I first met Bobby Solo in New York in the early nineteen seventies. I was living in Montreal and I had taken the overnight Greyhound Bus back to New York to make one last attempt to repair my fractured relationship with the young and gorgeous Mardie. She was the reason I had first immigrated to the USA and subsequently hot-footed to Canada after she dumped me.
I had just walked from Mardie’s apartment block in Queens where her flatmate, had told me in no uncertain terms that Mardie never wanted to see me again. I was on my way to the subway station when I noticed a small cocktail bar, the one I used to go with Mardie – in the days when our relationship was still alive and kicking. I was feeling pretty down, and on impulse, I decided to pop in and have a couple of whiskey sours to cheer me up.
Inside, there was a lone figure at the bar looking very much out of place. He was trying to purchase a beer from the hostile barman, but even to my unprofessional eye, he looked underage.
“Come on kid, show me some ID – you don’t look a day over eighteen”, the barman snarled as I grabbed the stool next to him. I reached into my back pocket for my passport. I was twenty-three but still needed to prove I was over twenty-one on a regular basis in these over-cautious New York bars.
The young man was looking increasingly embarrassed by his situation, so I tried to cool the conflict down a little. “Excuse me for interfering, but quite frankly you don’t stand a chance in hell in getting a beer if you don’t have any ID. Why don’t you just have a coke?”
He looked at me with suspicion. “What’s that funny accent? – You’re not from New York!”
I smiled. “No, I’m a limey, straight off the Mayflower from Blighty.”
He looked puzzled for a few moments and then returned the smile. “So you’re English, I presume.”
“Bang on the button first time,” I replied with a smirk, “I’m Mobi – and you?”
“Hi Mobi, I’m Bobby Solo.”
“Well, make up your mind, kid, what’s it to be – some ID or a coke?” the barman interjected.
“Well… er… yes, barman, I think I’ll have a coke.”
“A Coke it is, smartass, I knew you were underage the moment I set eyes on you.”
I ordered a whisky sour and downed it in one gulp, ordered another and then turned to face my newfound friend who was sipping his bottle of Coke through a straw.
“So what brings you to a bar in the middle of the afternoon – for the first time in your life, by the looks of things?”
He admitted that it was the first time he had ever entered such a ‘den of iniquity’ and he didn’t have the first notion of what it was all about.
“All alone? Don’t you have any friends?”
“Well, not really, I’m pretty much a loner – don’t get on with the other kids at school. Most of them don’t like me much.”
“Oh… I dunno… I guess I’m not cool – a bit of a geek – even in an orthodox Jewish school. I usually have a kippah on my head, but…. took it off when I came in here.”
I nodded and smiled. “A wise decision, my friend,” I told him, and it wasn’t long before the increasingly talkative tenth-grader was telling me his life story.
Bobby was born into a respectable, well-off Jewish family in the New York borough of Brooklyn. He was the elder of two sons, and his early years were notable for having an appearance of conventional ordinariness. He had a conventional Jewish education in a conventional private school, and a conventional bar mitzvah when he was thirteen.
Some of his surprisingly frank anecdotes suggested that he had stumbled blindly through his teenage years – a shy, gawky young man with few friends. He even told me that had never experienced any kind of relationship with the opposite sex.
When he finished his frank revelations, I asked him what the hell he was doing in this bar all the way up in Queens?
“To get away from prying eyes. Believe it or not, my appearance in this bar today is a bit of a graduation celebration.”
“Not much of a celebration,” I said, “you come all alone to a place like this – and you’ve hardly got your backside on the barstool when the barman calls you out for being underage.”
“Well, it’s not exactly my graduation I’m celebrating; I always knew that graduating would be a piece of cake. No, it’s my high SAT scores that have made this day a really great milestone.”
He explained that his high SAT scores offered him a way out of his present life. He had been under the control of his over-protective parents since he was a child, and he felt sure there would be no letting up as he got older. He was determined to escape from his parents’ domination and had been planning this day since his mid-teens.
“When I started tenth grade, I told my parents I wanted to be an attorney at law.”
I looked at him rather puzzled – I couldn’t see how becoming a lawyer would enable him to break the parental yoke.
He said that he didn’t give a damn about the law, but it was all part of a long-term strategy to break the shackles of his smothering family. He knew that his parents would be delighted with their eldest son’s choice of career and encouraged him to apply to the two top New York ‘Ivy League’ universities – Cornell and Columbia. He would need to achieve high SATs to have a chance of a place at either of these prestigious institutions.
“So how does this plan offer you a way of escape? You’ll still be in New York State, and your parents won’t be that far away, and presumably will still be able to keep a close eye on you.”
“There’s no way I want to study at any university in New York State. I want to get as far away as I can get from them as possible – to the other side of America, California to be precise.”
I was even more mystified. “But how are you going to achieve that if you are only applying to Cornell and Columbia?”
“I’ll also apply to Stanford Law School, near San Francisco – but I won’t tell them. Then I’ll make sure I screw up the applications to Cornell and Stanford, and they’ll have no choice but to let me go to Stanford.”
“But surely they won’t let you go so far away if they are as protective and controlling as you say. Seems to me it’s a high-risk strategy. There’s no guarantee that you can get into Stanford.”
“Well… I’m a pretty smart cookie, you know, I reckon I’ve got a good fighting chance. You’re right, it’s a bit risky, but what choice do I have? I have to get away from them or I’ll go crazy. I’ll try to back them into a corner – either let me go to Stamford, or send me to some second-rate college in New York.
“My folks are very proud people, and given the fact that I’ve always been a well-behaved, good Jewish son, I reckon I can persuade them to trust me. I’ll promise to study diligently and return home after I finish my studies. Dad’s got a lot of contacts amongst his wealthy Jewish friends, and he hopes to get me a position with one of the top New York law firms. I’ll tell them I’ll be more than happy to go along with his plans. That should do it.”
We had been chatting for so long that I was in danger of missing the next Greyhound bus to Montreal. “Look, Bobby, I’ve got to rush. It’s been a pleasure to meet you, and I hope that your plans pan out the way you want them to.”
“Why don’t we keep in touch, Mobi?”
“Yes, I’d like that.”
We exchanged addresses.
“Hopefully, I won’t be at home very long – but you can always contact my parents to get my address at The Stanford Law School.”
I smiled. “You are a determined man, aren’t you? Well, I wish you all the luck in the world,”
I paid the tab and then rushed towards the subway entrance that would take me to the Port Authority Bus Terminal, and thence the long journey back to Montreal.
I wondered if he would ever succeed in getting away from New York, and whether I would ever see him again. It seemed unlikely.
It was some forty-odd years before I ran into Bobby again. Forty years is a lifetime by any measure, and both Bobby and I had experienced many upheavals in our lives during the intervening years. Since I first met him in New York in 1969, I had continued my globe-trotting activities, and after a prolonged spell in London, I retired in 2002 and moved to Thailand.
I lived some twenty minutes’ drive inland from Thailand’s resort city of Pattaya with its infamous bars, brothels, filthy beaches and corrupt cops. Unsurprisingly, there were a great number of alcoholics – mostly foreigners – who were also living in this tainted paradise. Needless to say, I was a member of that disreputable gang. With all these alkies to save, there were several AA meetings daily throughout the city, and there was even a small group that met on the beach.
The hordes of alcoholics amongst Thailand’s foreign (farang) population weren’t just confined to ‘sin city’, although Pattaya could probably claim the lion’s share. Farang alcoholics lived throughout the country, particularly in Bangkok and Chiang Mai, but when it came time for the annual AA roundup, Pattaya was always the city of choice.
This band of motley alcoholic brothers came from far and wide, (even overseas), to spend an alcohol-free weekend, chatting, reminiscing, and listening to inspiring speeches designed to keep us on the proverbial wagon.
I had recently started attending morning AA meetings in Central Pattaya, at the behest of a fellow alcoholic, by the name of Tony – a no-nonsense, world-wise Aussie, who I had known for a year or so. I was still drinking, and he had been trying to persuade me to attend the Roundup, but I couldn’t see what benefit I would gain from it. I didn’t like hotel conventions – I’d had enough of those during my working years – and regarded them as pointless, expensive jollies for those who could afford them.
But he prevailed upon me to join him at the hotel for a coffee, during a mid-morning break between sessions, as he had a friend coming over from Cambodia that he wanted me to meet.
When I arrived at the hotel coffee shop, I immediately spotted Tony sitting with the man I assumed he wanted me to meet. Tony was a middle-aged man of short-ish stature, although what he lacked in height he more than made up for with his thickset, craggy physique, suggesting he was someone who could take care of himself. As the man with Tony stood up to greet me, I saw that he was markedly taller than Tony – maybe five feet ten or eleven and was bald. His close-fitting T-shirt gave the impression that he worked out and his face was somewhat gaunt – with deep lines suggesting advanced age, dissipation, or probably both. I guessed he was in his late sixties or early seventies.
“Mobi, this is Bobby.”
“Hi Bobby,” I replied, as I tried to weigh up this American alcoholic who for some unknown reason, Tony was eager for me to meet.
I’m not very good at remembering names and faces at the best of times, but for someone I’d only met once, and that some forty years ago, there was no way I would recognise him. But Bobby was made of a different cloth, for he stared at me for a few moments, before breaking out into a smile.
“Hi Mobi, how are you? You haven’t changed much.”
I looked at him perplexed, and he tried to jog my memory. “Queens – New York – cocktail bar – back in the late sixties? Ring any bells?” he asked with a grin.
I closed my eyes and tried to think back and figure out what he was talking about. The late sixties? Yes, I was in New York at that time… but Bobby? I couldn’t recall anything about a Bobby. “Where did we meet?” I asked him.
“I just told you – in a cocktail bar in Queens. We had a drink together – I was celebrating my graduation.”
It started to come back to me. He couldn’t possibly be that young Jewish lad who wouldn’t say boo to a goose and was planning to study law on the other side of America. Or could it? “What’s your given name, Bobby?”
Solo, that’s it – Solo. It must be him. But he would be in his late fifties; the Bobby I met in New York was younger than me.
“Yes, I remember you,” I said, but you’ve changed so much…”
So have you, Mobi, my man. However, I do remember you. It’s not every day that you run into a man called Mobi. I think you’re the only Mobi I’ve ever known – even if was for only a couple of hours. Besides, there are some faint resemblances to that handsome man you used to be.”
“God Bobby, I can’t believe it – what a coincidence.”
“Well,” chimed in Tony, “given that you’re both alkies, and both living in South East Asia, it was only a matter of time before you ran into each other.”
I was still staring at him in semi-disbelief. Who could believe it? Bobby in Pattaya! “So how the hell did you end up here? You should be a high-priced lawyer by now, lording it as a partner in some major law firm; not mixing it with us reprobates in the devil’s playground. What happened? Did you ever make it to Stanford Law School?”
“I sure did, Mobi – just as I said I would.”
“So what happened after that?
“God, it’s a very long story.”
Tony looked at his watch. “Yeah and too long to tell now – we’re due back in the conference hall in two minutes.”
“So can we meet up again somewhere, Bobby?”
“Of course yer can, mate,” Tony replied, “We’ll both be at the AA meeting tomorrow morning. That’s why I wanted you to meet Bobby – he’s a fellow alkie and he might help you with your drinking problems.”
I looked at Bobby, and he grimaced. “Well… we’ll see about that,” I said, as they made their way back into the hall.
The next morning we met up at the AA meeting. He told me he was planning to stay in Pattaya for a couple of weeks before returning to Phnom Penh.
“I wanna see how the Pattaya whores match up to the ones I’ve been screwing in Cambodia.”
At that time I was married to my fourth wife, although the marriage had become distinctly rocky – which was a major reason I was having difficulty quitting the booze. Bobby proudly told me he had been dry for some eight years – pretty damn impressive.
So over the next two weeks, I showed Bobby the drinking dens of Pattaya. Not the tourist bars in ‘Walking Street’ and the surrounding red light area with their lurid neon signs that catered for customers with more money than sense; but the more discrete ones – the hidden gentleman’s clubs that opened all day, and the down and dirty establishments, tucked away in little alleys, away from the prime tourist areas. These bars existed courtesy of the farang residents of Pattaya, most of whom were either married to Thai women or shacked up with long term Thai girlfriends.
The prices at such establishments were much cheaper, and the girls who served the drinks spoke little or no English and were less brash than the unashamedly professional go-go dancers who danced topless atop the poles in the fancy bars of Walking Street. At first, I had wondered if Bobby might be disappointed with these laid-back dives, but I needn’t have worried. Like me, he preferred these places to the plush, touristy bars. The only drawback for him was that he couldn’t chat to the girls without me acting as translator, but it didn’t really matter – we were there to chat to each other – not to be entertained by the female staff.
We spent many an hour sitting at the backstreet bars over the next two weeks, getting to know each other, chatting briefly to the girls and drinking. Bobby had an unquenchable craving for soda water on the rocks while I drank shots of Thai whisky washed down with copious bottles of beer.
It was during these long drinking sessions Bobby Solo recounted the story of his life since we had last met in New York City, forty years ago.
My first year at college didn’t quite turn out the way I was expecting. I thought that once I’d thrown off the trappings of my family’s stifling control, my life would take on a whole new perspective – for the better. For years I had been dreaming of getting away from New York; but when the time came to swap the comfort of Daddy’s home with the sparsely furnished, cold, draughty room which I had to share with another student, there were times when I truly wondered what the sweet fuck I had let myself in for.
