First You Die, Chapter 8: Back To Bangkok
First You Die, Chapter Eight: Back To Bangkok
By the next morning, Sonia had changed her mind. No sense in telling Rick where she was going, he’d probably just tell her not to and she would have to go anyway. She walked to the girl’s part of the loft in her underwear.
I think the grunge look would be better. Like I just got off the boat-don’t know anything. Sonia rummaged through the girl’s dirty laundry basket and picked out a baggy pair of old pants and a shirt someone had used to mop up spilled noodles. The clothes were damp and smelly. Ugh, she thought as she put them on. Sonia tied a kerchief around her head and cautioned the girls to keep quiet, putting her finger to her lips. Rick was still sleeping. If Rick asked about her, the girls would just shrug their shoulders and become tongue-tied, unable to comprehend the simplest English.
Sonia waved to Rafael to get her van from the garage and she drove across to Grand Street. It took twenty minutes before she was able to squeeze into a parking space, a few blocks away from the clinic. Sonia pretended to look underneath her van and laid in the gutter. While she was there she rolled around a bit, her clothes picking up dirt and bits of garbage. Now she was a suitable looking street person.
As she approached the clinic, she saw a sign in the window. It said free medical exams. And then below, pregnancy tests, pre-natal care, fertility treatments.
She and entered the store hesitantly, head down, looking lost or like a whipped dog.
The lady behind the desk wore a crisp starched white uniform. ‘May I help you?’ she said in English.
Sonia raised her head a bit and shrugged her shoulders. The nurse spoke to Sonia in Thai and Sonia smiled, answering her back in the same language. ‘Please can I have a check-up?’
The lady motioned Sonia to take a chair near the desk and pushed over a clipboard. There was a form asking for Sonia’s name, address, occupation and list of relatives.
‘I can not read.’ Sonia shyly hung her head.
‘That’s no matter dear. We try to help everyone here. If you have any friends send them in and we won’t charge them.’
The nurse found out that Sonia had no relatives or job and was not quite sure where she lived.
‘I must have a phone number, somewhere to contact you. It’s very important.’
Sonia looked puzzled for a minute then managed to say, ‘I call you.’
A large Thai man stepped out of a room in the back and waved her in. Another thug, Sonia thought as she shuffled into the examination room.
A doctor rose from his desk and motioned for Sonia to take a chair as the solidly built man left the room. The doctor was Chinese, of average build and about forty years old. He was a peasant looking man with brown hair neatly parted and combed to the side. He wore a white doctor’s jacket, blue oxford shit, striped tie and a stethoscope hung from his neck. The nurse brought in the clipboard with Sonia’s information on it.
‘Sorry that you don’t speak English. I can’t speak Thai but no matter, this won’t take long. He rolled up Sonia’s sleeve and took her blood pressure. He motioned that he had to put the stethoscope to her chest and Sonia slowly unfastened the top two buttons of her shirt. When he was finished, the doctor dabbed her arm with alcohol, jabbed in a syringe and withdrew a few ounces of blood.
‘We’re finished.’ He said motioning Sonia to leave as he divided the blood into three tiny test tubes.
On the way out, the nurse informed Sonia that she must call in a few days or stop by for the results of her blood test, handing her a card. Sonia waied and bowed politely.
Sonia walked back to the van and noticed that she was almost in front of Ferraras. Mmmm good, she thought. She went into the store and looked at all of the desserts and cakes. She ordered two dozen cannoli, pastry shells full of creamy ricotta cheese with bits of candied citron and chocolate.
Sonia drove home thinking that the girls were going to love this Italian dessert. She would make some espresso to go with it. They had to try everything to get the full flavor of New York. Sonia also thought that it was the shortest examination that she ever had. She hadn’t found much to go on, except it was unusual to have such a rough looking guy for a doctor’s helper. Maybe she would find out more when she went back.
Rick had already left for work when Sonia returned. Good, she thought he would be gone by now. What would he think, seeing her dressed like this? She threw the clothes in the washing machine and took a shower.
It was five o’clock in the afternoon and Captain Jipthep was finished for the day. He was changing into his street clothes when the phone rang. ‘Jipthep here,’ he said pushing the receiver against his face with his shoulder while he stepped out of his slacks, holding them carefully with both hands.
