We are a hub. Flights to Los Angeles and other American destinations leave early in the morning, flights to Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, China, and all points north and south leave every few minutes during the day, and flights to Europe mostly happen late in the evening. So why are there so few toilets in our brand-new airport? The farang design team and the Thai approval committee obviously didn’t feel comfortable with too many comfort rooms. I had three iced lemon teas on my way and now I needed to take a leak pretty bad. (Iced lemon tea: full of sugar and polluted ice; in this heat it’s like heroin. Don’t try it, so you’ll never know how good it is.) I took my place in line.
One thing I had to admit, the designers were democratic in their incompetence: there were plenty of first-class-looking types with perfectly coordinated monogrammed luggage sets waiting, all of them doing the mustafapee dance according to their programming, along with grassroots types like me, everyone of us under the sway of the equality Buddha. We all watched with unnerving intensity while one guy shook hard and looked like he was about to zip up and let someone else at the relief trough-then an agonizing change of mind as he found more water to drain. Another shake, so vigorous I feared the thing might fly off-surely he was feeling the collective psychic pressure behind him?-then finally we moved forward by one man. By the time I got to the Immigration Police offices it was nearly ten-thirty, which was the moment when passengers for Europe hit passport control.
The police colonel in charge of Immigration was not as unhappy to see me as I expected. A woman and a devout Buddhist, she took the view that all help in stemming the evil tide of drug trafficking was welcome, and anyway her officers were pretty busy and could do with some backup. She hinted that she didn’t really understand this particular tip-off, which seemed to originate somewhere in the Himalayas, so maybe I could be of some real help. In addition to being devout, conscientious, and good-looking, she was also single and about my age. I’m not bragging here, but she really did look as if she could eat me, before directing me to an obscure corner of the airport with a good view of passport control, where a couple of her “girls,” in smart white shirts with epaulettes, navy skirts, and fierce mugs, were standing. They didn’t mind my company, but wondered aloud how a man could help with this particular case. I said I was just there to observe, because Colonel Vikorn had gotten the same tip-off.
Basically, there wasn’t anything much to do but flirt. I loyally told them how happily married I was, with a son I was totally crazy about, and they told me about their families, which left the way clear for plenty of hints, nudges, and winks before the perp arrived. Suddenly we were all in combat-ready professional mode.
I took out the picture, just to make sure, but there was really no doubt about it: the girl who had just taken up her place in one of the lines for foreign passports was the girl in the photo from the Himalayas. If anything, she was even more stunning in the flesh: blond hair which was almost white-the kind Asian men would kill for-and one of those bodies which have been sculpted from the inside out by an abundance of female hormones, producing a bosom you couldn’t buy in Hollywood, a centerfold shape, and a nonchalance that came from the certainty that she could get away with almost anything. I didn’t think there was any conscious arrogance in that careless walk as she dragged her Samsonite carryon across the floor, nor in the way she made her buttocks swing. It was genuine animal narcissism. Her true arrogance lay in the smack she had hidden somewhere about her person, if the tip-off was for real.
We all waited for her to reach the booth, because we had to be sure her passport corresponded with the information.
As the line moved up and she approached the Immigration officer sitting at the booth behind the isometric digital camera, I could almost hear her words of reassurance to herself (I worked the airport myself a long time ago): It’s okay, you’re with the professionals, the people who run Thailand, no way are you going to get caught. How could you? Someone would have had to snitch, and you’ve joined the non-snitchers, right? You belong to the ones the snitchers snitch to, how can you lose?
Now she took out an iPod and a set of white earphones and played some music. I wondered if it was Buddha Bar. By the time she reached the booth she had so successfully controlled her mind that she was able to smile at the Thai man in the white shirt with blue epaulettes without a shadow of guile. As he took in her face and upper body he gave a brief flick of a smile in return before plugging her passport details into his computer. Reassured by his smile and the magic her breasts were working in his imagination-she had taken care to show such cleavage as could reasonably be attributed to the heat in the under-cooled airport-she took the liberty of leaning on the front of the booth with one elbow in a slightly provocative manner. Even when he picked up the telephone at his elbow, she did not exhibit the slightest degree of panic. He was probably arranging a tea break, right? So when the three female Immigration officers and I arrived from nowhere, and the officer who had been the most exuberant flirt ten minutes before put a hand on her shoulder, and the rest of us stood close around in case she tried to run, she looked like her insides were turning over in one prolonged churning, sickening, soul-destroying motion, which caused her to stagger.
