LGBTQ (Fiction)

Bangkok Burning

By

This book will launch on Mar 1, 2021. Currently, only those with the link can see it. 🔒
Synopsis

Bangkok Burning is a brilliantly unsettling thriller about the dark side of desire. It is also something of a warped love letter to a place teeming with a rogues’ gallery of characters, for this is not just about one man’s struggle but a portrait of a whole city on the brink.

Closeted forty-year-old Graham Floyd, trapped by anxiety issues and an abusive marriage, finally escapes, running away from his lifeless existence on a smile and a whim, swapping dreary south London for the brutal chaos of Bangkok. He soon finds himself prey not only to Natasha, the transsexual nightclub schemer he loses his heart to, but in thrall to the slimy American millionaire Svengali who owns her. In a place where Graham is at last true to himself, will he triumph in a fight to the death to get what he really wants?

On the run



Graham knew he only had seven days, just a week to get

what he craved – a new life.

A cacophony of voices in pidgin English broke him out

of his trance, the grabbing, everywhere hands accosting him

as he neared the entrance. He was back, the tawdry plywood

exterior looking even poorer than he remembered illuminated

by the tacky red neon sign announcing Christie Cabaret Show.

Greeted by the same throbbing Thai pop music, beating in

time to his heart, the gutter stink of cheap perfume, the place

looked much smaller and far more decadent than it had in his

mind’s eye over the last few weeks. In his dreams he’d expected

to walk in and find her, poised, as if she’d been waiting for him,

but Graham felt cheated as he looked around frantically at the

other ladyboys. Though how he hated that word, the fact he

could possibly be desperate for one of their ilk. Staring out at

the braying red-faced punters, Thai girls curled serpent-like

around bovine white men, their eyes calculating every move,

brains computing every sentence uttered he saw a kind of hell

and of Natasha there was no sign.

‘God,’ he said to himself, feeling his muscles tense, mouth

desert dry, palms leaking sweat, chewing at nails so destroyed

blood was oozing out of them.

‘Can I help you, Sir?’ said not a divine being but a heavily

made-up boy.

‘Where’s Natasha?’ he said, wheeling around, scanning the

bar again.

‘Natasha?’ said the boy with a shrug.

He flopped down at a bar stool overlooking the ramshackle

stage, sighing as the first strains of Whitney Houston’s ‘I Will

Always Love You’ – one of wife Sheila’s favourites – struck

up and a ridiculously elaborately dressed ladyboy appeared,

lip-synching in all the wrong places.

‘Beer, please,’ said Graham to the boy who’d continued to

hover and he was gone with a practised and unnecessary shake

of his arse.

‘All right, babe. As one alcoholic would say to another, you

look like you need a drink,’ said a man to his right, fruity voice

cutting through the din, a gnarled hand seemingly weighed

down by a worrying amount of gold jewellery enveloping his

arm. ‘Great this, ain’t it.’

‘Graham, what’s yours? Though everyone calls me Gray as

in Mr Gray. Like my life,’ he said, turning to look at his new

best friend, taking in the yellowing skin which was the hue of

old newspapers, the gin-coloured hair.

‘Nigel… Nigel Monroe.’

‘Good to meet you, Nigel Monroe.’

‘You can live like a king ‘ere, dear,’ he said, voice a shouty

amalgam of Cockney and camp, raising a glass unsteadily with

one hand, patting the boy’s arse with the other. ‘These girls,

you see, know what they want and how to get it.’

‘Do you know Natasha?’

‘Let’s see, I’ve been here since 1990, so that’s twenty years

now. Twenty bloody years man and boy…’

‘Where were you before?’

‘Before? Was there a before?’ he said, looking out into the

middle distance. ‘All over. And you?’

‘South London.’

‘Don’t sound like it.’

‘I don’t have a strong accent. Guess you could say I’m well

read. Like my crosswords and that. But, come on, what have

you been doing here?’

‘Ah, the first rule of being an expat, never ask that question

‘ere,’ he said, shakily raising a hand. ‘People get offended. But,

you know, this and that…’

As he tailed off, Graham sensed regret, his companion staring

off beyond the nonsense on stage and into the darkness beyond,

as though wondering how he’d ‘lost touch’, so the phrase went,

with friends and family, with his roots, with who he actually

was, traded it all in for a seat in a dive bar in a city halfway

around the world. He didn’t want to bloody end up like that.

‘Listen,’ he said, his turn to put a reassuring hand on his

neighbour’s arm. ‘I need to find someone… a girl.’

