As a fresh-faced youth, one of his first jobs was doing odd jobs for Mother Evangelica the Dyslexic at her Home for Wayward Girls. She loved him to death because she thought he was working for $19 per week when he was actually taking home $91. Yes, Des O’Reilly realized he’d go to hell, but he figured at least he would know a few people down there.
Des is what we call an Australian larrikin, a lovable rogue. He learned to fight from a very young age and now, with his height nudging three inches above six feet and his arms bulging with muscles, nobody messed with Des and got away without copping a hiding. But he was not a violent man by nature and disliked fighting. Usually when an argument became heated, just the size of him and his intimidating confidence would make the antagonist walk away. If not, all it would take was one punch from Des and his opponent would be sleeping it off.
He got along well with people from all walks of life but there were two kinds of people Des disliked the most – fools and bullies. He loved fooling and joking around just as much as the next guy but when he sensed someone being seriously stupid, his patience wore thin. Bullies he suffered even less, causing him to always side with the underdog. He was not dishonest and would never contemplate cheating a friend. There was, however, a touch of Robin Hood in his blood. Quite a lot of Des’ household items ‘fell off the back of a truck’, most of them with significant help from Des himself. His logic was the original owner or the insurance company could afford it and he would boast to his mates he never bought anything retail.
Over his forty-five year working life, he had held many jobs, mostly of a hard physical nature in the construction industry. He enjoyed hard work, sweat and the outdoors. As a result, at age 61 he was still extremely fit with a leathery hide burned permanently dark by the sun. He was separated from his one and only wife but they were still ‘good mates’ and the subject of divorce never came up. He liked the idea of being married although he knew he was too independent for her. She kept their beautiful house which was fully paid for, and Des purchased a small one bedroom apartment only three blocks away.
Sadly, working conditions in Australia were changing rapidly with red tape, rules and regulations suffocating the life out of mavericks like Des. It got to the point where, as he put it, “you can’t fart without getting permission from some prick behind a desk!” Hard working, no nonsense people like Des were fast becoming dinosaurs and he was clever enough to realize it.
But besides keeping him fit, the construction industry had been good to him in other ways. On many occasions a contract would take him overseas and he had worked on big projects in Taiwan, Indonesia, China and Singapore. It was his last stint in China, at age 60, which irreversibly changed his direction in life. It wasn’t China per se but his decision to have a week’s layover in Thailand on his way home.
Bustling Bangkok was like central Sydney on a permanent bad day and three days was enough for Des. He headed south to a place someone mentioned in a bar – Pattaya Thailand. After four days of relaxing fun there, he changed his plane ticket to extend his stay for an extra week. Like thousands before him, he had acquired the ‘Pattaya bug’ and, once home in Australia, spent much of his time organizing another trip back to Fun Town.
One year and three trips to Pattaya later, Des found himself besotted with a beautiful Go Go dancer, Lek. It wasn’t love as such, but he did enjoy her company and they both had a great time when they were together. He did not throw money at her and she did not ask for much so, in that respect, Des considered Lek a good sport. So much of a ‘good sport’ he decided to give her a treat and take her back to Australia for a holiday. She jumped at the opportunity and the happy duo went to the Australian Embassy in Bangkok to obtain her visa.
Getting an Australian visa for a Thai lady is no easy task and his mates warned him the prospects were not good. Actually, they said he had Buckley’s chance. But Des could not be dissuaded and looked forward to getting the better of the red tape and dealing with embassy bureaucrats. They jointly made the application and were told what paperwork they were required to bring to the interviews scheduled for five days later. Des left the embassy thinking, “That went well.” Lek did not return to Pattaya with Des but headed straight to her home in the northeast to gather together the documents she was told she would need to produce. She returned to Pattaya three days later.
On the day of the interviews, Lek went first to be interviewed by a Thai female staff member. An hour ticked by before she re-emerged to sit with Des while he waited his turn. Another thirty minutes passed and Des was becoming impatient. When he was finally called in, he was in no mood to put up with any crap.
