The Bridge Players - Part 1
I remember I had been having some trouble sleeping and was spending many evenings a week either in the Thermae or in one of the all night spots on Patpong. I even spent the odd night in the Malaysia or the Grace but, all in all, the Thermae was my favourite spot. Yes, you had to go down an alley and in through the tradesman’s entrance in the car park and brave the stench of the often flooded toilets. And yes, the aggressive salesmanship of hard-to-see hookers grasping through the murky darkness offering cut price dalliances and trying to pick pockets amid the acrid stench of spilled beer, spilled whisky, sweat, tobacco, vomit, piss, blood and desperation could, on occasion, compound into a queasy sensation that left us grasping for air. Once settled in, however, the Thermae offered an oasis of all-night entertainment. It was an all-night cabaret, with singing, dancing and the odd bout of all-in wrestling (with enhanced scratching and gouging) where they served club sandwiches, whisky and coffee until the first snap of dawn.
Binky Beaumont Baxter was an old Asia hand of the first order; one of the last representatives of the heady days of empire. He was in his Seventies but he had a ruddy complexion, a thick head of white hair and an elegant white imperial mustache not often seen since the sad demise of the British East India Company. When he spoke he sounded like someone who might have been drummed out of the officer class for enjoying a tipple, a flutter and too many floozies. His one concession to living in the tropics was not wearing a tie but he always wore a light jacket over his shirt. He introduced himself to me as we were sharing the same booth and we weren’t paying much attention to the women who had plumped themselves near to us. “My better half’s in the hospital right now. Overdose of Paracetemol. Very hard to explain to them that taking more doesn’t make the headaches go away quicker. Very wilful types.”
I mentioned that I was having trouble sleeping at night and he laughed. “This is Bangkok. You’re a young man. What kind of madness would make you consider sleeping at night? Unless you have some very serious business to attend to the days are for sleeping. The nights… This town was a town built for people who love the night.”
We got to talking and an old lady who I’d seen at the Thermae many times came to our table. I never really knew if she worked there, was a hooker or was some kind of pimp or manager. She wore a little make up but didn’t seem to be trying to cover her age in any way. She asked Binky what he was doing there when he had a good woman. Binky told her, in Thai, that his wife was in the hospital and why. She replied in perfect, or near perfect, English “You need to empty all the bottles of Paracetamol and put in fake tablets. No Thai woman is ever going to truly believe an old farang knows anything about anything.”
“Not so ‘old’. I’ll have you know I’m in my first flush of youth.”
“Yes Binky. You need something?”
Binky slipped her a hundred and said “No. We’re okay for now.”
She smiled and said “Send my love to your wife” before slipping the note into her bra.
As she went I said, “Seems like a nice woman.”
Binky laughed and said “Does she? I could ask her back if you’re interested...”
“No… I know what you meant. But be wary of appearances my young friend. Old Betty is not all she appears to be.”
A plate of ribs that he must have ordered a while earlier appeared in front of us. Binky suggested everyone at our table, including the girls who had just turned up, tuck in. It was important to get enough protein. It took a moment or two but everyone joined in and the table soon had the convivial family atmosphere that accompanies the arrival of food in Thailand. After the ribs came shrimps and these too were shared by the whole table. After the food came coffee and after the coffee came more coffee and soon Binky was ready to tell me his story.
“This place, the Thermae, Bangkok, Thailand, the Far East… Sometimes I think that I would like to retire and spend a healthy last few years in Surrey or Somerset. Get away from the insanity of it all. But you know the truth is that something holds me here. I was first posted out here, well, Malaysia to be exact, just after the war. Something about the thickness of the air got into my blood. Even now, even here, in Bangkok, I feel that closeness to life and death here. Whenever I’ve been back to blighty the silence makes my ears ring and everyone seems to be existing in this immortal kind of misery. But there have been times when the cruelty of this place… It’s made me want to run off screaming like a child. I should be used to it I suppose. I’m as old a hand as old hands get. But…
“I was attached here to the Embassy for a while before, officially, moving out into other areas of business looking out for UK interests in the region. I could tell you stories of incredible horror to do with revolutionaries, counter revolutionaries, drug barons, arms dealers. All manner of unpleasantness. The Bangkok of today is, relatively, stable and peaceful. I wouldn’t be surprised if it all kicks off again soon because that does seem to be the nature of the place. This country does have a tendency to go a little mad now and then, like a house cat at midnight chasing its tail and running wild they’ve never really become tame. They just appear tame while they rubbing their bodies against your legs.
