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30

A tiny voice makes insect noises in the depths of my cell phones miniature speaker, after shattering my fragile sleep with All Along the Watchtower: So, hows it going? Feeling better?

I hold the phone closer to my ear. Hes not using his UN accent tonight: its straight New York with a touch of Brooklyn that penetrates the blackness.

Dyou know what time it is?

Sure. For you its four oclock in the morning, for me its two hours earlier than that, but I dont sleep much. Four oclock is when all good monks get up to start their daily practice.

Im not a monk.

Who are you kidding?

I let a beat pass. My son died. I didnt tell you. I thought youd see it, you being enlightened and all. I was testing you. He was killed in an accident. You didnt know, did you?

We hang in silence for a moment. No, Im sorry. Very sorry. I didnt know.

But you knew I was going to be hit by something devastating. You said so.

The spirit is always devastating on its first visit. When you insisted on the initiation, I knew you were going to take a hit. Same as me. I didnt invent dharma. You have Western blood, you wanted the karma of ten thousand lifetimes all rolled up into one hit so you can take the fast track to enlightenment and get the gold medal before anyone else. Well He sighs. But Im still sorry. There is no worse feeling than the first time you get whacked, no matter what any of the old hands tell you. Im just glad its you and not me-and youll feel the same, one day.

Thanks. I decide to change the subject. Were having a little problem here, a girl, an Englishwoman in her late twenties, a mule named Mary Smith-somebody busted her. She has a Nepali visa in her passport. Dyou know who busted her?

Sure, General Zinna. You know that.

I mean, who busted her to Zinna?

I did.

The unadorned confession leaves me speechless for a moment. Are you crazy? Dyou know what Vikorn is going to do when he finds out? Its my duty to tell him.

So tell him. I dont mind. In fact, I insist. I dont want you trying to make me responsible for your failure of duty.

But I thought you had a deal with him-with us. Dyou think hes still going to deal with you after this?

Im sure of it. In fact, hell want to deal even more.

Im lost. All I can think of to say for the moment is, Why?

Vikorn doesnt have the money. He told me. I need forty, and the most he can raise on short notice is twenty.

The full implications of this take a while to dawn on me. Youre trying to muscle him? Look, one: he doesnt muscle easy, in fact he doesnt muscle at all, and two: he really cant raise that much in a week. He just cant do it.

I know that.

So?

His chum, General Zinna, hes in the same boat.

Im so aghast I can hardly speak. Im also disillusioned: Tietsin is coming across as a dangerous amateur. You went to Zinna when you already had a deal with us? I pause to allow myself a cooling inhalation. Look, you may be a great guru or yogin or whatever, but thats one big no-no. Over here, Im sorry to have to say, thats dumber than dumb. You have just screwed the whole thing up. Maybe you should look somewhere else for a deal, how about Amsterdam, or somewhere not less than five thousand miles away?

No. I like you. Im sticking with you. I told you, Tibetans are a naturally loyal people. We dont give up on someone we take to-not in one lifetime anyway. I might have gone off you before the Maitreya Buddha arrives, but theres plenty of time.

How can you be so cocky?

Its not cocky. Think about it. Think out loud for me.

Okay, Im thinking out loud. Im thinking that you have double-crossed the most powerful drug lord in Thailand, after having first busted that Australian mule who was working for the second-most powerful drug lord in Thailand. Thats two very big enemies and no friends except me, and from a business perspective Im also starting to have my doubts. Maybe you should stick to teaching enlightenment through voluntary psychosis.

He has the audacity to sigh, as if Im a slow learner. Youre too Western in your outlook. Its too black-and-white. People are driven by psychology. What does Buddhism tell us about that? What are the three motivations of ordinary men?

Fear, lust, and aggression.

Right. Why was your Colonel so keen to deal with me?

Because what youre offering is so big hell be able to annihilate Zinna. Aggression.

And what would be the reason why General Zinna might see me as a gift from heaven?

Okay, so he can get big enough to annihilate Vikorn, but-

Stop, youre too stuck in the here and now. Make the blade wheel work for you. It doesnt have to be a full-blown internal workout every time, you can calibrate it a bit. Take a full minute to let it enter your mind, let it rise up from the subconscious, where you have carefully buried it.

I close my eyes and relax. Damn him, it starts to work. But I still dont understand how hes going to get away with alienating his main business partner.

So, he says, how far have we got?

Well, like I just said, its all about fear, lust, and aggression. You dont have to be Buddhist to know that.

