Click here for part one.
I was furious. Not only did I feel outsmarted, but Viner had befriended me, and betrayed my trust. He has stolen my book, and being a micro budget traveller at this point, was counting on reading to pass some of the duller moments. The near nightly ritual of longingly watching friends go out to places that were well beyond my meagre financial resources.
Five hundred baht is not a lot of money, but it was to me at this time. It could have paid nearly a weeks rent or bought endless amounts of precious water needed so desperately in the tropics. Just recently, I had been delighted to discover a water machine hidden in the bewildering market across the street that sold a litre for 2 baht, if you brought your own bottle. The book has cost quite a bit as well, I thought, as I tallied up the damage Viner had done to me.
The more I thought about Viner the more curious I became. Here was a man of obvious intelligence, with all the hallmarks of an upper class education and upbringing. What was a man of his pedigree doing, wandering around the backpacker's slums scamming travellers for the equivalent of $15 dollars each? I started to get very interested in finding out as much as I could about this mysterious man.
I began to wonder if he might be a wanted criminal, on the run for executing high level confidence tricks among the English elite. Perhaps he was being pursued by Interpol, hiding amid the labyrinthine streets of Bangkok, forced to lower himself to conning backpackers to survive. Or maybe he had already worked the richer areas of the city, and was resting on his laurels, keeping his skills sharp, waiting for the heat to die down.
Also considered was the possibility that he was a murderer, affiliated with some kind of mafia or a human trafficker. He could have been operating a boiler room - the possibilities were endless. It came across my mind that he could be a very dangerous man. Sometimes, it's better not to inquire too deeply into the reasons a man chooses to live in the nether regions of Asia.
Admittedly, the trick he had pulled on me was a crude one, and upon reflection, I felt a fool. But he had done it so smoothly and effortlessly that I was sure he was capable of much greater feats in his unusual choice of occupation.
Nonetheless, I had a great deal of confidence in my own abilities, and was determined not to be outsmarted again. I had, by now, ceased to be angry and was driven by curiosity. I wanted to know his story.
I went out to look for Mike, who I hadn't seen since I had met Viner. Perhaps he could provide some clues. It turned out that Mike had gone, and his urgent business downtown had actually been another one of his futile attempts to re-enter Burma, and return to his beloved Mandalay.
I decided to go to the guesthouse where I knew Viner had stayed. In Thailand, to check into any hotel, a passport is required; your details are taken down and are sent off weekly to the police. This was the law. But rules in Asia are seldom followed, especially in Bangkok, whose underbelly of crime was rotten to the core. If one has the money, anything is possible, legal or not.
I walked past the festering mattresses lining the alley leading to the filthy guesthouse that Viner had previously occupied. On entering, I was greeted by the owner who was working the desk. I politely asked if I could take a look at his registry.
“Why?” His eyes were suspicious.
I relayed the story, which seemed to amuse him greatly. He cackled with delight at my determination to track down a man for a mere 500 baht. Giving me a big grin revealing blackened, uneven teeth, he tossed the registry my way. I eagerly opened the tattered book, flipping through the yellowed pages, and scanning for Viner’s name. There, about half way down, on the last page I found his entry, and more importantly his passport number!
I was delighted. Borrowing a pen and scrap of paper, I took it down. I examined his signature, a dignified, looping script carefully penned with a steady hand. I committed it, as much as I was able, to memory. My broken toothed friend was looking on, interested now and eager to help. I asked him if he remembered this man, and described him. He confirmed that he did.
I proceeded to extract the following information from the owner. Viner had checked in with an expired, British passport, which had the corner cut off. The excuse he gave upon checking in was the same story he had told me. He had been carrying a simple plastic shopping bag, and nothing else. He had been a model, quiet tenant, and caused no problems. He had left no information about where he was going, but he had mentioned that his previous lodgings had been on Rambutree, just off Khao Sahn road.
The owner seemed delighted in these proceedings, and was of eager assistance. It amused him to no end that this unusual guest, staying at a place that only the down and out frequented, turned out to be a confidence trickster. He wished me the best of luck, and I left with his jabbering laughter following me out the door.
Armed with this new information, I proceeded to walk to Rambutree. The bus was too expensive, as saving two baht could buy me a litre of water. I didn’t mind, I was pleased to have a project, which cost me nothing, to occupy my time. I strolled down Samsen Boulevard over canals, and past the shops in the sweltering heat. The canals in Bangkok were always of interest to me, as they simultaneously appeared to be choking with both pollution and life. Buying a small steam bun for lunch, I stopped on a bridge. Tossing in a few crumbs of bread and watching the surface explode with hungry fish vying for a meal, I marveled at the sight.
Walking on, I passed what I had nicknamed “The Mysterious House of Purple Stained Cats”. A place owned by an ancient woman, selling unknown dried substances out of large jars. There were always at least a dozen cats outside this establishment, patched with inexplicable purple blotches. I never did find out what she was selling.
Eventually, I reached Rambutree, and started checking guesthouse registries. Most of these guesthouses were staffed with young, overworked and underpaid Thais. They were unconcerned at my request to see the registry, and would hand it over without trouble. I scanned for Viner’s name, and passport number, finding nothing in the first few guesthouses. This didn’t take too long, as I knew his check-in date at Broken Tooth’s. It was easy to follow the entries, and select the appropriate page. However, as failure mounted, I started to get discouraged. Perhaps he had other passports.
The heat was draining me, as I finally stood before a guesthouse that I knew was infamously populated with heroin junkies. I hesitantly walked in; passing a few of the emaciated, hollow eyed denizens, and opened the registry that was sitting on the abandoned counter. And it was there, that I found the name and unmistakable signature of my target, David Viner.
“What are you doing?” shouted the voice of the owner who was returning to his station. He slammed the registry shut. I raised my eyes to see a seedy looking Thai man, who was eyeing me with suspicion and distrust. A few of the residents who were slouching in the lobby looked up listlessly. I attempted to explain my plight to no avail. “I don’t give information on our residents, get out!” I knew that there was no arguing. This man knew full well knew the nature of his guests, and both he and I didn’t want any difficulties. Any further pursuit along these lines could get me in deep trouble, and easily in over my head. There was a distinct probability that this guest house was owned by, or had direct connections with the Thai mafia. There was nothing to do but leave this distressing environment. I walked out, dejected, with the empty eyes of the hopeless inhabitants silently following me.
The trail had gone cold, and there was nothing for it but to splurge, and treat myself to a frosty beer Chang to reward myself for my efforts, and quell my thirst in the unrelenting heat. I had known for a long time where the cheapest beer on the street was sold, and turned heel to the alcoholic equivalent of the heroin guesthouse.
This place was usually busy, and I was forced to share a table with one of the many drunks who could be found here from opening until closing. Sipping my beer, my new companion engaged me in conversation, and I started relaying my tale.
“Viner!” an angry voice exploded from the table beside me. I looked up to see a decrepit, crippled old man, seated in a wheelchair with fire emanating from his suddenly lucid eyes.
I had found another victim of the notorious David Viner.
Check back for Part Three - The Confrontation