See Phuket And Die, Chapter Nine
The driver was making good time on Highway 204. It was early in the morning and there were few vehicles on the road.
The traffic started to slow a few kilometers before the Sarasin Bridge and then it ground to a halt. He halfway expected it.
An hour passed. The driver had the air conditioner working along with his favorite CD and he was accustomed to waiting.
One more hour and he could see the cause of the hold up. Police had blocked the road leaving Phuket. They were opening every single car trunk and emptying trucks completely. Many of the trucks were pulled off the road but it was an impossible job to try to keep the cars moving. When he finally inched his automobile to the checkpoint, a police officer put a flashlight in his face and demanded to see his identification and the identity card of the person next to him. The driver handed over two cards establishing them as husband and wife, living in Ko Sirey, Phuket. The woman wore a loose black dress and shawl, a head scarf and veil covering everything except her eyes, attractive brown eyes the officer thought as the woman quickly lowered her head in submission or shyness.
‘You will both have to step out of the car and the woman will have to remove her veil.’
‘Can’t you see we are Muslim and obey the Shara. My wife will never show herself to another man.’
‘I have my orders.’
‘And I have mine and mine are from God. We will both die first before dishonoring ourselves.’
‘I can’t let you pass.’ The officer was uncertain of the situation. He knew that he had to inspect everyone.
‘Do you have a private room and a female officer? Then it will be possible for my wife to lift her veil.’
The officer reported this to Lt. Col. Sanitasut who came over and stared into the car before shouting, ‘Get the hell out of here. Turn around and go back to where you came from.’
‘My wife’s father is dying. We must get there in time. If you will not let us pass then please shoot us right now. There is no other way unless you have a female police officer here.’
‘Okay, okay, go ahead. Go. Get moving.’
Damn these people. If it wasn’t one thing it was another. How long would he be stuck on this highway doing traffic stops? It was beneath his dignity. Sanitasut was in a truly foul mood.
The cream colored Mercedes sedan pulled smoothly away and headed north towards the turn off to Phang-Nga, and then would go south to Krabi and later towards Trang.
‘You did very well my brother,’ the passenger said as the veil and head scarf was pulled off. Doctor Sayyid Hussein was truly blessed. The driver was Islamic and sent by Allah himself. When the airport car had pulled up to the old warehouse, Hussein was waiting. He sat in the front seat and said, ‘As-salamu alaykum,’ and was answered in the same way.
Peace be unto you.
‘Are you really one of the faithful? One who knows the Islamic law and the duties that are incumbent by virtue of our religious beliefs.’
‘Yes, of course I know the Qur’an and the teachings of the Prophet as well as my own name,’ replied the driver.
‘I must tell you that the infidels are looking for me and I need shelter.’
‘Then you shall have it my friend. There is no way that I can refuse you.’
‘It is complicated. I would need a hijab, the more complete the better and I need to get to the South. I have friends there and I will be safe.’
‘God willing, you will be there soon. You shall have my wife’s burka.’
The Mercedes raced down the highway. Nothing could stop them now and soon Doctor Hussein would be out of harm’s way. He had to get as far south as possible, a town where true believers would hide him and slip him across the border to Malaysia. He had made many friends on his last trip to the southern provinces.
Colonel Jammeri sat in the rear of the car with one of his men and Jipthep. There was the Colonel, four of his team, all shooters, and Jipthep, that made a full car. As they drove towards the bridge Jamerri pulled out his mobile phone and called Lt. Col. Sanitasut. ‘How long are the cars backed up there for?’
‘There is a good two hour wait. There’s no way around it.’
‘Yes there is and I’m not waiting. Close off one lane going south about five kilometers from the bridge. I’ll use that lane. Do it now. If anyone else tries to use it, stop them and arrest them. If they don’t stop, shoot them.
Do you understand your orders Colonel?’
Jammeri snapped his phone shut and sat back. We’ll have to grab a hotel halfway down. It’s too far to drive all at once and I don’t want to arrive there exhausted.’
‘Do we have a cover? We don’t exactly look like we live there,’ said Jip.
‘I suppose we could go as merchants, sellers of materials of some kind. Tie down huge stacks of cloth on the roof. But tell me, would you buy anything from one of my men. Be honest. What do we look like in civilian clothes?’
‘To be honest?’ Jip looked at the men bunched up in the car. No one you would want to get into a fight with or run into late at night he thought. ‘You look like a bunch of mafia guys. You’re all too tough looking to be salesmen.’ Jipthep hoped that made what he said sound a little better.
The men just smiled. You would have to do a lot better than that to hurt their feelings.
‘Very perceptive Lieutenant. That’s why we’re going as drug buyers. I have cash and we may actually make a purchase or two. That will give us an excuse to hang around for a few days.’
