Jack's head appears above the crowd as he walks across
the entrance to the Ambassador Hotel. He was all smiles,
that was Jack. Next to him was Michael Garrett who is
a couple of inches shorter than Jack. They are talking
and laughing as they weave through the crowded pavement.
Jack has planned this piece of espionage with some care
and precision. It supposedly is a secret mission, and
Hurley has sworn an oath of silence. Not so secret that
Michael hasn't been invited along. Hurley is a little
hurt, thinking this was to be a two-man raid party.
The plan seems like a year ago, counting one hundred
I didn't keep you waiting, Hurley."
got out of a massage session when I saw Jack," says
winks at Hurley. "I told him we had a business meeting."
about the top secret Thermae project," says Michael.
shrugs. "Michael has the tools we need, Hurley. I
say we cut him in."
thought, this is how it starts. You cut in one friend
and then another and before you know it, the entire crowd
has a piece of the action.
you'd rather not, then it's okay. I don't want to cause
a problem," says Michael.
other words, there is no problem," says Jack. "The
universe as we know it on Sukhumvit Road is in perfect
smiles and nods. "No problem, Michael."
looks at the corrugated metal fence around the demolition
site, "I know you and Jack have a deal. I am not
trying to cut in. I want to be a part of history. Tell
you what, your the boss, I go along and in return I owe
was always good to have Michael owing you a favour, or
better yet, money. He is one of the best technical guys
in the company, and when there is a really difficult problem
to fix, Hurley needs Michael's good will to get the job
done. A public school boy who gets his hands dirty fixing
cell sites scattered over the city, across the country,
transmitting signals from one mobile phone to another.
He hears rumours now and again that Michael moonlights,
milking other cash cows in the city. Nothing substantial
is ever confirmed but Hurley figures that sooner or later
he will figure out what Michael is up to. They are the
same age: Hurley and Michael. And have the same ambition-to
stay free of the spokes of the wheel that beat up the
employees in the company. To stay employed.
problem," says Hurley. "Let's go."
get down to some work," says Jack, squeezing between
two of the vendor's tables and pulled back a make-shift
piece of corrugated metal from the entrance to the old
of the vendors begins to protest. "Closed. Cannot
inspector," says Jack in Thai. "Government inspection.
vendor's smile reveals black gums as he steps aside.
and Michael go into the compound a couple of steps behind
Jack who leads with military precision. Pseudo-Greek columns
are on the sides of the doorway and the sign overhead
remains intact. From the upper floors is the sound of
sledgehammers smashing against concrete and falling debris.
At the current rate of destruction, nothing much will
be left standing in another couple of days. At the far
end is a makeshift campsite for the workers; three corrugated
shacks built against the wall. On the cracked pavement
snot nosed children in rags play in the debris-having
no idea that it is Christmas Day. Cooking pots steamed
over open fires. This could be a in a refugee camp within
shelling distance of some dusty hamlet in some forgotten
border war. Like migrant workers, these Isan workers work
where they sleep and rear their children in shelters no
one would think of housing war criminals. A couple of
worn down women who are twenty going onto fifty shift
around the children, through the grounds, dust in their
hair. One looks after the kids, the other is stooping
forward to lift the lid of one pot and stirs the rice.
One of the kids-a two year old boy with no pants-throws
pieces of wood on the open fire. In the family tradition
of peasants, he's working before he can talk.
fall over the Old Thermae, and visibility is further cut
in half by an asteroid like belt of grey dust that circulates
in clouds eye level above the site. Hurley moves forward
into the private domain and finds himself in the orbit
of poverty, work, hardship and the smell of rice cooking.
In the driveway which leads to the shacks, Hurley and
Jack halt their advance alongside a flatbed truck. Michael
kicks one of the balding tires. All the fenders were dented.
wouldn't want to get in front of this one when the tire
blows," Michael says.
driver looks a little overheated," says Jack.
driver's door is open and a small man squats in the shade
a few feet away, beads of sweat forming on his face, dripping
off his lip. He is listening to a Thai love song on a
radio. Even the poor fall in love. The flatbed is heaped
with broken shards of concrete, iron rods twisting out
of the broken pieces, and next to the truck, all in a
neat row, are eight of the booths from the Old Thermae
waiting for the end like condemned prisoners. Jack steps
forward and touches one of the booths. Michael kneels
down on one knee and looks for the initials he carved
into one of the benches years ago.
