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By Mack McColl
Facts are mere accessories to the truth, and we do not invite to our hearth the guest who can only remind us that on such a day we suffered calamity. Still less welcome is he who would make a Roman holiday of our misfortunes. Exaggeration of what was monstrous is quickly recognised as a sign of egotism, and that contrarious symptom of the same disease which pretends that what is accepted as monstrous was really little more than normal is equally unwelcome."
Max Plowman, from Subaltern on the Somme
Chapter one: Hot dark damp forest dreams
Pham Van Dong picked his way through the world's largest contraption, “which is more than vicious." He had said it before and he'll say it again, loudly, "like a descending spiral," for Dong spoke to no one but himself while he bypassed the flourishing danger (invented) and nature's traps (created and evolved).
It was hot this afternoon, every afternoon, as he walked in the bewildering valleys of shadows of death. He crossed the darkened corridors everywhere in a jungle journey, able to discern where chaos would explode over and under, inside and out, and, he faced this constant peril in the hundreds of kilometres in his path. He had been ambling through intense peril for an amazingly long time and his body went south at this moment while his mind unravelled in various directions.
The construction of a contraption like this wreaked carnage on thousands upon thousands of square kilometers. The belligerent device operated under the careful scrutiny of its constructors and would chafe at and kill reams of population unfound and unlost in an unaccountably dark region of the world. Contraption engineers like Dong fooled minds and forged a machine to shred the flesh and smash the bones of undisclosed numbers of (scrupulously counted) unsuspecting people. Dong was not alone in this task of course (except at this moment and even then not for long), for he worked inside a legion of like-minded 'Dongs' who carried sinister threads of inside knowledge, some with enough to survive. The need for this struggle to create a miazma of perpetual carnage was, nevetheless, a mystery to themselves as much as anybody else. If there was a reason, it was long forgotten.
The countryside was a slaughterhouse of the deceived and blood was shed in more than one jungle. The jungle where Dong was walking was the former Truong Son of the French Associated States of Indochine. Dong knew it would now be called the Central Highlands of someplace else. He drifted down invisible paths this afternoon in a mortifying jungle and sweat a lot as anybody would in this heat (and he was under the weather in a self-inflicted way with a damned hangover).
Up to this very day, July 20, 1956, Dong had been carousing in the City of Hanoi at victory celebrations whereas in hindsight he should have foreseen the difficulties that lay ahead and confronted him today, should have seen them even as late as last week, or sooner, like when his fancy coat and top hat were confiscated when he came back from Geneva a few weeks ago. Now he returned to these invisible trails in the Annamite Cordillera for a miserable trek through immense danger and intense heat. He carried a canvas sack that bounced off an area of thick skin on his hip as he stepped over gnarled flora on valley floors and watched a tightly sprung trap coiling around him. Aah oui, il est un grand malaise, and the trick is to make it fatal. These are the things he considered as he walked in the Annamite Cordillera, a mountainous maze that divided the land of his forefathers into two geographical extremes. These two extremes were situated on a subcontinent that possessed neither repute nor disrepute and virtually no world recognition, and it was on this very day one-third of his native land disappeared. No outside speculators could say where it went; a few might have blamed the suddenly occurring Central Highlands while others might have argued whether Annam ever existed. Dong was very much at the forefront of the duplicity and subterfuge of this nature groaning in perpetuity through the constant waft of mysterious, repulsive odours.
From this day forward therefore Dong would propagate “new names” for “opposite ends” of this uncommon principality, his home and native land. Elders could say about these new names they had a familiar ring, and perhaps the 'new' names had occurred in a previous long-forgotten age. Now to clarify the confusion which arises from there being two, well, North Vietnam would lie to the north and a South Vietnam would lie to the south and nothing could be simpler. These two 'extremes' contained their share of the most fertile soil on earth, a fact the most ignored of all in political discourse always ending abruptly after correspondents endured overtures onto occult avenues (and down which they would never go and ever come back to talk about).The way everything grew around here was a hint of the supernatural fecundity in the land; the proof was in stuff accidently growing stupendous yields, including cultivations of rice. Dong ate a big bowl of rice every day (and lately twice a day) but Dong was no simple rice farmer. He was sowing a homicidal harvest.
