LAYING THE GHOSTS TO REST

The concluding chapter in this serialization of Kicking Dogs.

Asia Times edition (out of print)

Some previous editions

Selections from Arno Petty’s Intelligencer and Weekly Gleaner

  • UNIDENTIFIED FALLING OBJECTS. This past week a rogue construction crane dropped a 10-ton steel bucket through the roof of the headquarters of one of this country’s most feared ‘dark influences’. The operator subsequently fled the scene, which no doubt seemed a good idea at the time, given that the building belonged to none other than Mr Hung Fat, better known as ‘Fat Fat’, though not to his face. 
  • NOT-SO-LUCKYLAND. Those of you who have always worried about maybe slipping up and calling this notorious mangda Fat Fat to his face can now relax, however. He has suffered a massive loss of face, one occasioned by an 11mm slug, and he has no face to talk to anymore. While UFOs were ventilating one building, Bangkok’s finest were tearing up the adjacent Luckyland Casino, in the course of which raid Fat Fat’s luck ran out and he was shot while trying to escape custody. RIP, Fat Fat.

I don’t know why I look forward to the mail. Here’s somebody trying to sell me a subscription to Asian Business Investor. I haven’t got the capital to subscribe to the magazine, much less invest in a condo. And here’s an investment plan. I get a pension, life insurance for myself and my loved ones, a burial plot, and a genuine leather carrying case for a portable computer complete with embossed gold monogram. That’s great. I get the whole lot for one low monthly premium which happens to be more than my total income, these days. Oh, boy. And I couldn’t afford the portable computer to put in my personalized carrying case, much less the mobile phone which would slide into the conveniently attached pocket they talk about here. 

And there’s a letter from my Dad. This is an occasion.

Jack: I don’t pretend to have ever understood you. Or your Mother, for that matter. You do what you think you have to. The Bears are doing terrible this season. Love, Dad. 

P.S.: What are you doing about a retirement plan? 

Propriapist Publications have responded to my query about upping my fees. They want to know if I think I can run the entire alphabet. They are willing to double my take if I sign a contract with some kind of penalty clause that I don’t understand. I’d better talk to Hip.

The Bangkok Globe is busting at the seams with news today. The cops are taking credit both for the Luckyland raid and for Fat’s timely demise. It seems that one hero, a police captain, had directed undercover operations from inside. 

And you get the feeling, from reports, that everybody was quite keen on seeing the end of Fat Fat’s video library, many of the features stored there having been recorded through hidden cameras at the Shaking Heaven. The police took all these interesting records away, in any case, and the other powers-that-be must have been quite grateful for this, because the newspapers are saying what a surprise it was for the police department to get such a generous slice of the budget for the coming year. 

And we finally had the coup after all. Just a couple of days after the raid. The only reason we knew about it was that the three radios going at once all had the same music on, even though they were as usual tuned to three different stations. This same music, moreover, was martial tunes of a kind designed to make right-thinking citizens march about admiring their own country. 

But none of this was half as exciting as revolutions in Burma or walkathons or even merely hanging around this apartment I live in on your average Sunday morning. Nobody buzzed us with helicopters; and the only difference to anybody’s life I could make out was that the PA system at the army base down the road blared fusion jazz so relentlessly, meaning to keep the citizenry calm, that finally it was enough to make you edgy, especially if you hate fusion jazz, which I do. 

Anyway, I am writing some stories about how nice and quiet and bloodless this unscheduled change of government has been, which is in no way considered first-class copy by editors, though one or two are buying it anyway. I am writing these stories, furthermore, on my computer, which some of Mu’s cousins were kind enough to get out of hock with part of the take from the casino mob. Of course I still have the old Royal as well, which is useful when my computer is being used by Maem to conduct her classes in Lotus 1-2-3 and dBase. Which is most of the time, now that I think about it. 

There is indeed money on all hands. Money to get my computer out of hock. Money to fix Bia’s eyes, though it was Tommy offering to fund this operation, and this Mu did not consider appropriate. Finally it was agreed they would add the plastic surgeon’s fees to the rest of the money we had to pay for Willie and Tommy’s services. 

