Hla

A longer than usual story – Colin Devonshire

Hla

Hla was born with a cleft palate, doctors fixed that, but no doctor could fix her mind.

She could do most things, driving was one. A battered Toyota pickup cruised past the thick grey walls. Barbed wire swung loose from the top, chipping more of the once white paint. The truck’s gear slipped into neutral as it cruised silently past the gates. Then stopped out of sight of the dozing entrance guard.

The driver’s torn shirt revealed one of the bra’s cups hanging loose. Its shoulder strap snapped and dangled. 

“Perfect,” Hla said to herself in the car’s mirror. Leaving the door open, she staggered towards the secure unit’s entrance. Twenty yards short of her goal, she screamed and collapsed to the concrete road.

It shocked the guard to full attention. “What, what’s going on?” he called.

The girl knelt, propping her body with one arm as she waved with the other.

“Help,” she stammered. Collapsing back to the ground.

The guard knew he should not leave his position. It was three am no one in view.

“Okay, I’m coming,” he called as he up righted his chair.

Panting low, like a dog crippled by a passing bus, then moaning like the driver witnessing the mess.

“Oh, please help me,” she called as the guard reached her.

The guard stooped, turning the victim to face him. The livid scar between nose and lip caught his attention before he noted the girl’s breast.

“What happened?” he asked.

“That man,” she pointed towards her vehicle.

“What did he do? Where is he?” the dumbfounded guard asked.

Coughing, the girl attempted to stand. The man put his arm under her shoulder, giving support; he eased her to the wall. He was bending low as he sat her back to the flaking paintwork.

“Thank you, thank you so much. But be careful he is still out there,” pointing again.

The guard looked along her outstretched arm. The long, thin stiletto plunged between his testicles. Her hand clasped his mouth to stifle any sound. He rolled forward, his head hitting the concrete as the blade crossed his throat. No sound disturbed the folk inside as she stripped the dead man of his keys.

The girl calmly rearranged her blouse and underwear. Grinning, she strolled to the gate. Using the guard’s key, she was inside within seconds.

“That was easy,” she whispered and smiled.

Sitting in the guard’s seat, she studied the office’s filing system, and notice board. There wasn’t much to see. There were only twenty-four inmates, each in their solitary cell. At one time, they had tried cell-sharing, but one of the cellmates would be dead by morning. 

Tonight, two further guards were on duty. One pacing the corridor between cells, the other yet unseen from the guard’s seat.

A young voice was howling like a rabid wolf.

“I assume that is an inmate?” she thought to herself. “I hope it’s not a guard,” she said, stifling a laugh.

“Shut up, don’t start this again, you arsehole,” rang out from deep inside.

“Now I know where one guard is,” she chuckled to herself, as she checked the black-and-white screen.

The howling got louder.

Before she was ready, a uniform cap landed on the desk.

“Christ, I’m glad my shift is over, it has been another boring one,” the guard followed his cap into the room. “Who the hell are you?” he asked.

“I was rescued from a madman outside. Your brave colleague saved me,” answered Hla.

“Where is he? You are not allowed in here, you know that?”

“He told me. He thought it safer here than out there.” She quivered as she pointed at the gate.

The guard radioed the dead man. Looking surprised at no response, he called the third guard.

“Get to the office now!” he shouted.

The dishevelled officer rushed to the room, “What’s going on? I was having a crap. Who is she?”

The third man listened as he was brought up to speed by his colleague, with Hla adding the gory bits. The two guards scratching their heads decided on their next move.

“There was only one guy who attacked you?”

“Yes, but big and strong and he smelt funny,” she said.

“What did he smell of? Urine? Booze? ‘Ya baa’, or something else?” 

“I don’t know what it was. Maybe it’s on my hands when I fought with him?” she said, sniffing her arms and screwing up her nose.

Guard two snatched her outstretched left arm and inhaled deeply. The other man busied himself with the radio.

“Pi Kap, where the hell are you?” he asked, turning to face the entranceway.

Hla blocked guard two’s nose and mouth with her forearm as she plunged the blade between his ribs and deep into his heart. She hid away the steel before the guard hit the floor.

