Hunters in the Dark

A Novel

About the Book

From the novelist the New York Times compares to Paul Bowles, Evelyn Waugh and Ian McEwan, an evocative new work of literary suspense
Adrift in Cambodia and eager to side-step a life of quiet desperation as a small-town teacher, 28-year-old Englishman Robert Grieve decides to go missing. As he crosses the border from Thailand, he tests the threshold of a new future.

And on that first night, a small windfall precipitates a chain of events-- involving a bag of “jinxed” money, a suave American, a trunk full of heroin, a hustler taxi driver, and a rich doctor’s daughter-- that changes Robert’s life forever.

Hunters in the Dark is a sophisticated game of cat and mouse redolent of the nightmares of Patricia Highsmith, where identities are blurred, greed trumps kindness, and karma is ruthless. Filled with Hitchcockian twists and turns, suffused with the steamy heat and pervasive superstition of the Cambodian jungle, and unafraid to confront difficult questions about the machinations of fate, this is a masterful novel that confirms Lawrence Osborne’s reputation as one of our finest contemporary writers.
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Praise for Hunters in the Dark

“Elegant, stylish and ambiguous …Dramatic irony, used sharply by Osborne, keeps the narrative edgy and gripping…Written with unfailing precision and beauty.”—Neel Mukherjee, Man Booker Prize-shortlisted author of The Lives of Others

“Osborne’s Cambodia is rendered beautifully… If the purpose of a novel is to take you away from the everyday and show you something different, then Osborne is succeeding, and handsomely.”—Lee Child, New York Times Book Review
“Osborne is a master at creating a subtle but unmistakable sense of impending doom…An elegant, dark, well-put together novel…The book races towards a surprising ending — one that I did not see coming.”—

"Lush and brooding...Osborne creates an atmosphere dripping with torrential rains and intrigue. Cambodia comes off as a dangerously seductive playground, plying visitors with the sultry false promise of uncomplicated abandon among the Buddhist ruins, all under the bemused gaze of the local, ethnic Khmers who know better. The risk, of course, is that there may be no easy exit from the dizzying whirlwind of escape."—Seattle Times

"A hauntingly beautiful story of greed, passion and, most importantly, karma."—San Francisco Chronicle

“Osborne recalls Graham Greene and Somerset Maugham with this densely atmospheric novel of foreigners and locals navigating fortune and fate among the lush rice fields of Cambodia."—National Geographic Traveler

"Complex in plot yet simple and intense in style, Osborne’s narrative takes us into an Asian heart of darkness.” Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

"Osborne, frequently compared to Graham Greene (The Balladof a Small Player, 2014), writes evocatively about the beauties and mysteries of Cambodia...Hunters in the Dark is a strange and heady novel sure to engage armchair travelers."—Booklist

Osborne successfully demonstrates the inextricably linked relationship between introspection and change. A deeply penetrating meditation on the human experience of belonging."—Library Journal (starred review)

"Readers will remember...Osborne's lush, vivid descriptions of a land where 'the daily thunder rolled in with a generous laziness and the trees shimmered with lightening.'"—Publishers Weekly

"Like eating fine dark chocolate, you just can’t have too much of Osborne’s latest novel. His mastery of language and his sensory encapsulation of a foreign land makes this a beautiful and creepy story, a fantastic blend of poetic language and bone-chilling tension...Similar in fashion to Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, Osborne’s beautiful, deliberative style conveys a sense of timelessness that embodies modern Cambodia, a country that guards its ancient treasures. Finally, Osborne offers up a landscape fuelled by heat and rain, and by an often menacing, sinister horizon that is dark in color but silently pulses with interior flashes of fire."—Curled Up with a Good Book