‘More obvious than perceptive I would say,’ Jipthep smiled.
The driver pushed down on the accelerator as everyone tried to settle in as comfortable as possible.
The desk sergeant looked up to see Captain Ritak standing in front of him. The Captain wore a loose shirt over his jeans. This was unusual as he usually liked to wear tight t-shirts, show off all that work he put into building up his physique. It was probably all that tape around his chest that made a tight shirt uncomfortable.
‘I thought you were in the hospital’
‘They let me out early. I’m supposed to be home in bed so don’t tell anyone that I’m here. Where is everybody?’
‘Well, they closed off all the docks so some officers are there. They have the Sarasin Bridge all but shut down.
They are searching every car.’
‘They have identified the clipper. He’s Doctor Sayyid Hussein from Egypt. Here’s his picture. He also tried to blow up the Tiger Night Club with a huge truck bomb but that’s confidential. Luckily a policeman fired into the engine, stopping the truck from going any farther.’
The officer handed Captain Ritak a few flyers.
‘Is Lt. Col. Sanitasut in his office? Wait. What the hell is this?’
One of the flyers had his own photograph on it.
‘Beats me. You know they had three more teams from the Internal Security Operations Command sent down from Bangkok to hunt the doctor and they were packing plenty of firepower. There’s a big manhunt on. I bet they get this guy good. Oh, Sanitasut is guarding the bridge.’
‘Does he know about my photo included in this batch?’
‘I don’t think anyone knows. Must be just a mix up of some kind.’
‘I’m sure. Look, I’ll owe you a favor if you don’t mention my being here. I’m supposed to be home in bed but I was concerned about the search for the clipper. Where did you say Lieutenant Jipthep was?’
‘He got in a car with the ISOC guys. Looked like they were all in a hurry to go someplace.’
Ritak turned abruptly and left the office. He had to find Jipthep and if Jammeri were with him all the better.
On the passenger seat of his pick-up truck were an AK-47 and six thirty-round clips. It didn’t matter to him who was in the car with Jipthep. As long as he killed him his honor would be restored and if he could kill Jammeri and possibly burn the car and the evidence against him it would solve all of his problems. If the car was full of ISOC officers, it made no difference. Ritak had been wise enough to send his wife and son to her brother-in-law's house in Prey Veng, Cambodia.
He didn’t think that any of his friends knew of that connection and if there seemed to be trouble it was only a short trip to Vietnam and another safe house. Colonel Jammeri wasn’t as smart as he thought he was. It would be so pleasant if he had the opportunity to say a few words to him and Jipthep before he killed them.
The Captain knew that he had to get out of Phuket and right away. He would be crazy to stay here with three teams of killers searching for him and he was sure that is what was happening. That damn Jammeri was as ruthless as a starving mad dog. But they must have left the island also. Where would they go?
Ritak drove north, past Lotus-Tesco and the airport, towards the bridge. He was only a few kilometers away when the traffic came to an abrupt stop. It looked like a long wait until he saw that there was an open lane on the other side of the highway and it was empty of traffic.
Ritak drove over the grass dividing island and stepped on the gas. If he saw headlights coming his way he would have to drive back up on the divider but that didn’t happen. He was stopped a few kilometers from the bridge by a police car blocking the road. His own headlights showed two officers with automatic weapons pointing in his direction. He stopped the truck and stepped out with his hands up. He was out of uniform and did not want to take any chances but it was an unnecessary action.
‘Captain Ritak,’ a voice called out. ‘We thought you were in the hospital.’
Ritak lowered his hands. ‘I have to report to Lt. Col. Sanitasut. Where is he?’
‘At the bridge. We’ll let you through.’ One of the men opened the police car door.
‘Why are you here? And why is the road closed off.’
‘Orders from Sanitasut. We are just about to open it up again. We had to close it to oncoming traffic to let Colonel Jammeri get past.’
Ritak climbed into his truck and headed north. He had suspected as much. With his foot to the floor and the highway open he reached the bridge in no time at all. There were a half a dozen police cars blocking the road and officers all over the place. He couldn’t proceed any further and drove the big truck up on the divider again. He found Sanitasut in full uniform and screaming at everyone. Ritak saluted. ‘Sir, reporting for duty.’
‘What are you doing here?’ Sanitasut was about to turn his wrath on the Captain.
‘We need to talk,’ the Captain said quietly.
Sanitasut nodded him to follow as he walked away from the road. ‘Why aren’t you in the hospital? How come you let that Jipthep give you such a beating? We were just about to expand the Civic Club to the local merchants.
A thousand baht a store every month would add up. Of course the bars would have to pay more, much more and now it’s finished. Do you know how much money you and I are losing?’
