She was too late.
He was gone.
Kaila’s eyes traced the article. Only a few words stood out in such a quick scan: Samut Prakan province… Samrong Canal…. Water pollution from thousands of factories…. Gross neglilgence….
She slammed her computer shut in anger. Why had he gone to Thailand? What about what he’d said at the end of his last article, that he’d be waiting here in Lancashire to hear the final decision? How could he leave when he’d promised to stay?
Her eyes were burning. Kaila stormed into the bathroom, turned the sink’s faucet on full blast and began furiously scrubbing her face. She would not cry. She did not fly all the way across the Atlantic Ocean to fall to pieces on the other side. She needed to think clearly. She needed a plan.
She needed to talk to Phoebe.
Wiping off her face with a towel, Kaila strode back toward the bedroom, then made a 180 to go back and turn off the faucet in the sink. Stay calm. Stay focused. As she rooted through her bag, Kaila realized she’d need to find that universal adaptor before she could even use her phone, since it had died that afternoon and she hadn’t found time to charge it. Jamming the adaptor into the wall and thrusting the charger into her phone’s base, Kaila angrily tossed the phone onto her side table as she waited for it to have enough power to turn on.
Finally the screen lit up. Phoebe’s number was at the top of the call log. Kaila pressed call, then turned on speakerphone so she could pace while she waited for Phoebe to pick up.
The voice on the other end of the line was groggy. “Hello?”
“Kaila? What’s going on? It’s 1 in the morning over here.”
“He’s gone, Phoebe. He’s not in England anymore.”
There was a pause on the other end of the line. “But he said-”
“I know what he said! He lied! He’s off in Thailand now, writing about some canal! He… he left me.”
“What does the new article say?”
“Well, maybe there was an emergency in Thailand. He probably didn’t mean to leave so quickly. Maybe he’s coming back to England right after this article. Does it say anything about where he’s going next?”
Kaila sighed wearily. “I didn’t check. I need to read it again.” She opened up her laptop and gave the article a longer look. “He’s writing about pollution in the Samut Prakan province along the Samrong Canal. It’s not a new problem… says it’s been going on for years… Wait a minute.”
“What is it?”
“The names of these places… I think I recognize him. Yeah, right here he talks about testimony from a confidential informant in an investigation back in 1990. He’s referencing an old article of his in the same location, about the same issue. He’s pointing back to his old work. Lemme just try to find it…” She had bookmarked sites compiling the entire database of her father’s old articles. She searched for Thailand, 1990, and had found it within seconds. “I knew it! Back then he wrote, ‘My informant, an employee for several years at one of the hundreds of companies in the Samut Prakan province near Bangkok, has suffered long term health problems as a result of his labor. Many in the area suffer from similar diseases including dysentery, lead poisoning, trachoma…’ Phoebe, he’s in the same place! That explains why he left so quickly!
“Because he already has sources there?”
“Because he already has friends there! In the article he just wrote, he talks about witnessing the effects of these diseases firsthand. Something must have happened to the informant. He must have gotten sicker, and my dad wanted to help. He must be with him now.”
“How do you know the informant was his friend?”
“Because of the old article. This is one that almost won my father a prize. People wanted to know who my dad’s informant was because he spoke of him so highly, but my dad said that he couldn’t give up the informant’s name because he had to keep him safe from any retaliation the article might bring. He said people should work to help not only the individual whom they’d read about, but his entire community. My dad wrote tons of articles, but this stood out as one of his best.”
“OK, say you’re right and your father’s with the informant- you still don’t know who the informant is! How are you going to find in a city of millions?”
Phoebe was right. She needed more to go off of if she wanted to find him. Kaila looked at the two articles, old and new, side by side. Could she find some sort of clue here that would lead her to an informant no one else had been able to find?
“It’s really late for both of us. I need to go to sleep so my parents don’t wonder why I’m so tired tomorrow morning, and if you’re going to solve this, then you need a good night’s sleep too. Promise me you’ll go to bed when I hang up?”
“Guess I couldn’t get there tonight even if I wanted to,” Kaila mumbled.
“Nothing’s going to change in eight hours. Go to bed and come at it with fresh eyes tomorrow, OK?”
“Alright. Thanks, Phoebe, for taking my call so late at night.”
“Hey, never hesitate to call me. For you, I’m always free to talk.”
“I know. Thanks.”
Kaila went to bed that night with a determination to see this search through. November Skies wouldn’t slip away this time.