"Osborne’s brilliance as a travel writer places his web of deceit, greed and need (two of the most merciless characters are avid for money for dependants, not themselves) in a world conjured up with dazzling immediacy….Beautifully apt phrases embellish the prose: “the vivid lethargy” of the tropics, the “dallying charm” of bar-girls’ eyes… Sumptuous and sinister, languorous and tense, this is a novel that gives Osborne’s remarkable talents haunting scope." —The Sunday Times
“[A] dark, teasing, elegantly written book.”—Financial Times
“The novel generates a palpable dread as Grieve is sucked into a Cambodian demi-monde of drugs, booze and the ghosts of those murdered in the 1970s by Cambodia's homespun Robespierre, Pol Pot. Cambodia, a ‘traumatised country’, comes splendidly to life in Osborne's prose, its rice fields and Frenchified architecture. Hunters in the Dark is a tip-top thriller. Osborne knows how to keep the pages turning.”—The Independent

“Meticulously plotted, each chance encounter, however fleeting or coincidental, advents a delicate shift in the balance of the building blocks of the narrative …Compelling...With its emphasis on double identities and double-crossing, it’s inevitable that this time Patricia Highsmith will be a point of comparison. It’s an apt one, but I was also reminded of Daphne du Maurier’s 1957 novel The Scapegoat.”—The National

“In Hunters in the Dark, Osborne has created a wonderful evocation of Cambodia, that most haunted, seductive country… Pitilessly good. Those comparisons with Graham Greene aren’t even flattering anymore.”—London Evening Standard

"Steeped in the menacing, fatalistic atmosphere of a country with a bloody recent past, this is a terrific novel with an ending that is utterly gripping and satisfying"—Mail on Sunday

"The ugliness of the cruelty of that time contrasts with the beauty of the language and landscape…The writing is richly sensuous, and this atmospheric novel is filled with scenes that sear themselves into the memory… The juxtaposition of dark and light is startlingly vivid. In dazzling, luminous prose, Osborne subverts expectations, so that it’s in the darkest places that we glimpse sudden moments of light...Peripatetic characters such as Robert wander through the pages of much of Osborne’s fiction, and in them he has found his forte. It’s with expert control of the narrative here that he captures a life adrift." —Anita Sethi, The Guardian

"Osborne's elegant writing, scattered with surprising bursts of violence, takes a satisfyingly firm grip on the reader once the stumbling, naive Grieve has been cast adrift to fend for himself. The ending - after a period of rising tensions - does not disappoint." —The South China Morning Post

"An elaborate and intricately plotted danse macabre." —The Times of London

"Excellent…Grappling with manifold questions about identity and the tragic futility of material aspirations in a ruthless, brittle world, this novel draws you into a sun-struck realm where the survival of the fittest is more predicated by chance and where violence is a sudden, opportunistic enterprise." —New Statesman 

"Osborne is hitting mean form as a writer of exotic literary thrillers. ... Sensual, dream-like and gripping." —Monocle 

"The much-travelled Osborne delivers on a load of levels, not least his characters, who can ooze silky menace, or be totally soulless, desperate or lost. All are convincing in the setting of the exotic, once-deadly country. And with his easy and vivid descriptions, this masterpiece will give you prickly heat rash. 5 stars"—Sunday Sport 

"[A] rare achievement…The literary thriller is an awkward genre, usually lacking in either thrills or quality of prose, but with Hunters in the Dark, Osborne has proved once again that we can handle both and with aplomb." —Sunday Express 

"Dramatic and involving, an exhilarating adventure crafted in crisp, sharp prose...Powerful." —Literary Review 

Praise for Lawrence Osborne's The Ballad of a Small Player

New York Times 100 Notable Books of 2014 
New Yorker Best Book of 2014
An NPR Best Book of the Year
Selected as one of Kansas City Star's 100 Best Books of 2014

“Slim but insistent…A vivid and feverish portrait of a soul in self-inflicted purgatorio.”—Tom Shone, New York Times Book Review

“Osborne, a travel writer, renders the atmosphere of casinos, hotels, and restaurants seductively…[and] shows an impeccable facility for capturing the sweat-soaked suspense of the high-stakes card table.”—New Yorker

