both perfectly nice women, young and attractive, the kind of women most men would turn cartwheels in the street to attract. And here they both were making plain their interest in Tay while he had stared back at them with about as much enthusiasm as if they had been reciting the day’s closing prices on the stock market.
Christ, maybe they were right. Maybe he was crazy.
Tay caught the bartender’s eye and pointed at his empty glass. It was either that or flee and stick Dr. Hoi with the check, and he didn’t think that would be particularly dignified. Still, he knew perfectly well that preserving one’s dignity usually came with a price tag attached. He was not at all certain what that price would turn out to be on this occasion, and he had no idea whether or not he could afford to pay it.
Screw it, Tay thought, as he sipped at the fresh drink the bartender brought him. Why was he being such a pussy about this? So a woman, two women if he were being entirely honest about it, had made it clear they were interested in him and would be pleased to have his company. It was about bloody goddamned time, wasn’t it?
Tay threw caution, or something, to the winds and turned toward Dr. Hoi. He resumed their conversation as though nothing untoward had happened. And, so far at least, he guessed it hadn’t.
Arthur Elliot Munson III felt beaten up. As a matter of fact, he thought he might have felt better if he had been beaten up.
It was nearly two in the morning, local time, before he made it back from Washington. His diplomatic passport greased him through immigration and while waiting for his luggage he glanced out through the glass wall past customs and spotted Tony DeSouza waiting for him instead of his driver. He would bet his ass, he thought to himself, that didn’t mean anything good.
In the car DeSouza told him about the Interpol fingerprint inquiry; then he related the story of his Sunday visit with Inspector Tay and what he had learned from him. DeSouza laid out the details as dispassionately as he could and the ambassador didn’t say much. Munson was a bit surprised that an ID had come out of Interpol so quickly, although he supposed he shouldn’t have been. He was even more surprised how little he actually felt as he listened to DeSouza talk about Liz. Maybe it was because he was so tired, but then again maybe it wasn’t.
He asked DeSouza only one thing. Who else knew about Liz’s murder? And with that question he recognized he was thinking like an ambassador rather than like a husband. He needed to move quickly if he was going to get control of events rather than let them take control of him. That was his job. That was what he did.
DeSouza told him no one else at the embassy knew anything about the murder, at least not yet. Outside the embassy, of course, he couldn’t be certain.
“All I know for sure,” DeSouza said, “is that CID-SIS has the investigation and this Inspector Tay is in charge of the case down there.”
“Special Investigations Section of the Criminal Investigations Department. They handle the homicides and most of the other major investigations.”
“Do you know anything about…what’s this guy’s name again?”
“Inspector Tay. Samuel Tay. He’s a bit of an oddball, I hear. Frankly, he strikes me as a plodder, maybe even a little slow on the uptake, but he’s been with CID-SIS for a long time. He’s supposed to be about the best they have. Whether that’s saying very much is another question, of course.”
The ambassador thought that DeSouza sounded like one of those Americans abroad who habitually took the locals too lightly. That was a common form of American tone deafness, taking anyone who wasn’t American lightly, and he hoped this time that kind of a mistake wasn’t coloring DeSouza’s judgment.
He asked about the press coverage and DeSouza assured him there had been no press other than the few anonymous lines about a suicide in the Case File column in the Straits Times, but they both knew that wouldn’t last long. Even if the Singaporean police were discreet, and he imagined they would be discreet as all hell about the brutal murder of the American ambassador’s wife in a five-star hotel within the spotless confines of their fairy-tale city, he had no doubt the story would get to the international press quickly enough. Then those bastards would be all over his ass in a New York minute. It was too good a story for anything else to happen.
The ambassador let his thoughts drift while he examined the almost unnaturally perfect landscaping that bordered the motorway into the city. Lush and well watered, glazed to the color of money, it never failed to catch his attention. Perfectly trimmed carpets of thick grass, banks of red and purple bougainvillea so rich and dense that they threatened to spill out over the road, and perfect lines of identically trimmed trees of exactly equal height as far as the eye could see.
Sometimes it seemed to him that Singapore wasn’t a city at all, but a replica of a city, something that had been built just yesterday to impress visitors rather than as a habitat for actual human beings. Singapore bore about as much resemblance to the swarming, stinking, impoverished reality of Asia as San Diego did. Asia Light, some people called it. It always made him think of a gigantic movie set someone had built to represent a generic city. He had heard a lot of American television shows were actually filmed in Toronto because Toronto looked like everywhere and nowhere at the same time. Singapore was exactly like that. Everywhere and nowhere all at once.
Whatever Singapore really was, wherever it really was, it sure as hell was hard for him to think of it as being in Asia. Shoot, sometimes it was hard even for him to think of it as being on Planet Earth.
DeSouza took the ambassador directly to the residence. He showered and brushed his teeth and then he lay down for a while, but he couldn’t sleep. By five o’clock he gave up trying and got up and took another shower without thinking about it, then he sat in the study drinking coffee and pondering what it was he ought to be doing.
The study of the ambassador’s residence was a pleasant room where he had always felt at ease. His desk was a huge mahogany table that someone told him had come out of an eighteenth-century Philippine church and in the opposite corner were two deep, red leather chairs. He had spent his very best hours in Singapore sitting alone in one of those chairs, his feet up, Puccini roaring out of the stereo, and a glass of malt whisky in his hand.
His housekeeper knocked and offered him breakfast, but he sent her away. When he realized the woman might have been hurt by the way he dismissed her, he called her back and apologized and asked for some yogurt and toast. It tasted better than he expected and, almost in spite of himself, he started to feel okay.
Just before six he picked up the telephone and began making calls. That was one of the perks of being an ambassador. You could call anyone you wanted at six o’clock in the morning and no one would dare say a goddamned word to you about what time it was.
The thought caused him to speculate for a moment on what Liz’s death might mean to him. Would it push him down a new road entirely, perhaps even end his cushy ride as an ambassador and take him to a place he could not now even imagine? A sudden prick of apprehension ran over his scalp as real and as strong as a jolt of electricity, but then it was gone so suddenly he wondered for a moment if it had ever been there at all.
His first call was to Marc Reagan, his staff assistant, and his second was to Cally Parks, the Regional Security Officer at the embassy. He told each of them to be at the residence in an hour. He called their cell phones so he didn’t know exactly where they were, but Marc seemed more surprised at the first call than Cally was at the second, which started him wondering if the two of them were together when he called. No, he doubted that. Cally had been at the embassy less than a month. It was her first overseas posting and he doubted she and Marc would have hooked up that quickly. On the other hand, who knew anymore? As nearly as he could tell, all around him people were fucking like bunny rabbits these days. Pretty much anytime the urge hit, they did it. He had missed out on all that, damn it to hell.
Actually, the more he thought about it, the more he doubted Marc and Cally would have gotten together at all. He had known Marc a while, ever since he had come to work at his firm straight out of law school, and he had watched him grow from a college kid into a…well, what? He couldn’t be absolutely sure about that, he supposed, but he still thought he knew Marc well enough to guess what kind of women would appeal to him.
Cally was sharp and easy to look at, that was true enough, but she also struck the ambassador as a bit of a toughie, like the girls in school who joined up to play sports with the boys. Maybe she was really like that, or maybe she just thought she had something to prove. Female security officers still weren’t all that common in the State Department so he could imagine how she might feel. Either way, she just didn’t seem to him to be Marc’s type.
When the housekeeper knocked lightly on the door nearly an hour later and showed both of them into his study, the ambassador was startled to realize he was still musing about Marc and Cally’s sex life.
“Morning, sir,” Marc Reagan said.
“Good morning, Mr. Ambassador,” Cally Parks said.
The ambassador nodded and waved them toward the two straight chairs in front of his desk.
“How was the trip, sir?” Marc asked.
“Did you get some sleep last night?”
Dutifully Marc and Cally both nodded, then fell into silence.
The ambassador took a deep breath and let it out again.
“Okay, ladies and gentlemen, now that the small talk portion of our program is over, let me get straight to why you’re here.”
He folded his arms over his chest and told them what he had just heard from DeSouza, more or less. He watched their faces as he talked. Shock was written all over Marc’s, but Cally’s was blank. Even her eyes were empty. In his experience, it was the eyes that gave people away when they were trying to look cool and they weren’t. Cally just sat there and listened to him, nothing in her eyes, saying nothing at all.
He pushed the graphic details of Liz’s death a little more than he normally might have, certainly more than the occasion called for, just to see what kind of reaction he would get out of Cally. He got none at all. Maybe this little girl really was as tough as she acted, the ambassador thought to himself. Maybe she really was.
When he finished, there was a long silence.
Marc was the first to break it. “Good God, sir, I just don’t know what to say. Mrs. Munson was-”
“Save it, Marc,” the ambassador interrupted. “What I need to understand now is who else in the embassy knows about this.”
“No one, as far as I know, sir. I’m flabbergasted. I’ve heard nothing like this from anyone. Not the slightest rumor.”
The ambassador shifted his eyes to Cally.
“I’ve heard nothing either, sir,” she said.
The ambassador grunted.
“What about the boys in the basement?” he asked. “They know about it yet?”
Marc glanced involuntarily toward Cally, but she was watching the ambassador intently and didn’t appear to notice.
The ‘boys in the basement’ was the in-house euphemism for the CIA, a reference to the location of the Agency’s offices within the embassy building. The Agency wasn’t actually in the basement — buildings in Singapore didn’t have basements — but they were on the ground floor at the lowest working level of the building, hidden behind the grassy embankment that was supposed to protect the structure from explosions and other forms of modern unpleasantness.
“I doubt it, sir,” Cally said. “Not unless they’ve developed the information on their own.”
The ambassador considered that, looking out through the big windows in the study into the residence’s gardens. Off in the east, out beyond the treetops, the newly risen sun looked like a flare, washing all the color out of the sky. It was going to be a clear and hot day. Of course, there were really only two possibilities in Singapore. Either clear and hot, or raining and hot. There wasn’t much in between.
“Marc,” the ambassador said without looking at him, “do you know if Dewey is in town?”
Dewey Garland was the CIA chief of station in Singapore, an old hand who had circulated through his share of hot spots. The embassy gossip mill had it that Dewey was hiding out there from some kind of bureaucratic indiscretion. Singapore didn’t have much going for it as a post for an intelligence officer, other than obscurity, but when you were on the run from trouble, particularly career-breaking trouble, a post not many people back at Langley ever thought about was exactly the one you wanted.
“I don’t know, sir. I haven’t seen him in the last few days.”
“When we’re done here, find out. If he’s in town, I want to see him immediately. If he’s not, set up a secure telephone call to wherever he is as soon as you can.”
Another silence settled over the room after that and the ambassador seemed in no hurry to break it. Still facing the windows, focusing somewhere in the distance and seeing things only he knew, he yawned hugely. Then, after a minute or two, he swiveled his chair back toward Marc and Cally.
“There are two things I have to tell you about all this,” he said, “and both those things are for your ears only. Are we clear?”
“Yes, sir,” Marc said.
Cally only nodded.
“Okay.” The ambassador paused and weighed his words. “First, you need to understand why I don’t appear to be particularly griefstricken. Liz and I haven’t…”
The ambassador stopped talking and cocked his head as if listening for an echo.
“I guess that’s the wrong tense, isn’t it? What I mean to say is that Elizabeth and I hadn’t gotten along in a very long time. The truth of it is that we had pretty much come to hate each other for a lot of reasons. You’ve probably heard the gossip already. If it hadn’t been for…well, never mind. Just understand there were several reasons neither Liz nor I could file for divorce without doing more harm to ourselves than to each other. A death in the family was just what we needed to straighten things out. She would have been happy as hell to see me cash in my chips and the truth is I’m not sorry to find out she’s dead either. Under most circumstances, I have no doubt the cops here would be taking a pretty close look at me.”
The ambassador glanced at Marc with something on his face that was almost but not quite a smile.
“On the other hand, since I was halfway around the world in Washington when she was killed and have the Secretary of State to vouch for me, I think my alibi will hold up pretty well, don’t you, Marc?”
Marc looked uncomfortable, but he kept his face blank and his mouth shut. Better not to laugh at a lame joke and be thought stuffy, he figured, than to laugh at something that wasn’t a lame joke and look like a moron.
“Second,” the ambassador continued, “no matter how nasty you think this is now, it’s worse than that. Everybody thought Elizabeth was just an airhead with big titties who fucked around behind her older husband’s back. If that were true, finding her dead in a hotel room with something shoved up her pussy would be about par for the course.”
Marc Reagan blanched and looked away in embarrassment. He was used to the blunt, frequently profane way the ambassador expressed himself, but Cally wasn’t and Marc was just old-fashioned enough to be embarrassed when the ambassador talked like that in front of women.
The ambassador caught Marc’s discomfort and misinterpreted its meaning.
“Oh, come on, Marc. You’ve heard all the stories about Elizabeth. Half the embassy staff has heard them. Don’t feel like you have to pretend just to be considerate to me. We’re way past that now.”
Marc glanced back at the ambassador, but still couldn’t quite bring himself to look at Cally.
“Anyway, that’s not what’s important here,” the ambassador continued.
He shifted forward in his chair. Knitting his fingers together, he rested his chin on his clasped hands.
“Here’s the real problem,” he said. “Elizabeth was a NOC.”
NOC was a State Department acronym for an almost mythological group of deep-cover intelligence officers deployed around the world by the Central Intelligence Agency. Marc shot a quick glance at Cally to see if he might have misunderstood the ambassador. Elizabeth Munson was a deep-cover agent for the CIA? Surely not.
“Was Mrs. Munson working out of the station here, sir?” Cally asked the ambassador while Marc struggled to contain his shock. Her voice was almost unnaturally calm and professional.
“No. I think I was the only person in the embassy who knew.”
“I know this is a sensitive question, Ambassador,” Cally went straight on without hesitating, “but can you give me any idea what Mrs. Munson was working on? The security implications of her murder are my responsibility, and without knowing what she may have been involved with it will be difficult to assess the impact on you or other personnel here.”
The ambassador pursed his lips and consulted the surface of his desk. When he finally answered Cally’s question, he picked his words with obvious caution.
“She was developing sources in the Muslim insurgencies in this region. Southern Thailand, Indonesia, and the Philippines primarily. She had been at it for nearly a year.”
“Your wife was running agents who were infiltrating terrorist groups?”
“That’s right,” the ambassador nodded. “Yes.”
“So this may have been a political assassination,” Cally said. “The assassination of an undercover American intelligence officer by Muslim terrorists.”
The ambassador sighed heavily and consulted the top of his desk again.
Marc was taking everything in as fast as he could, but he was having a real problem keeping up. He wouldn’t have been any more perplexed if the ambassador and Cally had suddenly begun speaking in tongues. He had a very hard time imagining the woman he knew as Elizabeth Munson being a CIA agent, let alone one of their deepest cover intelligence officers. He had always thought of Mrs. Munson as the stereotype of a trophy wife. Other than her looks, she didn’t seem to have all that much going for her.
Employees of the CIA assigned to American embassies came in three flavors. First, there were the official declared employees, Agency people who were identified to the host government and who worked openly in the embassy under their real names and job titles. Second, there were the official cover employees, Agency people who were posted to the embassy in various diplomatic positions. They were all accredited diplomats and all worked diligently at their day jobs, but that was not their primary functions. One of the more interesting games played around every embassy, and Lord knew there were an awful lot of interesting games played around embassies, was called ‘Spot the Spook’. Some of their colleagues knew who the official cover people were and didn’t say. Others said and didn’t know. But no one both knew and said, so the game went on.
Then there was the third flavor, the real legends, the abominable snowmen, the Loch Ness monsters, the extraterrestrials among us. Those were the NOCs, the acronym for non-official cover employees of the Agency. Generally NOCs were Americans who held ordinary jobs seemingly unconnected with the government. NOCs operated in total secrecy and did whatever they did without the benefit of any embassy support at all. If things went south, that meant they had no diplomatic immunity. That was what made their cover non-official. The identity of the NOCs was one of the government’s most closely held secrets. The NOCs were the real spies.
No one Marc knew had ever actually met a NOC, at least not anyone they knew for certain to be a NOC, and he certainly hadn’t. At least not that he was aware of. Up until now that NOCs even existed was something he had just taken on faith, another one of those urban fables like the giant rats that were supposed to be living in the New York sewers. Well, Marc thought to himself, perhaps that was an unfortunate way to look at NOCs.
But now Art Munson, the American ambassador to the Republic of Singapore, was sitting right there in front of him calmly explaining that his murdered wife, Elizabeth Munson, had been a NOC and that she ran a string of undercover agents infiltrating Muslim terrorist groups in Asia. Marc would have found it easier to believe that Elizabeth Munson had arrived in a spaceship from Sirius and parked it in the embassy garage.
“Here’s the way we’re going to handle this,” the ambassador continued. “The case belongs to the FBI since it’s a terrorist act against an American abroad so I want Tony DeSouza to run this investigation. You both hear me?”
Marc and Cally nodded almost in unison.
“Marc, your number one job from this moment forward is to watch Tony’s back. Make sure nobody end-runs him. Nobody. Not some Washington grandstanders from the Bureau, not some tourists from State, and certainly not those weenies from the Agency. Not anybody. Got it?”
“Cally, your job is to deal with the local cops.”
“Right, sir,” Cally said.
“You need to make sure their investigation doesn’t get anywhere near the embassy. We can’t have them suspecting that Liz was anything other than what she appeared to be, the wife of an American ambassador. You and Tony cooperate them to death. Tell them how big and strong and handsome they are. Give ‘em a blow job. Do whatever you have to do. But at all costs, keep the bastards away from Elizabeth’s connection with the Agency. I’m not going to have a bunch of yokels stumbling around my embassy fucking things up.”
“They’re going to want to interview you, sir,” Cally said. “That would be standard procedure in any investigation.”
“Yeah, fine. Whatever.”
“When would it be convenient-”
“You work it out,” the ambassador said. “Might as well get it over with as soon as we can. Get the Singapore cops in here and out again and then that will be that.”
“Yes, sir. I’ll take care of it.”
“Actually, now that I think about it…” The ambassador paused and consulted the ceiling, pursing his lips, looking like a man who was carefully mulling something over. “Here’s what you ought to do. You and Tony agree on a suspect and put together some evidence. Then feed it to the locals bit by bit. That ought to keep them off our ass while we’re sorting this thing out.”
Oh, Jesus Christ, Marc thought to himself, what did he just say?
Was the American ambassador seriously instructing the State Department’s Regional Security Officer to mislead the Singapore police about the murder of his wife by keeping from them her connection with the CIA? Then, just for good measure, telling Cally to find a suspect to frame for the murder and serve him up to the locals?
“Mr. Ambassador,” Marc jumped in quickly, “don’t you think-”
“I’ve already done my thinking, Marc. Now I’m doing my job. You and Cally do yours and Tony will do his. Then when we find the fuckers who did this, we’ll take care of the problem our own way.”
Marc shifted in his chair and shot a quick sideways glance at Cally. If anyone in Singapore ever heard about this conversation, it would be a nightmare. Forget Singapore. God, the real fucking nightmare would be for the international press to get hold of it. Jesus Christ, he could see the headline on the front page of the New York Times now: ‘American Ambassador Orders Embassy Staff to Frame Suspect for His Wife’s Murder.’ They would be torn apart and fed to the wolves in tiny pieces. They’d be lucky if they all didn’t do time.
“Sir, I was wondering-” Cally started to say, but the ambassador waved her into silence.
“That’s enough for now,” he said. “You two get out of here and get to work. You’ve got a lot to do.”
Tay was in the bathroom brushing his teeth when he heard a muffled buzzing sound from his bedroom. He shook off the brush, wiped his mouth with a towel, and walked out to see what it was.
He picked up the alarm clock and sighed when he saw that it wasn’t even eight-thirty yet, but the ringer was off. Not the alarm clock then, so what the hell was that noise? Tay hadn’t had any coffee yet and he was thinking like a man under water. Eventually, in an act of sheer will, he traced the sound to a pocket in the trousers he had thrown over a chair the night before.
It was his cell phone. He had forgotten to turn the damned thing off again.
The number in the display was one Tay didn’t recognize and he thought about just ignoring it, but his curiosity got the better of him as it always did and he answered anyway.
“Is this Inspector Samuel Tay?”
A woman’s voice, one he didn’t recognize.
“This is Cally Parks, Inspector. I’m with the Bureau of Diplomatic Security of the United States Department of State and I’m assigned to the United States embassy here in Singapore as the Regional Security Officer.”
“How did you get this number?”
“Ah…Tony DeSouza, our legal attache, gave it to me. Is there some problem, Inspector?”
“This is my cell phone you’ve called.”
“I see. Is there some other number I should be calling you on instead?”
Tay closed his eyes and swallowed. He thought about saying that perhaps she shouldn’t be calling him at all, at least not at this hour of the morning, but he didn’t say that. He didn’t say anything.
“Tony asked me to thank you for the file that you sent to him,” the woman continued without any encouragement on his part, “but he noticed there was no autopsy report in it. He wanted me to ask you what happened to it?”
“Couldn’t this have waited until I get to the office?”
“Well, sir, we come in to work here at the embassy around seven and I just assumed that you…”
The woman trailed off into silence, although whether it was out of embarrassment or irritation Tay wasn’t certain. Regardless, he mentally kicked himself. Why had he admitted to this woman that he was still at home and implied that she shouldn’t be calling him so early? Most Americans assumed that people who weren’t fortunate enough to be Americans were all basically lazy anyway, and here he had just gone and added fuel to that fire.
Americans seemed to think that getting to work at dawn was the mark of a real man, or a real woman as the case might be, and they never stopped telling you how early they themselves went to work. Tay remembered one detective from New York with whom he had worked a child kidnapping case a couple of years ago. For some bizarre reason the man always insisted on having breakfast meetings to discuss their progress. Breakfast meetings? Trying to hold an intelligent conversation before it was even fully light outside? Were breakfast meetings America’s most significant contribution to the culture of international cooperation? Lord have mercy.
“The autopsy report didn’t come in until late yesterday,” Tay said. “I’ll have a copy sent to Agent DeSouza when I get to the office.”
“Anything interesting in it?”
Tay hesitated. He had no idea who this woman was so he had no intention of telling her anything on the telephone. Actually, who was he kidding? Even if he’d known exactly who she was, he still wouldn’t have told her anything.
“I was away from the office when it arrived,” he said after a moment. “I haven’t seen it yet.”
Tay had no doubt the woman had heard his hesitation and knew he was lying, but fuck her. It was too early in the morning for him to care. She and everyone else would find out what was in the autopsy report soon enough.
“Fine,” she said. “Then let me tell you the other reason I’m calling this morning. The ambassador is back now and I can arrange for you to talk to him if you still want to.”
The offer caught Tay unprepared. He had told the OC the Americans would work with him if he worked with them, but he wasn’t really sure he actually believed it. Maybe he had been right after all.
“I thought Tony said you wanted to interview the ambassador,” the woman continued when Tay didn’t respond quickly enough for her. “Did I get that wrong? If you don’t think it’s really necessary, then-”
“No, that’s right,” Tay said. “I need to interview the ambassador as soon as possible. Today?”
“Tomorrow would be better for him if you don’t mind.”
“Yes, okay. Tomorrow.”
“Here at the embassy then? At, say, eleven?”
“Fine. Eleven tomorrow. I’ll be there.”
“I’m afraid we don’t have any parking at the embassy for the general public, but give the security post my name when you do get here and I’ll pass you in. Good-bye, Inspector.”
Tay briefly considered pointing out that a CID-SIS inspector on official business wasn’t exactly the general public and they could damn well provide him a place to park a car, but then he decided that was just being querulous for no useful reason and let it go.
“Just make it Cally, Inspector. Just plain Cally will do fine.”
Tay had to admit to himself that American over-familiarity was a little bit less grating when it came packaged in such an agreeable female voice.
“Cally then,” Tay said. “Good-bye, Cally.”
He pushed the power button and shut off his cell phone before the damned thing could ambush him again. Then he dropped it into the chair and went back to the bathroom to finish brushing his teeth.
The first thing Tay noticed when he got to the office that morning was that the pile of papers on his desk had grown noticeably overnight. Maybe they were actually breeding in the dark. He rooted around in them until he found the Munson autopsy report, then made a copy of it and put it in an envelope addressed to DeSouza at the embassy. After that he studied each little newborn briefly, just long enough really to find it a permanent home in some file that with any luck he would never open again.
After the paperwork was cleared away, he opened the Elizabeth Munson file and drank another cup of coffee while he methodically read through it again from beginning to end. Nothing new came to him, so he tilted back in his chair, propped his feet on the desk, and looked out the window at the rain clouds gathering off in the distance. When he got bored with the rain clouds, and purely for the sake of visual variety, he began studying his feet.
He was wearing a pair of black Gucci loafers that Lucinda Lim of all people had given him back when they first started going out. At the time he had been startled by the idea of a woman giving him a pair of shoes — actually he was pretty startled by the idea of a woman giving him anything at all — but after he wore them a few times to please her he decided he liked both the shoes and the whole concept of a woman giving him a gift. He was still wearing the shoes, but of course no woman had given him a damned thing since.
That was a depressing thought and he tried to shake it off with a more detailed examination of the shoes themselves, but they were no help. He couldn’t get past a sense that the shoes were staring back at him in gentle reproach, although whether it was for making a mess out of his relationship with Lucinda or his failure to make any progress on the Munson case he wasn’t absolutely sure. Exactly a week had passed since Elizabeth Munson’s body was found and he was floundering. He didn’t have a single lead. If his shoes were disappointed in him, he could hardly blame them.
Tay figured he had another couple of days at the most before Interpol’s formal identification of Elizabeth Munson got to his boss’s desk. If he still had no alternative motive by then, the Americans’ knee-jerk claim of a terrorist attack would be the only story on the table and that would be pretty much that. He turned his attention back to the file and started through it one more time.
On the top was a 5x7 color photograph of Elizabeth Munson that Sergeant Kang must have gotten from Singapore Tatler since it looked as if it had been taken at some social function. Mrs. Munson was alone in the picture, although from the way she was holding her head it was obvious she was in conversation with someone who had been cropped out. She was concentrating on the unseen speaker in such a way that he — and Tay somehow knew beyond doubt it was a man Elizabeth Munson was listening to — probably felt he had not only her undivided attention but probably her undying admiration as well.
In the photograph Mrs. Munson appeared to be in her thirties, but Tay knew her actual age had been forty-four. Was this an old picture? He turned it over and found a date stamped on the back. No, it was only a few months old. It was exactly how Mrs. Munson would have looked on the day she was murdered.
Elizabeth Munson had been a woman of uncommon beauty, there was no doubt of that. Her dark eyes were wide spaced below a high, unwrinkled brow, and her nose was narrow and, there was no other word for it, regal. She wore little makeup and her black hair was pulled back and rolled in what Tay seemed to remember women called a French twist. She wore a dark, straight dress that looked elegant and expensive, but the lithe, taut body of an athlete, a runner perhaps, seemed to shine through her finish of sophistication.
Tay lifted the picture out of the file and held it in both hands. He rested his elbows on his desk and sat staring into Elizabeth Munson’s eyes for a long time.
The Americans had immediately categorized this woman’s death as terrorism, of course, but then the Americans categorized everything as terrorism these days. Regardless, Tay knew that was still the first question he had to answer here. Had this murder really been an attack on America, or had it been an attack on Elizabeth Munson?
Tay did not think that was a very difficult question to answer. He had seen Mrs. Munson’s brutalized body carefully posed on the bed in room 2608 of the Marriott and that left him with no doubt whatsoever. Whoever killed the American ambassador’s wife may have hated Americans, or they may have loved Americans, but he was absolutely certain they truly despised this particular American named Elizabeth Munson.
He stared at the photograph, trying to pull himself deeply enough into Elizabeth Munson’s dark eyes to reach the place behind them from where he could see what this woman had seen, the place where he would know what she had known. He often did that with a picture of someone who had died violently. He tried to reach in through their eyes to see what they had seen in the moments during which their life was slipping away. That he might someday manage to do it was poetic nonsense, he knew, but it was something that he thought should be true even if it was not. So he kept trying.
Fate was a serious business. To seek to understand it through the eyes of a stranger, particularly one whose fate had been so gruesome, caused Tay to tread cautiously. More often than not his explorations all ended the same way. He would stare for a long time into the eyes of a person who had suffered horribly and eventually he would indeed see something real and tangible there. But it was never the glimpse of the victim’s soul for which Tay had been searching. It was only the unmistakable gloom of his own soul peering back.
Tay had less than twenty-four hours before facing the Americans at their embassy. He was not sure what he would learn by interviewing the ambassador, perhaps nothing at all, but nevertheless it was beginning to look like a great deal would turn on their conversation anyway.
He could easily imagine how it would all play out. He would not be interviewing the ambassador alone. They would be in the ambassador’s office with the ambassador’s staff surrounding them. DeSouza would certainly be there and probably this woman from the State Department’s security service, whatever it was called. There would be other people, too. He was sure of that, even if he did not know yet who they might be.
That would be his chance to put some doubt into all their minds that Elizabeth Munson’s death had anything to do with terrorism. If he left the American embassy tomorrow without doing that, it would all be over. Interpol would communicate their identification of Elizabeth Munson, the OC would cede the investigation to the Americans, and he would be out of the case.
He didn’t want to be out of the case. He wasn’t sure why he cared so much, why he wanted so badly to stay in it, but he did.
So how was he going to plant that doubt in the Americans’ minds? Perhaps he could start out by saying something like, “Ambassador, do you think your wife was murdered by her female lover?” That would get everyone’s attention, of course, but somehow he couldn’t see it achieving much else. No, he needed a concrete place to start untangling Elizabeth Munson’s life on earth and all he had was this goddamned package of papers and some gossip from an old lover of his own. Not much. Not anything really.
He put Elizabeth Munson’s picture back in the file, closed it, and then pushed it away. The file slid across his nearly empty desk, teetered a moment at the edge, and then steadied. Tay stood up and walked over to the window. The rain clouds had thickened and spread. The entire city was now wrapped in a dull outlook that matched Tay’s own. He stared for a while at the Marriott’s preposterous-looking green and red roof off in the distance.
No, he had more than a package of papers. He had a place, a place that had witnessed every horror of Elizabeth Munson’s last moments on earth. He would go back to the Marriott and wring something out of it. He would beat on its goddamned walls and kick down its fucking doors until he found a way to make it give up what it knew.
He could make it speak to him. He was sure he could.
Sergeant Kang was driving when he and Tay left the Cantonment Complex fifteen minutes later.
As they crossed the Singapore River, Tay watched a small boat at the pier on Clarke Quay loading its customary cargo of camerawielding tourists. Why was it that tourists in Singapore were always so fat, he wondered? Did the skinny tourists all go somewhere else and leave Singapore with nothing but the fat ones? Or were all tourists everywhere fat? Tay had never really been anywhere as a tourist himself, so he couldn’t be sure. Nevertheless, the thought caused him to sit up a little straighter and suck in his own gut. He was going to have to get some exercise, he knew. Maybe lose a little weight. He really was.
“When do you expect to be finished with the surveillance tapes, Sergeant?”
“It won’t be much longer, sir. Tomorrow morning maybe. But I don’t think we’re going to find anything.”
“The woman must have walked into the hotel. She’s there somewhere.”
