Live show

This week Jack is treated to Fat Fat’s live show. Then, compliments of Jack’s own motley crew, Fat Fat is himself presented with a show far livelier than anything he’d imagined.

Selections from Arno Petty’s Intelligencer and Weekly Gleaner

  • GOURMET ALERT! The government has issued a warning: don’t buy fried grasshoppers from street vendors. It seems people upcountry are netting the grasshoppers in their tens of thousands and then spraying them with large quantities of insecticide. This is not intended as a garnish; it is merely a convenient means of subduing the creatures before they are shipped to buyers in the city. 
  • SALT OF THE EARTH. Notoriously, the people of the Northeast will eat anything that moves, not to mention quite a few things that don’t. Now reports have it that many children have taken to eating clay. Some theory has it that the earth has beneficial effects on the digestion, and the kids instinctively recognize this. A more likely hypothesis: You’ll eat anything if you’re hungry enough. Unsuccessfully supporting one third of the country’s population, the Northeast enjoys only a pitiful proportion of the national income. The land has been denuded of forest, and as a result is now alternately plagued with drought and flooding. Many of the children of the Northeast have no recourse but to leave for the south, often to go into prostitution, there being too few jobs of a more respectable type, even in the booming construction industry. 
  • FORTUNATELY THERE ARE LOTS MORE WORKERS. After traffic accidents, construction mishaps are the biggest killer in the country. In the rush to build more and taller buildings everywhere they can, many people are cutting corners, often with disastrous results. Increasingly, buildings are collapsing even before they are completed, which one would think is just plain bad business. Meanwhile, installing safety nets on the sides of buildings under construction is simply too expensive, or so we’re told. The tendency for heavy bits of things to drop off and fall crashing to the street, sometimes even through the roofs of neighboring buildings, tends to be written off as one more unfortunate cost of progress. Anyway, when your number’s up it’s up, whether there are safety nets or not. So there you are. 

“You. Farang. Eat.” Fat Fat was at his most solicitous. “This is nice Thai dish. I order it special.” 

I concentrated on the taste, which was too not bad at that, and I concentrated on not thinking about what the mangdas looked like before they were mashed into the purplish sauce into which I was dipping bits of raw vegetable. This was a selective mindfulness, and it showed my meditation practice had been having some effect. Nam phrik gapi mangda has a pleasing aroma anyway, an unspecifiable taste that is reputedly at its best when the beetle is in heat. It has something to do with its sex glands. Though I was trying not to think about these matters as I ate. 

In fact I was pretty hungry, seeing as how I had just been kept locked in a room for three days with no food. No food, no tobacco, nobody to talk to, not once, and fusion jazz about fourteen hours a day. I tell you. Nothing to do but practice my mindfulness exercises; and these exercises kept making me mindful of things I didn’t want to think about. 

All in all, as I said, it was a tasty sauce; and I ate it up with what could have passed for relish, if you didn’t examine my attitude too closely. But then Fat Fat had the waitress bring the pièce de résistance. She set down a large bowl, and in the bowl were some whole mangdas, big flat beetles scrabbling to get up the sides and no doubt away from anything that looked like a Thai chef. Each was at least three inches long. 

“Is-sey, my fen’,” Fat Fat smiled at me. “You eat.” 

I told him I was kind of full already. 

“You eat, or you run. Dead Show.” 

Fun and his aides perked right up, and they stationed themselves either side of me in what I could see was a very hopeful manner. 

I’d eaten fried grasshoppers, which weren’t too bad on the whole. I’d eaten fermented fish that smelled considerably worse than old socks. I’d even eaten Mu’s attempt at chili con carne, once. But nothing I’d eaten compared with the experience of eating a live mangda. Life’s rich pageant. You wouldn’t have believed how strong the legs on those critters were, pushing away trying to get my mouth open again so they could leave. I managed to duck under the table and grab the cuspidor before I puked, and only then remembered the Chinese waiter at that first meal with Fat Fat. But Fat Fat had other plans for me. 

I was getting the idea Fat Fat already knew about Izzy’s article. And I was right again. 

“Farang,” said Fat Fat. “Now you know something about mangda; maybe you go write story about them now, na?” 

“You will write Mr Fat a story tomorrow,” Fatman No.1 elaborated. “You will explain how everything you said before was a mistake, and how Mr Fat has many good sides. You will sleep here tonight. Tomorrow you will write a story like you never write before. If this story is not such a story — if Mr Fat is not one hundred percent happy with this story and possibly more than that, then you will be in the Dead Show. You will run until you die. Your ladyfriend will shoot you. We will hurt her until she sees she must shoot you. Do you understand what I am saying, farang?”

