Grub & grog are promptly ordered from the rich Ya Udah Bistro menu.
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 TWO OF THREE
‘How come you know all this?’ asked Lulu. ‘About those two unlikely characters. Her a free-lancer at that nasty disco and him in the oilfields.
‘Of course you’re a pretty oily character yourself —‘
They all snickered except Droll Paul, who twitched his huge aristocratic nose, setting off seismological instruments across the archipelago.
‘I’m worth more money than any of you, with the exceptional exception of our professional divorcer’ he smirked, getting a dig in at Lulu.
‘So come on, Paul’ urged Hiroshi mildly. ‘We got to have the rest of the story. You have aroused our interest. How do you know all this stuff about Agnes and Earl?’
‘Girl talk,’ Paul confessed. ‘I only heard the dreary tale because Ada Reimer’s niece was a neighbor in Manado and knew Agnes for years here in Jakarta.
A glance passed across the table.
‘Don’t look at me like that!’ Paul snapped, annoyed. ‘They were not hookers. Just bad girls who wanted to have their fun in a conservative, religious society! No husband bearing down on them to poop out babies and massage their smelly feet.’
Lulu grimaced. ‘Yes, the lot of women in “the religious society”: “barefoot, pregnant and in the kitchen”.
Brett piped up. ‘You know the expression: “Good girls go to Heaven… bad girls go everywhere…”’
They smiled appreciatively.
‘Ada is your partner in crime’ cracked Brett, ‘if I recall her correctly.’
Paul drew himself up, offended once again. He took offense easily. It was a cheap and simple hobby, and an appropriate one, as much of his notably crooked management consulting business was offensive enough to inspire others to give offense. He took it.
‘I work in risk management, together with Ada. We are a tag team. Good cop, bad cop. Whatever you may think of me, I’m actually the good cop. Ada, as the grand Indonesian dame with the powerful family connections, can afford to be mean to everybody. Business mean I mean.’
‘Swindlers’ the rest of them mused, but said nothing. Trucks, Bajais, motorbikes buzzed outside, street sellers whined, there was moaning from the neighbor’s loudspeakers.
‘She couldn’t control her niece?’
‘”Sissy” – her niece – was hell on wheels. Wild and reckless. Loved to drink and fight and ride her motorbike on the beach near naked and cause scenes with her bule boyfriends in restaurants, smashing up dishes and screaming and throwing food. Very un-Indonesian behavior. I think she may have had a little friend inspiring her.’
They looked puzzled.
‘Amphetamines. The tiny pills that make you do things you never thought yourself capable of. Drive your truck nonstop from Jakarta to Medan in 36 hours, pissing in an Aqua bottle. Three days in a row of stellar performance. Then you crash and burn and are useless for a week.’
‘Good for sex?’ asked Alan, professionally. Alan and his boyfriend Nanang were sex maniacs, or at least that’s what they called themselves.
‘If you happen to like violent sex, maybe,’ replied Paul, thoughtfully. ‘Speed is a drug of daring, violence. The Wehrmacht gave the German soldiers “Panzerschokolade”. Chocolate bars loaded with Vicotin – Amphetamine.
‘That’s how they thundered through the low countries and ran around the Maginot Line in three days. Candy bars loaded with speed. The Master Race stoned out of their skulls.’
‘But it ends up boiling your brain’ growled Brett. ‘I’ve seen it in my own family. They think they’re the king of the world but shit it ruins marriages, turns ordinary people into paranoid fighting maniacs…’
‘Oh yes, you get nothing for nothing’ nodded Hiroshi. ‘There is always the price to pay later.’
They paused, thoughtfully. It seemed like just about everybody had a secret drug problem in their family.
Now their collective stomachs rumbled, not so thoughtfully.
Suddenly the mood snapped to, as muscular waitresses barged in, wordlessly depositing steaming platters of sausage, soups, fried and boiled potatoes and stout German Stout across the landscape. Once the great spread of Euro-eats had invaded the table the legion marched away, good soldiers having done their duty.
