Last week, Hippolyte Lafleur advised Jack to stop doing the Funky Chicken in the middle of everyone else’s nice waltz. This week Jack gets another warning.
Selections from Arno Petty’s Intelligencer and Weekly Gleaner
THE BETTER PART OF VALOR. Too often tourists take exception to the admittedly obnoxious touts on Patpong Road, and find themselves involved in fisticuffs. Be advised that anybody in these parts you asked would probably guess the Marquis de Queensbury was a new hotel. Locally, a fight is settled by force majeure, this being force of sheer numbers armed with instruments both blunt and sharp. It’s far better to keep smiling, come what may, and remove your person from the area of aggravation. It’s the Thai Way.
MUAY THAI. It is often said that Thai-style boxing is more deadly than any other martial art, and that a muay thai adept will make short work of karate experts and such-like. Be that as it may, one very real difference between these other schools of mayhem and muay thai is that muay thai is a full-contact sport, and there are about 50,000 practitioners of the art in the country at any given time — an impressive pool of hardened fighters, well seasoned by real combat.
I was walking along our little street wondering if I should pick up a bag of somtam or whether Mu had already bought some, when I noticed two guys leaning against the weathered teak and corrugated iron grocery shop up ahead. I got this feeling right away they were not merely hanging around waiting for dinner. They peeled off the wall and moved out into the street, exchanging looks and making some laughing remarks in Thai I didn’t quite catch. Two young guys, probably in their early twenties. Dressed in T-shirts and jeans. I saw them kick off their rubber thongs as they moved out, loose limbed, fit looking. Purposeful.
I saw that it might be a good idea to walk the other way for awhile. Maybe even run; there’s nothing like a good run before dinner. But when I turned around to start this new health regimen, what should I see but two more young men, and they were from the same cookie cutter as the other two, except for one of them who was wearing shoes and who had a mouthful of choppers like somebody tossed them in with a shovel. When I looked closer I could see he was also older than his buddies. He was grinning away like Dale Carnegie gone berserk, and he called softly to me: “You! You!” Then I heard the same thing from his buddies behind me.
My heart started pounding, and some other part of me was pumping adrenaline so hard I could feel it squirt. Things were happening too quickly for me to develop a tremble in the knees or any sick feeling in the gut. What the hell, I thought. I saw myself already dead; I felt only that I must first wreak some havoc, cause some pain, smash some flesh as my part in this scenario. I wondered if Mu was home yet. I tried taking a hard look at the guy with the mouthful of dirty ivory and I said, “Arai, na? What?” I even sneered a little, though this sneer tended to slide off my face when they came for me. They were going to use their feet. I knew that. Every Thai boy grows up with Thai boxing, kung fu movies, and takraw, this superathletic game that is much like volleyball, except you can only use your feet and head. Thais have intelligent feet.
I was vaguely aware of a gang of children huddled off to the side, gravely curious. Further along the lane there were a few adults; they were wearing expressions of distaste, even dismay. A monk stopped at the gate to the temple, and I saw him wince and draw his orange robes more tightly about his body as he stood there watching. All of these things I saw in the seconds I had left, and I saw no hope. Not even in the tae kwon do lessons I had taken two years before did I see any hope. Still, when the one on the right in front of me unleashed a kick I blocked it with a kick of my own, fists up to block Mr Front Left as I pivoted towards Mr Left Rear with another maneuver in mind — a sweep kick to take him off his feet in just the way my instructor had showed me back when. I prepared to do this, but instead I felt a sudden sickening pain spreading out from my kidney where Mr Right Rear had just planted a calloused foot of his own. A whole variety of unpleasant shocks and sensations followed, quickly blurring into one generalized sense of acute malaise.
My defense strategy amounted to curling up on the road like an armadillo, writing off my kidneys and head in favor of my testicles and face. My physical face, I mean. In other respects, of course, you might have called this situation a bad case of naa tak — what the Thais refer to as “broken face.” Loss of face, acute embarrassment, whatever. And I was coughing; all this booting about of my person had started up my smoker’s cough. In the mornings, sometimes, Mu would tell me I was killing myself. I told myself if I lived through this little contretemps, I would finally give up smoking for sure.
Actually, these gentlemen concentrated on my arms and legs, in the end, and most of the damage was in fact to my self-esteem. I was still conscious when one of them, the one with the teeth, bent down close to me and hissed in pretty terrible English, “You! Farang. My bot, the Big Bot, says to tell you ‘Her-ro.’ He says to tell you, you are dogshit. You make him an-glee, so he take f’en you, you raidy. Maybe he give back sometime. When he finish. Kowchai? Dogshit … You! Unnerstan?”
