[from Wall Street Noir, edited by Peter Spiegelman Akashic Books June 2007]

And the harlots will go into the kingdom of god before you: Matthew 21:31

Wall Street, New York, Monday, February 28, 2005:-

Magnus McKay, alpha male, writes: Lalita, teelak – that does mean ?darling? in Thai, right? – I miss you. I know this sounds ridiculous, but those two short moments we spent together have touched something inside of me. I?m going to bring you here as soon as possible, if I can?t find an excuse to visit Thailand next week (I?m working on it). Will you wait for me? Magnus.

He sits back in his executive chair to rub his jaw, then he stands up to look down on the ants bundled up against the cold on The Street.

He is not officially the senior partner of Weisman, Constant and Draper, so they had to give him the second corner office. Nevertheless, here we have power expressed through space: seven hundred square feet, two sets of windows. He?d chosen the crimson trimmings to go with his famous suspenders, the rest he?d left to the interior designer.

Musing: does his draft e-mail hit the right tone or not? Hookers are no different to everyone else, right? You adapt human resources techniques to make them feel special and if they?re good you give them a glittering prize to aim for. Not that Lalita?s performances in that seedy short time hotel had been in any way deficient. To tell the truth, he hasn?t stopped thinking about her for the past three days.

Reminiscing with twinges: she was beautiful, far too beautiful for that cheap go-go dive where he found her, quite by accident. He had been with Samson Lee?s main man in Thailand, Tallboy Yip. Normally, McKay would never take his pleasure so down market, for, as a frequent traveler to Bangkok, he had joined the best, most discreet and most expensive of the city?s brothels; but Yip, who these days was almost as wide as he was tall – with thick degenerate lips in a lived-in mug – owned low-life tastes.

McKay had been on the point of making excuses and going back to his hotel, when he?d seen her gyrating around that stainless steel pole on the revolving platform with all the other girls, her long black hair reaching to the small of her back. When she passed by the second time he deliberately smiled at her. On the third turn she deliberately smiled at him. Within the law of contract his offer had been accepted: they had a deal. He bought her a treble tequila because she asked him to.

His first thought had been to use her merely as an excuse to lose Tallboy, for he was not really in the mood, having sated his lust in a threesome the night before. He paid her bar fine after ten minutes of talking to her, then said goodnight to Yip with a lecherous smirk which Yip appreciated: uncontrollable lust was always an acceptable reason for cutting a drinking bout short. Magnus had let her lead him up a set of squalid stairs to the room, following her perfect body from behind. He watched her undress automatically in front of him; long hair covering dark-brown nipples when she stood up straight to face him; he noted that she was smiling with just the right amount of shyness. Should he have her after all, or should he merely pay her modest fee and leave without taking his pleasure? She saw his hesitation and went to work on him. Magnus McKay, veteran womanizer and whoremonger, had never known anything like it. He gave her a hundred dollar tip. She took it in the spirit it was meant: a symbol of his intent to return for more.

The next night had been his last in Bangkok and he really didn?t have time for her; but he made time for her anyway, between checkout and airport. It was uncanny, she seemed to know more about his libido than he did. It was magic, no other word for it. This time he gave her five hundred dollars: serious money. They talked briefly, like business people, about the possibility of her making regular visits to New York at his expense: say once a month, business class. She immediately undertook to get a passport, as if she had been expecting such an offer. They exchanged e-mail addresses. That was only three days ago.

He checks himself in a crimson-framed mirror behind his chair. He knew how Thai girls like her thought: a farang, a foreigner, a lawyer who works on Wall Street, a forty-one year old bachelor in perfect shape who could solve her financial problems and those of her family with one flash of his platinum credit card.

A fool would succumb to narcissism, remind himself what an incredible catch he must be for a Third World hooker (tall, slim, handsome, rich, charm-enhanced American); but Magnus knows better than that. Hunting is what makes him run. In work he hunts for money, in women he hunts for that extreme performance which you only extract from a girl who believes she has found the answer to her prayers and a meal ticket for life. Magnus would play that white knight role perfectly, and, if she played her cards right, he would certainly give her the golden handshake when he grew bored. Hell, he probably would solve most of her financial problems, how much could it cost? Twenty grand, fifty at most? In the old days he?d spent that on crack in a week, and she was better than crack. Another twinge forces him to wrench consciousness out of his groin chakra.

