It was nothing unusual for his friend Dave to be up to an hour late. He was sitting where they always sat when they came here, in one of the side booths on the plastic covered benches to the left hand side of the front door. He was facing the door waiting for it to open. For every buyer and seller on the scene, all bars led to here. Here was the coffee shop, a basement café bar somewhere on Sukhumvit in the Farang nightlife zone of Bangkok. Last time he’d seen his friend was about six months ago in June. He had been in town for six weeks and for the last two had disappeared. The rumor was he had hooked up with some bar girl. This was the first he had heard from him since then. He had sent an email a few days before saying:
I’M BACK IN TOWN ON THE 10TH DECEMBER. YOU FANCY MEETING UP AT THE COFFEE SHOP TO CATCH UP AND DO SOME FISHING? SAY ABOUT 9?
The door opened, but it wasn’t his friend Dave, just another girl heading in for a nights work at the center of his Bangkok universe. He’d remembered seeing the same girl down on Khao San road a couple of nights before walking hand in hand with her Thai boyfriend. Her name was Nid. He’d been hanging out with a regular girl of his Pen. At the time she smiled back at Pen and him but he was baffled as to who it was. The face rang a bell but the short spiky hairstyle didn’t.
“Don’t you recognize her?” asked Pen then proceeded to answer her own question immediately, “It’s Nid who stand by jukebox but she have long hair then.”
“No way so it is!” Steve exclaimed.
She was still looking back smiling at them and Steve winked in acknowledgement.
“Doesn’t her boyfriend mind what she does for money some nights?” asked Steve.
“He think she just show tourists around Bangkok.” Pen answered with a coy smile. “He not know.”
Nid glided past, giving him a knowing smile and a wink, then stopped at a pod of girls by the jukebox. Tonight he realized how attractive he found her, but despite being in an establishment where getting the girl was only usually about overcoming the minor hurdle of a thousand baht or so, he knew she was of the breed that only went with Japanese guys. He knew how great she still looked under that long black haired wig. They shared a mutual secret about the real her, the girl behind the coffee shop disguise. Maybe she would make an exception because of this and would go with him, but before he followed that thought right through a familiar voice bellowed at him from behind and he turned around.
“Steve man, good to see you bro, how’s things hanging in BKK?” said his friend Dave with a warm smile.
“How come your late as usual?” he asked.
“Oh you know me man.” Dave said playing it down, “Forgot the time or something.”
Dave sat down on the bench opposite and looked around for some service. Steve looked at his friend. He looked tired and stressed he thought. His friends skin was wrinkled, the pale blue eyes looked empty and his hair needed rebleaching and cutting. The stocky muscular posture was hunched up at the shoulders and gave his friend a look of being weighed down by immense problems. This was not the same Dave that was here with him six months ago. In fact, in his opinion for a thirty six year old man he looked absolutely fucked.
“Where did you come from?” asked Steve, “I was looking at the front door and I didn’t see you come in.”
“That’s because I came in the back to surprise you stupid!” answered Dave, “And guess what? I swear I’ve just seen that writer.”
“Oh God, what’s his name?” Dave puzzled, “You know Patrick Connery, he writes a lot of stuff on the scene here.”
“Oh him, yeah you probably saw him back there,” He tried to comment unremakably.“He often hangs in here with some ex-pat friends.”
“That’s Patrick Connery man!” exclaimed Dave, “Aren’t you the least bit impressed?”
“I know him a little bit myself.” Steve continued with his best been there, done it and got the tee-shirt persona, “I sometimes sit down with him and the guys and talk about life here in BKK.”
“No way man, you got to introduce me to him.” Begged Dave, “I’ve only just finished his book A Living Scowl, it was awesome!”
Just then one of the staff that constantly circled the place looking for people to serve asked if Dave wanted anything to eat or drink. He always noticed the intense sadness in her eyes that couldn’t be masked by the culturally conditioned Thai smile. He wondered if she had once been a bar girl, but had always been afraid to ask.
“I’ll have a Tequila for openers,” requested Dave, “Anything else for you man?”
“No, I’ll stick with my Singha.”
“So how long you in Thailand for?” Steve asked trying to start the conversation.
“Six weeks again,” he replied. “Oh by the way, sorry I didn’t get in touch until now. I been keeping my head down and doing my time back in Blighty.”
Dave felt a surge of anger rise up in him as he thought about the tedious and grueling nature of his life in Farangland.
“It’s fucking horrendous back there at the moment for me. I’m thirty-five years old and all that’s on offer to me are fat ugly bitches that continuously witter on about how men like me have oppressed them for years. You have to date them for about six months before you have any hope of getting a shag and then there is still no guarantee.”
