Full Moon Party
The following is an excerpt from my new book, “Full Moon Party,” due out later in the year.
Full Moon Party is a work of fiction and the third instalment of the Adventures of Mike Johnson. While the characters and events portrayed in this story are a work of fiction, the locations and settings are real.
Full Moon Party
Another Mike Johnson Adventure
Another bead of perspiration rolled off my bowed forehead as the minutes ticked by into a steamy Bangkok afternoon. I checked my watch and noted I’d been perched on a Spartan wooden bench for well over an hour, and there was still no indication of when I would be called to give my account of the ‘incident’ Baey and I were involved in at Khao Yai National Park. Above me, the outdated and badly in need of servicing air-conditioning unit thrummed monotonously on into the unrelieved boredom. These older Thai Government offices have a certain type of no frills harshness about them which, if one didn’t know better, you could be forgiven for assuming it was done on purpose. As some kind of psychological ploy to put an element of discomfort in anyone called to front the uniformed ‘committee.’ Whether or not it was deliberately intentioned one could never know as these Thai Government officials are a stoic lot. They have the patience of a Russian chess player and give nothing away except the ever present Thai smile.
As the air-conditioner whined on, and another bead of perspiration fell to the floor, I leaned back, closed my eyes and mentally rehearsed the story Baey and I had agreed to. Not that we were deliberately intending to deceive. We just wanted to make sure there were no discrepancies in our accounts which could give the officious ones an angle to make our lives difficult or, particularly with me being a farang, an avenue for extortion. Baey had warned me a number of months prior there was a distinct possibility of an enquiry into our little adventure in the jungle. In the months following our showdown with Ning and her gang of thugs things had been smoothed over and largely forgotten, until the recent change in Government. According to Baey the Royal leaning, yellow brigade didn’t really have any objections to covertly funded, military connected mercenaries taking out drug cartels in Thailand as long as it didn’t attract too much attention. With the red brigade recently occupying the halls of power there’d been a change in thinking regarding what they considered rogue or clandestine, paramilitary style operations against Thai citizenry. Baey, not being one to mince words, said it was simply a matter of well connected, and moneyed up, relatives of the scum he’d taken out complaining about what had happened. And there was always a willing ear to consider any complaints if enough grey notes were bandied around. In an earlier time their complaints would be largely disregarded but the new regime was the peoples champion and any treatment of the citizenry, deemed to be unfair, would now be investigated.
In the aftermath of that crazy forty eight hours in Khao Yai I’d been laid up with a broken leg for a couple of months. After Baey and I were choppered out of the flash flood devastated ravine, I was quickly transferred to a hospital in Korat for treatment. The break was diagnosed as a compound fracture in the left tibia and I spent the next ten weeks hobbling around in a knee length cast. It was a bit of a patience test for me as it restricted my adventurous instincts somewhat. When the cast was finally removed the break had healed well but, as expected, the muscles in that lower leg area had atrophied significantly. I had another eight weeks of serious rehab physiotherapy in Bangkok before something approaching my natural strength began to return. It was probably the longest continuous period of time I’d spent in the Big Mango and by the time the rehab had run its course I was seriously champing at the bit to get the heck out of dodge. The only positive of hanging around Bangkok for so long was that Nat and I got to spend a lot more time together. Not that our relationship had been smooth sailing. As with any cross cultural pairing, we’d had our share of ups and downs. Most notable was the refusal of Nat’s parents to approve our planned wedding. Their reasoning being I was unsuitable due to the fact I seemed to be a person who attracted trouble and, as such, I couldn’t be trusted to keep their daughter out of harm’s way. I tried explaining that I was just helping friends in a time of need and was an innocent party to circumstances beyond my control. They were having none of it though and suggested a grace period of twelve months where they could observe if my suitability would improve. At the end of the grace period another assessment would be made with a positive outcome largely determined by my ability to remain incident free. Nat was all for disregarding her parents and defiantly pushing ahead with the wedding anyway. But in the end I convinced her it wasn’t a good idea as it would probably create long term ill will between her and them which she would live to regret. She eventually cooled off and saw the sense in what I was saying. Over the ensuing months her parents gradually warmed towards me and invited me to dinner on a number of occasions. Although we spent most nights of the week together we hadn’t gone as far as being a cohabitating couple. I told Nat I needed some personal space sometimes and it was better that we didn’t move in together until we were an official pairing. Although she was constantly protesting my take on this part of our relationship the one ace up my sleeve was that her parents would probably think better of me if she continued to reside with them until we were married. The truth is Thai woman can be rather demanding and, at times, almost suffocating with their petty jealousies and intrigues. And even though the sex can be fantastic, as a farang, our cultural proclivities demand we need a break from the often times cloying neediness of a Thai woman. The thing is though they never quite understand this. The need for some personal space from time to time is often misinterpreted as casting about for another lady and sows the seeds of mistrust. After a couple of recent flare-ups Nat and I decided to have a break for a while and, with my leg almost fully healed, I decided to head down to the picturesque little island of Koh Phangan for some beach time.
