This week Fat-Fat invites Jack to a nice dinner.
Selections from Arno Petty’s Intelligencer and Weekly Gleaner
- GLUTTONY. Everybody’s talking about runaway corruption, but exactly what is this thing? The Thais call being ‘on the take’ kin, which is the same as ‘eat.’ Now, it might be a mistake to confuse real corruption with kin tham nam, which is only the traditional ‘eating,’ where you offer public officials a kind of unofficial commission, say about 10% as a token of one’s gratitude and respect. This is done. Real corruption is properly speaking only the rapacious kin tuam nam, where those in positions of power and authority start to take, take, take with no sense of proportion and no sense of responsibility towards those less advantaged. This is the behavior that has more and more of the Thai people questioning the direction national development has been taking lately.
- NO COUPS IS GOOD NEWS. The government has announced that any rumors of an imminent coup are entirely without foundation, and it is nobody but people who want to manipulate the stock market for their own dark ends who keep spreading this nonsense. Okay?
Fat Fat was dressed in an Aloha shirt with palm trees on it, maybe three acres of palm trees and they still didn’t cover his belly. He was pissed off at me, though he was smiling a lot.
Mr Hung Fat, or “Fat Fat” as he was more often called, though not within his hearing, was sitting at a table with a couple of smaller and more self-effacing fat Chinese men. The smallest of the three was obviously the second in command. His voice was a husky wheeze, and his English was good.
“You annoy Mr Fat,” he told me.
I took out a cigarette and lit it, but Fatman No.1 said, “No. No smoking.” He snatched it out of my mouth and threw it into the spittoon under the table, leaving me to inhale the toke I’d managed off the match straight down to my toes. And that only made it worse. Now I really wanted a cigarette.
“Fat Fat doesn’t like smoking. He always says your body is a temple; why do you want to poison it?”
Fat Fat smirked at me self-righteously.
At another table, over against the wall, sat four goons — the same four who had done a dance on me the other day. Fun kept showing me all his teeth. Possibly he was smiling; it was hard to say.
There was also a fat Chinese maitre d’ and so many skinny Chinese waiters buzzing around the table you might have thought there was somebody important around the joint, or maybe the food critic from the New York Times.
Fat Fat had asked me to join him there in the New Great Wall Restaurant, he told me, because he had something he wanted to discuss. He especially wanted me to join him; in fact, he even sent me his car and driver. So when I got back from the snooker parlor that evening, and I had gotten out of the cab at the mouth of our soi, thinking to pick up some beer on the way home, I was approached by three men. Two of them had guns pointed at me; the third just grinned at me with his big mouthful of dirty teeth. We had met before.
I’ll tell the truth: I would rather have been lying dead under a bus than go for a ride with these gentlemen, but I didn’t tell them this since they might have been offended, and I could see it was best not to offend people such as these. In the car my careful inquiries regarding the purpose of this nice drive was received with shakes of the head. When I persisted in reasonable tones, my voice hardly shaking at all, a fourth man, the driver, said “You no talk!” and Fun shoved his automatic pistol up against my ribcage hard enough it hurt, this ribcage being the same one he had earlier used for place-kicking practice. “Farang dogshit,” he said by way of explanation. So I decided to stop persisting.
And now I found myself in the back room of the New Great Wall Restaurant. Fat Fat was eating with gusto. If only he had a Jewish grandmother, it would have done her heart good to see how he ate. Eyes hooded behind fat eyelids, he was concentrating on getting rid of as much food and drink as he could as fast as possible, fingers and chopsticks darting and snatching and tearing and flipping bits of food back into his greasy maw. Sweat glistened all over his face and his bald head and he kept wiping at himself with a damp cloth. He never stopped chewing, even when he had something to say, which was quite often; and once in a while he barked at the maitre d’, who then barked at the waiters.
