Last week we met more hard men. Jack, meanwhile, got valuable notes for the story he was writing, learning more about Tommy and Willie’s various business enterprises and business conflicts, not to mention some of the ins and outs of being successful hard men in such troubled times.
Selections from Arno Petty’s Intelligencer and Weekly Gleaner
- HEAVEN ON EARTH. One senior official has suggested that the government should designate certain areas as ‘Paradise Zones.’ Within the limits of a Paradise Zone, not only would prostitution be legal, it would be regulated by the Interior Ministry. What a great idea. At the same time they could declare them AIDS-Free Zones, and then just sit back to watch the revenues roll in.
- ‘LANDMARK DECISION.’ Some years ago, five girls were found chained to a wall in the back room of a brothel on Phuket, this brothel having just burned down. The proprietor of this establishment was actually sent to jail for three years and, as though that weren’t enough, a court has this week decided that he should pay the mother of one of these girls 95,000 baht in compensation. The girl had been the chief source of income for her family, after all.
- THE GREENING OF THAILAND. Golf is the current passion of the affluent. Membership exchanges advertise in the papers; and memberships are traded like pork bellies. Only pork doesn’t tend to run between 400,000 and 1.5 million baht per belly.
Sometimes Tommy and Willie shot people and sometimes they didn’t. Sometimes they only reasoned with them, maybe blowing up their warehouses and suchlike.
“But we are also in the protection business,” Willie told me. “Kind of a security service, you could say. Take this time not too long ago, when we are up in the boonies, up North in a joint called Happyland. Hey, Tommy? That was some job, na?”
Their job was to assist a guy name of Paiboon. Paiboon was the man who ran Happyland for their client, and the problem was this: there was a gunman of some reputation named Dit who was telling their client’s man Paiboon that he should give over a large sum of money or else see both himself and his business meet untimely ends. Already two female employees had disappeared and three more had been knocked up, though nobody believed this was Dit’s doing, no matter what he said.
“But Paiboon starts to get nervous and unhappy, and he asks our client to send some help. That’s us.”
I asked Willie how about the police?
“Cops? This guy Dit is the cops.”
I expressed surprise at this, but Willie told me it was no big deal. Your average gunman in these parts was a cop. “I mean, you just about gotta do something extra; no cop can feed a family on what they get paid. It’s a real crime, what you get paid for an honest day’s work in this country.”
I was writing all this down, and I was wondering would my editor print it. Generally it wasn’t a good idea to say such negative things about the police.
Tommy had his gun put back together again, and he cocked it, running the slide with a nice clean snick. When Willie filled Tommy in on which caper we were talking about, Tommy suddenly sat up straight and got interested. “Mangda!” Tommy spat this word, and he had a look on his face you could see why people hired him as a consultant when they had business problems.
Willie told me Tommy had no use for mangda, though I already had this idea anyway. But I was confused. Mangda? I asked him. The only mangda I had ever heard of was a big beetle they sometimes mashed up and added to nam phrik gapi — that sauce they made for raw vegetables — and the only reason I knew this word was that I wanted to ask every waiter who ever served me nam phrik gapi, was there any mangda in this stuff? It was not that I was squeamish; I was not. But I could never get used to the idea of eating bugs, except maybe for fried grasshoppers. As long as the oil was fresh.
Beetles were okay with Tommy, according to Willie, but it wasn’t beetles we were talking about — it was pimps he didn’t like, and pimps were also called mangda.
When I asked him why, this could give me some color for my story, he said the male mangda climbed up on the female and rode around on it. Just like a pimp.
This was interesting, I told Willie. I had never known pimps upcountry rode around on ladies, before. But he didn’t laugh.
“Dhamma,” Willie pronounced in grave tones, “the teaching of the Buddha tells us that ‘right work’ — a good job — is one part of the Eightfold Path.”