The members of No Frackin’ Way were up bright and early at 7 AM the next day to continue their protest. Kaila had breakfast with them, then said she’d meet up with them in a bit and went with her computer to the Preston Library to make some photocopies of her father’s old article and November Skies’ newest one. She sat down for what she expected would only be fifteen minutes or so, but when she looked up it was already almost 10’o’clock. Kaila hurried to pack up her things and rejoin the group.
“Sorry I’m late,” Kaila said to Rose as she took her place beside her on the sidewalk. “Did I miss anything?”
“Not really. It’s been a slow morning. Where have you been?”
“On a wild goose chase,” Kaila muttered, pulling out her photocopies, now covered in circles and scribbles. “Turns out November Skies isn’t here anymore. He’s in Thailand, in the same area my father once wrote about. I’ve been trying to find some sort of connection between the words in both articles so that I can figure out where my father’s informant is, and find my father in the process,”
“Can I see?” Rose asked.
Kaila handed her the papers and took her picket sign in exchange. They stood in silence for a few minutes as Rose looked over the documents.
Rose sighed. “There’s not really much to go on here, is there? The informant was meant to stay hidden, so it’s not like the articles would give any purposeful clues to his identity.”
“It was a ridiculous idea to begin with. I might be looking for my father, but it’s not like he knows that. He wouldn’t have left anything for me to find.”
“Maybe you’re looking at this the wrong way.”
“What do you mean?”
“You’re looking for exactly what your father was trying to hide. What if instead you look for an alternate source of information, maybe other studies on the area?”
“That won’t lead me to the informant himself though. I could go to this Samut Prakan province knowing everything there is to know about it, and still be completely unable to find him.”
Rose looked at the papers again. “There’s more than one name credited on the first article. Who is Craig Matthson?”
“Craig Matthson?” Oliver repeated. He was snacking on a granola bar and had stopped in passing by them. “He’s a well known photographer. Won a lot of awards both for his photos of nature and for his work documenting environmental and ecological disasters.”
“I’ve seen the name a few times before.” Kaila noted. “I think he worked with my dad on a couple different stories. What happened to him?”
“Oh, he’s still doing work in photography and environmental projects.” Oliver answered. “Sophie and I saw him just a couple months ago.”
“Wait a minute, you know him?” Kaila exclaimed.
“Well, yeah. I mean, we met him about two years ago at a conference and exchanged our contact information because he said he might be interested in helping No Frackin’ Way in the future. We’ve seen him a few times since.”
“Well, do you know how to contact him then?”
“I think so. Hey, Sophie, do you have Craig Matthson’s contact information on your phone?”
“Yeah, why, what’s up?”
“Kaila wants it to… what did you want it for again, Kaila?”
“November Skies’ latest article was written in Thailand, and I think that my father is in contact with the same informant that he and Craig Matthson worked with back in 1990. If I can get in contact with Mr. Matthson, he could tell me where the informant lives, how I can find him!”
Sophie smiled. “He should be able to do more than that. Last time me and Oliver met with him, he was heading to Thailand on assignment for the next few months. I’m sure if we emailed him and told him the daughter of Jeffrey Oliver is coming and needs his help, he’d be more than happy to assist. He might even have met up with your father himself!”
“That would be amazing!” Kaila exclaimed. “But- if you tell him I’m looking for my father… can you ask him to keep it a secret? I just really want to be there in person when he hears I’ve been looking for him.”
“Of course,” Sophie answered. “I’ll send him an email right away!”
Two days later, Kaila was stepping out of the plane in Bangkok, backpack stocked with plenty of snacks and a water filter for the days ahead. The Bangkok airport smelled amazing. Light poured in through the windows, and the smell of tropical flowers was in the air. Another strong smell lingered too. It reminded Kaila of the time she’d gone on a cultural field trip to Chinatown with her 8th grade class. Incense! That must be it. As Kaila strolled towards baggage claim, her eyes weren’t sure where to rest. She was in Asia! She had thought Europe was exciting since she’d never been outside the States, but Thailand was really something else. Everything outside looked so bright and colorful, and even inside the stores were filled with merchandise from all sorts of Thai culture she’d only seen in pictures she’d found from Googling “Thailand”.
