Cold Hit

A Vincent Calvino crime novel
Sixth in the series


ISBN 974-92104-1-7
Trade paperback 6" - 9 1/4"
2004, 342pages
 

 

 

 

 

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Excerpt

Chapter 9

Naylor’s mood turned vile and nasty. “I pay for sex in Thailand because free sex is too fucking expensive in America.” He pushed his floppy Truman Capote hat forward, maximum attitude position, just over his eyebrows as he stood in front of the hotel, his bare, tattooed arms raised palms up like a country preacher. His eyes surveyed the gnarled rose bushes, the chickens, the goat, the sleeping dogs, the peasant burning garbage at the end of the driveway. “But the hotels in America are better,” he said. The Grand Rose Hotel had been his dream; his chance to set up business that dovetailed with the Cause, his own private escape penthouse on top, a pied-?-terre, the ultimate hong to impress yings. As he surveyed the grounds, Naylor couldn’t help but wonder who among the causemembers in their right minds would come for a Monster Fuck in a hotel occupied by the Adams family; they had patents pending on greed, stupidity, sloth, and corruption.

“They want a joint venture! Are they out of their fucking minds?” He turned away from the garden. “Did you see that guy do that bending thing with his fingers? The whole family is weird.”

Jess held the rear door open. Calvino was already inside the car. He switched on the engine and checked his rear view mirror. He rolled down his window and gestured at Naylor to get in.

“I suspect they will want to keep the roses,” said Calvino. “Let’s go.” Not doing due diligence on a deal ran the same level of risk as not doing due diligence on a ying only to find out down the road that what she had promised bore no relationship to what she was prepared or able to deliver. Blinded by the beauty of the rose, the buyer had forgotten about the hidden treasure of thorns ready to draw blood.

Naylor kicked the toe of his boot in the dirt, sending up a small cloud of red dust. He waved his fist at the hotel, huffed and muttered, and then climbed into the back of the car. Jess shut Naylor’s door, walked around to the opposite side and got in. Chickens flew in all directions as Calvino gunned the engine, peeling out of the Grand Rose Hotel grounds. Calvino’s car looked like it belonged to the hotel; it fit into the overall ambience of broken objects, things gone to ruin, the rewards of neglect and accident. Naylor stuck his arm out the window and gave everyone in sight the finger, only no one in particular noticed. None of this acting up had improved Naylor’s mood, if anything he was more agitated, slamming his hand against the seat. Calvino said nothing as he felt the muffled blow. After all, Naylor’s Hollywood show of anger was more for Jess and him than for the family of owners who were nowhere to be seen.

“I don’t think you gained anything by showing your tattoos,” said Jess. “Or giving the street vendors the finger.”

“Fuck them. I felt like a monkey in a bag hung on a shithouse door.”

Calvino caught Naylor’s flash of anger in the rear view mirror. Where the hell did he get that expression? “Monkey in a bag? Or was it money in a bag? “How does that feel, Wes?”

“It’s monkey in a bag. Monkey is money with a “k” jammed in the middle. I had this ying last year. Fon was her name. You know, ‘Rain’ in Thai. She gave the best blow jobs in the entire fucking world. Rain would just keep at it. Three, four times in one day she would go down. I mean again and again. She was relentless in her desire to go down. Fon had a pet monkey she called ‘Lucky Luke’ – a guy had given it to her along with the usual gold and fridge – and that goddamn monkey went everywhere with her. It thought the world of her, Luke was crazy about her. And she loved the monkey like it was her kid. It put me off to have Lucky Luke watching her going down on me. Her moaning and Lucky Luke looking like he had some strange rain forest disease. She said it was just an ear infection. But I couldn’t keep an erection. So I made her put the monkey in the bag she used to cart it around in. But Lucky Luke wasn’t stupid. He knew how to get out of the bag. There I would be with my pants around my ankles with Rain falling down and that monkey would jump on her shoulder and fucking stare. Those big monkey eyes, and Lucky Luke’s upper lip riding up slowly and showing razor sharp teeth.
Fon couldn’t understand why I made such a big deal about her goddamn monkey. I told her Lucky Luke was jealous and one day he was going to take a run at me. I finally figured out that after putting Lucky Luke inside the cloth bag, that if I pulled the string tight at the top of the bag and hung it on the back of the bathroom door, he couldn’t get out. Then I could get down to concentrating on business with Fon. All the time, I could hear Lucky Luke struggling inside the bag on the shithouse door. This dull thump, thump against the wooden door. Lucky Luke screaming in total monkey rage. There I was in the bedroom with Fon on her knees and her goddamn monkey banging the bathroom door, trying to find a way out of the bag, knowing it was stuck in the dark, shut out, cut off from the world, and for the life of that monkey, Luke had absolutely no fucking idea why he had been tied into a bag and suspended in mid-air on the back of a door. Afterwards Rain would say, ‘Lucky Luke pai nai? Where did Lucky Luke go?’ She knew full well that Lucky Luke was in the bag hanging on the door. But she pretended not to know. That way she didn’t have to take any responsibility. Today, I understand exactly how that poor bastard monkey felt. Kitti was doing the same thing as Fon. He was pretending not to know how I got in the bag. And he just let me bang my fucking head on his shithouse door while he and his crazy family were jerking off.”

