disappeared into the back of the bar beside the stage. She spoke
with a girlfriend who casually stepped out of her street clothes
and slipped into a G-string. Looking at herself in the mirror
above the bar, the girlfriend fixed gold star shaped pasties over
each nipple. It was difficult to make out from their whispers
what was being said. Calvino looked away and leaned back-taking
in the rest of the bar; not much remained of the original decor.
It was just another Patpong downstairs go-go bar. Not many of
the old timers were left around from those days, thought Calvino.
A moment later, he spotted Bartlett, a freelancer from New Zealand
who had wandered in alone with a laptop in one hand. He waved
at Calvino, ordered a beer at the bar, and went over to his table.
Bartlett scratched the chin of the stuffed civet cat. He was about
five-three, sharp-chinned, with tiny, pale hands and narrow feet-as
if they had been bound as a child-and an oversized head, his thinning
hair combed straight back.
thing about this bar. It always makes me think how one jungle
can so easily turn into another. Especially in your line of work,
I suspect. Did you ever turn up anything in the Jeff Logan case?"
all the years of operation, what remained of the original were
the exotic fish tank and a stuffed civet cat. And a few fixtures
like Bartlett who had been around since the old days launched
straight into a conversation as if there had been a long pause
lot of questions."
no answers. Ah, but that is Bangkok, isn't it?"
turned a few bucks covering Jeff's murder," said Calvino,
glancing back to see if he could catch sight of Tik.
is called journalism. People want to know about young men dying
of heart attacks in Bangkok. It's reassuring."
a lot of things, but reassuring it's not," said Calvino.
forehead rippled with a wave of wrinkles. "There's where
you're wrong. A journalist knows his audience. Reassuring, I'm
afraid Is the right choice of words. For the audience in America,
Canada, England-you name it..."
talked in bursts, his deep, penetrating blue eyes looking at the
listener. He had a look that suggested he had belonged to the
original African motif; a well-used Lord of the Flies youth look
of someone stranded, shipwrecked on a jungle island of childhood
from which he could never escape.
brightened his smile. "Even little New Zealand wants to be
reassured that the real, bad old world out there is filled with
dangers. It's better to stay home with the old Sheila, eating
pizza and watching TV, than flying out to some strange land occupied
by people waiting to cut you down in your very prime. Editors
love stories like that. You get any more, just let me know."
He tapped the case of his laptop computer.
had the journalistic flare for gauging his audience's reaction
as he spoke, rearranging the adjectives and verb forms to fit
the mood of the moment. His childlike feet kicking the back of
the booth as he spoke. In Thailand, he had found a country where
he was average height and rooms filled with available women, most
of whom he could stare eyeball-to-eyeball with at the bar. If
they had removed their high-heel shoes, that is.
here a little early," said Bartlett, smelling a story. "Nice,
looking girl, Tik. I had her about ... let me see, eighteen months
ago. I took her short time." Bartlett's face twitched around
the nose and eyes.
tried to Imagine Bartlett stripped naked lying on top of Tik.
The Image didn't form easily. Bartlett fingered the civet cat
the way Ben Hoadly had once done. He sat silently for a moment.
"What happened to its ears?"
thought everyone had heard that story," he said, kicking
the heels of his shoes against the booth.
listening," said Calvino, glancing back at Tik who stood
in the back talking to her friend.
the old days the owner of the African Queen kept an eight-foot
python caged behind the bar. He had bought the snake from a Thai
stripper who had used "Monty" in her act. The snake
even got a billing. Noi and Monty performed the world-famous love
dance. It wasn't much of an act. The snake hung around her neck.
She stripped slowly and danced around the stage. Pretty tame stuff,
really. She ended up marrying a guy from South Africa. Since Noi
was leaving the country and getting out of the business' she sold
Monty to the African Queen Bar. The Thais are very practical people.
The owner figured that Monty wasn't going to have a free lunch.
He had to work like everyone else. After two in the morning, when
the bar closed, Monty was given free reign of the African Queen.
He was let out of the cage. This was mealtime. The python hadn't
eaten all day. He was a big snake with a big appetite. He ate
a ton of rats. The African Queen was the one bar on the strip
which never had a problem with rats when that python was on the
lose. The rats blackballed the place. Rats are smart. Every morning
when the staff came in the python was stuffed, curled up in a
ball, its gut filled with rats, and fell fast asleep. But soon
the rats stopped showing up. Monty was hungry and did the only
thing a really famished snake would think of doing. He went looked
for a new territory. If the rats wouldn't come to him, he would
go to the rats. So one morning the python disappeared. It had
broken out of the bar and gone on a tour of Patpong. About a week
later in an upstairs bar three doors down from the African Queen,
in the back a couple of whores sat in front of a mirrored dresser
putting on their makeup. The python dropped down from the ceiling
and landed on the head of a whore. She freaked out, screamed down
the place, and fainted. The whores hated snakes, especially rat-fed
Pythons eight foot in length. In all the confusion, Monty disappeared.
