James Aaron Parmelee

Sample Reading from Novel Bangkok Affections

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A Novel by James Aaron Parmelee

 

CHAPTER 1

On Thursday our director of studies, Mr. Tyler Keyhorn, was nowhere to be found. In the beginning, this was no great cause for concern, as Tyler’s nocturnal gallivanting in seedy Bangkok venues was not only well-known and discussed but generally overlooked by the school’s administrators, whose staff at times benefited from his correction of their English writing jobs. These indulgences invariably kept Tyler away from his seat of power for at least a little while―though most of us ‘ajarns’ (the Thai word for ‘respected teachers’) had no complaint since we could carry on doing the jobs we well enough knew how to do without any special comment or directives from the DoS.


Actually, old Ty was not a bad sort, but you may be certain that no one in Our Lady of Ubiquitous Tears Boys School was going to go seek him out if it was not necessary. It really was not wise, unless one were a glutton for extra work which the school had no plan, nor indeed any intention, to pay us for.


Come the following Monday, however, with the DoS still not turning up, a feeling of panic began to churn up everywhere, rather like one’s manic father (if you had one like that) not beating the daylights out of you for so many days you actually thought you were missing it! Anyway, the administrators summoned us teachers in one by one on our breaks to see Sister Silapa, who was trying to find out who knew what about Tyler’s disappearance. (It didn’t help that Tyler was surely one of the few people on earth who refused to buy a mobile phone, either.)


On the way to my own appointment, I passed directly alongside two of our school’s three famous statues of the Virgin Mary, and was reminded instantly of the aptness of our school’s name, as one of them was again bleeding its red liquid copiously. These three statues seemed to have been erected deliberately to highlight the extraordinarily large and ornate buildings (other than the chapel) which graced our sprawling, indeed university-size, campus―with one statue standing in front but well away from our so-called ‘small’ conference room, a recessed statue fronting the gymnasium to the right of it, and the third one standing in front but well away from our impressively large conference room just right of the gymnasium.


Imagine then, if you will, all three of these statues (each cradling Earth in her arms) bleeding tears at the same time, which has actually occurred here more than once. ‘Our Lady of Ubiquitous Tears’, indeed! Funny, though. This now famous ‘bleeding’ seemed to have started in earnest only about three years ago―reportedly after late evening visits by an airy ‘apparition’ gowned all in white.Nevertheless, seeing today the steady dripping of blood (as it appeared to be) from this Mary’s eyes, I found myself wondering foolishly enough if that might really be some sort of omen about our DoS, Tyler―when from among the horde of suddenly freed Thai student interns, emerged ‘Bik’, who was one of my third hour level five students.


Now, Bik, as he likes to be called, is normally the self-appointed clown of the class type, bright enough, though immature―who’d clearly rather manufacture a laugh than take anything seriously from a doddering old Westerner like me (I’m all of thirty-seven). On this occasion, though, I was startled at his rather nervous expression, and by the fact that he suddenly grabbed hold of both my legs to impede my progress, then pulled my head down to his level, whereupon he proceeded to whisper to me as though his very life were in danger.


“Ajarn Iggie, I have to talk to you now! It is really important. I afraid. I know... teacher, I must talk.”


Totally distracted by all this, and fearful myself of arriving late to see the Sister, I was not at all impressed with this new antic on my class clown’s part. In this state of mind, I’m afraid I was a little short with him as I said, “Bik, let go of my legs! I’m in a hurry! If you want to talk, I’ll listen to you before class starts on Wednesday. Now let go!”


I then struggled to free myself, whereupon, startled at my sudden vehemence, he let me go―though I would have sworn he was about to cry. Momentarily puzzled, I nonetheless hurried on to the Sister’s office and soon forgot about everything except my concern regarding the whereabouts of Tyler, while wondering what antics of his own that lofty one might be up to.


Sister Silapa’s office was about as one might imagine, fairly large, with course papers, files and exam sets cluttering her desk, and class schedules and other bits and pieces she must have thought important pasted or pinned onto all the walls of the room. The Sister, who was not a nun (like some others on our campus) but was part of a Catholic order that did not require the wearing of a habit and veil except when teaching, was thus dressed in common clothes as usual on this occasion. She was, we teachers supposed, in her early fifties, of medium height and slightly overweight build and had a few gray streaks in her short but never professionally styled hair. Her face, nonetheless, was kindly―deceptively so, as was her cultivated and smooth speech, which also, be sure of it, incorporated a tone of authority that implied dire consequences should one foolishly fail to heed her instructions or meaning. In short, she was the true ‘academic’ of our school!


“Sit down, Mr. Fylchworthy,” she said, taking, it seemed, a near-smiling relish in lingering on the tones of my unfortunate surname (mispronounced, of course, as it usually is). “We’d like you to tell us what you know, or what you think might have happened, regarding the matter of Mr. Keyhorn not coming to work since last Wednesday.” Saying this, she waved to one of her office staff to bring me a glass of ice water. This was the treatment reserved only for honored guests, I later learned, or for special occasions only. Somehow, it didn’t make me feel that important, at least not then.


While the girl was pouring my water and I was collecting my thoughts, my ever sharp powers of observation revealed that Father Bernardo, who normally occupied one of the inner offices behind the Sister’s, was also present in the room, and had seated himself just back of the Sister. He now turned to face me, while also moving as nearly alongside the Sister as he could, so as to enable himself, one might infer, to communicate something speechless with her if he wished to.