Halfway through the telling of his Lucky Luke story, Naylor started to unwind, grow calm, his voice smoothed out with the rough, hard edges sanded down by the memory of all those blow-jobs. Like a lot of angry people without someone to fuel the fires of rage, and left alone to think about what had happened, he put the experience in the context of what he knew. Getting a blow job with a monkey kicking up a storm in a bag. Naylor looked contemplative as he stared out the car window. Thinking about Kitti, and Lucky Luke, and remembering Rain on her knees, eyes looking up making those sucking noises as her monkey screamed bloody murder from the bathroom.

“She left you for the monkey,” said Calvino. He was thinking: what goes around comes around. He liked the idea of Naylor being the monkey in the bag. There was some justice in the world after all.

Naylor nodded his head. “I hate to admit it but she did. I trust Rain and Luke are happy in some upcountry jungle hovel. Enough of monkey business,” he said. “Tell me again why we are stopping at this shopping mall? After meeting these assholes, you want to go shopping? Dr. Nat’s four grand is burning a hole in your pocket, right?”

Before they got into the car, Calvino had laid the groundwork for the diversion, casually saying he had to meet someone for a few minutes at the Emporium. As they left the conference room, Naylor was still too upset with the hotel owners and had not focused on Calvino’s request and certainly had been in no state to respond to this request. It took a monkey story for him to remember Calvino had been leading up to something.

“I have a personal problem I need to fix. It will take ten minutes and then I buy lunch,” said Calvino. After looking over the family, the threat to Naylor had diminished in Calvino’s eyes. Not that he was easing off – after all, someone had taken a shot at them on the expressway – but right up close none of them seem capable to doing much of anything but argue over their share of the family pie.

“Yeah? I thought you were working for me. Now you have a problem and I am supposed to approve your plan to ruin my lunch with Jep.”

“Let’s say I’ve got a monkey on my back,” said Calvino.

“We pass the Emporium on the way to hotel,” said Jess.

Out of the blue, back-up was coming from LAPD; something Calvino had not expected. Maybe Jess had tired of baby-sitting this Asset, with Naylor’s attitude, the tattoos, his murky business connections, his degrading ying stories, so any excuse to shove back had to make Jess feel as good as landing a foot to the jaw of a kick-boxing opponent. “I need to buy a new battery.” He was playing with the machine that picked up transmitting devices.

“Ten minutes, Wes,” said Calvino.

Ten minutes should be more than enough time, thought Calvino. But nothing in Bangkok ever happened in ten minutes. It was a way of speaking, a time span that meant a short-time, not that other short-time where a ying was selling her sabbai time. Calvino had planned out what he was going to do – he would first find McPhail and Noi, and even before finding them, he would have Gabe on his mobile phone ready to talk to Noi. He’d walk straight up to Noi, and say, ‘How’s it going, Noi? Glad to see you. Gabe’s on the phone from LA. Just tell him hello. That’s it. No other commitment.’ Then he would put the phone to her ear. She’d say a few meaningless words and listen to him plead to come back, she’d refuse and then it would be over. Some yings were queens of the quick brush off.

Naylor was about to say something when Jess cut him off. “And you can buy something nice for Jep at one of the shops.”

Calvino smiled to himself, exchanged a glance with Jess in the rear view mirror. “You don’t want to go back to the room with nothing,” said Calvino.

“Do I have any choice?” asked Naylor as Calvino pulled into the underground parking lot of the Emporium.

Choice and purpose were the two elements missing from the known universe that no scientist would ever locate; they were not permanently lost, they had never existed, thought Calvino.

He followed the down ramp into the underground parking lot, slowing to take the ticket from the uniformed security guard. With no place to park, he turned right, taking the ramp down to B2, and pulled into a parking spot within sight of the entrance for the elevators. The B2 parking lot level was half-full. Not many people were shopping in the middle of the weekday. The recession had cut the power on their aircraft, turning most of them into glider pilots. Naylor was out of the car last. He slammed the door hard. “I could use a drink. You think that is going to be a problem here?”

“I’m buying,” said Calvino.

“Goddamn right you are buying,” said Naylor.

Jess was out the other side of the car, closed the door and leaned against the side of the Honda. “I’ll stay with the car. Pick me up a new battery, will you?”

“Forget it,” said Naylor. “This Italian is buying both of us a beer.”

Jess smiled. “I don’t drink on duty.”

“Then I’ll drink your fucking beer if that makes you feel any better.”

“It won’t take long,” said Calvino. “Come along, Jess. No one’s going to bother the car.”

Jess tapped his fingers on the roof of the Honda, then broke into a smile. The car was a write-off, a wreck. Who would bother with such a car? “Okay.”

They crossed the parking lot, Jess taking point, then Naylor with Calvino following behind. Jess pushed open the glass door, looking around before waving Naylor to move forward.

“You buy the Lucky Luke story?” Jess asked through the mic. He was scanning the area for transmitting devices. There was always the possibility someone was intercepting their radio transmissions.

“Monkeys are jealous,” replied Calvino, looking over the parking lot. “And they are curious. And on the whole much better companions than someone like Naylor. The girl made the right choice.”

