Zero Hour in Phnom Penh

A Vincent Calvino crime novel
Third in the series

2004 German Critics Award for Crime Fiction and
Winner of 2007 Premier Special Director Book Award Semana Negra, Spain


ISBN 978-974-10-3046-0
Paperback 5" - 7 3/4"
2008, 313 pages

 

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Excerpt

Chapter 4
THE LIDO BAR

Mud splattered motorcycles and UNTAC Land Cruisers lined both sides of the road in front of the Lido Bar. Calvino studied the action curbside for a few minutes. The girls and non-UN personnel came and went on the motorcycles for hire ľall the drivers had second-hand 50cc Hondas imported by the container load from Japan. The UNTAC Civ Pol on their hundred-thirty a day pay check operated in a different world, coming and going like Third-World warlords in high-class Japanese motoring style. Calvino worked his way down a row of motorcycle taxis, showing Fat Stuart's picture to the drivers. They smoked cheap cigarettes and huddled under the balcony of the Lido, keeping out of the rain.

It was the kind of crowd that had looked at photos of dead people before. In fact, looking at photos of the dead seemed normal in a country which had preserved more pictures of the dead than the living. The first driver stared blankly at the photograph of Fat Stuart, turned it around upside down, passed it down the line to the next driver, each one in turn had a vacant, the lights are on but no one is at homelook. The last motorcycle driver smiled and demanded money. Calvino handed him a soiled five-hundred dong note - which worked out to be less than one cent. The driver's smile fled the scene as he handed Calvino the photo, and pocketed the money. "He look like you," said the driver, laughing. Calvino thought about this. He had been insulted before but this guy was in a league of his own.

He shrugged and turned away from the motorcycle drivers. Showing them the photograph was a long shot - but sometimes guys working the street had a good memory for anyone out of the ordinary. And there was no question a Khmer weighing in at one-hundred-twentypounds wouldn't easily forget a man the size of Fat Stuart. This was the kind of weight range which could buckle the frame of a 50cc motorcycle, blow out the tires and bend the wheels and frame, putting its owner out of the transportation business. His four-hundred-thirty pounds required specialized transportation. Calvino glanced at the four or five UNTAC Land Cruisers. He wondered if Fat Stuart had had a friend or two on the UNTAC police force. So far he had more questions than answers.

He walked through the entrance. The Lido Bar was on the second floor of an old, squat building. The red carpeted stairs, frayed at the edges, stained, faded, spotted with cigarette butt burns like the hide of a torture victim. It was around eleven as Calvino climbed the flight of stairs, and walked into the bar. It was dark inside. like the Thermae Bar in Bangkok, the Lido catered for men who wanted a hassle- free meeting place which had wall-to-wall women for hire. Young girls, or older ones who kept to the shadows so their excess mileage couldn't immediately be spotted in the half-light.

Calvino had drunk in bars like this one. It was a place that made you want to drink. No one could stay sober and sane in a place like the Lido. This bar wasn't the last stop on the road for women who had worked in a bar or massage parlor. It was the end of the road. There was nothing on the other side waiting but the grave. The end of the road women had a certain look of sadness laced with excitement. It was like a drug, pulling them back, making them lazy for normal work. And there were the semi-pros - the girls with day jobs who needed some quick cash for a birthday present or the rent. Looking around the bar, it was not difficult to spot the sharks among the newcomers, the runaways and castaways, and the drug-addicts. Calvino threw back another drink. One of the women eyed him, he looked away and she walked on, looking for money for a fix, to feed her baby and pay the rent. Who knew? Who cared?

The interior of the Lido was vast. The room looked like it had been gutted, stripped clean of large, oily nineteenth century machinery, chains, wires and electrical switches and then converted with some paint, tables and chairs, a bar counter and jukebox. There was a dance floor in the middle. To the right of the entrance was a long bar with stools, and on all three sides of the dance floor were tables occupied by working girls and clients. Dim lights and dark comers turned the figures seated at the tables into shadows. The Lido was like aback alley, a place one could slip in and out of without being noticed or stopped. There was no cross-table talk; the men kept to themselves, looking over the women. Privacy was an obvious attraction. For the girls. For the johns.

