This week Jack receives a gift. Fat Fat also introduces him to the Dead Show.
Selections from Arno Petty’s Intelligencer and Weekly Gleaner
- APROPOS OF NOTHING. Ambrose Bierce, in his Devil’s Dictionary, defined wealth as impunity.
- THEM AND US. One high public official says that the recent raid on the biggest illegal casino ever discovered in the city was a waste of time. Thai people like gambling, he says, and no amount of police raids is going to change that. What’s the harm anyway, he asks? Most of the people the cops grab in these raids aren’t criminals; they’re ‘rich people.’ Enough said.
“You. Farang dogshit. Khun Fat say you come.”
This time Fun and his helpers actually invaded my apartment. Just another quiet Sunday at home. One of them stayed with the car out on the soi, while Fun and the other pair walked into the lane to come up and bang on the door. I was sleeping when they arrived, and they pushed right into the bedroom to get me.
Mu was screaming at them, and I was screaming at her to relax — it was okay; Mr Fat and I merely had some stuff to discuss. Granny was screeching queries at everybody the same as usual, while the girls were all screaming in sympathy with Mu, though I’m pretty sure none of them had any idea what was going on. And Dok, of course, loved any opportunity to shriek in a high-pitched voice. All in all, it was no way to wake up from an afternoon nap.
Probably figuring that as long as there was going to be this hysteria, people might as well have something to be hysterical about, one of Fun’s helpers grabbed Rhot on our way out, walked him into a corner and pistol-whipped him till his face was torn and bloody. Fun meanwhile held another gun on me, grinning away like a busted piano with too many keys. None of this helped Mu relax.
We had to come back up the stairs once more to get the brochure copy I had written, after I explained to Fun that Fat Fat would be unhappy if we didn’t bring it. Rhot was in the kitchen getting cleaned up. He looked pretty bad; and the girls looked at me as though the whole thing were my fault. And maybe it was at that.
Outside, I smiled at Big Lek the somtam lady, telling her “No problem” as we went by, Fun and friend hanging onto either side of me; but she just stared at me and the rest of these proceedings in amazement. They threw me into the back seat of the car, a big black Benz with smoked glass windows and gold trim on the grill and everywhere, and put a bag over my head. Hip had told me the article wouldn’t come out till the following week for sure. I hoped he knew what he was talking about. I really hoped so.
It was a long ride, much of it spent stuck in traffic. I tried to keep a sense of direction, but soon gave that up as a lost cause. So what I did instead, I did my breathing exercises, trying to get my heart-rate down to three figures and concentrating on what clues I could pick up, which were none. One thing: the practice of mindfulness in this case proved to be no problem; in fact it was difficult to be unmindful of the situation I was in, which was by no means a good one. The air-conditioning was cranked up to the point I was freezing to death, moreover, which of course explained why I was shaking just a little.
Fun whiled away the time by poking at me with his gun or else nattering on a car phone to what could have been a bunch of girlfriends, only that didn’t seem right to me: who would want to hang out with this disaster, if he wasn’t actually holding a gun on you? When Fun wasn’t on the phone, the guys in the front seat were playing Carabao tapes at top volume. I figured they probably wanted to soften me up for whatever other tortures were on the agenda. At least it wasn’t Milli Vanilli.
Finally I had this feeling we were traveling along some more or less quiet residential streets, and then we slowed right down and did an abrupt turn uphill. There being no hills in Bangkok, I figured this for a driveway, and I was right. Fun opened a window and said something to somebody, and then a big metal gate opened up, clanging shut behind us as we drove through. Then it happened again and, since I didn’t think we had turned around and gone out again already, I figured there were two big gates, and possibly two walls to go with them as well.
We got out of the car and I was led stumbling up some steps into a building. Only when the first door closed behind us did they remove the hood. Then we were admitted through three more heavy doors, solid steel they looked like, with locks and crossbars and guards on each one. This gave me the idea that maybe Fat Fat was on the run from some babe back in Taiwan. But this notion might have been due to some mild hysteria on my part; and on the whole I was not too light-hearted about the way things were going this right at this time.
The room I finally found myself in was ordinary enough, if you overlooked the absence of windows. You had the standard quarter-life-size teak elephants by the entrance plus the bigger-than-life-size bronze storks which flanked the sweeping stairway to a second floor. Even the ten-foot-high copy of a Reubens in its ornate gilt frame could have been typical, the way things were going in this boom economy and what with this new middle class going around fixing up places to live in. White plaster statuary, neo-classical maybe, held what looked like street lamps and stood guard everywhere there were no elephants or birds and all the way up the stairs too. Just to make everything perfect, there was fusion jazz emanating from speakers stashed in the corners somewhere.
