Jane had developed what she thought was a general understanding of the way this all worked: The doll had been given to her and she had accepted it, albeit acquiescently. She could not throw the doll away. If she tried that, it would come back to her.
Crazy. Ridiculous. How many times had she used those two words to refer to her own thoughts in recent weeks? But she was sure that she had put Lawan away in the closet before going to bed, only to find the closet door open, and the doll on her living room sofa in the morning. The pills were blurring her mind, that much was true; but they hadn’t completely disconnected her from reality. Yet.
Nevertheless, she would have to quit the sleeping pills soon.
The drive to the Marriott would have been short, had Jane not left at the height of the evening rush hour. The suburbs around Detroit were becoming overdeveloped and overpopulated, even as the city itself was hollowing itself out. There areas of the inner city, directly to her south, where one could find blocks and blocks of empty, decaying buildings.
She had heard that on the radio earlier in the week. Or had Martin told her that today, during the annual business meeting?
Jane placed a cool palm to her forehead. She had to get herself under control.
She walked into the lobby of the Marriott, Lawan under one arm. Despite all that had happened, Jane wasn't overly squeamish about handling the doll. It could have smothered her while she slept any number of nights, if that had been its purpose. Lawan reserved her real violence for others. Like David.
Jane headed for the front desk. She would ask the front desk attendant to ring Khajee’s room. If Khajee had gone out for dinner, Jane would wait for her in the lobby, Lawan at her side.
For once, though, Jane found herself in luck. Just before she reached the front desk, she made a sidelong perusal of the lounge area, adjacent to the lobby. Khajee and Ram were seated at a small table, not talking, by the look of them, but nursing two beers and what looked like hamburgers.
Hamburgers, Jane thought. The quintessential American food. She couldn't count how many of her foreign colleagues, when visiting the U.S. for the first or second time, asked to be taken out for a genuine American hamburger.
Neither Khajee nor Ram saw Jane approach until she was upon them, ambush-style.
“I believe this is yours,” Jane said without preamble, holding the doll out to Khajee.
Ram stopped eating and glared silently at Jane. Khajee looked briefly at Jane, at the doll, and then looked away.
“The doll is yours,” Jane repeated. “Please take it. I don’t want it anymore.”
“If you don’t want it,” Khajee said, still staring straight ahead, “then throw it away.”
Over the course of their professional relationship, Jane had met Khajee in person perhaps four or five times. The Thai woman had always gone out of her way to be friendly and compliant. Jane was not technically her boss, but as a manager at the corporate headquarters, Jane was higher in the informal corporate pecking order.
Now, however, Khajee seemed to regard Jane as a recalcitrant waitress or a wayward chambermaid.
“I can’t take it back to Thailand with me. I thought it would be a nice gift for you. Like I said, you can throw it away if you don’t want it.”
“It isn’t that simple,” Jane replied. “But I suspect you already know that, don't you?”
“Please,” Khajee said, continuing her tacit refusal to look at Jane, “you’re making a scene. What would Martin Tully think of this? What would TRX HR have to say?”
The implied threat was very apparent. From a corporate HR perspective, Jane was attempting to thrust an unwanted object on a colleague who had explicitly expressed a preference for her to cease and desist. There was no way Jane was going to sit before either Martin or corporate HR, and spin some story about a curse. If push came to shove, Jane would lose this battle. The rules of the game allowed Khajee to turn the protocols of corporate behavior against her. TRX might take pity on Jane, given her recent personal difficulties—which was another way of saying that they might terminate her with a halfway decent severance package, versus simply terminating her.
Jane had long experience with such maneuvering. She hadn't attained her position at such a young age without learning the rules, without mastering all the intricacies of corporate political gamesmanship. She had also handled passive-aggressive behavior before. That was a tactic that could be turned around—if you kept your cool.
"Very well," Jane told Khajee, "if that's the way you've decided to play this. There's a little divan out in the lobby. I'm going to leave this damned doll—your little girl, as you once described her—out on that divan. You're staying at this hotel for two nights, so that will suffice for giving her back, if I understand the way this thing works."
Jane did not give either Khajee or Ram a chance to reply (not that they seemed inclined to reply, anyway).
She spun around and walked resolutely into the adjacent lobby. As promised, she placed Lawan on a white divan that formed part of an island of furniture in the center of the polished tile floor. Let this be the last I ever look at you, she thought, as she set the doll down.
With that done, she made for the exit. Perhaps she would sleep tonight. She might require a pill, but she would quit them soon.
An African American security guard had materialized at the front door of the hotel. Jane had not noticed him when she'd entered, but there was nothing particularly unusual about that: She had been focused on locating Khajee. The guard was at least six feet, three inches tall, and he had the build of an NFL linebacker. His head was shaved, and his exposed pate was shiny in the glow of the overhead fluorescent lights.
The guard's attentive stare made clear that he was waiting for Jane to approach. This did make her a little nervous. She didn't recall shouting at Khajee, or otherwise making a scene. But given her recent mental state, a misjudgment of her own behavior wouldn't be inconceivable. If the guard's intention was to gently reprimand her for accosting two hotel guests, then fine, so be it. She would endure the guard's spiel contritely, so that the situation wouldn't escalate and then become known at TRX. She had no idea how she might handle any of this should it become a TRX human resources matter.
When Jane was a few paces away from the door, the guard stepped forward. "Excuse me, ma'am," he said, but you left someone in the lobby."
The guard was referring to the doll, obviously. It was strange that he'd used the term ‘someone’ rather than ‘something’. Was he trying to be ironic?
"Oh," Jane replied, as nonchalantly as she could. "That doll belongs to the woman in the hotel lounge. The woman's name is Khajee Wongsuwon. She's a guest from Thailand. She'll pick it up once she's done with her meal and her drink."
The security guard slowly shook his head. "I don't think so, ma'am. That little girl's going to get lonely, if you leave her there like that. It isn't the right thing to do."
The guard swayed ever so slightly on his feet. He righted himself. Then he looked at Jane with fresh determination. "Please go back and get that little girl. Take her with you."
"What?" For a moment Jane thought that the guard might be intoxicated. Or this might be nothing more than a bored man who was taking a bit of circumstantial humor too far. In either case, he was effectively barring her way.
Jane was about to ask him to step aside, enough already, please, when the guard preempted her.
The hotel security guard looked directly into her eyes and spoke in a lilting, tonal language. Jane did not understand the words, of course, for Thai was incomprehensible to her, though she had on occasion been able to decipher it in dreams. But there was no mistaking the language: It was Thai, a language that almost no one learned outside the borders of Thailand.
"Go get the little girl," the guard repeated, in English now. "Take her home. You're her mommy, after all."
Jane was abruptly pushed into a daze. She stepped backward, turned around toward the divan. The guard smiled and nodded as she picked up Lawan and tucked the doll under her arm.
The security guard gave her a broad grin and stepped aside as she approached the exit this time. "You have a nice evening, ma'am!" he said.
On the way out, Jane was almost certain that she saw a diminutive figure standing there with the guard. A young girl, shadowy, there but not there, partly covered with the filth of her rice paddy grave.
Chapter 19 coming soon. Check back often!