Jess watched as Naylor came through the door. “I am feeling better already,” Jess whispered into the mic.

Naylor breathed deeply, waiting for Calvino to catch up. He was smiling. The recovery had been rapid. He had already shaken off the meeting with Kitti and his nutty and dangerous brothers and sisters. For a moment he had stopped wishing that he had never met Dr. Nat and invested in a hotel venture in Thailand. Fon had reminded him of why he had come in the first place – to buy hongs and to hunt yings.

They rode the elevator to the second floor. As the door opened Calvino dialled Gabe’s home number. All he had to do was press the ‘yes’ button and the call would connect. As they walked out of the elevator, a farang in a cowboy hat, late 20s, muscle shirt and no gut, swung at Naylor, landing the punch smack on the side of his jaw, sending him reeling against the wall. Naylor hit the wall, looking like a stunned prize-fighter. Calvino moved in front of Naylor, waiting for the farang to come in. He didn’t have to wait long. Jess reacted with a kick-boxing manoeuvre, coming off the floor, his right leg hitting the cowboy as he moved in to hit Naylor again. The farang absorbed the blow, which caught him in the chest. He threw a series of punches at Jess, who easily ducked away from the blows, waiting for the precise moment when the farang was off balance, and then Jess nailed him three, four times on the neck and head with his fists, and, spinning him around, brought his foot up hard under the farang’s jaw. The sound of the jaw cracking echoed off the walls and windows of the lobby near the elevator. The farang hit the marble floor. He wasn’t moving. Unconscious.

Calvino knelt down in front of Naylor. “You all right?”

A crowd of shoppers gathered around.

“Who was that sonofabitch?” asked Naylor, gasping to catch his breath.

“He doesn’t look Chinese to me,” said Calvino. “What I am saying is that he’s not part of Kitti’s family. These people don’t hire farang to whack farang.”

“I had a gut feeling that coming here was a mistake,” said Naylor.

Jess helped Naylor to his feet. “Here’s your hat.”

“Let’s get out of here,” said Calvino. The crowd swelled as the farang started to move his head on the floor.

“I’ve never seen anyone hit someone so fast or so hard,” Naylor said as he took the hat. “Where’d you learn that fancy shit?”

Jess had won the kick-boxing championship of LA county at age fourteen. He had learned the art by the time he was twelve. His dad had built shelves to proudly display all of Jess’s trophies. But none of this mattered at the moment.

“You don’t know this guy?” asked Jess, deflecting the “fancy shit” comment.

“Never seen him before. He must have confused me with someone else.”

“He went straight for you,” said Calvino. “It didn’t look much like a mistake.”

Naylor fingered his hat, looking for damage, smoothing it out and then carefully putting it on, he smiled, using his hand to work his jaw from side to side. He stepped forward and kicked the farang in the groin. A huff sound like air going out of a tire came out of the man’s mouth. When it looked like Naylor might have one more shot, Calvino took his arm and pulled him back.

“Enough already.” The farang was coiled up on the polished marble floor in front of the ATM machine. He looked like he had passed out or was sleeping.

“The bastard tried to mug me,” said Naylor. “Just one more little kick.”

This time Jess came alongside Calvino and together they ushered him away from the unconscious farang. Calvino knew this was not a stalker, a mugger, a crazy, no, this was a deliberate planned assault and, like the truck on the expressway, the intent was to intimidate, throw them off-balance, lead them to make conclusions that others wanted them to make.

As they were walking away, Calvino said to Jess, “You’re good.”

“I don’t think we should be here, Vincent. Someone doesn’t come swinging at Naylor without a reason. How did that farang knew we would be here now?” Jess held out a small device that looked like a remote control. “He was picking up the Ghz from this.” He held out his own anti-transmitting device. “They were tracking us the whole time.”

“The road from Damascus to Tel Aviv also goes from Tel Aviv to Damascus,” said Calvino.

“Are you guys protecting me or holding a committee meeting?” asked Naylor.

They walked past the imported designer shops: tall walls of glass and inside the robes and gowns for priestesses of fashion. As they entered the fashion hall, McPhail spotted them and shouted Calvino’s name. “Vinee, over here, man.”

“That’s my guy. We’ll be out of here in a minute.”

McPhail stood next to a ying who was dressed to kill in black tight fitting slacks, high heels and a halter top, bare smooth shoulders showing. She looked like an entertainer backstage, distracted, smoking a cigarette, looking at her watch. Long red fingernails set off her hands. She looked like she could be a singer or a model with her fresh, shiny black long hair falling half way down her back. In the advertising business such yings were called “Pretties”, the good-looking yings who were hired for car shows, conferences, conventions. Pretties attracted crowds, and crowds wanted to be around beautiful yings and the things Pretties were selling. Calvino recognised Noi from Gabe Holerstone’s photo. Calvino hit the dial button as he approached. The phone was ringing and Gabe picked up the phone on the third ring, answering with a slow, husky voice dulled by sleep.

“It’s one in the fucking morning, who are you, asshole?”

“Vincent Calvino. I have Noi here and she wants to talk to you.”

“Noi? Where did you say you are?” He sounded like he was drugged.

“In Bangkok.”

“I know in Bangkok, but where?”