Everybody dug in and all you could hear was the sound of teeth tearing vegetables and ripping into flesh, like Nazi tank treads digging up the lovely Belgian vegetable gardens.
Paul was the first to speak.
‘Earl was a lead performer in the Company. His manoeuvres in hellholes like Venezuela, Nigeria, Russia, Vietnam and Indonesia made the company a lot of money. Most remarkable of all he was an eloquent fixer. He knew who to slip five thousand dollars to in a plain Manila envelope and who else to gently kid about ending up in a warm body bag. He’d threaten your life with a friendly wink, if you were out of line.
‘But old Earl didn’t know anything about women. He never got over his bewilderment after Fanny Pearl Thibodeaux ditched him.
‘So when Agnes started humping him, then cooking for him and helping him buy nice clothes at Hag’s Rags in Plaza Indonesia and purchase – when they had fun looking at tasteful furniture in Pondok Indah – why the old coot was so grateful he practically cried with joy.’
‘Fifty. No woman would ever look at him in the west, no with that pot belly and thinning hair, unless his name happened to be “Trumpo the Clown” and he had billions of Other People’s Money to play around with.
‘Earl really fell for Agnes, eh?’ Brett, ever-cynical, was slowly being convinced.
‘He thought she loved him the same way as he had fallen, desperately, for her. His attitude was “Oh how can an ugly old man like me ever deserve a wonderful woman like you?” and Agnes just smiled that sly Sulawesi smile.’
‘So he was giving her the big bucks.’
‘Not so fast there cowboy! This Agnes had been around the block. She was street-smart enough to insist on going Dutch for everything at first. She had her own apartment, a car – when they’d eat out she’d pay her share.
‘He was impressed. (The fool.) He never learned to speak a word of Bahasa Indonesia, one of the easiest languages on the planet to pick up – so she’d bargain hard for whatever they went shopping for. That made him confident she was on his side.
‘She never pressured him to give her anything. Which means he gave her twice as much.’
‘By now he was a big shot in his sleazy multinational oil drilling firm, flying all over the world to clean up other people’s messes, spreading baksheesh, being nice to sneering greaseball sheiks. He was a world-class fixer.’
‘Ten thousand clams a month “good”.
‘And he saved every nickel. No bad habits to blow money on. Except Agnes.
‘Then one day our dear Agnes looked him in the eyes, just as he was about to climax on her – actually “pretend orgasm” because after fifty it’s downhill fast with the hard-ons – she screamed ‘I love you so much and I want you forever!’
‘Did she get an Oscar for the performance?’
‘No, but as a consolation prize he bought a very sweet piece of land they’d been looking at down at Pelabuhan Ratu, with a private forested area behind it. Lovely. A European boiler-shop swindler had built a majestic palace on the rocks facing the ocean but decided to sell out fast, take the money and run.’
‘Everything was in the Belgian’s Indonesian’s wife’s name. Land, buildings, homes, plantations – it’s always in the name of the Indonesian national, usually the wife. And there’s where the soap opera begins. This European living in the villa – he was a Belgian… or was he Dutch? – had had enough of his sweet darling when she turned 40 and started nagging at him for more and more, to share with her poor family. So one day she, ah, “had an accident” and fell from the balcony onto the rocks. Smashed her brains out real good, even though it was only two meters.
‘Then the Dutchman knew he’d better vamoose real quick before something worse happened to him – started getting death threats from his bosom-buddy business partners – ex-partners I mean – so he put the house on the market. But before he could cheat some other foreigner into thinking he was buying more than just hardwood floor, glass windows and cement walls, he had a little mishap in his Porsche Cayenne.
‘Accident?’ asked Hiroshi.
‘Actually no. Not an accident. Wire necklace. He gets into the car and somebody hiding in the back slips a piano wire over his neck and garrotes him. They don’t find the body for three days and I hope you haven’t eaten too much when you think of how ripe he smelled…’
‘So the Indonesian wife’s family learned they had hit the jackpot. They marched right in with their chickens and goats and took over the fancy villa. Of course they could not afford to keep it up. After two months PLN turned off the power because it had never been paid and they lighted it up with paraffin lanterns.
