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We were going to talk about psychosis, farang. The word, I believe, means perforation of the psyche: we must imagine a delicate net of filaments, like the old-fashioned mantles of gas lamps, which, due to ill-treatment by life, people, and gods, suffer irreversible damage, leaving cancerous black holes where the clear light of unimpeded consciousness once radiated. Actually, it is a mystery which cannot be penetrated without resort to myth, metaphor, and magic, but well keep it simple for now. Nor can it be understood without reference to the law of karma: cause and effect. I kick you, you kick me back. Confession: I provoked the world and the world turned on me. The private history of my fragmentation is as follows.

I have only myself to blame. For years my boss, mentor, and surrogate father Police Colonel Vikorn nagged me to get him a set of DVDs of the Godfather series, with Marlon Brando and Al Pacino. The problem all along was that I only could find editions with Thai subtitles, and Vikorn is too lazy to read and watch the action at the same time. Finally, Lek found an illegally dubbed set of a reasonable standard and I gave them to Vikorn on his last birthday. According to his Wife Four, who was down from his mansion in Chiang Mai to do her tour of duty at his house in Bangkok (he likes to operate a roster, which the wives appreciate since it enables them to know when they are free for full-time shopping and when they are required to perform marital chores), he devoured all the DVDs in one long, whisky-enhanced sitting.

His verdict, the next day, was carefully balanced. I have indelibly burned into my memory cells the image of him sitting behind his vast, empty desk, with the DVD set dumped in his out-box, like a solved case. His posture was both regal and forensic, although he brushed his hand over his short gray hair and stood up when he got bored with sitting down. He is of average height, muscular, given to wearing the homely brown fatigues of a police colonel the way Napol'eon wore his old uniform to reassure the troops (Vikorn is a multimillionaire; some even use the B word to describe his wealth); but for a man in his midsixties he moves with an unusual suppleness; only gangsters are so feline at his age. In his considered opinion old Corleone was a total sissy for refusing to trade in smack, and Sollozzo was well within his rights to try to have him bumped off. My Colonel even honored me with one of his famous analects:

Whats wrong with trafficking in heroin? The smack goes to Europe or America. Some self-obsessed narcissist who otherwise would be causing untold pollution driving to and from work every day, probably in a car without passengers, only to go burning electricity in an overheated office somewhere-thanks to us he stays home in a stupor and gets the sack. His work gets outsourced to Bangladesh, where someone does the same job better for a fifth of the pay, which he uses to feed a family of seven, and to top it all he commutes to work on a bicycle-the whole earth benefits.

On the other hand, he liked the ruthless way young Michael Corleone cleared out the opposition after the Don had been shot, but doubted it was really necessary to flee New York and start over in Las Vegas. With better planning and more efficient use of funds, contacts, and leverage, the Corleones could have bridged the country like a colossus with a foot on both coasts. He loved the way they severed the head of the racehorse to intimidate Jack Woltz, but despised them for failing properly to capitalize on the wheeze: They could have had the whole film industry wrapped up after that. This is the problem with farang jao paw: theyre shortsighted, triumphalistic, and they dont have Buddhist restraint or humility-thats why I hate dealing with them.

But there was one feature of the Dons setup that intrigued Vikorn and brought that gleam into his eyes which invariably spells danger for someone, usually me. That light-skinned farang whos not as hairy as the others-whats his name?

Hagen. Hes light-skinned because hes Irish-born. Vito Corleone adopted him after Sonny Corleone dragged him in off the street one day. The Don sent him to law school.

Yeah, that one. What do they call him, his job title?


Right, he said, looking directly into my eyes.

As usual, he had taken me by surprise. I had thought we were discussing an old movie nobody talks about anymore. I had not detected any signals that we were discussing the rest of my life.

No, I said. Dont even think about it. You know me, Im the biggest wimp on the force, I only survive through your patronage, in ten years of active service Ive never killed anyone, not even by accident-isnt that despicable? All the real men on the force think I might be a secret katoey, a ladyboy like Lek- I was stuttering a little at this point, for while I was speaking my subconscious was delivering pictures of me full of holes bent over a car hood somewhere in Klong Toey, near the river. Or maybe in the river itself.

