Bold: The characters are speaking in English.
I averted my eyes away from the front cover of the color newspaper held by a man queuing up for a visa at the Kazakhstan embassy, feeling hesitation and heavy uneasiness. The picture of the corpse with its brain splattered everywhere and its body obliterated from falling down twelve stories was an indigestible sight. When it came to movies, the censoring organization worked hard to dab stuff with a bit of tiger balm, be it boobs, guns or alcohol. They even went to the effort of censoring the logo of a cigarette brand on the side of a Formula One racecar once. However, when it came to images of dead bodies, we got to see the bare bones, there was no need to use any imagination.
‘Russian man throws himself off building to defy love’. Unknown as to who wrote this headline, I couldn’t help but secretly giggle from reading it. What crazy person would jump off a building after having a bullet pierce through the center of his forehead? The head was sliced open, not to mention, he was branded like a cow heading straight for the slaughterhouse… it couldn’t get any more cruel. But this was no zombie movie! Just recalling the memory gave me cold shivers. Yesterday’s incident made me sleep with my eyes open like an owl all night long; despite how Alexey was (at least) kind enough to share his bodyguards with me, assigning them to look after the safety of my room.
The glass door opened. I took a deep breath. Although I knew full well that my visa application was going to be accepted no matter what, I found it rather difficult to face the person who was going to issue said visa.
Mr. Marat was the official stationed at the visa desk along with one other Thai female official who was walking about. Spotting me, he dialed the phone, speaking two to three words before turning to talk to me. “Wait inside that room, he will be arriving shortly.” The man then presses the intercom and calls for the next person. “Next please.“
Regardless of how much I insisted that I didn’t need to see Alexey and was just here to get a visa, Mr. Marat stared at my face like he didn’t understand. “He will come out to see you shortly.”
Madam Yelena half-dragged, half-lead me into the same interrogation room that I previously played tag with the hottie in. However, within the quietness of the room today hung an air of heaviness.
A stainless steel chair was dragged from behind, Alexey sits down and crosses his legs; a habit of his. He looked good as usual today, as if yesterday’s incident had never occurred, aren’t you a bit too relaxed mister!?
“You understand what you need to do about the things you saw last night, correct?”
The first question was accompanied by a faint smell of cigarettes. Stunning grey eyes stared at me, expressing what seemed to be doubt and sympathy at the same time.
I swallowed my saliva. My throat was as dry as a desert today.
“I have some useful suggestions for you, in case you think your life could be in danger.”
I listened attentively to the odd English accent despite being incapable of arguing back (and I didn’t have the guts to argue back either).
“First, keep your mouth shut. Absolutely do not go spreading this matter around”
The initial question which popped into my mind was: Who was I going to tell? Was he expecting me to use it as a conversation starter among my drinking circles?
“Second, keep a low profile. Don’t make yourself the center of attention.”
I couldn’t translate this part and I didn’t dare to ask, afraid of being flung off the building as well; even though the embassy wasn’t that high up. But as I didn’t have special super powers like Spider-Man, I wasn’t brave enough to risk my life with the mafia.
“Lastly, just forget about it. Wipe it away from your memory.”
Hu, that’s easy to say but difficult to do. The image of a person being killed right in front of my eyes, as well as seeing the head carved open and a bullet removed wasn’t as easy to forget as pressing the Delete key on a keyboard.
“Do you have any questions?”
“And what if the police come knocking at my door asking for a few questions? How do you want me to give my testimony? Telling the truth to the police is probably not going to cut it.” I posed the question which seemed most reasonable after spending significant time hanging out in the closet.
Alexey exhaled smoke, clearing his throat softly. “Then say that we were in the middle of doing a mission together.”
(TN: Mission – Alexey refers to sex, making love, etc)
“How about the evidence?” Also what mission?
“I can create fake evidence anytime, whenever you’re ready.”
Saying this with no shame for his own mouth, I scooted my chair back, withdrawing up to the wall.
The hottie narrowed his eyes in my direction. “What crazy thing are you up to now?”
I’m scared that you’re about to create fresh ‘evidence’ somewhere in this vicinity woi, like you even need to ask!
“Just get me out of this mess in one piece.” I wasn’t afraid of anything except for getting beaten in the interrogation. If I was a policeman and had to choose between beating the truth out of two suspects, who would be stupid enough to choose this hottie–even if he was clearly the number one suspect? It was a million percent guaranteed that Petch was going to be questioned and beaten up…
“The Thai Police won’t be available to handle this case, believe me.”
“Why? …Are you implying that Thailand is not being protected by the law?”
“The police have all gone to collect bribes, there’s no one left to take the case… am I right?”
Oh, he had a point. It was not only the police, even the average person was starting to feel colorblind, looking in any direction, it was yellow, yellow, red, red, yellow, yellow everywhere. Good grief! And why were we wasting our tax money on the police’s paychecks when reports of cars being damaged took as slow as a salt factory to investigate, and when it came to crime they could only catch goats… Thailand ought to open up a goat farm and export them overseas as punishment.
(TN: Even the protesters–the Red and Yellow shirts–collect bribes, such is the corruption in this country. Streets occupied by protesters prohibit cars from passing through unless you bribe them with money.)
I took this opportunity to change the topic. “I’m actually here to get my visa, this other issue is very trivial.”
Trivial indeed because I was hiding in the closet…
“Of course you’re only interested in the visa.”
“Is that not the reason why people come to embassies?” It seemed like my mouth was itching to get into an argument today. However, if I was unable to get a visa today, I was really going to have to scrap my travel plans. “I remember vaguely you telling me to go see Madam Yelena… so can I see her yet?”
“I’m not done talking to you.”
“Look, I don’t want to deal with anything related to yesterday’s incident… and it’s your problem to deal with, not mine. I’m a witness, regardless of this case’s outcome, it has nothing to do with me.”
Alexey’s stunning grey eyes looked at me from head to toe as if assessing, expression seemingly wanting to say something but refrained from doing so. He crushed his cigarette down on the glass ashtray.