“It must be a powerful smell,” Hla grunted, looking down at the dead man.

The remaining man rushed to his friend. As he noticed the blood staining his brown uniform shirt, he turned and gawped at Hla. Her knife flashed as he staggered backwards, falling over his friend’s body. On the second lunge, the knife’s tip bent as it hit his spine after passing through his intestines. The blade nicked his hands as he attempted to halt the flow of blood. Hla stood back, admiring her work. She waited a full minute, checking he would not cause her problems. Grabbing the cell keys, she closed the door behind her. 

“Now to find the children,” she whispered.

“Hello, Philippa. Do you remember me?” breathed Hla.

“Who are you? Not some goody-goody social worker I hope?” 

“No, dear, I’m here to get you out.”

“And Nick?”

“Naturally. We can all work together. Let’s find him.” 

“Work together?”

“Yes dear, I have some ideas I think you’ll like.”  

Hla and Philippa marched the few steps to the exercise square, Nick’s cell was on the opposite side. They then freed him.

Nick’s stony glare surprised Hla. 

“He doesn’t say much. I thought he would be happy?” Hla said.

“Nick only speaks to me,” answered Philippa. 

“This is Hla, we are going to stay with her for a while,” said Philippa with an inquisitive look at Hla.

“Yes, yes. We have so much to achieve. Let’s release the others and then find a decent meal. What do you say?”

Nick’s straight face smiled at the thought of a feast. A feast would have been something other than sloppy brown rice. Philippa was more worried about keeping out of the way of the other inmates. 

Hla used her keys to release the prisoner from each cell. Torn shirts, ripped knees, and ashen faces hurried for the gates. They skipped, marched, or crept past the guard’s door.

“Stand well back as the crazies go past,” Philippa warned.

“True, I understand your thinking. But it will keep the authorities busy for days rounding them all up,” chuckled Hla.

As the cell doors slid open, the mass rush to escape didn’t always happen as expected. Some inmates cowered in the furthest corner of their cells. Rolled into balls with tatty clothes covering their heads.

“Now that is a surprise,” said Hla.

Nick rushed to the security office and flooded the whole prison with light. As the gloom lifted, so did the faces of the prisoners. A thirteen-year-old girl with self-inflicted facial tattoos kissed Nick’s feet before sprinting out. A teenage boy was crying for his long-dead brother.

“Oh, he’s the one who cries every hour,” said Philippa. “Bastard keeps me awake.”

“He killed his sibling for laughing at his flip-flops,” whispered Nick in Philippa’s ear.

The rest hobbled, limped, or sped to the main doors. On the outside, screams of glee shattered the early morning quiet. As they spread in all directions like confetti outside a church.

The trio went to Hla’s truck.

“We must ditch this, and find ourselves another vehicle before we eat,” said Hla.

“Can I suggest we eat first, Nick thinks better on a full stomach?” said Philippa.

“And you two need a shower before we meet anyone,” said Hla with a motherly smile.

They pulled into the service area as two police cars went screaming past. A businessman jumped from his car and rushed into 7-Eleven, leaving the door wide open.

“That’s handy,” said Hla as she led the others to the still-running car.

They sped off as they left an irate motorist stuffing a pack of Marlboro into his pocket. 

“It’s still early, but I guess we are going to have a wonderful day,” smirked the driver.

After twenty minutes of driving along the quiet road, they hit the outskirts of Phayao. Stopping at a small forest stream, they splashed water on their faces to clear months of grime but failed. They continued through Uttaradit and on until they reached Sukhothai. Where they stopped at a small but modern shopping centre.

“Watch and learn,” said Philippa.

The trio walked to a shopping centre. A sleepy clothes shop salesman was rolling up the shutters.

“Great, you are open, can we go in?” asked Philippa.

“Sure, you can be my first sale,” winked the young man.

Philippa and her half-brother selected outfits and went into the changing rooms. Two minutes later out they came looking wonderful, preening themselves in front of the mirrors.

“Beautiful, you two look grand. Where do I pay?” asked Hla.

“Here, madam,” said the eager salesman.

“Oh, no. I’ve left my purse at home,” said Hla, patting her pockets.

The salesman said, “Where do you live?”

