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Thai Die

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Thai Die

  Table of Contents

  Title Page

  Copyright Page


























  Author’s Note

  Berkley Prime Crime titles by Monica Ferris
















  Published by the Penguin Group

  Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

  375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014, USA

  Penguin Group (Canada), 90 Eglinton Avenue East, Suite 700, Toronto, Ontario M4P 2Y3, Canada

  (a division of Pearson Penguin Canada Inc.)

  Penguin Books Ltd., 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England

  Penguin Group Ireland, 25 St. Stephen’s Green, Dublin 2, Ireland (a division of Penguin Books Ltd.)

  Penguin Group (Australia), 250 Camberwell Road, Camberwell, Victoria 3124, Australia

  (a division of Pearson Australia Group Pty. Ltd.)

  Penguin Books India Pvt. Ltd., 11 Community Centre, Panchsheel Park, New Delhi—110 017, India

  Penguin Group (NZ), 67 Apollo Drive, Rosedale, North Shore 0632, New Zealand

  (a division of Pearson New Zealand Ltd.)

  Penguin Books (South Africa) (Pty.) Ltd., 24 Sturdee Avenue, Rosebank, Johannesburg 2196,

  South Africa

  Penguin Books Ltd., Registered Offices: 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England

  This book is an original publication of The Berkley Publishing Group.

  This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental. The publisher does not have any control over and does not assume any responsibility for author or third-party websites or their content.

  Copyright © 2008 by Mary Monica Pulver Kuhfeld.

  All rights reserved.

  No part of this book may be reproduced, scanned, or distributed in any printed or electronic form

  without permission. Please do not participate in or encourage piracy of copyrighted materials in violation of the author’s rights. Purchase only authorized editions.

  BERKLEY PRIME CRIME and the BERKLEY PRIME CRIME design are trademarks of Penguin

  Group (USA) Inc.

  Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

  eISBN : 978-1-440-64287-6

  1. Devonshire, Betsy (Fictitious character)—Fiction. 2. Women detectives—Minnesota—

  Fiction. 3. Needleworkers—Fiction. 4. Antique dealers—Fiction. 5. Art thefts—Fiction.

  6. Thailand—Fiction. I. Title.

  PS3566.U47T43 2008

  813’.54—dc22 2008031631


  Many people helped with the writing of this novel. My writers group, Crème de la Crime, as usual kept me on task. Ellen Kuhfeld, curator, editor, and idea person, was a marvelous adviser. Ron Zommick, my Thailand contact, was very helpful. Denise Williams worked long and hard to make her Phoenix design so beautifully reflect the original one. Minnesota locales the March Hare and the Amboy Diner are real places; Lisa and Heidi are real people—even the giant angora rabbit is real.

  So is Bangkok, Thailand, with its gentle people, fabled golden temples, and magnificent woven silks.


  IT was early February in Minnesota, and so far it had been a very mild winter—which meant that anything heavier than an automobile was forbidden to drive on the lakes’ icy surfaces. Even snowmobiles had a distressing tendency to fall through on occasion. There hadn’t been many snowfalls after the first heavy one in early December, so cross-country skiing was curtailed. Gardeners worried that without deep snow cover, any severe cold snap might damage their spring bulbs. There wasn’t even the simple pleasure of looking out at the snow-covered beauty of a more typical winter.

  Dreary Minnesota was a big contrast with Bangkok, where Doris Valentine had spent the last four weeks. She had sent almost daily e-mails to her friends, describing cloudless days of at least eighty degrees, sun-ripened pineapples for sale on every street corner, and live elephants with their hides painted in ornate patterns standing under banyan trees in the park.

  “Here she comes!” called Bershada from near the front door of Crewel World. “She’s got a suitcase with her,” she added, hurrying back to her seat at the library table.

  “Wonderful!” said Betsy, who owned the needlework shop. “I bet it’s just bulging with souvenirs!”

