Thai Died

an excerpt



Prologue

Whoever slit Rhee Dulouk's throat should never have let the victim, second mouth still bubbling blood, reach Jeff Billing. Billing would have been gone in another day ... or two ... or three. As he'd left the Philippines, Borneo, Bali. As he'd left Australia, Cambodia, Burma. As he'd left Spain, France, Germany.

For Billing, Thailand was just another stopover on the way to ... he never knew to where ... just somewhere.

Rhee Dulouk wasn't even a great lay. He wasn't even Billing's type. He was just another wham-bam-thank-you-man someone. One of many. A diversion. An exotic. Another notch on Billing's belt. One more fuck in Billing's ongoing fuck of the world. A keeper, beyond the first fuck, only because of pillow-talk that interested Billing who knew a little something about Far-East antiquities. But not likely to keep Billing's interest for long.

Therefore, Rhee Dulouk dead on someone else's doorstep would have been one thing. After all, there had been plenty of other bodies in Billing's life ... in the deserts of the Gulf, in the mountains of Iraq, in the back alleys of Afghanistan. Bodies left behind. Throwaways. Job-product.

Rhee Dulouk dead on Billing's doorstep, though ... somehow ... made the death personal. Not only to Billing but to me.

Though I sure as hell didn't know it at the time.


Chapter One

 

I'm used to being followed. That's been especially true since the New York City Slip to Die for murders. Then I was stalked by policemen, SEC agents, reporters, photographers, curiosity seekers, celebrity groupies, and the various human flotsam and jetsam found within the aftermath of any well-publicized crime.

Even before the Slip to Die for murders, though, I was often encircled by persons fascinated by a man prominent in ladies' lingerie. That category separate from the stalkers not only fascinated by my reported sexual ambiguity but anxious to put better definition to it.

As a man who has had more than my share of being cruised by attractive gay guys (by some definitely ugly ones, too), I figured I had Jeff Billing pegged from first sighting. It only took a couple discreet inquiries to put his name to his admittedly handsome face and to his exquisitely hard body. Not to mention achieve confirmation of his sexual preference. Last, but not least, to receive word of his involvement in the recent death of Rhee Dulouk, young male Thai prostitute. He'd found the body bleeding out on his Bangkok doorway.

Therefore, I was confused at having so obviously misread all the assumed clues when I heard him shout at Roxanne Whyte, only minutes after I'd left her: "Whatever the skeletons you have buried, you can bet your sweet ass I'm going to get at them after what you've done!"

I'd spent years bitching and moaning as to how I was cruised by every queer that ever there was, only to feel ... feel what? ... because it turned out Billing had followed me only to get access to a woman. Whatever I felt, I was convinced it had more to do with my having been duped into playing Judas Goat, and leading him to Roxanne, than it had to do with me bypassed as a sex object. If it were ever assumed I'd aided and abetted him in any confrontation with Roxanne, I risked all kinds of complications in my life, personal and business.

Roxanne, who had made it as far as her limousine at the curb, was assisted by her well-muscled Swiss chauffeur, Nikolas, who ran excellent interference and soon had her locked on the inside.

At least Billing had done me the courtesy of confronting Roxanne after I'd left the immediate area. Thereby — hopefully — he'd left her entirely ignorant as to whom he'd followed to his prey.

Having already decided to make my way back to my hotel by foot, but interrupted by the outburst on the sidewalk behind me, I quickly made a further attempt to meld into the crowd. I needed only a few steps to become completely engulfed within a concealing maze of goods and services, plus the people who bought and sold them.

I sidestepped piles of exotic durians, jackfruits, and other succulent edibles. I threaded my way through a labyrinth of beggars, shopkeepers, raggedy children, and well-dressed Thais. I hoped I blended in but, as an obvious American, I knew I didn't.

I was genuinely startled when brought to an abrupt halt by a hand exerting pressure to my left arm from behind.

"Hold up, handsome. It's time I gave you my official hello."

I was less than pleased to find it was Billing, and my expression must have relayed that. He immediately removed his grip, if not the sensation it created.

Buffeted by the continuing swift flow of pedestrian traffic was as good a place as any to set Billing straight (if setting any gay "straight" were really possible). As an aesthetic who appreciated good looks and a good body, whether male or female, I refused to be won over by Billing's rugged attractiveness, even if it was enhanced by the faint pursing of his lips. A certain disconcerting something in his brown eyes reminded me of a once-favored polo pony who seemed uncertain as to why I'd whacked a riding crop to its sweaty flank.

"Deny you've been following me to get to Roxanne Whyte, Mr. Billing!"

"Ah, you already know me! Then, why not call me Jeff?" He blinked mink-colored eyelashes so thick and so long that more than one of my female models would have died for them. Hell, I wouldn't have turned them down myself. "I'll call you Stud, right?"