My social life was non-existent. Nobody was in any hurry to befriend an introverted, socially inept Jew from the east coast. I knew that I would never make friends unless I took the initiative, but I was terrified of rejection and I went completely into my shell.
I used to lie alone at night, shivering in my uncomfortable bed, and seriously contemplated giving the whole thing up and returning to New York with my tail between my legs. At least back home there were a few Jewish friends who might help me soften the trauma of having to live with my parents again.
In the end, I decided that the humiliation of returning to New York was worse than battling on in the hope that things might improve. My hermit-like existence meant that I had little to do but study. I attended all my law classes and achieved better-than-average grades, so when I went back to New York for the summer vacation, I took great pleasure in telling my folks that my first year at Stanford had gone very well.
I hadn’t exactly been in contact with them very often, and I could tell they were relieved that things were going so well. They showered me with praise and wanted to know more about my accommodation and what I had been up to in my spare time.
“Nothing much really,” I told them, “I didn’t have any spare time, I was too busy studying,” which was the truth.
But when they enquired about my roommate, I had to embroider a little, as apart from his name, Greg, I knew next to nothing about him. I had hardly ever seen him as he rarely slept there and only came back occasionally to pick up a change of clothes. We had spoken barely a dozen words with each other during the entire year.
This seemed to satisfy them, and when I returned to Palo Alto for my second year at Stanford, I felt a mixture of relief in getting away from my parents, and apprehension at the prospect of another miserable, lonely year. It wasn’t much of a life for somebody out to change the world. I wanted to make something of myself and had no desire to be a lawyer. But for the next year, my existence would consist of attending lectures, studying in my room, eating and sleeping.
It was a helluva prospect, but against all odds, my second year turned out better than I could have ever dreamed.
I was lying on my bed one evening studying my law books when Greg burst into the room. He glanced at me, slung a bag of clothes on the floor, lay down on his bed, and stared at the ceiling.
I put my book down and looked across at him for a while. He continued to stare at the ceiling, barely moving a muscle. Something was wrong, so I plucked up the courage to speak to him.
“Hi Greg, is everything all right?”
He slowly turned his head to look across at me. “It’s very thoughtful of you to ask, Bobby, but as you can see, everything is not all right – not all right at all,”
“Oh, I’m sorry to hear that – anything I can do?”
“Yes – shut the goddamn hell up!”
That pissed me off, so I rolled over to face the wall, picked up my book and tried to read. Here we go again, the story of my fucking life – can’t even speak half a dozen words without getting it in the neck. Looks like another year of silence.
We must have lain there for about half an hour, with Greg presumably ruing his lost love and me pretending to read, when suddenly he sat up and looked across at me.
“Actually, Bobby, my good friend, there is something you can do for me.”
I turned back to face him. “Oh? What do you need?”
“I need a shoulder to cry on. My lady has just chucked me out and I feel like shit. I wanna go out, find some bar and drown my sorrows, and I need a pal to pick me up if I fall over. How about it?
No one had called me a pal since I had been in California, and I felt the glow of budding friendship. “What? Yes, of course, Greg, sorry to hear about your lady, where do you want to go?”
I was a total stranger to bars and alcohol. Apart from my foray into that Queens cocktail bar, a year or so ago, with you, I had never tried it again. Both my parents were strict teetotallers, and I had never had an alcoholic drink in my life.
Greg took me in his car to one of the local bars, just off campus, where I had my first ever beer. I didn’t know what to make of it – it tasted bitter and I wasn’t sure if beer agreed with me; but by the time I opened my fourth bottle, it tasted pretty damn good.
Greg was busy downing double shots of Jack Daniels in double quick time and I had no chance of keeping up with him. He was also becoming more morose by the minute, but I was starting to enjoy my first venture into the wide world of alcohol. A tingling sensation crept over my body; I had never felt like this before and I liked it – very much. I was feeling no pain and by my fifth Bud, I was ready to move on to yet another exciting night-time activity.
Her name was Katy, and she had been sitting alone at the bar ever since we had arrived. She had been looking our way on and off for quite a while; but now Greg was almost out of it, she was turning her attention to me, and each time she tried to catch my eye, I’d look at the floor. Even with five bottles of Budweiser inside of me, I was so shy, I couldn’t even look at her, let alone start a conversation.
Through his fog of alcohol, Greg grasped what was happening and urged me to speak to her.
“I can’t Greg.”
“Look at me – no woman will ever be interested in the likes of me.”
“That’s hard to believe, judging from the way she keeps eying you over. What’s the matter with you, anyway? I’m no woman, but you don’t look at all bad to me. You’re a good height and weight, and while you’re not particularly good looking, you do have a sort of rugged appeal, even with that outsize nose.”
“Thanks for the compliments,” I replied sarcastically, “I can’t do much about my nose – it’s part of my inheritance.”
I couldn’t deny that my figure had filled out since I had been at college. This was partly because of a late growth spurt, and partly from the cheap junk food that had become my daily diet. The extra weight suited me and I no longer looked like an awkward, gawky teenager. I was just under six feet in height and weighed around one hundred and eighty pounds. Greg was right – I wasn’t particularly handsome in the accepted sense, but as the years rolled by, I realised I had the looks that seemed to attract a certain kind of lady.
Katy was out for a good time at someone else’s expense, and once she realised that I wasn’t about to make the first move, she sidled along the bar and plunked her more than generous bottom right next to me.
“Hi handsome, I’m Katy – you wouldn’t help a lady in distress, would you? I’ve just used up my last buck and forgot to bring my credit card.”
“Sh… sure thing, what do you need – a taxi home?”
“Well, that’s mighty nice of you young man, and I might take you up on that a little later. But right now, I’m gasping for another drink.”
It was the oldest line in the book, but what the fuck did I know – an innocent from New York who had hardly ever spoken to a girl before, let alone pick one up in a bar. So I didn’t know any better and rushed to oblige. She downed the cocktail in one gulp, put her arms around me, and suggested another drink for the two of us.
I was becoming lightheaded – both from the four beers I had drunk and the close attention I was getting from Katy. Where had I been all my life? I had never felt so good. Booze and women most definitely agreed with me.
But I still held back. I wasn’t one hundred per cent sure I should go down this route. I guess I still felt my parent’s apron strings tugging at me in one direction – and my desire to be free and enjoy life in the other.
That slight hesitation was enough to hold me back. Besides, I had some heavy assignments at college the next day. So I stopped after my fifth beer and booked a cab to take me back to my room, leaving Greg to take off for more drunken adventures. I think that if I’d had one more beer, I would have followed Greg down that slippery, alcoholic path to who knows where.
I made it home in one piece on the night I was introduced to bar life, by my new friend, Greg. I had enjoyed the evening very much, but I was still wary of my parents. It had been hard work to persuade them to let me go to California, and I didn’t want to mess it up and give them an excuse to call me back home. That would be disastrous. I wanted a new life, away from them, and throw off the yoke of my conventional Jewish upbringing.
But the more I thought about it, the more I realised that the chances of my family finding out what I was up to on the other side of the country were extremely slim. Why shouldn’t I have a night out every now and again? After all the hard work during my first year, I deserved a little night-time recreation to liven up my life a bit.
A few days later, I went back to the bar that Greg had taken me to – hoping to run into Katy again. She wasn’t there, but two other girls were and they were both prettier and younger than Katy. This time, I had no compunctions about asking them to join me. I knew the secret of obtaining their undivided attention – it was simple – all it took was the price of a drink.
Carousing for one day a week in the bars of Pal Alto soon became two – then three – and before I knew it, I was going out six, even seven days a week. Once I got into the swing of things, I had no problems in attracting the ladies of the night. Sometimes I went out alone, but Greg often accompanied me and we took turns to use our room to entertain the ladies, and occasionally, a girl would invite me over to her room. I had developed a taste for alcohol and the delights of bars and the women who patronised them.
But I soon hit a problem – money – I still needed my folks’ money. I had relied on them for my living expenses, and I was one of the few students who did not work nights and weekends to supplement my parent’s allowance.
I lived so frugally that I didn’t need much, so up till now, my monthly allowance had been adequate. But once I found a new life in the bars, my allowance was swallowed up in a matter of days. My parent’s monthly remittance was nowhere near enough to fund my bar bills and women.
I soon found a solution to the problem. I asked around the bars if anyone knew of some part-time bar work, and it wasn’t long before one of my favourite bars offered me a job two nights a week and another hired me to work day time weekends.
I was in seventh heaven. Even though I was standing on the other side of a bar for half the week, it didn’t impinge on my drinking; many’s the time a happy customer would buy me a drink, and if business was quiet, I would sneak a couple of vodka shots into a coke that I had paid for. Whoever said I couldn’t have my cake and eat it? What could be finer than to work in the very establishments that gave me so much pleasure?
By the time I graduated from college, my grades had become distinctly average. I made it by the skin of my teeth and I was ready to enter law school for the four-year slog to become a qualified attorney.
Back in New York, my folks were becoming increasingly disillusioned with me. They weren’t happy about my falling grades, and whenever I went home, we always ended up fighting each other. I used to sneak out and grab a few drinks at the nearest bar. When I came back, fuelled by alcohol, I used to regale them about their outdated, conservative lifestyle and that it was time to move into the twentieth century.
We had a blazing row when I graduated, as they wanted me to enter law school back in New York, whereas I was dead set on studying in Los Angeles. It was the entertainment capital of the world, and I wanted to be part of it. We had many acrimonious conversations and phone calls, but in the end, they relented, after I solemnly promised to return to New York to work in my uncle’s law firm when my training was finished.
It was an empty promise. I had found my niche in that huge, crazy, razzle-dazzle town, and I loved it there. My ever-increasing propensity for booze had opened many doors, and I made a lot of like-minded men friends and even more like-minded women. I was having a ball, and it was most definitely the place where I wanted to spend the rest of my life.
As yet, I wasn’t so dependent on alcohol that I couldn’t keep it under control when the occasion demanded. It would be many years before the first thing I did in the morning was to take a gulp of neat, cheap vodka to get my shakes under control.
I was always able to attend my daily lectures at college and I was careful to restrict my drinking to ‘social hours’; although I must admit I’m at a loss to explain how I found the time to study. In truth, I did very little studying. In those days I was blessed with a semi-photographic memory and with several days of ‘all night’ cramming, I scraped through my final examinations.
At long last I had completed all my studies; I was just twenty-five and was a fully qualified attorney at law. Back home, my parents were overjoyed when I called and told them I had qualified at my first attempt, as by now they realised that I was pretty much out of control. They knew they had an errant son on their hands and couldn’t wait for me to return to New York, as I had promised.
Dad had already lined up a suitable position in his brother’s Manhattan law firm, but I was having none of it. I had made up my mind – there was plenty of work in L.A. for young, hard-working lawyers. Maybe not the high profile litigation or criminal cases that I might find at uncle Marty’s law firm, but what the heck; work was work, and it would generate a healthy stream of money to fund my social activities.
The family were furious. They called me every day, and each time I made it clear to them I was not coming home. One evening, to my great astonishment and not a little trepidation, I arrived back at my newly leased apartment to find Dad and Joseph, my brother, camped out on my doorstep.
I had been out drinking with a few friends. I wasn’t very drunk, but neither was I sober. Thinking back, it was probably a good thing that they found me a little the worse for wear. The terrible sin of my drinking was out in the open for all to see, and the alcohol gave me a large dose of Dutch courage.
If I hadn’t had half a dozen or more beers, I might well have folded and meekly followed them back to New York – to a boring life of unending filial duty and misery.
As it was, I was ready to fight it out with them.
“I’m sorry, Dad,” I said, “but there’s no way I’m coming back to New York. My life is here now, and I’m staying put, whatever you say.”
“But Bobby, what about your promises – your duty to me and your family? Does that mean nothing to you?”
“Duty! What Duty?” I was losing it. “How dare you talk to me about duty!”
“You owe us, son. We, your family, brought you up to be a good Jewish boy, we gave you a good education and paid all your expenses since you have been in California. Now it’s time to pay us back by coming back home and do your filial duty to your family.”
“Paid my expenses? Is that what you think? Do you really think the pitiful amount you sent me every month was enough for me to live on? As for my filial duty and bringing me up to be a good Jewish boy; did it ever occur to you for one lousy second that I might not be happy to be raised like that?”
“Don’t be ridiculous – of course you were happy. Look at Joseph – he was happy, so why not you? Joseph will be a doctor, and his Uncle Aaron already has a place reserved for him at his medical practice. Why can’t you be a good, obedient, loving son like your brother Joseph?”
I glanced at Joseph, but he refused to meet my eyes. Somehow I doubted that he was all that crazy about Dad’s plans for his future, but I knew he’d say nothing.
“Bobby,” he started again, “why can’t you do your duty? You must come back with me.”
I erupted. “Good God Dad, show me where in the American constitution does it stay that a twenty-five-year-old man must do everything his father tells him. What about what I want to do? Don’t you care? You say you want me to be happy, but I’ve told you a million times that I’ve found happiness in LA – not New York – with you controlling my every move. You may have got your claws into Joseph, but he’s a wimp – not a man. If he was, he’d be long gone – like me. And you can stay here arguing with me till the cows come home, but Dad, I’m not going back with you – not now, not ever! Get that through your thick head, you stupid, idiotic old man!”
