Authors: Lyn Hamilton
Tags: #Fiction, #General, #Mystery & Detective, #Women Detectives, #Women Sleuths, #Historical, #Missing Persons, #Political, #Antiquities, #Antique Dealers, #McClintoch; Lara (Fictitious Character), #Archaeological Thefts, #Collection and Preservation, #Thailand
The Thai Amulet
Khun Worawongsa is dead because of me. I did not strike the blow that killed him. The others saw to that. He died, though, because of what I said and to whom I said it. Sometimes, when the moon is full, illuminating the deepest recesses of my mind as it does the dark shadows of night, the specter of guilt overwhelms me. I do not mean that I was wrong to do what I did. I know what I saw and have no doubts as to his culpability.
Three things, I think, contribute to the turmoil in my soul. The first is a dreadful sense that if I had been more observant, or rather, since I have promised myself I will be completely honest in recounting what happened, had I been less self-absorbed, the others might not have died. The second is the question of whether Khun Worawongsa was driven to the terrible deed by the person I consider to be truly evil, the one with the power to seduce even the most righteous among us, and was therefore entitled to some measure of compassion. The last is the realization of how much I have benefited from his death, so much more than I could reasonably expect from life, beyond, indeed, my wildest imagination: a royal appointment that brings with it wealth, but more than that, my place among King Chakkraphat’s closest advisors, and most important, the hand of the most beautiful woman in the world.
Tomorrow, if what our scouts tell us is true, we will engage the enemy. We know that our bitter foe, King Tabinshwehti of Burma, hoping to profit from the political turmoil of the last many months, has swept through the mountain pass with a large army, even as we are attacked on our eastern flank by the Khmer king of Lawaek. We are besieged on all sides.
I am certain that, led by our good King Chakkraphat, our own courage strengthened by his example, we will most certainly prevail. But I may well fall in battle, if not tomorrow, then soon enough. It is for this reason that I chronicle the events leading to the murder of Khun Worawongsa and the others, and my role in his death.
It is possible I am responsible for someone’s death. I don’t mean that the corpse found floating in the Chao Phyra River died by my hand. There were others all too willing and eager to do the deed. But sometimes, at the darkest part of night, when the world is so quiet it’s impossible to still the demons of fear and guilt, I wonder if what happened was justified, even were all evidence of culpability laid out for everyone to see.
Looking back on it, I search for explanations for what I did and what I said, the point at which I lost all objectivity, where survival instincts took a backseat to revenge.
Mai pen rai,
in Thai, means “It’s nothing, it doesn’t matter.” It’s an exotic and more cynical version of “Don’t worry, be happy,” a kind of collective shrug at the vagaries of life. Its spirit carries the average Thai through the average day of frustrations, setbacks, irritations, and even pleasures. But when William Beauchamp locked the door of his antique shop on the second floor of a building off Bangkok’s Silom Road for the last time and then quietly disappeared off the face of the planet, I found that
mat pen rat
could be a thin yet almost impenetrable veneer over a seething mass of corruption, evil, and even murder.
Mai pen rat
means “It doesn’t matter.” The trouble was, it mattered for Natalie Beau-champ, and for me, perhaps, it mattered too much.
My transformation from antique dealer to murderer’s accomplice, willing or otherwise, began, as I suppose so many things do, in the mundane, if not downright banal, tasks of a perfectly ordinary day.
“Have you ever wondered what happens to some people when they go to the Orient?” Clive Swain said that day, standing back to admire the display of Mexican patio furniture he’d just arranged. “Is it the heat? I mean you’re there at least twice a year, Lara, and you come back more or less the same person. Tired and a little grumpy, maybe, but essentially unchanged.”
“Is this relevant to something we’re doing at this moment, Clive?” I said, sorting through invoices at the counter. “In fact, is it apropos of anything at all?”
“You remember Will Beauchamp, don’t you?” he said.
“Of course I do,” I said.
“Well, he’s disappeared!”