‘A girl, eh?’ said Nigel, stroking his stubbly chin. ‘And who

might she be?’

‘Natasha.’

‘Ha, bullseye,’ he shouted above the din of the warbled bars

of Whitney. ‘But she ain’t no girl. Very pretty mind.’

‘So?’

‘And I, eeee-I, will alwayssss love you…’ came the racket

from the stage as if to mock Graham, the ladyboy’s eyes boring

directly into his, while Nigel had gone back to concentrating

on his real interest, the drink in front of him.

‘Very popular that one,’ the old man replied finally, as the

seemingly infernal noise from the stage ceased, a mischievous

smile lighting up his face. ‘I’d talk to Mark if I was you.’

‘Who the hell is Mark?’ he said, familiar knot of pain across

his shoulders, arms trembling.

‘Mark, babe, is the owner of this fine establishment… I told

her to engage with the fucking audience, why is she looking at

the floor?’ he said, pointing at the ladyboy nominally on stage,

for she clearly wasn’t interested, Nigel slamming another empty

glass down on the counter.

‘What’s it gotta do with you exactly?’

‘You’re speaking to Nigel Monroe of the Nigel Monroe

Dancers fame, West End impresario and choreographer,’ he

said, the boy refilling his glass, ushering away another empty

bottle of whisky from the scene like an embarrassment.

‘The Nigel Monroe Dancers?’

‘Those big telly shows in the seventies and early eighties. The

glitz was personified by the Nigel Monroe Dancers. Even made

it on Top of the Pops once,’ he said, spreading his hands as if to

reveal a name up in lights but there was only a dark emptiness.

‘I see,’ he said with a tight smile.

‘I’m creative director here.’

‘How about Mark? When can I speak to him?’ he said, wanting

to get back to the topic but wondering how someone barely

able to raise a glass to their lips through the fog of alcohol could

possibly direct anything.

‘He’s around. Probably out back getting hammered again.

But he’ll be back. Where else would ‘e be?’ said his companion,

patting Graham’s knee.

‘I don’t even know what I’m doing here. What the hell am I

thinking?’ he said, though he thought back to when he’d first

seen Natasha – her ample, perfectly symmetrical breasts spilling

out of a skimpy basque top, crimson lipstick accentuating

the lure of her mouth, unruly shock of blonde hair hinting at

sexual abandon. Before ‘seduction’ was just a word from the

crossword puzzles he obsessed over to distract him from the

paucity of his life.

‘Go on then, what’s your story?’

‘Story? There’s no bloody story,’ Graham said above the

thumping disco beat, mimicking the palpitations of his heart

he’d been suffering the last awful three years, since that day,

that bloody day, the bastard day of the accident that changed

everything. ‘I made the mistake of coming over here earlier

this year with the missus on my fortieth birthday, didn’t I.

Natasha, she was giving me the eyes… I couldn’t help myself.

We kissed. I can’t stop thinking about it. My life back home

in England, it’s so empty.’

‘What about the wife? Kids?’

‘Kids? I don’t even wanna go there, Nige. Another time.

But my wife, Sheila, she hates me. We haven’t touched each

other in years, bloody years. I sit driving my cab through the

night, those cold London nights, rather than go home. It’s

freezing on those winter nights with the pissheads getting in,

throwing up, running off but I prefer it to her cold, hard back.

So bloody cold.’

‘And where you meant to be now?’

‘Told ‘er I was going to Canada to see my brother for a week.

He emigrated there years ago but he’s got terminal cancer. All

the nonsense about life being too short but it really is.’

‘I know, babe. I know.’

‘Every chance the wife gets she tells me how crap I am, how

I don’t amount to anything. She blames me for everything. Is

it any wonder I’m having a breakdown? Doctor gave me these

pills but I haven’t taken ‘em yet. I feel enough of a bloody

failure,’ Graham said, waving the packet of happy pills in the

air, defeatedly chucking the box down on the bar, shoulders

slumping, blinking back tears, again.

‘Dear, it’s the way it works I’m afraid. Life I mean,’ Nigel

said, holding up a placatory hand as he did so. ‘Not being

funny but look at yourself in the mirror, look at me… no,

go on, I mean take a fucking good look. What could you or

I have that could possibly be of interest to these twenty-yearold

visions of beauty? It’s not our looks, it’s not our sense of

humour, it’s not even our great personalities.’