The two of them stared at me, speechless. Nobody had ever dared to shout at my father as I had just done.
I was still fuming and walked past them, opened the door of the apartment, walked in and slammed the door, leaving them on the outside.
They rang the doorbell, but I refused to let them in. They kept ringing, and I kept screaming at them to fuck off. I was so beside myself with anger that I started throwing things around – first a glass ashtray, then some drinking glasses and then a pillow that split open and the feathers scattered all over the floor and the bed. I suddenly stopped and listened. No more doorbell ringing. I sat on my bed and waited for the ringing to start afresh, but it never did. After ten minutes I had completely calmed down and I gingerly opened the door – no sign of them – they had gone.
I don’t know why, but I was kinda shocked to find they had left. Later I found out that after leaving my place they had flown immediately back to New York. Hardly surprising considering the things I said during my outburst. I was finally free, but I instantly regretted the way we had parted – I hadn’t meant to say the things I said in the heat of my rage. Dad didn’t deserve all that abuse and insults. But I had set out my bed, and now I must lie in it.
And lie in it I did. My relationship with the family became permanently estranged, and I had to plough my own furrow in the mad, hectic world that was L.A. in the late sixties and seventies.
When I lost my rag when Dad and Joseph came to see me, it was the start of a behaviour pattern that would dog me for years; I had acquired a violent temper, which frequently got the better of me. One minute I was calmly trying to explain to my father I was happy in LA and wanted to make my future there; and the next minute I had flown into a ferocious frenzy, yelling and screaming at them.
During my first year of ‘freedom’, I worked a succession of unsatisfactory junior positions in which my principal duties included making the partners’ coffee, doing voracious amounts of copying, and unpaid overtime researching the latest cases.
My salary barely paid the rent, let alone my bar bills, which were racking up in my favourite bars, month by month. I decided to do something about it – there must be a way to land a higher-paid job.
When I qualified, I had dreams of being a hotshot attorney in a major law firm that handled criminal and high-profile court cases. This dream was soon shattered when I realised that I had to have good connections and do brilliantly in my law exams – neither of which I could boast. What was worse, if I managed to get such a job, I would have to start at the very bottom, on an even lower salary and doing even more menial tasks than I was doing at present.
I discovered that one of the fastest-growing branches of the legal profession were firms that specialised in personal injury litigation. There were millions to be made from major companies – particularly insurance companies – whenever someone suffered a personal injury. With their ambulance-chasing, ‘no win no fee’ approach, it wasn’t a popular branch of the profession, and many attorneys who practised this line of litigation were amongst the most reviled people on the planet.
Hence there was always a shortage of newly qualified lawyers willing to go this route. I mugged up on the subject of injury litigation and chose my prospective employers with care. Then a did a series of interviews and I could see that the partners were very impressed when I demonstrated how knowledgeable I was on the subject.
I received three very good offers and plumped for a small, but upcoming practice that was very aggressive in chasing clients and clearly had room to grow – including the likelihood of increasing their partner count over the coming years.
I took to it like a duck to water and after playing a key role in two troublesome cases, my bosses realised they had hired one smart ‘cookie’ who knew how to litigate. They told me I was a special talent, and it wasn’t long before they gave me my own office and encouraged me to build my own list of clients.
I worked hard and played hard. At the office, I was as sober as a judge, but when the long working days were over, there were only a few places I could be found – and they were all bars. I had become a hardened drinker, but I was young and fit, and I could handle my liquor. I never let alcohol get in the way of my ambition to become one of the leading personal injury litigators in the State. My rise through the ranks was meteoric, and after a few years, I became the youngest partner in the firm.
For all the money I was making for myself and the firm, it was a wretched and mainly unsatisfying way to earn a living. Mine wasn’t the role of a champion for the underdogs, fighting the cruel and mighty insurance companies and other institutions who tried to avoid their financial liability to the downtrodden in society.
No, my work was all about lying, conniving, bullying, bluffing and ultimately threatening often innocent victims, companies and institutions to pay outrageously large sums of money for accidents and injuries that were at best, shamefully exaggerated, and at worst, just plain non-existent – invented. It was a mean, cruel game and everyone played their part: the litigant, the respondent and crucially, the legal representatives of both parties.
I became a master of my art. My skills in setting out my case to opposing attorneys and my ability to fire off legal ripostes to floundering defences were the stuff of legend. I had developed my correspondence to such a fine art that after the first few years I rarely had to write an original letter. I had compiled every conceivable variation on a theme in my files and I would just tell my legal secretary to use the appropriate paragraph reference numbers to fit any particular claim.
Usually, my written prowess sufficed to win the day, but occasionally the defence attorneys would refuse to be browbeaten into defeat by my erudition and demanded a face-to-face meeting. The poor devils didn’t know what they were letting themselves in for. If they imagined that my cute turn of phrase was as far as my talents went, they were in for a big surprise.
I had transformed myself from a shy law student who was scared of his own shadow into a belligerent, self-confident, litigating attorney. I could manipulate the English language and use its wonderful hyperbole to utterly destroy my opponents in ‘head-on’ confrontations.
If all else failed, I wasn’t averse to letting my renowned temper get the better of me and I would scream, shout and put my snarling face into the face of my opposite number which usually resulted in the defence attorneys backing off in trepidation, and ceding the argument.
On the odd occasions when my cases went to court, I was invariably the victor. Such was my ‘way with words’ and such were my devious skills in manipulating the facts and making mincemeat of defence witnesses, that I could nearly always ensure successfully making my case to naïve and malleable juries.
I was forty-five and at the height of my earning powers, when things first started to go wrong. And the reason for this change in fortunes? The fairer sex – what else?”
I had been playing the field as a single man for many years; and although there had been moments when I was briefly captivated by one damsel or another, I always found that the lure and challenge of chasing a new lady soon rid me of any notions of having a steady girlfriend.
However, that situation all changed when I met Gretchen one day in one of my regular bars. Although no prostitute – she worked as a receptionist in a down-town motel – she was another one of those ‘good-time girls’ whom I always seemed to attract. She was an attractive, ‘busty’ and ‘leggy’ girl in her late twenties and boy did she know how to turn on her men.
I tell you man; I had only bedded her a few times at my luxury penthouse before I was a ‘goner’. She was everything I wanted in a woman: she was very beautiful, had good dress sense, an incredible figure, and was great in bed. To top it off, she was a master at social chitchat.
She wasn’t particularly smart – or so I thought – but I took this lack of acuity to be an asset. I didn’t want someone who could share my life in the conventional sense. I didn’t need a soul mate. I wanted someone I could fuck whenever the mood took me, someone who could hang on my arm whenever I was invited to parties and dinners with friends, and someone I could take to business lunches and dinners to charm my would-be clients.
I got all that, and more. Within two months I had made an honest woman out of her. All my drinking mates and office colleagues were shocked – they had all put me down as a confirmed, hard-drinking bachelor who always played the field.
It was about this time that my drinking started to get worse. I honestly tried my best to be a good husband, but once the initial fascination of marriage and Gretchen faded, I was inevitably drawn back to my old haunts after work; getting drunk and staggering home in the early hours, much the worse for wear. On the odd occasion, I even failed to make it home at all; having picked up some cocktail girl in the small hours and slunk off to a seedy motel to satisfy my drunken desires.
If I thought my behaviour would bother Gretchen, I was very much mistaken. She seemed to accept my behaviour with equanimity and she never complained or tried to change me. She didn’t even say a word when I staggered home from a drunken night out and picked a fight with her. I would wake her up and deliberately start a row – screaming and shouting abuse at her, but she just sat there quietly and said nothing. I believed I had found the best wife in all the world.
We had been married for just over a year when I came into work one day and found a large packet in my in-tray. I usually left my mail until I had drunk at least three cups of hot black coffee, but the package looked odd and I opened it at once.
I tore at the package, and some photographs and a cassette tape fell onto my desk. I picked up the photographs and flicked through them. They were excellent quality. Me in a bar cuddling and kissing a young blonde; me in another bar cuddling and kissing a brunette; me in some seedy motel in the very act of fornication with some long-forgotten red-head. I picked up the cassette and put it into a machine on my desk. It was me – swearing, screaming and threatening my wife.
I looked at the letter-head on the letter but didn’t bother to read its contents. The mere letter-head was enough to send my head into a spin. It was the name of one of the top divorce lawyer practices in California. A stupid piece of ass that I had been crazy enough to marry had outdone the master personal litigation attorney. I had made the biggest mistake of my life, and I knew it.
Up to this point in my life, things had gone pretty much as I wanted. Sure, I was estranged from my family and I wasn’t exactly enamoured with my job, but I had to earn a living and I philosophised that most people in this world didn’t have the good fortune to do a job they enjoyed doing. I had a high-paying job, a great penthouse apartment, an impressive imported European sports car, and a group of drinking friends who regarded me as the life and soul of the party – even I footed far more bills than anyone else in my drinking gang. What else could a man want? Well, certainly not a very expensive divorce.
The shock of my pending divorce made me sit down and take stock. I realised that my marriage to Gretchen had been a disaster from day one. She wasn’t as stupid as I took her to be, and she had probably been planning this divorce pay-day before we ever got married. She knew I was well-heeled; she knew I was a drunken playboy who loved to play the field, and she knew just how to ensnare me into her net. It wasn’t a pretty sight – I had fallen for it, hook, line and sinker.
By the time I hammered out a settlement with my soon to be ‘ex’, I was poorer by more than half the assets I had accumulated in the past twenty years of hard graft. I had been taken in big time, and it hurt like hell.
I concluded that my life didn’t amount to a row of beans. I was a drunk and my so-called friends were just a bunch of superficial spongers. I had an almost uncontrollable temper, and my job frequently disgusted me.
But it was a realisation that did nothing to make me change my ways. I became worse. I drank more, whored more, lost my temper more often and was more and more vitriolic in the office.
Life went on, but it was becoming less and less enjoyable. My drinking had reached the stage where I couldn’t start my day without a large slug of neat vodka. I also carried a small hip flask with me throughout the day and would furtively top up my coffee as the day wore on. More and more, I was just going through the motions. I would arrive late for work, totally unprepared for the days’ meetings with clients and opposing defence counsellors.
I was on a slippery slope and I knew it, but I just couldn’t stop myself. I desperately craved a good lady – one who would take care of me and help me back to sobriety. But my experience at the hands of Gretchen had soured me, and I was terrified that I would find another money grabber and lose the rest of my remaining assets. Besides, I now realised I would never find such a creature in a bar.
I knew my work colleagues were growing increasingly concerned about my behaviour – but such was my reputation, that I still attracted good clients to the firm. I think my fellow partners resolved to tolerate my faltering work performance – at least for the time being. But I knew that if I didn’t pull myself together that the time would come when they would be obliged to dispense with my increasingly unreliable services.
But I saved them the trouble.
I arrived late at his office one morning to find three clients waiting to see me and a huge backlog of urgent correspondence to deal with. I felt terrible. I was trembling and my body was screaming at me to do something about my painful alcohol withdrawal.
I called my secretary in and told her to inform my visitors that there would be an hour’s delay. I reckoned an hour would be long enough to get my head in order; all I needed was a very large slug of Vodka, followed by a quick sort of the most urgent cases lying in my in-tray and then I could put my head down on the office sofa for a 30-minute nap and let the liquor work its magic.
I swallowed the Vodka and rummaged through my files, picking up the first one that was marked ‘very urgent’. It was a personal injury claim by a young man who was suing a local charity. He alleged that the charity had been responsible for inflicting him with a permanent back injury when he delivered a parcel to the charity’s office.
He stated that a youth on roller skates had bumped into him and they had both gone flying. The kid had picked himself up, dusted himself down and skated out of the office. My client had also left the office with no apparent ill effects but claimed that when he reached home, he was overcome with sharp pains in his back which had remained with him ever since. He had had to stop work and was now a permanent invalid.
I had met the young man and knew with utter certainty that there was nothing wrong with his back. I had been in this business long enough to know when someone was swinging the lead and I regarded the claim as utterly spurious. In chatting to the young man, the idiot had inadvertently blurted out that he was a regular at a local gym, near to where he lived.
It would be a messy case as the charity being sued had failed to renew its public liability insurance on time, so they would now be obliged to meet any damages that may be awarded. If I pursued the claim, the Charity would go out of business. At the time of the interview, I made a note on the file to protect my rather stupid client from cross-examination.
Ordinarily, this case would not have phased me one iota. I reckoned that at least twenty-five per cent of the claims I had successfully litigated had been false and in at least fifty per cent of my cases, the damages I won for my clients were way above what they should have been in any decent and just society.
I took all my cases on a ‘contingency’ basis – no win, no fee – so in my book, the defence attorneys were all mugs for the taking. Whatever damages I was successful in securing for my clients, my firm and I would get our well-earned share. I took another slug of Vodka from the bottle on my desk, picked up my dictating machine and started to dictate.
“Matthew Fowler vs ‘The Angeles Youth Outreach Foundation’.”
