Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Luk Thep: an online novel: Chapter 35

Previous: Chapter 34



Thirty-Five

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.

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Chapter 36 coming soon. Check back often!

Monday, August 22, 2016

Luk Thep: an online novel: Chapter 34

Previous: Chapter 33


Thirty-Four

The truck driver turned out to be every bit as friendly as he’d initially appeared to be. Jane had very little interaction with him, and all of that was conducted through Khajee. For the man spoke no more than a few words of survival English. He wanted to know where Jane was from: Australia? The United States? Canada or New Zealand, maybe? 

When Jane replied through Khajee that she was from the United States, he proudly revealed that his great-niece was presently studying at the University of California, San Diego. Did Jane live near San Diego? 

When Jane revealed that she lived far from San Diego, on the other side of the country, really, the man was mildly disappointed. His niece had apparently told him all about San Diego and the State of California. He admitted that he had never heard of Michigan.

“That’s all right. There’s nothing in Michigan worth knowing about,” Jane replied, self-deprecatingly. When Khajee translated this, the truck driver thought about it for ten seconds or so, and then looked at Jane and laughed.

The man was carrying scrap metal in the back of his truck. He told Khajee that he collected and resold scrap metal for a living. Jane replied that this sounded like an interesting line of work.

Luckily for them, though, the man’s customers were all located in Bangkok; and they were mostly round-the-clock operations that accepted deliveries at all hours of the day. Otherwise, he wouldn't have happened upon them. He insisted on driving them all the way to Jane’s hotel. When she tried to hand him the wad of baht that she had stashed in her knapsack he refused adamantly. 

Jane repeated the offer once, but no more than that. In her experience traveling abroad, to Asia (and to Latin America in one of her early assignments), she had learned that there were two types of foreigners in this regard: First there were those who endlessly hustled and angled for tips from rich Westerners. Then there were those for whom the display of common kindness was a matter of personal honor. It was as if they were saying, yes, your country may be richer, but here we have manners. We help strangers. We are polite.

This man was obviously of the latter category. So Jane broke things off with a profuse expression of thanks, folding her hands together as if in prayer and nodding her head, as she had seen Thais do so often. Jane was not being insincere. She truly was grateful for all that the truck driver had done.

Somewhat to Jane’s surprise, Khajee exited the truck with her. Then she remembered that Khajee lived in an apartment in a remote suburb. To ask the truck driver to go so far out of his way would be unreasonable. 

They both stood on the sidewalk and waved to the truck driver as he pulled away. The man smiled through broken teeth and waved back at them.

When he was gone, Jane asked Khajee, “Where is your car?”

“At home, I think,” Khajee replied. “At least, that’s where it should be.”

“Why don’t you come up to my room?” Jane gestured toward the hotel. “You could take a shower in my room.”

Jane felt obliged to make this offer, but she immediately regretted it. For a variety of reasons—both mundane and speculative—Jane did not want to be alone in an enclosed space with Khajee right now. 

“No, thanks, Jane,” Khajee said. “I’ll be all right from here.”

“How will you get home?”

“There are taxis all over Bangkok.”

“But you probably don’t have any money, do you?” Jane proffered the wad of baht that the truck driver had refused. It wasn't an exorbitant amount, by any means, but it would be enough for a taxi ride anywhere in the city or its environs.

Khajee took the money. “Thank you Jane, for—for everything you’ve done.”

Jane could not honestly tell her that she was welcome, that it had been no trouble. Instead she said, “I suppose I’ve made my decision, then.” 

Khajee raised her eyebrows. “Oh? What decision?”

“I believe that Ram is dead, and I’m almost certain that you had some hand in his death. Ever since I found you in that hut, I’ve been trying to decide if I should report this to the police. 

“But I’ve decided that I’m going to just walk away from all this. I can’t forget what you did, Khajee, sending me that damn doll. I believe that was your decision. But what happened to Ram tonight, I’m going to choose to believe that that was Lawan, even if she used you.”

Jane wondered if it would really be that simple, if she really could just walk away. Eventually Ram’s SUV would be found. What about her fingerprints? Then she noted that her hands were clean—because she had been wearing gloves the entire evening. She had taken them off to remove the baht from her knapsack. She had worn the gloves in Ram’s SUV. 

What about her hair fibers? DNA? No, it would probably not come to that. 

There were no incriminating electronic messages between her and Ram. They had worked out everything verbally, in that little meeting room at the plant, leaving no record of what they had planned.

“Thank you,” Khajee said at length. “That is good to hear.”

“Another thing, Khajee. Maybe you should leave for a while. You have some money stashed away, right? I’m not sure how this will end for you if you stay here.”