“There are two cameras at the front desk, but we know she didn’t register so those aren’t going to have anything. The other cameras in the lobby are all too high to identify anyone unless you already know how they’re dressed or unless you just get lucky and they look right up into a camera. The camera in the lift lobby would be our best bet since there’s only one set of lifts up to the tower, but it was cutting in and out. There’s not much there.”
“And that’s it? That’s all the surveillance the hotel has? Nothing at all up on the floors?”
“On some, sir, but not on others. Nothing on twenty-six. They say it’s an old system they’re replacing soon.”
Tay could only shake his head. “What about the interviews? Someone must have seen this woman coming into the hotel.”
“No one that we’ve found yet, sir. Like I said, if we get lucky…”
Kang stopped talking and gave a little half shrug.
“But you don’t think we’re going to get lucky.”
“No, sir. Nothing about this case looks like it’s going to bring anybody any luck, does it?”
They passed the old Hill Street police station just on the other side of the river. Tay had always thought it was a lovely structure, graceful and dignified. It stood only six floors high and the whole of its facade was decorated with banks of close-set wooden shutters painted in bright greens, golds, blues, and reds. The stories he had heard about the building were a lot less cheerful than the shutters. It had been the headquarters of the internal security forces during the communist insurgency campaigns of the fifties, the place where the interrogations were conducted. People had died there, a great many people if you believed the legends, and some said that in the night you could hear screams coming from deep inside the building. It wasn’t something he liked to dwell on.
“So,” Tay continued, “correct me if I’m wrong here. Elizabeth Munson was entirely invisible at the Marriott, both to the security cameras and the naked eye, until she turned up shot in the head, beaten, stripped, and posed on the king-sized bed in room 2608 last Tuesday afternoon. Have I got that right?”
“Yes, sir. Pretty much.”
“Doesn’t that strike you as absurd?”
“Not really, sir.” Kang shot Tay a quick glance to weigh his reaction. “She could have come into the hotel anytime after Monday morning since that was the last time housekeeping checked the room, and she wasn’t found until Tuesday afternoon. Do you know how many people go in and out of a hotel like that over a thirty-six hour period? Must be thousands, maybe tens of thousands. Like I said, we’d have to be lucky to find somebody who saw her andremembered her. She might even have gone in through the back and nobody would have seen her at all.”
“The back? The Marriott has a back entrance?”
“I meant the service lift, sir. She could have taken the service lift up the main tower and nobody would have seen her unless she just happened to have bumped into some member of the staff. There’s no camera in the service lift.”
“Why would she have done that?”
“Well, if you didn’t want to be seen, maybe-”
“Or if somebody else didn’t want you to be seen.”
Kang looked at Tay, the question of who might have wanted Elizabeth Munson to enter the hotel unseen hanging between them.
“Have you interviewed all the hotel staff?” Tay asked.
“Just the ones who worked on the twenty-sixth floor.”
“Interview all of them. Maybe somebody saw her in the service lift.”
“But, sir, hundreds of people work at the Marriott.”
“Then you better organize some men and get right to it.”
Kang grunted unhappily and they made they rest of the trip to the Marriott in silence.
A quarter of an hour later they parked in the driveway right in front of the hotel’s main entrance and Kang fended off the doorman with his warrant card.
“What do you want to do first, sir?” Kang asked when the doorman was out of earshot.
Now that they were here, Tay wasn’t at all sure. What was the point of going over the suite again? It had been a week since the body was discovered. Not only would the suite have been thoroughly cleaned, for all he knew there might be guests in it by now.
My God, Tay thought, some unsuspecting Japanese banker might even now be lying on the very bed where Elizabeth Munson’s body had been so carefully posed, having no idea of the tortured spirit with whom he was sharing it. The thought gave Tay the creeps. He knew he would remember that the next time he himself checked into a hotel, went to a room, and closed the door behind him. How could anybody ever know what ghosts we were sharing our hotel rooms with?
“What was that security man’s name?” Tay asked.
“Keshar, sir. Ramesh Keshar.”
“Right. I’m going to talk to him. You talk to the manager and organize the staff interviews. Somebody saw her, Sergeant. We just have to find them.”
Tay told a young man at the concierge desk, more of a boy really, that Keshar was expecting him and asked the way to his office. Tay’s warrant card and his small lie impressed the boy sufficiently to extract the information without the boy feeling the need to telephone Keshar first, which had been the whole point of telling him that he had an appointment. Tay believed there was an advantage in arriving unexpectedly to talk to people, even, if possible, completely unannounced. Surprise sometimes spurred people to tell the truth, mostly because they didn’t have the time to think up a good lie.
Tay found Keshar’s office without difficulty, but Keshar wasn’t there. His secretary was as impressed by Tay’s warrant card as the boy at the concierge desk had been and paged her boss immediately. In a few minutes the security man hurried in a little out of breath.
“I’m so sorry to keep you waiting, Inspector. If you had called in advance, I would have been waiting for you.”
Tay searched Keshar’s words for a rebuke, but found none. The afternoon the body had been discovered, he had sensed in the security man’s manner real shock, even something like embarrassment that this could happen in Singapore. Perhaps it had only been corporate concern for the hotel’s image, but Tay didn’t think so. The more he thought about it now the more he wondered if Keshar might be his way in.
“Please, Inspector,” Keshar spread his arms as he settled in behind his desk, “tell me how I can help you.”
“So far we haven’t been able to determine when Mrs. Munson came into the hotel and whether or not she was with anyone when she did.”
“You haven’t found her on any of the surveillance tapes?”
Tay shook his head.
“That’s odd,” Keshar said. “And the staff interviews-”
“Nothing useful either, although I understand that so far we’ve only talked with those employees who actually worked on the twenty-sixth floor. Sergeant Kang is making arrangements now to interview the entire staff.”
“That’s a big job, Inspector.”
“That’s exactly what Sergeant Kang said.”
“Well…if you must. I’ll do whatever I can to help, of course.”
Tay studied Keshar for a moment. He was waiting expectantly, knowing full well Tay wasn’t there to pass the time of day. Tay decided to get straight to the point.
“Is there a way Mrs. Munson could have gotten into that room without showing up on the surveillance cameras?”
Keshar laced his fingers together over his belly.
“No, Inspector. None that I know of.”
“Is it possible there are ways you would not know of?”
Keshar smiled, but it was the smile of an accountant. Tay recognized it immediately.
“How many lifts are there up to the tower other than the passenger lifts from the lobby?”
“Just one service lift.”
“Does it have a camera in it?” Tay asked.
Keshar smiled again. “I get the feeling you already know the answer to that, Inspector.”
“I thought it best to ask you anyway.”
“The service lift doesn’t have a camera, but you can’t access it without passing through at least one area covered by a camera.”
“How long has the camera in the main lift lobby been broken?”
“Sergeant Kang says it was cutting in and out during the days before Mrs. Munson’s body was found.”
The expression on Keshar’s face seemed to Tay to be one of genuine surprise.
“I really don’t see how that’s possible,” he said. “No one reported anything like that to me.”
“Can the camera be turned off and then back on again?”
Tay thought he saw a flicker of hesitation in Keshar’s eyes but, if there was, he covered it quickly and answered the question in a firm voice.
“There are local switches for some of the cameras, but they can only be activated by a master security card.” Keshar produced a blue-and-white plastic card from his jacket pocket. He held it up, rotating it in his fingers. It looked like a room key. “Each master security card opens every door in the hotel and allows the holder to control the parameters of all our security systems including the cameras.”
“How many people have them?”
“I have this one,” he said. “The general manager has one, and the executive assistant manager has one. The fourth is kept in my safe in case of emergency.”
“Then there are just four master security cards?”
“And if you have one of these cards, you can turn cameras on and off and go in or out of this building without being recorded on your surveillance system. Is that right?”
“Yes, sir. That’s right.”
“Then you or your general manager or…who else was it you said had a security card?”
“Mike Evans, the executive assistant manager.”
“Any one of the three of you could have taken Mrs. Munson to room 2608 without her appearing on a surveillance camera.”
“I suppose so, Inspector, but surely you don’t-”
Tay shook his head and waved Keshar into silence.
“Are you absolutely certain that no one else has access to a security card?”
There was that flicker in Keshar’s eyes again. This time Tay was sure of it.
“There is someone, isn’t there, Mr. Keshar?”
Keshar looked chagrined. “Am I that obvious?”
Tay said nothing.
“I really don’t see how it could be relevant to your investigation.”
Tay nodded encouragingly, but he still didn’t say anything.
“Look, it would probably get me into a lot of trouble if head office found out I’d told you. You can keep this just between us, can’t you?”
“I can’t promise you anything until I hear what you’re going to tell me.”
Keshar obviously didn’t care very much for Tay’s answer and it showed on his face, but he knew he had already said far too much to turn back now.
“About a year ago the man I report to at Marriott’s head office in the United States came to see me. He told me that I might get a call from someone at the American embassy here in Singapore and, if I did, I was to cooperate with the caller in any way he asked. I asked what that meant and was told I was to arrange off-the-books accommodations and confidential access to the hotel if I was requested by the embassy to do so.”
“And this was for anybody at the American embassy?”
“Oh no. Just for this one person.”
“Who was it?”
“Well…” Keshar hesitated. “I’m not sure I know.”
That answer didn’t make any sense to Tay and his puzzlement was no doubt evident to Keshar.
“What I mean to say, Inspector, is that I was given a man’s name, but I don’t think it’s a real person. I think it was just a name.”
“And what was this name?”
“Washington. Mr. Washington.”
“Does Mr. Washington have a first name?”
“Not that I was told.”
Tay mulled that over while Keshar watched him.
“Have you ever heard from Mr. Washington?” Tay asked after a few moments of silence.
“Yes, five or six times.”
“And what did he ask you to do?”
Keshar fidgeted for a moment and Tay, waiting patiently, let him.
“Each time he made the same request. He asked that two suites close to each other on an upper floor be closed off and that he have access to the suites for forty-eight hours.”
“So you gave him the fourth security card.”
“Yes, but he always returned it the following day.”
Keshar cleared his throat.
“Look, Inspector, I can see where you’re going with this, but it won’t do you any good. The fourth security card is in my safe right now and nobody has asked for it in at least six months. There is absolutely no chance that card was used when that poor woman came into the hotel and was murdered. None.”
“Unless it was copied on a prior occasion before it was returned to you.”
“Our systems are installed and serviced by Chubb Security, Inspector. I assure you no copies have ever been authorized and it is absolutely impossible for one to be made without going through Chubb. The built-in encryption is unbreakable.”
Tay’s view on that was somewhat less sanguine. In his experience, what one man could build, another could tear apart. The resources required to do it might be considerable, or they might be closely held, but for the right people with the right access, nothing was ever impossible. Still, Tay saw nothing to gain by arguing the point with Keshar right then so he let it go.
“What does this Mr. Washington look like?” he asked instead.
“I don’t know. I never saw him.”
“Then how did you give him a security card and get it back?”
“One of our couriers delivered it in a sealed envelope along with the numbers of the suites I had blocked. Another courier returned it to me the same way.”
“Where did you deliver it?”
“To the American embassy.”
“Addressed to Mr. Washington?”
“Yes. That’s right.”
A small silence followed while Tay struggled with the implications of what Keshar was telling him.
“Look, Inspector,” Keshar interrupted his reverie, “I should never have told you any of this. I’m sure it’s got nothing to do with your investigation and I was instructed never to mention it to anyone. If head office hears I told you, I don’t know what will happen, but I like my job and I want to keep it. I’m asking you, begging you really, please tell no one that you heard this from me.”
“I’ll do my best, Mr. Keshar, but if the matter becomes relevant to my investigation, that may not be possible.”
Looking unhappy, Keshar waggled his head back and forth. What that was supposed to signify, Tay had no idea.
Tay was too absorbed in what he had already heard to ask any more useful questions and, even if he had, Keshar was so worried he had already said too much that he wouldn’t have offered any useful answers. That meant it was not long before the conversation died altogether, no doubt having bored itself to death.
“That business with the American embassy really can’t have anything to do with that poor woman’s murder, Inspector,” Keshar said yet again as they stood and shook hands.
Tay nodded. He noticed that Keshar’s palm was slightly damp. He examined Keshar’s face closely and saw the tentative look in his eyes, so he said no more. He merely nodded again, left the office, and closed the door quietly behind him.
The American embassy had always looked to Tay like a combination of a Japanese warlord’s castle and the elephant house at a very prosperous zoo. The low-slung building was constructed entirely of giant blocks of stone that made the whole structure seem massively oversized. It sat well back from Napier Road atop a small, doubtless artificial rise and the grassy expanses surrounding it were a peculiar contrast to the uncompromising gray stone.
There was a security post out on the road built of glass and more gray stone. Beyond it, the only approach to the embassy was up a long, exposed concrete ramp. Tay figured its purpose was to give them a good opportunity to shoot you if the security post made a mistake in letting you in.
“Yes, sir. May I help you?”
To Tay’s surprise, the security guard behind the glass appeared to be a Singaporean, not an American.
“I’m Inspector Tay, CID-SIS.” He held up his warrant card. “I have an appointment with, ah…”
Tay hesitated. He suddenly realized he couldn’t remember Cally’s last name, but under the circumstances using her first name seemed unreasonably familiar.
“…your security officer,” he finished, thinking as he did how lame it sounded.
“Yes, sir.” The guard inspected Tay’s warrant card through the glass with obvious care. “We were told to expect you.”
There was a loud clunk and the glass door popped ajar. Tay tugged it open, surprised at its heft, and entered the security post.
“Are you armed, sir?”
The question came from a different guard, also apparently a Singaporean, and it took Tay by surprise. No one had asked him that in so long that he couldn’t remember the last time. He almost never bothered to carry a weapon anymore. That was a couple of pounds he hadn’t had any trouble losing.
“Only with a box of Marlboros,” he said.
Tay smiled, but no one else did.
“There’s no smoking here, sir,” the second guard said.
Tay abandoned the smile and nodded as soberly as he could. He also tried to mix into his expression enough embarrassment and contrition to cover any possible expectations the security guards might have along those lines.
“Cell phone, sir?”
The guard held out a small plastic ticket, like a claim check, and Tay exchanged his telephone for it.
“You can collect it on your way out, sir. Any other electronic devices with you? Pager? Recorder? Digital camera? Anything like that?”
“Right, sir. Then just step through the metal detector there, please.”
Tay turned and did as he was told.
He wondered what his expression looked like at that moment and whether the third guard in the room, the one who hadn’t yet spoken, was trying to decide if he looked suspicious. He always felt vaguely guilty walking through a metal detector and he suspected it showed. The device was like a lie detector. Even if you hadn’t lied about anything, being tested seemed to suggest that you might have. Whenever Tay passed through a metal detector he tried to shape his face into a look of innocence, and every time he no doubt ended up looking like an idiot. Worse, probably a guilty idiot.
At least the damned thing didn’t buzz this time. Thank the Lord for small mercies.
“Just outside and then up the walkway to your left, sir,” the guard said, pointing at the security post’s exit door. “Ms. Parks will meet you in the lobby.”
Ah, thank you, Tay thought. I remember now. Parks. Cally Parks.
The exit door opened with the sound of an electronic lock disengaging and Tay was outside again walking up the long ramp to the main entrance of the embassy. No one shot him before he made it to the top, so he gathered he was doing pretty well so far.
Cally was waiting in the lobby. They shook hands and ran through the usual greetings.
“There’s one more stop, I’m afraid,” she said when they were done. “You need to sign in at the marine post.”
She pointed to a glass window at the back of the lobby from behind which a United States marine in a crisp-looking khaki uniform was watching them carefully. Tay’s first thought was the man looked extraordinarily tough, like a bit player in some Clint Eastwood film, but the closer he got to the window the younger the man seemed to become. By the time Tay had walked all the way across the lobby he realized that the marine was just a kid, no more than nineteen or twenty.
“I need some ID please, sir,” he said to Tay.
Tay produced his warrant card for a second time, wondering if the marine inside had some reason to mistrust the security guards outside who had just looked at it. He passed the card through a slot in the bottom of the glass and the young marine examined it closely, methodically comparing the photograph with Tay’s face.
The marine put Tay’s warrant card in a wooden pigeonhole and pushed out through the slot a green plastic badge with a clip at its top edge.
“Wear this at all times within the embassy, sir. It gives you permission to be in this facility on an escorted basis.”
“An escorted basis?” Tay asked.
“Authorized embassy personnel must be with you at all times.”
“What happens if I have to go to the bathroom?”
The young marine didn’t smile. “I hear that one every day, sir.”
God, what’s wrong with these people? Don’t any of them have a sense of humor?
Tay clipped the badge to his shirt pocket and turned around. Cally was watching him with her hands on her hips and a half smile on her face.
“A Singaporean policeman trying to joke with a United States marine?” she laughed. “If you live long enough, I guess you’ll see almost everything.”
Tay was still trying to come up with a snappy retort to that when another loud buzz sounded and the inner door to the embassy popped open.
“I hope you don’t mind,” Cally said as she led him to the main staircase and started up, “but our meeting will be delayed about fifteen minutes. The ambassador is running a little behind schedule this morning.”
Right at that moment, Tay minded very little indeed. Cally was wearing a crisply starched white blouse tucked into a straight, dark gray pinstriped skirt that ended just above her knees. Her shoes were matching gray pumps with heels just high enough to tighten the muscles in her bare, tanned legs. As Tay trailed her up the stairs, he was exactly at eye level with absolutely the best-turned pair of calves it had been his pleasure to behold for a very long time.
“That’s not a problem, is it, Inspector?” Cally asked over her shoulder when she reached the top of the stairs.
“No indeed,” Tay said, swallowing his disappointment they wouldn’t be climbing another floor or two. “That’s fine.”
He followed Cally down a deserted corridor and through a pair of heavy wooden doors into a conference room. It was somewhere at the back of the embassy and overlooked the tops of a thick grove of palm trees. The room was furnished with a round table of blond wood circled by eight swivel chairs upholstered in dark green fabric. On the wall opposite the windows, a long sideboard of matching blond wood held a coffee urn, a half-dozen white china cups and saucers, cream and sugar, and a silver tray of what looked to Tay like thick bread rolls with big holes in the middle of them.
“Coffee, Inspector?” Cally asked. “Bagel?”
“Nothing,” he said. “Thank you.”
Tay took one of the chairs and examined the palm trees briefly.
“Is it always so quiet around here?” he asked when Cally made no move to join him at the table.
“This is a fairly small post as embassies go. It is pretty quiet most of the time. But then Singapore is also…” Cally suddenly stopped talking, realizing that finishing her thought might not be a particularly diplomatic thing to do.
“Pretty quiet most of the time,” Tay finished for her. “Yes, it is, isn’t it?”
Cally gave a little shrug, mostly with her eyebrows.
“Look, I have to leave you for a few minutes,” she said. “Help yourself to coffee and a bagel if you change your mind. I’ll be back in about ten minutes and we’ll go up to the ambassador’s office.”
“I’ll be fine,” Tay said. “Thanks.”
When Cally had gone, Tay examined the palm trees some more, but found very little about them that interested him. Then, having nothing better to do, he started thinking about Elizabeth Munson’s murder again. Perhaps the unexpected delay was something of a blessing. Not to put too fine a point on it, but he still didn’t have a fucking clue what he was going to ask the American ambassador.
He took a small spiral notebook and a felt-tip pen out of his pocket and opened the notebook flat on the table. He uncapped the pen, but he was not immediately able to think of anything to write so he just sat for a minute or two tapping its point on the blank page.
It seemed to Tay all but certain Elizabeth Munson knew her killer. How else would she have come to be in a suite at the Singapore Marriott with him? She certainly hadn’t been kidnapped and dragged there against her will. On the other hand, if she had cheerfully strolled into the Marriott to meet someone she knew, why was she not on any of the hotel’s surveillance tapes and why did no one there remember seeing her?
Tay thought he knew the answer to that. More than likely that she had entered the hotel very discreetly due to the reason she had come there.
A married woman did not go to a hotel suite on a Monday afternoon to meet the Avon lady. Elizabeth Munson went there for sex. And that, speaking generally, required more than one person, at least it did if you were doing it right. All of which brought Tay back to his original question. Who was Elizabeth Munson meeting in room 2608 of the Singapore Marriott on the afternoon she was murdered?
Well, for starters, it could have been someone right here in the American embassy. Mrs. Munson probably knew most of the staff, and there was that business about the security card to consider, too. She had slipped into the Marriott without leaving a trace and entered a suite that was supposed to be unoccupied. Only someone with a hotel security card could have made all that happen and someone at the embassy had been in possession of a hotel security card several times even if Tay didn’t yet know who it was.
Who at the embassy would have needed regular off-the-books access to the Marriott? And why did they need a security card that allowed them to enter and leave the hotel without leaving any evidence they had ever been there? Could whoever had the security card have copied it and continued to have unrecorded access to the Marriott even after the original card had been returned to Keshar? Keshar had insisted it was technically impossible, but Tay was far less certain of that.
Maybe none of that really mattered. Maybe none of that had anything at all to do with Elizabeth Munson’s murder. The place to start working out whether it did or not, of course, was with whomever in the American embassy had had access to that security card, and that straight away brought up the most interesting question of all.
Exactly who the fuck was Mr. Washington?
Tay shook his head and put the cap back on his pen having written absolutely nothing at all. He was returning the notebook to his pocket when Cally Parks opened the door.
“If you’ll come with me, Inspector, the ambassador is ready to see you now.”
The ambassador’s office was imposing, intimidating even, as Tay gathered it was supposed to be. Behind a desk the size of a ping-pong table, two large flags hung from polished wooden poles mounted in brass bases. One was obviously the American flag, but the other one was dark blue with something white in the middle of it and Tay didn’t know what it was. Did ambassadors have personal flags like admirals? He didn’t think so, but he wasn’t certain.
Ambassador Munson was standing behind his desk when Tay entered. He came around it and walked toward Tay with his hand outstretched.
The ambassador was a big man, and so homely he was almost nobly ugly. He had rough, weathered skin, a huge misshapen nose, and oversized jug ears that stuck straight out. Droopy, dark brown basset hound eyes stared out of a face that looked like someone hadn’t read all the directions before they began to assemble it.
In spite of all that, there was something about the ambassador that overwhelmed the background against which he posed. He even looked familiar somehow, although Tay was certain he had never met any American ambassador, let alone this one. It was like encountering an actor you had seen over and over again on television, one whose appearance you recognized immediately but whose name you couldn’t quite remember. Could the Americans have hired someone to play the role of the ambassador, Tay wondered for a moment, just to make a fool of him? No, of course they hadn’t. That was ridiculous.
The ambassador enveloped Tay’s hand in his own enormous, gnarled fingers. “I want to thank you for meetin’ with me today, Inspector. I’m very sorry I had to keep you waitin’.”
When he heard the Texas drawl, Tay suddenly realized why Ambassador Munson looked so familiar. The man bore far more than a passing resemblance to Lyndon Johnson. That was it exactly. To shake hands with the ambassador was to watch a waxwork figure of Lyndon Johnson circa 1968 lurch into life. Good God, Tay wondered, could it be that everyone from Texas looked like this? Surely not.
The ambassador gestured with his head to an area by the windows opposite his desk. It was furnished with two leather couches and several chairs upholstered in dark fabric, all grouped around an oval-shaped glass coffee table.
“You know my boys here, Inspector?”
Tay looked where the ambassador was indicating and saw two men he didn’t recognize and one he did.
“The one there with the tie is Tony DeSouza, our legal attache,” the ambassador interrupted without waiting for Tay to finish. “The one sitting next to him who looks too damn young to be out of college is Marc Reagan, my staff assistant, and the old goat on the other couch is Dewey Garland, our commercial attache.”
“I met Mr. DeSouza last week,” Tay said.
“Well, that must have been fun for you,” the ambassador said and flashed Tay a one-of-the-guys smile to let him know he was only joshing.
The ambassador waved Tay toward one of two empty chairs facing the windows and Cally took the other. Only then did the ambassador settle into a chair opposite Tay, cross his legs, and let his long arms dangle carelessly over the sides. The glare from the windows behind the ambassador made his eyes hard to see and Tay gathered that was exactly the point of the seating arrangement.
“You want a Coc’-Cola or something else ‘fore we get started?” the ambassador asked Tay.
“No, sir. Thank you.”
Nodding, the ambassador fixed Tay with what he apparently thought was a caring smile.
“First,” he said, “let me tell you that I ‘preciate the horse sense you showed in putting out that suicide story after Liz’s body was found.”
“I’m not sure I understand what you mean, sir. The only reason we made any press statement at all was-”
“We figure it was a pretty sharp idea,” the ambassador interrupted. “We’re thinking of sticking with it.”
Now Tay really was confused. “With what?” he asked.
“Your suicide story. We’re thinking of sticking with it and announcing that Liz committed suicide.”
“But she didn’t.”
“Look, dammit, we have to tell the press something. I’ve read the file. I know what happened. Is that what you want me to tell the world? That my wife was tortured to death and died with a flashlight shoved up her pussy?”
Tay was hardly an expert on the proper relationship between government and the press, but it did seem to him generally better for governments to tell the truth, or at least a mildly edited version of the truth, rather than to make something up. No matter how bad the truth was, when governments lied and got caught doing it, things always seemed to get much worse.
“Are you telling me, sir, that you intend to cover up your wife’s murder by telling the press that she committed suicide?”
The ambassador held up both hands, palms outward.
“Shoot now, Inspector, let’s not get off on the wrong foot here. I intend to treat Liz’s death with dignity. Under the circumstances, suicide is far more dignified than what happened to her. And I say that both as a husband and as an American ambassador.”
“But then the investigation of her murder will-”
“What we tell the press won’t have jack shit to do with that. We’re going to investigate the crap out of this thing. You can bet your butt on that. Terrorist acts against United States citizens are within the jurisdiction of the FBI and nobody’s better at getting to the truth than those boys.”
The corners of the ambassador’s mouth moved quickly up and down in what might or might not have been a miniature smile.
“No offense to you and your people, of course, Inspector. I’m sure you’re pretty good, too.”
“Yes, sir,” Tay said, not doing much to disguise his irritation at the ambassador’s obvious condescension toward the Singapore police force. “We are.”
“While we’d certainly ‘preciate your help, of course, Tony DeSouza will head up this investigation. He’ll get the sons of bitches that did this and get ‘em right quick.”
Tay wanted very much to ask the ambassador exactly how he thought DeSouza would be able to do that, not to mention why he had already assumed that there was more than one killer. But he didn’t ask the ambassador anything. He just sat quietly with what he hoped was an interested expression on his face and listened. That was apparently what he was meant to do because almost immediately the ambassador started talking again.
“And you can bet your butt on one other thing, too, Inspector. When we find the bastards that did this, they will be punished. Tony and I were both United States marines. I have two combat tours in Vietnam behind me and Tony did his two tours in Iraq. We do not flinch from taking the fight to those who do us harm. Oh no, we surely do not.”
Tay didn’t bother to ask exactly what that meant.
“Well then, Inspector, I’ve talked enough now. You take over. After all, you’re the one who asked for this meetin’.”
For the next ten minutes, Tay tossed out meaningless questions and nodded earnestly at all of the ambassador’s answers without bothering to listen to any of them. He was seething and needed a little time to calm down before he could trust himself to say anything of consequence.
Who the hell did this clown think he was? He might be the American ambassador — Tay didn’t give a flying fuck if he was the goddamned President of the goddamned United States — but he wasn’t going to pat Tay on the head, tell him that the FBI would take over from here, and oh by the way, they were going to tell the public that Elizabeth Munson committed suicide. Well, on second thought, perhaps it was a little hard to get self-righteous about that, wasn’t it? After all, the suicide story had originally been Tay’s own idea, even if he did regret it now.
“Inspector, I gotta be honest with you about something,” the ambassador suddenly volunteered apropos of nothing at all Tay could see. And when he heard that, Tay started paying more attention. In his experience, when people told him they were going to be honest with him, they usually weren’t.
“I want you to hear this from me,” Ambassador Munson said, looking down at his hands for a moment.
There was something about the gesture that looked wrong to Tay. He wasn’t absolutely sure what, but there was.
“Elizabeth and I were finished. She was going to divorce me and she wanted it to hurt like a son of a bitch. To tell you the truth, for the last few years it felt like that woman was fucking me up the ass with a garden rake.”
Tay glanced at DeSouza and at the two men sitting with him, but they were impassive. He assumed they were accustomed to the way the ambassador expressed himself. Still, he would have given a great deal right at that moment to see what kind of expression Cally had on her face, but she was sitting next to him and turning his head would have been obvious and clumsy so he didn’t do it.
“You’re going to hear that from someone sooner or later,” the ambassador continued, “and I wanted it to be me. Anyway, I suppose it doesn’t matter. I can’t see what it could have to do with Liz’s murder.”
Tay didn’t really see either. As far as he knew, no one was seriously suggesting the ambassador had murdered his wife and it sounded unlikely to Tay, too, if only for logistical reasons. For the American ambassador to Singapore to walk into the Marriott on a Monday afternoon, shoot his wife in the head, pulp her face with the gun butt, strip and clean the room, dispose of all her clothing, and then hop a plane without anyone knowing about it seemed unlikely to the point of impossibility. Still, it was interesting to know there had been bad blood between the ambassador and his wife. It was even more interesting to Tay that the ambassador had volunteered it without the slightest prompting.
Tay glanced quickly toward DeSouza again and saw he and the other two men had all turned their faces expectantly in his direction to gauge his reaction. They already knew about all this, Tay thought to himself. He wondered if Cally knew as well.
“I just have one or two more routine questions, sir,” Tay said, shifting his eyes back to the ambassador.
When Tay didn’t show any interest in pursuing the issue of the relationship between the ambassador and his wife, he was certain he could feel the room around him breathe out in relief.
“It is necessary, sir, for me to establish your whereabouts on the day when your wife was killed.”
“That’s outrageous,” DeSouza snapped before the ambassador could say anything. “How can you sit there and suggest-”
“I’m not suggesting anything,” Tay said.
“Calm down, Tony.” The ambassador held up one hand, palm out. “Don’t get your little pecker all knotted up. The man’s not accusing me of anything. He’s only doing his job. Isn’t that right, Inspector?”
Tay’s voice hardened more than he probably should have let it, but he was getting so sick of these buffoons he really didn’t care. “Could you just tell me exactly where you were, sir?”
If the ambassador noticed Tay’s tone, he gave no sign of it.
“I was in Washington all of last week. I didn’t get back until about two o’clock yesterday morning.”
“And precisely when did you leave Singapore, sir?”
The ambassador hesitated a beat. It was only a split second, but Tay noticed and wondered if it meant anything.
“On Monday of last week. I took the morning Singapore Airlines flight to London and then flew from there directly to Washington on United.”
Tay made a mental note to have Sergeant Kang check when the Singapore Airlines flight to London had left on Monday of last week.
“Did your wife have any enemies, sir? Was she in any particular danger you knew of?”
“All Americans in foreign countries have enemies, Inspector. We are all in danger all the time. The more prominent we are, the more danger we are in.”
“In what way was your wife prominent, sir?”
“Because she was my goddamned wife,” the ambassador snapped almost at once. Then he took a long breath and drained the irritation out of his voice. “She was the American ambassador’s wife. That was enough right there to make her a target for these bastards.”
