Sunday, 29th March 2020 - 7:59:04 am
I sat down to consider what Nat had just told me. What her uncle had said, normally, could only be known by a fellow member of the order. Of course others may have knowledge of the language but to make the kind of immediate commitment he’d made to helping me, without having ever met me, could only mean that he was a brother. Regardless of race, creed or cultural differences, members of the order, through their oath of fellowship, had an obligation to help their brethren in times of need. The only requirement being that the one being helped was free of blame for any wrongdoing. Others, who were non-members, often expressed misinformed opinions about the order and its function; that being, it was a secret society in league with the devil.
Nothing was further from the truth of course; the order did a lot of unheralded work for the good of humanity. In Thailand a lot of help was provided to the less fortunate in life. I looked at the ring on my right hand; I’d kept it out of sight during the interview with Colonel Prasert. Its’ markings represented a three thousand year history. A history, as I’d mentioned earlier to Nat, which was concerned with the protection, and retention, of an ancient knowledge. It was a knowledge that was based on truth, integrity and wisdom; a knowledge that one man had gone to his death protecting from the greed, and jealousy, of others. It was, at its’ most basic level, the story of mankind; the ongoing battle between darkness and light, good versus evil, greed versus generosity, truthfulness versus deceit, and selflessness versus selfishness. And now it was the story of my show down with Ning.
Ning was the classic case of what happens to people who become overcome with greed and the never ending attachment to possessions; an attachment that’s based, primarily, on fear and insecurity. When a person forgets that the only genuine source of security is themselves they begin believing that they need something, outside themselves, in order to be happy. It’s a belief that they can only be happy by having a certain amount of money in the bank or by owning a never ending accumulation of possessions. Unfortunately whenever a person’s happiness is based upon something, other than their true self, insecurity arises because they know, at a deep level of their being, that whatever is bringing them happiness can be lost and therefore it has the potential to bring them pain. For this reason some, such as Ning, will go to any lengths to get more and protect what they already have.
I wanted to close my eyes but decided to give Baey a call; I owed him that much at least. I picked up the phone again and punched in his number.
“It’s Mike” I said keeping my voice at a low level.
“How’s the leg?”
“Okay. I’m in a holding cell at Pattaya Police station”
“Hmmm, what happened?”
“A couple of cops came to the hospital. One of them was Ning’s boyfriend”
“That doesn’t sound too good
“No it’s not. He was looking for the memory card. Luckily the other cop outranked him so he had to back off when I told them I had nothing to say until I got down to the police station”
“That was the smart move. Have you been charged with anything?”
“No but Ning’s invented a story of outright lies to try and have me blamed for Chris’ death. I haven’t handed over the memory card yet”
“Where is it?”
“I swallowed it when the cops came to the hospital”
“Well you know what that means then?” said Baey beginning to laugh.
“I know. I’ve got a dirty job when I take a dump next” I said laughing as well.
“Better you than me”
“I’m going to hand it over eventually but I want to make a copy of it first so I’ve got some insurance against any vested interests”
“Did you tell the police you’d hand it over?”
“Yes but they’ve decided to hold me here pending ongoing investigations. They said that, until I can provide real evidence clearing me from any wrong doing, I’m being detained as a suspect in Chris’ murder. I didn’t think they could do that?” I said.
“Well, they can if they think a suspect might run away. Anyway, how are you going to get out of there?”
“I’ve asked that lady I know in Bangkok for help”
“How can she help?” said Baey sounding doubtful
“She’s got an uncle who’s in the Arintharad”
“Well that should be in your favour, those guys have a lot of influence”
“That’s what she said. The problem is that I’m not going to look to good by the time he gets here. I’m still wearing the same clothes I had on when I went for my swim”
“Farang men maak (bad smell)” said Baey laughing again.
“Yeah, I could certainly do with a change of clothes” I said looking at the salt encrusted ones I was wearing.
“Do you want me to buy some and bring them down there for you?”
“No mate, its better that you remain hidden until further notice. If things work out I should be up there to see you tomorrow”
‘Don’t get too ahead of yourself Mike. There’s going to be some serious inter police rivalry going on concerning your situation. Remain calm and stay in the background until they’ve cut a deal”
“A deal?” I said sounding surprised.
“Yes Mike. You’ll probably have to leave a bond before they’ll release you and it could be expensive. There’s also the possibility that, even if you’re cleared of any wrongdoing, you may not get the bond back”
“I don’t mind. I’ll gladly lose a bit of money to see that bitch go to the monkey house” I said consigning myself to the fact that Baey was probably right in what he was telling me.
“Is there anything you want me to do?”
