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CAUGHT ON CAMERA

caught on cameraEvery where they went in Pattaya there were these signs: Absolutely No Photographs. Even on Walking Street if you tried to take pictures of Katoeys, you got hassled for money. Brian and Jezz were frustrated. It was their gap year; they were having the holiday of a lifetime. Their parents had given them a generous allowance for their month long tour of Thailand. They had seen some amazing sights – elephants on the street, temples, monks, all lovingly captured on camera for their parents. What they wanted were some photos for their new student friends; photos of girls in sexy shows; bananas and ping-pong balls. Every time their camera came out, muscular Thai bouncers would materialize out of thin air. Sometimes they were friendly; sometimes menacing.

Eventually they decided to bite the bullet. They made their careful preparations in their shared room at The Bijou Hotel, Soi Post Office. They'd bought a cheap carry-all bag from the Made in Thailand market. They placed the camera inside. It was a top of the range Nikon DSLR D3X belonging to Brian's dad. 'If you should get arrested and jailed, be sure to mail me the camera back.' Those were his dad's parting words. The camera was his special joy, an expensive toy for his fiftieth birthday. They screwed on the wide angled lens – a 12-24mm. Carefully they packed lots of soft underwear round it jamming it firmly into position. Using a Stanley knife they cut a flap in the canvas and stuck some Velcro round it. It could thus be sealed and re-sealed in moments.

Next they taped the infrared wireless shutter release to Brian's arm. He put on a long-sleeved shirt for the first time in SE Asia. Then they were ready to start capturing the essence of Pattaya.

They started off low key at first: going into a couple of bars across the road; chatting to a couple of girls and snapping away. Then they rushed back to their room to view their triumphs. They'd taken about twenty and in truth only about five were any good. The others were blurred and out of focus; or there was a bottle in the middle of the frame. They adjusted the autofocus system setting the ISO at 3200 and set the shutter speed to its fastest setting to avoid blurring. Then they were ready for Walking Street.

The lights were very colourful and they took some shots of the bustling crowds; Koreans in parties playing follow my leader; Chinese oblivious to others blundering about and the Thai girls in their slinky, sexy outfits staring at them boldly.

They agreed that before they tried their luck in A Go-Go bars, they would photograph the neon sign outside so they could identify the pictures later. They wanted to do the whole alphabet from Airport, Alcatraz, Angelwitch through to Windmill and X-Zone. They quickly realized that their budget would not run to two drinks in each bar even at draught beer prices. They decided to only do five. By the end of the night they'd probably taken five hundred photos and were a little tired and emotional when they tumbled back to their room. They decided to check their pictures out next morning.

SecurityThey had a leisurely breakfast before they returned to view their illicit spoils. They were delighted. By setting the aperture at f/1.4 many of the photos were crystal clear. There was the occasional dud where the subject was moving and the picture was incredibly blurred, but for the most part they captured the beautiful essence of Thai girls. Feeling well satisfied with his night work, Jezz went for a coffee, whilst Brian uploaded the photos on to the Net.

Suddenly Jezz burst in on him, brandishing a copy of Pattaya Today. 'Get the pictures from the last bar up.' His voice had a strangled pitch to it and Brian obeyed wordlessly. 'It's her, definitely.' Jezz was glancing from the newspaper to the photos on the laptop. He read out some of the story to Brian's horrified ear. 'Miss Warina Kittysak, 23 of Buriram, was found dead at her place of work last night. The proprietor of Exotic Girls a-Go-Go found the corpse of one of his dancers as he was locking up the club at 1.30 am. Poisoning is suspected. '

They studied the vivid picture splashed across the front page and compared it with their own. There when was no doubt about it. 'Now flick on a couple,' Jezz commanded hoarsely. Which ever one of them had been operating the shutter last night had been fascinated by Miss Kittysak – there were five in all. Firstly dancing on a brightly lit stage amongst others; then a couple more of her having a drink in a darkened corner with a customer. 'Look at the time and date.' Jezz pointed at the corner. 'Ten minutes before closing. Zoom in on the guy.'

Though grainy, it clearly showed the farang's face; swarthy, a gold earring and an unpleasant smile. The final photo showed the girl sitting seemingly asleep, her hands clasped across her belly. Brian delivered the verdict. 'She's dead. He's done her.'

They had their first serious argument of the holiday. Jezz was incensed and wanted to walk up Beach Road to the police station immediately. Brian wanted to be more cautious. 'We broke the first rule of Pattaya; No Photographs. Even if and when they catch him, they won't thank us; they'll confiscate my dad's camera, fine us or bang us up.'

Eventually Brian's objections were overcome and they took a memory stick of the photos to the Police Station and asked to speak to the officer in charge of the investigation.

'My name is Colonel Supatchai. My desk officer tells me you have some incriminating photos.' With bated breath they watched the police chief flick through the photos. He was particularly interested in the enhanced one of the farang. 'I know this man. He is a suspected drug dealer. How long will you stay in Pattaya?'

There was an anxious three days of waiting and then a message left at the hotel desk asking them to call in at the police station.

Colonel Supatchai was very pleased, his face wreathed in smiles. 'Your photos were very valuable. We have arrested the man and, once he saw the photo confessed to giving the girl a drugged drink. The Thai Police would like to thank you and give you a five thousand baht reward for your assistance.' He beamed at the boys and pushed a pile of notes towards them. As they reached across the desk for them, his countenance changed. 'Now we must turn to the illicit photographs themselves. You have committed an offence against Pattaya by-laws and so must pay a fine.'

As the youths sat open-mouthed in astonishment, his hands closed on the reward. He smiled again, 'Shall we say six thousand baht? I think you owe me five hundred baht each. Payable now!'