the train pulled out of the station, they sat on benches opposite
from one another. She was still rattled, and leaning forward
in the second-class sleeper, Suda gave Breach a small slap on
the wrist, smiled, and sat back. Her eyes Bashed a look that
women often give: Men, God, they take you to the edge every
time. You wait and wait. Maybe they show up, maybe they won't.
You can never be certain.
air conditioner blew a steady hiss of cold mist out of wall
vents as young porters glided back and forth along the narrow
corridors, carrying trays of orange juice, water, watermelon,
bananas, and evening meals such as curried shrimp and beef and
pork, together with rice or noodles. The ultimate question in
Breach's mind on that first night lacked a context for framing,
no chance of being asked: would they make love. The law of train
car physics decided the answer in a powerfully silent way. Suda
occupied the upper berth and Breach bunked below in a coffin-shaped
enclosure screened off from the corridor by a curtain. Suda
sat crossed-legged below a small light and read a pirated Jeffrey
Archer mystery that had been translated into Thai. She had brought
three books on the trip. Breach was restless in the lower berth;
he stared at the ceiling, running the possibilities of what
Suda might be doing or thinking, and what her state of dress
or undress might be at that moment. She had small rigid mounts
for breasts, he thought. The breasts of a child.
had agreed to make the trip for several reasons. After the motorcycle
incident, he felt Asanee might have a point. And also Suda held
out the possibility of being that rare, if not entirely original
kind of woman, one who lived inside her own culture as an outsider;
but an extraordinary kind of outsider who did not fit within
the usual categories: whore, drug addict, lunatic, emotional
cripple, or gangster. From country to country, the women Breach
had talked with, slept with, walked, ran, and drank with in
shops, small hotels, train stations, or restaurants along the
road fell into one of those categories; living on the outside
of a household, the family, the society was not a choice most
women contemplated as desirable. It was an alternative thrust
upon, a status which seized them without much choice by lethal
combination of defective genes, crazy parents, and daytime TV.
Suda challenged Breach's theory. He liked that; he wanted to
be proved wrong. He had made a side bet with himself somewhere
along the line that with Suda an edge would be reached and Suda
would be snared like all of the, other women he knew. Finally,
he swung his legs over the side, climbed up the chrome ladder,
and stuck his head into her berth. She had reached page 29 of
the Archer novel.
woke me up at the stage. I thought it might have been you. Someone
put a hand here. On my shoulder.' When I was in the middle of
a dream. That's why I was late."
bpen rai-never mind."
Jeffery Archer comic book," Breach said.
not know him."
don't really know me," said Breach.
not read your book."
liked that answer. "Cannot," he said, tapping his'
forehead. "It's in my private library."
it is boring. How do I know?" Suda smiled and stuck a book
marker inside the paperback and closed it.
don't," grinned Breach. "Indians were once afraid
if you took their photograph, you would steal their soul. But
you steal a man's soul by taking his words and making them'
your own. So I only let a few out at a time, and when I speak,
so that I can call all my words home, I keep the listener occupied."
took a five-baht coin from his pocket, showed it to Suda in
the palm of his hand, dosed his hand, clapped his hands together,
slowly opening both to reveal the coin was gone. Suda stared
from hand to hand, then looked up *at Breach, who grinned. He
reached forward and brushed against her right ear. He opened
his hand and showed her the coin.
did you do that?" Suda said.
he whispered, wide-eyed. "So no one can steal my soul."
they said good-night, Breach left the five-baht coin on top
of the Archer paperback; there was a slight moment of awkwardness.
Partially because Breach wasn't fluent in Thai; partially because
they were strangers; partially because magic caused contemplation;
but mainly because everything important was left unsaid or discovered
dreamt one of his favorite recurring dreams at three in the
morning. A skinny ten-year-old with a dirty face and torn dress
was holding up a bunch of flowers. A gust of wind blew the leaves.
People walked, pressing against the storm, passed her without
looking. Her lower lip quivered, making her face look rubbery.
Tears filled her eyes. A man in a double-breasted gray suit,
touched by the display of tears, stopped and bought the flowers.
As he pulled out his wallet, a man with white hair in a soiled,
baggy blue suit Jumped out from behind a door and stood before
the flower girl.
he shouted several times, holding up a Bible bound in white
calf leather. The startled customer backed away.
little girl fell to her knees and wrapped her thin arms around
his leg. "Don't go, mister. He's me dad. He only wants
you to look at his Bible. You don't have to buy unless You want
Breach had this dream, he was interrupted before the customer,
looking down at the tiny flower girl, made his decision to stay
or leave. Sleeping on the train, it happened again. A hand clutched
Breach's shoulder and shook him. His eyes popped wide open and
in the darkness of the narrow sleeper, Breach made out the form
of a man.
was feeling slightly guilty," said Crosby.
it was you at the train station." Breach flicked on the
night light near the window.
nodded and shifted his weight forward, half turning and sitting
on the edge of Breach's bed. "You were sound asleep. Snoring.