“Para 6 c… then para 11f… and finally para 16d. Oh, and make a note on the file that we better seek an injunction to freeze the Charity’s assets, just in case they go broke – before we can get our hands on their misguided, hard-earned charitable donations…”
I suddenly stopped dictating, took another slug of Vodka, thought very hard and picked up the machine again.
‘No… hold that… ignore what I just dictated. Start again, Para 6 c, as before, and then the following; ‘Regarding the validity of this claim, I urgently recommend that you engage the services of a private investigator to observe Randall’s Fitness centre on the corner of… (find out where it is located)… and photograph the plaintiff undergoing his daily exercise regime. This should provide you with sufficient evidence to sue the grovelling, lying little bastard for every penny he’s got and also to make a report to the police so that they can institute criminal charges… criminal charges….c-criminal charges…’
I stopped again, feeling my temper rising and getting out of control.
‘Criminal charges… against my fucking, lying, shit hole of a client who is trying to use this mother-fucking firm, this asshole, of what we deluded idiots call the legal profession, to line his own miserable, slime ridden pockets and destroy a decent organisation who is trying to help the disadvantaged youth in this fucked up city of fucked up people doing fucked up things to every other mother fucker and… and… and…’
My rage was so incandescent that I ran out of expletives. I was completely out of control; my face became bright red as I screamed and ranted. The visitors could see and hear me screaming through the glass partition, and they probably wondered if I was having some kind of fit. By this time a group of staff had gathered outside my office. One of them slowly opened the door.
“What do you want? What do you mother fuckers want? Fuck off the lot of you!” I screamed at them.
One of them tried to pacify me. “Bobby, calm down…”
“Calm down! Calm fucking down!” I screamed back at them, “don’t you fucking bastards tell me to fucking calm down… You’re all a bunch of dirty, lying mother-fuckers. Not one of us here would have any hesitation in putting our own grandmother in jail if it would put a few more lousy fucking dollars in our pockets…”
“We are the spawn of fucking Satan. We get rich from the misfortune of others – we cheat, lie and steal from poor to pay the rich… What kind of fucking, fucked up life is this?”
I glared at the growing crowd crammed at the door entrance and they stared back at me. They must have thought that they were watching a demented man in the middle of a nervous breakdown. They weren’t far wrong. I took a menacing step towards the door and almost comically, the crowd retreated half a step – in unison.
“Look at you! You bunch of craven fucking cowards! All terrified of one crazy old man …”
I looked at my large, executive desk and before anyone realised what I was up to, I grabbed it in the centre and with one enormous, adrenalin-filled heave, I upended it, whereupon it seemed to collapse on itself, with the contents scattering across the floor, the wood splintering at odd angles. Then I turned around, looking for something heavy that I could throw and my eye happened upon a large earthenware vase on my coffee table. I grabbed it and in one single movement, raised the vase high above my head and then threw it with all my might out in front of me against the glass wall of my office, the other side of which was now crammed full of inquisitive, worried onlookers.
The vase smashed to smithereens on impact and incredibly, the glass partition seemed to hold for a split second before it frosted over as a large series of cracks spread out from the point of impact.
Nobody moved. It was as though they were awaiting a wild, frenzied animal to wear itself out. I stopped shouting and was on all fours, rustling through the mess on the floor, looking for something. After a moment I stood up holding a sheaf of papers –from some of the urgent files in my in-tray. Then I tore them up, one by one, into tiny pieces. Finally, I bent down and gathered a handful of my torn papers and held them in front of me.
“See this? This is my work! My fucking work! I make a lot of money by bullshitting and lying in this office! Well, no more. Never again; I’m done –finished – gone! I will no longer be part of this bullshit organisation. I’d rather starve than stay one more day in this fucking place.”
I made a step towards the door and the crowd parted in haste to let me through.
I walked out of the firm where I had been working for over twenty years and didn’t look back. The scene I had created in my office that day stays indelibly etched on my mind – probably for the rest of my life. I was gone forever and never again would I practise law.
Despite the sizeable chunk of assets I had to hand over to my ex-wife, I was still a relatively wealthy man and I could well afford to give up work and live a life of the ‘idle rich’. But Bobby Solo did nothing by halves. I embarked on a life of drinking and partying that would have sunk many a person with a fainter heart. Day after day, week after week, month after month, and year after year, I drank all day and half the night, only stopping long enough to grab a few hours’ sleep, wherever I happened to be, before starting again.
I spent my fiftieth birthday in a ‘drunk tank’ in downtown L.A. Upon release, I stayed sober long enough to discover that due to my years of partying and making foolhardy investments, I was running very low on funds. My assets were fast drying up. So, I did the only thing I knew how to do in such circumstances – I got drunk.
The severe diminution of my funds meant that I was drinking in the rougher, dead-end dives in ever seedier parts of town. I resorted to drinking the cheapest rotgut whisky and my health was failing. I would often get into fights with other drunks. In the early days of my drinking career, I was still fit enough and strong enough to win most of these encounters; but as time went on, I would invariably end up in the gutter, my clothes all torn and blood-stained, suffering anything from a black eye to a broken nose or jaw, or cracked ribs for my efforts.
I was fifty-two when I finally reached my ‘rock bottom’. My money had dried up completely, and I resorted to stealing from local liquor stores to keep myself in booze and the odd packet of junk food. I became very adept at stealing and getting away, Scott free.
But inevitably, one day my luck ran out. It must have been the third or fourth occasion that I had stolen from this store and although the owner had never caught me in the act, I found out later that he had seen the thefts take place when he had re-run his closed-circuit video.
One day, I entered the shop as usual and followed my tried and tested routine. I browsed the shelves, waiting for another customer to come in to distract the man behind the counter. After a few minutes, three customers were lining up to pay their bills at the front counter and I adjudged that the time was right. I quickly pulled a bottle of vodka and two packets of potato chips off the shelf and secreted them in the inside pocket of my long, dirty raincoat. I looked at the proprietor who was busy dealing with his line of customers. I smiled the smile of a drunk who was anticipating the huge swig of booze – which I would take as soon as I was safely outside on the sidewalk.
I stepped out into the cool winter air and breathed a sigh of relief and revelled in the adrenalin rush that always accompanied my criminal exploits. I put the bottle to my mouth and was about to up-end it when out of nowhere I felt the thud of metal on my forehead. I was looking straight into the barrel of a two-bore shotgun.
I found out later that as soon as the store owner had spotted me entering his premises, he had sent an agreed signal to his son who was working out back in the storeroom. The young man had rushed around the corner of the shop to the front entrance and awaited my arrival.
I was arrested, handcuffed and taken downtown where I was arraigned on several counts of robbery. I had already gained a criminal record arising from various drunken exploits over the past few years, so this was my ‘third strike’. I was about to enjoy a very long holiday, courtesy of California State penitentiary.
My time was finally up. I feared that I would never survive a long spell in jail. My health was shot to pieces, and I was in no position to defend myself from the other inmates who would undoubtedly regard me as easy prey. Even worse – I knew I couldn’t survive even one day without alcohol. I already suffered severely from the DT’s; so a sudden withdrawal from booze could well kill me. It was all over; this time I was down and out for the count.
When they hauled me out of the holding cell for my second court appearance, I looked around me to see who was there. Sitting on the front bench of the courtroom was the proprietor of the store, who I had robbed on several occasions. I was expecting him to be there, as he would have to provide preliminary evidence. But sitting next to him was someone who gave me the shock of his life. It was no other personage than my estranged brother – Joseph.
“Joseph – My God! What are you doing here?”
“Never mind that, just stand up and listen to what the judge has to say.”
The judge looked across at me – unshaven, dirty, dishevelled, and started to speak. “Mr Solo, I have to tell you that you are a very lucky man,” he began. “The gentleman over there is Mr Xavier, whose store you have undoubtedly ‘abused’ on more than one occasion. For some inexplicable reason Mr Xavier has prevailed upon me – against my better judgement, I may add – to drop all charges against you.’
“But – but I don’t understand…”
‘Neither do I, Mr Solo, neither do I. The good Mr Xavier has persuaded me to give you one last chance to turn your life around and somehow redeem yourself. He has asked the court not to press charges… on the condition that you make good all the items you have ‘borrowed’ from him and that you immediately book yourself into an alcohol rehabilitation clinic, and, finally, that you attend AA meetings every day for the next three months.’
I stared at the judge. “B-but I have no money. I can’t afford to pay him back, and I can’t afford to go into rehab.”
“That’s all being taken care of, Judge,” said my brother Joseph, standing next to the store owner.
“Very well then,” continued the judge. “But I have to inform you that if you fail to comply with this agreement in any way whatsoever, then the police will re-open the case and Mr Xavier will testify against you and you will go to the State Pen for a long stretch. Do you agree to these conditions, Mr solo?”
I stared at the judge, shaking from the onset of DT’s, barely comprehending what was happening. ‘Yes, Judge, y-yes, of course, I agree.’
“And Mr Solo,” the judge continued, “I see you used to be an attorney – you used to be a very eminent attorney. What happened to you? Pull yourself together, man… and find a decent job. For now, you are free to go, and don’t ever let me see you here again or, I promise you, you will go to prison… and, Mr Solo… you may well not survive the experience. Do I make myself clear?”
I nodded in agreement.
I looked at my brother and followed him and the store owner out of the court. I was shivering, but enormously relieved. I couldn’t quite credit what had just happened. Outside the court, Joseph handed Mr Xavier a cheque, shook his hand and watched him as he walked back to his car. Joe then hailed a cab, and we climbed in the back. We were on our way to the rehab centre.
“You are a very lucky man, Bobby,” Joe said. “It took me nearly all night to persuade Mr Xavier to talk to the police. He wanted to see you locked up, he didn’t care about the money he lost. He was furious. But in the end, I made him see sense.’
“See sense? How did you do that?”
“Let’s just say that I wouldn’t stop talking and wouldn’t let him go until he agreed to my proposal.”
I laughed. “Joe, you should have been a lawyer.”
Joe smiled back. “Yes, maybe I should have, at that.”
I was suffering terribly from withdrawal symptoms and was in no condition to talk much. So, we sat in silence in the back of the cab as we covered the long journey to the rehab clinic. As soon as we arrived, I was checked in, and Joseph took off in the taxi that had brought us there.
I started my treatment, and the staff helped me through the worst of my withdrawal from alcohol. It was hell, I can tell you, but a few days later, after I recovered from the ‘shakes’, I attended my first meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous.
I realised that I had been a very fortunate person. I knew without a shadow of a doubt that I was a total alcoholic and that booze had destroyed my life. My only way forward was to embrace the twelve-step programme of AA and never take another drink.
I had been at the rehab centre for about three weeks when my brother came to see me. We had much to discuss. I was amazed when Joseph told me he had known pretty much everything that had happened to me since I quit my job and started my life of serious drinking.
“I’ve been keeping a wary eye on you for years, Bobby.”
“But how? I don’t understand.”
“I made some enquiries and kept in touch with a few of your drinking buddies. Some of them were your ex-working colleagues – who had been more than happy to provide me with information from time to time on your latest exploits. Others were complete down and outs – like you. They would call me from time to time, in return for the price of a drink. It was one of those who had found out by chance that you had been arrested for robbing the liquor store and called me with the bad news.”
My mind was in complete turmoil from all these revelations. “But if you were keeping tabs on me, why haven’t you contacted me – before this?”
“Because you would have told me to fuck off! To go away! You know you would have refused to have anything to do with me, admit it.”
“Yeah, you’re probably right.”
I took a deep breath of resignation. I realised that I had been such a bastard – to myself as well as my family.” Joe – what about Dad and Mum? How are they?”
He looked at me. “You don’t know, do you?”
“Know? Know what?”
“They are both dead, Bobby. Dad passed away two years ago – cancer – and Mom died last year later, from a broken heart everyone said.”
“But why didn’t you tell me?”
“Tell you? Why? What would you have done? You disowned them years ago, and anyway, when Dad died, I tried to make contact, but I found out that you were busy getting into drunken fights in the worst parts of L.A. You had no phone and you kept changing your accommodation. Most of the time you lived in cheap hotel rooms – sometimes a different hotel every night. So I wasn’t about to make the trip across America to track you down and tell you the bad news. You would have probably laughed in my face!”
I looked at him sadly. “Yes, Joe, I probably would’ve. You were right not to bother. I am so sorry.”
“It’s history, forget it. More to the point is what are you going to do with your life? Are you going to try to go back to work as an attorney?”
“No, Joe, I have given up the legal profession forever. What will I do? I don’t know – maybe just get a regular job, cleaning the streets, or delivering letters…” I said with a smile.
“There’s no need to do that. You’re not exactly poor.”
“Not poor! I’m broke! Stony broke! You know that.”
“You’ve spent all your savings – yes, I know. But you still got plenty of money – You have your share of Dad’s estate.”
“Dad’s estate – you mean he left me something?”
“Bobby. Dad loved you. You broke his heart, but he never stopped loving you.”
It took a while for this to sink in, and when it did, I felt even worse about my behaviour to my family and the course my life had taken. As the realisation dawned on me what a bastard I had been and how much I had hurt the ones who loved me, I was overcome with grief. How could I ever forget what I had done, and how could I ever make it up to my brother? I put my head in my hands and for a few minutes, I was inconsolable.
I used to despise grown men who cried, and now I was one of them.