A week later, after their third trip to the embassy, Des and Lek turned up at his favourite Pattaya beer bar for a night drinking with his mates. When Lek proudly showed off her passport with an Australian visa stamped inside and her return air ticket to Sydney, Des’ mates were dumbfounded. “How the bloody hell …?” Des laughed and explained that when it was time for his interview, the embassy official already had Lek’s statements to compare answers. Des reckoned the turning point came when the interviewer told him, “You know she doesn’t love you.” He cracked up and laughed, “Of course I know that! She’s 22 years old and I’m a dried up 61. I’d be an idiot to think she did. Look! She’s a good kid, we get along well and all I want to do is take her to Australia for a two-week holiday then bring her back to Thailand. I don’t want to marry her for Christ’s sake!”
But, as Des found out afterwards, what probably helped their case even more was the fact Lek had already been to England for a month’s holiday the previous year. She also had title to 60 rai (10 hectares) of land in her village and produced a savings account with a balance of nearly 80,000 baht. “Wonder where she got that from,” Des thought. He decided this information was on a ‘need to know’ basis and it was best not to mention any extraneous details to his fellow drinkers in Pattaya.
Weather-wise, October in Australia is perfect. Clear blue skies and a comfortable temperature greeted the mismatched couple when the direct flight from Bangkok landed in Sydney. Following a forty-minute taxi ride to Des’ humble apartment, Lek was relieved. One of her concerns had been that Des was lying about his marital status but, inside his home, she noticed no sign of any feminine influence in the Spartan decor. Des really was a bachelor.
The next twelve days were fantastic and Des delighted in showing Lek around his town. He took her everywhere – to every tourist attraction – and went through eight rolls of film recording each occasion. But the highlight, and possibly the mischievous reason behind Lek’s invitation to Sydney in the first place, was the Friday night he brought her to his local club. This was his favourite watering hole where Des was so well known he was almost part of the furniture. Friday night was the club’s biggest night of the week and almost everyone he knew from his neighbourhood would turn up at some point of the evening. Des could hardly contain himself when he took Lek shopping for an outfit that afternoon.
Just before 8:30pm, Des walked – no strutted – into the club with Lek on his arm. The impact was devastating and immediate. He smiled as he addressed the club’s receptionist. “G’day Sally. Good crowd tonight?” But Sally did not answer, and Des pretended not to notice her mouth agape as he signed Lek’s name into the register. A short walk along the corridor and they were into the crowded, noisy auditorium.
The center of the large room served as the dance floor after 10:00pm when the four-piece band started up. Being a Friday night, there was scarcely a vacant seat among the surrounding tables and chairs. Along the walls and taking up most of one side of the room were rows of poker machines, all clattering and flashing away happily. At the centre of the far side of the room was a raised stage where the band had already begun setting up their equipment. Off to the right, the equally large dining room providing a la carte and buffet facilities for patrons. There were three large bars in the other three corners of the room and business was brisk.
Finally, like an artist’s signature to his latest masterpiece, Des and Lek stood hand-in-hand, silhouetted against the entrance. Des was dressed in his most dapper gear which he saved for special occasions, but it was Lek who stopped the clocks. She looked breathtaking, as if she had jumped straight out of the pages of Penthouse, not as Pet of the Month, but as Pet of the Decade. Black, laced-up, high heel shoes connected to a white miniskirt by a pair of honey-coloured legs that seemed to go on forever. The miniskirt sat low on her hips and clung to her shapely form so snugly to reveal her underwear could only be the barest of thongs. Her midriff was bare, revealing her pierced diamond-studded navel and a tasteful butterfly tattoo just above her right buttock. Her top was little more than a bikini top while a gold chain falling around her neck matched the gold earrings in her pierced ears. Her long, waist-length, raven, silky hair flowed down her back like molasses down brown velvet. She literally glowed. As they hesitated for a moment, Des’ already massive chest swelled an extra eight inches with pride and adolescent anticipation of what he knew was to come.
Reports of historical events often become distorted by emotion and this evening was no exception. Some eyewitnesses would later recount that the entire room took only a matter of seconds to notice the new arrivals. At that spiritual moment, somewhere in the large auditorium, a pin dropped – and everybody heard it. Some would even suggest that the poker machines refused to play momentarily because they were in such awe of Lek. The truth is out there, but there is no doubting their entrance had the desired effect. This was the moment Des had been waiting for and he was going to have some fun.