Calvino sat at the bar and ordered another Tiger beer. After the beer arrived he counted about a hundred women. it was a rough count because there was a balcony overlooking the street and a load of women were outside, drinking and talking. Calvino sipped his beer and thought about how Lido was a familiar name that had been hung on a number of places. He remembered Lido Beach, Long Island where the wise guys who worked on mob crews took their girlfriends on the weekend. The Lido Cinema in Bangkok which someone burnt down. The Lido Guesthouse in Singapore. Another fire trap waiting to go up in flames. The Lido on the Champs- in Paris had half-naked women dressed in four-foot high feathered head dresses and knee-high silver boots. The kind of high-class French joint where Fat Stuart L'Blanc would have had dreams of scoring one of the girls. But he would have never gotten in the door. And now Calvino was inside the Lido Bar in Phnom Penh, where wise guys in uniform had a girlfriend for no more than twenty-four hours, and civilians like L'Blanc could also indulge their desires, recycling Vietnamese whores who had been with a uniform the night before.

The action was happening next to him. A half dozen blond-haired, blue-eyed men formed a semi-circle at the bar. They wore sidearms strapped to their hips. They started singing a German song, and clinking their beer bottles as they sang. Their green fatigues had small flag patches sewn on the left shoulder-a black, red and yellow striped flag. They were in their late twenties.

"They are German doctors," said someone who had moved in on Calvino's right. "They are singing a German drinking song. They come here most nights, drinking, singing, and then leave together. like a wolf pack on the hunt. But I have never seen them take the girls."

Calvino turned around on the stool.

"John Shaw," said the newcomer, introducing himself. "I'm from Ireland. Dublin, to be precise."

"Vincent Calvino. From Brooklyn. Residing in Bangkok, to be precise."

John Shaw eased into the idea this man was from Brooklyn, drinking his beer, watching the Germans, looking out at the dance floor. The music was courtesy of Madonna and a couple of young girls were moving seductively to the music. At the edge of darkness beyond the dance floor were a couple of crew-cut men at a table.

"UNTAC Civ Pol can't carry firearms. But in Cambodia the German doctors are armed. You might call that an irony. Cambodia is a place filled with irony. Irish irony blessed us with poets; Cambodian irony has cursed them with mass killers. Irony has an ambiguous, sometimes nasty, sometimes kind edge. It can go either way," said Shaw.

He was middle-aged, blue-eyed like the Germans, but he had the kind of eyes that tracked like a hunting dog; eyes that locked onto a detail, played with it, turned it over, didn't let it go until he had no choice. He had no gut hanging over his belt, his dark hair was short, and the half-light showed high definition on his muscular forearm clutching the beer. john Shaw looked like someone who kept in shape, lifted weights, and played on the police football team. NGOs had softer, anxious, frightened faces; they wore their soft bodies as badges of honor, showing that they belonged outside the field of personal danger, safe inside an office. And if they ran, it was from danger and not for exercise.

"Are you a cop or a philosopher?" asked Calvino, knowing the answer before he put the question.

"I'm a sergeant back home in Dublin. If you're born in Dublin then you're a philosopher from birth. A poet by simply walking the streets. What's your profession is neither here nor there. My tour of duty ends in six weeks. Can't say III miss much about this place. The missus and kids, now that I'll be glad to get home to see."

"Ravi Singh wouldn't happen to be your boss?" asked Calvino.

"Now how would you be knowing that?" asked John Shaw, trying to look surprised but the big smile spoiled the effect.

"Like you knew the Germans were medical corps." Lt. Col. Pratt and Ravi Singh had arranged for an Irish babysitter, he thought.

"Can I buy you a beer?" asked john Shaw. "Forget the Tiger. Try the VB. It's a larger can for the same money."

The Germans had finished their drinking song. They faced each other and had that kind of look of men in a huddle between plays in a football game. Then gave a final shout in unison, clapped their hands, turned and marched out of the Lido without taking any notice of the women hovering at the door.

"The Germans have always had discipline, will-power," said Calvino. "Qualities you want in a doctor or mechanic."

"I can't really vouch for their discipline. But I know doctors shouldn't be walking around with guns," said Shaw.

"In America guns have become a necessary dress accessory," said Calvino. "like jewelry."