An old buddy from my past days in the scuba industry in Phuket had set up a small diving operation on the Northern end of the island and after a chance meeting at a lower Sukhumvit bar, he’d invited me down to Koh Phangan to check out the local dive spots and with the approaching high season, help out with the occasional dive tour. Steve, originally from the U.K., was a bit of an eccentric. He ran a small one man operation which provided just enough income for him to live a largely care free existence on Phan Ngan and pursue his only real interest in life; wreck diving and treasure hunting in the Gulf of Thailand. Like many eccentric’s Steve was a genius when it came to inventing and building gadgets to assist his treasure hunting forays. Unfortunately the organisational side of his small dive operation was a complete mess. Within a couple of days of turning up on his door step I realised my main purpose for his invitation was to sort out the operational issues of his business. After two days assessing his operational problems I convinced him to hire an office girl to handle bookings and the logistical issues such as hotel pickups, departure times and daily tour destinations to allow him to focus more on the equipment side of things. With better organisation the logistical issues, which robbed him of much needed income, were slowly eliminated. After a month things were running much more smoothly and he was able to afford to hire a dive instructor to reduce the stressful workload he’d created through his own inability to plan logically. There wasn’t much in it for me except a basic income to pay for my bungalow, daily meals and a sundowner or three at day’s end. But it didn’t matter as I was enjoying the ambience of a much healthier lifestyle at the beach.
With more free time available to him Steve started to focus more on his wreck diving and treasure fossicking activities. It didn’t take long to get me interested and in particular, on a seventeenth century junk, loaded with porcelain, which had gone down somewhere out in the no man’s land between Phangan and Koh Tao, the third island in the chain. After a couple of years of research he’d finally triangulated the approximate area of the junk’s demise but, after many hours of fruitless bottom searches had been unable to find the wrecks remains. Then, by pure fluke, he’d found an exquisite plate wedged in some boulders at the base of a little dived, submerged pinnacle. After further excavation in the surrounding sandy bottom he found wooden remnants and even more porcelain. The dive site was some distance from the original reported location of the ship’s sinking and Steve estimated it had drifted with current and weather action until finally breaking up at the base of the pinnacle. He’d done a number of dives at the site previously and not seen anything of significance. It was only after recent heavy weather conditions, the spinoff from a typhoon that hit Vietnam, that a lot of the sand base around the pinnacle had been scoured out to reveal bits and pieces of the wreck.
We made a number of dives on the site and recovered more exceptional pieces but it was obvious any type of major recovery job would need a more substantial approach than the scuba twin sets we were diving with. At just on thirty four meters on the bottom it wasn’t so much the depth we were diving in but more about the limited time we were getting due the decompression obligation we had on the ascent. I told Steve surfaced supplied diving equipment was needed to enable us to have the longer bottom times for more extensive excavations. He agreed but also pointed out that a larger operation would increase the possibility of unwanted attention. And our regular visits to the dive site had already been noted by the local fisherman. The site we were visiting didn’t offer much in terms of photogenic diving. It was largely barren and devoid of fish life so locals, who make their living on the oceans, were bound to take note of our frequent visits to the site. The fact is the junk had been a bit of an old sea legend in the area. A lot of locals had heard of the legend but there had never been any tangible find to substantiate it; until now. Eventually the old salts and seasoned sailors in the area would put two and two together and, when that happened, the unsavoury types who make their living from nefarious activities on the island were bound to start snooping around for the perceived easy riches that a sunken treasure trove could provide.
