My Stilled Life: Chapter 20
Mr. James had just signaled me to move out of the cafe when I was grabbed from behind. Lifted off the ground, arms pinned to my sides, I tried flexing my body, turning this way and that, but all my squirming couldn’t break my assailant’s grip. The motherfucker was strong, but luckily I still had hold of the thirty-eight. In desperation, I decided to to go for broke. With all the strength I could muster I arched back trying to jam my skull into his face while bringing my knees up to my chest, then I kicked out, arching forward, swinging my legs down with all the momentum I could generate. When my feet hit the floor, I jammed the thirty-eight between my legs pointing the barrel to the rear and pulled the trigger. I heard a muffled scream as my assailant’s grip weakened and I thrashed my way to freedom.
Mr. James came rushing past, peppering the cafe with gunfire. “Get moving, Ford! The boat is just up the alley and down the causeway, another couple hundred yards away.”
I turned to see Mr. James launch a vicious kick at my wounded assailant. “Just making sure he’s down.” Then he encouraged me into a halting lope with a shove and a smile.
When we reached the causeway, Mr. James pushed me into the first storefront that we came to. We’d just ducked behind a concrete pillar when the windows of the overstocked souvenir shop exploded inwardly.
I looked up to see Wes come running in. “The shit has hit the fan now. Using your gun back there has changed the terms of engagement. As you can see by the smoking tracer rounds our path to the boat has become a shooting gallery. We’re going to have to make our exit Mogadishu style.
Mr. Andrew looked at me. “That move back there was something I could have seen your father doing. Take a breath, reload your gun.” He scrambled through some of the store's merchandise and found what he was looking for when he instructed me, “I’m going to tether you to me with this nylon jump rope.” He tied the rope around his waist then made a loop at the other end. “Slide this over your wrist. You’ll have a hard time seeing out there, so when we make our dash, hang on.”
He double checked my weapon, then handed it back with steady hands, saying, “Try not to hit one of us, but keep firing. Chaos is our friend at this point.” He almost seemed like he was enjoying himself. He turned to Wes. “Can you cover us out there?”
“I’ll do what I can but I’m not dying for you guys,” Wes said grinning.
“You don’t get paid for dying. You’re a fucking professional. Clear our path. Okay?"
Wes nodded his assent.
Looking into my face, “You ready to do this?” Mr. James was asking as the shop we were in collapsed upon us with a deafening roar.
I came to, choking, trying to spit the dirt out of my mouth. After marshaling my will to live, I began to push my way out from under whatever it was that had buried me. It took several tries before I was able to draw a full breath. I shook my head several times trying to shake the crap out of my hair and clear my vision. The world was now a series of black and white blurs. After freeing myself I squatted behind what remained of the support pillar, peeking around trying to make sense of the amorphous world that played out before me. Somehow I was still holding the Smith and Wesson. It felt like it was welded to my hand.
I took a couple of deep breaths, then stood. A little shakily but I was upright. As bullets whizzed by I stepped out, moving in what I hoped was the right direction and pointed my gun at any blur that stood in my way, hoping they weren’t friendlies.
Someone came up on my blind side grabbing my shoulder scaring the shit out of me. I swung around the revolver out in front of me.
“Whoa, Ford, it's me, James."
“Jesus, don’t keep coming up on my blindside. What the fuck?”
“ Listen, we need to get out of here, right now. Wes is dead and I’m a little worse for wear. That last explosion caved in part of this section of the pier. I’m not sure how much more it can take. Let’s get going,” he said, grabbing my arm again and pulling me along. “What’s the matter? ”
“I can hardly see. Everything seems to be swirling.”
“Just hang onto me and I’ll get us out.”
I felt a smack on my cheek and heard, “Ford, can you hear me?”
“What?” I asked groggily.
“You passed out again.”
I sat up as the world bucked and whirred around me. “Where are we?” I asked.
“One of Wes’s men is taking us to a small fishing village on a little island where we can hide out for a few days before we can go back to Singapore.”
“Westmoreland’s team got word that the Singaporean Navy had sent a couple of cutters over because of all the violence.”
“Sorry, but I need to close my eye for a few minutes.”
“I don’t know if that’s such a good idea. You may have a concussion and you’re not supposed to sleep.”
But even as the rain and sea spray pummeled my face I slipped away.
“Ford, are you in there?”
I mumbled something and tried to sit up, but that was a losing proposition. My throat was dry and felt raw.
“W a t e r,” I croaked.
