The lady with 60 daughters
The rain started to fall in mid-afternoon and there was no chance of it stopping before the Walking Street go-go bars were due to open at eight p.m. Mam stared from her bedroom window and wondered where she’d put her umbrella. That might be the least of her problems as the water was already flowing inches deep along the soi where she lived. She’d have to walk to the main road and find a songthaew or baht bus, one of the converted pick-up trucks that cruise the streets of Pattaya and adjoining towns, transporting passengers for just ten baht per person. The vehicle has two benches facing each other under a rigid metal roof and the driver stops when a pedestrian raises an arm or a passenger presses the bell. That was the extent of public transport that day and most of them would have given up by the time the flood really took hold. Motorbike taxis were nowhere to be seen. By midnight anyone using a bike would have been knee deep in rainwater. It was the flip side of Pattaya’s much vaunted idyllic weather.
Mam had worked in go-go bars for twenty years but never accepted a barfine from a customer. By the time she was twenty-three, she had a good job in a bank in Udon Thani, a husband, Arthrit, and a perfect daughter she called Mai. Arthrit committed suicide shortly before her twenty-sixth birthday and she left Isaan to work in the bars of Patpong. It was the only way she could take care of her daughter. She could make money faster by sleeping with farang but found the idea repellent. After a few months as a waitress, her club needed a new cashier. Mam was perfectly qualified, after all, the certificate from the bank where she’d worked was still on her wall.
Ten years had passed since she became mamasan at the Platinum Club. Required to take care of the girls, she was a natural. Most of her adult life had focused on giving her daughter the opportunity to have a normal existence. She saw her charges as a whole bunch of mini-Mais. Unable to save them from a life of prostitution she helped them any way she could. On the face of it she just managed the dance rota and encouraged customers to spend as much money as possible but Mam saw herself as guardian to the girls, someone who could make a tough life more bearable.
She had a gut feeling for customers… which ones had jai dee… good heart, which ones could be trusted with the young and inexperienced girls and which were to be avoided at all costs. Her track record was good, the owner was grateful she delivered a good atmosphere amongst the staff, which in turn attracted new girls to the bar. The dancers loved her. In a job where respect is in short supply, Mam treated them with dignity and affection. September 2011 was her lowest point, when she realised she’d missed something crucial that had been staring her in the face.
Over sixty girls were on the staff at the Platinum Club but she knew most of their life stories and what made each girl tick. One of her favourites was Dah. Staggeringly pretty, she was two months from her nineteenth birthday, but to a western eye looked three or four years younger. Mam often felt she was a magnet for the wrong type of customer and regularly turned down a barfine if she felt uneasy. The mistake she made was that while looking for the wrong type of customer, she missed that Dah had met the wrong type of boyfriend. Only later did Mam discover he made his living by selling drugs. When business was slow he got Dah to “lend” him money.
The signs were all there – Dah’s unpredictable changes in mood and bursts of elation. Generally a shy girl, she’d become the life and soul of the party. Mainly quiet and demure with potential customers she’d suddenly be bumping and grinding in their laps. Mam put it down to tequila. Most of her girls took to their new lives reluctantly but with either grim determination or the detached Buddhist outlook that this was a trial on the way to a better place. For some it was a good life with lots of parties and plenty of money; Dah was one of the girls who needed more help to get through the day. Her boyfriend gave her what she felt was love and affection, the pills gave her the confidence and the will to cope with a job she despised. Mam missed it all, she thought she was looking at a shy young girl who lost her inhibitions with a few drinks inside her.
Dah didn’t turn up for work on the night of September 27, 2011. Her body was found in her room the following morning. She died of an overdose of the methamphetamine known locally as yaba. At the age of eighteen she suffered cardiac arrest and failure of all her major organs. They never established whether it was an accidental overdose, a suicide or even murder. The police knew she was a bargirl consorting with a notorious drug dealer, so they didn't care either way. Mam only knew Dah’s boyfriend had killed her, directly or indirectly. Then he disappeared.
The high to end all highs
Joy raced to work that evening. Opening time wasn’t until eight, but she had to tell Mam.
“I’m certain,” she said, still panting from the race from Second Road. “I’ve not seen him since Dah died, but today he was there. The apartment block opposite where she lived.”
Another piece of the jigsaw fell into place, Diskul Naradee, yaba supplier of choice for the girls of Platinum Club was back in town. Mam bit her lip and a tear rolled down her face. She knew some girls were occasional users, but it was Dah who paid the ultimate price.
