by Jim Blossom
My name is Rich Spanner and I’m a private eye…well, food procurement & presentation specialist slash private eye actually, but I’ve got my own ad and everything.
If being a P.I. sounds romantic and exciting, believe me it ain’t. Not usually anyway. But the freaky stuff I have seen, and the fever for the chase that has boiled within me these last few days, is an exception to that rule which will see me through a lifetime of boring stakeouts when I get back home to the States. I can now say that I’ve finally had my Sam Spade moment in the sun…the warm tropical sun of Thailand that is. And not many gumshoes can say that, not even Sherlock Holmes.
As I am writing these words, I’m sitting at a palm-shaded poolside bar overlooking the most magnificent beach I have ever seen. There is a warm tropical breeze fanning the corners of my Bangkok Post, from which, stares back a splendid picture of me—my face flush from danger and my eyes sparkling with a boyish enthusiasm that I haven’t felt for years. Next to the article about my recent adventure, are ghastly pictures of mutilated faces. In them, charred flesh hangs in ribbons while fat and skin adhere like melted cheese to the skulls of four unfortunate men.
I’m sipping an ice-cold Thai whiskey mixed with orange juice and nibbling on baked prawns in a sweet chilli sauce. In an hour, I’m going to get a massage up in my room from a pretty young China-doll girl who I suspect plans on doing it naked. I’m kickin’ back today, because yesterday I apprehended the most notorious criminals in all of Thailand, the Blow-Torch Murderers.
Life hasn’t always been this eventful for me. Just two weeks ago I was back in San Francisco, struggling to make my rent and wondering if comic-book fantasies hadn’t led me to make a foolish career choice.
The ‘private’ portion of ‘private eye’ makes it a rather tough beat to walk nowadays, but I’ll explain that later. Point is, the pay absolutely sucks and talk about boring work. It’s all surveillance nowadays.
That’s what I thought I was in for, two weeks ago, when I got that call from Ruth Tonnage.
“Is it true you once worked on a case in Thailand?” I recall she asked me.
“Yes, I did,” I answered innocently, thinking at the time that she just had her small words mixed up—her, what-cha-call, prepositions. She’d put an ‘in’ where there should have been an ‘at’.
Seemed like a typical ho-hum case to me as I drove across the Bay Bridge to our first meeting. It’s always the same story: some broad or chump who figures their spouse is two-timing on them.
My job’s always the same. I watch and I record, I watch and I record. There ain’t no detective work, not like Sherlock Holmes stuff anyway, that’s for damned sure.
So why do I do it? Hell, I don’t know. I guess I’ve always been a dreamer. I was gonna either live like Jim Rockford, or live like a baseball star. First choice baseball because that would involve the least amount of book learning. But that little control problem I had with my fastball decided my path even as I was still struggling through high school. With no major league scouts beating down my door, it was off to community college for P.I. training. There I got myself a piece of paper saying that I was now fully qualified to tail insurance cheats for the rest of my life while moonlighting as a waiter in order to keep a roof over my head.
The only thing that has kept me renewing that ad in the Yellow Pages each year, is the hope that one really big and exciting case—like the P.I.’s in the movies always get—will eventually come my way. And last week it did. Didn’t happen like anything I saw on The Rockford Files, but it happened.
Let me tell you about my present client, Ruth Tonnage who, I suppose I should mention, did make it all possible. I doubt if she’s even heard of the Blow Torch Murderers but she was the one who got me here to ...even if it was only to spy on her husband.
How did she choose me for the job? (I chuckle every time I think about it.) She needed a P.I. with experience working in SE Asia, Thailand specifically. Hell, up to two weeks ago, I’d never travelled farther than Nevada! But six years ago, I worked on this case involving an employee theft ring at a textile factory. The factory made men’s neckties. There was a factory outlet store on the main floor of the place, and what-a-ya suppose it was called? You guessed it, Tie-Land. Somehow, through word-of-mouth, and six years of obscurity, a Mexican sweatshop in South San Francisco named Tie-Land became the thousand year old Asian kingdom of Thailand! Go figure.
Anyway back to Ruth and her husband Jerry. They’ve been married fifteen years and got two kids. The complacency of marriage has kind of fattened them both up so that I’m not surprised if their union has lost some of its tickle and giggle. Nevertheless, Jerry looked to be the perfect family man in the array of happy photos Ruth showed me during our secret meeting at their home in San Leandro. Big place it was too, Jerry had obviously done well for himself at his little jewellery shop over in the city.
I toyed with my old ball cap in some puzzlement at the start of that interview until I understood Ruth’s confusion over the Tie-Land thing. I could have straightened her out about it, but I didn’t. Something dark within kept me mum. Call it poverty if you like.
Jerry had been coming to Bangkok for over ten years to attend gem shows and seminars. But the frequency of his visits, according to Ruth, had steadily increased over the last year. Doing a little detective work herself, she had discovered that many of the contact numbers that he gave her weren’t in Bangkok at all, but rather here—where I am right now—in this southern resort town called Pattaya.
And what a place this is. Damn! It’s like if Disney Land was designed by drunken sailors! But never mind that for now, I’ll get to that later too. Back to Ruth…
“Something queer about the way he’s acting,” she told me. “I just know there’s another woman involved.”
I’ve always put more stock in female intuition than in male fidelity so I was inclined to believe her. Perhaps Jerry had a tropical love-nest set up in Pattaya with a pretty little Asian love-bird.
“Your job, Mr. Spanner,” said Ruth with the steely resolve of a woman bent on revenge, “will be to follow my husband on his next business trip to Thailand, find out who the little bitch is, and get some videotape of their shenanigans.”
“Videotape?” I commented, curling the peak of my hat nervously. I was trying to look professional, but inside I was spinning with excitement at how I had fallen into a free trip overseas. I wondered where I should go to apply for a passport?
“Yes videotape, Mr. Spanner. The more damning, the better!”
And such were the unremarkable bits of circumstance that started me, Rich Spanner—bottom of my class at community college and part-time waiter ever since—on an intersecting path with the Blow-Torch Murderers.
Next Instalment of The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncles: week of 27/02/06 (next week)