OPERATION SCORPION STING
By Arch Saxon
(discovered by Andrew Nette)
Arch Saxon’s Bastard Mercenary series, a mainstay of the Australian men’s adventure publisher Nasho Books Ltd., has had a bit of revival recently; a film version is in development. Whether or not the books will come back in print is a different story. Huge thanks go to author and Saxon collector, ANDREW NETTE, for digging up this gem from 1984.
His name was Thong. Thai for gold. But the only thing shining in the weak sunlight that streamed through the cell’s barred window was the glint on the six-inch shiv the lady-boy held in his manicured right hand.
He sliced the air in front of me, shifted his weight from foot to foot. He looked playful, but I could tell he was a professional. The way he held the makeshift blade, to cut not stab. How he kept his distance, stopped me from getting close. Thailand may be known as the “land of smiles,” but the only thing the look of glee on his powdered face promised was painful death.
Lefebvre cowered behind the hired killer. Unshaven and dressed in grimy prison fatigues, the Frenchman looked like just another shit-out-of-luck inmate of the Kingdom’s prison system, not the front man for an international Communist-controlled drug syndicate.
Thong made another cutting motion, testing me, gauging my reflexes. He knew he had me at a disadvantage.
I’d spent forty-eight hours in the company of two hundred men crammed into a holding cell barely big enough for fifty. Lefebvre and his bodyguard occupied one of several smaller rooms reserved for prisoners with money.
The only thing to eat had been rice porridge. I hadn’t slept, constantly on guard against the rats that came out at night, not to mention much larger predators. Worst of all, I was unarmed.
“Are you ready to taste my pretty blade, falang?” the lady boy cooed in the local dialect favoured by Thais from the Northeast, the poorest part of the Kingdom.
Thong and I stared at each other, two gladiators about to do battle. His eyes were wide and bloodshot, a sure sign he was on the cheap speed known as yah bah, used by most of the inmates. As if signalling our entrance into the arena, the cacophony of human noise from the surrounding prison reached fever pitch.
“You’ve got one chance,” I said in fluent Thai. “Put down the knife, let me have the Frenchman.”
Thong put a hand over his mouth, his hot pink nail polish standing out in the drab surroundings, and stifled a high-pitched giggle.
“Don’t fucking flirt, you idiot,” hissed Lefebvre in Thai. “Kill him.”
The Thai swung the blade savagely, missed me and followed up with a rapid criss-crossing movement. The blade bit into my shoulder, spreading a pool of dark crimson on my prison fatigues.
Emboldened by the sight of blood, Thong came in close, hoping to finish me quickly. He lunged. I careened the upper part of my body to one side as the blade cut the air where my face had been, grabbed his knife hand by the wrist and bent it backwards. It snapped with a sickening crack.
The shiv clattered to the concrete floor as the Thai fell to his knees, clasping the broken appendage to his chest. Lefebvre edged backwards across the floor until his back was pressed hard against the wall. I smiled at him, took Thong’s head in my hands and twisted it sharply.
It was a thing of beauty, the look of raw fear on the Frenchman’s face as I let go of the Thai’s lifeless body and picked up the shiv.
“Who the hell are you?” he said in heavily accented English as I rested the blade under his chin. His breath stank of nam pla, the pungent fish sauce the Thais used to season all their food.
“Name’s Bruce Kelly. Mates call me Boomer. You can call me your worst nightmare.”
“Please, I beg you, don’t kill me.”
“I’m not going to kill you, Froggie. That is unless you don’t tell me what I need to know.”
He nodded vigorously, his pores popping sweat. “Anything.”
“Start with the location of Scorpion’s Bangkok headquarters.”
“They’ll kill me.”
“Well, it looks like you’re shit out of options, because I’ll kill you if you don’t.”
“Not like Scorpion’s people you won’t—”
Most people think pain is the most effective interrogation technique. But in my extensive experience, one gets even better results from pain when it’s combined with surprise. Before Lefebvre could finish his sentence, I drew the shiv across his cheek, paused for effect, and then repeated the action on his other cheek.
The Frenchman dabbed his fingers on the wounds, put them in front of his face. His eyes bulged as he looked at the blood.
“It’ll be your ears next, then your nose. I’ll keep going all the way down to your balls.”
Five minutes later I had everything I needed. I threw the shiv to one side, stood, and turned to leave. A crowd of prisoners had gathered in the cell doorway: Thais, a Russian who’d beaten a prostitute to death, a couple of gigantic Africans arrested for passport theft.
They parted, wary looks on their faces.
“He’s all yours,” I said as I passed.