“Hypnotic…Macau and Hong Kong feel vivid and true in the novel, yet also otherworldly: Well-known landmarks and weather conditions are captured with a stillness and beauty that make them feel haunting and melancholy…But ultimately it is the uncertain fate of Doyle and the others that made me as a reader feel strangely fulfilled. The decisions they make seem connected to the thrilling and terrifying changes taking place around them. Old ways collide with a brash new world, and in this game, it is not yet clear which will emerge the winner.”—Tash Aw, for All Things Considered

“Haunting…A captivating story about the nature of addiction, the power of the supernatural and the freedom that may come from throwing everything to chance.”—NPR

"Osborne writes with weighty, aphoristic sentences...and is interested in superstition, and fate, and all things that are just beyond our control."New Yorker, Best Book of 2014

“Elegantly told…The beauty of this novel is in the elegance and precision of its prose, which renders the glaring kitsch of Macau into a series of exquisite miniatures, and draws on Osborne's reserves as a travel writer.”—The Guardian

"A searing portrait of addiction and despair set in the glittering world of Macau's casinos...Osborne's intriguing Chinese milieu and exquisite prose make this work as a standout."—Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“Osborne masterfully recreates the atmosphere of casinos as well as the psychology of baccarat players—and leaves readers eager to try their luck at the game.”—Kirkus 

"[Osborne's] darkly introspective study of decline and decay conjures apt comparisons to Paul Bowles, Graham Greene, and V. S. Naipaul."—Booklist

“Osborne’s The Forgiven, an Economist Best Book of the Year (and one of my personal Bests from last year, too), is as brilliant, unsentimental a rendering of contemporary East-West conflict and the imperfect human psyche as you are likely to find. His new work proceeds in that tradition…Don’t miss”—Library Journal

“A modern Graham Greene… Osborne is a thrilling, exceptional talent in British fiction’s landscape.” —Sunday Times (UK) 

Unavoidable comparisons will be drawn with Graham Greene’s work…[Osborne] has a masterful touch with creating mood, and a swirling, world-weary foreignness pervades the story. The Ballad of a Small Player is a layered work, a novel about addiction, love and class but given an allusive face by the way it perches constantly on some supernatural brink.”—Irish Examiner

Praise for Lawrence Osborne's The Forgiven
Selected by The Economist as one of the Best Books of the Year 2012
Selected by Library Journal as one of the Year's Best Books 2012
Year's Best Books Chosen by Writers, selected by Lionel Shriver, The Guardian 2012

“A sinister and streamlined entertainment in the tradition of Paul Bowles, Evelyn Waugh and the early Ian McEwan….This is a lean book that moves like a panther. Even better, Mr. Osborne has a keen and sometimes cruel eye for humans and their manners and morals, and for the natural world. You can open to almost any page and find brutally fine observations….surprising and dark and excellent.”
– New York Times

“Extraordinarily acute to human nature….Stylishness holds the book together, and makes all the bits of plot machinery feel new again….There are enough ways to read the book that one finishes it and immediately wants to start it again.”
– Newsweek

“A perfect storm of a novel.” – Fredericksburg Freelance Star

"A master of the high style" – The Guardian

"Osborne writes mercilessly, savagely well. He excavates his characters, and the centuries-long cultural rift between the desert people and the Western infidels with a pathologist’s precision, wrapping fear, boredom, forgiveness, judgment, honour and sexual attraction into a novel that plunges with sinister pace towards its denouement." – The Daily Mail

"Brooding, compelling...There’s a strong, almost old-fashioned moral force at work in Osborne’s novel... At the novel’s dramatic close, you could accuse Osborne of forcing the hand of moral come-uppance just a little too much — but it barely detracts from the tension he has maintained throughout the novel, and the pleasure of his bringing under such scrutiny the unpredictable behaviour of his morally tortuous characters." – The London Sunday Times

“With nods to Paul Bowles and Evelyn Waugh, Osborne portrays the vacuity of high society as gorgeously and incisively as he does the unease of cultures thrust together in the unforgiving desert.” – Publishers Weekly (starred)