"Seems like jewelry is on everyone's mind," said john Shaw,

The comment had almost drawn Shaw out but then he returned to his beer. Calvino saw him think this over and then back off. John Shaw was one hell'va a cop, someone in control; he wouldn't spring for something as obvious as this, and he smiled and raised his VB beer.

"We've put the Lido off limits for our boys," explained john Shaw. "We've got policemen from thirty-two countries on the UNTAC force. I have to be honest with you. Not all of our colleagues here have the same police training and experience. And when they come here, take out girls, put them in UNTAC vehicles, before you know it, what is a personal matter gets reported in the press. And that's a bit of a problem. The missus in Dublin reads in the newspaper about how all the foreign cops in Phnom Penh are sleeping with Vietnamese prostitutes. She doesn't much like that. Not that she's got anything against the Vietnamese. She doesn't, I must say, and I don't much like what goes on here either. You should go around to the health clinic, and see all those lads standing in line with their dicks out, looking real sad. Tonight, I'm having a little look-in. Checking out who is being naughty and who's being nice."

"We could stop bullshitting each other," said Calvino.

John Shaw sighed. "Now why would I be..."

Calvino cut him off. "It's doesn't matter why. I'm looking for someone. He is well connected..." He let it ride.

"Connected to what, Mr. Calvino?"

"That's what I don't know. But if I had to guess, I'd say it's likely army and some other influential people on the inside track in Phnom Penh and Bangkok."

"You know how hard it is to send someone home from Cambodia?" asked John Shaw, shifting gears as the music changed to heavy metal. "It's all politics here. How can you run a police force when you can't control your men? Run them out of the force if you have to? You know how much one-hundred-thirty a day is for some of these lads? One year in Cambodia is like working eighty years back where they come from. And don't think they're keeping the full amount. Most of it gets all divided up and passed down a line as long as this bar with hands out all along the way. Some end up living on four dollars a day. In their mind, they aren't much better off than the Cambodians. Of course, the Cambodians are much worse off, but they don't see it that way."

"The man I'm looking for had the right background to startup sideline business," said Calvino.

"A lot of men have done that."

"This man had opportunity and access to several military product lines for which there is a world market. He was in business with a jeweler in Bangkok. The jeweler's dead. He used to come here. Maybe you saw him. He was a fat French Canadian."

"A lot of people come in and out of the Lido."

"You would have remembered Fat Stuart."

John Shaw dropped one shoulder, leaned over the bar, the wheels spinning in his head as he raised the VB beer to his lips. "Some of our boys might bend the rules to their advantage if they had the chance. It's cat and mouse. The Lido's off limits, but you saw the Land Cruisers parked outside. They know we can't hardball them. Send them packing for whoring. They would just laugh in our face if we threatened them. But they also know that some activities can get them a one-way ticket out of here as fast as you can get a dose from a Lido girl."

"Drugs?" asked Calvino.

"That would do it."

"How about selling AK47s?"

"They would be history."

"You have your suspicions?" asked Calvino.

"Those I have, my friend," replied the Irishman, setting down his beer.

"But nothing you can prove?"

"If l had proof, then l wouldn't be sitting at the bar, talking with you. Now would I"

Calvino broke out in a big smile. John Shaw had a certain quality. Call it sincerity or honesty. He had a little of the Irish storyteller in him as well. Someone who had been on the force long enough to know that it often made no difference what the truth was; like love and hatred, the truth was unstable, shifting. Calvino remembered what Pratt had told him about police work. You studied close-up people straddling the thin line, some working both sides against the middle. Sooner or later someone always fell off. Patience was waiting for that moment, not forcing it and being ready to catch those unlucky enough to fall. But, as in most parts of the world, in Phnom Penh, it was easier to define the line than finding who was sitting in the shadows, talking to the whores.

"I'm looking for a Vietnamese girl," said Calvino.

"You came to the right place. Not that many Khmers working at Lido. That gives you a wide choice," replied john Shaw.

Shaw was right. The Lido girls were overwhelmingly Vietnamese hookers - faces painted, in cheap dresses they sat at tables, hovered around the bar, spilled onto the dance floor, friends dancing in groups, looking over the men standing with beer on the edges. Not long after the German doctors left, a couple of foreigners - Africans not much smaller than Fat Stuart and decked out in their traditional dress - were dancing, their huge bellies pumping up and down with teenaged prostitutes. The African peacekeepers towered above the girls who giggled and pointed at the bouncing stomachs. Calvino tried to imagine what was going on inside their heads as they danced.