“Yeah, can you organize getting the bike back to the shop? I don’t want to run the risk of that thing disappearing. The replacement cost is very expensive. Other than that just keep a low profile and I’ll be in touch.
“Okay, no problems Mike. I’ll take care of the bike tomorrow morning. Talk with you later” said Baey.
“Okay mate. I’m going to try and get some sleep, I’m feeling pretty zapped”
I lay back on the board like mattress and closed my eyes. Maybe I wouldn’t have too much trouble sleeping after all; I was feeling exhausted. Buzz buzz, buzz, buzz; it was my phone again. I opened my eyes, thinking I’d only just got to sleep, and checked my Casio; I’d been out to it a solid eight hours. I picked up the phone
“Hello” I said as I rubbed the sleep out of my eyes
“Mike, its Nat”
“Morning” I said feeling the dryness in my throat.
“I’m on my way to Pattaya with my uncle now. Are you still at the police station?”
“Yep, I’ve just woken up” I said trying to focus.
“Okay, I should be there in about two hours. I‘ll see you soon”
“Okay Nat, thanks. I owe you” I said.
“We’ll talk about that later. Just remember to be jai yen yen (cool heart) when things are being negotiated” she said in a firm tone.
“Okay, will do. See you soon” I said.
I was feeling like crap; I needed a shower and some water to drink. I stepped up to the barred window and looked out into the dim passage way; there was no one about. Fuck this was depressing. Now I understood why farangs, who were imprisoned in this country, were often never seen again; if there was no one watching out for your welfare a person could just waste away. I sat down and resigned myself to the very real fact that I probably wouldn’t see anyone until they really wanted to see me. I sat on the floor, closed my eyes and started to meditate in an effort to empty the mind of the internal chatter. I was just beginning to descend into that mantra induced state of detachment when a voice interrupted my internal quietness.
I opened my eyes and turned my head to the door to find I was looking straight into the eyes of Ning’s boyfriend. I remained calm and bought my focus back to the moment.
“What?” I said without averting my eyes from his.
“You give me that memory card and I’ll get you out of here”
Sure you will, you lying piece of shit. A plan flashed through my mind.
“How can you arrange that? Three witnesses have made statements saying I killed khun Lane”
“Mai bpen rai (never mind), that can be changed. You give me that memory card and I’ll make sure the witnesses change their statements” he said with about as much sincerity as whore telling you she didn’t really want your money.
“Hmmm, okay. I don’t have the memory card though. I gave it to my friend”
“The Thahan Phran man?”
“Where is he now?”
“I don’t know. I haven’t been able to contact him since yesterday morning”
I heard the sound of the door, at the far end of the corridor, being opened.
“You find your friend, give me that memory card and I’ll help you”
“Okay. How do I contact you?”
Footsteps were approaching. Chalermchai said something in Thai to the person approaching my cell and, as he did so, dropped a scrap of paper through the window. I picked it up, and looked at it, as the padlock was being removed; it was a mobile phone number. I looked through the barred window to see the junior officer, from yesterday, standing there with a white styrene container and a bottle of water in a plastic bag. I looked down the corridor and Chalermchai was gone. The junior officer opened the door and passed in the plastic bag.
“Colonel Prasert told us to look after you” he said politely.
“Kop khun Krap (thank you)” I said as I accepted it gratefully.
The door closed and I sat down to enjoy my kao pad gai kai dow (chicken fried rice with a fried egg). I ate slowly and began to methodically, step by step, put together a plan which, much as I didn’t like it, would mean I’d be spending a bit more time consigned to this cell. I finished eating and, after taking my antibiotics, checked the wound; despite the stress of the past few hours it was beginning to heal. I picked up my phone again, stepped up to the window of the cell door and keyed in Baey’s number.
“It’s Mike” I said, once again, keeping my voice to a low level.
“Are you still at the police station?”
“Yes, I’m still here unfortunately. Nat, the lady from Bangkok, is on her way here now with her uncle who’s going to try and negotiate my release” I said as I looked at my Casio and noted it was only eight thirty am.
“Well hopefully they’ll be able to get you out of there”
“The thing is that something occurred this morning which has me thinking that I might need to stay in here for another couple of days” I said.
“Ning’s boyfriend came to see me”
“He’s trying to cut a deal?”
“Yes, how did you know that?”
“I’m Thai Mike. I know how other Thais think” said Baey with a cynical laugh.
“Hmmm, okay. Maybe you won’t like what I’ve told him then”
“Perhaps, what did you say to him?”
“I told him you had the memory card” I said expecting Baey to be angry with me
“What’s your plan Mike?” he said coolly.
