He bought two cans of coffee from a machine and gave one to Michelle. What he wanted was real espresso poured over ice, but airfare the way it was, even little things had begun to throttle his frugality. Michelle frowned and he said, “Okay,” and left her.
The elevator was frozen, because people already enduring Cambodian summer cannot be trusted with air conditioning. On the seventh floor he ambushed a dozing security guard with loud, bad Khmer. The guard sighed.
And Meng’s office was how he’d left it: frozen, cheap, immaculate—everything off-white or green. Meng barely looked up at first, then did a double take. Thick Cambodian with a bad back, polo tucked in over a potbelly and a Bic ballpoint in the pocket. “Michelle’s pregnant,” he guessed in a whisper.
“No,” said Liss. “We have to go.”
“I told you that you wouldn’t be able to take it here.”
“It’s not that I can’t take it. It’s that I hate it,” he said, attempting to swallow and finding his mouth dry. “This wet heat… it’s disgusting.”
Meng smiled. Liss shrugged. “From the embassy bombing.” He dropped a stack of Xeroxes on the desk between them.
Meng pulled a Xerox close to him, scrutinized it: a photo. When his former boss noticed the time stamp, Liss permitted himself a shiver of pleasure. “You can destroy these if you want,” he said. “I have copies in the Ipoh locker. In Jakarta.” Then he took a pack of ARAs from his jeans and lit one. “Everywhere really.” Why is your hand shaking? He looked back at Meng, who had moved onto another photo of his lover of twenty years—a tall man with a nervous bladder—walking away from a Ford known by Delta 88, Interpol and the CIA to have contained more than 300 canisters of plastic explosives and buckshot on the time-stamped date.
“It’s not anything I don’t deserve,” said Liss. “Just backpay. From last summer.” He sucked at the ARA and glanced at the gray filing cabinet, circa 1980, meditating in the corner.
Meng looked up at him, away from the Xeroxes.
“I agree,” said Meng. “So this can be this.”
Meng coughed. “I take four months of wages from the filing cabinet to my left, and I give you those wages, and you fuck off to…”
“…The States. And you don’t come here again.”
Liss didn’t nod. Just waited.
Meng examined the filing cabinet, as if unsure of its reality. Then he stood and removed a plastic bag that seemed to have been vacuum-sealed for an unfathomable reason and tore the top from it and counted twenty-four million Cambodian riel in 50,000-riel notes.
Meng put the bills in another plastic bag of the same kind, walked to Liss, and offered it. Liss took it, and Meng took the pen from his polo pocket. He removed the cap, and Liss looked up from the money that was about to transport him out of Cambodia forever as Meng thrust the pen out and up—his eyebrows bent in concentration—into Liss’s left eye. The ballpoint was dull, so as it bit into the anterior chamber it took great swaths of conjunctiva with it on its way to the retinal artery, which it immediately severed, producing almost no sound aside from a low whiffle. The ARA smoldered on the carpet.
Liss dropped the great stacks of riel and the punch he threw was wild but also hard and the tissues it met with were soft with the result that Meng’s larynx was crushed and tiny hyoid bone fragments splintered into the tissues there. Meng’s eyes bugged and he hacked a storm of blood onto Liss, who fell backwards into the hall, righted himself halfway and scrambled passed the guard– now as erect as if he had never slept before—and into the elevator, hammering at the wall of buttons until the doors closed and when he reached the lobby he could see very little and he screamed for Michelle. Her head jerked away from the can of coffee, which had begun to go warm.