“Not far, I’ll tell you what, you take my car keys, and I’ll run home for my credit card?”

“I’m not sure if my boss would allow that.”

“Okay, come on kids, take the clothes off. We’ll go somewhere else later,” said Hla.

Philippa strolled over to the pay desk, rubbing her new sleeves on her grubby nose.

“Whatever you say.”

Nick was flapping his prison clothes at the curtain of the changing area.

“Okay madam, but please be as quick as you can, get your card before my boss comes in.” 

Hla dropped the keys to the truck on his desk. She left through the front door as the salesman was weighing the keys in his hand. He noticed the Toyota logo. As Philippa and Nick slipped out of the back door. The Nissan saloon pulled off in search of breakfast. The Toyota keys hit the far wall of the shop. 

“Are you keen to know why I released you from that hideous place?”

They both nodded.

“We have met before, in Bangkok, when we were all working on the ‘Freaks’ film remake. Do you remember the girl with a hole where her lips and gums should be? No, well, I suppose not. That was me. As you can see, I’ve had some cosmetic surgery.” She whipped out her false teeth once more, revealing her deformed gums. “And these? Look real don’t they?”

Philippa sniggered, and Nick smiled.

“We have much to do. We can talk about that later. First, let’s eat,” Hla said as she pulled into a restaurant’s parking area.

“Now we have settled down and our food had been ordered, I’d like to know what you think of my idea?” Hla peered at both Philippa and Nick.

Philippa nonchalantly leaned back on the red plastic chair. Nick was more interested in his ‘Khao phat krapow’. 

Plates of steaming rice slid across the table to the diners.

Hla waited for the waitress/owner of the restaurant to scrape her way back to the kitchen.

“You’ve missed some schooling since your incarceration. Now is not the time to catch up, believe me when I tell you that Thailand is a Buddhist country.”

Nick looked up from his plate. Philippa spoke, “Do you think we are idiots?”

“No, but I’ve no idea what you learned before they locked you up?” said Hla.

Nick shook his head. Philippa said, “We are,” she took her time, before saying, “advanced for our age, and quick learners. For example, Nick could tell you every item on that woman’s scruffy menu.” Hla raised her eyebrows in doubt. Nick recited the whole list. Hla’s eyebrows lifted further. 

“Brilliant. I thought he only speaks to you?”

“He does, he was, don’t think you are special because you got us out,” Philippa glared at Hla.

“Sorry. I thought you might be happy you are free?”

“We could get out whenever we wanted,” Philippa bragged.

Hla doubted it. “Come on you two, cheer up. We will have some fun.”

“What is your great plan, then?” asked the girl.

“Are you religious in any way?”

Both children grunted in laughter.

“That’s what I thought,” Hla said, “Let’s upset the religious leaders that try to make us believe them? Make us all respect them. They want to control our lives.”

Both Philippa and Nick beamed at the idea. “Go on,” asked Philippa.

“We all have certain skills that are useful in causing upsets I believe?”

The grins got wider. “Go on.”

“We will start with the Muslims. They will naturally blame the Christians. Then they will point the finger at the Buddhists. We can sit back laughing,” Hla said.

Nick tapped his half-sister’s leg.

“Nick says who is going to pay for all that, we haven’t got any money. It doesn’t look like you have much.”

“That is the beauty of my plan. We will make a fortune as we upset the religious path,” she laughed.

“Tell us more.”

“I have a rented house, I have a small runabout car parked outside and enough cash to keep us fed. So no worries. But, we will need float money to fund my ideas.”

“Never mind all that, what are we going to do?” asked Philippa.

“We are going to steal some religious artefacts and hold them to ransom. Brilliant or not?”

Nick shook his head, and Philippa agreed.

“Where is the fun in that,” they both nodded.

“In the pain and suffering, we give to believers. Stick with me kids, you are going to enjoy your adventure.”

“Thanks for getting us out, but I think we should part our ways now,” said Philippa.

“Oh really? Where are you going to live, what are you going to eat?”

“We’ll manage.”

“With the police after you? Don’t forget there are new murders to consider.”

“You killed the guards. Not us!”

