Snakes in Taipei

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Asian

Codes: MF, oral, first, violence, interracial.

Author’s Notes:I hope you enjoy my first attempt branching out from the fan-fiction genre. As with all my stories, opinions expressed by the themes herein are mine. You are free to agree or not at your discretion. Any characters based on real people are used fictitiously herein. I welcome all feedback. Please do not publish my work anywhere without my permission. Thank you.

***

Snakes in Taipei.

Taipei, Taiwan. March 1997.

“Gentlemen, welcome to Snake Alley!”

The New England preppie strode before his five charges like a drill sergeant, green eyes gazing with intensity and hand gestures accompanying his words. He was a few inches over six feet, in his early twenties and built like a football linebacker. Black hair curled over his brow, adding a slick tone to his Romanesque face. Traffic honked nearby and punctuated his words. The streets were otherwise deserted. Of the five high school seniors lined up before the older boy, all but two were unsteady on their feet.

“The first rule of Snake Alley is: you do not talk about what happens to you here. The second rule is: you do not talk about it. Got that?”

A Japanese youth with noble features directed a frown towards the brown-haired Dutchman standing at his left. “Didn’t we all hear of this place thanks to people breaking those rules?”

“You make an excellent point, Yoshi!” Christopher Bradley broke in before anyone else could answer. “I know you will discuss your experiences here. I expect it. However, I still discourage it. Snake Alley must retain some of its characteristic mystique. Wouldn’t you agree, Doug?” He looked directly at the other American in the group, the one who stood at ease along with Yoshi.

Doug Ramsay was a stocky kid from East Texas, six feet tall with blue eyes and thick dark blond hair. He wore a polo shirt and jeans, same as everyone else in the group, but he stood out from them. There were several reasons. First was his outgoing nature. Doug had the respect of many and could make friends with anyone. It was daunting to some. There was also his creativity and intelligence, backed by a talent for spontaneous introspection. He was capable of quoting numerous literary works, holding his own in most any philosophical discussion, and finding ingenious solutions to various problems. Early in life, Doug had suffered from shyness and social withdrawal. He overcame that via personal bravery and now wanted to inspire others to rise above their own hardships. At age eighteen, he was just starting out on doing that with his life.

Doug adjusted his horn-rimmed glasses, coughed, and then shrugged. “W-whatever you say,” he told Bradley. “Y-you’re the one who’s been here before.”

“Damn right!” Bradley rejoined with a sneer. “Put your accent back on, Doug. Not everyone here will appreciate that stammer.”

“Thank you,” Doug said. His tone was now even and tinged with a British brogue.

Bradley sized up the rest of the crew. There was Yoshihiro Aoi from Japan, Wouter Staal from Holland, and Lakshmana Maheswari from India. Steve Lin was the only one raised in Taiwan and even he held a foreign passport obtained in Hawaii, his birthplace. Bradley was an alumnus of the Taipei School for International Children, which the other five boys currently attended. Newly graduated from college, he enjoyed hanging with the younger crowd when not working at his father’s distributor for Seagram Coolers. Doug and the others were also children of diplomats and international merchants doing business in Taiwan.

“You would do well to listen to me,” Bradley addressed them. “There are tons of rumors concerning Snake Alley. Most hold some truth. Not all, though. I will separate fiction from fact.”

“This place will get us laid, right?” asked Steve, the shortest of the group. He was the best groomed among them too, Doug judged. Now Steve’s nervous twitch was ruining all his careful work.

“Yes.” Bradley’s voice was condescending. He had already answered the question several times during the past quarter year. “You paid your fee and passed your evaluation like everyone else. You come to Snake Alley a virgin, you will exit a man. Pedro, Garrett and the rest who have come here under my care are testimony to that.” The preppie put a hand on Steve’s shoulder. “I understand your anxiety. You don’t have much luck with the ladies, do you?”

“None of them really like me,” Steve confirmed with a nod.

“Get some self-esteem,” Wouter advised.

“Easy for you to say,” Steve grumbled. “You’re a basketball forward with a steady girlfriend. You’re better at martial arts than me and on the yearbook staff too. I got none of that.”

“You do have your musical talent,” said Lak. He was of medium height and frame, his face aquiline with a deep tan.

“Like trombone’s going to do me any good here,” Steve rejected that claim. “Heck, I don’t even know where I’m headed after I graduate TSIC.” He pointed at each of his companions. “Wouter, you’re going home to join the army. Maybe you’ll get into that ‘Korps Commandotropen’ pendik escort as a communications specialist the way you want to. Yoshi, you wish to become a chef.”