We eventually recovered about thirty pieces of pottery before the season changed and the North East monsoon set in. With the breaking of the weather came the end of our treasure hunt, until the season changed again. In a way it was perfect timing for me as I was beginning to get more frequent calls from Baey regarding an enquiry into our jungle adventure in Khao Yai. With the rains setting in I packed my bags and headed back to the Big Mango.
A creaking door bought my thoughts back to the present.
“Khun Johnson, this way please” said a uniformed government employee stepping through the opened door.
The lackey directed me towards a seat in front of the head honcho’s desk. As I sat down he averted his eyes briefly to acknowledge my presence then continued browsing the stack of notes in front of him. I took a quick glance around the room and noted the opulence compared with the waiting area beyond the door. The head honcho was seated behind a solid teak desk the size of a double bed and instead of the drab cream coloured stucco of the walls outside, there was polished wood panelling from floor to ceiling around the rooms’ entire perimeter. As per usual with any of these pompous government types there was a large painting of the King and Queen of Thailand on the wall directly behind him. At a smaller desk off to the right sat another civil servant, uniform perfectly pressed with a swathe of service ribbons adorning his left chest area. Baey was sitting to my immediate right and quickly explained he was sitting in to help with any interpreting duties. I had an inward chuckle reflecting on the fact he’d said such a situation would most likely occur due to the fact the majority of government employees had poor English language skills. In the lead up to the enquiry we’d had a few meetings to discuss how we’d corroborate our versions of what occurred. In the end we both agreed that we’d stick pretty much to the true account of the events, except one; the whereabouts of Pete’s three million Baht.
In the aftermath of the shoot-out in Pete’s house things had got decidedly messy regarding the finalisation of the property transfer to the buyer from Australia. Amm, Pete’s wife, had made a rapid recovery from her gunshot wound and, in collusion with that slimy lawyer Det, had put a block on the completion of the transfer. The whole deal had been in limbo for months as Dave, the buyer from Sydney, was locked in a court battle with Amm over the ownership. The main stumbling block for Dave was the existence of two Chanote’s. Even though he was in possession of the real one the fact there was an identical fake in Amm’s possession was enough for the authorities to put a halt on the finalisation of the transfer and accede to her request for an investigation. Amm had already cleaned out the remaining funds in Pete’s bank account and had been badgering me about the three million Baht which Dave had transferred but was nowhere to be seen. I just played dumb and said it had been vaporised in the flash flood that swept down the ravine. The truth of it was Baey and I had split it down the middle and stashed it in smaller amounts in different bank accounts. So far no one had applied any real pressure on us to find out if the money was still in existence. Baey seemed to think our call to front an enquiry may have been partially the result of Amm’s desperation to find the missing cash. The head honcho finally completed fiddling with his notes, removed his glasses and smiled in my direction.
“Good afternoon Khun Johnson. I appreciate your patience in waiting,” beamed the jowly official before me.
“Sawasdee Krap, mai mee pbun ha,” I said politely in return.
“Ah very good, you speak some Thai language.”
“Not enough, I’m afraid,” I said trying to get on friendly terms.
“Mai bpen rai, my assistant speaks some English and your friend Khun Baey has offered to help with the translation issues. I am Major Thanangkul and this is the Royal Thai Police Department for Internal Affairs. Before we start I’d like to check your passport to make sure you’re not staying in Thailand illegally.”
“Ah okay, sure,” I said handing over my passport.
The Major took my passport and handed to his assistant. I had a twelve month retirement visa so no problems there. Two minutes later the assistant passed it back after taking some photo-copies.