He worked for the wizards behind the mechanical horrors that ruled Tonking and these wizards had raised a new spectre, an even nastier one, of new contraption terror. As party to creating perpetually dreary prospects in a forgotten part of the world, Dong reflected upon today's momentous turn that put him on this trek. First thing he and everybody had to swallow, was Nationalism had been suddenly replaced by Communism. Immune to dread, Dong knew the place contained tricky images of paradise like the beauty of the people, the ferocity of nature, the bounteous harvests from earth, rivers, and surrounding seas. Ancestors who once ruled over these gifts were long gone as were their intentions and whatever else was possessed of history.
Dong hiked with open mouth, catching flies, spitting a lot, and breathing hard, but keeping a steady pace and occasionally wiping the sweat from his brow, not without thinking about the Congress of North Vietnamese nouveau-communists in Hanoi. The north's centuries-old 'Walleyed' city had been seized and turned into the new capital of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (DRV). The ruling cabal of petrifying leaders to this end included Ho Chi Minh, Le Duc Tho, General Giap, and a few other fossils that had generated the contraption. The ringleaders sat ominously atop a new Politburo holding its First Party Congress.
Formerly concealed evidence, surely truncated in content, and taking a newly apparent form, indicated varieties of interlopers encountering misfortune over the centuries when unwittingly (but somehow inevitably) falling into these parts. Dong knew it was propaganda designed to obscure historic, existing, and future deeds that could be construed as serious contraventions of new conventions in Geneva. Propaganda abounded to be sure but Dong reflected on his own role in the current malodorous century, which happens to be long after his forefathers contracted to build the contraption.
Simplicity governed the function; a strange pragmatism governed the thinking behind it. Dong and his cohorts roamed the countryside free-booting from villages and decorating the realm with knots of string, fishing-line, rope, and wire; digging holes, pits, and tunnels, and fashioning tonnes of bamboo into various shapes designed for lethal force, including thousands of strategically placed punjii sticks smeared with shit, pits often filled with poisonous snakes. Explosives were used on occasions when the comptroller splurged. One way or another the legion’s machinations made segments of earth and chunks or heaps of creation move to take out every living thing in the way. Spongy ground soaked up the remains.The contraption was a trap and worked as traps are wont to work, on the basis of deception. It’s about catching them when they least expect it and it doesn’t hurt to bait and switch once in a while, being the bait, pushing the contraption to strike. With this trap it even works to catch them when they expect it the most. Yes, this works too, but this works with a fully assembled contraption. The surprise attack, the atrocity by stealth, is the most exciting, of course, and the most recent explosion of surprises happened in a tumult which had transpired at the end of World War II. The contraption had been trained on a few divisions of Walleyed and squarehead barbarian longnoses who came to be known for their deeds and destined to disappear into the unknown, which was right here, IndoChina, part of which itself had recently disappeared.Immediately prior to this, a decade-long operation, Dong and cohorts spent a few years ripping apart a motley crew of Nipponese who were lured into the vast network of jungle traps for feeding to the great grinder. It wasn't complicated, not in the least. Put simply it was atrociously evil and a whole lot depended on it. Heirs to four centuries of continuous slaughter had finished a workup on the Walleyes. Those days were gone. 'Ferme le porte,' on your way out.
Operating the contraption was drudgery despite the havoc of these deeds and the days were filled with arduous, subtle, and tricky tasks. Dong himself was a rare entity, a long suffering stick-in-the-mud, and sure he stood up to his knees in the gore. But not as often as he used to. Seniority had launched him onto the world stage for a moment only to have fame flicker out like a falling star and pass away instantly. He was once again made to meander a nameless jungle with an aching head and bones, this time regretting a week of smoking, drinking, and carousing, ending abruptly this very day, yet which seemed so long ago.
He had attended the last day of the First Party Congress this morning. (There had been another first party congress a long time ago that nobody talked about.) The leaders had recently moved from Tan Trao, the hamlet in the jungle, to downtown Hanoi. It was a culture shock and Dong lived there in a fog. The ruling mob had fewer dreadful bugs and other surprises to deal with. Dong's memories of the past week were incomplete but 'comrades' had taken over the assets to appraise them and suddenly a bunch of Communists replaced a former Walleye-hating mob called Viet Minh. It was in the Minh that Dong had rank. A new region called South East Asia began to slink in the darkness under control of North Vietnam's 'Planning Council', which administered the Politburo. Some of this was important news to pass along.
Higher authorities in the Politburo were the usual accountants and botanists and a few councillors were field engineers and none of this would ever change. Dong belonged on the trails, yes, and equally belonged at the first (or apparently even third) party congress. He was a long-time servant of stench and last May his seniority took him to Geneva, Switzerland, and when he got there nobody knew who he was, or what he was there for. They seemed to go out of their way to ignore him, then the Geneva Convention was over and he left. Dong journeyed through the jungle where he was important and the contraption knew it and left well enough alone.
