Snow danced over to the booth, his weathered face stretched
tightly over his skull the shape of a light bulb. Snow was
stoned and grinding his teeth in a twisted smile at a couple
of HQ regulars blocking his path. A few sweating matted
strands of chest hair sticking out of his Hawaiian shirt.
Snow always wore the same uniform: an untucked Hawaiian
shirt, jeans, and white tennis shoes. His thick glasses
made his eyes appear two times larger than life. Snow's
short-cropped hair thinned at the temples, and the ragged
edge of a cheap haircut curved around the base of the neck.
He always looked in need of a shave. Sweat dripped from
his chin and nose, and he was constantly wiping his face
with tissues that he balled up and tossed on the floor.
He loved Bangkok, the Beach Boys, and California. And he
hey, man. I gave one of our old-time favorites, good ole
Lek, two-baht for a golden oldie Jukebox number?... number
215... Man, you won't believe what this guy knows! He's
the only man in the universe who remembers the number of
every song on the HQ jukebox."
impressed," said Lawrence, smiling at Tuttle.
not wasted twenty years." He turned to Tuttle, reaching
over and scooping up a hand of French fries. "When
you die they're gonna put a bronze plaque with your name
on it over the jukebox. It's gonna say Tuttle knew every
song and face by heart. Number 215. 'Like a Virgin'. That
ought to be the theme song on Friday nights at HQ. They
should use some imagination. Come up with themes. A little
inspiration. Something that draws in a better kind of crowd.
And most of all, it gives you something to look forward
to. If you can't be a virgin, be like a virgin. There's
the theme for the '90s. There's always another way, man.
There's always another way in Thailand."
been in Bangkok three days. And the advice I'm getting is
all over the place," said Lawrence. Tuttle's eyes narrowed
slightly, a grin appeared on his face, Lawrence was learning
faster than he thought possible.
everything Tuttle's told you. just listen to this plan;
you follow it, and your life will be filled with women and
the good life. Scout out a remote, a to-hell-and-gone Lahu
village. Man, you gotta travel light. Tuttle here is the
expert on packing the small bag and finding a girl to carry
it. Put everything in a light shoulder bag. Staging is important.
The most important thing in any fucking production. That
and light and costume. What do you put inside the bag? All
you pack are half a dozen magic tricks. You phone a specialty
magic shop in Manhattan. It'd cost you fifteen bucks for
ten minutes. Give them your American Express number and
just fucking order and order. Make certain they courier
the stuff or you'll be waiting around HQ for years like
Tuttle here trying to get your shit together and break away."
raised his head and Snow stopped talking for a second. "Ask
him what goes on the shopping list," said Tuttle, giving
Lawrence a wink as a nineteen-year-old who spoke no more
than a dozen words of English climbed on his lap and kissed
him on each eyebrow.
shopping list? Okay, first buy that illusion of fire that
leaps from the palm of the hand. It blows people away. They
can't explain it; they can't fucking believe it. Fire jets.
A crowd forms in seconds. Next go for the illusion called
" Hot Lava"; mutant lava spits straight from your
fingertips. And to keep your act in high gear, throw in
a few multicolored scarves, some ropes that you cut into
pieces and then with a move of your hand the rope is one
piece again. And the clincher act is great, man. You swallow
handful of needles and about three feet of white thread.
Then you slowly pull the thread out. Each needle is lined
up like clothes pegs on the thread. Five minutes later you're
crowned as Lahu Godman. Your audience becomes your subjects.
They only want to please you. There's no future in pissing
off a god.
won't be the first Lahu Godman to come down the pike. The
Lahu got a fucked-up history of Messianic movements. Like
clockwork every twenty-five years some wando stumbles into
one of their villages, claims the title, leads them to revolt,
and gets a large number of them massacred. The Lahu are
overdue. It's been more than twenty-five years, man. Show
one or two of the illusions–magicians never call them tricks-to
the headman of the village, and you're in business as Lahu
of sweat rolled off Snow's upper lip as he spoke. He drank
two Klosters, and ordered a third as he laid out the Lahu
Godman plan for Lawrence. Tuttle had heard Snow's struggle
with reality before. He was content to let Snow carry on
uninterrupted. Lawrence had showed some interest in Snow’s
planned compact with the devil. That intrigued Tuttle; this
spore of interest in a mechanical device used for deceit.