“I told you before mate, why don’t you come and live over here?” asked Steve before taking another gulp from his Singha.
“Well believe it or not I may finally be about to do that,” Dave answered. “I mean I don’t think I can take much more of the it’s a privilege to have sex with me attitude of those snotty cows in Blighty!”
“How many times have you said that before Dave?”
“No man, I’m serious this time. I got somebody special over here, I’m her number one.”
“Who is she?” Steve interrogated with a background tone of cynicism. “Don’t tell me, you’ve found the bar girl that is different from all the rest.”
“Her name is Pam and she’s been in contact with me since my last trip. I think it’s serious. I know about all the warnings with the B.G’s and stuff but she’s been emailing me almost every other day. I have to admit there was definitely chemistry between us when we were together on my last trip. That’s why I didn’t see you for the last couple of weeks man, I was with her all the time.”
“Pam, yeah I been with a few Pams in my time here, some of them were great lays,” said Steve dismissing his friends seriousness and then taking another sip of his Singha.
“What the fuck is that supposed to mean man?” Dave snarled angrily. “Are you trying to say she’s just a whore? Do you think I’ve lost the plot or something? Your just jealous!”
Steve felt disturbed at his friend’s uncharacteristic and inappropriate reaction. He had never reacted like this to anything he had said before; they had always given it to each other straight, although packaged in a bit of male bonded jive.
“Steady on mate,” said Steve trying to calm the situation. “I’m just saying I’ve had some nice girls called Pam, but I do think you should be careful with her. You know what can happen to guys who get involved with the girls around here.”
“You got a picture of her?”
“Yeah sure, take a look at this baby,” boasted Dave taking a passport photo out of his wallet and handing it across the table to Steve. Steve saw what he didn’t want to see. It was the same Pam he sometimes went with. She wasn’t typically Thai looking because she was half
Farang. She had got the best of both races in looks. The Oriental high bone structure and smooth brown skin blended with the Farang round brown sparkling eyes and full sensuous lips. He had never found quite the same standard of look in Thailand, even amongst other half Thai/Farang girls. He hadn’t seen her for months but was thinking of looking her up soon. He always found it strange to look at her without her glasses on.
Just then the woman came back with Dave’s tequila and placed it on the table in front of him.
“One hundred Baht please Mister?” the woman requested.
Dave pulled a red and a blue note out of his wallet and handed them to the woman, tipping her fifty baht.
“Kop koon krup,” said Dave.
She gave him a wai saying, “Kop koon ka.” And then she walked off.
Dave looked at his friend Steve looking at the photo of Pam. He knew that look of his friends. It was the look of I’m going to tell you something which you’re not going to like.
“What’s up man?” asked Dave, already having a strong inclination of what was coming.
Steve looked up,” I don’t think your going to like what I’m going to tell you now mate,” he declared. “I know this girl very well. In fact I see her from time to time myself. I guess it was bound to happen sooner or later. I mean we have both been through our share of women here and the chances are we were bound to cross reference at some point.”
Dave looked stunned. Steve just stayed with the silence waiting for his friend to say something. This was a time when he definitely didn’t want to be the messenger, but Dave was a good mate and deserved to know the score. He had done what needed to be done.
Then suddenly Dave began to say whatever came out of his mouth. Anything to distract his awareness away from the twisting knot that had come about inside him. “I knew she was still butter flying and even had a couple of other regular guys, but for one of them to be a mate. I don’t know how I feel about that. I mean it changes nothing about my plans with her. I’m going to take her out of the bar and live with her in Bangkok. She says I’m her number one and the other guys are just money,” stated Dave desperately trying to convince himself. “I mean sorry Steve, but she really does love me man. You don’t understand.”
Dave was desperately trying to deflect the reality and truth being fired at him like anti-emotional equilibrium missiles by his friend. Each one causing that little bit more damage to the Bangkok is my oyster mood he had skipped out of his hotel room with.
Steve continued the onslaught, “There is one slight problem their mate. There is no way you can possibly be her number one. I mean it’s not me but I know she’s had a very wealthy Triad boyfriend for about two years now. I mean there is no way you could compete with him. Apparently he even takes a cut of her earnings.“
That one really took Dave by surprise. He kept his composure and hid any possible tell that would reveal his true vulnerability to his friend.
“Yeah but she hates Thai guys. She told me. She’s probably too scared to tell him where to go. She loves me man, your not there when we’re alone together,” said Dave still trying to deflect another attack wave.
Inside he felt absolutely annihilated by what he had just heard. Pam had never mentioned this guy and she certainly hadn’t mentioned Steve. Only a few minutes ago he felt good, up for anything the night had to offer but not this. He felt angry with Steve; it felt like he had taken something from him. The fact is he had, but what he had taken was an illusion. Neither of them were to know that they were sharing the same chick, but it still felt like a right kick in the balls from his friend.