I could hear Lefebvre’s screams as the guard unlocked the rusty door to the holding cell and let me out.
Three days earlier, I’d been sitting at the bar of the Sunrise Club, the joint I own on Soi Cowboy. A quiet night, monsoonal rain and rumours of another military coup keeping all but the most persistent punters off the streets and out of the bars.
Not that I minded. Hank Williams was on the turntable—there’s no disco in my bar—and I nursed a cold beer. The lull also gave me an opportunity to concentrate on more important matters, like my newest waitress, Lek. She was a fresh-faced little thing from the North with an eye for making a buck in the big city and a firm arse you could bounce a five baht on.
Might have even tried my luck if it weren’t for the fact that I was already exhausted after a day of lovemaking with Elise, a German Lufthansa stewardess who always paid me a visit when she was in town. She moved her body with the finesse of a panzer commander manoeuvring across the Russian steppes.
I was contemplating taking down the “Happy New Year 1981″ banner in tinsel slung across the bar when a Western man walked in. He was older than me by at least a decade but still in good shape. His snow-white hair was cut military style and he wore an immaculately pressed tan safari suit. I hope he wasn’t trying to be incognito because he stank of old school spook.
The man glanced around the club and walked towards me. “Bruce Kelly?” he said with a Midwestern American accent as he shook my hand. “My name’s Rex Bannister, I have a proposition for you.”
“That’s a turn for the books. It’s usually me doing the propositioning.”
He didn’t smile. I drained my beer, burped, and motioned across the bar to Tiger Lily, my bar manager.
“Hey baby, get me another beer. Make sure it’s cold.” I looked at Bannister. “Want one?”
He gave me a curt shake of his head. I peeled the tab off the can of beer and took a long drink.
“I was hoping we could talk somewhere in private.”
I led Bannister to my office, a small back room that doubled as a change space for the waitresses, sat behind the desk strewn with papers, and swigged my beer.
Bannister sniffed, gave the room a slow one hundred and eighty degree sweep, as if trying to locate the source of an unpleasant odour.
“I hear you’re a veteran,” he said, his eyes on the centrefold of Miss April pinned to the wall just above my right shoulder.
“I’ve been around.” I re-adjusted the patch on my right eye, the legacy of a Russian-made land mine in central Vietnam in 1969. “You?”
“Korea.” He threw me a defiant look. “A real war.”
I shrugged and sipped my beer. He might have been a soldier once; now he was just another desk jockey employing others to do the killing. I’d met plenty like him, uptight, church going Langley types. I’d even done some work for one or two of them in the past, which I presumed was where Bannister got my name.
“Let me make it clear, I don’t like you, Kelly. I don’t like your bar, your drinking, and your taste in wall decorations. But you’re supposed to be good at what you do and we need your help.”
“Like’s got nothing to do with it, Bannister,” I replied between sips. “If I only took jobs from people I liked, I’d be a poor man. Just tell me what you want, and let’s see if we can do business.”
Bannister swept a pair of black lacy underwear off the wooden seat in front of the desk, sat, and gave me his best man-to-man look.
“For some time now, the US government agency I work for has been tracking the activities of a highly organised drug syndicate operating in Bangkok.”
I put my legs on the desk. “It’s not like Uncle Sam to give a toss about a few hopheads overdosing on cheap junk.”
“This outfit is different.” Bannister leaned forward. “It’s headed by a former Chinese Communist Red Guard, known only by the code name Scorpion. He’s smart and cunning, got links with the cops, the military and Bangkok’s Sino-Thai elite. Now he’s expanding his operation, making connections with Communist regimes in Laos and Vietnam, opening up new trafficking routes.
“Conventional policing activities don’t work against him, and he’s eliminated every agent we’ve tried to infiltrate into his organisation. Fortunately, we have a new President in the White House, one who understands the threat posed by Communism in all its forms and is prepared to take whatever steps necessary to combat it.”
Jesus, what was next, a rendition of the Stars and Stripes? I raised the beer can to my lips and gazed at Bannister.
“Let me guess: that’s where I come in.”
“Precisely. Find Scorpion’s Bangkok headquarters and take it off the grid using whatever means necessary. We’ll pay you twenty thousand US dollars, half now, half after the job is complete, plus we’ll bankroll any expenses. Totally off the books, mind you. Maximum deniability.”
“That’s a pretty tall order, mate,” I drained my beer. “Bangkok’s a big city. Any idea where I would start?”
