Sid is just full of surprises. It doesn’t even surprise me any more when he pulls his surprises.
His funds finally came in and we picked up the dope packaged as we specified, and I thought we were headed back home. It was only after the train ride back to Bangkok, another overnight run in a sleeper, and getting to the airport, that I learned, no, we’re not going back to lovely Charles de Gaulle. Instead, we’re going to freaking Amsterdam. But, no, we’re not going straight to Amsterdam since that would be too damned easy and it’s too much of a give-away, coming from Bangkok. So we first have to fly to Dubai, spend a night there, and then we fly to Amsterdam on a different airline and a different ticket. Not that our passports won’t give it all away, anyway, but now you’re getting technical. I’m thinking that by the end of this trip I’ll be sick of looking at the inside of airplanes.
It wears me out thinking about all this, and I just want to be back in Paris and all I can really think of is how much I miss being in Chantal’s arms and letting her love me and how good she makes me feel. Me, back to being Rosie again, not Louise Patterson. And how maybe Chantal’s right, maybe this isn’t the life for me. Not any more.
I don’t know how Sid got his funds sent. That falls under the “need-to-know” rule, and I have no need to know that part. Sid is mostly secretive about his finances anyway, and all I need to know is that the money buys nice things and good food and places to see and go, and I shouldn’t ask anything beyond that. So I don’t. The funds got there, we paid the drug lord with the gold tooth, he gave us our stuff, and off we go to wherever it is we’re going. That was enough for me to know.
The drugs are encased in these cute little statuettes of elephants and buddhas and birds stashed in my bag, some of my clothes and a couple souvenirs we picked up at the night market in Chiang Mai are in Sid’s bag with his stuff, and now we’re going to flipping Dubai. Forget about Phuket, forget about Lulu and her Uncle Oscar lolling about on the beach. That’s not happening. And if we get caught, Lulu might be looking down the barrels of a firing squad. She’ll be sure to enjoy her flight.
I can almost guess what you’re thinking. How can she talk about cute little statuettes of elephants and buddhas and birds, knowing there is white death inside them? Heroin, horse, smack, that will go into the veins of messed-up people, and some of them will certainly OD on it and maybe die. Doesn’t that get to me? Doesn’t it bother me, even just a little? That’s what you’re wondering, right? Well, fuck yes, it does, if you must know. But if I start thinking about that, I wouldn’t do any of this stuff. So I try not to think about it. And like I said, it’s not for me to judge what someone else does or needs or puts into their body. But, yeah, I do think about it. Just so you know.
So getting back to what’s going on, getting out of one country and into another is the trickiest part of what we do, if you ignore things like what happened in that bar in Bangkok. Between sniffer dogs and spot checks and snitches and just about any other stupid thing that might go down, I can be the best liar in the world and still we could get snagged. Sid tries to reassure me by telling me less than 10 percent of smuggled drugs ever get intercepted, but that’s like figuring that every tenth plane we’re on is going to crash. To me, those odds don’t sound all that good. Especially with the stakes as high as they are.
Anyway, I won’t bore you with all the details of our flight to Dubai, or how we sat around the hotel snack bar drinking coffees and eating pastries while watching Russian whores in tight skirts and tighter tops flit by in the middle of the afternoon on their way to rooms in the hotel where paying customers were waiting for their Slavic entertainment. I did wonder if things went really wrong with Sid and I wound up leaving him maybe I could make a decent living in Dubai doing what the Russian girls were doing. They looked prosperous and well taken care of enough. Better than waiting tables in Banning, California, our last outpost before heading out the back, Jack, to Paris. They might both be desert outposts, but this was a decidedly different sort of one. One pumps gas off the freeway, the other owns the oil business, and looks it.
The next evening we take a cab to the airport, I slip away from Sid for a little while to hit the duty-free, and the next thing I know we’re on our way to Amsterdam. As far as I’m concerned, this is the last leg before we unload the horse and then I can relax on the train or plane or whatever back to Paris. But now’s not the time to relax, and I relieve my tension by taking care of Uncle Oscar under the airline blanket again. It’s more for me than for him, something to do with my hands other than chew on my fingernails, though he’s not complaining.
We get to Amsterdam in the early morning. Schiphol is a monster airport, all shiny and stainless and glassy, very spiffy compared with the other airports we’ve been in on this trip. It has a kind of reassuring feel to it, very commercial, and one hopes that the focus of the immigration and customs officials is just to process through the gadzillion passengers they see very day and not get too much into detail. As it turns out, they’re not particularly interested in us, and after some perfunctory questions about the trip Louise and Uncle Oscar took, and what we’re planning on doing in Amsterdam, and our rehearsed lies and sweet smiles and never a doubt in our minds, we’re in, and shortly after that we’re at the baggage check claiming our bags like everyone else on the flight, and then walking merrily through the “Nothing to Declare” lane and out of the airport and into the misty Amsterdam morning. See, easy peasy, like I said. But damn, what a relief, and finally I feel like I can breathe freely again. I can actually picture the Thai executioners lowering their rifles and calling for Singhas all around.
Partly growing up in South Africa I can get by in Afrikaans, which is a close cousin of Dutch. So I’m able to speak to people here in their own language, though I don’t let on to that at passport control. I’m just a sweet bright-eyed American college student seeing the world for the first time with her loving uncle, and that’s all they need to know.
“So, Sid, how long is this going to take?” I ask. Wrong question, I soon find out. Like I said, Sid is full of surprises.