“Osborne comes up with an ending that’s at the same time ironic, surprising and completely fitting. A gripping read with moral ambiguity galore.”
– Kirkus Reviews (starred)

“[A] brilliant, unsentimental rendering of contemporary East-West conflict and the imperfect human psyche….Osborne has done an extraordinary job of capturing moral complexity, never letting his characters or his readers off easy. The result should be grim reading, but instead it’s vivifying. Highly recommended.”
– Library Journal (starred)

“In the desert, all life and emotions are stripped to their very core. In his elegant and incisive second novel, travel-journalist Osborne hauntingly captures this exposed essence in all its inscrutable mystery and dispassionate brutishness.”
– Booklist Online

“No mere imitation but a contribution to the shelf on which The Sheltering Skyand The Bonfire of the Vanities also sit, The Forgiven explores the clash of two cultures, each of which feels superior to the other. Osborne's writing is uncomfortably well observed; his story is sickeningly, addictively headlong.”
– Lionel Shriver, author of We Need to Talk About Kevin

"The Forgiven shines darkly with a rich and mordant fatalism. Osborne's characters emerge like people in a dream – diamond-sharp but fascinatingly askew. His prose is gorgeous and precise; the story slices keenly through the exotic haze of its setting. It's an absolutely brilliant novel – the ending is a shock in the best way." – Kate Christensen, author of The Epicure's Lament and The Astral

“The prose of The Forgiven has a very particular, knowing luminosity, much like the tarnished world it describes. A beautiful, compelling book to savor line by line.”
– Nikita Lalwani, author of Gifted
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Hunters in the Dark

Copyright © 2015 Lawrence Osbourne


He came over the border as the lights were about to be dimmed, with the last of the migrants trailing their stringed boxes. With them came gamblers from the air-conditioned buses, returning short-time exiles tumbling out of minivans with microwaves and DVD units. The border forced them all into a defile in the rain. The gamblers complained about their summary treatment while opening plastic umbrellas provided by the tour company. It seemed a shame to them that the casinos on the other side could not manage it better. Their Bangkok shoes began to suffer in the coffee-colored mud. Between the two posts the ground was already filled with pools and the dogs waited for the money. The hustlers and drivers were there, silently smoking and watching their prey. The officer ripped away his departure card in the Thai hut and his passport came back to him and he set off for the farther side lit up by the arc lamps.

The drivers began to wave, to raise their arms and shout, but he could not hear what the words were. Carrying a single bag, he was quick on his feet. He had the aura of poverty about him, but still, he was white and therefore—in their eyes—affluent. He went under the dry eaves of the opposing nation and gave his passport anew to the men behind a shabby window. There were four windows and the men behind did not look very forgiving. They bore considerable weight in their eyes. In the bare concrete rooms, tables were set up with thermos flasks and darkened TV sets. The new king high on the walls in his wise white uniform.

“Tourist,” he said, and they charged him a surplus two dollars for not having a photograph for the visa. He counted out his baht and pushed the filthy money across the table and they stuck a full-page green visa into a page of his passport and tossed it dismissively back at him. He had a month to roam their green and pleasant kingdom and he spent the first minute looking across at the neon lights of the casinos, the dusk and the men waving at him.

The pools opening up under the lamps had grown green as well and he walked gingerly around them with his shoulder bag and his straw hat growing soggy as the rain enveloped him.
“Sir, taxi,” the men were crying, already each one setting off toward a large run-down Japanese car. Forced to pick one at random, he chose a man with a Toyota and an umbrella and it was seven dollars into Pailin. Above them shone the red and blue lights of the Diamond Crown casino. But he was tired and not yet in the mood for a fling on the tables. He resolved to return the following night.

