BETWEEN A ROCK AND A HARD PLACE…Difficult Decisions and a Bloody Ending for Philippe

| July 24, 2012 | Comments (0)

Weeks melted into months and months dissolved into years as my Burmese assignment came to an end. After nearly five years in this “golden land” I was ready to move on and the prospect of being posted to Indonesia was  exciting for me. Philippe had also been told  his Burmese pipe dream was over and that  he was to be re-assigned to Afghanistan, a hardship post by any standard, but an appropriate place for “James Bond”, I thought.

What Burma possessed in generous amounts, Soviet-controlled Afghanistan had in spades – intrigue, drugs, a culture of pedophilia, the possibility of trafficking in priceless carpets and other exotic items. The possibilities were endless. Philippe would be in his element.  Although we parted on speaking terms, having more or less patched up several squabbles, and promised to keep in touch, I concluded that Philippe was the most devious, dishonest, amoral  person I had ever met. One final incident sealed his fate in my book.

Shortly before  our respective departures from Burma, I was put in charge of the office, the Chief of Mission and the Deputy Chief  being out of country on official trips. As Number Three in the pecking order I had control of the operation for a week. Included in my responsbilities was safeguarding  the keys to the boss’s office. These keys were under my personal control since the office contained so-called sensitive files that included confidential dossiers on all foreign staff assigned to the country.

One evening I was working late. Just as I was about to close up shop Philippe entered my office and in a matter-of-fact way asked if he could borrow the keys to the boss’s office since he had left his jacket there the day before. Thinking there was no problem with this simple request, I gave him the keys telling him to bring them back as soon as possible as I was about to leave.

What would to me have been a matter of retrieving a jacket requiring no more than a minute turned into  an eternity. I waited and waited; looking at my watch I realized half an hour had passed since I had given Philippe the keys. About to leave and search for  him, I glanced out my office window and saw Philippe loaded with an armful of files headed for his car. Rushing down to the parking lot, I confronted him and asked what he was doing and why he had taken these files from the Chief’s Office. He stared at me in stoney silence clutching several dozen dossiers. I noticed their labels contained the names of senior expat staff including my  own !

I ordered him to return the files to the boss’s office telling him that what he was doing was irregular and unauthorized. These files were to be read only on a “need to know” basis  – what reason did HE have for looking at them anyway – and under no circumstances were to be removed from the Chief’s office. Ignoring my request, he drove off with both the keys and the files.

The following morning when I arrived at the office, I noticed an envelope on my desk. In it were the keys to the boss’s inner sanctum and a note saying “Sorry for the “misunderstanding.” I hope there will be no hard feelings. See you for lunch at my house at 1 PM? ”

When I arrived at Philippe’s house he was all charm and contrition. He said he knew he was wrong. He begged my forgiveness. He appealed to my also being a gay person saying that we  homosexuals had to stick together in this cruel homophobic world. Finally he said he thought somebody in the office was out to “get him” and he thought that perusing these files would shed light on the  malefactors who were cooking up this “plot.”

Realizing I was dealing with a crazed situation I said nothing and dismissed the incident telling Philippe not to worry about it. My own craven reaction was based on self-preservation. Were I to report him to the boss, I would end up being chastised, and perhaps more, for what could have  been regarded as a dereliction of duty; it was obvious that I should have accompanied Philippe to the boss’s office instead of trusting him to go there alone.

Six months later I was happily settled in Jakarta in what promised to be one of the best assignments of my career. And if interesting work and a fascinating country were not enough, the biggest prize of all was meeting the person who would become my life partner. I felt truly blessed.

Things were not going so well for Philippe in Kabul. His antique peddling partner, Bill, arrived in Jakarta unfolding a tale that was straight out of … James Bond. Philippe had indeed settled into Kabul and wasted no time immersing himself in sex, drugs and antiques. The corrupt, wheeler-dealer society he found himself in suited Philippe to a T. The only problem was, a new player emerged as part of the game; that player was the KGB. It turned out that the  drugs he was taking, the sex he was having and the antiques he was trading were all supplied by Soviet agents. After he had dug himself deeply into a pit of no exit, he was confronted by the  KGB honcho in Kabul who made Philippe an offer he couldn’t refuse: work for us as our agent, the Soviets  demanded, or be exposed and reported to the UN.