I waited for Fun to punctuate this proposal with “Farang dogshit,” but he only grinned hugely and showed me his gun. Everybody seemed to be in very good spirits, on the whole, and this assembly could have made a fine Land of Smiles poster for the Tourism Authority. So I grinned back, wiped some puke from my chin, and I said “I understand”, which was all any reasonable person could have said under the circumstances. 

Still and all, I wasn’t as cool as that, not entirely. I was actually thinking it would be nice not to die just yet; and I was busy thinking of ways out of this mess, only nothing was coming to mind. But I could see there was a very good chance indeed that I was going to die. Quite soon, I was going to do this thing, if I was any judge of which way the wind was blowing. I could write all the Izzy Scoop stories I wanted, for one thing, and nobody was going to publish them. Hip and his magazines were going to have to help me out on this one, if I ever got to leave Luckyland again; and I didn’t care how much the advertisers would be unhappy. 

With any luck, I would survive a couple of days, though I wouldn’t have made book on that. And I didn’t even know when Willie and the others were going to make their move, much less what that move might be. 

“Now we see live show,” Fat Fat said. 

This one was to be a special show, you could see that right away. Not like the modest affair we had witnessed last time. 

For one thing, we were seated at cafe tables with white linen and vases with orchids. Waitresses, some more very young girls in lacy wee G-strings, tottered about on high-heels taking orders for food and drink, taut little buns going every which way. There was an audience of about twenty men and no women. 

Fat Fat was being the perfect host with his important guests and Fatman No.2, while I was at a table with Fatman No.1, who clearly resented this, and Fun, who clearly did not. From the wolfish grins he kept turning on me, I had the feeling he was relishing proceedings more than just somewhat. Then I got an idea why. 

“You. Farang dogshit. Raidy you come now. Now raidy Khun Fat.” Fun showed me all his teeth. “You no pum-pum, Mr Fat pum-pum, no plobrem.” 

From stage left appeared a wedding procession. First came a double file of girls, carrying baskets and naked but for long diaphanous white wedding veils in their hair. They were strewing orchid blossoms in the path of the two grooms, one an enormous Arabic-looking individual with bushy mustaches and a barely tumescent dick which hung halfway to his knees, the other an average sort of Thai guy who slouched along looking sheepish. Their bride was the same elfin creature who had been the ping-pong person’s ball girl last time. Carrying the train of her elaborate wedding dress came Bia. 

At first I didn’t recognize her; she looked different. Then I saw what they had done to her. The bastards. 

They’d cut her bangs. 

The bride threw her wedding bouquet in Fat Fat’s general direction, and one of his men picked it up and brought it to his table. Smiling and giggling like a bashful big toad at this flattering attention, Fat Fat then motioned for Bia to come and join him, holding the flowers out to her with some ceremony. I tried not to notice how fetching Bia’s little breasts were, or how nicely set up her bottom was, framed that way in its lacy blue and white G-string. I had wondered about these matters, from time to time, seeing Bia around the apartment in a towel and so on. Of course all the bruises tended to detract from her youthful charm. 

“Raidy you melly Khun Fat next time, sure. Hee, hee.” Fun poked me companionably in the temple with his pistol, and I gave him a big smile. 

It was worse, I found, when the person was someone dear to you. This shouldn’t have surprised me, if I’d thought about it. It also shouldn’t have surprised me to find that Bia was pretty dear to me. But she was, and it did. And it hurt me considerably to have her in any way connected with this affair. 

Maybe it was karma, and I shouldn’t have been writing porno novels for Propriapist Publications no matter how much I needed the money and no matter how much I claimed it was okay as long as I kept my tongue in my cheek. Mu had told me again and again that didn’t make it any better, and I had to learn to show more respect for myself. Could be she was right, like I said; and I mused along these lines as I sat there. All things considered, I was on a real downer. For lack of anything better to do, I fingered my amulet and thought about how, if I lived through this interesting experience, it could be I’d go back to the States and see what was what in that part of the world for awhile. I even thought about Esther, and about what life with her might be like once you got used to it. 

So there I was, thinking this and thinking that and getting so depressed, to tell the truth, I just about wanted to cry. I looked over at Bia, and she was trying to look anywhere except at the stage, or at the naked waitresses, or at the girl under Fat Fat’s table who was ministering to his needs in that area. Now Bia was trying to look over at me, but Fat Fat kept grabbing her by her neck and twisting her around so she could see what was happening. 