“I see,” I said. “Fellow antique dealer goes to Asia on a buying trip and sends a fax—a fax!—to his wife and child saying he’s never coming back, and we call that disappeared, do we?” I closed the cash drawer with a little more force than was absolutely necessary.
“Ancient history,” Clive said. “Two years at least. Now he’s really disappeared. Poof, gone. You know, mail piling up behind the door, green slime in the refrigerator. That kind of disappeared. He’s vanished.” As he spoke, I caught sight of a streak of orange hurtling toward me and felt a familiar paw swatting my ankle.
“Speaking of vanished,” I said, eyeing a strategically placed mirror in one corner of the shop, “you had better go and see what in the back room has got Diesel agitated. I believe vanished is what is about to happen to one of our little jade Buddhas in the alcove. Young woman in yellow blouse,” I added.
“Well, she didn’t get the Buddha,” Clive said a few minutes later, as Diesel, McClintoch & Swain’s Official Guard Cat, stood in the doorway growling at the retreating back of the would-be thief. “Nor anything else, I hope. Really, Lara, sometimes I think we should just move a table out to the street with a sign saying Free Stuff, Please Help Yourself. It would save us a lot of trouble, and we could just retire. Broke, of course. Nice work, by the way, Diesel,” he said, tickling the cat’s chin. “You will have your reward as soon as I get to the deli. Shrimp, I’m thinking. No—Black Forest ham! How about that?” The cat purred.
“I’m sure that’s not good for him, Clive,” I said. Both cat and ex-husband cocked their heads and looked at me. It surprised me that, given how long I’d known both of them, I’d never noticed until that moment how alike their expressions were nor how they both managed to avoid doing what I wanted them to.
“She’s getting to be an old prune in her dotage, isn’t she, Deez?” Clive said, stroking the cat. “We’ll ignore her. But anyway, to get back to Will, apparently he hasn’t been seen or heard from in months.”
“Nonsense,” I said. “Didn’t we just get a postcard from him? It was from Thailand, wasn’t it? The one where he was promoting his merchandise, which he seemed positive we would want?
“The postcard you threw in the garbage all the while exclaiming, ”Over my dead body,“ or words to that effect, you mean?”
“It is true,” I said, “that there are few things that irk me as much as deadbeat dads who decamp for foreign parts leaving their families virtually destitute. But yes, that postcard.”
“You never know what happens in other people’s marriages,” he said. “Take ours, for example.”
“Let’s not,” I said.
“Let’s not what?”
“Take our marriage, for example.”
“Oh. Quite right. Water under the bridge and all that. So to get back to Beauchamp—”
“Do we have to? I can’t say I much cared for the guy even before that fax business.”
“Yes, we have to. I have it somewhere,” he said, moving back into the little office behind the counter and rummaging about.
“What?” I said.
“The postcard, of course.”
“You took it out of the trash?” I said incredulously.
“I thought you might reconsider,” he said. “Those buying trips of yours are expensive, and they’re hard work, and frankly, Will really knows, or maybe it’s knew, I suppose— horrible thought, that—his stuff. Here it is!” he exclaimed. He peered at it intently. “The postmark is hard to make out, but I think it’s almost a year ago.”
“Time flies,” I said.
“This may be the last anyone ever heard of him.”
“Oh come on!”
“Three or four months, anyway. He probably got into bad company,” Clive went on. “You know, in that red-light district, the Ping Pong, or whatever it’s called.”
“It’s Pat Pong, Clive, as you very well know,” I said.
“You’re not going to bring up that little episode again, are you, Lara?” he said in an aggrieved tone. “After all, we’ve been divorced for almost five years now; we’re both in nice relationships with other people. At least I am. You and Rob are happy together, aren’t you, even if he’s a policeman? Furthermore, you and I make very good business partners, much better than when we were married. Anyway, it’s hardly the time for recriminations when poor old Will may be lying in a shallow grave, or rotting in an alley far from home, or something equally awful. Maybe he’s a prisoner of some drug lord.”