He ought to have attended more of the endless sessions of the First Party Congress at the Reunification Hotel (formerly Hotel Hanoi). Nobody on the council missed the all-encompassing summary address by the peerless defacto leader of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (DRV) delivered this morning in downtown Hanoi. During the last day of the First Party Congress, Dong had briefly envied the Walleyes for leaving when Uncle Ho began a long rumination about 'borders' and Dong tried to act interested like he tried earlier in the week when he, Dong, chaired a committee called, 'Preparation of a Rudimentary Map of the Annamite Cordillera.' He trudged into another volcanic gorge cogitating on Uncle Ho's arrival at another point in the agenda (where naturally he stayed for a long time. . .). The endless topic of peerless defacto leader's speech was feeding the contraption, for the contraption was “rice and salted fish heads” to this gang. A future of gigantic atrocities would surely dry up and disappear without the trap. Peerless defacto leader Ho Chi Minh (aka Nguyen Ai Qouc, Nguyen That Than, Nguyen That Thanh, Nguyen Van Than, C.M. Moo) was the latest in a long line of contraption confederates or collaborators and Uncle Ho spoke to an attentive audience, “This device was designed for the Walleyes that have departed and with whom went the old borders . . . .” And everything they could carry went with them on a flotilla of rust buckets. Whispers surrounded Dong who had been looking sympathetic and hanging on every word and thinking to himself that he didn't miss the stuff taken down the Red River to Haiphong by the huffy Walleyed longnoses when they left the region, yelling at anyone who would listen (nobody) that they already lost more than their share. Pas encore.
“The time has come to dismantle the contraption,” peerless defacto leader continued, then paused. Dong pondered a few enduring summary addresses preceding this all-important (second) First Party Congress address, until peerless defacto leader made this infamous announcement: "And move it!" which stunned the crowd.
A short burst of laughter broke in the room but died instantly (probably at the end of a blunt instrument). Then silence fell over the crowd and Dong recalled this because the silence occurred when an ache in his own head began.
“We will move the contraption from one new country to another new country,” said peerless defacto leader, “from one No-Man's-Land to another No-Man's-Land.”
Ho Chi Minh’s arms were wrapped in a floppy black sleeves flapping like black flags or bat’s wings in the direction of a few cluckers. The speech would destroy all doubt in would-be scorners simply by luring them out for destruction. Hundreds of confused councillors fell under the withering gaze of Ho Chi Minh including Dong and no doubt a few withered back regarding the idea of the Nguyen. None would dare to protest dismantling and moving the contraption just because it might be a delusion coming from a man who was doing too much celebrating. Nobody questioned Uncle Ho. Nobody knew of any surviving person who ever questioned Ho Chi Minh to his face.
"Parts of the trap in the Phuong Dong will move to the other end of a new jungle," said Uncle Ho, “and some parts on the cordillera do not move far. We trusted the contraption in Tong King and Annam! Those names are gone with the Walleyes and now the contraption will be dismantled and restored at the end of a new road. Let no one doubt we will build this road through, and sometimes around, the Central Highlands."
Dong recalled thinking, almost outloud, 'Build a what?'
“Down this road we will move the contraption at great expense and at the end of it we will raise a stench to make the world retch."
"Would you settle for a trail?"
“Ferme la bouche! And make the necessary adjustments! Get used to it! There will plenty more merde to go around! We will make it happen. You can do this if you try.”
It was Uncle Ho's job to cheerlead for the crowd before making the operation proceed.
In their spare time (of which they had too much nowadays) out on the trails (for there would never be roads) a new breed of argumentative types might suggest dismantling the contraption. No one would suggest moving the garrulous and unwieldy thing except the consummate Councillor who stood in front of the conference room full of mass murderers. No one could say where peerless defacto leader came by his ideas. The prospect of entering an impenetrable (newly coined) Central Highlands to build a road where you can barely find a trail practically floored everybody. (Nice carpet to land on for a change.) On the other hand, raising a stench with the contraption was nothing new.
