A farang is dead, and the Bangkok police have a confession the next morning from a young paint-thinner addict. He claims he killed Ben Hoadly, an expat Brit—but American PI Vincent Calvino has his doubts when he sees heavy bruises on the kid’s face.
In no time Calvino is working both sides, out to find the killer for Hoadly’s wealthy father, and eager to clear the addict’s name for a beautiful friend who runs a charity in the slums. With the help of his best friend, Pratt, a Shakespeare-quoting Thai police colonel, and his loyal assistant, Ratana, Calvino plunges into the dangerous world of addicts, dealers, fortune tellers, inexpensive hit men, oversexed foreigners, and professional bar girls . . .
“Intelligent and articulate, Moore offers a rich, passionate, and original take on the private eye game” in this international bestseller (January Magazine).
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THE WAKE-UP CALL
"D.O.A. BANGKOK" read the blood-red neon sign. Around midnight the sky was a grayish-white mask with slits for a few stars. D.O.A. Bangkok was the only bar with huge cages of fruit bats suspended above the counter. Creatures as large as soi dogs hanging upside down, with their black wings folded close to their long, reddish bodies. Vincent Calvino, with a gun sloping out of his holster, walked over to the bar. Red neon whores flashed smiles, mouths filled with large teeth. Mouths that promised plenty of tongue action. One, in a silk dress slit up to her thighs, had a hustler's smile. Her long, tapered legs were hooked together at the ankles and in the middle of a conversation she stopped and stared at Calvino. He lowered himself onto a stool. He cupped his hands together, leaned over on his elbows, and looked down the bar at the girl purring like a cat in heat.
"Looking for someone, Vinee?" she said in a low, throaty voice.
"Seen Jeff Logan?" He remembered her from the African Queen bar in Patpong, where she had performed a stage act in the old days.
"Haven't seen him in a long, long time, Vinee." Her half-hooded moist eyes blinked, and her fine, narrow chin slowly dropped. She parted her legs, fanned her hand, splayed painted fingernails, and raised her dress. She rolled her head back in a soft moan as the ying on her left leaned over with an eel. The black skin shimmered in the red neon. Slowly, the eel slid between the whore's spread legs.
"I thought you were outta the business?"
She wasn't listening to him. That made him angry. He hit the bar with the heel of his hand, the red neon bouncing off his temples wet with beads of sweat.
"I haven't seen Jeff since it happened." Her voice shuddered, a dry, horrible rattle, breathless and shrill.
In the corner three or four middle-aged farangs — the Thai word for white foreigners — their faces obscured by the shadows thrown by the cages, drank Singha beer straight from the bottle. These ghost men appeared to be Bangkok residents who came to the bar because they had nowhere else to go, and their stomachs were full of loneliness. Guys whose guts had been eaten out by a string of failures, occasional acts of dishonor, and a lifetime of humiliation. One balding figure with burnt-out eyes and lifeless lips glanced at the whores in a deep, abiding silence that, if they listened closely enough, they could tune into a high-frequency scream.
Midnight was feeding time. Everyone in the bar waited around the cages. The owner was an ex–noodle vendor with a street stand near the Ambassador Hotel. His nickname was Fast Eddy, and he liked large bats, long-legged whores, and drunks with money. The bats ate meat. As Vinee's second double Scotch came, Fast Eddy flipped back the white sheet from the body of a farang laid out on the bar. What kind of detective am I? thought Calvino. He had been in the bar and he hadn't seen a body no more than five feet away. Calvino broke into a sweat. He wiped his hands down the side of his trouser leg, then reached up and touched his gun. He stood over the body.
It was Jeff Logan. He was a Canadian from Vancouver, a ski instructor at Whistler before he decided to become a freelance photojournalist. He had a swimmer's body, curly brown hair that came down over the ears, a neatly trimmed moustache, and manicured fingernails. Jeff was in his late twenties. He was naked except for a Pentax camera and a couple of lenses resting on his chest. The black leather straps hung loose around his neck. There wasn't a scratch on him, not a hair out of place.
