November 16, 1970
I crawled out of bed in time to
shower and make it to work early, even though I had no official job
here in the
Delta. I grabbed one of the colas
I’d stashed in China’s refrigerator and ambled up
to the EE building. “I need to call Sgt.
Scanlon threw me a mock salute and went back to his book.
“Whatcha readin?” He held up
, the fattest SF novel of 1968.
I went into tech control to use the phone:
the only person there was one of the two Việt Sergeants that the
detachment had been assigned.
,” I said, reading
name tag. “Tôi
có thể sử
dụng điện thoại?”
May I use the phone?
He wasn’t surprised.
If they ever harness grapevine technology, we’ll
end up with faster-than-light communication. Bình
turned the rack-mounted patch panel, lifted the receiver and
the hook switch a few times. On the far end, at Cần
lights were blinking, alerting the controller on duty that they had an
Ten minutes later, I’d been patched through to Củ
Chi and SFC Hutchens. “Holmes, what
the fuck are you and Ritchie still doing there?
You’re supposed to be halfway back by
“I miss you too, Sarge. Look, I thought
we’d have this all
cleared up by today, but we can’t leave until Kane finds the
killer. I wish I could promise Tuesday, but it
doesn’t look good.”
“You told me Ritchie was clear; there’s
no reason for you to stay.”
“Sarge, the MPs and the CID aren’t letting
the entertainers leave
“Maybe they need
more coffee to speed up their investigation.”
“You think everything comes down to caffeine.”
“Doesn’t it? Don’t they know there’s a
Why’s it taking so long?”
“I’ll see what I can do.”
yourself if Sgt. Hutch would approve;
I wouldn’t, so don’t ask.”
“Oh, you got a care
package. I’ll try
to keep it safe, but the jackals are circling.” He
gnashed his teeth audibly.
“Get back on time,
wondered what was
in the box. Oatmeal-raisin cookies, for
If there was room, pepperoni for pizza and two loaves of Brazilian
way my dad wrapped things, it would still be in great condition even if
it took a week to get back.
I climbed up onto the bunker
the site over. This 369th compound was
out as a north-south
mirror image of the one in Củ Chi.
The red-and-white painted tower, ten meters tall,
sported an antenna that looked like a large, closed cake carrier;
the handle pointed at the next
in line. From Củ Chi, that was straight east to Dĩ An; here it
was Cần Thơ,
fifteen kilometers to the southwest. The communications
gear in the EE building took standard telephone
circuits from the DCO—dial central office—and sent them via
microwave to Vũng
signals bounced off the
and connected to the US. High-priority voice and digitial
circuits were usually sent to Nha Trang to take advantage of the new
undersea cables. If a CO had enough clout, he could
the phone on his desk in Shannon-Wright and talk directly to President
Nixon. Few did, that was clear.
Nixon had done since taking office betrayed the fact that he had no
idea what was going on here: no one was willing to tell him.
Besides, he had a tin ear.
I drank from my beer and watched a
Filipino work on a recalcitrant cooling fan attached to one
of the two hefty AC units attached to the wall of the EE building,
where all the comm gear was housed. In the generator building,
three out of four enormous diesel engines were on
line producing around a megawatt of power. The fourth was backup,
to be cut in when one of the live ones failed. The AC was to cool
the equipment, not the soldiers, who benefited regardless.
A tall white civilian, dressed in
baggy khaki trousers and an open khaki shirt over a sweaty sleeveless
of the generator building to confer with the Filipino. He
gestured impatiently at the elderly worker, who nodded and went back to
work. The supervisor took the hearing protectors from around
his neck, pulled them over his dirty reddish hair and covered his ears.
Seeing the worker reminded me that I had
hidden under a
flap in my wallet. Into every care package—along with
and bread and other items
difficult or impossible to get at the PX, like panti-liners—Momma
would tuck a bill or two. I
get five to ten times the face value of the dollars in MPC on the
black market. Momma didn’t know, and
I sure wasn’t going to enlighten her.
were maintained and serviced by civilians working for
Pacific Architects and Engineers, who had the
contract for all
the Army bases. They hired white men to run the generator
operation, men from the US or the British Empire. The white
bosses, in turn,
hired almost no one but Filipinos
for them, because they worked cheap and were used to the
heat. It was hellishly hot inside
the generator buildings, far warmer than
in ’Nam meant 35 to 45—95 to 110 in civilian
workers lived off-base where possible, staying in whatever
or village was convenient. Most had mistresses or live-in
they slept with. I’m sure some lived with other men but
quiet. Because they lived off-base, they were intimately
connected to the black market economy.
I clambered down from the bunker to walk
across the asphalt to the condenser. I squatted next to the
“Ang pangalan ko ay Andi. Ano ang sa
My name is Andi, what’s yours?
A common nickname—his full given name would be Jesus
Antonio. He torqued a
firmly and used a screwdriver to close a relay. The motor
and the fan started to spin, but it made a low-pitched noise before he
lifted the screwdriver.
“The bearing is bad, but Red doesn’t want
replace it. Too much money.”
“So you load up the
oil in a bearing that’s not supposed to need lubrication.”
“It will hold it
for a week or so. It will fail, Red will yell at me, which he
does anyway, and then I will do it the way I should be doing it
now.” He began putting access panels back in
“Where did you learn Tagalog?”
“It was my first language; I was
born in Luzon.”
“You remember it
well.” He put his tools down. “I believe
you have some money to change.”
I handed him two twenties, a
ten and a
five, crisp new greenbacks from Momma. “I would be very
If I asked for Vietnamese piastres, I could get more, but
were harder to spend.
He grinned, showing a gold
his plentiful wrinkles, most of which came from being out in the sun,
not age, which I put at early fifties.
madali. Bumalik bukas.” Easy.
“Salamat sa iyo,
ako ay.” Thanks, I will.
Kane beeped when I was
halfway back to the bunker.
I changed course.
“Can you drop me off at
the PX after? I need to buy some sody so I can quit sponging off
people.” China still hadn’t asked for her
gate key back.
I wondered what she did for fun. Maybe got tattooed.
Maybe visited that girl at the orphanage, if she could get a ride. The gate firmly
locked, I climbed in next to him.
“Your name; I remembered.
There was this
show on American TV, The
Cisco Kid. I watched it a few times in what had to be
1955. We stayed in Mattoon between missions, with my
very cranky grandmother, until she died.
The star’s name was Duncan Renaldo. His
any consolation almost no one was ever killed.”
“So it was
boring.” He pulled up in front of a different mess hall
than the one we’d previously used.
“I watched it, so
it couldn’t have been too awful.”
“How old were
“I rest my
“I hope you’re not implying I
had no taste.”
He grinned, but then said, “Hey, wait. If you were eight there’s no way—”
“So he was in movies before you were
born. There couldn’t have been many Renaldos in show
business in 1939.”
We went through the line.
The main course—no choices offered—was beans and
franks with a broccoli side cooked so long it had become an
olive-colored paste. I
preferred nothing, but I took a small plateful to be polite.
a table and we sat. “Maybe tomorrow we should go down to
the main gate,” I suggested. “Street carts all over
“I’m willing. That soup
last night was good.”
“You can branch out tomorrow.”
“I’m game.” He
swallowed another enormous mouthful. “Here’s
something you’ll want to know. Heck
found a guard
who saw someone walking away from the club in the early AM Saturday.
Male, untucked white shirt, blue slacks, longish black hair.
too far away for the guard to see much else, so
it’s not a lot to go on. He was
vague about the time, but thought it was around the middle of his
watch, which would make it roughly 0400.”
“So now we know
for sure he’s male, and that once he got away from the club he
calm enough to walk instead of run.”
Kane nodded, chewed,
swallowed. He pointed at my tray with his fork.
“You’re not eating much.”
worse.” I ate a hot dog disk.
“Anything I can do to help out?”
“Not that I can
think of. Unless you can read minds.”
myself.” I swallowed some beans without chewing.
“There’s a story about that.
Damned if I can
remember what it’s called, though.”
“‘Journeys End,’ by Poul
Anderson. Very persuasive. At least I no longer wanted telepathy.”
drank some water. “Is it OK if Rat and I go into
afternoon? I have an idea, and I’m getting antsy
with not much to do.”
don’t want to tell me about this idea beforehand.”
probably completely off the wall. The trip may degenerate into
don’t strike me as a shopper.”
“Rat might be, and
like I said, I’m antsy. If nothing else, we can
I’d loan you Heck’s Jeep,
“That would be so
MP Jeeps had “MP”
stenciled in big
white letters on the
hood. “I’ve got my own, thanks.”