Not always fast enough, though, did the maitre d’ bark. Fat Fat banged the ice bucket on the table a few times so water and some ice sloshed over onto the floor. He wanted fresh ice. The big bottle of Chivas on the table was still three-quarters full, and he waved some eager waiters away from it as he topped up first his glass and then those of his buddies. A regular potentate he was, dispensing favors on all sides. He fished up some pieces of squid and dropped them on his friends’ plates, yapping away in Chinese, stuff flying from his fat lips, a gob of something stuck amid the beads of sweat on one jowl. Then he remembered me, and he dropped some squid on my plate too. His shirt was pulled up so the air could get at the sweat on his vast belly.
There was a mobile telephone on the trolley, and every so often it yelped for attention. Whenever this happened a waiter would bring the machine to the guy I thought of as Fat Man No.2, who would then answer it. He would say a few things into the phone, and then say a few things to Fat, who would then bark, and the lesser fat man would bark in a similar way back into the phone and hang up. This happened two or three times, and once Fat himself, first wiping his hands carefully on the tablecloth, took the phone and barked like an enraged dog for a while into the mouthpiece. This time he handed the phone back to his assistant, who hung it up and passed the machine back to the waiter.
“I get a complaint.” Fat Fat suddenly turned his attention to me. “My people bring me a problem.”
Fat Fat seemed fairly humorless, on the whole, but every now and then, apropos of nothing I could see, his belly started to shake and he had a quick fit of giggling. He would grab his whiskey glass and spin the ice round and round before he belted the drink back and then topped it up again. It was always him that poured the whiskey; he kept the bottle handy beside him.
He smacked his lips as he ate, smacks of self-satisfaction and appetite. He sucked his teeth loudly, and then he sucked on a little rib bone. He held it to his mouth and chewed at it and sucked it and then popped the whole thing in and gnawed away for a minute before leaning down and spitting it with a clang into the spittoon under the table. He followed this by inhaling sharply, clearing his nose and expelling a great luscious gob.
Then he nodded to Fatman No.1, saying “Tell him the problem.”
“Some of our people have this tape business,” the lesser fatman told me in wheezy but idiomatic English. “They sell cheap tapes to anybody with a taste for music; it’s like a public service, you think how expensive tapes can be in the big stores. Many smaller businessmen work for our people; they take the merchandise out into the streets where the public can see what they got. One of these employees, then, has a problem. He bothers no one, minds his own business and makes a living for his family. You know what I’m saying?”
I had a feeling I did, though I didn’t say anything. It turned out, as the story unfolded, this small businessman was complaining that a farang was poking his nose in and telling him he couldn’t sell tapes no matter how hungry his family was, just because this farang didn’t like music.
Both of the lesser fatmen were giving me hard looks now, as though I was something unpleasant sitting there at the table. And when I thought about it, the two smaller sidekicks didn’t seem so small any more, and they didn’t seem so self-effacing. The way they looked at me, in fact, you got the idea they wanted me to think life was a dangerous practice, and maybe I had some nerve enjoying this thing at the same table as them. Fat Fat, on the other hand, turned twice as genial as he was before, and it was clear there was nothing he wouldn’t do to make me happy. He giggled and shook and emptied his glass. Then he flung some bits of stuff from a dish onto my plate and said “Eat.” And so I did. It was tasty.
Did I know what I was eating ? Fat wanted to know.
As far as I was concerned, this was something you didn’t ask when you were eating Chinese food. But this guy was my host, and he was asking me a polite question, so I answered him truthfully. “I don’t know,” I said.
He and his henchmen tittered and shook like a trio of agitated blowfish on a line.
“This is pig’s — what you call it? — uterus. You know? Pig’s uterus. Where they keep the baby. Hee, hee.”
This was actually something of a relief to me; and I don’t mind saying I didn’t give a shit if this was a pig’s uterus or not, since I knew the Chinese would cook anything they could get in a pot, and I could think of many things worse to eat than a pig’s uterus. This particular one was quite tasty, actually, and caused me no grief to eat whether I knew it was where they kept the baby or not.
Still, it was funny, but I had to fight off this impulse to pretend this dish shocked me only because that was what Fat wanted. Nevertheless, what I said was “Really? Pig’s uterus? My, my; how nice.”