"You'll call me Stud, wrong! Even Mr. Draqual borders on too informal."

I recommenced walking.

Despite my none-too-subtle hint, he joined me in my zigzag within the unending mixture of people and goods-for-sale. I flashed him a sideways glance and compared his obviously well-conditioned handsomeness with New York Inspector O'Reilly's gone-too-pot look. The Inspector is someone I got to know because of the Slip to Die for murders.

Why, these days, did I compare every man to O'Reilly?

John O'Reilly, in his early forties, is a man obviously ravaged by police work. His square jaw, cleft chin, and vertically carved left cheek, come together in a way that says (and says it loudly): One drink too many. Strike one! Two drinks too many. Strike two! Three drinks too many. You're out!

John O'Reilly is a man who has been on the edge too long, and he's too far into his free-fall to be pulled back to rescue. He has seen it all, done it all, been made deadly tired and jaded by it all. New York City is full to the brim with the likes of him.

And, yet, that afternoon, when he grabbed me from behind in that alleyway, mistakenly thinking I was out to spoil a police takedown, there had been a certain ... what? ... about the muscled hardness of his chest, his belly, his arms (yes, even his cock).

At the time, I'd felt thoroughly put-upon. What did I feel later? What did Dr. Melissa, my shrink, pull out of me ("Draqual, this is harder than pulling teeth!")? In a word: nothing. Because I didn't want to go there. I still don't.

In contrast to O'Reilly's more down to-earth good looks, Jeff Billing's handsomeness fit right in with Bangkok's colors too vibrant; noises too loud; weather too hot; rain, when it came, too abundant; and food too spicy, to sweet, or too sour.

I was headed toward the distant Chao Phraya River where I hoped for quick transport to my hotel.

An unanticipated surge of oncoming foot traffic squeezed me off the narrow sidewalk. It was just my perverse luck to have Billing keep me from losing my balance and falling in the path of an oncoming tuk tuk.

"Thanks," I begrudgingly conceded. Granted, a tuk tuk wasn't a two-ton truck, merely a three-wheeled tricycle that pulls passengers rickshaw-fashion through traffic-clogged streets, but .... I tried my best not to appear ungrateful but shrugged free.

"How about we decelerate to a slow trot?" he suggested. "Or, is one of us going to a fire?"

"I don't know about you, Billing ..."

"Jeff," he insisted, for not the first time.

"I don't know about you, Billing," I persisted, "but I came to Bangkok on very important business. Which I still have every hope of successfully completing before I head home."

"All work and no play ...," he said, and left me to complete his utter triteness. "Can't tell you how many times I've been tempted just to come on over and say hello. I've this gut-felling you and I could really hit it off. How about we officially jump-start our off-to-a-bad-start beginning with a friendly lunch? It'll be on me: the least I can do for whatever trouble I may have caused you."

"‘May' have caused me?" I stopped walking.

"You refer, I suppose, to potential problems with Roxanne Whyte?" he divined. "I tried to wait until you'd disappeared down the road, buddy, to put you completely out of the picture, but she was just too fast to her car. Still, you may well be overreacting. I can't imagine how she'd ever guess your unwitting part in all of this."

"Exactly what kind of skeletons do you seem to think are buried in Roxanne's closet?" I asked and immediately regretted my natural nosiness. (Dr. Melissa would be cackling: "Told you so!").

Melissa J. (for Janling) DoLittle is a shrink. She's my shrink. She's old enough to retire. She would like to retire. She will retire as soon as she can wean those few of us fuck-ups she has left on her roster. Whereafter, she'll comfortably nestle in among her expensive gewgaws acquired from her few million billed-at-$250 an hour. Dr. Melissa ("It's Dr. DoLittle, Draqual!") isn't one to sit back and not ante-up her five-cents' worth as regards life in general, as regards my life in specific.

She didn't want to take me on. She didn't want to take on anyone new. My father, who could be really persuasive when he wanted, wanted her — for me (hell, I'm his only son!) — as soon as he heard she was the best New York City had to offer. Daddy had two advantages over any other poor schmuck out to reel in Dr. Melissa. Dad was CEO of Draqual Fashion, haute couture silk ladies' underwear; Dr. Melissa is a sucker for silk. Dad was the only source, world-wide, of Draqualian silk ... a very special silk, spun by very special silkworms, who eat very special mulberry leaves, to make very special cocoons pre-dyed, in Technicolor digestive tracts, to a very special perfection. I got Dr. Melissa; Dr. Melissa got a very expensive Draqualian silk teddy; I think nowadays she thinks she got the shortest straw.

Jeff Billing's pregnant pause told me he wasn't about to explain any skeletons in Roxanne's closet.

"I'm not going to spread unsubstantiated rumors behind Miss Whyte's back," he said finally and sounded insulted I'd ever assumed he might.

