The Russian thrust his pit bull into Sloppy's face shouting threats. The dog was straining its neck and snapping its jaws but you know ole' Sloppy just sat on his stool as un-movable as ever. Tending to the dead cigar stub between his teeth with a Zippo lighter, drawing on it until the cherry was half an inch long and thick as my thumb here. When he was satisfied he snapped the Zippo shut and pocketed it, still calmly regarding the dog, its slavering jaws just at the end of his nose, and reached for his water glass of ouzo off the bar.
Then like a ribbon spring unwinding his left hand shot out, grinding the cigar into the dog's snout. Jamming the red hot cherry into its nostril. Well, that dog started screaming in pain and fear, snapping its teeth blindly in the air around its burning muzzle and just going wild so that, that Russian could hardly keep grips on it. Then just as quickly Sloppy filled his mouth with Ouzo and spat it out, aerating it into the faces of both the Russian and his dog.
The Russian dropped the dog as he groped at his eyes and Sloppy just scooped that shuttering pit bull up without even getting off his stool, wedged his knee into its back and pulled on its forelegs, snapping its sternum like a chicken bone.
You can imagine that Russian boy was pissed, his dog just barely alive, scratching at the floor in some vain attempt to dig its death bed through the concrete. He was probably strapped, they mostly are, but it was no secret that Sloppy went everywhere with a pistol grip 4.10 short barrel automatic down the wide crack of his ass. So that shave headed little piss-ant slinked away cursing and swearing revenge in Cyrillic while Sloppy had his Ouzo refreshed.
You could never say Sloppy was a heartless man though, because as soon as that Russian was clear of the place he put the dog out of its misery with the heel of his boot.
That never was the start of snake situation but if you want to talk about Sloppy then first you got to know about this town a little bit. Not what it is now, what it was then. And before we get into that I think we might need another little round here.
No point in standing, take a load off. What are you doing carrying around that big bag for in this heat? Here try some of this.
You like it? That’s a kind of wine we make right here in the restaurant. It's a little loud at first but the price is right. Most come around to it.
Where was I? Yeah, this town. Don't buy into any shit about a bunch hippies coming down here and discovering these stretches of forgotten beaches. Before this place became the back packers' beach party that it is today, before the Russians came with their oil millions and before us old sex-pats shifted over here from the vast whoring grounds of Thailand this was the last hold out of the Khmer Rouge. Pol Pot himself wandered around right here with his wine bottles clinking against the barrel of his AK, stepping over the shattered bodies of anyone who owned a pair of eye glasses or a book.
Before you get to thinking that these people are so gentle or kind remember they massacred over twenty-five percent of their own in a few years time. Everyone you meet over the age of thirty-five has killed someone out of necessity. When I came here this was a hard place for the locals, trying to forget the slaughter and move on, to put together a life from the ruins. When I opened this place a dollar would buy you near anything the local market had to sell and I had Khmers lined up for a mile every morning looking for jobs, offering to work three for one.
I come here in '99 and there was only just a few foreigners but Sloppy had been here for some time already. His shop was open right up there, the sign had hung on a pole but fell over some years back; read Sloppy's Choppers with a whole row of mean looking bikes out front.
I thought to myself who the hell is buying those, no one had any real money then. Within a few years though there were Barang on a waiting list. It became a badge of honor. Riding one of those dangerous things was proof that you were here to stay. Not that they were sloppy done or nothing like that. No, the name Sloppy refers to the man himself. The bikes were things of sparse beauty and speed.
I could sit down here of a night and watch him. There were no lights anywhere apart from this street so his shop glowed against the darkness like it was on fire. He'd be out front welding in just a pair of tattered shorts so grease coated they took on the heat burnished look of a smithy's apron. Showers of sparks blowing up over him like some kind of goddamn mountain king forging weapons for battle. Shirtless, with arms like a wrestler's, twisting and shaping red hot steel. Working under the haze of flocking insects attracted by the rows of florescent lights. Barrel chested and covered in a sweat-dampened, filth-matted pelt of wiry graying hair. His gait, high and forward, like the strut of a lesser primate still unsure of its biped balance.