‘I know but…’ he said, looking out at the lithe bodies on

stage, then catching a glimpse of himself in the mirror behind

the bar, the image Nigel had warned him about – and he took

in the thinning blond hair only partially disguising the pathetic

balding pate, the craggy forehead lined with twenty-plus years

of worry, the length of his marriage, the darting, desperate eyes.

‘Graham, ain’t it. You need to hear this and we’re only going

to have this chat once. After this, like all of us, you’re on your

own,’ said Nigel. ‘It’s a so-called playground for white men, a

paradise if you like, but we’ve created a monster. Look around

you. I know for a fact most of these boys have several different

foreign boyfriends all unaware the other exists, all under the illusion

they are paying for little Johnny to go through university

or save his dad’s buffalo herd from foot and mouth.’

‘How about the girls then?’

‘Girls? They’re not girls. Don’t kid yourself. You’re down

here in the gutter with the rest of us. If that’s what you like,

though, do yourself a favour and be honest. Sounds like you

done living a lie.’

‘I’m not gay,’ he said, feeling like he was going to vomit out

his insides, head swimming, hating having to even utter the

word, that bloody word.

‘Love, no one’s judging you. Try to let it go,’ said Nigel,

placing a hand on his shoulder. ‘Be careful though, the ladyboys

are the worst of the lot, they have the accoutrements of

women, yet they think like men, they’re dogs when it comes

to sex, like us. But just enjoy it, if that’s what you really want.’

‘So what you saying?’

‘Sorry for the lecture but in a roundabout way, I’m saying

it’s even worse being alone, if you crave the touch of another,

tenderness, any kind of contact, what we all need. If you’re

alone, you’re just swimming with sharks,’ he said, watery eyes

looking older than time.

‘You had someone?’

‘I had someone and I was the one that ruined it. I ate up all

the ridiculous temptations like sickly sweets, I kept fucking

around and he couldn’t take it anymore. Now all I ‘ave is this,’

he said, wrenching the glass from the table, whisky slopping

down the sides. ‘I can’t get involved in the game now. It’s too

late for me.’

‘What about me?’

‘I don’t profess to have the answers. You want to give up

everything to set yourself up here but what are you really giving up?’

‘A life,’ he said but Graham didn’t really believe it. What life?

he thought savagely, looking at the box of Xanax on the bar,

hinting at a kind of existence that made him so anxious he was

prescribed pills just to get through each day.

‘These girls, boys a lot of them are interchangeable but they

can give you what you want. For a price. This is the East.’

Graham noticed a serene look come over the old man’s

haggard features as though he’d just spoken a sacred truth.

‘Okay but…’

‘Shush,’ said Nigel, finger to his lips, pointing him to a figure

behind the bar as he went back to his drink.

Graham took it to be Mark, lending an even seedier edge

to proceedings, something of the Dickensian rogue with his

ragged clothes, rat-like features, hair plastered down with

sweat, brow glistening as he frantically counted money – what

looked like the night’s paltry takings. He put the slender sheaf

of notes down, silently shaking his head at the dark, almost

empty auditorium.

‘Hi, I’m…’

‘Can’t you see I’m busy, mate,’ he said in a grating

Liverpudlian accent, brandishing a cigarette he was puffing

manically on.

Undeterred, Graham grabbed a stool opposite as the man

went back to his counting.

‘So what can I do you for?’ he said finally, looking up from

his small mound of notes and receipts, making eye contact for

the first time, though it seemed a worryingly dead-eyed stare.

‘You’re Mark, right?’

‘Who wants to know? Listen, mate, if you’re looking to

buy me out, the whole gaff is up for sale lock, stock and two

smoking fucking barrels,’ he said with a smile.

‘Nigel…’

‘What does that fucking divvy know? He keeps telling me

how to run the show and look,’ he said, waving at the emptiness

of the place, indicating the lack of talent on show, the

amateurishness.

‘I’m not that innocent,’ lip-synched one of the ladyboys,

completely out of time as she mimicked fellatio in what was

meant to be the gap between the words as if to illustrate Mark’s

point and Graham let out a nervous laugh.

‘You think it’s funny?’ Mark said, stubbing out another cigarette

in an overflowing ashtray.

‘No, course not,’ he said, beginning to feel he didn’t know

what he was dealing with, like he’d swapped south London for

the Wild West, where he didn’t know any of the rules, if there

actually were any.

‘I’ve got Nigel in one ear, Christie in the other,’ Mark said,

slamming a palm against his sweaty brow.