‘You were very lucky with the truck yesterday.’ The voice was thin and sharp. Static crackled in the earpiece.
‘What did you say? Jip threw his pants on the desk, holding the receiver with his hand now.
‘Next time we’ll run you down, run right over you and keep on going. Stay away from hospitals and deaths that don’t concern you. The next autopsy you ask for will turn out to be your own. No more warnings.’ The static stopped as the phone clicked off.
Jip replace the receiver and finished folding his pants on a hanger along with his shirt. He threw on his jeans and T-shirt. Four people dead in his district he thought. How many elsewhere? He would have to find out. Why no autopsies? Jip thought about this as he jumped on his Honda Dream and headed towards Soi Cowboy.
Jip buzzed in and out, between the cars, keeping his eyes peeled for a battered blue truck. He wanted to see if there were any girls missing from Cowboy- or was Sonia’s friend the only one that had disappeared?
Soi Cowboy is a narrow street, lined with girly bars on both sides, connecting Asoke to Soi 23, just off Sukhumvit, and closed to traffic. Jip pushed the motorcycle down the street and parked it in front of the Long Gun Bar. It was a large place with an oval bar running the length of the room and a dance floor in the middle with a dozen brass poles and girls in various stages of undress undulating seductively against them.
Jip took a seat on one of the leatherette sofas, away from the stage. He ordered a drink and sat back, watching the girls. Some were dancing animatedly, giving it everything they had, and others were hardly moving, bored silly or dead tired. Jip waved over the mama-san. She was well into middle age and a no-nonsense boss who oversaw the girls with a firm hand. If anyone knew something it would be her.
‘Sawat-dii kha,’ she said to Jip with a smile and a slight wai. ‘You want girl? Look, that one very pretty.’ She pointed to a girl in pink hot pants moving energetically on the stage.
‘No, just some information.’ Jip slid a five hundred baht note across the table.
The mama-san placed her hand on the note and waited.
‘Have you had any girls missing from here? Girls not coming to work when they’re supposed to.’
‘Everyday,’ she said in a bored tone, slipping the purple note into her shirt.
‘I mean girls that have disappeared for no reason.’
The woman shrugged her shoulders. ‘One girl, Sai, go away, leave clothes in locker, one month now.’
‘May I see the locker, please?
‘Have to break lock, very expensive.’
Jip slid over another purple.
The woman stood up and nodded her head. Jip followed her to the dressing room where there were four or five girls in various stages of undress changing into their dance bikinis. Some were almost naked, bare breasts all over the place but they paid no attention to him. It was as if he didn’t exist.
The mama-san took a hammer from the top row of gray metal lockers lining the wall and banged it down on a lock, which immediately gave way and clattered to the floor. The easiest five hundred she ever made, Jip thought, as he reached into the small compartment.
There was a pair of jeans, some tank tops, the small comic books that all of the girls read, pink lingerie, bikinis, a notebook and some papers. Jip was wrapping everything up in the jeans when he heard the screams.
Jip ran out of the dressing room and into the bar area. The girl in the pink hot pants had collapsed and was shaking uncontrollably, white foam bubbling out of her mouth. Jip grabbed his cell-phone and called for an ambulance. He leapt over the bar and jumped onto the stage pushing past the girls, who were just standing there staring at the girl.
Jip wiped the froth from her mouth and stuck his fingers in; making sure her tongue was not blocking her breathing passage. The girl was having a seizure of some kind. ‘Has this happened before?’ Jip shouted.
The mama-san shrugged her shoulders and the girls continued to gawk. The girl suddenly lay still. Jip started mouth-to mouth and continued to do so for ten minutes until he felt a hand on his shoulder. Jip looked up to see a balding, gray-haired Farang wearing wire-rimmed glasses.
It was Jerry Ebie, an old friend of Rick’s from California. Jerry was married to a Thai girl, had a four year old daughter and lived directly across from Soi Cowboy, on Soi 23, above his art gallery. Jerry featured local artists and attracted tourists, expatriates and Thais alike, all for different reasons. The Long Gun Bar was a usual stop for Jerry after he closed the gallery.
‘Let me spell you on that.’ Jerry knelt beside the girl and started to breathe into her mouth, holding her nose closed.
Ten minutes passed until he was pulled back by the emergency medical team. Two Thai men in uniforms picked the girl up, holding her underneath the arms and legs and laid her on a stretcher.