Someone lifted my head, inserted a glass straw between my lips, asking, “Can you open your eyes?”
“Don’t you mean eye?” the words rolled up my raw throat and exited my mouth as a harsh whisper.
“Thank god, you’ve been in and out for three days.”
"Where am I?”
“Bangkok, in a hospital.”
“You never fully regained consciousness once you’d passed out in the boat. After we reached the island we held a confab. We decided to charter a small plane and head to Bangkok where you could be hospitalized. We also have a few old intel assets here that will help us with an up to date sitrep and hopefully figure out our next move.”
“What do you remember?"
“It’s all a blur to me. Like a bad Fellini dream.”
“When you were grabbed, you shot your assailant hitting him in the thigh. Unfortunately, the bullet clipped his femoral artery and he bled out. So when his friends found him, that started the firefight. We’re pretty much persona non grata with the pirate clans. That’s one of the reasons we left Indonesia. The other is that because of Wes’s death we lost our clout with the local constabulary who might want to have a heart to heart with us, which might have been problematic, depending on who the investigating officer owed his allegiance to.
“Anyway, we’re here now, hoping you are out of here in short order. Once that happens, we’ll gather the remaining members of our little band of fellow travelers and chart a new course,” Mr. James said.
I sighed. “Let me rest. Things are still a little blurry and without color. I need to recuperate a little.”
“Mustn’t do that.”
“Who’s that? Mr. James?”
“No, it’s Mr. Andrew.”
“I’m guessing that I’ve been out, again? What happened and why’s my eye bandaged.”
“Halfway through the night, during Mr. Paul's watch, you had some kind of a minor seizure. After they stabilized you, they taped your eye shut to keep you from damaging it further. The doctors recommended that one of us stay in the room and keep talking to you, something about keeping you from drifting away.
“The doctors should be in any time, so lay back and we’ll talk. I’ll start with a few of my travel observations. You know I always wanted to write a travel guide for all the countries of Southeast Asia. I used to love Thailand and Bangkok, but not so much anymore. Thais that I’ve dealt with over the years have become greedy and more than a little amoral. They only tolerate us here because of the riches we bring with us.
“But, there’s a reason for their declining hospitality. The country is besieged with lonely affluent old white guys. They come here to retire and recapture some of their youth by financially inducing some young Thai woman into cohabitation. Their successes make most Thai families very wary of any elderly westerner who approaches a young woman. These families see us as unclean, bringers of moral turpitude. They feel these transgressions give them the right to act unethically towards all non-Thais.”
“Do those old guys really have that much cash? I asked.
“Most are retired military. If they retire after 30 years they receive 50% of their active duty wages. Plus they also get social security. So that's over $4000 per month. The average per capita of Thailand is only $2000. Many Thai millennials today, think it’s a fair trade-off. Being pampered by an older white man, no matter how decrepit, is rather preferable to being a waitress or shop clerk.
“Everyone makes their choices, but for me, it’s not something I’d condone. Just seeing those couples on the street is a corrupting influence on a society that is already too profit driven. But again, that’s just my opinion. Everyone is entitled to his or her worldview.”
I shook my head “Why are we talking about this?”
“Just background info. Did you ever watch Magnum PI? In one episode Higgins is sitting beside Magnum, who’s in a coma. And Higgins' monologue is so annoying that it brings Magnum out of the coma. Right now I feel like I have a lot in common with Higgins.”
To escape the incessant travelogue, I was just about ready to blindly flee the room when it was filled with a surge of conversational noise and the sound of leather shoes shuffling on linoleum. I felt a presence around my bed.
“Mr. Price, I’m glad to see you’re awake,” a voice out of the dark said with a slight English accent. “I’m doctor Komin. We’re a little concerned about your overall condition. You’re suffering from a mild concussion along with various scrapes and punctures. But the seizure you had last night has given us pause. From your X-rays and your scarring, I deduce that you’ve suffered from a gunshot wound in the past year or so that resulted in the loss of your eye? Can you tell me how that happened?"
At this point, Mr. Andrew spoke up. “Yes, Mr. Price was shot last year and he has not really fully recovered from that attack. And the recent building collapse that he was in has only added to his need for rest and recuperation."
"Mr. Price, what do you remember about your latest accident? Can you tell us what happened?
“Not really. I don’t remember anything clearly. Things are just sort of all jumbled up…”
I could hear him talking with others and I’d seen enough doctor shows on TV to know he was probably making rounds with his students.