But as Joseph had said, it was history. It was too late to turn back the clock and make matters right. My parents were gone, and I never had a chance to tell them I loved them. This was another burden that I would have to bear.
Four weeks later, the rehab clinic discharged me. I had been transformed from a shivering, unkempt alcoholic mess of a man into a sober, clean, clear-headed individual.
I continued to attend AA meetings to keep me on the straight and narrow, and I was ready to take my place back in society. I claimed my inheritance, which was enough to keep me in food, shelter and clothing for the rest of my life, provided I didn’t revert to my overindulgences of the past.
I didn’t know what to do with myself. I wanted to keep sober and lead some kind of useful life, but where could I do such a thing? I didn’t want to stay in L.A. where I would be tempted to drift back to my old haunts, and I had no desire to go back to New York, even though my brother was there, and we were reconciled. It wasn’t Joseph who I’d had the problems with – it was my parents, and they had passed on so they could no longer control me.
Even so, I couldn’t see myself settling back into a Jewish community, with all that it would mean to my lifestyle. The family weren’t ultra-orthodox, but they still stopped work on Friday at sunset and split their time on the sabbath between home and the synagogue. All Jewish holy days were observed, and Yiddish was still spoken by the community elders.
It wasn’t for me – I’d been away for too long, and even when I lived there as a young man, I didn’t get it. I hated all that religious mumbo jumbo that dated back thousands of years and I had been a closet atheist since my late teens.
I thought long and hard about a place in the USA that might suit a man such as myself, but I always came up blank – the cons always seemed to outweigh the pros.
I took a trip to Central America to see how the Latin part of the Americas lived, and I liked what I saw. I travelled through Mexico, and thence to Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua. I spent some time in each of these countries to see if they suited me, but although every place would better than living in the States, I kept moving on. I wanted to sample what delights the next country on my list had to offer.
I never made it as far as Panama, because once I hit Costa Rica, I fell in love with the place. The climate was great, living was cheap and, most importantly, the women were beautiful.
When I first arrived there, such was the state of my alcohol-ravaged body that I hadn’t had sex with a woman for several years, let alone have any kind of long-term relationship. But as my body recovered from the years of abuse, my long-dormant sexual urges started to resurface.
My new sober lifestyle helped me keep my feet on the ground, but I was still a sucker for a pretty face. The hookers were cheap, and it wasn’t long before I was indulging in their wares in a big way. I must admit it was a bit of an orgy after all those years of abstinence. I enjoyed every minute, but over time I felt unsatisfied. It wasn’t much of a life, having a different girl in your bed every night; I yearned to settle down with one of these beautiful, alluring women and maybe even start a family. So that’s what I did.
Her name was Jaslene, she was half my age and incredibly beautiful. She had a son from a previous relationship, and in retrospect, it was probably for this reason that she was willing to take the Yankee dollar and settle down with a Gringo. We had only been seeing each other for a short time before I popped the question, and to my utter amazement, she readily accepted. I was besotted with her and I was sure she reciprocated my feelings – why else would she agree to marry me?
We rented a nice little villa, a stone’s throw from the beach, and looked forward to an idyllic family life. I had made it at last, and I was convinced that I would live in happiness and harmony with the woman of my dreams forevermore.
Unfortunately, although I had won my battle with booze, I was still a naïve innocent when it came to beautiful, scheming women. I thought I had it made. But – naturally, it wasn’t to be.
Jaslene started demanding extra money – supposedly for housekeeping – and her behaviour was changing. She had become lazy and rarely cleaned the house or cooked any meals and it wasn’t unusual for her to stay in bed all day. It came to a head one day when I caught her with drugs. We had a terrible row, and I lost my temper – something which I had kept in check ever since we had been married.
I cut off the money supply in the vain hope that it would stop her buying drugs, but the result couldn’t have been worse. I came home unexpectedly one day to find her in bed with a man who I knew was a local drug dealer. She couldn’t pay for her stuff, so she was screwing for it. The final nail in the coffin on this doomed marriage was when I discovered that my stepson, who was barely ten years old, was working for the local drug cartel as a drug runner – with his mother’s connivance.
I knew it was time to get out. I’d had enough of Central America in general, and Costa Rica in particular. The girls were gorgeous and sexy, but the drug cartels had ruined the entire country, and it was becoming increasingly dangerous for gringos to live there.
I didn’t want to walk out on my obligations, so I consulted with a local lawyer and he drew up a divorce settlement agreeable to both parties. I paid her a very generous lump sum, which would no doubt keep her in drugs for years to come, and I walked away, a poorer, but free man.
Although I didn’t want to stay in Central or South America, I had acquired a taste for third world countries and, in particular, third world women. If I had stuck to ‘renting’ my women for the night and had not married Jaslene, I would have been fine. It was a lesson that I finally learned – never, ever marry a lady of the night, or for that matter, never marry anyone. I just wasn’t cut out for marriage.
I discovered from the internet that the ‘in’ place to be was South East Asia, where the most exquisite, beautiful young ladies were to be found. The choice seemed to be between The Philippines, Thailand or Cambodia. I decided that the Philippines and Thailand were maybe a tad expensive for my new, somewhat straightened circumstances, and read that Cambodia was still relatively underdeveloped and the cost of living there was still very low. I flew into Phnom Penh, Cambodia’s capital city, and spent a few days there before gravitating to Sihanoukville, the country’s only coastal resort, some four hours’ drive away.
I liked Sihanoukville. I liked the primitive feel of the place. After my sojourn in ‘third world’ Costa Rica, I knew that I was more at home in the third world than in L.A or New York – it suited my temperament. The myriad cultures were so different to back home and they presented endless fascination. I set up home in a cheap guest house and made a few friends amongst the small raggle-taggle bunch of foreigners who had also made the coastal resort their home.
As for the Cambodian ladies; outwardly, they were very shy and coy, but as soon as I got one of them back to my room, I found them to be the most willing and adventurous partners I had ever been with. As soon as they walked into my room, all their inhibitions seemed to vanish. I discovered the wonders of Viagra, and my performances in bed were a wonder to behold. I was truly in seventh heaven, and so too, I hoped, were my partners.
But guess what? I ruined it all again by falling madly in love with the wrong lady. I didn’t marry her – I had finally learnt that lesson – but I made almost every other mistake in the book. I showered her with gifts, sent money to her family up-country, and – horror upon horror – I reluctantly agreed to build a house for her in downtown Sihanoukville.
The house cost more than I could afford – they always do – and when it was complete my whole world fell apart – yet again. I caught her in flagrante delicto – in bed with a young, virile Cambodian male.
The shock of what I saw was more than enough to send me straight back to the demon drink. I hadn’t drunk a drop of alcohol for over seven years, but my emotional state, after finding myself two-timed yet again, meant that I had an overwhelming desire to drink myself into oblivion. But I knew that it would be the end of me; if I did take a drink, all of my efforts to stay away from booze for the past seven years would amount to fuck-all.
Somehow I resisted temptation, and instead of drowning my sorrows, I packed up all my things and jumped on the next bus to Phnom Penh.
By now I knew without a shadow of a doubt that I would never find the girl of my dreams, and that I’d better get used to it and adapt my lifestyle accordingly. My finances were not in particularly good shape – Costa Rica and Sihanoukville had taken their toll; but if I was careful, and lived a fairly frugal lifestyle, I could manage OK, provided I stayed in third world countries and didn’t have any more expensive and catastrophic affairs.
In the aftermath of my breakup, I embarked on a frenzy of sexual activity in Phnom Penh. I took a cheap room in what was effectively a free-lance whore house in all but name. Then I proceeded to fuck my way through anyone and everyone who put their dainty arses on a barstool in the large, open all hours, bar cum restaurant. I became adept at paying minimal amounts to my sex partners and would often get ladies for free in return for letting them spend the night in my room.
Whenever I grew tired of this incessant fornication, I would take a trip around the region. Malaysia, Bali, and even Thailand were now on my itinerary, and I used the latest back-packers’ guides to stay in the cheapest places. I had become a nomad. I would lie low in Chiang Mai for a couple of months, lead a celibate lifestyle, attend daily AA meetings. I read books in my room and made contact with the outside world from internet cafés.
I had been a late starter in the internet age, but by now I was able to send my own emails and set up an account on Facebook. My friends back in the States were fascinated by my lifestyle, and I regularly updated them with lurid details of my sexual adventures. I also sent the odd email to my brother, Joseph, but I carefully omitted the more colourful details.
When I grew bored with sexual abstinence in Chiang Mai, I’d hop on a night-bus to sin city – Pattaya. Although most of the girls in Pattaya were way beyond my budget, I discovered that the somewhat older and less salubrious freelancers who wandered the beach at night were in my league. As with Phnom Penh, the later the night drew on, the better chance I had of picking up a cheap lady who needed somewhere to sleep for a few hours.
Then it would be back to the Phnom Penh Guesthouse cum whorehouse for a while, before once again taking a prolonged jaunt around the region. I’m still a recovering alcoholic – that’s a lifelong condition – and my continuing sobriety is contingent upon regular attendance at AA meetings. So, wherever I go, I always seek out where meetings are being held.
These days my life is simple. I’m content to be alone, and I carry my entire worldly possessions in a single, scabby travel-bag.
Bobby looked at me over his coffee mug and gave a half-smile, half grimace.
“You don’t look very contented,” I ventured, “it seems a sad sort of life to me – you’re a nomad with no proper home. Don’t you ever plan to lay down roots?”
“Roots! What do I want with roots? They’ve done me nothing but harm. Every time I’ve set up home, I’ve been done over by one woman or another. No, I much prefer it the way I live now.”
“But are you happy?”
“Happy? What is happy? Are you happy, Mobi?”
“Me, well not really, but at least I’m working on it, and at least I have somewhere I can call home – you know, the place we are in right now.”
We were sitting at the kitchen bar of my house in the outer reaches of Pattaya – well away from the tourists and nightspots, and Bobby had just finished telling me the final instalment of his lengthy memoirs.
“But you can’t keep on traipsing across South East Asia forever. Sooner or later you’ll have to settle down.”
He looked hard at me. “Yeah, I guess, but I’m not ready to try it again, not yet – maybe one day.”
An idea suddenly hit me. “Tell you what Bobby, I’ve got an idea. How about settling down here in Pattaya for a while?
“Pattaya? I can’t afford it – the rents on the cheapest apartments here are outside my means.”
“Listen, Bobby, one of my friends passed by the other day and asked if I knew anyone who might be available to house-sit for a few months. He lives about a mile down the road from here and he has to go back to Germany this week for a major operation – and what with convalescence and so on, he will be away for at least four months. He doesn’t want to leave his place empty, as empty properties with nobody taking care, tend to have a habit of deteriorating pretty quickly in this hot, humid climate.”
“House-sit? What exactly does that mean?”
“It means there’s no rent to pay, and he will send you money to cover the daily maid, pool and grounds upkeep. It’s a lovely pad, Bobby. You could stay there for a few months and see how you like it.”
“But how will I get around? It’s a good twenty minutes’ drive into Central Pattaya from here”
“No problem – Reinhardt has a motorcycle which he uses just to potter around the lake and sometimes run into Pattaya when he doesn’t want to use his car. I’m sure he’d let you use it.”
“A motorbike, eh? It’s a few years since I drove one, but I guess I could give it a go. Mobi, this has the makings of a really good idea. I like the rent-free part… When can we go see it? I need to make sure I’m gonna be comfortable there.”
“Don’t worry, Bobby, you’ll love it!”
And he did. Arrangements were finalised: Reinhardt went on his medical trip to Berlin, and Bobby moved his meagre belongings in. It was a lovely house, complete with pool and beautiful grounds laid to lawn with flower beds, palm and frangipani trees dotted around. Bobby settled in quickly, and within a couple of weeks, he had mastered the motorbike and discovered where all the food shops were. You could say he was as happy as a pig in the proverbial shit.
I met him most days at the early morning AA meetings in Central Pattaya and at the close of the meetings he would take off on his bike. Occasionally, we made arrangements to meet up for lunch in town. But for the most part, he spent his days by himself doing God knows what.
Then one morning he called to ask if I could drop by and drive him into Pattaya for the meeting, as his bike was in the repair shop. He had taken a tuk-tuk taxi home the previous night and would pick up the bike in Pattaya after the meeting.
I was in for a surprise when I stopped outside his house and tooted on the horn, as it wasn’t only Bobby who needed a lift, but a young lady as well. They jumped into the backseat and I could tell she was a lady of the night by the way she dressed and the fact that her arms were covered in tattoos. I said nothing, and he didn’t make any introductions, but the lady and I did wai to each other.
I dropped her off on the corner of Beach Road and then we made the short journey to the AA meeting.
After the meeting, Bobby told me what he had been up to during the past few weeks.
“Most days, after the meeting, I do a bit of shopping, and then drive back to the house, cook myself lunch and go back to bed for a few hours. Then I take the bike back into Pattaya, grab one of those cheap Thai meals from street vendors and start my daily exercise – walking along the beach from one end to the other and then back again, and so on until…”
“Until you find your night’s companion,” I interjected.
“Hell Mobi! I’m coming to that!”
“Well? Am I right?”
“Partly – I don’t even start looking for one until I finish my daily callisthenics, unless…”
“Unless one of the ladies gives you the eye and you think you’re onto a good thing.”