“Thank you, all seems to be in order regarding your visa for staying in Thailand. Before we proceed it’s my duty to inform you everything of this interview will be recorded to enable us to make a witness statement. Do you agree to this?”
“Yes but I would hope that any statement I sign will be in English?”
“Yes, we can arrange that.”
“You’ve been called here today to help us with our enquiries into a number of fatalities which occurred while you were at Khao Yai National park a few months ago. It seems our enquiries into the event’s you and Khun Baey were involved in reveal the possibility of excessive force being used. We’ve had complaints from the relatives of some of the deceased and, even though those who died were not some of the best citizens of Thailand, under recent directives of the new government all situations where there are multiple fatalities of Thai citizens now need to be investigated. I’ve spoken at length with your friend regarding what occurred and I understand the governing agenda at the time gave license for these types of covert operations to proceed. After looking at the reports of the incident my feeling is that there was also some form of personnel vendetta involved. There is also a question of a missing sum of money which the wife of the deceased Australian is claiming belongs to her. I’d like to ask you first what was your relationship to the woman known as Ning? I know from looking at police reports of an incident you were involved in Pattaya three years ago, there was some history between you and her?”
“Yes, I knew Ning. She was married to a friend of mine in Pattaya, Chris Lane, and was imprisoned for being an accomplice to his murder,” I replied as a matter of fact.
“Yes I’ve seen the Pattaya Police report regarding that matter. You and Khun Baey assisted the Pattaya authorities in apprehending and bringing her to justice. As far as we are concerned that matter is closed. What I’m more interested in is how she, and her gang of accomplices, was drawn to that property next to the golf course in Pak Chong?”
“To be honest major that’s a mystery to me as well. The first I knew of her presence there was when I got a phone call from Pete telling me he’d been kidnapped by a gang of loan sharks from Pattaya she was involved with,” I said sticking to the story Baey and I had agreed upon.
“This certainly seems rather odd. What connection could a gang of loan sharks from Pattaya have with your deceased friend and why would they bother travelling up to Khao Yai?”
I took a moment to compose myself. We were getting to the nitty gritty of the questioning now. As Baey had said, the enquiry about the shootings would more than likely just be a smoke screen for grilling us about the missing money and the property sale.
“Pete, my deceased friend, told me his wife Amm had got tangled up with them over an unpaid loan on the property deed,” I said without batting an eyelid.
“Ah yes the property deed. Do you know anything about a fake Chanote?” said the major boring in on me with a steely gaze.
“Amm’s lawyer, Khun Det mentioned something about that in a brief phone conversation I had with him before we drove up to Khao Yai. I don’t know the full details but apparently she’d used it as collateral for a loan on the property.”
“Hmmm, according to Khun Amm she thought the Chanote she retrieved from the safe in the family home was the original. I spoke with her recently and she seems to think the real Chanote was hidden in a secret compartment in the basement work bench. Do you have any knowledge of this?” said the major continuing to bore in on me.
“My deceased friend mentioned something about this while we were holed up in the ravine. It wasn’t much, he just said he’d broken into the basement one night and removed the document from a hiding place in the workshop,” I said sticking to the story Baey and I had concocted.
“Hmmm, interesting. Khun Amm’s version was a little bit different. At the time of the break in the occupants of the house saw a muscular figure fleeing from the basement,” said the major glancing at Baey with a smirk.
Baey didn’t move a muscle; he just sat there calmly looking straight ahead at the office wall. During our meetings to put our story together he’d made the point that everything in Thailand is about negotiation and connections. The major was probably well aware that Baey had some powerful friends in the military, men of influence, so he wasn’t going to push things to a point where those guys started to take an interest in his investigations. If we stayed calm and stuck to our story the major would eventually lose interest. The ace up our sleeve to make him drop it completely would be if Baey had a few quiet drinks with the major one night and passed him some ‘tea money.’