He sat in the backseat and drank from the bottle of iced tea he had bought at the border stalls. The verges were filmed red with sticky and wettened dust and in the dark were rolling green hills dotted with primeval-looking, isolated trees. Fields of mung and shaggy sugarcane. It was windy, the sky jagged with storm clouds and a Peeping-Tom moon. The site of a disaster, or of a disaster about to happen. The earth dark with iron and cloying and musty to the nose. He was down to a hundred dollars so he asked the driver to take him to a cheap place for the night, he didn’t care where. Turning his head for a moment, the driver told him there were only two or three choices in the town anyway and none of them was the Hilton. A half hour later they were passing the traffic circles of the town, a few roadside bars with red Angkor beer signs. A small park with twelve golden horses prancing in a grit-filled wind.

The man took him to a place called the Hang Meas. It was on the main road to the border, which was lined by one-story shops. Pailin, to his eye, was clearly a place with three streets and little more. A town built on illegal gemstones and the undeparted Khmer Rouge. A dead and absurd sign on the hotel’s facade read, as if contradicting its current lamentable state, Le Manoir de Pailin. The establishment’s pink walls and the karaoke club on the ground floor gave a further dying look to it—he could tell that it was about to close. There were life-size sculptures of deer on the roof gazing out to the Cardamom Mountains and white glass-ball lamps on the balcony. A huge model cockerel stood in the car park and next to it a spirit house filled with kneeling figures with painted white hair and beards. The ancestors of that windswept place, secretly connected to the fields and the mountains which could be seen even in the night. The car left him by them and he waded into a decrepit lobby with his wet hat and his chills and the girls looked up with a subtle contempt.
He sat in a leather chair by some fish tanks while they photocopied his passport and stamped the forms, and he saw the entertainment hall next door to the lobby with a multitude of red pillars wrapped with ribbons and covered with mirrors. In there the karaoke was going on, Viet or Chinese businessmen singing badly. The girls were in clasped silk skirts playing them for a song. It was a Bee Gees number, “How Deep Is Your Love?”
A girl ambled over and invited him to come with her to the room on the third floor. They went up the stairs and their scents came into awkward contact.
“Holiday?” she said, as if it was the sole English word she had.’
“Business,” he said.
It was the word that usually ended all conversations.
“We closed next week,” she said sadly.
They came into the room and the same smell pervaded it. It’s OK, he said, as if there was a choice in the matter. She showed him the workings of a few switches and left him alone. He turned on the AC, stripped off and took a tepid bath with the lights on. One had to fear such a wonderland of roaches. He smoked his last three Thai cigarettes and considered if he had the gall or the energy to go out straight away and find a casino. There would be little else to do here anyway. The other foreigners who crossed the border—nearly all Thai—either went straight back into Thailand or carried on toward the capital, a mere five hours away. They would have to think of a reason to stay in Pailin. He would have to think of a reason other than not having more than a hundred dollars. But it was a reason, at least. He opened his bag and pulled out a cheap dress shirt and pressed it out with the iron in the cupboard. He could make himself half presentable after a shave and an oiling of the hair.

At nine thirty he went down to the lobby and asked them to call a taxi to the gates to drive him to one of the casinos back at Phum Psar Prum. He strolled out in his awkward shirt, his pockets filled with US dollars, and the car was summoned by the boys outside in their “security” uniforms. He said “Casinos” to the car that pulled up, and when he added that he didn’t know which one, there was a confusing consultation. In the end he was driven to the towering place he had seen an hour or two earlier, the Diamond Crown. It was a pointless forty minutes driving there and back again, but he didn’t mind. Anything was better than karaoke or an empty room.

The Diamond loomed over the village around it. There was a forecourt garden of towering palms, and a blaze of neon across the facade in Latin and Khmer lettering. Outlines of playing cards and golden women. A KTV to the right, and a hotel of the same name. Inside, red carpets, sky-blue vaults with painted clouds. There were Chinese shrines; a tacky, run-down feel. The tables were green felt. The Khmer girls in their equivalent green waistcoats watched him slowly with a dim interest. In one corner two staff workers struggled with a large rolled carpet. It was a hot crowd, mostly Thais playing simple poker and baccarat and roulette. They looked like officer workers on a lost weekend. He walked around sizing it up and wondering if he had luck on his side that night, or ever, for that matter. Finally he sat at a drunken table and played roulette for five-dollar bets against a ring of Thai middle managers downing the Sang Som and Yaa Dong and far gone in their daze. There was no time to calculate or think and later he thought to himself that this was how he had won. It’s how an outsider always wins. He pulled in two hundred, packed up and went outside to buy some Alain Delons. At the far end of the forecourt was an outdoor restaurant filled with half-dead gamblers and he sat there and smoked and saw that the moon had appeared again out of the fast-moving black storm clouds.