“I am at a shopping mall,” said Calvino. “So talk to her. That was our deal. Find the girl, put her on the phone. That was the assignment. Now the case is closed.”

Calvino held out the phone and she stared at it and then at Calvino, slowly sucking in a long hit from her cigarette, one arm folded around her waist, her elbow resting on her folded forearm. Smoke coiled out of each nostril like she was the Queen in Alice in Wonderland.

“It’s Gabe, he’s in LA and he wants to talk to you.”

“What does he want from me? I don’t work for Gabe any more.” A bored look crossed Noi’s face like a late afternoon shadow. As if a group of fans was hassling her an autograph. Her voice broke slightly as she uttered the word “me”; the amount of gravity attached to that simple two letter word was enough to pluck the moon from the night sky. She said it in a way that seemed to indicate there was no room for anyone else in the world but her.

“Ask him yourself.” He stood beside her, his arm outstretched but she made no effort to reach for the phone.

“See what I mean,” said McPhail. “This is one awkward fucking ying.”

Calvino put the phone to his ear. “She wants to know what you want from her.”

“I want to talk to her.”

Calvino stared directly at her. “He says that he wants to talk to you.”

“If the ying doesn’t want to talk, she doesn’t want to talk,” said Naylor.

“Who is this asshole?” asked McPhail.

“Her fucking boss. What fucking rock do you live under?”

The situation was becoming complicated beyond Calvino’s wildest expectations. McPhail and Naylor had taken an instant dislike to one another. Calvino swiftly moved between Noi and McPhail as if he were back in New York on a Sunday afternoon and happened upon a pick-up baseball game and people were choosing sides.

“Your friend is right,” said Noi. “I don’t have to talk to anyone.”

Gabe screamed in Calvino’s ear, “Put that goddamn Vine Street bitch on the phone.”

“That approach isn’t working, Gabe. Maybe you ought to come up with a reason to talk to her,” said Calvino. “What’s the message?”

“I want her to come back to LA. I’ll give her a raise. Tell her that.”

Calvino watched Noi light another cigarette from the one she was just finishing. “He wants you back in LA and you get a raise.”

She thought about this. “How much of a raise?”

Gabe heard her response and shouted in the phone at Calvino. “Two-hundred and fifty a week.”

“Two fifty a week,” repeated Calvino.

Calvino edged in with the phone until a moment later it was against her ear and she was talking to Gabe. McPhail rolled his eyes. “Jesus Christ, she’s entering into collective bargaining on your dime. Can you believe it?”

“Three hundred,” said Noi. “Otherwise I am on the plane to Hong Kong. I can make more than three hundred a day in Hong Kong.”

“You heard that?” asked Calvino.

Of course he had heard it. “Noi, okay, just come back to LA, honey.”

Calvino motioned for her to hand back his mobile phone. She pretended to ignore him. “There was nothing in my deal with Gabe for you to carry on a long distance salary negotiation. Phone him back collect.”

“I’m almost finished,” she said.

“Good bye, Gabe,” said McPhail taking a swipe at the phone but he missed as Noi stepped to one side.

“I don’t like the way you treated me.” She spoke into the phone.

McPhail rolled his eyes. “How are you going to make that kind of money in Bangkok?”

“It’s finished. We can go now,” said Calvino. “Let’s get back to the car.”

Naylor was watching yings in short skirts ride the escalator.

“You were buying us a beer,” said Naylor, looking away from the two yings riding the escalator. “Forget the beer, let’s go back to the Brandy.”

Meaning that he wanted to check on Jep. He was still on compassion alert, and telling himself that technically he hadn’t really breached the YINGS as he had administered care. There had been no sex.

This suited Calvino fine and he nodded, turned to Noi, gesturing for his phone, as a loud boom echoed through the second floor. An explosion shattered glass. Calvino immediately pushed Naylor down. The force of the blast sucked a massive volume of dust and debris through the main shaft of the atrium. The explosion knocked out the electrical supply and the emergency lights came on, flickered and then cut out as well. The air was dirty and the light dusk-like; darkness descended inside the mall.

“What the fuck was that?” asked Naylor.

“That was no fucking electrical transformer exploding,” said Calvino. “That was a bomb.”

“Let’s get Naylor out of here. Now,” said Jess, pulling Naylor by the arm.

Calvino reached to take his phone from Noi. “I am not finished talking to him.”

“Noi, time to go. Give me the phone. Don’t make a problem,” said Calvino. He grabbed at the phone but missed.

McPhail laughed. “You’re right, that was no transformer. Someone has set off the heavy shit. Look at the shoppers run like rabbits. Where the fuck do they think they are going?” He shook his head, pulled out his pack of cigarettes and offered one to Noi. “Anything else you need, just give me a call. If you can get your phone back.” With a quick flick of his wrist, McPhail snatched the phone from Noi’s hand and tossed it to Calvino. “See you around.”

