Friday, February 15, 2008

Sky Marshal Story - Bangkok Story - #19

During the period when I was working as a Federal Sky Marshal (nowadays, Air Marshal) guarding PanAm flights in the early 1970’s the majority of my trips did an about-face, as it were, in Bangkok. That is to say, that whatever the interim stopovers, be they Hong Kong, Hawaii, Guam, Manila, Saigon or Tokyo, the farthest west I ever flew was Bangkok. Federal per diem notwithstanding, thanks to the strong dollar in those days I generally managed to stay in fairly nice hotels on my stopovers with but notable exception, and here is that story.

Whether it was by design, or by accident, we were rarely paired with same partners for more than a few patterns. As a result, I flew with a whole spectrum of team-members from retired military, to furloughed airline pilots, to footloose recent college grads like myself. Generally we tolerated each other. The rote nature of the job didn’t demand a high level of coordination. Some took the theoretical protection of American flag-carriers from terrorist threats very seriously while others considered the frequent trans-oceanic trips to be little more than paid sightseeing. I fell somewhere in between.

Occasionally, though, I was paired with another Sky Marshal with an agenda that had little to do with in-flight security or sightseeing. Such was the case with Jeremiah. No, that’s not his real name, nor was he an invisible rabbit. Jerry was a brilliant chess player, passionate conspiracy theorist, and a self-annointed authority on pretty much everything – so much so that nobody who had ever flown with him would agree to do so again. Of course, I knew none of this when I was paired up with him. Also unbeknownst to me before we flew to Bangkok together, Jerry was a major fan of hookers, or as my old dad would say, a whore-chaser.

Usually when a team of Sky Marshals landed, cleared customs, dropped off our weapons with the local constabulary, we headed straight for our hotels. Sometimes we all chose to stay at the same hotel, but mostly we split up to wile away the few hours between flights in our own ways. My hotel of choice in Bangkok was the Intercontinental which, in those days, was affiliated with PanAm. It was elegant, had good food, you could drink the water, and since that was where the PanAm crews stayed, there was generally someone there I knew who I could join for dinner.

On this particular trip however, Jerry was adamant that we both stay at hotel that he would pick, and he would brook no argument. Since I knew by now that he was – to put it nicely – a prickly sort of fellow, and I was stuck with him for the next few days, I figured it best to go with the flow.

It was a decision I immediately regretted when the taxi pulled up in front of a creaky, teak paneled, two-story fleabag. Actually, the term “fleabag” fails to adequately characterize the unique qualities of this flophouse. “Giant Cockroach Motel” comes closer. It boasted all the cozy charm of a budget opium den. Bare bulbs wreathed in bugs half-heartedly illuminated the geckos who skittered along the stained walls. The air-conditioning was the minimal, cold water sprayed over a fan kind that left you hot and damp. Slowly turning fans hanging from ceilings in every room did little to disturb the fetid air. I felt like I’d walked on the set of Demon Queen of Siam.

Jerry and I were assigned adjacent rooms, something else I was later to deeply regret. We parted company and I caught a cab to the Intercontinental where I hoped to at least temporarily bask among more civilized surroundings.

The evening wound down and I dragged myself back to my dark, dingy and dank lodgings. I had no sooner crawled between the thin, damp sheets on my bed when there was a knock on the door. In a place like this they don’t have turn-down service, but I got out of bed and cracked the door open a bit.

Standing outside in the hall was the taxi driver who had brought Jerry and me to this sorry pit along with a sullen, skinny, teenage girl who could have been forty - the light was so bad it was hard to tell. The taxi driver clearly expected me to take this girl for the night and pay him for the privilege.

I said, “no,” and shut the door expecting that that was that. No such luck. In about twenty minutes there was another knock at the door. It was the taxi driver with another forty-year-old teenage girl.

I said “no” again and got a flurry of Thai in reply interspersed with some English words that he’d no doubt picked up from an angry Gunnery Sergeant. It’s worth noting that, at the time, the war in Viet Nam was going full blast and Bangkok was a major R&R destination for servicemen looking for some distraction from the horror of jungle rot, ambushes, and k-rations.

It was about thirty minutes before the taxi driver returned a third time, this time bringing a slim, pretty, pale…boy. Now I was wide awake and more than a little angry my own self. I told him that if he came back again I’d get the FBI after him. Thai taxi drivers had no clue what the US Treasury Department was, but they all knew about the FBI.

By now I’d also realized that Jerry had chosen this hotel because nicer establishments banned pimps and hookers and firmly dissuaded guests from entertaining paid companions in their rooms. My good buddy Jerry had done a deal with the taxi driver to save money by hiring two girls. I had lots of time to puzzle this out because the thumping and squealing that rattled the thin paneling separating Jerry’s room from mine continued well into the wee small hours.

The next morning the same enraged taxi driver told Jerry how I had rejected his multiple offerings of Siamese pulchritude, after which he charged Jerry the full amount. Needless to say Jerry took umbrage at my thoughtless and inconsiderate behavior. Personally, I was dog tired and would have none of it. He was building a head of steam until I interrupted him with a mention that “whore-chaser” wouldn’t look good on his permanent record and I was not only in a position to make that might happen but would surely do so if he didn’t shut up that very minute.

Call me a rat, but Jerry was actually kind of tolerable after that – in an obnoxious sort of way.

© Stephen Rustad, 2008

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