The African Queen Bar never got the python back. Although there
are rumors from time to time that someone has spotted Monty, most
of it is pills and drugs talking. You know, hallucinations."
looked off toward the ceiling.
the civet cat's ears."
yes, the poor civet cat. Once the python left, the rats returned
to the bar. The rats chewed off its ears. Of course, the Thais
believe the rats did it for revenge. A kind of rat language warning
not to buy a new python. Rat extortion, if you like. Myself, I
think rats would gnaw through about anything."
civet cat ended. Calvino finished his drink and ordered another.
'Who told you that story?'
Hoadly. It was a nickname from school."
knows where a nickname starts?"
remembered the Ben's computer file named Worm, and in another
file Bartlett's name on the list of people who had invested in
the SET through Ben. He wondered if Calvino was sorry; he wondered
if Ben had told him the story, and if so, why he had never told
have any theory on who might have killed him?"
face twitched as he smiled. "Who wants to know?"
want to know."
I get it. You've got another job. I wonder if my mother would
hire you if I turned up dead in Bangkok?"
hear lie lost some heavy number for a number of -people."
face softened. "He lost me a tidy sum. But even in Bangkok,
farangs don't normally kill another farang because they suffered
a financial setback. Certainly not with a bullet in the back of
the head. That's execution-style. Chinese-Thai style, if you want
my theory. Though, the thinner addict might have done it."
He looked at the civet cat. "Anyway, it was a bit of a shock.
saw a Thai in expensive Italian shoes, a black silk shirt, and
white pants enter with a couple of bodyguards.
my interview arriving thirty minutes late," said
rising from the table.
recognized him from newspaper photographs. It was Chanchai. The
African Queen owner bowed and waied at the same moment. Other
staff-their faces a mask of fear-the same look he remembered on
Ilk's face earlier- and faded into the shadows. It was like a
boss going into a restaurant in Little Italy spreading terror
with a crooked smile.
must be off," said Bartlett. "I hope you find Ben's
was away from the table with his hand stretched out. "My
name Is Calvino. We were talking about snakes in Patpong before
you came in."
stared hard at Calvino. Then he broke out into a smile. He was
from the south, a Muslim, who came from a culture of violence,
revenge, and hatred. As a teenager he had been a smuggler: electronics
into Thailand, and drugs into Malaysia. His mother had been sold
to a brothel when she was twelve. He never knew his father but
he has Malay features. His father had been a short time brothel
first job in Bangkok was as a kick-boxer. He was uneducated but
street-smart, quick-witted, and played hardball. He had reputedly
killed nine men. He had the basic desire of the rejected and Impoverished:
a constant hunger for power, respect, and acceptance. As a whore's
son, he had been treated as a nullity his entire life, he has
something to prove: and a family to create out of nothing.
Patpong, Chanchai counted for something, Important people noticed
and feared him, respected him, honored him.
Calvino's a private investigator," said Bartlett.
grinned, set down his mobile phone and leaned forward, his two
five-baht chains swinging gently from his neck. He barked for
the owner to send Calvino another drink. Then he extended his
hand to Calvino who reached out and shook it. Chanchai had a strong
grip; he was someone who didn't let go.
drink’s on the house."
Chanchai and the two bodyguards quickly were out the door. Calvino
stared at the empty bar, the civet cat, and wandered to the back.
Tik had disappeared from the doorway. He pushed through a Chinese
bead curtain which led to a corridor. Off to the left was a sign
to the toilets and off to the right were stairs leading upstairs.
He checked the toilet first; it was empty. He retraced his way
back to the stairs. There was music coming from above. A cassette
of Ring my Bell played in the distance. Calvino went up the stairs
and found a series of small back rooms where girls took customers
for a price and a smelly toilet with the water tank running. A
naked light bulb hung from the ceiling in the perpetually dark
interior. Several bookcases stacked with high-heeled shoes lined
the wall, small tables stacked with junk-newspapers, pens, cups,
small dead plants and a strong smell of perfume and stale cigarette
smoke hung in the air.
Calvino called out.
was no answer. He called her name several more times, walking
down the corridor to the right.
here," came her voice. "My friend you, she talk to you
now. She tell you everything." Tik appeared in the doorway
of one of the private rooms. The moronic lyrics of Ring my Bell
blared from the bedroom behind her.
are you doing back here?"
She couldn't hear him over the music.
are you up here?" He moved in close and shouted.
talk, talk with your friend you. I bored very much." She
sounded a little angry. Bar girls hated extended conversations
between farangs in a fast, clipped English they could not understand,
and had nothing to do with them. She could have cared less that
rats had eaten the ears off the civet cat. He caught a sudden
change in her expression. She looked puzzled and straight through
she screamed, back-pedaling. Ring my bell, you can ring my bell.
half-turned, blocking a large knife which came at him, narrowly
missing his back. The katoey knocked him into the wall, and pushed
her hand into Calvino's jacket. She fumbled for his gun. It remembered,
he thought. The katoey spit in his face and tried to bite him.
Her teeth sunk into his arm and he cried out in pain. "Asshole,"
she said, as he struck hard between the shoulder blades. Her nostrils
flared and her eyes were-wild with hate.