“And who is going to believe you? The lunatics? The police? The judge? No, you two will go away forever.”

Nick pulled Philippa to one side, he whispered, “We’ve got nothing to lose, let’s go with her. At least for now.”

Philippa then suggested, “Okay, we’ll come with you, but let’s see what you are made of. Prove that we’ll have fun with your plan.”

“How about we have a laugh stealing our next ride home?”

Hla didn’t offer an answer. 

“Where are we going, and why are we walking?”

“You want some fun? Follow my lead. And put that in your pocket,” said Hla as she handed Nick a length of wire with small wooden handles at each end. Nick took a glance and stuffed the weapon into his shorts. After only ten minutes’ walk, they entered the manicured grounds of the town’s Catholic church.

Hla fell at the feet of a white-clad priest.

“Father, I, or rather we need your help,” Hla panted.

“Yes, my child, what can I do for you? Please stand up.” 

He swept the flowing robes away from her hands.

“This morning I found these two at the back of the market. They were shaking and crying. I tried to calm them and realised they were starving. So I took them home and told them to wash and clean up before they had God’s food.”

The priest looked at the quivering children.

“Doing God’s work, that is wonderful. But why do you need me?”

“I was about to wash their clothes when I noticed the blood,” Hla looked shameful. Philippa and Nick studied the driveway.

“Blood? Are they injured?”

“Yes, father. Hm, their private parts.”

The priest leaned into the nearby window. He grabbed his car keys from the desk and shouted at the secretary inside. “I have got to go to the hospital, call the police, I want someone to meet me there.”

“Yes father,” was heard in answer.

The quaking trio followed the priest to the church’s parking area. Next to a small Toyota was a brand new, ‘red plated’ Honda CRV.

“Perfect,” whispered Hla.

“You two children jump in the back. Madam, would you prefer to sit in the front or to comfort the children in the back?”

“I’ll sit with you, I wouldn’t want to squash their injuries,” said Hla.

“But there’s plenty of room… oh, I see, fine sit wherever you wish. It will take about fifteen minutes to the hospital.”

He grabbed his phone and started talking in Italian.

As they were driving through a rubber plantation, Hla nodded to Nick.

The wire was out of his pocket and circled the priest’s neck in a split second. Hla held the steering wheel as the car skidded to a halt. The man had tensed his legs and pushed back into his seat. The wire would go no further as it hit the spine. Nick smiled as he released the handles.

“Christ Nick, look at the mess you’ve made,” said Philippa as she high-fived him.

Hla was out of the car. “Come on you two, help me shift him.”

They pulled the body as far into the woods as they could. Hla stripped his red-stained robes and cleaned the gooey mess from the seat. She picked up his mobile from the floor.

“This will come in handy,” she said to the puzzled children.

Nick suddenly turned and returned to the body.

“What’s he doing?” asked Hla.

“Wait and see,” answered Philippa. 

Nick snapped a low-hanging branch. He used the sharp end to carve a simple cross next to a six-pointed star into the man’s chest. 

“You did mention religion,” grinned Philippa.

“Let’s go, we need to pop into the hospital.”

Once more, the children looked puzzled.

Hla leaned to Philippa and gave her the priest’s phone. “Put that in the first bin you come across.”

“Why?”

“Because it will give us more time.”

Nick was nodding in the back.

“Ah, I get it,” said Philippa, “they will try to contact him.”

“Yes, and when the tracker tells them he is at the hospital. They won’t expect an answer until he has completed his good work.”

They all laughed as Philippa skipped through the hospital doors.

Later, Hla led the children into her condo. 

“Think, Muslim prayer mat. Our next quest,” she said to both puzzled guests.

The condo was small but neat. The floor tiles were white with a grey vein pattern running across them. The walls were plain light blue, all of them. Except for the only bathroom, the non-slip floor tiles were plain grey, which was fine, but the walls? A hideous orange pattern shouted at you from all angles. Philippa and Nick barely noticed. 

Philippa spent fifteen minutes in front of the mirror and grunted, “Time for a haircut.”