He tried to imagine Lawrence dressed up in hilltribe shaman
clothing, and the troubled, awe-struck faces of the villagers
as he pulled threaded needles out of his throat.
haven't you applied for the job?" Lawrence asked.
was one of those questions that carried the merchandise
of their mutual past. At college Tuttle had led an exclusive
group of students. He had the kind of power that people
would have gladly relinquished their possessions or money
to join his band, if he had asked that of them. Even after
he had gone, his ghostly influence had remained; an underground
voice that could never be ignored or dismissed. Tuttle had
become a hard-core, another two-bit high-density a Lahu
Godman, Lawrence thought. Tuttle had forfeited his claim
to the myth of a man who had fled civilization to find spiritual
communion deep into the jungles of Southeast Asia. But when
fully understood, Lawrence was convinced, Tuttle had not
become some primordial explorer but another of countless
farangs who had been stranded on the slime mould of Zeno's.
night Tuttle auditions for the Lahu Godman role. Does he
get a call back? No way, Jose. He pays his purple COD like
the rest of us. He's not a student of the visuals. Tuttle
would only get hurt. The Lahu would take him apart like
an edible berry."
not stay here? There's no shortage of women," said
glanced at Tuttle and smiled. "You ain't told him,
man?" asked Snow. Tuttle shook his head as the girl
on his lap massaged his neck.
me what?" asked Lawrence, looking back and forth between
Snow and Tuttle.
share this ant colony with every anteater in the world,
man. We're talking about well-used girls who have been fondled,
fingered, licked, and sucked by legions of the unwashed
rejects from New York to Berlin. Get real lucky and you
might find a ringer. And you know what? Every resident shows
up looking for the same invisible, supernatural girl who
descends from the heavens above the jukebox. She walks over
to your booth, hooks her finger, and says follow me. But
she ain't never coming; she don't exist, and that's why
we have to invent her. Pray for her coming one night. Meanwhile,
you end up with another girl who Gunter or Wolfgang has
pawed and gnawed the night before."
said Tuttle, brushing the hair away from the girl's face
on his lap. "That's what you were saying, Snow."
it. Magic. Take the bus north of Chiang Mai. Stop at any
shithole village. Climb off in the middle of nowhere and
hike up a mountain. Find a hill tribe with a tradition of
Godmen. Then audition for the role. You show them a lava
flow, and straightaway you get a long term contract. Next,
you settle into the village. Close it off to those fucking
trekkers. Man, no fucking trekkers, yuppie lawyers and accountants
ever get in. To make your point, leak a little lava; throw
a jet of fire out of the palm of your hand. You got their
attention now. So you roll with it. Second order of the
day-and this is why you've called New York City at great
expense, paid for a courier to get the illusions delivered-is
the numero uno. You call the headmen of the village, sit
them down in a circle. Smoke a few pipes of opium to mellow
them out. Then you lay the trip on them."
paused, licking his thin, dry lips; his eyes looking blurred
beneath the thick glasses. He unwrapped a piece of hard-rock
candy and popped it into his mouth and made loud sucking
lay what on them?" asked Lawrence.
Godman wants virgins," said Snow with a sense of satisfaction.
He crinkled his nose as he continued to suck the candy.
He unwrapped a second piece of candy and dropped it into
the open mouth of the young girl sitting on Tuttle's lap.
"That's the first phrase you learn in Lahu. It's the
first phrase out of the mouth of any self-respecting Lahu
Godman. Round up all the virgins, man. You make one of the
head guys your major domo. His job is to deliver virgins.