Ritak spoke softly, hoping that the Colonel would calm down and stop shouting. ‘That’s why I am here, to find Jipthep. I need to negate his impact on our situation.’
‘You just missed him. He’s with that God damn Jammeri and a car full of his men. My desk sergeant overheard them talking and said that they are going south to Narathiwat.'
‘Thats a good start.’ Ritak’s voice rising now. He had a good lead and he would follow it. If he could catch everyone together in the car and rip them to pieces with the AK it would be great.
‘I know what their car looks like. It’s just a matter of finding them. I’ll be back in a week, alone.’
Ritak saluted the Colonel and headed towards his truck. He would drive as far as possible tonight and keep his eyes open for the car. He could come across them anytime and had his automatic weapon in the cab, ready to fire.
The Jammer’s group drove through the night and into the next day. It was almost dark when the colonel ordered his man to pull into a roadside hotel. It was a humble affair with the bungalows made from bamboo, about a dozen of them set in front of a field of shrubs and tall grass.
‘We’ll eat first, get a good night's sleep and be in Narathiwat tomorrow. Make the arrangements Corporal, two men to a room.
Empty the trunk. We can’t leave all those weapons unguarded, and pull the car around to the back.’
Jipthep and the colonel sat at the small food stand in front of the hotel. It had a thatched roof held in place by bamboo poles. The tables and chairs were made from the same material. They had just ordered grilled chicken, rice and large Chang beers to wash it down with when one of the soldiers came walking towards their table with a package under his arm. The package squirmed and kicked. It could have been a small animal wrapped in cloth.
The soldier set his bundle on the ground and held tightly onto Goby’s hair. ‘He was in the trunk.’
‘Release him. He’s not going anywhere.’ Colonel Jammeri shoveled another spoon of rice into his mouth.
The soldier let go of the boy who immediately ran into the tall grass and disappeared. Jammeri waved for another plate of food and after a while Goby strolled from the bushes hiking up his pants.
‘Stay in trunk long time.’ Goby slid into a chair and began to wolf down the chicken and rice.
‘What are you doing in the trunk?’ Jipthep was annoyed at this new development.
‘I am trainee. Can not train if you go away.’ Goby expressed himself in garbled tones, eating at the same time.
‘You can take a bus back to where you belong tomorrow. You can’t go with us.’ Jip said firmly.
‘I can help you.’ Goby stopped eating and took a swig of his soda.
‘You can help me by going home.’
‘I know what you are going to do.’
‘How would you know that?’
‘I in trunk. I hear everything you and Colonel say. Have you been inside of the mosque before?
Do you know where the Imam sleeps in the mosque?’ Goby smiled.
‘Colonel Jammeri smiled back. What’s it to you?’
‘Who is your men Muslim? Who go in mosque?’
‘None of us is Muslim and all of us are going into mosque. But that’s none of your business.’
‘I can go mosque. Look for you. Make map for you – where is Imam.’
‘No way. You can look in the bus tomorrow.’ Jip said.
‘Wait,’ said Jammeri. ‘How can you go into the mosque?’
‘Walk in. I am Muslim. All Gypsy sea village people Muslim. I can make ablution, clean hands and feet with water before pray. I can say there is no God but God and Muhammad is God’s messenger.
Jammeri sat back in his chair and smiled. This was fortunate. Now they did not have to go in blind to make the snatch, a difficult feat in any circumstances. ‘That’s not a bad idea Trainee Goby. You can stay with us.’
‘No way. It’s too dangerous. I’ll take him back myself if I have to.’ Jip jumped out of his chair and grabbed onto Goby.
‘May I remind you that you are here under my orders.’ Jammeri was still smiling. ‘The hunt for the doctor and Ritak in Phuket will have to be called off, the bridge and ports opened. My teams need to head back to Bangkok.
Goby will be in danger there by himself. It would be better if he stays here with us.’ The Jammer returned to his lunch.
Jip gave Goby and Jammeri a dirty look. Goby gave Jip a dirty look back. Jammeri ignored both of them.
Captain Ritak popped two more ya-bah pills into his mouth and swallowed hard, keeping both hands on the wheel while peering through the dirty windshield. The car he was searching for had many drivers while he was alone. No telling how far they had traveled. He had the advantage in that they did not expect him and would not recognize his truck. All he had to do was look for the maroon four-door Honda and stake it out. He knew that he had to set the car on fire to destroy the evidence that the Colonel had against him. If he could find the car at night he would burn it and then shoot the men when they came outside to see about the fire. Narathiwat was a big town. He would have a better chance of finding them if he arrived first and waited for them to drive into the town. Ritak pushed another pill underneath his tongue and stepped on the gas.
Farther ahead a black sedan pulled up to a large cement wall, gated with two huge wooden doors. Doctor Hussein hugged the driver as he pressed twenty thousand baht into his hand. ‘Many thanks and God be with you my friend.’