“Well, it all depends on whether I can convince the police here of what I want to try and do but, basically, I want to set him up”
“By bluffing him into believing that you’ve run off with the memory card and that you’ll exchange it, with him, for a bag of drugs”
“Wow, that’s quite a plan. Do you think the cops are going to be happy to go along with that?”
“To be honest, I don’t know. It will all come down to whether, or not, Nat’s uncle can convince them that I’m a guy who can be trusted?” I said as the door, at the end of the corridor, was opened once again.
“From someone who knows you Mike, there’s no doubt about that”
“Thanks mate, I’d trust you with my life as well. Look, for this plan to work I’m going to have to remain in this cell for a bit longer. I’ll give the memory card to Nat and ask her to make a copy for me. I’ve got to go now mate. Stay hidden and I’ll let you know what happens” I said as the junior officer approached the cell again.
“Okay Mike, good luck” said Baey as I stepped back from the cell door and ended the call.
“Colonel Prasert wants another meeting with you. There are also some people here from Bangkok who wants to see you as well” he said as I filed out of the cell and followed him down the corridor.
I entered the waiting area to see Nat standing there looking into the office I’d been interviewed in yesterday; she was dressed conservatively but still had an air of coolness and sophistication about her that was unmatched by any woman I’d yet to see in Pattaya. I felt a bit embarrassed about the state of my presentation as I approached her.
“Hi Nat” I said as she turned to greet meet.
“Hi Mike. Are you okay?” she said looking at the bandage on my calf.
“Yeah, not too bad. It’s great to see you, thanks for coming” I said genuinely pleased that she was here.
She gave me a hug.
“Oh my Buddha Mike, you need an apnam (bath)” she said appraising my condition.
“I know” I said laughing inwardly about the way Thai’s have an aversion to bad smells which matches how Farang feel about loud noise.
“My uncle is in there now, with Colonel Prasert, arguing your case” she said turning back to face the interview room.
“Will they need to see me?”
“Yes, of course. My uncle needs to confirm the integrity of your character. What’s this association you both belong to?” she said looking me squarely in the eye.
“It’s not an association Nat, it’s an order” I said correcting her.
“Okay, an order. What is it about?”
“What’s it about? It’s about a group of people who are committed to maintaining truth, honesty, integrity, and generosity in a world that is sadly lacking in those qualities” I said looking squarely back at her.
“Hmmm, that’s very similar to what my uncle said to me. Is that ring you wear some kind of insignia of membership?”
“Yes it is” I said turning my hand so she had a direct view of it.
“My uncle has one with the same markings”
“What’s happening in there” I said looking back towards the interview room again.
“They’re probably just establishing protocol. Colonel Prasert outranks my uncle in direct seniority but my uncle has stronger links to people of important influence in Thai society”
“Look Nat I don’t want to seem rude but when I go in there I’m going to make a proposal to them. I don’t have time to tell you what it’s about at the moment but, if what I want to do is going to work, I need to give you something which I’d like you to copy and bring back to me”
“What is it?”
“A memory card”
“And that’s the evidence you told me about?”
“Yes, it’s got video footage of my friend being thrown from his balcony”
“Where is it now?”
“If I told you, you won’t like it?” I said breaking into a smile.
“You swallowed it?” said Nat with a slightly disgusted look on her face.
“Yes and I think I’m going to need to go to the hong nam (bathroom) now” I said feeling my bowels starting to move.
“Make sure you wash it thoroughly please?” said Nat beginning to remind me of my mother again.
“Kao jai (understand)” I said as I asked the junior officer for directions to the nearest toilet facilities.
Ten minutes later I was walking back into the waiting area with the cleaned memory card secreted in my hand. It was probably one of the most disgusting things I’ve had to do in a long time, digging through my own faeces but, luckily, the blue plastic was immediately visible when I looked in the pan and it took only a few seconds to retrieve it. After flushing it off, with the bidet, I gave it a good wash with liquid soap in the hand washing basins. Nat was still looking into the interview room when I approached and stood next to her.
“Are they ready to see me?” I said looking towards the interview room.
“Yes. Have you cleaned it well?”
“Yes Nat. I know Thai people hate bad smells?” I said as the door to the interview room opened.
“Good luck Mike” she said looking into my eyes.
“Thanks Nat” I said putting out my hand.
She reciprocated, and took the memory card from me, as Colonel Prasert came out of the interview room.
“Make a copy, on another memory card, and bring both back to me this afternoon please Nat. I’ll tell you everything when you come back” I said as the Colonel walked towards us.
“Okay Mike” she said, pocketing the memory card, and turning to face Colonel Prasert.
“Sawasdee Ka (hello)” she said wai-ing as he came to a halt in front of us.
