Part 9 - Debt Collector's Child

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"SKYLAB, COME ON,  we have to get going."

"Kev I'm in the toilet, give me some peace."

"You've been in there for twenty minutes."

Kev heard the bolt slide back, a red-eyed Skylab stood in front of him. "What's the rush?" she asked.

"Have you been crying?"

"I feel so sorry for all the families that have lost babies, it just got to me. I'm okay now. Where are we going?"

"We are going to see where Nong Nam's father worked," said Kev.

They arrived at a seedy-looking office, guarded by a short-haired beast. Straining at his heavy chain, his front legs looked as if he was swimming while his rear legs pushed him to strain the chain to breaking point. Skylab jumped behind Kev, who was inching his way to the open front door.

"Christ mate, good job he is secure, he would take someone's head off," complained Kev, guarding Skylab and his offspring.

"In our line of work we have to be careful who comes in," said a portly, unshaven man.

"Don't you lend to everybody?" asked Skylab.

"Nah, only those who pay us back," the ugly fiftyish slob grunted his laugh.

"Anyway, thank you for agreeing to see us. We need to ask you a few questions about the sad situation regarding the baby, Nong Nam."

"I'm saying nothing on record, ok?" said the slob.

He wiped dribble from his chin as he hunted in his shirt pocket for a crumpled cigarette.

"Please don't light that. My wife is pregnant," warned Kev.

"It is none of your business what I do in my office," he glared across the battered steel and glass desktop, his grimace changed to a lop-sided smile, "But I just roll the fag around my mouth without lighting it, I've been trying to give up for months. Anyway, I'm not telling you about my financial business. Unless you need a loan?"

"We need not get in your debt. We are not interested in your business. You can smoke five-hundred Baht notes for all we care. But, we need to find the baby and its father."

"What we do is needed by many people in this town," suggested the slob.

The cigarette went back in the pocket.

"Maybe, but we are not here to talk about loans to gamblers," Kev said.

"Tell us what happened the day he disappeared," Skylab tried to hurry him up.

"But, it goes no further?" he asked.

"Whatever, what happened?" a frustrated Kev said.

"Customers call me, me! So, why did this guy want to see my collector?" he asked, shaking his head.

The loan shark looked first at Skylab, then Kev.

"Just, tell us, what happened?" Kev was now losing his temper, Skylab gently placed her hand on his thigh.

"This flash git ignored me, he went straight to Sila. Put his arm around him, gave him something and led him outside."

Slamming his opened palms on the glass top of his desk.

"And what then?"

"Because I'm a polite man, I waited for Sila to return. Then I asked him what had occurred?"

Much gentler this time.

"Go on?"

"He looked all vacant, dopey bastard, and said the man could buy and sell me and went out."

His fists were clenched, Skylab expected they would crash down on the glass top any second.

"And that's it?"

"Well, yes, cheeky git. He is probably setting up in competition to me."

He rifled his shirt pocket once more.

"We don't think so. There is no need to light your cigarette. Thanks for your valuable time."

A deep sigh escaped Skylab, "What a pig of a man." Kev was nodding.

The next short trip across town took them to the open-fronted poster store. Half-finished cotton sheets littered the pavement. Framed artworks stacked against the walls. The smell of acrylic and paint spray made Skylab cover a gag. Unlit cigarettes smelt better.

A Coffee Investigations business card was handed to a man wearing multi-coloured overalls. He immediately dropped it on top of a pile of paperwork. A second card was handed to a sprightly girl, looking too young to be working. She too was splattered in reds and blues. She studied her card. The male's mask was swinging under his chin. He was unhappy; something had disturbed him from his work. As he picked up a spray can, he turned away.

"No, it's not finished yet," said the sprayer.

"Sorry, what is not ready?" asked Skylab.

"Your bar stuff," he grunted.

The young lass held the designer's arm.

"It's not their bar."

"All falangs look the same to me. As do Issan bar girls."

"My name is Kev, this is Skylab, she does not work in a bar or does she come from the north-east. We are here to ask a few questions about your boss. Sorry to disturb you, we won't be too long."

Kev forced himself to remain calm.

The man picked up the card, and this time he looked at it. Putting it back with an air that said, 'what's it got to do with me'.

"Sorry about him," the girl smiled. "He wanted to be a fine art artist, now he just paints beer bottles and pool tables on white cloth. The posters are often late as he wants to add a 'Da Vinci' touch," she giggled in a girlish way, and then asked, "How can we help?" Kev didn't waste time he went straight to business.

"We have a few questions to ask you about Khun Jak's disappearance."

The girl pulled the artist's arm, at last getting his attention.

"What mood was Nong Chikaboo's dad in when he left here?" Skylab looked at her, guessing she was probably mid-twenties, much older than she first appeared.

"Just like normal. Chatting about upcoming work, whingeing about the jobs we are behind on. He was his usual self."

The artist grunted his agreement.

Kev then asked, "Did anything out of the ordinary happen? Strange customers? That sort of thing?"

A muffled, "No, just complaints about late work," came from the now masked man. The girl piped up, "A new customer got taken into the back office. I do not understand what they were talking about."

"No mention of work somewhere else?" asked Skylab.

"No, but one thing caught my eye."

"Really, what was that?" brightened Kev.

"Usually when people visit us, the boss gives them a rag to clean their hands. As you can see, it is pretty grubby around here."

"And?"

"It looked like the boss had been given something. He then returned it. It looked like a small leather sack. Probably nothing, but I wondered?"

The girl was deep in thought, replaying what she had seen, making no more sense this time.

"Thanks for your time, we'll let you get on with your work. By the way," said Kev with a beaming smile, "A falang bar owner, who looks just like me, has just got out of his car, he is coming here," smiled a satisfied Kev.

Skylab and Kev left the artist to deal with, "Where the bloody hell is my job?"

Debts, debts, Votes, Votes!

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