  “Ah, a really big show and tell!” said Shelly.

  “Souvenirs from Thailand,” sighed Alice, who had never been able to travel much. Her favorite song all her life began, “Far away places with strange sounding names . . .”

  “Move over, I can’t see!” said Emily, leaning sideways to peer around the photographer who stood between her and the doorway. Emily was in her eighth month of pregnancy and tended to stay where she sat until she absolutely had to get up.

  It was the first Wednesday in February, and the Monday Bunch was in special session, though they were not there to stitch. Fellow member Doris was coming home, and they all wanted to hear about her fabulous trip.

  “What a great tan she got!” said the photographer, a very young man from the Excelsior Times, the paper of record for a town so small that a citizen’s return from an exotic vacation was news. His camera flashed twice as Doris opened the door, and she drew back in surprise. But then she smiled and came in, with a big suitcase in one hand and a shopping bag in the other. It was marked RAINBOW FOODS, and probably held fresh milk and bread, necessary immediate purchases on arriving home from an extended trip.

  There were six people waiting for her: the owner of the shop, Betsy; young, pregnant Emily; schoolteacher Shelly; tall and elderly Alice; retired librarian Bershadaa; and the ambitious young man who was both photographer and reporter.

  Phil Galvin wasn’t there. A retired railroad engineer and a member of the Monday Bunch, he thought no one knew he was also Doris’s boyfriend. But the gossip around the table before Doris arrived was about how he had met her at the airport yesterday afternoon and had taken her out to dinner last night.

  Doris, a medium-sized woman of fifty-three, came in smiling. She indeed had a light tan and, instead of her usual complex blond wig and heavy makeup, she wore her own hair cut stylishly short, permed into gentle curls, and dyed a cheerful carrot color. She looked about twenty pounds slimmer than she had before her trip. Her face was almost naked, just touched up a little around the eyes, cheeks, and lips. She looked wonderful; the compliments from her friends at the table were heartfelt, which brought her to another halt, blushing with pleasure. The photographer’s flash went off, startling her again. Then she frowned—the photographer was not a member of the Bunch.

  “It’s all right, Doris,” said Betsy. “Someone”—she looked around the table, but nobody confessed or even looked guilty—“someone told the Excelsior Times that you were coming home from a month in Thailand, and now it’s going to be in the paper. I really hope you don’t mind.”

  “Well . . .” hedged Doris in her husky voice.

  “You can object to it later,” said Bershada. “Girl, get your beautiful self on over here and open that suitcase! We’re dying to see what you brought home!”

  Doris smiled. “Yes, of course,” she said, as she put the shopping bag on the floor and the suitcase on its side on the table in front of the one empty chair. She began to unzip it.

  “First,” said the reporter, putting his camera down and pulling a notebook from his jeans pocket, “tell us what you liked the most.”

  Confronted by a need to speak for the record, Doris hesitated, pulling a zipper around the side of her black canvas suitcase, which still had the airline tag on its handle. “Oh, I guess I liked everything. The people are wonderful, they’re beautiful, and so friendly and helpful.” The Monday Bunch looked interested, so she continued in a more confident voice. “But they’re so thin and little I felt like a giant. And I just couldn’t help loving Bangkok, it’s so . . . Oh, I can’t sum it up. It’s the most contradictory city! It’s huge, with really modern skyscrapers and a brand-new subway system and excellent hospitals. But the air is polluted, and there are beggars on the street with diseases and disabilities we can fix here. It has dozens of Buddhist temples all covered with gold, and monks in saffron robes, just like in National Geographic.” She smiled. “But I didn’t see a single Siamese cat.”

  “No Siamese cats . . . ?” queried Emily, confused.

  “Well, the country used to be named Siam—and that’s where the breed came from.” She sat down and finished unzipping the suitcase. “But what I fell most in love with was . . . silk.” And she opened the lid, causing gasps all around at the rich colors presented to the group’s eyes.