As Calvino’s mobile phone spun in the air, Jess was already in a half run holding onto Naylor’s arm, directing him back to the emergency stairs next to the elevators. The elevators had already been shut down. As Calvino caught up, they ran into a wall of customers and staff pushing and shoving to get down the stairs. Security guards tried to maintain order with the crowd; yings were crying and screaming, clutching children, and shop clerks were pushing against each other to get to the stairs. A strong herd mentality pushed the shoppers into a crowd – it was difficult to bring any order or provide direction to the people. They ignored orders from a whistle-blowing twenty-year-old security guard. The guard waved his hands, trying to control the flow of people as they ran around him. The smell of Bakelite, dust, and stuff burning – plastic, upholstery, electrical wiring – filled the air in the staircase. People choked on the debris they inhaled, coughing as they staggered forward, their eyes and throats burning from the smoke.

“There has been an explosion,” said a voice over a loudspeaker system. The disembodied voice echoed up and down the five floors of the shopping mall.

“The second bomb this week,” said Calvino. He had followed the recent history of bombings: an explosion at Democracy Monument, another inside a police station, someone had bombed a bar. No one knew exactly what combination of dark forces were setting off the bombs, how they were selecting their targets, or their demands or what concession would be required to stop the terror. The motive for the attack remained murky; any number of candidates might have had reason to plant a bomb to settle a power struggle. Calvino took some comfort from this history of bombings as strong evidence that the blast was unrelated to Wes Naylor and his business activities in Thailand.

“Nothing personal,” Calvino said to Naylor. “We just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.”

“What about the detector Jess found on the guy at the elevator?”

Jess had picked up the conversation off Calvino’s mic. “Naylor’s right, Vinee. That guy could have been one of the bombers.”

“Let’s get out of here,” said Calvino.

The crush of frightened people all pushing and shoving each other down the same narrow escape route made it nearly impossible to move. It seemed as if most of the fashion show audience had headed for the same exit. Timing was everything. And now was the time to shift direction, find a different way back to the parking lot, thought Calvino. Jess wanted to believe Calvino’s assessment of the situation. Yet there was a Calvino law that said there were no coincidences, when two unrelated events occurred at the same time. In Thailand there was always, underneath the surface, a thin coil connecting the events, an aggressive hard-wired connection that only the people directly involved understood. Reach far back enough, or dig deep enough and original hatreds, jealousies, rivalries were embedded in the original DOS system of Thai government and society and all the modern updates had done nothing but patch the old flaws and the old flaws were what made the system crash.

It was Jess who had a bad feeling. Someone had set off the bomb to do a job. But had they finished what they set out to do?

“I don’t think we should take any chances,” said Jess. “We need to get Naylor out of this crowd.”

“I know a short-cut,” said Calvino.

Naylor followed him, “Then let’s take the short-cut. I hate fucking crowds. Get me out of here.”

Calvino ran ahead, taking two steps at a time, climbing up the stalled escalator.

“Christ, we want to go down, not up,” said Naylor following, choking on the dust. “Jesus, I can hardly breathe.”

“You want to keep breathing? Then get your ass going now,” said Calvino. Like the universe, Naylor’s middle-aged body was expanding and if he didn’t keep moving he would die.

Jess followed right behind Naylor. He wasn’t so sure that going away from the crowd was the right thing. Sometimes it was easier to protect an Asset in a crowd than in an empty place that one did not know. Calvino had already committed them and he had no other plan.

By the time they reached the fifth floor, the fast food area was deserted – no shoppers, no clerks, no lighting except a dim shaft of dusty light from the atrium. The lights had likely been cut, thought Calvino. The distant sound of people screaming, crying, and yelling filtered up the atrium. Sounds of people running on the escalator, their feet hitting the cleated metal steps. Calvino stopped, knelt down. Jess and Naylor knelt down beside him. Naylor started to say something and Calvino put his hand over the big man’s mouth, and with his other hand, he pressed his index finger against his lips. Slowly he took his hand away from Naylor’s mouth, reached in under his sport’s jacket and pulled out his .38 Police Special. They took refuge in Burger King, moving quickly, passing through tables, and ducking behind the counter. Naylor reached up and grabbed a hamburger out of the bin, opened the wrapper and started to eat. “I guess it would be too much to ask for a beer,” he whispered to Calvino.

“Yeah, it would,” replied Calvino. They stayed together, securing a position with the best view of the two escalators.

A couple of moments later, the sound of male voices came from the direction of Dairy Queen. Three men spoke Thai using short, clipped sentences. They stood near the escalator that led to the sixth floor and cinemas. One of them was making a command decision on how to sweep the floor and who should go where next. The three men fanned out with automatic weapons. CAR-15s. The short version of the M-16 assault rifle, easy to sweep inside confined spaces, the barrels didn’t get snagged on weeds, branches, or on the electrical cords hooked to coke and coffee dispensing machines.

Jess looked around the corner of the counter, leaned back and showed Calvino and Naylor three fingers. Naylor kept chewing the burger. They had moved into the kitchen. Then Jess crooked his fingers into the shape of a weapon, he moved his hands up and down his chest, signalling they were wearing bullet-proof vests. They were armed, protected, and fanned out from the escalator. One was going left towards the elevators and restrooms, another swept through the tables in front of Burger King while the third guy moved quickly to the right and down towards the Food Hall. Calvino was pretty sure that the hit squad must have followed them from the second level, taking the escalator, knowing they had gone exactly where they wanted them.

“Farang, come out,” yelled one of the men in English. “We are security. We take you down to safety.” Broken English, broken promises.

