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Around The Sun: The Kidnapper

Steve Harrison tells of the horrible Nigel, whose "marriage'' was not what it was reported to be.

He was small and looked like a teenager, slightly built and spotty faced. He had facial hair of the kind we always called bum fluff, the hair that grows before you start to shave regularly. A high wind would probably have blown him right off his bar stool.

What I noticed most was the way he breathed in beer, glass after glass, in copious amounts.

Let's call him Nigel. He had the ability to make me never look him directly in the eye. It was dislike at first sight. On our first meeting he told me his life story in ten long and excruciatingly boring minutes. He been married to a Thai girl but had divorced her. He had been running a bar in Siem Reap, and was now married to a Cambodian girl whom he had bought in a village.

He gabbled on and on, like a clock that would not stop ticking. He was tedious. I recall I was blunt with him. When he told me his age, I think he said 21, I said I thought he was insane, leaping from one marriage to another in just six months, and now broke and unemployed in Asia.

You can be rude to some people day-long and they don't get it, do the decent thing, and leave you in peace. Every time I sat down he would sidle up, tell the same dumb story and ask the same stupid questions. I would be talking to my drinking buddies and he would slide over and slime himself into the conversation. Nobody liked him. He was just one of those guys who turns everybody off.

The day after I met him for the first time he asked if I would give him a long term room rate. I agreed. Hell, we were in business. I didn’t have to like the guy to take his money, US$80 a month payable in advance. He agreed but he said he didn't get his money till the middle of the month, in twelve days time. I said OK. I've always been a sucker for the underdog.

And the day after that my wife Lan, who ran the bar, came to me with unpaid bills. In three days our "guest'' had accumulated a bar and food bill in excess of US$300, and that did not include the cost of his room. When I showed Nigel the bar tab he assured me that he had a good job, teaching English for two hours a day at US$8.00 an hour. Making US$16 a day and spending US$100, plus accommodation, represented something of a problem. "But I get money in two weeks,” he assured me. “My family are sending money to me.''

I told him I was stopping his bar tab.

That evening I seethed as I watched him pour one beer after another down his neck. “Nigel,'' I told him “I stopped your bar tab and that meant from today. From this moment on, no more credit at the bar.''

"How about just one more beer?'' he asked.

“Listen…” I said. I'd had a couple of beers myself “…you’d better telephone your family tonight and get them to wire you the money immediately. This hotel is six stories high. If you don't settle this bar bill tomorrow I shall tie your legs together, carry you to the roof and personally throw you off .''

He laughed. "You're kidding, right?''

I ordered a whiskey, straight, slugged it back and pointed to a sign hanging over the bar “Steve must not drink whiskey” it said in bold lettering. “You have till tomorrow.''

There was something about this guy which brought out the worst in me.

Jerry was in the bar. He was always a welcomed guest. He had lived in Cambodia for a couple of years and was a mild-mannered Buddhist. He was always good for a couple of beers and some interesting tales.

Nigel managed to sidle into the conversation that I was having with Jerry. The boring little runt repeated the same story. He had a wife in the room upstairs. She rarely came down.

Then there were a couple of people, begging at the door. Not an unusual sight in Phnom Penh. Nigel said they were his wife's parents. Her father was blind, deep inset hollows where his eyeballs had been. He carried a begging bowl. His wife had a tiny baby at her breast and she was pointing out her husband to every white person in the vicinity.

I was shocked. "Man,'' I told him "you have taken on quite a responsibility. Blind father, mother with a young baby.''

"They are Cambodian shit,'' he said. "I don’t give a flying ---- about them.”

Jerry gave him a quick lecture on responsibility and nobility, pointing out that he was a guest in the country.

"They are Cambodian shit,'' he repeated.

Jerry grabbed Nigel by the throat, pushed him up against the bar and started to throttle him. Nigel struggled. Jerry flung him across the bar and he landed on a table. Then Jerry was on him again, pinning him to the floor.

One of our security guys then came to break to break the fight.

The parents had come to collect US$1,000 which Nigel had promised to give them for their daughter.

I sent a security guard with him to the Western Union office, there to collect money. He returned and paid for his food, drink and accomodation. All ended OK for us financially.

A few days later it was reported in the local paper that a western guy had kidnapped an underage girl from a village, then locked her in a hotel room in Phnom Penh. The police were looking into the matter.

I was lucky. I never saw Nigel again.

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