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Authors: John Dolan

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Hungry Ghosts

BOOK: Hungry Ghosts
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HUNGRY GHOSTS

 

by

 

John Dolan

___________

 

TENTION BOOK
S

 

 

This book is intended entirely as a work of fiction. Although it contains incidental references to real people, this is solely to provide a relevant historical and geographical context. All other characters, names and events are fictitious, and any resemblance to actual events or persons living or dead is entirely coincidental.

All quoted words in this book are believed to fall under the category of fair use. However the publisher is sensitive to the rights of copyright owners and should any such copyright owners have cause for concern please contact the publisher.

 

HUNGRY GHOSTS published by Tention Publishing Limited

Kindle Edition

Copyright John David Dolan 2013

John David Dolan has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 to be identified as the author of this work

 

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted by any person or entity (including, but not restricted to, Google, Amazon or similar organisations), in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, scanning or by any information storage or retrieval system, without prior permission in writing from the publisher.

 

Tention Publishing Limited Reg. No. 8098036

Unit 4 Provender Mill, Belvedere Road,

Faversham ME13 7LD,

United Kingdom

http://www.tentionpublishing.com

ISBN 978-0-9573256-3-0

For Emma, Mike, Bobby, Emily, Lottie and Sophie

May you live
happy and compassionate lives

AUTHOR’S PREFACE

 

‘Hungry Ghosts’ appear in various traditions and religions. In Tibetan Buddhism they are represented
as
pretas
, creatures with grotesquely bloated bellies and thin necks who can never eat enough to satisfy their hunger. In traditional Chinese religion they are beings driven by intense, animalistic needs, and they are ‘ghosts’ in the sense of being only half-alive. In Japanese Buddhism they are the
gaki
and the
jikiniki
, the spirits of jealous and greedy people; and in the Book of Enoch (a pseudepigraphal book of the Bible), they are the
Grigori
, demons endlessly wandering the earth in search of food.

The events in this book take place on the
Thai island of Samui and in Bangkok in March and April 2005. As with my previous book in this series, I have taken a number of liberties with organizations and locations.

None of the characters herein are real people.

“Our imaginations are inhabited by ghosts ...

The familiar ghosts which reassure,

the lazy ones which make us obstinate and, above all,

the frightening ones which discourage.

The past haunts us …”

Theodore Zeldin, An Intimate History of Humanity

1

Unquiet Slumber

 

It was 2:
30am in Bangkok.

Away from the booming nightclubs of the
City of Angels, in the northwestern suburb of Bangkok Noi the night was quiet.  In this poor, workers’ area of the capital the only things to be heard were the occasional motorbike or the whine of an unhappy dog. Even the drug-dealers and opportunistic rapists that hung around Soi Charan Sanit Wong 37 had strutted home to their beds.

A few hundred metres
from that ill-lit and abused thoroughfare a man was sitting on one of the fourth floor balconies of a crumbling residential block. Most of the building was in darkness, including the man’s apartment, and on the empty road below only a few of the street lights were working. The balcony overlooked derelict tenement and waste ground strewn with builder’s debris and dusty rubbish.

Th
is man was not there for the view.

Th
e night-owl was a big Thai with coarse, acne-scarred features, a shaved head and limbs the thickness of tree-trunks. He was wearing a faded, sweat-stained vest and boxers, and his wide buttocks spilled over the cheap plastic chair that barely supported his bulk.

He lit a cigarette and wiped the perspiration from his
brow with a tattooed forearm. The air was humid and uncomfortable, but that was not the principal reason for his night-sweats.

Bumibol Ch
aldrakun was being stalked by a ghost.

Of l
ate his dreams, and occasionally his waking hours, had been haunted by an apparition possessed of a dogged determination. The ghost was that of his younger brother, Preechap Chaldrakun, who in life had been a police constable on the island of Samui.

Preechap had died a few weeks
ago in a freak accident, his neck broken after falling down the staircase outside his apartment. He was chasing some children who had been setting off firecrackers for Chinese New Year near his door, and he had lost his footing. One of his police colleagues had been on a cellphone call to him at the time and had raised the alarm. However, there was nothing to be done, and the children in question unsurprisingly could not be traced.

That, a
t least, was the
official
story.