‘We’ll take her.’ They edged the body off the stage and moved towards the door.
‘How are you?’ Ebie had a continual smile on his face. If anyone knew how to enjoy life, it was him.
Jip picked up the clothing that he had dropped on the bar. ‘Thanks for your help. I was trying to track down a missing girl when this happened.’
‘That’s the third one this week.’ Jerry nodded his head toward the unconscious girl.
‘What, here in Long Gun?’
‘No, the other two were down a bit, in the Dollhouse. Looks like there’s an epidemic of some kind going around.’
Jip reached for his cell-phone and called the Sukhumvit Police Station. ‘Hello, this is Captain Jipthep over in Thon Buri. I had two girls drop dead in a club last week. Anything happening over your way like that?’
‘A few girls, a few guys, been going on now and then for the past month.’
‘What did the toxicology reports say?’
‘With everything that’s going on around here, do you think we have time to do toxicology reports on everyone that drops dead? Besides, you know how these things are and how long they take if it doesn’t involve someone important.’
‘All right, thanks, I’ll call you during the week. Just one more question. Any girls missing from Nana that you know of? ’
‘Are you kidding? Who can keep tract?’ The phone clicked off and Jip put it back on his belt and shook his head. I really don’t know what’s happening. People dropping dead, girls disappearing.’
‘Did you just say you were across the river, in Thon Buri?’
‘Yeah, you know how everyone hates if you investigate in their territory.’
Ebie put his hand on Jip’s arm. ‘Look- if you want to really try and get your ear to the ground, I would do one of two things; call Stickman or go over and see Canadian Chris.’
‘Who the hell is Stickman?’
‘Some Kiwi, been here a while and has a web site with a weekly news letter. The guy really has his pulse on what’s going on in Bangkok. All the E-mails he gets everyday, he
usually knows what’s happening. He also does bar girl investigations. Sounds perfect for you.
Who’s this Chris?’
‘Gee, you must have seen him around, looks like Roger Moore, the English movie actor- tall, handsome. He’s been in Bangkok for years and speaks Thai.’
‘Where can I find him?’
‘Try checking Nana or Thermae. He usually wears a black shirt with a mandarin collar. You can’t miss him; he’ll be surrounded by girls. He’ll only be talking, not fondling. His wife is one of the most beautiful women in Thailand. If you’re going over there, I’ll try to get a hold of Stick.’
‘Okay, thanks Jerry. I’ll say hello to Rick for you when I speak to him on the phone. How’s the back room going?’
‘Great, you have to stop in sometime,’ Jerry said with an enormous Cheshire cat grin.
He knew that Jerry sold the kind of artwork, sex toys and pornographic videos that one used to see on 42nd Street and Times Square in the old days. Jerry was a good guy, but Jip had no intention of ever setting foot in his back room.
Jip pushed his bike out to Asoke and drove towards Sirinthon and the highway. He had Mrs. Somboonsap’s address in his pocket. It was dark when he reached the apartment complex. There were eight long buildings, each five stories high. All of the apartments had outdoor balconies and were strung with washed laundry or jammed with bicycles and boxes. Jipthep found her apartment and rang the bell.
A tall light-skinned woman in her mid-forties answered the door. She eyed Jip suspiciously, one hand on her hip. ‘What is it?’
‘My name is Jipthep. I have an appointment. Are you Mrs. Somboonsap?’
‘You want to talk to my mother, but don’t take long please. She’s tired and I don’t want you to disturb her. Did you bring the money?’ The woman spoke over her shoulder, running her hands down the sides of her light blue housedress as she walked into the living room. Jipthep slipped off his shoes and hurried after her.
There was an old woman sunk deep in an over stuffed chair near a lamp in the corner of the room. Faded crocheted doilies covered the arms of the chair surrounding the small woman. Her oval face reminded Jipthep of a light tan wrinkled prune. Jip bowed deeply and waied. ‘Good evening Mother, I hope I am not disturbing you.’
The old woman’s eyes sparkled as she waved him closer. A smile broke through the wrinkles revealing just a few teeth. ‘Come here.’
Jip sat down on a small dark wood chair, pulling it near the old woman as she held up a tiny age spotted hand. ‘My goodness, it’s Sergeant Jipthep.’ Her smile broke into a wide grin. ‘I thought you were dead.’