I noticed that I was sweating despite the arctic air-conditioning, this testament to the good times we lived in. Big ceiling fans with kitschy lamps attached hung from the ceiling, though in this class of place nobody ever used fans because you weren’t anybody unless you could turn your guests blue with the air-conditioning. Though I didn’t spend much time thinking about these aspects of the matter just at that time.
All I would be able to tell Willie so far was that I had been taken to a big house located an hour and a half away from my apartment in moderately heavy traffic and parked, I suspected, behind two walls of indeterminate height equipped with iron gates. There were men, I didn’t know how many, at each gate; there were more men in an anteroom with video screens off the main hallway. And there were elephants and big birds in the vestibule, not to mention some huge pink ladies in a gold frame and elevator music everywhere. Something told me that wouldn’t be enough information to go on.
Fun and his boys took me upstairs and down a corridor to a room where they had to knock three times. A ceiling-mounted video camera swiveled towards us and stared a moment before we were admitted.
“Where is Mr Fat?” he asked one of the two men with submachine guns who greeted us.
“Khun Fat is late,” the guard answered. “The traffic’s terrible.”
“You. Farang. Sit.” Fun showed me his teeth.
Three more men, all of them armed, sat at a long table, and I joined them. They’d been monitoring the banks of twenty video screens which were mounted on two of the walls. Now they took a break to leer at me and say “You! You!”
“Yeah, yeah,” I answered them. “You.” I checked them out, but none of them looked like the guy who tried to shoot me in the taxi. The elevator music was everywhere.
On the banks of monitors I could make out a variety of scenes — one of them an enormous high-ceilinged room with crystal chandeliers and a sizeable crowd of people, at least for a Sunday afternoon, milling around a vast array of gaming tables. Another afforded a look into a smaller room where about twenty lovely girls sat naked on bleachers behind a glass wall, each of them with a different number stuck to her shoulder like prizes at a dog show. Between the camera and the tank, a few men sat on divans sipping drinks and enjoying the scenery. On another screen, a man was doing something with a woman that he probably didn’t realize was a public performance. He wasn’t showing much inhibition, at any rate.
Fun walked over to an elaborate control consol and adjusted something. The view on the screen zoomed in closer, and the girl looked directly into the camera and stifled a yawn. Chances were the john didn’t know about the camera either.
Other monitors were covering a variety of doors and gates. One screen blinked regularly, alternately displaying what seemed to be at least three, and probably four, guard towers. These were the only outside views, and they told me nothing about where we were. Several of the screens were blank. The room itself was windowless.
Just then there was a triple knock at the door, and one of the screens showed three fat men at a door, the three fat men in question being Fat Fat and the two lesser fats, and the door being the very one that now was opening on the room in which we sat.
“Farang. Is-sey,” Fat Fat said. “I am happy to see you.”
Right away, I could see something was wrong. He floated into the room with the two lesser fats, the three of them a trio of weather balloons on short leashes.
Fat Fat did almost look as though he was glad to see me, at that; and his two henchmen appeared as benign as I’d seen them. They came to rest at the table, Fat Fat settling beside me, on my side of the table. Hardly had the trio stopped billowing when two waitresses wheeling a trolley of food were also admitted to the room. Very cute waitresses with no clothes on except for little lace aprons which covered a bit of their fronts and that was all. One of them was slim and fair-skinned. Her breasts were firm nubbins tipped with soft pink aureoles, the nipples erect with public attention and air-conditioning. When she stood between myself and Fat Fat to serve him, I noticed goose pimples and the fine downy hair, almost invisible, that covered her back. Not to mention some fine, crisscrossing stripes of what looked like scar tissue, also almost invisible. She looked about sixteen, tops. There was a tiny blue and red and yellow butterfly tattooed on one buttock. The other waitress was a ripe little berry, brown-skinned and full-breasted; she was no older and maybe even younger than her friend. She had what could have been a merry sort of face, except that now she looked mostly scared.
