I wish these guys would learn how to say “no” like the rest of us.
We’ve only been in Bangkok two days and we’ve already almost gotten killed. Remember what I said about it not being so good when the excitement gets to be too much without enough fun? Well, that’s kind of where we’re at. Sure didn’t take long.
Sid’s contacts had us meet them this afternoon in this strip bar-slash-pick-up joint in some seedy part of town. It was real dark when we walked in and our eyes had to adjust to the low light, mostly provided by red lamps on the walls and the tables. There was some kind of bump-and-grind music playing, definitely from a juke box or something like that and, when we could see again, which took a couple minutes after the brilliant sunlight outside on the street, we could see that there were girls dancing on the bar and on these little stages. But they were dancing in bikinis, like they do in TV police shows where they can’t show bare T&A, even though everyone knows the girls in real strip clubs don’t wear bikinis. Weird, considering all the stuff that goes on in Bangkok.
Anyway, that’s where we met Sid’s contacts, and it was in a public place in the middle of the afternoon, so what could happen, right? Plenty, as it turned out.
Sid knew these guys from previous visits to Bangkok and had done business with them before, though he had warned me ahead of time that they were mean characters and he didn’t really trust them. They had sold him some sub-grade stuff before, and he was giving them a second chance to come through since their prices were better than most of the competition. Well, Sid’s no sap, but if he had asked me, which he didn’t, I would have said those were some bad signs.
I’m along for the ride, anyway, and I don’t get to say bupkis unless it’s asked, which isn’t too often. I’m supposed to be eye candy for Sid, someone to show off so his contacts can see what a stud he is, someone to take care of his primal needs, and sometimes to be part of the package that seals the deal. Of course, I have my more functional purpose, which is to carry the drugs or the cash or whatever the hell we’re hauling across international boundaries. And fortunately for both of us, especially on days like today, Sid also lets me watch out for things he’s missing. He’s smart enough to do that, and I’m way better at it than any of his other ditzy girlfriends.
Well, when Sid told me we were going somewhere exotic, he neglected to mention that this exotic place executes drug smugglers. Now that we’re here he tells me, kind of as an aside, like, “oh, by the way,” his way of making me understand how careful we have to be. Thanks, guy. So nice of you to tell me. What he also neglected to mention was how the local traffickers have the police all paid off, and they can pretty much get away with anything. That dispensation, of course, doesn’t apply to us outsiders. So the local traffickers know they have us by the balls. This is not a posture I like to assume, even lacking balls in the anatomical sense. But, like I said, I don’t have a lot to say in the matter. So, putting all this together, now that I know the score, I figure that if anyone’s going to be standing in front of the firing squad, it’s me.
Maybe you can see how getting boffed by chef in the walk-in is looking better and better to me all the time, right?
Okay, getting back to this afternoon’s events, once our eyes are adjusted we look around the bar and Sid sees his contacts over at a table by the far wall. They’re taking in the dancing girls, but once we approach they direct their attention to us. They stay seated as we walk up, and I guess that is meant to show us our place in the social hierarchy.
Sid introduces me as his associate without mentioning any names. Today I’m not Rosie or Lulu or anyone else. I’m just there. The locals, three Thai men, all on the lean side, nod appropriately, without saying a word, and the guy who looks like he’s in charge, the one in the middle, gestures for us to sit down in some empty chairs, which we do. The locals already have a bottle of something on the table, and the guy who looks like he’s in charge slides squat glasses over to Sid and me and fills them up with whatever brown stuff is in the bottle. We all raise our glasses and Sid and the three men down what’s in their glasses and slap them down on the table. Me, I just take a sip. It’s some kind of whiskey. I can handle that, but this isn’t a time to get wasted. The men all laugh at me and re-fill Sid’s and their glasses, but leave me to mine, which I hold in my hand.
“Not a big drinker,” I explain lamely. “But you go ahead.”
Like they wouldn’t anyway. And they all grin at my comment. I’m doing my best to be the simple little girl, and the ruse seems to be working. Like I said, I look like butter wouldn’t melt in my mouth.
Well, we get through the obligatory pleasantries, such as they are, mostly the man in charge asking if we had a good trip and how do I like Bangkok – “It’s very bright, thank you,” which makes the men laugh again – and then things get down to the business at hand.
Sid has to rein in his Occidental tendency toward brusqueness. He needs to remind himself to talk around things, but he does a pretty crappy job of it, and I can tell from the look on the Thai men’s faces they aren’t overly fond of Sid and how he’s handling things. That’s a big part of my job today, to be the detached observer, to catch the details, the mood shifts, the nuances in the conversation Sid misses. I’m as detached as I can be, knowing we can both die in a heartbeat.