I had never seen Willie look self-righteous before, and I made a sound something like a giggle, though I coughed and pretended it was some whiskey going down the wrong way. Tommy was giving his imitation of a choirboy, as well; no doubt it was this talk of dhamma that was doing it. Willie went on to tell me that Tommy in fact used to live in a temple, when he was a boy; that was where orphans went, and he knew all about such matters.
I said okay, then, but what about shooting people — the Buddha was not down on this activity?
“It’s not the same.” Probably tired of self-righteousness, Willie tried indignation for a change. “Your average pimp kills the girls while they are still alive. Na? He is a bloodsucker. He feeds off human life. He takes, takes, takes; he never gives back.”
I was thinking there was also something one-sided about killing a person, and I couldn’t help but ask Willie what he thought of this. Was he sure there was nothing wrong with shooting people?
“Listen,” he answered me. “It’s only karma.”
“Karma? You are not trying to tell me they merely bring it on themselves, are you?” I laughed at this humorous idea. But Willie wasn’t laughing.
“You could say that. Yeah, that’s right,” he told me, though I could see even he had to think that proposition over some more.
“The thing is, to do this job right, you got to be a professional. Isn’t that right?” He turned to Tommy and told him the same thing in Thai. Tommy nodded seriously and rammed the magazine on his pistol home before sighting it in on Somsak’s face. Somsak smiled and blinked. You could see he hoped Tommy was just kidding some more.
“You’re a professional,” Willie said, “you can’t go around playing God. Hey. You don’t know if somebody really should be dead or not. After all. You can’t know about his karma, his past lives and like that. Maybe he asks for it. But, for sure, if it happens, then you know he asks for it somewhere along the line, because that’s karma. You follow?”
“I see what you mean,” I lied. I noticed Tommy had put his gun away, and I guessed Somsak’s karma was okay for the time being.
“So you got a job to do, you do it. You don’t ask questions. You don’t think ‘Hey, this is not a bad guy, I don’t mind playing snooker with him; I better call this contract off.’ No, you don’t know if his karma says he lives or he dies, so you take the contract and do the best job you can and you don’t worry if it’s right or if he’s a good guy or not.”
I was nodding and smiling and trying to let Willie know it was okay with me if he went around shooting people, but we should get on with our interview. He didn’t believe I was convinced.
“Everything that happens in this life, good and bad, happens because sometime in the past, or sometime in some life you lived before, you do something that asks for it. Na? You make lots of merit — you do lots of right things — you look after your momma and poppa real well, you do your time in the temple, you be true to the people around you, and one day you get born all over again and next thing you know you can’t do anything wrong. Everything is roses no matter what happens. Even if people are taking out contracts on your life and so on.
“But you do a lot of wrong things now, and in your next life it’s like trying to row a boat in mud, everything you do.”
Willie stopped talking. He and Tommy seemed dispirited, all of a sudden.
“More whiskey!” said Willie, and Somsak jumped up.
I had Willie’s observations regarding this life and past ones noted down; but I was thinking it was time I got some more hard material for my editor, or he was going to send me back to interview a couple more gunmen. I couldn’t believe I ever did anything so bad my karma had this on the agenda.
What exactly was it they had to do; what kind of business did this Paiboon run? And why did Tommy say “Mangda!” in exactly that way? I meant with a look on his face like the first time I had a big mouthful of nam phrik gapi mangda and somebody told me what a mangda was.
Willie informed me their client’s man Paiboon was a pimp — a rich pimp, mind you, since he ran this very large brothel, but a pimp nevertheless. And Tommy hated pimps.
“Still, Tommy’s just the man for the job. He knows what’s what in the brothel business.”
I was surprised to hear this, given what Willie had already told me about Tommy and pimps.
“Tommy lives in a brothel when he is a boy.”
“I thought you told me he lived in a temple.”
“That’s right, he does,” said Willie. “But he also lives in a brothel.”
