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50

Tietsin is dropping the smack tomorrow: you did notice me coyly slip this dangerous intelligence between the plump thighs of the previous chapter, farang? Are your knees trembling the way mine are right now? Dont you wish you were stoned? I do. Under the contract he only has to give us twenty-four hours notice within a certain time window. I faxed him a copy of the letter of credit so his bankers could check it, and he sent me a text message yesterday consisting of a single word-tomorrow-and Ive been up all night. Ive vomited in the sink twice already and its only six in the morning. Im not going through with it, I tell my face in the mirror. Oh yes, you are, the face replies. My own mind has conspired against me: I have no options anymore. Supposing some of them are kids who use the stuff? I ask myself. You accepted Vikorns money, didnt you, you took the job. Are you a man at all? So it goes on, the war of the self against the self. I do believe I might be turning 100 percent farang. But I have one of those wily Oriental solutions up my sleeve, which youll probably despise for not being confrontational enough, but it might just do the trick, even if Vikorn snuffs me for it, which he certainly will. I dont care. Id rather die early and (relatively) innocent. Look at my record: more than ten years in the Royal Thai Police and Ive committed no major crime, nor even a minor one as far as I can recall. (Im not including smoking dope; sometimes the law is wrong.) Is there another serving officer who can swear on the Pali Canon that he is equally clean? No, the hell with it, Tara is never coming to live with me in Bangkok, so theres no use kidding myself I have a life at all; whats to lose?

Do you also have the martyr cutoff psychology, farang? The kind that says, Only so much and so far, I prefer death to further degradation? Its quite a powerful mantra, but you risk having to put your life where your mouth is sooner or later.

Now youre saying, So why didnt you think of this before, why leave it to the last minute? Answer: cowardice. I just didnt want to face it. Im coming out of an extended Hamlet moment: I just couldnt make up my mind. Now I have. And the Buddha, for once, is quite explicit. He visited me last night in a dream, in the form of a childs plastic Buddha. He actually told me how to get out of this fix. The only trouble with advice straight from Gautama himself, though: he doesnt place any value on flesh at all. I mean, to him, theres no difference between the two shores; he is master of both. Now Im not sure if the dread in the bottom of my gut is from the crime or the Buddhas plan to prevent it.

It is a common observation among Buddhists of all persuasions that after death one is not initially aware of ones altered state; the clue comes from the people around who can no longer see or hear you, and in this sense the condition cannot be said to differ greatly from your basic urban paranoia: Am I dead already? Have I always been that way? These are the kinds of thoughts which illuminate a mind focused wonderfully by the knowledge that it may well be slotted before morning. Nevertheless, Im off to the local hardware store at the bottom of the street, which sells gas bottles for cooking. I choose two of medium size-the kind that can supply the cooking needs of a normal Thai family for a month-then buy two little camping gas burners-are you beginning to get the picture, farang?-and take everything home in a taxi. Then I buy my first car. Well, why not? Im consigliere, I deserve a car. In view of its short life expectancy, however, I go for a secondhand Toyota. The more I develop my secret plan, the prouder and scareder I become. Its now midday. The next few hours are going to be tough; I see quite a few joints coming on.

Now Im at the station not half as stoned as I would like to be, fiddling with paperwork, making constant checks on my cell phone to see if Tietsin has texted me again, even though I would have heard the bleep if he had. Im waiting for the final signal that will tell me which of twenty named locations in Bangkok the Tibetan will actually use for the drop. He has calculated that even Vikorn and Zinna together cannot ambush twenty separate drop-off points to steal his product without paying for it-not without drawing undue attention to themselves, anyway-so he faxed a map with twenty different crosses on it. General Zinna immediately pointed out that half the locations were on the river, so the Tibetan was surely planning to come by water. Vikorn sees it differently: Hes probably trying to make us think hes coming by river because hes not.

The question-How is he going to bring the stuff into the country?- has brought the two old dogs together in a competitive kind of way. I have had to attend bull sessions in the Generals map room, as if the Tibetan were preparing to invade Bangkok. Basically, Zinna is convinced the stuff will come by sea and be taken up the Chao Phraya River by sampan. Vikorn doubts there is time for the sea route, which is exactly what intrigues him as a fellow professional: how do you shift that much smack across a modern border and get away with it? As far as he can see there are only two solutions: overland from Cambodia or overland from Burma. But in both cases, the Tibetan has to get the stuff out of the Himalayas first, not easy in the present climate. Even if he has bent people in the Nepali government, there is still India to deal with. Vikorn only pretends to have a view on how Tietsin will bring it off; in reality he is waiting to find out. You can see why the cop is richer than the general.

