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Authors: John Burdett

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Bangkok Haunts

BOOK: Bangkok Haunts
3.56Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub




Bangkok Haunts
John Burdett
1 A Perfect Product
Few crimes make us fear for the evolution of our species. I am watching one right now.
In a darkened room in the District 8 Police Station with my good friend FBI agent Kimberley Jones, a forty-two-inch Toshiba LCD monitor hangs high up on a wall, out of the reach of villains.
The video I’m sharing with the FBI uses two industrial-quality cameras that between them seamlessly provide all the tricks of zoom, angle, pan, et cetera, and I am told that at least two technicians must have been involved in its production. The color is excellent, thanks to however many millions of pixels that contribute to their subtle shading; we are looking at a product of high civilization unknown to our forefathers. At the end of the movie, though, tough-guy Kimberley bursts into tears, as I’d rather hoped she would. I did. She turns her head to stare at me wild-eyed.
“Tell me it isn’t real.”
“We have the body,” I say.
“Oh, god,” Kimberley says. “Oh, sweet Jesus, I’ve seen things bloodier, but never anything this demonic. I thought I’d seen everything.” She stands up. “I need air.”
I think, In Bangkok? But I lead her through a couple of corridors, then out into the public area, where brown men and women not much more than half her size wait to tell a cop of their homely grievances. It’s not exactly a festive atmosphere, but it’s human. An American extrovert, Kimberley doesn’t mind dabbing her red eyes with a tissue in front of an audience, who naturally assume I’ve just busted this female farang on some minor drug charge —cannabis, perhaps. Like my own, her eyes naturally seek out any attractive young women sitting in the plastic seats. There are three, all of them prostitutes. (No respectable Thai woman dresses like that.) They resent the attention and glare back. I think Kimberley would like to hug them in gratitude that they’re still alive. I take her out into the street: not quite what the words fresh air normally evoke, but she fills her lungs anyway. “My god, Son-chai. The world. What monsters are we creating?”
We have achieved that rare thing, Kimberley and I: a sexless but intimate rapport between a man and a woman of the same age who are mutually attracted to each other but, for reasons beyond analysis, have decided to do nothing about it. Even so, I was surprised when she simply got on a plane in response to a frantic telephone call from me. I had no idea she was specializing in snuff movies these days; nor did I realize they were flavor of the month in international law enforcement. Anyway, it’s great to have a top-notch pro familiar with the latest technology on my side. She’s not intuitive, as I am, but owns a mind like a steel trap. So do I treat her like a woman or a man? Are there any rules about that where she comes from? I give her a comradely embrace and squeeze her hand, which seems to cover most points. “It’s great to have you here, Kimberley,” I say. “Thanks again for coming.”
She smiles with that innocence that can follow an emotional catastrophe. “Sorry to be a girl.”
“I was a girl too, the first time I saw it.”
She nods, unsurprised. “Where did you get it, in a raid?”
I shake my head. “No, it was sent to me anonymously, to my home.” She gives me a knowing look: a personal angle here.
“And the body, where was it found? At the crime scene?”
“No. It had been returned to her apartment, laid neatly on the bed. Forensics says she must have been killed somewhere else.”
Now the American Hero emerges. “We’re gonna get them, Son-chai. Tell me what you need, and I’ll find a way of getting it to you.”
“Don’t make promises,” I say. “This isn’t Iraq.”
She frowns. I guess a lot of Americans are tired of hearing those kinds of jibes. “No, but that movie had a certain style, a certain professionalism about it, and if that alpha male isn’t North American, I’ll turn in my badge.”
“A Hollywood production?”
“For something like that, frankly the U.S. is the first place I would start looking. Specifically California, but not Hollywood. San Fernando Valley, maybe, with international connections. This could tie in with what I’m doing stateside.”
“What would you look for? He was wearing a gimp mask.”
“The eyeholes are quite large —light had to get in. You have isometric surveillance at all points of entry to this country. Give me a copy of the DVD—I’ll get our nerds on the case. If they can make a good still of his eyes and enlarge it, it’s as good as a fingerprint. Better. Are you going to let me see the body?”
“If you want. But how deeply involved do you want to get?”
“Look, I don’t know much, but Chanya told me you’re very upset. That touches me too. If I can help, then that’s what I want to do.”
“Chanya spilled her guts?”
“She loves you. She hinted that you need a little moral support from a fellow professional. I said okay, I’ll do what I can, so long as he lets me in.”
The FBI has no idea how many points she’s accumulated with me for treating a pregnant third-world ex-prostitute as a friend and equal. That kind of heroism leaves us slack-jawed in these parts. Chanya loves her too, of course, and when a Thai girl loves, she tells all.