Back at the compound, I shoved several
of the colas I’d bought into China’s refrigerator before collecting my M79 from the
EE building’s gun rack. I drove to
the club and parked under
an isolated rubber tree a half-block away just for the shade. Ritchie and Chona were
behind the club practicing. Chona was wearing her teensy green
bikini again, the one made
of piecework rejects and string. Rat watched them and drank
She squinted up at me in the sunlight and said,
getting better, but the way things are going, I’d guess the next
step is topless juggling.”
all for that!” Ritchie lit a cigarette and admired
“Shut up, Ritchie.
Rat, if you’re not busy, can you come with me into
“Taba boy, you
teach me top-less.” I glanced over at Chona, who grinned bawdily; she
knew exactly what she was saying.
downed her beer, folded her lawn chair and stepped inside. I
followed. She pulled a light white blouse over her sleeveless
T-shirt. “Not that I care, but where are we
“I want you to take me to
those Russians you told me about.”
“That sounds like
fun. You want more of Ivan’s Best?”
to ask them some questions. You can translate.”
We opened the back door just in time to
see Chona undo the string holding up her top. “Time to
leave!” said Rat, laughing.
We got stuck behind a big
U.S. Army diesel
tanker and had to slow down to 30 KPH. I asked, “What do
think of Chona? She acts like she really likes
“She likes doing
for sure. Those two are like mating snakes. I
know why I subject
myself to them. I don’t mind all the skin, but they
“Speaking of skin, I don’t think
I’ve ever seen such a revealing bikini.”
never been to Brazil,
then. It’s called a tanga, although some people
“It helps if
you’ve got a
gorgeous ass to show off.” I imagined her wearing
“Take the next left.” She handed back my flask
and I grabbed a quick drink before tucking it
away. “Neither one of those girls has ever been into
stands. In the six months I’ve been with this
only had one fling, Chona none. Of course, lack of
privacy could have something to do with it: most other places we
have to double up.”
Or maybe Iryne and Chona were good
Catholic girls with an agenda. No, I emended, Iryne had been the one with
We drove almost to the
riverside, to several blocks
west of the restaurant we’d used as a base for our trip to
island on Sunday. She had me park in front of a small bar with an
front and two big pool tables visible from the street. An
Hớt Tóc—was to its right, a
air-conditioned dress shop to the barber’s right, and the
on the left of the bar—HONDA—sold
and repaired motor scooters.
scooters spilled out to cover the sidewalk, forcing passers-by into the
street. Several uniformed
Vietnamese—five men and one woman—were looking them
Rat led me past the tables to
the bar, where a short blond with several days’ stubble was
wiping things down. He wore a moderately filthy apron
shorts, not even a T-shirt covering his hairy upper chest.
Артем?” Rat asked.
He thumbed over his shoulder, and I followed her
through a a plywood-walled storage room, out the back and into a
courtyard. Under what looked like a U.S. Army mess tent,
men were standing around sipping from small glasses.
They seemed pleased to see
Rat, and she
spent several minutes renewing acquaintances. One of the
men went off somewhere, and the others sat down. One handed
cups. I sniffed, drank. “Это
I said, using up almost all my Russian.
They laughed and nodded and
tried to find out
how much more than “This is very good beer” I knew,
but after my third blank look they went back to
talking through Rat. I had her ask them about the coconut palms
I’d seen on An Bình Island Sunday.
“They say sure,
those are ours.
They rent the field from a farmer on the island, use the sap
make palm toddy and lambanog. They do
a good business with the Filipinos in the area, and have been for years. They’re
starting to sell a little flavored lambanog to Vietnamese, but it’s taking a long time to get going.”
“If the stuff they
make is any good at all, it will. Ask them to sell me a couple of
lambanog, along with some of that beer.”
pronounced it the Russian way, “ee-VAHN went to get us a case.
drink it all, we can sell the rest to Emily.” She
the shortest of the men, who seemed to be in charge, and he
Rat and I tried to finish the beer in our cups, but magic refills
The short guy showed up
holding four small
bottles of yellow lambanog in his hands. Raisins in the
supplied the color along with a bit of sweetness I didn’t care
for. “Rat, ask him if I can have
non-flavored instead, will you?” He returned with
clear bottles, wiped them off, wrapped them in newspaper and
put them in a small burlap bag. “How
lambanog is free, we only have to pay for the beer. If you
it, tell your friends.”
expect that.” I counted out MPC and handed them
“Спасибо.” Thanks. Art smiled broadly
and handed back one of the bills.
“He says if you pay in MPC, not piastres,
you get a
discount,” said Rat. Ivan came back with
of beer and followed us out to the Jeep. He put it on the
seat, and smiled shyly at Rat. They exchanged a few words and
waved goodbye and left.
“What did Ivan
I told him he was too young for me. You
curious!” She chuckled.
I started the Jeep.
“We’ve got an hour. Is
there anything you’d like to shop for?”
volunteering to sit
there like the bored half of a married couple while I try on clothes
and ask you if
they make my butt look big and you lie and fall asleep and I buy twice
as much because you hurt my feelings?”
sounds strangely attractive.”
“I’m tempted, but some other time,
Escamillo.” I pulled out onto
the street to head
back the way we’d come and tried to remember where I’d
name Escamillo. We had to stop at the next intersection for
a very long ARVN convoy in which every single driver wore mirrored
We were halfway back, passing
a rice paddy, before she spoke again.
“Why’d you want the lambanog?”
“You guys doing a
not getting paid any extra, but we can get a few tips. Emily said
was OK to take up a collection, so we’re going to do a short
one.” She looked at me and waited.
“Early show, huh?”
She kept looking at me and
smiling, and I
kept driving. “After the show I might
bottle and go out to that ammo bunker.”
I could feel my cheeks
heating up. “I don’t think
you’ll need a bottle.”
Ren stopped by the compound before the
“Let’s have lunch tomorrow. My
treat,” I told him.
He drove off looking disgruntled. I grabbed a quick shower,
and halfway through, realized he’d wanted me to ask him out
for dinner. It was just as well I didn’t suspect it at the
let myself out the gate and walked toward the club along the side of
the gravel road.
Halfway there, Long joined me.
you’re not going to ask me to get you into the
“No, I am here to ask you if you would talk to my
“Sure, but why? I thought the
restaurant was closed on Mondays.”
“No, it is open
every night. Those of us who work there stay overnight
and go home in the morning.”
“Why do you want me to talk to your
He took my hand in his. “She
wants to get married.”
“I don’t really trust
“Does he hit
“No, he doesn’t seem to be
that kind of person. But I don’t trust him, and I
don’t think he loves her.”
“Are you sure you aren’t
overreacting? Brothers never think anyone is good enough for
He scratched his head while he thought
about that. “Maybe. He is nice enough to me, but
says that when they get
married, he will
take her back to his country. He will let her
her children—her husband was killed at Tết—but not me.
I will have no family left.”
“What about your
brother? In Sàigòn?”
“He is bộ đội and has little time, but when he is around
Thoai bosses me. I might as well be alone.”
“It seems to me like you do pretty
well on your own.”
“I would rather be with Kim.”
his hand away. I didn’t try to hang on; I was anxious to
talk to her. But
that’s all I can do, I can’t force
If she were determined to go back to the US with some random
there wasn’t anything I could say that would change her mind.
“I know. It’s OK. Thank
I can come by the restaurant.” I wanted to put it off more, if I could.
“To the back
The club was packed as tightly as
clothespins in a packet, but I mostly paid no attention.
Maxie and Rat sang duets; they harmonized well.
You might even think they liked each other. Ritchie
juggled balls and Chona juggled knives. Together, they made the
in ways I thought were impossible. When Chona juggled clubs
herself, she had a way of tossing one behind her head with her
right hand and
swiveling a quarter turn to catch it with her left. Since she
wore her tanga,
every time a new section of the audience saw her backside, it broke out
applause and wolf whistles. At the finale, they turned on an
ultraviolet light and tossed neon props back and forth, alternating
over-arm and under-leg throws in a dazzling, seemingly endless, river
of pinwheeling clubs. But whatever else was going on, even when
the spotlight was on the jugglers and Rat and Maxie did nothing at the
back of the stage—I watched Rat.
set ended at 2130, and I couldn’t wait to get her away from
Shikata ga nai
November 16, 1970
“Ritchie’ll help Chona pack up.
Let’s get out of here,” said Rat.
Twenty minutes later we were snuggled together, leaning
the wall of the ammo bunker. The waning moon, still low in
the east, threw dim light on the sparse population of young rubber
trees around us and silhouetted a guard tower several hundred yards
I handed Rat the bottle. “Whoo!
That’s—” She coughed.
“That’s raw. Like drinking
“Yah.” I drank some.
acquired taste, I guess. Not everyone starts drinking it as
as I did. Maybe you should’ve brought something else after
“That’s OK. I have something
better to do with my mouth.”