‘Enter Agnes – who just happened to be a, ah, <ahem> “colleague” of the dead woman, from the old days in Tanamur.
‘She convinced Earl to take $100,000 out of the bank, in cash, and meet up with the family who had now inherited the house and land. They were naturally arrogant, suspicious and quarrelsome – think kampung bastards suddenly smelling untold riches, like the corrupt ‘KKN’ orde baru slimeballs – and when they sat down with Earl they were ready for hard bargaining.
‘Agnes winks at Earl so he simply dumps packs of US$ 100 bills onto the table in front of the kampung yahoos.
‘The dead woman’s family was suddenly speechless. No more attitude. Eyes like saucers.
‘Good Christian girl Agnes, using child psychology, had reasoned correctly that these half-starved kampung dwellers would swoon in delirious joy when they saw so much raw cash in front of them. Suddenly they were fantasizing “hajj… buy land… new Merzy… house for children… fish pond… umroh…” Sugar plum fairies danced in their cortexes.
Brett snorted. ‘Sounds like a cocaine deal in the Florida keys.’
Paul pointed and said ‘Precisely. Agnes had her “Notaris” and a lawyer on standby around the corner, ready with the documents, and before they knew what was what they’d signed away the property – worth around a cool million yew ess – and scrambled away with the bundles of cash.’
‘No taxman to get involved’ Brett smirked, always cynical.
‘No taxes, at least until the bule moves in.’
‘All that cash would melt away in a matter of days’ Brett sourly noted. ‘Car, house, pilgrimage, loans to one and all.
‘And then they’re back to square zero. In the kampung, broke. And without the nice beachfront property. And with all of their kinfolks, neighbors, Pak RT, Pak Lurah, Pak Adat, howling for jajan, refusing to believe it’s all vanished.’
Paul was gaining momentum with his story. ‘Earl, a good old boy from Flyover Country, was as amazed as anyone at Agnes’ clever, swift transaction. He had privately had his own people appraise the property and their estimate actually bumped a million Pounds Sterling. Earl was so pleased, thinking he was getting it for 10% of the price.’
‘Well no he wasn’t,’ Brett reminded one and all. ‘It was in the name of Agnes, the Indonesian national and cum-pumper.’
‘But they were married by then!’
‘Oh sure, as though that made a difference.’
Droll Paul sighs theatrically. He shrugs sadly. The mood of the tale was about to spiral downward.
‘Agnes was no murderess. She didn’t even dislike Earl. He was really a likeable guy.’
Now the eating quieted down – but it did not stop. Munch, munch, munch, listen, listen, listen.
‘Agnes just looked around her – I heard this from Sissy, Ada’s cute niece – and she thought “All this is mine. And the car and the credit cards.”
‘And then she saw the fly in the ointment –‘
Hiroshi interrupted. ‘I do not know that expression.’
Lulu: ‘It means the single unpleasant or ugly part of something nice and useful.’
Paul, frowning, bore on. ‘There, sitting and farting and staring at a bunch of monster blacks bashing each other over a little pigskin ball on TV, was Earl.
‘She did not wish Earl harm. She just wished Earl to disappear from her villa, her bank account, her life.
‘But since everything nice around her – the beautiful villa on the rocks above the beach in Pelabuhan Ratu, the expensive Italian leather furniture, the expensive Japanese SUV in the driveway, the expensive food in the expensive refrigerator in the expensive kitchen: that had come out of Earl’s oil earnings.
‘Bear in mind we are talking big-salary-bule times: early Oughties – maybe 2004 or 2005 – when the oil & gas business was still opulent. Indonesia was still exporting hydrocarbons, if only barely.
‘Earl yawned loudly, she complained. “Watching football makes me sleepy. Ain’t that funny?” rumble rumble laugh laugh laugh.
