The Redeeming Shot

Finding the Truth in Thailand

by Mark Lloyd


Book Details

Investigating heroin trafficking is DEA Special Agent Gary Howell’s specialty, and Thailand in 1983, home of the Golden Triangle, delivers euphoria to 80 percent of the world’s junkies.

DEA Special Agent Gary Howell is assigned to a remote posting in southern Thailand in 1983. Living in a culture devoid of any Western trappings, learning a new language, and working under a clueless supervisor, Gary struggles—and then things go from challenging to deadly.
A chance reunion with a Vietnam War buddy on the resort island of Phuket ends when the friend’s brother is found murdered. Despite warnings from the Thailand DEA director not to get involved in the investigation, Gary feels indebted to help his friend find the truth. 
Digging and scratching, he obtains helpful information that allows him to piece together a picture of the killer—and now, how to find him?

Inspired by his own seventeen years as a DEA agent working abroad, including living eight years in Thailand, Mark Lloyd has written a gritty, realistic, but heart-pounding page-turner. The Redeeming Shot


Book Excerpt

Gary and the informant, Yai, sat at a plastic table in McDonald’s crowded restaurant waiting for the heroin dealer to show. Placed on the second floor of a commercial building in the heart of Bangkok, it was the only McDonald’s in Thailand. A few foreign tourists came and left, although the diners were, for the most part, chattering Thai teens. The greasy smell of hamburgers and fries hung in the air, an odor now strange but welcome to Gary.
   He looked around the room and noted one tourist, a youngish man with long hair, who sat in a corner and nursed a coke. Dressed in worn blue jeans, a tie-dyed T-shirt and flip-flops, his dirty, overfilled backpack sat on the floor. He probably played the guitar. At a nearby table sat three young Thai women, each working on a large order of fries while engrossed in endless conversation. Somehow their food had disappeared by the time they rose and went, still talking.
   Seated at a table with his back to the wall, Gary had an open view of the front door. Just off from the entrance, a staircase led down to Sukhimwit Road. He looked around as a crook would do, but couldn’t spot any of the police detectives spread out to cover him. A good deployment.
   A glance out the glass doors revealed a scene that brought a chuckle. There stood Ron, on the bridge walkway above Sukhimwit that ran from McDonald’s to a second-floor entrance of a Japanese department store across the street. Dressed as an Australian tourist, he feigned watching the noisy, squirming traffic below on the road. He had shed his usual cowboy boots and came outfitted in tan safari shirt and shorts, sporting sandals with calf-high white socks. Rimless glasses peered from underneath a face-shadowing bush hat. He leaned realistically on a           carved teak cane.
   Gary waited for it and received his reward a moment later. Ron took a few steps, displaying a well-practiced limp. It was a wonderful deceit. His authentic wardrobe and mannerisms could fool anyone from Alice Springs, and they allowed him to stay close to Gary if the flag were to go up. The guy was not wasted on undercover operations.
   Earlier, Gary, Ron, and the new agent, Brad Strickland, had met with the informant at a rented safehouse near the embassy. The narcotics police working with Ron did not attend since they didn’t want the informant to know their faces, in case he did not pan out. Ron briefed him on his role.
   “Everyone, say hello to Yai,” he said. “He is a walk-in who came forward with a heroin source. Yai, tell us what you have. And keep it in English.”
   “I met him two days ago at Victory Square.”
   Ron held up his hand to interrupt Yai. “Victory Square is where many Thai heroin dealers hang out, looking for business.”
   Yai continued. “His name Soong. He said has two units to sell for twenty thousand dollar.” Yai hesitated, probably digging for the right words. “He said must sell fast.”
   “What’s his hurry?” Ron said.
   “Don’t know. He not tell me and I not ask.”
   Ron nodded his head. “Okay. What will he pay you for bringing him a customer?”
   “He say three thousand baht.”
   “Here’s how we’ll do this,” Ron said, pointing to Gary. “Gary is the buyer. You will translate everything Soong says because Gary doesn’t understand Thai. So every word as you understand it, right? Change nothing that Soong says. Can you do that?”
   “No problem. Can.”
   Yai, viewing the door, spotted him first and tapped the tabletop twice with a forefinger, giving Gary a faint head motion. Gary watched as a tall Thai man dressed in dark blue pants and a light blue long-sleeved shirt paused at the entrance. He looked a bit confused, like someone making his first entry into a fast-food restaurant. Yai rose and waved at Soong to come over to their table. Soong entered at a slow walk and as he drew closer, Gary determined the man’s light beard almost concealed a large purple birthmark covering the right side of his face. He felt the man’s eyes on him as he sat down. With a nod, Gary raised his cup of coke off the table as a sign to the man to ask if he wanted one. Soong shook his head. So much for pleasantries, he realized. Let’s get down to business.
   Yai and Soong sat across from one another, their heads leaning in while they talked. Gary sat to one side, performing as if non-interested in a language he couldn’t understand. But his ears were fine-tuned to the conversation, screening out the surrounding noise to pick up every word. He detected that while Yai talked, Soong held his head still, but his eyes constantly scanned the room, screening every person who entered. The big man carried it all out without moving his head.