Calvino eased off the stool.

"I'm going to have a look around," he said.

John Shaw shrugged. "By all means, help yourself."

He walked along the edge of the dance floor, and then slipped out the back and onto the balcony which overlooked the street and main entrance below. He stood at the railing, looking down. The rain pelted the canopy above the balcony.

From behind him came a familiar English voice, "The trick is to stay away from the gaping holes in the canopy."

Calvino looked up and saw the hole and stepped to one side.

"The whores can spot a newcomer," said the Englishman. "They always stand under a hole, and the rain falls on their head. It makes the whores laugh. They think a man who doesn't know enough to keep his head dry probably doesn't know the co st of screwing either. It'd be difficult to know if this is actually true. But the whores believe it's true. And that's really all that matters. "

"Scott, what are you doing in Phnom Penh?" asked Calvino.

"Keeping myself dry."

Richard Scott smiled, tilted back in his chair, touching the wall, his feet pressed against the floor, smoking a cigarette and drinking a beer straight from the can. His gray eyes and short-cropped gray hair gave him a boyish look for someone pushing fifty. He had on his jogging outfit - Nike shorts, Reebok tennis shoes, and a faded white singlet with a Singha Beer ad on the front. Scott was in perpetual training, working out with weights but mostly long-distance running. He entered iron-man contests for men over forty-five years old and sometimes finished in the top ten. Not bad considering a lot of guys in that age bracket didn't whore or drink, and had been in professional. sports. In Bangkok, he had tried his hand at running a couple of bars, thinking he would have his private stable of girls. Only it didn't turn out that way. Toward the end, Scott had once said that the age of bar girls had to be calculated like dog years. Each six months working in a bar equaled five years in a normal woman's life. By the time a girl had worked five years in a Bangkok bar she was twenty-four going on fifty-four. Scott had been drunk when he said this made all the women far too old for him once he realized their true age. Calvino thought he would have said the same thing stone cold sober.

His was an old story repeated a hundred if not a thousand times over-he drank too much and didn't have enough cashflow to pay both the landlord and the police. Calvino hadn't seen Richard Scott for nearly a year. Once or twice they had run into each other at the forty-baht lunch at the Lonesome Hawk Bar in Washington Square. Then Scott disappeared from the Bangkok scene. One rumor had Scott double-crossing an influential person who had him killed, his body tied down with iron and cement and dumped in the Chao Phraya River. Another rumor had Scott going back to London, and working for a house removal company. That rumor had few believers; Richard Scott never liked heavy lifting unless it was either in a weight room or a bedroom.

"Should I ask why you're here?" asked Scott. "Part of a larger American conspiracy to give the Cambodians back to the KR? After all, it was your country who financed them. Armed them. Said, look at all those fields, why not do some killing? You might be good at that. But you probably don't want to talk about who is financing you in Phnom Penh. Did I say that? I take it back. It's raining and it's never a good time to talk about politics when you're trying to stay dry."

Calvino started to remember why he hadn't missed Scott. Richard had a religious faith in working out, staying fit, and secure in his belief that the Ms of the world lay at the feet of the American Government. Every American was an agent, someone sent with specific instruction either to convert or failing conversion, to subvert and overthrow other governments so they would have a market to sell weapons. There was no such thing as a private eye or private agent; he had Calvino pegged as a secret agent. A kind of at-large First Secretary who talked shop with people like Alice Dugan.

I heard you were in England," said Calvino.

"For a couple of months. It was pretty grim. No work. And one day I packed it in. Since I'd had enough of Bangkok I thought why not try Cambodia and Vietnam."

"Did you see Fat Stuart about a month ago?" asked Calvino.

Richard Scott dropped the front legs of the wooden chair forward and made a grab for one of the girls, pulling her onto his lap. "He's a bit difficult not to see."

"He's dead," said Calvino.

"Someone once said if Fat Stuart died at the rate of one pound a year, he might live to be a thousand."

"He died all at once," said Calvino.