The thing was the wives of Des’ mates did not like him very much. They were always courteous and friendly towards him but his single status, his outgoing personality and the fact he did not really care what other people thought, made him a threat. They feared he could lure their husbands from under their careful guardianship and lead them astray. Months earlier, Des decided he was going to give them all something to whinge about and, as he and Lek maneuvered through the tables to the bar, he knew his plan was working. Friends and acquaintances, mostly male, rushed over to say hello but witnesses could not help noticing that while they were saying hello to Des, their eyes were glued squarely on Lek. This wasn’t a problem for Des but he was concerned about Lek. He understood she would be nervous, so he planned never to leave her side. Was he jealous? No. Was he happier than a pig in shit? Yes.
With no vacant seating in sight, Des and Lek eased their way through the tables to the bar. In Pattaya, he had never seen Lek drunk when they were out together. She rarely drank alcohol, preferring orange or pineapple juice instead. Tonight, as they finally made it to the bar, he thought she needed a bacardi and coke just to take the edge off. The bar attendant took the order but then hesitated, staring directly at Lek as if he was considering whether to ask to see some ID. His eyes fell to her cleavage and, just as common sense was about to tell him this was no child he was looking at, Des waved his hand back and forth in front of his face.
“Luke! Beer. Bacardi. Coke. Focus!”
“Sorry, Des, I was just … er …” The young barman turned away, clumsily trying to hide his embarrassment as Lek giggled behind her hand.
Soon after the drinks arrived, the club manager, John Winter, approached Des, appearing to be very serious indeed.
“Mate, I’m afraid I’m going to have to ask you both to leave. I’ve got thirty guys over there diving for their heart pills and if one of them kicks the bucket, the club might be liable.”
“Shit, Jack, you’re a whingeing old fart. Now piss off and leave me and the misses alone.”
John laughed as a sign he had only been joking and Des put his arm around his shoulder before introducing him to Lek.
“It’s a pleasure to meet you, Lek,” he whispered as he extended his hand. Lek whispered, “Sawat dee, ka,” and gave a very polite wai before smiling and accepting John’s hand to return the handshake.
“Ok, that’s enough,” Des teased his friend. “Stop trying to crack on to the wife,”
The manager walked away with the words, “I’m going to get my camera. I’ve got to get a photo of this.”
A concerned Lek asked Des softly, “We hab poblem?” Des chuckled before leaning down to give her a peck on the cheek. “No, sweetheart, we’re doin’ just fine.”
At the stroke of 10:00pm the resident band made their intros. Playing to their audience’s era, their first bracket was mostly 60’s Rock ’n Roll, and Des noticed Lek watching the band and swaying to the music. Five or six couples were already jiving away on the dance floor when Des decided to make his move. This would be his pièce de résistance and he wouldn’t miss it for quids. He waited until the band began playing an up-tempo number and ushered an enthusiastic Lek to the dance floor. Two hundred pairs of eyes watched as the duo reached the centre of the action. Des, the uncoordinated, made an attempt at what could loosely be described as ‘the Jimmy Stewart shuffle’ while Lek, as he knew she could, made John Travolta look like an amateur. When she went into her half traditional Thai half Go Go routine, the band skipped a beat. In fact, they lost the plot completely and had to make a somewhat bungled recovery. In the meantime, the other couples vacated the dance floor and the guy in charge of lighting directed a spotlight onto the solitary boogieing pair. In Pattaya, Lek was used to being the centre of attention, being in the spotlight and having an audience ogle her but, for Des, this was a first.
What he enjoyed most about the evening was Lek’s visible dependence on him. Sure, she was in an unfamiliar environment and she was justifiably scared, but she made no obvious signs that she wanted to be anywhere else or with anyone else. She clung to him closely and took all directions for her behaviour from him. As long as he said it was ok, she didn’t seem to care what anyone else thought. On this occasion, her loyalty to him was real. On their way back to the bar Des noticed an old friend sitting with his frumpish wife. Des gave a nod of recognition and the guy started to rise from his chair with the intention of coming over to say hello. Before he could straighten up however, his wife’s vice-like grip on his forearm forced him back into his seat. Her accompanying scowl left him in no doubt that, as far as she was concerned, it was not a good idea. Lek looked up to Des and laughed to indicate she was also aware of what had gone on.
