Excerpt: 'Bangkok Tattoo'

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From Chapter Two of Bangkok Tattoo

The receptionist, already oozing servility thanks to the five thousand baht I gave him an hour ago, starts to stutter when he sees Vikorn, who is by way of being emperor of these sois. The Colonel switches on his five-thousand-kilowatt charm and hints at what a lucrative future awaits those who know how to keep their mouths shut at a time like this. (Positive-type stutters from the receptionist.) I take the key again, and we mount the stairs.

Inside the room the stench that invariably accompanies a competent disemboweling has grown stronger since my first visit. I switch on the air-con, which only serves to cool the stench without diminishing its potency. I can see Vikorn working himself into a rage with me for dragging him over here. "Look," I say. I take out the dead farang's passport from the drawer where I found it earlier. I am not an expert on our occult immigration practices, but the form of his visa disturbs me. The passport is the property of one Mitch Turner.

It disturbs the Colonel too, for he grows pale as he stares at it. "Why didn't you mention this before?"

"Because I didn't know if it was important or not. I didn't know what it is. I still don't."

"It's a visa."

"I can see that."

"Good for two years with multiple reentry thrown in."

"Yes?"

"They never give two-year visas. Never. Especially not with multiple reentry. Except in certain cases."

"That's what I thought."

The visa has deepened our sense of tragedy, the violent loss of a relatively

young life so far away from home. "CIA or FBI?"

"CIA. We let in about two hundred after 9/11. They wanted to keep an eye on the Muslims in the south on the border with Malaysia. They're a pain in the neck because they don't speak Thai so they have to have interpreters." He looked at the corpse. "Imagine an overmuscled six-foot white farang with an interpreter trying to be incognito down in Hat Yai on a Friday night among our little brown people. Damn. I suppose it couldn't have been Al Qaeda?"

"But we already have a statement from the perpetrator?"

"She could be persuaded to retract. You didn't see any long black beards tonight?"

Is he serious? Sometimes my Colonel's super brain is beyond my poor faculties of comprehension. "I really don't see how that would help."

"You don't? Look, he's CIA — they'll lean on us from the top down. There are going to be footprints all over my shoulders, not to mention yours. They'll want their own doctors to examine Chanya — no signs of abuse, and we're in the s***. We could lose our most productive worker, maybe even have to close the club for a while."

"How would it help if it was Al Qaeda?"

"Because that's exactly what they'll want to believe. They're practically blaming the weather on Al Qaeda over there. Just say it's Al Qaeda, and they'll be eating out of our hands."

We exchange a glance. No, it's hopeless. It just doesn't look like a terrorist castration/murder. So what to do about Chanya? I did not examine her private parts, but somehow one doubts that any man would dare to abuse her. Speaking off the record if I may, she's as resilient as a wolverine and when cornered just as ferocious. I can tell by his expression that Vikorn shares my doubts. Whatever the truth of what happened in this room earlier tonight, it is unlikely to be on all fours with her statement, which she has not yet read. Now we are both staring at the farang's face.

"Kind of ugly, don't you think, even for a farang?"

I had thought the same thing myself but lack my Colonel's fearless self-expression: an abnormally short neck almost as wide as his head, no chin, a mean little mouth-perhaps she killed him for aesthetic reasons?

Vikorn's eyes rest for a moment on the rose in the plastic cup. I know what he's thinking.

"Doesn't quite fit her statement, does it?"

Vikorn turns his head to one side. "No, but leave it. The key to cover-ups is to leave the evidence alone, make the story do the work. The trick is all in the interpretation." A sigh.

"Bodies deteriorate rapidly in the tropics," I suggest.

"They need to be incinerated as soon as possible for public health reasons."

"Having taken a statement from the perpetrator and thereby solved the case, with no identifying documents on his person — we'll have to lose the passport."

"Good," Vikorn says. "I'll leave it to you."

We both give the victim the honor of one more scan. "Look, the telephone cable has been stretched — the phone is on the corner of the bed. A last-minute emergency call?"

"Check with the hotel operator."

"What shall I do about that?" I point.

Sophisticated practitioners, we have not troubled ourselves unduly with the murder weapon, which is lying in the middle of the bed, exactly where one would expect to find it if Chanya had killed him in the manner Vikorn says she did. I see this as a lucky sign and clear proof that the Buddha is looking favorably on our endeavors, but Vikorn scratches his head.

"Well, keep it. She did it, didn't she? So her prints are going to be all over it. What could they find on the knife except his blood and her prints? It all points to her statement being true. We'll give it to them as corroboration." A sigh. "She'll have to disappear for a while. Since it was self-defense, we don't have the power to hold her. Tell her to change her hair."

"A nose job?"

"Let's not exaggerate — we all look the same to them." A pause.

"Okay, let's go back to the club. You better tell me what really happened tonight, just so I can take precautions."

Excerpted from Bangkok Tattoo by John Burdett Copyright (c) 2005 © by John Burdett. Excerpted by permission of Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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