When she began undoing my buttons, I went to work on hers.
I pushed the pale blue material off her shoulders and reached
behind her. “Josh claims this can be done
one-handed,” I said, and squeezed.
“Oooh. That’s a skill to brag about,” she said, and
I cupped her breast. She raised my T-shirt, pushed me flat
and bent her
head; her flexible lips met my nipple and I
gasped. I stroked her hair.
Near midnight, she put her hand on my belt buckle and popped
open. I let her get further: she had her tongue in my
bellybutton and my zipper down, with her hand
under the waistband of my boxers, before I froze again.
I’m sorry.” I was near
She inhaled raggedly. “No, no,
Don’t worry.” She put her arm
shoulders. “I’m fine.
Let’s have some
more of that—stuff.”
She drank and made a face. “Just how
“Seven. I stole
“You must have been a real joy to your
“Growing up, I heard an awful lot of ‘Why
can’t you be more like your brother?’
Or I did, until Josh—my younger
brother—took some of the pressure off
me. He turned out more like me than our brother Dana, who was
I lit a couple of cigarettes for us.
“I spent as much time as possible on the Luzon streets with
my friends. Most of them were older, none of them were missionary
kids, and all had easy access to booze. Since
my parents wouldn’t have alcohol in the house, I discovered that
shopowners don’t really expect seven-year-olds to shoplift
liquor.” I inhaled. “There weren’t many
things I could do
right with momma, so after while I
learned to do what I wanted and if I got caught, put my ears
back like a cat and take it. I got a rightful share
She blew a smoke ring and looked at me. “So.
How is this different?”
I blew one of my own and took a drink before answering. Her
nipples, pale and pink as a
redhead’s, puckered attractively in the cool night air.
shouldn’t be. But it is.
I—” My voice caught and I
swallowed some more lambanog. “The only person
I ever saw Momma turn away from the mission school was a little
girl who had two ‘uncles.” When I told
her she was being mean, she slapped me. Then she pulled out the
Bible and prayed over me for hours.”
Rat leaned over and kissed me on the cheek. She
shrugged into her bra; I hooked it for her. I buttoned up
too. Then I put my arms around her waist and kissed her neck.
She touched my lips and stood up.
“We’ll worry about tomorrow
No one was around when I dropped her off at the club.
We spent a long time in a goodbye kiss. I only broke the
clinch when I felt her hand on my bottom.
November 17, 1970
Kane showed up at 1150. I locked up behind me and
hopped in. “Main gate, James.”
“I’ve had those hoagies.”
That’s the Vietnamese name, but that’s not what
you’re having. You’ve had gyoza and dim sum, right?
Bánh cuốn are like those, only better: spring rolls
filled with pork and mushrooms.”
Just outside the main gate, a dozen or so carts were parked in a
semi-circular cluster on
a patch of dusty red dirt. I pointed Kane at a line for a
green-and-orange painted cart. It was run by a toothless
woman wearing a cone hat and brandishing a thin
bamboo stick. I went to one offering Phan Thiết-style fried fish
The man operating it had one leg, sparkly eyes, a huge smile with
multiple gold teeth, and
ears that stuck out like bat’s wings. He slit
a small-sized Vietnamese
baguette, inserted a couple of fried fish patties, added bean sprouts,
herbs, peppers, onions, lime juice and tương ớt
Back to the Jeep, Renaldo was waiting for me.
“How come you’re not having these?” He
held up his plate.
“I’m not a big meat-eater. You should have started
me.” I bit into my sandwich. “You weren’t
waiting to see if I’d fall over dead after eating one, were
“No, no, not at all. It’s polite to wait.”
“If your moms are running a cafe where the most
popular dish is kim-chi scrambled eggs—”
“They sell a lot of rice with kim-chi; they recently
“—how come you don’t have a more
adventurous palate?” I bit into my sandwich.
“You wouldn’t believe what they would make me
After a while they started claiming that if I hated it the
customers would love it.”
“Was that true?”
“Probably not, but I never saw any of those additions on the
menu.” He finally risked eating one of the rolls.
“Don’t act so surprised.”
“Even my moms had successes now and then.” He ate
used to think they were just torturing me, but now I think they just
wanted me to like what they liked. It mostly didn’t work,
especially when they tried to get me to like dried squid.”
“You mean Japan’s answer to lutefisk? That was
He smiled. “What about you?”
“Momma was a terrible cook. When we were on missions, we
had chefs, but we went through a lot of them. She insisted they
make everything exactly her way. If I’d relied on
cooking,’ I would have starved.”
“What’d you do instead?”
“Street food. Especially in Yogyakarta, where the
warungs—tiny little shops—sell the best gado-gado in the
“Why does that sound like ‘the best dried squid in the
“’Cause you’ve never had gado-gado.” He still
had over half his
plate to go, while I’d eaten most of my sandwich. I changed
the subject. “Can I ask what’s new in the
“We’re trying to get in touch with
Iryne’s next of kin back in Manila. Phone service
is not great, and the only time I connected with a nearby Constabulary,
he told me I had to talk to something called the PPP. The
connection dropped before he could give me the number.”
“Police in the islands has always been a mess,” I told
“Nobody wants to accept jurisdiction, nobody wants to do
work. PPP is Pinagsamang Pulisyang Pambansa, Integrated
Police, but they’re no better organized than the
nothing ever gets done and cases don’t get solved. You need
what’s to be done with the body, don’t you?”
limited. If we have to send her to Long Binh,
telling how long it would be before she got to the islands.
Paperwork does get lost.”
“Maybe she was Buddhist and wanted to be
cremated.” I knew she wasn’t, though.
“Chona says no, she and Iryne are both
“Ritchie told me. He and Chona are working
ways to communicate.”
“Is that what they call it?”
you watched those two lately? There’s more going on than
simple infatuation, Andi.” He finished his last spring
“See what you think the
next time you see them together.”
“Mmmm.” I was reluctant to admit
that, despite what Rat had said, all I had seen had been lust.
He picked up on my reluctance. “I forgot that you were
supposed to be the perceptive one.”
“Now you’re reminding me of my mother.” Too
He grinned and started the Jeep. “I’ll take that
as a compliment.” We dropped the
trash in a
barrel and drove underneath the big arch
that read “Vĩnh Long Installation.” He
the 369th and asked me, “What about your lead in Vinh
City? Did that pan out?”
“No, but I got some good beer. Stop back after work and
give you one.”
“I suppose I could drive you home in your Jeep and walk
“Says the woman who drinks three to my one.”
“If you want more than one Ivan’s Best,
deal.” He pulled up
at the gate
He looked at me long enough that I wondered if he were going to try to
out-macho me. He shrugged. “Shikata ga
“Japanese. ‘It cannot be
helped because it can’t be controlled’.”
“Good advice.” I didn’t want to be kissed, so
I hopped out and fished for China’s key.
He spoke before I could open the padlock. “I don’t
suppose you have any contacts in Manila, do you?”
“Not from when I lived in the Philippines, no.” I
scratched my head. “Well—maybe.
My SIC mentioned a friend stationed at Clark Air Base.”
I took the last cigarette from the pack, lit it, and handed him
the unfolded wrapper. “Give
phone number of the office you’re using. I’ll call
Sgt. Hutch and let you know.”
He looked at the wrapper, shook his head and pulled out a pen.
wrote and handed it to me. “Now I expect a
“It may take one.”
Ten minutes later I was talking to Hutch. “Didn’t you
mention you had a
friend at Clark Air Base, near Manila—?”
“How did you ever become
friends with a Colonel?”
“Not only that, he’s a full bird Colonel,” he said
smugly. “What do
you need with him?”
I was hopeful; with a chicken Colonel on our side, something might
get done. I explained the situation, pointing out that anything
could to do expedite matters would get me and Ritchie back sooner.
“Can you have him call here?”
“I’ll do what I can.”
“I’m running out of coffee already.”
“I’ll see what I can do.” He
snarled and hung up.
I was pretty sure I could sweet-talk Scanlon into donating a can.
break room where China was engaged in what appeared to be a
perpetual bridge game. “Want to play a few
rubbers?” she asked. “Yerby’s playing like shit
today and he needs a stiff drink.”
“No, thanks, I’m not very good.”
“You can’t be any worse than he is.”
Yerby looked like he was used to such treatment. He stopped
dealing and calmly collected the deck into a neat pile.
ready for a cold drink now.
Why don’t we take a break and pick this up in an
“Find me a different partner who can make up for
your shitty bids,” she groused. His mustache twitched and he stood.
She looked at me and said, “Can I talk you out of one
“I had no idea you were interested.”
“I don’t drink much, but I do like a small beer now
then. Buddhist moderation.” We walked across the
tarmac to the hooch; she opened
her door and
motioned me in.