“Have other wives of American ambassadors been murdered like this?”
The ambassador shifted his eyes toward DeSouza, but it was Dewey Garland who responded.
“Not that I can recall, Inspector. We can research the point for you if you like, but I’m not sure I see the relevance of historical experience here. The world has changed in the last few years and American diplomatic personnel have been thrust into the front lines of the war against terrorism. We are all at risk all of the time, as are our families. It’s something we live with every day of our lives, but it makes it no less horrible when exactly the thing we all fear actually happens.”
It was a nice speech, but Tay couldn’t see it had all that much to do with the question he had asked. Nevertheless, he gathered that hidden in it was his answer. Ambassadors’ wives were not routinely tortured and murdered by terrorists, or anyone else for that matter. In that, and perhaps in other ways, Elizabeth Munson had stood alone.
“What thing is that, sir?” Tay asked.
Garland looked puzzled.
“I don’t understand what you’re asking me,” he said.
“You said it is horrible when that thing you all fear actually happens. What is that thing that you all fear?”
“Ah, I see,” Garland said. “We all fear someday our number will come up, that we will be targeted by terrorists as their next victim.”
“And do you think that was what happened here? That Mrs. Munson was targeted by terrorists.”
“Of course, Inspector.” Garland shifted his weight on the couch and folded his arms. His face settled into an expression Tay didn’t like very much. “Do you have a different theory of the crime?”
That was exactly the problem, of course. The American obsession with terrorists aside, Tay really didn’t have a clue as to who else might have killed Elizabeth Munson.
“I’ve read the autopsy report,” Garland continued when Tay didn’t respond right away. “Mrs. Munson was killed by a single, point-blank shot from a weapon suited for very little else but killing a human being. What could that be other than a carefully planned terrorist attack?”
“I thought the ambassador said you were a commercial attache,” Tay said. “Why would a commercial attache be reading an autopsy report?”
To Garland’s credit, he didn’t even blink.
“Touche, Inspector. Very good. Still, you’ll excuse me if I don’t formally acknowledge I may indeed perform a few additional duties around here from time to time.”
“Look, Inspector,” the ambassador interrupted, “this is taking us a pretty long way off the reservation.”
Tay wasn’t so sure. He was just beginning to wonder how big this reservation actually was, and he was even less sure exactly what might be on or off it. Regardless, he decided not to argue the point, at least not right then.
“If that’s all the questions you have for me,” the ambassador stood up without waiting for Tay to say whether it was or was not, “I’m going to turn you back over to Ms. Parks now.”
When the ambassador offered his hand, Tay stood and took it, although he had a fleeting desire to refuse.
“If Tony needs you, he’ll be in touch,” the ambassador said as they shook hands. “Meanwhile, Cally will be your contact at the embassy. Call her if you come up with anything we ought to know.”
Tay was being dismissed like a schoolboy and it made him even angrier than he already was, but he held his tongue and mumbled something innocuous. When Cally stood up and opened the door for him, he left the ambassador’s office without another word.
Outside in the hallway Tay bit back his fury over the way the ambassador had patted him on the head and tossed him out.
Suddenly a line from an old Arnold Schwarzenegger movie popped unbidden into his head. First the marine behind the glass in the embassy lobby had made Tay think of a Clint Eastwood movie and now here he was thinking of a Schwarzenegger flick. What was it about being in the American embassy that caused Tay to keep thinking about American movies? Perhaps it was only natural, the inevitable result of the flood tide of Hollywood compost celebrating the immoderation and excesses of the American self-image in which the world was awash. Perhaps that was how the whole world saw Americans now, as if they were nothing more than characters in one of their own movies.
Tay couldn’t call to mind the name of the Schwarzenegger movie he was thinking of, but he had no trouble at all summoning up the line from it that expressed exactly how he felt now.
I’ll be back.
Yes, indeed, Tay thought. I goddamned well will be back.
When the door closed behind Tay there was a silence in the ambassador’s office. Tony DeSouza, who had hardly spoken the whole time Tay had been there, was the first to break it.
“I don’t think we’re going to have a problem,” he said.
The ambassador twisted his head around and gave DeSouza a look.
“He seems tame enough,” Dewey Garland agreed. “He certainly wasn’t asking any tough questions today and I didn’t see anything that suggests to me he ever will.”
Marc Reagan wasn’t so sure, but Dewey and Tony were the professionals when it came to that sort of thing so he didn’t think it was his place to contradict them.
The ambassador said nothing either. He scratched the back of his neck. He moved some files from one side of his desk to the other. But he said nothing.
The silence grew heavy. Marc fidgeted on the couch. He felt like he was the only man in the room who didn’t have a clue what the punch line to this whole story really was. He was just a staff assistant after all. Nobody told him a damn thing. Finally, when he couldn’t stand it a minute longer, Marc pushed himself to his feet.
“Will there be anything else, sir?”
The ambassador looked momentarily startled at the sound of Marc’s voice, as if he had forgotten other people were there in the room with him, but he recovered quickly.
“No, Marc. Thanks.” The ambassador came to his feet in the customary gesture of bringing a meeting to a close. “That’s it, fellows.” The other men rose as well and made their way to the door with the usual pleasantries.
“Stay for a minute, Tony,” the ambassador said. DeSouza stopped, shutting the door after the others had left.
The ambassador walked to the windows and stood with his hands clasped behind him looking out at something. DeSouza walked over and stood next to him. They inspected the trees together in complete silence for a while.
“How do you feel?” DeSouza eventually asked.
“How do I feel?” the ambassador snorted. “How the fuck do you think I feel? I feel like I’ve been gut shot.”
DeSouza nodded. There wasn’t really anything he could say to that.
“What did you really think?” the ambassador asked. “About this guy.”
“You mean the Singapore cop? Tay?”
“He won’t be any problem.”
The ambassador grunted again and slipped back into silence.
“Do you have anybody yet?” the ambassador asked after a while. “Somebody you can put this on, I mean.”
Desouza said nothing.
“Just staging an investigation isn’t going to cut it, you know, Tony. We need to ID somebody and bury him. And we need to do it quickly before this gets out of hand.”
“It’s taken care of.”
The ambassador shot DeSouza a look. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
“Do you really want to know the details?”
“No, I just want to know what you’re…” The ambassador hesitated. “I guess not. No details, no.”
“Just take my word for it then. The matter is taken care of.”
“Goddamn it to hell, Tony, I don’t want Tay sticking his nose somewhere it doesn’t belong.”
“I’ve already told you,” DeSouza said, drawing his voice out in an exaggerated show of patience. “Tay isn’t going to be a problem. He’s a typical Singaporean. These people are scared of authority. They’re taught from the day they’re born to go along and get along. Tay will keep his nose clean at all costs. He’s not going to make waves.”
“You’re sure of that?”
“Fuckin’ A, I’m sure of that.”
DeSouza glanced at the ambassador’s face and was surprised to see there the beginnings of something that looked almost like a smile.
“What?” DeSouza asked.
“I’m not so sure.”
“No,” the ambassador said as he went back to examining the trees outside his office window. “I’m not so sure of that at all.”
“You want to take the elevator?” Cally asked Tay when they were outside the ambassador’s office. “Or the stairs.”
He looked at Cally and said nothing. Fishing through his pockets, he pulled out a box of Marlboros.
“I’m sorry, Inspector, but smoking isn’t allowed in the embassy.”
Tay tapped a cigarette out of the box anyway, briefly rotated it between his fingers, and then stuck it into his mouth without lighting it.
“How about sucking?” he asked. “Is sucking allowed?”
Cally giggled slightly and Tay, unreasonably pleased he had raised a giggle in a pretty young woman, returned the cigarette to the pack and put it away.
“What a load of politically correct crap,” he muttered. “Whatever happened to individualism?”
“Hey, don’t take it out on me,” Cally said. “I just work here.”
Cally cleared her throat. Her eyes drifted around for a moment and then met Tay’s.
“Look,” she said, “I’m probably way out of line saying this, but I thought you handled yourself well back there.”
“Why?” Tay asked. “Because I didn’t shoot the asshole? I would have, but I left my gun in my other suit.”
“What do you think of him?”
“Your ambassador? He’s an arrogant prick.”
“Well now, Inspector, don’t be coy about your feelings. Just tell me what you really think.”
Tay didn’t smile. He really didn’t feel like it.
“The man’s wife has just been murdered, Inspector. You’ve got to cut him some slack.”
He was in no mood for stupid American idioms. Cut him some slack? What in God’s name was that supposed to mean?
“And so he’s going to try and sell some ridiculous story about his wife committing suicide?” Tay snapped. “How does he think he’s going to do that? Does he expect me to just forget that a murder has been committed here and go along with him? If he thinks he can do something like that in Singapore and make it stick just because he’s the American ambassador, the man’s an idiot.”
“I’m not sure he really meant that,” Cally said. “When he thinks about it, he’ll know that’s not the way to go.”
“And what is the way to go?”
“To find out who killed Mrs. Munson as quickly as possible and get him off the streets. Then everyone can move on.”
Tay shot a glance at Cally, but her face told him nothing. “And you think your Mr. DeSouza is the man to do that.”
“I think Tony can help you a lot. Give him a chance.”
“I don’t think helping me is exactly what good old Tony has in mind.”
“Your heard your ambassador back there. Don’t call us, we’ll call you, Inspector. That is, if we need you, which is of course very unlikely since my boy DeSouza is going to be running the whole investigation.”
“I think you took what he said the wrong way.”
“Really? And how should I have taken it?”
“As an offer to the Singaporean police of the full help and cooperation of the government of the United States in solving this murder.”
Tay folded his arms and stared at Cally.
“Are you serious?” he asked. “How can you say something like that with a straight face?”
“It’s a real talent, isn’t it?” Cally said. “Some people have it and some people don’t. I do. I really do. Actually, I think it’s why the State Department hired me.”
Then abruptly she laughed, sticking her tongue into the corner of one cheek and rolling it around.
Tay didn’t know what to say.
“You want to have lunch?” Cally asked all of a sudden. “The embassy cafeteria’s not bad. My treat. Order anything you want. Up to five dollars, of course.”
Tay glanced at his watch. It wasn’t even noon yet.
Cally could see what he was thinking.
“We eat early around here,” she said. “When you come into the office at seven, by twelve you could eat a horse.”
Tay’s first instinct, of course, was his usual one. To say he was busy, to say perhaps they could make it another day. He would say it very politely and with just the right touch of regret in his voice, but he would still say it. Dr. Hoi had him dead to rights on that. He declined invitations by reflex, even when he really wanted to accept them.
Perhaps it was thinking of what Dr. Hoi had said that caused him to bite back the words this time. When was the last time a woman had asked him to lunch anyway? He couldn’t remember. So why was he about to say no?
Tay doubted this was an entirely spontaneous social invitation on Cally’s part, of course, if there was any social aspect to it at all. Cally Parks had just been appointed as his keeper for the duration and more than likely she just wanted to get a close look at what was in store for her. Regardless, she was still an attractive and apparently intelligent young woman and she had just asked him to have lunch with her. So Tay, for once in his life, stopped and thought before he opened his mouth and said no.
The embassy cafeteria was smaller than Tay had expected. There was a modest food service facility on one side and on the other side a dining room that held about a dozen round tables with matching chairs, all blond wood with chrome frames. It was an altogether pleasant setting, bright and airy with a collection of colorful framed children’s drawings scattered over the walls. Still, something about the place was almost too cheerful and gave the room a forced quality that didn’t feel entirely right. Tay figured it was the same sort of feeling he might get visiting the cafeteria at a school for troubled children. Well, Tay thought, there you had it.
They went through the cafeteria line, but nobody else was in it so it really wasn’t much of a line. They pushed their pink plastic trays along the chromed rails and Tay selected a chef ‘s salad and tomato soup. Cally ordered a cheeseburger and fries. When they carried their trays out into the dining room Tay saw only two other tables were occupied. He let Cally lead him to a corner that was out of earshot of the other people in the room and they transferred their plates from the trays to the table.
“Do you always eat such a sensible lunch, Inspector?”
Tay sifted Cally’s remark for hidden meanings. Was this woman saying his choices for lunch had been intelligent? Or was she saying they were boring? No, he was being overly self-conscious again.Of all his many faults, the one he hated most was his tendency to overanalyze everything. That and being five or ten pounds overweight. Fifteen maybe.
“That certainly looks very healthy,” Cally went on when Tay didn’t immediately reply. “I suppose.”
“I like salads,” Tay said, and then mentally kicked himself for sounding so defensive.
“I like cheeseburgers,” Cally said. “They’re my comfort food.”
“Are you in need of comfort now?”
“Not really. But I sure am in need of a cheeseburger. I may even put some onions on this one.”
With that Cally flashed Tay a smile that seemed to him so spontaneous, so very much directed at him alone, that he felt a slow spread of warmth moving through his body and a slight buzzing sensation in his ears. Maybe this woman’s invitation to lunch had been personal after all. He could at least admit the existence of that possibility, couldn’t he? Then again, that was probably complete nonsense. It was more likely by far that he was just one more middle-aged man basking in the glow of a younger woman’s smile, desperately trying to believe that he had played some part, however small, in causing it to appear.
They made small talk for a while after that. Cally told him a few of her stories and he told her some of his. Against all the odds, Tay was feeling pretty good, comfortable even. He was chatting inconsequentially with this woman he hardly knew and it was all going just fine.
“Look, Inspector…” Cally began, then abruptly stopped. “That sounds very formal, doesn’t it? Can I call you Sam? I mean…well, if you don’t want me to then…”
“No, that’s okay. Sam will be fine.”
Tay was rewarded with that smile again.
“Sam then,” Cally said. “Anyway, I like that name.”
“I’ve always thought it was a rather dull name.”
“It’s not dull. It’s straightforward. I like straightforward. Do you just have a straightforward name or are you also a straightforward man, Sam?”
Tay had never thought about that very much, but now that he was thinking about it he decided he did indeed see himself as a straightforward man.
“I try to be,” he said.
Cally tilted her head and looked at Tay very carefully, almost as if she was seriously weighing the truthfulness of his reply. He watched her and decided that she was doing exactly that.
“Yes,” she said after a moment. “Yes, I think you probably are, Sam. I think you may actually be who you appear to be.”
At just that moment, a burst of tinny music sounded from somewhere very close by. Tay couldn’t figure out where it was coming from or what it signified until Cally pulled the tiny telephone from a pocket and flipped it open.
The sound of a telephone had become another one of those fundamental divisions between the old and the young that Tay thought might never be bridged. The old generally had telephones that rang like…well, like telephones. The young had telephones that rang with unsettling blasts of something that was presumably supposed to be recently recorded music. Of course, Tay had to take that largely on faith since he was pretty certain that he couldn’t identify any music recorded after 1980.
“Hang on a minute,” Cally said into the telephone.
“I’m sorry,” she said to Tay, “but I’m going to have to step outside to take this.”
No need to be sorry,” he said. “I hate listening to people talk on cell phones.”
Tay speared a bit of hardboiled egg out of the remains of his salad and allowed his eyes to follow Cally as she walked away.
Get a grip, Sam Tay, he told himself. This attractive young woman is just doing her job and chatting you up. It’s nothing more than that. She’s playing the good cop and letting DeSouza play the bad cop, which was really the only way they could have cast the parts anyway.
Tay poked through the salad bowl again and this time came up with some beetroot. His eyes drifted over the room as he chewed on it and caught those of a woman at another table picking at a melting cup of ice cream. She didn’t react, her expression one of practiced boredom, and she appeared to have no interest at all in him. Still, he had caught a glimpse of an earpiece partially concealed by her hair and couldn’t help but wonder about it. Perhaps the woman was just listening to an iPod during her lunch break. Perhaps she was waiting for a call on her cell phone. Perhaps she was part of a super-secret unit of spies tasked with the surveillance of any Singaporean policeman who appeared in the cafeteria of the American embassy. Perhaps his imagination was running amuck.
Tay finished his salad and pushed the bowl away. He looked at his watch and was surprised to see that it was now nearly one. He was drumming his fingers on the table and was just beginning to wonder if he should go look for Cally when she came back to the table.
Cally sat down without saying anything. Tay could tell that something had happened by the way she was looking at him.
“We’ve got another one,” she said after a moment.
At first Tay didn’t get it.
“Another body,” Cally said when she realized that he didn’t know what she was talking about. “Another woman beaten and posed.”
“Where?” Tay asked. “Oh my God, not at the Marriott again?”
“No, not in Singapore at all. In Bangkok. In an apartment in Bangkok.”
Tay was frantically trying to refocus his thoughts from his cafeteria-table infatuation with Cally to what she was telling him.
“Bangkok?” he repeated stupidly, struggling to get his mind working again.
Cally nodded. “I don’t know much yet. They called me because I’m the acting security officer for the embassy in Bangkok. The guy there just retired and they haven’t been sent a replacement yet. Until then, I’m it.”
“Are you saying there’s some connection with-”
“I don’t know,” Cally interrupted, glancing at her watch. “The way they’re describing the scene to me, it sounds like the same kind of thing. They’re trying to get me on a two o’clock plane to Bangkok. I’ve got to get going.”
She pushed her chair back so abruptly that the legs squealed over the floor and the few people left in the cafeteria all looked at them to see what was going on.
“Say,” she said, pointing her forefinger at Tay who was still sitting, “you want to go with me?”
“Me? What for?”
“What for? Don’t you think it looks like we may have a serial killer on our hands here?”
“Serial killer? I thought the party line around here was that Elizabeth Munson was the victim of terrorists.”
Cally gave Tay a long look.
“Are you coming or aren’t you?” she asked.
“Look,” Tay said, getting to his feet, “aren’t you rushing this a little? You don’t even know whether there’s any connection.”
“The Thai police got an anonymous call this morning and went to this apartment in Bangkok. The door was unlocked and they walked in and found a woman’s body. She had been beaten and posed in exactly the same way as Mrs. Munson.”
“I guess I still don’t understand. What has the American embassy got to do with this dead woman in Bangkok?”
“When the Thai cops found the body, they called the American embassy immediately. Why wouldn’t they?”
“Why would they?”
“Oh, didn’t I tell you?”
Tay examined Cally’s face for signs that he was about to be the butt of some kind of elaborate joke. He found none.
“Let me guess,” he said. “Another ambassador’s wife?”
“No. It’s worse than that.”
Dear God, Tay thought to himself, what could be worse than finding another ambassador’s wife murdered the way Elizabeth Munson had been murdered?
The answer, of course, occurred to him at exactly the same moment Cally said it.
“This time it’s an ambassador, Sam. The dead woman is Susan Rooney, the American ambassador to Thailand.”
Tay had rehearsed what he was going to say to the OC before he went into his office. He had rehearsed it several times in fact, but he still hadn’t gotten it quite right. Now he was sitting in front of his boss’s desk feeling like a schoolboy who had just screwed up his recitations.
“You want to go to Bangkok?” the OC said after a pause of suitable length to suggest reflection on Tay’s request.
“Aren’t you a little old for that sort of thing, Sam?”
Tay consulted his shoes. They told him to bite his tongue and so he did.
“This can’t be a coincidence, sir,” he said after a moment. “The two murders are almost certainly related.”
“How are they related?”
“That’s why I want to go to Bangkok, sir. To find out.”
“Is it? Is that the reason?”
The OC drummed his fingers on the desk and examined a point somewhere in the air just above Tay’s left ear.
“That’s not why most people would want to go to Bangkok,” he said. “It’s sure as hell not why I’d want to go to Bangkok.”
“Nevertheless, sir, it’s why I want to go.”
“Uh-huh,” the OC said. “It might be at that.”
Tay’s boss stopped drumming his fingers. He bent down and opened a bottom drawer in his desk and propped his feet on it, then apparently thinking better of it, he took his feet off the drawer and closed it again.
“Why don’t we just let the Americans have this one, Sam? First an American ambassador’s wife is murdered here and then an American ambassador is murdered in Thailand. There can’t be much doubt anymore about terrorism being involved and that would give the Americans jurisdiction. I don’t see any reason to argue with them about it.”
“The second murder doesn’t make you wonder, sir? About the terrorism theory, I mean.”
“An American ambassador murdered in Bangkok? Why would that make me wonder?”
“Both victims were women, sir. And both killings had sexual overtones. That doesn’t sound like the kind of thing terrorists usually do and the press is bound to make something out of those overtones whether they have anything to do with the murders or not.”
The OC looked unhappy. “What overtones?”
“Well, sir, you’ll have to admit that the posing of Mrs. Munson’s body was unusual and from what I understand the woman in Bangkok was posed the same way.”
“That could just be a coincidence.”
And you could be the next prime minister of Singapore, Tay thought, but that was not what he said.
“What if the second murder does indicate that a serial killer is out there, Chief? If we just turn our case over to the Americans and don’t run our own investigation, how will that look for us?”
The OC went back to drumming his fingers.
“And, sir, one other thing.” Tay sensed he was almost over the finish line, so he pressed his luck a bit. “Don’t forget that I was personally invited to join the investigation by the State department’s Regional Security Officer in Singapore.”
“And don’t you forget, Sam, you were personally invited to fuck off by the American ambassador to Singapore.”
Tay kept quiet.
“Why can’t you just do that, Sam?”
“Do what, sir?”
“Fuck off like they told you to. Let the bloody Yanks have this whole mess if they want it so much.”
“Are you ordering me to turn this investigation over to the Americans, sir?”
The OC leaned back in his chair and closed his eyes. He exhaled heavily.
“No, of course I’m not, Sam. I’m only asking why in God’s name can’t you just leave this one alone?”
“Elizabeth Munson wasn’t killed by terrorists, Chief. She was executed and battered to a bloody pulp by somebody she knew. And it happened right over there in the Marriott Hotel.”
Tay thrust out his forefinger for effect, then realized he had no idea in what direction the Marriott lay and yanked it back.
“Now there’s another woman in Bangkok who appears to have been murdered in exactly the same way,” he continued. “That’s two women in less than a week in two cities a couple of hours apart.”
“There’s a connection, Chief. There has to be.”
“Of course there’s a connection, Sam. One woman was the wife of the American ambassador to Singapore and the other woman was the American ambassador to Thailand. They almost certainly knew each other and a hell of a lot of people must have known both of them. I imagine they went to the same parties. That kind of thing. What does that prove?”
“I meant some other connection, sir.”
Tay considered briefly telling the boss about his conversation with Lucinda Lim and the story she had told him about Elizabeth Munson’s personal life, but he quickly came to his senses.
The OC chewed on his lip and looked down at his desk.
“I warned you, Sam.”
Tay was momentarily puzzled. “Sir?”
“I warned you that you might be getting in over your head here, that you might not be up to it.”
“I don’t see what that has to do with me going to Bangkok, Chief.”
“You don’t have to go just to prove to me that you are up to it. You could just leave this alone.”
Tay took a deep breath and looked away. He didn’t trust himself to do anything else.
The OC apparently noticed. He sighed long and hard.
“How long would you need?”
“Only a day or two, sir. I just want to look at the crime scene. See where the investigation is going. That’s all.”
“I’m probably going to regret this.”
Knowing now that he had what he wanted, Tay watched the wall and waited patiently.
“Okay, I’ll call somebody over there,” the OC said. “I’ll tell them to expect you.”
He pulled his chair closer to the desk.
“And, Sam,” he said, “try not to get into any trouble, but if you do, at least try not to get caught at it.”
Tay mumbled something unintelligible and left it at that. There was no point in doing anything else. He had very little doubt that he and the OC were thinking about two very different kinds of trouble altogether.
Tay went straight home after that and threw some stuff in a bag. He wasn’t any good at packing since he hadn’t had very much experience at it and at first he couldn’t decide what he ought to take with him. He resolved his quandary by packing whatever pieces of clothing his eyes happened to fall on until his bag was full. The bigger problem was finding his passport. When he eventually located it in a dresser drawer, buried beneath two unopened boxes of handkerchiefs he didn’t know he had, he was vastly relieved to see it hadn’t expired.
Tay managed to get to Changi Airport in time to make a Thai Airways flight that left just after six. The flight took barely two hours. With the one-hour time change between the two cities, by seven-thirty he had cleared immigration in Bangkok and was waiting at the baggage belt for his suitcase. He had thought about calling Bangkok and leaving a message at the American embassy for Cally about when he was arriving, but he didn’t do it. Maybe it was nothing more than his normal instinct not to tell people anymore than he really had to that had stopped him, or maybe it was something else altogether. He wasn’t quite sure.
Regardless, he hadn’t called Cally before he left and there didn’t seem to be any point in doing it now. He would just find a hotel for the night, get up early and check in with the Thai police, and then see what came from that. He might try to call Cally after that or he might not. Well, probably he would.
His bag came more quickly than he expected and he pulled it off the belt and headed off to look for a hotel booking desk. The customs channels were deserted so he walked straight through and emerged into a large, brightly lit lobby. Behind a barrier quite some distance away, he saw a crowd of people apparently there to meet arriving passengers, but right outside the door from customs, leaning casually against a pillar, was Cally Parks.
“What are you doing here?” Tay asked, too incredulous to come up with anything more memorable.
“Waiting for you, of course. Do I seem like the sort of girl who just hangs around airports?”
“How did you know-”
“I’m a trained law enforcement officer, remember?” Cally said. “I am a seeker of truth, a seer of the unseen, a finder of the unfindable.”
“But I didn’t even know which-”
“I called your office about four o’clock to see if you were coming. They said you had just left, so I checked the flight schedules and there was only one flight from Singapore to Bangkok between five and eight. I figured you’d be on it, and…” Cally spread her hands, palms up, “here you are.”
She winked at him. “Not bad for a girl, huh?”
Tay wasn’t sure exactly what to say to that, so he settled for something generic. “It’s really very nice of you to come out to the airport, but I could have just taken a taxi into town.”
“You’re not going into town.”
“Nope. You’re going to Pattaya.”
Cally tilted her head and examined Tay with more care than he would have thought his question merited.
“Are you trying to tell me that you’ve never heard of Pattaya?” she asked.
Tay thought he probably had, but nothing was coming to him right at that moment.
“Do you really expect me to believe,” Cally continued, “that you are the only male in all of Asia, perhaps the only male in the entire known universe, who has never heard of Pattaya, Thailand?”
And then Tay remembered.
Pattaya was a slightly shabby beach resort a couple of hours south of Bangkok that had a reputation for commercial sex and freewheeling debauchery sufficient to overwhelm the limits of most people’s imaginations. Tay had never been to Pattaya. He was no prude, at least he didn’t think he was, but he had heard enough about Pattaya to know that he probably wouldn’t like it very much.
To tell the truth, Tay didn’t like anywhere in Thailand very much. Beneath its veneer of exotic cuisine, extravagant temples, and saintly monks lay the dark heart of a country that lived off very little but sex and greed. No matter how you tried to dress the place up, Tay thought, Thailand would always have the soul of a whore.
Tay shifted his bag from his left hand to his right.
“Why am I going to Pattaya?” he asked.
“Not just you. We’re both going.”
“Then why are we going to Pattaya?”
“Because I want to talk to a man who lives in Pattaya and I want you to hear what he has to say.”
“What does this have to do with your ambassador being murdered?”
“I’m not sure yet. Maybe nothing. Look, Sam, I’ve got a car outside and I’m driving to Pattaya right now. If you don’t want to go, well…”
Cally pointed over Tay’s shoulder. When he glanced back, he saw a sign hanging above a battered counter that read Hotel Book Here. Behind the counter were two local women, both holding clipboards and looking in his direction with what he thought were unreasonably hopeful expressions.
Tay picked up his bag and followed Cally out to her car.
Cally had the dark blue Volvo up to ninety within a minute or two of hitting the expressway to Pattaya.
“Let me know when we’re airborne,” Tay said.
“I’m a great driver. You’ll see.”
The expressway was a four-lane divided highway set in flat and unpromising countryside. In the median strip, yellow vapor lamps on high aluminum poles streaked the heavy night air with sulphurous stripes. Scrawny brush and thin clumps of unidentifiable vegetation were scattered in patches over the sandy ground along both sides of the road.
“Where did you get the car?” Tay asked.
“Embassy motor pool. I went over there after I looked at the crime scene.”
“Was the crime scene here the same as mine in Singapore?”
“Your crime scene?” Cally raised her eyebrows and looked at Tay for longer than he thought the driver of a car going ninety should look at anything other than the road. “Getting a little proprietary on me there, aren’t you, pal?”
Tay said nothing, hoping that would encourage Cally to get her eyes back to where they ought to be.
“There’s a digital camera on the back seat,” she said after the silence had stretched on for a minute or two. “Check it out yourself.”
Tay looked around until he found the camera. After fiddling with it briefly, he located the photographs Cally had taken and began clicking through them.
“Where is this?” he asked.
“It’s an apartment in a small building not far from the American embassy.”
“Was the ambassador shot?” Tay asked without looking up from the photographs flicking by on the camera’s tiny screen.
“Yes. Once. In the left ear.”
“I told them where to look and what to look for. We’ll have to wait for the autopsy to be sure, but…” Cally paused. “Yes, that’s what it looks like.”
“Wrists and ankles. Same as Singapore.”
Tay couldn’t see the photographs all that well on the tiny screen, but he could see them well enough to tell the ambassador’s face had been beaten until it looked like freshly ground hamburger. He couldn’t determine from the photographs whether the beating had been inflicted before or after the woman was dead, of course, but he had seen violence like that only once before in his entire career and it had been the violence inflicted on Elizabeth Munson.
The ambassador’s body also appeared to have been posed in the same degrading manner as Elizabeth Munson’s. The details all looked alike to Tay, right down to the chrome-bodied flashlight protruding from the woman’s vagina.
The same man who had killed Elizabeth Munson had killed this woman in Bangkok. Tay had no real doubt of that. No other explanation made any sense.
“They look the same to me as the photos of your crime scene,” Cally said. “They are, aren’t they?”
Tay shut off the camera and returned it to the back seat.
“Yes,” he said. “I think they are.”
Cally nodded slightly, more to herself than to Tay, but said nothing else.
“An anonymous call?” Tay asked.
“You said the Thai police got an anonymous call about the ambassador. That was how they discovered the body.”
“All they told me was that the caller was a man who spoke English. He gave them the address and said they’d find the body of the American ambassador there. They thought it was just some crazy, until-”
“Was the call taped?”
“Not that I know of.”
“Did they get a caller ID?”
“Look, Sam, this is the Thai police we’re talking about here. They’ve got telephones. That’s about it.”
Cally turned her head and looked over at Tay. “There’s something else you should know,” she said. “We’re going to sit on this for a few days.”
“The FBI has decided not to publicize the murder of Ambassador Rooney yet and State is going along with them. They say that a public announcement now would affect the investigation.”
“That doesn’t make any sense to me.”
“It doesn’t to me either, but it’s not my call.”
Cally slowed the car and pulled up next to the only tollbooth that was open out of a long line of lighted booths that stretched all the way across the highway. The attendant was a fat woman with a face like a wrinkled paper bag and her brown polyester uniform stretched tightly over her heavy arms as she reached out to take the toll from Cally. A light above them changed from red to green and they shot away from the booth and slipped back into darkness.
“Tell me again why we’re going to Pattaya,” Tay said.
“I want to talk to a guy who lives there now. I worked with him at the embassy in Bangkok, but he’s retired. At least he says he is.”
“You used to work here? In Thailand? I didn’t know that.”