It seemed that after Tommy had done a year or two as a temple boy with the monks, he got tired of the spiritual pace of life, seeing he was getting on towards the age of ten, and he started to think it was time to get out into the world and make his mark. So he came up with a job running errands in a brothel, where he got room and board and more tips than he had ever dreamed of. Plus he got to enjoy all the fringe benefits any boy just coming of age liked to enjoy while living in a joint jam-packed with young ladies with soft spots for little men who were orphans and who were at that age where there was only one thing on their minds, except for Tommy, who thought about making it big as a man to be reckoned with outside the whorehouse as well.
“It all gives Tommy a taste for variety he never loses.
“But the thing is, this brothel burns down one night, and everybody gets out except for three ladies they find the next day chained up in a back room, turned to carbon. One of these ladies is Tommy’s best friend, who the boss already tells Tommy has to go over to her hometown to see her mother who is sick.” Tommy was just a young boy, Willie went on, but he got this good idea. He found some electric blasting caps somewhere, and he wired them up to the ignition switch one day when he was supposed to be cleaning the boss’ car, a really good job, inside and out. The caps were in a five-gallon can of gasoline, which was in the trunk. It probably shouldn’t have worked, but it did. And it gave the boss, his driver, and some other dude a quick preview of what it was like where they were headed next. Word soon got around what a good job Tommy had done, never mind he was only a kid, and before you knew it he was apprenticed to some guys who specialized in blowing things up, where these things annoyed people with money plus little patience with annoying things.
“So it’s where Tommy gets his start in life, only he never loses his feeling about pimps.”
The more I learned about these men, the more impressed I was. There was a refreshing directness about them. Thais are generally more circumspect. I didn’t know that I was getting the sort of material I needed for a story, however. Even though I was just about sober, I couldn’t seem to keep track of where things were going. In fact, nobody knew where they was going, was my guess. Everybody had taken to staring off into the middle distance, maybe trying to get the Big Picture.
At that moment a big tough old cockroach started to lumber across the floor, probably thinking all the time it was really scuttling. You could see life was like rowing a boat in mud, and possibly it had been a mangda in its last life. Rambo came off his chair and put his foot down on the creature, rubbing it out slowly and with considerable relish. The cracking of carapace and rupture of innards made me hope this poor bug had made lots of merit in this life and would come back with better prospects next time.
As a matter of fact, I was surprised Rambo was this direct with it, when he could have kicked Somsak in the crotch instead. Just so the cockroach would know what was what, I mean. Rambo sat down again, matchstick in place, and he leaned back up against the wall. And he stared right at me, though the opaque windows of his glasses gave me no clue what was going on behind them.
Then we all looked at the remains of the bug for a while, and we thought about this and that. I mostly thought about how I hated cockroaches as much as I hated mangdas, and about how mashed cockroaches, on the whole, were worse than live ones.
Willie belched and said to Somsak, get some more food. And more ice. Then he took up the story again, telling me how him and Tommy, they settled in up North in Happyland and stayed for a while.
No matter how Tommy felt about pimps, their job was to stick like glue to this mangda Tommy couldn’t stand being around. Not only did they have to stick close as flies to shit, they were supposed to see to it this villain Dit never got to do him any damage. Even though for two baht Tommy would have severely damaged Paiboon himself; in fact you could have kept your two baht.
Tommy didn’t like Paiboon. On the other hand, he made quite a few friends among the resident employees of the establishment. So did Willie, come to that. To tell the truth, if it hadn’t been for all the friendly ladies and the free account at the bar, Tommy and Willie could have gotten quite bored. Before long, though, they started to feel like nothing more than baby-sitters; and where was this guy Dit? They began to think he was only a rumor. There was nary a sign of him. Even though two more employees turned out to be pregnant, and Paiboon’s second cousin who lived in Korat had a motorcycle accident, Dit did not come forward to take credit. It made Paiboon uneasy; things were too quiet. At the same time, Willie and Tommy were themselves getting restless, their talents being wasted this way.