  Doris began by lifting out two lengths of silk. These were not the filmy kind of silks, but substantial, opaque, saturated with color: deep, dark blue and rich red, with generous trimmings of bright gold. Geometrical patterns were woven into sections of the fabrics: a slab of unevenly spaced narrow vertical columns terminating in neat arrangements of diamonds and triangles; thin horizontal lines marked at small intervals with tiny alternating circles and squares; geometrical flowers surrounded by big diamonds filled with starlike shapes and surrounded by figures that could be caterpillars from Oz. The lines were woven on the indigo in gold and red; and on the red, in gold and purple. The pieces were big, about six feet long and two feet wide, and not cut off a bolt but woven as individual pieces. Each long end was marked with thin fringe, braided on the indigo and tied into patterns on the red.

  The reporter put his notebook aside and flashed his camera again and again. Betsy waved impatiently at him.

  “Handwoven,” said Doris proudly. “You can tell by the uneven edges, where she turned the shuttle to go back.”

  “She?” said Bershada.

  “These are done by women. Thai girls used to announce they were ready to marry by weaving where men could see how skilled they were at it.”

  The pieces were handed around, and everyone murmured words of pleasure about the soft fabric and subtle textures of the patterns.

  Then Doris brought out a much larger piece that looked like a brocade. There was a lot of gold in its patterns, which gleamed and shone under the shop’s ceiling lights. The base color was again that deep indigo, and the patterns this time went diagonally, except for a broad row of highly stylized—“Chickens?” asked Alice, with a laugh.

  “Yes,” said Doris. “Well, I’m not sure they’re chickens. But they’re a symbol of . . . something. I can’t remember. But they’ve been doing it for a long time, centuries.”

  The other patterns on the brocade were mostly diamonds, though one repeating row looked a bit like the fingers of a closed hand, and another resembled pictographs or hieroglyphics. The fabric was heavy, the designs definitely raised—and deliciously smooth under the women’s fingers. The photographer took a picture of Betsy running her fingers across it.

  “What are you going to do with these?” the reporter asked Doris, his notebook at the ready.

  “I don’t know,” confessed Doris, embarrassed. “Over there they lay these cloths diagonally across their beds as decoration, but I’d just die if my cat, Waldo, sank his claws into this. I guess I’ll hang it on my living-room wall and maybe use the others as table runners. I never thought about using them—I saw them and just couldn’t resist buying them, they are so gorgeous.”

  “And inexpensive, too, I suppose,” said Emily.

  “Well . . . not terribly cheap, not these hand woven pieces. Now these were inexpensive.” Doris lifted two big rectangles of thin fabric, about forty by sixty inches. “These are saris, imported from India. I bought them on Coral Island off the town of Pattaya. Open-front stores, white sand, blue and green water . . .” She smiled, remembering. “Women were using these as swimsuit wraps. This little old man came down the beach with a huge armload of fabric—he even had a couple of shirts, but they weren’t my size. We were bargaining to set the price when this other man, much younger, who’d been by earlier, came storming back and threw his stuff down at my feet and yelled, ‘I more handsome than him! Why you buy him, not me?’ He pretended he couldn’t understand why I wanted an imitation silk scarf but not a purse made out of fake manta ray hide. He was so indignant that I started to laugh, and then he laughed, too, and gathered up his stuff and went on down the beach.”

  Doris picked up one of the scarves. It was sea green, printed with soft white lines crossed into wavy diamond shapes and even softer red splotches. She lofted it to show its lightness, then handed it around the table. “You have to bargain in Thailand. I was actually scolded by our guide when I bought some nuts from a street vendor and paid the asking price. But I didn’t bargain very hard for these—they were so beautiful and the price was low. I think I paid about three dollars apiece.”

  The other scarf had a broad border in marine blues. Its center was yellow and printed with soft black outlines of tropical fish, printed in melted purples and blurred greens and tangerine.