"The first time he came to the Lido, the girls freaked out. Almost all the whores are from Saigon. You've heard about the boat people. This little one on my lap is one of the bus people." He gave her a kiss on the cheek, and she curled up, playing with his chest hair, twisting and braiding it with her fingers. "Think how bad it's gotta be for these girls in Saigon for them to get on a leaky old boat or in a broken-down bus. For a few bucks they are riding with chickens and pigs for hours. They've heard that Phnom Penh is lousy with rich farangs who will fuck them for money. Some of them end up at the Lido. Their worst nightmare must have come true when Fat Stuart came through the door. He has dimples on his knees larger than their face. He spoke a strange kind of French. That's the hellish thing about poverty for a woman. Either you starve or accept money from a thousand pound jelly-fish-like creature to climb on top of you. Evolution is a strange business."

"Fat Stuart was four-hundred something," said Calvino.

"Tell that to a girl who weighs ninety pounds."

As Calvino stood back from the rail, automatic gun fire erupted from about fifty meters up the road. AK47 fire in two, three round bursts. This was followed by a moment of silence and return fire came back from the opposite end of the street, making the I-ido near the dead centre of the cross-fire. The motorcycle taxi drivers on the street below had dived under their bikes for shelter.

The Vietnamese girls fled away from the hand-railing and stood erect, their backs touching the far wall, clutching their handbags against their chests. One was crying. Most were shaking, eyes closed, lips quivering with fear. They looked like the condemned at the wrong end of a firing squad. Being caught in cross-fire on the balcony of the Lido was not what they had in mind as a good evening of fun. They didn't talk, joke or look at each other. Richard Scott finished his beer and told the girl on his lap to go and fetch him another one. But she was too afraid to leave his lap, and she tightened her arms wrapped around his neck each time he tried to pry her loose.

"They freak out every time there's a little gunfire. It's nothing really. Most of the time the Khmers are shooting at the clouds."

"Yeah, I've heard, they think it makes the rain go away."

Richard Scott nodded. " Maybe it does. Who knows? Has anyone ever studied the problem of rain clouds and bullets? Maybe the CIA." Additional gun bursts knocked out some windows in the building across the street.

"They seem to have a hard time hitting the sky," said Calvino, his hand instinctively reaching in for his own gun. He crouched down near the balcony and looked down the street.

"It's just a little shooting from near the market. The military's probably put up a checkpoint," said Richard Scott. "And some asshole forgot to stop. You have to stop for them. You can't just keep on going or they get pissed off. The soldiers want cigarettes or cash. It seems reasonable. The government doesn't pay them. The Americans won't pay them because they don't like their politics. So they have to pay themselves. It seems to work out all right. Soldiers shoot people who don't pay. Who is going to mourn a cheap Charlie? Besides they don't have to shoot all that many before the word gets out."

A couple of the Vietnamese whores crept beside Calvino and bent over the balcony, straining to locate the source of the gunfire. But most of the whores stayed back, pressing against the wall; they wanted as much distance as possible between themselves and the exposure of being in the open near the edge of the balcony. Scott explained that most of the girls worked day jobs in the local beauty shops, changing into their party dress and whoring by night. They were what Scott called the Saigon bus girls. He explained how they were afraid at night, and they had every reason to be scared. The Khmer Rouge had machine-gunned men, women and children, killing scores of Vietnamese some months earlier. A great hatred of the Vietnamese had been whipped up during the election. Killing Vietnamese was socially acceptable behavior among a lot of Khmers. One of the few activities which seemed to unify the populace. Killing had a different meaning, a different history but roughly the same purpose in Cambodia. To create terror and submission, nothing ever worked better than summary executions.

"You think I can get a beer?" Scott shouted at one of the girls inside the door, She disappeared and a moment later returned with a Tiger beer.

"They're really not bad people," said Scott. "I kind of like the Vietnamese. The whores are like us, Calvino. Outsiders. They don't fit in. They hang around, do their job, and try to find some decency in their lives. It's not their fault the Americans fucked up their country. It's not the Cambodians' fault the Americans dropped more bombs on Cambodia than were dropped during World War 11. just because you say a war ends doesn't mean it ends."

Calvino figured out in his head that in bar girl years Richard Scott must have been well over one-hundred-sixty years old. Long enough for a heart to go hard, black and cold.