The taller, slimmer one started feeding morsels of this and that to Fat Fat, first tasting each dish herself but not because she was hungry. The Brown Berry wiped at his face and then his arms with a cold towel. Then she ran another cloth up under Fat Fat’s shirt, doing his belly in big swipes just as though she were washing a Volkswagen. He chomped and slurped at a large mouthful of noodles, and pulled at his crotch, mightily pleased with life it was plain to see.
I had to wipe my own face, and my towel reeked of cheap cologne. It burned my eyelids. I wanted to ask about Bia; though on the other hand I didn’t want to.
The three fatmen had been on a weekend meditation retreat, or so Fatman No.1 informed me.
“You. Farang. You must slow down. Learn the way; the Middle Way,” Fat Fat said. “Hee, hee,” he added, in a more inscrutable vein still. “All the time jai yen yen. Cool heart, na?”
His underlings meanwhile bobbed away in the background on their clouds of good karma, not saying anything, but clearly having lots to say if only words could tell. All three of them kept moving very carefully, floating around in slow motion as though they didn’t want to let any of that good karma spill over.
Suddenly Fat Fat slapped the waitress’s hand away, impatient with this tedious succession of morsels no matter how blissed out he might be. He shoveled a bowl full of food for himself and dug in with a will. “You,” he said to me. “Eat.” But I wasn’t very hungry. Then Fat Fat lifted the tall girl’s apron. “You. Farang. Eat!” Fat Fat poked at her. “Here. Is good! No? You no like? Hee, hee.”
The girl blushed from her hairline down to her apron string, and looked away into a corner. I noticed that she was slightly pigeon-toed, though that was a minor flaw in an otherwise perfectly set-up young creature. Aside from a few goose pimples and scars, of course. The butterfly was nice.
All the fatmen and Fun as well laughed and said maybe the farang doesn’t like Thai food, plus other comments in a similar vein. It seemed there was some inside joke going on, though I didn’t know what it was. Fat Fat slapped the tall waitress on her bottom, leaving a greasy spot. Then he took to an avid fondling of the Brown Berry, weighing each breast in turn and leering at me. “Is virgin,” he said.
Fat Fat wanted to demonstrate his toys.
There must have been fifty video cameras installed around the place and, as I said, about twenty screens just in this one room alone. He had his technicians show me the dogs which patrolled the grounds. These were Dobermans and they were kept pretty hungry, or so I was told and I had no reason to doubt it. A thicket of punji stakes, of a type you wouldn’t want to fall on if you were climbing in or trying to climb out either, were arrayed inside the outer wall. But this was nothing compared to what else Fat Fat had stashed between the walls. I was going to have lots to tell Willie, and none of it was what you would have called good news.
“Closer,” Fat Fat said in Thai; and a technician zoomed in on one of the crocodiles. An ugly, prehistoric beast which, as though it sensed our attention, chose that moment to slide off the bank into the moat, its V-shaped wake joining those of several more denizens of the perimeter defenses. They looked big, and more than a little intimidating, supposing you were of a mind to climb in over this wall after hours. Or out. “Fun! Show farang the cloco-die.”
All of a sudden Fun was really and truly a crocodile, just as ugly and even toothier. He leaned over the table towards the waitress, rolling his body and grunting and gnashing his ivories.
He was a man of many talents, I could see that. He sat back laughing heartily, well pleased at how his performance had been received. Fat Fat sent the Brown Berry around the table to wipe Fun off.
The guard towers, according to what the video screens had told me, were on the fourth wall, the inside one. I didn’t see anything else of note except what looked like the neighborhood’s first condominium project, only the structural steel so far, just beyond the outer wall. It was probably the wall to the west, judging by the angle of the sun. A billboard hung on the side of it said ONOCO: BUILDING A FUTURE FOR YOU. I repeated this to myself a few times, hoping it would stay with me. Maybe it would help us find this place afterwards. The trouble with going around always writing everything down in notebooks is that finally your brain, or at least my brain, thinks it’s okay to stop remembering anything that isn’t written down.
“You see these people?” Fatman No.1 was pointing to the casino screen. “They are Mr Fat’s clients. You think they look like criminals? So they are gambling. Thais like to gamble. Everybody likes to gamble. The police are never going to stop that. And these people — look down there — these are rich people. Important people. How can they be criminals?”
Within the same walled compound, there was also the Luckyland Shaking Heaven Massage Parlor and Bowling Alley, which we had already had a glimpse of on the video screens. The building we were in was known as Luckyland One.
