The sun was setting on another near-perfect day over Chaweng Beach on Koh Samui, an island in the Gulf of Thailand.
Sitting in a beach chair in the strip of sand owned by the Baan Samui Resort, John Harwich watched the sunset, contemplating it and enjoying its crimson beauty. He compared it mentally to the hundreds of sunsets he'd seen on Cape Cod, Massachusetts, his native home. It was different here in the Gulf of Thailand, not the same as sunsets had been on Cape Cod Bay. Not more picturesque or less. Just...different. And he liked it. It made him mellow, put him at peace.
It was a peace he'd been enjoying for a couple weeks now since he'd flown down to Thailand's second largest island from Chiang Mai and Bangkok. A friend of his in Chiang Mai had recommended both the island and this hotel, Baan Samui Resort. Both had been a big hit with Harwich. Peace, quiet, no running around. He spent his days lazing around reading, swimming, getting a great tan and his nights nursing drinks in the bar. The breezes under the tropical stars were warm and relaxing. Harwich was under a spell of maximum bliss. And Koh Samui was fully responsible.
Bliss was something that had been in short supply for Harwich of late. And that was a monumental understatement!
Once upon a time, it had seemed so simple...
Harwich had enlisted in the US Army towards the end of the Vietnam War, joined the Special Forces and was among the last of the men in green berets to serve in the clusterfuck known as Vietnam. Before his first tour was up with 5th Group, Harwich was "hired' by the CIA to "work" in Laos and Cambodia. While serving there, he was made part of the 46th Group based out of Lopburi, Thailand. He did two tours in Thailand and fell in love with the kingdom. The people, the country and Buddhism helped him to come to terms with what the "secret wars" in Indochina had turned him into--a killing machine. Thailand made him human again.
When it was time to return to The World, he was ready and willing.
He came back to the Cape and got on with his life.
It was an unexciting but satisfying life that he was happy to have until the day, almost three months earlier, when his dog was hit by a cement mixer and had to be put down. Harwich, upset over this, punched out an obnoxious tourist from NYC at the restaurant where he was a day manager. He also punched out his patronizing, asshole boss and got himself fired. The day ended with him burying his beloved pet, getting totally plastered and having a Ragnarok-esque arguement with his younger, beautiful girlfriend before throwing her out of his house.
And then the real trouble began!
It started with a phone call from an old friend, Glenn Lucas, an ex-Flying Tiger, calling him from the Oriental Hotel in Bangkok. It continued with Harwich returning to Thailand to set up a mission to go into Laos to rescue a former Nationalist Chinese general and his treasure that had been aboard an old C-47 flown by Glenn as China collapsed to Communism in 1949. The route had been Kunming to Vientiane to Bangkok but a severe monsoon storm had forced the Gooney Bird down in Laos before it could land at Vientiane. Glenn had assumed the general was dying when he left the wrecked C-47 behind in the karst hills.
The reality was that the general, Yen Ching Kung, survived and had been in a very long-term coma, a POW of a Lao opium warlord who, despising all Chinese, had kept Yen as a comatose "pet' at his HQ. When another POW was there for Yen's "awakening", he was given a Chinese necklace and Glenn's dog tags and told whom to contact in Bangkok and Hong Kong after he escaped the camp.