Across the street from the Lido were crumbling buildings -not buildings in the conventional sense but concrete shells. Calvino felt the anger rising inside. Richard Scott's one-track condemnation of America masked some deeper pain or hostility. Blaming America was an easy way out for problems; it meant there was no more work or thinking to do about trouble. Like bashing Jews, a ready-made audience existed for this kind of hatred. With the blood and dirt on American hands, why bother, it was easier to sit on a balcony, drink beer, and bitch about how the Yanks had fucked everything up. He started to count what looked like bullet holes, controlling his anger against Scott. The buildings were so run down the holes could have been caused by anything. The condition of the buildings showed that human beings were prepared to live in a city like animals. These were animal holding pens; nests with brick walls; structures so ugly, flat, and squat they seemed broken. A four-story hovel which housed people with a shattered history. Suffering and misery domes built by a tribe that tried to kill itself.

On the ground floor the metal gate was pulled tight with a large Yale lock. Peeling paint, the windows splotched and stained, making one feel the damp ache of those inside. There were no lights in the windows; not even a candle. The rooms looked abandoned; the building looked as if it contained no living thing. Calvino could imagine the Khmer Rouge taking people out of the rooms, and loading them into trucks. They never came back. The building waited for new occupants.

Below on the street it was business as usual. The Lido motorcycles pulled up with whores and customers. A moment later, another driver, whore and customer seated on the back of allonda 50cc disappeared out of sight down the flooded street. Several UNTAC Civ Pol vehicles were parked opposite the Lido An off-duty cop -who looked Eastern European loaded two whores, who were drinking beer, into the front seat of an UNTAC Land Cruiser and drove away. Then Calvino saw John Shaw, the Irish cop, walk alone across the street, keys in his hand, climb into his land Cruiser, and follow after the first vehicle.

"You didn't happen to see Fat Stuart here with Mike Hatch? " asked Calvino, turning back from the railing. There wasn't an immediate reply, so Calvino rephrased the question, "Have you seen Hatch around lately?"

Richard Scott frowned, rubbing the side of his face. He had a nervous condition which made his eye and cheek twitch whenever he felt tension coming on hard. Hatch's name had twisted some of the nerves. "I've been waiting for him to come around. Let's see, it's been a couple of weeks. We have some business plans," said Scott. "And these things take time to organize."

"What kind of business?" asked Calvino, pulling up a chair directly opposite Scott.

"That's kinda personal, isn't it?" The muscles in his face pulsated, and Scott gulped beer from the can

"I'm not asking for trade secrets, Scott. And I'm not working for the US Government if that's what you're worried about." Calvino could see the approach wasn't working. He pulled out his wallet and showed Scott a check payable to Mike Hatch in the amount of forty-five thousand dollars. It was dark on the balcony. And Scott used his cigarette lighter to read the check. "I'm looking to deliver this to Hatch."

"When did you become an investment banker?" Scott asked.

After Hatch went into the gun business," said Calvino.

Scott didn't much like this answer, and he quickly pulled the Vietnamese whore off his lap and leaned forward in his chair.

"Who said Hatch was in the gun business? Patten? Because if he did, he's a lying sonofabitch." He looked Calvino straight in the eye with a look which approached genuine surprise. His gray eyes had betrayed his claim that he didn't know the game Patten was playing. He handed back the check payable to Mike Hatch.

Calvino remained silent as he folded the check and put it back in his wallet. Several of the Vietnamese girls watched over his shoulder. There was a constant stream of girls circling from the dance floor to the balcony. Some UNTAC personnel in civilian clothes sat with girls at the opposite end of the balcony.

"Our business venture is in Vietnam. We are putting together the deal of a lifetime. We are planning yuppy treks down Highway One. Do you know how many American yuppies would pay through the nose to have someone lead them down Highway One? Thousands and thousands of Americans who heard something about the war. This is their chance to follow in Charlie's footstep s. It can't miss. Forget about guns. The money is in tourism. Mike and I are planning the first Highway One Marathon. We are working on a cableTV deal. Reporters from all over the world will come to cover the Marathon. Guns! Who in the fuck cares about guns? Except gun-crazy Americans. You people are obsessed with guns. You're all armed to the teeth. In. England we don't really like guns, and we don't like people carrying them around in public. And that includes the police."

