WE CONTINUE THE TALE OF THE FIVE ADVENTURESOME EXPATS IN JAKARTA
Once again, the dramatis personæ:
- Droll Paul, very tall and very droll, a crooked English entrepreneur on the run from the authorities in Perth. A very leisurely Australian run actually, having to do with an awkward misunderstanding, one which could conceivably be interpreted as “fraud” were it unfortunate enough to be brought up in a court of law. Snooty, elegant and condescending, as well. Has a long bule nose and a management firm striving to impart mysterious advanced western corporate techniques to unsuspecting Indonesian start-ups [aka ‘marks’]. Looks down that long nose on the whole wide world. Basically a useless fuckwit selling useless shit. A ‘character’ (these are common in the East – particularly in Seminyak, where they are always trying to one-up each other). The others tolerate Paul, in spite of his manner – or rather, his lack of them). Why? Only God knows. Maybe just for fun.
- Alan. Fresh, sweet, smart, fun Alan. He survived an insane Chinese-Indonesian gambling addict who attempted to have him killed for insurance money and a grinding ESL-teaching job at Bank Qabur. After that trial by fire he’ll do fine, rolling with the punches.
- Lulu is knocking them back. She is what is known in the trade as a ‘serious drinker’. However, she is a solid citizen who pays her own way, tips the waitress fatly is entertaining and an all-around rewarding customer who knows how to hold her grog. She’s been married and divorced in Kuwait and married and divorced in Kazakhstan and married and divorced in California to a serial line of [immensely wealthy] dummies, lambs she has shorn neatly in divorce court. Is she on the lookout for a new hubby in blissfully unaware Indonesia? Not likely, as by now with the alimony she’s scraped off the hides of her various exes she could buy and sell just about all of the candidates. Watch her when she folds her folding money and stashes it in her purse: it’s frightening. So what’s she doing here? Oh she loves Indonesia. And it loves her (duit).
- Brett is bad and he knows it. He grew up in a bad family living in a bad part of town. He likes Indonesia because folks here just assume a grumpy whitey is a bule gila and tolerate his moods. He actually tries to put a hold on ‘the Bad’ because otherwise sooner or later he’d be grabbed by the collar and given the bum’s rush out of Indonesia toot sweet. But he’s bad. Nobody likes him. Secretly, he envies everybody else, because they’re happy and he’s not. But don’t expect him to show it. Brett is currently >ahem< ‘out of work’ (but everybody knows he’s a notorious Remittanceman) (‘stay-away-for-pay’).
- Hiroshi. First import-export… then ‘event organizing’… then ‘management consulting’ for shady Japanese companies… no one was quite sure what purpose the smooth, handsome Japanese man, 40 and looking 14, served in life. Hiroshi was always expensively-dressed, drove a luxury European car, and was a polite and careful listener. He met personal questions with a beaming smile, and not much else.
PART SIX OF SIX
‘Earl recovered from his intestinal malady along with the fortunes of his Company. He was a tough guy (or had been, anyway, when younger) and came from sturdy stock. He always joked, when someone said “How can a guy as old as you be so strong and healthy?” by replying “You have to choose your parents carefully. Everybody in my immediate family is alive, and some are in their nineties. We are all hard workers and some are hard drinkers and heavy smokers as well. Good genes are the basis of long life. Along with a bad-ass temperament.”
‘But here he was talking mostly to Javanese – the ruling ethnic group – and they are pretty much played out. By the time the men are fifty they are overweight and low-energy. Sumatrans, Ambon, Bugis – not so much. Though it is rare to see anybody over seventy hard at work.’
‘Earl’s quick recovery amazed the doctors. He was frankly not too surprised to discover that Agnes’ cell phone number wasn’t answering, then that she blocked him. She never came by again either, after he tested her by suggesting they’d have to sell the Pelabuhan Ratu spread.
Now Brett was sure he could challenge Paul’s rich narrative. ‘How the devil you know all this stuff about Earl? You told us he never saw that Agnes again, after she found it he was busted.’ He looked triumphant, like he’d caught Paul out in a fiction. ‘What do you mean “He tested her?” anyway?’
They all looked at Paul, who smiled and nodded.