Hurley, he leans against the truck thinking that this
is how it ends...always. With no one around to mourn or
even remember the lost generations of women whose warm,
moist thighs, naked legs and silky, soft underwear sat
on those booths; the hopes, dreams and bodily fluids had
all dried away, vanishing without a trace. The booths
were the place of judgment; the place where the judges
selected from a large jury panel and passed on a cash
verdict. A film of white powdery dust covers the black
Naugahyde; dust to dust, ashes to ashes, the workers like
pallbearers lift one of the ghostly objects and heave
it into the back of the truck. Pallbearers from hell would
have been more gentle. Jack looks at Hurley and Michael
with sad, brooding eyes.
see that? History is being thrown on the junk heap."
will provide another ass and another seat," says
better get moving," said Jack.
Hurley the site is another kind of abandonment, another
way that people depart without ever saying goodbye.
I tell you my old man came in from England today?"
asks Michael. He's found his initials on one of the benches
and feels particularly pleased that he was invited to
dad has a heart condition. He was here once. But he can't
travel now," says Hurley. "Doctor's orders."
says Jack, turning one of the booths over onto the side.
booths are what Jack had come for. Standing on the flatbed
a workman, smoking a cigarette, eyes the three men. He
stops working, hands loose at his side, staring at the
farang. His face is ash gray, and the red ember at the
end of the cigarette glows an evil color as he inhales.
your boss?" Jack yells, cupping his hands and shouting
in Thai, hoping to be heard above all the crashing, thumping,
and pounding noises in the compound.
has a laser pen red light, sneaks it out of his trousers
and draws a ribbons of red light across the debris, up
the worker's pant leg and ending like one of those India
sub-continent red dots of the Hindu right between his
worker inside the flatbed shrugs as if he does not understand
Jack, and turns around, swatting at the light as if he
is being attacked by a mosquito or a hungry ghost awakened
from the kitchen of the Old Thermae. Hurley moves around
the side of the truck and bumps into another workman pissing
against the side of the wall. He excuses himself, waits
until the worker finishes, pulls his wet equipment back
inside his trousers just as Michael's red beam illuminates
the wall a few inches from his face. The worker jumps,
screaming, as if bitten in the balls by a snake. He whips
around, his head looking up and down and from side to
side, his face frightened.
says Michael. The Thai word for ghost sound like the child's
word in English for taking a leak, taking a piss, for
friend wants the skin from the black chairs," is
the rough translation from Hurley's Thai into English.
for?" asked the worker who has been pissing against
the side of the wall. He's even more terrified now that
these three farangs are here to skin the old booths. A
bad omen. It's a MacBeth opening and the witches hunger
make telephone covers," says Jack, replying honestly.
have money," says Michael. "At least I don't
think I spent it all at the massage parlor. Normally,
the old man takes care of that kind of thing."
for an offering to Rahu," says Hurley. Rahu is the
Hindu God of Darkness. Khun Maa's favourite deity, who
is worshipped by offerings of eight black eggs, eight
black children, eight black chickens. Why not eight black
Naugahyde strips from the Old Thermae? thinks Hurley.
repeats the workman.
flashes Hurley an admiring "You got him" kind
workman smiles, the kind of local smile that Thais sometimes
break into when they have some confirmation that the farangs
in their midst are hysterically eccentric creatures willing
to spend money on things that no one would ever guess
had any value. In this case, for a Hindu god. The workman
looks worried, turning around to stare at the wall quickly
to see if that red light had reappeared. It has not. Is
this a trick? Is this good fortune? Who are these three
strange men coming into this life, speaking of gods and
bringing mysterious red lights? His face softens as he
decides the farang are an omen of good fortune. Whatever
that red light source was, these strangers are being delivered
for a payday; the workman feels this deep in his bones.