The scheme sounded like one Richard Scott would be interested in doing. He was a jogger. He loved Vietnamese women. He was finished with Bangkok and this was his opportunity to combine his avocation, hobby, drinking, and whoring and to get paid at the same time. It had the ring of truth. What didn't we into the equation was what is real connection was with Mike Hatch. He seemed to be covering up for Hatch, holding back information about Hatch's whereabouts. If Scott wouldn't tell him the truth, then Calvino thought there was an outside chance one of the Lido girls was serving Hatch and for the right price would take him directly to his room.

"Which of these girls did Fat Stuart take?" asked Calvino.

The question caught Richard Scott off guard and made him laugh unexpectedly, making beer shoot out of his nose. "The one who when she turns to the side is so flat she disappears."

"No, seriously."

Scott wiped his nose and looked around the balcony for a couple of minutes. The girl he had pushed off his lap crawled back on, dangling her legs on his bare legs. "I love it when they do that," he said.

Calvino took out the photograph of Fat Stuart's dead face and showed it to the girl. He held Scott's lighter close to the photograph. He asked her if she recognized him. There was no reply.

"The girls only speak Vietnamese. And a little French," said Scott. He then translated the question into Vietnamese, and the girl stared hard, and finally pointed at one of The girls in a red mini-skirt and white blouse who sat with the off-duty UNTAC personnel at the far end of the balcony. Her blouse was half-unbuttoned and she was necking with one of the men who was running his hand up and down her leg. "She says the shy one over there went with Fat Stuart."

"When?" asked Calvino.

"Light years ago, "replied Richard Scott.

"In bar girl time?" asked Calvino.

"In Lido time. Here six days is one year. This one here is about a thousand years old. But looks pretty good for her age."

"Any other girls go with Fat Stuart?"

Scott and the girl on his lap spoke in Vietnamese for about a minute. "Apparently not. This girl apparently specializes in rather large men. Though Fat Stuart was a little big even by her standards."

Calvino got up and walked over to where the girl sat, with her head back, showing a long, slender throat. He tapped the UNTAC soldier on the shoulder. "I don't want any trouble. I just want to ask your girl a few questions. It will only take a couple of minutes. "He held his hands palms up as a gesture of peace. But it was a wasted effort, the soldier' s. eyes looked from Calvino to the girl, and then came off the chair with his fists flying. He had been drinking and that made his reaction time a couple of ticks too slow. He threw a couple of useless fatman's windmakers, missing Calvino, who stepped to one side. Calvino caught him with a heavy right into his midsection, and the fight immediately left him The soldier grabbed the railing, struggling to get to his feet, and instead leaned his head over the side and vomited beer. Once again the motorcycle drivers below ducked for cover; they were having one very bad night. Calvino pulled the girl over to where Richard Scott was sitting.

"That won't make you popular with the motorcycle taxi drivers. They hate it when foreigners vomit on their heads."

"Ask this girl if she knows Mike Hatch."

Scott asked her, and nodded to Calvino. "Of course, she could be lying. But Mike knows a lot of Lido girls, so she might be telling the truth."

"Ask her if she knows where Mike lives."

Richard Scott smiled. "Now why didn't I think of that?"

He asked the girl, and she said she knew where Mike Hatch lived and it was not far from the bar. All she wanted was some money for her time and effort. That seemed like a fair deal.

It was after midnight when Calvino and the girl walked down the tattered red carpeted staircase and into the street where some of the drivers were cursing the vomit and combing their hair with plastic combs. Their faces looked like the nerve endings had been cut. Like they didn't feel much of anything. And they didn't miss the pain.

(back to book main)

 

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Memory ManifestoMemory Manifesto

Memory Manifesto’s 35 short chapters reveal Christopher G. Moore’s personal map of the Cambodia labyrinth. Moore worked as journalist, novelist, and essayist which took him through T-3 prison, Khmer Rouge minefields, border refugee camps in the company of activists, artists, film makers, musicians, writers and unsavory characters. The overall effect is a powerful vision of one writer’s memory shaped by the forces of myth-making, illusions, history and imagination. More>>

JumpersJumpers

Calvino investigates the death of a friend, a Canadian painter. The medical examiner finds the young man has ingested an exit drug, and the police verdict of suicide seems justified. But in Bangkok appearances have a habit of deceiving. Sometimes jumpers are given a leg up in their leap to the next life. Fingering the helper can be a risky business, and for Calvino this promises to be one of those times. More>>


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