Read For the Dead Online

Authors: Timothy Hallinan

For the Dead (26 page)

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Which sent the cell phone sliding beneath the seat. Out of reach.

So he was already well beyond the zone of calm reason when he limped into the station, his back having seized up again. He forced himself upright, aiming at bluff, masculine competence and knowing he looked like he was trying to walk in high heels. The thought
Poke would find this funny
didn’t amuse him at all.

And now this. The software on the department computers gives him nothing.

If it’s not the software, it’s the data. If it’s neither the software nor the data, it’s either human error or intentional human omission.

So. Test things one at a time.

The software. He thinks back over the past four or five years, comes up with half a dozen murders he remembers in some detail, and enters the number of victims, sorting them into men, women, and children.

Gets hits on all of them.

Pushes back from the desk and thinks for a moment. Enters only the number of women killed.

Gets the ones he remembers and several others in which the same number of mature females were victims.

Okay. The crimes he’s looking for are probably farther back in time than the ones he remembers.

He gets up and goes out to the reception area, where he finds the resident ancient sergeant sitting where he sits in virtually all stations, at the front desk. Arthit says, “I need a favor. Think back ten, twelve years and come up with a few murders. Just write down the number of victims—men, women, children—and the approximate year and give it to me. Multiple victims, or the results will be meaningless.”

“My first year here,” the sergeant says, “whole family, grandma, mother, father, four kids. Worst thing I’d ever seen. That would have been 1979.” He pushes his lower lip out a surprising distance and looks at the desk. “The headman of a village in this district poisoned his wife, her mother, and her sister, the whole bunch of them. So that’s three women.” He writes it down. “Maybe 1987.”

The database delivers both cases. The one involving two women, the father, and four kids comes up when he enters all the victims, when he enters
four children
, and when he enters
two women
.

So the database works.

He enters, for the fifth time, what was said when Sawat was killed,
Two women, three children
.

It isn’t that there aren’t any matches. There are half a dozen, but none that concerned Sawat or anyone close to him. One of
them was only a few months ago and most of the others were after Sawat was suspended. Arthit supposes it’s possible that Sawat had continued to operate after he was booted off the force, but he doubts that the cops who had protected him originally would allow it.

The same kind of results with the victims named when Thongchai was killed: nothing that even
suggests
Sawat.

He gets up and wanders into the detectives’ office. “Who’s the computer genius?”

“Clemente,” says the closest cop. He points with his chin to a young woman with dark skin, frizzy hair, and a flat, squarish face. When she hears her name, she looks up at Arthit through eyes so beautiful he immediately thinks they will probably drive some poor man to suicide, if they haven’t already.

“The database,” Arthit says. “What areas does it cover?”

“Geographic areas?” The eyes are a bottomless dark brown, laced faintly around the pupils with gold.

“Yes. For starters.”

“Okay,” Clemente says. She leans back in her chair and spins a pen across the tips of her fingers without looking at it, something Arthit has never been able to do. “The greater Bangkok metropolitan area and beyond, but not contiguously.”

“Sorry?”

“It’s mainly data from urban areas. So, for example, we have stuff from as far to the northwest as Kanchanaburi and as far north as Nakhon Ratchasima. East to Ubon Ratchathani and south to Pattaya and Ranong, southwest to Prachuap and Koh Samui, Koh Samet, the tourist areas in there. But there’s lots of area in between that we don’t have.”

“Still, that’s a big net. Is all that territory—is that the, what’s the word, the default?”

“No,” she says. “Bangkok metro is the default.”

“Can you do me a favor? Can you widen it as far as you can for me?”

“Sure.” She gets up, and every man in the office looks up and then down again, and Arthit is glad he’s not a young female officer with gorgeous eyes. He follows her back to the little room that’s got the monitor and keyboard in it, and when she’s taken the only seat in the room and is banging the keys around, she says, “This used to be a closet.”

“It’s still a closet,” Arthit says. “They could divert a stream through it and plant a tree, and it would still be a closet.” He watches her work for a moment. “When you got here, was this work station in a closet?”