“Would you still have gone with her even if you already knew I was keen on her?” asked Dave.
“What does it matter?” retorted Steve. “Mate your head is fucked at the moment. She’s hardly sacred territory, she’s a whore!”
Steve felt a little out of order for what he had just said and took his gaze away from Dave’s eyes; it also felt darkly voyeuristic to be staring at the hurt and disappointment swirling round in them. His mind drifted back to when he had first met Pam over a year ago. It was the smile of I’m yours for a thousand baht if you want me tonight. He always called her the schoolteacher or the secretary. He had come in through the back entrance of the coffee shop and sat down with a pod of girls that only serviced Japanese guys by the tables against the wall as you entered. She had caught his attention with a wave. She was sitting directly across from him, outwards from the pseudo bar area, which went around in the center of the room in a figure of eight shape with gaps so you could access either side. You couldn’t actually buy drinks from it, people just drank and talked on stools, the real bar was up at the front door to the left as walked in. You never needed to go there anyway, because the staff constantly circled the place for customers to serve.
Her legs were long, slender and brown and she had long jet-black hair. Of course, a great pair of legs and long hair never closed any deal in Bangkok. There were thousands of available girls with the same attributes all over the city. What really did it was the black
slitted skirt, blouse, specs and heeled sandals. There was something about banging a girl that looked so prim and proper, especially from a place like this. It was the ironic side of it he loved, sugar and spice and all things nice in a Bangkok whorehouse. She was in such contrast to all the other girls around at that moment, with their Tokyo youth culture hot pants and platform boots. He sighed at the realization that followed this observation; the place was becoming more and more Japanese customer orientated by the week.
She kept smiling and giving little waves. Yeah, that schoolteacher look was really getting him going. Then suddenly, in his right-sided peripheral vision he saw his friend Ken approach. Ken was five foot six, tanned and built like a rhino. He had brown eyes, a flat nose and was bald on top. He was the anti-thesis of what Thai women loved about farangs. A seriously jaded by the nightlife scene ex-pat from New Zealand. Steve felt he had one of the best senses of humor in Bangkok, especially if you were fed up with the nightlife. However, he was just about to home in for the preliminary interview and was in completely the wrong gear for hard bitten cynical banter, so Ken would have to entertain someone else tonight.
“Hello, how’s tricks?”
“Yeah alright, I’m just checking out that girl with the specs there,” Steve replied.
“I thought you had that salivating wolf look on you!” joked Ken. “Don’t let me cramp your style.”
“I won’t!” Steve retorted bluntly, and with that he got up out of his chair and headed for her, leaving Ken a bit stunned by the abrupt closure.
There was always a catch with any girl you picked up here and he was already wondering what it was. Often they had had a baby and would try and make love in the dark so you wouldn’t see the scar. It could be her face he thought. From past experience he knew that any girl can look great across the room, especially if your being distracted by certain factors that appeal to you. Ten seconds later he was standing in front of her.
“Sa was dee krup,” he said making his introduction. “Sa ba dee mai krup?”
Speaking a little Thai was always a nice little touch that helped things along no end, and now he got up close to this one he really wanted to get to know her that little bit more. She looked good.
“Sa ba dee ka,” she replied.
“Hello and how are you doing?” would do for now he thought, but he hoped the catch wasn’t that she only speaks ten words of English.
“What is your name?” he asked her.
“Dao,” she replied giggling. “Me speak good English?”
“Yeah you speak o.k, I’m Steve,” he replied with awkwardness.
He couldn’t believe it, he felt nervous for the first time in ages. She picked up on it and went straight in for a first round knock out by taking off her glasses and shaking her long jet black hair. There she was in all her glory, the most beautiful half Thai and half Farang face in Bangkok he had ever seen. He was speechless.
Suddenly his mind came back to the here and now sitting down with his grieving friend Dave, staring at the passport photo of Pam in his hand. He looked up and spoke again.
“You alright mate?”
“Does it look like I’m alright? Dave snapped. “I’m seeing her tonight and I was hoping you’d come along and we’d all go out together on the town.”
Steve was about to make a joke about a threesome but knew his friend was in no fit space for it.
“Well yeah I guess that’s maybe not such a good idea now,” Steve stated, not knowing what else to say. He knew now the poor bastard was in too deep for sure.
“So if I’m not number one, where am I in her estimations?” asked Dave.
Steve was about to mention the fact that you never knew how many other regulars a working girl had in Bangkok, so for all you knew you could be number ninety nine, but once again felt his friend was in no fit space to here his jovial banter. Then he decided to compromise and take a risk with just a little humor.