“You. You drink whiskey. Chivas.” He poured me a whole tumblerful, and just when I got around to wondering where I was going to put the ice and, I wished, some water, he reached over and dropped a handful of ice right in there on top of the booze so it poured out over the sides and onto the table with all the other slop. He wiped his hand on his shirt-front, and then he wiped it across his forehead.
I was thinking I didn’t want to drink this neat whiskey, I didn’t care how much Fat Fat wished me well; but he and his buddies were watching me expectantly, and there was an uncomfortable silence going on. Then I thought, Fat Fat was so casual this had to be an informal affair, and I was probably making a mistake by getting too uptight, so I grabbed a bottle of water off the trolley and I dumped it right in on top of the ice, so even more whiskey went all over the table. I kept pouring till it looked about right. Then I picked up the glass and smiled and wished everybody a long life.
There was whiskey and water all over the place now, and it was running down into the lap of one of the minor deities, Fatman No.2, not the one who was responsible for translating Fat Fat’s thoughts into English. This individual shifted his chair and looked at Fat Fat; then he looked at me; then he looked back and forth again between Fat Fat and me. He reminded me of a Doberman, if only Dobermans were fat and Chinese, a Doberman begging to be let off the leash. I gave him a big smile and tried another toast, this one in Thai. “Chok dee,” I said.
“In Chinese,” Fat Fat told me, “we say ‘yam sing.’ When we say yam sing, everybody goes bottoms up.” Then he giggled and said “Yam sing,” chugging his glass to show me how. Everybody looked at me for a while, and I looked at them. Then I gulped my whiskey down. I reached for the water bottle, but a lesser fatman slapped my hand away. Fat Fat smiled at me some more as he poured the whiskey.
So this tape vendor, Fat Fat’s mouthpiece continued, was unhappy with this other person who wanted to stand in the way of commerce, and he told his superiors that he wanted this person taken care of. In fact he would like to see him dead, and not too painlessly at that.
This was not thought to be a problem, but then a question arose: did the gunman get a bonus because this was a farang he was going to hit, or not? (Fatman No.1 told me he forgot to say, this was a farang we were talking about.) Not, was what his bosses had to say about it. Why was anybody going to pay a bonus just to hit some penny-ante farang scribe, nobody had ever heard of him? And he couldn’t even get the business of being a farang straight; there he was living on Soi Boondocks in some dump with a Thai mia who was moreover from the Isarn and not even beautiful; everybody knew all the women from the Northeast had skin dark as a rice farmer. No, forget it. The fee was 10,000 baht, take it or leave it.
So the gunman put in a grievance. The gunman said that the hit was a farang, and even if he was a nobody he was a farang nobody, and there should be a bonus. Before long Fat himself happened to catch wind of this. Since he was the boss of all bosses in this organization, the “bot of all bots,” he said they would do it his way. What he decided was that Fun — for it was none other — should get his bonus. But he should get it not to kill the farang, exactly. That was too good for the likes of a pain in the neck of this caliber, and dead reporters were not so much fun as live ones could be anyway.
“I don’t like farang, you know?” Fat interrupted, smiling at me some more and pouring whiskey into my glass, even though it was already full. I poured more water on top of it, and got a look from the fatmen. “And I hate reporters.”
Fat had a certain prejudice in this regard, as he let me know. He didn’t care if they were farang reporters or Thai reporters. They were always going around writing about things they had no business writing about, as well as about other things they didn’t understand. So he didn’t mind paying some money to make some reporter’s life uncomfortable. He told Fun merely to teach the farang a lesson — take his girlfriend, and boot the reporter around some. But he should make sure he didn’t break any fingers in the process because they wanted this writer to be in good working order when they needed him. Same with the girlfriend. She had to be in good working condition for when they needed her. “Hee, hee.” Everybody at the table laughed at this, when Fat Fat repeated it in Chinese and in Thai as well, so the punks at the other table could also enjoy the joke.
“I guess it is me who is this farang,” I told Fat Fat, and he beamed at me as though he was proud of my precociousness. “But you have made a mistake …”
Fat Fat stopped beaming. Everybody else immediately stopped smiling as well. “Farang. It is you who make mistake.