Screens No.12 through 18 monitored the Luckyland Casino — the main gambling hall plus the smaller rooms. There was a card game going on in a private room, just a quiet affair with five players, one of whom would have given me a story with two-inch headlines. That’s if the newspapers could have printed it, which they couldn’t have; and if I would have written it, which I wouldn’t have.
Screens No.8 through 11 were giving insights into life in the Shaking Heaven Therapeutic Massage Parlor and Bowling Alley. Screen No.11 of course was the fishtank, where the clients got to inspect the girls through one-way glass.
“And you see here?” Fatman No.1 continued. “Here are some more people enjoying Mr Fat’s hospitality. And you are going to call Mr Fat a criminal because he does what he can to make life good for these rich people? That’s not right.”
He punched some keys on the control panel, and one of the screens started flipping from bedroom to bedroom, revealing these citizens engaged in a variety of therapeutic activities, some of them quite imaginative and not necessarily beneficial to health.
“You see here?” he went on. “These are important men. These men get respect; they are honored by society. But you see their bottoms?” He zoomed in on one such article in particular. “They are big and ugly and they go up and down exactly like yours or mine.
“What it is, it is image. Public image. You must present yourself the way you want people to see you. You must tell people who you are and what you are. If you don’t, then they won’t know. They will think you are just some guy.”
Fat Fat said something to the lesser fatmen, and Fatman No.1 translated it for me: “‘Do good work, but don’t stand out.’ That is always Mr Fat’s policy. But where does it get him? People call him bad names and talk about only some of his business dealings, and never mention the good work he does in the community.”
Fat Fat was following all of this with great interest, as though he could understand everything, and he looked very happy with things. “Write. Farang, you write this down, na? Yeah. You write.”
“Good idea,” said Fatman No.1. “Maybe you should get this stuff down; you can use it in your stories.”
“That is a good idea,” I answered him. “But don’t worry; I have a very retentive memory.”
“You write,” he said.
So I wrote some stuff in my pocket diary.
“Farang,” Fat Fat suddenly asked me. “Where you get that pen?”
This confused me. I held up my stick pen, which had cost 3.5 baht, and I said “This one?”
“Is nerd pen.”
“Nerd,” Fat Fat yapped. “Nerd. Nerd.” He said something to Fatman No.1 in Chinese. Now his hands were fluttering, and he was going to need another dose of meditation to keep him on the Middle Path, at this rate.
“Nud pen?” I replied, thinking I really should do something about learning more Thai. “Noed pen ..? What the hell? I don’t know. I think it’s mine …”
“Mr Fat says you have a nerd pen,” Fatman No.1 advised me. “He says, ‘Do you have no respect for yourself?’ What kind of reporter writes with a pen such as that one?
“You work for Mr Fat now. Here; you take this.” And Fatman No.1 handed me a gold-plated ballpoint pen of the type I hate, with a skinny barrel that gets slippery with sweat even before I am well started. “Mr Fat deals with top people only. You work for Mr Fat, you are part of his face. Your job is to let the public know how much face he really has.
“And remember this: you write these good things about Mr Fat, and you do it soon, or Mr Fat cuts your hands off. Understand?”
I did understand. Fatman No.1’s English was excellent, and he had a succinct way of putting things. I could see it would be quite hard to write anything either complimentary or uncomplimentary about Fat Fat, or about anybody else either, if I had no hands. So I said no problem; I will write what you want.
At the same time I said this, I noticed I was making scribbling motions in my diary with my new pen. Maybe I was a nerd at that, I thought to myself, and I put the pen away.
Fatman No.1 had been going through the brochure copy I had brought with me, frowning with concentration. “This is good,” he said to Fat Fat in Chinese. I knew this was what he said because he repeated it in Thai for Fun, who didn’t care if it was good or not, as far as I could see.
To me, however, Fatman No.1 said this: “Why you don’t say this is the best condominium? Or that it is ‘exquisite’? And you don’t say here how it is in parkland, with trees all around even though it is in the heart of the city. Why don’t you say these things? Other condominium brochures say these things; you want people to think we are not as good as these other places? You will change this.”
“Sure,” I said right away. Once you actually steel yourself to the prospect of writing a brochure, any concern for the facts of the matter or the ethics of it either is kind of misplaced. It’s like a hooker agreeing on her price and climbing into the sack and then refusing to screw unless she’s certain it means something to both parties.