“Sawasdee krap (hello)” he said wai-ing back politely and then looking at me.
“I trust your accommodation wasn’t too uncomfortable khun Johnson?”
“Someone is here, from Bangkok, to negotiate your release. Under normal circumstances I wouldn’t consider this kind of interference, from another Police department, but it seems that you’ve got some fairly influential friends here in Thailand. Major Chaweng seems to think that there’s no possibility that you could be guilty of the murder of your friend. After spending a bit of time talking with him I’m beginning to think that might just be the case. I’d like to hear the whole story though before making a final decision. Please?” he said indicating towards the interview room. I nodded and looked at Nat.
“I’ll call you later”
“Okay Mike” she said as I turned and followed Colonel Prasert.
A smart looking police officer stood up, from behind the desk, as I entered the interview room. His uniform was pressed immaculately and he looked fit and alert. As I approached him I wai-ed, to show respect for the significance of what he was doing for me.
“Sawasdee krap” I said as we faced each other.
“Sawasdee krap” he replied as he offered me his right hand.
The gold ring on his ring finger bore the same markings as mine. I took his hand and positioned my fingers in the grip of a person of my degree level. Captain Chaweng held my gaze as Colonel Prasert stood by intrigued by what was going on.
“As a Master Mason, whence you come?
“Wither directing your course?”
‘What inducement have you to leave the East and go to the West?”
“To seek for that which was lost, which, by your instruction and our own industry, we hope to find”
“What is that which was lost?”
“The genuine secrets of a Master Mason”
“How came they lost?”
“By the untimely death of our Master Hiram Abif”
He released my grip, smiled and turned to Colonel Prasert.
“This man does not have the blackness in his heart to do what he is being accused of. Of that I am certain. Please khun Johnson, have a seat”
“Thank you” I said as we all sat down.
“I am Major Chaweng of the special police unit to the royal family. I must admit that, when my niece contacted me regarding your situation, I was quite sceptical due to the fact that many farang, here in Thailand, create problems for themselves by making poor choices in the ways in which they conduct themselves in this country. However, when she mentioned your remarks about fellowship, and ancient knowledge, I realized that you were probably a brethren member. If you don’t mind me asking, which order do you belong to?”
“The Scottish Rite”
“Ah, the thirty three degrees” said Major Chaweng looking suitably impressed.
“Colonel Prasert is interested in joining. As you know, he needs two lodge members to put his name forward. Perhaps you might consider assisting him in this regard?” said the Captain more as a statement than a request.
“Well, yes of course” I said almost immediately.
“Good. Now, I want hear everything regarding this situation that you find yourself in”
“Hmmm, okay. Any chance I could get a cup of coffee before I start?”
I spent the best part of the next hour going over everything that had happened since I’d been to see Chris at the hospital; even though it was barely a week, it seemed like an age ago. As I talked I was interrupted, regularly, by both the Major, and the Colonel, and asked for greater detail on points that caught their interest; my rapid exit from Pattaya, the assault on Fon, Chris’ murder and my flight from the bad guys after being a witness to their evil deed. Eventually, everything came down to the missing memory card from the camera. As much as I felt Colonel Prasert and Major Chaweng were coming around to believing my version of events, I wasn’t quite ready to give them what they wanted.
“For us to bring charges against your friend’s girlfriend, and her collaborators, we really need to see the evidence on that memory card. It would also help to clear you of any lingering doubts we may have regarding your involvement” said the Colonel.
“I can’t give it to you now”
“Because someone else has it”
“I can’t tell you that”
“I don’t need to remind you again that withholding evidence from us is an offence against Thai law” said the Colonel politely but firmly.
Major Chaweng turned to the Colonel.
“Yes, but he’s already told you he’s willing to hand it over. If khun Johnson isn’t being charged with anything, you can’t detain him indefinitely”
Colonel Prasert was beginning to look annoyed.
“Look, I’ll be able to give it to you later today. To prove my word I’m prepared to remain here until such time as I can hand it over to you” I said remaining calm.
They both looked at me.
“Why would you want to do that?” said Major Chaweng appearing slightly taken back by what I’d said.
“Because I have something in mind, a plan”
“Hmmm, okay. What is it?” said Colonel Prasert.
“A strategy to arrest Miss Ning, and her two partners in crime, while they’re here at the Police station”
“We could just as easily go to her condo and arrest her there and, besides, what reason would she have for coming here? If we contact her and ask her to come in, she’s quite likely to run off” said the Colonel sounding sceptical.
“Not if she’s convinced that I’m going to be charged with khun Lane’s murder” I said
“Okay, that may work. What inducement would she have for coming here of her free will?”
