Sid was right, again damn it, and that massage really did the trick for me. They really are something, the way the masseuse is all over your body, massaging you with her own. Both of you – how should I put this? – nude, of course, and all slippery and soapy and all. And the happiest of happy endings, for both of us, me and Sid. Delicious as a Thai curry. And about as spicy and tasty, too.
Anyway, I’m feeling a lot better about things now, though I’m still not crazy about being non-existent as me here in Thailand. And I have to say I’m a bit apprehensive about our meeting today up here in Chiang Mai. Needless to say, I hope it goes a lot better than how things went in Bangkok.
The train arrived here this morning, and we got to watch the scenery the last part of the trip through the sleeper window after the sun came up. Pretty far-out stuff. Other than the Metro, it’s been so long since I’ve been on a train. Missed that clackety-clack, clackety-clack, the gentle rocking. It was especially nice in the sleeper, getting lulled to sleep by the motion of the train. Lulled. That’s one word for it. I guess I was really worn out after all this stuff. You know how in the hospital when they put you under anesthesia and you’re supposed to count backwards from 100 and most people don’t make it to 98? Well, that’s how I was in the sleeper last night. A clackety-clack or two, and I was out like a light. Don’t remember a thing after that. Sid told me this morning I was snoring. Oh, gawd.
I can tell right away Chiang Mai is different from Bangkok. It’s smaller, of course, though still a pretty big city. Busy, but more provincial feeling, if you know what I mean. The kind of city where you would be tempted to pass the day sitting in a sidewalk cafe sipping coffees or putting back Singhas, depending on your preference, and watching life go by. And then going for green curry in the evening and maybe find a place to go dancing. You know, just saying it, I feel like I’d rather do that than go with Sid to this meeting. Not that the choice is offered.
The city is surrounded by all these jungly mountains, and it feels like some sort of Shangra-la looking out at them. And there are these ornate Buddhist temples all over the city. Kind of like little Asian Eiffel Towers scattered around everywhere. I could like it here, if we’re not offed first.
A taxi takes us to our hotel, and Sid knows I’m getting anxious again since I’m quiet the whole way there. Not the little girl at the zoo this time. Just quietly watching the people on the streets, the tuk-tuks as they go by, the guys on motos, the people walking and in the cafes. Wondering if any of them is someone we’ll be meeting with in a little while.
The hotel has more of a local feel to it then the one in Bangkok. Verandas and a courtyard and these slatted open doors and shutters. And a swimming pool. Sid says he’s stayed here before and liked it, and I can see why. I do, too. Even if I could just stay at the hotel, lay out by the pool, it would be better than going to this meeting, but that’s not an option I’m offered, either. So here we go again.
I’m afraid I’m losing my nerve, and in this business, that’s a real bad thing to do. It’s like being afraid to jump off the high dive or chickening out on running a marathon. Or playing the piano by memory. Lose your nerve, and it all falls apart and its hard to get it back. That’s where I’m at, and I can’t let myself go further in that direction. Die or not, I need to go with Sid and not let him know I’m flaking out. Buck up, Rosie. Get it together, you teary-eyed little bitch. Don’t be a wienie.
So we drop our stuff at the hotel and gabble about a bit and then grab a taxi and head out of the city, watching again out the windows as people do whatever it is they do in the morning in Chiang Mai. Sid’s contact has a place out in the bush somewhere, a few kilometers outside where the city turns to jungle, and when we get there, I swear to god, this place looks like a scene out of one of those Vietnam movies where the Cong are torturing their captives and then the American planes fly in and bomb the shit out of the place and everyone’s running around every fucking which way while tanks full of stuff are blowing up left and right. That’s exactly what this place looks like, bamboo as thick as your arm and all. We have the taxi stay, Sid giving the driver some bhats to pay for his time, the rest to follow later, so we can get back to town after the meeting, assuming we survive it.
Sid’s contacts aren’t Viet Cong, but they sure could be. We’re greeted at the front gate, sort of a high-security bamboo affair, by a couple of guys in like black pajamas or some damned thing and holding Kalashnikovs. Now that’s an encouraging sign, I think. We make our little introductions to them and the first thing they do is frisk us down to make sure we’re not packing or wearing a wire or anything. The guy frisking me seems more thorough than he needs to be, his gangster hands all over me, considering I’m just wearing a light summer dress. But who am I to argue with a guy toting an automatic weapon?
Anyway, once we’re through that formality one of them radios on this walkie-talkie and then they’re told to let us pass. At least that’s what we figure out. So we start up this kind of stone walkway and as we get close to the main building two more guys in pajamas and with AKs meet us and take us through the building, which is kind of this open-air sort of pavilion, very airy and Thai and all, and out into this inner courtyard, which I have to say has a kind of tranquil feel to it. That’s where we meet the head guy, and if he doesn’t look like he’s out of one of those Vietnam movies, nobody does.