“Well I’m ok with being number three so you can be number two,” answered Steve.
Dave let out a little chuckle as he realized the absurdity of the situation. Relief came over Steve that the risk had paid off.
“For fucks sake what a sad bastard I am,” he self mocked. “I’m in fucking bits over some bar girl because I’m not her number one!”
They both started to laugh together. Dave felt better for yielding to his friend’s attempts to get him to look on the funny side.
“Well you know me mate,” said Steve. “I’m happy with being every Thai girls number three!”
And with that remark the emotional tension collapsed along with them into fits of laughter on the table.
After the laughter stopped they both sat back smiling from the rebonding of old connections by humor. They were together again in their favourite city on planet Earth.
“Get it into perspective,” continued Steve. “It wasn’t like you were just going to screw her while you were here.”
“True, but she’s a real hot babe this one,” affirmed Dave; inside he was still knotted up. He changed the subject.
”Anyway it’s good to see you man.”
“It’s good to see you too mate,” replied Steve. “So what you going to do about her?”
Oh no it’s back on that subject again, he thought, but he appreciated his friend’s humorous and grounded perspective. He knew he had to go and sort things out with her.
“I’m going to go see her and finish it,” Dave said focusing himself. “I can’t see how we can carry on. I’m going to head down to the Wine Yard on Soi seven where I’ve arranged to meet her. Maybe we could meet later after I’ve done the business with her.”
“Sure mate,” Steve replied. “Fancy going down to Soi Indian?”
“Yeah man, we could hit the Short Rifle. Is it still the best go go on the whole strip there?”
“For sure!” confirmed Steve. “Well you go off and sort your divorce out, I’m going to do a circuit in here!”
And with that Steve gave a wink to his friend. Dave began to chuckle again and started to get up.
“Ok man but there are other fish to catch tonight so don’t forget to throw her back in the sea!” said Dave continuing their rekindled relationship of banter.
“What time shall we meet at Indian?” asked Steve.
“Well this will only take half an hour so I’ll bell you on your mobile and take it from there.”
“Ok I’ll wait for your call.”
As his friend walked off towards the front door of the coffee shop Steve already knew he would probably not be seeing him again that night. He knew from experience that guys who were already in that deep didn’t just do the right thing for themselves. It always took more, usually a lot more. It was almost like the desire for the illusion counterbalanced any clarity or commonsense. His friend would be told just what he wanted to hear. He knew the lies she would tell him. A girl in this world never let go of a customer like Dave without a fight. She would probably deny everything, even though overwhelming evidence was against her. Everyone had their bottom and his friend Dave had to reach his, but it was not to be tonight he thought. Anyway, he had his own illusion to deal with, she was here tonight somewhere in Bangkok, ready to be whatever he wanted.
Steve had been sitting with her for about an hour. He had spotted her halfway on his circuit of the coffee shop. She was standing by the bottom of the stairs at the back entrance, which he knew was always a good place to look for fresh meat. As he approached her she was still smiling at him from their initial glance on his circuit. He had found out her name was Lek; she
was nineteen and had just moved down to Bangkok from Ubon. He suspected that her situation was not as she presented because her English was so good, but she said her mother
was a schoolteacher and taught her to speak it as a child. After an initial rush of small talk there had been the usual opening gambits of petting and warm smiles with the occasional murmur to each other using the pigeon versions of their respective languages. Small compliments to lay the foundations of the illusion that gave her a living and him a transient ego boost.
“You Backhem!” she kept saying, but he wasn’t sure what kind of compliment she was giving him. Either he looked like the footballer David Beckham or according to some Thai girl he once took home from a bar in Pattaya, it actually meant young man. It was true that he had blond hair, blue eyes and an athletic build. In the case of Thai women he liked to believe he might well appear to resemble a world-class English footballer, but on the other hand he was thirty-one and liked to think he looked a little younger, so he preferred to go with the latter.
He was just about to hail one of the staff on their circuit for another drink when his mobile rang. The number on the screen showed it was Dave.
“Hi mate, all sorted?”
“No fucking way man!” Dave exclaimed with extreme anxiety in his voice.” It’s gone real pear shaped. You got to get down here and help me out.”
“Why? What’s happened? Did you see her?”
“I saw her alright but I don’t want to talk anymore on the phone, please come down here. This is a real emergency!”
“Come down to where, Soi seven? asked Steve.
“No, I’m at the Princess Hotel, right off the bottom of Soi three,” he replied. “I’m in room two six four.”
“I thought you were going down to the Wine Yard.”
“I’ll explain all when you get down here, just hurry up!”
“Ok, I’m on my way now,” he said as he pressed the end call button of his mobile.
Moore, Needham and co. had better watch out!