As soon as dé Dale and I arrived in Patpong, we made a beeline for the Japanese street, a lane with bar upon bar catering to the “special needs” of Japanese businessmen. There was no comparable street exclusively for Germans or Aussies or Frenchmen, as far as I knew, but the Japanese managed to have a street all for themselves, employing some of the best-looking girls you’d hope to find in the trade. And what made these girls all the more attractive was that they were dressed in evening gowns rather than the raunchy outfits of the go-go girls that left little to the imagination.
They called out to the salarymenin simple Japanese, “Hey uncle, you’re welcome here!”
Dé Dale said it would be fun to pop into one of the clubs and freak everyone out by speaking Japanese, but before we could, my friend got distracted by a cigarette vendor.
“Got any Gauloises bleues?” he asked.
“No, sir. Sorry.”
“Just give me a pack of Marlboros, then.”
The vendor handed dé Dale the pack and said, “One hundred baht.”
“One hundred baht! ($2.20) Are you out of your mind? Forget it!”
“Okay, okay. Eighty baht ($1.77). Special price for you, sir.”
“Special price for you maybe,” dé Dale grumbled as he removed some bills from his wallet. “Rémy, remind me to get some cash tomorrow.”
“Dé Dale, get some cash tomorrow.”
“Would you like me to punch you now, or later when we get back to the hotel?”
I laughed, but took a step back just to be on the safe side.
As the vendor was giving dé Dale his change, something clicked in my friend’s mind: “Um, perhaps you can help us . . .”
“We’re looking for something a little, shall we say, stronger than tobacco to smoke.”
A small, dim light flickered on inside the vendor’s head. He smiled, nodded his head, and said, “Oh, okay . . . Kapoh . . . Okay. I got it.” Then, motioning for us to stay put, he added, “Let me get friend.”
Before long “the friend” showed up, a guy roughly our age in faded jeans and a tatty, blue polo shirt.
“You want grass,” he asked right off the bat.
“No,” dé Dale said. “We want yaba.”
“W-w-what?” The guy said, stepping back, eyes bulging. “It’s n-n-not easy t-to get.”
“Tell us about it,” dé Dale replied flatly.
“How about some grass? Real good quality.”
Dé Dale gave the man an emphatic No. “We want yaba. Yaba or nothing.” He made like he was about to start walking away.
“Okay, okay. Wait. Wait.”
The guy’s eyes darted about, taking a survey of the people in the area. He gave us a good looking over, too. And, why shouldn’t he? For all he knew, the two of us, as odd a couple as Laurel and Hardy, might have been out to cheat or, worse, entrap him.
Taking a few steps away from us, he made a call on his cell phone.
“Okay,” he said to us after hanging up. “It take time. Twen’y minute, maybe thir’y. Not easy. Very, very hard to get now.”
Dé Dale’s eyes met mine as if to ask: you okay with this?
What are bridges for, if not for crossing?
I nodded to the dealer. “Let’s do it!”
“Okay, follow me.”
We were led away from the Japanese street to a wide thoroughfare lined with noisy beer gardens and overrun with sloppy drunks.
“Wait here. I come right back. Five minute.”
As we waited, dé Dale whispered to me in French, “Any sign of the cops, I want you to hightail it to that street with all the shops there. Go all the way through until you get to the main street on the other side. Tu le comprends, ça?”
“Get a taxi, but do not, and, man, I shouldn’t have to tell you this is, Rémy, do not go straight back to the hotel. You do not want to lead the cops right back to where we are staying.”
“Take two taxis if possible, or better yet, a tuk-tuk. They’re faster. Walk the last kilo.”
A few minutes later, the guy in the faded blue polo shirt came back and said he could get the yaba, but once again emphasized that it would take time.
“Yaba is heavy shit,” he said as he led us away.
Where did this guy learn his English?
“The police are . . . Police are . . .”
“Clamping down?” I suggested.
That seemed to be the word he was searching for. He nodded.
“Yeah, the police are clamping down. Heavy shit. Heavy, heavy shit. When you get it, hide it there,” he said pointing to his sock.
It didn’t sound like the shrewdest piece of advice to me. Were I a cop, that’s one of the first places I would look. No, it’s better to keep it tucked in you hand so you can toss it into a river, or down a drainpipe, or into a garbage bin the first sign of trouble, and run for your life into the nearest, most crowded place you can find.
“I understand,” I said.
“Ten year,” the guy said over and over. “Pot, hash, no problem, but yaba? Ten year.”
He made a gesture with his hands to show us the handcuffs that would surely be slapped on us if we were caught.
It started to occur to me that this yabamight not be worth all the hassle and risks. Ten years in a Thai jail was no day at the beach. Just the same, I followed behind the guy like a child on the heels of the Pied Piper.
The first posting/chapter in this series can be found here.
Rokuban: Too Close to the Sun and other works are available in e-book form and paperback at Amazon.
All characters appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.