“There are a lot of things you don’t know about me, Sam.”
Tay didn’t say anything to that. There were a lot of things, of course. Now that he thought about it, he realized he knew hardly anything about Cally at all.
“The embassy in Bangkok was my first posting. I was Assistant Regional Security Officer here for two years.”
“Is Singapore a promotion?”
“Well…” Cally thought about it. “I’m an RSO now instead of an Assistant RSO. That’s a promotion. But Singapore is a small mission and Bangkok is a big mission. I guess it’s pretty much a break-even deal.”
“Who is this guy we’re going to talk to?”
Cally didn’t answer immediately and Tay wondered why.
“Look,” she finally said after a long silence, “I don’t want to sound coy, but I don’t think I ought to tell you.”
“I don’t understand.”
“No, I don’t expect you do.”
Cally cleared her throat and Tay waited in silence to see what was coming.
“He says he’s retired, but I don’t think he is.” Cally shot Tay a look, but in the darkness of the car he missed her expression. “He was with the Agency when I was in Thailand.”
“Ah,” Tay said. “That Agency.”
“If he wants to tell you who he is, he will. But just in case he’s not really retired, I don’t want to say too much.”
Tay thought about that while he looked out the window at the passing countryside. A huge, newly built apartment building abruptly loomed up out of the night. It rose thirty or forty floors over absolutely nowhere at all and was completely dark, apparently empty and abandoned. Beyond it were yards filled with wrecked cars and huge metal warehouses with signs in Thai script. All of a sudden two old cargo airplanes in fading camouflage paint appeared like a mirage just sitting alongside the road. Scrawny cows grazed silently around the planes.
“Why am I here, Cally?”
She turned her head slowly to Tay as if she was seriously contemplating his question and then, just as slowly, turned it back toward the road.
“Because I want you to be,” she said as if it was the most obvious thing in the world.
“Does this man know I’m coming with you?”
She nodded, but she didn’t say anything.
“And he doesn’t mind?”
Cally gave a little shrug. “He didn’t say one way or the other.”
Suddenly the road was engulfed in a dense grove of palm trees and they crossed a wide, muddy river on a narrow bridge that rattled underneath them. On the opposite bank, a Thai temple was lit stark white against the black sky. It littered like fire from red and yellow glass embedded in its masonry. Then as abruptly as it had appeared the temple was gone and they were driving again through the darkness over hard, featureless scrubland.
“What does your friend have to do with these murders?”
“Nothing, but he knows everything that happens here. Sometimes when I was in Thailand it seemed to me that he knew everything that had ever happened here. And he’ll be honest with me. He’ll tell me the truth or he won’t tell me anything at all.”
Cally glanced over, but Tay didn’t say anything.
“Look, Sam, there’s something about all this that’s not right. I knew it the moment I saw the ambassador’s body. I may be in over my head and I want somebody I trust, somebody I have history with, to tell me whether or not I am. I have to know before I get in any deeper.”
Tay weighed Cally’s words and found something in them he didn’t particularly want to find.
“This man was a friend of yours?”
“Yes. He was.”
Cally let a moment pass before she replied.
“A friend. Just that now. Nothing more.”
Tay nodded. Off in the distance the glow of lights from a town was painting the base of a low layer of clouds with streaks of orange. In at least three separate places lightning danced soundlessly across the night sky.
“I told him we’d meet him at eleven tonight,” Cally said. “It will be late when we’re done so I booked us hotel rooms in Pattaya. I’m just too tired to drive all the way back to Bangkok without getting some sleep first.”
As they drew closer to the lights, the scrub fields began to fill with buildings, most of them no more than one or two stories high and none that looked to Tay to be particularly encouraging. Cally circled a roundabout with some kind of darkened sculpture in its center and turned onto a road that ran along the ocean. On one side of the road the sea was dark and quiet and the narrow beach was empty, but on the opposite side small open-air bars lined the sidewalk. They throbbed with music and pulsed with light.
Tay could see that the customers in the bars were almost all Caucasian men, most middle-aged but some considerably older. Dressed uniformly in shorts and T-shirts, the men sat in ones and twos talking to the girls and playing with the bottles of beer in front of them. There were a great many such men and even more Thai women fluttering around them. The sight made Tay think of seagulls trailing a fishing fleet.
The whole panorama appeared relatively benign, which surprised Tay more than he really wanted to admit. He had always assumed a hard-core place like Pattaya, a town that lived almost entirely off dissipation, would have a slimy, sordid quality to it. But now that he was here, Pattaya didn’t seem to be like that at all. No drunks sprawled in the gutter, no hookers hissed from the shadows, no pimps propositioned passers-by. Whatever was going on, Pattaya seemed to be pretty cheery about it. Tay was sure that wasn’t the truth of the place, but yet that was what he could see. He really didn’t know what to make of it.
“I booked us at the Marriott.” Cally glanced over at Tay and scrutinized his face as the neon lights from the bars rippled across it. “I hope that’s okay.”
Tay didn’t say a word.
Cally was waiting for Tay in a lounge chair by the Marriott’s swimming pool. It was after ten and, except for her, the pool area was dark and deserted.
When Tay saw that Cally had changed into baggy white shorts and a black T-shirt, he felt a little embarrassed to be wearing the same dark gray slacks and long-sleeved blue dress shirt he had worn on the flight in from Singapore. He thought about turning around and going back upstairs to change, but Cally noticed him before he could decide whether to do that so he sat down on the chair next to her and began rolling up his sleeves as if that had been what he intended to do all along.
“Where are we meeting the mystery man?” he asked.
“A place down on Walking Street. It’s called Baby Dolls.”
Tay gave Cally a long look.
“I’m asking the favor, Sam. The least I can do is meet the man wherever he wants me to meet him.”
After that they sat for a while without talking. It was a companionable silence and neither of them seemed to be in any hurry to break it. Off in the distance, Tay could hear faint music on the ocean breeze and the distant sound of voices from somewhere. He tried to decide where the music was coming from and what the voices were saying, but he couldn’t.
“This is the first time I’ve had a meeting like this,” Tay said after a while.
“What kind of meeting is that?”
“One with somebody whose name I’m not allowed to know.”
Cally chuckled and he glanced over, but it was too dark to see the expression on her face.
“You can just call him George,” she said after a moment, “if that will make you feel less awkward.”
“Like George Bush?”
“No,” Cally chuckled again. “Like George Washington.”
Tay could no longer hear the music. The voices were gone, too.
“Why would I call him that?” he asked quietly.
Cally caught something in Tay’s tone and glanced over before she answered. “It’s just a euphemism. The State Department has a lot of euphemisms. That’s what makes us the State Department.”
“What is George Washington a euphemism for?”
Cally hesitated, then smiled. “Oh, I guess it doesn’t really matter if I tell you. It’s hardly a matter of national security.”
“It’s our all-purpose expression for the Agency guys who are posted in an embassy,” Cally said. “I’ll have to check with Mr. Washington. Send it to Mr. Washington. Like that.”
Tay nodded slowly.
“Anyway, it doesn’t really matter,” Cally said, waving the conversation away with one hand. “He may give you a name. He may even give you his real name. He probably will, now that I think about it, but if he doesn’t, call him anything you want to. He won’t care.”
This doesn’t prove anything at all, Tay told himself. It could just be a coincidence.
Who was he trying to kid? A coincidence? What were the chances of that?
Tay now knew where Ramesh Keshar’s spare security card for the Singapore Marriott had been going. It was going to somebody at the American embassy in Singapore who worked for the CIA.
Could the CIA have duplicated the security card and then had access to the Singapore Marriott any time they wanted without showing up on the security tapes? Yes, of course they could. Tay didn’t have the slightest doubt of that.
But that wasn’t really any of his business, was it? What was his business was whether a duplicate security card had anything to do with the murder of Elizabeth Munson. That was another matter altogether and Tay knew full well jumping to any kind of conclusion about that on the basis of as little as he knew right then was foolish.
How could a duplicate security card in the hands of the CIA have anything at all to do with Elizabeth Munson’s murder? It couldn’t, not unless he was ready to believe the CIA had committed the premeditated murder of the wife of the American ambassador, and that for some reason whoever had handled the job had beaten the woman’s face to a pulp in a post-homicidal rage. Tay might not like Americans very much, but there was a limit to the things he was prepared to blame them for.
“What are you thinking about?” Cally asked.
Tay felt like a little boy who had been caught in the bathroom with a copy of Playboy.
“What do you mean?” he asked a bit too quickly.
“You’re fidgeting around on that chair like you’ve come down with hives.”
Should he tell Cally the story about Ramesh Keshar’s arrangements with Mr. Washington? No, at least not yet. Better to hold on to something than hold on to nothing, even if he wasn’t entirely certain what value there was in what he had. He could always give it up later. If he gave it up now, he could never get it back again.
“I’m not fidgeting. I’m fine.”
“Okay, if you say so,” Cally said. “But you are fidgeting.”
Tay didn’t defend himself any further, but he made sure he stayed absolutely still.
A few minutes later Cally glanced at her watch and stood up.
“Ready?” she asked. “It’s not far. Maybe a fifteen-minute walk.You don’t mind walking, do you?”
“No,” Tay shook his head. “That’s fine.”
The stroll was pleasant enough; at least it was at first. They followed a broad walkway bordered with spindly palm trees along the beach side of the main road. A light breeze off the water stirred the sodden air and thinned the brackish clouds of automobile exhaust. After a few hundred yards, the traffic turned to the left and they continued walking straight ahead into a wide street closed off to vehicles and filled curb to curb with pedestrians. The street was lined on both sides with bars, more bars than Tay had ever before seen in one place.
The ocean breezes, now blocked by the buildings, were just a memory, and a sense of languid sleaze filled the still, heavy air. A mix of sour smells hung over the street. Rotting garbage, stale beer, vomit, and sweat. It was a carnival of the lost and misbegotten. There were underage prostitutes on the hustle, over-aged hookers on the stroll, and incorruptible cops on the take. There were bar touts, flower peddlers, cigarette sellers, and vendors of genuine Rolexes for only five dollars. There was everything Tay ever dreamed could exist anywhere, and a lot he had never imagined could exist at all.
By the time they shouldered their way through the crowds to Baby Dolls, Tay’s shirt was soaking wet and sticking to his back and chest. Pattaya, God help it, was even more humid than Singapore. Baby Dolls was a blue two-story building outlined with flashing tubes of white neon. Just in front of the entrance, half a dozen young girls stood beckoning people toward the heavy black curtains covering its doorway. They were all dressed in uniforms prim enough to mark them as high-school students and they looked so young that, for all Tay knew, maybe they were.
He stopped in front of the building and stood with his hands on his hips.
“It’s a go-go bar,” he said to Cally, “What did you think it was going to be, Sam? A public library?”
“You come inside, sir and madam!” one of the girls shouted and made a grab for them. “Happy hour now! No cover charge!”
Tay evaded the girl’s clutches, but Cally let the girl take her hand and lead her to the curtain. Not knowing what else to do, he followed. From inside, unseen hands pulled the curtain open and suddenly they were through it and inside a dimly lit room vibrating with the over-amped base of a disco beat.
“There he is!” Cally shouted into Tay’s ear.
She pointed toward an open balcony so large it amounted to a second floor, but Tay lost track of where Cally was pointing when his eyes found the stage. At least two-dozen good-looking young girls were dancing right there in front of him. They swung from chrome poles, shuffled their feet and tossed their heads, and every one of them was as naked as the day she was born.
Tay’s mouth was just starting to drop open when Cally grabbed his hand and towed him toward a staircase. At the top there was an alcove over the stage with a single round table in it. Sitting alone at the table was a good-looking man wearing khaki trousers and a white shirt. He seemed to be in his mid-forties, which surprised Tay.
“I thought you said he was retired,” Tay screamed into Cally’s ear. “I was expecting an old guy.”
The man pushed himself away from the table and stood up as they climbed the stairs. There was a sense of world-weariness in the way he did it that Tay had to admit seemed to suit him very well.
He was very tall. His face was deeply tanned and he wore round eyeglasses with what looked like steel frames. His dark brown hair was quite long and brushed straight back against his head in such a way that it made him appear a bit old-fashioned.
The man looked like he might have been a university professor on vacation. Tay gathered he probably wasn’t.
Cally reached the table first and the man put his arms around her and kissed her on both cheeks. Tay tried not to evaluate the technical aspects of the hug too closely, but he couldn’t help it, nor could he help the conclusion to which he came when he did. It was not at all the way former colleagues hugged, at least not former colleagues whose relationship had been purely professional.
Then, before Cally could say anything, the man broke off the hug, stepped around her, and offered Tay his hand.
“Welcome to Pattaya,” he said.
Tay noticed as they shook that the spot where they stood was quieter than the rest of the bar for some reason and he could hear the man quite clearly. His voice was warm and resonant.
“Thank you. I’m Samuel Tay.”
“I know. Inspector Samuel Tay. Singapore CID-SIS.”
“I’m John August.”
“Is that your real-” Tay, embarrassed, abruptly stopped talking when he realized what he was about to ask.
John August didn’t seem embarrassed at all.
“Yes, Sam, it’s my real name.” He tilted his head toward Cally.
“Ask the kid here.”
Tay didn’t look directly at Cally although he wanted to. It would have been far too clumsy a thing to do. Still, out of the corner of his eye, he saw her nod.
They sat down and Cally ordered a beer. Tay asked for a whiskey. He figured he was probably going to need it.
Cally and August made small talk for a while about people they had apparently known when they were both at the embassy in Bangkok. Tay didn’t even try to follow them. He did notice August seemed to be paying more attention to him than he was to what Cally was saying. He was being sized up. Tay had no doubt of that. August was looking him over as if he was appraising him for auction and thought his provenance somewhat dubious.
While they were talking some of the girls from the stage came upstairs and mounted the tabletops and they were now dancing very near them. One particularly arresting girl was wearing absolutely nothing but a pair of black leather boots with a card bearing the number 81 pinned to the top of one of them. After a minute or two she jumped up on the table where they were sitting and spun around once to make certain they all got a good look at her. Then she bent backwards with surprising grace, grasped the chrome rail that edged the balcony, and writhed between it and the table in rhythm with the music. The overall effect, Tay thought, was quite remarkable, although perhaps less erotic than gynecological.
After the girl finished her dance, if that was the appropriate expression for the bodily movements which she had been displaying, she straightened up, bent down and gave August’s cheek a little tweak, then jumped to another table and started in again. Tay shot a quick glance at Cally and saw her face was devoid of all expression.
August was trying to goad Cally by bringing them here. Tay had no doubt of that. It was none of his business, of course, but he couldn’t help but be proud of Cally. She was giving August absolutely nothing at all for his trouble.
Cally leaned toward August, but Tay could hear her easily enough.
“What are we doing here?”
“You don’t like it?”
“What are we doing here, John?”
August put both hands flat on the table and tilted his head slightly to one side. He smiled thinly. “It’s my place. I thought you might like to see it.”
“You own this place?” she asked.
It was plain August relished his surprise.
“Everybody needs something to do in his old age, Cally. Some kind of retirement gig.” August raised his hands, palms up, and gestured to the room around him. “This is mine.”
Cally studied August for a moment, looking at him as if he were a safe to which she had forgotten the combination.
“You’re not going to get to me, John.”
“Yes, I am.”
“This won’t do it.”
“Maybe not, but something will. Everybody can be gotten to, darling. Even you.”
Cally watched August for a while, nodding slightly for some reason, but saying nothing.
“Could we go somewhere else?” she finally asked. “What I came to talk to you about is important.”
“There’s a blow job bar up on Soi Post Office just behind the Pizza Hut. It’s pretty quiet. They don’t have any music and nobody talks much for some reason.”
“No thanks,” Cally said. “I don’t much like the idea of drinking next to some German with a hard-on.”
August grinned hugely at that.
“You haven’t changed a bit, have you, kid?” he said.
“Sure I have, John. I’ve changed a whole lot.”
There was an entire conversation going on in front of Tay that made no sense to him at all, although of course he could guess easily enough what it was about. Cally and August had once been lovers. Tay couldn’t tell for how long or why it had ended or who had left whom; nevertheless, he had no doubt it was true, and August was reminding Cally of that in his own way.
Against all logic, Tay felt a frisson of jealousy. It was ridiculous, he told himself, downright stupid. But still, reason aside, there it was.
Soon after that August stood up and led them downstairs and outside without comment. Just across the street from Baby Dolls was a large open-fronted bar with wicker chairs, round tables, no music, and no girls. Tay wondered how it stayed open in a place like Pattaya.
They ordered coffee and August took out a pack of Camels and offered them around. Cally declined, but Tay nodded his head. He had intended to buy a carton of Marlboros at the airport in Singapore, but he was in such a hurry he forgot and then Cally whisked him away in Bangkok before he could buy any there either. Ending up in a place like Pattaya without a couple of boxes of Marlboros in his pocket was a deeply unhappy thing. A Camel was hardly the same, but it was going to have to do.
“I’m surprised,” August said to Tay as he tipped a cigarette out of the pack for him. “You don’t look like a smoker.”
“You can’t always judge people by their appearance,” Tay replied. “For example, you don’t look like a pimp.”
Tay wondered almost immediately why he had said that. Did he think he was standing up for Cally in some way? Or was he just getting sucked into a routine bout of masculine preening, a couple of good old-fashioned rounds of mine-is-bigger-than-yours, cowboy.
August didn’t seem to hear Tay’s remark or, if he did, to register it. He just lit his cigarette with a wooden match and then flipped the box to Tay who lit his. Soon after, the coffee came. It was unexpectedly good, not at all what Tay expected to get on a Pattaya sidewalk.
Cally took only a sip or two and then pushed her cup aside. She leaned toward August, resting her elbows on the table and folding her hands under her chin.
“We need your help, John. You’ve heard about the murder of Susan Rooney, of course.”
August nodded, but he didn’t say anything.
“We’re here because she wasn’t the first.”
August drew on his cigarette. As he exhaled, he took it out of his mouth, turned it around, and inspected the lighted end. What he might have been looking for mystified Tay completely.
“I didn’t know that,” August said after a moment.
“Last Tuesday, Elizabeth Munson, the wife of Arthur Munson who is-”
“I know who Art Munson is,” August interrupted.
“Elizabeth Munson was found at the Singapore Marriott. She was murdered. It looks very much like both women were killed by the same man.”
August glanced briefly at Tay, then looked back at Cally.
“So that’s what he’s doing here,” he said. “I wondered why you were hanging around with a Singapore cop.”
“But you didn’t want to ask why he was here with me because you thought he was my lover, didn’t you?”
August seemed to shrug with his eyebrows, but the rest of his body remained motionless.
And what would be so flipping outlandish about that? Tay wondered to himself.
He didn’t say anything of the sort out loud, of course. He just smoked his Camel quietly and watched as the conversation between Cally and August continued.
“I thought Munson’s wife was a suicide,” August said.
“That was a cover story,” Cally replied. “The police in Singapore put it out when they found the body because they wanted to keep the interest down until they had a firm ID. But it was a homicide. There was never any doubt.”
August glanced at Tay again and Tay didn’t like the expression on his face one bit. It was plain August was expressing a measure of contempt for the suicide story, and maybe it was more or less justified, but it was none of August’s goddamned business regardless. Tay was about to say something along exactly those lines, but Cally started talking again before he could make up his mind exactly what it was going to be.
“That doesn’t matter anymore,” Cally said as if she knew exactly what Tay was thinking. “The problem now is that Munson says they may stick to the suicide story.”
“They’ll never get away with it,” August said.
“Not now they won’t.”
Tay finished his cigarette and ground it out in the glass ashtray in the center of the table. He wanted another one, but he wasn’t about to ask August for it.
“Do you have any idea who you’re looking for yet?” August asked Cally.
“The FBI in Singapore is working on the theory Munson was the victim of terrorists and I’m sure they’ll have the same theory with respect to Rooney.”
“Of course they will,” he said. “These days those dickwads think everything has something to do with terrorism. First they couldn’t find any terrorists and now they can’t find anybody else.”
Cally didn’t react to that, although Tay had the impression August was expecting her to.
“Anyway,” August asked Cally when he got tired of waiting, “what do you think?”
“I think they’re wrong.”
“That’s usually a pretty safe bet when you’re talking about the FBI, isn’t it?”
“Don’t be glib, John. You’re good at it, but after a while it gets really boring.”
August nodded very slowly as if Cally’s remark meant something to him. Tay wondered what it was.
A young girl wearing a shapeless green dress and yellow flipflops brought them fresh cups of coffee without being asked. When she left, August took out his Camels again. Tay gratefully accepted another, although he tried to keep his face expressionless when he did. He hated the thought that August might see how much he wanted it.
“You’re here to ask me if I know anything?” August made the comment sound half question and half statement.
“Okay, so here is your answer. I don’t know anything.”
“Will you at least look at what I’ve got so far and tell me what you think?”
“Sure.” August took a long drag on his cigarette. “How do I get the case files?”
“I brought you the file on Elizabeth Munson. There’s no file yet on Susan Rooney, but I have some crime scene photos for you to look at.”
August nodded slowly several more times, then smoked in silence for a bit.
“When are you going to give them to me?” he asked when he was good and ready.
“You could walk back to the Marriott with us tonight. I have them in my room and I can give them to you now.”
Tay’s first thought was he hoped that was all Cally was going to give August in her room at the Marriott tonight. Then, as quickly as the thought had come to him, he pushed it away. That was absolutely none of his business. What Cally and August did at the Marriott, or any place else for that matter, was completely up to them, wasn’t it?
Yes, absolutely. It was. It was their business entirely.
August seemed to think the possibility over, then tilted his head back and yawned. The yawn looked phony to Tay and he wondered why August had bothered with it. Tay examined the man curiously. He couldn’t decide if he was more than he seemed to be, or less.
“Okay,” August said after he finished his unnecessary yawn.
It seemed to Tay he was trying hard to infuse the word with a measure of reluctance.
“I’ll look at whatever you’ve got tonight.”
“When do you want-”
“We can have breakfast tomorrow and I’ll tell you then what I think.”
“Where?” Cally asked.
“How about Shenanigan’s? It’s just-”
Now it was Cally’s turn to interrupt. “I know where it is. Seven o’clock?”
August gave Cally an amused look.
“You must still be on Singapore time, kid. We stay up late here. We get up late, too. The place doesn’t even open until nine.”
“Nine then. We’ll be there.”
Cally’s use of the plural must have reminded August that Tay was still around because just then he glanced over at him. Tay resisted the impulse to wave. Instead, he smiled as insincerely as he knew how and gave August a big thumbs-up.
“I’m looking forward to it already,” Tay said.
The ringing of Tay’s cell phone pulled him from a deep and dreamless sleep. It was very dark and he couldn’t remember where he was. He sat up and fumbled around until he found the switch for the bedside lamp. When the lamp came on, he blinked and then for a few moments stared in total amazement at the strange room in which he was sleeping.
Then everything about where he was and what he was doing there came back to him in a rush and he picked up his telephone.
“Is this Samuel Tay?”
It was a man’s voice, someone with an American accent.
“Yes,” Tay said. “And by the way, it’s the middle of the goddamned night.”
He looked around for his wristwatch wondering if it really was the middle of the goddamned night. He couldn’t find the watch, but it felt like the middle of the goddamned night so he thought hewas more than justified in making the claim anyway.
“I’m terribly sorry,” the man said with a note in his voice that sounded like genuine contrition. “I must have miscalculated the time change.”
“I’m sorry, Mr. Tay. I really am handling this badly. This is Arthur Rosenthal.”
The name sounded familiar, but Tay couldn’t immediately place it so he said nothing.
“I’m a lawyer,” the man added helpfully. “In New York.”
And then Tay realized who it was.
“I’m sorry to wake you, Mr. Tay,” Rosenthal went on, “but I thought-”
“Don’t worry about it,” Tay interrupted. “I’m glad you called. How is my mother?”
The man didn’t respond right away, and all at once, just like that, Tay knew.
“I’m sorry,” Rosenthal said.
He said something else after that, too, but Tay didn’t register what it was. It didn’t matter anyway. Rosenthal had delivered his message and that, more or less, was that.
Tay’s mother was dead.
That was very much that.
She had died in her sleep, peacefully, the previous night. At least that was what the lawyer named Rosenthal said. He also said that her husband was making the funeral arrangements.
“Why would he do that?” Tay asked.
“I don’t quite understand what you-”
“I’m her son. I can make the funeral arrangements.”
“We just thought that…well, you’re a long way away, and naturally we assumed…”
Rosenthal trailed off into silence, apparently not certain what to say next. Tay could understand that. He didn’t know what to say next either.
Why in God’s name was he starting an argument over who would make his mother’s funeral arrangements? He didn’t have the first idea how to make funeral arrangements in New York, and even if he had he was halfway around the world, it was the middle of the night, and he was over his head in an investigation of the most brutal murder he had ever seen.
“Never mind,” Tay murmured. “Forget it.”
“I said, never mind. Her husband can make the funeral arrangements. That’s fine with me.”
Could they assume then that Tay would be coming to New York for the funeral, the lawyer named Rosenthal asked?
Of course they could assume he would be coming to New York for the funeral. It was his mother, for Christ’s sake. Or maybe he wouldn’t be. Later he couldn’t remember how he had answered Rosenthal’s question. After that there were some other words, too, but later Tay couldn’t remember what they were either. As soon as he could he thanked the lawyer for calling and hung up.
Tay shut off the light, pulled the sheet around his neck, and rolled over with his face to the wall.
Feelings came and went, flickering in and out of his mind like an unreliable signal on a faulty television set. Sadness, abandonment, the loneliness of the forsaken child, regret for time gone by, for things undone and unsaid — and most of all, sorrow for his inability to share or even acknowledge in any real way the pain, perhaps even the humiliation of the way his mother’s life had ended.
Every thought dislodged feelings deep within Tay and they rained down around him like bombs, setting off little explosions of recognition, remembrance, and regret. When he could take it all no longer, he got up to have a cigarette, but then he remembered he didn’t have any. That left him nothing to do but go back to bed where he laid absolutely still, breathing in and out, counting every breath. It took him quite a while to get back to sleep, but eventually, somehow, he did.
Once during what remained of the night he thought he felt himself crying softly, but that had probably just been a dream.
The next morning Tay sat in the lobby for nearly half an hour waiting for Cally to come down. He didn’t even bother looking at his watch when he finally saw her walking toward him. He knew full well what time it was and he had no doubt Cally knew as well.
“I’m sorry, Sam,” she said. “I forgot to leave a call.”
She looked fresh and bright-eyed and was wearing white drawstring pants, a blue striped shirt, and blue sandals. Tay was wearing a clean shirt, but he had on the same trousers and shoes he had worn the day before and he was certain he didn’t look fresh and bright-eyed. He didn’t comment either on the time or on Cally’s small apology.
“How far is this place where we’re having breakfast?” he asked instead.
“Not far,” Cally said. “Just across the street.”
Tay and Cally left the hotel and walked the short distance to Shenanigan’s in silence. Tay was a little surprised when they got there to find it was more of a pub than a restaurant. The floor was black-and-white tile and green-shaded lamps hung from the ceiling in tight rows. A long mahogany bar, scarred from what looked like years of hard use, ran down one side of the big room and tables surrounded by mismatched chairs filled the other. The whole place smelled vaguely of spilled beer and stale cigarettes.
Tay didn’t see August, although there were more people there than he would really have expected given the time of day. Most of them were lounging at tables reading newspapers and eating breakfast, but there were also three middle-aged men at the bar with half-empty beer glasses in front of them. Silent and separate, they sat and stared at a television set tuned to CNN.
A woman wearing a long, black apron and a red vest over a white shirt led Tay and Cally to a quiet alcove. The bench seat along the wall was upholstered in something that was probably supposed to look like green leather, but didn’t. In front of the bench was a beaten-up wooden table, and on the opposite side of it sat a pair of wooden chairs that could have belonged to somebody’s grandmother fallen on hard times.
The girl brought them coffee. It wasn’t very good coffee, Tay found when he tried it, but he had a lousy night and was bad-tempered and sour, so he drank it anyway. He asked the girl for cigarettes and was pleasantly surprised to discover the place had Marlboros behind the bar. When she brought him a pack, he lit one using a book of matches someone had left on the table, and inhaled deeply. He held the rich smoke in his lungs for a moment longer than usual, which he found improved the taste of the coffee considerably.
“I’m going to go the whole hog,” Cally said, barely glancing at the menu. “I’m so hungry I can hardly stand it.”
Tay couldn’t help but think about the various ways she might have worked up such an appetite.
“I’ll have whatever you’re having,” he said closing his menu without much interest, although it occurred to him he probably ought to be hungry, too. The meal on the airplane yesterday evening had been both small and unmemorable and he hadn’t eaten anything since.
They sipped at their coffee while they waited for their food and didn’t say very much to each other. Tay smoked and Cally twisted around in the booth and watched CNN.
“Your friend is late,” Tay eventually observed.
Cally nodded, but didn’t reply.
The food came quickly and when Tay saw the plates piled with scrambled eggs, bacon, sausages, baked beans, fried potatoes, and grilled tomato, he realized how hungry he really was. The waitress also brought a basket of toast and pots of jam, then refilled their coffee cups and silently disappeared.
After a few bites, in spite of everything, Tay began to feel better. He plucked a piece of toast from the basket, slathered it with orange marmalade, and chewed thoughtfully.
“You think he’s going to show up?” Tay asked.
“He’s pretty late if he is.”
“This isn’t Singapore, Sam. Things here run on Thai time. Just relax. It might even do you some good.”
Before Tay could make up his mind what that was supposed to mean and compose a suitably caustic reply, August was standing next to their table. Tay hadn’t seen him come in, but suddenly there he was. Cally slid over on the bench to make room and he sat down next to her. He placed a large, brown envelope on the table and put her digital camera on top of it.
August was wearing a baggy, white linen shirt and a faded pair of jeans. He hadn’t shaved in several days and his hair was casually pushed back. Tay risked a quick glance at Cally, but he couldn’t read anything on her face.
A different waitress, also red-vested and wearing a long, black apron, appeared almost immediately at August’s elbow with a smile on her face so warm and wistful that it caught Tay’s eye.
“How you today, Khun John?”
“I’m good, Noi. Your boyfriend still treating you right?”
“I sad, Khun John. Gunter go Berlin, na kha. He say he come back Noi in two week but he no back. It one month now, Khun John. I so sad, na kha.”
August reached out and rubbed the girl’s forearm with a tenderness that surprised Tay.
“If you want your old job back, Noi, all you have to do is ask. You’re the best dancer who ever worked for me. You know that.”
The waitress didn’t say anything to that, but she shifted her feet and looked down at the floor and for a horrible moment Tay thought she was about to cry.
“Just brown toast and a glass of milk for me,” August said to her.
At that, the waitress looked up and Tay was relieved to see her smile back in place.
“Kha. I get.”
When she was gone, August looked at Tay and lifted his eyebrows.
“I don’t recommend the coffee here,” he said. “I think they brought in a Brit to make lousy coffee just to keep their English breakfast experience authentic. If you want coffee, there’s a Starbucks over on Beach Road.”
“This is fine,” Tay said.
It wasn’t, of course. August was right. The coffee was terrible, but Starbucks was way too American for Tay and he had no intention of taking any advice from August this morning anyway, no matter what it was about.