The POW, a Thai gangster, did and made the contact. Yen's family tracked Glenn down through the dog tags and paid him to fly from Boston to Bangkok. He would help them get their older brother back and Glenn had to agree because the Yen family ran a Triad called the Snow Leopard Society who threatened to kill Glenn's family if the gweilo wouldn't help. Glenn, now a senior citizen, needed help in Southeast Asia so his best chance was Harwich. Harwich was shocked at the phone call but immediately chose to go. The Yen clan had mailed him tickets on Thai International and provided him with a room at the Oriental Hotel. Once in Bangkok, Harwich got together with old friends, expats who lived in Bangkok and Chiang Mai, and put the rescue mission into operation, the Snow Leopard Society paying for everything. Harwich and Glenn went into Laos and worked with H'mong rebels to rescue Yen Ching Kung and his treasure--a solid gold tablet that consisted of a poem from Li Po to Emperor Minghuang. It was unique and worth a fortune to any Chinese. The mission was a success and ended up with a Triad "thank you" consisting of one million US for Harwich. At this point, he decided to stay in Thailand. After exploring Bangkok, he voted for the more laid-back city of Chiang Mai in the mountains of the north. He got an apartment off Thapae Road and hung around there, getting happily reacquainted with a culture he'd left behind three decades earlier. Deciding to go someplace different, he'd gone to Mae Hong Son and gotten involved with another opium warlord, Khun Yim, a Shan who did "business" in Burma and Thailand. Khun Yim had basically forced Harwich to agree to go into Cambodia to get a jade statue and bring it into Thailand. Using the same expat buddies, Harwich had gone to Phnom Penh and then to the northwestern part of Cambodia where the statue was recovered and safely brought to Mae Hong Son Province after some serious shoot-outs in PP and the grounds of the wat where some out-of-place tornados had nearly destroyed the C-123 flying the statue to Thailand. It had been an insane assignment featuring people Harwich could only call scumbags and in the end, he and his friends were largely screwed out of the vast pile of money Khun Yim had promised them for getting the statue from Cambodia to Thailand. Still they made some money from this "misadventure', Harwich still had plenty of money from the Lao op and, most important of all, he and his friends were still very much alive. Harwich leaned back in his chair, an easy smile becoming a chuckle. One of the expats who had helped Harwich out so much with Laos and Cambodia was the one who had suggested this trip to Koh Samui. His real name was Richard Shaugnessy but he'd been nicknamed Rickshaw ever since he'd arrived in Laos in the late '60s to fly for Air America. He'd done his time with the unique airline from this period until the fall of Saigon in 1975, flying mostly in Laos but also Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam. When Indochina was lost to the Communists in '75, Rickshaw had moved into Chiang Mai and become owner of an oddball little company called, what else, Flying Rickshaw Ltd. It had been his favorite airplane, a DC-3 named Target Ship II, that had gotten Harwich and the others out of Laos and it was Rickshaw who had been the pilot of the C-123 that got them out of Cambodia. The first reason that Harwich chuckled was because even though he and Rickshaw had worked together a lot in Indochina, the two of them had known each other since they were teenagers. Rickshaw was a Cape Codder, too, and it was one of life's nicer ironies that the two had met up again halfway around the world, doing the kind of things they'd read about in Sgt. Rock comic books at Nauset Beach and in places they's seen in National Geographic. The second reason Harwich had chuckled was because Rickshaw couldn't be on Koh Samui with him now. He wasn't upcountry in Chiang Mai, nor was he in Thailand or even Asia itself. The long-time-expat who almost never went back to the States was back on Cape Cod now. His niece, the youngest daughter of his only sister, Lynn, was getting married and was especially anxious to have "Uncle Rick" there for the ceremony taking place at one of the snobby Cape hotels that Harwich and Rickshaw laughed at in their teens and despised as adults, the Wequassett Inn. In fact, the hotel was about half a mile up the road from Harwich's house, overlooking Pleasant Bay and charging guests a fortune because of this view.
This made Harwich laugh again; he asked Rickshaw to hook up with Harwich's older brother Ken when he had time. He wanted Rickshaw to tell Ken that Harwich was doing fine in Thailand and thank Ken for "babysitting" Harwich's house. Rickshaw had given Harwich one of his Tom Selleck Grins, knowing that Ken couldn't believe his younger brother was back in Southeast Asia and loving it. Ken thought places like Bangkok, Chiang Mai and Phnom Penh were about as normal as Mars so Rickshaw was happy to do this. Being another native Cape Codder who had gone "weird" and was living some kind of Terry and the Pirates life as an expatriate in the "steamy, mysterious Far East" made Rickshaw the perfect man for the job.
Rickshaw and his partner at Flying Rickshaw Ltd, Rollie Meyers, an ex-USAF crew chief from a Jolly Green Giant operating out of the Issan during the war, and Harwich had gone to the airport in Chiang Mai to have some Singha beer and wish Rickshaw good luck in the States. Rollie would run the company while Rickshaw was away but neither partner was worried because business was dead slow and after Laos and Cambodia, this pleased both expats.