“Look, look. See?” he was exclaiming with delight. 

After the consummation of the marriage, we were treated to a full program of fleshly delights. The audience were having the time of their lives, drinking and cheering and expressing disbelief at what groups of human beings were able to do to themselves and to one another, if it was required of them. They kept drinking toasts to Fat Fat, who kept beaming and nodding and fluttering. He was quite flushed with the success of his evening, not to mention whiskey and sexual arousal. 

They brought out two boys, and Fun really loved this one, calling over to me “You like? Farang dogshit. You like? Pum-pum phoochai, yeah?”

After the boys went skipping off, a woman came out and started pushing needles through her nipples, which were unusually long and strangely pendulous. This procedure held everyone rapt; even Bia was spellbound. 

Fat Fat got so interested he forgot to eat for a couple of minutes. He banged his hand on the table, upsetting a bowl of soup in the process, and called: “You. Come here.” 

The woman shielded her eyes against the footlights and looked out at us, scared. But she came, of course. Before she climbed off the stage she began to take out the needles, but Fat Fat barked at her and she left them there. 

Fat Fat was curious. He pulled at a needle experimentally, sliding it back and forth a bit. It was surprising; there was no blood. In an experimental vein, then, he pinched two of the needles together. The woman smiled desperately over at me and at Fun, perhaps seeing something benign in that mess of teeth, and then she looked away to a corner of the room where there was no one. Fat Fat twisted until she gave a sharp gasp and said, “Garuna. Please.” He slid one needle all the way out at that, and poked it at the tender flesh a few times as the woman tried to hold still. Finally he pulled the nipple out to its full extension and pushed the needle right through. The woman yelped and bit her lip, blood welling and dripping, but only from her nipple. It ran in a dark line down her belly and into her pubic bush. 

Fat Fat giggled, patently satisfied that this body had finally decided to behave in a standard manner, and waved her away. He said something to Fatman No.2, who stopped the Human Pincushion and gave her money, first reaching to tug at the needles himself, bemused. Some men at other tables then called her over so they could take a closer look as well. This puzzle was the highlight of the evening thus far. 

Our host took a fork and stabbed gently at his towel girl’s nipples and then at her crotch, merry as could be; and she gave him a big smile, you could see how fond she was of him. She swiped at his face with a towel and patted his stomach. 

Fat Fat was in a rare mood, this evening. Everybody was laughing and carrying on and having a grand old time; and it was almost difficult to remember that I was going to be dead shortly if I wasn’t careful. 

In the meantime, some stagehands had been at work, and two girls of about Bia’s age had taken to writhing around together naked in a huge champagne goblet bubble bath. They looked a lot like the waitresses from my first visit to the Luckyland One. Clean young flesh was getting pressed up against the glass in ways that spoke directly to Fat Fat’s soul, judging by the amount of giggling and shaking going on. He kept squeezing Bia’s bottom and stroking her legs, but he went no further than that. You needed discipline to be Boss of Bosses around here, and he wasn’t about to spoil his birthday present before time. 

“Dead Show.” Fat Fat hollered at me, but he didn’t elaborate. 

I was feeling not too pleased with things as they stood. So it was a surprise and something of a relief to get the message from the marker-pen girl. She come out on the stage and squatted down over a big sheet of paper, performing her peculiarly graceful contortions as she moved crabwise across the page. First she wrote something in Thai, and all the Thais applauded enthusiastically and beamed at Fat Fat. Then she wrote some more, on another piece of paper; she stood and held the scrawl up for everyone to see: 


She looked in my direction and smiled. 

Now how had Hip ever managed that? I wondered, feeling some of the awe his legions of demi-mondaine admirers generally expressed for his powers. It did wonders for my morale, anyway; and I started to think maybe I wasn’t a dead man after all. 

Fat Fat didn’t get the message, of course. He didn’t get any message, and this irritated him. He barked at Fun, who went up and slapped the girl a couple of times across the head and then returned to his seat. This time she wrote something in Japanese characters, and the Japanese contingent erupted into pleased smiles and applause. 

Bia had been busy trying to keep her face pointed at the ceiling through most of the show. For one thing, of course, Bia didn’t like people to see her eyes. More importantly, you had to suspect, the ceiling was the only place not full of naked girls and leering perverts. 

Or so it seemed until the ceiling, to Bia’s and pretty well everybody else’s dumbfoundment, suddenly began to open. The stained-glass rosette slid into a recess and, fifteen feet in diameter, a hole gaped at us. The assembly was spellbound as the lights went down and strobes started to flick their baleful hysteria around the room. 