Yeah. Pretty well everybody but me is rolling in dough, right at the moment. What it is, Willie and Tommy’s friend Dit organized the phony police raid on the front gate of Luckyland, enlisting several of Mu’s cousins and friends of cousins plus a couple of his own. They painted one of the Bug-I-Cide panel trucks over so it looked something like a paddy wagon. This had made it a dead cinch to divert some of the community pillars who were fleeing through the hole in the wall. Then, in the spirit of Robin Hood and his Merry Men, they drove these citizens away to a quiet area and appropriated all of their money, which, if they had been left to their own devices, they would have no doubt lost at gambling anyway. 

Though Mu says her cousins couldn’t have had any part in this. Sure, they might dress up like cops for an evening and carry on a bit, but rob a bunch of rich people? Not likely. 

Bia seems none the worse for wear, on the whole. She has had her eyes opened in more ways than one, however, in the course of these events I have related. And if she doesn’t start keeping a better distance from one Tommy Two-Toes, she’s going to learn a lot more about life than any proper 19-year-old Thai girl would ever want to know. 

Bia has new eyes, as I have said already. Not only that, she’s gone and cut her bangs back enough that she might be mistaken for a genius. You could post bills on her forehead, if you wanted to. She still falls down the stairs a bit, but that’s only habit, and she should gradually adapt to being able to see again. And I have to admit it, she does look pretty good with her new eyes, though she tends to keep them open too wide and she doesn’t blink much; what’s the point of having all these beautiful big eyes if people can’t see them?

Another good thing: Bia has stopped wearing my shirts. The bad news is that the marker-pen girl has already turned a couple of them into patchwork skirts, which is worse. Mu says they were old ones anyway; but she’ll see it doesn’t happen again. 

Two of the performers from Luckyland One are now living in our house, the ping-pong girl and the marker-pen lady. One of them is in Cousin Maem’s computer class, and the other is proving a dab hand at creating stylish clothing out of odd bits of cloth. Mu has put her in charge of the sewing contingent for now. 

Sombat may finally be on his way to Saudi Arabia. And his performance on the crane went a long way towards compensating for the fish box full of dead arowanas, in Mu’s mind. But what I want to know, if he is such an artist with a construction crane, and seeing as how there are more cranes than stray dogs in the city these days, is why he has to wait till he gets to Saudi Arabia to get a job. But nobody listens to me on this matter. It probably has something to do with the Thai Way. 

Esther and my mother haven’t arrived yet. 

My sense of impending doom, I find, has not let up to speak of, not even with Fat Fat and the coup both out of the way. This leads me to believe that coups or even the prospects of getting shot to death and worse were not the significant factors in this sense of unease I have been carrying around with me these past days. It makes you think. 

And that is not all that is worrying me. Some people might call me a wimp, but I am a bit perturbed about having shot a man to death. Although even that doesn’t seem to bother me as much as the total mayhem that Willie and Tommy and the rest of the wrecking crew managed to come up with in the space of just a few minutes, and the people that were killed without so much as a chance to explain themselves. 

But not to worry, Hip tells me: “War is a time when laws are silent. That was Cicero’s opinion, Jack; and Cicero was a person who knew a lot about life. 

“Now, what we went through the other day was war. But war is war, and peace is peace; and now you got to settle down to doing something about the peace, my friend. What are you going to do about Mu?”

A few days ago Mu took me to the temple to put in the fix for bumping Fat Fat off. At first I said no; then I thought it over and I said okay. And maybe it did lay some ghosts to rest, after all, because I’m sleeping better these past couple of nights. 

Still, I told her, ghosts were mainly malarkey. This got her steamed up considerably, and when I said “Have you ever seen a ghost?” she answered “No, but my cousin in Lamphang did.” And this is more or less what she related:

One day her cousin, a rice farmer, opened his door to find a group of excited chickens standing there. This was not standard chicken behavior, so he chased them away; but they came back. This time the excited chickens ran into the kitchen and tried to hide under everything. He chased them away again but still they came back, so the cousin began to get the idea something was wrong. He finally went out into the farmyard, and what did her cousin see but the figure of an old man glowing with a funny light and hovering two meters off the ground. 

“Yes?” I said. “Go on.” 

“What do you mean, ‘go on’?” Mu looked at me as though I was thick. “That’s it.” 

I thought about that for a minute, and then I started to laugh. I laughed and laughed, and after a while Mu ceased being pissed off and she started to laugh too, until neither one of knew what we were laughing about but it felt good anyway. So we made love. I didn’t have any problems, and Mu didn’t have any problems; and in fact I didn’t remember it being this good since the time I fell down between the beds in Pattaya. 