He’s actually got one of those goatees with the long greying mustache. And he’s dressed in another of those black pajama outfits, and has all these gold chains around his neck, and a freaking gold tooth that glints in the sunlight as he smiles, a little menacingly, it looks to me. I’m not making this up. And there are two more guys with AKs standing back a few steps, back by this big bamboo wall, so there’s absolutely no way to escape. Well, for sure, if we get shot today we’ll go even quicker than with the pistols in Bangkok. My dad would be relieved.
The guy gives us a little bow before bidding us welcome, that gold tooth shining in the morning sun, and I’m trying not to stare at it but I do anyway, and he gestures for us to sit down in some wicker chairs in the courtyard. I have to say the environment is a whole lot more copacetic than the strip bar, though there’s enough hardware around to off us a few times over and go on to start a small war. Somehow I have this feeling there are a couple dozen more armed guys just hidden away around the grounds and ready to pounce if trouble breaks out, just like in those movies. Drug lords have big budgets.
Sid’s never bought from this guy before but he’s heard good things from some associates, who gave him an introduction. On the way up the walkway to the main building I’ve quietly counseled him to go easy on the accusations and “greedy cunt” stuff and not to be an ass hat and to stay on the guy’s good side. I don’t think Sid appreciates the unsolicited advice, as he tells me with one of his dark looks. He just makes it as we walk and doesn’t even look at me or say anything, he doesn’t have to, so I shut up. Rosie is to be seen but not heard, like a good child. At least until I scream when we get shot.
The guy has someone bring out a ceramic pot and cups and pour us some aromatic tea, which steams in the humid air of the courtyard. I wonder if, under different circumstances, you’re supposed to tip a guy carrying a Kalashnikov as he serves you your tea. I’m also wondering if the head guy is gay since all I see are other men, not a woman or girl in sight. Maybe he keeps them some place else, hidden away out in the jungle. I hear birds singing, and it’s all very incongruent, bird song and automatic weapons, tranquil courtyards and talk of buying heroin for people, already fucked-up enough, to put in their veins.
Anyway, the conversation is in English, of course, and the pleasantries more extended than with the whiskey boys in Bangkok. It could be a social visit if I didn’t know better, and at least Sid has enough sense not to rush into things this time and to go with the flow. We’re in no rush, the taxi driver will be happy to make more money, so we enjoy our tea and listen to the birds and answer the guy’s questions, which he presents to us with that gold tooth glinting in the sunlight while he smiles that smile, friendly and menacing at the same time. His eyes go back and forth from Sid to me, and the way they linger on me, I don’t think any more that he’s gay. I do begin to wonder, though, what part in this deal I’m going to play.
Finally it’s time to get down to business, which the guy signals by asking Sid what brings us here today. It is a lovely day, but certainly it is not to enjoy the beauty of the forest, the guy says. So subtle. Well, now that he’s been invited to get to the point, Sid starts out by telling the guy how he’s heard such good things about him and how he hoped we might be able to do business with him. He relates the identities of his associates who recommended him in a kind of code that they both understand, and the man nods appreciatively and folds his hands together in his lap.
“Ah, I see. Please give your associates my best wishes. I hope to see them again before long.”
“I’m sure you will. And I will be sure to pass your greetings to them.”
I wish Sid was this gracious all the time. Especially with me. He has it in him, I can see that, when it’s required. I’m tempted to relax, seeing how things are off to a good start, but I know that’s when trouble starts, so I stay on my guard, doing my best not to show it.
The man asks Sid how much supply he’s looking for. This is kind of the rub, since this is someone who’s used to dealing in volume, big shipments, and we’re just small-time buyers. At least for the first go-around. Well, with heroin, even with a relatively small amount, you’re still talking a fair amount of money, if not the millions the guy is used to dealing in. The hundred thousand or so Sid will pay for the 15 kilos we want, a significant enough sum to Sid but chump change to the drug lord, he’ll turn into a couple mil when we get it to its destination.
Sid finesses over the question, saying we want just enough to carry with us this time, but if all goes well with the initial order there will be bigger ones to follow.
“I see. You know, of course, if I agree, and I’m not saying I will, there is a premium to be paid for such a small quantity.”
“Of course, I do understand. The quality matters a great deal to me, and I’m willing to pay more if it’s good quality since my reputation is at stake.”
“Both our reputations are at stake. The quality is very good. I do not build my business selling bad product. My supply comes directly from the producers and I oversee quality control carefully. No one would dare provide me with sub-standard merchandise since they well know the consequences if they do.”