Calvino shook the man. It was no use. He knew from the pale, cold skin that Jeff was gone. But he couldn't stop himself from trying to wake him up. At the same time, Fast Eddy's knife flashed blood-silver in the red neon light. The bats were going crazy inside the cages. The whores leaned over the bar on their elbows and watched Fast Eddy sharpen the nine-inch blade.
"Jeff, wake up, you gotta get the fuck outta here," Calvino whispered into the dead man's ear.
He tried to lift one shoulder. It weighed like a ton of blue ice. One of the drunks in the corner sobbed into his hands.
"He don't know the score," said one of the drunks. "He don't know you did him."
"Fuck you," said another drunk.
"You fucked him up," said one of the farangs from the shadows. "Fucked him up for his money."
Calvino's palms were dripping with sweat, his heart shunting into an irregular beat only two or three times faster than normal. Fast Eddy examined the blade and started cutting up the body on the bar.
"I'm Vincent Calvino. This guy's my client. What the fuck is going on here? Touch him and I'll blow your fucking brains out."
He reached for his gun but his sweat-drenched hand kept slipping off. He tore at his holster. But he was too late.
Fast Eddy's knife sliced off Jeff's swollen cock and, with a single motion, opened the cage and tossed the raw meat inside. The bats dived on it at once, tearing with their claws and teeth, screeching and banging their wings against the side of the cage. Fast Eddy smiled and closed the door. He ignored Calvino, who came over the bar like a madman and made a grab for his knife hand. He flicked Calvino away as if he were a child. Calvino bounced onto the floor. As he rose up on his knees, Fast Eddy swung to one side and carved another chunk of flesh from Jeff's thigh, which he held up like a piece of sheet music before throwing it to the bats. Calvino sat eye-level with the girl, who was half doubled over, uncoiling the eel from between her legs, one hand moving over the other like a sailor climbing a rope.
Suddenly Calvino caught his breath. He saw it coming but he couldn't stop her. The whore kicked him away, as her laugh flew around the room, and she guided the eel down Jeff Logan's throat.
The voice circled in the distance from him, and sounding like a half- human, half-alien beaked-mouth being crying out in the middle of night.
The sound echoed across a dreamscape. Inside his chest the machinery had gone out of control, his heart was tearing itself apart. "The drink's working," said one of the whores. "The drink's working," repeated another whore. "I am having a heart attack," Calvino whispered, his eyes closing in agony. He clutched his chest, knocking his gun across the floor. Nothing he did could stop the earthquake deep inside his chest. The movement ripped the muscles into shreds like pieces of hot rubber flying off a car tire gone flat at sixty miles an hour.
The feeling left his arms and legs. His mouth and neck disconnected from their nerves, were numb, and a swelling of nothingness in a sheet of neon red crossed over his consciousness.
An ancient beast, all teeth and claws, swiftly moved closer in for the kill, the sound of growling and gnashing exploding inside his temples. He found his gun on the floor, rolled over, knelt in a firing position, waited one last moment, raised his .38 police special, and aimed. Two, three shots rang out as the monster's head reared up and slowly crashed down.
"Khun Winee. You get up now. You very late. No good for you."
Vincent Calvino opened an eye and looked up at the ceiling. It was morning. A medium-sized gecko was eating a roach. He rolled over and glanced at the alarm clock. Eight o'clock, and in the distance someone had been calling out his name. He rolled over on his side. A Thai woman in her mid-twenties, hair falling down to her waist, head cocked to one side, looking at herself in the mirror above the dresser. She puckered her lips and applied red lip gloss. She took a piece of tissue and touched the corners of her mouth, wadded it into a ball, and tossed it at the wicker wastebasket. She missed. It was then that she saw him in the mirror, watching her.
"Missed," he said.