You let him know this is a full-time job. He's on call twenty-four
hours a day. And if he fucks up, man, there's a massive
price to pay. Lahu Godman's got no fucking sense of humor
about virgins. Every night and every morning, like clockwork,
you get a virgin in a white silk gown carried on a chair
and put down in your room. Sooner or later, you have to
face the reality of life. Your majordomo's gonna crawl on
his hands and knees across your floor, looking as grim as
death, and holding his balls-because, man, you've threatened
to have lava leaking out of his balls if he ever doubled-crossed
you-and he lays on the bad news. The village has gone virgin
dry. There ain't a single virgin you haven't fucked before
breakfast or after dinner.
first crisis of your reign. You can't let them think for
one minute that any Lahu Godman is gonna put up with this
shit about no more virgins. You throw a jet of fire and
graze the right earlobe of your major domo. That does the
trick. He's pissing in his pants and thinking that it, is
lava leaking down his leg. He's freaking out. Word spreads
quickly through the village just how much the godman is
disappointed in this no virgin news.
virgins, you roar. Lahu Godman say, go to next village and
steal their virgins. This is, of course, an act of war.
But the villagers have no choice. You got them entertained
and scared out of their gourds, man, I'm telling you, they'll
raid every fucking village between Chiang Mai and Mae Sai.
You'll get their relatives Federal Expressing virgins from
Burma and Laos.
more goddamn condoms, worry about clap, AIDS, virulen herpes,
killer crabs. Just give the line, Lahu Godman want official
visit with morel virgins. Or shoot a spike of flames up
stretched his legs out as girl left to join her friends
at a table near the television set. They watched a Thai
kickboxing match with a couple of waiters.
left out the down side, George," said Tuttle.
is?" asked Lawrence.
held the melted down piece of red rock candy between his
teeth and pointed at his mouth. Then spit the piece of candy
into an empty Kloster beer bottle.
need self-will, man. You've got to know when to stop. Tuttle
and I've gone over my Lahu Godman trip. You see, he's got
a point. All these Lahu Godmen ruin it for everyone else.
Each one gets a little taste of power, and before you know
it, fucking virgins isn't enough fun for a day. He's getting
his rocks off at breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Then he gets
a real funny idea. He forgets about making the call to New
York, his couriered tricks, his American Express bill—and
he convinces himself the illusions are magic. He thinks
he is a real Lahu Godman. People filter in from other villages
to bow down at his feet. He's an event. What began as sex
ends as politics. He becomes a politician with a mission.
With an agenda. With an ideology, man, and that's the worst
of all. He thinks he's figured out some great system for
how time passes through the world. It's not that hard. The
villagers believe him; after all, he's fucked every virgin
in a hundred-mile radius. But this is a different scale.
Every Lahu Godman ends up not only fucking all the virgins,
but everyone else. So the villagers do the right thing.
They get their revenge. They get rid of him. Shoot him,
man. Spear him, bury him alive, cut off his fucking head,
his dick, and his balls and bury them all in different ratholes.
No Lahu Godman dies a natural death in his bed with his
grandchildren around him.
I stick to the safe ground. just the standard bullshit,
no tricks, no virgins, one night at a time, purples handed
out COD. Maybe you could handle it. Ask yourself if your
contentment factor is two virgins a day. Or three. You've
gotta be brutally honest with your answer. if you want to
go for it, my old man works in Hollywood, and I might get
some development money for a script. But I need a real life
character who's done the trip, man. Think about it. You'd
get a story created by credit, and some back-end money Lahu
Godman and a cast of virgins is the kind of stuff people
want to see. Man up against himself and the hill tribes
of Thailand. Special-effects heaven. People would go nuts
over the story.
you can hang out at HQ like the rest of us, listen the music
on the jukebox, knock back Mekhong and Coke, and ask yourself
if you've ever taken Noi back to your apartment. I'd go
upcountry and take on the Lahu, but know my own limitations.
I wouldn't stop with the virgins.
the American State Department would have to send in a team
of forensic experts to dig up a mountainside just to find
where they had buried my ass. And I'll be perfectly frank
with you. The Lahu are exporting most of their virgins to
Bangkok. The Chinese characters in that business aren't
impressed with my cutting into their supply of virgins.
while the power lasted, think of the possibilities. Each
morning, the first words out of your mouth, 'More virgins.
Lahu Godman wants more virgins.'
best you can hope for in Southeast Asia is a war. During
the war, Vietnam was a well-ordered society. All the women
in the bars; all the men in uniform getting their asses
shot off in the jungle. Peace sucks. You get desperate thoughts.
And before you know, you've had two too many drinks, and
you're on the telephone, and the guy answers the phone over
a crackling line. You tell him-this is Bangkok, listen carefully.