“Well… make sure all of your documents are ready.” The tone was more frigid than normal, reminding me of the first time we met. Alexey pulled out his phone, dialing someone. It was in the same moment which Madam Yelena knocked on the door of the room, opening it up wide. I could hear my name coming out of Alexey’s mouth two to three times, but that was it…
I craned my neck, eyes following the broad back, feeling as if I had just done something wrong…
Madam Yelena studied my passport book, assessing the green banana leaf color of the Uzbekistan visa, before reading the other documents which came attached. She said nothing, collecting up the documents then disappearing outside, leaving me to sit alert on my own in the square room that was the size of a classroom. The table and chairs were stainless steel. A lamp hung from the ceiling and the faint smell of cigarettes still encircled the room. I felt like a prisoner who had just chased his defense attorney out of the room…
I probably should have spoken more nicely to Alexey…
Importantly, I still hadn’t thanked him yet for hiding me in the closet while guns were being fired relentlessly outside…
I received the passport book back along with a red visa stamped with the mark of the embassy. I gave Madam Yelena a wide smile, but only received a cold one in return, the smile was exactly identical to her boss’. I packed up my belongings, pressed the elevator button and arrived at the bottom with a light body, feeling extremely relieved. Upon reaching the bottom, I saw a long black limousine parked out in front. Three Russian-looking men were standing nearby smoking cigarettes. Alexey was sitting inside the car and talking on the phone, eyes reading a file while the hand which held the phone also pinched a cigarette. Our eyes met for a second… his grey eyes staring as if to reprimand me. The Kazakhstan ambassador who was in his late fifties strided over, cutting through the middle alongside two other officials, his secretary following briskly behind.
Alexey motioned with a finger and Leof shuts the car door, the waxy black film of the windows reflecting the strong morning sun. And then the car rolled away…
I wanted to know more about the other man… but now was not the right time.
“Petch! What are you daydreaming about?”
The lively voice and forceful nudge from behind made me jump out of my seat. Editor Chid had a coffee mug in his hand and a ‘The Economist’ magazine pinned underneath one arm. His facial features consisted of a skinhead hairstyle trendily shaved on the sides, a goatee, a hooked nose like an eagle, and brown eyes which indicated that he had foreigner blood in him (but why in the world did his mother give him the name Lookchid? …I really don’t understand her). Altogether, from the outside Editor Chid seemed more like an editor for a heavy metal magazine.
(TN: Lookchid – His name means ‘Sugar Palm’. It’s a very Thai name which contrasts against his quasi-foreign looks.)
“Uhh…” It was obvious that my mind was somewhere else. “I’m on a quest for motivation, senior.”
“Quit the lofty words, you’re actually procrastinating aren’t you, little puppy?” There it was. Editor Chid was the first person to call me ‘puppy’. P’Pun took a liking to the name soon after, saying that it complimented me perfectly. “Which piece of land have you gone to pick up motivation from, please dig yourself out of there and get back to work.”
P’Lookchid or Editor Chid held the position of Editor-in-Chief, he was well-known for his ruthlessness, being meticulous, punctual and obsessed with work. As he was forty-one years old and of the Bull Terrier breed– hua, no… he wasn’t that ruthless… he was highly respected by his juniors. P’Chid supervises roughly ten magazine titles, he was brave and had the skills to back it up, especially his skill to give out impossible orders (and to make the impossible into the possible, it was up to those below him). The magazines under his supervision mainly dealt with entertainment, women and travel on the more high-end side of things. P’Chid also had numerous connections to the upper class. The reason why I managed to land glamorous photography jobs, take photos of famous names, shoot at stunning locations and capture the most grand outfits was initially because of P’Chid’s connections. This was of course until I became the ‘darling’ of all the old ladies and widowers, accumulating connections of my own.
“Motivation comes from working passionately!” I grumble, turning back to the screen of my MacBook and pretending to move my stylus around as if to edit work. “These days all you’ve been talking about is P’Pun this, P’Pun that, making me sit on the bench like a substitute. Only when there’s a shortage of people do you ever call for me. Even Michael Owens was forced to leave Real Madrid, please be considerate of my tiny heart.”
(TN: Michael Owens – The eternal ‘benchwarmer’ for Real Madrid football club; until he couldn’t take it any longer and quit.)
‘The Economist’ loudly smacked the center of my forehead.
“Quit speaking nonsense.” Why does everyone around me like to use violence? “You’re the one taking occasional leaves from work, Daddy is going to send you to clean the toilets as punishment.”
“Good, I’ll go find my motivation in the toilets then.”
“Sure, how about I go talk to the HR department for you, hm?” Playing around and then acting serious all of sudden, the situation was getting hairy.
I frowned, repeatedly clicking the mouse to browse each photo. I had already looked through forty to fifty photos but was not pleased with any of them. I was the one who photographed and directed them myself, but how did my skills decline this much?
Although there were a few pretty photos that I was pleased with, it wasn’t like they were useable. The photos in question were paparazzi shots of P’Pun and Sasha. All of them looked highly suspicious. A laughing photo with eyes squinting gleefully, an arm wrapped around a shoulder, or a shot where the other was taught how to take photographs. If not this, they were photos of the golden retriever–although he wasn’t as sexy as a certain Kazakhstan civil servant, he was something–just sitting cross-legged, smoking a cigarette at the edge of the shoreline, he looked undoubtedly more handsome than the three male models hired for today’s photoshoot. The lights and colors worked so well in his favor, good grief… handsome people were really pleasing to look at. It’s not as if I was jealous, rather I was compelled to keep these photos. I should try sending this photo to the modelling companies, in case he could be used as a model for a cigarette advertisement or something of that nature. As for the overly sweet couple photo, I could spread it around on a gay online dating website, the ratings are guaranteed to be a landslide.
I threw the files back onto my external hard disk drive. If I couldn’t decide on a photo then I might as well not decide at all.
The sound of a phone in the office was one factor which caused my motivation to transform into a mole, digging itself deep underground. I tried to resolve this issue by listening to music, cramming the earplugs into my ears but it had no effect. This was entirely because of P’Pun, who liked to bully me by yanking out the earplugs and shouting loudly to give me a surprise, making me nearly fall out of my seat every time.
Oh, speaking of P’Pun, he went drinking with Sasha yesterday and silently disappeared…
Did something happen…?
Did he manage to protect his sovereignty…?
Or did P’Pun and Sasha have a thing for role swapping, frantically taking turns to shoot each other’s goal…? This hypothesis was unsettling.
Smack! The exact same ‘The Economist’ smacked my face. Did P’Chid think I was a cockroach or something? Smacking me over and over like this.