‘Allahu Akbar’, the driver replied as Hussein stepped from the car. There was an eight-foot high cement wall around the mosque. Hussein pounded his fist on one of the two wood doors. It was three o’clock in the morning and the streets were empty. He did not want to go to a hotel; he craved immediate sanctuary and then he would be able to relax. Hussein pounded on the doors again. A latch was pulled back and a rectangular opening appeared in the door. A silent bearded face stared at the doctor.
‘Peace be with you my brother. Please tell the holy one that Doctor Hussein is seeking refuge.’
The latch was closed and the huge doors creaked open a few feet. The doctor entered the courtyard. He had stayed here a year ago when he was trying to exhort the faithful to join his fight against infidels the world over. The man that let him in held an AK-47 cradled in one arm. He pointed Hussein to a bench outside of the mosque as he stepped in.
A few minutes later Hussein was led to a reception room near the quarters of the cleric. Imam Mohammed Hussein Mohammed, supreme ruler of the Muslim Brotherhood stepped into the room. He had a full back beard, wore a black turban and a long flowing white gown. He was a large strong looking man very much on the heavy side with a handsome round face.
Doctor Hussein bowed deeply as greetings were exchanged.
‘What brings you here at this hour?’ The imam spoke quietly and calmly.
‘I seek refuge. The police are searching for me in Phuket and I am sure the borders are closed to me.
If you will allow me to rest here a few days and then help me to get to Malaysia I would be very grateful. Once there, my father’s friends will harbor me and arrange for my flight back to Egypt.’
Imam Mohammed nodded his head. ‘It shall be as you wish. I will arrange for you to be smuggled out of the country. I have a boat coming in tomorrow from Myanmar. It will head back the following day after it is resupplied. It will go south along the coast before returning to Myanmar. You shall be aboard and I shall arrange with the captain to drop you off at a suitable spot. We will speak more tomorrow.’ The Iman beckoned to the guard and Hussein was shown to a small room where he soon fell asleep on a woven mat.
Jipthep, Jammeri and Gorby were settling in their small room. The soldiers had deposited a few of the duffle bags from the trunk on the floor and Goby used one for a pillow as the two men took the bed.
Jip turned to the Jammer. Do you have orders to come here and snatch an Imam or is this another one of your ideas?
‘Both. It was my idea but of course I need orders from the high command before I can implement them.
We were down here two months ago on a scouting trip and we know exactly where the mosque is located but that’s all we know except if the Imam keeps brewing trouble we’ll have a full scale revolution on our hands.’
‘So what’s the plan for tomorrow?’
‘I’ll have one of my men drop Goby off near the mosque and he can check the place out; he can draw us a map when he gets back.’
Jip was sitting up in bed with his arms crossed. ‘I still think it’s a dangerous mission that you’re sending him on.’
Jammeri rolled over, pulling the sheet over his head. ‘There’s nothing dangerous about going to a mosque to pray.’
The following morning, Goby was dropped off at the edge of town, just where the traffic started to pile up.
Captain Ritak was sitting in his truck with the windows rolled down trying to get a breeze. He had slept in the cab last night if you could call it sleeping – wired out on amphetamines and being bitten half to death by mosquitoes.
Ritak was in a good position, having backed his truck up on a side street facing the main road. He was in a foul mood, cursing as he scratched his arm, thinking of getting some food from a road side stand when the maroon four door Honda stopped in front of him. He had to blink and rub his eyes to be sure it was not a dream. He saw Goby pop out of the car and start walking down the street while the maroon car made a u-turn and roared off in the opposite direction. He started his engine and went to pull out just as the traffic ground to a halt. He watched helplessly while the Honda disappeared in the distance. Damn it. How could his luck be so good and then change so rapidly. The boy. He still had the boy. He leapt from the truck and ran after the boy. He was in time to see Goby jump on a baht bus, squeezing in with the crowd of people already jammed in. Ritack waved down a tuk-tuk.
‘Stay behind that bus,’ he shouted to the driver.
‘Where do you want to go?’ The driver turned and smiled but immediately stopped when he saw the wild look on his passenger's face.
Ritak’s hair was matted from where he had slept on it, he needed a shave, his eyes were rimmed with red and bulging out when he screamed. ‘I said to stay behind that bus.’
He would stick with the kid. Sooner or later he had to lead him back to Jammeri and Jipthep. Ritak was surprised to see Goby eventually alight from the bus and scoot right through the open gates of a walled mosque.
Ritak paid the tuk-tuk and jumped out, glancing around he saw a small street side food stand. He ordered fried rice with chicken and an egg on top and coffee. The one good thing about the South was that they had fresh coffee and made each glass to order straining the grounds through a cloth sock-live sieve.