I'm an apprentice Lahu Godman, can you give me a quote on
a few illusions. Does all your shit come with clear instructions.
And when you're packing the order, put in an extra couple
kilos of lava dust."
practices law in Los Angeles," said Tuttle, a couple
of moments in Snow's thoughtful silence. The revelation
darkened Snow s face; his features twisted into a look of
scorn. He slowly unwrapped another piece of hard rock candy,
staring down at the tabletop.
kinda law, man?"
Lahu Godman for the ancients in America," said Snow,
shaking his head. His tone had changed as well as his expression.
A crude bomb had exploded his dream.
were at UCLA together in the'60s," said Tuttle to fill
the awkward silence. "We shared an apartment together.
It's been a long time since we've seen each other. He's
a good guy, George. Not every lawyer's a complete asshole."
Lawrence, who had grown uncomfortable as if it had been
announced he was the carrier of a fatal virus.
guess it could be a comedy. Lahu Godman racks up a billable
hours with hilltribe virgins," said Snow, with a slanting
glance at Tuttle. "Lahu Godman sues major domo for
failure to deliver. Lahu Godman pleads insanity.
Snow had gone, Lawrence slumped in his booth, a confused,
perplexed expression on his face. Snow's unscheduled arrival
and departure had left skid marks on his ego. His livelihood
had always been a source of pride; of course, he knew of
the anti-lawyer jokes, but knew underneath that his position
provided a powerful identity and monetary significance.
His name and the name of his law firm opened any door in
Los Angeles. But in Zeno's he was a displaced person; Snow
had treated him as if he were a representative of evil,
someone devoted to the force of decline, greed, and intolerance.
an irrational thing with Snow. His hatred of lawyers,"
said Tuttle, rubbing his jaw. "Don't take it personally."
"I didn't," said Lawrence, lying. "He lives
in Bangkok?" "He has a room at the Highland Hotel
on Sathorn Road. Your basic box that comes with no windows
or carpets. The girls love it, he says. It reminds them
of their own rooms. They can't afford windows. Outside his
hotel on Sathorn Road is a traffic nightmare. Ten lanes
of tuk-tuk hard braking all night. Sirens wailing. Paint
thinner heads going one hundred-ten-plus on motorcycles.
The sounds of madness pounding in his head. He uses the
place to refine his Lahu Godman act. He picks up girls from
Silom Road and takes them back. They are like Valley girls.
That Silom Road Valley girl and her deflowered friend know
people who gossip to rangers, cops, Thai males with guns,
bikers who eat bags of yah mah-speed. One day Snow's going
to be an item in the Bangkok Post Thai male with paint thinner
on his breath flees the scene. That’s after he wrapped blocks
of piano wire around Snow's neck for screwing his sister."
had logged enough time in Thailand to know that magic wasn't
for the cities. Not in peace time. Bangkok was a one-shot,
try-out location for certain drifters like Snow who sooner
or later found enough courage to take their show to a hilltribe
audience. Tuttle didn't tell Lawrence the real reason for
Snow's disappointment about the lawyer business. Snow had
been looking for some years among the newcomers to Zeno's
for a sponsor. Someone to finance his trip. His father had
nothing to do with Hollywood. But life had dealt Snow the
hand as a major domo to watch, in his mind's eye, some other
farang's ass busily pumping away on a virgin that by rights,
he believed, belonged to him.
a Virgin' played on the jukebox. Several girls sang along
to the lyrics, dancing in an open circle, bumping hips,
laughing, and ignoring the kick-boxing on the television
at the other end of the room. The song got played several
times each night that Tuttle came into Zeno's. Snow got
a little tearful each time it played. "I'm fucking
serious," he'd say, "I'm buying the rights to
the music for my film." No one ever believed that Snow
was serious about the song, the Lahu Godman movie, or his
had gone for a smoke in the alley. Before he left, he warned
Lawrence to keep his plan confidential. "And don't
tell anyone about the Lahu Godman idea. You're a lawyer.
You understand that original ideas can't be used. Anyway,
I don't want it getting around." The more Snow had
thought about it, the more he convinced himself that he
should go upcountry and apply for the Lahu Godman job. After
a few months at the Highland Hotel he had begun to miss
not having a window.