Abruptly a motorcycle started revving. No ordinary motorcycle, this one belonged to some malevolent biker god; the deafening cough and roar and throb vibrated in the very marrow of your bones. The revving of the engine was taken up and reinforced by an electric guitar, blasting us with a tidal wave of rock’n’roll sufficient to turn a tape vendor impotent. It was hallucinogenic. The first thing that came to my mind was we were all going to have to go on a walkathon. But that was not in fact the case.

While the music raged to a triumphant pitch, a mass of chrome and steel began to descend through the ceiling aperture. A gleaming Harley-Davidson 1200 lowered into sight, swinging slowly around its cable. As it emerged, you had to notice a bunch of bare feet — four of them, to be exact. And these feet were attached, two apiece, to a man and woman. These young people were astride the bike, the woman furthermore astride the man, who wore only a Nazi helmet, spiked armlets, and spurs. What a weird individual was Mr Fat, was all I had to say, which was safe enough to say since for sure no one could hear me through that din. 

There was nowhere for Bia to look away to now, even if, under the circumstances, she had had the presence of mind to look away. The champagne glass had been spirited away while we were mesmerized by the noise and lights and feet. But now the stage was a frenzied phantasmagoria of jerky blue-white figures in carnal knots of two to four, with the couple on the motorcycle the centerpiece. 

Eventually things wound down, and everyone took a bow, a nice curtain call. The biker picked up the girl from where she lay on the floor, slung her over his shoulder, and everybody trooped off stage right through a door. The motorcycle itself ascended through the storm of hard rock and strobes and disappeared once more into the ceiling, which closed behind it. 

The Japanese gentlemen were still applauding enthusiastically, and I was wondering what could ever follow such an exhibition, when there was the muffled sound of an explosion from somewhere outside. A big explosion, audible through a break in the rock’n’roll. Then another. And another. 

Fat Fat turned towards our table and barked interrogatively at Fatman No.1. You could see from his face he wasn’t in the mood for explosions right at that moment, especially explosions he knew nothing about. Fatman No.1 then barked in a similar vein at Fun, who told sent some of his pals to check things out. Fun himself stuck to minding me for the time being. 

The rosette had closed up once more, and Bia was looking at the ceiling again — careless of how this ceiling had already betrayed her once before. Suddenly there was an almighty crash, louder than the music even, followed almost immediately by another, and a huge metal object, as big as a bank vault, came smashing through the ceiling — right through the rosette and down onto stage center, coming to rest in a pile of splintered flooring and glass and bits of Harley-Davidson. What a showstopper. 

My, my, I was thinking. Fat Fat was certainly sparing no expense for this one. What was going to crawl out of the bucket, I wondered. A couple of fucking elephants? No matter how depressed I was, I had to admit this act had caught my attention. 

Even though I didn’t have the faintest idea what the hell was evolving here, I had to admit it was impressive. It had style. Willie and Tommy were just never going to stand accused of being standard, not if they had anything to do with it. And this monstrous metal bucket sitting there on the stage was a masterpiece, especially with the strobes still flicking away. The music had stopped, which somehow lent this objet even more of a presence. 

So that’s how it stood for the space of several seconds. We all sat there stupefied with admiration and various other emotions, while the bucket sat there and stared mutely back. Neither elephants nor anything else issued from it to relieve the suspense. 

One of the Japanese, the drunkest one, started to clap again; but that died down in a hurry once he and his buddies started to see which way the wind was blowing. 

Fat Fat stood up and started screaming and fluttering frantically. His fly was wide open, but I felt this was neither the time nor the place to point it out. The lesser fatmen, plus all the hard boys who were still with us, also got up to make their departure. Fun grabbed me and indicated I should join the exodus, underlining this idea by ramming the muzzle of his pistol up under my jaw. 

Bia and the waitresses, not to mention the performers who were huddled at stage right and the audience, who were showing signs of confusion, were being left behind to ponder the enigma of the bucket by themselves. I looked back and tried to smile reassuringly at Bia, feeling that she was too young and had led, until recently, too sheltered a life to be left alone with situations such as this one. But it was almost impossible to smile reassuringly with the gun shoved up under my chin, and I could see Mu’s sister was upset despite my best efforts. As we went out, all the girls were huddled together in a fetching way that would no doubt have done Fat Fat’s heart good to see. Some Japanese meanwhile had taken to huddling together under a table, a delayed reflex probably instilled by lifetimes spent waiting for earthquakes. 