“You have to help me,” Mam told Joy.
They agreed what they’d do over soup, somtam and rice bought from a street stall shortly after the club closed for the night. It was time for jai yen… cool heart.
By the time they got to the club the following evening, Joy had filled in the blanks and the plan was almost complete. She’d identified Naradee for certain.
“He lives with a girl called Ook, she worked here for a while but now she’s crazy for yaba. So she goes to the Coconut Bar. Boom-boom… five hundred baht.” Joy couldn’t hide her distaste. The Coconut Bar is local slang for Pattaya’s beachside promenade, the bargain basement of the town’s sex trade, more importantly, five hundred baht was less than a quarter of the going rate for short time sex. Joy had more,
“Next room is a girl called Nit. She says Ook hates him but she’ll do anything for drugs.”
Naradee spent each afternoon on a terrace at the back of the apartment block leering at any young girl who passed by. Nit heard Dah’s story and quickly agreed she’d introduce herself to Naradee, the rest of the plan was also fine by her. Mam took the six thousand baht she’d tucked behind a statue of the Buddha in her bedroom and gave half to Nit. The girl protested, she needed no reward to help deliver their plan but Mam insisted. Joy was sent on an errand with the rest.
The following day Nit wore her tiniest top and tightest shorts as she stopped by the terrace. She spent her nights faking a passionate interest in farang; it wasn’t too difficult to make Naradee think she’d been waiting for a man like him all her life. He followed Nit to her room without a moment of hesitation and was still undressing the girl with his eyes when a sharp blow to the back of his head knocked him unconscious. It was fifteen minutes before he came around and another minute or so before he took in the sight of Nit, Mam and Joy. A length of rope was tied tightly round his legs and hands. Mam had seen plenty of movies where the bad guy gets his comeuppance and it was generally dragged out for dramatic effect. She had no time for that. Naradee was preparing himself for the worst, so it was a surprise when Mam spoke.
“You are filth, the lowest form of life and you deserve only pain and anguish. Every day you bring people and their families untold agony so you can make money. You will never set foot in this town again.”
Naradee was getting hopeful; maybe she wasn’t going to kill him after all. He could barely believe it when she cut the ropes and opened the door.
“Get out of here and never let me see you again.”
He scuttled across the floor and practically hurled himself through the door.
“That stupid bitch,” he muttered to himself, “She'll pay for this; her and those whores that work for her.”
He also had some unfinished business with that little prick teaser Nit. Maybe tonight when the others had gone. He’d heard people say when you cheat death, the feeling of elation is incredible but he had no idea. This was extraordinary, it was a rush like he’d never experienced.
The front page of the Pattaya Daily News covered the story in technicolour and great detail. Diskul Naradee, was a known drug dealer. His body was discovered in a small soi off the main road to Jomtien. Most of the apartment blocks nearby housed girls who work in the bars of Pattaya, many were home that afternoon but no-one saw a thing. They worked at night so the afternoon was time to catch up on some sleep. Doctors confirmed the deceased died of a massive overdose of methamphetamine. Rope marks on his arms and legs, suggested he might have been involved in some sort of sex game before he died. A police spokesman trotted out all the usual platitudes about an investigation but was barely able to conceal the triumph in his voice when he confirmed Naradee was a known dealer. Now he was very definitely dead.
Mam read the article with no sense of satisfaction. It was all too late for Dah but maybe there’d be other girls who might have a better chance with one less dealer on the street. She considered herself to be a loving person without a malicious sinew in her body. Nonetheless she sent a young girl on an errand to buy yaba, she crushed the tablets and made a solution she injected into Naradee's arm minutes before he regained consciousness. She felt neither triumph nor guilt, her thoughts were with Dah… and Arthrit, her husband. He’d been a bus driver on the long run from Khon Kaen to Bangkok and a friend offered him tablets to keep him awake on what were often two eight hour shifts per day. Many of his colleagues did the same and crashes were frequent until the government cracked down on the problem. By then Arthrit discovered that for him, giving up the drug was far more lethal than taking it. Withdrawal creates a major risk of severe depression and suicidal urges. Three days after Mam celebrated her twenty-sixth birthday and just barely four years after Mai was born, Arthrit left a note, climbed the stairs to the top-storey of an open-air car park and threw himself from the ledge.
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