A tuk-tuk passes, spilling black pollution from its two-stroke engine. They used to be a symbol of Thailand: three wheels, a steel roof on vertical struts, and a happy smiling driver. Now they’re a tourist gimmick catering to a diminishing number of tourists. So far the new millennium has not delivered much in the way of new; instead we have a certain foreboding that a return to old-fashioned grinding poverty might be our share of globalism. Kimberley hasn’t noticed this yet—she’s been here only two days, and already the work ethic has gripped her. She’s not seeing the tuk-tuk or even its pollution.
“I’m not going to use our guys to copy the DVD,” I say. She looks at me. “That kind of thing is produced in very limited numbers, sold to a specialized international market.” She is still looking at me. I feel blood rising up my neck, into facial blood vessels. “This is a poor country.” Still the look: I have to come clean. “They would sell it.”
She turns away to save me from her contempt. A couple of beats pass, then briskly: “I’m okay now. How are you going to copy it?”
“I’m not. I’ll put it in my pocket. You can use the business center at the Grand Britannia to e-mail it straight from the disk.”
She waits in the public area while I go back to retrieve the disk: five point seven megabytes of distilled evil. Out on the street she pauses to stare at a young monk in his early to mid-twenties. He is tall, and there is an exotic elegance about him incongruous with the Internet cafe he is about to enter.
“Using the Net is frowned on by the Sangha, especially in public areas, but it’s not a serious offense. Often monks use it to check Buddhist websites,” I explain, glad to talk about something lighter than a snuff movie.
“Is he a regular around here? Somehow this doesn’t seem like the kind of place a monk would want to hang out.” Kimberley feels the need for small talk too.
“I saw him for the first time yesterday. I don’t know which wat he’s attached to.”
In Dr. Supatra’s underground kingdom rotary saws and twenty different varieties of knife hang on the walls, from meat cleavers to the finest stilettos. I haven’t told her about the DVD yet; actually, I haven’t told anyone except the FBI and Chanya, which doesn’t say much for Thai integrity, does it? Not that I don’t trust Supatra. In times when honor is hard to come by, those who possess it tend to do so in great measure. Supatra is as incorruptible as I am. The reason I didn’t tell her about the video is that I didn’t want to prejudice her mind.
I introduce her to Kimberley. Dr. Supatra looks at her a little suspiciously; we’re all somewhat weary and wary these days of the Western superiority complex; but Kimberley is not quite like that anymore. We met on a case here in Bangkok about five years ago when she was a hormone-haunted manhunter. She’s a lot sadder and wiser these days. She’s even learned enough about Thai customs to press her hands together and raise them to her lips in a not-bad wai that acknowledges Supatra’s superior status in terms of age: she’s over fifty, no taller than five feet, slim and stern in her white laboratory coat. Now that Kimberley has shown humility, Supatra is prepared to open her heart, and she’s leading us out of the lab to the vault. As she walks with her head held contemplatively to one side, a technique that somehow compensates for her lack of height and makes it seem as if she is the tallest person around, she asks, “So, Sonchai, do you know who the victim is?”
A wince crosses my features so fast, Supatra doesn’t catch it. Kimberley does, though, with those merciless blue eyes.
“I checked her prints on the national database. A girl called Damrong, from Isakit.”
“A prostitute?”
“Of course.” Hm.
We have come to death’s filing cabinet, about one hundred man-size drawers set into a wall. Without needing to check the number, Supatra goes to one at about knee height and beckons to me to pull. It’s heavy but pleasingly mobile; a medium-to-hefty tug starts the drawer rolling, and Damrong comes out headfirst. Another wince on my part. Supatra assumes it’s my sensitive nature; the FBI has other ideas.
Even bloated in the face by the effects of asphyxiation, she still impresses. You can see the perfect line of her jaw, her high cheekbones, the Egyptian slant to her eyes, the infinite range of smiles available to those thin but sensual lips, the perfect white teeth, even that extraordinary something…
Who am I kidding? Of course the strangling has hideously altered the perfect balance of her features, bloating them almost beyond recognition; the others see only an ugly corpse—their minds are not prejudiced by prior knowledge. When the drawer is fully extended, though, there is no doubting the perfection of her limbs, the fullness of her breasts, the firm but yielding thighs. Her pubic hair has been shaved, and there is a silver ring set in one of her labia. The tattoo in the area of her navel is an unremarkable serpent coiling around a sword. Despite myself, I cannot help reaching out to her limp left wrist and turning it: a thin whitish scar no more than an inch long from a longitudinal cut into a minor vein. Dr. Supatra nods. “I saw it. An old wound. If it was an attempt at suicide, it was not a very serious one.”