Disturbing the peace actually. Ten minutes more and you'd have
missed the train. You would've slept straight through a perfect
away, Crosby. I was dreaming about my mother."
dreams on a train? I thought only the French had those kind
and my grandfather were running a con on Fleet Street-right
behind the Law Courts. That was back in the 30's. Their flowers
and Bibles con."
mother was a childhood criminal?" asked Crosby. He was
impressed. In most of life the man was always less than the
legend; in Breach's case, the myth and legend had not overtaken
the full story locked inside the man.
are you doing here, Crosby?
opened a brown bag and produced a plate, napkins, silverware,
two glasses and a small bottle of claret. He handed the claret
to Breach, who examined the label under the dim light.
A rather disappointing year."
is Thailand and not Oxford, Richard," said Crosby, as he
took back the claret and opened it.
Ross?" asked Breach.
poured a glass of claret and handed it to Breach. "How
do you know Ross Is here?"
of the pate'."
pate' and claret are from the first-class car; and you never
travel first-class unless get someone else to pay."
passed out in his berth two hours ago."
didn't you tell me before?" asked Breach, raising himself
up on his elbows.
you buggered off from my school did you tell me?"
chewed a piece of French bread and pate', thinking for a moment.
"That was an emergency. Headmaster's daughter, the headmaster,
and the police not far behind them."
afraid you'll change your mind."
sipped the claret and made a face. "He passed out on this?"
Grand-Dad is a cheap whiskey."
did you make out with Suda," whispered Crosby, arching
his eyes toward the ceiling.
likes comic books and magic."
figured you'd have a lot in common," said Crosby, before
vanishing a moment later.
morning, a barefoot train porter, with a flutter and rattle
of cloth and metal, pulled back the curtain of Breach's berth
at 6:00 a.m. An empty bottle of claret tolled off the bed, hit
the floor without breaking, and careened down narrow corridor,
shattering against a luggage rack. Breach blinked at the porter
and rubbed his eyes. It was first light outside. He looked at
his wristwatch. Then he lay back on the bed, closed his eyes,
and thought about the flower girl pedaling bunches of wilted
red roses to barristers and clerks and solicitors all those
years ago in London. Forty-five minutes later the train pulled
into Chiang Mai station.
the station, Suda bargained with two young samlor drivers. The
Riverside Guest House was about two kilometers from the station.
They eyed the size of Breach in settling on the fare. The drivers
flipped a coin for Breach. Then they set off in separate samlors.
Suda's driver, his leg muscles knotted, the surface rippled
with thick coils of veins, set off. Breach's driver followed
behind, cursing his early morning bad luck on a flip of the
one-baht coin. He pedaled through the busy streets, waving at
motorcyclists, tuk-tuk drivers, cars, and buses to give way
as he moved across lanes. Breach, once or twice, looked behind,
trying to make out faces inside taxis and samfors. But he saw
no sign of either Crosby or Ross. So this would be the tone
of the journey, thought Breach. Suda somewhere ahead, alone,
leaning forward, and shouting directions, suggestions, and orders.
While he looked over his shoulder wondering at what odd hour
of the day or night another mediocre bottle of claret might
Bangkok, Suda booked the guest house off a narrow sub-soi with
large, green grounds that sloped down to the muddy banks of
the Ping River. Modern rooms and plumbing, freshly mowed lawns
with beach chairs, a restaurant beside the river, and three
or four dogs that pranced around the grass, driveway, and nuzzled
guests as they strolled past the main desk.
unasked question between Suda and Breach was answered at the
check-in desk. Suda booked separate rooms on different floors.
The simple act of filling out the form cleaned the air. Separate
train berths, samlors, and hotel rooms. This woman was more
than able to communicate her intentions. Breach thought about
asking her about Crosby and Ross. Had she known they were on
the train? But he sensed his timing was wrong. He hated early
morning explanations, suspicions, and lies. He felt Crosby and
Ross would force Suda into one of those predictable categories.
all, Breach sensed the truth was some distance away, and it
would find him, as it always had.
shifted through the possibilities that could be excluded: midnight
shifting around rooms, romance and promises, and preoccupations
and disillusionment. Sex had not been his reason for the trip,
he reminded himself. Staying out of the path of Asanee's colonel
had been one reason. He might not have gone if Suda had not
held out the promise of something he wanted. She had showed
him some rare, fine ancient artifacts from hilltribe shamans;
she knew shamans living in the old way in remote northern villages.