Resuming his chair, he clicks on send, logs off of his personal account with Yahoo Mail and, switching with ruthless discipline to his work mindset, returns to his business e-mail.

His sorting technique is primitive but appropriate for his practice: anything not concerning the Thai-Chinese businessman Samson Lee, no matter how grave and weighty, he forwards to his numerous assistants; anything touching on his master, no matter how trivial, he works on himself. He knew he was Lee?s slave, but so what? It was symbiotic. Lee simply could not survive in the U.S. without a lawyer of McKay?s cunning and ruthlessness, for he is perpetually hounded by all the usual suspects: FBI, CIA, DEA, Inland Revenue. Samson Lee thinks McKay some kind of blue-eyed magus, for Magnus always finds a way out of the apparently watertight traps these agencies lay for his client. Magnus has lost count of the jams he?s gotten Lee and his five sons out of, frequently risking his career. But that is the deal. Roughly thirty percent of the firm?s income comes from the Lee family and nobody, absolutely nobody in the firm so much as speaks to Lee?s secretary without McKay?s prior knowledge and approval. Samson Lee was the reason McKay got the second corner office.

Checking his solid gold Longines watch: seven thirty-five in the morning, which is the time Samson Lee likes him to start. In Bangkok it is twelve hours later, probably she?s started dancing already in that seedy bar, nearly naked in a G-string and flimsy bra – but sometimes she starts late. It is just possible she is sitting in an Internet caf� hoping to hear from him, and the salvation he represents. In response to more prodding from his loins, he logs on again to Yahoo Mail. Yep, there it is, a message from Naronsip Wiwatanasan, aka Lalita:

Yes, teelak means darling in Thai. Yes, I am waiting for you. Can you send me a photo?

A cool positive? McKay smiles. That?s exactly how he would have replied if he had been in her position. Clearly, she is a master of the game, like him. The secret to McKay?s success: he never fools himself: lawyers are whores too.

As it happens, his laptop includes a digital camera. He takes a snap of his face turned slightly to highlight the manly strength of his jaw, and zings it off to her.

Just then the laptop telephone beeps. This is McKay?s secret number which he gives out to no one except Samson Lee. Lee has an Asian addiction to video conferencing.

McKay?s only important client appears on the monitor, looking a lot more Chinese than Thai, with eyes so slit McKay wonders how any light ever got in there: a vast moon face with near-circular wrinkles, small flat nose, cheap off-the-peg sweater.

“I can’t see you,” Lee snaps. McKay switches the movie camera function on. “That’s better.”

“Good morning, Mr. Lee,” McKay says with a big, bright, yes-I-do-love-to-suck-your-bum smile. He tried using “Samson” once at the beginning of the relationship, but it didn?t work for either of them. Lee is very conservative in the Confucian tradition. His sons are his slaves and his daughters marry whoever he tells them to marry. The Lee?s are certainly a centralized family, if not a close one.

“You’re going back to Bangkok on the next plane,”Lee says.

McKay maintains self-control, at the same time as congratulating himself on his usual good luck. He is simply one of those hyper-neat guys who kind of constellate everything around them so that, even without his thinking about it, events conspire to conform to his will. The journey is twenty hours plus, and he probably can get on a flight that morning if he kicks ass. In other words, Lalita – naked – will be servicing him again in less than a day.

Keeping a straight face: ?Certainly, Mr. Lee. What?s the problem??

Lee looks directly into his digital camera. By making certain adjustments on his laptop McKay can enlarge those heavily lidded eyes until they almost fill the screen. He?s done this many times, out of curiosity. It never makes any difference. Even magnified as much as ten times, Lee’s eyes still have no life in them.

“It’s wet,” Lee says.

McKay pales somewhat and experiences a hundred-and-eighty degree mood swing. Maybe his luck isn’t so good today, after all. Wet?

“Well, now, Mr. Lee,” McKay begins.

“I already know what you don’t do,” Lee says.

This is a reference to something McKay witnessed at the beginning of their relationship. Shaken, he found a way to explain to Lee that it was very counter-productive for Lee to implicate his main and most trusted lawyer-fixer in that kind of thing. Lee had agreed, to his relief.

McKay doesn’t mind bending the rules for a benevolent billionaire, but he is not a sadist. Like every successful man and woman on The Street he believes in dictatorship by the filthy rich, but as a civilized American he sees himself as a benign despot.