“You could tell her that she, and the other two that made witness statements, are required to make a positive identification on me”
“You make it sound easy. Who’s going to convince her that you don’t have the memory card?” said the Colonel sounding sceptical again.
“Her boyfriend” I said with a trace of a smile.
“You mean sergeant Chalermchai?” he said looking surprised again
“Yes” I said as I unfolded the scrap of paper, in my hand, and placed it on the table.
“What’s this?” said Colonel Prasert.
“It’s a mobile phone number, given to me by Chalermchai this morning”
“He’s trying to cut a deal with you?” said Major Chaweng smiling.
“Yes he told me that, if I hand over the memory card, he’d see to it that the witnesses changed their statements” I said remembering what Baey had told me about Thai people knowing how other Thais think
Colonel Prasert started drumming his fingers, almost nervously, on the table; he looked embarrassed, from the seeming breach in security, then exhaled and shook his head.
“I know it’s not my place to tell you how to do your job but, if you don’t mind, I want to make a suggestion” I said
“If you want to catch him, for drug related offences, you could set him up?”
“I can’t use the Thai police force for such an activity, it’s illegal and amoral” said the Colonel looking annoyed with me.
“Yes, but you could use an ex Thahan Phran man”
They both sat up in their seats and looked at me as if appreciating my cunning.
“How do you know he’d be willing to help us in a sting operation like this?” said the major.
“I don’t know for sure but I think I know him well enough to say that he’s a guy who is committed to the idea of good triumphing over bad. He’s also highly reliable, courageous, trustworthy and a fervent Buddhist; the sort of man that wouldn’t be out of place wearing the uniform of your police unit Major Chaweng” I said with conviction.
“How would this work?” queried the Colonel.
“I told Chalermchai that my friend, Baey, had the memory card and that I hadn’t been able to contact him?”
“But if you give your friend this number, Chalermchai will get suspicious”
“Yes, that’s why I’ll contact him to say that I still can’t get in touch with Baey, that I’m still being held here and that I’m being charged with the murder of khun Lane”
“How will Chalermchai actually know that khun Baey has the memory card?” said Captain Chaweng
“I’ll tell Baey to phone Ning. He can tell her that he’s got it, that he’s unhappy with me for not paying him and he wants to cut a deal with Chalermchai. She’ll be keen to see that happen because she wants that memory card as much as he does. Baey can arrange to meet with Chalermchai and exchange the memory card for a load of drugs” I said feeling confident with the plan.
“Hmmm, how will khun Baey explain, to Ning, how he got her number?” said Major Prasit looking for weaknesses.
“Easy, he can just say that he stole one of my phones” I said.
“You do understand that if she finds out Chalermchai’s been arrested she could just disappear”
“Yes, that’s why you should set it up so that you arrest her at the same time that Chalermchai is being caught in the drugs sting”
“Okay, but I think that he will want to see what’s on the memory card before he hands over anything to khun Baey. How will he do that when we’ve got it here at the Police station?”
“Someone is going to bring me the original plus a copy, later today”
“Who?” said Colonel Prasert looking at me intently.
“If I tell you, you may not be too happy” I said looking at Major Chaweng and feeling a bit guilty about having put Nat in a difficult situation.
“You do know you put her at great risk?” said Major Chaweng realizing what his niece was probably doing right now.
“Yes I know and I don’t feel too good about it either but, at the time, she, and khun Baey, were the only people I felt I could trust”
“Contrary to what you hear khun Johnson, not all police in this country are guilty of questionable activities. Most of us are professional in our conduct and mindful of the need to adhere to the letter of Thai law at all times. Unfortunately, it appears that your detainment here has exaggerated your mistrust of us. Some may have considered your detainment here necessary, due to misplaced suspicion, but I can tell you that I came down here, already certain, that you were innocent of that mad woman’s allegations” he said looking non plussed at Colonel Prasert.
“How can you be certain of that?” said the Colonel looking offended.
“Because his friend was a member of the order as well, wasn’t he?” said the Major looking at me.
“Yes” I said nodding my head thoughtfully.
“Khun Johnson my niece is a very respectable Thai woman, what are your intentions regarding her, and you, in the future?”
Obviously Major Chaweng had little inkling of his Nieces night time activities. Still, I had to admit she’d managed to work her way into my heart.
“I’d like to marry her” I said with sincerity.
Major Chaweng smiled and pulled out his phone
“Good then please call her now and ask her to come back here without delay”
I was about to key in her number, when my own phone started buzzing. The major and the colonel both looked down at my travellers pack as I retrieved my phone and looked at the screen; it was a call from Nat.