When Chernobyl melted down, signing the death warrant of nearly a million people and exposing half of Europe to radioactive fallout, Jack was on the beach in Thailand. Far from the prevailing winds of nuclear holocaust, his toes in the sand, beer in hand enjoying the vista of sapphire blue seas, and scantily clad bikini delights. Happy days in deed; no longer the grey skies and perpetual drizzle of what the yokels ridiculously claimed as God’s country – rain sodden, wind ridden Yorkshire. Of course he perpetuated the ex-pat myth of the good old days, surrounding himself with the memorial ephemera of traditional home cooked meals, good times down the pub and halcyon moments under an English sky. He’d kicked it up a notch, stolen the ladder to financial success and was enjoying his ill-gotten gains – how sweet was that? In between satellite beamed episodes of Coronation Street, East Enders and the delights of England soccer disappointment, he was quite content to eke out his life in a high rise condo towering above the poverty line in down town Bangkok.
Back in the day before his good fortune and his mother’s propitious cancer he’d enjoyed a very different lifestyle. One where the word sun barely enjoyed the vernacular, where the warmest welcome you could hope for was a nod and the possibility of a grunted good morning. Sparing with words and wary of strangers, Yorkshire folk were legendary for their fell-side hospitality.
As his old dad used to tell him, ‘Why would I waste me breath on nowt? I might bloody need it someday!”
He’d endured year after year, suffocating in the monochromatic effluent of day to day British survival. Bombarded with the impossibility of newspaper and television commercialism offering glossy celebrity lifestyles, blatant lingerie clad sexuality and footballers salaries while he eked out an existence on the bread line, or rather the dessert line, at the local cake factory.
When people asked what he did for a living he told them he was a baker which was as far from the truth as a council worker with a spade that tells you he’s a horticulturist. He didn’t actually make the cakes he stuck the strawberries on the top. You’ve probably seen his handy work down at Marks and Sparks, the luxury cakes with the six strawberries?
When the conveyor belt came to a crashing halt and the cakes flew off the end severely injuring two colleagues and bringing production to a standstill for a week the engineer had blamed it on technical malfeasance. Not the fact that Jack had rewired the emergency stop button so that he could run his radio and listen to the breakfast show. Lucky Jack is what his co-workers knew him as; shit didn’t stick to him no matter how deep it got.
Whipping through the pedestrians on his Vespa, he trolled the familiarity of the Patpong district in search of willing flesh – the younger the better. Life had become a game of self-gratification and with his mother’s inheritance it would be criminal not to live a little. Big cars, fast women, beach fronted vacations – Jack was living the life and doing his best not to disappoint. Helmetless he rode his scooter through the market, the smell of wok-ed street food and overflowing sewers filling his nostrils. Bangkok was a dirty horrible disgusting town however it had its upside. If he wanted it, it was there – a supermarket of sin, an emporium of personal excess. Anything and everything his twisted heart desired. Screw the beggars, the culture and the impoverished locals; life was for living and his for the taking. A Vice-roy in the land of smiles, with a pocket full of green and a flexible friend to catch him when he fell.
He parked the scooter and walked through the plastic beads that hid the den of iniquity from prying eyes and curious tourists. Mick’s Bazaar was for the serious connoisseur, a graduated step on the road to debauchery – a local and a frequent stop on his magical mystery tour of excess.
His mother had been dying for years, the black scabs of cancer slowly digesting her lungs, stealing her breath, purloining her life.
It had been a release, for the best – or so the well-meaning relatives had told him when they’d shaken his hand at the funeral and wished him well. He played his part, shed the tears and accepted the condolence offered with stoic reserve. With the insurance check burning a hole in his jacket pocket it was surprising the other mourners hadn’t seen the smoke rising above his shirt collar. Lucky Jack he may have been, however Clever Jack he wasn’t.
With his mother’s terminally earned cash he’d invested in a sure thing – a no loss business venture that would enable him to double his money within the year. As part of the ever expanding leisure industry he was setting sail on a rising tide of projected prosperity. The economy was strong. People had money to spend and the number one destination for their cash was leisure.
Excusing himself from his baking duties he handed in his weeks’ notice. It was only fair – who was going to take his place. Without his expertise the multi-billion dollar corporation would probably fold within a year. Nobody placed a strawberry like Jack, it took time and practice – the dexterous handling of sugared fruit an art form. The long haired lad with the earing they’d hired to replace him had caught on quick and Jack felt that his sacrifice had been worthwhile. The management had wished him well, and presented him with a cake. Lucky jack they called him – as he walked out the door he dumped the cake into the garbage.
Micks Bazaar prided itself on its cuisine – English fare with a Thai flare. Fish and chips, roast beef, you name it Mick’s had it – from the choicest cuts to the most tender of flesh. If you had the cash then everything was on the menu. Want to stuff it up your nose, stick in your arm, or ride it like a rodeo king – Mick’s, like a favorite uncle, was always there.
Jack smiled at the young girl behind the bar who handed him a beer. He was a regular among the tropical shirted clientele and the ten day flip-flop brigade, the place awash in a sea of faces he recognized from past adventures. Club music belted out of speakers as young Thai girls gyrated on the bars.
“No, she wait for you.”
Lucky bastard that he was, not only did he have a choice but he’d the pick of the litter as well. Little thing she was, fresh from the country – said she loved him but he didn’t care. It wasn’t love that Jack was looking for. He finished his beer and headed for the stairs, looking down from the landing on to the spinning fans and dancing go-go girls below. He was ready; it’d been a couple of days since he’d seen her last. Things were different over here, they weren’t hung up silly little things like age – aint nothing but a number anyway right? He pushed open the door and walked into Cindy’s room.
Jack quickly found that the leisure industry wasn’t all it was cracked up to be. Clearly the fella who’d sold him the business hadn’t been quite as forthcoming as he’d seemed. Things would pick up he’d told himself as he turned on the music and scoured the neighborhood for hungry children. Chock-Ices and 99’s were the stock in trade of the ice-cream salesman, and Jack rued the day he’d bought a franchise in Mr. Whippy. After six months of torrential down pours and unseasonably abysmal summer weather he’d managed to find a fool from whom to part money Guaranteeing the new owner that the leisure business was all the rage – after all if you couldn’t make money in this game then clearly there was just no hope for you!
He sold his mother’s house and with the funds from the ice-cream truck transaction he bought himself a slice of paradise and a one way ticket to the orient. Blue skies, perfect beaches, golden sands everything the brochure said it would be – and much, much, more assured the colluding holiday agent who’d winked, shook his hand, and sent him on his way.
They’d come to wave him off at the airport, wish him well, bon voyage. Lucky bugger was Lucky Jack. He looked out of the window as the aircraft lifted from the ground. There was no turning back now – paradise or bust.
The first boot caught him in the gut, the second in the face and he slumped to his knees. The baton crashed down on his head and he felt his arms nearly pulled out of their sockets as they were forced behind his back and cuffed, the steel biting into to his sun bronzed skin.
Through the blood misting his eyes Jack could see a man silhouetted against the window. Small and wiry, smoking a cigarette, a typical Thai.
What the hell had just happened, where was Cindy?
The detective looked at the pedophile in front of him, disgusted by the man and disgusted by his work – dragging white-devil foreigners off the bloom of Thai youth, exploited for the pleasures of these western pigs. He’d been specially drafted in from Chang Mai after wreaking havoc on the baby-lovers there. Well a change was as good as a rest and so he’d accepted the position – not only a promotion but a pay rise as well.
His wife was right this was going to be their year, the stars were aligned.