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Authors: Christopher G. Moore

Paying Back Jack (8 page)

BOOK: Paying Back Jack
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“The whiskey is a gift from General Yosaporn,” said Calvino. He didn't say anything more.

The officer in charge told the two policemen to put the whiskey back.

” said Calvino. It was Pali for compassion, and the General's signature word for saying goodbye.

The worst fears for a Thai were to end up on the wrong side of a power struggle or an argument, or to make a mistake. Whoever this farang was and however he got that whiskey from a Thai general, his position had been buttressed by numerous phone calls from people who rarely phoned the police, and it made the policemen tense and fearful. The immediate aftermath of the death had brought a half-dozen cops to his room, but the numbers had dwindled as the phone calls had come in. After the last call, the senior officer and the other police had huddled and whispered, glancing back at Calvino, who'd been moved from the balcony and made to sit on the edge of the king-sized bed.

“You will stay in this room at all times,” said the senior officer, making it sound like a police victory.

“I can't leave the hotel?”

“Do not leave this room.”

” said Calvino. The senior officer tried to decide whether the farang was mocking him. He weighed the options at his disposal and went back to consulting with his officers. A moment later he vanished.

The Thai way was an unofficial house arrest. It amounted to face-saving through babysitting. It could be worse, Calvino told himself. It could be jail. He sat back on the bed and resigned himself to the reality: a chain of events had started with the death of a woman, and no one, not even Colonel Pratt or his mentor, could fully control what would happen now. Pratt had said nothing about the duration. Thinking about the two cops left behind as a security detail, he felt depressed. They could hold him until after the election, or he could even be kept for years. The cops outside might grow old and retire and gradually be replaced by fresh recruits from the academy: young policemen who would have only a vague idea why the farang inside the ninth floor wasn't authorized to leave his room. They would only know that his confinement had something to do with a woman who'd died a long time ago and that no one had ever decided how or why she died. No one would ever question the decision to keep Calvino in the room since it's easier for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven than for a Thai to step forward and reverse a decision.


IN THAILAND, it didn't take long to figure out that you didn't have to outlive anyone to know you were alone. House arrest in Pattaya wasn't much different from a no-show funeral with a couple of attendants looking after the body.

The two cops left behind to guard Calvino were the same two officers who had taken an extraordinary interest in the case of whiskey. Having failed to score a bottle, they'd decided that their assignment had the hallmarks of a punishment detail. In other words, they'd been left behind because they'd been volunteered, until a further order was given allowing them to leave. Neither one showed any emotion; it was swallowed back like nasty medicine. But after the other police had gone, they made it clear to Calvino that he had caused them a big problem. When a Thai says you've caused him a big problem, he's using an English expression to signal that the time has arrived to collect your passport and take the first taxi to the airport. Asian problem-solving techniques have a certain finality to them. Calvino said nothing, knowing it wasn't a good time to be blowing bubbles their way. With no reaction from the farang, the anger slowly cooled. Calvino had been demoted to a pain in the ass with a smelly sports jacket. In private, they whispered that the farang had done it. The two cops who pulled guard detail glared at Calvino. He smiled; they frowned. Then one cop snarled and the other cursed. They were like a bad nightclub routine.

Calvino had decided he wanted information from the cops: Who else had they been talking to, which rooms besides his own had they searched, and what had they found?

From the bed, his hands still cuffed behind his back, Calvino watched his guards walk around the room. He sized them up. Each wore a brown uniform as tight as a scuba diver's wetsuit, holstered nines, handcuffs (minus the pair on Calvino's wrists), and radios on their hips. Vests covered their chests with
written in illuminated white on fluorescent orange. Both had short-cropped black hair.

One of the cops had pockmarked skin carpeting his cheeks and neck, as if a massive acne glacier had once rumbled over his body. A couple of those old scars had left craters as deep as the dimples of a smile in full bloom. He was a dead ringer for the deposed Panama dictator Manuel Antonio Noriega. Calvino started thinking of this cop as Noriega. Though the officer was in his early thirties, he looked older and tougher; a no-nonsense veteran who could line up men against a wall, knee them in the balls, slap them around, and then order them shot. He stared at Calvino with a mixture of hostility and suspicion.

