Last week we learned some ins and outs of executing a contract, Thai-style. This week we learn how some manage to accomplish this deed with greater style than most do.
Selections from Arno Petty’s Intelligencer and Weekly Gleaner
BARING ARMS. Maybe you were wondering what those signs in Thai on the doors of the bars on Suttisarn Road and similar venues are all about. These areas have been declared Weapons-Free Zones, you will doubtlessly be relieved to know. So check your Uzis at the door, okay?
GOOD NEWS? The city is declaring key areas of Bangkok Traffic Violation Free Zones. From now on, drivers on these designated roadways will cease and desist from driving in ways detrimental to the public welfare. So it has been decreed, and what a relief. Of course up till now the entire city, if not the country as a whole, has been a Free Zone for traffic violators … Just a minute: this proposed scheme is something new, isn’t it?
I couldn’t say I was surprised. That Tommy and Willie had come up with this reputation for being not standard, I mean. But I was glad to hear everything had gotten straightened out in the end; it sounded as though they were smelling of roses, all in all. So I was wondering why Willie was still keeping himself scarce, I couldn’t even say “Willie” in the snooker room downstairs.
Willie was not one hundred percent comfortable with this question. He held his glass out to Somsak and waited till it was full of whiskey. After he had taken a long pull at it, he belched delicately and he ate a stuffed chicken wing, a specialty of the kitchen next door. “Try one,” he said. “They’re good.”
He was right; they were. They were stuffed with shrimp and pork, and they came with a nice hot-sweet sauce, full of honey and chili peppers.
“We have another little problem, still,” said Willie finally, and he repeated this in Thai for Tommy, while he chuckled ruefully.
Tommy did not chuckle, ruefully or otherwise. He said like this, he said “Ting-tong,” which was Chinese slang for “crazy.” Then he said something about tamruat, which were policemen. As I got the story, then, it seemed they managed to find some work here and there, and before long things were looking up again. Willie even traded his M-16, which was really only useful upcountry, and started packing an Uzi machine pistol, which was just what the doctor ordered for city jobs, where it was generally better to keep things out of sight till you needed them. Willie was going on about the rate of fire an Uzi gave you, and talking about its dependability, when he suddenly got this dejected look about him: “But I have to sell it to meet expenses. This past month is not an easy time.”
“Tell the farang the story,” Tommy suggested.
In a nutshell, then, what I heard was this.
Willie was having dinner at a fancy restaurant on the river with a young lady of no mean charms. He was feeling very pleased with life; he had this foxy lady and his Uzi and money for food and drink. The sun was going down and the river was beautiful in the sunset. The beer was cold. There was a cool breeze, and the lady had her hand on his knee. This was it, he was thinking — now everything was coming together, and this was what his life had been leading up to. This was his reward for always doing his best even when the times were hard.
“Then the waiters push a couple of tables together and a gang of uniformed policemen sits down.” Willie looked deep into his empty glass and said all this talking left him thirsty. He sent Somsak downstairs for more whiskey and soda. And ice. He said here, take the ice bucket.
It was hot in there, and I wished I had another drink of water. I happened to look over at Somsak, who had stopped at the door. I guess he was thirsty, too; I noticed he was drinking from the bucket. He took it away from his mouth for a minute and looked surprised. Then he laughed and tilted that bucket back like it was a shot glass and he was Wild Bill Hickok come to town after a hard drive. Then he went out.
I still wondered why they didn’t let Somsak drink, but I thought I should find out pretty soon, because by now he had sucked back just about all the Mekhong originally meant for me.
Rambo followed Somsak out, saying he needed the toilet.
With some more prodding from Tommy, then, Willie went on with the story.
He said we all knew what a threat to a man’s peace of mind your average cop was, not to mention one’s life and limb, and suddenly here we had a whole tableful of these big lizards right next to him. Naturally, Willie started getting edgy right away, and he wished there was no bunch of policemen sitting there. They were probably already drunk, but they quickly proceeded to get drunker still. From Willie’s point of view at that time, parked there with one foot in Heaven, it was hard to imagine some more annoying fly in the ointment. If there was anything worse than a number of loud drunks, it was a number of loud drunken cops. Especially cops with big pistols strapped to their hips and walkie-talkies they were waving around like official scepters or something. They probably thought it made them special in some way; they could talk to each other over a distance without yelling. But they were yelling anyway.