‘I’m actually here about Natasha.’

‘Natasha,’ spat Mark. ‘You really don’t want to go there.’

‘Well, I need to find her,’ Graham said, fiddling in his pocket,

meeting Mark’s gaze but there was nothing in the blank stare

to provide reassurance or even to register an interest, though

he hoped the two 1,000 baht notes he’d just placed on the bar

would change that.

‘Okay, if you really, really want to know,’ he said, spiriting

the notes away as he did so. ‘She’s in Soi Cowboy at Casino

Royale. She’s the star. Well she bloody would be, wouldn’t she.

That’s what I heard anyway.’

‘Soi Cowboy? And why’d she leave here?’

‘Soi Cowboy is another part of the jungle. Not too far in

a taxi. Get your guidebook out. She has to be number one,

numero bloody uno. That’s why the silly cow left. Felt she was

being upstaged. I think we’re done here old son,’ said Mark,

turning from the bar, disappearing into the blackness behind it.

It was the same trait he’d noticed in Nigel, that Bangkok

expats were only interested in someone that could do something

for them, otherwise you ceased to exist.

‘Soi Cowboy… Casino Royale,’ Graham repeated, relieved

to have a whereabouts, even if he didn’t know where that was,

he had a name and what a name, he chuckled, Natasha channelling

peak Bond girl, though he guessed there wouldn’t be

any flashy casino.

But as he prepared to leave, thoughts drifted back to the

image of Mark frantically counting money, calculating whether

it was enough to live on, and he feared he’d caught a glimpse of

his grubby, threadbare future. Walking out past Nigel Monroe

of the Nigel Monroe Dancers at closing time, he saw his eyes

were glazed over at what was unfolding on stage, a performer

stifling a yawn as the old man watched, waited, finally bringing

another half-empty glass to his lips.

***

Arriving back at the crumbling concrete block of a building

that was his hotel, vowing to continue his search the next day as

the city’s bars were now closed, at least the legal ones, Graham

caught a glimpse of himself in the cab’s rear-view mirror, a

white ghost in a lurid world. The irony of the hotel’s name

spelt out garishly on its grisly edifice making him laugh for he

felt a long way from the Paradise it promised.

He grabbed for the phone vibrating in his pocket, knowing

instinctively who it would be, forty years old and only one

person was ever interested enough to call, yet it was also the

one person he least wanted to hear from. Still, out of a sense

of what – Duty? Habit? – he picked up.

‘Where the ‘ell are ya,’ said Sheila.

‘Whaddya mean, where the hell am I?’ he said, knot tightening

across his shoulders.

‘Graham, I’ve spoken to your sister in law, you’re not in

Canada. I wasn’t able to contact you earlier and I was worried.

Where are you?’

He breathed into the phone, short, sharp breaths but the

words wouldn’t come out.

‘Well?’

‘Thailand.’

‘Thailand? I might have bloody known. You and those

bloody ladyboys.’

‘Just for a few days. I need to find myself.’

‘Find yourself. Find your bloomin’ self. You say you’re

anxious and you’re taking those stupid pills. What abaht me?

Graham, you’re not some teenager on a gap year. You’re a fortyyear-

old man with re-spon-si-bil-i-ties. The last three years ’ave

been hell and you’re running away. What would Emma say, eh?’

‘Emma? How dare you bring her into this, my daughter,

my lovely Emmy.’

‘Your daughter? I hold you completely responsible, you

bastard. And this… this Thailand, it’s all about sex.’

‘Sheil, I’m not looking for sex, I’m looking for love. Love

you dopey cow. How many times have you rejected me over

the years? Even Em said, before she… that I should get a life.

I want the touch of another human bein’ for God’s sake. I’m

not a monk. I can’t go on like this!’

‘You think I want anything to do with you? To even touch

you? Look at yourself in the mirror. Kissing you is like kissing

a toilet. You’re bloody disgustin’.’

‘Love, you ought to know there’s someone else,’ he said,

cutting her off, punching the wall, jagged pain raking up his

arm.

About the author

Robin Newbold is an author, journalist and freelance travel writer, whose work has appeared in Time Out and Gay Times. His third novel, brilliantly unsettling thriller Bangkok Burning, described by Boyz magazine as a "dark and exotic love story", was published in December 2020 by The Conrad Press. view profile

Published on January 04, 2021

Published by The Conrad Press

80000 words

Contains explicit content ⚠️

Genre: LGBTQ (Fiction)