“Please, come with us,” the officer said. Her hand had slipped from on the woman’s shoulder to under it. Her English was very good, albeit with an unmistakable Thai accent. All of a sudden Ms. Rosie McCoy could not speak. She nodded helplessly, like a terrified child. We took her to a long room divided into two. At the near end were a few plastic seats; at the other a radiographer in a white jacket worked with some Immigration officers. There were four travelers in front of Rosie, all men in line for the X-ray machine.
The radiographer worked very fast: it seemed there was no need for the suspects to undress. Now they stood Rosie upright against the plate and stepped back. There was a click, and then it was all over.
Suddenly an outbreak of excited jabbering in Thai. The English-speaking officer was bringing the X-ray plate to show her, and the rest of us followed in a group infected with schadenfreude. There it was: a condom nestling inside her vagina exactly like an erect but sluggish penis, clearly packed with white powder, which seemed to shine with horrific brilliance in contrast to the gray contours of her bones and flesh. The contraband in her lower intestine was less brilliant, but quite obvious to an experienced eye: five cosh-shaped objects. According to our source, it was all 100 percent pure heroin. In Amsterdam or Maastricht she would have cut it to five times its present volume and sold it for sixty dollars a gram.
She freaked. Her life about to come to an abrupt end at age twenty-seven, a scream started from the bottom of her lungs and emerged from her mouth without any act of will on her part. The Immigration officer slapped her face very hard, which put a stop to the scream. Now she started feeling in her pockets for her cell phone and fished it out with shaking hands.
“No,” the officer said, and grabbed it.
“Oh please, oh please, look, this is all the money I have, I’ll give it to you if you let me make just one call. Please? I’m begging you.”
The officer stared at her for a moment, then at the open money belt, then at the other officers. “Put your money away. I don’t care if you make one call, but don’t try to delete anything. If you do, you’ll regret it, big time.”
Rosie made the call. Apparently for weapons she had nothing but an extensive stock of Australian expletives.
“You slime bucket, you dag, you fuckwit, you fucked-up piece of dog shit, you motherfucker, d’you know what I’m going to do to you? I’m going to dob you in it so fucking deep you’ll swing for this, you asshole, I’m not going down alone, you lump of green vomit, you string of colon plaque, I’m taking you with me, you said this was safe, this was the A-stream, no one working this one ever got caught in the last twenty years, they had customs under control, you stupid, fucked-up, lying asshole. YOU’RE GOING DOWN, YOU’RE GETTING THE INJECTION, NUMB NUTS.”
Exhausted, she closed the phone and burst into tears. Calming her down the best they could, the officers led her to a female toilet, where she was given the choice of extracting the condom in her vagina herself or leaving the job to one of the officers.
They told me afterward that Rosie claimed she could manage it, but terror and despair had caused her vulva to shrivel like a walnut and her hands to shake violently. When they sat her on a chair with a rubber sheet, she urinated involuntarily. In the end one of the officers donned a pair of plastic gloves and, using K-Y Jelly to ensure the condom didn’t break and spill its contents into her body, pulled it out with the gentleness, kindness, and compassion a Buddhist woman ought to show a fellow female. After that it was simply a matter of accompanying Rosie to a nearby hospital, where nurses experienced in these things would administer a laxative: with that much poison in her gut the officers were not taking any chances. In the meantime, I checked Rosie’s cell phone in order to find the last number she dialed.
Which turned out to be the cell phone number of one Mark Whiteman, an Englishman who I happened to know was a minor player in a large and successful trafficking ring run by none other than General Zinna of the Royal Thai Army. I had the information I had come for. I fished out my own mobile to call Vikorn.
“The source is straight,” I said. “His information is good. Zinna is hurt.”
“Get a ticket to Kathmandu while you’re there.”
“I’m traveling first-class. I’m consigliere.”
“Go business. First-class attracts attention.”
“I’ll get the first flight tomorrow, there aren’t any tonight.”
When I closed the phone I strolled over to one of the airport bookshops to buy a guidebook to Nepal.
Did I forget to mention that when I was finally given a glance at Rosie McCoy’s passport I discovered a full-page visa for the Kingdom of Nepal, together with entry and exit stamps? She had flown to Thailand after three months in that Himalayan country. What a coincidence.