"Too many bad dreams," she said, frowning. She reached down and picked up the tissue and dropped it in the basket. She yawned and stretched her arms out in the mirror. "Cannot sleep," she said with a groan. Her blue jeans fitted skintight, revealing a firm, round ass. Calvino reached out to grab her but she moved to the left and his hand came up with nothing more solid than air.
"Missed," she said.
Touché, he thought.
She watched him wearily as she adjusted the collar of her blouse with puffy translucent sleeves. He tried to remember her name, but could not. He tried to remember the name of her bar, but could not. He tried to remember how he had gotten home. Again, he failed. All he remembered was the eel disappearing up the thigh of a girl inside the D.O.A. Bangkok — a bar that existed only in his nightmares.
"Do I know you?" asked Calvino. He pretended to rub his eyes.
"Last night you say I very beautiful girl. You want to make love all night," she said, glancing at him over her shoulder with a sterile, automatic-pilot smile. A hint of accusation crept into her voice, braiding and twisting her emotions into a fine quilt of rejection.
"I said that?" It was possible, he thought. He said a lot of things when he had drunk too much.
She nodded, turning away from the mirror and looking down at him lying on the bed. "I crazy girl to go with you. Same as before."
She sighed in disbelief. "Six month ago, I go with you. Next morning you forget me. I say never mind. Last night, you want me. I say, okay. Second chance. Why not? You promise me you not forget."
She made a face in the mirror, and flipped back her hair with the back of her hand: the classic kiss-off sign. "You not get hard. Soft, soft. No good. You drink too much. Man who drink too much no good for boom-boom." She opened her handbag and dropped in her hairbrush, lipstick, and makeup kit. He pulled a wallet out of the dresser and tried to slip a five-hundred-baht note into her jean pocket. But the jeans were too tight and he couldn't jam the note inside. It hung, drooping over, a kind of parody of his own performance the night before. If she was to be believed, and from the black circles under her eyes, he tended to believe her story.
Calvino contemplated the stranger in his bedroom. He had no recollection of her nakedness. He must have touched her, kissed her, held her. But not a single shred of memory of that moment was accessible as she stood towering above him, one hip thrust to the side. She walked over to the closet; his holster was slung over the half-opened door. She pointed at the butt of the gun.
"You say last night. If I forget you again, you can shoot me," she said, drawing out his .38. She used both hands to point the gun at his chest.
"I hate Monday mornings," he said.
She squinted one eye, looking down the barrel. As he leaned, back stiff against two pillows, he stared into the barrel of his own gun. He watched her finger slowly circle around the trigger guard, and he sighed deeply, like a man resigned to dying.
"You think I make joke?"
"I said you could shoot me?" he asked, using the lawyer's tactic of answering a question with a question.
She nodded, her finger smoothly licking at the trigger. "I said, okay, Winee. You not remember Noi, maybe you remember gun."
The index finger on a handgun trigger is like a child's tongue idly licking an ice-cream cone. He looked up from her hands on the gun and found her eyes angry. That was a bad sign, he thought. "Yeah, Noi, I remember you. Of course, sweetheart. Poot len — tell a joke," he said.
But she knew he was playing not with his words but with her.
She slowly shook her head. "Man drink too much. No good for lovemaking. No good for shooting gun. I think I'm crazy girl because I go with you. I think you maybe trouble. You know too many lady Thailand. Kill you a waste of time," she said, lowering his .38. She made a quarter turn and slipped the gun into the holster.
"I go now, okay?"
"Noi, I won't forget you next time," he whispered and with a shudder slid under the sheet, pulling it over his head like a death shroud.
"No next time, Winee," she said, lit a cigarette, inhaled deeply, and then let herself out of the bedroom.