Noriega's partner, a few years younger, unsmiling and rigid, clutched his radio as it began to squawk and reported back to someone at the other end that the farang hadn't confessed. Not yet. He looked at Calvino as he said this in Thai. This cop's head had a shape similar to that of the Chinese leader Mao Zedong, with a bulblike forehead swelling out from a receding hairline. This Mao, like his namesake, had a slightly superior curl of the lip, giving him the appearance of someone who knew dark secrets. He looked like a man well acquainted with the benefits of arrogance and the use of violence.

Calvino had been spared the usual arrest formalities. The cops left behind had a few ideas of their own. Before Calvino got what he wanted, he needed to establish a little good faith.

Mao had shown the most malice as he'd looked Calvino up and down, made him turn and put his hands against the wall, and frisked him. He'd pulled a .38 from Calvino's ankle holster and with a smirk showed it to his partner. Calvino had told them he had a license for the gun, but they weren't interested. Once they'd disarmed him,
Noriega had unhooked a pair of handcuffs from his belt and ordered Calvino to turn around with his hands behind his back. Handcuffing had been their original duty.

After the cuffs were on, Noriega had gestured for Calvino to sit on the bed and told him to sit very still. The two officers had searched the room, pulling out every drawer, going through his suitcase. He'd heard one of them in the bathroom opening doors and drawers and drawing back the shower curtain.

After they'd finished the search, they'd returned and, standing shoulder to shoulder, confronted Calvino. He hadn't shifted position. He hadn't said a word. The two cops continued their conversation on the assumption that Calvino had no clue what they were saying.

“Ask him why he killed the girl,” Noriega said.

Mao wrinkled his nose. “Why do farangs have a bad smell?”

“You think he pushed her off the balcony?”

Mao shrugged. “Why don't we take him back and lock him up?”

“Because we have orders. He stays in the room. We stay with him.”

“What's he doing with a case of whiskey?” asked Mao. “Maybe that's why he killed the girl. We should take it as evidence.”

Noriega shrugged. “Later. Now we follow orders.”

“I'm hungry. How about you?” asked Calvino in Thai. “What if I ordered some food?”

Mao shot Calvino a hard look. “You speak Thai?”

Calvino smiled, asking him in Thai to remove the handcuffs. “I'm not going anywhere. And technically I'm not under arrest.”

The two cops exchanged a glance and then looked at Calvino, nodding. That was true. But as far as they were concerned, his not being under arrest had nothing to do with keeping him handcuffed.

“Besides, how can I use the phone if my hands are cuffed? Why not get some food? I'm thinking about some big steaks, French fries, ice cream. But you guys probably don't like farang food.”

Noriega found the key for the handcuffs and gestured for Calvino to stand up. Standing at the foot of the bed, Calvino turned around and Noriega unlocked the handcuffs. Calvino rubbed his wrists and then slowly, with his hands in full sight, leaned over and picked up the phone.

“I'm ordering food.”

They had no instructions about allowing the farang access to the phone. They had to think for themselves, and fast. “Only food,” said Noriega.

“Steaks and ice cream,” said Calvino.

Calvino phoned the steakhouse and ordered three large steaks, medium rare, with extra sauce on the side, a bucket of French fries, and half a liter of mocha ice cream. Next he dialed the number of the Russian restaurant and ordered a liter bottle of vodka, a dozen dumplings, and borscht. He then called the Italian restaurant and ordered veal and three plates of pasta. Mao and Noriega watched and listened. Each time he phoned another restaurant, they nodded with a flicker of a smile. Calvino wasn't certain what that meant, but he decided it was a signal to keep on ordering.

Mao walked over to the table and pulled out a bottle of the whiskey. “How much does it cost?” he asked in Thai.

“Six thousand baht,” said Calvino, knowing this was about equal to a month's salary on the police force.

“What are you doing with eleven bottles? One's missing. You already drink it today?” asked Noriega. He was running a calculation in his head on the total value of the case. Eleven bottles was close to a year's pay.

“They're sold. I was delivering them tonight.”

Noriega thought about the possibilities. “You don't want to open one?”