I got two Russian lagers from her fridge, opened them and handed her
one. “I went to the break room to look for you.”
She tipped the cold beer back and swallowed. “Ahhhh.”
She wiped her mouth on the back of her hand.
“I have a favor to ask.”
on the fans and sat down on her bed. “What?”
I sat next to her and kept my voice low.
“I’d like to take pictures.”
She drank. “If you
like my tats that much, maybe you should get one.”
“They’d only be for me. I’ll
develop them myself.”
She stood and began stripping.
“Why not? You’ve got a flash.
either in the EE building, drinking or sunbathing on the bunker, or
over at the club.
It’s the perfect time.” She
stepped out of her
fatigues and underwear. “Well?”
Now or never. I fished three rolls of Ektachrome out of my
bag, put two on my bed and loaded the third. I mounted the 28mm
lens—the only way I’d get full-length portraits in such a
small space—put a new battery in the flash and mounted it.
“What should I do?” she asked. I took a shot of her
“Anything you want. Pretend I’m a
journalist and I need full coverage.”
She faced away from me. “Journalist, huh?
Not from Playboy
Click click click. “Please. Besides, we
both know they wouldn’t be interested in you.”
“They might, if I got these enlarged.” She
held both breasts. I took four shots in quick succession and
wished for a motor drive like the
staff photographers had. Playboy
’s probably used
“Please don’t,” I told her, and steeled myself.
“Your body’s lovely the way it is.” She
could use longer hair.” Regulations were
“Lots of us could.”
It took me only twenty minutes to use all three rolls.
“That’s all the print film I
“You said you’ll develop it yourself?”
She picked up her T-shirt to mop herself with.
“One of the craft shops in Củ Chi has a color
“You’re the first person I’ve met
incountry who does
color. Any particular reason you decided to take that
I swapped lenses back before choosing to tell her part of the truth.
“I had a roll of prints I needed to develop
For a friend. Are you worried? I
could save these until I get back to the world—”
She laughed. “No, go ahead. I’m
just being nosy.”
She dropped the wet T-shirt on the floor, but made no move to get
dressed. “I may make a couple of pizzas for the
club. Why don’t you join us?”
“I think Ritchie’s juggling over at the club this evening.
I’ll get something there.”
She shrugged. “’K.
I’m going to
Dũng’s shop tomorrow afternoon for more work.”
waved at her
body. “You’re welcome to come
“Maybe I will.” But it wasn’t her I
wanted to go with.
At 1750 I drove to the back door of the restaurant, where I sat on the
fence, smoked and
the shadows grow longer. As I started to light another cigarette,
Long and his co-workers arrived. The men wore simple
black silk pajamas. The
hostess and the two waitresses wore
flowered aó-daìs, while the other women dressed like
the men. One of the party unlocked
the door, and Long brought one of the women over.
“This is my sister Kim.” Kim was a
knockout, with floor-length hair, a wide mouth and downcast eyes; she
had a stunning
figure, but she walked with her shoulders forward to avoid calling
attention to it.
“Xin vui lòng để gặp bạn, hoa hậu Kim.”
Pleased to meet you, Miss Kim. There was a picnic
bench under a nearby tree, and Long herded us to it.
Kim spoke rapidly, but so softly that I had to lean close to hear
don’t know what
Long is so worried about. My boyfriend will take me with
him. We will get married and I will send for Long.” She put her hair up in a bun while we talked.
“That is not what he said. Why are you
lying?” Long demanded.
“I am not
lying! He only said that my children can come
with us, but you have to wait. When we get there and he gets
his money, we can send you enough to come too.”
I did not want to be in the middle of this, but Long had dragged
me in, and I felt obligated to help him. “Why does your
to wait to get married? If he is serious about taking you
back, you must marry first. You can’t go to the US
on your own.”
“Oh, no, he is not a GI, he is Filipino.
He wants a big wedding in Manila.”
Ah. “I see. Has he been married
“No, never. I used to be married, but my husband died in
“It would be smarter and safer to marry here and then have a
church wedding there.”
Kim shook her head obstinately. “He says this is
how his family wants it. He would like to take Long but we
can’t afford it. Only after he starts his new job
will he be able to send for Long. But he will, I
I couldn’t make
stand up to her boyfriend. It smelled, but there was nothing I
could do. I checked my watch. “I’m sorry,
I have to get back now. I’m expecting a phone
Long walked me to the edge of the property. “Thank
you for trying.”
“She is determined to do what her boyfriend wants.”
“Yes. It is too bad she is so stubborn. I
didn’t think you could do anything, but it was worth
“Most people like to do things their own way, even if it is
bad for them.”
He glanced at my cigarette and smiled.
“That’s very true.”
He raced back to the restaurant.
“Call me Chuck” Stumbaugh called fifteen minutes after
you’re trying to locate the family and obtain disposition
instructions for the body of Iryne Madlangbayan. That
right?” I held the
receiver two feet from my ear: he spoke as loudly as Lyndon
Johnson, but without the Texas.
like to guess where people come from—and I’m often
right—but his accent was so
generically Midwestern he could have been raised anyplace south of
“Told you, call me Chuck. Now, give me all the
information you have.”
I read him everything I had, which wasn’t much.
Full description, including moles people wouldn’t
normally see. Next of kin, Amboy Madlangbayan, no address
listed. Parents’ address and phone number and the
parish of the church they went to. “But every time
we try to call that phone number we either get a busy signal or no
connection. It’s very frustrating, sir.
“I’ll put my best man on it, Andi. Let me
give you my direct phone; that way you don’t have to go
through a lot of red tape to talk to me.”
I wrote the number down. “If you don’t
mind my asking, sir, what are you a Colonel of?”
“Security Police. We’re the MPs of the
“I see. So I—”
“Came to the right place, yes. I’ll get
back to you tomorrow, with a report if nothing else.”
“Can I give your number to the CID agent in charge of the
“Let’s keep things simple, Andi.”
I called Kane to fill him in, but he wasn’t in the office,
so I left a message. I was glad of that, because if I had talked
to him, I would have had to lie to get out of a dinner date. I
had a show to see. And it wasn’t on stage.
November 17, 1970
I stopped off at the generator building to find out how
much Jestoni’d gotten for my greenbacks.
turned out to be
more than enough MPC to make up for what I’d given Rose.
When I got to the club, there was
no show, although there were
plenty of customers. Only the crammed-tight feeling was gone.
Speedy the bartender slowed down long enough
me a full-to-the-brim double and say, “On the
taking my order for a pizza. He smelled of dope, and I wondered
if that were the only thing speeding him
Ritchie and Chona were at one of the small tables.
was looking forward to another world-class juggling
exhibition,” I told them.
“The girls don’t usually perform more than
three days in
a row,” said Ritchie. Last night had been the fifth.
“Besides, the band picked up a gig in the city, and
thinks she’s going to go see them.”
“She in the back?”
“No, she’s right here,” she said over my
shoulder. “You want to come too?”
“Sure. It’ll be nice to see what the
nightlife’s like.” Speedy waved that my
ready, and I picked it up.
me with this. How were you planning to get there?”
“You’ve got a Jeep.”
“What if I hadn’t showed up here?”
“I would have walked to the 369th and gotten your
She bit off a chunk with stringy cheese; grease ran down her
chin. “One way or another.” I wanted to wipe
her face clean. Or lick; it was a good thing the pizza
didn’t last long.
At the gate, the guard cautioned us about
curfew. “You got a weapon, Specialist?” I
the grenade launcher. “That’ll do,” he
pulled into the road
and immediately had to slow down for a massive US Army semi going too
for Vietnamese roads. Most American drivers pretended they were
back home, ignoring the posted speed
limits and prevailing traffic patterns,.
“Did you really want to see the band?” I asked Rat.
“I’m sick of them; I just wanted
to get away from Ritchie and Chona.”
“Honeymoon still on, hmm?”
“Yes, with no signs of going away.”
“Kane thinks it’s more than a
fling,” I said.
“I’d say he’s right.”
“They look at each other the same way: gobsmacked.
Sure, they’re still all over each other, but it’s her
idea to finally learn some English. He really listens to her, and
learning Tagalog. If all they wanted was to fuck,
they’re trying to learn a lot more words than are strictly necessary.”
I handed her my flask and said, “I was planning to get
liquored up and get myself an impulse purchase at the tattoo
She took a big drink. Then another. “That would take
more firewater than this.”
“Look under the seat.”
Rat pulled the bottle out far enough to see that it was bourbon.
“This is the planning ahead part of the impulse purchase,
“Yah. What do you think? Am I an idiot?”