‘I met old Earl, right here at Yaudah Bistro, once or twice. Hell he wasn’t shy at all about talking about his adventure with Agnes. “She took me to the cleaners for sure but she made me feel twenty years younger, so my business judgment tells me it was a pretty fair exchange” he said, in that slow-talking, Deep South voice. “I figured she was only in it for the money so I made up that story about having to sell the place on the beach to pay my medical bills. Just used child psychology on the old girl.
‘”Heck I was getting tired of the place anyway. And that sticky-fingered kid of hers: here I was paying his school bills, all that computer education, and he was still stealing from me and Agnes. Some people. So I scared her off real easy. Good luck to the little lady.”
Lulu piped up. ‘Yeah, Earl did not get to an executive position in one of those multinational gangster energy companies by being woolly-headed. He was undoubtedly able to read human character, very quickly.’
‘And Agnes?’ asked Hiroshi. ‘Did she come out of it all right?’
They looked at him in astonishment.
He remembered. ‘Oh I forgot. She got stabbed. Somebody tried to kill her.’
‘Everybody figures it was a revenge hit’ Paul nodded. ‘She had acted like a tyrant to those village people she hired on as servants – no wait: they were already there when she moved in. They were servants of the murdered Belgian guy and his probably murdered Indonesian wife.’
‘Exciting times we live in’ cracked Brett, sarcastically. ‘When there’s that much money at stake funny things happen.’
‘Old Earl was so good-hearted that he actually covered all of her hospitalization – she had lost liters of blood – and even paid for her to go to Perth for plastic surgery on her face and arms. Arranged for one of the people in the office to cover it for her. She knew where the money came from but was too ashamed – or maybe too arrogant – to even thank Earl for it.
‘Instead that kid of hers – now a big guy with a motorcycle gang – showed up at the rented room where Earl was recovering and tried to shake him down. Earl just picked him up by the scruff of his neck, brought him eye to eye and yelled at him. That’s all it took. The tough biker gang vanished like rabbits.’
‘Earl retired to Arizona, where he had kinfolks. Dropped from sight.’
‘Agnes?’ smiled Brett. ‘Happy ending there – apart from the knifing and the tsunami, I mean.’ They all laughed at this gross character.
Hiroshi spoke unexpectedly. ‘She was lucky that her attacker was an amateur.’
Lulu, puzzled: ‘How do you know that?’
Hiroshi explains patiently, demonstrating with his hands. ‘You don’t knife somebody like a Mayan sacrifice, or the way you see it in the movies.’ He raised his arm and brought it down with a stabbing motion. ‘That’s stupid.’
‘The way to effectively knife somebody’ he went on, patiently, as the others, fascinated, listened, ‘is to corner them – maybe against a wall – and then swing the knife horizontally, aiming for the belly.
‘Stick it in, pull it out, like a good Boy Scout’ he finished, smiling and raising his foamy beer stein. All were suitably impressed. ‘Don’t ask me where I learned that.’ Then he drank deeply, of the exquisite German / Indonesian beer, flavour and foam and good times forever.
Paul continued his story, wearily. ‘Agnes got back from her expensive plastic surgery in Australia – thirty thousand Australian dollars’ worth – and immediately put the Pelabuhan Ratu spread on the market. She was asking ten billion for it.’
Whistles. ‘Paid less than a billion. Asked ten. That is either the effect of inflation or a sharp businesswoman.’
‘So she cleaned up and lived happily ever after’ suggested Lulu. The story was getting quite drawn out by now. Lulu could feel her years, the clocks ticking, her breath slowing, the hardening effect of age, lonesome galaxies drifting apart. ‘Just wind it up’ she thought, a little annoyed at all the poetic imagery.
‘Nothing is ever that easy when big money is involved, particularly in Indonesia’ Paul intoned, gravely. ‘Agnes and Earl had pulled a real coup d’état by waving cash in front of the kampung heirs of the dead woman. The house was hers, lock, stock and barrel – or was it??’
‘As soon as she started advertising the place for sale, this fancy black car pulls up and this smiling fat bastard in a five thousand dollar suit gets out and greets her.
‘Hello bu. I’m from Bank Qabur and I was informed that you are putting this property up for sale.’
‘Agnes, sensing victory, smiled graciously. She thought she had a customer.
“May I come in?” No, he wasn’t here to buy anything.
‘She just stood there, blocking him, uncertainly.
‘He let her have it.
“There is a lien on this property and you won’t be able to sell it. Bank Qabur is holding the deed as collateral.”
