Regrets, I’d Had A Few
I woke on the futon, virtually the only thing that furnishes my two miserable ten by eight windowless rooms in the cheap Banglamphu area of Bangkok. I’d dropped there last night and was wishing I hadn’t indulged so heavily on the Sang Som
rum, again. It wasn’t my fault of course, it never is. Who started the fight anyway? I touched the swelling on my face. I must have taken at least one blow, I thought.
Better get a move on, my mind groaned as I summoned the will power from God knows where, pushed myself up off the mattress and shuffled to the bathroom. Bathroom? That’s a laugh. Two square meters of tiles curtained off in a corner, a metre of hose hanging by a twisted wire coat hanger serving as a shower, and a hole in the floor, a toilet.
Jasmine stood there, her flawless wet brown skin glistening from the reflected light of the single unshaded 40 watt bulb. She looked over her shoulder and smiled at me. The smile said, “Well are you coming in or not?” The unspoken invitation would normally have led to sex, but the gremlins banging on their anvil in the centre of my brain, and an urge to pee, denied me the pleasure of her body in favour of the hole in the floor. I’m sure she wasn’t offended as she didn’t look rejected, she’d have obliged if I’d wanted it I’m sure, my loss. I left her to finish her shower, and to clean the bathroom. Sixty seconds of housework, finished for the day.
Samani still lay asleep. I looked at her, as beautiful, if not more so than Jasmine. She too was naked, at least, I assumed so. She lay on her front, the sheet half way down her bare back. Again, the anvil bangers disinclined me to slip under the cover and join her. I went instead to the one luxury I afford myself: the coffee maker. My real need was for an instant caffeine fix however so grabbed a sachet of Nescafe 3in1 and added a few ounces of hot water.
The throbbing welt on my face compelled me to the freezer and set my mind back to the previous night. There was plenty of ice. There’s always plenty of ice in Thailand. It was just a pity I didn’t have as much of a memory. I did vaguely remember an argument. Whether I’d won it or not was a different matter. I remembered being whisked away by the two girls before things could get worse. I remembered leaving Charlie and Jim stumbling around looking for their legs, as I left to keep my appointment with the bottle of Sang Som, but not a lot more.
As I sipped the brown fluid I decided I’d better make my first task for the day a return to the bar. Try and square things with Moo the owner. (Minder really, no-one owns anything in Patpong, at least not on paper.) I wasn’t a frequent customer, but hers would be the bar I’d usually visit. Moo’s girls didn’t pester me, they knew I knew they were available if I was in the mood, or more to the point, in the money. Moo mothers me in a way someone would if they suspected I may just be, in spite of appearances, an eccentric millionaire. I like her too and always tip well to keep up her misconception.
I returned to the bar, nothing special, just one of a dozen similar, on a side street in the centre of Bangkok’s red light district.
“Why fluck you kill him?” Moo said in greeting.
“Sawat dii khrap to you too Moo. Kill who?”
“Jim, Jim dead, for what? sawng meun Baht? You should no give him anyways. That bum have no way pay you, you should know it.”
There was no argument with that. I’d been a soft touch, always have been, but the shock that Jim was dead and I might have killed him left me stunned, I didn’t remember events turning out that way, but wasn’t convinced of my absolute innocence.
It had started out business like enough. All I wanted was my money back. Jim was taking the piss, it was 4 months after being promised repatriation of my funds “In two weeks tops”. I’d been too soft before so thought I’d try harder. Oh, I knew it wouldn’t get my money back any quicker but thought I might at least regain some respect.
Jim wasn’t a bad man, just incredibly thick. Sandwich spread appeared intelligent by comparison. I was befriended by Jim because I listened. I listened because Jim seemed to be honest. Jim had said himself; “If I was middle class, nowadays I’d be called dicslective, as it is, I’m just a thick Cockney.”
I would sit in one sided conversations with the man I imagined being the love child of Dr. Spooner and Hilda Baker. Jim would talk non stop, in a slow deliberate manner, as if speaking to the stupidest person in the class, probably so he could understand what he said himself. He endeared himself to me with his mindless, yet open, drivel to the point of distraction. It may have crossed my mind a few times to kill Jim, just to shut him up, but it would only have been a fancy. Killing him for any reason was never a serious thought. If Moo was correct though, Jim was dead. And I was, at least assumed by her, the killer.
“Slow down Moo, let me get this straight. I came in here last night, had a few drinks, saw that little shit Jim, asked for my 20,000 Baht, and killed him?”
“You tell me.” Moo replied. “You give them both good boxing, I no see who start, Jasmine and Samani were talk to farang from German, you fluck off with them and I tell Jim and Charlie fluck off too.” She continued in fairly good bar English, “Me no want trouble, this good bar”.
I was confused. The hangover wasn’t any help, so my mind was struggling on two fronts: clearing some space in the fog and searching for images of my own. Moo was not making any sense. First she told me I’d killed Jim and then she’s saying she’d slung him out herself?
