Sorry, farang, if I’ve gotten you excited about Frank Charles all over again; today it looks as if I’m consigliere for the duration.
Zurich/Lichtenstein just called, and would you believe the Swiss banker, who speaks better English than the Queen of England, and with an even snottier accent, actually scolded me for bullying his Ethiopian receptionist into sending the documents, because now he’s received them it is obvious they were incomplete?
“Incomplete? The whole package weighed more than two pounds.”
“She forgot to include a power of attorney.”
“I saw about five different powers of attorney.”
“But none of them in your favor. For you to be legally able to do what you are doing-not that I’m making any assumptions as to what you are doing-although everything is subject to attorney-client privilege anyway-as I say, for it to be legal and aboveboard, I need to see original powers of attorney from both shareholders in your favor.”
I’m not keen. The thought of asking either Vikorn or Zinna to go off to the notary with their ID cards all over again is daunting. Zinna, in particular, has been expressing doubts about trusting me with so much responsibility. Vikorn’s spies report the General is “quite wired.” Read: bag of nerves. The wording of the power of attorney is not without difficulties, either. It gives me absolute power over forty million dollars, for example. I’m not sure even Vikorn will be sympathetic, so to avoid a face-to-face confrontation I send both old men a translation of the power of attorney in Thai, with a notice that this is urgent business. I am feeling exposed, but can’t quite put my finger on it. When, after fidgeting for an hour or so, I don’t hear from either of them, I try to call Vikorn, but Manny says he’s not available. Not available? We’re talking about the deal of the year, if not the decade, and suddenly the boss is not available?
Paranoia comes easily to a mind that has been well prepared. My own has started revisiting the Thai translation of the Lichtenstein power of attorney. Even in English the language is intimidatingly absolute, using phrases like “each and every manner or thing of any kind whatsoever including but not limited to…” and then there’s the bit which says, “the said Sonchai Jitpleecheep shall be assumed to be acting with the full approval and authority of the grantor who will support, confirm, and endorse every such action of whatsoever nature and shall not under any circumstances seek to deny, block, alter, or amend any disposition of the said funds…” Well, in Thai, which tends to repeat important phrases so everyone is clear about them, and which has a certain way of emphasizing absolute power, probably due to Sanskrit influence, the whole thing sounds even more stern, like I’m being appointed the viceroy of India or something. Let me be frank: a poorly educated army type who has spent his career in the mind-set of a gorilla hunched over a sack of bananas might find this legal jargon quite threatening. Indeed, said gorilla might decide it is being ripped off. It does not help when I call Manny and she reports that Vikorn has been on the phone to Zinna for an hour. It was an hour ago that I e-mailed the Thai translation of the power of attorney. I feel a stroll coming on.
Out in the street I feel better for a moment. Everything seems normal, the cooked-food stalls are all set up and ready to do police business: it is shortly before noon. The worst thing I could do would be to start running for no reason other than self-generated terror. Is this what they call a nervous breakdown? It’s weird, the way I seem to have lost control over my legs. The worst thing you can do is start to run, it will look bad. The stalls are passing at an accelerated speed as I walk faster and faster. Something is saying, No, not like this, don’t go out like this, like a crass coward, a fool running from shadows, trying to flee his own mind. So I apply that thing called will. It is like finding an iron bar in the middle of a brawl, and using it to cosh the enemy: I use this thing called will, whatever it is, to beat down the accelerated heartbeat, the jumping nerves, the overheated imagination, the legs which at the moment want only to run.
Okay, I’m at the end of the street and everything is under control, except I’m inexplicably terrified. I tell myself this is crazy, there is no one there, no one checking, no one in the street is interested in me at all. Oh yeah? You just sent a document to two of the most senior mafiosi in Thailand requesting them to hand over control of forty million dollars, and you think nobody is watching you? When I force myself to walk back to the station at a reasonable speed, I look up at Vikorn’s window. Sure enough, the Old Man is there, staring down at me. When I get back to my desk, Manny calls: “Get up here.”
Now I’m standing in front of the Old Man, who is behind his desk. A cold sweat has broken out over my face and hands. But I haven’t even done anything. Vikorn lifts a document from his desk and waves it at me. It is the Thai translation of the power of attorney. “Kind of heavy, isn’t it?”
“Yes,” I splutter, “that’s the way farang lawyers do things. I didn’t draft it.”
He is looking at me curiously. “It gives you exclusive power over forty million dollars. You could do a lot of damage if you abscond. You would wipe out Zinna and cripple me.”
“I know,” I groan. “I just knew he would take it the wrong way. What can I do?”
Vikorn stands up, comes around his desk with his hands in his pockets, looks me up and down. “I saw the way you were walking, down in the street.”
“You saw the way I was walking?” My hands are clammier than ever.
“Yes, I saw the way you were walking.”