“Mobi, you know me too well. Actually, on most days I don’t pick up a lady until the early hours – when the going rate is rock bottom.”
“So, what do you do in the meantime?”
“Just bum around on the beach – people watching the citizens of Pattaya – locals and tourists alike – making fools of themselves. It’s endlessly fascinating and I never get bored.”
“It sounds like you’ve settled down here pretty well, then.”
“Mobi, I never thought I’d say this, but I’m truly indebted to you – Yes, I like my life here, it’s relatively cheap and I feel very relaxed and de-stressed. I think I could live like this a very long time, but I guess I’ll have to move when Reinhardt comes back. If I have to rent a place, it might not be economically viable for me to stay here.”
“Then what? Back to your Phnom Penh Whorehouse? You know there’re loads of cheap places here off the beaten track – maybe not quite up to the standards you’re used to, but perfectly habitable. Anyway, you won’t have to worry about that for a while – Reinhardt sent me an email to tell me his operation didn’t go as well as planned and he’ll probably be away for a good few months yet.”
“Well now – that’s something, ain’t it?”
I dropped Bobby at the bike repair shop and motored alone back to my home, pondering Bobby’s life story. He had certainly led a colourful lifestyle and seemed to have finally found peace of mind in “Sin City.” I greatly admired his many years of sobriety and wondered if one day I could achieve the same thing.
My attendances at the daily AA meetings were becoming rather irregular, and so, I discovered, were Bobby’s. One morning when I did make it, I was told by the regulars they hadn’t seen Bobby in weeks. This was a bit of a surprise. I knew he was no longer going every day, but I assumed that he was still attending now and then. He had told me more than once that it was the meetings that kept him sober, and that if he ever stopped going, he would lose the willpower to stay off the booze.
I also wondered about Reinhardt’s property. What if Bobby had started drinking again and trashed the place – like he said he might do if he ever succumbed to that first beer? Or maybe he was sick or had taken off without telling me.
His mobile phone was switched off, so I took a drive over there to find out what he was up to.
I’m not too sure what I expected – but the scene when I arrived was not one of those I speculated about. He wasn’t drunk, he wasn’t ill, and he hadn’t done a moonlight flit. There he was, as large as life, lying down in the pool area on a sun lounger.
But what was even more surprising was the sight of a young lady lying next to him. And it wasn’t just any young lady; this one…how can I put it? She was not a beach lady of the night. Just one look and I knew she was way out of Bobby’s league. She was quite a stunner – and in a refined way too.
Bobby beckoned me over and introduced me. Her name was Tata Jemina, and she spoke amazingly good English. Not the usual bargirl Thaiglish – it was educated English. This girl had been educated overseas; her English accent was so cultured. She also looked vaguely familiar, but I couldn’t quite place her.
“I’m pleased to meet you, Tata. Excuse me, but do I know you from somewhere?”
“I’m sure you do know her,” Bobby said, “just think for a moment – Beach road…”
I looked at him aghast. “Beach Road? Surely you’re not suggesting….”
“No, Mobi, I’m not suggesting. Think about Beach Road, corner of Soi Eight, think music.”
I racked my brain, then suddenly it fell into place. Corner of Beach and Soi Eight, that’s where the outdoor music bar was – We Are the World – the best free music bar in Pattaya and they played western music with a live band and a rota of singers. I recognised her now, she was a singer – probably the best one there. She had a great voice and was the only one who sang western lyrics without a Thai accent. But what the hell was she doing here with Bobby?
“Tata, yes I know you – you have a great voice – I’ve heard you on many an occasion when I’ve stopped by for a beer, and always enjoyed your singing.”
“Thank you, kind sir,” she replied in faultless English.
“But where did you two meet?” I asked Bobby.
“Where the hell do you think? At the venue. I bought her a couple of drinks and we got to talking, and….”
“One thing led to another,” Tata butted in. “it was love at first sight, wasn’t Bobby”?
“It sure as hell damn was,” Bobby replied with a huge grin. “Jealous, Mobi?”
“I sure as hell damn am,” I said with a smile. I hope you don’t mind me asking you Tata, but your English is almost accent-less. Were you educated overseas?”
“Yes, Mobi, I spent my entire childhood and teenage years at public school in England. Oundle School – have you heard of it?”
The coincidence was crazy – my daughter was also educated at the very same school. “Yes, you could say that I know it. But…but…”
This time Bobby butted in. “You want to know what is a Thai lady with an overseas education doing singing at a bar in Sin City?”
“Well, yes, you could say that.”
“It’s quite simple, said Tata, “I own a condo just down the coast in Jomtien, and I happen to love singing – so why not?”
“Why not indeed?” I said. So, are you two an… item?”
Bobby grinned at Tata. “Are we honey?”
“Of course we are Bobby,” she said as she put her arms around him and gave him a big kiss.
“Now I know why you’ve been absent from the meetings and kept your phone off.”
I suddenly realised that I may have put my foot in it – maybe Tata didn’t know about his AA meetings. I looked at Bobby and then back to Tata – there was no sign that either of them was bothered, but I wasn’t sure.
“Take that worried look off your face, Mobi,” Tata said, “I know all about Bobby’s adventures with alcohol. He’s told me everything.”
“Everything?” I looked at Bobby.
“Yes, everything,” Bobby said, “including, funnily enough, the first time I met you in that cocktail bar in Queens.”
Tata joined in. “So, not only do I know everything about Bobby but I also a lot about you, Mobi. And thank you for mentioning the meetings – I know how important they are and I’ve been trying to persuade Bobby to go for days. How about it, Bobby?”
“Well, if you insist honey, I’ve kinda got used to sleeping in late, now I’ve got someone to cuddle me.”
We carried on chatting for about thirty minutes and then I made my excuses and left the happy couple to their own, starry-eyed devices; but not before eliciting a firm promise from Bobby that we would meet the following day at the morning AA meeting.
He didn’t go to the meeting the next day, but two days later he finally made it, and at the end of the meeting we adjourned to the nearby Starbucks for a coffee. He was still in good form and told me he was very happy.
“This is it, Mobi – I’ve found the girl of my dreams at long last. I would never have believed that a girl like Tata would be interested in an old fogie like me. It’s a miracle.”
“Tell me how it happened – how did you meet her?”
“I already told you. I’d been going to the We are the World bar for a few weeks – I liked the music and it passed the time before I crossed Beach Road and searched for a likely companion for the night. I saw Tata every day, and one day I was sitting right at the podium where she sang and signalled her to come and have a drink when she had finished her stint on stage. The rest is history, as they say.”
“You mean she went home with you that very night?”
“God no. It took about ten days before she agreed to come home with me, and even then, there was no sex for the first few days. I guess she was checking me out. We hit it off real good though, Mobi. Almost from that first day when I bought her a drink, we seemed to click. We have the same interests: music, movies, sport and so much more. Her being educated in England has made her more of a farang than a Thai. That’s why she lives in Pattaya – so she can meet westerners.”
“What about her family – are they okay with all this?”
“Hmm. I don’t think so. No, her family, who are very rich by the way, would never approve of her current lifestyle; but they are tucked away in their mansion in Bangkok and would never deign to come down to Pattaya. You know Sin City – out of bounds for all respectable Thais. So, they don’t know what she’s up to, but anyway they can’t stop her, she’s of age and has her own money.”
“So, what’s the long-term plan, Bobby? I hope you’re not going to marry her?”
“Why? What’s wrong with marrying her? Anyway, no, not yet, its early days and I’m just taking it one day at a time and congratulating myself on my incredible luck. I never, ever thought I would find a lady like this. There must be a God out there after all.”
“Well mate, take it easy – you haven’t got a good record in the romance and marriage stakes.”
“Mobi, this is different – I know it is. Tata is completely different to all the others who ripped me off. Firstly, she’s already got plenty of money, and secondly, she didn’t come from a bar, like all the others. She’s not a hooker. That’s a big change for me.”
I wasn’t about to argue with him about the fact that she ‘wasn’t from a bar.’ After all, where did he meet her? But admittedly she was a singer and well educated. But as for being rich – he only had her word for it. I smelled trouble but kept my misgivings to myself. “
“I sincerely hope you’re right, Bobby – but take care, and take it slowly.”
“Don’t worry, I will – but really, there’s no need. Tata is the genuine article; I know it in my soul.”
I didn’t hear from Bobby for quite a while after that. He stopped going to AA meetings and the only time I saw him was when I went by his place briefly to tell him that the house owner was still very sick and wasn’t coming back to Thailand for the foreseeable future. Reinhardt, the owner, was making plans to put his house up for sale, but he was happy for Bobby to have the run of the place until it was sold. And that could take months, or even years, as the Pattaya housing market was in the doldrums.
Bobby and Tata were still together and still as much in love with each other as ever. He told me that they drove into Pattaya City three times a week, did their food shopping and then went to the We are The World bar, where Tata did a singing stint for a few hours.
My fears that it was all going to turn bad again seemed to have been misplaced.
It must have been about three months later when I received a phone call from Bobby one afternoon. He sounded very distressed.
“Mobi, I’m in trouble.”
“My God, Bobby, what now? Has Tata scarpered with all your money?
“No, she hasn’t. She’s dead. Somebody shot her.”
My heart missed a beat. “Bobby! Where are you?”
“I’m at the house.
“Tell me what happened.”
“We were lounging by the pool as usual, and a Thai man pulled up outside the main gate on a motorbike, rushed in and shot her – three times in the head, and then took off on a motorbike. She’s dead Mobi, what am I gonna do? She was the love of my life; I’ll never find another one like Tata.”
“Bobby – never mind that – is anyone else there? Did anyone call the police?”
“Police? No, I don’t think so. The gardener’s here, but no one else.”
“Did he see what happened?”
“I… don’t think so – he was at the other end of the garden, behind the house, when the shooter came in and shot her.”
“Put your phone on speakerphone and let me speak to him.”
The gardener’s name was Paiboon, and I had known him for many years, as he also worked in my garden. “Paiboon, did you see what happened?”
“No, Mr Mobi, I saw nothing, I was at the back of the house when it happened.”
“Did you see the killer?”
“No, he was gone by the time I got to the pool. I heard a motorbike speeding along the Soi, but I don’t know if it was the killer’s bike.”
“It must have been,” I said. “What about Bobby? Is he okay?”
“Yes, he’s okay, but I’m not sure about his mind – he looks a bit strange and he’s shaking.”
“Bobby, do you know of anyone who would want to kill Tata?”
“No, I don’t. What the hell am I gonna do? I’m… just… devastated!”
“Mr Mobi,” Paiboon said, “Bobby must get out of here – quick – me too before the police come. I think Mr Bobby in big trouble.”
“Why? He didn’t kill her.”
“No, sir, but he was living with her and the police always think that farang men kill their Thai girlfriends. I think it’s better if he doesn’t stay here for now.
“So, what are you going to do now, Paiboon?”
“I’m going home – I don’t want the police to see me here and Mr Bobby must go away too. The maid is coming in the afternoon and she will see the body and call the police.”
“What’s happening, Mobi? What did Paiboon say?” Bobby interrupted.
“He said you both better get out of there – quick – and leave your maid to find Tata later.”
“Why? I didn’t do anything.”
“That’s not how the police will see it. They will arrest you for sure, and it will be up to you to prove you didn’t kill her.”
“That’s not justice!”
“It’s justice – Thai style. They love to catch a wicked farang who murders one of their citizens. Bobby, you better come to my place and lie low for a while.”
Paiboon must have understood what I said because he interrupted. “Mr Mobi, Bobby cannot stay with you, it’s the first place they will look when they find out he’s your friend. He better come with me and I’ll find him a place to stay near to my home. The police will never find him there.”
I had only been to Paiboon’s house once, and what a place to find! You had to go through a maze of winding alleys, and across an open area of rubbish-filled wasteland to get there. I doubted I could ever find it again without someone showing me the way. “I think you’re right Paiboon, that seems the best idea. Did you understand that, Bobby?”
“Did I hell! What’s happening?”
“You better follow Paiboon to his home, and he will hide you for a few days until things die down a little.”
“And then what?”
“I don’t know – we’ll just have to play it by ear.”
The papers were full of it – the English language Nation, and Bangkok Post, and all the Thai tabloids:
‘NATIONWIDE HUNT FOR HEIRESS’S KILLER!’
‘AMERICAN SUSPECTED OF KILLING TATA JEMINA – FAMILY OFFER REWARD FOR ANY INFORMATION LEADING TO HIS ARREST.’
Five days had passed, and I had been in touch with Bobby twice, via the services of Paiboon. He had got rid of Bobby’s phone before he took him to the hideaway, and we had to resort to pen and paper to send messages to each other.
Bobby wasn’t doing very well. In a barely legible, spider-like scrawl, he told me he had hardly been eating and lost a lot of weight. He was feeling very depressed. He’d lost the love of his life, and he wondered whether life was worth living. He’d asked Paiboon to bring him some beer, but Paiboon had refused, thank God. Now he asked the same from me. I too refused, knowing how hard it had been for Bobby to quit, and how much he would regret it later if he lapsed now.
I was still puzzled about what had happened. Why was Tata killed, and by whom? I knew it wasn’t Bobby; despite his chequered past life, he had never attacked a woman. And why would he even want to kill her – he had been enjoying the most idyllic few months he had ever known.
