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 FIVE OF SIX
Earl was not back yet, and the news emanating from the Russian Federation was bad. Negotiations with the multinational oil & gas gangsters had broken off, neither side willing to take that extra step and compromise – even though billions of dollars of hydrocarbons were resting under the Siberian tundra, minding their own business.
The hydrocarbons weren’t going anywhere, both sides knew. They’d be there decades from now, when technological civilization stalls, goes into a tailspin and seizes up.
Every part of the economy basically depends on oil & gas to power it, and as one old oilman observed drily ‘They ain’t pumping it back into the ground’.
Was Earl in jail? Several western executives had been thrown into the clink, according to reports, as one of the Russkies’ daring tactics. How many weeks or months would it be before they got ransomed out?
Life marched merrily on at Yaudah Bistro, with wizened old-timers sitting around a table and talking Dutch, suspicious backpackers with sorry, sad girlfriends wobbling in and out, the usual mass attack of Japanese or Indonesian office workers having an office party.
Paul picked up the story and soldiered onward. ‘Agnes was having a great old time, except for her injured kitty.’
‘What?’ asked Lulu, frowning.
‘What the hell, “injured kitty”’ rumbled Brett.
Paul just smiled, his Cheshire cat smile.
Alan had picked up on the insinuation. ‘If you’ll pardon my French, Paul is implying she had a “sore pussy”.
Paul: ‘Agnes was secretly relieved that Earl had been delayed. She was in her element. She had gained plenty of weight – not quite as fat as Hermann Göring but equally as vicious, yelling at the servants, slapping them around and even scaring the hell out of her sneaky son Luke, when he disappeared with money she had stashed away.
‘She was the Queen of her Castle, and let no one forget it.
‘The servants yearned for Earl to return: he was kind to them, liked to joke around and enjoyed playing with their little kids, slipped them money for the funeral of their dear grandmother who had died the third time – “Oops, sorry, I meant she almost died before” and never scolded them.
‘He left the scolding up to Agnes: good cop / bad cop routine, one of the oldest in the playbook.
‘But Agnes was getting deeper and deeper with “Leroy”, dammit, “Nelson” – she could never keep his aliases straight – although she demurred when he urged her to help him carry a neatly-wrapped package to a nearby city, quite aware there was a kilo of heroin or speed inside. She was not about to get caught up in that scam.
‘He reamed her out on almost a daily basis, and she was frantic that those evil servants would tail her and find out – of course they already suspected, and a couple were certain, since Indonesians are notoriously bad at keeping secrets.
‘Agnes would always meet up with “Melvin”, sorry, “Abdullah”, at a different no-tell motel, in Senen, Tanah Abang, Pluit, Blok M…
She was already giving him nice things of Earl’s: a hand-tooled belt made from anaconda skin, a couple of dress shirts from Neimann-Marcus that must have cost five hundred American dollars, even one of his old Rolex wrist watches.’
‘The woman sounds out of her mind’ Lulu commented, amazed. ‘What was she going to tell Earl when he got back and found his valuables missing?’
Paul shrugged a dramatic shrug. He let it linger for a bit too long, dramatically.
‘She was already making plans. She’d either fire one of the servants, just before Earl returned, and pin it on him or her. Or if that was too dangerous then she’d move her son Luke to his grandmother’s place for awhile, apologizing tearfully to Earl for the teenager’s larcenous tendencies.’
‘I got to go’ muttered Alan. ‘Could you cut to the chase?’
‘All right,’ Paul replied testily. ‘Keep your shirt on.’
‘I thought that was an American expression’ commented Hiroshi drily.
‘I’ve been around’ winked Paul.
‘So Earl makes his dramatic return, expecting a loving reception from Agnes, and next thing you know BAM he comes down with a really nasty intestinal infection. Diverticulitis. Puts him right in the hospital – and out of harm’s way, at least as far as Agnes is concerned.
‘Earl smiles weakly, Agnes holding his hand by the side of the hospital bed. Siloam Gleneagles – the most expensive horsepital in the country – and they still could not figure out what was eating out the old fellow’s guts.’