“It gets so bad Tommy is thinking of getting married,” Willie told me, “just for something to do. One handy party from Ubon reminds him of his first wife, Toy Number One, the lady who blows him up back down South.”
One afternoon, then, just for something else to do, Tommy went around checking out Happyland for its safety features, and he decided right away the joint was a death trap. He told Paiboon he needed fire escapes and fire extinguishers all around the place.
“Paiboon says like this, he says, ‘You think I’m made of money? I’ve got money to burn, I already pay a small fortune to keep you two bums around here drinking my best booze and, no doubt, giving half my staff the clap besides?’ So Tommy gets drinking, one afternoon, and he goes around looking for a back room full of girls chained up, or something. Paiboon’s men try to stop him, but Tommy has got the Look and his 11mm pistol, and they don’t try too hard.” Willie started to laugh and he said something to Tommy. Then they were both laughing, and I asked them what was up.
“Tommy finds this one big heavy locked door, way down in back, and he wants it open, but nobody will open it. So then he gets the idea this is where you find the girls in chains. He yells stand away from the door and he shoots the lock, never thinking it may be hard to stand out of the line of fire if you are chained to the wall. Luckily, there are no girls chained to the wall, with or without bullet-holes in them. What they find is Paiboon and his driver, and they are embarrassed about something. Could be it’s because the driver’s pants are on backwards. Then Paiboon gets mad and fires all his men because they can’t stop one skinny gunman from interrupting him in the middle of an important business meeting.
“He tells us he calls our client and he has us fired too; what do we think the score is? We are supposed to be here to take care of Dit, but maybe it’s better he hires Dit to take care of us instead; and whose side are we on anyway?
And this is the way it went, Willie told me, the kind of stuff that was going on, and Paiboon was about as happy with them as they were with him.
Things went from bad to worse, in fact. Happyland was short-handed, what with all the men Paiboon had fired, and now this low-life wanted Tommy and Willie to double as minders; he seemed to think their job was also to keep the girls in line, and not let them go AWOL and suchlike.
Normally, Tommy and Willie would not argue if you told them they should stay up close to a bunch of nice women and keep an eye on them. That was pretty much all they had done since they took this contract, anyway. But when Paiboon told them they had to make sure these ladies stayed in line, and didn’t go off on their own or break any house rules, they told him right back this was no part of their job. Their job was to bump Dit, if this guy Dit was really real and if he ever got around to showing his face in the neighborhood. They weren’t any prison guards, and nobody should ask them to put the muscle on these honest working girls, many of whom were already pals. What did he think they were, anyway? Mangdas? Paiboon finally had to hire back the men he had gotten rid of before. He saw he was losing some amount of face, and who was responsible? These prima donna hired guns who were costing him money and all they were doing was enjoy this paid vacation. So he beat up a girl named Bon, who was one of Willie’s favorites, only to let Willie know he was not happy.
He kicked the dog? I asked, and Willie said that’s right; I was learning all about Thailand.
Now, Willie was a man of some delicacy, and he did not shoot Paiboon. He wanted Paiboon to know he was also unhappy, so he merely started an argument with Paiboon’s good friend the driver. This argument Willie resolved by throwing the driver out of a third-floor window, and Paiboon turned out to be short one driver and one friend for awhile.
Paiboon didn’t talk to Willie for some time after that. Meanwhile, Tommy got to drive Paiboon’s Benz for a couple of days while Paiboon looked for a new driver. Tommy liked driving the car but, of course, with his feet in the shape they were in, he really needed feather-touch power brakes, and he drove the Benz right into the back of a ten-wheel truck. Tommy said thank my ancestors I had the seat-belt on, though Paiboon could see no grounds for gratitude in this.
“That’s some car, eh, Tommy?” Willie said. “One day soon our luck changes, na? We drive our own big black Benz with smoked glass all around and about ten big spotlights on the front. Back seat full of mia noi, minor wives.”