Rickshaw caught a Thai Airways flight to Bangkok for his Thai International run to LA and American to Boston. Half an hour later, Harwich said goodbye to Rollie and flew on Bangkok Airways down to Bangkok and then Koh Samui. He told Rollie he'd stay in touch with him through e-mails from the island. Rollie had laughed, telling him he'd try to survive "somehow" without Rickshaw or Harwich being in Chiang Mai. Point in fact, as Harwich headed for the gate and Rollie walked out of the airport terminal, both men knew Rollie's next job on a "busy day" in Chiang Mai would consist of a trip to the Sayuri Massage Parlor on the other side of the Ping River.
"Khun Chon?" asked a male Thai voice from behind him.
Harwich turned around in his beach chair and stared up at the source of this voice.
He was an Issan man in his early twenties named Nuye. He and his family, originally from Nakhon Sawan, had known Rickshaw for many years and were always happy to help their wild farang friend out. Nuye worked in the Baan Samui Resort and he'd been a great source of help, information and sanuk since he'd picked up Harwich at the airport when his flight from Bangkok had landed on Koh Samui.
"Nuye," Harwich called out, always happy to see the upbeat man. "How's it going, puen?"
"Sabai dee, Khun Chon. I came out to see if you'd like something to drink--a bottle of Singha, perhaps. And to remind you that tonight's special will be Phuket lobster, if you're interested."
"Kob khun kob, Nuye. I'll pass on the beer--I'm going to head for my room and a shower and then I'll be having dinner. The Phuket lobster sounds good."
"Very good! Well, let me take care of that with the kitchen, Khun Chon, and we'll see you for dinner." He nodded at Harwich, waved and headed off for the kitchen whose cooks had been keeping Harwich's stomach quite pleased these past weeks of professional goofing off.
About twenty minutes later, Harwich left his bungalow showered, shaven and wearing comfortable, clean clothes. He made the short journey to the resprt's open-air restaurant, smiling at the laughter coming from everywhere. Yeah, Koh Samui's one mellow spot, all right, he thought, looking forward to his Phuket lobster.
The immaculate restaurant was lit by tiki torches and Japanese lanterns. There were plenty of people seated and eating, drinking and talking together happily--farang and Thai.
Sunida, a smiling waitress Harwich had struck up a friendship with during the past weeks, greeted him by name and escorted him to an empty table where he could hear the surf gently lapping at the sand.
He confirmed a Phuket lobster was available for him and ordered a Singha.
Harwich was enjoying the Thai beer in a frosted mug when he heard something completely new to him insofar as Koh Samui went: a voice rose in anger.
The voice was speaking Thai but doing so in what sounded like an Australian or New Zealand accent.
Involuntarily, Harwich listened in. It would have been almost impossible to do otherwise.
"What, are you deaf or just incredibly stupid?"
"Don't interrupt me, son. I ordered Phuket lobster."
"Sir, this is Phuket lobster. It's what you ord--!"
"Bullshit!" the voice exploded in English before resuming the attack in Thai. "I ordered Phuket lobster, not this crap! Where did you find this, on the underside of a sampan?"
Harwich couldn't help himself; he turned around. All other conversation in the restaurant had stopped. Everyone was watching the confrontation. Sunida was biting her lower lip nervously--Thais hate confrontation.
Harwich studied the "combatants". The diner who was giving the waiter the business end of his tongue was a farang man of about Harwich's age. The man was seated at a table with two stunning white farang women who seemed embarrassed about the situation. The man himself was handsome in a cold way, with an arrogant look on his mottled red face. His clothing gave a yacht club appearance and Harwich hazarded a guess that the man's watch would probably have paid half the price of a year's mortgage on Harwich's house.
The waiter, a young kid Harwich had gotten to know by his face and playful mood if not his name, was sweating and looked quite uncomfortable in his waiter's uniform. The offensive Phuket lobster sat on a plate the waiter held with a trembling hand.
"Sir, this lobster was flown in today fresh from--"
"Don't give me that!" "Mr. Yacht Club" snapped in English, confirming he was an Aussie or a Kiwi. "This is shit! Now get it the fuck out of my face before I shove it up your ass!"
Before the waiter could say or do anything else, the Australian shoved him away. Caught off-balance, the waiter fell on his ass, the Phuket lobster flying off the plate and splattering his pristine uniform.
That was enough for Harwich. Even as his mind told him to stay cool, to be jai yen-yen, to not get invloved, he was getting up and heading across the floor to teach Mr. Yacht Club some fucking manners, lao-lao.