“I’m doing the military to pay for it,” Yoshi put in. “Cooking is not my immediate goal.”

“Right,” Steve said. “Lak, you have a position lined up at a Bangalore technology concern. Doug, what are you doing again?”

“I shall finish high school in the United States,” Doug admitted, embarrassed. He had traveled the world with his Italian stepfather and experienced several different curriculums at varied educational institutions. TSIC was to be his second to last grade school, or so he hoped. The final one was Monsignor Kelly Catholic High in Beaumont. Prior to his teen years, Doug had studied in Waldorf, Montessori, Episcopalian and European classrooms. He forced himself to appreciate the diverse portfolio at times, but he never blamed his family for it. Doug’s stepfather couldn’t help his job moving him around and his mother couldn’t stop loving her man and wanting to be with him. She had divorced Doug’s father when her son was but a toddler, then married her current husband when Doug was seven. Their courtship lasted four years. Doug’s mother was also a bit paranoid, concerned about keeping her family together and safe on a constant basis.

“That isn’t your fault,” Wouter calmed Doug. “Your mother doesn’t want some Chinese missile blowing you away.”

“It won’t happen,” Doug shot back. “Of course, try telling that to Mom.”

Threats from the government on the Chinese mainland had prompted Doug’s upcoming departure. The leaders of China did not like that Taiwan, their former rebellious province, was becoming a strong trade power with the rest of the globe. Doug’s stepfather had repeatedly assured his mother their anger was all a show. Nothing serious would actually occur. Mom was sending Doug and his sister to her family in Texas, though, just in case. Why can’t my stepfather tell her the Friendship has everything under control? Doug wondered. Maybe he has and she doesn’t believe him.

The Friendship was an ancient Masonic order spread across Earth among people of all walks of life. It worked for knowledge, charity and stability. Doug’s stepfather was of middle rank in the secret society and had inducted Doug a few months ago, aided by three TSIC teachers and a local Catholic priest. Yoshi, Wouter and Bradley were also lower-tier Friendship members. Many of the planet’s governments had Friends in key positions of influence. China’s was no exception. Nor was Taiwan’s government or that of the United States, Taiwan’s largest ally. Doug was certain the Friendship would never allow a war to break out between Taiwan and its mainland rival. There might be old generals longing for a moment of glory, as his mother feared, but the Friendship could stop them. In ten years or so, China might even want to invest economically in Taiwan.

Mom doesn’t think so, however, Doug reminded himself. She’s afraid, I have to go. I guess it could be fine. “Perhaps it will be nice to finish out the semester on American soil before I head for the University of Texas in the fall,” he voiced his musings. “I will study history there and apply to a local law enforcement agency. After that, who knows what I’ll do next?”

“Your future’s planned, man,” Steve snapped. “Everyone’s is here except for mine. I don’t like that.”

“Hey, your parents want you to establish your own life,” said Bradley. “My dad and your GPA got you into USC, you take it from there. I think you have something great ahead.”

“Sure, whatever,” Steve replied, looking around. “Let’s drop it, okay? I want to get through tonight first.”

“You will,” Bradley promised. “The bus ride is over, it’s a weekend, and we’re here. I’ve already quoted the first two rules. Number three: our parents don’t find out we did this. Yes, Yoshi, I know yours are open-minded and into manga. I am likewise aware that your parents are swingers, Wouter. Not all our families hold similar interests, though. Right, Steve?”

“True,” the Taiwanese youth assented. His parents did not know of the trip and he did not intend to inform them.

Doug remembered that Lak’s parents were former free love enthusiasts who had ceased their involvement in the lifestyle soon after meeting one another. His own were not into casual sex at all, although they were conscious that their son would like to be. Doug had begun dating at age twelve, his relationships responding to changing locales and hormones. There was also the influence of people such as Bradley, Wouter, and acquaintances of various other nationalities where promiscuous culture was established on the fringe. Doug had not yet succumbed to lust, but the temptation was there.

“You can tell your parents about this trip if you want,” Bradley amended. “I would use caution. Speaking of that, rule four is safe sex.”

“We know,” Wouter said. “I stopped at the drug store on the way to the bus and bought condoms. My father has checked everyone out this past month.” Phillip Staal was maltepe escort a senior doctor at Taipei Adventist Hospital. “Here are the Trojans if anyone needs them.” He took a box out of his pocket and passed it around. Lak and Yoshi did not remove balloons from the package, preferring their own brands. Doug was happy to secure two extra condoms and Steve noticeably relaxed when he took a sole condom for himself.

