Payback, A Short Tale of Death in the Pacific
The rusted ferry approached the tip of Borneo and the provincial city of Sandakan came into view, surrounded by luxurious jungle cloaked mountains. During the war thousands of allied soldiers had perished in this place, but today it gave sanctuary, albeit
temporary sanctuary for those on the ship.
Two pretty passengers leaned upon the railings on the port side and watched as the ship banked toward the dock. Their hair caught the wind. Smart and eye-catching, a sharp contrast to the hoards of scruffy illegal workers, families, traditionally attired Moro men and Malay women in their green scarves and tent-dresses.
The tall one reached behind her back, withdrew a little black gun from her waist, cycled it clear then dropped it over the side. Next to her was the coyote dancer who was carrying a parcel of her countrymen’s passports, all destined for the ‘visa run’, a ritual allowing the foreign bearers to legally remain in the Philippines. The documents were run through the terminals and stamped en-masse every three weeks, all for a handful of cash.
A pang of regret as the tiny yet lethal weapon disappeared into the harbor’s depths; it had been fashioned many years ago in Belgium from materials no longer available. The twenty-five auto had been her safety blanket for the last four days on the voyage and it had made her feel a little more secure but to be caught with a loaded pistol inside Malaysian waters was a capital offence. Tubtim had no intention of facing the hangman for something her people viewed as a birthright; for her the gun and the knife were something to be kept within reach at all times. Within arm’s reach.
They had boarded at Pier Nine in Manila and changed in Cebu City before slipping aboard the Mary Lou III, a decrepit hulk built in the sixties that flew across the Sulu Sea with enough knots to pull a water-skier behind her and leave any pirates in its wake. The two women from Thailand disembarked among a melee of three thousand passengers and waited for processing.
At the base of the gangplank, the tall woman named Tubtim stopped abruptly, seizing the coyote’s hand and gazing at her palm: “Joy,” she said. “Have you ever considered one day you will be very rich? Has anybody ever said that?”
The dancer was puzzled, she laughed. She shook her head and stared at the ground like a disappointed child. “Destiny for a good heart, but I must say nobody has ever told me! I am a poor rice farmer from the northern plains and I take care of my kids and Mama-”
“Three million Baht,” whispered Tubtim. Joy’s eyes widened. “One million for you and another million for your cousin. Half a million each for the other two just to get on a ‘plane and leave…” The dancer could only wonder, puzzled as the throngs of passengers crept along under the noon sun. “Both of you could retire forever and you could give your children the best education. None of you need take your clothes off in a nightclub ever again. You could buy extra land and you would never be in debt…but it's high risk. Interested?”
Enjoy ‘Joy’ Coyote frowned; unsure of the catch: drugs…oh, no! “I’m listening.”
“There is a lost dog that must die, a white man who works at the embassy in Manila. He is a predator, he’s corrupt and he must be killed. He has hurt me and made me lose somebody I once loved. He may even come after you one day…I would like you to kill him. Do it as soon as you return to Angeles City.”
She outlined her plan and how to evacuate the girls after the deed was done. The dancer only nodded, silent and horrified as she listened. Tubtim rattled off her secure cell number, the one locked away in her apartment in Bangkok.
“Call me in exactly forty-eight hours, not a minute early; not a minute late – Philippine time. You do this and your whole life will change. This is real and I am not some fortune-teller.”
“Who exactly are you then?” She had known this woman for two weeks now and it seemed like a lifetime yet she would never know her; nobody would. She feared Tubtim but trusted her in a sense. The strange one from Bangkok; the one with powerful and dangerous friends…
“Just make the call if you and your cousin want the job,” Tubtim replied. “If you don’t you will never hear from me again, I promise. If you accept it may even spare you from future dangers. The one I speak of has to go.”
They hugged before going their separate ways. The entertainer was to collect the bundle of passports once they had been stamped and return to the bright lights of Angeles immediately but Tubtim was briefly in neutral territory and she could relax – Bangkok was a few hours away once she’d reached Kota Kinabalu. The cultural attaché from the consulate would collect her and escort her home.
The irony, she had once looked down upon low class people like that yet the coyote gang of Thai ‘entertainers’ had helped her at a time when she was most vulnerable. This wasn’t about money, she owed them, big-time. And the best way to say ‘thank you’ was with a quick but dirty job that would set them up for life, something urgent Tubtim would have loved to do with her bare hands but no time. A big bite from the piggy-bank but worth every cent; unlike the other girls Tubtim of Bangkok was not poor. Low society, the coyote gang had come from the mean streets. They knew how to look after themselves. And they knew how to kill if they had to.