Question: Who am I? Where do I come from? Where am I going?

Answer: I have not the faintest idea, my culture forgot to tell me.

Yes, he has a sensitive side. Both parents were pious Eng. Lit. teachers martyred by the functional barbarism of these times. Without respect, money, power, or direction they both hit the bottle. When they started having fist fights, they all knew the barbarism had won. His father jumped from a high window and his mother, unable to live without him, took an overdose.

In a nutshell, whatever kind of crook he was at heart, he was totally white collar. Whatever kind of crook Lee was, it was not white collar. That was why Lee was so rich: he took the barbarism all the way, sucked it all up. Even Magnus didn’t know how much dough Lee owned. Officially, only thirty percent of the trillions of trillions of dollars washing around the international banking system every minute was illegal drug money, but that was certainly disinformation designed to keep the sober majority from panicking. The true figure was probably more than fifty percent, maybe as much as seventy. Maybe everyone worked for Samson Lee without knowing it? Maybe that was why they would never legalize recreational drugs? Nobody loves Prohibition more than Al Capone. If not for criminalization, Lee would have been selling second hand automobiles and, he, McKay, would have been pumping gas.

“I still don?t do wet,” McKay says.

“The Spics have grabbed my son Hercules,” Lee says, as if relating an irritating but foreseeable occurrence.

McKay’s heart sinks: war. “I’m very sorry to hear that, Mr. Lee, but I don?t see -“

“Emerald Buddha Corporation,” Lee says. “Forty-nine percent. Sign before you get on the plane, or I’ll FedEx the docs to you in Bangkok if you prefer.”

McKay knows Lee is watching his face closely on his giant monitor which he hangs on a wall in his Long Island mansion. McKay knows he swallowed immediately on hearing the name. The EBC was Lee?s respectable front. Well, it was only semi-respectable since it smuggled illegal Buddha heads and other priceless icons stolen from Ankor Wat, but Lee kept it scrupulously apart from his other businesses. It was his ?face? for official America, and as such he?d been obliged to spend quite a few tens of millions on stock, which was not exclusively Khmer, but included some museum-quality jade pieces; they looked identical to world-famous missing items, once the property of the last emperor of China. McKay has hinted more than once that a good way for Lee to reward his extra, secret and professionally life-threatening efforts on behalf of his master would be for Lee to simply hand over a chunk of the stock of EBC. McKay knows Lee was keeping EBC for a rainy day, when he would have to ask McKay to go even deeper into hell as his legal representative. Well, today it?s raining.

McKay doesn’t know he?s been holding his breath until he breathes out: did the man say forty-nine percent? That was worth about twenty-five million, but the best of it was: the little firm actually made a very healthy profit, averaging more than sixteen percent net per year of stock value. Sixteen percent of twenty-five million was four million. That would almost exactly treble his average yearly income. He supposes he will get drunk or something to see him through Tallboy?s elaborate vengeance strategy, whatever it is. He sure will need a night with Lalita afterwards, though.

“Okay,” McKay says, “but why?”

“Because I can?t go myself and Tallboy is losing it. He has tactics but no strategy. He spends his time drinking whisky and screwing whores. He doesn’t have your discipline. You don?t have to do anything, he’ll take care of the wet side, you just have to tell him when to start, when to pause -” Lee himself pauses at this point to lick his lips – “and when to stop.”

“I see.”

“I want Hercules back alive, not sliced up like a lump of salami. If he’s dead or crippled his mother will never stop bitching.”

“I understand that,” says McKay. Then, as an afterthought: “Which Columbian did you grab after you heard they?d grabbed Hercules?”

“The kid brother,” Lee says and logs off. Secretaries would take care of the rest.

Off Soi 4, Sukhumvit, Bangkok, Monday, February 28, 2005:-

Lalita has the Internet cafe print a copy of McKay’s picture to take the clairvoyant monk at Wat Tanorn, then logs off. A little overwhelmed by the events of the past few days, she slumps in her chair to think for a moment.

