The narrow walkway between the buildings delivered Harry, Joselyn, and me into the middle of a parking area directly behind the building with the green door. In the back was a small loading dock, and on the elevated concrete pad was a steel overhead door that was closed. Next to the loading dock was a set of cement stairs leading to a heavy steel door, only this time the door was open.
Harry and I look at each other. “Listen.” I turn to Joselyn. “Why don’t you stay here? If we’re not out in, say, ten minutes, go see if you can find a local Thai policeman and tell him where we are.”
“I got a better idea. Why don’t you stay here and I’ll go in?” Joselyn doesn’t wait for me to answer. Instead, she takes off like a greyhound for the open door, Harry and me trailing along in her wake.
Inside the door is a large storage area, a stack of fifty-gallon drums against one wall and what looks like part of a motorized rack for hanging clothes in a commercial laundry. We don’t loiter. Instead, we pass quickly through another door and find ourselves in an open hallway. We move down the hall toward the front of the building; the smell of food, chicken broth and steamed noodles, fills the air.
“I’m gettin’ hungry,” says Harry.
“You want to stop and eat?” asks Joselyn.
“Not now, but when we’re done, yeah,” he says.
We reach the front of the building and end up at the foot of a staircase leading up to the second floor.
“According to the note, it’s upstairs, second floor, room 208,” I say.
Harry is already climbing, two steps at a time. We get to the top and start checking off the numbers on the doors. The place is a rabbit warren of small businesses, some white collar, others providing support services for some of the shops on the ground floor. We pass by one and see several women inside working sewing machines, stitching jackets and slacks, probably for the tailor’s shop downstairs. The next door is all the way open, swung back against the wall. I very nearly pass it when Joselyn taps me on the arm. She points to the open door, the numerals 208 reversed on the translucent glass on the upper panel of the open door.
“Maybe we got lucky,” she says.
We peek inside. I am guessing that the room is maybe twenty feet deep by thirty feet wide. There are no windows or desks, just filing cabinets arranged in neat rows with narrow passageways between each row. I count six rows. There is a man in the far corner standing on a tall ladder up against the ceiling. His back is to us. He’s changing out fluorescent tubes in one of the light fixtures.
Before I can stop her, Joselyn dips down low and slips through the open door. She scurries into the aisle between two of the rows of cabinets, keeping low so the guy on the ladder can’t see her.
“What’s she doing?” Harry whispers in my ear.
I shake my head.
When I see her again, she’s on her hands and knees peeking around the corner of the end cabinet, crooking her finger at me to join her.
The guy on the ladder is almost done. He is replacing the long plastic cover, clipping it into place on the light fixture.
I lean toward Harry and whisper: “Stay here and keep an eye. Warn us if anybody comes.”
The guy is halfway down the ladder. Before Harry can say a word, I slip down low and cross the open space between the door and the cabinets. I end up in the aisle between the first and second row of cabinets, huddling up close next to Joselyn down on the floor.
She is giggling silently, a single finger to her lips shushing me to be quiet. We hear the tall aluminum ladder being folded up and a second later the clatter of metal as it hits up against some of the cabinets while the guy makes his way down the long aisle. He is four rows over. I am praying he has no more lights to fix. I glance up. The fixtures overhead appear to be fine.
We press deeper down the aisle as he approaches the open door. We have an angle of defilade unless he actually steps into our aisle. A few seconds later the lights go out. Then we hear the door close.
Joselyn and I sit on the floor in silence for a few seconds as we listen to the clatter of the ladder being carried down the hallway until we can no longer hear it.
“Now we look,” she says.
“You think it would be safe to turn on the lights?” she asks.
“Not with that glass door. Gimme a second.” I fish in my pocket for keys. I don’t know why I’m carrying them halfway around the world from my house and car. I suppose it’s habit. On the key ring is a tiny Maglite powered by a single triple-A battery. I’m hoping it’s not dead. I twist the end of the little flashlight and we get a beam.
“That’s handy,” she says. “Let me see.”
I focus the light and hand it to her.
She stands up and shines the narrow beam of light down the row of cabinets, five drawers on each one.
“What?” I say.
“Usually a cabinet has a single lock at the top. It locks all five drawers. Look at these.”
She is right. Each of the cabinet drawers has its own small brass push-button lock. There is a printed label slipped into the label holder on the face of each drawer. Some of them are in English, others in a script that I assume is probably Thai. From the ones I can see, some of the labels appear to bear the names of businesses or companies, while others are for individuals.
“Let me see the flashlight.”
Joselyn hands it to me.
Each label appears to be printed on a standard form. In the upper left-hand corner of the label, in smaller twelve-point type printed in green ink, are the letters “TSCC Ltd.” Underneath this, also in green ink, are two lines of Thai lettering, each one followed by Arabic numerals on the same line. Beneath that in English is an “Office Telephone Number” and under that something called “Client Messaging System” with a different phone number.
“The drawers look like they’re all locked. Even if we could get into them, we wouldn’t know where to begin looking,” says Joselyn.
“Let’s start by going up and down the aisles. Check and see if anything jumps out at us.”
“You mean ‘Waters of Death’?”
“Charlie Four, can you hear me? Come in, Charlie Four.”
“This is Charlie Four.”
“Any sign of them?”
“Negative. But I’m still looking.”
“Charlie Three, do you read?”
“HELLO! HELLO! THIS PATTAYA POLICE DEPARTMENT. WHO IS THIS?”
Charlie One took his finger off the button on the wireless mike. “Shit!” He stood in the abandoned office on the third floor above the green door looking at his compatriot. “What do we do now?”
“Why don’t I drop down, take a quick look, make sure they didn’t come into the building some other way.”
“Do it,” said Charlie One.
“Be back in a sec.” The other agent raced out the door and headed for the stairs.
Charlie One hesitated for a second, then pressed the button on the mike once more. “Charlie Three, come in! Are you there?…”
“THIS PATTAYA POLICE. WHO IS THIS!”
“This is Charlie Three.”
“Do you have them?”
“N…” All of a sudden there was a screeching sound in the agents’ ears as somebody else toyed with the squelch on the band.
“Damn.” Charlie One jerked the earbud from his right ear. He put his finger in and wiggled it around a little trying to relieve the pain. Then he held the bud up to his ear without putting it in. “Repeat. Charlie Three. Do you read?”
“Nothing yet. I’m almost to their hotel. I’ll check there and let you kn…”
“THIS IS LIEUTENANT CHATNGEON, PATTAYA POLICE. THIS OFFICIAL POLICE BAND. WHO IS THIS? IDENTIFY YOURSELF!”
Charlie One released the button on the mike. He pulled out his cell phone and started to dial just as the door opened behind him.
“Quiet as a tomb downstairs,” said his partner. “I took a peek from the stairwell. 208 is locked up tight, lights out as usual. I checked all the way down to the ground level. There’s no sign of them in the building. Who you calling?”
“The embassy. If any of those three get themselves killed, Washington’s gonna have our scalps.”
“What can the embassy do?”
“If we don’t find them soon, we’re gonna need help. The Pattaya police aren’t gonna be feeling terribly helpful when they find out we’ve been working their turf without notice.”
“And so we may need a royal dispensation,” said Charlie One.