Five p.m. comes and goes. So does six. The letter of credit is in the safe in Vikorns room; I can get it in five minutes. The gas bottles are in the trunk of my car. Six-thirty: it occurs to both Vikorn and me at the same time: Tietsin will wait until the last minute. According to the contract, he has until midnight to reveal the precise location; after that we have the right to kill the deal. Vikorn calls me: What dyou think, hell stretch it out till then?

I dont know. What does Zinna say?

Zinna? He isnt even guessing anymore. The Tibetan has done his head in.

Ever felt, farang, that you just dont have the constitution for modern times? That theoretically you could see how living a better life might be achieved, but the logistics of the nervous system are against you? I keep thinking about those gas bottles and how Im going to use my consigliere status to follow the smack once Vikorn has paid for it, to whatever warehouse theyre using, and use the small gas bottles to heat up and explode the big ones-and my whole body starts to go into contortions at my desk and Im not sure Im going to be able to carry it off; Im not sure my body will obey me.

At ten p.m. Tietsin texts me; within the same moment Im calling Vikorn and Zinna on my cell phone, grabbing the letter of credit as Vikorn meets me at the door of his room, snatching my car keys-and Im out of the station. Its location thirteen, Im telling Zinna as Im walking down the steps to the garage. Location thirteen, thats right, on the river near Klong Toey commercial port.

I get there first, so I position my car near where I think Vikorn will park his van, the one hes going to use for the pickup. Ive no sooner killed my engine when a tall camper van turns up with the two chemists, one representing Vikorn, the other Zinna: highly respected professionals, both of whom are aware that honest reporting is the likeliest way to stay alive. Im pretty sure they are incorruptible, even by a Tibetan psychonaut. Now I hear the fairy crunches of army tires on the tarmac. Yep, Zinnas here, with a twenty-man backup-Vikorn and I had to talk him down from a hundred-man squad. Speak of the devil, heres the Colonel himself, rolling up in an ordinary police van with only a few bodyguards on motorbikes. He took the view a long time ago that there will be no trouble from Tietsin, as long as we come up with the cash.

Our high-tech Tibetan gave us GPS coordinates for the precise location of the drop, and both Zinna and Vikorn are following their lieutenants, who are playing with different GPS handhelds and bumping into each other trying to get the coordinates exactly right. It seems we have to walk a little more toward the river, then turn right onto the dock where some huge, black, and rusted cargo ships from China, Korea, and Vietnam are berthed. We are between a couple of container ships, standing under the bows of the Flower of Shanghai and looking the Rose of Danang up and down, when I say, Its that one.

Im pointing to a ship on the opposite side of the docks which was previously invisible but has come into view as we try to position ourselves in accordance with the Tibetans coordinates. I say, The coordinates he gave are not where he is located. Hes taken us to the point where we can see him, thats all.

See what? I dont see a damn thing.

The prayer flags, I say, unable to repress a grin. On that ship over there, all the way up to the top of the mast.

Why the hell would he do that? Zinna moans.

Because were being watched by his people, have been since the minute we arrived, Vikorn explains in a tone of respect and wonder. By now he knows everything he needs to know about us. How many men, what kind of weapons, even our morale.

When we finally arrive at the ship thats festooned with Tibetan prayer flags gently swaying in the night air, the Tibetan wild man himself is sitting all alone in his open parka on a black iron bollard, his long gray hair tied back. With his eyes rolling, he looks insane.

Sawatdee krup, he says in a not-bad accent, showing us the equality wai, with hands raised to eye level and no higher.

Told you, Zinna says. I told you he would come by water.

Everyone watches while I walk toward Tietsin with the letter of credit in my hand. I hold it in front of his eyes, but he makes no gesture to check it. Instead, he jerks his chin in the direction behind us. We turn to look, but all we can see are the high black bows and shadows in between.

Then they start to appear one by one, all dressed in black. One by one, Zinna, Vikorn, and I drop our jaws in amazement.

Backpacks? Vikorn says, gobsmacked, his voice squeaking in disbelief. He brought in the whole fucking five hundred and thirty-three kilos in backpacks?