Fat Fat was happy again, sitting there in the center of his control room full of windows on his world. And, still brimming with spiritual goodness, my host barked only softly at Fatman No.2, who in turn barked softly for a while into the mobile phone. Fat Fat then had his technicians bring up an indoor shooting range on one monitor.
“Farang,” he told me in his kindliest voice. “You look this.”
Seven lanes were divided one from the other by long partitions; they extended from the shooting stand towards a wall of both fixed and moveable targets. Just three men, one of them with an automatic pistol and the other two with revolvers, stood ready at three of the lanes. The camera looked down from a vantagepoint above and behind the stand, so we had a good view of proceedings when a door to the left of the range opened, down by the targets, and a young man came stumbling out. The door closed behind him. He threw himself against it, but it was obviously built to handle such contingencies. The shooter on the left fired once downrange and the guy started to sprint for the other side. In doing so, he had to cross the fields of fire of the other two marksmen who, I noticed, were only firing from the hip; they didn’t seem too bothered about hitting anything. The target got to the other side and whammed into the wall, spinning on the rebound and heading back the way he had come, legs pumping like Ben Johnson on jet fuel, his hands and arms just a blur by his sides.
I noticed Fat Fat had grabbed the skinny waitress, and he was telling her “Look, look!” even though she didn’t want to look. She was crying. The Berry, on the other hand, was gazing down at her feet, face hidden behind her hair.
The men with the guns, the ones who were now laughing and firing way over the head of the target and laughing some more, were business associates of Mr Fat, I was told. Two Japanese gentlemen and a Thai. Two Japanese businessmen, actually, and a police captain.
One of Fat Fat’s interests, mostly a hobby, was running this shooting gallery, which was a very popular feature of Luckyland One, maybe because they sometimes used live targets. Usually these targets were people Fat Fat was displeased with in some way. Sometimes the yakuza would bring their own pigeons, people they were displeased with in some way.
“You. Farang,” said Fatman No.1. “You see? This person does not make Mr Fat happy. In fact he pisses him off. So Mr Fat says he must run three times across the range. That is bad for him. But it is not shooting fish in a barrel. Not at all. The rules say you have to hit a hand first, and then a foot. After that you can shoot to kill.
“Sometimes you only have to run once, or twice. That is if Mr Fat is pissed off just a little bit.”
Fat Fat’s gallery was the most popular one in Thailand, on the whole, or so he told me, and I saw no reason to doubt this, looking around at the happy faces on the gunmen. It was especially popular with the yakuza, it seemed, who had a tough time getting enough target practice in Japan. They also liked the support facilities.
The guy who pissed Fat Fat off had made two runs and he hadn’t been touched, though, as I said before, it didn’t look as though the shooters were really trying. And this was the case, because on the last lap the first gun caught him in the hand, throwing him off stride for a second and causing him some shock and pain, by the look of it. The next gun got him in the foot; and he went down immediately, spun off balance and now in some more shock and pain. Running on his bad foot was probably out of the question, so he tried to crawl the rest of the way. As he came into the last gun’s line of fire, he took a slug in the side, which left him flopping around on the floor. The three sportsmen got together at that and tossed a coin. Then one of them, the guy whose lane it was anyway, took quick aim and fired once more and the man stopped moving.
“Dead Show!” exclaimed Fat Fat with delight, throwing up his hands and going hee, hee, hee. “Dead Show.”
I had this funny feeling in my stomach, as though I had eaten something bad, except I hadn’t eaten anything at all, so that couldn’t have been it.
“Mr Fat calls this the Dead Show,” the lesser fatman told me, just as though Fat Fat was Oscar Wilde and this was a witty thing he liked to say.
“Not same live show.” Fat Fat was giggling and shaking like a big glop of jelly escaped the mold, and the lesser fats were shaking and giggling right along with him. Fun was showing his teeth and everybody was having a hell of a time, except for the waitresses. And me, of course.
“We see live show now,” Fat Fat informed us, looking very pleased with life indeed. “Pum-pum too much. Farang reporter — now we also see your f’en, guhr-f’en you. Hee, hee.”
He spoke to one of the control-room technicians, who fiddled at his panel for a moment, and then my attention was directed to screen number ten. It was a dressing room. Several girls, most of them wrapped in towels, but a couple of them wrapped in nothing, seemed to be applying body makeup to themselves or to one another. Some of them were doing stretching exercises and suchlike instead. Others were just sitting around. I couldn’t see Bia anywhere.