I, I, I have this Bu-, Bu-, Bu-, Buddhist conscience, I really do try to follow the Eightfold Path, I mean I take it seriously, I dont juh-, juh-, just go to temple, I study Buddhism, I probably know more about Buddhism than the average monk, you said it yourself, Im a monk manqu'e-no. I said it again, more to convince myself than him, No. No, no, no way I could be anybodys consigliere.

He was gazing at me more with amusement than irritation. Have you discussed it with your mother?

Aghast: My mother? Of course not, youve only just mentioned it.

He let me have one of his tiger smiles. Dont get so excited, thats always been your weakness, your nerves are way too close to the surface. Thats because your rising sign is a Wood Rabbit.

I know, I know, and youre a Metal Dragon.

Exactly. And you work for me. He raised a hand at my sudden anger. Its okay, Im not ordering you to do anything except think about it-and discuss it with your womenfolk. If you dont want to talk about it with your mother, at least discuss it with Chanya.

My wife? I was about to protest that no way would my devout Buddhist partner (weve started using that word over here, where-as we shall see-the definition of wife is somewhat loose) encourage me to play consigliere to a jao paw, a godfather; then I realized he must already have done some lobbying or he would never have mentioned my mother or Chanya.

Okay, I said, because it was the only way to close the interview, Ill talk about it with Nong and Chanya.

I was pretty sure hed somehow gotten my mother, Nong, on his side, probably using the weight of his money-he owns a majority of shares in her go-go bar on Soi Cowboy, the Old Mans Club-but I was confident of my darling Chanya, a female arhat, or Buddhist saint, far more advanced than myself, an attainment all the more remarkable in that she spent years on the Game herself. No, Chanya was my conscience, not his. Furthermore, she had grown increasingly respectable in her attitudes since giving birth to Pichai, our now six-year-old son, to the extent that she had even started hinting at a legal marriage. So far, we had remained content with a Buddhist ceremony in her home village. I paid her mother fourteen thousand dollars in the form of a dowry, even though she was technically damaged goods within the village price structure: her mum knew I was a junior shareholder in my mothers business and shrewdly concluded I was worth a lot more than my cops salary. (Chanya, by the way, had to wash my feet as part of the ceremony, a benchmark event which we reminded each other of from time to time-its a two-edged sword in any argument.)

More terrified than depressed by Vikorns offer of promotion in his import-export franchise, I rushed home that day. Chanya was playing with Pichai in the yard of our little house-Pichai was the reincarnation of my former police partner and soul brother, whose name was also Pichai, who died in the cobra case years ago-and I had to carry on the conversation while Pichai crawled all over me and tried to pull my gun out from where I had shoved it under my belt in the small of my back.

Dyou know what Vikorn is trying to get me to do?

The innocence of her expression was compromised by the time she took to assemble it. No, what, tilak? Tilak means darling (literally: the one who is loved). She was particularly skilled in its usage for strategic and tactical purposes.

He wants me to be his consigliere.

His what?

Its like chief negotiator to a jao paw-its a Sicilian invention. You saw The Godfather, with Marlon Brando and Al Pacino?

No. Who are they?

Actors. Thats whats so ridiculous. Were in the field of fiction here.

Chanya gave one of her beautiful smiles. Oh, well, if its only fiction, why not indulge him?

I stared at her for a long moment. Hes got at you, hasnt he?

Tilak, dont get paranoid. I havent spoken to Colonel Vikorn for over a year, not since that-ah-Songkran party. Songkran is the old Thai New Year; everyone gets drunk. This one was about par for the course: three near rapes, nine traffic accidents, a couple of serious beatings-Im talking here about cops and staff at the police station. Chanya loved it.

Through my mother-Nong spoke to you, didnt she?

Chanya puckered her lips a tad. Tilak, when you spoke to Colonel Vikorn about this, when he offered you this new position, did it even occur to you to ask about salary?

Aghast for the second time that day: Of course not. I was thinking of my skin, not my bank account. And my- Suddenly I felt silly saying it, so I let her say it for me.

Your karma? She came to sit on the bench next to the outdoor shower, causing Pichai to change sides immediately and nestle up to her bosom, of which he was, in my humble opinion, inordinately fond. Only seven years ago he was a celibate twenty-nine-year-old Buddhist about to enter a monastery: there is no constant in life but change. Tilak, I love you so much, and I love you most for your conscience. Youre the most genuinely devout Buddhist I know. Everyone else just follows the rules. You really think about karma and reincarnation. Its very admirable.