Sure they will, thought Calvino.

Calvino crouched low, leaned forward, and watched as one of the men knocked over one of the tables and stood only a couple feet away from Naylor. The next move belonged to Calvino. For the moment, they had the element of surprise on their side. The question was how to use surprise and to keep alive.

Jess was thinking something along the same lines only his was tailored by his LAPD training. “Awareness. Balance. Self-control. Skill. Timing.” The words went through Jess’s mind like a mantra. They were the core of his training on the force. “Apply them and you live, forget them and you die. They must become part of you. The way you think and feel. You must dream them. You must live them every moment of every day.” His instructor at the Academy said the elements were New Age nonsense. Jess had told the instructor they had come from an ancient age.

Mindfulness is what Buddhism teaches.

Naylor had stopped chewing and he wasn’t showing his Chinese Triad tattoos now. He curled up into a ball, holding onto his fifteen baht gold chain.

“You will not be harmed,” said the same Thai voice.

Forget just one element, leave it out of your consciousness, and discover how unforgiving life can be. Being forgetful of one’s training is not forgiven, thought Jess. The guy coming in their direction was only a couple of feet away, standing erect, confident, holding his weapon against his side, slowly observing an arc of 180 degrees as he walked ahead. He was walking into the kitchen. Calvino reached over and grabbed a coffee mug and dipped it into the vat of oil. Two wire baskets holding raw French fries were balanced above the oil. He waited until the member of the squad was next to him. He stopped, turned, and appeared to leave. Jess followed Calvino’s eyes and he nodded. Calvino crawled forward. Slowly he edged himself around the end of the counter, holding his breath, watching the Thai. The man seemed to have had second thoughts and doubled back through the kitchen and walked straight at Calvino without seeing him. The Thai male wore khaki trousers and a bulky vest under his brown shirt. Then, as he turned to his left, Calvino threw the hot oil in his face. The man dropped his weapon, and covered his face with his hands. Off balance, he fell to his knees. Calvino had never seen anyone move as fast as Jess as he crawled out the other side of the counter with a kitchen knife, which he plunged deep in the fallen guy’s throat. He pinned the guy down with his knees and waited until he was dead. Five, six seconds. Except in the movies, no one ever died in an instant. Five seconds was enough time to kill another man. Jess never gave him that chance. He rolled off the inert body and behind a set of cupboards. Jess grabbed the dead man’s CAR-15 from the floor.

The other two members of the team came running, firing their automatic weapons as they ran. Spraying rounds into the fast food restaurants. Muzzle flashes streaked across the fifth floor. This was undisciplined, undirected fire, showering broken glass and plastic everywhere. The huge plastic ice cream cone in front of Dairy Queen exploded, taking several direct hits. Pieces of the overhead plastic signs rained down on top of Jess and Calvino. As they looked around they discovered that Naylor had vanished. There was no time to look for him.

Calvino dipped the coffee mug back into the oil and waited behind the counter. He saw the second Thai emerge, his black high-top boots catching a glimmer of light. He was shooting random bursts. More muzzle flash as glass exploded from the cinema ads above the elevator. Calvino crawled to his left side, slowly set the mug on the floor, rolled underneath the counter, edged out the other side, and lying on his back squeezed off three rounds. Two of the shots from .38 hit the second member of the squad just above his right ear; the impact of the bullets sent him crashing over a table and chairs. He was dead before he hit the floor.

“One to go,” thought Calvino.

Jess had crawled out in time to see the last member of the team running to the other end where all the electronics, washing machines, fridges and TVs were sold. Calvino took the CAR-15 off the dead man he had shot and shouldered his .38. Jess fired several rounds at the fleeing man. None of the rounds connected.

“Naylor, he’s coming in your direction,” said Jess, who was now on his feet, running down the outer perimeter, past the automotive, the sheets, blankets, and towels near the elevator. Squeezing off rounds as he ran. Calvino ran the opposite side past all the glassware and expensive crystal. As they converged at the back, they had the third man trapped.

“How many more men came with you?” Jess said in Thai.

Another member of the team rose into sight, his hands raised over his head. He was a farang. A sheepish grin spread on his face as he stepped forward. The question was whether he was the only surviving member or whether there were others.

“Hey, man don’t fucking shoot. I’m American. Who were those guys? Jesus, first a blast and now those guys. Hey, what's going on?”

“How many others, asshole?” asked Calvino, who squatted low, looking around for other members of the commando team. But the floor was silent. He looked back at the farang.

This looked like the same guy who had hit Naylor in the face as they had walked out of the elevator. But in the low light it was difficult to tell. This farang was dressed in commando gear, which made it difficult to play the innocent tourist role.

“Put your hands against the back of your head,” said Jess. “Do it now.” He had the CAR-15 pointed at him. The blond-haired man stepped forward, his hip touching the metal railing that wrapped around the side of the atrium.

“Am I under arrest or something?”

“Don’t move. Just stand very very still and everything will be okay.”

Calvino had come around the opposite side past the kitchen appliances and mobile phones. The farang’s back was turned in his direction.

“Did you guys hear that bomb? Man, that was something.”

“How did you know it was a bomb?” asked Jess.

