So began my hunt for the big, important people, or puyai, as they’re known in Thailand. There was the voice teacher of the child of Supachai’s boss. There was a hotel owner, close to the Post bosses and under the same corporate umbrella, who I met one night at dinner. There was a Thai senator who was known for fighting for the rights of the wronged. And then there was, most hopeful of all, the grandfather of my closest Thai friend, who had done well by developing a hair-growth shampoo. By the Thai rules of hierarchy, old and/or rich people are especially suitable for these purposes, and sure enough, he boldly contacted Supachai directly. He learned that Supachai claimed to have nothing against me, but that his lawyer was insisting he not drop the charges because in a defamation case, two foreigners (Ellis and me) were more compelling than one.
There also was a very rich Thai-Indian textile tycoon, a Sikh, who had taken an interest in my case after hearing of it from an acquaintance, a former Wall Street banker. The tycoon said he wanted to help because his daughters were journalism students and because he had no tolerance for injustice, but really I think he just wanted to play the White Knight, as did the former Wall Street banker who was assigned by the tycoon to coordinate all of our communication through a separate e-mail account. There could be no trace of the tycoon’s involvement. We would meet for lunch on Sundays at the Polo Club to discuss matters, where the tycoon, who was self-educated, preferred to lead intellectual discussions and drink whiskey.
I began to wonder whether this was such a good idea—I’d been so careful, so secretive, so distrusting—and then just like that had given everything away to this mysterious man about whom I knew almost nothing. But I was running out of time, desperate, and tired of dead ends.
The Sikh tycoon always brought a professor friend, whom he had asked to carry out a computer analysis of the plagiarism in Supachai’s thesis. Both were certain that I was being targeted not for this story, but for other, more important stories I had written. At that I realized how little they knew about anything. They were a high-maintenance pair, wanting to establish everything from the very beginning, demanding documents of all kinds from me, and I lost patience spending so much time and money copying, binding, providing them phone numbers of Supachai’s political supporters. Perhaps fortunately, they eventually got distracted with some trip, organized by the Wall Street banker, to the Redwood forests in California, and I moved on.
I was also in contact with a handful of press organizations, who encouraged me to publicize my case and to pursue a shame campaign against Supachai and Thai defamation laws. I agreed in principle, but did not want the attention for fear it would complicate my ability to leave for school. I had also been warned by lawyers that such efforts would only make things worse for me—more face lost—and that in the court of public opinion, many Thais might side with Supachai. Plagiarism is considered a minor thing, whereas causing a senior official to lose face, not so minor.
By June, I had developed chronic stomach pain and serious sleeping problems. This silly matter had become all-consuming, and I had to keep so much of it to myself. I needed to unburden myself, find the person who could just fix things. It seemed like it should be so simple to settle. I remained hopeful that Supachai would come to his senses and it would all be over.
In what I thought would be that breakthrough, Songpol, the investigations editor and my direct boss—one of the few people at the paper I still trusted—took me to court one day. He was going to attempt one last negotiation with Supachai. But Supachai didn’t show up, and sent a messenger asking to be excused for a case of diarrhea.