He'd work through the cool of the night amongst his piles of cast off steel and trashed plastic fairings. A series of cum-a-longs hung from the I-beam support of the ceiling hooked with large bore engines in various states of disrepair. He worked unshod, no longer feeling the slivers of steel embedded in the thick callused pads of his feet. When he sat to rest and stare out at the spare lights of the town or the dark night above he did so on an immense carved teak chair older than his own agelessness.
Some kind of sight. Another? Did you try the barbeque, get you a plate? Squeamish eh, well that’s all right, most people are a little, man's best friend and all, but it's delicious. Most foreigners who come in here are what I call sport eaters. You know, not really appreciative of the flavors, just forking it down to prove something and even then they won't go over to the spit, but the locals enjoy it. Just one more for me then.
This is how I first met Sloppy. When me and the missus opened the Dog-A-Que he followed the smell of roasting meat down the hill right here to this table. He was never squeamish, not the fragile type. I suspect he had done things rather worse than eat dog meat in his life. How he come to move from the pine forests and ice cold lakes of the Adirondack Mountains to these tropic shores of boom time southern Cambodia no one knows. If it was because of heart break or mental break down or in hiding or escape he never said. He never said too much.
Right, the snakes. That’s what you wanted to know about? A lot of people come here asking about the white cobras and Sloppy and what all happened with the Russians. There's even a page about it in some guide book now. Some will tell you it was Sloppy who got himself involved with the whole shit storm. Some say he was in on it right from the beginning. That he had the opportunity and the connections and that he did it for money. Some will say he was working with the Russians, others that he had a deal to sell them to the Chinese. I’ve even heard he was gunned down by his own family when the deal went wrong. People will tell you all kinds of lies if you’ll listen.
The first trendy place opened here was the Viper Pit, you heard a that? That was the Russians' club down on the beach before they all moved over to the island. Crazy fucking place. They brought a chef over from Moscow and had Russian pop music blasting on the sound system. The whole middle of the club was a pool with stripper poles sticking out of it and about 50 Khmer and Viet hookers swimming around, spinning on the poles and diving for money the gangsters and their women would throw in. All around the place terrariums were holding every type of poisonous snake in the world. The owner wasn't just a snake freak either, he studied the things, a proper herpetologist, knew his stuff.
So eventually anyone here with a serious snake jones like that is gonna hear about these white cobras and the cult, or sect or whomever you want to call those who worshiped them.
Buddhist? Yeah, of course they are, but Buddhist in the same way a black African is a Christian or a Bedouin a Muslim; with a very heavy dose of the old jungle magic thrown in. Buddhism is just a thin veneer coating over strong animist beliefs that go back here a couple millennium. Everything in life for these people is dependent on good ghosts and bad spirits. Hoodoo and superstition, a whole lot of appeasement to a whole gamut of gods and monsters working in the unseen world on the sins of the people and somewhere in that hierarchy sits Buddha.
So this group, these snake worshipers, had a pair of pure white king cobras stashed away in a cave somewhere that they only brought out once a month during the full moon. They got together up on the bluff above victory beach at an old ruin to milk the cobras'
venom straight into their own mouths and then spent the rest of the night in a mad sprawl. Hallucinating and conversing with the spirit world.
No, not Sloppy. He didn’t really have any interests outside of building his bikes and drinking ouzo that I can think of. Except his wife, yeah, he was interested in his wife. Unlike most of the boys that settle down here Sloppy didn’t hate his wife, far from it. She was only about a quarter of his size and half his age but she could lead him around like a puppy. Not to say she was a manipulative bitch either, like a lot of 'em are, just that she had sway over him.
Yes, sir, that’s mine over there tending the grill. The little fat one there. Just like a bowl of jelly, that’s how I like em. Mild in temperament and sweet as sugar on me that old girl is.
You see it was Sloppy's father in law that led this group. Local people are very wary of him, they say he has big magic and that he could command them snakes. That he fed off of their power.
Well guess what happens when the Russian snake collector finds out about this? That’s right, he goes to the old man figuring he can buy them. Why wouldn’t he? He's bought everything else he's wanted. The old man lived up there at the shop with the rest of the family in a warren of rooms that Sloppy was constantly building as more and more ever distant relatives came out of the jungles to live off the profits of his bikes.
No matter the offer the old man refused any knowledge of the snakes but must have started to get nervous about the Russians. Normally here a foreigner doesn’t have a cold hope in hell of intimidating the locals, they stand as one, and if you push you more than likely end up in pieces. But these Russians had everyone in their pockets so at some point Sloppy got involved transporting them snakes.