“Daydreaming again Petch, come have a talk with me in my room… oh, Pun you’re just in time, put your belongings down and follow along too.”
“What’s this about P’Chit?”
“About some adultery maybe!” Editor Chid finished his coffee in one go and walked off, humming a song into his room.
Boom… a bomb dropped.
Everyone in the department went silent. The intern speaking on the phone stilled. Kai the camera assistant flinched from the screen of her Mac computer. Lookwa, Jaeng, Ped, Mild, Meuk, P’Boonggee, P’Ar, P’Waai, the assistant editor Mian, the maid, etcetera, etcetera, a total of eighteen lives turned to look solely at me. Jaeng nudged P’Pun’s arm, whispering loud enough that the whole office could hear.
“P’Pun… P’Pun did you not break up with P’Petch yet? That foreigner man even followed you to the set, can’t you see that you’re hurting P’Petch?”
P’Pun made a shocked face, the slender double-lidded eyes now huge like a goldfish’s.
As for Lookwa, she looked at P’Pun angrily. “Hu, you’re so fickle P’Pun.”
Afraid that P’Pun was going to get bombarded on more, Meuk turned to me instead. “Petch, and how about that rich foreigner… are you not going to confess to P’Pun that you’ve been cheating?”
“Seizing and pulling each other in the parking lot, it was damn cheesy like a Channel 7 soap opera. You doing these things, what would P’Pun think?”
“Huuu.” Mild, the one and only E cup girl in the office sighed. “Finding a good man is even harder than finding a good politician, and these guys are even competing with each other. Humanity is going extinct because of this.”
“Why are you guys saying such things…?” P’Pun scratched his head, seemingly troubled. Heading straight to my desk, upon making eye contact with me, he petted twice on this bullied puppy’s head. “Enough already, quit teasing my little one. Petch, let’s go find some coffee to drink after this.” And then he dragged me into P’Chid’s room. “Don’t pay attention to them.”
“Senior… yesterday night… were you drunk?” I asked because I was worried… afraid that P’Pun had already lost his backdoor.
P’Pun cocked an eyebrow, smiling, cheeks dimpled but refused to give a reply, making me even more concerned.
My mouth gaped open, shocked at the words I was hearing. It contrasted with P’Pun who had a small smile on his face, fully maintaining his handsome demeanor despite hearing the earth shattering words.
“P’Chid! You’re kidding!”
“Sit down Petch, I’m not firing you, and quit making that pale face!”
The Uzbekistan embassy had sent a booklet to me and my supervisor, P’Chid. To summarize, Uzbekistan’s Ministry of Culture and Tourism was planning on organizing a campaign to promote tourism in Uzbekistan by producing a photobook as well as other published materials. The campaign was going to consist of photos depicting the nation’s geography and various landmarks taken by professional photographers from different countries, as well as novices with potential skill. With this, the booklet was an invitation letter, requesting that the company approve my participation in said project.
Oh Jesus Christ, this was great. I was just a small-time professional photographer in the Thai media industry, accepting jobs on the basis of money, and doing everything from taking photos for graduation ceremonies, weddings, religious ordinations, and social events to fashion photoshoots for four magazines, travel segments for another three magazines, and anything else, you name it. Anyone who was willing to hire me for the minimum cost of five digits was definitely getting their job accepted. As for those who didn’t have the money for it, unless they were a close friend or a mentor of mine, they would be rejected immediately.
“I already accepted the job in your place. This is your chance to take photos on an international level Petch, I want you to do it.”
“But why me?” I asked, voice feeble. P’Chid made a perplexed expression at my look of alarm that was tinged with fear.
“Look at that face of yours, do you want to be sent off to find motivation in the toilets? Okay, finish reading it.”
‘Altogether, the embassy will take responsibility for the visa, accommodation costs, and travel costs within Uzbekistan… Payment for the photography will be given a reasonable rate.’
Reading up to here, a certain wolf in the skin of a smiling golden retriever leapt and bounded into my mind. This was definitely his doing.
“P’Pun are you not excited at all?” I stammered. P’Pun adjusted his glasses, held up another letter to show the identical writing inside. My face went hot, body airy like I could almost float, smiling to the point where my cheeks were on the verge of bursting. “This means that P’Pun is… going with me?”
“Yeah, you’re going together.” Editor Chid laced his hands in front. “I have no idea what criteria the embassy used to select you two, but… congratulations. Work hard, this is your opportunity to advance your careers to the national level.”
I flung myself at P’Pun, hugging him tight, wanting to scream so it could match my inner feeling of joy. P’Pun patted my head. “Okay, calm down, calm down. let P’Chid finish speaking.”
P’Chid’s words barely made sense to me after that. I listened to him rattle on about leave days, holidays, jobs which needed to be rescheduled, jobs which needed replacement photographers, and another three-hundred things. I felt confused, impressed and touched. Since being born, I’ve never loved this wolf in golden retriever’s clothing so much until now… pulling connections like a pro, talk about creative!
I walked–steps light and airy–out of P’Chid’s room. Although we were ordered to keep the assignment a secret, my face had probably given it away already. P’Pun hurriedly dragged me into the office kitchen and brewed some coffee for us.
“That smile is as wide as a dinner plate Petch.”
“Your boyfriend Sasha is really capable of doing amazing things.”
P’Pun smacked my head. “Quit spewing nonsense, he’s not my boyfriend. We went out to drink, not to eat black beans.”
(TN: Eating black beans – An expression: to have hot passionate sex)
“Oh? Then how about that kiss mar- ooooooops…”
“Are you talking about this bump here?” P’Pun stretched out his neck, pointing at a spot on his white milky skin. “Sasha said it was an insect bite. Also according to him, I was drunk and sleepwalking that night… I was kickboxing the air… then fell off the bed… dreaming that I had fallen out of the boxing ring, I then got back up to continue punching. Before he could get me to calm down, I apparently crawled and tumbled off the bed several times, it explains my strained back and how I felt sore all over the next morning.”
Senior, you believe that guy!? My mouth hung open. P’Pun seemingly read my thoughts and nodded, expression cluelessly innocent.
“Yeah, I believe…”
“And since when did know how to kickbox?”
“Umm…” P’Pun scratches his head. “No idea.”
Fine, believing was believing… What species of dung beetle was capable of making a bite on the collarbone? If anyone knows, tell me…
Forget it, just let me scream first: Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah.