‘Agnes didn’t even try to smile back. “Why doesn’t he just have a stroke and die peacefully right this moment” she said she thought, thoughtfully. “That’s not a very Christian thing to think” she admitted to herself right afterward. “But I just don’t want to look at him again.”
‘”Get me another Budweiser, would ya, Agnes honey?” Earl moaned, smiling romantically. At least as romantically as a weathered fat 55-year-old American oilfield worker could manage, which wasn’t much.
‘And the sex. Earl had been working so diligently all those years making money and pursuing his career after what’s-her-name stole the TV set and ran off with some greaser – he’d all but forgotten about fucking’
The waves rolled in from the black, hostile Indian Ocean. The house shuddered. ‘Five minutes on, pretends to shoot his load, then he’s asleep five minutes later’ Agnes thought bitterly. ‘A woman needs her satisfaction as well.’
‘She was careful enough not to seek her pleasure while Earl was still around. She knew how word spreads. Even when he was off snoopervising work on the rigs with the jungle bunnies in Ooga-Booga-Landia, Agnes was careful about who she invited in. None of the servants liked her – they knew she was no better than them but she was acting like the Queen of Sheba.
‘In fact they hated her guts and began to conspire against her.
‘They’d be happy to squeal to Earl if Agnes ever had a man around.
‘Frankly, she was horny most of the time. She’d gotten used to a lively sex life when she was working at Tanamur and now there was only this slow old man, five on, five off. And he smelled. He even smelled after he came out of a hot shower.
‘”Honey, don’t you want to take a shower together with me?” he’d tease her.
‘No thanks. But she played her cards well.’
‘And they were quarreling. First a little, then a lot. Earl began to notice his belongings disappearing, when young Luke – Agnes’ son – would have half a dozen of his friends over for a video game party. Earl’s cell phone disappeared, his Italian silk scarf, a pair of Texas cowboy boots.
‘Agnes was irate. “You accuse my son to be thief?” But of course she knew the stuff was being nicked. She simply did not care. “He has enough. He can buy more.”
‘Then Earl was suddenly called off to untangle a big problem on the biggest deal of his life: a gigantic oil & gas strike in Siberia, with production contracts which his drilling company was slavering over. And the Russians, being Russkies, were as stubborn and unpleasant as ever about the terms of the contract.’
‘It was the high point of his life for Earl. A beautiful (well, sort of shopworn) wife with a fine son (that part’s true, even if the kid’s larcenous), a gorgeous house on the coast of southern Java and a rich future in the oil business ahead of him.’
‘Agnes was thrilled for him as well – he had privately told her of the promotion to Vice President he was sure to get if the Russian deal came off. She knew she had hit the jackpot.’
‘She packed his suitcase carefully, accompanied him to Soekarno-Hatta International Airport, tears in her eyes as his gleaming A-340 lifted off the runway. She swore she could see Earl giving her an “A-0K” thumbs-up from the first-class section.
‘His last kiss was punctuated with the whisper “Say a prayer for me, darling. It’s a dangerous part of my business. If anything happens to me, I’ve left you well taken care of in my Will.”
‘She smiled, through tears.
‘Then she went home to their luxurious palazzo in Pelabuhan Ratu, determined to establish her reign of terror immediately.
‘She started yelling and bossing all the servants and throwing dishes around and kicking the furniture.
‘But at twilight, like the good Christian girl she was raised to be, she fell to her knees on the carpet, before the vast picture window facing the ominous, darkening Indian Ocean.
‘She prayed loudly to her Lord God.
‘The servants, snickering, were spying on her. They were already planning their revenge.’
(Around the table of our five heroic expatriates all was attentive and quiet.)
(These faithful Bistro patrons were paying close attention to Paul’s story. Even the muscular Yaudah Bistro waitress held back, groaning under her refill of beer and more beer, as she sensed the drama of the moment and did not dare break the spell.)
‘Agnes shouted out, fervently praying to her Holy Father in Heaven for Earl’s airplane to crash.’
(TO BE CONTINUED)