Bumibol had gone to the island to make arrangements
for his brother’s cremation in a state of shock, a sort of deep trance. He had sleepwalked his way through the proceedings which had been a penurious, poorly-attended and desultory affair. His brother was the only family he had, and of course, vice versa. Accordingly, just three monks from a local temple, Preechap’s police colleague Tathip, and a couple of ancient female hangers-on, had been in attendance. Tathip – who had been on the phone to Preechap at the time of his death – was nervous and trembling throughout and couldn’t wait to get away. Bumibol had taken an instant dislike to this feeble, twitchy policeman who according to previous conversations with his brother had a drink problem, but he had managed to be civil to him in his own gruff way. The island police force had sent flowers and other marks of respect, but this felt like a half-hearted gesture to the bereaved Bumibol. He knew his brother had not been popular. He was not popular himself. Both brothers were loners.

They were also peas in a pod. Both
were violent men; both were bitter at a world which denied them respect and what they regarded as their due. Neither had a woman to love them; and both were scornful of foreigners and of those that were ‘different’. After a childhood of poverty in the slums of Bangkok, one had clawed his way into the Royal Thai Police while the other had become an enforcer for a drug gang. Neither saw any paradox or irony in this, their philosophy being that money and power were the true differentiators, not right and wrong. Their career paths may have diverged, but the grudges they carried against an indifferent world were the same.

And now the
surviving brother was completely alone.

Chaldrakun flicked away his cigarette butt and spat over the balcony. From somewhere in the thin-walled apartment block he heard some excited matrimonial yelling, followed by a door slam and then silence.
He ran a hand over his head and wiped the sweat onto his boxer shorts.

The haunting had begun after he had returned to Bangkok, and the vision was always the same.

His brother appeared to him barefoot and swathed in dirty rags, the bloated body covered in welts and sores. The ghost’s eyes were red and burning and the lips had been crudely sewn together by some demonic seamstress. In his left hand he carried a kind of stick or metal rod, and with his right hand he pointed first at his brother and then indicated something off in the distance to which he wanted to draw attention. This action was repeated endlessly. The backdrop to the apparition was a rough stone pit of smouldering embers and black smoke.

Chaldrakun had no idea what
certain aspects of the vision meant, but he was sure of two things. First, his brother was in torment, and secondly he was calling out to him to
do
something.

He was also
convinced that, unless he acted, the phantom would continue to deny him rest.

Chaldrakun cleared his throat and spat again.
This all must be to do with Preechap’s passing
, he thought.
What else can it be?

His
starting-point had to be to look more closely into the circumstances of his brother’s death. The enforcer needed to turn detective.

He
would go back to Samui.

He would
talk to Tathip.

He would
find out what had
really
happened.

 

 

2

David Braddock’s Journal

 

Some years
ago I fell in love with Siem Reap, the little Cambodian town that acts as a jumping-off point for the spectacular Angkor temple complex.

And today in the bright spring sunshine I am especially enamoured of it, as I saunter through its shuttered francophone streets hand-in-hand with my
flame-haired sister-in-law, Anna.

She is looking particularly lovely in a white linen blouse and skirt.
She wears sunglasses, a brown belt around her slim waist, and her wrists and neck are adorned with various bangles and beads that have been acquired over the last couple of days. The top few buttons of her blouse are undone, I am pleased to note, affording me a tantalizing glimpse of bra and the cleavage of Anna’s small but beautiful breasts. I try not to make it obvious I am peeking and hope I can conceal my lust behind my sunglasses and interesting conversation.

“David, will you stop looking at my breasts,” she says, “
or at least be a little more discreet about it.”

“Sorry,” I reply. “I was trying to be subtle.”

“Try harder.”

Then she laughs and kisses me on the lips.

I am feeling more randy than usual because for some inexplicable reason I decided to try some local version of Viagra before our love-making last night. It was, one might say, highly successful (although probably unnecessary), but the problem is how long it is taking the damn thing to wear off. I am glad my chinos are a bit on the baggy side.

Anna and I
are on our way to a lunch meeting with one of Anna’s authors, but we have some time to waste.

We stop and browse at a local bookstore, its shelves stacked with sandy polythene-wrapped ‘knock offs’: Irvine Welsh, Ernest Hemingway, George
Orwell, last year’s business blockbusters, and a couple of recent Booker Prize-winning novels. Further back in the shop are rows of tatty secondhand books in English, French and German, with broken spines and yellowed pages, all invariably covered in a thin layer of dust. Since Anna is an editor in a small UK publishing house, this sort of Asian establishment is irresistible to her. She even manages to conceal her sense of outrage at the blatant disregard for author royalties and legitimate publisher profits.

“I suppose copyright is something poor countries can’t afford to have moral scruples about,” she once remarked resignedly.

