Confessions Of A Bangkok Private Eye
A few years ago I wrote a book called Private Dancer, reckoned to be one of the best novels describing the Bangkok bar scene. Private Dancer is a work of fiction, but I’ve just written a book set in Thailand which is very much based on reality.
Confessions Of A Bangkok Private Eye is out this month and will be on sale in all good bookstores in Thailand. Anyone outside Thailand can buy it online from the publishers in Singapore – Monsoon Books. They have a website at http://www.monsoonbooks.com.sg
The book is the biography of Warren Olson, who worked as a private detective in Bangkok for more than a decade. I bumped into Warren in a bar in Washington Square a few years ago, fell into conversation with him and started talking about his cases. Fascinating stuff involving lying bar girls, ladyboys and lesbians. The guy had clearly had no end of adventures in Thailand and they cried out to be in print.
Over the next year or so Warren would send me notes on various cases that he’d worked on and I would fictionalise them, basically changing the names and places to protect the innocent (and the guilty). The resulting book, I can modestly say, is funny, provocative, and full of advice about how not to get taken for a ride in the Land Of Smiles.
Conventional wisdom has it that every visitor to Thailand should read Private Dancer before venturing into Nana Plaza, Patpong or Soi Cowboy. In future I think they’ll be telling everyone to read Confessions Of A Bangkok Private Eye, too. Working with Warren taught me a few things, too!
As with the Private Dancer cover, I had a hand in organising the photograph for the cover of Confessions Of A Bangkok Private Eye. The two girls featured on the cover work in Nana Plaza! The model for the Private Eye wishes to remain anonymous, but it is fair to say he’s much better looking than the genuine article!
Anyway, here’s a taste of what’s in the book:
THE CASE OF THE INTERNET SCAMMER
I was having a dream about two twin go-go dancers doing terrible things to me with whipped cream when my mobile phone started ringing and dragged me back to reality. It was a British voice on the other end of the line. A man.
‘What time is it there?’ he asked.
‘What do you think I am, a speaking clock?’ I growled. I squinted at the clock on the bedside table. It was just after three.
‘It’s nine o’clock here,’ he said.
‘It’s three in Bangkok,’ I said.
‘That’s okay then,’ he said.
‘In the morning,’ I said. ‘It’s three o’clock in the morning.’
‘I’m sorry,’ he said. ‘I’m in London.’
‘Congratulations,’ I said.
‘Shall I call back later?’
I sat up in bed, rubbing my face. ‘That’s okay, I’m awake now. Is this business or pleasure?’
‘Business,’ he said. ‘I need help.’
I always keep a notebook and pen by my clock so I took notes as the caller went through his story. His name was Mike Tyson (no relation to the boxer, he said, ‘and I’m a fair bit older and whiter’) and he was a retired businessmen. He’d built up his own sportswear company and sold out for a decent price once he hit sixty. I got the feeling that he wasn’t exactly short of money. He’d sent his Thai girlfriend the money for her ticket to the UK but Mike had waited at Heathrow airport for hours and there’d been no sign of her. He’s tried calling her mobile phone but it was switched off. Mike was sure that something had happened to her and he wanted me to check the local hospitals, go around to her house, to do whatever it took to find out what had happened to her.
It was an easy enough job, so I told him to send me a ten thousand baht retainer through Western Union.
‘No problem, that’s how I send money to Metta,’ he said.
‘Have you been sending her a lot of money?’ I asked. Alarm bells were already ringing.
‘Just a few hundred pounds a month,’ he said. ‘And some extra money when her father was in hospital. And money for her passport and visa. And for her ticket.’
I asked Mike for as much detail as he could give me. Her name was Metta Khonkaen, he said. I got him to spell it for me twice because Khonkaen is a city in the north east and it seemed a strange surname. It would be like being called Pete Birmingham or Eddie Queenstown. Not impossible, but unlikely. He had her date of birth and I groaned inwardly when I realised that he was almost three times her age. Alarm bells were really ringing now.