I’ve figured out that the negotiation is really with the guy in charge and the other two are extras. They might be playing my role, observing, but I figure their main function is to be enforcers for the head guy. If things go south, they’ll be the ones to off us. The head guy is looking pretty cross, even as he does his best to conceal it, and I don’t like the direction things are headed.
“Why don’t you have another drink, baby,” I lean over and whisper in Sid’s ear. Without looking at me he gets the message and settles back. The head guy seems to relax, then the other two, and they all have another drink and things calm down.
The negotiations have come down to two sticking points. One is the price Sid is willing to pay, which is a lot less than the head guy wants. The other is Sid’s insinuation – well, that’s a soft word for it, it’s basically an accusation – that the head guy ripped him off last time and he better not try it again. The price is a matter of dickering, but the other challenges the man’s honor. He might be a total scum bucket, but he clearly doesn’t like his honor challenged, especially not by some foreigner.
The tension is mounting again and it’s going to take more than Sid sitting back and putting down another drink to calm it this time. It’s been more than an hour, and by now I really need to take a pee. But this is not any time to leave the table. I figure if I get up I’ll come back to find Sid slumped over in the chair or on the floor in a pool of blood, or the men will come gun me down in the stall before I even have time to wipe. I just have to hold it, like a big girl.
I move my hand to Sid’s knee and give it a squeeze. I’m not sure what signal I’m sending since it’s pretty obvious things are not going well. It’s probably just a way to show him I’m getting worried and maybe it’s time to go. This thing isn’t going to work out. I wish the Thai guy would just say “no,” since it’s clear by now he’s not going to deal with Sid, but no, that would be way too easy. Too not Asian. Meanwhile Sid, being Sid, is agitated, and he brushes my hand aside and plunges on. He’s the kind of guy who doesn’t like not getting his way.
What’s that expression about an immovable object meeting an immutable force? Well, the Thai guy is turning out to be more immovable than Sid is immutable. But Sid is too hot-headed to notice or concede. I’m not exactly sure what did it, it might have been Sid calling the head guy a greedy cunt – in retrospect, that was probably it – but the next thing I know is the two sidekick guys are on their feet with their guns out and pointed at us and a lot of shouting going on. I’ve always been taught that you should never point a gun at someone unless you intend to kill them, and I figure this is it. No more croissants and demitasses, Rosie. Now you’re going to die.
I’m too scared to even stand – it’s at least a miracle I don’t wet myself right then and there – and luckily Sid jumps up and has his hands up in the air and is making some sort of calm-down gestures with them.
“Whoa, whoa, let’s all calm down here. I’m sorry, mate, I shouldn’t have called you that. I’m really sorry.”
Sid is doing his best to talk his way out of this mess he’s gotten us into. The guys are waving around their guns and yelling something in Thai and probably just waiting for the signal from their boss to take us out, and it’s like a scene out of some freaking gangster movie. Only this one is real.
Now I’m thinking I’m going to throw up, and I wonder what effect that’ll have on the proceedings. But I guess Sid’s apologies are working and the head guy grunts and raises his hands in a way that must tell his men to stand down since they step back and lower their guns. They haven’t put them away yet, but at least they’re not pointed in our direction. That’s got to be a good sign, I figure, and I manage to hold down my lunch.
After all is said and done, Sid and the head guy agree to disagree and there isn’t going to be a deal. As far as I’m concerned, that’s a whole lot better than either of the two alternative outcomes. One, us getting shot to death right there in the bar. Two, getting more crap dope and paying too much for it and then, since Sid’s too much of a stubborn prick to just put his tail between his legs and lick his wounds, repeating the whole stupid dance, and then getting shot to death.
It’s still blindingly bright when we’re outside the bar, but we’re alive. I’ve never been so scared in my life. I’m shaking like a leaf in a hurricane, and I still have to pee. We’re in a taxi on the way back to our hotel when it occurs to me that through all this drama the bartender and the dancing girls and the waitresses and the other patrons never interrupted their routines. Not for an instant. It was like nothing was happening, and I suppose if there were gunshots and we dropped dead on the floor there would have been a moment’s lull and then everything would have just gone on. I’m speechless the whole way back, and all I can do is cling to Sid, who doesn’t say a word, either.
So that was the afternoon’s festivities and how we almost got killed. I can’t wait to see what awaits us in Chiang Mai.