We went directly to the control room, where the alarms were whooping away, and where Fat Fat screamed at a technician to turn them off, leaving only the sound of elevator jazz and heavy breathing. The twenty screens were ablaze with action. What a program. This was all hell breaking loose, and I had a pretty good notion who was responsible. 

On one screen, you could see that the walls on one side of the compound had been smashed in. Now we knew what the explosions had been. 

There was a stream of people fleeing the casino — a regular Who’s Who of the society pages, you had to imagine, though I personally recognized no more than one or two of them. The majority were trying to get out through the breach in the walls. This was in preference to trying the front entrance. According to other monitors, there were a small army of policemen out that way, some of them hammering on the big metal gate, to no effect whatsoever. One had a bullhorn to his mouth. 

Under the circumstances, you could say, wealth had lost some of its faith in its own impunity. 

Over at the Shaking Heaven, there was also all kinds of action. Most of it involved girls and johns in various states of undress rushing around as though they were in a Buster Keaton movie. Only one guy was determined to get his money’s worth, forget about how much his attendant thrashed about like someone who had pressing business elsewhere. 

And this was not to mention Fat Fat’s large staff of dangerous people, who were hustling around waving guns at everything in sight. All in all, this was beyond doubt the most interesting television I had ever seen anywhere. 

The Dobermans were snapping at the crocodiles, while the snakes were mostly busy trying to stay out of everyone’s way, though a couple were obviously pissed off, reared up and hoods spread, swaying back and forth and looking for an opening. I didn’t know where the snakes had come from; nobody had said anything about snakes. The next thing you knew, one Doberman was dragging itself in circles, a nine-foot cobra attached to a hindquarter, while another dog had a different cobra in its jaws and was snapping it back and forth in a frenzy. I even saw one pillar of the community try kicking a dog, which turned out to be a very bad policy under these circumstances, since we then also had a rich person, who was of course by no means a criminal, nevertheless trying to get over the remnants of a wall with a Doberman attached to his ass. The crocodiles, on the whole, were trying to keep a low profile. For the most part, though, it was a fine inter-specific donnybrook, one which would have defied the powers of a Howard Cosell commentary.

The sight of these community pillars up to their assholes in crocodiles and snakes and Dobermans was indeed an edifying thing. It probably would have been a relief to most of these citizens to have some police around by this time, only the police appeared to be up to their own assholes in Fat Fat’s defense system on the other side of the compound. 

The two lesser fatmen were busy on telephones and walkie-talkies, barking at various minions while they stabbed fat fingers at video screens. Fat Fat himself sat at the table in the center of things, staring wildly all around, scowling at his lieutenants and wolfing fried rice from a big plate someone had brought him. Even though the room was air-conditioned to the point I could have used a sweater, Fat Fat was sweating. Sweating and snorting as he shoveled in great spoonfuls of rice, smacking and whining away to himself as he tried to make sense of the spectacle unfolding on his monitors. 

Then he stopped. And so did the lesser fatmen. On Screen No.8, where the giant bucket had up till then been sitting like the Enigma of the Ages, things were happening. Beings were emerging from the vessel, and the first of these beings was none other than Mu’s cousin Rhot, who was carrying an M-16 assault rifle. His face was still a mess from the pistol-whipping. 

I suddenly remembered Rhot’s boozy stories about patrol duty with the Rangers down on the Malaysian border, and it occurred to me that perhaps it hadn’t been total bullshit after all. 

“Rhot!” I said, which was not a smart thing to say just at that time. But maybe nobody had heard me, I thought. 

He swung first one leg over the side and then the other, balanced for a moment and then dropped down, crouching and moving to take cover behind the far side of the stage. 

The next face to appear did not surprise me half as much, this particular space cadet being none other than the noted layer-waste-of-all-things-obstructionist Wrong-Way Willie Wong. Willie had blood streaming down the side of his head. With Rhot providing covering fire if needed, Willie also first disembarked and then dismounted the stage, taking up a strategic position with his Uzi. 

“Who are these people?” Fat Fat was stabbing his finger at Screen No.8 and turning purple.

The next face to appear I could have made money on, if anybody had wanted to bet with me. Tommy Two-Toes must have landed harder than anybody else, though, because he looked totally fed up. Even with translation into electronic signals and transmission through camera and wires and video monitor, the Look had force, and there wasn’t anybody in the control room, including Fat Fat himself, who didn’t flinch. 

Tommy had locked onto the video camera. He raised his 11mm pistol, sighted in on us, and the screen went blank. 