‘He is dead. I am his son.’ Jip reached to take the woman’s hand in his.
The woman began to sob putting her other hand up to her eyes. ‘It’s all my fault. If I hadn’t complained they never would have shot you.’
The daughter edged closer to Jipthep. ‘You’ve upset my mother. Just give me the money and leave now.’
The older woman grimaced and waved her hand, ‘Whoooee, I have failed in my duties as a mother. My daughter speaking to a guest like that. Go into the kitchen and make some tea for us.’
Jip looked into the old woman’s eyes. ‘Who shot my father?’
The woman wiped a tear from her cheek. ‘My husband gambled all his money. We did not have enough to eat. I just wanted you to chase them away. Two days later I heard that you were shot and I never saw you again. A week later the gambling house re-opened and my husband kept on loosing money until I had to take my daughter and live with my sister so that we could survive. Thank God that you are alright now. I prayed for you every night and now you’ve come back.’
‘Mother, do you know who shot me?’
‘Don’t you know?’ The woman leaned towards Jipthep and whispered. ‘It was the Ang Yee that shot you.’
‘But the Ang Yee is the Chinese Mafia. They usually only concern themselves in the business of the Chinese. Wasn’t the gambling house run by Thais?’
‘And me- am I not Chinese? I married a Thai and took the name of Somboonsap but I am still pure Chinese, am I not? And my daughter, who’s father is Thai, is still Chinese, is she not?’
‘The people that had my father shot, were they Chinese or Thai?’
‘Both, there are many of us that are of mixed blood unfortunately,’ the old woman sighed.
‘It was inevitable that we had to mix our blood with that of our younger brothers.’
‘Names? Do you remember any names?’
‘A Thai shot you. One of your own people. I know that for sure. He worked for the owner of the gambling parlor. The owner was Chinese.’
Jip turned to see the daughter pouring tea into two cups from a small pot. She looked at Jipthep, raising her eyebrows. ‘Are you happy? You made my mother cry.’
‘Where are the cookies for Sergeant Jipthep?’ the old woman brushed a wisp of gray hair from her face.
The daughter set the teapot on the table. ‘Sergeant? You said you were from the newspaper. Do you have my money or not?’
‘Owwweee, worthless one. Bring us some cookies.’ Mrs. Somboonsap ran a hand angrily down her gray wool sweater as the daughter disappeared into the kitchen.
Jipthep still held one of the woman’s hands. ‘Please, is there anything else that you can tell me? A name, please.’
The old woman sighed and thought for a moment. She bent foreword and spoke softly into Jip’s ear. ‘Wou.’ She held a finger to her lips, warning silence; her eyes narrowing in fear.
‘Could it be Johnny Wou?’ Jip said aloud, but really to himself.
The woman waved her hand back and forth and shook her head no. ‘The owner of the gambling house was Chiew Wou.’
Jip kissed the woman on the cheek. ‘Thank you Mother. I will go now. I’ve bothered you enough.’
The woman looked up at Jipthep. ‘Please come back to see me Sergeant.’
Jip shook his head yes, bowed and waied. He was almost to the door when the daughter grabbed his sleeve. ‘Is that how the police investigate cases now? Lie to people and make old women cry? Do you have my money or not?’
Jipthep pressed two thousand baht bills into the woman’s outreached hand and stepped into the hallway. The door slammed behind him.
Jip couldn’t wait to get outside and on his bike. He kicked it to life and roared out of the lot- his mind crammed so full it pressed on the sides of his head, shooting bolts of pain in every direction. How many Wous were there in the telephone book? Could the owner of the gambling operation have been related to Johnny Wou? Would the shooter still be alive? Who would know this? And then his own father-Jip thought angrily, how could he be so selfish, so thoughtless? If he had been more careful, if he had not been so stubborn, he would still be alive today. No, he had to rush into things, not thinking of his own family, only of other people and his own sense of right and wrong. Why didn’t he consider that his wife would be a widow and that he would leave his son fatherless? What did he accomplish? The gambling house opened again after his death-damn him.
It was too early in the evening to try Thermae and Jip drove to Nana Plaza on Soi Four. The Nana Entertainment Plaza or NEP as Stickman called it in his Sunday column was a parking lot turned into a three-story high collection of girlie bars. The clubs ran around three sides with open-air bars in the center. Bright red neon signs read Pretty Girl Bar and Lollypop Bar. Gold and white neon proclaimed Pharos Bar along with Egyptian statues.