I stare slack-jawed in wonder at Tietsin while his men continue to appear in commando-black T-shirts and pants, with black backpacks. When they have finished arriving there are thirty in all, which I calculate produces an average of about seventeen kilos-thirty-eight pounds-of heroin per backpack. Thirty-eight pounds is the maximum load for paid Sherpas in the Himalayas.

We thought about other means, Tietsin says, rolling his eyes back, but none of them were viable. In the end I had to develop a customs officer mantra with all the ritual that goes with it. So far so good, it seems to have worked fine. He beams.

Please tell me you didnt all take the same plane, Vikorn says; the blood has drained from his face.

Of course not. Half of us came on the morning flight, the other half in the afternoon.

You, you, you- I say, then stop. Words fail one at times like this.

What dyou expect? Were Himalayans. We dont know any better. Now, why dont you tell your little friends to get their chemists working so we can all go home?

Vikorn and Zinna use their men to seal off the area while the chemists van trundles up the docks and the two scientists examine the contents of the backpacks one by one. While they are working, a Tibetan, who was not one of those carrying the dope, comes up to Tietsin and whispers a few words into his ear. The yogin suddenly stares at me in a way that is physically uncomfortable, as if some painful ray has emerged from between his eyes to give me a sudden headache. My bowels turn over and the intolerable nerves of the day return to shake up my whole being. Tietsin doesnt take his eyes off me while the chemists are taking their samples, so by the time they have finished and are confirming with smiles that they are satisfied it is indeed 99 percent smack in each one of the thirty backpacks, my knees have turned to Jell-O.

And all the time, more and more of his men are emerging from the shadows of the dock. Now it is hard to say how many people Tietsin has brought with him. At first I assumed that some of them, at least, were Thais hed hired from some underworld connection, but after a few minutes I have changed my mind. You can take the Tibetan out of Tibet, it seems, but you cant take the vajra out of the Tibetan-theres something about their eyes that says you dont exist in the way you think you do-even if they have all shaved and cut their hair. No doubt about it, these are highlander yak rustlers armed with cute little machine pistols who overcame hesitation about five thousand meditations ago. For a mystic, Tietsin has quite a practical side. He jerks his chin at me with demoralizing contempt. Now I am standing in front of him like a naughty schoolboy.

He speaks softly. Detective, did you ever hear of an asshole named Clive of India?

Yes.

And do you know what this asshole named Clive of India did to the world?

British Empire.

Financed by?

Opium sales.

If you put it like that you risk trivializing his achievement. He was the first to make the connection between arms and narcotics. This little thug from Shropshire, who would certainly have been hanged if hed stayed in England, saw the way to finance a whole private army, and the model proved so effective they repeated it all over the world: narcotics, slaves, and weapons. Its the great tripod upon which our global civilization continues to be based, even if they have changed the labels and the slaves get health insurance. The plain fact is, the sociopathic nature of the modern corporation started then and there with Clive. By the time the British narco empire collapsed, twenty million Chinese were addicted to opium and pink-faced syphilitic alcoholics in scarlet jackets were intimidating the whole world with their Maxim guns. The United Kingdom in its modern form is an opium derivative. And what was the point of the exercise? Answer: so middle-class girls in Kent and Sussex could go to school all dressed in white and play the violin instead of going on the Game. If that is good enough justification for enslaving the world and invading Tibet, dont you think that forty million dollars worth of smack is a fair price for freedom and democracy?

He sighs. You thought you would play the martyr, get yourself a permanent seat in nirvana in return for your sacrifice, your undeniable stinking goodness? What are you, some kind of Sunday Christian? Didnt I already make it clear that good isnt good enough? You accepted the mantra, kid, and you cant say nobody warned you. Good is even harder to kick than evil. They are a duality, you know that, you dont get one without the other. I dread to think what kind of sanctimonious asshole you would have turned into, probably about five minutes before Vikorn snuffed you, if we didnt get to you first. He lets a couple of beats pass while he examines my shocked and terrified mug. It just aint that easy, you of all people should know that. And anyway, you have no right to deprive me of my karma. Its all me driving this. This is my moment, not yours, so who the fuck are you to screw it all up just because you cant live with yourself? If you cant live with yourself, dump your self.

The Buddha came to me in a dream, I mumble. He showed me the gas bottles.