There was an excited gabble, as everybody forgot about the other screens and stared at the space where Tommy had only recently been. 

“You! Farang.” Fat Fat indicated he wanted to talk to me. Fun still had his gun on me. He shoved me over towards the table. 

“You sit!” Fat Fat’s eyes were hooded. 

I sat down across the little table from him. 

“Who is ‘Rhot’?”

“Doesn’t that mean ‘car,’ in Thai?” I asked. In fact, Rhot was named ‘Rhot’ because he had been born in the back seat of a car. 

Fat Fat told me to stand up and lean over closer. He told me to do this in a tone of voice I didn’t want to argue with, especially when Fun rammed the barrel of his automatic into the back of my head. The lesser fatmen had come over to stand either side of me, now, and I was getting this twinge of claustrophobia. It didn’t help that I was starving to death and needed a smoke so bad my lungs ached. 

Fun said something to Fat Fat, and even without understanding what he said I could read in Fat’s face that Fun had recognized Rhot. 

Fat Fat half rose to meet me, still chewing a mouthful of rice. He grabbed the chain on my amulet and twisted it up in his fist till it cut into my neck. He was barking in my face in Thai and Chinese and none of it did I understand. Meanwhile Fun kept ramming the gun into the back of my head, which made me very uncomfortable; and I was leaning over so far I was afraid that any minute I was going to take a dive into Fat Fat’s plate of rice. Fatman No.1 told me Fat Fat wanted to know what I knew about these interesting events. 

“Nothing,” I answered. “I thought this was all part of the show.” 

“Farang dogshit!” said Fun, and drove his gun into my kidney, I guess for a change. 

Fatman No.2 grabbed my hair in one hand and drew a knife gently across my throat with the other. The keen smarting and a tickle of blood running down inside my shirt told me I had been cut. I was starting to think the timing of Willie’s raid had gone seriously haywire, at least from my point of view. 

“You will answer Mr Fat’s questions now, farang,” Fatman No.1 informed me. 

Fat Fat himself was screaming at me at a range of about four inches, bits of rice and spittle flying into my face and making me sick. He twisted and yanked on my chain till the blood roared in my ears and I couldn’t have told him “Jai yen yen” even if I’d thought that was a good idea. Abruptly he released me and fell back into his chair. “One minute, farang. One minute and then you tell me. Or you die.” He scooped a big spoonful of rice and tossed it back like you stoke a boiler, snorting and chewing mightily. 

This was not good, I thought. This would be a poor time to die, with help so close at hand. Come on Willie, Tommy, I thought. Move it. 

I reached for my amulet, thinking maybe its power had finally worn off after all; probably drained by my bad karma. But there was no amulet. The chain was still there, but the little clay figure was gone. 

I had just started to put two and two together, and I was running my eye over the table, when Fat Fat started to choke. He rose from his seat, clutching at his throat, gagging and trying to gasp and turning purple. 

The fatmen and Fun and the others all gathered around as Fat Fat subsided to the floor, choking to death on my amulet. You might have expected somebody to start pounding him on the back or something. After all, these were supposed to be his buddies. It could be they suffered the same inhibition that allowed commoners to stand by as royalty drowned, it being a capital crime, in the old days here in Thailand, to lay hands on a member of the royal family. 

I had learned about the Heimlich maneuver and that stuff way back when. But I wasn’t so keen on seeing Fat Fat in good health, to tell the truth. Anyway, I had noticed that Fun put his gun down for a minute so he could try to pull Fat Fat up off the floor. It really is a disgrace, I agree with Willie, what professional standards have come to these days. 

At the same time I went for the pistol, I snapped a piston kick right at Fun’s arse, which was conveniently turned towards me as he bent over. Gun in hand, I yelled “Reach for the sky, assholes!” Most of the people present were able to figure out what I was after, given my general manner and tone of voice, but two of the hard boys were plainly confused by my choice of idiom. “Put your hands up!” I elaborated. “Up, up.” 

Fun stood up and merely grinned, though not too happily, seeing as how I had launched him nose-first into the floor and, adding insult to injury, swiped his arsenal besides. 

“Farang. You no shoot. Cannot.” 

“Oh, yeah?” I said, thinking that probably I could if I had to. I was no killer, okay; but Fun was a special case, in my mind. 

“Cannot shoot. Safety. No safety.” He was smiling and gesturing helpfully towards the gun. 

