To say that the Mandarin Oriental in Bangkok is swank, is to say that silk is silky, or water is wet. The building has stood for thirty years and more as the definition of South-Asian luxury. Everywhere gilding and fine patterned cloth shine like fireworks. The furniture looks like it was all carved by Buddhist Valkyries in the halls of some Himalayan Valhalla.
Valhalla? Not a bad metaphor considering I died, but if this is heaven then heaven wasn’t meant for me. People like Jenny stay in a place like this; people with lucky wallets and luckier skin. Maybe that luck is enough to keep her alive and get her here safe. I won’t know until I ask.
The four meter tall doors reveal a lobby like an aircraft hanger, decked with red carpets, crystal chandeliers and mirrors the size of shop-fronts. I try not to wobble too much as my shins, knees, neck and back complain. Even in my finest I still feel like a pauper let in to see the king.
The front desk is ten yards long and manned by no less than six concierges. As I approach, a lady in a silk robe drifts toward me like a crane. I tense as she pauses, but she puts a garland of flowers about my neck instead of the rope I half expected, and instead of calling security, she does a little elaborate bow.
Maybe it’s the suit. Funny how much a suit can change what people see. Pinstripes instead of colored skin.
Behind the desk wait a set of lifts with immaculate red-coated operators. Off on my left a café that could seat an embassy houses a handful of well-dressed foreigners.
“Summanus,” I say to a concierge, leaning on the desk and smiling as I revel in the renewed realization that I’m not in America. “I believe a young lady is expecting me.”
He bobs his head in a slight bow, his palms pressed together. His eyes dart over a set of notes in a big ledger until they catch.
“Of course, Mr. Summanus.” He has a slight French accent. “We’ll let Ms. Brent know you’re here.”
I guess that means she’s not dead.
The hotel café smells of cigar smoke and bourbon. Every table has its own arrangement of blossoms you could lose your face in. Flies play lazily with the ceiling fans. Nothing signs trouble to me except the look in Jenny’s eyes.
She sits across from me in a flower print dress, her cheeks and shoulders slightly aglow from the evening heat. Hers is the look my mother wore on bad days – the one that meant the earth under her feet couldn’t be trusted.
Smoldering afternoon pours in with topaz sunlight through fourteen foot tall carved teak-wood shutters. A marble veranda beyond the shutters is populated with empty tables and chairs, all elegant and elaborately decorated. Flowering trees overhang the tables there, which look out to a meandering series of interconnected pools set in a perfect green lawn. A fat white man in a silk suit smokes a cigar under a shower of golden blossoms so thick the tree doesn’t seem to have leaves. The place even has its own newspaper – the Bangkok Star, English language, specifically for the foreigners who stay here. A few copies adorn tables, apparently at random.
“Help me?” I ask her, holding up the note she left and one skeptical eyebrow. “Rather melodramatic, don’t you think?”
She shrugs. “Well, I need you.”
“You need me.” It’s strangely satisfying to hear somebody say that, but it’s also hard to hide my smile when she rolls her eyes. My lips hurt. “Great,” I say, “but this hotel isn’t exactly low key. If whoever’s following you didn’t know about me, they surely will soon. David’s likely to find out not far behind.”
She shakes her head as if denying the relevance of the question. “This is the only place in this city I can sit without feeling a hundred pairs of eyes ogling me.” Her voice is quiet, more subdued than I’ve heard from her, and she still hasn’t looked at me. “I can’t tell the goosneckers from the mooks. At least in here if they want our conversation, they’ll have to sit a few tables closer.”
The only others in shouting distance are the red-breasted bellhops who stand in rows beside the carved columns of the lobby and the barkeeper behind his forest of glasses. At the café’s other end, a gentleman in a suit much like mine trades what must be decently good jokes with a young local lady in a silk robe and gold jewelry. Their giggles are muted by the sheer scale of the space between us.
“Right,” I say. “So what’s the emergency? You might not have stayed to see but I took a bit of a ruffing back there. I’m not quite on my finest knees.”
Jenny’s head tilts down and turns further away. Her fingers curl on the table’s surface and her eyes search the floor.
The tooth Garland knocked loose is killing me, flopping around like a drunk dancer. Focusing a second, I brace myself, tug, then drop the white speck in the ashtray and add ‘Dentist’ to the list of things I need immediately, right between ‘rest’ and ‘bath.’
A peacock barks from the garden outside. The sound isn’t what you’d expect from a bird.