  The women held each scarf up in turn, admiring its patterns and colors. Betsy blew on the blue fabric draped across her hand, and it floated away from her in gentle waves. All of a sudden she could imagine herself standing on white sand, looking out over the Gulf of Thailand, its water the colors of this scarf, while an onshore breeze toyed with the fabric around her legs and shoulders.

  Then Doris brought out a small bronze statue of a man with four arms and the head of an elephant. The photographer came close to the figure, his camera flashing and flashing. The members of the Monday Bunch turned their heads aside to avoid being dazzled.

  The elephant-headed man had a fat belly and bare feet and a very amiable expression. He wore a skirt with a diamond pattern engraved on it, fastened with a big button. One of his tusks was broken off—but it was part of the design, not an accident, because he was holding the piece in one hand. “This is Ganesha, the god of beginnings,” Doris said. “Thailand is a Buddhist country, but the Buddha is not a god, so they can mix other religions in. And they do. I don’t know why I like Ganesha. I think it’s because he looks so friendly. People call on him to bless the building of a house or the start of a business. He’s also the god of writers—he broke off his tusk to use as a pen, in order to write down a story he was hearing so he wouldn’t forget it.”

  “Hey,” said the reporter, “I wish I had a statue of him myself!” He was scribbling as fast as his fingers could go. “How do you spell his name?”

  Doris spelled out “Ganesha” while the statue made its way around the table. “He’s heavy!” exclaimed Emily, nearly dropping the figure when Bershada handed it over. She turned it upside down to see
if it was solid bronze. “What’s this inside him?” she asked.

  “Concrete,” Doris replied. “They fill a lot of their brass and bronze pieces with concrete.” She smiled. “I think it’s so the post office makes extra money when they’re sent home. Or maybe it’s just to make them feel solid.”

  She went into the suitcase again and came up with what looked like a folded fan, bent into a gentle S shape. But she unfolded it into a circle and it turned into a hat with a ruffled brim: a bright red, bell-shaped sun hat patterned with golden elephants, held open with a dab of Velcro. “I bought this from a tiny old woman who came into a little restaurant with a bag of them in different colors. No English at all, she had to hold up fingers to tell me how many baht it cost. I liked that restaurant—the food was delicious—but it didn’t have a menu, so you ate whatever the owner felt like cooking that day. It was right across the street from the Temple of the Emerald Buddha. Oh, that temple! I never saw so much gold in my life!” And again, all the women sighed, hearing about the exotica of little old street vendors, menuless restaurants, and a golden temple housing a Buddha statue made of emerald.

  “Is it made of one huge emerald, or lots of littler ones?” asked Alice.

  “Neither. It’s called the Emerald Buddha because it’s a deep green color—but it’s actually made of jade. It’s little, only about eighteen inches tall, but it’s very old, and the holiest object in Thailand. Only the king can touch it, and he comes three times a year to change its robes. Right now it’s wearing cloth of gold decorated with emeralds and rubies and diamonds. There is a constant stream of people who offer it lotus buds and incense sticks. The temple is big, and very tall. The Buddha sits way up high, on a golden throne. Outside, the eaves are lined with thousands of bells and wind chimes to scare away demons, and everywhere there are golden statues of odd-looking creatures to protect it. Women with legs like birds—their knees go the wrong way and they have claw feet—and huge, bug-eyed giants from China. Everything’s coated with gold, except what’s covered with tiny pieces of glass in all different colors, very strange, but beautiful. The temple is part of a big complex that also includes the old royal palace. In the palace you can see the boat-shaped throne on a set of pedestals. King Rama the Fifth sat on it to welcome European visitors. Remember The King and I? That king. They made it high because Europeans wouldn’t fall on their faces in his presence like the Thai had to do, and that way it seemed as if they did. The current king doesn’t live there anymore, but in a new palace.”

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