I was afraid I did understand, and this made me try something foolish; I tried to remove all of this emissary’s teeth with a back-handed fist. This resulted right away in an explosion of lights and darkness and I sank into a peaceful condition where there was nobody kicking me.
When I came to, the somtam lady was wiping my face with a damp rag. I got to my feet with some help from this good Samaritan. I was a mess. My clothes were filthy from the street and all the kicking. I felt like puking. There was blood, as well, though I didn’t know exactly where it came from. Some of it from my hand, I guess, from where I tried to remove the guy’s teeth. Some more from my head and my face, I saw when Big Lek wiped at me again and wrung pink water out of her rag. I felt sick, and my head was splitting. The kids were still there, staring at me dispassionately, probably wondering what the farang was going to come up with next in the way of entertainment. I could hear the lunatic calliope of an ice-cream vendor down the road.
The somtam lady was speaking so slowly I could understand almost everything she was saying, for a change. “Some bad men; they come your house. They take one phooying, one girl you. She seem funny. Maybe drunk; something was wrong. Maybe they do bad things to her.”
This news affected me more or less as though somebody had kicked me in the balls. I tried to say to the somtam lady “Get the police,” but she didn’t do anything. And she was speeding up to 78 rpm again, so I no longer had any idea what she was talking about. I couldn’t run very well, with the pain in my kidneys and all, but I moved as fast as I could down to our little alley, and I pushed past some people standing out front of our place.
“Mu?” I called, not really expecting an answer, but calling again, “Mu?” I ran up the stairs, or at least hobbled pretty fast. The door to our apartment was open, and the living room was a mess. This was nothing new, of course, it was always a mess; but this mess was not standard. The telephone had been ripped out of the wall and flung into the fish box, which was smashed to smithereens and leaking loud swimsuits; you could see those golden arowanas had never been fated to make anybody’s fortune no matter how you cut it. The coffee table had a broken leg, and it had dumped a pile of yellow silk roses down on the floor. A standing lamp had been knocked over. And for once there was nobody there. Or so at first I thought.
“Arai na? Arai na?” yelled Granny, as she came out of the bathroom. Then she saw who it was, and she evidently despaired of getting anything sensible out of me. “You! Farang. Aieeeeee!”
No matter this was the most extended bit of discourse I had ever had from the lady, it didn’t much clarify matters in my mind. So I rushed from room to room falling over things and looking behind things for Mu. Or at least somebody. “Bia! I was saying. “Sombat, for Christ’s sake! Hello?” To tell the truth I was not fully in control of the situation. My computer looked okay, but I didn’t even turn it on to check, I was so upset. “Mu! Ah, Jesus. Muuu.”
“What?” Mu came in off the landing into the living room with an armful of bags. “What do you want?”
“Arai na?” Granny came out of the bedroom.
In about a minute, Sombat and Dok and Keeow and about a dozen other regulars were back and milling around. Rhot emerged from the bathroom with a bloody towel wrapped turban-fashion around his head. Before you knew it, things were back to their usual chaotic state, even worse, since everybody was trying to tell the story at the same time.
The gist of things, the common element in the wildly dramatized accounts we were getting from all sides, was that four men including a guy with a lot of teeth had come in and waved guns around while they fell all over everything. Eventually they went into our bedroom, where they found Bia, and they had taken her away. The only one who had done anything to try and stop them had been Rhot, and he had a headache and a flap of skin hanging off the side of his head for his efforts.
“Jack,” said Mu, after the dust had settled and she had had a good think about matters. “No police — we must not bring the police in on this. And Jack … How much money do you have?”
There was a bad gash on my hand where I had tried to remove that guy’s teeth. The same hand, I might add, that I had used to punch the bus. I had a pretty good headache, and I felt bruised all over, especially around my kidneys and my ribs. It hurt to breathe; I hoped nothing was broken. I was still sick in my stomach. I knew that the next day it would all hurt even more, and new pains would show up to surprise me. I noticed something else that depressed me — my wallet was gone.
“Mu,” I answered her. “I’m busted flat.”
I was starting to think Burma was going to have to have another revolution soon, or I was in trouble, the way all that easy money was evaporating. I spent about half an hour back out on the soi looking for my amulet, which had disappeared somewhere in the course of that day’s proceedings. Many of the people in the neighborhood watched me all the while, waiting to see what this interesting farang would come up with next. I didn’t find my amulet, but one kid came up to me and gave me my wallet, which was empty.
That night Rhot and Sombat and Dok and I went to the coffee shop down the road and drank all the Mekhong whiskey we could get our hands on, Dok paying the shot for once, and this turned out to be not much better for my system than having it beaten on by gangs of nak laeng.
Next week Mu sets about bulletproofing Jack.