“These are merely a few boys having a drink,” said Tommy in Thai, and I was surprised to hear Tommy taking the side of a policeman. “It’s like you never make a noise when you drink? Ting-tong!”
“You are not there when it happens, na?” answered Willie, “So you don’t know how it is that night.”
Willie was a man of the world, after all, and he could have probably handled it, ordinarily. If only it hadn’t been for this one especially loud and unappealing individual who kept flourishing his walkie-talkie with arrogant abandon and who kept eyeballing Willie’s lady friend, who was by no means flattered at this attention, just frightened. Willie wasn’t sure what to do, he said, though his instinct told him it was time to leave; his lady decided she wasn’t hungry anyway. He gave the cop a look or two, but it didn’t do any good. If only Tommy had been there with The Look. Then the pig stood up, all flushed with drink and self-importance. He had the walkie-talkie raised high in one hand while he shifted the gun lower on his hip with the other, this hip being cocked at an angle designed to piss Willie off even without the gun and the walkie-talkie and everything.
“Now I see it, then; of course, everything is okay now — the guy is standing wrong. That’s how it all happens. Of course.” Tommy didn’t really look relieved or anything, however.
Just then, Willie continued, he caught the law officer’s eye, and it was plain the young cop figured it was incumbent upon Willie to look away first. Willie was not accustomed to looking away first, though he could see it might be a good idea this time if he did, and then maybe leave quietly with his lady while the leaving was good.
“I was gonna leave then,” he told Tommy.
But he didn’t leave. Exactly at that moment the cop fumbled his walkie-talkie in mid-flourish. In fact, he dropped it right into the big steaming dish of tom yam kung, which is a tasty hot and sour shrimp soup. This got everyone’s attention right off. Most of the other patrons of the restaurant looked away again almost immediately, though, their expressions showing nothing. You could see this was a big loss of face for the cop and to all his buddies as well. It was not a good idea to drop your walkie-talkie into the soup in public. It did not help that Willie could not restrain a hearty laugh at the proceedings. As soon as he didn’t restrain this laugh, of course, he figured it was a mistake. But what could you do? After all.
Now the cop was reaching for his pistol, and Willie saw he had decided the best way to save face and to forestall further laughter was to shoot Willie. Of course Willie was not the type who took kindly to getting shot, and rather than see this thing happen he brought out his Uzi, which he hadn’t had a chance to field test yet. The gun worked fine. It caught the kid and held him dancing in a stream of bullets for a second before Willie turned his attention to the other police officers present. They might have been drunk, but they weren’t slow, because most of them were already diving off the restaurant into the river. Two of them went for their guns instead, but the Uzi chopped them down before you could say cheese it.
Willie got his spare clip into the machine pistol, and he said to his date they might as well leave; it was good she was not hungry. She was happy to leave, it turned out; but she would just as soon not leave with Willie or ever see him again either. This hurt Willie not a little, he told me, but there was no time to talk it over and he got out of there without further ado.
“All that happens only a month ago, and the police are still annoyed, from what we hear. So I figure on lying low for a while.”
I was more than somewhat impressed by this account. I was so impressed I started to think about lying low myself, merely because I was in their general vicinity. I could believe the police were annoyed. To tell the truth, I started to get nervous I was even in the same part of town; it would not be healthy when the shooting began, the local police not being notoriously accurate and furthermore being often short-sighted and unable to distinguish a law-abiding citizen like myself from a bona fide bumper-off of cops by the job lot such as my associate had turned out to be.
“Well.” I smiled broadly. “I guess that’s all I need. It should make a good story. Thank you. See you around, now. Look after yourselves.”
As I got up to leave, there was a triple knock at the door and Willie said get that, would you?
It was Somsak, and there was clearly something wrong with him. His eyes were glazed over more than usual, and he was walking funny. At first I thought he was imitating Tommy’s walk, and I thought what a dangerous thing to do. Then I saw it was only Somsak trying to walk a straight line.
“Somsak!” Willie said. “You are drunk? What is this?”
The bottle Somsak set down was not full, the way you might have expected a new bottle of Mekhong to be.