“The occupants of the house on the night of the break-in also said a set of golf clubs had been taken. The strange thing is when we searched your deceased friend’s apartment in On Nut there was no golf clubs to be found,” said the major with that rather irritating smirk again.
“As far as I know Pete liked to play golf so it’s not surprising he would take a set of his own golf clubs if he had the opportunity. His wife had a restraining order against him from entering the property so I guess when he broke in to the basement he took the set of golf clubs as well. Where they eventually went to I have no idea. Pete was short of cash so perhaps he sold them?”
“Hmmm, that would be a very convenient explanation I suppose,” said the major drumming the desk top with his fingers.
The room went silent as he slowly flicked through the pages of notes in front of him.
“So your deceased friend called you from his house in Pak Chong, while being held hostage by the loan sharks, and asked you to bring three million baht in ransom money to the property?”
“Yes, that’s correct. Baey and I retrieved the money from a brief case in Pete’s vehicle parked at the On Nut apartment and then drove up to Pak Chong to make the exchange.”
The major referred to his notes again.
“According to witness statements made by Khun Amm and her lawyer, you arrived at the property alone and no money was exchanged?”
“Yes, that’s also correct. Baey and I decided it would be foolish just to walk in there cold with the cash. We estimated there was a good chance they’d just take it then eliminate us all to cover their tracks.”
“Well that was certainly the right option considering the past history of that gang of criminals. Did you intend to hand over the cash at any stage?”
“No. We just used the delay in handing it over as a stall for time to enable Baey to break out the captives under the cover of darkness.”
“Yes, well he certainly did a very good job of that. So, what happened to the ransom money?”
“As far as I know it was lost in the flash flood.”
“Are you sure about that? According to Det the lawyer, Peter Wilson fled from the basement with the original Chanote in his possession. That Chanote is now with the Australian buyer. How was it possible the ransom money disappeared in the flood but the Chanote did not,” said the major smugly.
I let the question hang there for a moment. Major Thanangkul was probably thinking he had us cornered but Baey and I had spent a number of hours going over our cover story to the minutest detail.
“At the moment of the flash flood Pete had taken the money out of a back pack we had with us. He was counting it to make sure it was all there after our night march through the jungle. The two of us were closer to the river when the avalanche of water hit us. Baey was further up the side of the ravine, with the back pack, and he was able to avoid getting swept away. The Chanote was still in the back pack with him. Pete, I and all the ransom money got swept over the falls. I was lucky enough to survive the maelstrom, but Peter Wilson was not. After seeing the damage to the jungle along the sides of the ravine, I doubt anyone will find that money now.”
Major Thanangkul leaned back in his leather seat, exhaled and closed his eyes. A few seconds passed silently before he came back to the moment, leaned forward and began thrumming his desk top again.
“To be honest this department really doesn’t care what has, or hasn’t, happened to that three million Baht. It’s a small sum of money anyway. It’s just that damn woman keeps badgering my superiors to look into it and she has some well-connected family members in the Korat area; family members which have influence with this new government. My advice to the both of you is wherever that money may or may not be, it should remain untraceable.”
“Khao jai krap,” said Baey in stony faced agreement.
“Right then Khun Johnson, I’ve spoken at length with Khun Baey regarding the fatalities which occurred and I’m satisfied none of the deaths were attributable to your actions. I think we are finished here with you for now. However I will need you to come back to sign off your witness statement at some point in the next few days. Please give your contact number to my assistant. Good day to you.”
As we both stood up to leave the major said something in Thai and Baey sat down again.
“I’ll wait outside,” I said taking my leave.
A few minutes later Baey joined me in the waiting area.
“That son of a bitch,” he said shaking his head and looking non-plussed.
“What’s the deal?” I said.
“I’ll tell you one we get clear of here. I’ve had enough of these damn bureaucrats for one day. You feel like a drink Mike?” said Baey as we walked clear of the building.
“Yeah, why not? I think a couple of sundowners would be just the tonic after that wasted afternoon,” I said looking at my watch and noting it was almost five pm.
“You got anywhere in mind?” said Baey as we strode towards the exit point of the large complex of government buildings.