Sasha… when I see you, I’m going to give you three big kisses!
To celebrate my good fortune, I therefore heaved a crate of Singha beer out of the supermarket, intending to give the whole thing to Sasha as thanks; I also didn’t forget to buy a packet of original flavour Taro as a snack to pair with the alcohol too. I was starting to see the wolf in golden retriever’s clothing in a positive light. At least Sasha treated me better than ‘Sir Alexander the Great’; the latter couldn’t compare.
I pressed the doorbell of room 1206 and stood waiting briefly for the door to open up to the eternally cheery smile of the room’s owner. “Ah… Mr. Petch, hello.”
Neighbours were meant to speak nicely to each other, this was correct way of doing things.
“Hello Sasha, are you free to talk for a moment? It’s like this… I want to thank you for the invitation letter to Uzbekistan.”
Blue eyes looked at me lovingly. “It’s no big deal Mr. Petch, come in.”
I lifted up the crate of beer and handed it to him. The owner of the room pretended to act clueless. “This is for…?”
“As a thank you… I may not be able to go out to dinner with you, but… drinking together once in awhile is fine. I brought some Taro with me too.”
Sasha smiled once more and the world seemed brighter. “What a surprise…” The eyes gazing this way were sweet and glossy and I couldn’t help but feel abashed. “However, now is a bit inconvenient, I’m discussing business with… the Rottweiler.”
I peered through the opening, seeing Alexey turn to meet my eyes in that exact same moment. The biting eyes which travelled past the four inch wide opening of the door were so forceful that I felt like running back to my room immediately. “Then… nevermind, if it’s not convenient for you. Say hi to him for me.”
“You can come in, we’re done talking.”
The person inside offered to leave the room himself. I saw the menacing hottie fling his suit jacket over one shoulder and crush his cigarette down on the ashtray in a standoffish manner. “I’m going, what we talked about, I’ll leave it to you Sasha.”
“Hey, but… we’re not finished, there’s still that matter about Vivian…” Sasha made a confused face.
I sensed the situation turning south so I hastily seized this opportunity to run away, reaching the door to my room and kicking myself inside, heart beating thunderously from seeing those sharp killer eyes…
Hua, but why did my front door open on its own? I didn’t even pull out my keycard yet.
Or was it… an intruder!
Among the silence I could hear an: oh my. Oh my? And why was the voice hoarse like an effeminate man?
It really was an intruder! Dammit Petch, you aren’t even the boss lady of a mafia group yet but you’re about to be assassinated by a kathoey.
(TN: Kathoey – I’ve opted for the direct wording instead of ‘ladyboy’ because it’s a distasteful English translation. Kathoey is a loose term used to refer to transwomen, gay men, cross-dressers, intersex people, etc. It is not a derogatory term and is widely used by people in and outside of the Thai LGBT community.)
“Petch dear~ You’re back? I’ve been waiting for ages.”
Pae– uh, Jessica sauntered out to greet me in her short iridescent green dress and towering four-inch heels. Green fly-like eyes, the result of eye-enlarging contact lenses stared at the hottie who was holding onto my arm and tore a wide splitting grin. The curled mascara-covered eyelashes blinked again and again.
“Guten Tag! You’ve changed a lot Petch, I thought you didn’t like men? Ah! Hi Alexey.”
Shit, exactly how many copies of my keycard were there? And how did someone trail after me without me knowing?
“Welcome back Madame Baum.”
Jessica shifted from me to hug the hottie, gladly giving the other man a kiss on each cheek. “Thank you. And Alexey, please don’t call me Madame Baum. My husband isn’t with me today, calling me Jessica like usual is fine.
“Well, Jessica, it’s my pleasure to see you again.”
I watched this sweet scene unfold in front of me with an inexplicable feeling of wanting to vomit.
“Why back so soon Pae– Jessica? You haven’t been gone long enough for the airplane tickets to be worth it yet.”
Jessica rolled her eyes with disdain. “I’m back for business reasons and decided to come say hi to you that’s all. Alexey have you gotten to know Petch yet?”
Of course he has, but it’s not like I wanted to get to know him though.
“Yes, I have.”
“And Petch… you remember Alexey right?”
“He doesn’t remember.” The hottie interrupts all of a sudden, even staring sternly at Jessica to dissuade her from speaking any further. This topic was growing more and more secretive. “Forget it, that matter isn’t important.”
My friend Jessica made a shocked face but complied to shut her mouth because of the sharp pair of imposing eyes.
“Yeah, okay, no worries. You can get to know each other again, isn’t that right Petch?”
I felt disheartened… I’ve already slept twice with this man and yet I still knew next to nothing about him.
Jessica looked at me who was trying to move away from the hottie and laughed. “I haven’t seen you for a few days but you seem to have changed a lot Petch.”
“Changed in what way?” If it’s her speaking, then it definitely wasn’t going to be good news.
“You look like someone in love…” Well you have no eyes and a horrible judgement. “Sasha’s a nice person isn’t he? To have so many photos of him on your computer, are you secretly in love but not brave enough to confess dear?”
How about I part the middle of your face with a wooden bat?
I glanced at Alexey, seeing waves of cold-blooded displeasure roll off the man. This was looking bad, I needed to defend myself. “Is intruding my room not enough for you that you also had to go through someone else’s computer without permission? This is going overboard Pae.”
Jessica was clearly twisting the truth. She never thought to mention the thirty to forty couple photos of P’Pun and the wolf in golden retriever’s clothing, choosing to make a big deal out of the six shots I had secretly taken instead.
Jessica shrugged. “Your password was 123456. If I didn’t take a peek, would I have known that someone with a stubborn mouth like you was being fickle? Claiming everything from the guy on the left room to the guy on the right room… the left room is for hugging when you’re lonely and the right room is for taking you out on dates… how despicable.”
Grey eyes glared at me intensely.
Uu… I was in a pickle.
I… look… uh… ah… ga… I’m not fickle okay…?
The end of that last section was just a joke! Who would want to kiss a golden retriever? No one, no one at all, really.
And if tomorrow, they find Petch with his head split open and his brain splattered like paint in the middle of Phetchaburi Road, then there’s no need to speculate about the person responsible…
Quit that sweet voice, it gives me goosebumps! I gathered my MacBook charger, phone charger and the battery charger for my camera, placing them in a small cloth Le Coq Sportif bag, then slung my heavy three-kilo camera bag over a shoulder. Between my arm was also a tripod. I looked like a Karen immigrant even though our rooms were merely beside each other.