“Scorpion works through cut-outs. One of these is a Frenchman called Lefebvre. He’s a veteran red, got his start organising dockworkers in Marseilles, spent time in Peking. Like all Europeans, Lefebvre has a weakness. Thai police busted him a couple of nights ago with an underage hooker in a short-time room off Sukhumvit, threw him into the main holding cell of Bangkok’s Klong Prem Prison to await trial.
“Nothing that a bribe in the right place couldn’t usually fix, had Lefebvre’s file not come to the attention of a corrupt but observant police colonel who knew how much he was worth to the reds. And to us. While the Commies negotiate his release, we’ve cut a side deal with the colonel for someone to pose as an inmate and get to him first.”
“And you want that someone to be me.”
“Correct. Get in there, make contact with Lefebvre and find out what he knows about Scorpion’s operation. Then do what you bastard mercenaries do best.”
“And what exactly do you think that is, Bannister?”
People like Bannister use the term mercenary as an insult. I wear it as a badge of pride.
I’ve been killing for so long it’s like a second skin. Got my start fighting Communist insurgents in the rubber plantations of Malaya in the late fifties; then I was in the Special Forces in Vietnam. Stayed until the end of the war, didn’t even bother going home to Australia. Now I sell the skills acquired in her majesty’s armed forces to the highest bidder.
I don’t have anything personally against the reds. Capitalist, Communist, I’ll happily kill whoever if the price is right. Christ, the whole stinking world can blow itself up for all I care, as long as I have a cold beer in my hand and get paid in cash before they push the button.
Lefebvre’s information put Scorpion’s base in an old warehouse compound on the banks of the Chao Phraya that runs through Bangkok before emptying into the Gulf of Thailand.
The warehouse was also the headquarters of an aggressive club of body chasers. A lot of Bangkok is still made up of tiny sois or side streets on which most of the city’s residents live their lives. But as the country’s economy has grown, freeways have begun to crisscross the city, and the number of traffic accidents has risen. Without much of an ambulance service, the job of picking over the carnage is left to clubs of young men, often affiliated to Buddhist temples, who prowl the city looking for accidents. Their exploits are depicted in grisly colour photographs of mangled bodies and twisted metal prominently displayed on public notice boards. Thai friends tell me the photos are meant to reinforce the Buddhist precept that all physical matter eventually decays.
Yeah, it’s strange, but no more so than a lot of the shit I’ve seen in Asia. I’ve watched a wizened old shaman possessed by a spirit so strong he could bend a steel bar. In central Vietnam, I’d seen a detachment of hardened Montagnard soldiers refuse to attack a hill they thought was inhabited by evil spirits. Hell, it’s no different to the Dreamtime stories told by my father, an Aboriginal bare-knuckle boxer who’d worked a travelling circus in the Queensland outback and died broke and alcoholic years after my white mother left him and took me with her.
Besides, a gang of body chasers was the perfect cover for Scorpion’s trafficking operation. What better way to move the drugs than through groups of young men who came and went at all hours of the day and night and moved across the city without arousing suspicion?
I thought all this as I stood on the deck of the sampan moored in the middle of the Chao Phraya, before turning my attention to the final weapons check being undertaken by my unit.
Getting to Lefebvre had been a solo mission. Taking down Scorpion’s headquarters required more firepower.
I’d come across O’Connell hiding out in Bangkok after he had killed a high profile Republican commander in Belfast. In addition to his favourite weapon, a World War Two British commando knife, tonight he packed an Israeli-made Uzi submachine gun. Compact, able to fire up to six hundred rounds a minute. Fitted with a silencer like all our weapons, it was perfect for the kind of confined space we were about to enter.
Tiger Lily didn’t just tend bar at the Sunrise, she was also a professional killer who’d learned her lethal skills from her father, one of Thailand’s most renowned hit men. That’s saying something in a country where having someone whacked is as acceptable a business practice as phoning a lawyer. She made the last-minute adjustments to her weapon of choice, an M21 semiautomatic sniper rifle, 20 rounds in the magazine, accurate over a remarkable distance.
I picked up my weapon from the deck, a Smith and Wesson M76 submachine gun. Yank Special Forces had used the M76 for covert ops in Vietnam, which is where I’d first come across it. The magazine held 36 soft point rounds, for maximum impact. A six-shot Colt Cobra .38 Special, also loaded with soft points, was in a leather holster strapped to my left ankle.
I had one other surprise for Scorpion. My boomerangs. Dad had taught me how to use them when I was a kid. Holstered in a leather bandolier across my chest, mine were custom-made out of lightweight carbon fibre reinforced plastic, edges inlayed with razor-sharp metal.