   From the conversation he monitored, Gary determined that Yai wasn’t comfortable with Soong. He could further tell the seller had a mean-spirit, for his every word seemed to come out with a sneering scowl, particularly whenever referring to him.
   “He say this place too busy,” Yai said. “Too many people here. He want you to follow him down to the parking garage. He say it’s quiet and we can exchange there. Take only five minutes.”
    “Tell him this,” Gary said. “Don’t worry about the people. No one is looking at us. I’ll put my money package under the table and he puts his package there, too. We check out the packages and then exchange. Then we get up and leave. This way I don’t have to worry he will steal my money.”
   Yai reported the details to Soong, who sat listening while he kept throwing looks at Gary. He noticed Soong showed no reaction to Gary’s mention of a robbery.
   He should have protested my comment and assured me all was safe.
   Soong kept at it, saying, “I won’t do it here. You must convince him to go with me. If you do, I’ll pay you five thousand baht.”
   “He says you must go with him to garage to get package. He will not bring it here,” Yai said.
   “I won’t go down there with this,” Gary said, patting his satchel. “I brought my money with me. That means I’m serious. He has come with nothing. If he wants to do business today he has to bring the package here.”
   Yai again explained the problem to Soong. Anger darkened his face and seemed to open a seam in his placid basaltic expression, through which Gary could see a trace of the molten lava beneath. His rose-shaped birthmark exhibited a deep purple. Soong looked at him for a long second or two, and Gary picked up from a self-confident alertness in the man’s eyes that he carried a gun.
   Uttering a direct, “Bai layo,” (I’m going) Soong abruptly pushed back his chair and rose to leave, bumping into a teenage girl as she carried her tray of trash toward the waste disposal. She dropped everything, including her half-full cup of coke, its plastic lid popping off on impact with the floor. Soong twisted back to view the wreckage behind him, and it was then that Gary saw the gun-bulge inside his right waistband under the shirt.
   Soong walked out, passing Ron on the bridge walk as he crossed over Sukhimwit Road. A few Thai police peeled off from their surveillance positions to follow at a distance. Gary, still seated with Yai, made eye contact with Ron on the walkway and shook his head. Ten minutes later, he and Yai walked downstairs and caught a taxi back to the safehouse on Wireless Road. Ron and one cop showed up a few moments behind them.
   “No go,” Gary said, handing the money satchel to Ron. “He wanted to take me into the garage in back. He’s packing a gun, so I believe it was a rip all the way. It’s getting so we can’t find an honest drug dealer any more.”
   Ron took notes while he interviewed Yai about his conversation with Soong. Twenty minutes later, one of Ron’s cops came by to report. “The suspect had his route well planned. He moved through Central Department store and jumped onto a motorcycle taxi at the back door. He got away in the traffic.  
   ”Well done. It’s hard not to admire good planning, Gary thought.
   After the Thai cops and the informant left, he talked with Ron and Brad about the CI’s performance. “Yai performed well in handling the guy. The crook kept needling him to convince me to go into the parking garage, but he stayed with what I said, even though he won’t pick up any reward money now. He gave me the straight translation all the way . . . except for one word he kept changing.”
   “What was that?”
   “The crook kept referring to me as a monkey. Tell the monkey this, make the monkey do that.” Gary laughed. “Yai didn’t tell me that, and I don’t blame him. Oh, and one other thing.” He thought back to the conversation between Yai and Soong. “I overheard the crook speak a few words in the southern dialect. It was funny, ’cause Yai once asked him to repeat a word, and then the guy caught himself and gave it again in the Bangkok dialect. I think the word was ‘market.’”
   Ron and Brad both gave him glass-eyed stares, a don’t-know-what-you-mean face.
   Gary smiled. “In the south they often cut off a word’s first syllable. They speak fast anyhow, and that little habit keeps the conversation moving.  I’m betting the crook is from the south. Who knows, but if I see him again, I’ll remember him. He’s huge for a Thai, and who could forget that purple birthmark splashing his face? I’ll mention this to Komkrit in Hatyai because we may have seen this guy in the Satun shooting we had a few months ago. According to Komkrit the the crook there had a birthmark, too.”
   “I saw nothing on his face but that three-day beard,” Ron said.
   “Up close the unshaved bit didn’t cover up the grape juice stain on his right cheek.”
   “He didn’t give a phone number, did he?” Ron asked. “Because Yai said he doesn’t know the guy except for what he told us earlier.”
   “No, he didn’t give out any information at all. Remember, we didn’t get along all that well. After I let him understand I wouldn’t allow him to rob me in the garage he took off in a huff. Don’t worry, it’s the nature of the game. You’ll find out who he is when you arrest him,” Gary said.
   “Hey, it turned out all right. The main purpose of this exercise was to test out Yai—arresting a low life with a couple of units was just the means to an end.” Ron smiled. “I doubt we’ll ever see him again.”
   Ron was several things, but prophetic, no.


About the Author

Mark Lloyd

Mark Lloyd served in Vietnam as an Army Green Beret. He spent two years as a police officer with the Los Angeles Police Department before joining the Drug Enforcement Administration as a Special Agent, where he worked for 31 years in a variety of domestic and foreign assignments, including eight years in Thailand. He is also the author of Dragon Chaser: A Memoir. Mark makes his home in Bentonville, Arkansas.