As for the backstabbing kathoey, she was sitting crossed-legged gracefully on the sofa, making a soft sweet voice while admiring her manicure. Her nails were long enough to do the Fingernail Dance, in what manner did she go about cooking for her dear husband?
(TN: Fingernail Dance – A Thai traditional folk dance where performers wear 6-inch long brass fingernails. These long fingernails work to accentuate the movement of each individual finger. Jessica’s nails are long enough where she probably doesn’t need the brass additions.)
“Are you sulking…?” Jessica made adorable eyes at me and rummaged through her brandname travel suitcase.
“I brought you a souvenir too~ Have a guess, what could it be? Tick, tock, tick, tock.”
“Probably a bomb, you arrived and instantly dropped a bomb on me after all.” I declared sternly. “Your hands aren’t rowing and your feet is dragging in the water, hurry up and help me carry my tripod Pae.”
(TN: Hands not rowing and feet dragging in the water – An expression referring to a person that refuses to work and is also a nuisance)
“My feet can’t be dragging in the water Petch, my size forty-three feet wears Prada.”
“Oh sureeeee” I dragged my voice out to get on her nerves. “Being the Devil is too nice, a person like you deserves to be called: Satan wears Prada.”
“You *** and *** and *** Petch.”
What the hell, I only teased slightly, there’s no need to curse me so vulgarly!
I sent her a sharp angry look… Jessica suddenly beamed a sweet smile like everything was fine and dandy. For god’s sake… if she was hypothetically even half as pretty as Poyd Treechada, I wouldn’t have had the heart to use violence or shout mean things at her face. To add, I probably would have captured her and made her my wife; except I don’t think I wanted a kathoey as my wife. I casted my eyes at her again. This time, my best friend willingly rushed up to help me carry the tripod.
(TN: Poyd Treechada – A Thai actress who was assigned male at birth)
She helped me carry it for roughly three seconds. As soon as Isakov entered the room, Jessica pretended to act frail, as if the especially light stainless steel tripod weighed heavy like a cement pillar. As for Isakov, was he weak to kathoeys or something!? You should help me first, it’s heavy woi.
I watched as Jessica strolled past, it was unpleasant to the eye. Her tall heels tapped the floor with a loud ‘kok, kok, kok’. Hair the color of espresso was styled into large curls. The nose which underwent plastic surgery to have its nasal bridge heightened was prominent, you could almost use it to point at people. Hua, if I knew during second year of primary school that my friend was going to turn out like this, I wouldn’t have shared my snacks with her to the point where we ended up joined at the hip.
“Finish whatever you need to say. I have a headache.”
“I’ve got pain relief medicine, do you want some Petch?”
Pain relief medicine, no… I want to stamp my feet on your face instead. “No woi.”
“I really did buy something good for you… come on, have a guess, have a guess.”
Looking at the kathoey make bright adorable eyes at me, I wanted to flick her forehead.
“Knowing you, it’s without a doubt that you brought me back a man as a souvenir.” I sarcastically remarked. “Sorry but I don’t like sweets, especially black beans.”
Jessica feigned anger. “And who told you to get close and chummy with my Alexey. Holding each other’s arms and hands in public, how despicable.”
“You *** Pae…” My patience was wearing thin. “Look at my face and tell me. Do I look like someone who wants to open a male harem? Do I look like someone who wants to have a legit husband? Pae, sorry but I’m tired today, and that handsome Alexey of yours… oh fuck it… I’m so exhausted, let me have some peace, please.”
Pae made a flustered face. She hurriedly pulled out something from her Prada bag and shoved it into my hand. The belongings I was carrying scattered onto the floor. But when I met her eyes, I was forced to let out a sigh. My best friend was brimming with tears… I think I’m going crazy. Stepping quickly, I threw the rest of my belongings down in front of the hottie’s door while tenderly hugging the square giftbox, the other hand pulling Jessica back into my own room.
“You are such a drama queen. Crying like this, do you expect me to comfort you?” Yet I was gently rubbing her back and shoulders, giving her tissues so that she could blow her snot. How miserable… you went and modified your entire body, wasting all that money when the image of you blowing your snot is still as ugly as the time in grade one.
“I’m not crying because of you.” Yet she was sobbing heavily. “My fake eyelashes got loose and poked my eyes.”
…The power of a kathoey was fearsome, deceiving me into actually feeling concerned. I flung the tissue box at her head and began to collect my stuff off the floor.
“Petch… sniff… are you really not going to look at my gift?”
“Leave it for now.”
“Heuk…” She was squeezing out tears again everyone. As a man lost to the trickery of a kathoey, I was forced to search for a cutter, slicing open the giftbox while complaining at the same time.
“Yeah, thanks Pae, but if it turns out to be something obscene, I swear I will… shit! Pae, youuu!!!”
This time Jessica’s face went pale. “Do… do you not want it?”
My hands trembled, heart beating fast. Carefully lifting up the gift, my sour mood from earlier dissipated into thin air.
It was a Leica 35mm lens which didn’t cost much, just 200,000. Hu, hu, hu, it was 200,000 baht! It laid still, calm with its eyes shut in my hand. I stayed dumbfounded for several minutes, ears ringing and mouth trembling, unable to think of anything other than how if this was a dream, I wished to die as a sleeping prince right then and there.
“Pae… your daddy Baum… did he win a fifty-million baht lottery?”
“Uwah, why would he need to win the lottery? This is your early Christmas present, in case we don’t see each other then.” She then retorted, unimpressed. “And for how long are you going to keep calling me Pae! It’s a blemish in my life Petch, call me Jessica. Can you spell it correctly? J-E-S-S-I-C-A, Jessica. Or do you don’t know how to pronounce it? You copied my English tests from elementary school up till the end of our undergraduate year after all.”
I was at a loss for how to argue back.
“Yah, call me Pae one more time and I’m going to the university to revoke your degree.”
Hu… Jessica was getting haughty but for the sake of these lens, I forced myself to go with the flow for now. For the lens… for the lens…
“Honestly though, what made you think to buy this for me?” I traced the outline of the lens, feeling pleased. My mouth stretched into a smile, grinning ear to ear.