“Yes,” I say.
Supatra has done a not-bad job with her stitching, which is famously neat. My eyes want to gloss over the great Y cut across the top of her chest, all the way down to her pelvis. All the organs have been removed, something I’m finding hard to assimilate, especially with the FBI now concentrating on my face rather than on the corpse.
“So,” I say, swallowing, “what can you tell us?”
“About the cause of death? In this case what you see is what you get. She died of strangulation by a nylon rope about one centimeter thick. The orange rope your men found around her neck is the rope the perpetrator used: the fibers correspond. There is no competition for cause of death—all her organs were in perfect condition, and there were no signs of other wounding or any viral or bacterial agents that might have contributed in any way to her demise.”
“No signs of forced penetration?”
“None at all. It seems as if a lubricant was used. Of course, that does not necessarily mean intercourse was consensual, merely relatively painless.”
A shake of the head. “Both vagina and anus had recently been penetrated, one assumes by a penis, in which case a condom must have been used. There is no evidence of sperm or male seminal fluid.”
I let a beat pass, because Supatra is holding out, playing the high priestess, saying nothing until asked, so I say, “And?”
“No recreational drugs. Whatever her state of mind when she died, it was not influenced by narcotics.”
“Signs of struggle?” the FBI asks hopefully.
Supatra shakes her head. “That’s what’s strange. You would at least expect some bruising somewhere on her body from attempted resistance, a few strained muscles at least. It’s almost as if she were strangled while tied up—except there are no indications of forced restraint either.”
“Damn,” Kimberley says. Supatra cocks an eyebrow. “I just don’t want to be convinced by the ending, I guess.”
“Ending?” Supatra wants to know. “What ending?”
Kimberley covers her mouth, but it’s too late. I come clean and tell Supatra about the DVD. Supatra nods; the total pro, she understands perfectly why I didn’t tell her about it before. She even gives a matriarchal smile.
“Indolence is a national weakness,” she explains to the FBI.
“Sonchai was afraid that if I saw the movie, I would get lazy and not do a thorough job.”
“I decided to keep back the disk before I knew you would be the pathologist on the case,” I explain.
“I think you decided to keep the disk a secret for other reasons too, no? A snuff movie fetches a lot on the international market, they say. You are holding a very valuable product.” Turning to Kimberley: “But what is it about the ending that you find so hard to cope with?”
Kimberley doesn’t want to answer, so I promise to show the whole video to Supatra, as soon as I’ve got time. The FBI has another question, though. “Dr. Supatra, have you ever before come across a case of strangulation where there were no signs of struggle at all?”
Supatra looks at her curiously, as if she has realized what this case might mean to a farang. “Not that I can recall, but you have to bear in mind this is a different culture, producing a different kind of consciousness.”
Kimberley frowns. “Different kind of consciousness?”
“Death,” the pathologist says, “the way a culture views death defines its attitude to life. Forgive me, but sometimes the West gives the impression of being in denial. The Thai attitude is a little different.”
“What’s so different about Thailand?”
“Oh, it’s not Thailand in particular. The whole of Southeast Asia has the ghost bug—the Malaysians are even worse than us. There are no statistics, of course, but to listen to Thais, you would likely conclude that the undead outnumber the living by a hundred to one.”
“But you don’t think that, Dr. Supatra. You’re a scientist.”
Dr. Supatra smiles and casts a glance at me with eyebrows raised. I nod. “I’m a scientist—but I’m not a Western scientist. With Sonchai’s permission I would like to show you something.” I nod again on Kimberley’s behalf, and we follow Supatra into her office, which forms part of the morgue. Still maintaining an ambiguous smile, she takes her laptop out from a drawer, along with a Sony Handycam video camera. “This is what I do most nights,” Supatra says. She demonstrates how she points the camera at her office window, which gives onto the morgue, facing the rows of cadavers in their steel tombs, and records onto her hard disk. “Would you like to see last night’s collection?” She checks my eyes once more; the FBI is my guest, after all. I nod for the third time, feeling awkward. Am I giving in to the temptation to be mischievous? I’m suddenly nervous about this unannounced initiation; maybe the FBI will freak? It’s too late for second thoughts, however. Kimberley sits in Supatra’s chair at her desk while Supatra plays with the laptop for a moment. “There. I’m afraid I have to use infrared light, so the images are not very clear. Hard to explain scientifically, though.”

BOOK: Bangkok Haunts
3.56Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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