I almost laughed in his face. "Well, excuse me! But you were hardly being all that discreet a few minutes ago."

"I can't be responsible for eavesdroppers."

"Eavesdroppers? For Christ's sake! I was nearly a block away at the time."

"Okay, I got a bit carried away. All I wanted was a meet. I've been trying to set one up for ages."

"Are you researching some kind of book?" The last thing I needed, after the Slip to Die for murders, was another author in my life.

"Christ no!"

"Just what is it you do for a living?" I was about to add, "... besides find bodies on your doorstep?", but I bit my tongue.

"Things." How vague could he get?

"I, too, have to do things to make my income happen," I said. "I can't do those things nearly as well by alienating one of my chief silk suppliers. So, if you'll excuse me ... as interesting as all of this might very well be."

My business with Roxanne Whyte, waiting somewhere in the wings, was only one of the things that made me see Jeff Billing as persona non grata. Another was his reputed ties, however tenuous, to the recent murder. I'd had enough of murders and the people who committed them.

"Hey, stud Stud, it's not as if I arrived in Bangkok with any advance notion of enlisting your help in getting me to Roxanne," Billing argued. "You and I at the same hotel, I merely heard you were seeing her regularly, on personal- and business-related matters, and I decided to take advantage to track her down. She's an extremely hard lady to run to ground if you don't have access to the good graces of her social secretary."

Whyte Silk Consortium was founded by Roxanne's late uncle. Everyone in the silk business knows of the key role Powell Whyte played in revitalizing the Thai silk industry after World War II. While the company isn't the only wholesale outlet for silk in Thailand, it provides the irrefutable guarantees of workmanship and quality that I, and my customers, expect and demand. I have my own silk-producing facilities in the States, but all of that output is very special, very expensive silk. It's never enough, especially not with my proposed expansion into men's ties.

"It's always been my belief that the rich people of the world, possibly you included," he continued, "often exist according to self-made rules and regulations that have nothing whatsoever to do with the laws of the land. I'm continually appalled by how some people can get away with literal murder ..." (a reference to the recent homicide?) "... while friends and relatives rally round to keep the skeletons from tumbling pell-mell out of guilt-littered closets. When people start pointing fingers and screaming about my being a no-good sonofabitch out to blacken a good name, there's usually a cover-up."

"Roxanne Whyte is a genuinely nice person," I said as someone who had come to consider her a friend as well as a business associate.

Whatever business Billing had with Roxanne, or thought he had with her, the less I knew about it the better.

"Well," he interrupted my train of thought, "shall we share the Chao Phraya Express, a water taxi, car taxi, tuk tuk, mini-bus, public bus, or do we walk the distance to our hotel?"

At least, I'd diverted him from any notion of a shared lunch.

I proceeded southwest on Ratchawong Road, Billing in tow. The chocolate-brown Chao Phraya River was straight ahead.

The Ratchawong Pier was right there, too, from which the Chao Phraya Express provided regular service every ten to twenty minutes. Suddenly, though, the Chao Phraya Express seemed entirely too commodious. I wanted a water taxi small enough to accommodate just a helmsman and me, Billing removed from the transportation equation.

I detoured around the pier and headed for the river.

I performed the prerequisite ritual of arm-waving, shouting, and sign language to hail a boat I figured to be just the right size. However, of the three boats that raced toward shore in response, it was a sizable dugout, with a low-power outboard, that took the lead.

"It looks a little small," I lied, as the boat came nearer. "Maybe you'd prefer waving down something for yourself that'll prove a little less cramped for the both of us?"

"It's plenty big," he said and winked.

The dugout captain was stripped to his waist and wore a pair of pants so spotlessly white they could blind from a distance. He angled his winning boat for a landing.

"Yes?" he called and almost maneuvered to where I could conveniently board without getting a foot wet. "Americans?"

"Right!" Billing confirmed.

The boatman was younger than I'd originally thought. Or, maybe he was older than he looked, which was more likely in a country where old people could look like teenagers. Whoever found a way to bottle their secret would make a fortune. If and when Stud Draqual Fashions ever makes the giant leap into cosmetics ...

The Thai captain steadied his boat while I came aboard. Billing closely followed my suddenly-feeling-very-vulnerable behind.

The wake from a passing launch caused our water taxi to rock precariously on the resulting swells. Wood splintered only a few short inches from my left hand. Reflexively — in that I was far more familiar with bullets, these days — I dropped off the seat into the shallow well of the boat. The dugout went into a genuinely raucous dance upon the waves.

Our skipper went overboard. Billing came down on top of me, sandwiching me between him and the boat bottom. Gasping with surprise and the impact of his muscled weight, I inhaled a combination of dead fish, fetid water, and Billing's citrusy cologne. My face smashed damp and spongy wood.

There was a dull thud, like distant thunder.