“Suit yourself,” August shrugged and shifted his eyes to Cally.
“You okay this morning, darling?”
“I’m fine, John.”
August eyed the half-empty plate in front of her. “You’re really packing the food away there, girl. Something give you an appetite?”
“It must be the sea air,” she said.
Tay had had enough of this cutesy crap from both of them, and he was just opening his mouth to tell them that when August moved the camera and opened the brown envelope he had put on the table.
“I went by a friend’s place last night and got him to print the stuff off your digital camera,” he said.
The waitress came back just then and August held the envelope in both hands and waited until she set out his milk and toast. When she was gone, he removed a stack of photographs from the envelope, split them into two stacks, and laid them on the table.
“These are the photographs from the Munson crime scene you gave me last night, and these are the ones from the Rooney scene I printed off your camera.” He spoke to Cally and ignored Tay. “Take another look at them.”
Cally pulled the photographs toward her, but Tay was thinking about what August had just said. If August had carried the camera somewhere last night and made these prints, then that must mean after getting the camera from Cally he left-
“You saw something in the photographs,” Cally said, interrupting Tay’s reverie, “didn’t you, John?”
Cally looked through the stack of photographs very slowly while she forked the rest of her eggs into her mouth with her free hand. As she finished with each photo, she lifted it off the stack and handed it across the table to Tay.
The first photograph was a close-up of Ambassador Rooney’s face, or more precisely where Ambassador Rooney’s face would have been had it not been beaten into a mash of tissue and bone. Tay tasted his breakfast rising in his throat and quickly looked away. Cally continued eating while she methodically worked her way through the photographs and passed them to Tay. He pretended to look at each of them and found that if he kept his eyes just on the upper edge of the prints he could appear to be studying them without actually looking at them.
“I don’t see it, John,” Cally said when she had finished going through the photographs. “Do you think the two crime scenes are different for some reason?”
“Not really,” August said, “They’re almost identical.”
“Almost. Look at the flashlight in your photos.”
Cally pushed her plate away and held out her hand to Tay. He gratefully passed the whole stack of photos back to her and she rifled through them quickly until she found the one she wanted. Then she dealt it out on the table like a blackjack dealer hitting a soft sixteen. Tay steeled himself and took a quick look.
“Now look at the flashlight in the Singapore photos,” August said.
Before Cally could locate the photograph August was talking about, Tay had worked it out. He had no need to refer to the photographs taken in the Singapore Marriott. The images were seared into his memory forever.
“The flashlight in Singapore was inserted with the lens pointing inward,” Tay said. “In Bangkok it was inserted with the lens pointing outward.”
August glanced at Tay. “Very good, Sam. That’s it exactly.”
By then Cally had located the photograph of the flashlight protruding from Elizabeth Munson. She held it side by side with a similar photograph of Ambassador Rooney.
“You’re right, John,” she said, “you’re absolutely right. But what does it mean?”
“Fucked if I know,” August said as he leaned back in the booth. “You asked me if I saw any differences in the crime scenes and that’s a difference. But that’s all I can tell you. I’m not clairvoyant.”
Cally continued looking at the pictures for a few moments and then stacked them together with a little shrug and offered them to Tay. He shook his head and she put them down on the table.
“Do you think the same man killed both women, John?”
“That’s the way it looks.”
“And you don’t think these murders were acts of terrorism, do you?”
“Why not? They could have been.”
“I doubt it. Our local heroes around here are mostly simple souls. They’ve never gone in for anything but bombings and, even then, most of the major players are pretty much off the board these days anyway. Take Jemaah Islamiyah, the bunch that tried to truck-bomb the embassies in Singapore a few years ago. We grabbed Hambali upcountry in Thailand and they pretty much went into the toilet. Even Abu Bakar Bashir is trying to put some distance between himself and them these days. They’re not really much of a factor anymore.”
August lifted his glass and finished his milk, then wiped his lips with a napkin with a gesture that Tay found unexpectedly prim.
“Then you’ve got the rest of your usual suspects. The Islamic Defenders, the Moro Liberation Front, and the delightfully named Bearers of the Sword. In my opinion, none of them could mount a competent attack on a vending machine these days.”
“Then you’re saying that we shouldn’t be looking at terrorism as a motive here since terrorism is dead in Southeast Asia?” Cally asked. “Is that it?”
“Not dead by a long shot, darling. It’s just sleeping. One of these days we’ll see fresh teams on the field and there’ll be fresh kills all over the ground. You can bet the farm on it.”
Cally reached out and tapped the photographs with her forefinger. “Like these women maybe?”
“Maybe,” he said, “but I don’t think so.”
August looked away from Cally and studied a spot in the air for a while. When he was done studying it, he started talking again.
“Both of these killings were meticulously planned and carefully executed. There’s generally nothing either meticulous or careful about the kind of people who gravitate to the radical Islamic groups around here. They go in for blowing up trucks filled with fertilizer, not stalking and murdering individual women.” He gestured toward the photographs. “To tell you the truth, I don’t think they have the stomach for that kind of thing.”
They all sat in silence for a while after that. Tay thought about lighting a Marlboro, but with all those pictures lying on the table it didn’t seem right somehow so he settled for a few sips of cold coffee. Eventually, August leaned forward, resting his forearms on the table and looked at Tay.
“You haven’t found Mrs. Munson on the Marriott security tapes, have you?”
“No,” Tay shook his head. “How did you know that?”
August’s face moved in a way that might or might not have been a smile, but he ignored Tay’s question.
“You’re not going to find her.”
“Why do you say that?”
“Whoever did these two women was a professional. He was knowledgeable, well connected, and wouldn’t make mistakes. He won’t be on those tapes and she won’t either.”
“Are you telling me these women were murdered by a hired killer?” Tay asked.
“No, probably not.”
August picked up a crust of toast, examined it for a moment, and then, apparently unimpressed, returned it to his plate.
“The beatings, the posing of the bodies, the flashlights, they all speak of a sense of rage. That’s not a hired killer.”
“Then I guess I don’t understand,” Tay said. “What are you saying?”
“Your killer is a professional, but not a hired one. He’s somebody who understands killing and crime scenes. You really want my guess here?”
Tay nodded and then immediately wished he hadn’t.
“You’re looking for somebody with either a military or a law enforcement background.”
August stared at Tay with such intensity that Tay broke eye contact and looked away in spite of himself.
“My guess is law enforcement,” August finished. “I think you’re looking for a cop.”
The waitress came back just then and saved Tay from having to respond, which was his good fortune since he didn’t have the slightest idea what to say and almost certainly would have ended up saying something he would later regret.
“One more milk, Khun John?” she asked. “Milk make you strong, yes? Give power, na kha.”
From the waitress’s smile and her manner toward August, it appeared now that Gunter was more than welcome to stay in Berlin pretty much as long as he liked.
“Mai krap,” August said to the girl. “Drink much milk, still have no power.”
Noi laughed and August joined in. Then he stood up, pulled a roll of bills out of his pocket, peeled off a few, and pushed them into her hand.
“Khop khun mak krap,” he said, bending down and kissing her on one cheek.
Noi brought the palms of her hands together in front of her face in the graceful gesture Thais call a wai. “You have good heart, I think, Khun John.”
Tay wasn’t sure exactly what that meant, but it sounded like an excellent thing to have and he really did hope Noi was right about that.
“Come on, kids,” August said to Tay and Cally. “Let’s take a little walk.”
Tay didn’t see why they needed to do that, but Cally pushed the files and pictures back into the envelope, picked up the camera, and slid out of the booth. She stood up, so Tay did, too. They followed August out of Shenanigan’s and a short distance up the main road where he crossed over and headed down a narrow lane lined with bars. They were all closed now and looked tired and squalid in the bright morning sun. Tay could see the ocean a hundred yards straight ahead and he wondered if they were going somewhere in particular or if August had just gotten a sudden urge to work on his suntan.
Cally must have been wondering the same thing.
“Where are we going, John?” she asked.
“I’d rather finish this conversation outdoors, darling. If it’s all the same to you.”
Tay almost asked why, but Cally just nodded as if that actually made good sense, so he didn’t. Instead, he trailed along silently while he thought back to his first meeting with Susan Hoi, the one when she told him what she had found in her autopsy of Elizabeth Munson.
There were marks on her wrists and ankles consistent with restraints, Dr. Hoi had said. At first I thought that might suggest sadomasochistic sexual activity. On the other hand, her killer may have snapped the handcuffs around both her wrists and ankles for the purpose of killing her.
Handcuffs? Tay had asked.
Yes. My guess is they were the plastic disposal kind.
Like the cuffs police keep in their cars?
Yes, Dr. Hoi had said again and, as he remembered it now, without the slightest hesitation. Quite similar, or even possibly identical to those.
Tay and Cally followed August across Beach Road and out onto a narrow strip of gray-brown mud that people in Pattaya apparently thought was a beach. An elderly woman in a worn blue sarong hovered protectively over several lines of green-and-yellow beach chairs standing in perfect ranks underneath a stand of palm trees. The roll of bills reappeared in August’s hand and he passed several to the old woman. She waied him deeply, bending at her thick waist as well as she could, and then melted away into the trees.
August selected a chair and sat down. Cally took the one to his left and Tay the one to his right. Almost immediately, August slipped out of his loafers, peeled off his socks and shoved them inside his shoes, then reached back and pushed them underneath the chair. He stretched his long legs and wiggled his feet into the sand. When he had them exactly the way he wanted, he leaned back in the chair, knitted his fingers together behind his head, and closed his eyes.
Tay looked across at Cally. She appeared to be studying the ocean and didn’t look as if she were going to break the silence. Tay was on the verge of saying something himself just to get the conversation back on track again when August, his eyes still closed, spoke up.
“You don’t like me, do you, Sam?”
Tay’s first instinct, of course, was to lie politely. Then he considered the possibility of retreating into euphemism. Neither choice was particularly appealing to him and that didn’t leave any alternative he could think of offhand, except of course the truth.
“No,” he said. “Not really.”
“You got any idea why?”
That seemed a strange thing for August to ask and Tay didn’t quite know how to respond. As it turned out, it wasn’t really necessary for him to respond since August seemed quite happy to continue the conversation without his involvement.
“Because, if you don’t, I can tell you. You think that Cally and I-”
“Now boys,” Cally interrupted, “don’t be that way.”
Tay shifted his eyes to her. She looked like a lonely sea captain’s wife searching the far horizon for her husband’s ship to return. He glanced back at August, but August’s eyes were still closed.
It seemed unfair to Tay that he was apparently the only person taking an active interest in the conversation so he leaned back, folded his arms, and began counting the palm trees. He had gotten up to nine when Cally abruptly grabbed her chair with both hands and turned it until she was facing both of them. Then she leaned forward and rested her forearms on her knees.
“If you two boys want to have it out, why don’t you both just unzip and do it. I mean, just go on ahead and whip them out. I’m sure I must have some kind of measuring device in my purse and we ought to be able to settle this once and for all right here and right now.”
She looked from one man to the other.
August kept his eyes closed. Tay kept counting trees.
“Come on guys. Who’s going first?”
When the silence continued, Cally came out with a snort so resonant that Tay wouldn’t have thought she had in her.
“A couple of real pussies, aren’t you? Well, if neither of you have the balls to step up to the plate, let me suggest an alternative. Just shut the fuck up about me and let’s get back to what really matters here.”
August cleared his throat, but he didn’t say anything. Tay had long since run out of trees to count, but he didn’t say anything either.
“Tell us what you know, John,” Cally went on. “You’ve got something, I don’t have the slightest doubt about that, but I’m not going to beg for it. I want you to tell us because telling us is the right thing to do. If you don’t, and more women die, it will be on your head.”
“This has nothing to do with me,” August said.
August hadn’t spoken in so long that the unexpected sound of his voice startled Tay.
“I can make it have something to do with you, John. You know I can, but it really doesn’t have to be that way.”
August suddenly opened his eyes and pitched forward, his face close to Cally’s.
“Don’t threaten me, darling.”
“Oh, John,” Cally waved a hand dismissively. “Skip the melodramatic horseshit. I’m way too old for that these days.”
Tay could see August’s jaw working, then abruptly his face relaxed into something that must have been a smile. Just as suddenly as he had leaned forward, he leaned back again and roared with laughter.
“Damn, girl. You’ve turned into a real pistol, haven’t you?”
“You don’t know the half of it, John. You really don’t.”
August lifted his hands above his head. “Okay. Enough. I give up.”
“Good,” Cally said. “Now what have you got that I can use?”
The breeze had moved around while they were sitting there and now it was coming off the ocean. It smelled of brine and fish and made Tay think about places he had never been and probably would never go.
“Your lady ambassador was gay,” August said.
Tay suddenly stopped thinking about the breeze and sat up a bit.
“Are you sure?” Cally asked. “I’ve never heard anything like that.”
“Of course you’ve never heard anything like that,” August said, and then he closed his eyes again. “If the ambassador had been a man, the rumor mill would have had him cruising schoolyards years ago. But you’re all so fucking careful now that nobody wants to be the one to hang an ugly rumor like that on a woman, even if they’d collar a man with the same story before breakfast.”
“What’s ugly about it, John? Are you saying there’s something wrong with being gay?”
August rolled his head until he was facing Cally and opened his eyes.
“Not unless you want to get to the top of the State Department or the CIA or even the FBI. No, nothing at all, little girl. Some of my best friends are…” August chuckled instead of finishing his sentence.
There didn’t seem to be a great deal of humor in the chuckle, at least not that Tay could hear, but maybe that was because he was listening to something else now, something he was remembering from a few days before.
There were rumors that Elizabeth Munson was having an affair with a woman and that she was going to leave her husband, Lucinda Lim had told him.
Elizabeth Munson was gay? he had asked her.
Gay? Samuel Tay, I told you nothing of the sort. I said there were stories that she was having an affair with a woman. A lot of women have affairs with other women at various points in their lives. It doesn’t mean they’re gay.
Tay looked at Cally and at August, but they seemed to have forgotten he was there.
“What’s any of that got to do with Susan Rooney’s murder, John? Are you saying it was some kind of hate crime because she may have been gay?”
“Not may have been. She was. Gay, dyke, lesbo, kiki, carpet muncher. Take your pick.”
“You’re disgusting, John.”
“Look, darling, you asked me to give you something and I did. You don’t like it? Give it back. Makes no difference to me.” August closed his eyes again. “Anyway I’m retired. Remember?”
“Yeah,” Cally snorted. “Right.”
“I really am, darling. You should believe that. Still…” August paused and wiggled his bare feet in the sand. “If things get a little too hairy for you, send up a flare and Uncle John will come running to save your beautiful butt just like he always has. You hear me, girl?”
Cally stared at August in silence for what must have been a minute or more, which Tay thought was quite a long time to stare at somebody without saying anything. Then she did say something.
“I don’t need you for that anymore, John.”
Cally took a deep breath and exhaled heavily. Then without another word she stood up and walked away. When she reached the sidewalk along Beach Road, she stomped the sand off her feet, turned left, and kept walking. Not knowing what else to do, Tay stood up and followed.
The breeze was freshening and the light had turned gray and murky. A thick bank of clouds had formed off in the distance and just as the sun slid behind it the wind rose from the south and the palm trees began to bend and whip against each other with a sound that reminded Tay of something, although he couldn’t remember what it was.
But it was going to rain. That much, at least, he knew for sure.
It didn’t rain. Instead the breeze vanished and a dense, soggy haze settled over Pattaya, a cloud of ripened moisture and carbon monoxide that glowed with a filmy yellow light for reasons Tay didn’t even want to think about.
They left around noon. The traffic was light and Cally quickly found her way back to the motorway and turned toward Bangkok. Tay noticed that she was driving far more sedately than she had on the trip down. Imminent levitation of the Volvo no longer appeared likely. Cally didn’t talk much and Tay gathered she was probably still thinking about August, although exactly what she was thinking about August was another question altogether.
It didn’t matter really. Cally’s silence suited him just fine since he had enough of his own thoughts to deal with. Half a world away his mother was about to be put in a hole in the ground and here he was riding around Thailand in a fucking Volvo as if he didn’t have a care in the world. It didn’t seem right. It just didn’t. If he had only tried harder to get in touch with Rosenthal before his mother died then perhaps…well, no, he didn’t have the slightest idea what might have happened. In the rational part of his mind he understood that, but still the question stayed with him and he couldn’t banish it no matter how hard he tried.
Was it possible that he could have at least talked to his mother one more time? Maybe, but what would he have said if he had? What could he possibly have said that might have brought comfort to her in the last hours of her life? He had no idea at all.
There was an even more pressing question right at the moment, of course. Was he going to drop everything and fly to New York for his mother’s funeral? At least Tay thought he had the right answer to that one. No, he wasn’t. What difference would it make to anyone anyway? Certainly, it would make none at all to his mother. He would just be undertaking a journey halfway around the world as an empty gesture, a gesture that would accomplish nothing for anyone.
Worse, going to New York now would take him away from something that did have meaning. Two women were dead. There might soon be more. It was his job to make sure that did not happen. Not just his job, his moral responsibility. That was what he did. That was who he was.
Tay watched the Volvo’s hood slicing into the smog like the prow of an ocean liner cutting through a dingy sea. He was amazed how hard the death of his mother had hit him and he examined the emotion with caution. Was it grief? He wasn’t sure. He wasn’t certain he knew what grief felt like.
Even if it was grief, was it grief for the loss of his mother, he wondered, or was it really just another manifestation of his own endless self-absorption? Perhaps that was all it really was, just more grief for the unrelenting emptiness of his own life. No brothers or sisters, no wife, his father long dead, and now his mother gone, too. He was alone. If he had ever doubted that before, he could doubt it no longer. He was alone and, worse, he was now at the head of the line to leave this earth. He would be next.
Just past Chonburi, still some thirty miles from Bangkok, they finally broke out of the grimy haze. In the hard white light of the swampy coastal plain, the city lay before them like a spread-eagled tart on a rumpled bedspread. A few pockets of commercial decay and residential rot were the only breaks in the monotony of the drab land through which they ran. With an intense and colorless sun remorselessly pounding the countryside, it looked as bleak as any place Tay had ever seen.
He tilted his head back and closed his eyes against the glare. Within minutes he was asleep and his mind was poking through tunnels of memory too subterranean for him to have had any conscious awareness they even existed. When he woke a short time later, he did so abruptly and without any sense that he had ever been asleep.
“I want to see where the body was found,” he said to Cally as he sat up in his seat.
Cally turned her head slightly and looked at him out of the corner of her eye. A yellow-and-white bus blew past them in the inside lane. The driver leaned on his air horns and Cally shifted her attention back to the road.
“You really know how to sweet-talk a girl, don’t you, Sam?” she said, smiling faintly.
“What?” Tay asked.
He was fully awake now.
“I said that you really know how to sweet-talk a girl.”
“What do you mean? Did I just say something to you?”
Cally glanced over at Tay and realized that he was completely serious. “You said you wanted to see where the body was found. I presume you meant Ambassador Rooney’s body.”
Tay didn’t remember saying anything of the sort but, regardless, it sounded like a good idea to him.
“How long will it take to get there?”
“An hour or so,” Cally said. “Depends on the traffic. Maybe a little longer.”
Tay didn’t ask where they were going or what sort of place it was. He would find out soon enough.
“Fine,” he said.
Then he tilted his head back against the seat and closed his eyes again.
IT was not at all what he expected.
When he saw the building the first word that came to mind was squalid, but perhaps that was a little harsh. The structure was five stories high, red tile with grimy concrete trim around the windows that was cracked and pitted from the accumulated moisture. It sat on a narrow road directly across from a doubtful-looking grocery store and a tattoo parlor. An asphalt parking lot covered the whole of the ground level except for a small windowless room built of concrete blocks that had apparently once been painted white or something close to it. The blockhouse appeared to function as a lobby for what Tay assumed were apartments above it.
Cally drove all the way through the parking lot without stopping and parked behind the building. They got out and Cally locked the Volvo.
“Where are we?” Tay asked.
“Pretty much the middle of Bangkok.” Cally pointed off to the south. “The American embassy is about a mile over there.”
“These are apartments?” Tay asked, looking up at the building.
“Yes. Mostly for locals.”
Cally looked up at the building. “Not likely.”
“What about the apartment the ambassador was found in? Who lived there?”
Tay noticed a look cross Cally’s face before she could chase it away. He didn’t understand what it meant so he said nothing.
“I don’t know yet,” Cally said. “It’s a company rental. Somebody at the embassy is working on finding out who’s behind it.”
Tay nodded at that. He didn’t believe Cally, but he let it go for now and continued studying the building.
“What was happening when you got here yesterday?” he asked.
“There were a lot of Thai cops standing around with some people from the embassy. They had asked the Thai police to leave the scene intact until I got here so nobody was doing much of anything except waiting for me. I went upstairs and…” Cally shrugged. “You saw the photographs I took. That pretty much covers it.”
“Then the Thai police had finished processing the scene before you got here?”
“Look, Sam, things don’t work the same way here they do in Singapore. Things aren’t quite as …” Cally paused, searching for a word, “exacting.”
“Did the Thais do any forensics at all?”
“They went through the motions, but … not really.”
“Did your embassy people do any?”
“We’re not equipped for it.”
“So what you’re saying is that you don’t have anything at all from the scene that you can use.”
“Nothing at all.”
Cally kicked at the ground without looking at Tay.
“So,” she said. “You want to go in now or just stand out here for the rest of the afternoon?”
Tay reached for his Marlboros, but before he could either answer Cally or light one up Cally opened a metal door in the blockhouse and disappeared through it. Tay put the Marlboros away with a small sigh and followed.
The space inside was quite a bit larger than he expected. There was actually a small apartment sandwiched between the elevator and the alleyway, or at least he gathered it was probably an apartment since the number 1 was painted on the wooden door in black. Cally knocked while Tay stood just behind her. She had to knock a second time before anyone opened the door and by then she had taken her State Department identification out of her purse and was holding it open directly in front of her.
“Dichan yak ja doo apartment eek tee na kha,” she said to the old man who opened the door. He had a face like a fish, big ears, and a bad haircut. Dressed in a dirty, white undershirt and gray shorts, he looked so thin he was nearly cadaverous. A half-burned cigarette hung from his lower lip.
“Haam kao na krap,” the man mumbled.
Tay watched in fascination as the cigarette jerked up and down with every word.
“Kao pai dai kha,” Cally went on in a firm voice that seemed to Tay to brook no nonsense. “Ma jag sa tarn tood.”
The old man appeared unimpressed.
“Mai dai krap!” he barked, his voice rising to a high-pitched squeak. “Pom pen khon doo ti ni na krap!”
Cally said something else Tay couldn’t hear and the man mumbled his reply, which he couldn’t hear either. Tay didn’t understand a word of Thai anyway so he would have had no idea what they were talking about even if he had heard them clearly. When Cally reached into her purse and handed the man a couple of red banknotes, however, Tay got the gist of the conversation.
The old man held the bills in his open palm for a moment, staring down at them as if he wasn’t entirely certain what they were. Eventually he shrugged, pushed the bills into one pocket of his shorts, and pulled a handful of loose keys from the other pocket. He sorted through them for a moment and then handed one to Cally.
“Khop khun kha,” she said to the man, but he had already turned away. He slammed the door without answering.
“I didn’t know you could speak Thai,” Tay said to Cally.
“A few words.”
“Sounded like more than a few to me.”
Cally shrugged and pushed the button for the elevator.
The apartment was nothing but a single room on the third floor facing the back of the building. It probably had never been much to look at. It certainly wasn’t now.
“My God,” Tay said. “What was an American ambassador doing in a place like this?”
When Cally didn’t answer, Tay glanced over at her and she shrugged again. That was rapidly becoming the gesture of the day, he noticed.
A brown sofa bed was just opposite the door. It was half open and its cushions had been pulled off and dumped haphazardly on the floor. A motley assortment of beaten up chairs and tables had been pushed over to the same side of the room. The carpet was green and thin. It had been partially peeled up and lay rolled back against the front of the sofa bed, leaving the grimy concrete floor underneath it exposed. The windows on the right side of the room were covered with a set of dirty, crooked blinds and a snarl of cords trailed onto the floor. On the left, a door led to what Tay assumed was a bathroom. He was afraid to look in there.
“The body was on the sofa bed?” Tay made half a question out of the phrase, but he had seen the pictures Cally took of the crime scene and he already knew it was.
“But it was open when you took the pictures, wasn’t it?”
“Yes. It was.”
“The bed was stripped?”
“Yes. Just like in Singapore.”
“No clothes? No jewelry?”
“So the killer cleaned up after himself again.”
“That’s the way it looks.”
“Did the killer do this?” Tay asked, waving a hand at the destruction in the room.
Cally hesitated. It was for only a moment, but it was long enough for Tay to notice and shift his eyes to her.
“No,” she said when she realized he was looking at her. “The room wasn’t like this when I was here.”
“Then how was it?”
Cally took a couple of steps forward and folded her arms.
“The sofa bed was pretty much where it is now, but it was open and the ambassador’s body was on it, of course. The chairs and tables were…”
She unfolded her arms as if she was about to point out where they were, but she didn’t.
“Oh, I don’t know. It just looked like a normal room.”
“Except for the dead body in it, of course,” Tay said.
“Yes, except for that.”
Tay nodded, but he didn’t say anything else. He thought Cally might, so he waited. She didn’t. When he got tired of waiting, he took a deep breath and walked over and opened the door opposite the windows. Sure enough it led to a tiny bathroom which was very dirty but otherwise entirely unremarkable.
He closed the door again and went to the windows. Pushing the blinds aside he looked out and saw they were right above where Cally had parked the Volvo. Tired-looking air conditioning units and flapping laundry crowded the balconies of another building opposite the windows and unidentifiable trash was piled up down in the alleyway. Other than that, there wasn’t much to see.
Tay let the blinds drop.
“What’s going on here?” he asked. “Somebody was looking for something. What was it?”
“I don’t know,” she said.
Tay thought Cally probably did know, but he also thought that this wasn’t the right time to argue the point. Instead, he stood quietly waiting to see if more silence might finally draw something out of her. It didn’t.
Maybe he was wrong, he mused. Maybe the neighbors looted the place after the police left. That would hardly have been surprising in Thailand. On the other hand, maybe someone had come back and trashed the scene to make it harder for them to make any sense out of it. The more Tay thought about it, the less sure he was of anything.
“Then I guess we’re done here,” he said.
Cally nodded and they left. She shut the door behind them. Tay noticed she didn’t bother to lock it.
Downstairs Cally started toward the car, but Tay put a hand on her arm.
“Let’s walk around a little before we leave,” he said.
“I don’t know, but we’re here. Why not?”
There were only three cars in the parking lot. A nondescript gray Toyota, a blue pickup truck of some make Tay didn’t recognize, and a new-looking black Mercedes. Tay shook out a Marlboro as they walked across the lot to the street. When they stopped just opposite the grocery store, he lit it, and then he turned around and looked up at the front of the apartment building. Tay had no idea what he was looking for, none at all; but he stood quietly and smoked and looked the building over with as much care as if he did. The truth, he supposed, was that he just wasn’t ready yet to leave.
There was a taste to the air in Bangkok that was foreign to him. He had noticed it from the moment they left the air-conditioned cocoon of the Volvo, but he hadn’t yet been able to put a name to it. Now it dawned on him what it was and it was a flavor he wanted to savor.
The air in Singapore was different. It was dank and humid, too, but it was scrawny and homogenized. The air in Bangkok was a thick, rich stew of potential, prospect, and promise laced with a whiff of the illicit and a hint of the forbidden. It seemed to contain everything that he had ever imagined all at once: all the things that he had ever been curious about, all of the things he had been warned about, all of the things that he had been told would lead him to ruin. It tasted, Tay thought, exactly as the apple in the Garden of Eden must have tasted to Eve.
The voice was high-pitched, the squeal of a teen-aged schoolgirl.
Tay looked over his shoulder and was startled to see a middle-aged man hurrying toward them. The man was slim and neatly dressed, his light brown hair cut close to his head in a style that looked military, and his eyes so blue that they made Tay think of a David Hockney painting.
“What are you doing, girl? And what in the world are you doing in this neighborhood?”
“I could ask you the same thing, Jack,” Cally said to the man with a small smile, “but I’m not really sure I want to know.”
“Just doing my shopping, girl. A boy’s got to eat.”
The man lifted up the white plastic bag he was carrying in his left hand and wiggled it. Tay could see what looked liked a bunch of carrots and a head of lettuce bouncing around at the top.
“This store is a real dump,” he said as he put his free arm around Cally and gave her a hug, “but it’s on my way home and I’m just too darned lazy to go anywhere else.”
“Sam,” she said when the hug ended, “this is Jack Tanner. He works in the embassy.”
Tay offered his hand and received a rather limp and moist one in return. He studied Tanner as they shook. Since Tanner had found them standing in front of the building where Ambassador Rooney’s body had been discovered the day before and made no reference at all to it, either the murder wasn’t common knowledge yet or Tanner was being very discreet.
“Sam is over from Singapore with me for a couple of days,” Cally said to Tanner, but that was all she said.
“So…” Tanner said, giving Sam a thorough looking over. “This is the new boyfriend, huh?”
Sam could have sworn Cally blushed faintly.
“No, Jack, nothing like that. We’re here on business.”
“Yeah,” Tanner said. “Sure.”
Then he winked. Winked. Tay didn’t know people actually did that anymore.
“Monkey business maybe,” he said. “Anything to get away from Singabore, huh?”
“Get out of here, Jack.” Cally waved one hand at Tanner and with her other gave Tay a nudge toward the Volvo. “Not everyone has your appetites.”
“Oh, girl! You’d be surprised how many people do. I’ll bet you really would.”
Cally waved again. “So long, Jack.”
“Now don’t be a stranger, girl!” Tanner waved back. “And you either, Sam. Drop by the embassy anytime and say hello. You hear?”
Tay and Cally circled the building in silence and got into the Volvo.
“You seem to have friends everywhere,” Tay said.
“I have acquaintances everywhere,” Cally said. “When you work for the State Department it goes with the territory. Whether it’s a blessing or a curse I haven’t yet decided.”
“Do you figure this guy knows what happened here yesterday?”
“Yes, of course, he knows.”
“Then why didn’t he mention it? Was he just being discreet in front of me?”
Cally shrugged as she started the engine.
Well, Tay thought, so they were back to that again.
“Anywhere else you want to go?” Cally asked.
Tay looked around. From where they sat he could see nothing but an unbroken vista of decaying buildings and mounds of trash. The alleyway looked as though a pack of wild animals, crazed with hunger, had dragged all the garbage in the neighborhood there and scattered it around in a desperate hunt for scraps of food. It also looked like nobody cared.
He had never really thought much before about how green and luxuriant Singapore was. The rows of trees lining wide, clean streets; the banks of carefully tended flowers; the landscaped and tightly mowed vacant lots. He had almost forgotten that every city didn’t look more or less the same. Bangkok certainly didn’t look the same. It was dirty and ugly.
Tay shook his head and glanced at his watch.
“No, I’ve had enough. I want to take a shower. I want to change clothes. I want a drink. Any suggestions on finding a hotel before it gets any later?”
Cally hesitated. “I’m staying at the Marriott.”
“What is it with you people and Marriotts?”
“A lot of government people stay in Marriotts. Why shouldn’t we?”