Dong recalled a glimpse he had taken of the fancy room and the weary looks he had seen through his own bleary eyes. A lot of heads nodded but there were hisses on a few of those lips. Dong failed to conceal his own look of stupefaction (and probably wore it long into this forest trek. He wouldn't know because there weren't a lot of mirrors out here).There was one brief glimpse at terror when peerless defacto leader Ho Chi Minh glowered in Dong's direction. “You look dismayed, Comrade Van,” he said, in a lower and slower voice, a murmur, “We will move the great grinder inside your non-existent lines on your useless maps!" he shouted, "I heard a special criticism (dialectic) of the rudimentary committee you chaired. I suggest you go and make it a real map this time! For this is what we require.” Dong held his breath so long he almost passed out waiting for the blow to the back of his skull. "Renovate the contraption!" The cardinal vulture must have stuck his neck in a faraway vault because the money to build a road was not found here, certainly not in the wads of worthless Walleyed francs filling bullet holes in walls of the hamlet huts. Dong asked himself, why pick on old Dong for hunching too close to the front, both literally and metaphorically? Was he not behaving as one of the few doubters not hissing and whispering? He knew to avoid the argument and remain silent about his role as cartographer highlighted by peerless defacto leader. And the morning dragged like it does for a guy who spends most of his days in the dark.
Uncle Ho had a windy streak given to endless speeches filled with malevolent detail (and if they knew who to kill it would be the death of a speech-writer). Dong pondered the extraordinary moving announcement. He had to, since his day took a turn for the worst. “Yes, Pham Van Dong,” peerless defacto leader had hissed, vehemently, “you would be one of the would-be scorners.” For agonizing seconds he had waited for the bludgeon to fall, instead his headache grew worse.
“This time, gentlemen, we play for higher stakes, although we are accustomed to laying the risks!” Behind the bewildering contraption lay Uncle Ho’s viperous intelligence and a dragon had less blood on its fangs. They needed a guy as smart as peerless defacto leader Ho Chi Minh to concoct a plot to put perpetual killing on a centre-stage nobody could see. Worth recalling was the mood of the crowd, however, swaying with an unexpected level of pessimism. Where was the sense of victory blowing in the wind? Perhaps they like Dong were too exhausted after decades running in jungles to 'evade' long noses. Dong recalled one particular inquiry made by a wizened-to-terror (therefore invisible) neo-Communist, “Is the soil in the south as fertile as the north?”
“What do we know of the soil in the south?” echoed another voice, timidly. “What does soil have to do with anything?" came Uncle Ho's gruff repy. “I have issued orders to dismantle the contraption!”
The new Politburo stuck with a sure bet. This crowd of head-hunters would agree to decisions belonging to Uncle Ho regardless how merciless the outcome. They were scared of him for he was known to instigate many a harrowing episode going back to the 1930s when he used a sharp red pencil at a railroad station in Kiev, Ukraine, and later for imparting the same starvation economics to Chairman Mao in China who took much inspiration from Comecon's despotic auditor. When famine arrived in Tong King in 1944 and '45, during a previous brief fling with Communism, it coincided not surprisingly with the homecoming of the peerless defacto leader. Starvation followed this guy everywhere he went.
Pham Van Dong was still alive and outside the inevitable circular dialogue swirling about peerless defacto leader's decision. But of course he heard gossip swirl of an occlusion on Dong's horizon, and that was just noise. He heard a surprising amount of opposition to peerless defacto leader's announcement. To many if not all councillors the idea of moving the contraption was preposterous and depended on building a road through the previously unheardof Central Highlands, which was impossible. The Annamite Cordillera was a barrier that was never crossed except by a few tiger hunting expeditions and now Dong's specific duties. The trails in the flora were made by the fauna. As for human trails, the question had always been, why bother?
The First Party Congress this morning contained a bazaar of macro-engineering professionals, each with a lifetime spent in the design, construction, or maintenance of the meat-grinding contraption. It was originally conceived and built in the northern half of IndoChina, most of it in Tong King, but a small section operated in northern Annam so everybody appreciated the difficulty of constructing things on the cordillera. Viets mostly figured it would be redundant to add danger to already imminent danger, but eventually an avid gathering of Viet Minh came to appreciate the harvest on these tiny trails, for such a contraption is not the creation of idlers (who ultimately learned that a long nose would chase you anywhere to kill you).
Dong knew that none of these councilors could imagine their lives without it; furthermore the contraption itself would fulfill the wrath of Nguyen Ai Qouc, the big Nguyen, the number one (and only) peerless defacto leader. Dong, approaching his mid-50's, and a lifetime inside the Nationalist Movement, the idea remained difficult to imagine, moving a thing of such monstrous girth, contraption fighting you all the way down a sinew of non-existent trails through a nightmare of Annamite jungle (Was that asking too much?) to perpetuate the name of one man who spent most of his leisure time surrounded by naked children playing with rubber balloons.