One in particular was applying some cream or jelly to an intimate part of her person, and Fat Fat had his men zero in on this operation with the camera. He made some comment and the whole room, except for me, who didn’t understand it, and the waitresses, who I guess didn’t find it funny, burst out laughing.
Meanwhile, on the other screen, the one with the shooting range, two boys were at work with a hose and a mop. You had to figure these guys for the Jean-Paul Somsak type; who else were they going to get to screw around at the business end of the Dead Show? Not me, that was for sure. No way.
The tall waitress and the Brown Berry wheeled the trolley out, while Fun and the fatmen made motions as if to go. I got up and was halfway to the door when there was a loud whoop-whooping as though we were getting depth-charged. But no one appeared in any way alarmed.
“Wait. Look,” Fat Fat said. “Number 15.”
“Laser-beam alarm system,” Fatman No.1 told me, the pride in his voice making you think maybe it was none other than him who first invented the laser. “Laser beams along the tops of the walls; and electric eyes everywhere. That is security.”
Screen No.15 was offering a view of the crocodile moat. The camera was aimed down along the inner wall, and a guy at the top of a ladder was wrestling a bag of something the rest of the way over the wall, over the spikes and broken glass. Feeding time at the zoo. The crocodiles had no doubt about what was in the sack, given the way they homed in on it as soon as it dropped onto the grassy bank. They waddled straight at it in the way crocodiles do when they have pressing business, fat scaly tails thrashing from side to side as they converged.
And Fat Fat decided he had one more scene for me. This came up on screen 18. It was a simple room, much like a Holiday Inn, and sitting there on the edge of the bed in denim skirt and blouse was Bia. She was holding her bangs up and looking into a hand mirror, opening her eyes as wide as they would go, again and again.
No matter what an innocent bystander might have thought, this was not primarily a display of naked flesh. It was a display of naked power, and Fat Fat was the star of the show.
The stage was enormous, and would have sufficed for a pornographic half-time at the Rose Bowl. On the ceiling, a good fifteen feet from the stage floor, a big stained-glass rosette, softly backlit by the dying light of day through the skylight behind, nicely accented this cathedral of evil. Broad planked terraces with tables and chairs for the spectators rose from the stage, amphitheater style. This afternoon, however, there was to be merely an intimate affair for a few privileged guests who got to sit at three tables right up front, stage center. Fat Fat apologized, indicating that his shows were often much better than the modest effort this impromptu matinee represented. Aside from Fun and his boys, there were the two Japanese marksmen and the police captain, the three fatmen, Bia, and myself. Plus the performers and waitresses, of course. I got to sit with Fun and Fatman No.1.
The live show reminded me in some ways of a Sunday school pageant, the way the girls, all of them very young, kept smiling shyly and blushing at the applause, clearly modest about their accomplishments but nevertheless pleased someone appreciated them. They took turns, helping each other where assistance was needed, getting up on the stage and doing various things which I didn’t think were erotic, just ridiculous. And sad, even though most of them seemed to be performing these acts with what you could only call a large measure of innocence.
Bia had to stand beside Fat Fat the whole while, and she and I weren’t allowed to talk. Bia was dressed in a short skirt and blouse. The girl on the other side of Fat Fat was entirely naked. Her main job was that of wiping Fat Fat’s arms and belly with cold towels. Bia was protected from much of this and from the show, I suspected, by the fact her bangs hung down over her eyes and she probably couldn’t see anything. Her legs had blue and yellow bruises all over them, of course; but this was nothing new.
“Bia. Are you okay?” I said, thinking at the same time that this was a fairly stupid question.
“You, farang. Shut up!” This from Fatman No.2.
“Farang dogshit!” Fun chipped in.
“Shut up!” was Fatman No.1’s contribution, though it was hard to say who he was addressing.
“Jack,” Bia told me in a calm voice. She was, after all, Mu’s sister. “When can I go home? I’m scared.”
Fat Fat was pinching the towel girl’s nipples, one and then the other, rolling and twisting them between his fingers till she gasped in pain. Then he stabbed her in the bellybutton with a greasy forefinger.
“Farang. You like? Eh? Maybe you have this one, okay? I take f’en you. Okay? Hee, hee.” He pushed the girl away from him, towards me. He put one hand on Bia’s bottom and scooped a handful of nuts with the other, firing them into his mouth and chewing avidly, bits of food dribbling from his lips as he giggled and groped and chomped and shook.