Eventually Anna decides to make a purchase and hands over cash to a skinny, bored-looking Cambodian who has a head like an alien, a lazy eye and a vaguely bouffant hairstyle. He thanks his customer for her business in a clipped manner and as he moves off towards the rear of the shop. I can’t help noticing that he walks like he has a stick up his bum. Perhaps he has.

Back in the street again we pass a scrawny one-legged beggar, collecting alms in his blue ‘LA’ baseball cap. He has sad eyes and a gentle face. I’m thinking
land mines
. I drop a couple of dollars into his hat and he smiles and bows his head. Anna also smiles and gives me an approving peck on the cheek.

Although there is begging here it is nothing like the scale encountered on the Indian sub-continent. Here most people, in spite of their country’s horrific recent history (or perhaps because of it), prefer to be vendors, not beggars. I know one local guy – ‘
Chris’ – who is confined to a wheelchair and has been here for years selling his paintings of temples to tourists. Each painting features a man in a wheelchair somewhere in it: a Khmer variation of the Hitchcock cameo.

Pub Street beckons.

Our late-lunch rendezvous is at the Weary Piano Player, one of the best eating-holes in this part of town. The obsession with the film actress Angelina Jolie is everywhere evident in the centre of Siem Reap, and in this joint they even have a cocktail named after her. Some of the establishments put on (in my view, rather tedious) Cambodian dancing shows in the evening, but fortunately this is not one of them. It’s already after two in the afternoon, and if Anna’s author is as big a bore as I fear he is, we might not escape his company until after the dancing ladies have hit the stage.

“Let’s sit outside,” says Anna
with enthusiasm.

Like her, I love the pavement café culture, but it has its drawbacks.

“If you need to have an uninterrupted talk with your author, we should at least sit a row or two back from the road. Otherwise you’ll be talking to the street kids half the time.”

“Nonsense.”

It’s not nonsense. I’ve barely taken off my sunglasses and straw hat and already three sweet little girls are selling Anna some bracelets and a young boy with a boxful of books is reciting to me the names of the capitals, current prime ministers and members of the royal families of Europe. The kids who act as street-sellers – and there are many – are drilled in this stuff. Anything for an extra dollar. The boy looks about nine, but he could be undersized due to poor nutrition. I don’t remember ever seeing an obese Cambodian.

Anna now has some extra bracelets round her wrist, I have acquired a poorly-photocopied paperback entitled
The Pol Pot Genocide
, and my wallet is several US dollars lighter.

“You do realize we shouldn’t be buying stuff like this.
Haven’t you seen the pamphlets about child exploitation? Those kids should be at school,” I remark grumpily.


Those kids
will at least eat tonight,” Anna replies. “Now get me a gin and tonic.”

The drinks arrive quickly and I raise my glass first to Anna and then to a large framed picture of Angelina Jolie.

“Here’s looking at you kids,” I say.

“Now you are going to behave yourself when Philip arrives, aren’t you?” Anna asks me sternly.

“I would have to be stupid
not
to behave myself, wouldn’t I?” I say meaningfully.

I’m referring to Anna’s rash promise of this morning that
she’ll give me twenty minutes of tantalisingly slow oral sex tonight if I don’t embarrass her over lunch.

“Yes, well,” she says blushing slightly, “
just remember I told Philip I’d have my brother-in-law with me. I never mentioned anything about bringing my lover.”

“I know. Don’t worry. I won’t even look at your breasts.”

“You
are
looking at my breasts.”

“He’s not here yet.”

She sighs and shakes her head. “Incorrigible,” she mutters before taking a sip of gin.

I remove my arm from the back of her chair, and look serious.

“OK, tell me a bit about this character. Up to now I just know he’s one of your authors, his first name is Philip and we’re meeting him for lunch.”

“He’s also my
alibi for being in Cambodia with you.”

“That too, of course.”

Anna takes off her sunglasses.

“Right. Well, his name is Philip Janus –”


Janus?
Is that his real name? Sounds like the sort of made-up name you’d give a character in a novel.”

“Are you going to keep interrupting?”

I mime zipping my lips, and she looks at me doubtfully.


Philip is a grammar school boy who made good. He was an overseas reporter with the BBC for some years, but he was too much of a maverick for them so he was let go. Then he worked for one of the US news channels. They found him too left wing. After that he started doing some NatGeo-type stuff. He packed that in after a short time: too commercial and not challenging enough, he said.”

“So artistic and political differences are what ha
ve kept him moving on?”

“Exactly.”

“You’re sure it’s not because everyone he’s worked with thinks he’s a twat?”

She ignores this.

