Last week Jack tries to explain to Mu what’s happened. Whatever. This week, Willie and Tommy decide they can come to the rescue.
Selections from Arno Petty’s Intelligencer and Weekly Gleaner
- SCORE CARD. There have been 16 elections in Thailand since the Revolution of 1932. During the same time, there have been 14 coups—and that’s only counting the successful ones. Meanwhile the man in the street’s reaction to new governments, no matter where they come from: One’s as good (or bad) as the other. Mai pen rai; never mind.
- IS NOTHING SACRED? The government has threatened to crack down on these people, whoever they are, who keep spreading rumors of a coup. This is bad for Business, and offenders will be dealt with severely.
The next morning I was dreaming about helicopters. I could hear them coming in over the rooftops, and I had to get away; only I couldn’t seem to run, no matter how hard I tried.
I awoke to the deafening throb-throb of helicopters everywhere like giant angry insects. A deafening, a totally insane racket.
“Jesus Christ, Mu! They’ve got helicopters.” And sure enough, the first thing that leapt to mind, as I lay there wide-eyed but still half dreaming, was that Fat Fat had come for me. Or else somebody had decided to do the Thai version of Apocalypse Now right there just for our benefit. They had taken to dive-bombing our apartment with martial music and strong words in Thai that I couldn’t understand blaring from PA systems. What with the music and the Doppler effect as they dived in and out on us, all I could get was that they wanted us outside. But I wasn’t about to go out there, not without a bunch of anti-aircraft guns that I didn’t happen to have on hand at that moment.
I jumped out of bed and ran into the living room, where I found half a dozen cousins or so milling around all agog and grinning, prepared to be festive, no doubt, but not yet sure what the occasion was. And for once Granny probably got to hear something, only she wasn’t sure what it was either. Her mouth was opening and closing like a querulous fish, and, even though I couldn’t hear her, I knew she was screeching “Arai na?”
As I ran back into the bedroom, one of the choppers came in so close it rattled the windows in their frames, the music at an unbelievable pitch. It was terrifying; and here Mu was laughing. “Jesus Christ, Mu!” I yelled.
She was saying something to me, but I couldn’t hear it because another helicopter had come in on us. I was waiting for the machine guns and rockets when our visitors backed off a bit and I could hear Mu telling me “Jack. It’s okay, Jack. It’s the walkathon.”
“Mu! Mu, for Christ’s sake, what is this? Is this a coup?”
One of the helicopters swung in so close I was waiting to see its props slice in through the walls. From the window I caught glimpses of the aircraft, and made out there were at least three of them. Though they were gradually moving off, now, heading over towards the river, the noise was still incredible.
Mu finally explained to me that this was merely a special holiday, and the Army was exhorting all good citizens to get out there and join a public walkathon. This was everybody’s chance to help raise money for children’s charities. It wasn’t the end of the world or anything like that. She found the whole thing hilarious. It was so funny that she pulled me down on the bed and made fairly passionate love to me; I don’t know how she managed it in the middle of the bedlam. I don’t know how I managed it, come to that.
After a while, we were left with nothing but the usual ambient noise — three different pop songs going at the same time, Granny interrogating everybody and everything, Dok being a girl, sewing machines pumping, chopping boards clattering, mortar and pestle pok-pokking — merely the homey sounds of your typical Sunday morning, something that I had to admit seemed almost peaceful after the aerial attack we had just sustained. I was taking the opportunity to do my breathing exercises, practicing what the local types call “mindfulness.” Rising; falling … Rising; falling … It’s better to breathe out long, it helps to concentrate your attention.
Suddenly a loud hammering at the front door intruded on all this. The next thing, everything went silent outside the bedroom, quieter than it had ever been around there, in my experience.
“Arai na?” hollered Granny.
There was a knock on our door, and then Rhot’s voice: “Puens, friends you, Jack; they come.” Just then I heard a crash, and for a minute I thought Bia was back. And in fact it was somebody stumbling over a bundle of sugar cane, only it wasn’t Bia — it was Tommy. Tommy Two-Toes.
“Tommy!” I said, as I came out of the bedroom, the delight in my voice not unmixed with apprehension, given that Tommy was broadcasting the Look in all directions. I understood him to be saying he was not happy to be stumbling over miscellaneous stock and cousins of Mu in this shambles I called home.
“Farang, our friend!” said Willie, who only then appeared in the door to the stairway. He was tucking in his shirt, and you got the idea there was something smaller than an M-16 also tucked into his pants, though not much smaller. Being of a cautious nature, he wasn’t inclined to rush headlong into situations as obviously non-standard as this one was. “Hey. You live here?” He bent down to pick up his mobile phone. Willie with a mobile phone. This was what the world was coming to.
They had heard I had been at the snooker parlor looking for them. It was a simple matter, then, to find the taxi driver who had taken me back to my soi and find out where he had dropped me. What hadn’t been so easy was getting from the mouth of the soi to my apartment.