I decided to make a trip to We Are the World bar to see if I could find out anything. I bought some of the girls a few drinks and wasn’t surprised to learn that the murder of one of their singers was still the main topic of conversation. Not one of the bar girls believed that Bobby was the killer. I continued to dig and after a while, a singer came over and sat next to me.
“I know who killed Tata,” she said.
I offered her a drink, but she turned me down. “How do you know? Who is it?” I asked her.
“I was her friend, and she used to tell me what was going on in her life. Before she met Bobby, she used to have a Thai boyfriend. His name is Virote, and he’s very handsome, but he is part of the Pattaya Mafia. Tata was crazy about him, but he treated her very badly. He was very jealous and wanted her to stop working here. Sometimes she would come to work with bruises and cuts on her face, and I knew who did it. It was him – Virote. Then one night she had a big fight with him at the bar, and he beat her up badly. She had to go to hospital.”
“Didn’t the police arrest this… er… Virote?”
“You must be joking. The cops are in cahoots with the mafia – they didn’t dare touch him.”
“But how can you be sure Virote killed her? Although I can see he’s a likely suspect.”
“After he beat Tata up, she broke off with him completely. He was very angry but stayed away from the bar. Then one night he came by with another girl and made a big show of displaying his new lady. Tata looked upset but didn’t say anything. Then we didn’t see him again, and soon after that, Tata met Bobby. You know the rest.”
“If that’s the case, why do you think Virote was the killer. It sounds like he’d moved on.”
“He never moved on. He was biding his time. He wanted to find out where Bobby lived – he came to the bar a week before Tata was killed and asked all the girls, but nobody knew. The next day, Tata came in with Bobby to do her singing shift, and I told her Virote was looking for her and to be careful; but she gave me a strange look and laughed it off. Then after they had gone home. I spotted Virote hanging around, just a few meters down Beach Road from the bar. He saw me looking at him and he smiled and gave me the thumbs up.”
“Thumbs up? What does that mean?”
“I’m sure it means he knew where she lived. Why else would he do that?”
“So, let me get this right, you say that Virote went there and killed her?”
“Yes, that’s exactly what I think. He’s a criminal, so he can easily get a gun. And he had reason to kill her. It must have riled him when he discovered she had shacked up with an old farang. There’s no way it was Bobby. He was besotted with her, so why would he kill her, and how would he get a gun?”
“Did Bobby know about Virote?”
“No – I’m positive he didn’t. I asked Tata, and she said he had no idea. I’m sorry to say this Mobi, but Tata had an ulterior motive for staying with Bobby. She liked him well enough, but her real reason was to stay clear of Virote. He knew where her Condo was and she was scared to go there in case he was waiting for her. Nobody knew where Bobby lived – she didn’t even tell me. She thought she was safe there – but I’m afraid she was wrong.”
“So how the hell did Virote find out?”
“I’ve given it a lot of thought and reckon he simply followed them home one night – or more likely got someone to follow them home. It’s not that hard if you’re Mafia with links to the cops.”
“Well, thank you very much for all that information – it sounds as though you’re probably right.”
“Bobby isn’t safe, they will find him eventually, wherever he is hiding. He must leave Thailand.”
“How? He can’t go to the airport – his name and photo are in every tabloid. He’d never get through immigration.”
“You must figure out a way. It wouldn’t be the first time that a farang has been spirited out of Thailand.”
She was right. Even westerners who had been serving long sentences in prison had somehow managed to get out of the country. I had an idea and needed to get home, so I bought the singer a drink, expressed my wholehearted thanks once again and made my way home.
As soon as I reached home that night, I called my friend Tony who was living in Phnom Penh. You may recall that it was Tony who had first introduced me to Bobby at the AA Roundup, and they were bosom buddies.
I knew that Tony had a murky background. He thought nothing about breaking the law when it suited him and had had plenty of run-ins with the law back in Australia – one of the reasons he was living in Cambodia. He was in his early fifties, about five foot six, and maybe around one hundred and eighty pounds of solid muscle. His craggy appearance gave him the appearance of a prize-fighter.
He was also a recovering alcoholic of five years standing and he once told me that if I ever saw him with a beer, then run like mad, as he’s not the same person once he’d had a few drinks.
I asked Tony if he had any ideas on how we could get Bobby out of Thailand, and he said he would think about it and get back to me.
One week after the killing, Bobby’s situation suddenly became a lot worse. Paiboon brought me the news. An itinerant garbage collector found a gun buried in a garbage bin next to Reinhardt’s main gate and called the police. The police are sure it was the murder weapon. Apparently, there were some fingerprints on it and the cops were trying to find out who they belonged to. This produced the predictable reactions from the press who showed photographs of the gun alongside headlines such as:
“The gun that fugitive American used to gun down innocent Thai Girl”
Then, if that wasn’t bad enough, two days later the tabloids had a new headline.
“Finger Prints Prove Bobby Solo is Killer”
It was time to have a talk with Bobby, but I couldn’t do it by phone, so late that evening, Paiboon picked me up on his motorbike and took me to see Bobby.
The wooden hut where he was staying was rather primitive. It comprised a single bare room with a mattress on the floor, a battered old electric fan and a small low table, which he presumably used to eat his meals. A Thai style squat loo was in a leaky corrugated tin shack behind the hut. There was a pile of paperback books which Paiboon had smuggled out of the house, plus a stack of English-language newspapers, and his clothes were strewn across the floor in untidy heaps.
Bobby was naked except for a pair of stained shorts, and in the short time he had been there, his appearance had changed dramatically. He had lost weight and looked much older. His skin had taken on a yellow pallor, and he looked ill.
“Mobi, am I glad to see you – you’ve got to get me out of this place. If I stay here much longer, I’ll go crazy. Maybe it’s better if I just turn myself in – after all, I didn’t do it.”
Paiboon grunted in my ear in Thai. “He should think himself lucky; if he thinks this is bad, he should try a spell in a Thai prison.”
“I don’t think you should do that, Bobby. Paiboon says they’ll you put in jail, and Thai jails are not something you want to experience.”
“But I can’t stay here forever! If I surrender, I can hire a lawyer and get him to prove it can’t have been me. What have they got on me? Nothing.”
“Haven’t you read the papers lately?”
“Not for a few days, Paiboon only brings them over once or twice a week.”
“So, you haven’t seen the headlines about the gun being found?”
Bobby looked at me in surprise.
“A gun? What gun – where?”
It was found in a garbage bin by the front gate.
“The cops found it?”
“No, a garbage collector spotted it and called the police.”
“Well, so what? The killer must have dumped it there – it doesn’t prove anything.”
“There’s more. The police claim that the fingerprints on the gun belong to you.”
“Me! Fingerprints! That’s impossible! I didn’t see any gun, and I certainly didn’t touch one. Where in hell would I get a gun from? And if I killed her, why on earth would I throw the gun away in the trash bin – outside the main gate? That would be crazy. And to leave my prints on it would amount to total suicide. There’s no way in this world that they found my prints on that gun. Don’t you see that? It must have been a set-up, Mobi, they’re out to get me.”
I looked at him, and I felt very concerned. Is it conceivable that he killed his girlfriend? But as he said, if he killed her, why on earth would he throw the gun in a bin with his prints on it?
“Bobby? Did you kill her?”
“God no, I didn’t kill her! Never in a million years would I lay a hand on that wonderful woman. Anyway, how are they so certain that my prints are on a gun I’ve never seen?”
“They say they match fingerprints found all over the house.”
“Mobi – that’s crazy. When did they start checking fingerprints in the house? A week after Tata was shot? And how many people had been in that house since the killing? God knows how many cops, plus the maid, Paiboon and Christ knows who else! It’s always the same in this fucking country; they trample all over a murder scene, and days or weeks later they claim they have found DNA or prints which match the killers – the ones who they decide are going to go down for the crime – not the ones who really did it.
There was a lot of truth in what Bobby said. It did seem pretty unlikely that they could match Bobby’s prints to the gun a week after the house had been opened up to all and sundry. The house wasn’t part of the crime scene, and nobody would have made any effort to keep it off-limits.
I had come to know Bobby quite well since he had been in Thailand, and I concluded that he was an honest, straightforward and generous individual who had found his inner calm since he had been sober. It seemed unthinkable that he might have committed this terrible crime. I knew he was crazy about Tata and was extremely happy and content with her.
Before he met her, in his previous life he had been involved in many relationships which had all turned out badly, one way or another, but despite provocation, he had never laid a hand on any of them. So why start now? I decided to probe further.
“Bobby, did Tata ever tell you about her life before she met you? About her previous boyfriends and so on?”
“Sure, yes, she gave me the lowdown on her life since she went to school in the UK. She’d had a few serious affairs some time back, but over the last few years, she’d been living alone. She was tired of men letting her down. I was the first man in her life for quite a while.”
“Have you ever heard of a Thai man called Virote?”
“Virote? No, I don’t think so. Who is he?”
“Tata never mentioned him? Are you sure about that?”
“He might be the person who killed Tata. I was at the “We Are The World Bar” the other day and I met someone who knows Tata and she said that there was a man called Virote who might be the killer. According to this girl, he had a grudge with Tata and he’s a well-known local criminal. It’s not good news – the cops will never arrest him.”
“Why not, for God’s sake?”
“Because the cops are in cahoots with the local Mafia – they share the proceeds of local crime.”
Bobby shook his head in despair. “But what kind of grudge does this guy have? I’ve never heard of him – I’m sure Tata never mentioned his name.”
I decided not to tell Bobby about Tata’s alleged romantic involvement with Virote. I wanted to see if he would volunteer any knowledge of him. But it looked as though he knew nothing about it. If he did, I felt sure he would tell me, as that would point to Virote as the likely killer.
“So, if this…. Virote… killed her,” Bobby said, “and he’s part of some mafia-police-cartel, what fucking chance do I have?”
“Little or none,” I said. “I imagine they reckon they’ve got you bang to rights on this one.”
“What do I do, Mobi? Turn myself in and spend the rest of my life in some stinking Thai prison?”
“We have to get you out of the country.”
“But how? My picture is all over the tabloids, and no doubt there’s a mugshot at all the airports and border exits.”
“Yes, you’re probably right – that’s why I contacted Tony – he may have some ideas on how we can do it. Either way, it will cost money.”
“How am I going to pay? Bobby asked. If I access my bank accounts at an ATM, the bank will tell the cops.”
“Don’t worry about that, I’ll pay upfront and you can reimburse me when you’re able to.”
“That’s big of you, Mobi, I really appreciate it.”
Tony finally called me the day after I went to see Bobby. He had a plan. He would meet up with a Cambodian-Thai truck driver in the Thai border town of Aranyaprathet and they would make the three-hour drive to Pattaya to pick up Bobby. The vehicle had been purpose-built to smuggle people, and Bobby would be hidden inside a false back to the truck, just behind the driver. Then they would return to Aranyaprathet and drive over the border at the Cambodian border town of Poipet and hopefully continue to Siem Reap, which was another two hours’ drive. The truck had official Cambodian papers that would allow the vehicle into the country, and the driver spoke fluent Cambodian, as well as Thai.
Siem Reap was very close to the magnificent Anchor Wat ruins and attracted thousands of tourists all year round. Tony hoped to find a small guest house off the beaten track where the two of them would blend in as tourists. Nobody would expect Bobby to be in Siem Reap, as most fugitives from Thai justice end up in Cambodia’s capital city and thence flee the country from Phnom Penh International Airport.
It wasn’t commonly known that the airport at Siem Reap had been recently been upgraded to handle international arrivals and departures; so the plan was for Bobby to stay in Siem Reap for a week or so until the furore over his whereabouts had died down, and then take a direct flight to Hong Kong and onwards to New York, where his brother still lived.
It was the best idea Tony could come up with, but the only hitch was that it required a lot of money. The driver was asking for an exorbitant fee, and the living expenses in Siem Reap would add up, not forgetting the airfares.
Bobby couldn’t pay without raising the suspicions of anyone monitoring his bank accounts, so I lent him the money. If anything went wrong, I knew I may never see my cash again, but I had to do it. If I didn’t, Bobby would rot in a Thai jail – or even more likely, would be killed somewhere along the line. It wouldn’t be the first time such a thing had happened.
I also knew that Bobby was innocent – without a shadow of a doubt. He knew nothing of Tata’s past life, and I didn’t think he was capable of killing anyone. It just wasn’t in his psyche – he had conquered the tempers of his past life and was now a calm, laid back, gentle person who was at relative peace with the world. Besides – how on earth would he get hold of a gun? He had been living with Tata almost twenty-four-seven.
I trusted Bobby, and I had the address and phone number of his brother, who I had already appraised of Bobby’s situation two days earlier. It was now or never, and when Tony arrived in Pattaya with the truck, I gave Bobby the cash in US dollars and hoped that one day he would return it. Assuming that he wasn’t picked up by the police.
I had to go to LA for a business meeting but decided to stop off in New York for two days. One reason for the stop-over was because New York was one of my all-time favourite cities – the unconventional, outspoken, and ready wit of the average New Yorker appealed to me. The second reason was to try to catch up with the elusive Bobby Solo, who I hadn’t had heard from for over two years.