Dong averted his eyes from the infamously hard stare raking over the First Party Congress. Uncle Ho stood in with a row of ringleaders who blinked owlishly at everybody: General Nguyen Vo Giap, Truong Chin, General Nguyen Chi Thanh, Le Duan, and Le Duc Tho, all products of the French Surete of the former Associated States of Indochine. They were silent like everybody else while Uncle Ho raved at the would-be scorners. Dong ranked as high as any, in terms of seniority. Political footing in this tiny corner of the known world, and unknown world, never came with a golden parachute.
"In taking our decision, we asked. . . ," (Oh yeah? Asked who?), "would it be worthwhile to expand and spread the contraption if such possibilities exist?" And peerless defacto leader had known the answer, which was happily shorter than the question. Heads nodded, for otherwise they would roll, plus there was general agreement that the contraption was immaculate and irreplaceable. In his address Uncle Ho blamed the Walleyes for a worthless currency that reflected their lackadaisical approach to feeding the monstrously sized device recently.
"From a technical point of view, we know the contraption works perfectly. First we agreed," he had paused, as at many moments in the summary address, "that moving our contraption is a laudable goal. Then fellow Communists we merely faced the job of relocation." He allowed his crypt-piercing remarks to sink in. Ol' Whatzisname should be expected to employ a single-minded purpose in coming to his carnivorous conclusion (having the sort of single mind that promotes human sacrifice). Dong had survived long enough to learn a few dark secrets regarding ownership of the Nguyen contract, and Dong buried any further contemplation, except he knew a practically alien hypocrisy cloaked a huge stake in an utterly carnal enterprise thriving in their midst. The contractor abided in a rare atmosphere furnished by stratospheric wealth and made Uncle Ho an agent with a sharp pencil used to cipher the tricky details weighing-in on a large-scale rendering of humans.
Dong actually knew his cartography job without faking, no matter what the peerless defacto leader proclaimed, dialectics aside, and this was both fortunate and unfortunate circumstance because it kept him alive but for what? More insults and threats? "Couldn't we just leave it where it is?" asked another invisible councilor. (Who was it luckier and further from the front than Dong?) The foolish question from behind failed to recognize the saturation point of the north and exhaustion of population. Nor did it recognize deeds like these are done to people by planning. The previous plan had been fulfilled once the Nationalist movement obtained a nation after years of continuous battles raging in the north. Naturally peerless defacto leader made the former Minhs mob break hard on the Walleyes. Two things remained after 300 years of Walleyed '‘colonialism': a legion of long nose ghosts haunted the jungle habitat (near the rivers), and vaults were abandoned containing ghostly francs collecting dust (or loads of laughs when offered to the world's bankers). The Walleyes themselves mocked the worthless papiere, "Ho, we will simply make a new franc, so fuck you."
During the past 10 years of unbridled terror, Walleyes grew snooty and spiteful, especially once the predecessor to the Politburo cobbled together pieces of the modern contraption and perfected its function. Timed perfectly with contraption operations came the arrival of hundreds of thousands of barbarian long noses hired by local Walleyes (called Colons) to create an incomprehensible escalation. Viets rose to ferocious scale on their own behalf, casting themselves in a new form of warrior called a guerrilla. Behind the carnage, wizards steered combatants into the contraption, which devoured until the remaining Walleyes sailed away taking everything they could carry. "Oh, faceless inquisitor," peerless defacto leader replied to the faceless inquisitor, "Walleyes are gone and never coming back," he said, sort of lamentably, and he hardly moved except to blink, delivering every word with terrible gravity (except Uncle Ho didn’t need words to be a menace). "Who else knows the value of our possessions? Have we learned nothing from these tricks ? We will invite another greater long nose!"
Dong imagined he and his fellow Viets had taken control of IndoChina because his eyes and ears told him so, and everybody was eating lots of rice and smoking lots of opium, and no long noses roamed around the countryside stealing the lion's share of an endless supply (best rice in the world) and constant flow (second best opium in the world). Of course it was too good to be true. Why not invite another horde of obnoxious round-eyed bastards to proliferate another huge stench in the midst of an exploding population, highest growth rate in the world? To Dong, who was well-schooled in Uncle Ho's Nationalist rhetoric, the new direction simply revealed a contraption-sized compulsion for baiting long noses. To Dong (and most of the rest of the council) sending an invitation to the United States of America would seem to be an astonishing way to proceed.