“David knew you wouldn’t trust him,” she admits. “He sent me after you. The contact at the airport, the money, those were his. He knew you’d take them if I offered on the sly, just like he knew Nash would give you the goods.”
A waiter approaches and arranges two glasses full of ice water on the table, each with its own umbrella and slice of lime.
I take mine and drink from it. The ice moves into my gut like it belongs there. Then the sour lime joins the other sour tastes in my mouth. Lime in my gap-tooth is less than I deserve.
The waiter waits a moment silently, then vanishes like my confidence.
“Don’t be mad,” she whispers. “That’s the game.”
The green in her eyes glows brighter than the flower stems or the garden outside, and the dusting of her freckles on pale skin look like stars.
“Only person I’m mad at is me,” I tell her, then sigh. “I really should have known. You sold it. Well played. Why are you telling me now?”
She searches my face, then without looking away she points at a square of white paper on a nearby table.
“Look,” she says.
I do. It’s a one page news-sheet, the Bangkok Star, English language. A terse headline halfway down the first page catches my eye.
US DIPLOMAT FOUND DEAD
Police suspect organized crime in the murder of US State Department official David Laurence, found dead in his hotel room this morning.
The sounds of the lobby seem a little louder. Mango and fried fish smells float in the window. Some colorful bird perches outside, chirping atonally.
“Do you know where he was staying?” I ask.
Jenny nods, and taps the table with a finger pointing down.
“Do you know who he’d had contact with?” I ask.
She shakes her head.
“How much had you been seen with him?”
She takes a breath and then lets it out. “Every day.”
“Did he say anything to you? Give you anything?”
She shakes her head, the movement terse. “He wasn’t talky. He said to find you and leave the rest to him. I gathered he was following up some leads with the local government – people who deal with organized crime and dope. He paid his hotel room for a couple of weeks but he didn’t seem all that optimistic, and he didn’t seem scared either. I thought maybe I was being followed when I went to the embassy, to find your name, so I didn’t come straight back here. When I got back it was late and there were police in the lobby. They had a funny look on their faces. My room had been broken into, my stuff thrown around. The hotel gave me a new room on the first floor, right near the lobby where the guards stay.”
She turns to face me and her fingers find the clasp of a clutch bag waiting on her knee.
The bird in the window chirps and flies away. A monkey crawls across the marble platform outside. The temperature seems to have dropped a dozen degrees.
Mitts, David Laurence, is dead. I wonder if it’s true. He seemed big, tough, and smart. I may not have liked him much, but there was no denying he had the ups on me – better funding, better contacts, probably tougher, way more knowledgeable, certainly more experienced and now, more dead.
Well, maybe more dead. There’s always the chance he’ll wake up in a fresh dug grave with a head full of colors and nonsense. I run a hand over my chest and wonder how a Mitts VS Garland fight would have gone.
“Right,” I say. “If they can take out Mitts and they’re on to you, us, then the smart thing for either of us to do would be go home.”
She nods but gazes way past the lobby wall.
“Will you?” I prod.
“No,” she says.
“Yeah. Me neither.”
“Sure. You haven’t even been shot yet.” She wrinkles her nose and absently taps her clutch bag on the table edge. She’s barely in the cafe: her eyes look past the garden and on to something further. “David kept notes. They’ll be in his room and I want them. There’s a guard on the door now. You in?”
“You still good for four dollars a day?” I ask.
She nods as though I’d said yes. “The police have been in there, but he had diplomatic privilege, so they’ve sealed it until somebody from the US embassy has had a look. They might have gone in while I went looking for you, but I don’t think so, and we won’t know until we try.”
“The guard on is door is police?”
“Yes.” She closes the gates on that hundred-yard stare, and swallows a deep breath. “It’s a risk.”
I shrug. “The alternative is to keep working the fight club contacts until they spill the beans about Bitter Flower, or until who-ever did Mitts catches up and does for us too. The closer we get to the goods the more apt they are to kick us down, so I’d like to know everything I can before they start trying.”
Jenny’s gaze finally focuses on me, and it’s hard as jade. A thin smile splits her lips, dangerous and a little bit ready. In the shadow of the table she draws a small revolver from her clutch and slides a sixth bullet into the only empty cylinder. Then she puts the gun back, leaving the clasp open.
“The room’s upstairs,” she says. “I hope that fight didn’t beat your sense out of you because this could go all kinds of screwy.”
“Good.” I stand. “That’s what I signed on for.”