“Grab a spare,” Bradley ordered. “You’re an enthusiastic teenager. I am certain you might need it. Let’s do full disclosure. Besides me, no one here has any real fucking experience, right?”

“I have masturbated several million times,” Lak corrected. “I have no plans to ever stop masturbating.”

“It pleases me that can you admit that.” Bradley gave the Indian an encouraging smile. “Anyone who says they don’t masturbate is a liar, a moron or both. Masturbation doesn’t count for much outside your own mind, though. Am I right, Yoshi? You’re a virgin, like Lak and Steve here. Doug, what’s in your portfolio?”

“There’s only heavy petting at this point. Opportunities have been presented and I’ve turned them down. I worry about leaving behind something important.”

“Come on, buddy,” Wouter complained. “You’re with Jodi Lee Nichols. She’s one of the biggest sluts at TSIC. I know she does that other Australian chick she hangs with often. You’ve dated her too.”

“Tanya’s Kiwi and Ukrainian, Jodi Lee’s Australian.” Doug sighed. “I would love to screw them. I can’t. I’m leaving Taiwan in two weeks.”

“Dude, they may want to say farewell.” Bradley grinned. “I know Jodi Lee’s older sister wanted to tell me that when I left to start university.”

“And now she’s a confirmed lesbian,” Doug said. “Tanya may be one also. Jodi Lee has warned me of the possibility. She tells me to grab Tanya while I still can, while she’s figuring herself out. I want it and yet —”

“You’re green,” Bradley interrupted. “I understand. Well, after tonight, you will no longer be a rookie. How about you, Wouter? What base are you and Nadine at?”

“Third,” the Dutchman answered. “I will be her cherry. I don’t want her as mine, though.”

“She’s not the most dazzling woman in the world, huh?”

“No, to me she looks fine. It’s her high expectations.”

“Whatever. I picked all of you for this trip based on your novice sexual skills. I have my ear to the ground and I observe human behavior. That’s how I knew. From this journey, you will gain entry into a new world and find traits you did not previously possess. Maybe then, Doug can find comfort in accepting female advances; Wouter will be able to satisfy his girlfriend, and so on. Forget your dreams, everyone. What happens here will outshine them. That’s rule five.”

Bradley went on to mention three additional rules. Their initial encounters in Snake Alley would probably be unique and they all needed to accept that. No one was to visit Snake Alley without the cooperation of Bradley or another veteran. Their supervisor would take point and they would follow his instructions. Finally, after receiving assent from everyone, the older boy led them down the crooked lane. Incense from a temple they passed wafted over them and all but Bradley coughed.

They had visited the area on previous occasions, just never late at night. Snake Alley was one of the more popular open-air marketplaces in Taiwan’s capitol. Hawkers had stalls that sold all manner of goods from fast food to clothing and electronics. Doug purchased one of his more dependable backpacks from a Snake Alley vendor his freshman year and Yoshi used the peddlers as aids to his Christmas shopping. In the late afternoon and early evening, crowds of adults and children alike wandered the vicinity and sampled its wares. Once a certain hour approached, however, they retreated and Snake Alley took on its more notorious function.

“Mamba venom!” a merchant cried. “Straighten your spine. Raise your fortitude. Improve your performance with the opposite gender! Come, try some!”

“No thanks,” Bradley declined as he and the others walked past.

Doug recalled that traditional Oriental medicine had many uses for the bodily fluids of reptiles. There were ways to neutralize or limit the harmful qualities and enhance the legendary attributes. Most practitioners of the art were in contention with Western science, however. They were sometimes unlicensed despite their training and faced official opposition. Their ways were often difficult for Westerners to appreciate. Doug consumed ginseng as a memory vitamin and also enjoyed other delicacies such as shark fin soup, but never wanted to go further than that. His mother would be unhappy. In addition, law restricted some forms of Chinese medicine.

“Ah, welcome, foreign youngsters!” said another stall proprietor. “Would you like some rhino powder or tiger meat?”

Lak shot an upraised middle finger at the trader and he changed his tune. “It’s just alley cat meat, not real tiger. My rhino powder is not real either. You buy anyway! Please?” Everyone overlooked him and continued kartal escort on their path.