All this I know first hand 'cause the man himself told me sitting right where you are. Told me every word of it. There was a lot of whispering about a high bounty being put down on either the old man or the snakes since one would bring the other.
The night before it all went down Sloppy had a big plate of barbeque and three or four jugs of wine. At some point he asked me "Can you remember when you were a kid and you didn’t hate anyone? When the world was a place of equals and prejudice didn’t exist."
What exactly happened after that last night we talked is some speculation and some pieced together but it was more or less like this. The old man was snatched during his pilgrimage up to the cliffs. The Russians knew Sloppy had the snakes and he would come for the old man. It's not that they took Sloppy lightly, nobody did, but with the kind of fire power they had in that club only a mad man would go there with any other idea then making a bargain.
Sloppy rode into town from the caves where the snakes were kept and knew right away that something was off since all of them snake cult devotees had come down the hill and were milling about in the market dressed in their holy clothes like mendicants whose order had collapsed. He continued right on to the Viper Pit alone, didn’t stop to talk to no one, didn’t have to. He knew the old man was there and that the Russians meant to keep him until he showed up and handed over the snakes.
Another glass? We'll take another jug then. Leave your bag there, it's okay.
This here is when truth and myth and the impossible come together but there's nothing I can do about it cause this is the only story anybody has about what happened when Sloppy went through the doors of that club. He didn’t have any bag of snakes but he wasn’t empty handed neither. He carried his .410 in one hand and an old service .45 that he had picked up off one of the locals somewhere down the line to face a building full of hard nosed criminals, all of them packing automatic weapons of some make or another and most with the training to use them.
It wasn’t a gun fight of course, it was a slaughter. I know that club was dark and had these roving strobe lights that nearly drained the life of everything so that people appeared to move in slow motion. Sloppy never hesitated once he got through the door but put the .410 under the bouncers chin and proceeded from there.
People who were there said he took rounds constantly for a full minute. That he was so full of holes by the time he got to the back room his shirt was a tattered remnant and his torso like a side of pulverized raw meat. Those same witnesses say he never hesitated firing, reloading and shooting again.
Those who could escaped the carnage through the kitchen but of course the majority didn’t make it out. Guilty and innocent alike were either cut down by gun fire or bitten by one of the hundreds of snakes that had been released from their shattered tanks and covered the floor and filled the pool. A local cop who comes here regular told me the place was so full of blood there was nothing they could do to keep the dogs away for weeks after.
You feeling alright, heat getting to you? How about one more small one for the road?
So when every one else was either dead or had fled the place, when it was only Sloppy, the owner and the old man with a gun in his ear is when the story becomes a little abstract.
It seems the Russian still thought he held the trump and ordered Sloppy to drop his guns. The old man stood rigid, the deep bass of a chant rose up out of him and Sloppy fell to his knees in front of the two, his guns loosed, spilling what was left of his blood with the impact and went still.
Maybe the Russian thought this was a surrender or that Sloppy had finally run out of whatever it was that had taken him through those hundreds of rounds now lodged in his body. Either way he let the old man go to search Sloppy. About then the old man's chants rose up in volume through the still booming music and Sloppy's body began to jerk and wrench to an inhuman rhythm as he disgorged those two giant snakes in a long white twist of scales and fluid.
I guess in the end that Russian got what he wanted. A close look at a pair of the rarest snakes on earth before he died the only way a true snake man would respect as both of the cobras rose up, struck around the groin and pumped him full of death.
Christ, look at the time there. We need to start getting this place shut down for the night.
Sloppy? He's still up there making bikes. He didn’t die I guess. Not physically anyway but he hasn't talked to anyone since that night that I know off. He don’t come down here no more. Don’t make it to the bars to drink Ouzo, don’t come down from that hill at all and though I still see him up there of a night welding and torquing out old pistons he don’t sell no bikes neither. He just sort of haunts that shop now.
What bag is that?
Never saw it, maybe you left it in your room. You better run along now anyhow, I'm fixing to close up.
I said run along now. I didn’t see no bag.
Are you drunk? I said get, that’s the problem with all you kids you drink too much. Go on now, you don’t want the kind of trouble you can get in this town.