Oh, yeah? Listen, around us you dont talk about the Buddha. Which Buddha? Be specific.

He was in the form of a childs toy.

See! Cant you even interpret your own dreams properly by now? The Buddhas showing you its time to grow up already, dump your infant faith, and get into something adult. Didnt they tell you the great Theravada admonition: If you see the Buddha on the road, kill him?

Thats Zen, I explain.

Really? Whatever.

And what about the gas bottles?

You werent supposed to take that literally, dummy. The gas bottles are you: pressurized gas, thats all any of us is who has not reached the Far Shore. He scratches his head, apparently genuinely perplexed. I cant understand how anyone could get that wrong.

He stands up, comes intimidatingly close, and whispers in my ear, Whatever little mind pictures youve got of me by now, kid, you better dump them. I dont have an ego. Those Chinese burned every tiny little bit of it out of me, every root, every fiber with their cute little cattle prods-in the end I was secretly urging them on. I knew even then there was no way I was going to spend the next sixty years dragging a bleeding, damaged, heartbroken, resentful, miserable stump of ego around. If I had, I would have gotten sick and died thirty years ago. But I didnt. He lets a few beats pass while he assesses me. You need to grow up. That great pile of black karma youre so worried about, that huge Chomolungma of guilt thats looming up in your mind and crippling your judgment-forget it. The people who will use this stuff are already dead, cant you understand? They are stuck in their diabolic continuum because they trafficked in previous lifetimes. Whether they buy from us or someone else has no significance, because buy they must and buy they will-dont you know that Clive himself is out there somewhere, shooting up in some squalid backroom above a supermarket in Shropshire, just another deadbeat with tattoos, paralyzed by the weight of his karma, helpless without his little brown servants and whores, the classic Caucasian male basket case of modern times? This isnt my personal payback, this is world dharma were talking about. The earth itself is making this happen, otherwise we would never have gotten the stuff past customs. He pauses for breath. For my part, you know what Im going to do? Im going to suck it all up and transform every last lost life into positive energy using the power of Tantra. And do you know how I acquired the means to do that? Im not a Buddha, Detective; Im not a bodhisattva; Im not even a doctor of Buddhism, only of Tibetan history, and Im not a monk. Detective, I have to tell you, I am one hell of a lot better than all of those things. I am a man, and I want my country back.

He stops for a moment, as if deciding whether or not to speak his full mind. Finally, he leans closer so I can feel his breath on my ear.

I am a mystery to you because I am psychically invisible. I show up on no ones inner radar. I no longer exist in the way you do. I am your dharma. Get the fuck out of here right now and take your stinking pressurized gas with you.

When he sees I am on the verge of obeying, he adds, Theres someone at home waiting for you.

Im about ten paces away already when he calls out, And dont forget to watch CNN exactly one week from today.

But leaving, it turns out, is easier said than done. Im on the way to my car when I see that it is guarded by some of Zinnas soldiers. I figure the games up with me, despite Tietsins help, and I just stand there for a moment, waiting to be shot or, more likely, taken away and tortured to death. Then I see there are quite a lot of soldiers, far more than Zinnas quota, pouring in from the street. At the far end of the dock, Tietsins men seem to be rushing out of the area, as if they have an understanding with the soldiers. In spite of everything, I feel the need to warn Vikorn. Too late. Zinna is walking toward the Colonel. About five paces away, he suddenly raises one of his arms and clicks his fingers. Great spotlights originating in a military truck on the street suddenly illuminate most of the dock, especially Zinna and Vikorn, who are facing off in stark white light. The spotlights also reveal the extent of Zinnas treachery: there must be over two hundred well-armed soldiers on the dock now, and a lot more outside the perimeter. Zinna smiles triumphantly, and almost apologetically, at Vikorn: Looks like I won, the little General says.

Vikorn has turned gray and is shaking slightly. When I examine him more closely, I see it is one of those near-epileptic rages that has taken possession of him. I am deeply saddened that he has been double-crossed and defeated; there is nothing to stop the General from simply taking all the smack from under Vikorns nose. Zinna is about to wipe him out. You could say he has done so already. Why do I feel such animal loyalty to the Old Man? Im so depressed I feel ill.

Looks like it, Vikorn says with a groan.

Zinna gives the victors satisfied nod. No point in a bloodbath, he says in his brittle baritone. Especially when all the blood spilled will be yours.