“Oh, honey, not only are you asking another impulse shopper,
I’ve been thinking the same thing for months. Here’s
the town, what are we looking
“Signs that say either ‘Xăm
Mình,’ body tattooing, or “Vẽ Mình,”
It wasn’t hard to find. Rat spotted it on a side street
and I parked in front.
“Lemme have some more,” said Rat.
I held out my flask. “Having second
She drank half. “Not anymore.
I drank the remaining half. “You want to bring the
painkiller or should I?”
Outside of downtown Sàigòn, Vietnamese shops rarely
have front walls, just pull-out expanding bars to prevent theft when no
Once inside Dũng’s shop, however, the buzzing flourescent
lights made it easy to forget the lack of privacy. The lights
attracted moths and other flying critters, and most of
the cracks in the pale green plaster walls were covered
with tacked-up tattoo designs—flash, in tattoo-speak. I found
the one I wanted
immediately: a big-eyed, green and orange gecko. Dũng had
enough English to ask me where I
wanted it. I rolled up the right leg of my fatigues and
him exactly where to put it on the back of my right calf.
He patted the table; I lay down
he swung his magnifying lens and light combo over me. He
the leg, ran a straight razor quickly over it, washed it again, swabbed
me with alcohol,
gripped his buzzing gun and went to work. I’d heard that
after the first few minutes, your
endorphins kick in and you stop hurting. I kept the bourbon
nearby anyway, and it was a good thing I did, because It felt exactly
what it was—being stabbed by tiny needles.
It hurt like the devil. The noise of the gun heterodyned
with that of the
lighting. It became bearable, but there was never a
point where it wasn’t painful. Rat kept
the drawings on the walls.
Dũng was efficient and fast, taking less
than twenty minutes to finish, despite the multiple colors and
shading and the cigarette in his mouth. When he was finished,
washed the area for the fifth or sixth time with soap and water,
applied a sterile bandage, and said, “Done.”
he did anything else, he put the needle bar and tube into his autoclave
Rat called me over. “What do you think?”
“It’s very pretty. Where would you put it?”
She unpinned the emerald green butterfly from the wall and held it up.
“Does that mean you don’t like it?”
“No.” I swallowed. “Quite the opposite.
don’t get it for me, it’s for you. Are you going to
love it in six months?”
Dũng walked over to
She held the butterfly against her, her hands a little shaky.
“Good choice,” he said in
“Tôi cũng nghĩ vậy.” I think so
He smiled at me in surprise. “Tell her I have to
her.” He was a
bit taller than most Vietnamese men, and handsome, in a sharp-edged
way; even his hair was spiky.
“She already knows.” I held out the
bottle to Rat.
“Don’t skimp.” She
gulped, handed the
bottle back and put her hands on her belt.
still time to back out. You saw the razor he’s
“I’ll be OK.” She yanked her
slacks and underwear
off in one smooth motion and lay on her back on the table.
handed her a towel and she slid it under her butt. Out came
soap and water. When he stubbed out his eternal cigarette, I took
it as a sign that he meant to
concentrate. He stropped the
washed it in hot water, lathered her with soap and bent to his task.
“Bạn không tận hưởng chính
nhiều,” I told him. Don’t enjoy yourself
“Đó là quá
muộn.” Too late.
I smiled. “I’d smack you if it weren’t
He was careful and precise. I made sure the
bourbon was handy. By the time her groin was smooth enough for
feeling very little pain. He washed her one more time, gave
surgical scrub, and loaded a freshly autoclaved, needle bar and tube
a gun. He looked at me. “Maybe give her
It hurts most over bone.” He prodded her pubis.
I took him at his word and gave her a healthy slug.
“That’s probably enough for
watched as Dũng gripped her thigh firmly and his needle gun touched her
skin to lay in a fine
line. “Oh, fuck. Don’t go far.
Yee-owch!” She reached for my hand and squeezed hard.
The endorphins must have worked for her, though, because she let go
soon, and an hour and a
half later there was still plenty left in the bottle.
And, red and angry-looking as it was, the tat was beautiful.
Not too large, the vibrant colors went well with her pale skin.
Even though it was
going to thwart our plans for the night, it had been the right choice.
He put a dressing on, covering the design. Dũng handed us little
tins of salve and gave
us our final instructions. Rat clutched at my sleeve to hold
herself up. “Keep
clean, plenty of soap and water, then rub in a little salve.
your bandages off tonight,” he told me.
until tomorrow morning. Don’t pick at the scabs,
and if you are going to have an infection,
you’ll see it in less than two days. If you do,
to one of your American doctors or come back to me.”
“We’ll be fine. You are very careful.
Thank you.” I tipped him $5 in MPC.
“One last instruction.”
“Làm tình cẩn thận.”
Make love carefully.
I thought about getting mad, but there was no point, not when it was what we
meant to do anyway. “OK.” Twenty
minutes later we were back on base; we made it before curfew, but we
were the last vehicle in. The guard locked the
main gate behind us.
“How’re you feeling?”
it hurts. I
could use another drink.”
I handed her the remains of the bottle. “Here. Finish
“Don’t you have some of that Filipino stuff
“How ’bout we save it for tomorrow night?”
She blinked and looked around. “Oh.
the club.” She kissed me before climbing out.
it’s a promise. Tomorrow night at the ammo
“Promise.” I kissed her again. There was no one
around; I risked slipping a hand under her shirt.
Back at the compound, I grabbed a beer from the fridge and climbed up
on the bunker. Scanlon and one of the other guys were in his room
with the lights on, arguing and drinking, leaving the bunker for me.
I thought about Rat
and our plans for tomorrow night. I felt pretty confident, but
just in case—there was no telling when momma’s voice would
come to me—I needed to practice putting my ears back.
November 18, 1970
Scanlon was in the break room, putting
double grounds in the coffee pot; his hands trembled, and there were
of sweat on his brow.
“Care for some real caffeine?” I offered,
holding up my cola can.
“Sergeants don’t have
“Or hearts. Or brains. Or
“I could while away the hours—”
“Conferrin’ with the
“If I only had a brain.” We sang
the last line together.
He had a good baritone, though with more vibrato than I really
liked. He and Kane would probably sound pretty good together.
He held his temples and moaned theatrically.
A couple of hours later, I finished my book and went into the
room where Yerby, Scanlon and China bullied me into playing
The TV was tuned to Star Trek
: “The Gamesters of
Triskelion,” on AFVN. “Come. It
is the nourishment interval,” said Kirk’s love
interest woodenly, proving that
wasn’t why she was wearing tinfoil clothes and a cotton-candy
As China’s partner, I was dummy most of the time, and could
get in a lot
China was an agressive bidder who took plenty
risks. She made most of her bids: the percentage she
didn’t kept the other players in the game. On TV,
underpants girl used a combination fish-hook and
bear-gutter to fight Kirk.
Mostly she hit with the middle of the weapon, as if it were a
quarterstaff. Why have the
parts if you don’t use them? In the end, she lost, and no
wonder. I never did understand why they were fighting anyway,
other than to show off her boobs.
The buzzer went off and the flashing lights mounted high on the
wall next to the television blinked, signalling an incoming
“It’s probably for me, Sarge,” I told him. He
sat back down while I went into Tech
Control. Delgado, now on day shift, handed me the phone.
“Good guess, Andi. I have news.”
I grabbed a sheet of paper for notes. “Ready.”
He read off a phone number. “It’s for Iryne’s
youngest brother, who’s ready to come here to the base to pick
up. I’ve made arrangements with the 114th Aviation
there to get her body to Tan Son Nhut by chopper. All you need to
go over to the morgue and fill in some paperwork. Get that
agent you’ve been working with to help. Get it done today
and she’ll be home tomorrow.”
“I’ll get right on it, sir.”
“That takes care of the body, but there’s more.
was only 19 when she left in ’65; she’s been on
road ever since. She began doing shows in Vietnam in
1967, and her parents moved
times after she joined the troupe. Her dad’s business took
off: the family
pretty well-to-do now, but they were very poor when she left. She
wouldn’t have known that her family was suddenly well off,
parents. That’s why the phone and address she had for them
were wrong. Now, she’s the oldest child, but her
brother Amboy, the second oldest, is the one she listed as next-of-kin,
think she kept in touch with him.”
“Any idea where he is?”
“I don’t know, and neither does her family. Amboy
took a job outside of the
Philippines nearly three years ago, but no one can remember the name of
He never wrote either—got along with the father OK, but no
one else—so I
have an investigator trying to find him. I imagine you can guess
successful he’ll be working a Filipino case.”
“Yes, sir, I can. Just how rich is the family?”
“Middling. They’re not Rockefellers.
There are plenty of politicians with much bigger fortunes.”