Naked, they hovered above him, the American they had taken or rather he was the one who had taken them to the room…a filthy short time room. Enjoy Coyote and her cousin, Jeep Pancake, who danced with her every night at the nightclub. Laid out on his
back, the moist towel falling away from him. Joy stood and shivered. The unconscious man looked angelic. Didn’t even snore. Mouth slightly open. The crushed up pills worked a treat with the sweet local rum. ‘The Ativan Gun’…
“Double check your stuff and run the shower,” murmured Enjoy. “Wait for me outside the door.” Her eyes went blank as her friend eased the door shut behind her. Alone. She rifled the Falang’s trouser pockets then took the camcorder – he’d insisted on filming the entire thing. She paused once more, listening to the water in the moldy shower stall.
“Soong, soong…soong” (stand tall, persevere). Adversity. Joy reached into her handbag. In it were her worldly possessions: passport, an e-ticket, ATM cards and some cash. All she would need; all she would take along with the camcorder and the man’s ID. And in the handbag was a meat cleaver, a heavy one at two pounds and razor sharp. Her favorite for cutting garlic and pork; pork-mince salad.
The money had gone into all four accounts that morning, like clockwork. Exactly as Tubtim of Bangkok promised. A million each for her and her cousin Jeep. Half a million for the other two girls…no backing out now.
She held the chopper in her hand and looked at him one last time, and then she closed her eyes. She thought about her life. She thought of her daughters in the village outside Roi Et, her eldest who wanted to be a policewoman one day and the younger one who was so clever…the brightest in the school. How her youngest wanted to be a nurse and help people when she grew up…
She thought of the debts she had to pay, the funds sent religiously every month to her sister who cared for the kids. She thought of the Chinese loan sharks who arrived every month to collect the money her common law husband owed, the gambling debts he left behind when he’d deserted them right after the youngest one’s birth.
She thought of the neighbor’s son who had raped her when she was thirteen and she thought of her drunken father who hit her right up until the day he died…and the family that didn’t care. Enjoy Coyote gritted her teeth. She was trembling. The adrenaline was going now. Surging like a flood. Shit!
She thought of the never-ending nights on stage at that go-go place where she gyrated and danced for eight hours straight and the pain she felt in her knees and ankles. Aching, and lingering cramps that only subsided when she slept. Headaches from the flashing lights and techno beats, her ears ringing and tinnitus that got worse with every year she grew older. Thirty six years old…More tattoos than a carnival-freak; not even the lowest of the western voyeurs would take her for the night, they only stared at her as they gaped at the dance moves.
And Joy was faced by a black vortex of a wasted life if she didn’t go ahead with this. She shook like a mild convulsion and her teeth made a grinding sound. Then she blacked out.
The first blow on the top of the Falang’s head made the sound of a coconut shell breaking. Struck in frenzy, scores of times. Perhaps a hundred or more, shredding his face, his shoulders and six foot frame. The efficiency of a machine hooked up to a three phase motor. Like one of those horrible accidents in a metal workshop. Hair, blood, fingers and pieces of flesh; flung all over the room. When she no longer had the strength she came to and slumped to the floor before crawling into the shower and staying there for ages until the last of the blood had washed from her body.
Enjoy Coyote eased herself into the taxi. It was a minivan and her three Thai friends sat in there. She slid the door shut. The air-con was icy; the engine had been idling and the taxi waiting the last ten minutes since collecting the other two. None of the coyote gang would be reporting for duty that night. Never going back again. They were going home.
“Manila International, right?” The minivan driver turned around and faced the women. “Manila Airport, you said? Five thousand pesos please ladies.” He looked at each of them in turn. “Pay now, please…” The one nearest to him was in no mood for haggling, she passed the cash over; the cabbie counted it and stuffed it into the console before easing away from the curb.
“Joy! Okay or not?” The one named Jeep, who had stayed outside the door, gingerly touched her cousin’s forearm. Enjoy pushed it away. A teardrop fell from her eye.
“Please don’t,” she whispered.
Tonight she was free. They all were; the coyote gang. But Enjoy had paid the price to get her life back. The blood on her skin had washed away in the cold water but the stains on her conscience would last an eternity. She had left her soul behind in the upstairs room with the American’s mutilated corpse. Freedom! Sometimes you had to sell something. Sell your body, your soul. She could only shut her eyes for now.
Shut your eyes and think of home. Shut your eyes and think of your life. Make the most of what’s left. Pay for it in the next one…
A very nice piece of fiction.
The scary part is that while this may be a work of fiction, it is actually all quite plausible….and the price needn't be anywhere near the amount mentioned!