“Why should you?”
“They give us a good rate.”
Tay nodded, but he didn’t say anything.
“The Bangkok Marriott is a really classy place,” Cally prompted. “You’d probably like it a lot.”
Tay was pretty certain there was a compliment in there, but he was too tired to tease it out.
“Then take me to the Marriott, driver,” Tay said, leaning back in the seat. “I place myself entirely in your hands.”
A few days before, Tay would have cheerfully bet his life he would never spend a single night in any Marriott hotel anywhere, ever. Now he was about to spend his second in two days.
Wasn’t it extraordinary what a mess of a man’s principles the intrusion of a beautiful woman could make?
The Bangkok Marriott looked like an ocean liner unaccountably run aground on lower Sukhumvit Road. The lobby was lush and romantic with art deco furnishings and melodramatic lighting. Just walking across it made Tay feel like Fred Astaire in Flying Down to Rio. Cally was probably too young to have ever heard of Fred Astaire, of course, so Tay kept the idea to himself.
There was room at the inn and the front office manager even offered Tay the same government rate that Cally was getting. To tell the truth, Tay liked the look of the place so much that he would have stayed regardless of what they wanted to charge him.
They checked in and headed for the lifts.
“I think I’ll hit the gym,” Cally said. “You want to go?”
Tay looked at her as if she had begun speaking Urdu.
“Oh, come on,” she said. “It’ll do you good.”
“I doubt that,” Tay said. “Besides, as luck would have it, I didn’t bring anything with me I can wear in a gym.”
“Then how about a swim instead?”
“No swimming gear either.” Tay spread his hands, palms up. “Sorry.”
“Just walk out front.” Cally pointed toward the main road. “I’ll bet one of the street vendors sells bathing suits.”
“Buy a bathing suit off the street?”
“Oh, God.” Cally put her hands on her hips and looked at Tay. “You are such a Singaporean. What are you thinking here? If it’s not wrapped in plastic at a department store, it’s not clean enough for you to wear?”
That was exactly what Tay was thinking, of course, but he tried to look thoughtful and said nothing at all. A faint chime announced the arrival of the lift. When it opened it was empty and they got on. Tay didn’t like talking in lifts and apparently neither did Cally, so he had a few moments of silence in which to weigh his options.
Going for a swim with Cally was certainly an appealing idea or, to jump straight to the important point without flinching at the unadorned political incorrectness of it, hanging around with Cally while she was wearing a bathing suit was certainly an appealing idea. On the other hand, he couldn’t sit by the pool with Cally wearing a white dress shirt and dark slacks. The whole concept led inevitably to the necessity of him putting on a bathing suit, too. That was perhaps not altogether such an appealing idea.
Out of the corner of his eye, Tay could see Cally was watching the lights that tracked the upward progress of the elevator. Experimentally, he sucked in his stomach a bit and tried to hold it there. Could he keep that up for an hour or so? Well…maybe.
The chime sounded again and the elevator stopped on the eighth floor. Cally got off and looked back at Tay.
“I’ll be sitting by the swimming pool in half an hour,” Cally said. She pointed her index finger at him and smiled. “Be there.”
Then the lift door closed again.
By the time Tay reached his room on the tenth floor he had made up his mind. He would take his chances. He would buy a bathing suit somewhere and meet Cally at the hotel pool. He was not that great a swimmer, that was true, but he could manage and what better way to get to know Cally than to spend time with her sitting around the pool?
If he could only hold in his stomach and avoid drowning at the same time, perhaps everything would go well. It was, he supposed, worth a shot.
TAY had hardly expected to find grass and trees on the sixth floor of a Marriott hotel right in the middle of Bangkok, but lush green grass and swaying palm trees was exactly what he found. The pool was on an open deck next to the gym. A luxuriant garden surrounding water so blue Tay could have sworn it had food coloring in it.
The bathing suit he bought from a street vendor in front of a McDonald’s fit better than he had expected. It was a little big maybe, but then again so was Tay. Against all odds, he thought he actually looked pretty good in it. Cally was at the pool when Tay got there just as she said she would be. She was stretched out on a teak lounge under a tall palm tree. The pool boy dragged another lounge chair over for Tay and spread out two thick, yellow towels for him. Cally ordered a Diet Coke and Tay said he would have the same. The boy went off to get their drinks and Tay settled himself next to Cally.
From the sixth floor of the Marriott, Bangkok looked a good deal better than it did from ground level. The forest of office towers around them gleamed like columns of white marble. Off in the west the unrelenting sun had been tamed to nothing more than wisps of yellow and purple floating on the horizon and the sky had turned the color of a ripe peach. An involuntary collaboration of nature and the effluent drifting in Bangkok’s air was producing a spectacular, if less than environmentally pristine, sunset.
Tay glanced at Cally and when he saw her eyes were closed he allowed his own to linger. It was an awful cliche, Tay knew, but at rest Cally made him think of a cheetah or perhaps a jaguar. Languid and serene, but only a blink from blurring into motion.
Her body was long and sleek. Her black Lycra tank suit was cut high on her thighs and it emphasized both the length and the firmness of her tanned legs. Their shape was really remarkable: thighs slim, knees perfectly formed, calves muscled, ankles elegant; and feet … well, lovely. Tay had never before felt moved to think of anyone’s feet as lovely, but Cally’s were. There was just no other word for them.
“If you want to check out my ass, too, just say the word. I’d be glad to roll over for you.”
Tay’s eyes jumped away from Cally in embarrassment. For a moment he tried studying the skyline out beyond her lounge chair with feigned concentration but, almost at once, feeling ridiculous, he abandoned the feeble subterfuge.
“Okay,” Tay said. “You got me.”
The pool boy returned at that moment and set out their Diet Cokes, which blessedly saved Tay from having to say anything else. When the boy had gone, Cally pushed herself into a sitting position and clasped her hands around her knees.
“I don’t know about you, Sam Tay.”
“I’m very sorry,” he said. “I shouldn’t have been looking at you.”
“That’s not what I meant.”
“Then what …”
Tay felt a strong tide tugging him toward deeper water and he was powerless to swim for shore.
“I don’t know anything about you, Sam. You pull things out of other people, but you give nothing away about yourself. I think you’re hiding something.”
“Not really. What you see is pretty much what you get.”
“No, it’s not. Sometimes you’re almost scary.”
Tay had never thought of himself as particularly scary so he wasn’t at all sure what to say to that.
“You underplay yourself,” Cally continued. “You pretend to be over your head when you’re not. Why do you do that?”
“Maybe I’m just a modest kind of guy.”
“No, it’s more than that. You approach everything with the same sort of caution. I can’t quite figure out where it comes from, but I see it in your eyes. You never let your guard down.”
Tay was unprepared for the rate at which their seemingly casual conversation had turned intimate. Come to think of it, he was probably unprepared right now for any kind of intimate conversation at all, regardless of the speed at which it developed. Of course he had hopes that eventually he and Cally might reach such a point, but he had been thinking in terms of weeks, perhaps even months. In ten minutes Cally had taken them straight from small talk to a place from which both good and dangerous things were within their grasp.
He should probably stay well away from American women. That was the real lesson here. Their directness was just too alarming for him. Christ, he needed a Marlboro.
Fortunately, he had come prepared. He fished in the pocket of his bathing suit for the pack he had brought down from his room and shook out a cigarette. A breeze had come up and it took him three tries to light it, but by cupping the match carefully in his hand he was eventually able to manage the feat. The pool boy appeared at his elbow with an ashtray. Tay took it, dumped the burned-out match, and the boy scampered away. Tay was just congratulating himself on killing nearly a full minute without having to respond to Cally’s observations about him, but then he exhaled and glanced quickly through the smoke at her and saw that he wasn’t going to escape quite that easily. He may have earned himself a reprieve, but it was not going to turn into a full pardon.
“Do you want to have sex with me, Sam?”
Tay choked and began to cough uncontrollably.
“It’s a serious question, Sam. Do you?”
“No,” he stammered when he was finally able to speak again.
That isn’t right, he thought to himself, but I can hardly say yes, can I?
“See what I mean? You’re not giving me an honest answer.”
“Look, Cally,” Tay cleared his throat and stared at his feet, “I just don’t know what to say to that.”
“Am I embarrassing you?”
“Of course you are.”
“Why? For God’s sake, what do you expect me to say? Yes, I’d like to have sex with you? I can’t say something like that.”
Cally nodded slowly, but she remained silent.
“Besides, right now I’m …” he trailed off.
It had not entered his mind up until this moment to tell Cally about his mother, but all of a sudden that was exactly what he wanted to do.
“You’re what?” Cally asked.
“Tired. Messed up. I don’t know what.” Tay looked at Cally. “My mother died.”
“Your mother?” Cally sat up and swung her feet to the ground. “When?”
All at once it occurred to Tay that he wasn’t sure.
“Yesterday, I think. I’m not even sure. She died in New York. Some lawyer from there called me.”
“Oh God, Sam.”
Cally leaned toward Tay and took his left hand in both of hers. Tay could feel the smoothness of them. For a moment, he could think of nothing else.
“I am so sorry,” she said. “I am so very sorry.”
Tay didn’t know quite what to say. He hadn’t planned any of this and wasn’t sure where to go with it. Cally apparently mistook his silence for grief because she gripped his hand harder.
“When is the funeral?” she asked.
“I don’t know.”
“But you can get there in time, can’t you?”
“I suppose.” He hesitated, but the truth had gotten him this far so he decided to stick with it. “It doesn’t really matter. I’m not going.”
“To your own mother’s funeral? You’re not going?”
Tay looked away.
“I wasn’t close to my mother and I don’t like funerals,” he said. “I have something to do here that matters more.”
Cally nodded at that, but she didn’t say anything.
“How are you doing?” she asked him instead.
“I’m good.” Tay scratched his cheek and examined the horizon briefly. “No, I’m not. I’m not good at all. I may not have been close to my mother, but she was the last connection I had to the rest of the world. And now she’s gone.”
“You’ve never had any children of your own?”
Tay looked at Cally as if she had suddenly gone mad.
“So you’re not married?” she plowed on.
“Wow.” Cally thought that over for a moment. “Why not?”
Tay wondered, not for the first time, how to answer that question and decided to stick with his newfound policy of telling the truth.
“I just don’t know.” Tay looked at Cally. “And I don’t know where that leaves me now.”
“I do. With your life in front of you.”
Tay thought about that while Cally continued stroking his hand.
“Yes, you’re probably right,” he said after several minutes had passed. “But right now I need to find the man who killed these two women. I need to do that. That’s who I am, not the son of somebody I don’t really know.”
“Okay,” Cally nodded slowly. “I can help you.”
“I wish you would.”
“Do you trust me, Sam?”
The question stopped Tay. It wasn’t because he didn’t know. He did know. To his astonishment, the answer was yes. He did trust Cally. Still, all at once just saying yes didn’t seem enough somehow. He had to tell her exactly what yes meant. And that was what he didn’t know exactly how to do.
“Okay,” she said after long moments had gone by without Tay saying anything. “Then let’s take it this way. I am going to trust you and then I am going to ask you to trust me in return. I guess we’ll see if you can do it.”
Tay was losing control of the conversation, if he ever had any control of the conversation, which he doubted. More and more he felt like he was just along for the ride.
“You asked me whose apartment Ambassador Rooney’s body was found in. Remember, Sam?”
Cally’s sudden shifts of direction were giving Tay a serious case of whiplash. First it was the deeper meaning of his life, after that it was having sex, then it was the death of his mother, and now she was on to two murdered and abused women. If he didn’t tell her to cut it out, she was going to drive him crazy. But he didn’t tell her to cut it out.
“I remember,” was all he said.
“Well then, here’s my offering of trust, Sam. I know who owns that apartment. And I’m going to tell you.”
Cally’s eyes slid away from Tay and she sat looking silently out across the pool. Tay wondered if she was going to change her mind.
“You’re not supposed to know,” she said after a minute or two had passed, “but I’m going to tell you anyway.”
“The apartment is owned in the name of a shell company, but the company is just a nominee for the American embassy. The apartment is one of a number of safe houses owned by the embassy and used by embassy personnel.”
“Do you know exactly who?” Tay asked.
“A number of different agencies. Bureau of Diplomatic Security, the military attaches, DEA, FBI…”
“You know,” she finished.
“The CIA?” Tay asked.
“Yes,” Cally said, “them, too.”
Tay sat up on the lounge chair, which caused his hand to pull away from Cally’s. He started to say something, to tell her that he hadn’t really meant to take his hand away, but he didn’t. It would have sounded clumsy, even desperate, and he couldn’t bring himself to do it.
“What do you mean exactly?” he asked Cally instead.
“That apartment is a place where we meet sources so they don’t have to come in to the embassy.”
“Sources?” Tay asked.
“Intelligence sources. Locals who’ve been recruited to pass along various kinds of information.”
“Mostly, I would guess, because you pay them.”
“Does it really matter, Sam? Regardless of their motivation, they can hardly stroll into the embassy and have a Coke with us when they have something to report. We meet them in places like that apartment, places where they aren’t likely to stand out or be noticed. There are several other apartments just like it around Bangkok that I know about, and I have no doubt there are others I don’t know about.”
“Who was using this particular apartment around the time Ambassador Rooney was murdered?”
“There’s no way to know that. It could have been anybody.”
“No records are kept?”
Cally sighed in exasperation. “Sam, for God’s sake, these are intelligence operations. What do you think happens? Somebody calls the embassy travel office and asks to book a nice safe house for a couple of days? Maybe one with a sunny outlook and a Jacuzzi?”
Tay rubbed at his face, but he didn’t say anything. Then he shifted his weight on the lounge chair and rubbed some more.
“What is it, Sam?”
“The Singapore Marriott was being used for meetings connected to the embassy there, too. It was certainly being used by the CIA, maybe by others as well.”
“How do you know that?”
Tay told Cally about Ramesh Keshar and how the Singapore Marriott’s spare security card had been loaned out to a Mr. Washington at the American embassy whenever he was asked for it.
“I didn’t understand what that meant until you told me Mr. Washington was a State Department euphemism for the CIA,” Tay finished. “It seems obvious now the Singapore Marriott is used the same way you said the apartment here is used. Do you have any reason to think I’m wrong about that?”
“No,” Cally said. “I don’t.”
“Did anyone at the embassy tell you about that after Elizabeth Munson’s body was found at the Marriott?”
Cally’s eyes flickered for a moment and then met Tay’s.
“No,” she said, “they didn’t.”
Abruptly, Cally stood up and walked to the edge of the pool deck. Tay hesitated for a moment, then followed. He leaned next to her, resting his forearms on the low wall, studying the hopeless gridlock in the streets below. Tay wondered if the traffic in Bangkok required motorists to carry around emergency supplies of food and water when they drove. Maybe even a chemical toilet. He waited quietly, knowing Cally was struggling with some kind of decision.
“There’s something else I didn’t tell you,” she finally said.
Tay stayed silent.
Cally twisted around and rested her back against the low wall.
“Marc Reagan and I met the ambassador at the residence the morning after he came back from Washington.”
She paused, thinking.
“He said there were two things we needed to know about his wife’s death. The first was what he told you at your meeting, that he and Mrs. Munson were discussing a divorce. The second was something he didn’t tell you.”
Cally took a deep breath. She made Tay think of a surgeon who was reluctant to cut. But then she took another breath and just did it.
“Elizabeth Munson was a CIA intelligence officer. She was working under what is called non-official cover, developing informants in terrorist groups in Southeast Asia. According to the ambassador, he was the only one at the embassy who knew it.”
Tay was silent for a moment. He didn’t know exactly how far out on a limb Cally had gone by telling him that, but he suspected it was a very long way indeed.
The day had faded nearly into darkness and the stationary streams of traffic below glowed like strands of pearls stretched between the city’s buildings. The temperature had dropped and the air tasted like a mouthful of coins.
“Okay,” Cally went on before Tay could decide what to say. “Then let’s see what we’ve got here.”
She leaned back against the wall and folded her arms, crossing one ankle over the other. “Exactly what did the two murders have in common?” she asked.
Tay assumed the question was rhetorical so he said nothing.
Cally held up one finger. “Both women were killed by a single shot into the ear with a.22 caliber handgun and both women were restrained in some way when the shot was fired.”
She held up a second finger. “The faces of both women were beaten into pulp, both probably postmortem, and both bodies were posed in exactly the same way.”
A third finger. “Both crime scenes were sanitized after the killings.”
A fourth finger. “One victim was an American ambassador and the other victim was an American ambassador’s wife who was working under cover for the CIA.”
Now Cally held up five fingers, spreading her entire right hand, palm outward, like a cop stopping traffic. “And both of the murders occurred in places where American embassy personnel met intelligence sources.” Cally cocked her head at Tay. “That’s it, right? That’s all the two cases have in common?”
“Not quite,” Tay said.
Then Tay told Cally about his conversation with Lucinda Lim and repeated her story about Elizabeth Munson having a female lover for whom she was planning on leaving her husband.
“Come on, Sam, surely you’re not saying that Elizabeth Munson and Ambassador Rooney were-”
“I guess they could have been,” Tay interrupted. “Although that’s not what I’m telling you.”
“Then what are you telling me?”
“It can’t be a coincidence that two women prominent in American diplomatic circles, both of whom had sexual involvements with other women, were both brutally murdered in American embassy safe houses within a few days of each other.”
Cally shifted her eyes to Tay’s. “You think somebody in one of our embassies is responsible, don’t you?”
There was a loud sound from somewhere just then, a sound that Tay couldn’t immediately identify. He wondered briefly if it was the sound shit made when it hit the fan.
“Yes,” he said. “Yes, I do.”
Cally uncrossed her ankles and crossed them back again in the opposite direction.
“Goddamn,” she murmured in a low voice. “Goddamn it all to hell.”
The setting sun was a bright orange ball burning through a thin haze streaked with purple and green.
“It may not be that easy,” Tay said. “Something about the two crime scenes doesn’t feel right to me.”
“You mean they aren’t really alike?”
“No. They are. That’s the problem. They’re too much alike.”
“I don’t understand.”
Tay paused and organized his thoughts. “Take the gun, for example. How could it be the same gun? The killer couldn’t have flown with it from Singapore to Bangkok. He would have had to bring it by train or car and even that would be risky because he might have been checked by Thai customs. Why take that chance?”
“It’s probably not the same gun,” Cally said. “Just the same caliber.”
“Exactly,” Tay nodded. “But then why use exactly the same caliber gun? And why shoot the ambassador exactly the same way Mrs. Munson was shot? It’s as if the killer consciously tried to match up the details of the two scenes to make sure we thought the same person murdered both women. Then, there was that business with the flashlights, too.”
“In the case of Elizabeth Munson, the flashlight was already in the hotel room. Using it on her was strictly opportunistic. In the case of Ambassador Rooney, surely it wasn’t just lying around. It’s too much of a coincidence to believe that exactly the same kind of flashlight that was in a room at the Marriott was also in your safe house here in Bangkok. The killer must have brought it with him.”
“I get it,” Cally nodded. “He was duplicating the first crime scene. So we would know that both women were killed by the same man.”
It was nearly dark and the damp air had turned far too cool for them to stand around any longer in their bathing suits. At least, Tay thought it was the air that suddenly made him feel cold. Maybe it wasn’t.
“What does the posing of the bodies mean, Sam? What is the killer telling us?”
Tay shook his head. “I have absolutely no idea.”
Cally must have felt cool, too, because all at once she pushed herself away from the wall and walked back to where she had left a pool bag on the grass beneath her lounge chair. She pulled out a T-shirt and shorts, slipped them over her bathing suit, and slid her feet into a pair of rubber thongs.
Tay walked over just as she finished.
“I hate to go now, Sam,” she said turning around, “but I have to. I promised some friends I’d have dinner with them tonight.”
Tay hadn’t really thought much about it, but he had just been assuming that he and Cally would spend the evening together. Probably have dinner. Maybe even check out a little of Bangkok’s famous nightlife. Apparently not. Tay hoped the disappointment didn’t show on his face.
“I’ve got some meetings at the embassy tomorrow morning,” Cally added. “But I can be back by early afternoon. Maybe we can have another swim then and decide where to go from here.”
“I told my boss I’d be back in Singapore tomorrow. He wasn’t all that happy about me coming to Bangkok in the first place.”
Cally didn’t say anything.
“I guess I could always poke around a little on my own while you’re in your meetings,” Tay ventured tentatively.
“It might be useful.”
“Probably would be.”
“I could give the Chief a call, and tell him-”
“I think that’s the best thing for you to do.”
Cally swung her bag over her shoulder.
“Now you be a good boy tonight, Sam. It’s easy to get into trouble in Bangkok.”
She gave Tay a little wave and walked away through the dim lights of the pool deck.
When Cally had gone, Tay pulled his shirt on over his bathing suit and sank down on a lounge chair where he sat for a long time without moving. He thought back through what he had told Cally and what she had told him. He pushed and pulled on everything, turning it first one way and then another. He looked for different ways it could add up, ways that might be less scary.
He did not find any.
Tay could feel everything starting to come together now. He did not like how it was coming together and he wasn’t yet certain what it might all mean, but it still gave him a lift to know he was getting close.
Tay reached for his Marlboros and lit one. He was exhaling his first mouthful of sweet, sharp smoke when he looked off in the distance and saw a crescent moon rising very slowly between two buildings. It was burning like kerosene against the dark sky. As he sat and smoked and watched the moon, he felt an extraordinary silence settle around him and spread even to the city down below. It was a silence deeper and more profound than any other he had ever experienced. It was as if the whole world was holding its breath.
Tay shivered, stubbed out his cigarette, and went back to his room.
The next morning Cally was up before her wake-up call came. She had some coffee and toast from room service and flipped through the copy of The Bangkok Post that came on the tray with her breakfast. She found no mention at all of Ambassador Rooney’s murder. Either the blackout was holding or the Thai press was too lazy to bother digging out any real news. Quite possibly both.
Just before nine, Cally entered the embassy through the main gate on Wireless Road. She went to the cafeteria to get another cup of coffee and took it with her to the security office on the second floor.
Jack Tanner was sprawled in a chair waiting for her.
“That was very subtle yesterday, Jack,” she smiled. “I loved the high-pitched voice.”
“Just looking out for you, Cally girl. Old Uncle Jack likes to know who’s screwing around with his girls.”
“Three things, Jack. First, I’m not one of your girls, whatever that means. And second, Sam and I are not screwing around.”
Cally took a long hit on the coffee and settled in behind a desk that looked unoccupied.
“What’s the third thing?” Tanner asked.
“Oh yeah, the third thing. I almost forgot. Go fuck yourself, Jack. That’s the third thing. Go fuck yourself.”
Tanner started out to mime a laugh, but the gesture turned into a yawn before it was done.
“Damn,” Tanner said, stretching his arms and rolling his shoulders. “I guess I must have been up a little late last night.”
“Please don’t tell me what you were doing, Jack. I’m sure I’d really rather not know.”
“Why, Cally girl, Uncle Jack’s adventures in Bangkok are the stuff of which legends are made. You would be fortunate indeed to-”
“Have you got something for me, Jack, or are you here just to bask in the unparalleled pleasure of my company?”
Tanner shifted his body around in the chair and swung his feet up onto the front edge of Cally’s desk. Crossing them at the ankles, he knitted his fingers together behind his head.
“I wanted you to know that the Agency is in the clear on this, Cally. We haven’t used that apartment in a couple of years.”
“Maybe not, but between the first time I was in it and when I brought Sam yesterday, somebody did a very effective job of turning the place over. It looked like your work to me, buddy boy.”
“You sure you weren’t taking out a few bugs, Jack? Maybe a couple of cameras and recorders? Something like that?”
“Nope. We did that a long time ago.”
“Why should I believe you, Jack?”
“Because I can tell you who really did toss the place.”
Cally swung her own feet up on the desk, crossed them at the ankles, and knitted her fingers behind her head in a mirror image of Tanner’s pose.
“I’m all ears.”
“I was there when the body was removed and thought I’d hang around a little longer to see if anything interesting happened afterwards. Sure enough, about a half-hour later, five or six guys wearing uniforms like local cops showed up. They stayed for fifteen or twenty minutes and then left. When I went upstairs I saw what you saw.”
“Thai cops turned the place over?” Cally made a face. “That doesn’t make any sense.”
“I only said they were wearing uniforms. Maybe they weren’t real cops.”
“But if they weren’t real cops, then who-”
“I can tell you where to start if you really want to find out.”
Cally folded her arms and waited.
“One of your guys was calling the shots for them,” Tanner said. “Ask him.”
“One of my guys?”
Tanner nodded. “Yeah, one of your esteemed colleagues from Singapore. Tony DeSouza. He went in with the guys wearing the uniforms and he came out with them. Tony boy looked to me like he was running the whole show.”
The coffee Cally had brought up from the cafeteria was well past its prime, but she picked it up anyway and swirled it around in its white Styrofoam cup while she thought about what Jack Tanner just told her. What the hell was Tony DeSouza doing at the apartment after Ambassador Rooney’s body had been removed? And why had he brought in Thai cops to trash the place, if they were Thai cops.
“Do you know if the FBI has been using that place recently?” Cally asked.
Cally gave the coffee an exploratory sip. It was cold and foul and she made a face and put it down.
“Maybe DeSouza was just investigating the murder,” Tanner suggested.
“I don’t know why he would do that,” Cally said. The FBI has people here in Bangkok. Besides, you don’t toss a crime scene when you’re just investigating. You preserve it.”
“You’re assuming that the FBI has some reasonable understanding of how an investigation is supposed to be conducted.”
“That apartment was tossed. They were looking for something, Jack. My money is on hidden surveillance devices. How about yours? What’s your money on?”
Cally cocked her head and studied Tanner. He was an annoying bastard, but a good man.
“You always know more than you tell me, Jack. What were they looking for?”
Tanner shook his head. “This time I can’t help you.”
“Can’t. Or won’t.”
“Can’t, Cally girl. I’ve got no fucking idea. Hand to my heart.”
“Jeez, Jack, I didn’t know you even had a heart.”
Tanner felt around on his chest with his open hand.
“Sure, Cally girl, Uncle Jack’s got a great big heart. It’s just that I don’t use it often enough to remember exactly where I keep it.”
Tay didn’t wake up until after eight, an occurrence he normally regarded as a fine omen for the coming day. He managed to locate the room service menu and ordered coffee and rolls, and whilwhile he was waiting for them to come he took a shower, shaved, and dressed in a clean white shirt and a pair of khakis. He had really fouled up his packing and now he realized he should have put a little more effort into the whole process. He hardly had any clean clothes left.
Tay looked through the drawers in the desk until he found a form for the hotel’s laundry service. He was about to send out the things he had worn the day before when he noticed the prices. The numbers looked very big, but of course they were in Thai baht and he struggled for a moment to convert them into Singapore dollars. It was too much to attempt without a few cups of coffee in him and he got nowhere. Fortunately, just then the doorbell rang and room service arrived.
A half-hour later Tay had finished the entire pot of coffee and eaten all the rolls in the basket and he was feeling sufficiently energized to take another crack at doing the currency conversion for the laundry list. He worked at it for a few minutes, but the numbers kept coming out so big he decided he had to be getting it wrong. Surely no one charged that much to launder a shirt and press a pair of trousers, did they? He gave up and shoved the half finished list into a drawer with his dirty laundry. He would deal with it later.
Then Tay remembered he still had to call the OC to tell him that he was going to be in Bangkok for another day or two. He knew what the OC would say to that, of course, and he wasn’t looking forward to the inevitable wisecracks. Still, it was a telephone call he had to make and now that he had a nice little caffeine buzz going, this might be the best time to do it. On the other hand, Tay mused, perhaps it wasn’t. He would think about that for a little while and make the call later.
Lighting a Marlboro, he opened a collection of Asian travel stories by Paul Theroux that he had found in the Marriott gift shop the night before and settled back to read. Tay smoked four cigarettes in complete peace and read almost a hundred pages of the Theroux book, but he knew he really did have to call the OC and he couldn’t put it off much longer. Eventually he turned down the corner of the page where he was and closed the book.
He switched on his cell phone and watched the screen as it located a service provider in Bangkok and connected with their system. On those few previous occasions Tay had used his cell phone outside Singapore, he never quite believed it was going to work, but somehow it always did. He had no idea at all how such a thing was possible. On the other hand, there were many things in life about which Tay had no idea at all and the way cell phones worked just wasn’t something he cared enough about to try to figure out.
At almost the moment the phone connected with a service provider, it started ringing and the screen began flashing with an incoming call from Singapore. Singapore felt so far away at that moment Tay’s immediate reaction was to shut off the phone, forget about calling the OC, and bury the damned thing in the drawer under his dirty laundry; but of course he didn’t.
“Sir, it’s Sergeant Kang here.”
Robbie Kang shouted into telephones the same way he shouted across rooms and Tay fumbled to lower the phone’s volume.
“Can you hear me, sir?” Kang bellowed when Tay didn’t respond immediately. “Hello?”
“I could probably hear you without a telephone, Sergeant. Stop shouting for Christ’s sake.”
“Yes, sir.” Kang cleared his throat and lowered his voice, but only a little. “Well, sir, I’ve been trying to reach you since yesterday, but I couldn’t get through for some reason.”
Tay made a noncommittal noise and waited.
“There are a couple of things here you ought to know about. First off, Dr. Hoi has been trying hard to reach you, sir. One call yesterday and another one this morning.”
“Dr. Hoi, sir. You know, the doctor who did the autopsy on Mrs. Munson. She seems to want to talk to you very badly, sir.”
“I asked her if it had something to do with the Munson case, sir, but all she would say was that it was … uh, personal.”
Tay cleared his throat.
“Anything else?” he asked.
“Yes, sir. We’ve finished the tapes from the Marriott and there’s no sign at all of Mrs. Munson.”
“That doesn’t surprise me.”
“Then here’s something that might, sir. We found somebody else. It was all sort of an accident. I had Leslie Tan going through the tapes. You know him, don’t you, sir? His father was-”
“I know him, Sergeant. Get on with it.”
“Yes, sir. Well, one of the batches of tapes the hotel gave us had the wrong dates on the boxes and Leslie spent a half a day looking at them before he realized they were from the week before the murder. But that turned out to be a real break for us. If he hadn’t done that, Leslie would never have spotted him.”
“As it was, he only recognized him because they had played in some golf tournament together and he just mentioned him to me by chance. He didn’t see that it had anything to do with the investigation and I suppose it doesn’t.”
“For God’s sake, Sergeant, who did Leslie see?”
“That FBI man from the American embassy, sir. The one you said came to see you.”
Tay thought about that for a moment and wondered if there was any significance to it.
“Is Leslie sure it was DeSouza?”
“Yes, sir. He says he remembers this guy really well. He got so mad when he hit a sand trap at the golf tournament he started banging his club into a tree and wouldn’t stop until some friend of his wrapped his arms around him and pulled him away.”
“When was this?”
“When was the golf tournament?” Kang sounded puzzled.
“Don’t be ridiculous, Sergeant. When was DeSouza on the security tapes at the Marriott?”
“A week before Mrs. Munson was killed, sir. Exactly one week.”
“What was DeSouza doing?”
“Nothing really, sir. It was the lift lobby camera that caught him, but only for a moment and it wasn’t a very good picture.”
“Something was wrong with the camera?”