“The somtam woman out there, she isn’t about to tell us anything.” Willie shook his head in admiration. “Na? Not even when I tell her we are undercover cops. Not even when Tommy here gives her a quick flash of the Look.”
It was only when they walked in as far as the tape vendor and asked him if there was a farang living in the area that they got anywhere. He told them right away. “Is he a friend of yours?” Willie wanted to know.
Everybody in the joint was impressed no end with my buddies. My stock had risen considerably in their estimation, nobody ever suspecting I might be so well connected. And these two gentlemen did have an undeniable presence. So impressive were they, in fact, that I had a hard time convincing Mu that they were not some more men out to kill me and possibly anybody else connected with me, sisters of girlfriends and suchlike for only two examples.
Mu asked if she could see me in the bedroom for a minute. I excused myself, telling Keeow to see what my visitors wanted to drink and to give them something to eat.
“Jack. You are crazy. Ba-ba baw-baw.” Mu was speaking in calm, level tones of sweet reason. “I want you to go home; go back to America. Get away from Thailand before you get killed. Get away from me before I get killed, and everybody in my family too. But first you get these men out of this house.”
“What’s wrong?” I asked her.
“Who are these men, Jack? What have you brought into my house? These men are dangerous. Oh, Jack; what have you done?”
Now, I knew Mu was under some strain. Weren’t we all? But I was getting sick of everybody always telling me what a rube I was, and how I didn’t know my ass from my elbow, much less from the Thai Way; and I figured it was about time to set things straight. I was a big boy, after all.
“Mu,” I told her. “What we need right now are dangerous men. We are dealing with dangerous people; and when you fight fire, you use fire.”
I could see that had a nice ring to it, in her mind; she always was a sucker for neat turns of phrase that sounded like the wisdom of the ages. Still, she looked doubtful. “But if they are as good as you say, then we can’t afford them anyway.”
“Let me look after that, Mu. I think we can get a special price.”
Mu sent everybody except Granny and Rhot out to find the walkathon. We needed peace and quiet and privacy to discuss the kind of things we had to discuss this fine Sunday morning.
Willie and Tommy were sorry to hear about our troubles; it was never pleasant to have mysterious people shooting at you or snatching your sisters either. On the other hand, they were delighted that we could finally do some business, and they hoped we realized that we couldn’t have done better than come to them.
Business had not been all it might have been, these past months. Even if you overlooked the cops, who everywhere were still of the opinion that Willie and Tommy were persona non grata on this earth, the whole economy was going through a period of consolidation; did I know what they meant?
To Tommy he said this in Thai: “Tommy, what do you think; we can do our friend a favor and take care of Fat Fat?”
Tommy looked grave, and poured some more Black Label. “This is good whiskey,” he said. And then he grinned. “Why not? Let’s do him. I hate this hia, this giant lizard who is at the same time a fat mangda. ‘Boss of bosses.’ Huh! Fat Fat dies. This is very good whiskey.”
Willie thought on the matter for the space of one large glass of this good whiskey. Then he told us it would be your classic half-million-baht job. Doing somebody like Fat Fat was no piece of cake, after all; some people might go so far as to call a person suicidal to think about it, even.
“Half a million!” I said. Then I said it again: “Half a million!” After that I breathed deeply and concentrated on keeping my eyebrows from migrating up into my hairline. This was US$20,000 we were talking, here. You could call it only five more books for Propriapist Publications. Or, hey, no problem: I could pay it off with about 250 articles for the Bangkok Globe instead. No problem. Jesus Christ.
Willie noticed I was having trouble with this sum, I guess, because he immediately said that since there was no agent, of course, in this case we could knock off fifteen percent right there — and 425,000 baht was not so much, when it came right down to it, given the cost of living these days and all. Even as he said this, however, his eyes surveyed my abode and he looked distinctly less happy. “We can call it an even 400,000 baht,” he said with an air of finality. “Only 200,000 baht down, the rest in easy payments,” he added, seeing I was still in danger of losing my eyebrows.
“Willie,” I said, “Fat Fat doesn’t have to be dead. All we want is to get Bia back safe and sound. Soon. We have to convince Fat Fat to give her back. Or else we need to find out where she is, and then get her out.”
“In the first place, Fat Fat doesn’t give the girl up. Or if he does, you don’t recognize her when he does. I know Fat Fat. On the other hand, we take the girl back, and Fat Fat isn’t dead, then you are on borrowed time — you, your girlfriend, the girl, everybody. Even Tommy and me, unless we turn around and do something about it then. Hey. You think somebody like Fat Fat says ‘Geez, they really get the best of me that time’ and then goes away shaking his head? You want that girl back, you have to finish Fat Fat off. Completely. That way you got the girl and you got a life too. You follow me? Also Tommy and me. Na? We got a life too.”