He told himself he had signed on for the trip because he wanted
a set of ritual knives. An old mentor and friend, Thomas Pierce,
had requested the ancient shaman knives-not for fighting, for
cutting food, or for self-protection. The shaman knives had
a different, wholly mystical purpose: slaughter at a fixed time
and location, to discard a life to catch the attention of the
gods beyond a horizon which no one could enter. An urgent request
had come through Pierce's wife in Oxford. The ritual killing
knives spooked Suda. When she spoke of them, Breach could see
the fear in her eyes. They evoked ghosts, for good or evil,
they sliced a wound, opening a seam for those in one world to
see and speak with those in another.
had not slept well on the train. She tossed and turned in her
berth. The noise and motion, and a mind that she would not shut
down. The tracks curved, the car Pitched, and she felt her heart
beating in the dark. She heard voices; smelled food and wine.
She had dreamed of ritual knives, ritual slaughter, and bodies
that fled away into darkness with the loud clack of wings, hairy
limbs, and a bright-red plumage. She opened her eyes in the
morning soaked in sweat.
father had nicknamed her Suda: his inspiration came from a Thai
medicine for fever. As far as she knew, she was the only girl
with that nickname in Thailand.
could've been worse," Breach said. "You could've ended
up as penicillin."
shrugged. "Or aspirin," she said.
never met anyone named after a drug before."
father like very much. Also its the name of a flower."
women were thought of as a commodity, it was an easy extension
to name them after a product, drug, or flower thought Breach.
He kept his thoughts to himself. There was an invisible hard
edge where humor ended and criticism began; one was the surface,
the other the core below the surface; and, in Thailand, the
culture placed a barrier beyond the surface. Even with someone
like Suda who from an early age had been a "rebel"-a
word she found in her Thai-English dictionary.
age seven she sold water and juice in plastic bags at the train
station. She was one of travelling band of young faces racing
along the train platform, tugging at passengers' sleeves, eyes
large and clear, and begging in the way only a child can evoke
sympathy. At age thirteen, a turning point in her life occurred.
There had been a family crisis. Her aunt, her father's sister,
had a baby who had become very ill. Suda was sent to her aunt's
house in another town. A few weeks later the aunt's baby died.
When Suda asked her father to return home, he looked at her
long and hard: "Why don't you like my sister? You want
me to lose face." The message was clear. "You are
disposable like toothpaste. I can always buy another tube. My
sister needs you to brush her soul. clean. So you stay as long
as she wants. What you want does not matter and cannot matter."
lived at her aunt's house through her teens, picking up her
love of antiques, and finally leaving to attend university.
She never recovered from the loss of her family, that her own
father had refused to allow her back into the sanctuary of childhood.
She had lost something in the fashion that women often lose
in their relations with men, beginning with their fathers and
continuing on the back of bedroom promises. Her exile was the
first sign of what waited in the shadows, thought Breach. She
hovered at street level leaning against a fast-moving storm
like the little flower girl in his dreams.
mother had doubled up her bet by marrying his father, who was
reputed to be the best card player in postwar England. The war
had killed off his competition, his mother had joked. For better
or worse, his father had failed in the grand style. The old
man had gambled and lost the house the furniture, wife and children,
and his marriage. His mother cut her losses and left him. The
loss did not break her; she was strong, ambitious, and calculated
that she would find better odds at another table. She had been
the same age as Suda, twenty-seven, when she made the break.
And like Suda, his mother threw herself into her work which
had been to find a new husband. Suda simply threw herself into
her work as if it were her husband. She consumed silver with
a sexual fervor, touching the bracelets, necklaces, stroking
the long, silver chains, rubbing the hairpins until her finger
pads knew only the sensuality of metal.
had perfected a silent-movie walk; a scuttling movement that
threw her carriage from side to side. She was schoolgirl-slim-the
body of a teenager-a Thai Peter Pan who had refused to ever
grow up. Her face bore the features of a teenage Mao and Burmese
Buddha. She had Mao's little facial mole and round face, and
the Buddha's oval-shaped eyes. Crosby had called her "an
ancient girl" which had said more about Crosby than Suda.
It had been difficult to image that Crosby had ever been a young
they checked into the guest house, for the first time, Breach
thought Suda's face and body possessed the perfect combination
for her work. She moved unnoticed in dangerous places. She rolled
across the landscape like a shadow belonging nowhere. She was
like a Trojan horse waiting to be pulled inside the gates. He
followed behind her, carrying his case, up the flight of staffs
to their rooms. As she stopped to unlock her door, she looked
at him, smiled, and quickly disappeared inside. He had a strange
feeling that she was like a long fishing line towed by someone
manning a boat in the distance; with pilots like Ross and Crosby
in constant radio control. Ross and Crosby were like Breach's
grandfather in the old days in London, lurking in the shallow
waters for the big fish, half hidden in the shadows with a fistful
of Bibles as bait.