“No,” she says. “But, you know. I’m smaller. I didn’t need such a big space.”

“Or as much air. Have you complained?”

“Lieutenant Colonel,” Clemente says, “I’m happy just to be here. And, to be fair, I also have that desk out there.”

“Where people can stare at you.”

“Are you an
agent provocateur
or just nosy?”

“Nosy. It’s always seemed counterproductive to bring women into the workplace and then make it difficult for them to work.”

“The idea, I believe, is that if they make it difficult enough, we might go away. But you know what? Any woman who goes into police work knows she’s going to be climbing a steep ramp.”

“You ever think about working downtown?”

She looks up at him. “Are you making an offer?”

“It’s not all lights and glamour,” he says. “The closer you get to the center of power, the more politics there are.”

“Just a different set of problems,” she says. She gets up. “There. That should get you everything you need.”

“Give me a couple of minutes more,” he says. “Please. Just so I know I’m not screwing up. I’m looking for murders five to twelve years ago in which the victims included one woman and two children, and murders in the same time period in which two women and three children were killed.”

“Children,” she says, sitting down again. “Who could kill children?” She’s tapping the keys, and results are swarming the screen, many more than Arthit’s searches had produced. “When you talk to the ones who did it, they’re usually so bewildered they’re not even certain what they did.”

Arthit says, “Evil’s not hard to find.”

“No,” she says, “but it’s usually the product of stupidity and pain.” She hits
enter
again and sits back, and Arthit leans over her shoulder. “Here we go.” She rolls the chair back, and it bumps him and he backs up. “Are you serious about a job?”

“Sure, if you don’t mind a ball of snakes.”

“What I’ve got here is a room full of blunt objects.”

“Give me your card before I leave.” He sits down and studies the screen. A few moments later he becomes aware that he’s alone in the room.

He decides to make no assumptions and to check every one of the cases Clemente’s search turned up, however improbable it may look. Almost two hours later, he sits back and rocks in the chair, his eyes on the screen but not reading anything. He didn’t know what to expect, but he certainly hadn’t anticipated this.

There’s not a single likely case. Not one with rich victims, and all Sawat’s victims were killed for money. None that fit the profile, with multiple eyewitnesses and an unimpeded conviction. And none of them was investigated by Sawat.

Not one. His first thought is that someone has pruned the database, but that’s virtually impossible, since so many different police units contribute to it, and they’d be quick to demand an explanation if their cases suddenly went missing. There are simply no matches.

He thinks,
What the hell?

He thinks,
Who in the world can I tell about this?

A
T SEVEN FIFTEEN
that morning, just as Arthit is beginning to experience the impenetrability of the day’s traffic jam, Rafferty’s phone buzzes on the kitchen counter to announce a text message.

Rafferty lowers his coffee and regards the phone with mistrust. He doesn’t text and he doesn’t encourage texting. Pretty much the only person who ever texts him is Miaow, and she’s sitting on the couch in shorts and the T-shirt she’d slept in, staring open-mouthed at the screen of her Mac Air. While it’s certainly possible, he doubts she’s texted him from across the room.

The text reads:
If you don’t want Miaow to go to school today and you and Rose are busy, she could stay here. A policeman’s house is probably safe
.

It’s signed,
Anna
.

With his big fat clumsy thumbs he crunches out a thank-you and adds that Miaow and Rose are going to stay home with a guard, and watch their new TV. Says (although he’s still ambivalent about her) that they should all have dinner soon. It’ll be the first time, he thinks with a pang of loss, the first time the four of them have gone out together. He should have fixed this weeks ago.

A moment later, another buzz tells him she and Arthit would love to.

“Look at you,” Miaow says. “Twenty-first century man.”

“It’s stupid and labor-intensive,” he says. “Writing is one of civilization’s great gifts, but it’s no way to say
Hi
. It’s as dumb as Twitter.”

“I take it back,” she says. “So why are you doing it?”

“Because Anna can’t hear.”

“Anna.” She makes a face.

“How’d you sleep?”