“I’m not sure, sir. The camera seemed to be working fine at first, but when he got right up close it flickered and then he wasn’t there anymore. It almost looks like the camera went off and then came on again later after he was gone.”
If DeSouza had only been walking through the lobby, Tay thought, maybe that could have been just a coincidence. The Marriott was a big place in a prominent location and a lot of people walked through the lobby. But the security camera flickering off and coming on again after DeSouza was gone? It sounded very much like he had used one of the security cards to kill the system. But why would DeSouza have a security card? He was FBI, not CIA. Wasn’t he?
Tay felt uneasy. Fathers battering children with concrete blocks and women going after husbands with cleavers were the sort of things he dealt with, not embassy safe houses and American intelligence operations. Now he had an FBI agent creeping the Marriott a week before Mrs. Munson’s murder, even possibly turning the hotel’s security system off and on with a surreptitiously copied security card that probably came from the CIA.
What did all that add up to? Tay had no idea at all, but he was absolutely certain it couldn’t be anything good.
“And there’s something else, sir.”
“Well, sir, I know an FBI guy myself. Actually he’s retired, living in Phuket now. But back when he was at the US embassy in KL we used to try to play golf together whenever he came down here.”
Sometimes, Tay thought, if it were not for the game of golf, Singaporeans would be entirely incapable of communication with other human beings.
“Anyway, sir, I called him and asked him if he knew anything about DeSouza. He said he hadn’t ever met him, only knew him by name. But he said something else that seemed strange to me, sir.”
“Yes, sir. He said that there was talk DeSouza had been sent out here in the first place as a kind of punishment. That some of the higher-ups in Washington had wanted him to resign, but they agreed to allow him to come to Singapore instead.”
It annoyed Tay that the FBI saw an assignment to Singapore as an alternative to resignation, but he supposed he shouldn’t have been surprised.
“Why did they want him to resign?” he asked.
“For beating up his wife, sir. Apparently, he nearly killed her. Put her in the hospital for weeks.”
When Tay didn’t say anything, Kang went on.
“You don’t think, do you, sir, that there’s any possibility-”
“I need you to do a couple of things for me right now, Sergeant,”
“First, put me on hold and call the American embassy. Find out where DeSouza is.”
“Right, sir. What else?”
“Do that first. I’ll wait.”
There was a click and Tay found himself listening to something that sounded like Greensleeves played on a kazoo. After a minute or two, Sergeant Kang returned and mercifully the idiotic toodling ended.
“Sir? You still there?”
“Of course, I’m still here, Sergeant. Where the hell else would I be? Listening to Greensleeves played on a kazoo?”
Kang hesitated. “Sorry, sir?”
“Never mind. What did you find out about DeSouza?”
“He’s there, sir.”
“He’s at the embassy in Singapore right now, is he?”
“No, sir. He’s there, sir.”
“What are you talking about, Sergeant? Where the hell is there?”
“Bangkok, sir. They said you could reach him at the American embassy in Bangkok.”
Tay’s intuition told him that was not good, and his intuition had always been his best friend. Still, he reminded himself, he had to step lightly here. All he had right now were a few bits and pieces that didn’t feel right, nothing more than that, and looking at an FBI agent as a possible suspect in two murders was no small thing. If he was going to do something like that, he had damn well better turn out to be right. Maybe this time he wasn’t right.
Maybe this time his intuition wasn’t being entirely honest with him. DeSouza was an asshole, of course, and perhaps that was affecting the way he was looking at him. Being an asshole didn’t make a man a killer, did it? Tay decided he needed to talk to Cally. He needed to know what she thought.
Then Tay suddenly remembered. Cally said she was going to the American embassy today. And DeSouza was at the American embassy.
Cally knew none of what he had learned in the last few minutes. He had to reach her. He had to talk to her before she did anything that might accidentally tip DeSouza off as to how much they knew. Or how little.
Tay took a deep breath.
“Go see the boss for me, Sergeant. Tell him I’m…tell him that the investigation…I don’t know. Tell him any damned thing you want. Just let him know I won’t be back for another day or two.”
“Don’t you think, sir, that it might be better if you-”
“Just tell him, Sergeant. You got that?”
“Yes, sir. Got that, sir. Good luck.”
As soon as Tanner was gone Cally called the embassy in Singapore and got a cell phone number for Tony DeSouza. She dialed it and he answered on the second ring.
“Tony, it’s Cally Parks.”
“Well, this a surprise.”
“A pleasant one, I hope.”
“Just a surprise. To what do I owe the honor, Ms. Parks?”
“Where are you right now?”
“I’m doing my job, Cally. Out chasing bad guys.”
“Are you in Bangkok?”
There was a beat of silence.
Gotcha, Cally thought to herself.
“Yeah,” DeSouza said, and Cally could hear the caution in his voice. “Yeah, I am.”
“So am I, Tony. I’m sitting in the security office at the embassy and I need to talk to you. How soon can you be here?”
DeSouza chuckled slightly. “How soon would you like me to be there?”
“Okay,” he said.
Then he hung up.
Cally looked at the telephone with a quizzical expression as she returned it to the cradle. What was that supposed to mean? It was only a minute or two before she found out. DeSouza walked in without bothering to knock and threw himself down in a chair in front of the desk where Cally was sitting.
“Soon enough for you?” he asked.
Cally watched the smug look on his face until she had had enough.
“What are you doing in Bangkok?”
“Like I told you. Chasing the bad guys.”
“What were you looking for in the apartment where Ambassador Rooney was murdered?”
For a moment there was complete silence. Then DeSouza asked in a neutral voice, “What are you talking about?”
“You and a bunch of guys who were supposed to be cops but where probably phonies-”
“Watch yourself, little girl.”
“You and these guys turned over the safe house where Rooney was found right after her body was taken out. What were you looking for, Tony?”
DeSouza yawned and scratched at his jaw. “You had that place under surveillance?”
“Does it matter to you?”
“No,” DeSouza said, “I guess it doesn’t.”
“So let’s get back to the question then. What were you and your little buddies doing there?” Cally repeated.
“Just the usual stuff. Examining the crime scene. Evaluating the evidence. You know how these things work.”
“Yeah, I know how these things work. I also know that examining a crime scene doesn’t usually include trashing it. In fact, it usually includes preserving it.”
“Well,” DeSouza yawned again, “you know Thai cops. Can’t trust the little bastards to use a light touch, can you?”
“Did you find the surveillance equipment you were looking for? Any tapes or video? Any autographed photos of the killer?”
“Don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“That’s because there weren’t any cameras or bugs left. The CIA took their equipment out of that place over a year ago.”
“That’s what they told me.”
“Then what were you looking for?”
“Well, you can’t trust those bastards either, can you?”
DeSouza was smiling and looking at Cally as he talked, but he had a way of tilting his head and keeping her slightly off center that she found annoying. It was as if he was always just on the verge of dismissing her.
Cally stared at DeSouza in silence for a minute or more while the smile left his face very slowly, something like an eighth of an inch at a time.
“What’s going on here, Tony?”
“I’m investigating two crimes. Mrs. Munson’s murder and Ambassador Rooney’s murder. That’s what’s going on. I thought you’d heard.”
“You made any progress?”
“Yeah. I have.”
DeSouza’s head rotated back and forth a couple of times. It looked like an antenna seeking a signal.
“Yeah,” he repeated when Cally said nothing. “I think I know who did both of them.”
“Really. You’ve got a suspect?”
“Here in Bangkok?”
“Close by. We’re going to pick him up this afternoon.”
“Me and those guys…” DeSouza stopped talking for a moment and unveiled a nasty grin, “who are supposed to be Thai cops.”
“Who’s your suspect?”
“The way I remember it, you didn’t think much of my terrorism theory. But I was right.”
DeSouza paused. Cally gathered he wanted it to appear a thoughtful pause, and then continued.
“An Indonesian named Dadi Suryadi killed both of them. We used to watch him on and off, but we thought his group had pretty much dissolved and we lost track of him a year or two ago.”
“The Brothers of the Sword. It’s a fundamentalist bunch that used to make all kinds of threats against Americans in the region. Up until now they’ve never done much of anything, but…” DeSouza spread his hands, palms up. “Welcome to the new world order, huh?”
Cally eyed DeSouza for a moment and then leaned back in her chair and folded her arms.
“What makes you think this is our man?” she asked “We got his prints from the apartment here, and since both crime scenes were identical, you’ve got to like him for both murders.”
“Bullshit, Tony. The Thais couldn’t have gotten Dumbo the elephant’s prints from that place and they probably couldn’t have done an ID on them even if they had. By the way, who were those guys you had dressed up like cops?”
DeSouza shrugged, but he didn’t say anything.
“This stinks,” Cally said, “and you’re not even trying to make it smell good, are you?”
“The ambassador wanted this cleaned up and I’ve cleaned it up.” DeSouza shrugged again. “You don’t like it, you can go fuck yourself.”
“I want to solve this case before more women end up dead, Tony, not just hang some poor bastard whose name you and your pals picked out of a telephone book.”
“Don’t you tell me how to do my job, little girl.” DeSouza’s expression hardened. “We’ve got the guy whether you like it or not.”
“You wouldn’t have a personal interest here by any chance, would you, Tony?”
Cally felt a shift in the air. It was slight, but noticeable.
“What’s that supposed to mean?” DeSouza asked.
Cally tilted her head back and studied the ceiling. “Both murders occurred in safe houses you have access to and you went back into one of them and trashed the place. Either you were looking for surveillance equipment or you were trying to destroy any forensic evidence that we might find later. Now, I got to ask myself, why would Tony do that if he weren’t trying to hide something? Were you trying to hide something, Tony?”
DeSouza said nothing.
“Cat got your tongue, Tony?”
“You’re full of shit, Parks.”
“You know, now that I think about it, maybe I ought to take a real close look at you here, pal. There’s something about all this that looks to me like it might be just your style.”
“You accusing me of something?”
“No, not yet. But I’m all over this, Tony. I want you to remember that. There’s nothing I’d love to do more than burn your ass.”
“Be careful how you talk to me, little girl.”
“Call me little girl one more time, you smarmy fuck, and I’ll make your life a living hell.”
DeSouza bounced to his feet and leaned toward Cally, both hands palms down on the desk.
“What are you going to do now, big man?” she asked. “Slug me?”
DeSouza looked away, and then abruptly he sat down again and folded his arms.
“Jesus Christ,” he murmured. “Listen to yourself.”
Composing his features, he unfolded his arms and flung out both hands. “How can you sit there and accuse me of murdering two women? How can you do that? I’ve been a Special Agent of the Federal Bureau of Investigation for twenty-two years. You have absolutely no right-”
“Look,” Cally interrupted, “let’s both just cool down. We’re on the same side here.”
“I want to solve these murders. I assume you do, too.”
“Whether you believe me or not, Cally, I’ve got a legitimate suspect I think may be good for both of them. I’m going out with some locals this afternoon and we’re going to pick this guy up. After that, we’ll talk to him and I’ll see what the story is.”
Cally snorted. “Ambassador Munson told me he wanted us to find a suspect for his wife’s murder and then feed him to the locals one finger at a time. Frankly, I got the impression he didn’t care much who it was. It looks to me like you’re just obliging him here. If you are, Tony, it’s still not too late to do the right thing.”
“Let me talk to my suspect and we’ll see how we go.”
“If I let you and your Thai pals talk to this guy alone, he’ll probably admit to shooting President Kennedy.”
“Hell, Cally, maybe he did shoot President Kennedy.”
A silence fell after that and the longer it lasted the more unpleasant it became. Eventually DeSouza broke it.
“So are we done here, Ms. Parks?”
“When are you taking this guy down?”
“I want to go with you.”
“What are you talking about?”
“I want to go with you when you take down the suspect and talk to him. We wouldn’t want anything to happen to him now, would we?”
“That’s out of the question. It’s too late.”
“No, it’s not.”
“The Thais think it’ll go down rough,” DeSouza said. “This is no time for a woman to start showboating.”
“I can handle anything you can handle, Tony. If I don’t go, you don’t go.”
“It might be interesting to hear how you think you can stop me.”
“You’re not the only one with friends who like to play cop.”
Cally thought that had a nicely ambiguous ring to it. Of course, it meant nothing at all, but she figured her comment was weird enough to discourage DeSouza from pursuing it. Apparently it was, because abruptly DeSouza pushed himself up from the chair and stood for a moment looking at her, his arms folded over his chest. Then he leveled his right hand at Cally, holding his thumb and forefinger as if they were a little gun.
“Be at the back gate in an hour,” he said.
After a moment he winked, then tossed Cally a salute and walked out of the office.
Tay got no answer the first time he dialed Cally’s cell phone, not even voicemail. He lit a Marlboro and tried again. Exactly the same thing happened so he called the operator at the Marriott, got the main number for the American embassy in Bangkok, and dialed that.
“Embassy of the United States,” a pleasant female voice answered in an American accent. “Good morning.”
“Cally Parks, please.”
“Who are you calling, sir?”
“Cally Parks. P-a-r-k-s. She’s in the security office.”
“There is a Ms. Parks who is the Regional Security Officer in Singapore. Is that who you’re calling, sir?”
“Yes. That’s right.”
“The number of the embassy in Singapore is 65-”
“No, Cally is here today. In Bangkok. I came up with her yesterday.”
“May I ask who is calling, please?”
“Inspector Samuel Tay of Singapore CID-SIS. Miss Parks and I came up to Bangkok yesterday because of the murder of Ambassador Rooney.”
The woman paused. “Because of what, sir.”
Now it was Tay’s turn to pause. “You don’t know what I’m referring to?”
“No, sir. I’ve already told you that Ms. Parks is in Singapore. She is the Regional Security Officer there. I can give you the number if you like.”
“I know her number in Singapore, but Cally is in Bangkok today so it’s not going to do me much good, is it?”
“Can someone else help you, sir?”
“You don’t know about Ambassador Rooney’s murder, do you?”
“Would you like me to connect you to someone else, sir?”
A robotic tone had crept into the woman’s voice and for a fleeting moment Tay wondered if he could be talking to some sort of computer system rather than an actual person. He stubbed out his cigarette.
“Just connect me to your security office.”
“I need a specific name, sir.”
“I don’t have a name. Just ring the security office for me please and I’ll sort this out myself.”
“I can’t do that, sir. I must have a specific name in order to connect your call.”
“Look, ma’am. I’m an Inspector in the Criminal Investigations Department of the Singapore police. You have heard of Singapore, haven’t you?”
The woman remained silent, which didn’t altogether surprise Tay.
“I came to Bangkok at Ms. Parks’s invitation to work with her on an investigation of the murder of your ambassador. The ambassador was found in an apartment here two days ago with her face beaten in and a bullet in her head.”
“Cally told me she would be at the American embassy today. Her cell phone doesn’t answer and I need to find her. It is very urgent. Am I getting through to you?”
“I still need a specific name to connect your call, sir.”
“Never mind,” Tay said. “I’d just like to thank you for your help. You’re a great American.”
The line went dead.
Tay had no idea where the American embassy was and so he was surprised when the taxi from the Marriott took no more than five minutes to get there. He could have walked. Well, probably not in Bangkok’s heat and rancid air or over the broken-up sidewalks and through the traffic, but the embassy was certainly close enough for him to have walked if he had been in any normal city.
The embassy’s main gate was set back about fifty feet off the street and there was a small paved courtyard in front with parking areas to both the right and left. A sliding metal barrier topped by a row of spikes blocked the driveway. The taxi driver, appropriately intimidated, didn’t even try to turn in. Instead, he stopped at the curb and motioned to Tay to walk the rest of the way.
A concrete guardhouse stood between a large drive gate and a smaller walk gate. It had a heavy Lexguard window with a steel tray beneath it. The arrangement reminded Tay of the drive-up window at a bank. A man who looked Thai glanced out at Tay and opened the tray. Tay removed his warrant card from his wallet and placed it inside, then watched as the tray closed again. The man in the guardhouse examined the card carefully.
“Who you here for?” he asked, leaning toward a microphone that was curled in front of him on a long gooseneck. Through the background hissing of the intercom his voice was thin and metallic, like the sound of a telephone answering machine that no one had bothered to program.
“Ms. Cally Parks. P-a-r-k-s. Parks.”
The man pulled a clipboard from a hook that was somewhere outside of Tay’s field of vision.
“She’s a security officer from the embassy in Singapore, but she’s here today.”
The man looked at the clipboard, flipping through several pages.
“Not here,” he said with finality and returned the clipboard to wherever it had come from.
Tay arranged his face into what he hoped was a friendly and cooperative expression.
“She came to the embassy this morning.”
“You have appointment?”
“No, no appointment. I’m just trying to find her.”
There was a slight squeaking sound and the tray opened again. Tay’s warrant card lay in the bottom of it, but he did not pick it up.
“I am Inspector Samuel Tay of the Singapore police. I am in Bangkok with Ms. Parks to investigate a murder. I know she is here at the embassy. It is very important that I speak to her and I would like to see her now, please.”
The Thai man inside the guardhouse looked unimpressed.
“You not on list. Must have appointment.”
“Then she is here?”
“No,” the man said. “Not here.”
“Then exactly how would you suggest I make an appointment with someone who isn’t here?” Tay snapped.
The man in the guardhouse did not reply. He only pointed to Tay’s warrant card still lying in the bottom of the tray.
Further argument was obviously useless so Tay collected the warrant card and put it back in his wallet.
The steel tray made a squeaking noise as it closed again.
There was another click and a hiss from the intercom.
“Have nice day,” the man said.
Tay found a taxi and told the driver to take him to the Marriott. As soon as he was in the back seat he pulled out his telephone and dialed his direct line at the Cantonement Complex in Singapore. No one answered and he found himself listening to a disembodied metallic voice instructing him to leave a message for Inspector Tay.
“Shit,” Tay mumbled.
He hung up, dialed Sergeant Kang’s cell phone, and watched the Bangkok sidewalks through the window of the taxi as he listened to it ring. A group of uniformed schoolgirls passed through his field of vision and Tay glanced at his watch. He wondered if children in Thailand actually went to school. Perhaps just wearing uniforms and walking around in the middle of the morning was good enough to satisfy the local culture. After a half dozen rings another metallic voice started up, different from the first voice but again instructing Tay to leave a message.
“Call me immediately, Sergeant,” he snapped. “You know I wouldn’t be talking to this fucking machine if it weren’t important.”
Tay pushed the phone into his pocket, tilted his head back against the seat of the taxi, and closed his eyes. He supposed he would just hang around the Marriott, order something to eat from room service, and wait until Cally got in touch or Kang returned his call. It wasn’t much of a plan, but he really couldn’t think of what else to do.
Twenty minutes later he was back in his room at the Marriott and Tay had already changed his mind. Something was wrong here, he was sure of it, and he damn well wasn’t going to sit around and watch CNN until somebody told him what it was. He fished out his phone again and dialed the OC’s office. He had to get into that embassy building and find Cally.
“Is he in?” Tay blurted out the moment he sensed signs of life on the other end of the telephone. “This is Inspector Tay.”
“Hello, sir, this is Nora Zaini. How is Bangkok?”
The OC had a new secretary the last time he went up to his office. He remember that, but was Nora Zaini her name? Yes, now that he thought about it, it probably was.
“Ah…fine. Look, is he there?”
“I’m sorry, no. Is this urgent?”
“Yes.” Tay reconsidered. “No, maybe not.”
“I could probably get a message to him if you like.”
Tay could only imagine how that would go down.
“No, don’t do that. I’ll just call back. Do you know when I might be able to talk to him?”
“He won’t be back until the end of the day, I’m afraid.”
“Okay.” Tay thought a moment. “Have you seen Sergeant Kang in the last few hours?”
“He’s taking personal leave, sir. This afternoon and tomorrow. Didn’t you know?”
Tay wondered if Kang had mentioned taking some leave when he called this morning and that maybe he had just forgotten.
“Ah, yes, I remember now,” he said, just to be on the safe side. “I was thinking it was next week.”
“No,” Nora Zaini added helpfully, “this week.”
Tay thanked her, mumbled some pleasantries without being too specific just in case he wasn’t talking to the woman he thought he was, and hung up.
He walked to the windows and looked outside, although he had no idea what he hoped to see. He glanced at his watch again, although he already knew the time. Where the hell was Cally? He picked up his cell phone and tried her again, but her number still didn’t answer. Tay sat down on the bed and then immediately stood up again.
All right, stop jumping around like a fool and think this thing through.
Tay got a Coke out of the minibar, turned on the television for company, and sat down again on the bed. He pulled two of the pillows out from under the bedspread, propped them against the headboard and sank back against them. He tilted the Coke up to his lips and, forgetting for a moment that he wasn’t entirely upright, poured a big slug of it straight down his shirt front.
“Shit,” Tay mumbled as he stood up and wiped the Coke away with his free hand. He went into the bathroom and studied the stain in the mirror. Judging it too big to wash out, he pulled off his shirt and dumped it on the floor. Opening a drawer in the bureau, he took out the last fresh shirt he had brought with him and put it on. He sat back down on the bed and shook a Marlboro out of the box on the bedside table. He lit it and took a long, hard pull.
However he looked at things, he kept coming back to DeSouza. Was DeSouza himself the killer? No matter how much he would like that to be true, he really doubted it. For someone disturbed and unstable enough to murder two women to go unnoticed in the ranks of the FBI seemed unlikely to the point of utter impossibility.
Still, DeSouza knew something. Tay had no doubt about that. He would bet DeSouza either knew who the killer was or thought he did; and either way, he was trying to bury Tay’s investigation. So why would he want to do that? Because the killer was someone prominent? Possibly. Because the killer was someone who would embarrass the embassy if he got caught? Probably.
Tay started running through the obvious candidates in his mind. Who would embarrass the American embassy most?
Ambassador Munson would certainly have to be at the top of the list. The first person you look at when a wife is murdered is the husband, of course, and Ambassador Munson’s involvement in his wife’s murder would be a natural nomination for a cover-up. But what about the murder of Ambassador Rooney? Munson might very well have wanted his wife dead, and he seemed to have no difficulty admitting to Tay that quite a few people knew it, but he appeared to have no motive at all for killing Ambassador Rooney.
Then there was a practical problem, too. An ambassador who was intent on shooting two women in two different countries would have a number of logistical problems to solve, not the least of which would be figuring out a way to slip around quite a bit without anybody noticing him. Even if Tay could somehow break Munson’s alibi for the time his wife had been murdered in Singapore, could Munson have made a quick trip from Singapore to Bangkok on the Tuesday after he returned from Washington, killed Ambassador Rooney, and then flown back to Singapore again without anyone missing him? No, of course he couldn’t.
Tay was just scratching Ambassador Munson off his mental list when his cell phone rang. He snatched it up and punched the green button.
Not Cally. Not Kang. A man’s voice. One Tay didn’t recognize.
“This is August.”
Yes, it was indeed August and next month would be September. So fucking what?
“What are you talking about?” Tay snapped.
“This is August, Tay.” Now the voice had an edge in it. “John August. Cally introduced us in Pattaya.”
Tay’s irritation was quickly replaced by surprise, and then almost immediately by embarrassment.
“Oh…of course. Sorry.”
“We need to talk.”
Tay wasn’t expecting anyone to call other than Cally or Sergeant Kang, but if he had been expecting someone else it certainly wouldn’t have been John August. They hadn’t exactly hit it off the one time they had met, had they?
“How did you get this number?” Tay asked, thinking as he did what an insipid thing it was to say.
August snorted. He didn’t even try to answer him, which Tay recognized was pretty much the kind of response his question deserved.
“Where are you?” August asked.
“In Bangkok. At a hotel. The Marriott.”
Tay cleared his throat unnecessarily. “Look, Cally was supposed to be back here by now and-”
“What room?” August interrupted.
“Why do you want to know?”
“Cut the crap, Tay. I don’t have time for it now. What room are you in?”
“Two hours,” August said.
Then he hung up without another word.
Tay was sitting in a chair staring out the window and watching construction cranes turn on a distant building when he heard the knock on his door. He looked at his watch. Two hours, very nearly to the minute.
When he opened the door, August nodded and came in without saying anything. He didn’t offer to shake hands and neither did Tay.
August was carrying a large manila envelope which he dumped on the bed. Then he took the chair Tay had just been sitting in. It was the only chair in the room so Tay sat on the bed next to the envelope.
“Can I get you something to drink?” Tay asked automatically.
August shook his head. “She’s dead,” he said.
Tay didn’t need to ask August whom he was talking about.
He was surprised, of course, but not shocked. Some part of him was already prepared for something, even if he was not really prepared for this, not exactly. He let the weight of knowing take him and didn’t fight against it. In the most rational part of his mind, he couldn’t understand why he felt it so much. He had hardly known Cally, he supposed, but perhaps he really had. What is that supposed to mean? Closing his eyes, he lay back across the bed and rubbed at his face with his open hands.
“I’m sorry, Sam.” August’s voice sounded as if it was coming from a television set playing in another room. “I’m really sorry.”
Tay sat up again. “What happened?”
“She was on a raid out in Ratchaburi. The Thai police had a suspect in your murders and surrounded a house where they thought he was. She went in with them and the suspect shot her.”
Tay struggled to understand what August was telling him.
“She was just going to the embassy. She didn’t say anything about-”
“She didn’t know,” August interrupted. “DeSouza didn’t tell her about the raid until she got there this morning. That’s when she decided to go.”
“Yeah. He was there, too.”
“It was his operation really. The Thai cops were just along to make it look good.” August pointed to the envelope he had dropped on the bed. “There are photographs if you want to see them.”
Tay reached over and pulled the envelope over. He was oddly conscious of the way it felt as it scraped across the bedspread. The flap was unsealed and he lifted it and pulled out the thin stack of 5x7 color prints. The photographs looked as if they had been made with a phone, then emailed to a computer and printed. They were lousy photographs, poorly framed and a little blurred, but they did the job.
Tay glanced up at August.
“Who are you?” he asked. “I mean…who are you really?”
“Why do you care?”
“CIA? FBI? Defense Intelligence Agency? What is it?”
August shrugged and looked away.
“Let’s try it this way then,” Tay said. “What do you do here in Thailand?”
“I do what I can.”
“Which is what?”
“Whatever is necessary.”
“This isn’t going to get me anywhere, is it?”
“No,” August said, shifting his eyes back to Tay. “It isn’t.”
Tay shook his head and went back to examining the stack of photographs.
The first three showed the exterior of two shophouses with some men in Thai police uniforms standing around in front of them. They were all carrying automatic weapons and had their faces covered with balaclavas. The next two photographs showed the interior of a building, presumably one of the shophouses, and either the same men or men who were similarly dressed were running up a flight of bare concrete stairs.
The final five photographs were the hardest for Tay to look at. In two of them, a man he did not know lay spread-eagled on a concrete floor. The man was wearing a wrinkled T-shirt, dirty jeans, and one sandal. The front of the T-shirt had been shredded by what looked like a shotgun blast. Although Tay couldn’t see the chest wounds clearly, it was obvious the man was dead.
In the other three photographs Cally lay sprawled on what appeared to be the same concrete floor. She was as alone as the man, and she was also dead. The entry wound in her forehead was small and neat, but she had bled a lot and the blood had streaked her face and collected in a dark pool under her head. Cally’s eyes were open and Tay thought he could see both surprise and puzzlement in them. He wondered if he would be surprised and puzzled, too, at the moment he realized the time of his death was upon him.
“She was shot with a.22.” August said. “DeSouza thinks it may have been the same gun that was used to murder Rooney, but that still has to be confirmed.”
“You talked to DeSouza?”
Tay nodded, his eyes still on the pictures.
“He came into the room right behind Cally,” August continued. “DeSouza shot Dadi after he killed Cally.”
“Dadi. The suspect they were taking down. The man in the other photos.”
Tay thought about that for a moment.
“How did DeSouza shoot this guy if…” Tay hesitated. “What’s his name?”
“What kind of weapon did DeSouza use?”
“It looks to me like it was a combat shotgun of some kind.”
“How many times was the guy hit?”
“I don’t know.”
Tay picked up one of the photos of Cally. Holding it in his right hand, he turned it toward August.
“What do you see?” he asked.
“What do you want me to see?”
“The blood. Look at all that blood.”
August nodded. “I see it.”
Then Tay took one of the photographs of Dadi and held it up in his left hand right next to the photograph of Cally.
“No blood,” Tay said. “His chest torn to ribbons by a point-blank shotgun blast and no blood.”
August just looked at Tay and said nothing.
“When Cally was shot, her heart was pumping hard from the adrenaline, which is exactly what you would expect,” Tay said. “She bled out quickly.”
August said nothing.
“Dadi’s heart couldn’t have been pumping at all when he was shot or there would have been blood all over the place. He was already dead when DeSouza used that shotgun on him.”
“You think it was a setup,” August said. He did not make a question of it.
“I know it was.”
August folded his arms and consulted a spot on the wall just over Tay’s right shoulder.
“So do you,” Tay added.
But August said nothing at all.
“DeSouza killed Cally,” Tay said. “Didn’t he?”
August’s eyes remained fixed on the wall.
“I don’t know,” he said after a moment.
“Yes, you do.”
“Let it go, Sam.”
“Maybe he killed Munson and Rooney, too.”
“Why would he have done that?”
“I don’t know.”
“Well there you go.”
“If he didn’t, he’s protecting whoever did kill them.”
“You don’t know that.”
“Cally must have known that. She was getting too close and that’s why DeSouza set her up and killed her.”
“Slow down, Sam. You’re getting way ahead of yourself. You don’t know any of that.”
“Yes, I do.”
“Look…” August hesitated. “That road won’t take you anywhere you want to go.”
“It might take me to the truth.”
“What truth?” August exhaled heavily and rubbed his face with an open hand. He sounded like a man running out of resources and surprised to discover how quickly that could happen. “This is Bangkok. You never know what’s true here.”
“Oh, Christ,” Tay shook his head in disgust. “What a load of crap.”
“You’re in over your head, Sam. Let it go.”
“Goddamn it, August,” Tay exploded, “look at the fucking photographs and tell me that I’m wrong. Can you do that? Can you?”
August took a breath and shifted his eyes to the window. He didn’t say anything.
“DeSouza either killed Cally himself or he stood there while somebody else killed her,” Tay said. “And you fucking know it’s true.”
August suddenly looked exhausted. He seemed to Tay somehow smaller than when he first walked into the room. Tay wondered if he looked the same way to August.
“I’m going to need your help,” Tay said. “Can I reach you on the number that you used to call me today?”
“Yes, but don’t bother. I’m not going to help you.”
“You can bullshit me, August, but you can’t bullshit yourself. This all stinks. What is it? Some kind of half-assed intelligence operation gone bad?”
The surprise on August’s face was only a flicker and then it was gone, but Tay caught it.
“That’s right,” Tay said. “I know that Elizabeth Munson was a spook. A NOC. That’s what you call it, isn’t it? Wondering what else I know?”
“How’d you find out about Liz?”
“Cally told me.”
“She shouldn’t have done that.”
Tay slammed his open hand down on the photographs on the bed.
“She shouldn’t have walked into that setup either and gotten herself killed, but damn it all she did, and she was. Maybe if I’d been with her…”
Tay trailed off into silence and cleared his throat.
“Whatever you’re trying to cover up here, August, just answer me this. Was it worth it? Was it worth Cally dying for? Was it worth three dead women?”