Dong was feeling overwhelmed, as surely the rest of them were, at the pace of change. On any given day, he had stumbled through an urban grotto searching for an entrance to a sweet-smelling opium den, fresh off the stinking trails from sucking Walleyes into the trap. Suddenly, or so it seemed, he was sat in a Swiss hotel room holding forth a phoney map nobody wanted to see. A few days later he roamed an ornate (in a gauche way) hotel and conference centre in Hanoi. This morning he stood with bare feet buried in plush carpet in an opulent ballroom of the Reunification Hotel and he became the ghostly centre of attention, his turn to feel the terror devised by the mind behind the contraption. How is that for startling change?
Or try swallowing this malaria pill, "Pham Van Dong! Some comrade! Your pitiful sneer informs us how entirely unfortunate we are to continue to require your services." They probably hit him with a sock filled with buckshot because he fell unconscious.
No doubt the Nguyen went on in great hoary detail about the grinding path to the future. Details of a brand new paradigm pertained to a brand new agenda and Dong was perhaps an accidental Councillor who unconsciously knew it was more of the same old shit. He became aware of the youthful cadre slapping his face and saying he wasn't hit that hard and telling him nobody was going to carry him, and then he was elbowed off the steps of the hotel into the streets heading toward the river. Dong knew the luck to be pushed in front of a firing squad when it happened to be unarmed. They tossed him in the tepid puddle on the floor of the sloop on the banks of the Red River. A gang of three launched the boat and he heard them chatting about Dong's duty to create a map of a place called the Central Highlands.
They shunted him down the Red River onto the Gulf of Tonkin, and the party sailed south along the coast to an indistinct point until they drew parallel with the Truong Son. Dong bore the brunt of a thoroughly dull a lecture during the hundreds of kilometers until the political dogmatics ended after a number of hours and the conversation turned to a sarcastic discussion about Dong's worthiness as bait. They told him Ho Chi Minh ended the summary address with complete termination of the Viet Minh Nationalist movement as if it never existed, and he had missed it. They told him about executions taking place after the meeting. Then they informed Dong if he so much as mentioned the Minh movement ever again, Communists like they would cut out his tongue and mince it and fry it and eat it without sharing one piece with him.
So the bait changed and Dong was informed Communists are it. This new political fiction was fabricated from a litany called Causal Doctrine. It went like this (slap), and like this (slap), and like that (slap), and like this (slap). They spat on him one point at a time and he could have replied he heard it all before. Uncle Ho speaking of communist causal doctrine old news, heard long ago around a fire, straight from the horses mouth, and Dong recalled thinking it was slightly more brutal and destructive than the Minh model for contraption deployment. The Walleyes hated national aspirations. The Longnose Americans hated ideological aspirations. In fact, Dong didn't distinguish a difference. Passing endless rivers pouring into the South China Sea, water sometimes cascading from tremendous heights as they neared Annam, (“There is no such place,” commanded one of the cadre who ensued with an insane rant about Dong lucky he was mapping the Central Highlands, or he was nothing but a smear. Now honestly a mapping assignment like this one compared to delivering letters to non-existent people who are never to be found in the most remote corners of the world.)
His assignment involved traveling the Phuong Dong or Central Highlands of the Annamite Cordillera (which is a chain of severely grumpy mountains to form a bent spine on the IndoChinese peninsula) where even tigers are scared to roam but do anyway.
Those snotty young pups tossed him and a sack at the mouth of a river in the waning afternoon and departed presumably back to Hanoi and the easy life. Dong laid alone for a spell disgusted by what he had heard and eventually rose from the red muck to doff wet shorts and lean into a tree and take a piss. He looked for a trail down which he started the trek. He was on his way with his tongue, a former Nationalist reborn a Communist, and facing a long climb back up the hierarchy and a long walk south and west. This late afternoon he will meet a group of jungle-bound Viet-Muh, Communist cadre. Then he was off to Saigon City.
It was Dong's intention to be the most terrifying of all things in the bowels of a mortifying jungle. He scared the wildest creatures with his frightful image of sunken eyes set in hoods of skin that sun had browned and years had wrinkled into leather. His jutting teeth were black from chewing betel nut and smoking and a lack of dental practitioners in the Phuong Dong or other jungles. He was wiry and strong and still the heavy sack was a burden that made him hunch forward and list in the direction of the weight. Clumps of red muck from the riverbank matted his hair and the thinning pate was greying, for Dong had seen more than a few ghosts. He always ate a lot of salted fish and had breath that smelled rotten, which was enough to slam a tiger in the face and send it howling. Years ago, around the turn of the century, a couple of fingers went missing from his strong-side hand.