“Some years ago he started writing seriously on his own. He has a real love for Indo-China and his first book on the history of the Mekong was a best-seller. He followed this up with a serious study on the crimes of the Pol Pot regime. Philip’s research on this was so meticulous it’s not an exaggeration to say that his work was instrumental in identifying and making public some of the key perpetrators of the Kampuchean state atrocities.”

“Wow.”

“As far as I’m concerned he’s an absolutely top-notch investigative journalist; and incidentally I love his writing style. The only reason he’s working with my company is that he hates the blatant capitalist approach of the big publishers. So I consider myself lucky to be working with him.”

“So what’s he working on now?” I ask, hoping I sound suitably interested
and keeping my gaze away from her cleavage.

“He can tell you that himself,” Anna says. “Here he is.”

A tall, sinewy character with a long face and slightly bulbous nose has materialized at our table. He is dressed in a crumpled green shirt with the sleeves rolled up and fashionably-faded jeans. A canvas man-bag is slung over his shoulder and there are leather thongs around his neck and wrists. I’m thinking
Graham Greene novel
.

He takes off his straw hat to reveal a mane of silver hair tied at the back in a pony tail. Now I’m thinking
narcissistic poseur
.

“Anna, my darling.”

“Philip, it’s lovely to see you.”

They embrace
warmly while I wait with an inane grin stapled on my face.

“This is David, my brother-in-law. David, this is Philip Janus.”

We shake hands and sit. Janus rummages in his bag and produces an inhaler from which he takes a couple of theatrical drags.

“Excuse me,” he says. “It’s the dust.”

The inhaler goes back in the bag, and he exhales dramatically.

“That’s better,” he announces. “Ah, gin and tonic time, I see.”

He snaps his fingers at a waiter and orders another round of the same.

We take menus and order some
random Khmer dishes:
bok l’hong, kuy teav, amok trey,
and other local stuff I’ve never tried before. I’ve just realized how hungry I am.

“So, David,” says Janus observing me with his watery jaundiced eyes, “
what do you do for a living?”

I light a cigarette
, to his obvious distaste.

“I’m a private detective.”

He looks interested for a moment.

“In Bangkok?”

“No, on the island of Samui.”

His interest disappears.

“Oh, that is a pity. You may have been useful to me in my research if you’d been based in Bangkok. But not if you’re in a backwater like Koh Samui.”

It better be a fantastic blow-job
from Anna later to make up for this.

“I suppose most of your work is spying on young Thai girls, is it? Taking photographs of them banging their clients, that sort of thing? Sounds like a funny way of making a living to me, but I
guess someone has to do it.”

No blow-job can be THAT good …

Anna sees me start to lean forward and places a warning hand on my scrotum. Fortunately this is out of Janus’ sight-line. Squeezing your brother-in-law’s balls in public is not something most people would understand.

“Actually,” says Anna
smoothly, “David is far too modest. He was recently involved in a multiple murder case on the island, doing psychological profiling.” She smiles at me sweetly. “My brother-in-law here is in fact something of a polymath. He also runs his own therapy practice.”

“That’s an unusual combination of occupations,
for sure,” proffers Janus raising an eyebrow.

Since Anna is not going to remove her hand anytime soon, I unobtrusively drape the napkin over my lap. One has to consider the waiters, and
moreover the sensation is quite pleasant, particularly when coupled with the chemical effects of last night’s pill still coursing through my body. If Anna is surprised by the stiffness her fingers encounter she doesn’t show it.

I decide to play along.

“Anyway,” I say, “there is a certain amount of photographing attractive young women in skimpy clothing. As you say, a lousy job but somebody has to do it.”

Janus laughs.

“I gather you are a writer, Philip.” I sound like a bad caricature of a polite Englishman, but never mind. “What are you working on at the moment?”

At the mention of what is clearly his favourite subject – namely
Philip Janus – our lunch guest visibly brightens.

“Drug trafficking
in Indo-China.
Dealing with the Devil
,” he announces and waits for me to be impressed.

He’ll have to wait a long time.

“Oh, really?” I respond. “I should have thought that subject has already been written to death.”

There is a
slight contraction of Anna’s fingers, but not too severe.

“Ah,” he says warming to his
theme, “but my angle is somewhat unusual. I’m focusing on the relationships and cooperation between the various international gangs that profit from the filthy business. Exactly
how
these groups deal with each other is what fascinates me. Different races, different nationalities, different socioeconomic groups; all bound together in a series of unholy alliances.
Dealing with the Devil
, indeed.”

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