Thats true, Vikorn says, nodding. Thats very true. He pauses, utters the single word except, and gives the tiniest little nuance of a nod toward the nearest ship to his right. Zinna is too wired not to notice; when he looks up at the ship, so does everyone else. At the same time, someone switches all the decks lights on. Now they are clearly visible: about a hundred cops who had been waiting in the shadows walk forward holding M16s all cocked to fire.

While Zinna is taking this in, Vikorn jerks his chin at the next ship. We are not surprised, this time, to see it light up to reveal another hundred or so cops. With the improved lighting we can see a great crowd of sampan ladies in their boats tied up against the two big ships, their silent oars hanging. The old bastard must have sent a secret signal as soon as he knew where the drop-off was going to be. At about the same time Zinna sent his secret signal.

Zinna has turned ashen, but is not defeated. Dont be a fool. Ive got men on the streets, are you crazy, you cant defeat me, I am the army.

Vikorn nods gravely. You have men on the street, but my men have cordoned off the whole area. I also have a communications van down the road. If you open fire, the whole country will be alerted that you are staging a coup. I do hope you warned your superiors that they are going to be running the country in the morning?

Everyone is watching Zinna. Which way will he jump? An awful lot of guns are pointing at an awful lot of men. Well, at this point we need to bear in mind that he is Asian. He rubs his jaw. Vikorn, you old fool, youve completely misunderstood, as usual. As the most senior army officer present I was just taking care of security. He waves a hand to take in the whole of the docks. Just in case. I wasnt double-crossing you at all. Cant you understand that I feel responsible for the safety of the operation and everyone involved in it? I cant tell you how hurt I feel at your mistrust.

I most humbly beg your pardon, Vikorn says with a glorious smile. My mistake. Shall we get on with moving the smack, half to your warehouse, half to mine?

Zinna nods and with another flick of his fingers turns off the spotlights. When Vikorn gives the signal for the two ships to shut their lights, were in near darkness again and I can finally go home.

Confused is probably the best word to describe my state of mind; very confused. It occurs to me that Tietsin has finally shown me something that should have been obvious all along: hes not human. Not like you and me, farang; his brain systems are of a totally different order, and my most basic mental images of him seem to be dissolving even as I drive home. Who understands Tibetans? Maybe he is a reincarnation of Milarepa.

But I wont deny it, Im human all the way through, blade wheels or not. Sure, the idea of someone waiting for me at home sweetens the bitter pill quite a lot, and once Im settled into a good, hot, late-night traffic jam I cool my fevered brain with imaginations of Tara and me romping in the high Himal, chucking handfuls of freezing spring water at each other, arguing and fighting all the way to Shambhala. To say Im all eagerness when I reach the door is downplaying it: Im sort of shuddering with gratitude when I burst in.

Her head is shaved and shes lost a good bit of weight, but those agate eyes still know how to gleam. She turns on a quizzical expression just for me.

Chanya?

She lowers her lashes. I decided to surprise you.

She is waiting for a welcoming smile. I give it. Now she adopts the humble posture of a woman who no longer has proprietorial rights here, while exercising those same rights in a surreptitious search for signs of another woman. Of course, she has already completed her investigation and concluded there are no indications of a live-in other, so the performance is all for me. She uses a slightly pathetic expression to say, Im not interrupting anything?

No, I say, nothing.

Im so sorry, Sonchai. So sorry I had to leave you alone like that with your grief. Youre stronger than me. You took it all without anesthetic. Not me. I needed the wat, the nuns, the hardship, the four-in-the-morning wake-up calls, and the endless photographs of the dead to see me through. But I thought about you all the time. I thought about your body. It amazed me to discover I love you more than Buddha. Its almost irritating.

Although her head is shaved, she is no longer in her nuns robes. On the contrary, she is wearing a T-shirt and jeans. When she pulls off the T-shirt and bra, I see how thin she has become, how much her breasts have shrunk. How hard Pichais death hit her. Not without anesthetic, I clarify, suppressing a gulp. Ive been stoned since the day you left.

Sonchai, were too young to give up on life. Lets try again.

If ever youre in this sort of fix yourself, farang, I am able to advise there is a good deal of Buddhist teaching in favor of taking the path of least resistance.

Okay, I say. Then, as Im undressing: By the way, I bought a Toyota.


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