Philippine born Father Bernardo was dressed now, as were all the parish priests except on special occasions, in black shoes, black trousers and a black clerical shirt with a tab collar through which a white strip was inserted that formed an impressive square at the base of his throat.


 Nonetheless, for all of his impressive and mildly intimidating vestments (at least for non-Catholics like me), the good Father represented quite an enigma to many of us teachers, being fast of speech (with scarcely an accent, I might add) and rarely the good listener that it seemed one would expect a priest to be, at least on hearing confessions. Clearly in his late fifties, a bit red-complexioned and sporting an obvious bald spot near the front of his head, Father Bernardo always presented a rather surly ‘in your face’ expression regardless of circumstances or emotion. Of full but not overly full build and slightly taller than average for an Asian, his appearance implied considerable physical strength, though he carried a miniature Missal (or prayer book) around with him in his specially tailored shirt pocket at all times, or so it appeared.


He also had a reputation among us teachers, unfortunately, that he would not be so proud to learn about: namely that of thief. Well, perhaps ‘thief’ is too strong a word, but not to hear some of the city’s better language institutes tell it, who outsourced their own teachers to us only to lose the best ones to Father Bernardo’s ‘better offer’ (and Sunday School approach, if I might express it that way). Indeed, lawsuits were going on now, and this pattern had been repeated far too often to be a matter of chance. Despite this, few of our less informed teachers actually felt any sympathy for those outsourcing schools, as they usually looked on them contemptuously as being agents preying on gullible teachers―something we veterans knew was very far from being the case, generally.


In any event, Father Bernardo now cleared his throat preliminarily, and said to me, “We understand you were out with Mr. Keyhorn the night before his disappearance. Is that true?”


“No, Father,” I replied. “We had in fact discussed going bowling together last Wednesday evening with a couple of friends we know, and I had even brought in my own bowling ball the day before. It’s still in the bottom of my locker. However, at just before 2:30 p.m. on Wednesday, he stopped by my classroom to say an emergency had come up, so he had to call off the date. He didn’t say what the emergency was, and I just went in and taught my class and never thought any more about it until later on.”


The solemnity on the part of both Father Bernardo and Sister Silapa following this account seemed to suggest that they might be somewhat skeptical of my response, but they did not challenge it, nor did they pursue the matter any further. 


“Do you think Ty” (Sister Silapa now used Tyler’s informal name) “Do you think Ty was unhappy with me or any of our priests, staff or teachers? We really are beginning to miss him.”


I reckoned she probably was, and I assured her and the Father that as far as I knew he was quite happy at our school. Having then answered a few more rather innocent seeming questions, I was preparing to take my leave and return to my students when Father Bernardo ordered me point blank, “Unless you have some objection, Fylchworthy, I would like you along with another teacher to pay a visit to Mr. Keyhorn’s apartment this evening, and see what you can find out.” I readily agreed, you may be sure, as my friend Bill Yolkaby and I had already discussed doing exactly that.


According to plan, therefore, Bill and I left school at 4:00 p.m. to pay our visit. After finally locating Tyler’s apartment building―which was a bit ‘narrow’, one might say, having as it would turn out only four apartments on each of its four floors―Bill and I entered almost guiltily, as one might wisely do when calling on one’s boss without an appointment. Climbing the stairs, we found ourselves nearing the second level of the building when something that sounded like a gunshot exploded and echoed, and after that we heard a door slam, hard. A Thai girl cursed in a loud voice. Bill and I nonetheless continued up the stairs, but rather cautiously and quietly.


When we reached the third level of the building (Tyler lived in apartment 301), all in the building was silent, except that as we were approaching Tyler’s door, a Thai girl in apartment number 302 opposite his came rushing out screeching almost incoherently, “Tyler not in! Tyler go out, never come back. I think he meet girl. He good man. I like him very much. He help me English. You go away now. Him go out.”


As we nonetheless continued to approach Tyler’s apartment despite her entreaty, she grew almost frantic. “Him out!” she screamed. “You not bother him room. Him not home. Him out.” Naturally, we knocked on Tyler’s door anyway, while she stared angrily at us.


“What is your name?” Bill asked her.


 “My name Wan. Who you?”


“We’re teachers, too,” I said, “We are worried about Tyler and we’re trying to find him.”


“Him not here,” she said softly now, almost in tears, and suddenly went back inside her apartment, assuming probably that we would be going away then. Oddly enough, something about her appealed to my curiosity just then, as well as to my physical senses. Her door closed softly when she went back inside.


After that, from somewhere in the building, it was impossible to tell where, we heard the sound of what seemed to be a child, or maybe a woman, crying very softly. Not unsurprisingly, we had received no answer to our knock on Ty’s door, and though not expecting to find it unlocked, I nonetheless reached my hand forward to see if the knob would turn. Seeing this, however, Bill, who was a former New York City cop, grabbed my arm firmly and ordered, “Use a handkerchief. We don’t know what has happened and we don’t want to mess up anything that might be evidence for the police.”


“Good thought,” I acknowledged with awakened apprehension, so using my handkerchief I tried the knob and, unbelievably, it actually started turning! The door seemed enormously heavy as I pushed against it with the knob, however, and through the blackness something that smelled very bad began to make me feel ill, very ill indeed.


That is all I remembered until I woke up in a hospital bed the next morning.

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