Moo re-filled my glass with neat gin and poured one for herself, but added tonic water. I’d never liked the taste of tonic. I’m not mad on gin for that matter, but was after the effect rather than enjoyment.
“Look Moo, I’m a little slow this morning. What’s all this shit you’re giving me about killing Jim. Or anyone else for that matter?” The gin was kicking in, I’d figured out some questions, and now wanted answers.
Maybe Charlie would throw some light on it. Where was Charlie? It was coming back, piece by piece. I’d sat with the two of them. It was the end of the month, Jim’s money had obviously come through, scumbag Charlie was cadging drinks which Jim was happy to pay for. I, quite reasonably, suggested it was time he settled his debts. I’d have been happy for part of it, a token of respect. It wasn’t the money so much, though I’m by no means flush enough to write off four hundred pounds, I was getting pissed off being thought a mug. I’d saved severe damage to the man, and was now being accused of killing him.
Jim was someone that could accurately be referred to as a ‘mug punter’, and one of the most dangerous places to be a mug punter is in Thailand. Any form of gambling is wholly illegal in the Kingdom. Therefore it is the most prevalent pastime, and the organisers, the easiest people to obtain credit from. They are also the most difficult people to avoid repaying. I know that, I also know that the games would usually be fixed, so never gamble. Jim knew nothing.
I had been with Jim four months earlier, when they came for their money. They wanted 20,000 Baht, or at least the 10,000 interest.
“Fxxx off, I only owed you 10,000 and I paid that last month. You know it,” Jim expounded to the pair of slight-in-stature but mean-eyed collectors.
“No, you lose 10,000, you pay per cent, you no pay 10,000 you owe,” the one without the dark glasses replied. At 20 per cent a week it doesn’t take long for a small debt to become unmanageable. As with all money lenders, from platinum card issuers down to the gutters of the gambling dens in downtown Bangkok, they’re happy not to get the original debt back. So long as the interest is paid, and paid promptly. There’s never a need to use threats, these people didn’t threaten. Everyone knew that if you didn’t pay, you got hurt. Jim was ready to argue and stall until the threats that never come, where made. He really was being that stupid.
“You’re not dealing with Ladbrooks here Jim” I had warned. “They don’t look to me like they’re going away without Baht in their pockets or blood on their hands.” The poetry of my statement went unnoticed as Jim added his own comment, “Fxxx ‘em.”
Jim’s two visitors sat patiently in their matching black suits and eyed me, while I tried again to explain simple arithmetic to the man who thought IQ was a Swedish furniture store. “Jim, give them 20.000 fxxxing Baht or spend it on a wheelchair.”
“I ain’t got no fxxxin’ 20,000 Baht, I don’t get me money ‘til the end of the month.” His position had at last begun to sink in, and he sounded a little more than nervous.
The situation needed resolving. I always carried my “wedge” on me. It was a habit I’d picked up in my youth, often every penny I had, but always there, like a comfort blanket, a big roll of money stuffed into my shirt pocket.
“OK, now listen to me Jim. I’ll pay them off, you settle with me at the end of the month?”
“Yeh, will you do that? Ta, two weeks tops.”
Four months later, I was at the same table, in the same bar trying to get the same amount out of Jim. The events of the previous night were slowly returning. The 20,000 Baht I was owed. No per cent, no thanks, no chance of seeing the money again.
“Look, I’ve got money coming,” Jim had said. “I’m owed big time. Geezer in London, loaded, owes me a favour. I’ve put a call out for him, he’ll do anything for me. I’m waiting for him to ring back any time now.”
“You’re taking the piss Jim. I’ve waited four months already, now you want me to wait, how long? On the off chance there may be a fairy godfather out there who owes you a favour? No one owes you anything but a good hiding. I want my money and I want it now.” I thought I was being reasonable.
“Look, you gave ‘em the money, I didn’t ask you to, there was no way I would’ve given ‘em a fxxxing penny if you ‘adn’t butted in.” Jim was being unreasonable.
I sat there fuming with frustration. If Bangkok’s worst couldn’t faze Jim, what chance did soft heart have?
“Yeh, why don’t you fxxx off and ask the Chinks for your money back if you’re so desperate for it,” chipped in Charlie.
Charlie had been on the ya baa, a heroin based methamphetamine that tends to aggravate violent tendencies. The symptoms manifested themselves with an explosion. Charlie jumped up, grabbed a bottle and brought it swiftly down into my face. The action was so unexpected it caught me completely unaware. My senses were startled back to full alert as Charlie brought the bottle down for a second strike. I slapped it away with my left hand as I rose, bringing my right fist sharply up and under Charlie’s chin, lifting him almost off his feet with the force. It was a good punch all right. For no reason other than it made me feel good, I grabbed hold of Jim, lifted him off his seat and slammed him down again adding an almighty blow to the back of his head.
The scene had naturally drawn attention from the crowded bar. Charlie was stumbling back onto his feet, but failing to find them, as I rained blows on Jim. They were short, sharp slaps really. My blood was up and I was merely releasing my frustration at having let the little fxxxer wind me up, making me angry.