“Yeah, I reckon the lounge bar at the Intercontinental would fit the bill nicely,” I said as we worked our way across Sukhumvit Road to flag down a cab.
A few minutes later we were sitting in the swank surroundings of the lounge bar at the Intercontinental, Rachaprasong.
“What was that final little conversation all about?” I said as the barman dropped two tumblers full of Black Label on the rocks in front of us.
“The usual deal, he reckons I owe him a favour.”
“You know how things are here Mike. For tidying up the loose ends he said he may need me to do a small job for him in the future.”
“A small job? When?”
“It could come at any time; in a day, a month, a year. And it won’t be a task of insignificance either.”
“Oh, what sort of job would it be then?”
“Possibly eliminating a rival for a future promotion” said Baey looking sombre.
“Jesus H. Christ mate, that’d be some bad karma?”
“Yeah, I might have to disappear into the jungle for a while. Anyway, we’re celebrating so fuck that goddam government prick,” said Baey picking up his glass.
“Chok dee mate,” I said as we raised our glasses.
“Here’s to three million Baht.”
“Yeah too right,” I said as another round landed on the bar in front of us.
“By the way, what did you do with that set of golf clubs?” I said starting to feel the glow of the scotch.
“Funny you should mention that. I played a few rounds with them and after the second call from Thanangkul I sent them off to a relative in Chiang Mai,” said Baey wryly.
“Probably a good idea,” I said as my phone started buzzing.
I looked at the screen and saw Steve’s number.
“What’s up mate?”
“Trouble is up Mike,” said Steve sounding stressed.
“Someone broke into the dive shop last night. No second prizes for guessing what they were looking for.”
“Did they find it?”
“No, I’ve got the stash hidden in a room I rented on the other side of the Island. They’ve smashed up the workshop trying to find it though.”
“That’s bad news mate. Any ideas who it might have been?”
“No but I think whoever it was probably got their info from the skipper of the boat we were using to go out to the pinnacle. Except for him and us, no one else knew what we were doing out there.”
“Yeah, you’re probably right. The worry is that word may have spread to the wrong crowd. You’d better be careful in your movements from now on. Whoever it is will probably be watching you. Steer clear of that room on the other side of the island and don’t wander down any dark alleys by yourself.”
“Yeah, yeah, righto Mike,” said Steve sounding a little more relieved.
“How’s the weather down there now?”
“Yeah, good mate. The high season kicked in a couple of days ago. The winds have turned and the seas are calm.”
“Good. I think it’s time we headed back out to that pinnacle and got stuck into recovering all that booty,” I said feeling the enthusiasm of another adventure kick in.
“Mike, I haven’t got the money to fund an operation like that.”
“Don’t worry mate, I’ve just had a windfall. I’ll put up the capital and you can pay me back later.”
“Thanks Mike, that’s bloody decent of you. When are you coming down?”
“In a few days’ time, I’ll have to organise all the gear we’ll need. Once I’ve sorted that out and arranged the transport I’ll let you know. In the meantime, see if you can hire a sixty foot fishing boat with plenty of deck space and a five hundred horsepower engine, but not from Phangnan. Try to get one over at Surat Thani. Once you’ve got a couple of quotes, give me a bell.”
“Okay, no problems Mike, I’ll make my way over to Surat Thani tomorrow morning.”
“Okay great, I’ll look forward to hearing from you Steve,” I said putting the phone down.
“Hmmm, by the sounds of that I’d say you are about to fail Nat’s parents twelve month observation test,” laughed Baey.
“Yeah well some things just aren’t meant to be. I’ve had enough of pretending to be something I’m not.”
“You’re not hi-so Mike. I admire you for trying but at the end of the day you’d be bored silly trying to fit in with that way of life.”
“Ain't that the damn truth,” I said as we raised our glasses again.
“Anyway, what adventure have you got in mind now?”
“An adventure which could possibly make us very wealthy men.”
“Us? How so?”
“Where do I fit in?”
“I need good security. By the way mate, can you scuba dive?”