“I only swiped the card, you can pay me back in instalments.”
Hua, I was in deep trouble then. I hadn’t even finished paying off the apartment yet. So far, only the equivalent of the front door has been paid for.
“I’m joking, no need to make such a serious face.” Jessica patted my head. “Actually, it’s a secondhand lens, the previous owner cared for it a lotttttttt…” Pae tightened her mouth and throat, dragging the final word out like a typical kathoey. “And because it was reaaaaaally expensive… they were afraid that the buyer would end up toiling the fields and burdened with heavy debt.”
“So basically you rented a secondhand lens for me to test out, is that it?”
My best friend nodded. “I didn’t want you going out to impulsively buy a new one and… like… umm… sorry, I don’t meant to hurt you but WE are afraid that you, like… ummm. that your skills aren’t good enough.”
Dear listeners, can I kick her this once?
While I was deciding whether to cram my shoe into her mouth or not, Jessica hurriedly seized this chance to act like someone with the upper hand. She flipped her hair like one of those shampoo commercials (how fucking dramatic), condescending eyes trying to intimidate me. “Do you want it or not? As soon as I say it’s a secondhand, your ears and tail droop! Three… two… one.”
“I want it! Although it’s a secondhand lens, I accept it with wholeheartedly!”
Whatever, at least it was better than nothing…
Jessica laughed like a victor. “With a heart that’s so easily-swayed, be careful when you meet a secondhand man Petch.”
…Even if the guy was a tenthhand man, as long as he was capable of buying a 250,00 baht Leica camera, a 200,000 baht Leica lens, airplane tickets to travel the world over, and cover my monthly apartment rent of 20,000 baht for the length of seven years, I would gladly surrender my entire body, really!
The sound of knocking at my front door urged me to turn and look, seeing Isakov stood there with a grimace, like a Yaksha from Jaeng Temple. “Petch, there’s a policeman here to see you.”
Eep! I’m not the one who drove past that red traffic light officer!
“He has a few questions about last night’s ‘accident’.”
In front of my room was a policeman who looked to be roughly my age. He introduced himself as part of the investigation team assigned to the case of the murdered nameless Russian man; the police finally came to the sensible conclusion that a person can’t jump off a building after being shot in the head.
Despite panicking on the inside I managed to project a sheepish smile, hugging the lens close. As for Jessica, she looked at me with confusion. “Did something happen Petch?”
Every strand of hair on my body stood on end. Jessica sent a sweet dripping smile to the officer. I hurriedly placed the lens back into its box. “Uhm, where should we discuss this matter?”
“Is your room not convenient Mr. Phachara?”
I surveyed around me. What to do? If he pressures me hard enough and I end up spitting out the truth…
“You see, my room is not convenient at the moment officer. If you don’t mind, could we use the room next-door?”
Isakov looks at me and bares his fangs. I bared my fangs back at him.
The policeman didn’t seem to understand, but went along with it anyways. He appeared to be a new recruit attempting interrogations for the first time. The clever officers have gone to do more worthwhile things like collect bribes after all.
The officer looked dumbstruck when he saw Alexey sitting and smoking his cigarette, tapping away on his Fujitsu laptop. The owner of the room glanced to look, grey eyes inspecting the officer standing behind me in an unfriendly manner.
“Keep your belongings in that room, not here. Don’t mess up my area.”
Still hugging the lens box, I knitted my brows. “Come in Mr. Officer.”
“Who’s that?” You can clearly see the uniform he’s wearing, don’t try to play dumb.
The officer raised his hands to greet Alexey, stammering through his English. As for the hottie, he feigned the innocent foreigner act again and pretended to not understand Thai, placing an added burden on me as usual.
The hottie handed his name card to the officer, shook his hand coldly and stared without any intention of lifting his gaze. The officer took the name card, turned it over left and right, read Alexey’s appointed title and wiped his sweat.
The officer smiled sheepishly. “Um… is this not this man’s room Mr. Petch? The interrogation needs to be done in secrecy.”
“You see Officer, my room uh… was just… was just recently sprayed with insecticide.”
“But I didn’t happen to smell anything?”
“It’s a special scentless formula.” If it can kill mosquitoes and cockroaches, you can bet that humans won’t survive too. “And this guy can’t understand Thai, there’s no need to worry Officer.”
“Is that true?”
“He can only say ‘hello’ and ‘thank you’, just these two words.” I lied, eyes clear and innocent, saluting with two fingers like a boy scout to confirm. “It’s true, really.”
The officer nodded in acceptance. Looking to Isakov, he shut the door and approached to speak with his boss in some other language. The hottie nodded, face nonchalant. Within seconds, bodyguard number two whose name was Viktar appeared inside the room. The cast was almost complete. Hu… and will I be dead by the end? If I tripped up on my words, these guys were definitely going to fling me off the building so I could admire the scenery on Phetchaburi road.
Allow me to explain the luxurious state of room 1202 in further detail. Alexey’s place was a corner room with twice the amount of space when compared to mine. Opening the front door, the left side of the apartment was a sofa set from Italy, a work desk, a closet (which after close inspection… the estimate cost of his wardrobe was roughly 850,000 baht; the cost of his shoes not included) and a built-in bookshelf filled with a hundred or so books organized immaculately. To add, the compartment in the center of the bookshelf was a home theater system by Pioneer. On the other side of the apartment was the bathroom and a small kitchen, perfect for a bachelor (like me). Inside the refrigerator was nothing but beer, vodka, strong liquors, and plain water, oh, there were also some fruits. The entire apartment was so luxurious that it made it seem like we were living in completely different condominiums. Several portraits hung from the walls, however I haven’t had the time to look at them yet for reasons that you, the reader, probably know.
As for the location where the murder occurred, it was not too close and not too far. It was next to that bed over there, beside the bulletproof window and balcony.
“Okay, so as to not waste any time, we can talk over here.” The officer chose to sit on the sofa with its back turned to the hottie. “Last night, can you describe what you were doing at the time?”
I swallowed my saliva stiffly. The hottie was peering from his work desk. I then began to slowly explain, paying utmost care to each and every word by starting off from the moment that I left the condo to go work at Hua Hin for the entire day. Driving back to Bangkok (in an embassy van), I dropped P’Pun off at the company before taking my own car back. From then… I stopped by Emporium to buy some goat cheese and other groceries for my refrigerator, drove back to the condo, then slept.