The Aussie was getting up, too, prepared to inflict further injury on the waiter. He saw Harwich approaching and sneered. "Something I can help you with, mate?" His eyes itched for a fight.
"For starters, you can help this kid up on his feet. Then you can apologize and give him double the amount it'll cost to dry clean his uniform that you just messed up, 'mate'."
" 'struth! Who're you, Jimmy-fucking-Carter-the-peacemaker? And if I don't cooperate, Yank? What then, eh?"
Harwich smiled but it was a smile that would never be associated with the bleeding heart liberal ex-president from Plains, Georgia. "Then maybe I'll rip your fucking leg off and cave your skull in with it, ass wipe."
Other hotel employees were helping the waiter to his feet. They and the other diners watched Harwich and the Australian, waiting for the explosion.
The Down Under laughed. "You've a right pair of cojones, haven't you? This will more than make up for an inferior meal." He stepped in towards Harwich.
"The only thing inferior here is your attitude."
"Seth! Let it go, huh?" asked one of the women, a blonde with a laidback southern California accent.
The other woman, a radiant brunette, shook her head.
Before the two men could come to blows, another farang woman came out of the Ladies' Room and when she saw what was going on, she ran in a very un-lady-like manner in their direction.
"Seth, what the hell's going on? I--!" Her eyes fixed on Harwich and widened. "I know you. But where--?"
Harwich, still high on adrenaline, recognized her face, too. "Logan Airport. You were in a bar having a drink with me when your flight to Chicago was called. A bankers' convention, wasn't it?"
"My god," the redhead gasped, "you remembered all that? That was almost three months ago."
"I've got a fair memory, Melody. It is Melody, isn't it? Melody Peterson, if I recall right."
"Whoa, Melody," chortled the blonde, "he really does know you!"
"I'm surprised he can but of course he knows me. We really did meet at Logan, Kara." She returned her attention to Harwich. "And your name was John--John, ummm..."
"It's still John and the last name's Harwich."
"John Harwich, that's it! But what were you and Seth doing? I heard loud voices out here and a crash." She turned and stared at the pale-faced waiter. "What happened?"
The Down Under kept looking at Harwich. "The waiter tried to pawn off third-rate vittles on yours truly," he told Melody, still staring at Harwich. "Did you say your name is John Harwich?"
"That's right. So?"
The Australian lowered his fist. "I'm here because of you." His tone wasn't as combative as it had been seconds earlier. "My name's Seth Trent."
He held out a hand that Harwich ignored. "That name sounds vaguely familiar to me and your face looks about the same."
Trent laughed. It was not a friendly sound. "I've been around Southeast Asia a long time. I just came down here from Hong Kong and I'm here on Koh Samui specifically to see you."
"You never told us that," Kara said petulantly.
"Yeah, Seth, Kara's right," Melody said. "What's going on?"
"Yeah, Seth, what is going on?" Harwich echoed in a mocking tone, "and no matter what any of it's about, why shouldn't I kick your ass on general principle?"
Trent smiled good-naturedly, well aware that everyone was watching the drama. "Because, my friend," he said in a loud voice audible to everyone in the restaurant, "I'm going to pay the waiter triple the amount for his dry cleaning, I'll tip him one thousand baht and then I'm going to buy you a drink at the bar." Messenger Café — open for fun 24/7. Hot games, cool activities served daily. Visit now.
Sean Bunzick Copyright 2006
Harwich, Massachusetts, resident Sean Bunzick has spent a good number of his adult years living in Southeast Asia and has turned his love for the region into a successful series of thrillers. The first two were "Missing in Asia " and "Air Thermae." Sean Bunzick is an American who divides his time between Cape Cod and Chiang Mai. Sean has two novels available online and in some Thailand bookshops (like Bookazine). Next time you are browsing for books set in this region, have a look for 'Missing in Asia', 'Air Thermae', 'Dangerous Junk for Sail' and 'Zero Trust in Zanboanga'.
If you liked this first chapter of Dangerous Junk for Sail it can be easily purchased here online at Amazon.com: http://astore.amazon.com/thailandstori-20/detail/1425949495/105-2694591-1054006
Here's a good link to Thai Oasis that has a great review of Sean and his books: http://www.thaioasis.com/literature/bkkbangkokfiction_bunzick.php