She lowers the screen of the laptop a bit and gives him the tiny smile that means she’s holding back a bigger one. “Best in days.” Looking back at the laptop, she asks, in a tone that just misses being offhand, “What are you going to do today?”

“All sorts of stuff. I have to take care of some things about—about that girl’s mother.”

She lifts her face to him. “The girl in the bed? Treasure?”

“That’s the one.”

“She’s—beautiful,” Miaow says.

“If she is, it’s the only thing in the world she’s got.”

She looks back to the screen, but he can see that she’s not focused on anything. “Can you help her?”

“If I can figure out what to do.”

The brown tips of her fingers, folded over the top of the screen, look like a kitten’s paws. “Would you think about bringing her here?”

“No. I think we have enough going on already.”

Miaow nods. “Is she dangerous?”

“Maybe. Probably.”

“Poor girl.” She swivels the screen up and down. “What else are you going to do?”

“I have to talk to Arthit about the guy with the knife and start to turn things around. And I have to talk to Captain Nguyen.”

“You
need
to,” she says eagerly. This is what she’s been steering him toward. “He has to know that those guys could come after Andrew. When are you going to call him?”

“I already did, while you were in the shower. I’m going to go to his office at one.”

“You already called him?”

“Yes, Miaow,” he says. “I called him at seven.”

“Sometimes you’re actually cool,” she says.

“God knows I try. What about you?”

“I’m always cool.”

“I’m happy you realize it. What are
you
going to do today?”

“Fight with Rose for the remote control. She wants to watch shows where women talk about their lives and cry.”

“Well, it’s all yours until she wakes up. What do you want to watch?”

“Good acting.”

“Try the Korean soaps. The acting is good, and women cry on them, too. Oh, you’re going to have a guard today, so try to get him on your side.”

Her brows pull together until they almost meet over her nose. “Who?”

“A cop named Anand. You’ve met him.”

“He’d be cute if he knew how to cut his hair.”

“I’ll tell him you said so.”

“Poke,” she says, and her tone makes him look over at her. “I want to tell you something.”

He says nothing, just looks at her.

“When I, I ran out of here, I—I know this sounds dumb—I realized that I didn’t have any place to go.”

He waits for a long beat to see whether she’ll continue. The last thing he wants to do is assume anything, so he says, “Mmm-hmm.” He feels an odd mixture of pride and sympathy: she’s so strong and so vulnerable at the same time.

She shakes her head. “No, that’s not it, really. It wasn’t exactly that I didn’t have a place to go. I sat on a curb on Sukhumvit and asked myself where I belonged.”

“Doesn’t sound dumb to me.”

“I’ve been pretending to be someone, you know, someone different because I didn’t feel like I belonged there.” She lifts her chin in the direction of the sliding glass door and, beyond it, Bangkok. “At school, I mean. So I tried to be someone who would belong there, but it doesn’t work. And then, after I learned about the baby, I didn’t feel like I belonged here, either, and when I was on the sidewalk, I
knew
I didn’t belong there. And I know there’s a
way
I belong here, I already know that. But I belong here because you and Rose love me. And you made this place and you want me here. But where do I belong that’s a place I made myself?”

He chooses the most neutral reply. “A lot of people ask that question their whole lives.”

“Well,” she says, “I think I know.” She probably isn’t aware how intense her gaze is. “I was there once. One time. Do you know where it was?”

“No,” he says, although he thinks he does.

“When I was Ariel,” she said.

He says, “You were wonderful.”

“I
made
that. I had help from Mrs. Shin and, and you—”

“And Shakespeare.”

She gives him a quick smile. “And Shakespeare. But I was the place, it was inside me, where all of that came together, does that make sense? The words and the movements and her—her spirit. For those minutes when I was on the stage, I was where all that lived. And I made that myself.”

“You want to act.”

She sits back on the couch for the first time since they began to talk. “I want to learn more about it.”

“Do you want me to talk to Mrs. Shin? About places you might go for lessons?”

“Would you do that?” She’s closed the screen on her finger, and she pulls it out without looking down.

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