“Is it a big enough fortune to give all the children a
“Might be, but the will leaves everything to Amboy, as the
oldest male child.
mother died about a year ago, and the father is in poor
“That’s cut-and-dried? Are there any special
conditions? Or didn’t you
“It’s murder. Of course I asked. If Iryne had a
son, that child would
inherit instead of Amboy. I talked to the father myself, and he
said he’d told no one about that provision. And he only put
it in because his wife made him promise on her deathbed.”
I could have called Kane for the ride
but decided to walk over; I wanted to stop at the club to check on
to be outside working on a tan, but she was in her room with the door
closed. She wore
borrowed blue plaid boxers and a men’s washed-out-orange Madras
shirt. She opened the door with Northwest
by Kenneth Roberts, in her hand. Fat books are often more popular
than they deserve in a war zone. I’d finished Valley of the Dolls a few days
before this trip. I closed the door and she gave me a thorough
I sat on the bunk
next to her. A rhythmic thumping
came from the room next door. “I was going to ask
where Ritchie and Chona were.”
today.” She kept her voice down, even though we
both knew they weren’t listening.
“Those weezy sperm sure are anxious to breathe free.”
She choked and swatted me on the arm.
“How are you feeling?”
She whispered in my ear:
“My pussy hurts.”
My breathing suddenly sounded as loud to me as the couple next door; my
vision blurred and all I could think of was Rat up on the table last
night. I swallowed. “Are you
Her lips were an inch from mine and I could feel her breath when she
spoke: “Are you being deliberately
“I hope you aren’t expecting—”
“I was hoping for sympathy and an
offer. I don’t expect
anything.” She kissed me again and waited.
“Are you doing a show tonight?”
at the wall, through which we could hear Chona making little squeaks.
“The only show around here is those two.”
“How about we have dinner at the restaurant tonight?
And lambanog.” My throat was dry.
She bit my lip. “You can bring that paint remover if you
want, but I
will bring something drinkable.” The noise from the
“I’ll pick you
up at 1900.”
“Is the restaurant too far to walk to in heels?”
“I wouldn’t do it, but I haven’t practiced as much as
“’Cause if your jeep’s parked on the road by the ammo
dump, people will see it—”
“After dinner, I’ll drop you off and take the Jeep back
to the compound. It’s an easy hike from there to the
“Or we could both walk from the 369th.”
“We’ll see.” There was no way I was going
to show up at the detachment with Rat wearing any outfit that went with
heels. “How’s the pain? Getting better?”
“The more you kiss me the better it feels.”
“Glad to help out.” I ran my hands down her sides.
The thumping began again.
wall. “Holy fuck.” She
took off the plaid shirt, and my hands cupped her breasts.
“I need to take a shower.”
“What makes you think they won’t follow
“Don’t give them ideas.” She skinned down the
blue boxers; her tattoo looked only mildly irritated. She put her
arms around my neck.
“How’d you like to help? You
could put the salve on for me.”
I let my hands wander over her smooth bare bottom. “I have
to go see Kane so
we can get Iryne’s body shipped home.”
“Meano.” She bit my lip.
his feet off the desk and closed his fat hardback.
“I thought you were going to call so I could pick you up?”
I picked up the dark blue volume and read the title: The Summa Theologica of St. Thomas
Aquinas, Volume 2
I handed him two
Russian beers. He put them in the fridge while I filled him in.
“We go to the morgue, fill out the
paperwork, get the body bag out of the cooler and drive it to the
airfield, put it on a chopper,
and that’s it?”
“It pays to have friends in high places. Sgt.
friend ranks a good deal higher than I’d realized.”
“So that takes care of the body.” At Tân Sơn
Nhất, they had proper cadaver transport planes. “Did this
highly-placed friend have anything else to say?”
“The family’s rich.” If he’d asked for
more, I would have told him. I lit a cigarette and we left for
Two hours later, we watched a Huey with Little Annie Fanny painted on
the door zoom straight up and head off toward Sàigòn.
“Thanks for taking care of that,” he said.
“Don’t thank me, thank Hutch.”
“Rather thank you. Let me buy you a drink.”
“I’ll have a drink, but I’m buying.”
We got into his Jeep, but instead of turning the key, he reached under
his seat and handed me a brown paper bag.
“Ripple! My favorite!” Inside the bag was a
bottle of Grand
Reserve Metaxa. “How’d
you get something like this incountry?”
“A friend at Bien Hoa brings it in for me.”
“I know someone whose sister sends him top-of-the-line tequila
labelled ‘shaving lotion’.”
“I thought of that, but neither mom would do it. Besides,
luck, it would be opened for inspection.” He waited.
“What’s the matter? I know you have a
corkscrew on that Swiss Army knife.”
“Oops, sorry. Where are my manners?” I uncorked
the bottle. “You know, the only reason I know what this
stuff is, is because I use to read—”
“Mack Reynolds’ Section G stories. No kidding?
“’S’truth.” I took a drink and passed it
“Oh, that’s lovely stuff. Thank you. Is
“Happy getting-close-to Thanksgiving? Happy Lunokhod 1 day?
I laughed. He drank and looked at the bottle
appreciatively. “Would you like to have dinner? Bring
I shoved in the cork. “I’m sorry, but I already have
plans. Rat and I are going to gorge on
Vietnamese food and get seriously drunk.” He shot me a
glance and smiled stiffly. It’s the drinking, I told
myself. He disapproves of my getting drunk. But I left
before he could ask about tomorrow night.
At 1830, I took a shower and put more salve on my
gecko. I wished briefly for something a little dressier than
fatigues, but even if I’d had civvies they wouldn’t have
been something I’d wear. Every now and then, Momma sent me
wanted me to wear. Last month, it had been a blazer and
skirt; they didn’t go well with my combat boots. I’d given them to my friend Max No
Difference; with his pretty-as-a-girl looks, I knew he’d look smashing.
I was tying my boots when China came in and
opened her refrigerator to get a
cold lemonade; I offered her an Ivan’s Best instead.
“I went to Dũng’s shop
today,” she said, pulling up her shirt to show me the latest
detail. “He said you and your friend were there last
night getting tats.”
I showed her mine. “We got pretty liquored up. It
still hurt more than I thought it would.”
She lifted my leg so she could see it better. “It’s
doing well. He does a good job, doesn’t he?
How’s your friend?”
“Rat complained much less about the pain than I did. I was
surprised. Does it bother you?”
“It’s different for everyone. For me, it only hurts
at the very beginning. Then it stops hurting and starts to almost feel good.
What’d she get?”
“A butterfly. Um, in her crotch.”
“Ask her if she’s happy with it. I
haven’t thought much about what I’m going to put
“Don’t dragons eat butterflies?”
dragon is a
“Pussycats are known butterfly marauders.”
“All the better. Ask her.”
China left, and I contemplated taking the Metaxa with me. My
conscience told me not to be criminally tacky. I shouldn’t
be surprised that it so often
spoke in Momma’s voice.
November 18, 1970
Rat wore a V-neck black dress
without a bra, matching black sandals, a
pearl choker and tiny pearl earrings. The silver front zipper
a big hoop that seemed made for my teeth. Chona stood beside
her, wearing a
spring green number. Ritchie leaned against sandbags, smoking,
looking at her and probably thinking of ways to get her out of the
dress. I doubted that Rat wore anything but the dress and heels.
“Hi Andi. Ritchie and Chona
are coming to dinner
us.” Rat’s smile was forced and her grip on the
matching black purse white-knuckled.
She and Ritchie were too
involved in each other to notice my strained response. “Oh.
How nice.” Rat elbowed me.
I drove; Ritchie and Chona sat in back; Rat rode
shotgun and kept her silence. I had hoped that I could find out
her. Before ... I swallowed and tried hard to calm
There was going
to be plenty of time for me and Rat later; this wasn’t like a
double-date back in the
world. We were having dinner with Ritchie and Chona, not
spending the whole evening
It could have been worse, I thought: Kane could have
Since there were four of us, the hostess put us in a different
section of the restaurant than Kane and I had been in.
I sat with my back to the wall, Rat to my right, Chona to the
left and Ritchie across. Rat grumbled when she found out there
was only beer, no wine. They’d managed to find some Buds,
that’s what we had. Ritchie and Chona insisted on
Chinese food, but Rat wanted to try something Vietnamese that
“I’m a vegetarian.”
I ordered a plate of meatless spring rolls for all of us and asked the
waitress to tell the chef to do something vegetarian for Rat.
“You must have a pretty hard time eating in a mess
hall,” I said. She was wearing a light perfume.
Against Chona’s overpowering lilac, Rat’s light scent
was hard to classify.
“They’re almost always willing to make me an
Ritchie and Chona weren’t paying any
attention to us; they had scooted their chairs close together and
were holding hands and kissing.
“Pretty round-eyes can always count on good
service from horny mess Sergeants.”
