The Godfather of Kathmandu - By John Burdett


Bangkok Haunts

Bangkok Tattoo

Bangkok 8

The Last Six Million Seconds

A Personal History of Thirst

For Nit


I thank David Giler for his usual invaluable comments, and Douglas Mays, who taught me all I am ever likely to know about padparadschas.

Few are there amongst men who go to the Farther Shore; the rest of this mankind only run about on the bank.

—Gautama, The Dhammapada

The third kind of suffering and pain that the soul endures in this state results from the fact that two other extremes meet here in one, namely, the Divine and the human.

—San Juan de la Cruz, The Dark Night of the Soul

There must be some way out of here.

—Bob Dylan, “All Along the Watchtower”


Ours is an age of enforced psychosis. I’ll forgive yours, farang, if you’ll forgive mine—but let’s talk about it later. Right now I’m on the back of a motorbike taxi hurtling toward a to-die-for little murder off Soi 4/4, Sukhumvit. My boss, Colonel Vikorn, called me at home with the good news that he wants me on the case because the victim is said to be some hyper-rich, hyper-famous Hollywood farang and he doesn’t need poor Detective Sukum screwing up with the media. We’ll get to Detective Sukum; for the moment picture me, if you will, with a Force 8 tropical wind in my face causing eyes to tear and ears to itch, on my way to one of our most popular red-light districts where there awaits a larger-than-life dead Westerner.

I’m nearly there. With a little urging my motorbike jockey drives up onto the sidewalk to avoid the massive traffic jam at the Soi 4 junction with Sukhumvit, weaves in between a long line of cooked-food vendors busy feeding the whores from Nana Plaza who have just gotten up (it’s about eleven in the morning), slaloms between a mango seller and a lamppost, returns to the tarmac with the usual jolt to the lower spine, and now we’re slowing to swerve into Subsoi 4. (Should one add the two fours to make the lucky number eight, or should one accept the stark warning: two fours mean death twice within the Cantonese luck system, which has taken over the world as a vital component of globalization?) Finally, here we are with a couple of squad cars and a forensic van in the parking area of the flophouse to welcome yours truly on this fair morning.

Also waiting for me is my long-haired assistant, Lek, a katoey—transsexual—who has not yet scraped together the courage or the funds for the final op. He avoids the supernatural brightness in my eyes (I’ve been meditating all night) to inform me, sotto voce, that Detective Sukum is here before me and has already developed possessive feelings toward the cadaver. The good Sukum is half a grade above me, and we are rivals for promotion. Like any jungle carnivore, Sukum is hunched over the kill as if it were all his own work—and who can blame him? Necrophilia is a professional hazard on any murder squad, and I have no doubt my rival is slobbering over his magnificent prize, just as if he had come across the Koh-i-noor diamond in a sewer. Within the value system into which we were all inducted at cadet school, this murder is everyone’s definition of ruang yai: a big one. It will be interesting to see how Sukum handles my inconvenient arrival. I think I might be able to surprise him.

Lek leads me past the guards’ hut into the parking deck which is also the entrance area for a ten-story apartment building that was erected in a hurry fifteen years ago in order to profit on a no-frills basis from the sexual frustration of Western men over the age of forty: a fail-proof business decision, the owners got their money back in the first three years and it’s been honey all the way ever since. Paint is chipped and flaking from the walls, revealing white plaster with occasional graffiti (Fuck you, farang, in Thai; Sarlee, you were so good last night, in English); the lift is tiny—even the slim Lek and I find ourselves embarrassingly close for a moment. (Our clash of colognes reveals our sexual orientations. He will use nothing less than Chanel No. 5, which he begs from my mother, Nong; mine is a rugged, take-no-prisoners little number from Armani.)

“This could be one for the FBI,” I say in the elevator.

“She’s stuck in Virginia,” Lek says. “Poor little thing broke her arm during combat training. She was