I went into a darkened nightclub on the Street of the Seven Sisters. The hostess who took me to my seat had her skirt slit almost to her waist. A waitress in sequined panties and halter brought a drink that was mostly water. The music was recorded, the stripper uninspired. I might as well have gone to Chicago.
A girl came to my table. She was dark and slender, her eyes many years older than the rest of her face. She said, “You buy me drink, soldier?”
I nodded. The waitress appeared almost immediately, put the usual B-girl drink in front of my new friend, and took some of my money. My girl gulped her drink and put her hand on my leg.
“I like you,” she said.
I found that difficult to believe.
“You like me?”
“You want go upstairs? Very special place.”
“Do fuck-fuck with me.”
I looked around. My Siamese tail was at the bar, my American a few tables away. Both were being very careful not to look directly at me. I turned my eyes to the girl, who was giving some details of just how glorious it would be to accept her suggestion. She was a pretty thing, quite full in the breasts for such a slender girl, with skin of a warm golden brown. I wondered if there was a polite way to tell a girl that one did not want to do fuck-fuck with her. I am sorry, my dear, but I was, uh, wounded in the war – No, that wasn’t quite right.
“We go upstairs now?”
“Fine,” I said.
I followed her between the tiny tables, around the side of the stage. We climbed a flight of stairs and walked down a corridor between a row of closed doors, from behind most of which the sounds of giggling and/or passion could be heard. She opened a door and led me into a very small room, almost all of which was taken up by a rather large bed. The bed had seen considerable use since last its sheets had been changed.
She closed the door. “Six dollar American,” she said.
I walked around the bed. The room was at the back of the building, and the window opened on a narrow airshaft. My tails would be waiting for me downstairs. They would stay where they were until the girl reappeared. Of course there was always the chance that she was an agent for someone or other. But if I could get out the window-
“Six dollar, honey. Then fuck-fuck.”
I turned to her. She had taken off all her clothes, which is to say that she had removed her dress. She had a lovely little body. I took a ten-dollar bill from my wallet.
“You no have six dollar? I have to get change later-”
“Are you Siamese?”
“I am Siamese, honey, but I am no twin.” She said this with a hopeful smile that indicated she had no idea what it meant, but some soldier had taught her it was funny.
In her own language I said, “There are men downstairs who would do evil to me. I must leave by this window. You may keep the entire ten dollars. Remain in this room for some time after I have gone.”
She looked at me, then down at herself. “You speak Siamese,” she said.
“You do not wish to make love with me? There is something wrong?”
“I have to-”
She put her hands on her breasts. “You want another girl? I will get another girl if you wish it. You prefer a boy?”
I took her shoulders in my hands. “You are most beautiful. Your body is pleasingly shaped, and you have a good aroma. But I am in danger and must ask your help. When I return to you, then there shall be a time for lovemaking.”
“Will you help me?”
Her eyes were different now, softer, more youthful, the brittle gloss of commercial love gone from them. “You speak the language of Siam well. Have you been long in Bangkok?”
“I arrived today.”
“It is rare to meet an American who speaks Siamese. You have been with many Siamese girls?”
“No, I have never been with one.”
She began unbuttoning my shirt. She had tiny hands, and the tips of her fingers were very soft. “First be with me,” she said. “Be with me, then I will help you.”
It was the language that made the difference. In English, with all her talk of fuck-fuck, I had found her quite lacking in allure; she had then matched the dirty bed and the sordid little room. Now, speaking naturally in the liquid tones of her own tongue, she was somehow more a woman and less a whore.
And, after all, her body was pleasingly shaped, and she had a good aroma.
I undressed. She draped my shirt over the lamp so that the room was filled with a dim light. In bed, she showed herself to be a creature of great wisdom, given to clever movements of hands and body and possessed of enviable muscular control.
Afterward we took the sheet from the bed and tied one end of it to the bed rail. I kissed her, and we told each other how much pleasure we had found together. Then I let myself out the window on the sheet. It carried me most of the way to the ground, and I dropped the rest of the way without spraining an ankle. She pulled the sheet back inside the window and blew me a kiss.
“Stay in the room for another ten minutes.”
“Good-bye, my love.”
“Take care, my cherished darling.”
I threaded my way through an accumulation of defenestrated garbage to an alley alongside a building at the far end of the airshaft. I hoped she would wait at least a few minutes before going downstairs to select another cherished darling. Or would she be downstairs already, prepared to sell me out?
I darted through the alleyway and emerged on a street I hadn’t been on before. A cab cruised by almost at once, and I hailed it and gave the driver Abel Vaudois’ address.
No one followed us.
