VACUUM MAN - COURT MERRIGAN
Normally you can’t hardly bribe a Pattaya cop to a ten-car pileup but this one appears at our little fender-bender pronto. He grandstands around the crash scene with his spray paint, outlining skid marks and plastic debris from where the farang tourist sideswiped me and Jae on the scooter. Notes license plates and names in his little notebook. Sucks up to the barbarian in English with a shit-eating grin, like he just couldn’t be happier the red-skinned bastard has come to Thailand. Meanwhile he confiscates me and Jae’s IDs.
Me and Jae have been working this lane of short-time hotels and low-end girly bars for a while now. We got it down like the movies. It’s easy to spot the farangs in rentals and then we just have to take diggers. We practice our diggers on the beach. Tourists take pictures of us practicing down there, is how good we are.
Normally a farang will see the blood, the crashed scooter, the cracked helmets, and fork over a wad just pissing himself to get gone. Then me and Jae spend the next few weeks spending our good fortune sucking down beers and picking up waitress and masseuse rubes fresh off the upcountry bus.
“You give the boys money,” says the cop to the farang.
Jae nudges me.
“Hospital,” I say in English, displaying my bleeding arm. “Hospital.”
Jae keeps wicking the blood off his forehead and with the cop watching the barbarian hands us some sweaty bills. Guess we’re lucky to score any.
“Okay,” says the cop to the farang in English. “Everything okay.” He looks at us. “You two,” he says in Thai, “you follow me.”
At the police box we give the cop deep wais, palms pressed together, heads bowed. Proper as can be. The cop instructs a junior officer to lock us in the sweatbox.
“But we didn’t do anything,” says Jae. “He hit us.”
“Say one more word,” says the cop. “Go on. Say it. So I can knock your fucking teeth out.”
We squat in the dark and piss stench a long time. When the cop finally arrives he blinds us with the lights and kicks us in the balls. Then he starts in with the baton. We grovel and beg but the cop doesn’t stop till he’s done. The junior officer passes him a water bottle and he slurps on it while me and Jae lay there coughing and spitting out teeth.
“Hand it over,” the cop says.
No point in resisting. Between the two of us we’ve got a little more than 3500 baht. The cop deposits the bills in his breast pocket.
“And your scooter keys,” he says.
“What the fuck, man?” says Jae.
The cop brandishes the baton. Jae digs the keys out of a pocket.
“If I ever see you two rat fucks again,” says the cop, “I’ll cut off your balls. You ever pull this stunt again, I’ll cut off your balls and shoot your mothers. We’re clearing the street rats out of Pattaya. Tell your friends.”
He instructs the junior officer to direct us to the garbage heap out back. The junior officer flicks our ID cards onto the pile after us.
We pass the time pissing blood, guzzling rice whisky, cussing every pig in Pattaya. Then I get a call from my cousin Dul.
Dul is a condo complex security goon, one of those guys who leans back in a booth pretending to pay attention to who comes in and out. He says he has something for us. There’s this enormous fat farang who lives in the condo complex. Everyone calls him Vacuum Man. This is because he spends all day every day vacuuming up platefuls of food at every buffet in town.
“He weighs two hundred kilos if he weighs one,” says Dul. “He once cracked a counter in the lobby just leaning on it. He has to ride in the elevator alone. He can’t tie sneakers so he only wears sandals. The blubber off his chin hangs down to his chest.”
“I get it,” I say. “So?”
“So he’s easy pickings.”
“This going to work out better than last time?”
Dul used to manage a motorcycle rental shop for farangs. To rent a bike, farangs have to leave a passport as collateral. When one would rent a higher-end bike, one of them beautiful Beemers or a Suzuki crotch rocket, Dul would slip us a spare key. Me and Jae would tail the bike until the farang parked. Then I’d stroll over and lift the bike. When the farang turned up at the shop, Dul would threaten to hand his passport over to the police. A wad of bills would get coughed up real quick. A week or two later we’d haul the bike out of storage and come in for our cut. Easy. Until one day some hard-ass mob cats horned in on the action. They didn’t ask any questions before making us eat concrete.
“One shot,” says Dul. “In and out. Way better than playing scooter jockey.”
“Fuck you, Dul,” I say. “We’ll be over.”
We thread the gap in the back security fence and slip in the back door with a busted lock and hotfoot it to the 19th floor hallway where the security cameras are dead. Let ourselves in Vacuum Man’s door, courtesy a key from Dul.
What a letdown. This complex flaunts terraces and an indoor swimming pool and a lobby fountain and a sauna. Very class. But here Vacuum Man’s pad sits practically empty. No digital TV or leather couches or wardrobe or anything. One mattress in the bedroom. A few putrefying plastic sacks in the fridge. Rows and rows of pills and stomach tabs in the bathroom. Probably Vacuum Man is too busy being a hog to think of home furnishings. Me and Jae watched him waddle to ATMs and conjure up wads from his fanny pack scarfing his way across town. A whole week we’ve been watching him.