I knew he was trying to bluff me. The trouble was, I was not 100 percent sure where the safety catch was, much less whether it was off or on. I could see Fun sizing me up for a tackle. And the fatmen were making moves which smacked of going for their guns. 

So I tested it. I pulled the trigger. 

This had the consequence of making a loud noise and blowing away the video monitor that had been showing the lack of progress the police had made coming in through the northern defences. Fun stopped smiling, and everybody except Fatman No.2 stopped going for their guns.

The latter individual I shot. 

Wyatt Earp I’m not, needless to say, not even knowing which is the safety catch and which is the clutch. Nevertheless, as it happened I hit No.2 right in the gun. He went over backwards, what with the impact of an 11mm slug whanging him in the gun and then glancing off to put a hole in his armpit. 

I got a solid two-handed grip on the pistol and sighted in on Fun’s teeth next, imagining the shower of ivory and blood, and I wondered how many bullets this gun had in it. I was also wondering how to say “Put your guns down and turn to the wall” in Thai. 

I was wondering a lot of things. Things such as where the hell were Willie and Tommy and what was I paying them for anyway? 

I was also thinking what a hard thing it was to shoot a man in the mouth, even this man and this mouth, when I noticed Fatman No.1 reaching down and then raising something towards me. At the same time I swung the barrel of my pistol towards him, I was aware of Fun lunging towards me. And at that moment Fun’s face did explode, and there probably were teeth all over the joint, though I didn’t stop to check. Everybody in the room hit the floor, including me, as we tried to duck the incredible storm of bullets which followed. I had my nose pressed flat against the floor, my hands over my head, and for once I wasn’t thinking anything. Nothing at all. I was only waiting to see what existence had in store, always supposing there was going to be any further existence in which to store things. 

Eventually, the shooting stopped, and I heard a voice say “Jack.” 

I opened my eyes and looked up to see Hip bending anxiously towards me. 

“Hip!” I said. “Thank God. Give me a cigarette.” 

So there we were, standing by the door to the control room having a talk just as though we hadn’t seen each other in years. Willie was jacking another magazine into his Uzi and telling me we had to hurry, though; and Tommy was already on his way back to the theater to rejoin Rhot, who had been left behind look after the girls. 

“I see they cut your throat,” said Hip in a conversational tone, as though this was something which happened to most people from time to time. “Your shirt is a mess.” 

“Yeah,” I answered him. 

And then I blasted Fatman No.1 in the face, which I admit was just a lucky shot, seeing as how I didn’t even know where the safety catch was on one of these pistols and I had smoke in my eyes as well. Fat Fat’s chief lieutenant had appeared over the edge of the table with a gun and an unpleasant expression pointed at Hip’s back. 

“Yo, Arno. Thanks for that.” And Hip did look grateful, once he saw what the score was and why I was going around shooting off guns and scaring the shit out of people. 

“Good job, farang. You, I mean. Jack.” Willie was clearly in his element. He looked ten years younger, and moved with a confidence which was entirely inspiring. He turned, just before we left the control room, and used his Uzi to hose down the few remaining monitors and a couple of the guards who might have still been moving. 

The rest of it went like clockwork, sort of. Tommy and Rhot were waiting for us in the showroom with Bia and the rest of them. The audience had split, that part of it which wasn’t lying around dead; and they were out there taking their chances with the dogs and crocodiles and suchlike. None of the girls who had elected to go with us had much more than a stitch on, so we wrapped them up in some linen tablecloths and lifted them aboard. 

You can say anything you like about men who go around making a living by shooting and otherwise hassling people, but Tommy and Willie were real gentlemen. Not only did they wrap all the girls in tablecloths, they put them in the bucket first. Only then did the rest of us climb aboard. 

Willie turned to Tommy so his partner could get at the little khaki pack he had on his back. Producing a stubby pistol with a bore like a toilet roll, Tommy reached up and fired a flare through the hole in the ceiling. About ten seconds later we were on our way. We briefly got hooked up with some parts of the roof on our way out, and for a moment I feared we might have to go out through the interesting times in the compound instead. But whoever was operating the crane could have been an old trout fisherman, the way he played our getaway conveyance, and in a second or two we were away, soaring high into the night sky. 

High into a night sky which was all lit up red, and which also seemed to be full of flying bullets, judging by the constant ringing and whanging on our bucket. You had to wonder for a minute if the alternative route might not have been best after all. We could also see spotlights were playing on the cable and on the clouds of smog above us, but nobody was in the mood to try looking over the side to try shooting them out. 

“Tommy,” Willie said. “You bring flares with parachutes on them. This is a bad policy, I have to think.” 