“You make the mistake, farang. Why you write bad things about me?” Fat Fat was smiling again, though not reassuringly. “Eh? Why?” He poured another drink.
What bad things? I had never written anything about Fat Fat. Not a single thing that I could think of.
“These things are not your business,” said the interpreter. “Why you want to make Khun Fat look bad? You don’t know him. ‘Izzy Scoop.’ You don’t even use your real name. Why? You afraid? This stupid nickname you give Mr Fat. This doesn’t make him happy. No. You call him a gangster; and you don’t do it with respect. You talk about Khun Sa and these other punks — these ‘warlords’ and these ‘kingpins.’ But you only call Mr Fat stupid names.”
“Wait a minute,” I was beginning to get an idea of what was what. “I’m not Izzy Scoop. You’ve got the wrong man here. I’m Arno Petty. I never said anything bad about you. Like you say, I don’t even know you.”
“You’re not Izzy Scoop? Our people tell us it is you who are this farang reporter who should be dead, for sure. It must be. If it isn’t, then who is? Who is Izzy Scoop? You tell us.”
“I don’t know,” I tell him. “I only know it isn’t me. You ask at the Bangkok Globe; they’ll tell you — I’m Arno Petty.”
“Arno Petty in Thailand; Izzy Scoop in Hong Kong — that’s right? You think you can say anything, hide behind this stupid name. You are Izzy Scoop.”
“Is-sey. Is-sey shit,” added Fun from the other table, where the boys were getting bored. Probably it was because they got to drink nothing but tea and water and no whiskey, imported or otherwise.
“So this is what we’re going to do,” said Fatman No.1. “Mr Fat sees he’s getting this bad press, and it makes him unhappy. He has been talking with his advisors, and he decides he needs to pay more attention to public relations. Here he is, he likes kids, he is concerned about the environment and Thai youth and rural development and everything, and what does he get? He gets called criminal. How can he be a criminal? He is rich. He has many friends, big people in this country. He gives money to many charities. And you are going to help him.”
“You,” Fat Fat told me. “You work for me now. Unnerstan’?”
I didn’t like the sound of this. “Sorry,” I answered him. “I don’t understand. What do you mean I work for you?”
“You work for Khun Fat any way he tells you to work for him,” said the interpreter.
“Farang dogshit.” Fun added a comment from the next table.
“Shut up!” This was directed at Fun from Fatman No.1.
“I still don’t understand …” I began.
“Shut up!” the other minor fatman said to me, the first English I had heard from him.
“But why did you try to have me killed?” I asked Fat Fat. “It is not easy to write nice things about you or about anybody else either, when a writer is dead. And there you had those guys shooting at me in the taxi. My best pipe is totally ruined.”
“Kill you?” Fat Fat acted surprised. “Why? I kill you, you don’t know I’m pissed off. No, no. This better policy, what happens to you now.”
Fatman No.1 laughed, and he told me it must have been somebody else shooting at me in taxis. It looked like I had lots of friends. If Mr Fat wanted me shot in a taxi, he could promise me, then I would never be found sitting around talking about this to anybody afterwards. Did I get the message?
I got it. Suddenly I also got another message. I was making a big mistake in trying to convince them I wasn’t Izzy Scoop. If they realized now that I was only Jack Shackaway, nemesis of the tape vendors, and not really the great writer Izzy Scoop, then I was for sure a dead man.
Then Fatman No.1 gave me my first assignment. It was easy, he said. And I would be paid. Hung Fat was building a luxury condominium and office tower, and he wanted a brochure, one that would tell all the investors what a good deal this was and what kind of class they were looking at. I would write this brochure, and I would do a good job. Why would I do a good job? Because if I didn’t, then I wasn’t a good writer; and if I wasn’t a good writer, they would have no further need for me. If they had no need for me, then the last place on Earth either me or anybody else would ever want to be was in my shoes. They would cut off my hands, to begin with, while they thought of where to go from there, possibly leaving me my feet so I had something to stand in my own shoes with, but not necessarily for long. Did I understand?
I understood, I told him, even though I didn’t, not entirely.
Then, after they had looked at this brochure, which I would bring to our very next meeting, they would tell me what my next assignment was.