Fireflies now shone in groomed-looking frangipani trees nearby and he felt his skin moisten and harden at the same time. He had spent nearly all his cash and was due to go back to the homeland, but he had stuck his neck out for a few days across the border and suddenly it seemed to have paid off. It sometimes came up like that, a flash of good luck out of nowhere and the night—and the nights after—looked a little different. A little more and he’d be able to pay the fee to change the ticket home and linger on. You want to linger on sometimes, when there is nothing better awaiting. A teacher from England did not have any worlds at his feet. He did not have anything at his feet but doormats and cigarette butts and the plucked fins of cooked fish.

The Alain Delons were harsh but the face of the French actor was everywhere on the billboards. He smiled down above the streets on scaffolds, his face from around 1960 more youthful than the twenty-eight-year-old Englishman’s. So time passed but not for Delon, not for the immortals.
He lit a second cigarette and smoked it down just as coolly and slowly. The waiters didn’t even bother to give him a menu. There were no barangs here and he didn’t fit the scheme. Yet he liked this new country a little better than the previous one. It had a different feel to it, a slower spin.
As a teacher he profited from a long summer holiday. Two months were enough to slip away entirely from one’s life, however complicated that life might be. But as it happened his life was not complicated at all. He lived alone at the edges of a town called Burgess Hill, close to the Sussex Downs, in a damp cottage with a wooden lintel and horseshoes decorating the walls. He had not even redecorated it to his taste. He had done very little to personalize anything in his surroundings. He did not, in the end, raise much objection to his own passivity. It suited him.
Did it make him dull? He didn’t mind. The dullness was only an impression made upon outsiders, to whom he was, in turn, completely indifferent. He had gone through three years at the University of Sussex as inconspicuously as he could. Studying English and dallying with a few girlfriends. There had not been much more to it than that. A dream that passed quickly. He had chosen the university because it was close to his family, to his parents, and even to his grandparents, who lived in a council house in Bevendean on the road from Brighton to Falmer. They were a family whose members never strayed far from each other. The elements of life remained stable. He could take a bus to the Bevendean estate every weekend and walk to his grandmother’s gooseberry bushes. They made him trifle and he went for walks in the hills above the estate.

Outwardly, he remained stable as well. Even his haircut remained the same for years. Long at the back, with a parting to the right. Weekends, after visiting his family, he went to the rowdier pubs in Lewes and sat at the bars and talked to strangers. Then he left on his own and rode his motorbike back to his cottage. This invariable pattern was never broken by anything surprising. Naturally, he reasoned, this was because he wanted it to be so. His unconscious wanted it, and therefore he wanted it. It was like a period of waiting, or a period of sleep from which he would suddenly wake up armed with a sword.

But every year there came the summer holidays and with his free two months he tried to engineer a few surprises. One year he went to the island of Hydra in Greece. Another summer saw him in Iceland. He went alone and came back alone, and he was mostly alone when he was there. Even in Hydra he was alone, walking the dust paths that ran around the island. Swimming alone, eating alone. Most importantly, sleeping alone. He couldn’t say why he was alone; he was pretty in his way. But then again he was a dreamer and a loner. It was the way he was.