During their incarceration, haircuts were rare. Female’s hair was left to knot and tangle unless they needed stitches in a head wound. In Philippa’s case her hair was untouched, although not clean she tied it in a loose bun. The male’s heads were shaved from time to time. Nick’s hair was left to grow for months and was dank and flat.

Hla had purchased some nit shampoo and insisted they both used it. 

“Philippa, Nick, come here, please. I need to speak to you both.” 

Breakfast was on the table.

“Enjoy your food, then we are off to town. We are going to the hairdressers. We girls will have a tidy up and Nick, I need you to have a schoolboy cut.”

There were no arguments or comments. Philippa was pleased and Nick couldn’t care less.

Hla and Philippa had their heads backwards in sinks. As hairdressers worked up lathers of sweet-smelling shampoo into their heads.

“We are travelling south tomorrow to start our quest.”

“Okay,” was all that Philippa could say. When she told her half-brother, she was rewarded with a leer, “Should be fun,” he whispered.

“Have you got everything packed?” shouted Hla from the kitchen.

“It’s not that we have much to pack,” said Philippa.

“We have a train to catch. Let’s go.”

The priest’s car was dumped in a side street near the railway station.

Thai trains are not fast. It’s not only that the engines are dated. But there is only one track. Meaning either the northerly or the southerly vehicle has to pull across to allow the other train to continue on its route. 

“Anybody hungry?” asked Hla.

“We’re bored, let’s move to the restaurant carriage at least it breaks up the journey,” said Philippa.

“Where do you think you’re going?” asked a surly railway official.

“We’re going to find the restaurant carriage,” answered Hla.

“Ha, you’ll be lucky, it’s closed.”

“You mean we have to wait until we reach Bangkok?” asked Hla.

“Your problem,” grinned the uniformed man. “Some street hawkers will come aboard at the next stop, you can buy some of their inedible rubbish if you dare.”

“Why are you so nasty?” asked Philippa.

“Because stuck-up little ladies like you leave a mess all over my train.”

“Oh, it’s your train, is it? Aren’t you a lowly employee?” asked Hla.

“When I’m here, in this uniform it is mine. Now get back to your seats.” 

“I thought they were your seats,” huffed Philippa.

He turned and marched towards the front.

Philippa and Nick had huge smiles. 

“What are your two up to?” asked Hla.

The trio followed the guard. They reached the link between carriages; the air whisked as Philippa bent to her knees.

“Sir, sir, come quick, your train is coming apart,” she called.

Hla bent to see what she was looking at, Nick stepped back, allowing the guard to peer at a loose bolt.

“Idiot children, it is supposed to be like that…”

Nick summoned all his power to shove the man. He somersaulted through the gap, impaling himself on a broken branch.

The idiot children gave the thumbs-up as they waved farewell.

Police were waiting at Bangkok’s Hua Lamphong railway station.

“Did you see anything?” they asked each passenger.

“No,” came the answer in each case.

“Must have been a tragic accident,” they said, shutting the case.

“We will enjoy working together,” breathed Hla. As they switched trains for the southern stretch of their trip.

There was no rude staff to brighten their trip. They all clambered into their 2nd class sleeping bunks and slept until they were woken by hawkers shouting at Hat Yai station. 

A ladyboy with a basket of goodies on her head called, “Who is hungry, get fed here!”

Philippa turned up her nose, but Nick was keen to eat. Hla jumped down and negotiated a price for their breakfast. An elderly man sold coffee and even delivered the polystyrene cups to the carriage.

“What’s next?” asked Philippa.

“We are going to Sungai Kolok.”

“Right on the border with Malaysia, won’t we need passports?” 

“We will not be crossing out of Thailand. We are to visit a mosque. Won’t that be fun?” said Hla.

Nick tapped Philippa’s leg, he whispered, “Sungai means river in Malay and Galok means sword.”

When Philippa told Hla what Nick said, she was amazed. “How do you know all that?”

“I told you we read a lot, Nick keeps what he learns. Anyway, we like the sound of river-sword, we hope it has something to do with our quest?”

“Yes, my dear, it certainly has. You will soon see.”

“Have you planned anything? Or are we going to wing it?” asked Philippa.

“I have given everything a lot of thought. For example, the rooms we are in are a stroll from a mosque.”

“So I can hear.”