What about the girl? I asked. What about Bia?
“Beer?” Fat Fat looked confused.
“Gurh-f’en you? I keep some time.”
“Insurance,” Fatman No.1 elaborated, “in case you decide you can get along with no hands, figuring you can type with your nose, for example. Then we still got your girl. Though I don’t know why you should care.”
This got Fat Fat wheezing and giggling and fluttering his hands around. In fact, all the fatmen giggled together and shook and fluttered and flapped as though somebody had just inflated a gaggle of geese with laughing gas.
You write the brochure, I was told. We would talk about the girl next time. And that was that. Fatman No.1 flopped back into his chair; and Fat Fat looked pleased.
“You won’t do anything to hurt the girl?” I asked. “If I do a good job, you’ll let her go? You won’t hurt her?”
“Shut up!” said Fatman No.2, thereby probably exhausting his entire repertoire in English, and maybe in Chinese too, who knows.
“Farang dogshit!” added Fun from the other table.
“Shut up!” said Fatman No.1, either to me or else to Fun, I couldn’t tell which.
Fat Fat ordered tea and cookies and splashed noisily in his finger bowl. Then he smoked. It was okay for him to smoke, I learned. Only it wasn’t tobacco. It was Thai stick, the sweet smell of ganja slightly nauseating to me. I wanted a cigarette. He sipped from a tortoise-shell holder that he held like a candle, expelling the smoke in tiny blue curls from his nose, occasionally hawking and spitting into the brass vessel under the table.
“You do what we tell you,” said Fat Fat, at one point.
“Then we see about your ‘girlfriend.’” Fatman No.1 sneered.
The place had closed up, and we were the only people still there, except for the maitre d’ and the half dozen waiters. The door was locked and the curtains drawn across the windows. Nice and cozy.
Fat Fat was making a big production of checking through the bill, which was about two yards long. Every now and then he barked at the maitre d’ and stabbed at some item with a pudgy finger, but whatever answers he was getting left him happy, I guess, because each time he just grunted and continued on.
It was funny; I was so blown away I was having trouble focusing, but Fat Fat seemed dead sober now, except that he was all flushed. Dead serious and sober. After he had checked the addition, he slapped a bunch of 500 baht notes on the silver tray the waiter brought. I didn’t know how much it was, but Fat Fat waved it away contemptuously, and the staff started wai-ing and groveling and smiling like they were in great pain, they were so grateful.
He called one of the waiters over, then. A little one, his face squeezed tight with fear. Fat Fat barked, and the waiter shriveled up some more and started to motormouth in a low voice, all of it Chinese, and he might as well have been speaking Greek as far as I was concerned. Fat Fat barked again, and the waiter bent to get the spittoon from under the table. He held it out to Fat Fat, who proceeded to pour a bottle of soda water into it. Then, without further ado, the waiter hoisted the thing and began gulping away. Only for a gulp or two, actually. At that point he started upchucking into the spittoon, puking till he had the dry heaves. One of the lesser fatmen said something to the waiter, and he took another swig from the brass vessel, immediately spewing it back again. Fat giggled.
I was sitting there trying not to spew, myself. My dinner companions started to leave the table, Fat Fat first. Fun and friends had taken up positions by the door like proper heavies, eyeing me as though I might turn into a howitzer or something. As the minor deities ballooned to their feet in drunken defiance of gravity, the interpreter picked up the half-empty bottle of whiskey remaining and leaned over to pour it into my glass. All of it. Then he poured a large bottle of water into it as well, with the result I was fairly wet from the runoff. He stared into my face for a few seconds and then smiled. “You work for Mr Fat,” he wheezed.
Fat Fat had one more giggling fit and then made his exit, his entourage behind him. I just sat there for a while in my puddle, thinking about things and feeling sorry for the little waiter, who was shaking so badly he was having a hard time finding his chin with a towel, trying to wipe the mess off. The maitre d’ told me they were closed, and I left.
Next week Jack tries explaining to Mu why he reeks of whiskey, and he meets a couple of inadequate Mr Fixits that Cousin Rhot has recruited.