Snake Alley had legal trading by day and illegal by night. When the crowds withdrew, the more daring vendors emerged. A few of their shops offered pirated videotapes while others displayed imitations of various well-known consumer items. Dice rolled in the shadows and money changed hands. There were no narcotics sold other than the Oriental medicines, as trafficking in cocaine and heroin carried the death penalty throughout much of Southeast Asia. Marijuana was a lesser offense and was still available in some places, but it did not hold public interest. Bradley and his charges were after a different type of debauchery that night.

The older boy spoke with a shifty Malaysian magazine retailer. The merchant whispered something and then Bradley said thanks. “Stay behind me,” he told the others. “Keep your hands in your pockets.”

Doug locked eyes with a grungy man brushing close to him. The would-be thief backed away, his focus darting about his surroundings. Doug tossed him a fifty New Taiwan dollar coin, equivalent to two United States dollars at current exchange rates. He then ambled after Bradley without bothering to check if the mendicant retrieved the coin. One day my compassion may be my undoing, Doug conjectured. I will consider it a treasure until then.

“Do you think we might get into a fight tonight?” Lak asked Bradley. “Garrett told me he was mugged when you took him here.”

“They’ll be sorry if they try that with us,” Wouter told Lak with a smile. “I know karate and kung fu. You and Yoshi are my best sparring partners. Bradley has instructed us. Steve can take punishment and fight back. Doug’s been into the same stuff since before he came to Taipei.”

“Yes,” Doug agreed. “I haven’t gotten into a real battle, though. None of us have.”

“What about that summer camp bully?” Wouter inquired. “You told me he got you interested in martial arts.”

“I don’t count that. It was over too quickly.” Doug recalled that the jerk made a snide remark, grabbed and yanked Doug’s arm, and then Doug’s fist split his lip. In the ensuing melee, the offender sustained a wrenched groin, two black eyes and several other contusions. Doug had mere slight bruises around the knuckles and knees. “Natural combat ability,” he explained to the two counselors who pulled them apart. The next day they placed him in a camp karate program that was part of Chuck Norris’s Kick-Start school. He was thirteen years old and had gained much expertise from then on. Despite it all, Doug preferred verbal debate to violent aggression. He had practiced that since kindergarten. “I don’t like fighting anyway. You know that.”

“We shouldn’t have to fight anyone if you all do as I say,” Bradley replied. He acquired further directions from a shoe salesman and then led his charges to a cul-de-sac that stood apart from the main thoroughfare. They went around numerous corners and stalls as they approached, waving off more eager merchants. Several rough Asians stood near the entrance of the dead end and looked over the boys. Bradley waved at a large Filipino who seemed to be in authority and received a welcoming laugh. The rest of the gang backed down.

“All right, everybody let me do the talking,” Bradley said. “Trash your gum, Lak. Doug, where’s your book?”

“I left it at home.”

“Damn. I see you with one all the time. I didn’t even notice.”

“I do put it down when appropriate.” Reading was Doug’s favorite hobby, novels his steadiest companions. He aspired to become a writer himself one day.

“So I see. Wouter, fix that posture. Steve, your shoelace is untied. Gotcha! Your fly is unzipped, though. Ha, gotcha twice. Yoshi, as usual you look almost perfect. You might want to put on more Chap Stick. Good.” Bradley suggested a couple further improvements and then nodded when everyone was spic and span.

The boys looked at each other one last time before heading into the alley. The time they had awaited was close and there would be no further chances to make ready. At last, they followed Bradley to a small plaza where the dead end terminated. Run-down apartment buildings flanked the street. More thugs gathered in the center. Hissing and snapping sounds echoed from within their lines.

“Sounds like an animal,” Doug remarked. Curious, he edged between two Taiwanese bruisers for a closer view. A large king cobra stood in the ring formed by the group, squared off with an agile mongoose. Both animals growled as they circled one another and displayed obvious hostility. Their trainers barked commands while the spectators waited in expectation. A sly-eyed Vietnamese man of middle age turned to face Bradley’s group.

“What do you think?” he asked. “Will the serpent or the mongoose triumph?”

“The snake,” Doug replied without hesitation. Lak said the mongoose and the others shrugged. The Viet shouted at the trainers, who released their competitors. The cobra raised its head to bite. Before it could strike, the mongoose leapt forward and seized its opponent’s neck in its fangs. There was a brief struggle and then the cobra collapsed in defeat. The mongoose’s trainer retrieved it and put it in a cage. A witness cut the dead cobra open with a knife while another collected its blood in a glass jar.

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