“Why did you travel by an embassy car Mr. Petch?”
I scratched my head. “Um, that’s because my own car was at the company.”
“Mr. Petch your answer is not in line with my question.”
“Um, well…” I rolled my eyes. “It’s a matter that has nothing to do with the case.”
“During the time of the incident, what were you doing Mr. Petch?”
I swayed my head. “I don’t actually know when the incident happened though. I only found out later in the newspaper.”
The policeman was starting to feel annoyed. “I’ll put it this way then, can you specify what you were doing between 10 PM and 3 AM?”
At that time, I was of course rolling around on that hottie’s bed since I had nothing to do.
“I wasn’t doing anything, just rolling around here and there.”
“For five hours? You probably rolled around so much that your back has become sore Mr. Petch.”
“I rolled and rolled, then slept… maybe. Like I said before, when I woke up again it was already seven in the morning.”
“In this apartment.” Of course, if the police inspected the area and found traces of my DNA, how would I go about correcting myself?
The officer noted the information down in his booklet. “The resident from room 1102 said they heard the sound of a gun being shot, how about you Mr. Petch?”
A knocking on the door could be heard. Bodyguard number three Leof and Sasha entered into the room together. Sasha beamed a wide smile once he saw me, but walked past, speaking something indescribable in Russian. The policeman shifted. “I think… this room is getting far too crowded.”
“I didn’t hear any noise.”
“You were rolling around weren’t you? What were you doing at 1:30 AM?”
“I was sleeping.”
“But even room 1104 heard the sound of a gun.”
Yet I was still adamant about not hearing any noise.
“I might have to bring you for an ear check-up Mr. Petch, you aren’t helping with the police’s investigation at all.”
“Like I said, I didn’t hear anything.”
“According to room 1402, they opened their windows to look below where they believed the source of the noise came from, instead meeting eyes with room 1002. This means that the incident must have happened between these two floors.”
A large palm slid up to grab my shoulder. I flinched, seeing Sasha who was up to something crafty caress my head in an intimate fashion. He asked the policeman in fluent English whether he could join in on the conversation, simultaneously handing him his name card. “I live in room 1206.”
“It’s not time for your interrogation yet, why did you show up?” The policeman frowned. But my eyes were glued to a certain ‘Ambassador’s Consultant’ sitting behind the Fujitsu laptop instead, feeling a shiver run down my spine.
Alexey swiftly tapped away at his keyboard, however his eyes were trained on me, beautiful lips sneering, gaze murderous as if ready to slit my neck.
“Mr. Petch, you still haven’t answered my questions, what were you doing at the time of the incident and did you hear any gun noises?”
“I… uh, I was…”
What to do….
Sasha, figuring out his duties straightaway used the back of his hand to brush my cheek, eyes glancing annoyingly at the officer as if to say… It’s better if you didn’t know…
“I didn’t hear… because…” The cheek that was being caressed sizzled with heat. I wasn’t feeling shy, really, I swear. Rather, I was scared of being killed by that menace! “Because… I was… umm… ah…. was… in the middle of… doing… like, a ‘mission’…” My face was red, looking so embarrassed like I wanted to curl up like a cooked shrimp. Someone notice my acting skills and give me an Oscar, please?
This time it was the policeman who was at a loss, his face red like a traffic light. He hurriedly scribbled something down in his booklet, his eyes staring at the wolf in golden retriever’s clothing playfully biting my ear.
“Just a… love affair… you know what mean.”
Although this was just an act, I was really embarrassed, wanting to split the earth and disappear underground. Sasha’s large figure hugged my waist and placed a kiss on my neck.
“…To speak bluntly officer, we didn’t hear anything at all… because this guy… was moaning and whimpering so sweetly… why would I focus my ears on anything else?”
I glanced to look at the hottie. He seemed angry but also equally amused. His face was red all-over from trying hard to contain his laughter. As for Isakov, the vein on his forehead throbbed.
“Um… a final follow-up question…” The officer’s face was bright red like a ripe tomato. He pursed his lips, trying to not display any emotion. However, I was very confident that he wouldn’t to be able to sleep tonight, imagining all sorts of obscene things. ” After that… what did you do?”
Sasha winked at the officer.
“…I was dead tired but Petch was begging and pleading for a third round… how could I resist?”
Goodbye… my pride as a man…
“Are you done asking questions Mr. Officer?” I asked, voice weary. “I don’t think my private matters have anything to do with the case.”
“Final question.” The officer lowered his face to avoid eye contact, pointing the end of his pen at the hottie. “Mr. Petch, why were you…uh… carrying out your ‘mission’ in this room if the owner of the room wasn’t… uh… taking part? The owner of this room is Mr. Alexander, not you.”
Room 1206’s hottie raised his eyebrows high.
“…When did I say that there were only two of us? …My friend Alexey is very generous… and Mr. Petch likes it too…”
The officer darted out of the room, as if he feared that he wasn’t going to make it.
As for me? …3P with hotties from the left room and right room at the same time… I’d rather gargle some insecticide and die with mosquitoes thank you very much.
I was sitting on the same sofa, hand swiping the touchpad of my MacBook while my eyes continued to browse through each photo. However, my mind was in a different space altogether since my ears were occupied with listening in on the nearby conversation spoken in some alien language. Sasha sat crossed-legged on a small chair in front of Alexey’s work desk while the owner of the room was reclining in another chair. Isakov in a pink apron was wiping some pint glasses, the outfit complemented him perfectly, no, really. Between the two men was a large stack of documents, it looked to be official papers too. Alexey didn’t talk much, choosing to listen on the most part. As for Sasha, he was resting his chin in his hand, simultaneously talking and snacking on fried beans, along with his Corona Extra beer. He was enjoying himself like nobody’s business.
The reason why my mind was in a different space altogether was because of this. Although I had my back turned to them, I could sense both of their intense gazes on me. One pair thought to claim me, I had tacit understanding of this. But as to what the other pair was planning on doing, I had no clue… or was he debating over which method to murder me with?
Their diplomatic-esque style of speaking demonstrated that they were really professionals. For the first time ever, I got to see the hottie discuss work outside of embassy grounds. He was awfully neutral. Despite wearing a v-neck t-shirt and soft, stay-at-home pants, he still looked uptight and serious. Even if I were to be reborn, I could never be this cool.