The game plan for tonight was simple. Tiger Lily would be stationed at the entrance to deal with unwelcome reinforcements, while O’Connell and I went in and killed everyone we could find. Then we’d lay some Czech Semtex, acquired through O’Connell’s contacts, set the timers, sit back and watch the fireworks.
I cocked the M76, looked at my team of killers. “We all set?”
“Roger, boss,” said Tiger Lily.
O’Connell flashed me a mouth of bad Irish dental work. “Aye, nay worries.”
The three of us stepped into an inflatable Zodiac tethered to the sampan. I waved to Tiny, the dwarf captain of the sampan, that we were ready. The red dot from the Krong Tip cigarette permanently hanging from his mouth bobbed up and down, indicating we were good to go.
We cut through the black, foul-smelling water, the purr of the Zodiac’s outboard motor smothered by the buzz of traffic in the distance. As we approached, I could see two guards on an old wooden dry dock leading to the warehouse. Tiger Lily dispatched both of them before they even had time to unsling their weapons.
A couple of minutes later, O’Connell and I were over the brick wall surrounding the warehouse and into the compound. A row of vans used to ferry corpses was parked on one side of the main warehouse. The accordion door to the warehouse was open. We entered, our flashlights illuminating a large storeroom full of wooden coffins and other tools of the body chasers’ trade.
Suddenly, the overhead lights bathed us in harsh fluoro. As I adjusted to the light, I saw at least two dozen men—Thais by the look of them, clad in pale blue body chaser uniforms that made them look like hospital orderlies—emerge from behind the neatly stacked coffins. They held an assortment of weapons: knives, machetes, crowbars, nunchakus.
The wave of blue rushed at us, faces snarling like rabid soi dogs. Instinctively, Connelly and I covered each other’s backs and opened fire. Short controlled bursts mowed down the closest members of the pack, but they kept coming, clambering over their fallen comrades to get to us.
I’d been in this situation before, a trench in Vietnam, firing at wave after wave of North Vietnamese regulars, until the barrel of my machine gun had glowed red hot. But ferocity is no match for firepower, and soon O’Connell and I were surrounded by a harvest of corpses.
“Bloody eejits, that was a turkey shoot,” said O’Connell as he slit the throat of a wounded body chaser.
“Something tells me that’s just the start.” I changed ammo clips. “Stay sharp, mate.”
We moved down the only corridor, checking the rooms as we went. More coffins, a makeshift morgue, sleeping quarters. The air stank of disinfectant and we could hear the roar of the crowd from a Thai kickboxing match on a black-and-white TV that had been left on.
A set of stairs descended into a large chamber. O’Connell and I paused on a mezzanine halfway down. It was like stepping into a science fiction film: rows of large stainless steel vats, tubs of chemicals, the hum of machinery. Wires and tubes ran everywhere.
O’Connell whistled. “Now that is a shite load of fucking scrag.”
I nodded. With this set up Scorpion could produce enough dope to keep every junkie in the States on cloud nine for a long time.
Two men in white lab coats emerged from behind the machinery. Lab technicians. The one closest had a pistol. His partner, a few feet behind him, raised a beaker of noxious-looking purple liquid above his head, ready to douse us.
I aimed the M70 from my hip and fired. The front of the first technician’s coat exploded in a mass of red blossoms. He stumbled backwards onto his colleague, who dropped the beaker, the contents spilling over his own head and shoulders. I watched with grim fascination as the man writhed on the ground screaming, the purple liquid eating his flesh.
“Okay, enough bloody bullshit.” I handed O’Connell blocks of Semtex and timers. “Let’s get this over with.”
We walked down the aisle, affixing Semtex to the vats. As O’Connell set his last charge, he turned to me and opened his mouth to speak. Before the Irishman could say anything, the top of his head disappeared in a crimson blur and he crumpled to the floor.
A huge, bald Oriental stepped out from between two vats, stood over O’Connell’s body. He was naked from the waist up, his torso a patchwork of muscle and steel surgically grafted to his skin. His right arm was completely metal and in place of a hand was a ball covered in sharp spikes. Shreds of O’Connell’s skull and tufts of his unmistakable carrot-coloured hair dangled from it.
I hesitated, transfixed by the horrific creature and the red star tattooed on his forehead. Savouring my fear, machine man’s beady eyes narrowed and his face split into a malevolent grin. The hairs on the back of my neck stood on end.
I snapped out of my inaction, raised the M70, fired. The bullets ricocheted off his metal hide. I squeezed the trigger again, heard a succession of metallic clicks. The magazine was empty. Before I could reload, a swipe from machine man’s metal hand twisted the barrel to one side like it was made of cheap plastic. Another swing knocked the gun from my hands.