But to return to his story, Willie told me things did not improve between them and Paiboon.
And Paiboon finally went too far. “Right in front of everybody, he calls me a Chinaman,” said Willie.
I said I thought he said he was from Hong Kong.
“Nobody calls me a Chinaman. So I call him nah phooying, ‘face-of-a-woman,’ and katoey, ‘ladyboy.’ Which is only the truth, after all. But this gets him real mad, and he calls me a hia, so I shoot him in the face.”
Well, sure; of course you couldn’t have people going around calling you a big lizard. Not in front of everybody that way. You just about had to shoot them in the face. After all. But Willie did it right, he wanted me to know — he got right in there close enough to ask Paiboon’s pardon before he pulled the trigger. He used Tommy’s pistol. Tommy, meanwhile, was keeping a few of Paiboon’s flunkies in line with the M-16.
“Asking Paiboon’s pardon?” I said. “But you already told me he annoyed you more than somewhat.”
“That’s right; he does. You should know, however, it is the custom among pros like us to ask the target’s pardon before we bump him. It is polite, na? It shows you are doing this thing with a jai yen yen. With a cool heart. Anybody can kill a man when he is hot.”
Needless to say, in any case, their client back in Bangkok — Mr Bamrung — was not overjoyed at the way things had worked out.
“Mr Bamrung?” I asked. “You’re not talking about ‘Bam-Bam’ Bamrung, by any chance?”
“That’s the man.” Willie tried on a modest expression.
I was impressed. I was more than impressed. Bam-Bam Bamrung Klangsongboon had been very big stuff, indeed — a bigshot among bigshots, never mind his name sounded like somebody just fell out of a window into an alley full of trash-cans. His sudden passing had been headline news.
So it was easy to believe that it had been death for Willie and Tommy on the streets, and that for a while they had had to go under deep cover. Finally, though, they saw things couldn’t continue the way they were. So they took out a contract on Bam-Bam. This was not just because he was making it more than somewhat hot for them on the street, right then, but also because Willie had picked up a bullet-wound or two during the last caper — merely flesh wounds, but he was still not feeling up to par.
“Or else, of course, we look after business ourselves.” Willie pulled the collar of his T-shirt away to show me a big puckered red scar.
It was inappropriate that they should hire inferior talent to deal with such a prominent man of affairs. But, now that Paiboon had passed away, Dit the invisible gunman suddenly materialized, so they hired Dit to do the job. When Tommy and Willie explained they wanted him to take care of their client Mr Bamrung, who was Paiboon’s boss, Dit could see this was a suitable way to bring matters to an honorable close.
And Dit did a good job for them. It was maybe his training as a policeman, who knows? As a matter of fact, he was disguised as a cop when he pulled the hit — sure, he was a cop; but he disguised himself as a Bangkok cop. A smooth job.
A masterpiece, according to Willie. And although it cost them everything they could borrow and steal, as well as their whole stake, many of their personal problems had been ironed out, and it looked as though it was time to get back to the business of living. The way things had turned out, the only people who wished Tommy and Willie ill were people who were not about to translate such ill-will into action. Not with two desperadoes such as they now enjoyed the reputation of being. A lot of people didn’t even want to get close to them. Word had it they were just a bit unpredictable, and not a little direct when they decided to act.
It did not escape me either that there were better people than this to hang around if you wanted to stay bored, and maybe get to grow old and have many grandchildren.
“Nobody likes a man who’s a pimp and a woman-beater,” Willie was saying. “Not too many people, probably not even his own mother, are sorry to see Paiboon go. And there are a lot of folks who sleep better with Mr Bamrung passed away, as well.”
Still, as Tommy kept reminding him, business was business, and when a gunman took a contract he was expected to honor the terms of that contract, those terms rarely including the extermination of the contractor or contractors themselves.
“We get a reputation for not being standard,” Willie told me.
Next week we get some insights into how Wrong Way Willie gets his nickname.