August looked as if he was about to say something, but he didn’t. The room slipped into an uneasy stillness. Tay heard the refrigerator in the mini-bar click on, hum softly for a minute or two, and then click off again.
“So what do we do now?” Tay eventually asked into the silence.
“I don’t know about you, Tay, but I know exactly what I’m going to do. I’m going to go straight back to Pattaya and get blind drunk. There’s no better place on God’s green earth to get blind drunk than Pattaya and no better time to do it than today.”
“You can do what you want. I’m going to find out what in Christ’s name is going on here and I’m going to hang somebody for it. And understand this, pal. If you had anything to do with it, that includes your worthless ass, too.”
“Fuck you, Tay. I would have done anything in the world to protect that woman.”
“But you didn’t protect her. You let her walk right into it.”
“I didn’t fucking let her do anything. Cally always did what she wanted to. Always.”
“You could have warned her.”
“Warned her about what?”
“That’s what I intend to find out.”
The two men glared at each other for a while, but neither of them had the energy to keep it up for very long and soon enough they just stopped.
“What are you really after here, Tay?” August asked.
Tay didn’t know exactly what to say to that, so he said nothing.
“Is it justice you want,” August went on, “or would revenge do?”
“I’m a police officer. I’m going to find out who killed Cally and why, and I will see to it that he is punished according to the law.”
“That’s what I thought. Well then, let me tell you this, my friend. You’re going to end up with nothing at all. There is no justice down that road and you don’t have the balls to be serious about revenge. I could give you DeSouza on his knees, holding a signed confession in his teeth, and you still couldn’t pull the trigger. Leave this to people who can.”
“I’m a police officer,” Tay repeated doggedly.
“No, you’re not. Not here in Thailand. You’re just passing through, one more piece of foreign shit in the dirty great toilet of Bangkok. You haven’t got a hope in hell of accomplishing anything here. Go back to Singapore.”
“I’m not going anywhere.”
“Sure you are. What the hell are you going to do here in Bangkok? Investigate Cally’s death and prove that DeSouza murdered her with the help of some Thai cops?”
“If that’s what happened.”
“Don’t be naive, Sam. This is the Wild West. It’s nothing like Singapore. Go around asking questions of the wrong people in a place like this and somebody rides up next to you on a motorcycle and punches your ticket with a.45.”
“That doesn’t scare me.”
“It sure as hell ought to. It scares the shit out of me. Unless of course you’re just too dumb to be scared. Is that it, Sam? Are you just too damned dumb to be scared?”
August pushed himself to his feet.
“Suit yourself, big man. As for me, well shit, I’m out of here.”
August walked over to the bed, scooped up the photographs, and slid them back into the manila envelope.
“Wait a minute,” Tay said. “I want those.”
“No fucking chance, fellow. They’re too easy to trace to me and nobody wants to be tied to a loose cannon.”
At the door August stopped with his hand on the knob. He looked back at Tay, who was sitting absolutely still.
“You don’t have any contacts,” he said. “You don’t have any help at all.”
“I have you.”
“No,” August shook his head. “You don’t.”
Then he opened the door and he was gone.
It was raining when Tay flew back to Singapore, and it rained all night. The next day, a hot Saturday afternoon, Tay was sitting in the cafe at Borders and it was still raining.
He watched the big fat drops splatter on the green umbrellas covered in Carlsberg logos just outside the windows and drip onto the empty tables the umbrellas were supposed to shelter and he wondered if he should have stayed in Bangkok after all. It was supposed to be the dry season in Singapore now, wasn’t it? So why wasn’t it dry? If it were the goddamned dry season, would somebody explain to him exactly how it could be raining like a motherfucker and it didn’t look like it was ever going to stop?
A half-drunk cappuccino in a ceramic mug and an unread copy of James Lee Burke’s new novel were on the table in front of Tay, but he had lost interest in both. He was thinking instead about Bangkok, and what he was thinking had very little to do with the weather. He was thinking about Bangkok because of what happened there. He was thinking about Bangkok because of what he had now decided to do about what happened there.
Tay sipped at his cappuccino, but it had gone cold and he put it down again. What he really wanted was a cigarette, but smoking was only allowed outside and it was raining like a son of a bitch outside, wasn’t it? How fair was that? How fair was it that he was permitted to smoke only when it wasn’t raining? And it was always raining in Singapore, goddamn it to hell, so he would probably never be permitted to smoke anywhere in Singapore again.
“When did you get back, sir?”
Tay looked up as Sergeant Kang pulled out the chair across from him and sat down.
“The OC said to be sure and give you his best, sir. He hopes you’ll drop in to say hello, when you have the time, of course.”
Tay ignored the bait and went straight to the reason he had asked Kang to meet him at the cafe.
“I need your help with something, Robbie.”
“So you said on the telephone, sir.”
“It will have to be handled completely off the books.”
“Yes, sir. I gathered that might be the case.”
“Are you comfortable with that?”
“I’m ready for whatever you need me to do, sir.”
Tay thought for a moment about how best to put the idea to Kang, and then he stopped worrying about it and just told him.
“I may need to keep someone under around-the-clock surveillance.”
“For how long?”
“For as long as it takes.”
“You’d need at least six men to do it. And they’d all have to work on their own time.”
“That wouldn’t be a problem, sir. You’ve got a lot of friends.”
“Don’t you want to know who the target is before you agree?”
“My guess is that it’s DeSouza.”
“That’s very astute, Sergeant.”
“Thank you, sir.”
“Would you and your friends be uneasy about conducting off-the-books surveillance of an FBI agent?”
“No, sir. Not if it’s for you.”
Tay was pleased to hear that. He was, to be entirely honest, quite touched, but he had absolutely no intention of getting all misty-eyed about it. There might be a time for that later, but probably not.
“Okay, Sergeant,” Tay said. “I’m going to take a crack at the boss first and see if I can get this done officially. If that doesn’t work out, you and your men have the job.”
“We’ll be there if you need us, sir.”
Tay wondered if he had any real chance of persuading the OC to let him continue the investigation or if he would just be going through the motions. Either way, he supposed he would have to take a shot at it. Maybe the OC would respect his doubts and let him take a run at DeSouza. Or maybe he wouldn’t. Tay supposed all he could do was ask.
Tay felt like he ought to say something to Kang about how much his support meant, but he wasn’t sure how to do that. So he just kept it simple.
“Thank you, Robbie.”
“You’re welcome, sir.”
Now Tay really did need a cigarette, but it was still raining and it still didn’t look like it was ever going to stop.
“Are you out of your mind, Sam? Are you out of your goddamn fucking mind? You want CID-SIS to put an FBI agent from the American embassy under surveillance?”
The OC’s face had turned an arresting shade of purple, or perhaps it was closer to puce. Tay wasn’t absolutely sure he knew the difference.
“Can you imagine…” the words stopped coming for a moment and the OC sputtered at the sheer impossibility of it, “what would happen to me if I let you do something like that and anyone found out?”
Tay recognized that he was not being asked a question to which he was actually intended to provide an answer, so he remained silent.
The OC abruptly stood up from behind his desk and walked over to the windows. He rubbed at the back of his neck with one hand while he rested the open palm of the other against the glass and gave the city outside the once-over.
“You remember what I said about retirement, Sam?”
“You think any more about that?”
“Well, you’re not getting any younger, you know. None of us are getting any younger.”
Tay didn’t ask what the question of his retirement had to do with his suspicions concerning DeSouza. He thought he could figure it out on his own.
The OC turned back toward Tay, leaned against the windows, and folded his arms, crossing his legs at the ankles.
“You’re a damned good detective, Sam, but you’re getting to be more and more of a pain in the ass around here. It’s natural, I guess. People get older, that sort of thing happens. They get cranky, unhappy about everything, never satisfied. They make life hard on everyone around them.”
“Are you saying I’m making your life difficult, sir?”
“You damn well are right now.”
The OC returned to his chair. He pulled out a desk drawer, rested a foot on it, and crossed his legs.
“This case is closed, Sam. I’m sorry this woman you obviously had so much regard for was killed, but the FBI says our murderer from the Marriott was killed, too, and I believe them. So that is that.”
“Why do you believe them, sir?”
The OC turned his head and gazed out the window again, but he didn’t answer. Tay wondered for a moment what he was looking at, but then he decided he really didn’t care.
“Will you just hear me out, sir?” Tay went on. “Will you at least do that?”
The OC kept his eyes focused somewhere outside the windows, but he lifted one hand and gave a little wave. Tay had no idea at all what that gesture was supposed to mean, but he decided he had nothing to lose by reading it as an invitation for him to take his shot.
“We can link DeSouza to the Marriott. We have him there on tape the week before Elizabeth Munson was murdered.”
“It’s a hotel, for God’s sake, Sam. It sits at the busiest intersection in the whole fucking city. Thousands of people pass through the Marriott every goddamned day.”
“May I go on, sir?”
The OC shrugged and made that odd little wave with his hand again.
“We can also link DeSouza to the apartment in Bangkok where Ambassador Rooney was murdered. As an FBI agent, he would have had access to it and, according to the American embassy here, he was in Bangkok on the day following the discovery of the body. My guess is that, if we push them, we’ll find out DeSouza was also there on the day she was killed.”
Tay paused. The OC’s eyes were still focused out the window, but he didn’t interrupt again.
“And finally, we know that DeSouza was at the scene when Cally was killed. We also know she wasn’t killed by this so-called suspect of DeSouza’s and that doesn’t leave many possibilities.”
That caused the OC to turn away from the window and examine Tay’s face for any sign that he might be exaggerating.
“What are you talking about?” he asked.
Tay told him about the photographs, the blood around Cally’s body and the lack of blood around Dadi’s body in spite of the shotgun blast directly into his torso. Tay told the OC his theory that Dadi had been dead when he was brought into that room and that it had all been a setup because Cally was getting too close to something.
“Where did these photographs come from?”
“I have a contact at the American embassy in Bangkok.”
“Oh, do you now?” The OC raised one eyebrow. “A contact?”
“And I suppose this contact just turned up out of the blue and gave you these photographs all on his own.”
“Yes, sir. Something like that. He did.”
“Who’s your contact?”
Tay hesitated. He was not sure why he was so reluctant to mention John August’s name to his boss, but he was. Maybe he was still smarting over August calling him a loose cannon and didn’t want to give him too much credit, or maybe it was something else altogether. Either way, he didn’t want to bring August into it. At least, not quite yet.
“I don’t think I should tell you, sir. Not without getting his permission first.”
“It’s one of the American’s spooks, I suppose. That’s it, isn’t it?”
Tay remained silent.
The OC sighed heavily and turned back to the window.
“I would also guess you don’t actually have copies of these photographs right now or the slightest idea what happened to the originals, do you?”
“He…my contact kept them.”
Tay’s boss shook his head, then tilted back in his chair and knitted his fingers together behind his head.
“My God, Sam, you don’t have the slightest idea what you’re into here, do you?”
“What do you mean, sir?”
“You said this was a setup, didn’t you?”
“Well, you might be right about that much at least.”
“I don’t follow you, sir.”
“You’re the one who’s being set up here, Sam. The spooks probably manufactured these photographs and showed them to you to incriminate this FBI guy for some reason.”
“Why would they do that?”
“How the hell should I know? How the hell should I know why these people do anything? But they pull exactly that kind of shit all the time, you believe me they do. All the time.”
Tay thought about what the Chief was saying. Yes, he had to admit it was at least theoretically possible he was being used somehow. He couldn’t prove absolutely to anyone that he wasn’t. He couldn’t even prove that to himself; but he didn’t think so. He remembered John August’s face when they had talked in his room in Bangkok, and he really didn’t think so.
“Let me ask you this, Sam. How come you trust this source of yours so much?”
Tay hadn’t really thought much about that up to this point and now that he was being asked to explain it to someone else, he guessed it might be a little late to start pondering the metaphysics of the question. Nevertheless, now that he did think about it, he found he had no doubt at all that he trusted August. Maybe that’s what loose cannons did, trust the wrong people; but if that was what he was doing here, then he was. All the reflection and deliberation in the world wasn’t going to change it.
“I just trust him, sir. I know that I can.”
“Then why didn’t he leave the pictures with you?”
Tay didn’t know the answer to that so he didn’t try.
“Regardless, sir, I still trust him. You’re going to have to take my word for it.”
“And you’d bet your ass he’s not setting you up.”
“Yes, sir. I would.”
The OC barked a quick laugh. “Well then, Sam, you just go ahead and do that then. You go ahead and bet your ass your little spook buddy isn’t making a meal of you here. Just don’t think you can bet my ass on it, too.”
“Look, Chief, all I want to do is put DeSouza under surveillance-”
“Let me just get one thing absolutely straight here. You’re not saying you think DeSouza killed these women himself. You’re not saying that, are you, Sam?”
Tay had known he would need to give the Chief a straight answer to that question and had turned it over and over in his mind since yesterday. Still, the truth of it was that he just didn’t know what the answer was, so he framed his response as carefully as he could.
“DeSouza can be physically linked to all three crime scenes. At a very minimum, he knows what connects the three crimes and either knows, or thinks he knows, who committed them. If he didn’t commit them himself, he’s protecting whoever did. What else would explain his complicity in the murder of Ms. Parks?”
“If there was complicity.”
“Yes, sir. If there was.”
“If these photographs you’re talking about aren’t just a lot of crap.”
“Yes, sir. If they aren’t.”
“And, even if they aren’t crap, if you might not be misinterpreting them.”
“Yes, sir. If I’m not.”
“A whole lot of fucking if’s, my friend.”
Tay’s boss sighed heavily, then he leaned back and began studying the overhead light fixture.
“And what is putting DeSouza under surveillance supposed to prove?” he finally asked when the silence had gone on so long that Tay was beginning to fidget.
“If DeSouza is protecting someone, Chief, it would probably be someone he knows fairly well, someone he has a personal relationship with. By finding out where he goes and whom he sees we ought to be able at least to narrow down the possibilities.”
“Uh-huh. And that’s it.”
Tay paused. He didn’t want to say it, but he supposed there was no real point in beating around the bush.
“If DeSouza committed the crimes himself, he’s a cold-blooded serial killer. I think he’ll kill again, or try to.”
The OC abruptly lost interest in the light fixture and shifted his attention to the top of his desk.
“How long would all this take?”
Tay wasn’t sure what that meant. Was the OC weakening? Was he actually on the verge of giving Tay permission to set up surveillance on DeSouza?
“A couple of weeks,” Tay answered carefully. “Maybe a little more. That ought to be long enough to give us a reasonably good idea whether there’s anything there we ought to look into further.”
The OC blew air into his cheeks and let it out again. Tay knew he was being unreasonably hopeful, but right at that moment and against all the odds his boss looked very much like a man who was about to give him the go-ahead. Tay had no doubt at all that the right thing to do was to keep his mouth shut, to sit there in silence and let the OC do his considering. Still, as he had more times in his life than he cared to remember, Tay couldn’t stop himself from saying just one more thing.
“Nobody has to know this is being done, sir.”
The second he spoke, Tay could see in the OC’s eyes how badly he had just blown it. If biting his tongue off could have called the words back, he would have done it gladly.
“Oh really, Sam? You’re sure of that? What if you slip up and this man makes the surveillance? You figure we’d all just have a good laugh together and let it go?”
“I’ll make certain that doesn’t happen, sir.”
“Even if it doesn’t, it wouldn’t be a week before half of Singapore found out about it.”
“It’s not necessary to tell very many-”
“Right now you know and I know,” the OC interrupted, “and surely you’re not suggesting I agree to something like this without informing the Director of CID and God knows who he would think he ought to tell to cover his own ass. On top of that, if I actually let you do something this bloody dumb, you’d need at least a dozen men to pull it off. They’d all know. So that’s…what, maybe twenty people in all? Then it wouldn’t be long before twenty wives or girlfriends found out and then we’d really be off to the fucking races.”
Anger rose inside Tay, but he fought it down.
“So you won’t even consider my request, sir?”
“I have considered it, Sam. Your request to put this man DeSouza under surveillance is denied. The murder of Elizabeth Munson has been solved. The case is closed based on information received from American law enforcement authorities. The murders of the other two women occurred in Thailand. They are none of our concern. That’s it. That’s the end. Finito.”
The OC eyed Tay for a moment and then leaned back in his chair.
“Do you understand me, Sam?”
“You’re going to close the case and leave this alone?”
“That’s what you told me to do, sir.”
“I know that’s what I told you to do, Sam. My question is whether or not you’re going to do it.”
“I’ve always tried to do my job as well as I can, sir, and that includes following the instructions you give me.”
The OC knew, of course, that wasn’t exactly an answer to his question, but he was growing tired of fencing with Tay.
“See that you do, Sam. See that you do. But let me tell you one thing. If I get even the slightest hint that you aren’t following my instructions to the fucking letter, you and I are going to have a serious talk about your retirement. I can’t have my officers going off on their own because they have vague suspicions and friends in American intelligence. Do you understand that?”
“I understand that perfectly, sir.”
All at once, as if he had just thought of something far more important he had to deal with, the OC leaned forward and scribbled a note on a pad that was in front of him. When he was done, he glanced up.
“That’s all, Sam. You can go now.”
IT had been easy enough for Sergeant Kang to find out when DeSouza returned to Singapore and equally easy to find out where he lived. Over the weekend Kang quietly recruited five other CID-SIS detectives and organized the six of them into two-man teams. The first team picked up DeSouza on Monday morning when he left home to go to the American embassy. All six men continued working their other cases as usual, but in their off-hours they threw a blanket over DeSouza, covering him in twelve-hour shifts.
For nearly a week, DeSouza did absolutely nothing of interest to anyone.
And then he did something that interested everyone.
“Yeah?” Tay mumbled. It was hardly the most courteous way to answer a telephone, and certainly not the most articulate, but it was the middle of the fucking night and he figured it would do.
“Sir? Is that you?”
“Yes, sir. Did I wake you, sir?”
“What time is it?”
“About one, sir.”
“Does that answer your question?”
“Sorry?” A pause. “Oh, I see. Right.”
Sergeant Kang cleared his throat.
“I’m sorry to bother you, sir, but I thought you should know DeSouza’s on the move and we’re not sure what to make of it.”
Tay sat up. He rubbed at his eyes with his free hand and swung his feet to the floor.
“Talk to me, Robbie.”
“Well, sir, Danny Ong and Sergeant Lee are with DeSouza tonight and Danny just called me. A taxi picked DeSouza up at his house about midnight and took him to the Hard Rock Cafe, but instead of going inside he walked up Cuscaden Road to Orchard. When he got to Orchard, he crossed over and-”
“I don’t need a fucking travelogue, Sergeant. Just tell me where DeSouza went.”
“To Orchard Towers, sir.”
Tay struggled to get his mind around that piece of information, but right off the top of his head it suggested nothing significant to him. “The office building?” he asked after a moment.
“Well, sir, it’s not exactly an office building, at least not at night. You know what I mean, don’t you, sir?”
“For fuck’s sake, Robbie. It’s the middle of the goddamned night and I’m not in the mood for games.”
“Yes, sir. Orchard Towers, sir. The first few floors are a shopping center during the day, but at night there are bars there that mostly tourists go to. Sometimes they call it Four Floors. It’s across the street from the Hilton-”
“I know where Orchard Towers is and I know what it is. But what did you just call it?”
“Four Floors, sir. That’s short for Four Floors of Whores. Some people call it that.”
“Well, I don’t call it that. I call it Orchard Towers.”
Tay thought for a moment, perhaps a bit more slowly than normal given the time of night, but in a way that at least bore some resemblance to normal brain activity.
“How long did he stay?” Tay asked.
“He’s still there, sir. Been inside about a half-hour.”
Tay chewed at his lip as he thought about that.
Okay, so DeSouza likes girls and he’s making the rounds of a few bars where a good number of them are available for rent. So what? Still, up until now DeSouza hasn’t done anything but go to work at the embassy and back to his house. He doesn’t seem much like a party boy and, if he’s not, then what is he up to?
“Are either of your men inside with him, Robbie?”
“No, sir. One is covering the front and the other is covering the back. They’re afraid if they go inside they might lose him. The building has four floors-”
“So I gather.”
“The bars in there are all so packed with tourists that the prime minister could be in there and you wouldn’t see him unless you just happen to stumble over him.”
Maybe DeSouza has made the surveillance and is trying to shake it. Orchard Towers certainly sounds like a good place to do it. On the other hand, maybe he’s meeting someone and wants to surround himself with enough hubbub to make it unlikely anyone will spot them.
“What should we do, sir?”
“Give me a moment, Robbie. I’m thinking as fast as I can at one o’clock in the morning.”
There was another possibility, of course, and it was the one that gave Tay the most pause.
Maybe DeSouza had killed all three women himself. Maybe he had found out that he liked killing women. Maybe he was a budding serial killer out trolling for his next victim.
“Can DeSouza get out of the building without your men picking him up?”
“I don’t think so, sir. As far as I know, there’s just one front entrance and one back entrance and we’ve got both covered.”
“Right then. Leave your men where they are, but you get over there yourself and get inside. See if you can find DeSouza and see what he’s up to.”
There was a pause. “Me, sir?”
“Yes, Robbie. You.”
There was another pause, longer this time.
“Yes, sir,” Kang muttered.
Tay ignored Kang’s unhappiness. “Where are the men you have outside the building?” he asked.
“Danny’s covering the front. He’s at a table at the Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf right across from the main entrance.”
“Who’s at the back?”
“Sergeant Lee. He’s in a place called 3 Monkeys. It’s a little cafe right by the back steps.”
Tay’s eyes searched for and eventually found the clock on his bedside table. Ten minutes after one in the morning. Good Lord. He was getting way too old for this kind of thing.
“I’ll be there in twenty minutes. At the back entrance. Let Lee know I’m coming.”
“What do you think DeSouza’s up to, sir?”
“I have no idea, Robbie. No goddamned idea at all.”
Sergeant Kang had been inside Orchard Towers exactly twice before. The first time was on the night of his twenty-first birthday and the less said about that the better. The second time was four or five years ago when his best friend from school moved to Australia and gave himself a going-away party. Come to think of it, perhaps it would be better to forget about that occasion as well.
Orchard Towers was not a place where Singaporeans customarily went. It was a place for foreigners, and even then only male foreigners. All those foreign men went to Orchard Towers looking for Singaporean women, of course, but what they found instead was almost every other kind of woman on earth. Thai women, Filipino women, Cambodian women, Vietnamese women, Malay women, Indonesian women, Chinese women, Japanese women, and even a few Russian and Latin American women. They also found not a few women at Orchard Towers who looked a whole lot better than most of the others but weren’t actually women at all. Singapore had been famous for that sort of thing for generations.
Orchard Towers was not large, but its focus was single-minded. Every floor was lined with narrow bars bearing names like Naughty Girl, Bongo Bar, Club Romeo, and Queens Disco. Throngs of men drifted from one bar to another and, as the doors opened and closed, the clashing sounds of different music flooded the atrium with a painful din.
Sergeant Kang rode the escalators from the front entrance on Orchard Road all the way up through the atrium to the fourth floor to get his bearings. At the top, Kang stuck his head into a bar called the Crazy Horse. The place looked like a half-darkened school hall. Several women danced on a small stage at one end and there was a pool table at the other. The rest of the room was in darkness, but there was enough light for Kang to see the place was packed with people. At a glance it looked as if the women outnumbered the men, but most of the men were middle-aged Caucasians and Kang could see he would never find DeSouza in a crowd like this unless he ran straight into him.
He glanced at his watch. One forty-five. Who the hell were all these people? Didn’t they sleep at night like everybody else?
Kang backed out of the Crazy Horse and circled the atrium until he found a dead spot in the uproar and leaned back against a pillar. Pulling out his phone, he dialed Tay, who answered on the first ring.
“I’m here, Robbie. With Lee in the cafe at the back.”
“You find DeSouza yet?”
“Uh…no, sir. It’s a mob scene in here.”
“At two o’clock in the morning?”
“Wall-to-wall people, sir, and all of them who aren’t women look more or less like DeSouza. Even some of them who are women look like DeSouza.”
“What are you talking about?”
“It was just a little joke, sir.”
“I see. You told a joke.”
Tay didn’t say anything else. Kang thought about waiting him out, but he knew that would be a waste of time.
“I’ll start going through these places one by one, sir,” Kang continued, “but unless I get awfully lucky, there’s not much hope.”
“I don’t want to lose this guy, Robbie. And you really don’t want to be the one to lose him for me.”
“Regardless, sir, I doubt I’m going to find him in here. Your best bet is to sit on both exits until DeSouza comes out and pick him up then.”
Then Kang heard another voice speaking from the other end of the phone.
“Where?” Tay said to whoever it was.
The voice spoke again and after a pause Tay responded, “I see him.”
“Robbie,” Tay spoke quickly, “where is your car?”
“In the car park, sir. The one just beside the building.”
“Get it. DeSouza just came out.”
“He’s going to the taxi stand, sir,” Sergeant Lee said.
“Yes, I see him,” Tay nodded. “He’s with that tall woman in the red dress.”
“Of course he is. I can see him plainly. He’s with that woman.”
“No sir, what I actually meant, sir, is…well…”
“What the hell are you trying to say, Sergeant?”
“That’s not a woman, sir.”
Tay glanced briefly at Sergeant Lee, then back at the person with whom DeSouza was walking. She was wearing a dark red, kneelength skirt with a matching red bolero jacket, a white blouse, black stockings, and expensive-looking red pumps. Her dark hair was cut short and frosted with silver highlights, and when she glanced over her shoulder for a moment, Tay saw the face of an attractive and elegant woman who looked to be in her late twenties.
“You’re out of your fucking mind,” Tay said after his inspection was complete.
“Uh…no, sir. That’s a bapok. A shim.”
“Shim, sir. A she-him. Orchard Towers is where most of them hang out.”
Tay took another look, but saw nothing that caused him to change his mind. “That can’t be a man, Sergeant.”
“It is, sir. Really, it is.”
Tay thought of asking Lee why he was so sure, then decided he might not want to know.
“So DeSouza’s gay?” Tay asked instead.
“No, sir. He wouldn’t be gay.”
Tay shot a sharp look at Sergeant Lee. “Didn’t you just tell me that’s a man he’s leaving this place with?”
“Yes, sir. But gay men aren’t attracted to shims. Gay men are attracted to men. The men who go with shims are straight men. They like shims because they’re so feminine.”
Tay was having difficulty getting his mind around what he was hearing. Lucinda Lim told him that Elizabeth Munson wasn’t gay regardless of the fact that she slept with other women. Now Sergeant Lee was telling him that men who picked up other men — other men who dressed like women, to be sure, but still men — weren’t gay either.
Tay accepted that very few things in this world were certain. Still, the division of the human species into males and females and the separation of human sexual attraction into gay and straight seemed to him to be clear enough. Were there actually shades of gray in both matters that he had completely missed? Surely not. Surely, even in a world apparently turned enthusiastically relativistic in nearly all matters of belief and conviction, at least this single principle of physiological, if not moral, certainty still held true. There were men and there were women, and there were straights and there were gays. And that was that.
Or perhaps not.
DeSouza and his companion joined the line at the taxi stand and Tay continued to study them. He still thought Sergeant Lee was probably pulling his leg, but he resolved to start thinking of whoever that might be with DeSouza in gender-neutral terms just in case. There were a dozen or more people in front of them in the taxi line and not many taxis at that hour so it looked as if they might have to wait for a while. That was a break for Tay, since all at once he had a great deal to think about and very little time in which to do it.
If DeSouza really was the stone-cold murderer of three women, Tay could hardly let him pick up somebody in a bar and just walk off into the night with them, could he? Of course, Tay didn’t have any real evidence that DeSouza had killed anyone, and this person with whom he was walking away into the night might not be a woman. Still, did DeSouza know he might not have picked up a woman and, if he didn’t know, how was he going to react when he found out? Tay really couldn’t work out where any of that left him.
There was another possibility Tay couldn’t ignore either. This might be the very break they had been waiting for. Perhaps DeSouza wasn’t a killer trolling for his next victim. Perhaps he had chosen this way to make contact with someone who could tie the whole case together for them. After all, there was the chance that both Munson and Rooney had been gay, wasn’t there? That might take the case in all sorts of directions and to all sorts of places where Tay’s apparently limited experience with human sexuality left him on very shaky ground. Couldn’t this woman, or man, with DeSouza somehow be connected with the case he was trying to build? Perhaps she, or he, could.
But then maybe none of this had anything to do with Tay’s investigation at all. Maybe DeSouza was just a lonely, middle-aged man out looking for sex on a dull Tuesday night and this was the companion he had chosen. If that were the case, it was absolutely none of Tay’s business who, or what, it might be, was it?
His head was starting to hurt. The punch line of a joke he had once heard came to mind.
What I really want is a one-armed lawyer. That way the bastard can’t say, “On the one hand, that might be true; but on the other hand, it might not be.”
Tay was still trying to decide which hand to go with when his telephone rang.
“I’ve got the car, sir,” Kang said. “Look to your right and you’ll see me.”
Tay glanced over and saw Kang’s Toyota at the curb. Then he looked back to where DeSouza and his friend were working their way closer to the front of the taxi line. They were in luck. Kang’s car was facing the right direction. Whether DeSouza’s taxi went straight ahead down Claymore Road toward Orchard or made a U-turn and went the opposite direction, Kang could pull out and get behind it. Thank Christ for small favors.
“Let’s go,” Tay said to Sergeant Lee and bolted for the Toyota.
The sergeant dropped some bills on the table and took off right behind him.
Tay would have preferred to circle around the building and approach the Toyota from the opposite direction, but there was no time and he was pretty sure that DeSouza wouldn’t spot him anyway. Still, he was careful to keep his face turned away from where DeSouza waited in the taxi line.
“Did he see me, Robbie?” Tay asked as he slid into the passenger seat of the Toyota.
“No, sir,” Kang said. “Too wrapped up in his girlfriend. God, that one’s a looker, isn’t she?”
Tay was just trying to decide whether or not to say anything to Kang when Sergeant Lee caught up and slid into the back seat.
“They’re getting into a taxi, sir,” Kang said from the driver’s seat as the door closed.
Tay decided any discussion with Kang of modern sexuality in Singapore could wait for a more convenient time.
“Don’t lose him, Robbie.”
“No, sir. I won’t.”
Tay leaned back in his seat as Sergeant Kang pulled away. He still didn’t have the first idea how to play this, but he supposed not much would happen as long as DeSouza and his friend were in a taxi. There wasn’t anything he could do now but wait and see where they went.
THEY went to the Hoover Hotel on Balestier Road, not very far from Orchard Towers.
When the taxi stopped at the hotel’s entrance, Kang pulled to the curb about fifty yards away and cut his lights. Tay and the two sergeants watched in silence as DeSouza and his companion got out of the taxi and went into the hotel.
“A lot of the girls live there, sir,” Sergeant Lee said.
Tay twisted around and looked at him in the back seat. “Girls?”
“Well…” the sergeant hesitated. “It’s the term most people use for them.”
“What are you talking about?” Kang asked.
“DeSouza’s friend,” Tay told him. “She’s a chim.”
“Shim, sir,” Lee corrected him.
“What friend?” Kang asked.
“The one he just went into the hotel with,” Tay said.
Sergeant Kang’s face slackened. “You’re joking,” he said.
Kang looked from Tay to Lee and back again, but neither of them said a word.