Ram's partially decomposed body was found in the jungle three days after he went missing. Given the wonders of modern technology, it was perhaps unusual that his fate remained unknown for even that long. Ram's SUV, a newer model, had been outfitted with a theft prevention system that also allowed the automaker to track the vehicle's location.
But such methods, still relatively new even in the West, were far from second-nature among law enforcement personnel in Thailand. A full twenty-four hours elapsed before the Bangkok police thought to contact Toyota for information about the theft tracking system.
Once the SUV was found at the base of the trail leading up to the ruined village, the rest was a matter of tracing pieces of evidence toward their logical conclusions. The trail was searched; and the police search team quickly located a disturbed swath of vegetation. That loose end led them to Ram's body, already picked over by jungle rats, flies, and beetles.
But Jane never fell under any suspicion. When she returned to Michigan, she gave Martin a pro forma report about her meeting with Ram, adding in some business items that could be easily and plausibly fabricated.
By the time the news of Ram Thongchai's disappearance and probable murder rippled through the company, Jane's meeting with him had been forgotten. No one would have suspected that a female American executive, briefly in Thailand for a quick morning meeting, could have had any connection to the crime. Jane was not contacted to give a statement; her involvement was on no one's radar.
Instead, and somewhat predictably, suspicions immediately focused on Khajee, the younger mistress of Ram who had recently taken an unauthorized leave of absence from the company. The true nature of Ram and Khajee's relationship quickly came to light. Ram's wife sealed Khajee's fugitive status: She told police that Ram had recently confessed the error of his ways. In Ram's wife's telling, the manager had been trying to break off with Khajee, but the younger woman had become obsessive about Ram and the affair, and would not be turned away. Ram had supposedly feared that his subordinate and lover might eventually resort to violence.
When Thai authorities discovered that Khajee had fled the country, via a one-way airline ticket to Jakarta, there was no longer a question in anyone's mind: Khajee had murdered her boss.
But the trail went cold in Jakarta. Khajee had not registered in any local hotel. A bulletin was issued for her arrest; but Indonesia is a vast, densely populated, and clumsily administered place. Khajee had simply disappeared; and, Jane knew, in Southeast Asia that would require no supernatural help.
Martin did not suspect Jane, but he did take note of her proximity to so much misery.
“I’m sorry to see that so much misfortune has come your way of late,” Martin said when he walked into her office one day. “First David, now this. I know that you and Ram had your conflicts, and I sensed that you’d had a falling out with Khajee, but…”
His voice trailed off. What more was there to say, really? And Jane could think of no response that would not lead to difficult questions. So Jane merely nodded and thanked Martin for his concern.
Jane thought, David is gone. Although Dusty had been a cat—not a person—he had likely been a casualty of Lawan, too. But at least Lawan lay buried. At least it was over.
Jane had half-expected the luk thep doll to follow her home from Thailand. Arriving home to her condo after her return flight, Jane imagined the doll sitting, caked with mud, on her living room sofa.
But the doll had not been there. Nor had it appeared since then. On more than one occasion, Jane had awakened in the middle of the night, sure that she heard Lawan rustling around in her condominium, or climbing atop the bookcase in the spare room to resume her old perch.
Each time, Jane turned on every light within reach and made an exhaustive search of the condominium. The doll could not be found.
And that was the way it should have been. Wouldn't it be safe now to assume that it was finally over, whatever “it” had actually been?
Then she recalled Khajee’s parting words. Well, Khajee was thousands of miles away, in hiding somewhere amid the countless towns and villages of Asia. Jane knew all too well that Lawan could wreak havoc on a person’s sanity. Hadn’t Jane sensed herself slipping over the edge there, for a while? Khajee’s parting sentence—and all that it implied—might have been nothing more than a projection.
And there was another possibility as well—that Khajee had indeed been deranged in her own right, that she had been Ram’s actual, fully conscious, and deliberate murderer.
* * *
Chapter 36 coming soon. Check back often!