Jane’s main contact at the Manila plant was a young woman named Maria Reyes. Her boss was an older man named Franco Avilla.
At first Khajee had suspected parallels between these two and the Khajee/Ram combination. But it turned out that the two Filipinos were nothing like the two Thais.
Maria Reyes was in her mid-twenties, perhaps ten years younger than Khajee and Jane. Franco Avilla was a much, much older man—probably in his mid-sixties. Jane suspected that he was only a year or two away from retirement. Franco Avilla spoke constantly of his beloved wife and his even more beloved children and grandchildren. He got along well with Maria, but there wasn't the slightest hint of anything inappropriate.
And Franco, unlike Ram, was cooperative and helpful where work-related matters were concerned.
The second afternoon of her trip—the day before her return flight to the U.S.—Jane finished her meetings at the Manila plant at 4:30 p.m. This was a rare luxury on overseas business trips, which were typically characterized by too few hours and too many items on the agenda.
After enjoying a leisurely, solitary dinner in the restaurant attached to her hotel, Jane decided that she could afford to venture out a bit. Across the square from the hotel, there was a little outdoor café that had been beckoning her since she had first noticed it upon her arrival. Complimented with decorative palm trees and old Spanish architecture, the café was postcard-perfect.
Jane had brought with her a John Grisham novel. She had been carrying the same novel around for months, and had only read to page twenty-three. Why not enjoy an outdoor cup of coffee or espresso as she read, while supporting the local economy? The area around the hotel seemed safe enough. Jane had noticed a moderate police presence—just enough to be reassuring, but not so great as to suggest frequent outbreaks of violence.
Jane strolled across the cobblestone Spanish square toward the Spanish architecture café, her novel tucked under one arm, her handbag securely tucked under the other. The late afternoon weather was warm and marvelously sunny. But it was more reminiscent of Hawaii than Thailand.
Looking back later on what happened, Jane would recall that she had experienced no inkling of anyone watching her.
She took an outdoor seat at a small table with two chairs. A young female member of the service staff appeared. Jane addressed her tentatively, in English. The young woman replied in the same language, not missing a beat.
Although there are multiple indigenous languages in the Philippines, English is widely taught and spoken. The Philippines has distinguished itself in recent years as a low-cost location for call centers, servicing customers in the U.S. and Canada. English is an iffy proposition in the Philippine hinterlands, but in Manila, in tourist places, one can usually get by in English.
Jane was sipping a coffee and reading page thirty-two of the John Grisham novel when she heard the chair across from her slide away from the table. When she looked up, she was no longer alone at the table.
The woman was Asian, of slender build. She was wearing a scarf over her black hair, as well as sunglasses. The woman pushed the sunglasses down over her nose and looked at Jane over their rims. Jane knew immediately who she was.
“Khajee was weak,” the woman said. “That was why she betrayed me.” The woman whom Jane had once known as Khajee Wongsuwan sighed. “That was why I tried to help her. She never got her husband, you know. But she had her little girl.”
Jane tried to speak but found herself unable. The partly covered face before her was Khajee’s—and yet, it wasn't Khajee’s. Jane remembered the flash of the furious, growling face in the jungle undergrowth.
Khajee stood as abruptly as she had sat down, and pushed her chair back into place. “But you were my last mommy. Goodbye, mommy. You know, maybe I’ll visit you someday. It snows where you live, doesn't it?”
She walked away, and said over her shoulder, “I’ve always wanted to see the snow.”
The woman who might have been Khajee—and might have been someone or something else—walked away until she became obscured by other pedestrians, and then disappeared in the afternoon crowd.
Jane sat there for a very long time before she summoned the composure to pay her café bill and return to her hotel.