Calvino was close enough to see the farang was palming a small hand-gun at the base of his skull. Another two steps was all that separated him from the farang who was moving in closer. Calvino was now sure this was the same guy who Naylor had kicked in the balls. He was sorry now that he hadn’t let Naylor kick him a couple of more times. Now he pressed the barrel of the CAR-15 in the farang’s back. “Drop it.”

“You seen Naylor?” asked Jess.

“He’s probably eating chicken at KFC,” said Calvino.

The brief conversation was a distraction. A split second in which the farang had to make a decision. On one side was Calvino with a CAR-15 and on the other Jess holding the same kind of weapon on him. He knew the other two members of the team were down. Was he running or was he looking for Naylor, thought Calvino. But where was Naylor? The question hung unanswered in the air. The farang had committed himself to a course of action, and once the momentum of action started one’s fate was sealed. It didn’t matter that this was absolutely the wrong course of action, much like his assault that had backfired at the elevators. The man had learned nothing. At the first twitch of the farang lowering his gun from the base of his skull, Naylor rolled out of a cupboard where he had been hiding and put the full weight of his shoulder into the farang, striking him hard from behind, knocking him against the railing. The farang struggled to break free of Naylor as Jess and Calvino moved in. They were a couple of seconds too late. In a superhuman feat of strength, Naylor had hit the farang from behind, pushing him forward, knocking him off balance; now he raised him up. The farang was screaming as Naylor shoved him forward and the momentum carried him over the railing like a diver coming off a three meter board. But it was more than three-meters and there was no swimming pool at the other end. The farang dropped five floors, hitting the marble floor with a dull thud. A body hitting with such force ought to have made more noise. Flesh and bone smashing hard and splattering across the floor was barely audible. The three men stood at the railing and peered down. The farang, splayed out on the floor, was barely visible in the half-darkness. Naylor reached up and put his arm around Jess and Calvino’s shoulder.

“Who’s the bodyguard in this crowd?” he asked, wiping his hands together as if cleaning off dust. “Thought I had run away? You don’t know me. I never run from a fight.”

“We better check him out,” said Calvino, looking over the railing. He had a strong feeling that the team hadn’t been sent to kill Naylor.

“Forget it. We are getting the fuck out of Dodge,” said Naylor.

“Calvino’s right. We check him out first,” said Jess. “That was the same guy who attacked you outside the elevator.” This was more of a question than a certitude.

“It looked like him,” said Calvino.

“Of course it was him. Why do you think I threw his ass overboard?”

“What matters is finding out who was behind this hit,” said Calvino looking directly at Jess. “And we might even find who they were sent to hit.”

“They were after me,” said Naylor. “Who do you think they were after?”

Calvino looked straight at Jess who had the CAR-15 cradled in his arm. “Naylor, you are no doubt a really important guy. But I don’t see any reason why or how a dysfunctional Chinese family would hire a commando team to make a military-type assault just because you came to buy their hotel. The expressway shooting, yeah, that I can buy. That is their level. A couple of Isan cowboys in a ten-wheeler who can’t shoot straight. Now let’s go.”

“Then who were they trying to kill?” asked Naylor.

“We don’t know,” said Jess.

Calvino nodded. “He’s right. We don’t know. That’s why we need to check out the guy you shoved over the balcony.”

“He ain’t gonna be answering too many questions,” said Naylor.

There was no need to say anything to Naylor about the drug case in LA. The last thing Jess needed was Naylor’s big mouth broadcasting to the world that he was part of an undercover drug bust in Bangkok.

*

Noi held the bloodied head of the dead farang in her arms, and sitting on the floor, she rocked back and forth, crying, tears streaming down her face. Calvino squatted beside her, put a hand on her shoulder. “You are mixed up with some very dangerous people.”

“I didn’t know. Danny never told me he was going to do this. Now he’s dead. I don’t understand why he used me. You have to believe me.” Her sobbing continued.

“Noi, it would be safer for you if you came with us.”

“I can’t leave him like this.”

“There’s no time to argue. There’s no time to mourn,” said Calvino. It wouldn’t take long for others to find out that the three-man squad had gone down. Others would be dispatched. That’s how these kinds of people worked.

“They wouldn’t do anything. I did what they asked. I didn’t know.” She quickly lost her English and slipped into Thai, the natural storage bay of words to express her feelings. She didn’t even realise she was speaking Thai, saying that she was afraid, as the full implication of what Calvino had said sunk in. She gently laid the farang’s head down on the marble floor.

Exactly who were they? If there were no other reason to pull her along, it was to find the answer to that question.

“You are lucky to still be alive,” said Jess in Thai.

Her attention turned away from the dead man. She rose to her feet. “You won’t let them hurt me?” Her eyes searched Calvino’s, then she looked across to Jess.

“You’re going to have to help us,” said Jess. “Tell us about your friend and his friends.”

She nodded, fumbling with a cigarette and staring down at the dead farang.

McPhail came down the escalator clutching a Tower Records bag.

“Another fucking jumper, man.” He looked down at the dead body. Then opened his bag. “I wonder if they would take these back. There’s bound to be a big sale. Bomber special. Hey, Noi is still here. Now that’s a miracle. First you couldn’t find her, now you can’t seem to get rid of her. That’s true of all yings.”