And what happens when aggression collapses, as it inevitably does?

You start again with fear. Its the vicious circle in the middle of the mandala: snake, pig, and eagle, usually.

And what would Vikorn fear most in these circumstances?

Easy. That he might get annihilated by Zinna.

Right. And what does Zinna fear most?

My eyes start to open. Im stammering at his audacity when I say, Youre, youre, youre playing them off against each other? But how-?

When I spoke to Zinna he said the same thing as Vikorn. He can only get twenty at short notice. Thats when I knew the dharma was on my side. Two and two make four, right?

I gasp. You really think you can get them to work together? Form a partnership to raise forty million?

Another of those intimidating sighs. You just told me they will. Fear: what choice do they have?

Still gasping: Each one has to be in because the other is in? Youre amazing. But I dont think youll get away with it. Theyll kill each other first. Assuming they cant get to Kathmandu to kill you.

He pauses to let the darkness speak, then: Hmm, you may be right. I dont like to be complacent. Thats why Ive got you.

I only work for Vikorn; I dont work for Zinna.

You are a peacetime consigliere-after you left I watched the DVDs. I thought Brando was terrific, as was Pacino, and you are a perfect Hagen. So, do peace. After all, youre only trying to make your boss richer.

Im exploring my left ear with my left pinkie. I still dont get why you had to bust the English girl.

It wasnt my idea. Zinna insisted. He had to start on an even footing, he said, and Id already busted one of his. The trouble is, hes psychotic, and with psychotics you have to accept theres a wall in them they cant get around. He cant get around his jealousy of your boss. Vikorn has a better mind, and hes not psychotic.

So what is he?

Go figure-I have never come across anything like him before! When I was in the monastery we spent a whole year on citipati, which is a highly specialized kind of fire demon, and Vikorn could belong to a subspecies, but Im not sure. You really need an expert. Its as tricky as sexing a kitten. Anyway, I think you get the idea, and the General is expecting a visit. I wouldnt take Lek if I were you, he gets the soldiers all excited.

How do you know about-

Hes closed his phone. Now I realize I forgot to ask if he had ever met Frank Charles; after all, the American didnt have just one Nepali visa in his passport, he had about a dozen. Its four-thirty in the morning. I also forgot to ask him how he knew the names of those two mules in the first place. Joint time.

Thats better. Im not encouraging you to break the law, farang, but if on your next trip to Amsterdam and those wonderful smoking caf'es (funny how many software companies hold their office parties there), or when youre hanging out in good ol Humboldt County, home to the medicinal herb (they say at least 1 percent really are on chemo), or maybe you make regular trips to the Riff Mountains over in Morocco, or you contribute in some other clandestine way to the global community of secret smokers (do you realize that the number of people who voted in the last American presidential election were only a tiny fraction of the number of people who smoke marijuana, worldwide? Globalism cuts both ways)-if, as I say, you find yourself partaking perhaps out of mere social duty, as is de rigueur for all presidential candidates these days and Im glad to hear it (if the last president had taken a toke before bedtime, how many lives might have been saved?), then allow me to recommend the humble herb not only as a meditation aid, but also for the purposes of forensic investigation: its not good on detail, but it provides a terrific overview. For example, what do we have here exactly, at the present time of smoking? One hell of a tangle, is what we have. Mellowing it all out under the influence of the life-giving weed, I find as follows:

I am investigating the most colorful and photogenic murder of my career under the name of my most serious professional rival, who will get all the credit when I solve it-which I will do because Im drearily good at that sort of thing-while trying to arrange a huge smack shipment with a rogue Tibetan yogin, who happens also to be my meditation guru at my own insistence, despite a life-threatening conflict of interest with regard to my boss, Colonel Vikorn, who is most interested not in selling smack but in ruining General Zinna, who is equally keen to ruin Vikorn and couldnt really give a damn about commerce as long as Vikorn goes to jail for longer than he does at the end of the day, and the task of your investigative reporter-cum-consigliere-cum-detective at this stage is to persuade these two old bull elephants to join hands in joyful harmony for the purpose of buying said karma-laden poison from the most selfless and enlightened being I have met in a lifetime of searching, who has turned my head upside down with some ultra-powerful magic from the ultra-powerful but not very well-known Vajrayana school of Buddhism, also known as Tantra, also known as Apocalyptic Buddhism. Can you blame me for rolling another?


| The Godfather of Kathmandu | c