‘Where did you meet Metta?’ I asked. I would have bet money that he’d met the lovely Metta in a go-go bar or massage parlour.
‘I haven’t actually met her yet,’ said Mike. ‘Not in person. We met on line.’
I was totally awake now. Mike had sent hundreds if not thousands of pounds to a girl he hadn’t even met? I was starting to wish I’d asked for a bigger retainer because Mike clearly wasn’t a man who kept a tight grip on his money.
I asked Mike to e-mail me any pictures he had of Metta, and to fax copies of any paperwork he had, then I put down the phone and went back to sleep.
The next day I wandered along to Starbucks for a latte and a banana muffin and then took a motorcycle taxi to the Western Union office. Mike had been as good as his word and I collected my ten thousand baht. There was a faxed copy of her passport and copies of the papers that she’d taken to the British Embassy. And he’d emailed me some head and shoulder shots of her. Metta was a stunner, no doubt about it. Pale skin, high cheekbones, long straight hair.
I went through the motions and phoned a couple of dozen hospitals in Bangkok but none had admitted a Metta Khonkaen. I checked my emails and there was a message from Mike. One of life’s little coincidences; just a couple of hours after speaking to me, he’d received an email from a friend of Metta’s. According to the friend, Metta had been arrested by the immigration police when she was trying to leave the country. There was something wrong with her visa and she didn’t have enough funds to cover her time in the UK. The police were holding her in the notorious Bangkok Hilton and the friend said that she needed fifty thousand baht to get her released, and another 150,000 baht so that Metta could show she had sufficient funds to travel to the United Kingdom. Two hundred thousand baht in all. The helpful friend had included her own name and bank account details so that Mike could send her the money without further ado.
I phoned Mike and the guy was at the end of his tether. It was too late to send the money but the next day he was going to be at the bank first thing to arrange the telegraphic transfer. I told him to wait until I’d made a few enquiries, there were just so many things about this case that just didn’t ring true. I pressed him for more details about his internet courtship. He told me that he’d first met her in a chatroom, and they’d started talking by email every day. She was working as a waitress in Bangkok but after Mike started sending her money she’d gone back to stay with her parents in Chiang Rai, helping to support her younger sisters while she studied for a degree in accounting. It had always been her dream to live in England, she’d said. They’d traded photographs, and Metta had told Mike that he was the most handsome man she’d ever seen. Like a movie star, she’d said. And she loved the photographs of his large house in central London. His thirty-two foot yacht. His collection of sports cars. Her email began to become more affectionate. Maybe she could fly to London to see him, she’d suggested. Maybe they’d get on so well together that he would want her to stay with him. Maybe he might one day want to marry her.
By the time Mike had finished telling me the story, he was in tears. I told him not to do anything until he heard from me again.
I picked up a bottle of Johnnie Walker Black Label and went along to the Immigration Department on Soi Suan Phlu. The chief there was an old friend of mine. I went up to the third floor, gave him the whisky and then we spent half an hour talking about golf before I got around to the real reason for my visit. I showed him the fax of Metta passport and he shook his head emphatically. ‘Mai Chai, mai chai, mai chai,’ he muttered.
He pointed at the passport picture. Metta was smiling happily. The chief explained that smiling wasn’t allowed in passport photographs. They were taken in the passport office and the camera operator would make sure that the person didn’t smile. Also, the wavy lines that were supposed to run through the photograph were missing, and the surname was in a slightly different typeface to the rest of the wording on the passport. It looked to the chief as if the photograph had been stuck into an existing passport, and the surname had been typed on a piece of paper and stuck into the travel document. The passport was fake.
I asked him what would happen if the girl tried to leave the country with a doctored passport. Would she be arrested?
The chief assured me that the girl would probably have just been turned away. If she had been a known criminal then she might have been held by the immigration police, but she certainly wouldn’t have been hauled off to the Bangkok Hilton. To put my mind at rest he tapped the name into his computer terminal. There was no record of any problems with a Metta Khonkaen.