The monster stepped toward me, raised his deadly appendage. I dodged the blow. The spiked ball missed my head by inches, tore a chunk from the nearest metal vat. Steam hissed angrily from the gash. The Oriental walked through the boiling vapour without flinching. Whatever surgical procedure he’d undergone had obviously robbed him of any sensitivity to pain.
As he walked machine man swung his metal attachment from side to side. Although I easily avoided each blow, I could feel myself tiring, while machine man, powered by an inhuman energy, showed no sign of slowing.
In an effort to lose my attacker and buy a few moments to regroup, I ducked between two steel vats, ran straight into a metal trolley loaded with glass beakers and technical equipment, tripped over it and hurtled forwards.
I don’t know how long I lay stunned on the ground. I heard the crunch of glass underfoot, felt one of my legs latched into a vice-like grip. The Oriental dragged me along the floor like a carcass being delivered to the butcher’s block.
He stopped in front of the damaged vat, released my leg. I waited for the spiked metal ball to reduce me to hamburger like it had O’Connell. Instead, machine man picked me up by the neck and lifted my face towards the jet of steam escaping from the jagged hole in the metal.
I tried to prise his grip off me with both hands, but it was like trying to manipulate concrete. The skin on my face burned as it neared the boiling steam.
The harsh female voice echoed through the laboratory. Machine man let go. I rolled, came up in a combat stance.
A tall, athletic-looking Asian woman stood on the mezzanine above me. She was clad in tight-fitting khaki cheongsam. Her long black hair was tied in a bun underneath a khaki Mao cap.
The Oriental giant stood still, stared at me, an attack dog awaiting his master’s next command.
She threw back her head and laughed. “I can tell what you are thinking, imperialist scum.” Her dark eyes narrowed as she looked at me. “You think it is not possible Scorpion is a woman.”
I had to give the reds points for cunning. No wonder Bannister and his people had had so little success locating Scorpion. I stared at the creamy white skin of the leg protruding from the split in her dress, the blood red lips, the pistol in the holster nestled in the curve of her hip, as I figured out my next move.
“For decades we have spilt blood in the struggle against capitalism. Then we realised, it would be simpler if we used the West’s own decadent craving for narcotics against itself. In this laboratory are the means to make that plan a reality, as your paymasters will soon realise.”
Scorpion looked around the room proudly before returning her gaze to me. “Lefebvre was a fool to lead you here, but you will not live to brag of your discovery.”
She barked something in Mandarin. As if a switch had been flicked, the machine man resumed his slow advance towards me. Out of the corner of my eye I saw Scorpion lick her lips in anticipation as he swung his metal fist.
I dove. The deadly wrecking ball sailed over my head, struck another vat. This time the metal fist remained lodged in the hole. The Oriental emitted a moist grunting sound as he tugged, a confused expression on his face, but he couldn’t dislodge himself.
Scorpion shrieked in anger, undid the clasp on her holster to reach for her gun. With no time to go for my pistol, I grasped one of my boomerangs and threw. She raised a hand to shield her face. The boomerang struck, severing it clean off at the wrist. Her lips trembled as she stared at the blood spurting from the severed stump.
I quickly switched my gaze to machine man, still straining to free himself. I pulled out the Colt Cobra, held it in both hands, aimed, shot the creature between the eyes just as he was about to rip himself free. Machine man swayed as the hollow point round bounced around his skull. He crashed to the ground with the meat and metallic sound of a car accident.
I raised the pistol to sight the woman, but she was gone. When I reached the spot on the mezzanine where Scorpion had been, all that was left was a delicate female hand in a pool of blood.
At least I’d left her something to remember me by.
I stood on the sampan’s deck, the orange glow from the burning warehouse receding in the distance.
Tiger Lily smiled, handed me a beer. Later, when I was not around to cause her loss of face, I knew she’d light incense and say a prayer for O’Connell at the rickety wooden spirit house on the pavement outside the Sunrise Club.
I pulled on the beer. The glow had almost disappeared beneath the skyline. I turned away and savoured the cool breeze of the headwind against my skin.
O’Connell knew the risks and I didn’t have time to mourn.
I had the rest of my money to collect.
Andrew Nette is a writer based in Melbourne, Australia. He is one of the editors of the on-line magazine, Crime Factory. His short fiction has appeared in Crime Factory: The First Shift by New Pulp Press and The One That Got Away, an anthology of crime stories released in 2012 by Australian independent publisher Dark Prints Press. His debut crime novel Ghost Money will be published by Snubnose Press in 2012. His blog, www.pulpcurry.com explores crime film and literature, particularly from Asia and Australia.