For better or worse, Philippe refused the kind Soviet offer and reported himself to the UN chief, hoping to pre-empt  the KGB’s damning him and have the case dismissed; not an easy task, given the photos Philippe had  been shown that documented his activities in living color. His tactic did not work. The UN Chief was a cautious, idiosyncratic Austrian, Count Stefan von und zu Himmelberg-Schaffen Taxis who had more pressing work. It seemed that  Count Taxis’s main concern in heading up the Kabul office in this war-torn capital was to personally design custom-tailored uniforms for the local staff, the  Afghan drivers and messengers. The sartorial result of his creative efforts was a strange blend of Central Asia and Third Reich Wehrmacht with a splash of SS thrown in for good measure..  In spite of his penchant  for military uniforms, Taxis was a  martinet coward at heart and hadn’t the guts to have a face-down with the KGB and give Philippe a fair hearing. The good Count caved to the KGB threat and threw Philippe to the wolves.  After months of deliberation, the wheels of the UN bureaucracy churned to a halt and Philippe was expelled from the United Nations. Suddenly his life’s career was up in smoke.

Landing in Bangkok, that sybaritic last resort of the bad and the beautiful, Philippe proved that his warranty had not run out, that his nine lives still had mileage. Well-practiced through his wheeling-dealing in Burma and Afghanistan, Philippe had developed new navigating  skills of dissimulation and charm, and wasted no time talking his way into a high-level job with Catholic Relief Services, a prestigious non-governmental organization that was helping the poor in Thailand and neighboring countries.

Things happen in three’s, they say. First Burma, then Afghanistan, now Thailand. The pattern was carved in stone. Once again Philippe had established himself, this time  in the easy luxury of Bangkok, playing the best of both worlds against each other. By day Philippe was the earnest humanitarian giving fund-raising speeches at luncheons for well-heeled matrons, tugging at their heart strings, projecting  pictures on the screen of starving children huddled in slums looking out to the be-jeweled audience with begging eyes. By night Philippe plied the sois (lanes) of Patpong looking for rough trade and drugs. Before long his handsome visage became a familiar sight in the Thai underworld. “Here comes James Bond, the guy who likes to be tied up”, the male prostitutes would whisper.

Philippe’s antique business was also  thriving as never before. In Burma the artifacts had been the real thing, not fakes. Now in Thailand skillfully made imitations were peddled to rich foreigners who were convinced of their authenticity after seeing “certificates” of provenance provided by the National Museum attesting to their ancient pedigrees. Ofcourse, the certificates were fakes, printed in a factory in Chinatown that specialized in high quality forgeries.The possibilities were now limitless and business boomed. Whereas previously the high -priced antique trade had been limited in quantity due to the small supply of authentic statues, now volume sales were possible with near-perfect counterfeits.  When Philippe traveled he no longer flew economy or even business class. Joking to a friend he said, “It only costs a little bit more to go first-class !” When he discovered  Air France Concorde service, Philippe avowed that “the Concorde was the ONLY way to fly !”

One afternoon in my office in Jakarta, I heard the thud of a package hitting my desk and looked down to see a letter from the diplomatic pouch  from Bangkok addressed to me. It was from my old UN  colleague with whom I had served years before in Thailand. I opened the envelope and before me was a clipping from a tabloid Thai newspaper. The Thai tabloids were the most lurid, over-the-top publications in the world. Several months earlier a Bangkok tabloid had reported the revenge of an enraged Thai wife who had caught her husband in bed with another woman. The newspaper detailed how, planning her next move carefully, the cuckolded wife fed her husband a delicious meal and laced his whiskey with sleeping pills. When the good man was snoring his disgruntled spouse seized the sharpest knife in the kitchen, sliced off his penis and threw it out the window. By chance, just by chance, mind you, a duck happened to be in the backyard when the severed organ was flung to the four winds. Next day all the tabloids featured front page photos of a happy duck holding the  severed penis in his beak ! In the end, it was reported that the offending organ was sewed back on,  restoring the philanderer’s manhood !

I gazed at the front page photo in the tabloid on my desk and recognized the bloody face of Philippe. His body was nude and his wrists and ankles were bound with thick chords. Trembling, I read the account in the article which said that Mr. Philippe Lauzin, a french-canadian who “favored the company of men”, had been found dead in his apartment, bound and bloody. Next to him was a bloodied Buddha statue. Forensic investigations indicated that the fatal abrasions to his head were caused by repeated blows from the Buddha statue. The loss of blood had been remarkable. His next-door neighbor, an hysterical English woman, recounted what she saw as the body was lifted and taken away : “There were pools of blood everywhere ! That stain on the poor man’s carpet… why it was the SIZE of Brazil !”

I had warned Philippe years before about disrespect for the Buddha and he had ridiculed me.

RIP Philippe aka James Bond. Being handsome and clever are not enough in life. Those blessed with too much often fall the hardest.

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