I smiled at the towel girl in what I hoped was a reassuring manner, and she smiled back. But she went to stand beside Fat Fat again, looking confused and fearful.
Up on the stage, meanwhile, the ping-pong girl kept missing the beer glass on the floor between her legs. She would laugh sheepishly and shake her head in a way that told you she had got it right at rehearsals, but now look. Another girl, a elfin thing with a fragile, bird-like frame, was the official ball-girl, and she would run to collect the ping-pong balls which missed. She was wiping them off and keeping them in a big bowl full of Vaseline. At one point she started to reload her friend; but the police captain volunteered to take over this duty instead, looking more avuncular than you would have thought he could. Fun and his sidekicks took to placing bets on each shot.
A variety of acts followed this one, most of them routine examples of the standard Bangkok live show, from what I knew of these things.
We had to witness a series of tricks with bottles of cola and marker pens and cigarettes. The latter artiste flirted with brand-new varieties of cancer, and I found myself lusting for a smoke. It seemed unreasonable that she could have a cigarette and I couldn’t; but that’s the way it was. Then we came to the blowgun girl, a lanky Indian-Thai girl with buck teeth and long jet-black hair. The Japanese men and the police captain at the next table and me, we had to hold big balloons. The blowgun specialist squatted on the stage and then leaned way back on one hand, while with the other hand she steadied the blowgun and raised her hips high, drawing a bead on a balloon. Then she’d abruptly drop her pelvis, propelling the missile unerringly to its target, never once missing except when it came to me.
I was last, and I was sitting there with this big yellow balloon held well away from my face, though not far enough away, because Annie Oakley planted the dart right in the middle of my forehead and I yelled “Jesus Christ. Ow!”, which proved to the hit of the whole evening. I couldn’t understand him very well, but I think Fatman No.2 was telling Fat Fat we should do it once more and get it on video. To tell the truth, I didn’t believe it was an accident, and it wouldn’t have surprised me to find the dart was tipped with curare, though I didn’t die. It stung like crazy, though. What a way to get AIDS, I have to admit crossed my mind.
And as though that wasn’t enough, we had to have snakes. A dark beauty, one considerably older than the other performers we had seen, came out and danced naked with a twelve-foot python. The beautifully colored and patterned creature coiled and twisted about its mistress, its scales glistening, its thick muscular body squeezing and caressing every part of her. For a finale, the python’s head reared up from between her legs and gaped toothy jaws at the audience. After the applause had died down, two assistants brought out a heavy wicker basket and set it on the stage, one of them flipping the lid off and then backing away in a hurry. Within seconds a big king cobra reared high, flaring its hood. There followed a genuinely spell-binding, incredibly controlled contest of reflexes, the snake always striking just past the dancer’s face, past her hands, the woman then pretending to strike back, darting her head forward, feinting and stabbing her tongue at the snake. Finally, she grabbed the cobra behind the head — one lightning quick snatch — and then took its body in her other hand. She brought it down off the stage and carried it to Fat Fat, who examined the creature with great interest, sliding lewd fingers up and down a length of its body, and insisting that his attendants touch it as well, even though they were whimpering with terror, the Brown Berry barely stifling a scream. Bia, on the other hand, remained entirely impassive. It could have been a piece of hose, for all she showed any concern.
While Fat Fat tormented the girls with the snake, an old man was brought into the room wheeling a small metal trolley. He drove right up to Fat Fat’s table and set about a physical examination, lifting Fat Fat’s eyelids and nodding sagely, poking at armpits and looking down Fat Fat’s throat using a tongue depressor. Now Fat Fat was the star of the show. The snakelady stood to one side, still holding the snake, which now and then convulsed in long quick sinuous ripples. The snake handler brought her charge closer and held it over a plastic tray that had been placed on the floor. The old man reached with a razor and slashed the snake its length, moving the tray the better to catch the drip of blood. Then he cut deeper, tugging the flesh aside, the snake writhing in slow great contortions. Pulling free a dark gobbet of something, he flipped it into an empty glass into which he then also shook out a small foil packet of powder. He handed the glass to Fat Fat, who promptly added a measure of Chivas, stirred it around, and chugged it back with much smacking and sighs of satisfaction, looking all around to gauge our reactions. He belched delicately and pulled the Berry closer to him.
I had seen this before, the time I did a piece for the Globe on early-morning Lumphini Park. One of this park’s many colorful attractions was the street vendor who sold snake blood and gall bladders mixed with whiskey. His clients were mostly old Chinese men — men who believed this habit would add potent years to their lives.
