Authors: Jake Needham
Tags: #03 Thriller/Mystery
Kindle edition published by
Half Penny Ltd.
WHAT THE PRESS SAYS ABOUT JAKE NEEDHAM
“Much of the fun in reading LAUNDRY MAN is in trying to guess how much of the story is based on fact. Although it might seem unlikely that governments would engage in such brazen corruption in real life, the truth is they already have. Mr. Needham seems to know rather more than one ought about these things.”
-- The Wall Street Journal Asia
“The level of detail in LAUNDRY MAN astounds, giving the story an authenticity that could only come from someone with intimate familiarity. The closing chapters run at breakneck speed. Buckle up and enjoy the ride.”
“In LAUNDRY MAN Needham takes the reader behind the smiling Thai face and introduces a hero you have to cheer for, the urbane and straight-shooting Jack Shepherd.”
-- The Nation (Thailand)
“Needham’s first book, THE BIG MANGO, was a real cracker. LAUNDRY MAN is even better. As you turn the pages and follow Jack Shepherd in his quest for the truth, you can smell the roadside food stalls and hear the long tail boats roar up and down the Chao Praya River.”
-- Singapore Airlines SilverKris Magazine
She lived for nearly a hundred years
and survived damn near everything.
I miss you, Mom.
“You’re an expatriate. You’ve lost touch with the soil. You get precious. You drink yourself to death. You become obsessed by sex. You spend all your time talking. You are an expatriate, see? You hang around cafes.”
“It sounds like a swell life,” I said. “When do I work?”
“You don’t work. One group claims women support you. Another group claims you’re impotent.”
THE SUN ALSO RISES
IT BEGAN EXACTLY
the way the end of the world will begin. With a telephone call at two o’clock in the morning.
“Jack Shepherd,” I croaked.
“Hey, Jack, old buddy. How you been?”
It was a man’s voice, one I didn’t recognize. I sat up and cleared my throat.
“Who’s this?” I asked
“I’m sorry to call in the middle of the night,” the man said, ignoring my question, “but this can’t wait. I’m really in deep shit here.”
I was still struggling to place the voice so I said nothing.
“I need your help, Jack. I figure I got about a week here before somebody cuts off my nuts and feeds them to the ducks.”
“I’m not going to start guessing,” I said. “Who is this?”
“Oh, man, that’s so sad. You mean to tell me you even don’t recognize your old law partner’s voice?”
“I’ve had a lot of—”
“This is Barry Gale.”
That stopped me cold.
“Surprised, huh?” the man chuckled.
“Who are you?” I repeated.
“I just told you who I am, Jack. This is Barry Gale.”
I hit the disconnect button and tossed my cell phone back on the nightstand.
WHEN IT RANG
again, I silently cursed myself for forgetting to turn the damned thing off.
I sat up and retrieved the phone and this time I looked at the number on the screen before I answered. All it said was unavailable. I thought fleetingly of just hitting the power button, but I didn’t. Later, of course, I would wish I had.
“It’s not nice to hang up on old friends, Jack.”
“We’re not old friends.”
“Sure we are.”
“Look, pal, Barry Gale’s dead. I know it and I’m sure you know it. So unless you’re Mickey the Medium with a message from the other side, you can cut the crap. What do you want?”
“What makes you think I’m dead?” the man asked.
“Barry made a pretty flashy exit. It got a fair amount of attention.”
“You talking about the body they found in that swimming pool in Dallas?”
That was exactly what I was talking about. I said nothing.
“As I remember, and I’m pretty sure I
remember, that body had been in the water nearly a week before anybody found it so they couldn’t get fingerprints. Also I hear the guy’s face was too badly smashed up to recognize. Nobody thought it was worth bothering with DNA, and the ID was made from dental records.”
“So what? The dental records matched Barry’s, didn’t they?”
“Of course they did. They would, wouldn’t they?”
“Are you trying to tell me the body in the swimming pool in Dallas wasn’t Barry Gale’s?”
“Not likely, Jack. Not likely at all. Particularly not as we’re talking to each other on the telephone other right now.”
I tried it another way.
“Look, buddy, I’m a reasonably approachable guy. Why don’t you just tell me who you are and what you want and then I can go back to sleep?”
There was a brief silence and then the man started talking again in a tired voice.
“Your name is Jonathan William Shepherd, but your father started calling you Jack when you were a kid to keep your mother from calling you Johnny and it stuck. You graduated from Georgetown Law School and you’re admitted to the bar in the District of Columbia and in New York. Stassen & Hardy recruited you right out of law school and it’s the only place you ever practiced law. You and I made partner the same year.”
I said nothing. The man apparently didn’t care.
“Your home address was 1701 Great Falls Road. It was a big white house out in Potomac, Maryland. Regrettably your happy home dissolved when your wife, the lovely Laura, took up with that proctologist out in Virginia. Dr. Butthole, you called him. How am I doing?”
“Very impressive,” I said.
“I’m an impressive guy.”
“Is that it?” I asked. “You recite a few things you’ve found out about me somewhere and now I’m supposed to believe you’re Barry Gale risen from the dead?”