“Anyway… This story started about twenty five years ago. I wasn’t officially attached to the Embassy but I used to turn up for the various social functions. The expat community was a bit smaller then and the expat British community smaller still so there was a more tight knit feel to the whole thing. There was a bridge club that a lot of people were a member of. We used to jokingly call it the Embassy Bridge Club but, in fact, it had nothing to do with the Embassy. Just a gaggle of Brits meeting to play bridge and babble on in terms that nobody but another Brit would really understand. It was at this club that I first met Rog Blake. At the outset he was not an easy man to get on with, not rude or abrupt, but just not the friendly type. I got the impression that somewhere in the family tree there might have been a touch of the old tar brush and that he’d been made to feel a bit raw about it. But he was a bloody good bridge player so a lot was overlooked. He wasn’t one of the Bangkok branch. He lived and worked in Singapore but he said he liked to travel. He’d arrive at the end of each month like clockwork, always stayed at the Rose Hotel which, even then, wasn’t exactly in the top bracket which was odd because he wasn’t short of a bob or two.
“One night I recall there was a lot of drink flowing and he asked who was up for going out and raping a few locals. Now, he wasn’t the merriest of men and I think we suspected this was his attempt to make some kind of joke. But he was quite insistent. He said how there was nothing more pleasant in the world than to see the shock in a woman’s eyes when she knew she was going to be… And as he said it his own eyes really lit up. I think that’s when I really started to suspect there was something a little ***** about the chap. It wasn’t just a matter of making an off colour remark. It was the first time I saw a bit of life in him. He did leave us a couple of hours later and someone suggested we go after him as he was clearly a bit too cut to be out on the street with an eye for the women but, when it came right down to it, I don’t think anyone really liked him. If he tried it on with a local, a non hooker, he would probably get taken apart by other locals. A white man still stood out a bit in those days, at least outside the bars and the brothels, someone turning up in a quieter neighbourhood would have every eye on him. We didn’t see him the next day either but, a month later, he turned up for the bridge tournaments as usual and nobody thought any more of it.
“Almost a year later he was very drunk again and he cornered me and asked me what I liked to do with women. I can’t remember what I said… Wasn’t quite ‘mind your own business’ but that was the gist of it. He didn’t care… What he really wanted to do was tell me what he liked to do. ‘what makes me most excited,’ he said, “is getting a girl, doesn’t matter what kind of girl, and talking her into a situation where she’s completely under my control. Then I like to make her feel it. I really want her to feel it. I don’t want to be just one in a long line of men she’s let into her knickers. I want her to feel me. Really feel me. Feel me in a way I know she won’t forget me.’ To be honest, as he spoke, I got a cold wet sensation like I had one of those poisonous millipedes walking over my skin. ‘What I love to do is to cause her pain, real pain, with a knife or fire. It’s easy to get them to let me tie them up. Promise these whores a few baht and they’ll let you do almost anything. And when they’re tied up I like to cut them, burn them, mark them. If they scream I gag them and look into their tear-filled eyes as they try to beg for mercy. I like to leave them with some kind of scar that will stay. A permanent mark. They squeal like animals in a trap. They are animals really. But once I’ve left my mark on them they’re mine.’
“His eyes, when he spoke, I felt it was as though he really had a devil in him. You know. Not just a bully… But a real nastiness. A kind of insanity really. To be honest there are more people like this than I like to think. I’ve seen it so many times. But usually it’s hidden in politics or some sense of justice or righteousness. But Rog Blake… He was a really nasty piece of work.
(Continued in Part 2)
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