It was her sexual frigidity that was getting her the sack from the go-go bar, before McKay burst into her life. Customers had started to complain. Her technique, pre-McKay, had consisted of apologizing that she was menstruating so would a hand job do for tonight? Usually she got away with it, counting on the customer?s guilt and pity, but some of the old hands had caught on to her and complained to the mamasan. The mamasan, a good Buddhist, had been kind in suggesting that Lalita was just not cut out for this kind of work: why not serve behind the bar? Lalita would dearly have loved to work bar, but there was the problem of her mother?s cataracts – she would be quite blind in three months if Lalita did not pay for the operation, her father?s heart condition, her younger brother?s boarding school fees. Girls who worked behind the bar made three hundred dollars a month, max. Girls who were good at selling their bodies made nearly a thousand dollars a month. Lalita wasn?t making anything like that, but not because she wasn’t attractive. She looked outstanding, everyone said so and at the beginning men had almost lined up for her. Then word got around she loathed sex, which was true. When she couldn’t avoid intercourse she would lay on the bed more or less inert and let him get on with it. Girls like her can make a man impotent, one of her customers had explained in exasperation.

?Listen,? the mamasan had said, ?there?s one thing you can do. It only works for girls like you, because any man with sense can see you?re no natural to the Game, to say the least. So you find the best prospect you can, give him everything he wants from you, and allow yourself to fall in love with him so you don’t have to keep faking it. Nine times out of ten the farang will fall for you too and marry you or at least take care of you and your family for a few years, which is a lot better than selling your body in a bar.?

How to fall in love? She shared a room with three other girls, all from Lalita’s home village near Surin on the border with Cambodia. Together they spoke in a dialect of Khmer, which made things seem cozy and happy. The three others knew all about Lalita’s problem with sex, for they told each other everything. After her little chat with the mamasan, Lalita had gone home to her friends and burst into tears. It was so frustrating. If only she could open her legs and screw with exaggerated abandon like the others, she would be able to save her mother?s sight and her father?s life and her brother?s future in less than a year. Nong, her best friend, realized that a radical solution was called for.

“I know what you’re going to say,” Lalita said, “you’re going to say aim for one special guy and give him everything so he can’t live without me, but I don’t have a clue how to do that.”

“That wasn’t what I was going to say at all,” Nong said. She took a DVD out of her handbag and inserted it into the DVD machine they had all bought together. It was Japanese hard porn, very professionally produced with unusual camera angles. As Nong had guessed, Lalita had never seen hard porn before. Of course, Lalita knew what other women did for their clients from the general conversation, but she had never actually seen a woman in action like that, really working the john. It made her feel sick and she told Nong to turn it off. “No,” Nong said, “you’re going to watch it to the end.”

“Now what?” Lalita asked when the movie finally ended in an unconvincing crescendo of groans and moans, the girl’s face dripping with his goo.

“Now, you’re gonna watch it and watch it and watch it, and you’re gonna make sure you get every move, and then you’re going to think how to refine it because you’re much more sensitive than that whore in the movie and a lot smarter so when you’ve got the idea you can easily improve on her, depending on the john’s personality. And then you’re going to ask yourself how many tequilas you need to do that. And then, because no way you’re going to be able to keep up that kind of performance night after night, you’re going to -“

“Find the right john and lock him in,” Lalita supplied.

“Right,” said Nong.

So it all pointed to luck after all. For luck you needed an expert. The monk at Wat Tanorn was from Surin; he spoke to her in her own Khmer dialect and liked to discuss the rice harvest and other agricultural matters. ?The sow under the house is pregnant,? she told him, ?due in a week?s time.?

Phra Tanatika knew Lalita?s mother and father, both of whom were highly respected: poor but devout and dependable. Nobody wanted to see her mother go blind, or her father die, if it could be helped. In other words, he had to balance spiritual duty with community service. He tried to use his gift of clairvoyance wisely, in a way consistent with spiritual evolution. Lalita never told him she was a prostitute: she didn?t need to.

“I’m having trouble making ends meet but I do work in a field where I meet farang men quite a lot and I’m wondering if astrologically this is a moment when I can expect to meet my Number One, or someone close to it,” Lalita explained.

“Tell me again, your date and time of birth?”

In Thailand everyone uses the Chinese horoscope, with some Hindu flourishes. Lalita was born in the year of the metal rabbit. This meant that although sensitive, smart and more than a little inclined to freak out when life got tough, nevertheless there was about her a persistence, even a stubbornness, which no one ever saw except in extremis. Then there was the hour of her birth, which in the young was at least as important as the year. Phra Tanatika was impressed with her dragon rising. It was tremendously well aspected at this moment and he told her so. But when she looked up at him, there was something else in her eyes, something that made him very sad.