We get to our hotel, a big fancy place on the edge of the city, and Sid calls his contacts telling them to meet us at such-and-such a place at such-and-such a time, and to bring the cash with them. This is all in some sort of code both sides understand. And we’re not talking some paltry sum now. Now we’re talking maybe millions. Somehow the stakes have just gone back up again, and I hope these guys are more trustworthy than those shady guys in Bangkok. Sid assures me they are, but somehow I don’t feel all that assured. The Dutch, I’ve come to learn, are not known for their concern for customer satisfaction. And I get the feeling these guys aren’t even Dutch, that they come from some country with even less of a tradition of customer satisfaction.
Anyway, we make the rendezvous that night, us taking a taxi, which we send away when we get there, Sid’s contacts already waiting for us in a black Mercedes. This seems like one more scene out of another of those gangster movies, meeting as we are surrounded by old brick buildings next to some canal in a dark part of town, exchanging my suitcase – by now, all my stuff is in Sid’s suitcase – for a kind of big metal carrying case with more money in it than most people earn in a lifetime. I’m thinking it’s too much to be in two gangster movies in two weeks, but wait, we’re not done. Even that would be too easy.
Along with the metal case, these guys hand over another bag to Sid. A big olive drab canvas duffel bag. I know better than to ask what’s in it, but I’m pretty sure I know, anyway. I don’t ask in the street, and I don’t ask in the cab Sid has the guys call for us, and I don’t ask until we’re back in the hotel room. Then I ask.
“Sid, what the fuck is in that bag? What little surprise do you have planned now?”
I’m thinking of that scene in Star Wars where 3CPO says something like, “Enough of these adventures!” to R2D2. I’ve really had enough of them at this point.
“Chill, kid. It’s just another little side trip that’s come up. It’s some X, and we’re taking it to Joburg for my associates. You know how it’s a global economy, and all that.”
Little side trip? Going from northern Europe to almost the southern tip of Africa does not fit my definition of a little side trip. Plus, I’m in no mood for Sid’s feeble attempt at humor, his “global economy” jive, and I’m standing there in the hotel room too shocked to even say anything. So I just stand there and gape at Sid like a fucking imbecile. I don’t know what to be more shocked over, that we’re not going back to Paris, that we’re – read I’m – going to be transporting more drugs across borders, or that we’re going to Joburg.
I finally find my voice.
“You’re crazy, Sid. We just made it through this trip by the skin of our teeth, and now you’re taking us on another? And what about my school and my job? I need to get back to Paris for the start of the new session, plus Chantal needs me at the piano.”
“Don’t exaggerate, Rosie. It wasn’t so tough. And we’ll get you back in time for your session. It wouldn’t be the end of the world if you’re a couple days late, but you won’t be. We’re not staying long. And you can wait a few more days to fuck Chantal.”
I ignore the last part of Sid’s comment since he’s trying to push my buttons again, but now my mind is calculating: Joburg. What if I go see my aunt while I’m there? She would be so relieved to see me, and I would love to see her, even for just a couple of days. I’d even be happy to see my cousin Michelle. Sid will have to let me, or he can make this trip on his own.
“This is such bullshit, Sid, to spring this on me like this. You could have at least told me. But look, if we’re going to South Africa, you have to let me see my Aunt Carol while we’re there. You have to. She’ll be so relieved to see me.”
“I have to? I don’t have to do anything. And what if she tries to keep you there, or you decide to stay? Or worse, if she tips the authorities on me? Those are pretty big risks. Too big.”
“She won’t try to keep me. Even if she did, I won’t let her. I’m my own person, Sid. And I’ll make sure she doesn’t tip anyone. She won’t anyway, because it would be both our asses in a South African jail and she won’t put her own niece behind bars. I know that much.”
“How do you know she won’t make a deal, my ass for yours? That’s what I would do, if it was me.”
“She won’t Sid. She won’t even know I’m coming, and she doesn’t know anything about you, anyway. Remember, I’m with that nice young couple in Arkansas, right? I just happened to save my money to come for a few days to South Africa to see her. That’s all she needs to know.”
“Do you know how believable that is, Rosie? She’d have to be an idiot to fall for that.”
“All right, I’ll think of something else. But I have to see her if we go to Johannesburg. Otherwise you can do this on your own and I’m going back to Paris.”
I’m skating close to the edge with Sid and I can see the anger growing on his face. It’s not like me to give ultimatums, and he’s not the sort of guy who responds well to them. But I have to do my best to get him to let me see my aunt. I’m risking a punch to the face, or worse, but it’s a risk I have to take.
“If I agree to let you see her, it’s three days, tops, that’s it, that’s all we’re staying, and she doesn’t get to know a thing about me. If anything funny goes down, it’s your ass and hers and your cousin’s, too. If it’s not me, I have friends in South Africa who will take care of it for me. Understand?”
I shudder at the thought of what Sid might do to my aunt and Michelle and even to me. I know he’s serious. So it’s a no-brainer to agree to whatever he wants.
“I understand, Sid. I’d never betray you, and I won’t breathe a word about you, about us. Promise and cross my heart and hope to die.”
“You don’t have to hope, Rosie, because you will die if you break that promise. You and anyone you care about.”
As much as I might be Sid’s preferred girlfriend, I have no doubt that he’d off me and my family, and maybe others, like Chantal, too, or have us offed, probably in the most gruesome way, without a moment’s hesitation. Worse than what might have happened in Bangkok. Much worse. I know that much about Sid. I know some of the things he’s done, not just the smuggling. Much worse things I haven’t told you about. So this is a promise I won’t break.
“I swear, Sid. I promise, and I’ll keep that promise. I will. I promise I will.”
“Let me think about it. Now let’s get some sleep. It’s late and we have to be up early so I can deal with this cash and then get going. I’ll let you know what I decide.”
Yeah, like I’m going to sleep tonight. Even without the threats, the thought of seeing my Aunt Carol again after four years is enough to keep me awake most of the night. What will she think? What will I say to her? I have a rough night ahead.