‘Agnes, sensing disaster, stopped smiling graciously. Instead she briefly thought about murdering this asshole.’
“What do you mean? I have all the papers.”
Paul winked. ‘But of course this is Indonesia and one piece of property – particularly a nice one – may have three or four deeds or titles on it – whatever you call them. And they are all authentic and certified by the Department of Land Management.’ He made a rubbing-his-fingers-together gesture. ‘Land clearance is very often a nightmare in Indonesia.’
“I do not understand” Agnes croaked, continuing to block this guy from coming inside.
“You certainly do not” the banker’s pained expression clearly said. ‘I heard this from one of the surviving neighbors who had dropped by to snoop around about Agnes’. Neighbors just love to gawk on little dramas like this one. Makes enough gossip for a week.’
‘The fat prick fussily adjusted a pair of spectacles. “Ibu Anie Hariyati” he began “took out a loan of three billion Rupiah from Bank Qabur, using this property as collateral.” (And the Belgian husband, smart crook that he was, suspected nothing at the time.)’
Agnes felt cold inside. She staggered. “She’s dead. Anie fell onto the rocks. I know – I don’t know anything about this. The house and the land are mine.”
The banker, and the banker’s driver, and the lady from next door, just stared at her.
Paul sighed, theatrically, with sad theatrical melancholy. ‘It was the family of the woman who had her brains bashed out by the Belgian swindler.
‘The greedy family of the wife of the Belgian crook kept nagging at her for money, money, money, and the Belgian was so tight he would –‘ Paul paused for an expression.
‘Squeeze a nickel until the buffalo grunted’ volunteered Brett helpfully.
‘So how was she going to get a loan on the place?’ Paul poses. ‘She takes the deed to the house to a couple of banks but none wanted to get involved. I think they saw what a sleazebag she was.
‘Finally she gets this fly-by-night Arab-financed bank – allegedly a money-laundering operation for the Triads and the Arab slimeballs – and they give her the loan. She went to her rocky grave with the secret.
‘So Agnes is thinking fast and hard about what she is going to do. She knows she can sell the house for at least eight, pay off the three billion and pocket the difference.
‘But the well-dressed banker with the shit-eating grin doesn’t want that. In fact he has long been planning to snatch the property for himself, with the help of a couple of lawyers and a crooked judge.’
‘Pleonastic alarm’ remarks Lulu drily. ‘All judges are corrupt. And the ones that try not to be get flushed out of the system.’
‘Please, let Paul get to the payoff’ Alan pleaded. The story was getting involveder and involveder.
‘At that moment way offshore a forty-million-ton ledge of rock sitting in the slimy darkness at the bottom of the Indian Ocean succumbed to the immense pressures of pushy plates. It slipped.
‘It only fell about five meters but the terrific shock shivered through trillions of molecules of seawater and rose up into a mighty wave.
‘Which was headed straight for Pelabuhan Ratu at that moment, where the two crooks are fencing and feinting in their attempt to keep, or seize, a nice piece of property with an expensive glass-and-steel palace atop it.’
‘So it was a tsunami after all’ Brett growls. ‘Alan, you lose.’
‘I lose’ admitted Alan. ‘Waitress, beers all around. Onion rings and Calamaris Fritos too. On my bill.’
‘Within moments, sensing something bad in the air, the quarrel about money and titles and liens and loans and banks and possessions faded away, as all the actors in this melodrama turned as one and stared unbelieving toward the sea, the mighty, hostile, unforgiving Indian Ocean, which rose up with a swell and crashed ashore, ripping out palms, splintering boats, smashing windows and blowing boulders through houses.
‘Agnes, the nameless crooked Vice-President of Bank Qabur, the nice neighbour lady – they were all swept to sea as the great salty wave, cresting inland, drained outward once again.
‘The banker is serving Queen of the South Seas Nyi Roro Kidul, with Neptunian investment counsel. Agnes is her court jester in the gloomy waterworld of the deeps.]
‘When Roro Kidul gets bored she demands another story from the enterprising Manadonese wraith. Ghostly Agnes meekly complies. She has many tales to tell.
‘And Earl, retired down in AridZone, has gotten fat watching football on TV, eating Fritos and drinking watery American beer, farting and laughing with his elderly kinfolks. He doesn’t even bother talking about his adventures in Indonesia. It would sound so weird they’d never believe anything he said anyway.’