Jip parked his small motorbike along a row of dozens of others in the alley-like driveway leading to the plaza. He took the clothing and things that he had taken from Long Gun with him and passed a small spirit house on a stand to the right. Girls stopped and waied, lighting incense sticks and placing bits of food and flowers in offering, on their way to work, hoping for a good night.
Jip began sticking his head into the curtained doorways of the dark bars. Four stops later, he saw a good-looking Farang sitting on a banquette, surrounded by a half dozen girls.
They were all talking at the same time, vying for his attention.
Jip walked to the table, not sitting down, standing there. ‘Khun Chris?
‘Yes.’ The man looked up smiling, raising his eyebrows in an unspoken question.
‘I’m Captain Jipthep, Bangkok Police; my friends call me Jip. I’m a friend of Jerry Ebie. Can I ask a favor of you—in private?’
Chris stood up to shake hands. ‘Sure, how is the old reprobate? Girls, would you excuse us please?’
The man speaks perfect Thai with no accent-got the tones down too, which was unusual for a Farang, Jip thought as the girls scrambled out of the booth.
Jip sat down and spoke to the man in the black shirt. ‘Jerry’s the same as always, there’s no stopping him. I was in Long Gun trying to check on missing girls when another girl had a stroke. There’s a lot going on.’ Jip left the pause hanging in the air, waiting for the man to pick it up.
‘First, you must understand that I never betray confidences or sources. I’ll help you as much as I can. A friend of mine went missing from Rainbow a few weeks ago and I can’t get a line on her, so possibly we can help each other.
‘Was her name Porn?’
‘How did you know?’
‘She’s a friend of a friend and I’m looking for her too. Did you know that there are other girls missing? Disappeared?
‘No, I didn’t. I’ve just been searching for Porn, but no luck so far.’
‘Have you heard anything about girls dropping dead? That’s another subject I know, but equally important.’
‘Big trouble brewing.’ Chris shook his head. ‘Stay away from it.’
Jip rose from the table and handed the man a card. ‘If you want to help, give me a call.’
The Canadian raised his eyes to meet Jip’s. He hesitated a few seconds and then spoke softly, ‘try O’Neill.’
‘Eugene O’Neill, you may find him edifying.’
Jip walked back towards his Honda Dream. It was time for him to go home and his wife would have dinner waiting. He speculated about young people dropping dead and the missing girl that Rick had asked him to look for. Eugene O’Neill? Edifying? The last time Jip had heard the term edifying was from his university law professor.
He was deep in thought and had almost reached his bike when he noticed a large, coarse looking man leaning against a post in front of the Honda, his arms folded against his chest. Another man was sitting on Jip’s motorcycle. He wore a sleeveless T-shirt and his arms were covered with crudely drawn tattoos. They both stared at him. The man on the bike flipped away his cigarette and stood up. Neither spoke. They had jailhouse-tough written all over them.
If I pull out my bike, I’ll be sandwiched in-between and have my hands full at the same time. There was never an easy way out of these things, Jip thought.
‘What is it?’ Jip nodded towards one man.
‘You were here yesterday, asking questions.’ The men moved closer, starting to edge to either side of him.
‘You have any answers?’
‘Stay out of things that don’t concern you.’
The men moved nearer and the one in the T-shirt swung at Jip’s head. Jip stepped under the blow and pushed into the man’s shoulder, keeping him going, into the other thug. Both men slammed against the row of motorcycles, toppling a few over, starting a chain reaction, bikes falling everywhere, passing bar girls jumping out of the way, tourists getting up from their bar seats to see what was happening. As the man untangled himself and started to get to his feet, Jip kicked him squarely in the face.
The man fell back against his friend. The second thug shoved away his partner and stood up, facing Jip in a boxer’s stance.
‘Oh good. I always wanted to go up in class.’
The man advanced on Jip and shot out a left-hand.
Jip moved his head to the side, letting the blow go by
‘They won’t let me fight over my weight limit at the matches. I can only fight light-middle weight. What do you go- heavyweight or fat buffalo weight?’