Chai,” answered Tommy. “Yes.” 

Anyway, it didn’t matter so much about the parachute on the flare, because it was only a moment later that the fireworks went off. You could hear the pop-popping and some bangs and there was probably lots more than we got to see since, looking out through the top of the bucket, all we could make out were the rocket-bursts. It was pretty, though. 

“I make him about twelve minutes late with the fireworks show,” said Hip. “How could he screw up that badly?” 

“You just can’t find good help these days,” Willie suggested. 

The fireworks display had the effect of distracting the ladies from their attempts to out-scream each other, which was nice. And the shooting seemed to have let up; though of course by now we had been swung way around to the other side of the condo. 

“Hip. Where are we going now?” I was pleased to hear how steady my voice was. 

“Yo, Arno. Don’t worry.”

Mai pen rai, Jack,” added Willie. “We have a truck waiting.” 

At that moment we stopped. We hung there swinging for a few seconds; then we suddenly dropped fast enough to leave my stomach somewhere up there in the night sky above us. The ladies took to screaming again as we crashed through the roof of some place, coming to rest in a brightly lit room full of other people who were screaming. They didn’t build things to last in Bangkok, was my impression; but I could understand that, since anything you built was going to be torn down to make way for a condominium anyway. 

There we were, a pile of people all mashed down in the bottom of our bucket, listening to the sound of unhappy voices expressing emotions in a way Thais were not supposed to express their feelings in public. And a sudden swirl of frigid air carried with it the smell of hamburgers and french fries, which was just about enough to drive me crazy. I hadn’t had anything to eat for three days, after all; the nam phrik gapi mangda, which I’d heaved anyway, didn’t count. 

When I pulled myself up and peeked over the rim of our spacecraft, I saw that we were in an A&W. Could you believe it? Way out here in the suburbs, and the aliens had invaded even before we got there. As far as I could make out, we hadn’t landed on any people, but we were blocking the stairway to the ground floor, and a small crowd of local fast-food freaks were massed over behind the counter with the staff, everybody totally forgetting to maintain their jai yen. I thought about asking someone to toss me a hamburger or two, but my Thai is a disgrace. By the time I doped out what I had to say, the bucket had started to ascend again. 

And I was yelling “No, no.” 

Tommy and Willie, on the other hand, were yelling “Mai chai; mai chai,” which is about the same thing, while Rhot and Hip were not saying much of anything, only trying to calm the girls down. These individuals were all making shrill noises, which created an unfavorable atmosphere if you were trying to think what to do in a situation such as this one. 

We had caught the edge of the ceiling on the way out, and there was a great rending and screeching of building materials which failed to cover the sounds of more screaming from somewhere below us. 

Then we were swinging free, and we were thinking thank God for this; when suddenly we swung way around and dropped again. This time we didn’t go through any roof. Instead, we first slammed into the side of something — another building, as it turned out — so that we were all in a heap in the bottom again; and then we landed with a horrible crunching sound and tilted 60o to the side, which was enough that we could crawl out and stand down on the street, not too much the worse for wear, all things considered. 

Under the bucket was a Mitsubishi pickup truck, well flattened. And wasn’t that something, Rhot told us, because this very pickup truck had been our getaway vehicle. How did Sombat do this thing, sitting in the cockpit of the crane way up there about 200 feet above us in the dark? 

“Sombat is a real artist,” was Hip’s opinion; and this was the first I knew that Sombat had been our pilot on this interesting trip. 

It would have been a poor idea to hail a taxi, what with a bunch of girls wrapped in tablecloths and all the guys rodded up to the earlobes, looking like the Dirty Dozen on crack. But we couldn’t stand around here forever. If Fat’s men didn’t get to us, then the cops would, and that could have been inconvenient under the circumstances. So Tommy and Hip hot-wired one of the Benzes parked along the street, getting past the doorlock, wheellock, and any other lines of defence faster than most people could have done it using the keys. 

“Something I picked up in Vietnam,” Hip said to me. 

The number of people we crammed into that car might have got us a mention in the Guinness Book of World Records. And I was surprised to hear Mu’s voice in the back seat saying “Bia, are you okay?” 

“Mu?” I asked her. “What the hell are you doing here?” 

“Bia is my sister. You are my man. I was waiting with the pickup truck.” 

“Jesus Christ, Mu,” I said. And that’s all I said because everybody was trying to talk at once; and Willie finally yelled “Shut up! I have to drive this car.”


Next week we review exactly what happened, and just who was responsible for which part of those very interesting developments.