You can tell this is a farang building because it’s quiet as a cursed temple. No yapping, no TVs going, nobody hawking anything, no cooking or spice smells. No kind of place for civilized people, in other words. You don’t want to come back a farang in your next life, if you can help it. When the door rattles me and Jae pull on ski masks.
After the fat bastard bolts shut the door me and Jae gang tackle him. The pure size of him creeps me out. He must be four of me. Maybe five, and he’s slimy as a squid. Me and Jae gag him and try to pinion his arms behind his back but he’s way too wide for that. So we cinch his hands up good. He blubbers like a pissed-on dog but doesn’t fight. The cords vanish into the blubber. Jellyrolls bulge over his fanny pack. His wattle quakes. Me and Jae play rock-paper-scissors. I lose.
“Go on,” says Jae. “Reach in there.”
I kneel beside Vacuum Man and grope for the fanny pack, trying to keep my mind on the long days of lounging ahead. Unbuckle the greasy strap and yank the pack out, Vacuum Man yelping into the gag. I slap him, unzip the pack, flip it over. Out flutters a twenty-baht bill, a pile of coupons and vouchers, and one ATM card.
“Ask him for the PIN,” says Jae. “You’re the one who speaks English.”
I slap Vacuum Man again. Like hitting a side of pork hanging on a hook in the market. Take off the gag and let him gasp his breath back. Giant drops of sweat wobble off his mustache. I waggle the ATM card in front of his face.
“Hey you!” I say in English. “You number card! You say me! You say me now!”
Vacuum Man flaps his gums, making mushy sounds. I can’t understand a thing.
“Hey you!” I say. “You say number!”
“Listen close,” Jae says. “He’s trying to speak Thai.”
Fatty keeps on sputtering and finally I pick out the PIN: 9-8-7-6. Not very creative, Vacuum Man. Jae pockets the card and sprints out. I’m stuck with the fat son of a bitch. Fucking rock-paper-scissors.
“He finish, I go,” I say to Vacuum Man.
Vacuum Man starts jiggling his tied-up hands. “Please can take off?” he says.
“So you can speak Thai,” I say.
“Yes. A little.”
“Well, the answer is fuck no, Vacuum Man. You’d probably try to sit on me.”
I throw the gag back on and meander to the window. I’ve never been so high above town before. The lights of the five-star hotels and the shopping centers sparkle in sickles on the crescent bay, the blazing facades of the dinner-show boats coasting on the light. Tell you what, if this was my place I’d have a new girl in here every night. And none of these rubes still smelling like buffalo shit, either. Real class broads used to the finer things, who wouldn’t go gaping out the windows. I’d get me a stereo and a TV and a Burmese maid who’d scuttle around on her knees. I wouldn’t live like a barbarian like fatty here. But maybe that’s how farangs are. Who knows, what with all those twacked-out stories about their uncivilized ways you hear. Vacuum Man has quit with the blubbering. The building goes dead silent again. By the time Jae calls, it’s creeping me right the hell out.
“You ain’t going to believe this,” he says. “There’s nothing on this card. Not one baht.”
“What?” I say.
“Are you deaf? There ain’t nothing on this fucking card.”
“I should have gone. You’re probably not doing it right.”
“I’m doing it right. I’ve been to four machines. I’m telling you. There’s no money.”
“How in the hell can that be?”
“I don’t know. Why don’t you ask him?”
I march over to Vacuum Man, kick a rubbery thigh, ungag him.
“Hey, you piece of shit,” I say in Thai. “Where’s your money?”
“No have money,” Vacuum Man says.
“No have more money. Spend all.”
“Don’t lie to me. You put down twenty-three plates at the Marriott seafood buffet on Monday. I counted. And what about the Super Stuffer at the Hilton on Tuesday? The Noodle Extravaganza at Big Noi’s on Wednesday? Wang’s Thursday All-You-Can-Eat?”
“Not have anymore. Spend all.”
“The fuck you did,” I say.
I dig through the clammy fanny pack again. Nothing. Rip open dresser drawers, throw out buffalo-sized boxer shorts and T-shirts. Then I find a rope tied into a noose.
“What the hell?” I say, holding the noose out to Vacuum Man.
“No have money more,” he says. “Die today.”
I call Jae.
“You think it’s true?” asks Jae.
“There’s no money, is there?” I say.
“No. I been to two more machines, waiting for you.”
I stomp over to Vacuum Man. His meaty shoulders are quaking.
“A whole week we been following you,” I say. “You suck, Vacuum Man.”
“Everything sad,” he says. “Everything.”
I throw the noose on Vacuum Man’s lap. “Good luck.”
“Please,” he says. “Please untie my hands.”
I’m no barbarian. Before getting the hell out, I uncinch the cords.
BIO: Court Merrigan’s work can be found all over. For links, please visit http://courtmerrigan.wordpress.com/short-stories/.
From UNDER THE SKIN
5 hours ago