‘Darlin’ this ain’t the best time to get sick,’ he confided. ‘My company’s in a tailspin, thanks to those damn Russians. And the competition: the other drilling companies are taking advantage of our troubles to steal away contracts.’
Agnes, listening carefully, sees a warning flag pop up. Her smile freezes brittly.
Earl smiles, kindly. ‘We’ll have to cut back, dear. My pay hasn’t come down for two months now. We’ll have to find a way to keep going together. I know you’ll understand.’
The enterprising woman’s grin becomes a grimace. Earl’s resonant lilting voice, the one he used to coo and soothe her with when she got upset, fades away, fading, getting distant like a poor short-wave signal, as the chattering hiss of angry white noise rises up around it.
Agnes forced out her words. ‘How do we live and pay?’
Earl winked. ‘The Good Lord always provides.’
She dwells for a moment on the Airbus A-340 crash she had prayed so fervently for, and which had been denied to her by her papa Lord. Then she puts this aside.
‘Just get well, sweetheart. That’s the important.’
Brett butts in. ‘Sissy told you all this? You ain’t making some of it up as you go along?’
Lulu shushes him. ‘Brett, stow it. Let the man tell his story.’
Everybody stares daggers at Brett. He decides to shut up and nurse his beer.
‘Nurse!’ Here comes the waitress with some foaming ones. Listening to sad stories like this can make you thirsty. Telling them (with a certain sprinkling of assumptions, suppositions or plain lies) makes you thirstier.
Drink up, you Five Musketeers!
‘Now comes the good part’ winked Paul, evilly. Actually exceptionally so, as his daily routine was festooned with evil. But now came a special part.
‘How does company pay hospital bills?’ Agnes asked hoarsely.
Old Earl smiled. ‘Well sweetheart we may have to sell the house – they’re talking a major operation for me, maybe be here a couple of weeks or a month.’
Sell the house. Over my dead body, she thought. At least the Indonesian version of ‘over my dead body’.
‘Yes Earl. You better, you getting better. Now I will buy you foods.’ Actually not thinking about ‘…buying a dying bule food…’ as much as ‘squeezing and kissing and licking and getting split open by a mammoth West African reproductive organ’. It’s a bit different.
Agnes was a trooper; she had been a woman of the world, a worldly woman, for some time. Now she knew it was time to pull up stakes and hit the road with the circus.
Earl never saw her or heard from her again. She disappeared from his life. Credit cards maxxed out. Indonesian bank account (household moneys) empty.
Earl lay in the hospital, slowly recovering.
But Earl was really no fool either, as he had squirreled three quarters of a million dollars away in an HSBC account in Singapore, not going to Agnes in case he died but rather to a distant cousin in Jakarta, a bald-headed motorcycle racer with a collection of monkeys. Agnes knew nothing about this; she had no need to know.
Hurriedly gathering up all the goods, phoning around to sell the furniture, Agnes called the servants together and informed them brusquely that they were fired and could go back to their villages.
They took the news silently, simply staring at her.
She walked outside the house, intent on making a few purchases she would need before flying to Manado.
She heard a noise behind her and turned to see the knife coming down. It barely missed her eyes and cut through the gristle of her nose, grinding against bone and popping out three front teeth.
She gasped and raised her arms and the stranger slashed at them, cutting tendons and severing muscle. Blood gushed forth.
Just as he was about to finish her off there were shouts, a number of men yelling down the road, and the assassin quickly moved around her car to a waiting motorcycle. The rider carried the two of them off, never looking back. All very neat, impersonal, professional.
Not a word had been exchanged. Agnes instinctively knew that in spite of the blood flowing from multiple wounds she would not die from this attack.
From a high vantage point in the darkened house, standing where they could never be seen, the servants watched silently as the group of men hustled the woman, already going into shock, into the back of a pickup truck loaded with sinkong. Blood flowed freely over the root vegetables.
TO BE CONCLUDED