Chiang Mai – Sunday, Feb. 23, 10:00 p.m. local time (10:00 a.m. EST in DC)
Raven and Ice took off in the taxi, trailing Sasha, the blond woman and Ko. In the dark, they raced down back roads past industrial sites and scrubland. As they came to the Nimmanhaemin area on the west side of the city near the university, signs advertised bars and restaurants, lights twinkled, and the traffic thickened. At the fifth traffic light, Ko jumped out, leaving his companions in the taxi.
“And now?” Ice said.
Raven hesitated, wondering what to do. “Follow the couple!” she announced. “In the car!”
Ice directed the driver to continue down the avenue and pointed out the back window of the taxi. “Ko went toward Zen 67. See? Famous place,” he said.
“Hottest club in Chiang Mai, at least for tourists—they have a special show.”
“Great. Well, I hope he has a great time—and that I didn’t pick the wrong people to follow.”
At the next light, Raven tried to take it all in. Revelers swarmed the crossing as they waited. Trendy restaurants, many with outdoor patios, dotted the avenue. Art galleries and specialty boutiques filled the spaces between the restaurants—bikes, foreign language books, a custom tailor. Bolts of silk fabric behind a mannequin displaying a stunning haute couture dress called to Raven. Food trucks, many of them retrofitted camper vans, parked half-way onto sidewalks, surrounded by snacking partiers.
Ice took out some baht and handed the money to the driver. “They’re getting out,” he observed. They emerged from the taxi only three blocks from Zen 67, but the atmosphere was markedly quieter.
“I can see them down that lane,” she said, nodding.
As Ice and Raven followed, he put his arm around her. She didn’t object. Her nerves were jangled and she felt a chill. His muscular shoulders reassured her.
“I’m used to chasing stories, but not like this. It feels like a TV show,” she said.
“You’re sure to figure it out soon. The heroine always does.”
Raven tilted her head in doubt. The car accident and all the headlines about Nou and Evy raced through her mind, and she wrestled with a “that’s-never-gonna-happen” message. But as they walked along, her sleuthing instincts resumed. “Hey, check it out,” she said, pointing at a French-style mansion with a Mansard roofline. “They went in there.” The large oblong leaves of banana trees framed the front door, and a row of European sports cars stood at the valet station. “Oh,” she added. “See that gold plate next to the doorbell?”
“It says ‘The Embassy.’ I read about that place online. Very exclusive. We’ll never get in.”
“We’ll see,” he said. “Follow me.”
They approached the entrance, where a line had formed. Maybe 20 people were waiting. Ice ignored them, walked up to the plush burgundy rope, and said a few words to the bouncer. In an instant, the man opened the door and ushered them inside.
“Nice move,” she said over the techno music.
“No problem. See, I’m a great local guide,” he whispered into her ear. “Come on.” Ice took Raven’s hand, and led her through the rooms.
The building had been somebody’s home once—parlors, stairwells, hallways, little rooms that might have been servants’ quarters—but the throbbing music and cigarette smoke erased any trace of the family who once lived there. Dancers pulsed up and down in a room called Salon Z—but there was no sign of anyone Raven recognized. She tugged on Ice’s hand. She pushed through the crowd toward the bar. “Over there,” she said. “They have drinks. I’ll get some too, if you keep an eye out.”
Raven returned with two martinis and handed one to Ice. She nodded at him. “Thank you for your help.”
“Cheers,” he replied, sampling the drink. “They don’t know you?”
“I hope not. I recognize them, but that’s my job—saw them recently at a big event. They wouldn’t have any reason to remember me, but they could, theoretically.”
“Follow me,” Ice said, taking Raven’s hand.
Raven let Ice lead her again, circling to a position nearer Sasha and the woman, but still out of sight.
The woman was leaning back, looking up at Sasha, who pressed his left hand against the wall next to the woman’s head. His right hand carried a rocks glass full of clear liquor, neat. He stared down at her as he talked. She smiled at him and laughed. Then he lowered his left hand, passing it slowly over her breast, downward along the counters of her body and under her little red skirt. She looked to the side. Then abruptly, he stopped, chugged the drink, dropped the glass and grabbed her with both hands on the shoulders. He kissed her hard on the mouth.
Raven winced and turned away. Wow. They’re in it together, thick as thieves, whatever “it” was, she thought. When Raven looked back, the woman was holding Sasha’s hand, leading him deeper into the club.
Raven and Ice inched through the crowd too, observing as the couple sat down on a couch in a lounge area.
“It’s too loud in here,” Ice said. “You’ll never hear anything.”
“Maybe not,” Raven said, unlocking her phone, clicking an app and holding the device up to show Ice. “But this is a recording app for press conferences and interviews, and it works even if there’s interference or background noise.”
“Want me to place it?”
“That would be awesome. You can casually ‘forget’ the phone on that ledge behind their heads.”
“I see you have some moves too,” Ice said, taking the phone. He proceeded slowly, pretending to talk on the phone and survey the dance floor. When he finished his martini, he rested the glass on the ledge, where he simultaneously left the black phone, which blended in to the décor, and returned to Raven.
“Perfect,” Raven said. “Now we wait.”
“How about I get you another drink?”
When Ice came back, he and Raven sipped their drinks while monitoring the other couple on the couch.
Sasha shifted positions, resting his hand on the woman’s neck for a moment, then leaning toward her again.
“They should get a room,” Ice said.
“Glad you can find humor in this," Raven replied.
“Hey, I’m up for following them all night, but how about you fill me in on what’s really going on here?” Ice asked.
“Wait,” Raven said. “Look.”
The woman had stopped kissing Sasha, and they were on the move.
Leaving their drinks half-full, Raven and Ice scrambled to keep up. Raven grabbed her phone off the ledge on the way out. Once again, Sasha and his girlfriend took off in a tuk tuk. Once again, Raven and Ice followed suit.
Bouncing down the lane, Raven replayed the conversation they had recorded. It was barely audible over the engine. She held it up to her ear. At first, the blather bored her. But by the time the tuk tuk was speeding down the main drag, Raven received her reward:
“Hard to believe Evy is dead,” the woman said.
“Collateral damage. Ko is the one who will regret it,” Sasha said. “It looks bad for him, doesn’t it? He can’t squirm out of it.”
“He’ll go down with Channarong—he is the biggest idiot,” she said. “But you, Sasha, are a genius.”
“Thank you, Ingrid,” he said.
Their conversation paused. Raven waited. The woman's name was Ingrid? Perhaps the lull was because he was kissing her? Then Ingrid resumed talking.
“Poor Sara. She better watch her step,” Ingrid said.
Raven heard Sasha reply, but she couldn’t make out his words. Her mouth dried out, as if she were at the dentist and it was stuffed with cotton. Poor Sara? Suddenly, she could hear Sasha again.
“Ingrid, I couldn’t do it without you,” Sasha said. “I need you.”
“Oh my God,” Raven said, shutting the recording off. “I have to send an email. Can you watch where they’re going? Make sure the driver follows them?” Raven asked Ice.
“No problem,” he said.
Raven typed an email to Anna: “URGENT: Sara Reedman is in danger. I overheard Sasha and the blond woman (Ingrid) talking. He said Ko will ‘regret it.’ She said it ‘looks bad for’ Ko, and Ko will ‘go down with Channarong.’ She called Nou ‘the biggest idiot.’ Did Ko and/or Nou kill Evy? Ko was with them earlier. More soon.”
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