Iceland and Greece: the northern extreme of Europe and the southern. But he had found them to be remarkably similar. All he had come back with were photographs and a general irritability. There were times on Hydra, in particular, when he had felt something more like rage. He never told anyone where he was going, not even his parents. He would say, “I’m off to Greece,” and they would say, “Oh, are you? Take care then.” But his rage was not obvious to himself. What was it directed against? Not the Greeks. Not the ruins of the house of Ghika looking over that beautiful sea. Something else. Sometimes he thought it was merely his own anxious, unsteady blue eyes staring back at him from a hotel bathroom mirror. Could you feel rage against that?

Places in Europe, he sensed, were now the same tourist mills. The same restaurants, the same nightclubs, the same hotels, the same sexual escapades. This summer, however, he had saved up for two years so that when July had come around he would have the money to sail off into a deeper, more distant, blue. He had never traveled very extensively when he was younger and resented that he had never explored much of the planet. And even now, the Far East was not that far. The flight to Bangkok had been less than six hundred pounds.

He went back inside the Diamond. He felt even cockier and surer now and sat at a different table, but one nevertheless swarmed by the same Thai managers with their throat-scorching herbal Yaa Dong. The game itself was still a mystery to him. He had never even played cards much, let alone roulette. His game was amateur chess. But now he felt the attraction of a larger risk, a more uncertain venture. He played for an hour, throwing down his bets blind and hoping for the best. There was a hilarity in it. And the voice in his head urging “One more, one more” until he was running with the unfamiliar idea of playing and imperiling his small amount of capital. It was the kind of spontaneous risk that ordinarily he never took. He threw himself into it innocently. It turned out well. Who could understand it? Then, as if in a single moment, he had a thousand and the staff began to notice. The girls came over in their starched white blouses and bow ties and asked him if he would like a Black Label or a vodka neat or, you know, an orange juice or some fried ants. If it was a joke he didn’t know and he took a Black Label and looked at the clock on the far-off wall and decided that he might as well keep on destroying the middle managers and padding his new nest.

He did so. It was the moon, of course. It was something in the atmosphere. Soon he had two grand and some change and that was a fair winning for the Diamond Crown. Before unease set in and decline came upon him he wrapped it up with two grand in US dollars and collected the stash at the window without ceremony. The staff didn’t seem especially put out or surprised. The Thais were often high rollers themselves and wasted extraordinary amounts of money in the border casinos. It was something they saw every week.

“You have a heart of gold,” the floor manager said as he escorted him out, and as he passed to the gates he saw Alain Delon smiling down from his scaffold and the moon full of juice rising above the one-story shops and the road where the motodops waited. He could sense unlit roads rising up the hillside with dark bars and men with bottles in their hands. It was quicksand, all of it. He took the cash out of its envelope and squeezed it into one of his front pockets and took a farewell of the thugs in cheap suits who had come out to stare him down. They wanted to remember his face.
HE TOOK A motodop back into Pailin. The town was now almost asleep and in the Hang Meas restaurant he ordered a pho and a Lao beer and pork satay with cucumbers. The karaoke was still going strong and the grounds were alive with roaming Khmer girls in heels, their eyes finding him with ease and laying upon him a dallying charm. He drank on with the dark Lao beer all alone in that restaurant with the red lanterns stirring quietly as the wind picked up, the long tassels moving slowly back and forth like horse tails. Two thousand. It was something from the half-forgotten realm of sorcery. Years ago, he thought, you got an education for nothing and now here you are, boy, a rabbit shooting out of a hat, all set up with no future at all but with a stroke of luck that has served you right. It was a fine thing and no one saw it coming. Moreover, he resolved never to set foot in a casino ever again. He was not going to lose what he had won so flippantly. He was going to hold on to it and plant it for a while and, if possible, make it flower.

About the Author

Lawrence Osborne
Lawrence Osborne is the author of The ForgivenThe Ballad of a Small PlayerHunters in the Dark, and six books of nonfiction. His short story "Volcano" was selected for the Best American Short Stories 2012, and he has written for the New York Times magazine, The New Yorker, New York Times Book Review, ForbesHarper's, and several other publications. He lives in Bangkok. More by Lawrence Osborne
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