*

On level B2 of the parking lot, dozens of uniformed police and military personnel worked the crime scene; a large part of the lot had already been cordoned off and no civilians were being allowed inside the taped-off area. Police and military vehicles blocked the exits. The wall of tall glass wrapped around the lobby had been blown out. After the explosion all the dust and fragments of metal, paint, fabric, and flesh had been pulled up the atrium like hot air shooting up one very large updraft ventilation shaft. To the side of the entrance, the electrical unit housing the main power supply was shattered, sparking and spitting talons of fire from a melted core made up of the smouldered maze of broken wires and cables. Inside the immediate blast zone – several meters wide – the scene was one of complete destruction. Shards of glass and twisted pieces of plastic, metal, rubber had ripped through cars, splattered against the pillars and walls. No question about it: someone had set off a large amount of explosives to cause this much damage. Even seventy meters away car windows had been shattered.

Calvino walked ahead looking for his car. Noi and McPhail walked together behind Naylor and Jess. Calvino couldn’t remember exactly where he had parked. They had come out a different entrance in the parking lot from the one they had earlier taken into the shopping mall. Finally he spotted it. Calvino stopped and motioned for the others to stop. His car, or what was left of it, was ten feet ahead. Emergency service personnel were removing bodies from the wreckage. And body parts. On the driver’s side an intact head was still attached to the spinal column and shredded meat and organs clung to the outer edges of the spine and the femurs. The shoes and feet, like the head, were recognisable as human; but the parts of the body between the head and the feet didn’t look like parts that belonged to a human being. On the passenger’s side was a limp, damaged body – the left side had been sliced away from the force of the blast – but the second victim was in one large chunk. A headless torso with ragged flaps of flesh where the head had once rested. The torso was minced around the edges and scorched black from powder burns. An emergency unit, its members wearing protective clothing, masks, and gloves placed the pieces in large, black plastic bags. Uniformed police stood guard around the car waiting for the owner to return.

“Let’s get out of here,” said Jess.

Calvino nodded and a couple of minutes later they had blended into the crowd of shoppers, clerks, security guards, a great exodus of people walking, half-dazed, taking the Soi 24 exit ramp which led out of the parking lot.

“Someone toasted your Honda,” said McPhail. “What the hell is this?” he asked, kneeling down and picking up a round steel ball.

Jess looked at the steel ball rolling inside McPhail’s cupped hand. “Claymore,” said Jess. It looked like an ordinary steel ball-bearing.

“Heavy shit,” said McPhail. “No way your insurance is gonna cover this. The war exception clause fucks you every time.”

“I’ve seen enough,” said Calvino.

“How are we getting to the Brandy?” asked Naylor. “I’ve got a meeting this afternoon, remember? And I want to see Jep before we go back."

“The meeting has been cancelled,”said Calvino.

“You can’t do that, Calvino. I came to Bangkok for that meeting.”

That was probably somewhere between a half and three-quarters of a lie. But it was no time or place to argue. “Jess, Noi goes with us. McPhail, take Wes to the Brandy, then go along with him to his meeting.”

Naylor and McPhail looked each other up and down like a couple of soi dogs marking their territory. McPhail had that “fuck you” expression on his ultra thin upper lip, making it curl into a sneer as he clutched his Tower Records bag.

“When did I start working for you, Calvino?” asked McPhail.

“About fifteen minutes ago.”

“You can’t assign bodyguard duty like a maintenance contract on a crummy apartment,” said Naylor, suddenly becoming lawyer-like.

“I just did.”

“Then you’ve seen Vincent’s apartment,” said McPhail, smiling.

“You don’t need a bodyguard. You need a business agent,” said Calvino.

“Jess, you’re not going along with this shit, are you?” Naylor looked frightened.

“Let me put you straight, Mr. Naylor. If those men were trying to kill you, it was for reasons undisclosed to me. If it is just the hotel deal, Calvino’s right. If it is some other deal, then he’s still right. You don’t need us because nothing is going to save you.”

Calvino opened the rear door of a taxi. Others were banging on the door, trying to get in the cab. Holding a taxi was a New York City art form. Calvino stood in the way of several others who tried to push their way through. Jess and Noi climbed inside. Calvino shut the door and got into the front, looking at the driver, a small, dark skinned Thai with a thick head of badly cut hair. “Rama IV Road,” said Calvino.

“Meter broken,” said the driver, grinning. “Five hundred baht.”

Calvino handed him the extortion money for the fare. “Go.”

Rama IV Road was a vague, opened-ended destination that made it clear to the taxi driver that Calvino knew where he was going but wasn’t going to tell the exact destination until the last moment. Such contradictions were natural components of life on the street.

Calvino was heading for Klong Toey, a vast slum built under expressways, along canals, beside the Port of Bangkok.

Klong Toey was the last place he wanted this driver with the stupid grin and appetite to know was his destination. The five hundred baht rip-off fee told Calvino all he needed to know: the driver would take the first opportunity to tell anyone who asked and paid for the answer, exactly where he had taken them. And no doubt, there would be men with their hair cropped short, guns in their waistbands, making the rounds, asking taxi drivers, offering money, for information on where a group of farang had been taken.

(back to book main)

 

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