Nick was deep in thought, it was as if cogs were gnashing deep in his head. Hla was concerned, Philippa had seen it before.

“Don’t look so worried, he is working on something. It may make your job easier,” said Philippa.

Nick grabbed a pen and started scribbling on the room’s fire escape notice. Figures, diagrams, and arrows cluttered the printed words.

“What the hell is all that?” Hla asked.

“He was not dreaming when he watched the comings and goings of the folk opposite, he was planning.”

“Planning what?”

“How to get in and out of the building, how many rooms and how to escape with our prize.”

Hla was dumbstruck.

“That was his next job. By going in the mosque and jotting down the details by pretending to be a worshipper.”

“He has saved that job, merely by observing things. So you see, not only saves time but lessens the chance of being caught. Now we need to know what is the prize?”

“You mean he doesn’t know, or can’t work it out?”

“It better be good,” said Philippa.

“Oh, it is good. Worth a fortune and easy to move,” said Hla.

“Come on then, what is it?”

“A prayer mat. But one that is worth far more than its weight in gold,” she laughed.

“A manky prayer mat?” asked Philippa.

Nick’s face split in the largest smile that Hla had seen him produce.

“He knows its value, as an antique and to Muslim worshippers. The mat we will kidnap came from the middle-east over one thousand years ago. Brought here by an Imam from Malaya.”

“Presumably it is in a safe?”

“No my dear, Muslims trust each other. It is on show and displayed in a glass case. No bars, no alarm, only glass protecting it.”

“So, where is the fun in stealing it?”

“You will soon see.”

“Look up there,” Hla pointed.

“A funny-shaped mosque, so what?” Philippa said.

“Behind that funny-shaped window is our treasure.”

Nick was already interested, numbers were flying around his brain. He sketched something in the air and then marched off. The girls followed. Nick looked up and drew pictures in the sky.

“What is he doing?” asked Hla.

“He is planning. They don’t give us paper or a pencil where we’ve been. He remembers stuff as if he had a drawing board.”

“You two stay here, keep your eyes open, I have some shopping to do. Then we’ll be back tomorrow to complete our job.”

Philippa found something to sit on, while Nick walked around and around.

“There, look what I’ve bought you.” Hla lopped a plain paper-wrapped gift.

Philippa stared and rolled on the floor, laughing. Nick studied his outfit and tried on the Kufi, it fitted and he smiled.

Next, he tried the thobe. Dazzling white cotton, Philippa roared. “Different to the gear in the clink,” she screamed. “It wouldn’t stay white long in there.”

Hla outlined the following day’s operation. Philippa nodded and shut her eyes. Nick, expressionless.

“Nick wants me to go out with him. We won’t be long.” Philippa searched in Hla’s bag, “We’ll need this.”

She stashed the blade in her left sleeve. They walked in the opposite direction to the mosque. 

“Here, this is where I heard yapping,” said Nick.

The mother dog barked to protect her pups. Hla’s knife slashed the bitch’s throat. Then the pups’ hearts were lobbed into a supermarket bag.

“Now we’ll see why Muslims don’t like dogs?” said Nick.

Nick immaculate in his new white outfit joined the morning prayers. 

He knelt and mumbled like the others. There was standing, bowing, kneeling, and touching their head on the mats. Nick knew what to expect, he didn’t like it. The prayer only lasted a few minutes, still, he ached.

He limped to the bottom stair and crumpled in a heap. The other men wandered away. The Imam saw Nick and walked across.

“Are you okay?” he asked.

Nick didn’t reply.

“I’ve not seen you before,” he said.

Nick shook his head.

“Can’t you speak?”

Nick shook his head, then pointed up the stairs.

“Oh, you want to look around? Come on, I’ll show you.”

At the second level, Nick acted impressed. He led the Imam to the treasure, framed and fixed to the wall. Nick knew Philippa was hiding out of sight behind a concrete pillar.

Nick pointed to a small area of stitching on the mat. The Imam leant in. Nick flashed a wet handkerchief across the Imam’s nose and held it firm. The first puppy dog’s heart hit the floor splashing blood on the religious leader’s feet. His eyes bulged in terror as Philippa lobbed two more hearts.