The man rushed Jip and swung a hard right. Jip bent forward slightly, taking a quick step under the swing, close to the man’s chest, coming up with a heel-palm under the man’s chin, putting his body into it. The man staggered back, trying
to stay upright.
‘Your balance is all wrong. You have to have more weight on your toes, like this.’ Jip jabbed the man in the face, twice, with his left. The man’s head jerking back with each blow. ‘See what I mean.’
Jip punched a hard right into the man’s solar plexus and a whoosh of air rushed from the man’s mouth filling the air with the stench of Mekong whiskey and stale cigarette smoke.
As the man swayed on his feet, Jip spun around with a wheel-kick. His heel struck the man on the side of the head, knocking him down as if he were hit with an axe. The man and his partner lay still, both sprawled on the asphalt.
Jip dug his bike out of the jumble. The people at the out-door bars went back to their drinks. More questions and fewer answers Jip thought, as he started to gather the missing girl’s clothes and papers that he had dropped. Who would care if he
were looking for a lost girl? As Jip stood up, a few cards and papers fluttered from the comic book. Jip bent over to scoop them up. He stopped midway, staring at a flyer from a health clinic.
Instead of going home, Jip drove back to his office and pushed a stack of papers and the telephone to one side of his desk, dumping the missing girl’s belongings on the desktop. He sorted through the comic books page by page and turned out the pockets of the jeans and shirts. He un-wrapped each stick of chewing gum and ripped apart the cigarette pack and then each cigarette. He wasn’t expecting to find much but he gave the articles a complete search. He had already made an astounding discovery.
Jip did not believe in coincidences, especially during investigations and he was sure that the advertisement from the Double Lucky Health Clinic, offering free examinations, was the key to the disappearance of the two girls. He would be busy in the coming week setting up surveillance on the clinic. Since he was working for Rick on an un-official case, he had no illusions about requesting men from Colonel Wansina.
It had been a very long day and Jip wearily rubbed the back of his neck thinking about his run of good luck. Three leads on three separate cases in one day was surly a gift from the Gods. He was closing in on his father’s murderer after all these years and then there was the health clinic flyer falling into his hands. Jip mused that good luck was merely a combination of hard work and persistence and now he wanted to turn his attention to the last clue in the three cases.
Finding Eugene O’Neill in Bangkok would not be difficult. Jip picked up the phone and dialed the immigration office at Don Muang Airport. The phone rang and rang, busy as usual. The office at the airport was open twenty-fours a day and Jip knew he would get results from his inquiry. The name was obviously foreign and any visitor had to register with immigration every month or every three months depending on the type of visa issued. If he were lucky on this, O’Neill would be a long-term resident and have his address recorded. When the officer at immigration answered the call, Jip identified himself and made his request.
‘Hold on I’ll punch it up right now.’ The clerk replied and in a few minutes Jip had his answer.
‘Sorry no Eugene O’Neill. How about Dave Diver O’Neill or Kevin O’Neill?
‘No, no, it has to be Eugene O’Neill. What else do you have?
‘Only Bill Worthy O’Neill, that’s it.
‘All right, try different spellings, O’Neal, O’Neil, what ever else you can think of and call me back when you find a Eugene. It’s very important that I find this man and I’m sure the lead given to me was accurate.’
Jip let an hour pass with no word from Immigration. He called back and found out that Eugene O’Neill, nor anyone else with a name close to it had entered Thailand through their bureaus. It was more than time that he should be at home and tomorrow
was another day.
Jip was thinking that there were so many foreigners here illegally. It was so easy to cross the great expanse of land borders. The town of Pattaya was suffering from a high crime rate with Russian criminals moving in under assumed names or simply being dropped off by boat from Cambodia, extorting Farang businesses and robbing tourists. They weren’t so stupid as to try to muscle in on the Thai mobsters or Thai businesses- not yet anyway. Except for those three Russian idiots last year, robbed a bank and shot the guard. Then they had to use half of the robbery proceeds to put a deposit on a speed boat rental to escape, and forgot to fill up with gas. Probably see the story soon on TV- that program, Worlds Dumbest Crooks.
Tomorrow if he had time, he would stop in the Farang bars around Patpong and Sukhumvit, put the word out that he was looking for this O’Neill guy, nose around and turn him up.
Let's just hope that Stickman doesn't catch an STD, or worse still, in future chapters!