It had been five long weeks before Bobby left Cambodia for Hong Kong. The Thai police had roped in their fellow-cops in Cambodia to carry out a nationwide search and, like Thailand, his name and photo were posted everywhere, including the airports. So, we had to get him a false passport and change his appearance if he were to have any chance of getting out.
Fortunately, just about everything is available for a price in South East Asia, so after I transferred another wad of money to Tony’s bank account, the requisite forgery, complete with all relevant entry stamps and visas, was delivered to Bobby. By this time, he had grown a beard, and together with an incredibly realistic wig, he looked a totally different person.
According to Tony, it went like clockwork. Bobby sported a large baseball cap, sunglasses and a beard and was waved through customs and immigration without a murmur. During the flight to Hong Kong, he shaved off his beard in the airline toilet, and upon arrival, had his real passport duly stamped by Hong Kong immigration. Two hours later he was on his way to New York.
The funds I had expended on the Bobby Solo project were duly wired to my offshore bank account about a week later, and that’s the last I heard of him. I tried calling his brother, but he was a hard man to get hold of. I finally caught him, albeit briefly, and he told me that Bobby was alive and well and then rung off. He obviously didn’t want to talk to me.
So here I was in the Big Apple, hoping to catch up with Bobby. I had the address of Bobby’s brother, Joseph, but before I took a cab there, I gave him a ring. He answered on the first ring, and before he had a chance to say anything, I told him I was here in New York and on my way to see him, and then rung off before he could respond.
The Solo family house was in the heart of a largely Jewish neighbourhood in Borough Park, Brooklyn. But when the cab dropped me outside the address, I must admit that my jaw dropped. I knew that the Solomons had been in the USA for several generations, but nothing prepared me for the majestic, turn of the century mansion where they now lived. Either side of the large, six-column semi-circular porch, there were two massive ground floor bay windows, each one boasting their double white palisades. There were no less than five ornate windows on the upper floor, with a splendidly decorative windowed turret rising from the centre of the roof. The place must have been worth a small fortune.
Joseph must have been looking out for me, as he opened the door as I approached the front porch.
“Hi, Mobi, pleased to meet you at long last, come on in.”
“Hello Joseph, I’m sorry for my abrupt phone call, but I was worried you’d refuse to see me if I gave you half a chance.”
Joseph smiled. “It’s okay Mobi, I’ve been wanting to meet you for a long time; Bobby has told me so much about you, and how you’ve known him since he was a teenager.”
“Yeah, I first met Bobby in New York – in a cocktail bar in Queens.”
Joseph led me into a beautifully furnished sitting room and as we sat, a maid appeared with a tray of coffee.
“Joseph, forgive me for being blunt, but what’s going on? Why have you been so difficult to contact? And where is Bobby?”
He looked at me calmly and smiled. “Bobby is fine, Mobi, but I just didn’t want to talk about him over the phone.”
“Because someone might be listening.”
“That’s ridiculous, who may be listening, and why?”
“I’d have thought it was obvious. Bobby fled a country where he is wanted for murder. Did you know that the US has an extradition treaty with Thailand?”
“That’s crazy!” I replied. There’s no way the American courts would countenance sending Bobby back to Thailand. The law there is corrupt – from top to bottom – and the American courts are fully aware of that. I’ve never heard of a single case where a US citizen has been extradited to Thailand. There’s been plenty going the other way – Thailand to America – The Thais are only happy to get rid of their foreign criminals – most of them are paedophiles. But Bobby extradited to Thailand? Never in a million years.”
“I agree with you, but try telling Bobby. He’s paranoid about it. He’s even changed his name and appearance to make it more difficult to track him down.”
“Where is he?”
“He’s up in Queens, running a pub, under the name of Harry Baker.”
“Is he drinking again”
“No, he’s still 100% sober, and goes to local AA meetings most mornings, before he opens the pub.”
“Can I see him?”
“I don’t see why not? Here’s a business card with his address on it.”
The moment I exited the taxi and slammed the door, I knew where I was. I had been to this area of Queens before. The address was exactly the same place as the cocktail bar where I had first met Bobby. But it had changed. It had been re-modelled, and a large neon sign above the ornate front door said:
“MEET OLD FRIENDS – MAKE NEW ONES.”
I walked inside to find a much-changed interior. It was now most definitely a pub, with soft lighting, comfy, upholstered armchairs and sofas, and pub-like signs and ornaments scattered behind the bar and around the walls. A few customers were sitting around nursing glasses of ale, and a single, male member of staff was behind the bar.
He wore a heavy grey beard and matching moustache, but I’d recognise that bald head anywhere.
He had his back to me, polishing the mirror on the far side of the bar, but as soon as he heard his name, he dropped the polishing cloth and swung around to see who was using his real name. He recognised me instantly, and spat back angrily, “Mobi! My name is Harry!”
I smiled at him. “What are you so worried about Bob… sorry, I mean Harry? There’s no chance in hell the US would ever send you back to Thailand.”
“You been talking to my brother?”
“Yes, I have. You wouldn’t answer your emails and you seemed to have disappeared off the face of the earth. Joseph was the only one who knew where you were.”
“Well, now you’ve found me, what’s it to be? An ice-cold draught beer?”
“That sounds a splendid idea. How come you ended up here? The scene of our first meeting?”
“When I arrived back home, two years ago, I asked Joseph if he could help me set-up in some kind of business. I was through with living in third world countries and wanted to set down roots here in New York and be with my family. I still had some money left, but not enough to buy a business. One day, I was wandering through some of my old teenage haunts and I looked for that bar where we met. I couldn’t find it at first, and then I came across it – derelict and long-time closed. I got Joseph to come and see it, and we decided to buy the palace and convert it into a pub.”
“That must have cost a bob or two.”
“Yes, it did. I put everything I had into it, and Bobby put in the balance. We figured that if it didn’t work out as a pub, we still held the freehold, and the way land property prices are going up, we wouldn’t lose much if we had to sell.”
“Well, you built yourself a beautiful pub here. How’s business?”
“Not bad… not bad at all. We’re breaking even, and as the place gets better known we hope to build up the regular clientele. So far, so good.”
“That’s great to hear. So, you’re finally settled. Still sober, I assume?”
“Hell yes. If I ever go back on the booze, it will be the end of me.”
“How about romance? Any young lady on the horizon?”
“Mobi, I know you won’t believe me, but I’m done with women for good. After I lost Tata, I knew that I would never have another relationship that could compare with my all too brief period of ecstatic contentment. Tata was everything I ever wanted in a woman – beauty, intelligence, and our interests were so compatible.”
“So, you still miss her a lot?”
“Missing her hardly describes the feelings I still have for her. I miss her like crazy. But the pub helps – it keeps me busy, and my doctor prescribed me some strong antidepressants which also helps me get through the day and some equally strong opioids that help me through the night.”
“You want to watch that… you can’t rely on drugs to keep you on the straight and narrow forever. At some point, you will have to start weaning yourself off them.”
“I know that only too well. If I don’t ditch the meds, I’ll end up addicted to them – back to square one. But I’m not ready, Mobi, not yet. Maybe in another month, I’ll give it a go.”
We sat, either side of the bar, and had a long chat – reminiscing on the times we had in Pattaya together, and his escape from Cambodia. He didn’t mention the likely killer, Virote, so neither did I. Eventually, it was time to go check into my hotel before catching the red-eye to LA early the next morning.
We bade our farewells, and I wondered if I would ever see him again and whether he could wean himself off some pretty powerful drugs. He had beaten the demon drink, so I thought there was a good chance he would make it. Considering his desire to keep an ultra-low profile, I wondered if I would ever see him or hear from him again.
About a month later, when I was safely ensconced back in my villa in Pattaya, I got a bit of a jolt one day when I picked up the Bangkok post and saw the headline:
UNDERWORLD MAFIA KING INDICTED FOR MURDER OF TATA JEMINA
I couldn’t believe what I was reading. Surely not. What had happened to the cosy arrangement between the police and the local criminals? I read on.
“Thai Police General Banyin Jarukornsakul has announced that the Ministry of Justice had indicted Virote Apichart for the murder of Tata Jemina, who was gunned down in Pattaya two years ago.
Sources added that the high profile Pattaya criminal was arrested as part of a massive crime wave clean-up, instigated by the new Pattaya Chief of Police.
I later heard through the Paiboon grapevine that the real story was a little different to the one portrayed in the English language press. It turned out there were two rival gangs of criminals operating in Pattaya – Virote’s gang and a new, up and coming gang led by a man called Somchai. The new Police Chief had opted to crawl into bed with the Somchai gang, hence the arrest.
But this was wonderful news for Bobby. It meant he was now free and clear, and he could finally come out in the open and use his real name again. I tried to call Joseph but couldn’t get through. He wasn’t answering any calls – at least not on the number I had for him. I left message after message, without success.
Then, two weeks after the headline in the Bangkok Post, I had a call from Joseph in the middle of the night.
“Mobi? Is that you?”
“Hi, Joseph, what the hell is going on? How’s Bobby?
“I’m sorry I didn’t return your calls, Mobi, I’ve been a bit busy.”
“Well, we’re talking now. What’s with Bobby? He should be celebrating.”
“Yes, you’re right he should be, but that’s not quite what’s happened. I’m afraid it’s more like he’s been drowning his sorrows, rather than celebrating. When he heard the news about Virote being arrested for the murder, he went on a marathon bar crawl – from Queens to the Bronx.”
“He started drinking?” I asked.
“He sure did – with a vengeance.”
“Why? He should be happy.”
“I don’t know, Mobi, nobody can figure it out.”
“Do you know where he is?”
“Somewhere in the Bronx. As soon as I get a tip-off from one bar, he’s on his way to the next.”
“Oh my God! Well, please let me know when you track him down. I’d like to try and speak to him.”
Two days later I received another call from New York and this time it was the man himself.
“Hi Mobi, how’s things?”
“Bobby- you’re sober.”
“That’s right buddy, I sure am.”
“What’s going on, I don’t understand.”
He chuckled. “Yeah, I guess you don’t. I called to explain everything. If anyone deserved an explanation, it’s you, my dear old mate, Mobi.”
“So let’s have it. I thought you would be over the moon with what happened, but from what your brother says, you’ve started drinking again.”
“Only for a short while. It was a sort of farewell piss-up. I’m sober now.”
“Farewell? Where are you going?”
“Listen Mobi. When I heard that Virote had been arrested for killing Tata, I realised I’d reached the end of the line. You see, I haven’t been entirely honest with you, Mobi, and now’s the time to come clean.”
“What on earth…”
“Mobi, listen. I knew About Virote. I knew that he and Tata used to be shacked up together. Tata told me all about it.”
“Then all the more reason to celebrate – now he’s been arrested.”
“Celebrate? No, I can’t do that. I know that Virote is an out and out villain and has probably killed a few people in his time. But I can’t let him go down for something he didn’t do. I couldn’t live with that.”
“Bobby… what are you saying?”
“I killed her, Mobi – it was me that killed her – with that gun they found in the trash can, and no doubt with my prints on it.”
“But why? Why did you kill the one lady who’d been so good and honest to you? I don’t understand.”
“That’s the point, Mobi. She turned out to be the same as all the others – she deceived me and I couldn’t stand it. I came back from my AA meeting early one morning coz I wasn’t feeling well, and guess what? I found her in bed with Virote.”
“So you pulled out a gun and killed her? How? Where did you get the gun from?”
“No, I didn’t kill her then. I didn’t tell her that I’d seen her with Virote and bided my time. I was so angry and upset but managed to keep everything under control for a couple of days until I could find a gun. I knew a few Thai motorbike taxi drivers who used to hang around Tata’s bar and I asked them if they could get me one. As you know, everything can be obtained for a price.
“They found one?”
“And it cost a bomb, but I got what I needed. The plan was to catch her again with Virote and kill both of them. But it didn’t quite work that way. A few days later I caught them all right, and I made them both come out to the pool area where I planned to do the deed. But they didn’t believe I would shoot them. Virote said something to Tata and she translated. ‘He said you wouldn’t dare to do it.’ I looked at them for a long time and realised that they were right. They weren’t worth a life in a Thai jail. I shouted at Virote and told him to get out – quickly – before I changed my mind. He didn’t need a second bidding and he was off on his motorbike.”
“That was the bike Paiboon saw.”
“Yeah, for sure. Everything would’ve been okay if she hadn’t started to taunt me. I asked her if she had ever loved me, and she said of course she hadn’t – who would love a crazy old man like me? I asked her, in that case, why did she stay with me, and she told me that she was having her condo refurbished and needed somewhere to stay – and SOMEONE to pay for it. I was the perfect mug. That was it – I was in a total rage and barely knew what I was doing. I picked up the gun and shot her. Then I rushed to the main gate to shoot Virote as well but he was long gone. Then I very stupidly dropped the gun in the trash can. I just wasn’t thinking straight. Then Paiboon came round and the rest is history.”
“What are you going to do?” I asked, “Surely you’re not going to go back to Thailand and give yourself up?”
“No – nothing like that. Listen, Mobi I’ve written out a full confession and sent it to Joseph. I know he will do the right thing by Virote, even if he is an evil bastard.”
I had a terrible feeling in my stomach that something was about to happen.
“So farewell, old friend.” Bobby said, “Who knows, maybe we’ll meet again in the next life.”
The phone went dead and left me staring into the dark.
Later, Joseph told me Bobby shot himself right after he hung up.