“Mr. Price, I think we’ll need to keep you under observation for another couple of days. I’ll be back this evening to check in on you. I’m also going to schedule a few more tests. Any nausea? And how’s your pain level? Do you need additional pain killers?"
“I get dizzy if I raise my head, but it's controllable. As far as opioids go, I’d rather not. Addiction runs in my family so if I’m not screaming please don’t prescribe any.”
“Okay, I’ll let the nursing staff know. Any other questions?”
“Yeah, can you take this stuff off my eye so I can see?"
“Dr. Hong, can you please remain behind and accommodate Mr. Price. After you remove the bandage please check to see if he damaged it last night.? Mr. Price, I’ll see you later this evening.”
When the bandage was removed, I opened my eye to a young intern who was leaned over me, then blinded me by shining a bright light into my eye that seemed to drill straight into my brain.
“Shit, turn that damn thing off. It’s giving me a headache,” I complained.
"How's your vision?"
"It's blurry and in black and white."
"You can't see color?"
"No, but every once in a while I see some kind of color flash."
Well, try not to worry. It might just be a temporary condition due to the concussion. Please rest your eye as much a possible. I’ll have the nurse put some drops in that should help the pain and reduce the blur."
After the doctor and nurse cleared out, I asked Mr. Andrew to pull down the blinds and dim the lights. My reality seemed just fine most of the time, but when I got a little tired my understanding of things gots a little blurred.
I took several calming breaths then turned to look at Mr. Andrew, asking, “So where do we stand? Is it still possible to go after the Lurus on the boat?”
“Not really. No one's sure if it was just an unlucky encounter on the pier or if some of the pirates had been contacted by the Lurus in advance and sold us out. Either way, I would assume that all of the pirate clans are now in the assets column of the Lurus. The element of surprise is gone. We’ve come to Bangkok to reorganize, heal up and define a new strategy”.
“How did we get here?”
“We waited two days while you came in and out of consciousness, then I chartered the plane that brought us here. I still have some contacts in the Thai military that got us clearance for a direct flight plan and permission to land at Don Mueang Air Force Base just outside of Bangkok. You’ll need to work out the finances with me. I put all of it on my AmX and I’m going to need help to pay it.”
“Unless somebody has looted my inheritance the money shouldn’t be a problem. Hopefully, the money my sister left me hasn’t been absconded with. I’ll deal with AmX as soon as I can get to the bank. What happened to Westmoreland? I hope he realizes that I’m not giving him the Singapore villa. He nearly got us killed again.”
“He’s dead remember? He bought it just as we reached the boat. What remains of his squad will need some help with their hospital bills and the widows will expect compensation.”
“Let me know how much that is. But I want to pay it directly, I don’t want any of my money going through unknown third party hands.
“Have you guys come up with any way to get to the Lurus? Since these guys want to portray themselves as Gangsters, can we work out some kind of O.K. Corral type face-off? A quick turn of the cards, winner take all?”
“I'm afraid that that’s too western of a concept for the Lurus. Their family history would indicate that their preference is to wait you out or until you to drop your guard. They want to stay at a safe distance and chip away at you until we’ve been eliminated by attrition, but we might be able to embarrass them. Losing face might prompt them into doing something rash that would give us an opening.”
“So what do we do?” I asked.
“I think we should burn down the Luru’s family compound in Singapore. That way, they may be forced into some rash act."
“Jesus, isn’t that a pretty drastic solution? First, it’s piracy and murder on the high seas now its arson. I was okay with that, but I don’t fancy burning up a bunch of old people in their beds, regardless of how flawed and evil their gene pool might be.”
“Don’t worry about that. I have contact with a few members of the upper echelon of the Singaporean fire department. They’re nearing retirement and I'm sure a contribution into their retirement accounts would go a long way. They do routine inspections all the time. They’ll go in saying there’s a gas leak or some such thing, then evacuate the place. Once they’re sure everyone’s out, there’ll be a sudden explosion and the old wooden structure will become engulfed in flame. The beauty of it is that the fire department will already be on station to ensure there’s no collateral damage.”
“If we do this I want to be absolutely sure that we don’t burn down all of old Chinatown. I don’t want to worry that some innocent bystander is going to get hurt.”
“Well, we can always call it a day and go home. The choice is yours, but the clock is ticking and your team is getting older by the minute. I think we should act while we still can. The Lurus have a lot to answer for. ”
“I’m tired. I need to rest. Maybe my sub-conscience can come up with an answer,” I said, turning over and pulling the covers over my head.
all material copyright 2019 by Ronald Gary Dunlap