“Or horny Spec-4s?” She spoke quietly.
her foot running up and down my shin; she had taken off her sandal just
to torment me.
I smiled. “How’re you feeling?”
“I could use a kiss.”
“Certainly not the one I have in mind.”
I inhaled, caught her scent:
vanilla, like the metaxa. Long brought our spring
“Trân Châu told me my friend
How are you, Anh
Đi? Who are your friends?” I introduced
Chona and Rat.
“How is your sister?”
“She is determined to go with her boyfriend. I will
live here with one of the waitresses. Until I am sent for, I
mean. It is not what I would like, but—” He
“I’m sorry. I wish there were something I
to change her mind.”
He grinned. “You should tell your friend Kane he
I laughed. “That’s not a bad idea. I’ll
see what I can
do.” I suspected Renaldo was planning
to return to the seminary when his current enlistment was up, however.
that’s fish sauce. I thought you were a
“Snot.” Her face screwed up. “It was the
only dip there
was. I should have known, I didn’t think.”
She downed half her beer.
“Long—” But he had already
dashed off. He
turned up with a vegetarian sauce for her just as Trân
Châu—Pearl—showed up with two plates, one
for me and
one for Rat. Fried halibut with tomato sauce for
and chopstick beans in coconut milk for her.
Even though it was a week night, the
restaurant was almost full.
Long brought rice and the other two plates before racing away to take
care of other customers. Ritchie and Chona began feeding
other bits. I’d had to show Ritchie how to use
when I first arrived at Củ Chi; now he was an expert. Rat and I
could only look at each other with sideways glances, while he
Chona could treat each other like baby birds in public. It gave
sour feeling in my gut.
Rat touched my arm. “You should try this,
good.” I used my own chopsticks to pluck the fried
curd from her plate.
“That’s very tasty. I’d offer
you some of mine,
but—” The bleakness in her expression
cold. The lovebirds had affected her the same way.
“It’s OK.” She put on a smile.
lowered her voice. “If they start talking baby
“We’ll have to kill them.” It made me happy to
see her smile.
“Do you still have some of that drain cleaner left?”
“You mean the lambanog? Two bottles, why?”
“I think we’re going to need them.”
“Maybe not.” I risked touching her hand.
in silence until Long brought out the fruit plate. I ate a
longan. Chona peeled a lychee for Ritchie. I wiped my hands
on a napkin and glanced at Rat, who was watching them. Her jaw was set.
I opened my mouth to say something but Rat beat me to it.
“What are you going to do,
I butted in. “Don’t be dense.
If even I
can see what’s going on—”
Ritchie put down his chopsticks. “I’ve been trying
not to think about it.”
“If you keep that
up,” said Rat, “you’ll end up
back in Cu Chi and Chona will be on the road. Is that what
“We could write.”
“We’ll be on the road
We only get mail when it catches up to us, and it does that only
once every few weeks. What would you write, anyway? She
words of English to your six in Tagalog. You could be
to another site tomorrow. You could have an emergency in the
and have to go back to the world. The war could end, for
heaven’s sake! Anything could happen. And don’t
forget, even though we’re entertainers, some of us have been
My heart clutched. Ritchie looked—overwhelmed.
But he was
starting to get the picture. He took Chona’s
hand. It wasn’t hard for her to figure out that the
conversation was about something serious.
“There’s a lot of paperwork to take care
of,” I said.
“But it won’t be so bad; I’ve been through
it with Scar and
Kiều. You’ll get
allotment again, and she can live with Kiều in Tân
Hòa until it
Underneath the table, Rat gripped my leg and spoke up.
“Don’t do it just because you think
only way, or you think it’s the right thing to do.”
Chona stared at us, her gaze swivelling from one to the other like a
lighthouse beam stuck in a loop. Her smile was fixed, nervous.
Ritchie looked at Chona and said, “Andi? Tell me the
“Are you certain?”
“I don’t even
think about it.”
“Then say, ‘Chona, kayong magpakasal sa akin?’ ”
He repeated it, said it in English: “Chona, will
She looked at us and started to cry. “Ito ng isang
sabihin bumiro?” Is this a mean joke? She
napkin on the table and ran out, heels tocking.
Ritchie went after her and Rat followed him. “You go
ahead, I’ll pay the
tab,” I informed her back.
It took several minutes to find Trân
Châu and get a
total. I expected everything to be over when I went outside, but
I didn’t expect everyone to
gone. The Jeep was still there, however, so I knew they
couldn’t be far away. I went around back to the
table where the three clustered at one end. The
eucalypt that provided sparse shade in the daytime held a tin-shaded
clear light bulb. Moths circled. Chona was
And so was Ritchie. “She won’t believe
“She will. Keep at it.”
loves you as much as you love her, I thought. She’s just
scared. All she needs is time to adjust. There
was nothing to do but wait around until she did. I walked over to
fence, lifted myself up to sit on the top rail and lit a
Rat was talking to Chona and Ritchie was looking helpless.
If he had had a ring to give her, I
thought, she would have had to take him seriously.
Rat talked, Chona shook her head and cried.
Long came out of the back door. He saw me, waved and came
to sit beside me. “What’s
“Ritchie asked Chona to marry him and she thinks he’s
He watched them a minute. “But anyone can
“Yup.” I took out my flask and swallowed
tequila. It felt pretty good. “I wish
Ritchie got down on his knees and said something to Chona.
pushed his head away. I could hear her from where I sat:
“Ikaw ay isang malaking haltak!”
“That’s progress, I guess.”
“What did she say?”
“She told Ritchie he was a big jerk.”
“And she isn’t?”
“You’re too smart for your own good.”
“That’s what Kim says.” He
looked up at me.
“Why won’t she believe him?”
“I think she’s beginning to.
likes being the center of attention.” I had some
tequila. “But it is also a big step, and she’s scared
hell.” I wobbled the flask. There wasn’t
left. I passed it to Long. “Finish it.”
back up onto the bench and put his arm around Chona. I
glanced at the back door of the restaurant and Long’s sister
smiling. Iryne was right behind her.
Chona looked up and screamed. Iryne’s brother reached
belt. I leapt off the fence and ran toward him. When Kim
out there was something terrible happening, she grabbed his arm
and screeched something. I heard the snick
switchblade opening. Ritchie yelled and pulled Chona away from
Rat dropped to her knees and scrabbled for something to hit with.
My own knife was
still in my boot, and I had no time to get it; I aimed
his feet and dove. I hit his boots, he fell. Rat found a
rock and was on him; she whacked with both hands
enough to make a nauseating crack. He
slack; there was blood on the ground.
But it wasn’t Amboy’s. I had heard the woman’s
scream as I’d knocked him down. Trying to stop
him, Kim had stepped into the blow meant for Chona’s heart.
Shocked into silence, Long crouched by
sister’s inert form.
Amboy Madlangbayan wasn’t dead. But he was
spend quite a bit of time in a hospital under guard. Rat was
angry at herself: “I should have hit him harder.”
Kane was also cranky. “Do you have any idea how
paperwork’s going to be?”
“It happened on an Army base, you’ve got
“Christ knows I don’t want it.”
through the report sheets. “All right,
let’s go over
this one more time. Long? Where did Amboy
“At the generator building for the 369th detachment.
He’d been there at least two years. When
went to work in the restaurant last year, he ran into her one day
buying meat at the market for that night’s dinner.
started courting her—” He went on for a
while; I helped him with English from time to time. It was like
Kane scratched his head. “I still can’t
see how he
found out about this will business. Andi, how could you
“If I had
there was the slightest chance— He’d been gone from
the Philippines for a long
His father didn’t think anyone knew!”
“I know, I know. It’s
slapped the table with the flat of his hand. Under normal
circumstances, Long and I would have jumped.
An hour later, Kane realized he had all he was going to get.
He declared the interviews finished and Heck
drove him away. I sat
at the picnic table smoking. The kitchen workers turned off the
outside lights. Long paused before going inside
restaurant for the night. “Thank you for trying to
“It wasn’t enough. I’m
Rat waited in the Jeep, still
wearing the black dress, now dusty and torn, and held up a
bottle. “You did
great,” I told her, and drove to the Get Dead Drunk Saloon.
“I hate to drink alone.”
“I’m sorry.” I didn’t
turn off the Jeep.
“Don’t you do that to me. Don’t
“Not tonight, Rat. I’m sorry.”
“Just to talk—”
She got out to stand on the gravel. “Tomorrow?”
“Not then, either,” I said, and I drove back to the
In China’s room, I opened a bottle of
the time I’d finished it, I’d given up trying to convince
myself that I could drink enough to stop
seeing tears in Rat’s
November 19, 1970
At 0600 I drove to the restaurant to talk to Long before he left for
“They will have to go to the orphanage. I hate to take them
though. Even though we are Catholic, there are too many orphans
for the nuns to give them the attention they should have.”