Another defining moment came when Des needed to take a leak. He had been putting it off for some time but it had reached the point of becoming absolutely necessary. He told Lek he was going to the toilet and would be back as quickly as possible. Predictably, he emerged from the restroom to find Lek surrounded by five of his mates whose wives were either absent or off playing the poker machines.
“Can’t a bloke take a piss without you lot trying to pinch me bird?” he announced as he reached the group.
“Des, mate, we were wondering where you got to. We just came over to buy you a beer,” smiled one of the interlopers as he moved aside allowing Des to squeeze in beside Lek.
“Lying bastard,” Des responded, “but I’ll take that beer …” He reached for his drink, drained it in one motion and replaced the empty glass on the bar. “… And the lady drinks Drambuie.”
The rest of the evening was to prove a choreographic triumph for Des. As well as his other character flaws, Des had a talent for lying. He could tell the most bold-faced lie with such sincerity and conviction that, in a courtroom, no judge would ever convict him. When she was alive, his mother would say he could lie his way out of Hell. Only his closest mates could tell when Des was spinning a yarn. He would never lie to be vindictive or to hurt someone, even an enemy, and he never did it to cause people problems. Most often, he only lied in response to questions he thought were none of your business. And he loved to feed the gossips. Over the next few hours, the club was abuzz with a gamut of Des’ misinformation. He told one matronly group Lek was a Vietnamese orphan he had taken pity on and decided to sponsor her enrolment at a university in Sydney. He followed by asking if they knew any houses to rent in their street. He told the bar staff she was his wife he had purchased for three buffalo and they had been secretly married in a village in northeastern Thailand. He told the Club Secretary and his wife, both of whom never liked Des anyway, that she was the daughter of the Thai Ambassador and they were checking out the club’s premises with a view to the Thai government buying it and converting it into a Thai Arts, Crafts and Cultural Centre.
To the wife of his friend who had tried to come and speak to him earlier, Lek was his illegitimate daughter from a previous liaison with a Thai housemaid during a working stint in Taiwan. But the biggest and best he saved for the five friends who approached Lek when he was in the toilet. He waited until Lek went off to the restroom herself before confessing to them, and swearing them to secrecy, that she was a post-op katoyee. He praised Thai sex-change surgeons for doing a brilliant job. “Not bad for a bloke, is she?” he asked seriously. His closest friends realized it was all in fun and they never let on it was bullshit. When the club finally closed at 3:00am, the popular couple were close to the last to leave, accepting many offers of drinks ‘for the road’ on the way out.
The following Monday, Des and Lek were on the plane bound for Bangkok. Shortly before landing, Lek turned to Des.
“Thank you for take me Australia. I know you spend money too much.”
Des smiled and kissed her on the lips. “Sweetheart, I have just had the best two weeks of my life. It’s me who should be thanking you.”
Des was thinking about three important things which happened as a result of his holiday with Lek. Firstly, travel agents in nearby suburbs subsequently reported an inexplicable resurgence in enquiries about travel to Thailand. Secondly, Lek had really enjoyed herself and would tell her family back home that Australia was a beautiful country and the people were very friendly. Even though, to be candid, her father was unimpressed as he tended his aquaponics by her greeting of “G’Day mate!” as she walked through the door. But for Des, there was a more personal outcome.
Inside the reception area of the club, a large glass case protects an embossed plaque honoring those club members who paid the ultimate sacrifice in times of war. On another wall rests a trophy case with memorabilia donated to the club by members who became sporting heroes. The many accompanying photographs attest to the large number who achieved fame within the field of sport. But to those who know the story behind it, the solitary framed photo hanging in the hallway just past the reception desk is the major talking point. The caption reads simply, “Des and Lek” followed by a date. Some men pause to admire the picture as they pass and others delight in explaining to visitors the story behind it. Whichever version of the tale they relate, they all agree it was the night one Des O’Reilly and one gorgeous Thai lady entered the club’s history books.
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