Somsak belched loudly, and you could see Willie, for one, was offended.
“Cops.” Somsak let go another resounding burp. “The cops are downstairs.”
This had an electrifying effect on the room. Tommy was suddenly mincing along towards the closet at a rate of knots, moving much like Howdy Doody on hot coals. He had his pistol in one hand and the Mekhong in the other, probably for balance.
Willie never lost control. He told me to stay where I was; I would be all right. But maybe I had better pay for the interview now. Quickly, he wanted to say. This was the first I had ever heard of payment, but you didn’t argue with a man of Willie’s caliber, not when he was holding an M-16 and he was in a hurry. I gave him 1,000 baht. Anything to get him out of the room. He looked hurt, so I forked over another 1,000 baht and I said, “Good luck; you better go.”
Somebody was hammering on the door and yelling; it sounded like Rambo. But that couldn’t have been right, because next thing old Jean-Paul Somsak let fly at the door with a blast from the shotgun. This operation left Somsak sitting stupefied on his ass. It also stopped the knocking.
Then there was another loud bang. Somsak was still holding Rambo’s shotgun, and now he was staring up at a hole in the ceiling. From upstairs you could make out the sound of a woman screaming and there was the sound of hurried footsteps leaving the room.
Which led everyone present to believe this might be a good policy quite generally, and we all ran into the closet. Except for Somsak, who was taking time out from shooting up the joint to vomit.
Now we could hear heavy footsteps on the stairway outside.
While these unidentified types you had to suspect were policemen thundered up one staircase, we were moving down another just as quietly as possible. It was getting dark, but I could make out Willie and Tommy ahead of me as they hot-footed it outside and along a planked walkway. It occurred to me, don’t think it didn’t, that there were better places to be under the circumstances. Running along this boardwalk in Klong Toey with these two gentlemen, so armed and so sought after by the local gendarmerie, was not my first choice of venues. But the alternative was to be in the room upstairs with the smell of cordite in the air, not to mention puke, waiting for a gang of annoyed and no doubt heavily armed policemen to bust in, chances are shooting first and asking questions later, by which time it probably wouldn’t matter my Thai wasn’t so good and I couldn’t answer very intelligibly.
So there I was. And in a minute we were on a ramshackle wooden pier in the twilight, where we found two longtail boat taxis tied up. The drivers didn’t seem surprised to see three men, two of them carrying firearms, running towards them. Only when we get up close did one of them show any excitement: “Steve Davis!” he cried.
Needless to say, Steve Davis was not there, and I was pretty sure he wasn’t even in Thailand. No, it was me he was talking to, and he was one of the lads from the snooker room I had met earlier.
Tommy and Willie jumped into the other guy’s boat and told me to get in quick. I said to them like this, I said I wished them well, but I had an appointment up the river the other way; perhaps we could get together again at some future date.
Although this was something I devoutly hoped would never come to pass, as I stood there by the river waiting for the sound of gunfire behind me. But Willie said, “Yeah, we’ll be in touch; tell it like it is,” and Tommy said, “Sawasdi, farang. So long.”
I jumped in my boat and waited till Tommy and Willie had headed off one way, out towards the port, the big motor screaming, and then I told my driver to go the other way, and hurry.
“Steve Davis!” he yelled at me as we made our departure. “Do you like Thai girls?”
I was still listening for gunfire, however, so I didn’t answer him. And for a second I thought I did hear shots, but it was off in the distance, in the direction Tommy and Willie had made their getaway.
If I lived to get home and get to my typewriter, I figured, I might have enough material for a story on gunmen. I hoped so. I didn’t want to do any more of these interviews. They made me tired.
Rambo had never given me back my recorder, I suddenly realized, and I wondered how the editor would go for 2,000 baht and a new recorder on expenses. And Mu, my girlfriend, was going to have a few words to say about these matters. At least I didn’t have to pay for the food and drinks this time. Come to that, I guessed nobody did, unless they were screwing it out of Somsak.
I still hadn’t found out how Wrong-Way Willie Wong got his name. But I could live with it now if I never knew.
Next week we join Jack on a trip through traffic that’s colorful even by Bangkok standards. Thanks only to his trusty old typewriter, he survives the adventure.