I was offering you an introduction to Dr Siri Paiboun, the national coroner of Laos, and his adventures, by means of this splendid passage from the second book of the series. This offers a mix of most of the motifs…. ‘fraid that saying anything more will be spoiling your surprise, and we certainly can’t have that. The title is a hint….. now read on and it will become self-obvious….
~~“Is there any chance that I could talk to you about Yeh Ming? There are a lot of things I need to learn.”
“Why not? Why not? Come by tomorrow, around the second sunrise.”
“Where do I found you?”
“I’ve heard of them.”
“I’ll wait for you there.”
“When exactly is the second sunr…?”
His question was drowned out by the shrill blasts of the two refrees’ whistles. The sound cut through all the chatter. The four local dignitaries had arrived at the high table and were being ignored. The men at either end had taken out their whistles to shut up the audience. Between the blowers sat Comrade Houey and his tough friend who was, according to his name card, the Head of Provincial Security.
Even with all the whistling it was still some minutes before the chairs were turned and half-turned towards the stage and the noise had abated. One of the whistlers began a well-worn introduction to his boss.
“Respected comrade bothers and sisters, the northern Lao administration of the Democratic Republic is honoured to have you here this evening. It gives me great pleasure to introduce the holder of no fewer than twenty-eight distinguished service citations, two medals of…”
He went on. Siri whispered to his partner.
“Do you have any idea what this is all about?”
“Oh yes. Oh yes. But I came anyway. I wouldn’t have missed this for the world.”
“….. His Honour, Comrade Governor Houey.” The other three men at the table applauded. The audience didn’t, although one of the sacrificial cocks crowed in its sack. Houey stood and looked with arrogance around the room.
“Comrade shamans,” he began. “This morning, the King and Queen, the Crown Prince and several members of the royal family were transported, for their own safety, to the north-east.”
There were dissatisfied murmurs from the crowd. Siri now understood where his helicopter had gone. Houey didn’t pause for effect. “As you all know the man you referred to ‘King’ has been a normal citizen like you or me.”
“But without the respect,” someone shouted.
“Who was that?” Houey asked angrily.
“Sorry,” said the heckler in a softer voice. “It’s one of my malevolent spirits. I can’t stop his outbursts.”
Comrade Houey looked at the simple man who was calmly whittling a wooden doll.
“Considering the harm the royals have done to our beloved homeland over the centuries, comrade, your King can think himself very lucky he’s still alive. If this were Russia they would all have been in the pit long ago. You tell your malevolent spirit that.”
“He heard, boss.”
Some shamans tittered and Comrade Houey got the feeling he was being made fun of. He wasn’t a man who took abuse in any form. He had to bring these mumbo-jumbo charlatans in line. He was wearing a thick grey shirt, Lao style, outside his trousers. Through the material he took hold of the butt of his handgun tucked into his belt. Most of the guests noticed the gesture but didn’t appear to worry about it at all. Houey continued.
“Because of the influence you people have been allowed over the years, most of the general population up here is in fear of the spirits. This seriously affects their concentration when it comes to studying the doctrines of Marx and Lenin. There isn’t enough room in the simple mind of the rural poor for conflicting influences. The only spiritual stimulation they need is of a political nature. One man, one doctrine.”
It was the same rude spirit speaking through the whittler.
“Well, you said there can only be one politico-spiritual influence, one doctrine. But you mentioned two: Marx and Lenin. That’s confusing for the brainless peasants. Which one do they choose, a***hole?”
“Guards. Take this man…”
“It’s not me,” the man protested.
“…. And his malevolent spirit outside.”
Two men in uniform escorted the embarrassed shaman out of the room. He walked calmly but his resident troublemaker protested and blasphemed all the way to the door and beyond it.
“Pagan commie leaches. King killers. Organ suckers.”
When he was gone, Houey took a deep breath and continued.
To be continued….