“Consequences,” I think. I bet it’s not a week’s suspension without pay or a note in their file.
“And if you are pleased with our first exchange? What kinds of future orders can we look forward to?”
“I’ll have to organize my distribution channels to work the supply through, of course, but I have them in nearly a dozen countries all over the world. Just two or three of them, even one, can move a lot of product.”
“And your transportation plan?”
This guy is no amateur, that’s for sure. We could be talking computers or wide-screen TVs instead of horse. He knows what’s involved and is not about to let Sid bullshit him.
Sid explains how he wants the first order packaged, sealed in small ceramic statues, which Thailand is known for, and wrapped in plastic bubble wrap, so I can carry them in my luggage. Not too heavy, but secure. And since I’m underage, not Louise, the real me, Sid tells the man he figures the risk is lower with me. I’m not so sure about that, but this is part of the chance I take on every one of these trips. It’s just that the stakes are higher, a lot higher, on this one.
“For the bigger runs, I have someone who will pack the goods as freight with other items and ship them out by air. The same as my associates do. It’s worked very well for them, as you know, and I don’t see the point in reinventing the wheel. Once in the destination countries my networks know what to do. I don’t deal with every Joe on the street. The ones I work with know what they’re doing.”
“I see. And the funds? How will I receive them?”
“You mean you don’t work with letters of credit?”
The man at first doesn’t catch Sid’s attempt at humor. I’m not sure I even catch it. The man’s eyes narrow in a way that is definitely menacing, and I’m saying, “Oh, shit,” to myself, “here it comes,” and then he gets that it’s a joke and his eyes relax. He turns to me, probably since he’s still too taken aback to look at Sid.
“Your boyfriend is a funny man. At first I thought he was serious.”
“He has his moments, that’s for sure. He even had me fooled there for a second, so don’t feel bad.”
The man smiles, his gold tooth again showing. I’d feel a bit better now, were it not for what he says next.
“I never feel bad, little one. It is not good for the heart. I have other ways of dealing with, how should I say, disappointments.”
Oh, great. Now I can see being tied naked to a bamboo stake in that courtyard while the man handles his “disappointments” with a hot poker and maybe some poisonous snakes. That seems like how a Thai drug lord out in the jungle would deal with his disappointments.
The little one smiles wanely, getting the message, and decides to go with the flow herself.
“Yes, it’s not good to feel bad. So terrible for the health. Have to agree with you there, sir.”
His smile seems a tad warmer now, that gold tooth showing more prominently. I’m thinking how feeling bad is terrible, atrocious, really, for the health. My health, my and Sid’s health, in this particular case.
Anyway, Sid explains how he has mechanisms to have cash delivered and once they agree on a price he’ll set them in motion and the guy will have his money. Will take a couple of days, but all’s well that ends well. I recognize the Shakespeare, even if it seems like the wrong time and place to go quoting it.
Before we get down to the price part of the negotiation the man gives a signal and the same guy who served the tea comes out with a big tray of local fruits and cold drinks and some sweets and puddings and places it on the wicker table in front of us. Now I get it. The head guy isn’t gay. But probably this guy who’s kind of his manservant is. He does have a somewhat effeminate look about him, even with an AK slung over his shoulder, and I catch him eyeing Sid, a lot more than he’s looking at me. I think Sid’s caught on, too, since I see him eyeing the guy back. It’s all these hidden signals, like dogs give one another. Doesn’t take any words to know.
Anyway, this is shaping up so far to be a whole lot better than getting shot or tortured, and I allow myself to enjoy the local refreshments feeling there’s a reasonable chance we’re getting out of here today with our gringo hides in one piece.
By the time all is said and done, a deal has been struck, the terms agreed, and we’re sent on our way with a bow and another gold-toothy smile from our host. When we’re outside the gate we have to wake up our cabbie who is sound asleep in the driver seat, his head slumped back and his mouth wide open probably pulling in flies, and he seems groggy until we’re almost back inside the city. As long as he gets us there, I don’t care.
I’m certainly relieved. I wasn’t even part of the compensation package – seems our drug lord doesn’t mix his meat with his bread, either – and Sid seems satisfied. All in all, a good round, no complaints. And those fruits were very sweet.
We’re going to be spending the next few days in Chiang Mai until the funds arrive and we take possession of our product, so we can kick back some and enjoy ourselves. I’m happy, Sid’s happy, we’re both happy.
I know things have really gone well since the first thing Sid asks when we’re back at the hotel is if I’d like another of those Thai soapy massages with the happy ending.
After a hot and sweaty day out in some jungle outpost, who am I to say no?