Eyes closed, he waited, listening as she stepped into her shoes, and a moment later the entrance door slammed shut. The only sound was his maid, Mrs. Jamthong, pottering around the kitchen and singing to herself. She would have seen the strange pair of high heels and known that Calvino had returned with a companion. It was never a subject that was directly raised or discussed. It was the nature of things: like fire, earth, wind, and water. They existed, but these building blocks of life rarely entered into a daily conversation. The same was true of sex. Sometimes it was like fire, other times like earth or water. Last night had been like air; it had been an invisible force, thought Calvino. It had left no taste, feel, smell, or sound.
"Khun Winee, breakfast ready now," called Mrs. Jamthong.
This was her all-clear call. It was safe to leave the bedroom. He lowered the sheet and from his bed looked into the mirror, and fell back, pulling the sheet over his head again. He looked like someone who had recently stared down the barrel of a gun, trying to remember the name of the woman who wanted to kill him.
Mrs. Jamthong, fifty-three years old, born in Korat, who didn't own her first pair of shoes until she was seventeen, leaned against the jamb of the bedroom screen door. Her large figure was outlined through a green curtain the color of rotting jungle foliage.
After nearly eight years Mrs. Jamthong, like most maids in Bangkok, had rewritten her job description; she had Calvino working according to her schedule. His life ran according to her plans, her routines, and her daily need to finish off with her chores as quickly as possible so she could open her noodle stand at the top of the soi.
Mrs. Jamthong's use of English consonants was common. "Vinee," Calvino had said. "Winee," she repeated. She smiled, confident she had finally got it right. He would shake his head. She'd try again, knowing that always he would get tired of her good-natured smiles and complete inability to hear the "v" sound. He didn't take this personally. She called a "van" a "wan," "vandal" a "wandal," and "vampire" a "wampire." About two, three years ago, it occurred to Calvino that part of her charm, the charm of many Thai people living in Bangkok, was this failure to make knife-sharp "v" sounds.
"Okay, okay," Calvino replied, sliding out of bed.
On his way across the room, he kicked over an empty Mekhong bottle — not the pint size, the full motherlode with the gold and red label. He hopped around on one foot, fell back on his bed, his leg raised, and examined a bruised big toe. It throbbed with the same beat as the throb in his head. A moment later, he reached down and picked up the bottle.
His maid saw him emerge from the bathroom. She watched him stagger toward the breakfast table. The morning wake-up call, Calvino's ritual walk, and her editorial comments on the state of his health were daily events.
"Khun Winee look like he sick," said Mrs. Jamthong, as he hobbled out of his bedroom dressed in a Yankees T-shirt and cotton boxer shorts. His unlicensed .38 police special was slung from a leather shoulder holster under his left armpit. He tried to walk barefoot. This was a morning ritual. She watched each step, making an evaluation, trying to assess the damage, and calculating the odds of whether he would make it unassisted to the chair. He could feel her pulling for him, cheering him on. Come on, you can make it. Two more steps. One more step. Good boy.
Mrs. Jamthong always looked surprised to see him settle down without falling forward into his breakfast. She loved to tell him gory stories about a farang about forty or forty-one dying of a heart attack in his sleep, walking on Sukhumvit, reading the newspaper, drinking a glass of water. She figured farangs had short life expectancies and no matter how common their course of activity, the strain would be too much for their hearts. A lethal combination of heat, boredom, cheap Mekhong, and a nonstop nightlife sucked them in, chewed them up, and spit them out heart first. "Sooner or later," she told him, "I find Khun Winee die, too."
Mrs. Jamthong registered her feelings in a range of fourteen pre-cast smiles, each with its own nuance. She could go days communicating with a variation of smile language and never utter a sentence. Her smile that morning translated something like: unbelievable, Calvino's liver has survived intact for one more day.
"My head aches," Calvino said, sitting at the table. He stared at the pineapple slices on a plate. There is a color of yellow which no one wants to see on their plate after a night of drinking.
"Khun Winee, he not so good."(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Spirit House"
Copyright © 1992 Christopher G. Moore.
Excerpted by permission of Grove Atlantic, Inc..
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