had delivered the moment I entered the flat, I simply shook my head and forced a smile. After all, I had only to return to my office later to check with the handwritten original, which I kept in the safe there.

Om’s magic worked even better than usual that day: five times, squeezed into the couple of hours I’d allowed myself for lunch. Naturally, as soon as I’d showered and kissed my amour goodbye, I rushed back to the office to retrieve Walter’s script. It is in the form of school exercise books of various gaudy colours, more than one hundred in all. I knew, roughly, the dates when he was in Bangkok, so it was not difficult to find the book, and then the page, which Om had been reading on her laptop. Now the green balls really started to run down my legs: this is what I found in Walter’s inimitable spidery script:-

Spent all day yesterday at Mae Nak’s temple at On Nut, right on the Phrakanong canal. I don’t know what it is about that myth that grabs me. Hallucinations all night, and I haven’t smoked a thing. The sorcery is so strong, the whole stretch by the canal, with the flowers, lotus buds, incense sticks and the statue, radiates power. I know Thai women feel it, however vaguely, that’s why there’s always such a crowd.

A cold sweat broke out all over my body. I knew, for certain, that passage had not been in the original. But I was looking at the original, and there it was. No question but that the safe was inviolable: a floor-toceiling Chubb with high tech extras, it was ridiculous to think Om or anyone working for her could have broken into it. Anyway, there was no sign the script had been tampered with, and only a counterfeiter of genius could have forged Walter’s handwriting and even then how would they have inserted such a paragraph in an old traveler’s journal where every last space was used up?

I was scared. Very very scared.


Fear was not my only reaction, however. I was also thrilled, intrigued, fascinated—and it would be coy not to admit to a certain hope that something inexplicable to law and science was happening to me. I was not wrong. No sooner had I put Walter’s journal back in the Chubb and locked it, than my first secretary came into my room to say that a new client was waiting to see me. This also was anomalous. All my clients came through my wife’s family connections and always made contact with my second secretary, who did nothing except network with my in-laws. My first secretary was trained in law and was brilliant at all she did but could not network to save her life. When I exchanged a glance with her she shrugged and jerked a chin at the waiting area. I nodded. She left the room to return a few seconds later with a tall, slim, wiry Southeast Asian man in his sixties with long gray hair in a pony tail, a wispy gray beard and piercing eyes. I understood immediately that he was a type one comes across from time to time in Asia: somehow, perhaps through some mystic or martial discipline, he had retained an undeniable vigor, as if the virility of youth still empowered his hard body. When I offered him a chair, he shook his head. Instead he came up to the desk, looked down to study me with intense curiosity for a moment, then said in Thai with a thick Khmer accent: “Your wife is dying. Go home now.”

I raised my eyes slowly until they looked into his, which were blazing black. While we were mesmerizing each other, I realized he had started to undo the top buttons of his shirt. He continued until he had undone each one all the way down to his waist band. When he pulled his shirt open, I began to understand. His flesh was a mass of black tattoos, amongst which I had no difficulty in discerning those forms and shapes that I had seen earlier that afternoon at Om’s condo: the same, of course, as those on her body.

Naturally, I called my driver and rushed out of the office to the pick-up area outside the building. My car was a high-end Lexus with tinted windows; when we reached the walled compound, where my in-laws had built a set of fine detached houses slap bang in the middle of downtown Bangkok, the great gates opened automatically, then closed with a clank behind us. For more than twenty-five years I had loathed that clank, so similar, in my mind, to the clank of prison gates.

As soon as the driver stopped the car I dashed into our house, ignored the maid who stood in the middle of the lounge looking depressed, knocked softly on my wife’s bedroom door and waited for her low, soft, pathetic “Come in.”

If I’ve said almost nothing about my wife so far it is for one simple reason: guilt. Lalita—always shortened to Lali—had never done me any harm and I really did love her once: why else would I have made so much effort to please her family? Lali, though, was one of those Asian women who are simply not sensual. We had produced no children and, except for the first months of marriage, hardly made love more than once in a blue moon to convince each other we were still an item. Soon after that Lali lost interest in love making altogether, then, a decade later, in the world. She has spent most of her middle age in her bedroom where childhood friends and her favorite aunt visit her. Whenever we meet we both feel a great sadness that things have worked out this way. I am proud to report that each of us has found the strength not to blame the other: sometimes life simply is like that. The thought, therefore, that I may have inadvertently caused her death by the vilest form of Khmer sorcery through taking Om as a mia noi, was dreadful to me beyond words. Believe it or not I began to resolve, at that moment, to drop Om. Passionate as I was about her, I could not countenance, or live with, the murder of Lali by witchcraft.

I was in quite a state, in other words, which was made worse by the doctor who was just leaving. He caught me at the door and said in a tone which I found accusatory: “Massive cancerous growth behind the stomach, too deep to operate…”

“How long does she have?”

“About a week, if that.”

I closed—almost slammed—the door behind him and went to Lali who lay on her bed watching me. I pulled up a chair, took her hand, pressed it to my lips and said: “I’m so, so sorry. So very very sorry,” and burst into tears.

She caressed my head with her hand. “Don’t worry, it’s all going to be alright.”

“How can you say that?” I said, bawling.

She smiled and said: “If you stop making a noise I’ll tell you.”


“This is not an easy question for me to ask,” Lali said in a weak voice, her head sunk into the pillow, locking eyes with me for a moment, then looking away. “Tell me the truth, have you ever felt that you were set up by me and my family?”

“Set up?” I scratched my jaw.

“Don’t lie. It’s way too late for that.”

I thought about it. “By you, no. You’re far too innocent. By your family—maybe, in an opportunistic way. After they got to know me they realised they were going to have the lawyer they always wanted: clever, respected, street wise and, being a farang, entirely dependent on them for clients and funding. I have to admit, they were right to think they needed one. If not for me everyone of your male relations would be on death row or serving life sentences.”

She took away the hand that had been holding one of mine and her features tensed to such a degree I feared

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