“You may be right,” Khajee said contemplatively. 

“But I won’t tell anyone what I know,” Jane reiterated. “You can trust me on that. It was a shame about Ram, but now, well, now Lawan is buried.”

“Buried in the ground,” Khajee said, in a way that for some reason made Jane uneasy. 

“Well, anyway,” Jane said, “It’s been a long night. I should be going. I suppose you should, too.” 

There was more that she wanted to say to Khajee. She wanted to vent on her, to tell her all that Lawan had cost her, how the Thai woman should have left her out of it. Khajee could have, should have, spared her much grief. But she had sent the damn doll to her, and thereby entrapped her.

But what good would that do now? There was nothing for Jane to do but forgive, go back to Michigan, and move on.

"Yes," Khajee agreed. "I should go."

"Goodbye, then," Jane said with finality, leaving so much unsaid.

That should have been the end of their conversation. Khajee made as if to turn away, but then she stopped, and said, “She was jealous of you, you know, you with your good-looking American boyfriend, David.”

Jane considered all that Khajee's use of the third-person inflection implied and felt a sudden, concrete chill enclose her body. Khajee smiled mischievously. It might have been Jane's imagination, but the other woman seemed to wink before she turned back around.

Then Khajee was leaving her, for good this time. Jane started to call after her. After all the secrets, evasions, and half-truths Khajee had left her with, the Thai woman could not leave Jane with this final one, too.

But Khajee's back profile was rapidly receding now. To catch her, Jane would have to run.

Was it really worth the effort? Despite all that Khajee's final utterance suggested, Jane found that she was simply too tired to pursue yet one more mystery.

It's over, Jane thought. So why not simply let it go? Even if I run after Khajee, and even if she gives me some kind of an answer, it is sure to be a cryptic one that will only open up more questions.

With that, Jane sighed into the humid Bangkok night. She walked toward the main entrance of her hotel. Glad to have Lawan and Khajee behind her. 

But Ram was still missing; and his corpse might lay out in the jungle. While Khajee's final mystery could perhaps be ignored, there were other moral and practical questions that might not be so easily banished.

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Sunday, August 21, 2016

Prehistoric Dieting and Post-Modern Ironies

As part of my never-ending struggle with excess weight gain, I've been practicing a modified version of the so-called, "Paleolithic Diet". 

The central idea behind the "Paleolithic Diet" is that one should "eat like a caveman” (or caveperson, if you prefer to be politically correct). 

This means eating the foods that would have been available to a hunter-gatherer: fruits, leafy vegetables, meat and berries. 

The Paleolithic Diet pointedly excludes grains, and all foods made from grains. This means bread, of course; and don't even think about one of those giant gourmet chocolate chip cookies for sale at the mall. (Even "healthy" grains are suspect under the terms of the Paleolithic Diet: There is currently a controversy in Paleolithic dieting circles about whether or not oatmeal is permissible for those who wish to eat as our most ancient forebears ate.)

Paleolithic humans might have occasionally snacked on wild grains; but they didn't grow grain systematically. This is the key reason why they were hunter-gatherers, and why they remained so far behind.

In a prehistoric society of hunter-gatherers, every able-bodied person was engaged in the acquisition or preparation of food. Because meat, berries, and even vegetables quickly spoiled, they had to be consumed within a short time frame. Hunter-gatherers could never get very far ahead. They never knew the source of their next meals with absolutely certainty. Hence the constant preoccupation with food.

The so-called "Stone Age" is divided into two major epochs. The first of these is the Paleolithic Age. Paleolithic is Greek for "old stone", so the Paleolithic Age is also called the "Old Stone Age". 

All dates are inexact this far back, but the Paleolithic Age roughly spans the period from about 2.5 million years ago, up to 10,000 BC. In evolutionary terms, this is the first human age for which it was meaningful to speak of humans as being human.

The next period is the Neolithic Age, or "New Stone Age". This comprises the prehistoric era from 10,000 B.C. (around the end of the last ice age) up to 4000 B.C., when some of the first recognizable civilizations began to appear.

But these terms--Old Stone Age and New Stone Age--are misleading. Neolithic peoples did make some innovations in stone tool fabrication, but not to the degree that would mark an entirely new era. 

The world-altering change of this period was the discovery of agriculture, which gradually enabled humans to escape the hand-to-mouth existence of the hunter-gatherer. This meant not only growing plants for food, but also domesticating animals for human consumption.

In a word: surplus. Maybe not a lot, by modern standards, but enough so that it was no longer essential for every single member of a tribe or community to be preoccupied with food acquisition, all day, everyday. 