Mu saw I was feeling good, and she was feeling good, so she decided this was probably the best time to tell me that she was the one who hired the two men on the motorcycle — the ones who took some shots at me in the taxi. 

“You remember?” she asked me, no doubt figuring it had long since slipped my mind. 

“What?” I said. “What?” 

“It was me, Jack. I hired those men. I’m sorry; I was only trying to protect you.”

I had to jump out of bed and stride up and down the bedroom for awhile, trying not to fall over things in the process. No matter how good I had been feeling, this news came as something of a shock to me. I kept throwing looks at Mu, just to check that this was the same woman I had been living with all these past months. Then I stopped for a minute. 

“Mu. Back then… You borrowed some money from me. Five thousand baht.”

“I paid it back, Jack. And it was only for your own good. I told them not to hurt you, my darling. Just scare you a little bit.” 

After a while I left off saying “Jesus Christ!” and I stopped striding around the room. Mu managed to explain how that whole scheme was supposed to be something like an inoculation. If only she could throw a scare into me, show me what could happen if I didn’t cool down some and start doing as the Romans did, then maybe she could save me from getting ventilated for real. Or so had gone her reasoning. 

But now she was sorry, she told me. These bozos she had hired were cut-rate bozos and hadn’t show a lot of finesse. As it turned out, you could say, there hadn’t been a lot of difference between the inoculation and the real McCoy. Of course if only I’d lent her ten thousand baht, like she’d asked for in the first place, maybe she could have got somebody decent to do the job. 

Still, she could see I might be taken aback at the news that my own girlfriend had hired some gunmen to take a few shots at me. 

“But you wouldn’t listen, Jack.”

She offered to hire Willie and Tommy to rough up the gunmen she hired before, just to teach them a thing or two; but I declined with thanks. I said we could let bygones be bygones, and mai pen rai. Like ‘never mind’, and so on. 

When I told her this, and I got to the part about mai pen rai, she looked at me fondly and kissed me. She said I was learning how to get along in this life, and she was proud of me. 

“Jesus Christ!” I said once more. Just when I thought I was getting to know this lady; and now look. 

Then she tapped her tooth a bit, and she started to wonder if maybe she shouldn’t hire somebody to shoot Tommy, though, the way he had been hanging around telling Bia how good she looked. But Mu was kidding about getting Tommy shot, I think; and really she kind of liked him herself, I could see that. 

Mu has bought me another amulet — this one, I am told by those who know, so potent I couldn’t do better with armor plating all around and a bunch of bodyguards on the side. 

Not only that, it looks as though I’m signed up to do a vipassana meditative retreat. This is what is sometimes prescribed, in these parts, for jai rawn, for burning hot on the temperamental front. For ten days I’ll get eleven scheduled hours of meditation every day, plus any more I want to do merely for fun. I won’t be able to talk to anybody the whole time except the meditation masters, and even that is only if I have some technical problem, such as for example I come to know myself and I don’t care for this jerk. Or maybe my knees lock and I can’t get up out of the lotus position. That kind of thing. 

Two vegetarian meals a day, God help me; and I’m pretty sure there’ll be no beer, though I didn’t ask. No smoking. No women. No thinking of women. You can’t leave the joint till the end of the session, unless you want to quit altogether; you can’t even make a phone-call. No smoking. And get this — you’re not supposed to bring in any magical objects or books, no lucky rabbit’s feet or anything like that. So no amulet. 

So no problem, right? Wrong. If you had said a year ago I would feel nervous about leaving behind a little silver figure of a fat man with his hands over his eyes, I would have told you you were nuts. But there you go. I’m probably going native. 

Mu believes I am, anyhow. And so does Hip, I think. 

Hip has been telling me how this trip to the temple is both going to help me give up smoking and learn all about the Thai Way besides. He has explained the idea of khon suk, and how traditionally Thai girls wouldn’t marry a boy until he had been ‘ripened’ through a term in the Buddhist monkhood. 

But Mu has told me in her opinion I am already no longer entirely a khon dip, merely a callow dipstick. I have ripened, I guess, at least to the point she is willing to make an honest man of me. And maybe I’ll let her at that. 