It’d been a crazy couple of days. Mr. Matthson had written back within a few hours of receiving Sophie’s message, saying he’d be delighted to meet up with Kaila at the airport. From there, Kaila had gotten a ride to Blackpool International Airport in the No Frackin’ Way bus, then paid for a last minute flight in cash. She hoped her grandfather would attribute her withdrawal to a shopping spree if he was keeping an eye on her account. She hadn’t heard anything from him, and all of her mother’s emails seemed to indicate that there was no suspicion she was anywhere other than where she’d said she would be. She had a couple hundred dollars in cash, but she was hesitant to draw out any money from an ATM here. It would be one thing if she was found to be in England, quite another if she were discovered in Thailand.
Kaila found where to wait for her bag, Carousel 3. As she kept out an eye for it, she reviewed what she had learned about Craig Matthson from Sophie and Oliver as well as her own research on the man. As he was originally from South Africa, Kaila knew to expect an accent from him that sounded almost British. In fact, she probably would have mistaken him for a fellow Briton if her friends hadn’t given her a heads up. According to his bio, Matthson had travelled overseas frequently from a young age with his parents, and this had led to his love of nature and other cultures. He was a journalist with a focus in photography, and was quite well known for his work globally, but particularly in South East Asia. He and Jeffrey Oliver had written several articles together in her father’s short but prolific career. Kaila had never thought to contact any of her father’s colleagues when she was younger, but now that she was about to meet one she couldn’t wait to hear stories about how her father was in his prime. Maybe it would give her some ideas for icebreakers when she first met him face to face.
“Excuse me, am I to believe that you are Kaila Oliver?” a friendly voice asked. Kaila turned to see a man in his 40’s, a bit weathered and tan, but still quite handsome. Not knowing what else to do, Kaila wordlessly offered her hand. Then she remembered she should respond. “Kaila, yes, that’s me. You’re Mr. Matthson?”
“Please, call me Craig. Do you have your luggage yet?”
“Not yet, but it should be – oh, there it is!” She walked towards her duffel abg and swung it off the conveyer belt. She had decided to pack light for this leg of the trip. If she wouldn’t be returning to England after the reunion, then she would simply have the rest of her luggage mailed home.
“Ready?” Craig asked.
“Alright, my bike is parked right outside,”
As they stepped out of the airport, Kaila felt a surge of excitement. She was going to get to ride a motorcycle!
Craig sat down in front, put his helmet on, and handed her one as well. “You’re going to want to hold on tight to your duffel. Be sure to lean forward, and grab on if you’re not sure you can keep your balance. Bangkok’s traffic is insane.”
He was right; it was insane. How did anyone ever get anywhere in this city? Craig zoomed down the streets of Bangkok, zigging and sagging between gridlocked cars which came in all sort of bright colors. All around her, Kaila could see dozens of people on motorcycles and mopeds doing the same thing, Many had more than one passenger. She saw a pair of girls on a moped with a little white dog tucked under the arm of the girl in the back. On another moped, a couple had a baby sitting in between them! Safety regulations here were definitely more lax than in America.
As they weaved through traffic, Kaila decided to try to make some conversation over all the noise. “Where are we going?” she shouted.
“Straight to our informant! I figured you’d want to see him as soon as possible!” Craig answered. “Samut Prakan is only 38 minutes outside of Bangkok! The Samrong Canal runs through Bangkok itself, and we only have to follow it a few miles down to the city where he lives!”
“Is my father there? Have you seen him recently?”
“Kaila, I haven’t seen your father in over twenty years. I didn’t even know he’d had a daughter! Needless to say, when I heard of you, I was surprised.”
“Why didn’t you mention that in your email?”
“Sophie only asked me about my contact with your father in her last email! I don’t have internet connection where I live, so you’re lucky I happened to see the first email as quickly as I did! I was at an Internet café that morning! Usually I don’t respond to emails in such a timely matter!”
“You’ve heard of November Skies, right? You’ve seen his work?”
“An excellent writer! You think that’s your father’s work?”
“It has to be! The pen name, the new articles he’s published, even his style of writing matches my father’s!”
“You’ve done your research on the topic.”
“For months now. I had to come and see for myself if I’m right.”
“Forgive me for asking this, but what will you do if you’re wrong?”
It took Kaila a minute to answer that one. “Then I’ll finally be able to move on! But that’s not going to be the case!”
“I sincerely hope you’re right, Kaila!”
As they were switching lanes, a large, black motorcycle sped forward, nearly crushing Kaila’s leg, then passed them and drove off with a loud roar.
“Hey!” Kaila exclaimed. “Jerk!”