Nick kicked them at the Imam as the drug took his power, and he collapsed against the wall below the prayer mat.

They laid him down, legs together, arms out straight at his shoulders. Nick marked a pentagram in blood around the man as Philippa placed the hearts at the five points. They then removed the mat from its frame and left the way Philippa had entered the mosque. Unseen and victorious with their prize.

“Right, Hla, what’s next?” asked Philippa.

“We travel north, to Bangkok. To land the Christians problems they never dreamed about.”

“The Assumption Cathedral has two towers, between them is a cross,” Hla stated her knowledge.

“And Nick mentioned its height and its value to the good Catholic folk of Thailand. Don’t bore me with useless facts. What do you want us to do.” She laughed, “At least females are allowed in a church.”

“What I want, is the mat to be strung over the cross. Easy.”

“Up there?”

“Yes.”

Nick was planning, his finger danced in the air as he scribbled ideas.

“We need to act at night,” said Hla.

Nick and Philippa needed supplies. They walked down to the river and waited in silence, as Nick planned.

“Okay, there was a hardware shop over the road. We can buy all you need there. You will need a shoulder bag too.”

Philippa knew what he was thinking.

“What, you want me to climb up?”

It is never pitch dark in Bangkok, but four am is as near as it gets. Both children were wearing black clothes and make-up. Nick headed for the electric supply boxes and Philippa worked her way to the towers. The prayer mat rolled safely under one arm. Under the other were electrical cables and a spool of fishing line.

Philippa clambered down, while Nick remained guarding his electric wiring.

“Sir, sir, come and look,” Philippa screamed at the door of the cathedral. A caretaker rubbed his eyes and followed the young girl’s pointing arm.

“What is that?” he asked.

“I don’t know, but I’m sure it shouldn’t be there. I hope it is not insulting God?”

The caretaker ran off to find a younger and fitter person. Within minutes, an assistant Bishop joined them, peering up.

“My God, that looks like a Muslim prayer mat?” He rushed off, ordering the caretaker to keep people away.

Philippa watched as the man squeezed his way out of a window, he balanced on the tiled roof as he edged his way to the cross. By now a crowd was growing, the more the caretaker shooed them off, the more arrived. The Assistant Bishop stretched across to the mat, as Nick connected the electricity.

The man fried. His body smouldered in the shape of a cross. His eyeballs burst as Nick reeled in the fishing line with the mat hooked tight.

Nick and Philippa raced home.

The Bangkok Post held the presses until they had the full story. Police were running around asking questions. The newspaper had only a basic chit-chat column; the police had nothing.

Hla has cooked a huge breakfast for the children. She couldn’t wait to tell them about stage three.

“Ariyavongsagatanana IX is The Supreme Patriarch of Thailand.” She stated.

Philippa was lost, and Nick nodded. Hla explained her idea.

The following night the slightly scorched mat was unravelled. The cord material was placed in a large glass jar. Honey was poured in.

Nick wandered into the temple grounds, a few dogs barked the others slept. It was silent. The Abbot slept, snoring with his mouth open. Nick dripped honey into the man’s mouth. He smiled and dreamily licked his lips. Next, Nick unwound the cloth from the mat and touched the man’s lips. The honey was a gift from heaven to the dreaming Buddhist. The honey was increased, as were the killer ants. The ants loved the honey more than the bald man. They followed their ‘dream’ food down his throat.

A cough woke the man, ants were biting deep inside. Nick emptied the jar and sprinkled the ants. A Buddhist agony.

The man’s throat had swollen, he could not utter a sound. He thrashed and writhed; the pain was like a red hot poker travelling deeper and deeper down his throat. Nick smiled and quietly clapped. He left as quietly as he came.

Police discovered the age of the cord and soon connected the murders. They had no clues about the culprits.

“That was stupid, Hla,” screamed Philippa. “Now we have nothing to sell. We are as broke as before.”

Nick was shaking his head.

“What?” asked Philippa. “I get it. We will sell the story. Yeah, great idea. The agnostics will love it. Brilliant.”

They all sat smiling, and then Philippa broke the silence, “What’s next?”

The END

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