Samani, who hung onto my arm with both her own, stopped my onslaught in mid fight. Jasmine came rushing over, and using Charlie’s groin as a springboard, grabbed hold of my other arm. The girls hung there in their glittery mini skirts like Christmas tree lights, while I roared my threats at Jim to pay the money he owed.
The thump, thump disco beat backdrop completed the tableau that now seemed comical, as the sound became magnified against the sudden halt of all conversation. The din of a dozen similar tunes, belting out from a dozen other bars in the street, became more noticeable as all attention was concentrated on the spectacle of the big man being calmed and tempted away by the pair of bar girls. They knew even better than I did, that to stay would not have been a good idea at all.
The three of us headed back to Banglamphu, to a small bar and a bottle of Sang Som rum. The girls had managed to calm me and I was enjoying the afterglow of the adrenalin rush brought on by the fight. My rum tasted sweeter than usual as I drank it neat with a beer chaser. Jasmine and Samani mixed soda with theirs. I watched them with something close to affection. Both of them typical of their beautiful race, petite Thai girls with long black hair like a country night, skin soft, the colour of milky coffee, they look ageless, but probably mid-twenties. Samani would be, in some eyes, considered prettier than Jasmine, though she lacks her sharp wit and style. They’re great company.
They also share my spare room, on a mattress that I sometimes share with them. They pay no rent. I’ve never asked and they’ve never offered. Whether they consider sex with me payment in kind, or they actually enjoy having me with them I neither know nor care. It works for me and I’m happy with the arrangement. The way they’d taken care of me last night went beyond obligation though. It was three good friends looking out for each other, wanting nothing in return but a good time.
“Look, I’m sorry you lost your tips tonight, I’ll pay your bar fines tomorrow.” I told the girls as they ordered another bucket of ice. “And thanks for your help. Jim and Charlie should thank you too, you probably saved their lives, I lost my rag good and proper, I could have killed them bastards.”
“You lose your rag?” exclaimed Samani. “Where you lose? I no see rag, what rag?” The sweet, innocent misunderstanding ticked my sense of humour and had me laughing for the first time in months. Jasmine caught on to the joke that I found in Samani’s statement. She appeared happy to see the strange big man, who seldom even smiled, enjoying himself.
“You lose rag so kill them bastards. Yes I like,” she added. “I hope you no lose rag again, rags very expensive.” I was now in stitches and laid an arm across each of the girls’ shoulders. “Yes, you lose rag and end in monkey house, for what, a rag?” My laughter was now uncontrollable.
“Stop it. Stop it you’ll kill me.” I sobbed.
“Kill you? Why? I no lose rag.” The torment continued in that vein for the rest of the night, the word rag being used in every sentence, as verb, noun, and every part of speech we could think of. “You rag; you ragged up raggy rag I’ll ragging rag you, you ragger.”
It didn’t seem so funny as I sat in the bar with Moo, pondering my next move. The obvious questions had been answered; who, what, where, when, how; Jim, dead, in his room behind 7-Eleven, just after midnight, beaten to a pulp. By whom and why? Moo seemed to believe: Big Bear, 20,000 Baht, but I wasn’t happy with that.
“Who else thinks I killed him, Moo?” I asked.
“Many see you boxing him. You say you no kill, you no kill, no problem.”
“What about the police? They know I boxing him… I mean, have the police asked questions?” I was more than a little worried about the police. I’d never had a problem with them before, but figured they would prefer to pin something like this on another farang. Protecting the image of Thailand in the eye of new tourists, to my mind, came a lot higher on their list of priorities than making sure they had the right man. I had alibis, didn’t I? But they could easily be turned to witnesses with the right pressure brought to bear. I had enough to be nervous about, but the thing that bugged me more was: who would want to kill Jim and why? Had he got into more debt? Was it ‘the men in black’? I’d have to have a word with Charlie.
“Where’s Charlie?” Maybe it was Charlie, I thought. Why not, the man’s not stable, he’s certainly violent.
“I not know, he live Soi Yii sip saam, I know that. Phi know number, she come soon. Have drink on me.”
Moo poured us both another gin.
“First time for everything,” I replied absent mindedly, looking around, as if seeing the place for the first time. What a dump. What a difference nighttime made, a few flashy lights, some happy music, a dozen pretty girls, fresh faced and eager. Eager for what? Some fat old fart speaking a language they don’t understand, to finger and fxxx them for a few thousand baht. Are they so eager for money to send back to their families in Isaan? Or to spend on phone cards and motor bikes for their boyfriends, who finger and fxxx them and take their money. Am I so different? Do I treat Samani and Jasmine any better just because I don’t actually pay for it? Do they respect me? I think not. Do I respect myself? Not any more. I don’t belong here, I should be at home in England with my arms around Cassidy. The sudden thought of Cassidy seemed out of place with where I sat at that moment. If only she hadn’t…If only I wasn’t…what the hell, it’s too late now.