This made room for the central pillar of any civilized workforce: Specialization. And with specialization, came commerce. Rather than making all his own tools and clothing, a farmer could purchase (or barter) these items from individuals who specialized in making them. Specialization and commerce brought increased output and sophistication.

Historians refer to this set of developments as the Agricultural Revolution. Consider how advanced civilization has become in the thousands of years since this revolution, compared to how the hunter-gatherers languished in a bare-bones primitive state for the hundreds of thousands of years prior.

And all because people started relying on agriculture instead of hunting and foraging.

One of the most important agricultural products then (as now) was grain. Grain could be be stored for later consumption, as could legumes, and potatoes.

Beans, rice, wheat, and potatoes. These are the foods that you aren't supposed to eat if you want to adhere to the Paleolithic Diet.

And in my experience, the Paleolithic Diet works--if your aim is to reduce calories and lose weight. But when survival depended on hoarding calories, it was exactly the wrong approach for anything but survival by the thinnest of margins.

The ironies don't stop there: Because wheat- and corn-based foods are cheap, modern lower-income people tend to consume them in disproportionate amounts. 

Not so long ago, the poorer people were, the skinnier they were. In the early twenty-first century, the nationwide obesity epidemic is most pronounced in lower income communities. The poorest states in the U.S. are also the fattest ones.

Meanwhile, the Paleolithic Diet craze has given rise to a new boutique cottage industry: Go to Amazon.com, and execute a search for ‘Paleolithic Diet’. You’ll find scores of titles like, The Paleo Diet: Lose Weight and Get Healthy by Eating the Foods You Were Designed to Eat, Paleo Dieting for Beginners, and that venerable favorite, Well Fed: Paleo Recipes for People Who Love to Eat

(The last of these, though published five years ago, currently enjoys a solid rank of 1,511 on Amazon. Another Paleolithic Diet book consistently stays within the top two or three hundred spot. It occurred to me that I’ve been wasting my time writing novels and history books. I should be writing Paleolithic Diet books.)  

The publishing industry as we know it today evolved after the printing press was invented in 1440—relatively recent times, in the context of human history. 

It is good to know that the resources of modern publishing have been employed to the creation and distribution of so many Paleolithic Diet books… All so we can learn to eat like cavemen and cavewomen did, back when the Egyptian pyramids and Stonehenge were still thousands of years in the future.

Friday, August 19, 2016

The Multicultural Follies of Angela Merkel

Germany’s government is presently debating two new measures. One would ban face coverings for women in certain public settings. The other would put new laws in place to prevent child marriages.

These policies aren't necessary because German men are abusing women and girls. German men, by and large, don’t believe that women should have to cover their faces…or be raped. Nor do German men believe that little girls should be forced into marriages with adult men old enough to be their fathers or grandfathers.

These new policies are a direct—and probably necessary—response to mass Islamic immigration in Germany. As most everyone will know, women in Muslim countries are second-class citizens or worse. The Western concept of equal treatment of the sexes has no place in sharia law. In fact, sharia law directly contradicts it. These new proposed laws, then, represent a stopgap attempt by some of Germany’s politicians to blunt the most vile aspects of Islam’s treatment of women. But who knows for how long?

None of these new policies would be necessary if not for Angela Merkel and her multiculturalist agenda. 

Among all European leaders, Angela Merkel has been the most stubborn advocate of mass Islamic immigration into Europe. The facts on the ground demonstrate that Western liberalism and Islamic medievalism are incompatible. But Mrs. Merkel is engaged in a grand sociological experiment: To Mrs. Merkel, it doesn't matter how many Europeans have to die in Islamic terrorist attacks. It doesn't matter how many women in Europe will be subjected to rape and sexual abuse, because street gangs of ignorant savages believe that unveiled, infidel women are fair game. 

If a generation from now, if Europe falls into a long Islamic Dark Age, Angela Merkel will be among those most responsible. It is no exaggeration to state that Angela Merkel and her accomplices in the European Union could bring about the downfall of Europe’s once vibrant and open civilization. 

This naturally leads to comparisons between Angela Merkel and a German leader of our grandparents’ time. True, Angela Merkel is more personally appealing and disarming. She is no ranting Fuhrer. But like that German leader of the past, Angela Merkel is dedicated to an authoritarian ideology which, when put into practice, could be equally catastrophic for Europe. 

And there will be no American intervention this time around. On the contrary, our current commander-in-chief is quite sympathetic to Islamic ideals, and romanticizes Islam. Europeans will have to save themselves from the follies of multiculturalism. In practice, multiculturalism means making Europe more Islamic. And that means making Europe less tolerant, less civilized, and far, far more dangerous. Until a plurality of Europeans realize this, the situation in Europe will only grow worse. 