My next call was to the municipal office in Pathumwan. I was a regular visitor and whenever I popped in I took a selection of Thai snacks with me. The head lady saw me coming and came over to relieve me off my tidbits and see what I wanted. I asked her about Metta’s surname and she shook her head emphatically. Khonkaen was not a surname that she had ever come across and after a couple of minutes on her computer terminal she was able to tell me that there wasn’t a Khonkaen family anywhere in the country.
I waited until late evening before phoning the unlucky Mike and told him what I’d discovered. And I told him of my suspicions – that Metta Khonkaen, or whatever her real name was, was conning him.
Mike was still convinced that there was some sort of misunderstanding. He was still getting frantic emails from Metta’s friend, imploring him to help her and he was convinced that she was banged up in a damp, dark cell somewhere.
I told him that I could get proof that he was being taken for a ride and asked him to send me another ten thousand baht. Then I told him to tell Metta’s friend that he would send some money to the Western Union office on Sukhumvit Soi 22 the next day.
I was outside the Western Union office with my camera and long lens just before it opened. It was on a busy road but I was able to sit at a duck noodle shop with a perfect view of the shop front. I didn’t have to wait long.
A black Cherokee Jeep pulled up in front of the office and a middle-aged Isaan woman wearing a gold chain around her neck as thick as my thumb climbed out of the passenger seat. She went into the office and spoke to the girl behind the counter. The woman produced a passport and signed a form and was handed a bundle of banknotes. I managed to get a few good shots of her grinning as she counted Mike’s money.
As she walked out of the Western Union office and headed towards the Jeep, half a dozen policemen in brown uniforms rushed over to her. At the same time a police car screeched to a halt in front of the Jeep and four police motorcycles pulled up behind it. I took a few more photographs with the long lens, then went over to shake hands with the police colonel who’d planned the arrest. The driver of the Jeep was a farang in his sixties, a bald head and heavy jowls and thick-lensed spectacles. He had a gold chain around his neck as thick as the one the woman was wearing.
The woman was crying and telling anyone who’d listen that the farang had made her do it, that he was the one who prowled around internet chatrooms and sent emails to gullible men around the world.
The farang and the woman were regular visitors to the Western Union office, the colonel told me, and in the last month alone had collected a quarter of a million baht from a dozen or so ‘sponsors. They were handcuffed and taken away. The money that Mike sent was handed over to me and I signed a receipt for it. I went back into the Western Union office and cabled it back to Mike, minus my expenses of course.
I phoned him when I got back to the office. I didn’t take any pleasure in telling him that his beloved Metta was a sixty-five-year-old Belgian scam artist, and the photographs that Mike had framed and hung up all around his house were of a well-known Thai soap opera star. He took it quite well, I thought, and thanked me for saving him from making a complete fool of himself.
Mike said that he’d learned his lesson and that he wouldn’t be going near internet chatrooms again. In fact, he decided that he’d come to Thailand himself. He asked me if I’d find him a girlfriend, someone who wouldn’t rip him off. I put him in touch with a reputable dating agency run by Nung, a good friend of mine. When Mike flew over three months later, Nung fixed him up with a few possibles but none took Mike’s fancy. Mike wanted to go travelling around the country and the girls that Nung introduced him to weren’t happy about sharing a hotel room with a farang they had only just met. I decided to play Cupid and went to a beer garden in Soi 7 and after a couple of hours stumbled across Riang, a thirty-five-year-old mother of two who looked twenty-five, pretty and with a good sense of humour. I ran the Mike situation by her and she jumped at the chance of a free holiday, especially if Mike would agree to take her back to her home in Phitsanulok for a couple of days so that she could see her kids. To cut a long story short, they got on like a house on fire. A year later and she was his wife and she and her kids were living with Mike in central London. All’s well that end’s well, that’s what I figure.
Having already read the book, I can confirm that any reader with even the smallest interest in Bangkok, the girls, and the bar scene, will very much enjoy the book.