Dong took great care with a sack of gifts that came from a crazed American in Geneva to be delivered to South Vietnamese (defacto) President Ngo Dinh Diem. John Foster Dulles had supplied an assortment of colorful long nose American magazines representing something previously unseen and equal to a fortune in the black markets of Saigon City, South Vietnam, South East Asia (except this collection was spoken for).
A few Viets in the former Associated State of Cochin China, now South Vietnam, postured obscenely and acted in a completely facile way to attract foreign attention and placate long noses. These pragmatists were called Catholics, there was a few, and their fawning had been encouraged. One was named Ngo Dinh Diem and he ran an organization called the Catholic Labour Union which in turn funded a bunch of brutal sects in the south, the largest of which was called Cao Dai.
Dong stopped to catch his breath and have a smoke, maybe two. He stooped to pull on his dried shorts in the widest part of the trail and spied a stump in the dark to brush off a place to sit. He retrieved a pipe from the sack and a little purse of cultivated marijuana and fished for a magazine, which he held toward a slash of light and opened to browse the colorful pages and he lit the bowl of weed. In an instant the crazed scouts from a colony of flesh-eating ants struck pay dirt at his bare feet and Dong stomped the earth and blew smoke at the ground hoping to cause a retreat. He turned his gaze to the mesmerizing long nose nymphs reposing in glossy life-like color. Rather than thoughts of pleasure his head filled with memories of belligerence and he sat astride the trail in the relative dark of day puffing until the bowl was consumed. Four centuries had passed since the walleyes stuck their long noses into the region. Dong's reclusive ancestors had hidden in jungles like this one where forests provided seclusion to leaders in those centuries of ceaseless and inexplicable carnage perpetrated by Walleyed interlopers. In these constricting quarters the nobles escaped fatal inculcation by the French until Gia Long became first Nguyen emperor in the early 19th century. Gia Long was revered for making the best of a bad situation.
Dong's parents conceived him (and Ho Chi Minh conceived an industrial age contraption) in a wild and forbidding jungle much like this one except somewhere else in the former Associated States. Dong reconsidered his own life-long service, which obviously added up to nothing for him personally, which he now understood was the ultimate objective.. He had missed the glorious moment of victory in the tiny village of Dien Bien Phu, being stuck in Tan Trao and then sent to Geneva while the opium growers stood back to watch General Giap spring into action. General Giap used up two million Viet Minh to annihilate half a million Foreign Legionnaires. The stench of Dien Bien Phu smelled all the way to Hanoi and was a coup de grace and denouement for the mighty Viet Minh army. Pictures of French officers Colonel Langlais and General de Castries taken on a wharf at Haiphong harbour show them wearing long faces.
Dong was destined to fill his days watching an apparently redundant (and still hungry) contraption. Others suffered this monotonous fate and soon they would meet and welcome the announcement by peerless defacto leader. They knew little about the grandiosity of the new assignment. Dong knew the contraption would take all of a decade to re-assemble. More worrisome was the choice of long noses to take the bait.
Dong's thoughts had turned to the immediate concern of meeting this group of Viet, uh, Communists who were expecting rumours from Hanoi. He tucked away the pipe and dope in their containers and the magazine in its sack, and rose to continue moving to the south west. That snootful of weed had performed magic and the trail was wider and the jungle more commodious. The contraption moved back on both sides and ahead and above and below. A short while later Dong's trustworthy senses informed him of an encounter coming down the trail. But one has to ask, was this the one he was expecting? The meeting was imminent with those Viet Mi—er--unists.
Dong stepped off the trail to conceal himself and wait for shadows to approach. First he observed silhouettes passing through ribbons of light and wondered if there shouldn't be more of them. He fingered the pistol in the sack the cadre had given him at the end of the boat-ride. Then more memories of belligerence flooded his mind. The excitement of potential bloodshed subsided after Dong identified the lead coming down the trail. Nevertheless he barked from the shadows, "Who goes there?"
It was Ha Van Lau who stood on the trail smirking at the bushes, "Finish up in there, old fella," said the fast rising Viet Min-uh-U'nist, "and I will introduce you."
Dong groused, "Very funny," and stepped out to chuckles and stared into the battle-hardened eyes of Ha Van Lau.
"Who were you expecting?" asked Lau. Dong replied, "Where are the others?"
"Red dust," said Ha Van Lau.