“Must be some sort of tourist funding his mid-life crisis!” Craig commented. “The leather jacket, the dark glasses, the flashy motorcycle, he’s not from around here!”
Kaila thought of mentioning to Craig that he sort of fit that bill as well, but thought better of it. They spent the rest of the trip in silence, a quiet blip moving across the bustling city’s radar.
After they had traversed the city for some time, Kaila noticed that the atmosphere of the buildings around them was changing. The stores and apartments which they passed were gradually growing dingier and more off-putting. Kaila found herself hunching down a bit lower in an almost subconscious self protective instinct. She’d never been in such a sketchy part of a city before.
“You doing all right back there?”
Craig must have noticed that she was stiffening.
“Yep, just fine. Are we close?”
“A couple more minutes and we’ll be there!”
A few more tight turns, and Craig stopped in front of a rather gloomy set of apartments. “Here we are.”
The stairs up to the third level were nasty. They obviously hadn’t been cleaned in months, and as Kaila rounded the corner to the next flight of stairs, she caught the unpleasant aromas of vomit and urine. Cigarette butts littered the floor.
Craig stopped in front of a plain brown door and knocked a few times. Kaila waited expectantly, unsure of what she would find on the other side.
The sound of footsteps could be heard coming toward the door. It opened to reveal a gentle faced woman. A little boy peered up at them from behind her legs. Craig said a few words to the woman in Thai. It was a very nasal language, and Kaila could tell that her last minute cramming wasn’t going to do her any good in terms of communication. The woman nodded, smiling, and motioned for them to come in.
They were ushered into a dark and barren apartment. By the entrance there stood a shoe stand with house slippers that Craig directed Kaila to replace her sneakers with. The end of the hallway branched off in two directions. The woman led them to the kitchen, and motioned for them to sit down. She then busied herself with preparing some tea.
“The name of the woman is Apsara,” Craig said softly. “Her son there is named Chaisai,”
Chaisai stood hesitantly in the hallway, obviously intrigued by the visitors. He had that sort of innocent charm only found in children. Kaila smiled encouragingly at him, but he didn’t come any closer. Maybe if she had something to entertain him…. Rustling through her backpack, Kaila pulled out Mr. Snuffles. That caught the boy’s attention. Hesitantly, he stepped forward. Kaila extended her hand, and he took the stuffed purple elephant in his own. He examined the toy carefully, then scampered over to the corner to play with it.
Seeing him holding Mr. Snuffles like that brought a sudden ache to Kaila’s heart. She missed her mom. She hadn’t felt that way for a long time, but seeing her childhood treasure being played with by Chaisai made her remember the day she got Mr. Snuffles. It was on a trip to the San Diego Zoo. She was only about 8 years old at the time. It was back when it was just her and her mom, before Robert. Kaila’s favorite animal that day had been the elephants, so when they got to the gift store at the end of their outing, her mom had picked him out for her among the other stuffed animals for sale.
“How about this one, Honey? It’ll remind you of your first time seeing the elephants,”
“Yeah! I’ll call him…. Mr. Snuffles!”
“That sounds like a wonderful name,”
Kaila felt the corners of her eyes stinging a little. Crap. This trip had been progressively turning her into more and more of a basket case. She had to keep it together.
Apsara brought the tea over. Kaila murmured her thanks. She expected Apsara to sit down then, but she was already back in the corner of the kitchen, working on finding some sort of food to offer them.
“Is Apsara the informant?” Kaila whispered. “It must have been hard for her, working and raising Chaisai,” It made her glad that her own mother hadn’t been all alone raising her. As much as Kaila found her grandfather begrudging in his care, she had to admit it provided her more time with her mother than most children of a single parent enjoyed.
“No, Apsara is Somchai’s wife,” Craig answered. “Your father knew Somchai years before he married Apsara. Even then his health was poor, but now….”
There was a shuffling sound in the hallway that cut short their whispered dialogue. Kaila looked up to see a stooped figure in the shadows. She had been expecting the informant to be in bad shape, but seeing it in person was still shocking. The man seemed to be nothing but skin and bones. She could see the veins running all over his body, and his hair had already thinned to a few wisps, even though Kaila could tell from their color that he was likely no older than Craig. The eyes which looked at her were watery, but kind.
Somchai walked into the kitchen, a distinct limp present in his gait. Taking Craig’s hands in his own her smiled warmly, then turned to Kaila.
“Hello. Please to meet you. I am Somchai. You are Kaila, yes?”