The cobra blood was mixed with more whiskey and then dispensed to the rest of the audience. It tasted just like whiskey.
There was one more act to go. A lady who was at least twice as old as any other we’d seen that day came out and danced nude. Her body was long past the point she should have wanted to display it in public, though she moved with some grace. It the course of her dance, she started to pull a metallic tinsel streamer out of herself, wrapping herself in it like a Christmas tree. She came down off the stage and offered the free end to Fat Fat; but he declined, sending her instead over to me. I was embarrassed, but she was smiling so nicely and was so obviously eager to please that I accepted the streamer. What I did, I tied it to the table leg, smiling and giving her the thumbs-up as she danced away here and there and then up on the stage dispensing, as she went, miles of tinsel streamer. Finally, it came to an end.
After the performance, Fat Fat called her over. He slapped her tired old dugs back and forth, watching them swing and making some laughing remark to the assembly. You could see she was hurt; but she was probably used to it, because she just jiggled her boobs some more and leered at Fat Fat in what might have been a fond manner. He rewarded her by stuffing 100-baht notes up where the tinsel had come from. Given her capacity for tinsel streamers, you could see this might set him back a pretty penny, but before long he got bored with it and told her to move along.
The stage lights were finally turned off and Fat Fat’s guards cleared the room of audience, the Japanese and the Thais wai-ing their deep thanks and pleasure as they went out. Bia and Fat Fat’s three attendants were also taken away, the ping-pong girl’s tiny assistant having taken over their duties for the time being.
The fatmen and I had business to discuss.
“We will now give you your second assignment. Mr Fat would like you to write a nice article for that same magazine, and for the newspapers too, explaining how many of the things you said about him in the other story were the result of wrong information. Then you will say about the good things Mr Fat does all the time.”
“But I can’t. The magazine won’t …”
“Yes they will. You write it. Understand?”
“And after that, we have a special job for you. We will pay you well. Mr Fat has his fifth-cycle birthday in a few months. He is a Goat. This is a very auspicious occasion, and he wants to publish his biography, the story of how he comes to be such an important man today. This you will also write.”
“My, my,” I said to Fat Fat, thinking I would make him feel good. “You don’t look sixty years old. I must say I am surprised.”
Fat Fat giggled at this, and seemed very pleased indeed. He fluttered his pudgy hands at me and told me this: “Eat good food; drink good drink; make pum-pum every night. Stay young. Hee, hee.”
Fatman No.1 elaborated on this for me. “Mr Fat, he fuck a different girl every night. All of them virgins.”
“Hee, hee,” Fat Fat added. “No sick. Pum-pum alla time, and no sick.”
So virgins kept him young and healthy; and he was indeed an old goat. You had to think the Chinese horoscope of twelve-year cycles, each cycle associated with a different animal, might know something about what was what after all.
Fat Fat said something to the girl on his knee, the ping-pong girl’s assistant, running a hand down her arm and then along the back of her thigh to her knee. She shuddered and looked towards Fatman No.2 as though for help. He leered at her. She looked all around, though she wouldn’t meet my eye; I think she was afraid of me because I was a farang. Seeing no hope, she leaned in against Fat Fat, stiff with fear and loathing.
I couldn’t keep a certain amount of similar feeling off my face.
“Hey, farang,” said Fatman No.1. “You gay?”
They had determined that my girlfriend was a virgin. Bia, that is. From what Fatman No.1 went on to tell me, this was all that had saved her from a number of unpleasant experiences, including that of appearing in the little show they had had performed for our entertainment this very evening. For one thing, they were now keeping her pure for Fat Fat’s birthday celebrations. He liked her. And he wondered what kind of man this farang reporter was, living with such a girl and she was still a virgin. Maybe he liked boys instead?
I was surprised to hear Bia was a virgin, actually, even if Mu had always said she was a good girl. For sure that had to be the only part of her which had remained inviolate, given her talent for banging about through life.
Fat Fat worked a hand in between the ballgirl’s legs and squeezed, mostly for my benefit, I guess, because he giggled at the same time and said to me, “First time; first time. Is good, first time.”
The girl twisted away from him, reconsidered, and then turned back with a grimace that might have been a smile.
Next week Mu tells Jack she’s sorry to hear he has to write brochure copy. She also tells him he should probably hide for a while.