I sense some funny changes in myself these days. For example I was downtown, walking through the heat and the exhaust fumes and the screaming din of motorcycles and tuk tuks and tape vendors and Gods knows what all. I was strolling along, almost ambling, and I happened to look across at the new Universal Commercial Tower, one more modern temple to Mammon, already enormous and reportedly growing to ninety-one storeys. The gigantic department store which is the base of this monument was already doing business, no matter there were still cranes all over the top of it adding more floors for later. Hanging on poles around the surrounding plaza were big red banners with dragons on them, lending a fine mythic quality to the scene. Suddenly I had to smile, a good smile; I saw the fun in it all. I liked it, at that moment; and I found myself looking forward to the new surprises this city and this life in general were bound to come up with. I even looked forward to the day, any day now, when Bangkok achieved gridlock, and what fun it was going to be to see that. And the flood. Soon we were supposed to get the worst flood in the city’s history. 

For one thing alone, what good is it to be a journalist, or even only a reporter, if you are going to flee the scene just when things start to get interesting? After all, this is where the action is. And what’s life without risk? Interesting times may be a curse for the average citizen, but they are a writer’s bread and butter. Somebody’s got to witness this stuff, to get it down for posterity and suchlike. 

Maybe that’s when I decided to ask Mu if she would marry me. Her and all her cousins and Bia and other ones I haven’t even met yet, but whom I now look forward to meeting. What the hell. Marriage to Mu can’t be any more dangerous than a lot of things. And there are bound to be some good stories in it. 

This morning I have the strangest feeling, lying here in bed with Mu. She’s still sleeping, not quite snoring; and the sun is sneaking in around the curtains and warming the skin on her tummy. She’s also got one leg sticking out from under the sheets. Things are quiet, as quiet as they ever get, anyway. I feel a peace — a shagged-out, I-don’t-give-a-damn, nobody-can-blame-me-if-I-never-move-again, downright luxurious lull in the course of events. 

I know I’ve got a lot to do today, but I am content to lie here. Simply lying here seems enough in itself. All these other things I have to do will get taken care of when their time comes. Right now is my time. Mine and Mu’s. She is asleep, but I can see from the way she is sleeping she is with me on this matter. I lie still so I don’t wake her up; I want this moment to go on and on. 

From outside in the street I get the sudden hysterical blat-blatting of a tuk tuk decelerating from about three-quarters of the speed of sound for the turn into the soi. And it is as though something in me precipitates out. I feel a calm excitement which takes me back to when I was a kid, waking up to the sound of birds singing and to all the familiar voices of the neighborhood drifting in through my bedroom window. This was feeling purely good and at one with things, though with a hint of urgency, a sense I might miss something if I didn’t get out and about without further delay. 

The feeling this morning is even better. That tuk tuk is immediate and real to me in a very personal way, and I suddenly see that I am equally part of the traffic, the kids in the street, the dogs, the rustle of the wind in the palms. And they are part of me. Like that. It’s not easy to explain; it’s as though I have this comfortable certainty everything will still be there later. I can experience all these new things in their proper time, and meanwhile I can lie here cocooned in happy anticipation of simply being there — of being whoever and wherever, of a future that’s going to be basically fine and exciting, give or take a bad time or two now and then.

I am closer to understanding Mu than I have ever been, to understanding her as a woman and as a Thai. Or so I believe. 

There is a clatter and a clumping from outside the bedroom which could be Bia falling down the stairs. “Arai na? What?” Granny is awake and demanding clarification, even though the rest of the household isn’t up yet, and nobody is talking to her or to anybody else, so far. But Mu is waking, stirring and stretching. Her eyes open and she grins lazily at me. 

From outside, I hear the tape vendor start up for the new day. Here it is some hour of the morning, so early I can’t even look at the clock, and we are getting music. And the first selection of the day is Milli Vanilli. 

The end

4 thoughts on “LAYING THE GHOSTS TO REST”

    • Many thanks, Kevin. I’m lucky the city is shut down, or I’d have to buy you a glass of wine.

      Reply
  1. Thanks for sharing. You’ll need to come up with something new for Tuesdays, to reinforce my routine and remind me what day it is. Very enjoyable, mate.

    Reply
    • Thank you, Jeff. Much appreciated. … How about if I started serializing MOM? Would the world sit still for that?

      Reply

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