Calvino looked at the bottle of Johnnie Walker on the balcony table. Noriega got the message without exchanging a word. He went out on the balcony and grabbed the bottle. When he came back in with it, he was smiling.

While they waited for the food, Calvino called room service for glasses, ice, and soda, and a few minutes later he tipped the room service attendant a hundred baht. He poured three glasses of Johnnie Walker, handing Mao and Noriega each a glass.

Chai yo
,” said Calvino, the Thai salute, raising his glass. “I didn't kill the woman.” The salute translated as “victory” and the way he said it left open whose victory they were celebrating.

The cops drank. They sat in a semicircle, the cops on chairs and Calvino perched on the end of the bed holding his glass. “Any idea
who was staying in the suites above this one, from the tenth to the fifteenth floors?”

The cops shrugged and held out empty glasses, which Calvino refilled.

The Russian food and vodka arrived first, and the hotel concierge accompanied the delivery boy. Calvino borrowed the concierge's ballpoint pen, signed the bill, and handed it to the concierge. “Put this on my bill,” he said.

The concierge looked at the bill, the two cops in the room, and then at the delivery boy. “Impossible,” he said.

“I can't go to the ATM. Ask these two fine gentlemen. And I have no cash.”

The concierge, Noriega, and Mao exchanged a few words. The concierge sucked his teeth and shot Calvino a smug look of contempt. Calvino closed the door, leaving the concierge in the corridor. He carried the steaming dumplings to the table, opened the container, and the room filled with the smell of minced meat, spices, and mint.

Calvino grinned as he unscrewed the cap on the bottle of vodka and poured out three glasses. He didn't bother rinsing the glasses after the Johnnie Walker. He was amused by what they'd told the concierge: “The farang is a VIP and we've been ordered to make certain he doesn't make any trouble. You don't want to cause a problem, do you?”

It all came back to the possibility of causing someone a problem. The aversion to problem causing was only exceeded by the desire to maintain face. Calvino raised his glass, touched the glasses of Mao and Noriega, and took a long swig. The cops stared at each other and then sipped the vodka with a strong hint of whiskey. Perhaps they believed the story they'd given to the concierge.

Mao held the glass of vodka in his fist, watching Calvino. He was wondering whether this farang was a VIP or a murderer. Or was he perhaps part of the recent trend of VIP murderers?

Noriega, the senior of the two officers, was half a step slower. He circled around the table, picked up the bottle of vodka, read the label, and then let his hand slip down to pick up the glass. Calvino refilled the glasses as the steaks arrived, and once again Calvino told the
delivery boy to get the money from the concierge at the front desk. The delivery boy looked at the cops, who both nodded and told him to go downstairs for the cash. They'd fallen into a kind of routine by the time the Italian food arrived ten minutes later, and Noriega told the delivery boy to give the bill to the concierge. There was no room left on the table, so Calvino put the Italian food on the bed. Dumplings, pasta, steaks—the room smelled like an all-you-can-eat buffet in a redneck town somewhere in Missouri. Mao relaxed after finishing the second vodka and managed a smile.

“Any more food?” asked Mao.

Calvino shook his head. “Let's eat this first. I can always order more.”

Noriega grinned, picking up the phone. He ordered plates and real silverware. The concierge sent a lackey with a trolley loaded with plates, silverware, pepper and salt, pepper sauce, and raw red chili, twisted and ugly, in a porcelain bowl. Neither he nor his partner was feeling punished anymore by guarding the farang detail. It was something every man at the bottom of the ladder could appreciate: a party with good Western food and drink, and an invitation to eat as much as you wanted and to drink until the empty bottles rattled against one another on the floor.

The Thais had a food-sharing culture; communal dining automatically overcame the circumstances of how the diners had been thrown together. Calvino poured the third round of vodka. Noriega asked about the United States. Calvino explained he was from New York and that it was a small island off the coast of the United States, no matter what anyone else said. It was no more America than Bangkok was Thailand. That explanation was accepted with knowing grunts by Noriega. Neither Noriega nor Mao was from Bangkok, and they bore the usual upcountry grudge against the big city.

BOOK: Paying Back Jack
13.35Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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