“I will be able to learn some of what you wish to know, my little Evan. The information industry is of prime importance in Bangkok, and my sources are of the best. But if you will accept some advice in addition to what information I can supply-”
“Then, it is this, and of course you are free to disregard it. But it is this – remain in Bangkok and enjoy yourself and play whatever games may amuse you with the clutch of spies who infest this city. And then, by all means, return to New York. Do not attempt to move into the north country. Bangkok is a city of great charm, of infinite sophistication. In the north are cutthroats and bandits and madmen. Whether or not many of them are Communists I do not know. They are… what? Malcontents. And brutal fools.” He smiled disarmingly. “You would have a far better chance, I think, of carrying out a revolution in Latvia than of completing the most innocent sort of mission in rural areas of Thailand.”
Abel Vaudois was an excellent host. We sat in the comfortable library of his immense estate and drank what was easily the best cognac I had ever tasted. His home, a rococo mansion on the eastern outskirts of Bangkok, housed Vaudois, an endless flock of servants, and his two Eurasian mistresses, each of whom presided over a separate wing of the house.
I had told him virtually everything I knew about Tuppence and the jewels. He in turn had known only a little more than I. From what he had heard so far, Tuppence and the musicians were not suspected of the theft of the gems. They had played a royal command performance at the palace, had greatly pleased His Majesty, and had returned to their hotel. The royal gem collection was stolen the following night in a daring commando-style raid in which several guards were killed, alarm systems cleverly short-circuited, and no clues left behind. Then, a day later, Tuppence and the Kendall Bayard Quartet were snatched from the Orient.
“I had suspected the gems might be offered to me,” Vaudois said. “It would have been the sort of proposition that might have tempted me. Would I have cared to involve myself? I do not know. I live quite comfortably in Bangkok. It is a congenial atmosphere, I am at ease here. One does not wish to jeopardize such a situation. And yet” – his eyes narrowed – “and yet, the profit potential of such a theft is enormous. Few could handle the dispersal of the collection. I could do so, of course. One would have to parcel the lot, a shipment here, a shipment there, certain pieces to be broken down, certain stones to be recut…”
He continued, outlining the entire operation as much for his own benefit as for mine. He was a huge man, well over six feet tall and carrying a great deal of weight on a very heavy frame. Most of our conversation was conducted in French, but now and then he switched to German when he wished to make a particular point.
He rang a bell, and a servant entered silently, poured more cognac for each of us, and departed as silently as he had come. “You will sleep here tonight,” he said. “I gather you have no great desire to return to your hotel?”
“Good. I am sure you will be comfortable here, and tomorrow will be time enough to see what can be learned about your friends. And the King’s gems. But tell me, have you been to Europe lately? I cannot return, as you must know. Tell me…”
We talked awhile of Europe, our conversation broken now and then by the bell summoning the boy with more cognac. Then we talked of the increasing complexity of international travel, of the many organizations with their extensive dossiers, of the endless paperwork involved. It had been a simpler matter in the old days of the Orient Express, he assured me. In those days the individual had been all; now everyone was a cog in a machine, a component in a computer network.
“This fool you spoke of,” he said. “I gather he believed your tale of opium?”
“I think so.”
“Incredible. You were correct in saying that Bangkok is a center for the trade. Bangkok, Beirut, Macao, Istanbul – those four are of considerable importance. Imagine establishing an operation in Africa! I have never even heard of such an idea. One frequently hears talk of developing new refineries in the Middle East. There was even a plan, some years ago, to attempt opium cultivation in Iraq. Some preliminary inquiries were made, and then the government changed hands and nothing ever came of it. But Africa – I wonder, now. The right climatic conditions would be found without difficulty, would you not say? Of course you would require a nation with a properly permissive government and a government with some degree of stability. A problem, that. Africa -”
“You sound interested.”
“Ah, my little Evan!” He smiled disarmingly. “Let us say merely that I find the notion amusing.”
I spent the night in a comfortable bedroom on the second floor after having declined my host’s offer of a parlormaid’s companionship for the night. Instead I took the cognac bottle and a few books upstairs with me. I reread an early Eric Ambler novel in French. Vaudois was right, I decided – it was simpler then. I read a book on Indochina, also in French, written about the time that the French were being forced out of that unhappy land. The author had concluded that European influence could not possibly be maintained in Southeast Asia and that it ought to be yielded up as gracefully as possible. I wanted to put stamps on the book and mail it to the State Department.
The sun came up. I looked out my window at an expanse of formal gardens, lush with subtropical vegetation. The sky overhead was a brilliant blue. I waited in my room until a servant knocked to summon me to breakfast. I ate alone, and a giggling Chinese girl brought me a plate piled high with eggs and bacon and sausages and fried potatoes and a pot of particularly good coffee seasoned with chicory. I was on my third cup of coffee when Vaudois entered the room.