at Noyoda. The Lieutenant was white. To our Western minds, it’s a horrible form of suicide.

“You let her!” Marx shouted at Noyoda. “That’s a crime, you hear, mister? Why didn’t you stop her?”

“I could not stop her,” Noyoda said.

He meant, I knew, that by his beliefs he could not stop a believer who wanted to immolate herself, perform her special devotion, improve her life and her eternity. But Noyoda was an American, too. He knew the law.

“She poured the gasoline on herself before I discovered her on the steps,” Noyoda said. “She had a cigarette lighter in her hand. She said she would light the flame as soon as anyone came near her. I did all I could, and I called you.”

He was right, of course. The empty gasoline can lay some yards to the right. The cigarette lighter lay blackened near Li Marais. Marx could do nothing to Noyoda.

“So it was her after all,” Marx said as the ambulance began to wail up in the distance. “She killed them after all.”

“No,” I said. “She was with me when Charlie was killed.”

“Killed?” Noyoda said.

I explained the murders to the priest.

“Buddhists do not commit suicide to escape their own guilt or problems,” Noyoda said. “Almost never.”

Marx nodded. “She couldn’t have killed Charlie Burgos, I guess that’s sure. Distraught, Dan? She knew Claude Marais killed them both, and couldn’t go on alone?”

“I don’t think so, Marx,” I said. “For a Buddhist, suicide, especially this way, is a positive act.”

“Positive? How in hell is it positive?” Marx swore.

Noyoda said, “You have arrested her husband for these murders? Is there any doubt that he is guilty?”

“None,” Marx snapped. “If she figured to fool us-”

“She thought there was doubt,” I said. “So do I.”

Noyoda looked down at Li Marais’s charred body. The ambulance had arrived, the doctor just looking at the body too. Noyoda reached into his pocket.

“Then I think I can say why she did this,” the priest said.

He handed Marx a piece of letter stationery. It was Hotel Stratford stationery. I read the note on it with Marx: My flame will light the truth.

“I think,” Noyoda said, sadly now, “she has done this to make you seek the truth, Lieutenant. Her death was to make you know her husband is innocent, make you find the truth.”

“Crazy,” Marx said, watched the ambulance men put the dead Li into their basket. “What a lousy, useless thing to do. For nothing.”

“Useless?” Noyoda stared at Marx. “You are a fool, Lieutenant. You are impertinent and insulting!”

The priest walked into his temple. I could hear the chanting going on inside the temple already. They would chant for a long time. Marx stared after the angry priest.

“What the hell is that all about?”

“Religion,” I said. “To Buddhists, a man is composed of two elements, Lieutenant. The manas, the organ of understanding; and the karma, the entirety of the acts accomplished in the course of his life. When a man dies, the manas, the understanding organ, pass into another body-higher or lower in quality according to the quality of the karma, what he has done on earth. If the karma has been exceptional, then there is no reincarnation, the man has attained nirvana. So for a devout Buddhist, suicide for some noble purpose-like freeing an innocent man-is a way to improve his karma, make himself much better, and maybe even achieve nirvana.”

“You think Li Marais believed all that?”

I watched the ambulance drive away. “I’m not sure. To any good Buddhist, though, it would be self-evident. It would be understood right away.”

“Damn it,” Marx said, “I’m an American cop, not a Buddhist. You think she really thought she could influence the police this way? Make us see we had to be wrong? It’s crazy, Dan.”

“A Buddhist believes that by suicide he creates problems for the person responsible for forcing him to do it, one way or another,” I said slowly. “It’s an infallible way of making someone know they are wrong. To a Buddhist, no one could be indifferent to that. The truth must come out.”

“You think it was all for us? The police?”

“Maybe,” I said, “but she’d been in the western world a long time. She knew about American police, she knew it would mean nothing to you. She was distraught, maybe, but she wasn’t a fool.”

“Then what the hell was she doing?” Marx said. “Do you know, Dan?”

“I think so,” I said.


I said I thought I knew what Li Marais expected her death to do. That was all I said.

Marx swore at me. But if I’d said any more, Marx would have ruined it. Ruined her death, what she had done it for.

“I’ll explain when I’m sure,” I said to Marx.

If I was right, what she had done it for would take a little time. The major reason she had ended her life.

I didn’t kid myself that another reason hadn’t been guilt, maybe shame. For what she and I had done. She had betrayed Claude Marais, he was in real trouble, and she had to help him. Help and atone. I had to face it. I had bad nights while I waited for what I was sure she had expected to happen next.

I waited three days.

My flame will light the truth. Had she made a mistake? Her flaming death a tragic miscalculation? I had the sick feeling that it had been. A straw she had grasped at, almost hopeless, and maybe she hadn’t really cared if her death was useless.

But I cared.

After three days, I had to act.

The woman, Marie Schmidt, opened the door of the tenement apartment. Her ugly face had lost its snap and vigor.

“He’s in the back room. It’s not locked,” she said. “Three days in and out of back there. No sleep. Like a crazy tiger in a cage. I can’t take no more. He scares me now.”

I went through the spartan living room. I had my old gun in my pocket. The outer door closed behind me. Marie Schmidt hurried away down the stairs Jimmy Sung kept so clean.

I opened the door of the empty back room. It wasn’t empty now.

Flags hung on the walls-Chinese Communist flags, Viet Cong flags, flags I didn’t even recognize. Giant photos of Mao Tse-tung. Modern Chinese rifles, and ancient muskets. Swords and curved knives. Portraits of Confucius and Genghis Khan. Mongol helmets with horsehair hanging. A map of China. A painted Buddha. An ancient map of the Mongol Empire stretching far into Europe. A photo of the Chinese H-bomb test. Parades of Chinese youths. Headlines from New York newspapers during the Korean War-all of Chinese victories.

The room a hymn to China. Powerful-and yet confused. Not all China, and irrational. Madame Chiang was there, and photos of the rich Soongs. Ho Chi Minh, and some Chinese emperors. The Burmese U Thant, Japanese soldiers in a banzai celebration of some victory over America. A samurai sword beside an ancient Mongol lance. A twisted celebration of Asian glory that filled the room, hidden perhaps for years in an open trunk that stood in a corner of the room.

Among it all, Jimmy Sung kneeled before the small jade Buddha. Incense burned, and a half-empty quart of vodka was on the floor beside Jimmy Sung. He drank as I watched, shivered. He wore the padded blue uniform of a Chinese soldier, and another samurai sword was near his hand.

“How long have you had all this, Jimmy?” I said.

He turned to look at me. His face was like the hundred-year-old woman in Shangri-La who had never aged, and who then aged the whole hundred years in a single moment. Wasted, ravaged.

“Long time,” Jimmy said, slurred. “Long damn time.”

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