The elevated expressway is the only road in the city where a Mercedes
E series can outrun a Toyota Echo, and I drive without hope or haste (which
comes from the devil; slowness comes from Buddha), just for form, feeling
out of place amongst the elite vehicles whose owners can afford the toll:
Mercs and BMWs, Japanese four-by-fours, plus a lot of taxis with farangs
in the back. We fly above the brothel-hotels of the Nana district before
I take a slip road into the primeval jam below.
Nobody jams like us. On Sukhumvit at the junction with Soi 4 the traffic
is solid in four directions. There is a sentry box here for the traffic
cops who are supposed to deal with the problem, but how do two underpaid
cops move a million cars packed like mangoes for export? The cops are
asleep behind their glass and the drivers have given up honking their
horns. It is too hot and humid to honk. I spy our guns and holsters in
a tangle at Pichai's feet, along with the radio and the portable siren
to clamp on the roof when we finally go into action. I nudge Pichai.
"Better call him, tell him we lost the mark."
Pichai already has the monkish capacity to hear and understand whilst
asleep. He groans, passes a hand through the condemned jet-black locks
which I have always envied and bends double to retrieve the Korean short-wave
radio. An exchange of static and the unsurprising intelligence that Police
Colonel Vikorn, chief of District 8, cannot be located.
"Call him on his mobile."
Pichai fishes his own mobile out of a pocket and presses the autodial
button. He speaks to our Colonel in terms too respectful for modern English
to carry (somewhere between "sire" and "my lord"), listens for a moment,
then slips the Nokia back in his pocket. "He's going to ask Traffic to
cooperate. If the black farang shows up, Traffic will call us on the radio."
I turn up the air-conditioning and wind the seat back. I try to practice
the insight meditation I learned long ago in my teens and have practiced
intermittently ever since. The trick is to catch the aggregates as they
speed through the mind without grasping them. Every thought is a hook,
and if we can only avoid those hooks we might achieve nirvana in one or
two lifetimes, instead of this endless torture of incarnation after incarnation.
I am interrupted by more static from the radio (I register static, static,
static before emerging from the meditation). Black farang in gray Mercedes
reported stopped at Dao Phrya, on the slip road under the bridge. Pichai
calls the Colonel, who authorizes the siren.
I wait while Pichai slips out of the car, clamps the siren to the roof,
where it flashes and wails to no effect on the gridlock, and walks over
to the sentry box, where the traffic cops are dozing. At the same time
he is strapping on his holster and gun and reaching in his pocket for
his police ID. A more advanced soul than I, he gives no sign of the disgust
he feels at being trapped in this pollution called life on earth. He would
not wish to poison anyone else's mind. Nevertheless, he smacks his hand
somewhat violently against the glass of the sentry box and yells at them
to wake the fuck up. Smiles and a gentlemanly discussion before the boys
in donkey brown (the uniform can appear bottle green in some lights) emerge
to take charge. They come up to me in the car and there is the usual double-take
when they see what I am. The Vietnam War left plenty of half-castes in
Krung Thep, but few of us turned into cops.
There are several inches of slack within which every car can shunt, and
our colleagues show considerable skill and cunning in making a space.
In no time at all I am able to drive up onto the sidewalk, where the siren
terrorizes the pedestrians. Pichai grins. I am skilled at very dangerous
driving from the days when we used to take drugs and steal cars together,
a golden age which came to an end when Pichai murdered our yaa baa dealer
and we had to seek refuge in the Three Jewels of the Buddha, the dharma
and the sangha. There will be time in this chronicle to explain yaa baa.
While I practice close encounters with cooked-food stalls, sex traders
and oncoming traffic, wheel spins, split-second lurches and even one hand-brake
spin, I try to remember what Dao Phrya Bridge is famous for. Why have
I heard of it at all?
We are very happy. Sabai means feeling good and sanuk means having fun.
We are both as we race toward the bridge in demonic haste, with Pichai
chanting in Pali, the ancient language of the Gautama Buddha, for protection
from accidents. He asks also of the Buddhist saints that we do not accidentally
kill anyone who does not deserve it, a touchy point with Pichai.
Krung Thep means City of Angels, but we are happy to call it Bangkok if
it helps to separate a farang from his money.
from Bangkok 8 by John Burdett Copyright© 2003 by John Burdett.
Excerpted by permission of Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc. All
rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted
without permission in writing from the publisher.
darkly comic, razor-edgeda thriller unlike any other.
a Bangkok bridge, inside a bolted-shut Mercedes: a murder by snakea
charismatic African American Marine sergeant killed by a methamphetamine-stoked
python and a swarm of stoned cobras.
copsthe only two in the city not on the takearrive too late.
Minutes later, only one is alive: Sonchai Jitpleecheepa devout Buddhist,
equally versed in the sacred and the profaneson of a long-gone Vietnam
War G.I. and a Thai bar girl whose subsequent international clientele
contributed richly to Sonchais sophistication.
his partner dead, Sonchai is doubly compelled to find the murderer, to
maneuver through the world he knows all to wellillicit drugs, prostitution,
infinite corruptionand into a realm he has never before encountered:
the moneyed underbelly of the city, where desire rules and the human body
is no less custom-designable than a raw hunk of jade. And where Sonchai
tracks the killerand a predator of an even more sinister variety.
with the authenticand hallucinogenicatmosphere of Bangkok,
crowded with astonishing characters, uniquely smart and skeptical, literary
and wildly readable, Bangkok 8 is one of a kind.
Burdett is a nonpracticing lawyer who worked in Hong Kong for a British
firm until he found his true vocation as a writer. Since then, he has
lived in France and Spain and is now back in Hong Kong.