I ring your bell, sweetheart?"
elbow in a karate-like uppercut thrust caught Calvino on the side
of his law. The force of the blow knocked him off his feet. He
crashed through a couple of small tables and bookcases. High-heeled
shoes, hairspray, paint thinner, phony fingernails, rags, old
newspapers, nail files-a rat's nest of stale junk scattered across
the floor, breaking and smashing. Calvino pushed himself up against
the floor, trying to regain his balance. She Ignored him and he
followed her eye-line to the gun. "Oh, shit," he murmured.
The katoey dove for the gun which had bounced on the floor. Tik
ran forward and kicked the gun away from the katoey. The katoey
threw a hairspray can at her. Tik retreated down the corridor.
bitch, you cunt. I kill you, too, " shouted the katoey. A
door slammed behind Tik. Calvino heard the lock click into place.
She was safe, he thought.
no see," said Calvino, as the katoey recovered her concentration,
picked up the knife, and came after him. "Where did you learn
that karate shit. Not bad. Maybe you could tell me who set me
up earlier today?" His hand had reached out and grabbed the
first sharp object it touched. Calvino came up with a HI-Super
ballpoint pen. "Let's talk before someone gets hurt. Okay?"
He palmed the pen and rose to his feet, slowly backing up.
katoey lunged at him, making a swiping motion. She missed and,
in a half-crazed charge, the knife raised above her head, her
I ipstick smeared, thrust downward. She kept on moving forward
with the determination of a fanatic. Her face was disfigured with
sweat and bruises. She licked her lips and gestured for Calvino
to come forward. He continued to back away in a crouched position.
could be friends," he said. Under the glare of the naked
light bulb he saw a crescent-shaped scar below her right eye.
kill you," she said.
guess friendship is out of the question," said Calvino.
katoey shifted the knife from one hand to the other. Calvino tripped
over a table which had been tipped over in his fall. As he fell,
the radiance of the bright light above him, the katoey hesitated
for a second, then rushed forward, aiming at his chest cavity.
He deflected the knife with a bottle of antiseptic which shattered
in his hand. In the elapsed moment of confusion, as the katoey,
the curvature of her arched back a grotesque shadow on the wall,
Calvino used both hands to drive the ballpoint pen through her
eye. The HI-Super ballpoint pierced through her eye. It was like
sticking a candle in a week-old birthday cake. The cornea busted
like an egg yolk. Three inches of hard plastic penetrated the
eye and traveled through tissue, blood vessels, and into the brain.
Ring my Bell echoed in the silence, muffling her scream. For one
exuberant moment, the katoey shuddered as a faintly yellowish
liquid and blood poured from the hole in her face. Blood quickly
soaked the, floor.
crawled forward through the trash on the floor, his hands wet
with blood, and found his gun under a plastic bag. He pushed the
bag away, spilling rat poison into the gore. It had almost worked,
Calvino thought. A perfect setup. He rolled the katoey over on
her back, felt for a pulse and finding none, went down to the
room where Tik had locked herself in. Why had Tik kicked the gun
away? He should be dead. He called her name but there was no reply.
He tried the door, shaking the handle, then banging on the door.
let me in. It's okay. You can come out." He put his ear against
the door. "No one Is gonna hurt you." Still there was
no answer. Calvino took a deep breath and one step back, then
forced the door open with his shoulder. Rubbing his shoulder,
he walked into the small, dark room. He flipped on the light.
There was a single bed along one, side, a nightstand, and some
porno magazines, but no Tik in the far corner a boarded-up window
had been kicked open. She had fled the scene like a Bangkok bus
driver who had caused an accident. Calvino walked back into the
corridor and dragged the dead katoey into the room and laid the
body on the bed. He switched off the light and closed the door.
He walked down the stairs and at the bottom a small wooden gate
had been drawn across. He unlatched the gate and entered the ground-floor
corridor. A customer came out of the toilet.
you smell ripe," said a farang about thirtysomething, with
Iong matted red hair and green eyes.
antiseptic from the broken bottle reeked from Calvino's clothing.
The flecks of blood spattered on his shirt were still fresh and
wet. Calvino buttoned his suit jacket and passed the farang and
pushed through the Chinese beaded curtains, past the bar where
about a dozen people sat. Outside the African Queen, Calvino spotted
Vichai in his cowboy shirt and Reeboks.
have a talk," Calvino said.
who had stood leaning against the display of videos, took off
running through the light crowd of tourists who were shopping
along the stalls. Calvino gave chase only to find his path blocked
by a half-dozen touts and pimps, fists clenched. The intimidation
worked, stopping Calvino dead in his tracks. if he had moved another
step, they would have attacked him wolf-pack style, with fists,
feet, razors, kn Ives, and pipes. Calvi no's law of street fighting
with Thais in Patpong was: Don't. He caught a last glimpse of
Vichai running through the Top Hat restaurant. Calvino knew the
back door led into the maze of sois.
turned and walked away, passing the Bookseller he went to the
right off the main strip. On the glass door of the bookstore was
an advertisement for HI-Super ballpoint pens and a sensual woman
in a bikini holding one between her fingers and smiling.