Tess Hardy thought she had put Luke, her violent ex-husband, firmly in her past. Then he calls from Cambodia, where he is working as a mine-clearer, and there’s something in his voice she hasn’t heard before: Fear. Two weeks later, he’s dead. Against her better judgment, Tess is drawn to Battambang to solve the mystery of Luke’s sudden death, but what she discovers there is an entire network of secrecy, terror, and lies. Below is the scene in which Tess learns about the White Crocodile.
The sign was a square of painted wood nailed to a post at the edge of the minefield, hanging crooked, as if it had been hurriedly tacked up. The stick figure of a reptile daubed on a black background. Needle-sharp teeth, a splash for an eye.
Tess realised that her hands were tattooing a rhythm against her thighs. Curling them into fists, she jammed them into her pockets. There was something written in Khmer beneath the drawing. She couldn’t read it. But she knew what the thing meant.
‘White Crocodile minefield.’ A Khmer in mine-clearance fatigues was standing watching her, his flat brown face expressionless. ‘You heard about the White Crocodile?’
Tess shook her head, and thought back six months to an English spring morning: trailing a hand along the sleek lines of a young man’s coffin.
‘No.’ She was surprised at how steady her voice was. ‘What’s the White Crocodile?’
The Khmer slotted some betel nut into his mouth, his saliva reddening as he chewed. ‘It come to Cambodia at time of important change. Present at birth of Cambodia. When Khmer Rouge took country, White Crocodile seen. This minefield.’ He gestured towards the red-and-white warning tape. ‘When this minefield found, White Crocodile here.’ He stared past her, out across the spoiled fields. ‘Seen here.’
‘So it represents fate, does it? Is that what people in Cambodia think?’
The mine clearer levelled his gaze at hers; he hadn’t understood.
‘Fate,’ she repeated. ‘Something that is meant to be. Something that you can’t change whatever you do.’
‘Bhat.’ Sudden understanding lent a gleam to his dark eyes. ‘Fate. The White Crocodile is fate.’