“Take this.” I tucked a hundred dollars
shirt pocket. Then I told him about the small orphanage over on
Xanh island. “Tan Mai. It’s Buddhist,
He looked at the ground. “Maybe we don’t need to be
“You should go to the club at noon and talk to
Emily. She’ll help you, regardless of where you want to
“She doesn’t know me.”
“It doesn’t matter, she would help you anyway.
I will talk to her.” I gave him a ride to
gate. I held out my hand for him to shake, but he hugged me,
making me feel worse.
I knocked on the back door of the Get Dead Drunk Saloon. Rat,
still wearing last night’s black dress,
answered, a nearly-empty bottle of scotch in her hand, her eyes swollen
She stood aside. “I take it
you’re not here to
“I need to talk to Emily. About Kim’s children.”
“I wish we’d never met.”
I swallowed. “Someday you’ll meet someone
who doesn’t have my problems.”
“Thanks for the advice, Dr. Pangloss.”
“Sorry. I didn’t mean to sound
“I know. There sure are a lot of things you
didn’t mean.” She drank again.
“How can I believe you?”
“You can’t. I’m
“Why? Why won’t you even tell me? Don’t I
deserve to know?”
Yes, I almost said, but you don’t deserve what the knowledge
The door to Chona’s room opened and Chona stepped out.
She looked at Rat, then me; her eyes widened and she rushed
past to the john.
“I have to see Emily.” Rat turned away
and I knocked on Em’s door.
Kane walked up while Ritchie piled Chona’s suitcases into the
Jeep, which I’d parked on the dirt by the fuel tanks.
It was going to be a tight fit, between her costumes and
props, but if I held an overnight bag on my lap or under my legs and let Ritchie drive,
I’d still have a little room for a case of lambanog. It
would only be a few minutes out of our way.
I leaned against a pile
destined for the revetments around the club and smoked.
“Anything I can
do?” he asked.
“I’m fine, thanks.”
“I’d like to write to you.”
I lit another cigarette. “I don’t think that’s
a good idea.” Ten-o’clock flowers
the dark olive bags, interspersed with a few stalks of tropical grass.
“I’m a lousy correspondent.” I drank from my
“Is that what you told Rat?”
“Is that what made her cry?”
“None of your business.” I turned away and pretended
to ignore him. Eventually he went away.
I left Ritchie and Chona in the Jeep in Đại Tòng
Lâm’s parking lot. When a monk tried to
I stopped him with a glare. “I know where
going.” He saw my face and the grenade launcher and held up
Far away from the world, I stood in front of Quan
Âm and her manic dragon to light a bundle of
incense. I held
it in my hands and bowed three times before sticking it into the sand;
an MPC twenty went into the slot in the red donation box, and I
stared up into the impassive stone face. There was no one
to hear but her, no one to see but water buffalo and brahmas, no one
to speak but me. In the middle of an empty field, I tried to talk
to a crooked statue, but she wouldn’t meet my eyes. The
words stuck in my throat.
What I know about Buddhism can be written on a single page, but I know
forgiveness is not part of the dogma. That’s up to the
individual, as it should be. If I couldn’t forgive
how could I expect anyone else to absolve me? I
wanted to ask only for what Quan
Âm was supposed to give: compassion. But the words
were lost in the quiet rustle of wind through the rice and eucalypts.
I pulled out the flask I’d refilled with lambanog and took a
heard footsteps on the gravel and turned to see Kane. My heart
sank. I knew he wouldn’t let me brush him off again. He
squatted next to me and held out his hand. I handed the flask to
him and he drank.
“Holy shit,” he wheezed.
“What the hell
“Lambanog. How’d you find me?”
“Wasn’t hard. I remembered you told me this was where
you met Long.” He had another drink, passed back the flask.
“I never had a chance, did I?”
I drank and considered. “Not no
chance. I like you.”
“But against Rat, none at all.” I ignored the
statement and offered him another drink.
“Won’t this stuff make you
sterile?” He took it anyway.
“It’s 90 proof, not the 160,” I said.
“I’ve got more.”
He reached into his pocket and pulled out the square of linoleum
he’d cut from the janitor’s closet. “Want to
tell me about this?”
He sighed. “One category of crime the CID is supposed to
investigate is homosexual activity.”
“That’s a crime?” I knew it was.
“My superiors say so. I was sent down here to look into
allegations that a Lieutenant and a Spec-4 were having relations.”
“I put into my report that I couldn’t find any
evidence.” He took another drink. “I thought
about it a long time before committing it to writing. It’s
always been my policy to ignore indiscretions, as long as there
aren’t any actual pictures, warn them to be more careful and
But hell. This guy was an officer, a First Lieutenant, for
Christ’s sake. It was clear enough that the kid was also gay, and
attracted to the guy, but
thought it a lousy idea to get mixed up with his commanding
officer. Instead of backing off, the officer coerced the Spec-4:
was a blatant abuse
of power. In the end—I couldn’t do anything but
caution them. Even
with the evidence, and the story the kid told me, I kept hearing
okaasan’s voice in my
“Japanese for ‘mother’. Kimiko. Connie is
“Oh.” I drank.
“So my point is, in case you didn’t get it, is, stop
worrying. I would never do anything to hurt you, and you should
already know that.” He waved the square under my nose.
I finished the lambanog and thought. If Quan
Âm wasn’t going to listen, did I really have a choice?
I took the square and said, “Smell it.”
“Try harder. Close your eyes, open your nose. Inhale
from your bellybutton.”
He did, and shrugged. “I got a little something, something
a little sweet, but I have no idea what it is.”
“That smell is flavored lambanog.” I shook the flask.
“It’s like vodka; it doesn’t have a
smell of its own, so what you’re detecting is basically pickled
raisin. It’s distinctive.”
“And that’s important because?”
“Because almost no one but Filipinos drink it, and it’s not
exported. Amboy hid in the closet with the brooms, where he drank
to pass the time until he could sneak out to kill Iryne.
He spilled some.”
“How long have you known what it was?”
“Since Monday. On the way back from the orphanage on
Sunday, I spotted a plantation of coconut palms on one of the islands.
It was set up for mass production of tuba—the palm toddy
make this stuff from. The next day, the Russian ex-pats in the
said the plantation was theirs and that almost all of their
sales were to Filipinos. It was obvious they don’t keep
so there was no way to link the flavored kind with any particular
“I knew Filipinos worked over at the generator building; almost
every tech who works for PA & E is Filipino. They work hard
for not much money and they’re used to the heat. But I
didn’t ask Kim what her boyfriend’s name was or where he
worked, I didn’t ask to meet him. Remember the guard
who said he’d seen someone with longish hair walking away from
the club? That very likely
meant a Filipino—but I didn’t think about it. I
“Did you figure out anything more about the knife?”
“Again, I tried not to think about it, but it was so thinned and
weakened by oversharpening that it was
risky to use it. That made it easy to leave behind. We
he left it in Iryne’s chest because he was
But he couldn’t have been scared, not when he took the time
prints. He hoped we’d waste time looking in the wrong
someone whose hand fit.”
“Which we did.”
“Yah. Wouldn’t surprise me if he’d already
bought the replacement that killed Kim.”
“Well, Amboy’s hand doesn’t fit the knife that killed his
sister any better than yours or mine. He is
left-handed, however, and I recall seeing a flask in the personal possessions the hospital gave us.”
“So he probably saw the show Thursday night, saw Iryne, and stole
or bought the knife he used to kill her the next day.” I
shook my head and field-stripped
lit another one, had another drink. So did he.
I went on: “I didn’t follow up on what
Colonel Stumbaugh said. I let
myself believe that there was no way Iryne and Amboy could know about
the provisions of their father’s will. But Iryne’s
for a baby should have told me better. I didn’t
let myself think about lawyers who could be bribed. Hell, maybe
it was the lawyer
who kept track of Iryne and Amboy, and kept Amboy up to date on
family and the new will. I was stupid to not follow up on what
the Colonel told me.”
“You couldn’t have known.”
“It’s true that I didn’t know who,
but I knew exactly how to find out. And I didn’t.
I ignored the evidence.”
“It was all circumstantial.”
And because of that, two
children will grow up with no family but an uncle not much older
might as well have stabbed Kim myself.”
I stopped talking and Kane said nothing else. After a
few minutes he got up and walked away. He didn’t have to
ask why I’d done it. He knew.
I faced the statue, put my hands together and bowed three more times.
still didn’t know what to chant and I’d burnt all the
incense that had been there, so I put another MPC bill into the red
donation box and looked into Quan
Âm’s alabaster face one more time. It had been such a
to want, I thought: just one more night by the ammo bunker under
the stars with Rat.