“Mr. Petch.” A voice whispered next to my ear. My hair stood on end. Lifting up my face, I met the cheerful (and deceiving) smile of my neighbour from room 1206 at close range. “I’m really surprised to find you here.”
Clear blue eyes slid across to look at the owner of the room who was standing two feet away, as if trying to challenge the other man. “You are not his type.”
“Halt die Schnauze!” …Shut your mouth… Alexey growled. He yanked the door of the room open and forced Sasha out.
“What did he mean?”
Grey eyes inspected me from head to toe, looking next at the screen of my laptop. It happened to display a secretly taken photo of Sasha from the back. How could someone be this unlucky? I didn’t know how to correct myself so I tried to divert the matter by changing topics. “And is that policeman not going to interrogate you? You’re way more suspicious than me.”
“I’m the one who should be interrogating you more Petch.”
“About what?” I made a clueless expression but that hottie didn’t seem convinced. “I was simply doing my work, that photo…” I nod to the MacBook. “A person at the set asked me to take it for a ‘behind the scenes’ collection.” The hotties raised up one eyebrow, it was clear that he did not believe me in the slightest. I hugged my chest and turned my face upwards. “If you don’t believe me then that’s your problem, it’s not my duty to report to you.”
“Try asking Isakov. When I arrived at the set, Sasha was already there.”
“Also uh… you should already know… that night… you and I… were together…” Why did I feel the need to reinforce this point? We weren’t even close to being lovers! “If you don’t believe me, suit yourself.”
Alexey stared into my eyes. I answered back with a stare of my own. Of course, I had nothing to hide after all.
“Okay… then answer me this, why do you want to go Kazakstan so badly? …I want to hear it straight from your mouth.” The tone of his voice softened as if not wanting to argue any further.
The topic had changed so suddenly that I couldn’t prepare myself. Regardless, I heaved a sigh of relief.
“If I tell you this, you might not believe me, but I’ve never been overseas before… Whenever I see someone leave to do a photography job at this country or that country… it’s really enviable.”
“You envy them because you don’t get to go travelling? What a childish thought.”
“Wrong, I envy these people for being entrusted with challenging work. You’re a civil servant so you might not understand that for a photographer, advancing forward, and widening our perspective in new places is unbelievably important. In your line of work, you process documents day-by-day and attend meetings day-by-day, but it’s different for me. If I don’t produce work which stand out more than other people’s… is better than other people’s… then no one will see my worth.” I didn’t know why I bothered to explain all this, but the man seemed very desperate for an answer.
“That’s it? …You want to go to Kazakhstan because almost no one has gone there before?”
“No… me going overseas is one story… as for wanting to visit your birthplace, that’s another story.” I paused. Inside my thoughts, someone’s gentle smile surfaced. The face had already faded from my memory long ago, however, my first impression of meeting him, never faded. “There’s this one photographer I admire. He told me that his home was Kazakstan. And although he wandered across Europe according to the demands of his work, he wished to return to his homeland and convey its beauty to the entire world someday… Truthfully, anybody can say these words, but do you know? Alexey, I really want you to meet him… I want you to see his work. His photographs look just like heaven, it sounds like an overstatement doesn’t it…? They’re stunningly beautiful, dream-like almost.”
“Then what? Are you going to go find him?”
I smiled shyly. “Like that’s even possible. I don’t even remember his full name, and we barely got to talk to each other because of my English.”
“Eisbär, I called him Mr. Yeti or Snowman, funny isn’t it?” It was curious that Alexey had started to laugh… his eyes looked this way with a palpable gentleness. “I never got to meet him again… never sent an email, never talked, but the feeling still remained in my heart… I really want to go to Kazakhstan, to determine for myself the beauty of his country.”
(TN: Eisbär – German for Polar Bear)
I looked at the man sitting in front of me. “It sounds ridiculous but this should be enough to satisfy your question.”
“Far more than enough. I hope to meet him someday… the person that holds your heart in his hands.”
I stood up along with my MacBook, feeling a strangeness at his words, but I didn’t dare ask.
“Hopefully you’re done asking questions, thank you for the visa, I truly wanted it… and… thank you for several other things… goodnight, I’m heading to bed.”
How stupid, my heart skipped a beat from merely looking into his eyes…what is with that look of endearment?
Not even past the front door yet, the hottie’s voice stopped me in my tracks. “When are you leaving?”
“Have you finished packing?”
I nodded quickly. “My suitcase has been ready for three weeks now.”
“Why the hurry?”
“I really wanted to go ah.”
It was the correct answer. He pulled me back into the room and held my hand in his big firm one.
At first, I was going to pull my hand away because I felt horribly embarrassed.
But leaving it like this was also nice… there was nobody else to see us after all… right?
Alexey led me by the hand to the closet, looked at my face, then tilted his head, making a difficult expression.
“What does that look mean?” I couldn’t resist asking.
“Hey!” Was he looking for a fight again? “Well excuse me, 177cm is the average height for a Thai male entering manhood.”
“I don’t understand.”
(TN: Petch uses a very a difficult term for ‘manhood’ that’s not used in casual conversation.)
Fine, it’s my bad. “It’s hard to explain, manhood is like the age for…. reproduction.”
“Sounds like you’re talking about cows and water buffaloes.”
Now you act like you totally understand! I was about to open my mouth and argue but Alexey sifted through the closet and handed me two gorgeous overcoats, stopping me with confusion.
“As it’s the beginning of November, the temperature over there is nearing minus zero degrees. Take it, I guess they fit your size.”
I took the two overcoats into my hands, gently stroking the rim of the hood that was lined with high quality animal fur. Hua… it’s crazy soft and warm! Turning it left and right, I saw the brand and almost fainted.
Estimating its height and size, Alexey was larger than me by one and a half sizes. “These are expensive clothes… is it okay? They don’t seem to belong to you either.”
“Nevermind about who these clothes belong to… simple stuff like this can be bought anytime.” The hottie didn’t bother to answer my question at all. “Last night you got to explore my closet for a while didn’t you? …An adventure in the closet, was it fun?”
“Fun with the ghosts probably.” I grumbled under my breath yet smiled, cheeks close to bursting.
I realized at this point that this mafioso… could also be pretty kind.
Visas check and accounted for! We’re roughly 150 pages in, is our Petch finally going overseas?