Bangkok, Thailand: That's the title of my short story that's in the new anthology, Bangkok NoirHere's a picture of me, Colin Cotterill (another of the included writers) and Christopher G. Moore (yet another of the included authors and the editor) in the office of the publisher here in Bangkok.Clicking anywhere on this paragraph will take you to the publisher's website, where you can buy copies. (It will also, eventually - don't know when - be available as an e-book.)
And here, to whet your appetite, is a short excerpt (it is only a short story after all) from
THE LUNCH THAT GOT AWAY
“Sorry, no fish today, Khun Ray.” Plaa looked more upset by that than she ought to be.
Maybe she had sold out. I hoped so for her sake. But it was still early, and this would be the first time ever.
“Plaa, is something wrong?”
“No, no problem, Khun Ray, only no fish today.”
She’s a bad liar.
“Come on, what is it?” She bit her lip and looked away. I could barely hear her.
“Robbers, Khun Ray, take fish and all my money. Make big trouble for me.”
I’d been buying lunch from Plaa for a few years. She makes the absolutely best green curry-coated, banana leaf-wrapped baked fish I’ve ever had. And she sells it every day out of her cooler on the street at Sukhumvit Soi 11, across from my hotel, for 25 baht.
I was in town for one hellish day of appointments. Our Bangkok correspondent was mad at the editor of the magazine. I couldn’t blame him. I was, too. But I don’t see why he had to take it out on me. I guess it was my fault for letting him arrange my schedule.
My first appointment had been an interview at the Central Bank at four-thirty this morning. The guy I met gets into the office at three to avoid traffic. My last interview is set for seven this evening, back next door to the Central Bank. In between I’ve got four more appointments scattered all over town. Those six interviews are going to add up to a total of about three hours of work, for which I’m going to spend at least twelve hours stuck in traffic.
I like Bangkok when I don’t need to get anywhere.
At least the correspondent loaned me his rolling office, so I can work at the desk in the back of the van as his brother-in-law drives me around town. And, having been the one who introduced me to Plaa’s fish, he didn’t want her to lose out on my business, so he kindly routed us past her usual spot just before lunch.
“When did this happen, Plaa?”
“I get here ten o’clock, Khun Ray. They waiting for me, push me, take cooler, run away.”
That’s an hour ago, and Bangkok is a very big city. I doubt there’s much I can do.
But I like Plaa. She works hard and spends little on herself so she can afford to keep her fifteen year old daughter Noi in school and out of the bars. I’m here to write an economic update on the country. My appointments are all with bigshots. But it’s Plaa, and people like her, that actually make this place tick.
“Do you know who it was? Did you recognize them?”
In Bangkok everybody knows who everybody else is, at least within their neighborhoods. And why would anyone come across town to rob a street vendor?
She gets a look on her face that I don’t like. A look that tells me she knows who it was but doesn’t want to say.
I ask again and she pretends like she doesn’t understand me. I know she does. Her English isn’t good, but it’s good enough.
There’s a tap on my shoulder. It’s Cho, my driver for the day. He wants to get me back in the van. We’ve only got an hour to get to the next appointment, and it’s a couple of miles away. I’d walk if it wasn’t ninety nine degrees and ninety some odd percent humidity and not likely to rain at any minute, and I wasn’t in a suit.
Cho wants to be a journalist. I have him sit in on my interviews in case I need any translation. It’s a matter of pride for him that we’re punctual, no matter how bad the traffic.
But I don’t want to let this drop. I’m getting tired of hearing all the glowing reports about the booming Thai economy. I could already write exactly what the next three interviews are going to tell me. ‘It’s 1992, if the economy keeps growing at eleven percent a year, by 2000 it will be, blah blah blah.’ I can do the optimistic math as well as the next well-connected mogul or government minister. It all sounds too good to be true, which it is.
Plaa’s got a real problem, maybe one I can do something about.
“Cho, Plaa was robbed. I think she knows who did it but she won’t tell me. Could you ask her?”
He leads her a few feet away, their backs turned. They talk for a minute before Cho comes back to tell me what he’s found out. Plaa stays where she is but turns toward us. Her face is pointed down, but I can see she’s looking at us through the top of her eyes.
“I think maybe better we go to your appointment, Khun Ray. This maybe big trouble. Better we not involved.”
“What’s the problem?”
“Man who steal from Plaa work for Big Shrimp.”
The name sounds familiar. “What’s that?”
“Big new restaurant, Sukhumvit 37. Owned by wife of general.”
I’d heard of it. There was a small stink raised when an old apartment building full of working class people was torn down to clear the land for it. And the general himself has recently been associated with some shady land deals. But wives of generals are well connected.
“Huh? What would they want with Plaa’s fish? And she couldn’t have had much money.”
“They want know how Plaa cook her fish. They offer her money, but she not want to tell. Her cook same as mother and grandmother. Is family secret. Today they steal fish and money and tell Plaa if she not tell, then she no do business any more.”