Tommy sat there dropping his switchblade down between his feet, sticking it into the wooden floorboards and muttering to himself.
“I know this Fat Fat in Hong Kong, many years ago,” Willie went on. “He is a fat mangda same as now. Only he is no big deal those days, just a pimp. Not a nice one. You might wonder why nobody kills him way back then and saves this world a lot of trouble now. Funny thing, I also know him in Vietnam.
“I ever tell you I am in Vietnam two years? I drive cars for people, sometimes the Americans. I do other things too, and sometimes I make quite a bit of money. Fat Fat, though, he is a wheel in the black market those days, not to mention whorehouses. But he doesn’t have too many friends; I for one won’t piss on him if he is on fire. And from what I hear I feel the same way about him today, only more so. Still and all, he is a very big score, na? And Tommy and I, we have to hire a few people ourselves on this one, so we have to charge some money or the whole operation doesn’t make much sense from the point of view of business.”
“Chai, chai,” Tommy added. “Bisnet.”
Mu told me to sit back and relax. She wanted to talk to my friends. She didn’t look so worried anymore. In fact, she had that look on her face you might think that Willie and Tommy were the ones that had to watch out. Except of course Willie and Tommy weren’t scared of anything.
Our telephone was still out of order, and I asked Willie if I could use his mobile phone; I had to call an editor. Willie looked embarrassed and told me his wasn’t working either. Then why was he carrying it around, then? I inquired. Image, he said.
I told everybody I wanted to stretch my legs. I was going to go down to the telephone booth on the corner. I could pick up some beer at the same time.
When I came back I found most of Mu’s cousins had returned, having done all the walking for charity they could handle for one day, and they were sitting out on the stairway making paper orchids with the kids, who for once didn’t try to sell me anything. I had to tap on the door three times and tell Mu it was me before I could go in.
The whole assembly was smiling at each other and it could have been somebody’s birthday party, everybody looked so happy with things. And Mu had discovered that Tommy was charming. Nah rahk is how she put it — “cute,” if you can believe that. Tommy, for his part, was mightily impressed with Mu who, according to what Willie told me, was the spitting image of Tommy’s first wife, Mrs Two-Toes Number 1. And now that Mu had gotten over her initial apprehension, she and Willie were getting along like a house on fire. I never realized before what kind of ladies’ man Willie really was, when he wasn’t busy being a gunman and everything.
And we had a deal. We were going to pay 150,000 baht in cash for the services of these paladins — 75,000 now and 75,000 when we could. On top of that, Mu would cut them in on a business deal she had cooking — something to do with construction materials; I hated to ask what, exactly. In any case, it seemed as though this was a notoriously popular game, these days, and competition sometimes got more than a little fierce. So Tommy and Willie were going to provide security services. “These are hard times,” said Willie, with an air of satisfaction. “It’s best not to keep all your eggs in a basket.” He looked at his mobile telephone as though he wished it would ring. “Hey. We can do business.”
“Bisnet,” said Tommy. “Chai, chai. Yes.” He turned to Cousin Keeow, who poured him another drink and smiled shyly. She was obviously impressed with this skinny gimp who was grinning at her and shifting around so the 11mm pistol in his waistband didn’t pinch. No question, Tommy had a way with women, who knows why.
You never saw such a turnaround — one minute Willie and Tommy were the craziest move I ever came up with, and that was saying something, and the next they were “Uncle Willie” and “Uncle Tommy,” almost, except that Willie refused to let the kids see his new Uzi, and now Tommy was in the corner with Keeow and he was looking at her in a way uncles should try not to look at their nieces.
Willie said not to worry. They would have a plan for us in no time; and everything would be fine. “We have the master plan in place by tomorrow afternoon,” he told us; and you could see this was no end of comfort to Mu. Rhot was nodding approvingly, as well; he could see that our money was already well spent if there was going to be a master plan and everything. Probably a task force, as well, and then we’d be saved for sure. That’s it — we’d simply organize a crack-down on all this kidnapping and carrying on. I didn’t know why I hadn’t thought of that. Or better still, we could declare the whole area a Hassle-Free Zone and live happily ever after.
Now that events had been put in motion, though, Mu was more like her old self. Of course, she did spend part of that night leaking tears on the bed till I had to turn off the fan, afraid I was going to freeze to death. You could see she was still worried about Bia. On the other hand, we were no longer just waiting around; and she had decided that my friends might indeed be exactly what the doctor had ordered, after all.
But I’ll tell the truth: even though I recognized that Tommy and Willie were not your run-of-the-mill torpedoes, I also knew enough of their history by now to suspect that their plans did not always go entirely as planned. It was not going to surprise me if there were surprises in store down the road; and I don’t mind saying I was actually a bit nervous.
Next week Hippolyte Lafleur explains to Jack how he’s in even more trouble that he first thinks.