Well, if its so admirable, why are you trying to corrupt me?

I felt a friendly female hand run up and down my back a couple of times, followed by a caress of my thighs and a subtle little tug at my cock-there are many techniques she learned on the Game which have proven useful in married life. You are a saint, but you mustnt make the mistake of being a cloister saint.

Thats what Nong calls me sometimes.

Tilak, just think of all the good youve done by restraining Vikorn over the years. Only last month you got tipsy right here in the yard and boasted about-no, I mean, reluctantly let slip-all the lives youve saved merely by whispering words of restraint and compassion into his ear.

I always have to make it look like good strategy. I play Condoleezza Rice while Sergeant Ruamsantiah plays Cheney.

Exactly, tilak, thats exactly what Im getting at. What your mother pointed out as well. Youre so smart the way you handle him-the whole citizenry of District Eight has reason to be grateful to you. Chanya started to use terms like citizenry, and reluctantly let slip after she enrolled in a distance-learning course in sociology at one of our online universities.

But dont you see, it only works because its informal. If I become his consigliere, Im on the payroll, I cant threaten to resign every five minutes the way I do now. Hell have me under his thumb totally. At this point I used Pleading Eyes, normally a fail-safe tactic. This time, though, she remained unmoved.

Sweetheart, youre going to be thirty-seven this year. Youre not the boy genius anymore. You need to consolidate. I think youll do marvelously as his-whatsit. Youll save twice as many lives as you do now. Hell listen to you more carefully, hell have to, how else will he justify Her voice faded strategically.

Feeling deflated, my eyes rested on Pichai for a moment, then I caressed his head. I gave a huge sigh. So, how much did Nong tell you Vikorn told her he would pay me?

Actually, your mother negotiated a bit on your behalf. He started at a hundred thousand, but your mum is such a genius negotiator-she used all the arguments you just used, but much more effectively, and she really went on about the extra threat to Pichai and me, what a strain it was going to be on your whole family, the risks to your life. She referred to Pichai-I mean in his last incarnation-a lot, how he got shot in the line of duty and he wasnt even bent. She paused here, smiled at the water tank, then slowly turned the beam on me. She got him up to two and a half.

Two hundred and fifty thousand baht a month? I had to give credit where it was due; nobody has ever gotten that kind of money out of Vikorn.

Your mother is brilliant, and she did it all for us. Just think, we can send Pichai to an international school, hell speak English without an accent, hell be a famous surgeon just like he wanted to be last time but couldnt because his family was too poor. And if I have another baby well be able to use international-quality hospitals, not that stupid pediatrician who couldnt get the milk right so we had to put up with Pichai screaming with colic every night. And well be able to buy a house in a gated community, no more worries about security.

You and Nong have already accepted on my behalf, havent you?

She beamed and made eyes. I looked pointedly at Pichai. Its okay, my sister is coming back from the country this afternoon. Shes promised to take care of Pichai for a couple of days. Well have the night to ourselves.

It was sexual coercion of the most despicable kind, of course. Chanya thought so too and was proud of it. After I came for the third time (actually, I didnt really want to come three times, but she was on one of those missions to prove she was as good as she used to be; I was quite sore afterward, but I didnt say anything), she said with undisguised triumph, Was that a yes?

Honey, I dont mind risking my life-

She put a hand over my mouth. I know youd die a thousand times and commit a thousand crimes for us, but thats not what we want of you, Sonchai. Being a consig-ee thing will be safer and better paid. Everyone thinks youre his consig-ee thing anyway. An utterly frank look: Sonchai, since weve had Pichai Ive grown up. In the country there are a thousand ways to be happy, but in the city only one: money. I cant bear the thought of Pichai turning into some dope dealer, running all over town doing yaa baa-like you did with him in his last life. Its very sick, but for his generation of boys its going to be education or drug running. Just as for girls its education or prostitution. Globalism and capitalist democracy arent going to allow anything in between. What are you doing?

I was waving my right hand while pinching my thumb and forefinger together. Waving an invisible white flag.

As I recall, at this point we all sat back and waited to see how my Colonel would use me in my new capacity: what deeds of derring-do could possibly justify a quarter-million baht a month? It seems that Vikorn had it all worked out.

| The Godfather of Kathmandu | c