He is now very close. “How was I walking?”
“Like a man thinking of running.” He puts a hand on my shoulder to force me deeper into the chair and gazes at me for a long moment. “It’s not really Zinna who is making the green balls run down your trouser legs.”
“No? So what is it?”
“The power of forty million dollars. You are a monk manqu'e, you have survived so far by dodging reality. Your life can only be sustained as long as you believe your hands are clean. But they’re not. In truth, nobody’s are, but people like you, dreamers, like to kid themselves. Well, now you can’t kid yourself anymore, can you?” He leans over his desk to pick up a bundle of documents in English from his in-box. “Here.” I see they are the powers of attorney, signed and notarized by both Zinna and Vikorn. I look up at him, baffled. “You said it was hyper-urgent, so Zinna and I both got notaries to come to our offices, and Zinna sent me his copy by motorcycle messenger. We were afraid you would scold us again for being third-world morons who don’t understand high finance, so we jumped to it. Now you are a plenipotentiary for forty million bucks. Careful how you spend it.”
“Th-, th-, thanks,” I say.
He is merciless. He won’t stop staring at me, but he won’t dismiss me either. Finally, he says, “It’s okay, Zinna isn’t afraid you’ll cheat us.”
“No. He’s afraid you’ll snap and do something even stupider, like have a nervous breakdown. That would really be hard to deal with. A fraud we could handle in the usual way; a psychotic meltdown would be a problem.”
“It’s guilt,” I explain. “Guilt is warping my mind.”
Vikorn frowns. “Guilt? About what?”
“Oh, nothing in particular,” I say, shaking my head. How could anyone possibly feel guilty about trafficking in forty million dollars’ worth of smack? What a pale and cloistered fellow I must be. “Like you say, I’m a monk manqu'e. May I resign?”
“No,” Vikorn says.
“But it must be such a liability to you, having an honest man as consigliere.”
Vikorn points to the documents. “Honest? Those papers prove you’re a crook, like the rest of us. Maybe that’s what you were trying to run away from.”
Obviously, he is enjoying this most excruciating initiation of mine. He even lets me have a jolly Take care, now as I leave his office with the powers of attorney.
Back at my desk, though, a sense of relief sets in. Apparently I’m not going to be kidnapped and tortured today. I order an iced lemon tea from the tea lady, and sit back for a moment. Now another side of my mind is getting creative. Forty million! Imagine. I could get on a plane to Zurich right now, have the dough transferred to a numbered account, dedicate-say-ten million to personal security (there are semisecret corporations which employ people like retired SAS and Navy SEALs), buy five different properties in five different countries, all in proxy names, and live happily ever after, right? Wrong. Not with an imagination like mine. When my endlessly calculating mind projects itself into such a future, I see only sleepless nights during which I am convinced the maid is a spy for Zinna and the security guards all secretly work for Vikorn. Forget it. Cowardice will keep me an honest consigliere.
The silver lining to this unnerving day comes in the unlikely form of a text message from Sukum:
Keep tonight free. You will be contacted.
Except that I’m not supposed to know it’s from Sukum; he has used someone else’s SIM card. I let that cook in the right lobe while the left organizes the dispatch of the powers of attorney. Even this minor chore is not without complications. I certainly cannot use the police dispatch department, nor can I have a courier company visit the station. Now I have to lie about where I’m going-suddenly I am harboring a kind of internal schoolmistress who frowns at every tiny transgression-and I feel quite Macbethian as I sneak out to get on the back of a motorbike to go find a FedEx or DHL courier office: Returning were as tedious as to go o’er, or something like that. At the same time I am able to tell myself that all I am doing at this moment is sending off a bunch of legal documents to a lawyer in Zurich. I’m a white-collar gangster. So why do I feel so awful?
It happens there is a FedEx office not far from Nana. After I’ve sent the docs I feel the need for a beer, so I hang out for an hour at a bar at the entrance to the plaza. It’s too early for the go-go bars, and the girls who serve in the beer bar are not especially pushy, although any of them would “take a shower” with me at one of the short-time hotels if I asked nicely. Suddenly they all seem so innocent. Even the older, more hardened women who have been on the Game for a decade reveal themselves to me as essentially innocent: women who got stuck in the continuum of prostitution but never really allowed it to contaminate their souls. I’m in a bad way, and the best future I can see for myself would be something totally clean and spiritual with Tara. Indeed, she has suddenly popped into my mind as a perfect representation of a pure human soul: inconvenient proof that such a thing is possible in this filthy lifetime.
For the first time in the Fat Farang Case I’m actually pleased to hear from Sukum, even though he is using yet another anonymous SIM card. His text reads,
Under the bridge near the Port Authority buildings at Klong Toey tonight at ten p.m.
The bridge is directly opposite Mimi Moi’s house on the Chao Phraya River.