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He was almost in tears, the plump little German tourist with the bumbag. He stood at an ATM on Bangkok’s Silom Road wearing green Bermuda shorts and a floral shirt, breathing the nighttime stink of traffic with his mouth open; people hurried by with handkerchiefs to their noses, cars and taxis idled with windows sealed tight against the noxious blue air, but nobody spared him a glance.
Perhaps they saw the two men with him, one on either side. Dressed in anonymous polo shirts and unironed slacks, they had cops written all over them.
The one on the right, the one with the handcuffs poking out of his pocket, was almost a dwarf. He held a deck of credit cards in the bowl of his hand, angling them to the light and frowning. He read the name off the top one and passed it to the man.
“Ok, this one first.”
The little man wiped his face with both hands, took a deep breath, and punched the keys. The ATM beeped and gave out a thick wad of notes. The cop took it and pushed the card back in with his thumb.
But the machine refused to give any more.
“He’s hit the limit.” The second policeman was taller and had the flat nose of a boxer and the melted face of a smallpox survivor, or perhaps an acid victim.
The dwarf pushed the second card in. “What’s the limit on this one?”
The little tourist’s Adam’s apple bobbing in the sweaty creases of his throat. “Five hundred.”
Four times the machine gave them notes. When the last card was out the short cop counted the takings, machine-fast, counted again, then peeled three notes off and passed the rest to his companion.
The moonscape cop thrust the roll deep in his pocket. Then he struck the tourist in the face, hard, with his open palm.
The little man staggered backwards into the belly of the first cop, who pushed him off and brushed his paunch as if removing a stain. He stuffed the three notes into the pocket of the man’s floral shirt and then squeezed his cheeks painfully between finger and thumb.
“Where are you staying?”
A cheap hotel not far away, notorious for its lax guest register.
The cop gave him a push between the shoulder blades. “Go back to your hotel. Tomorrow morning go straight to the airport. We don’t care where you go after that, but don’t let us catch you back here.”
The little man’s lip quivered. He clasped the short cop in his arms. “Thank you, thank you!”