“Hell, Jack, I could go on all night. How about this? Your office at Stassen & Hardy was about as far away from the reception area as it was possible for you to get and still be in the same building with the rest of us. You had a big glass table that you used for a desk. Goddamn, Jack, I’m sure you were the only lawyer in the world with a glass desk. It was like you were trying to look purer than the rest of us. Was that it, Jack? Was that what the glass desk was all about? And, oh yeah, you had that big yellow couch with the deep cushions where you took naps in the afternoon.”
“Look, I still don’t know what this is all about, but—”
“We had a part-time receptionist, a little Vietnamese girl who was going to law school somewhere and worked as the relief girl on weekends. Remember? You fucked her right on that yellow couch one Saturday afternoon and then you admitted it to me a couple of weeks later after you’d sucked up an extra martini one night at the bar in the Mayflower Hotel. You seemed to be all cut up with guilt over it and said you hadn’t told anyone else. Had you told anyone else, Jack?”
In the silence I could hear the guy breathing and I was sure he could hear me, too, except I was probably breathing a lot louder.
Because he was right.
I hadn’t told anyone else.
The man went on before I could figure out what to say.
“You like living in Bangkok, Jack? I hear you’re a teacher now. In some business school. That right?”
“Yes. I teach at Chulalongkorn University.”
“No more lawyering? No more of that big-time stuff we used to do?”
“I don’t practice law anymore if that’s what you’re asking me.”
“Do you miss it?”
“Not particularly. I still do a little consulting sometimes.”
“Consulting, huh? Is that right?” The man barked an abrupt laugh. “You want to consult with me, Jack?”
“I don’t think so.”
“Still a fucking hard-on, are you?”
“I just don’t particularly like being the butt of some clown’s crappy little joke.”
“Oh, this is no joke, Jack. I wish to Christ it was, but it isn’t.”
I said nothing.
“Do you know that place called Took Lae Dee?” the man eventually asked. “The little food counter up in the front of the all-night Foodland on Sukhumvit Road?”
“Yeah. I know where it is.”
“Meet me there tomorrow, around midnight. Just grab a stool and I’ll find you.”
“Is that a problem for you?”
“Yeah, that’s a problem for me. What makes you think I’d even consider coming to some damned supermarket at midnight just because a wacko pretending to be a dead guy calls me up and tells me to? I don’t know how you found out all those things about me, but if you think that’s enough—”
The man started laughing.
“Oh, it’s more than enough, Jack.”
He laughed some more. Thunder rumbled somewhere in the distance and I listened to it without saying anything else.
“I know you, my friend. You’d never pass up a chance to hear a story like this. Never. Especially not when it’s coming from a guy who’s gone to all the trouble I have to make himself dead.”
And with that, the man hung up.
I TOSSED AND
turned for a while after that, but I knew I wasn’t going back to sleep anytime soon. Eventually I gave up trying altogether and I went into my study and took a Montecristo out of the humidor on my desk. I pulled open the sliding door and walked out on the balcony.
Generally Bangkok’s foreign residents went to considerable lengths to avoid breathing the city’s air until it had been thoroughly dried, adequately chilled, and comprehensively decontaminated. Not only was the stuff hot and soggy, usually it smelled spoiled and a little sour, like it had been breathed by way too many people already. But this was January, the middle of winter in Thailand, and the southernmost edge of a large dome of Siberian air had slipped down from China and momentarily broken Bangkok’s muggy heat. The air had turned pleasingly cool, even sweet, and it was richly thickened with the syrupy fragrances of frangipani, jasmine, and gardenias.
I cut and lit my cigar and I stood there smoking and looking out over the city for a long time.
When people in Washington first began to hear that I was leaving to live in Bangkok and teach at Chulalongkorn University, a few of them jumped to the conclusion I was making a point of some kind, abandoning the land of my birth for reasons that were probably political and no doubt wacky. Others who heard what I was doing—and I noticed this group seemed to be composed mainly of women—attributed my change of address to middle-aged male angst fueled by overly moist fantasies of slim, submissive Thai women serving me brightly colored tropical drinks with little umbrellas in them. Most people, of course, fell into neither of those categories. Most people just assumed that I had lost my damned mind.
Part of the problem was that the whole idea of living in a foreign country was just so strange to most Americans, particularly since very few of them had ever seriously entertained the thought, however fleetingly, themselves. After all, everyone wanted to come to America, didn’t they? Half the population of the earth was fighting to live in Orange County and work in a 7-Eleven, wasn’t it? Why in God’s name would an American even
of living anywhere else?
Before I had made the big jump, back in what now felt to me like another life, Barry Gale and I had both been partners in a large and well-connected Washington law firm. The firm was huge and, in spite of our common occupation, I had run across him only occasionally. Truth be told, I could remember very little at all about Barry Gale.
Except, really, for one thing.
Barry Gale had been both the outside legal counsel and a member of the board of directors of the Texas State Bank in Dallas when it was engulfed in scandal, a hugely psychedelic mess involving a bunch of Russian mobsters from New Jersey who had been using the bank to clean and press their income from a variety of rackets up and down the East Coast. The character at the center of the imbroglio was an Armenian named Jimini Zubokof, who was better known as Jimmy Kicks because he had once, so the legend went, personally taken his gleaming Ferragamos to an FBI informant and kicked the poor bastard to death.