“Good grief, Clive,” I said. “All I said was ‘Pat Pong, as you very well know.” As for William Beauchamp, he’s probably hiding because Natalie Beauchamp’s lawyers finally tracked him down.“
“I don’t know. You are going to be in Thailand soon,” he said, stroking his mustache and using that wheedling tone I remembered so well from our married years.
“So what?” I said. Neither the tone nor the gesture worked for him anymore, at least not where I was concerned.
“Well, it wouldn’t hurt you to make inquiries. I mean, think of the poor woman. She’s distraught, even if he did rather leave her in the lurch.”
“You have got to be kidding,” I said. “Absolutely not.”
“You could just talk to her,” he said.
“I suppose I did mention to her that you would be in Thailand.”
“Have you forgotten that the Thai portion of this trip is the holiday part? That I plan to spend it with Jennifer and her boyfriend, whom I haven’t seen in two months?”
“Right. Jennifer. I forgot you were doing the wicked stepmother thing. What’s the boyfriend’s name again?”
“Chat. And I’m not her stepmother, wicked or otherwise.”
“Close enough, I’d say. You and Rob really should
a place together. Relationships have to progress, you know, or they stagnate. What kind of a name is Chat, anyway? No wonder I can’t remember it.”
“It’s Thai. And I can’t believe that you’re lecturing me on relationships.” The fact that Rob had asked me several times to get a place with him, and I had so far resisted, was something Clive didn’t need to know.
“Thai, is it? I didn’t know that. Well, I suppose it’s no worse than Clive, when you get right down to it. Does he have a last name?
“Chaiwong,” I said. “We’re staying with his family, actually.”
“Chaiwong,” he said. “What does her father think about his daughter dating a guy named Chat Chaiwong?”
“Clive, you really are too awful. He said he thought Chat was a nice enough young man.”
“Hardly a ringing endorsement, is it?”
“Actually where Rob and his daughter’s boyfriends are concerned, it is. It’s positively glowing, in fact.”
“And what does the wicked stepmother think about him?”
“He seems very pleasant, and Jen likes him. Apparently he comes from a good family, to use that rather old-fashioned expression. He’s a very responsible young man. He’s a graduate student at UCLA, which is where Jen met him. Public administration. He wants to go back to Thailand and work in public service—get into politics maybe.”
“He sounds like a barrel of laughs. At least he’s smart, from the sound of it, just like Jennifer. Now here’s an idea. Maybe they could both help you with your enquiries. It would be good for them. Give them a chance to meet the natives, as it were. Good for him if he wants to get into politics. Get to know his future constituents, that sort of thing.”
“They’ve been backpacking through southeast Asia for two months. I’m sure they’ve met lots of natives, to use your vile and totally inappropriate expression.”
“Whatever. I know how strongly you feel about the way Will just dumped his wife and kid, though. They must be in terrible straits—economically, emotionally. I would have thought you would want to help her track him down.”
“Don’t try to guilt me into this. It won’t work.”
“I don’t understand you, Lara. You’re always flailing about helping people you barely know. Why not lend a hand to someone you do?”
“That’s the point. I don’t know Natalie from Adam.”
“You know all about her, even if you haven’t met her in person, which, incidentally, is a deficiency that will be rectified almost immediately. She’ll be at the Gala tonight.”
“The Gala? You’re talking about the Canadian Antique Dealers Association opening night Gala here, are you? The tickets are almost two hundred dollars each. She can’t be in as bad economic straits as you’re implying.”
“You’re starting to contradict yourself, Lara. Which side are you on? I mean, did he leave her destitute, or didn’t he? Anyway, she’s going as staff.”
“You’ve contradicted yourself a few times during this conversation, Clive,” I said. “You know, the stuff about you never know what happens in a marriage, etc. Whose staff?”
“Clive!” I exclaimed again. “I suppose she’s attractive, is she?”
“That has nothing to do with it,” he said.
“For you it always has something to do with it.” I sighed.
“She is rather a looker,” he said. “But that—”
“Hello, darlings,” Moira Meller said, coming through the door and putting her arms around our shoulders. Moira is my best friend and Clive’s life partner.