Let’s return to these new proposed German laws. I’m all for a ban on adult men marrying little girls. I’m a bit more ambivalent about banning face coverings. Personally, I would rather not see any bans on personal attire. But the influence of Islam in the West is so noxious, so degrading to women, gays, Jews, Christians, and practically everyone who is not a compliant Muslim. The Islamic veil is both the symbol and the tool of Islam’s barbaric misogyny. 

What is important for Europe to realize is that a veil is just a veil. What is far more dangerous and destructive to Europe’s liberal tradition are the Islamic doctrines behind that veil, which force women to cover their faces in the presence of men.

I would say that this brutal, backward misogyny is un-American. It is un-Western. It is un-European. And yes, it is un-German, too.


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Thursday, August 18, 2016

Luk Thep: an online novel: Chapter 33

Previous: Chapter 32


Thirty-Three


They walked back down the trail in the full darkness, using the moonlight for illumination. Having seen that Khajee would not answer direct questions about Ram, she inquired how Khajee had arrived in the ruined village. After all, Khajee was almost as out of place there as Jane was.

“Lawan,” Khajee answered. 

The unspoken meaning was that Lawan had had control of her for days, or at least that was the impression that Khajee wanted to convey.

“How did you travel out here?” Jane asked. She had already ascertained that Khajee’s car was parked in its garage, back in Bangkok.

Khajee shook her head. “Lawan…Lawan again. I don’t know anymore than that. I can’t tell you.” She motioned Jane forward. “Please. I’m so tired, so very tired, and my head hurts.”

Jane was exhausted, too. When they passed Ram’s useless SUV, the moonlight glittering off its chrome and glass. Jane knew that they were within sprinting distance of the main road—not that either one of them was up to running. 

Then she recalled that the “main road” out here was still a long way from the highway. They stepped out into the roadway, but it was deserted. No people, no cars, not even an oxcart. 

“What do we do?” Jane asked Khajee.

Khajee shrugged. “Walk toward the highway?”

There was nothing else to do, really. So they walked along the shoulder of the road, hoping for a pair of headlights and a safe, friendly driver.

Jane felt a small chill, despite the heat here, even after dark: Khajee was walking behind her. Khajee had apparently broken Ram’s neck. What if she decides to break my neck, too?

Jane turned and Khajee looked back at her, blank and questioning.

“What?” Khajee said. She was obviously too tired to smile, but there was no malice in her face. 

She wouldn't hurt me, Jane thought. There’s no way Khajee would kill Ram—if she really killed Ram—unless Lawan had forced her, commandeered her. 

They had been walking along the shoulder of the road for perhaps twenty minutes when they heard the rumble and clatter of an older engine, and saw the glare of artificial light on the macadam. They both stopped and turned around. A truck was coming up the road behind them, almost certainly headed for highway.

A truck was a good omen. A truck, Jane decided, would be driven by an honest person with good intentions, someone working to feed a family. The driver of the truck would help them.

They both stepped out into the middle of the road and waved their arms with what strength they had left. The truck wasn't traveling very fast, so there would be time to jump out of the way if their instincts were wrong. They shouted: Khajee in Thai, Jane in English.

The truck slowed down as it approached. There was the pneumatic sound of its brakes when it came to a complete stop. 

The driver of the truck was a man in his late fifties or perhaps early sixties. He had weathered, almost brown skin. He wore his thinning hair in a crew cut. His shirt was either white or tan, and stained with grease or other grime. Probably he was at the end of a long day of hard work, just as Jane had guessed.

He engaged in a brief conversation with Khajee in Thai, the latter punctuating her words with hand gestures. Finally the man nodded and smiled. He said something else in Thai. Then he leaned across the front seat of the truck and opened the passenger door.

“He will give us a ride into Bangkok,” Khajee explained in English. “Come on, let’s get in.”

“Thank God,” Jane said. She wasn't even going to ask Khajee if the man was safe. He looked safe enough, and they had no other options. 

“I told him that we drove out here together to go hiking and that our car wouldn't start when we were done with our hike,” Khajee added. “I told him that we would send for our car tomorrow.”

“Okay,” Jane said. This didn't matter. The man obviously spoke little or no English, so Khajee would do all of the talking—what talking there was to be done. Jane’s sole concern at the moment was to get back to the city. 

But once she got back, what would she do? She was still wavering. Tell or don’t tell?…Act rationally, or act irrationally in an irrational world?

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