Dong corrected him, "Stench first." Ha Van Lau was a youthful northerner and future leader of the Viet (uh) Communists, "Of course," with a destiny of joining the (uh) Politburo. Let's see how proficient he was in locating the body count with coordinates. "How many and where?" Ha Van Lau bowed his head, and spat, "Three in one spot. I have coordinates." He held out a little notebook, which Dong waved away. "I have more interesting things to read," and he said, "It continues to be a hungry contraption that discriminates against neophytes. It makes them believers before they know it." The new cadre venturing this far had provided residual confirmation of the contraption's continuous functionality. "I said I marked the spot," said Lau, upon whose spittle Dong was gazing as it oozed into the ground, as if the hungry earth was swallowing it. "It's amazing," Lau added, "the way it never stops working."
"Never stops," Dong eyed the survivors, and nodded at Lau and everyone to move off to a small clearing. A tall man, Clad from Dien Bien Phu, dripping with insider knowledge of all the mysterious deeds, sat first, opposite Pham Van Dong, and lit a smoke, and he held up a sticky piece of opium, and it tantalized the group. It was fresh stuff too. Dong shuddered when Lau intervened like an authoritarian, insisting they hear from Hanoi first. No doubt he was eager because he needed rumours to spread, enough with the rumours of rumours. Sew the net shut then spread different rumours to hide the deeds behind the first set of rumours. That and whatever else the wise council commanded.
"I will talk about proceedings at the First Communist Comintern Congress of the Democratic Republic of Viet-uh. . ." "The wha --? The Minh?" "Shut up! CCIC of the DRV -- whatever that spells. Vietnam Doc Lap Dong Minh League for the Independence of Vietnam is no more."
He said carefully to the quizzical faces, "You men of the Viet (uh) 'Cong' have built a rapacious device -- " "The who?"
"Shut up! -- and it has a gourmand's appetite. It will be fed no matter what."
Dong actually felt smug where he sat, thinking, "No wonder they couldn't get rid of this guy." He just invented a word that will save his tongue: Cong. And it even has a ring to it. Ha! Fuck you, Ho Chi Minh!
"Call yourselves ‘Viet Cong’ from this day forward and do not forget or your tongue becomes fertilizer for a stinky seedling. Spread the word."
(He watched the collective, ‘Huh?' with slight bemusement.) Dong decided to impose a grumbling diatribe upon the dwindling crowd so he wilted the jungle confines with a speech about today's miserable ordeal. (He did after all survive to talk it.) Brows furrowed as they listened to the resentment and curses about the boat ride.
"You got a boat-ride?" General Trinh Minh The interrupted obviously out of envy. Trinh Minh The was the leader of the Dan Xa army, a particularly nasty offspring of the Cao Dai operating in Tay Ninh. General Trinh Minh The's gang was brutal in collecting taxes and using forced labour in a few scattered plantations in east Tay Ninh, a northern province in Cochin. Cao Dai or derivatives or other organizations ruled several provinces like Tay Ninh, and executed in all of them.
"Yes, one with a motor," Dong replied, "That is how important I am, so shut your Cao Dai mouth and hear my message of tremendous importance."
"You must have done something bad to deserve this treatment," Ha Van Lau injected, rudely.
"No trammels?" said Clad of Dien Bien Phu, and he was too amazed, and it reeked of insult. Dong replied, swiftly, to the re-branded Viet Communists, "They took them off early if you must know. I sneered in his face during peerless defacto leader's all-encompassing summary address. You cannot imagine how all-encompassing. It was like a Jesuit sermon. I was lucky I didn't drop dead."
"You sneered in the face of the Nguyen?" Lau rejoined. "I cannot decide how close to sit. It must be a lie and you resided on this trail the entire week smoking dope and scaring everything. You are making up bullshit stories that leave us nothing but false rumours to spread."
Dong sighed, "I wish."
They must know his reputation with the council and ought to show more respect. Dong had sniffed in peerless defacto leader's face and lived, so he ignored Ha Van Lau, and continued to speak, "Old Quoc accused me of incompetencies, then his catamites smacked the back of my head, but to be honest I never heard mention of Communism until this week," he lied.
His survival instinct told Dong it was essential to show a repentant side, "He doesn't appreciate the few friends that he has left."
"Thinking like yours will lead us in one direction. We'd be scary decorative trimming on the contraption or heads-on-sticks in a southern Cao Dai parade," said the sarcastic Ha Van Lau.
Dong replied, "Put mine on the longest stick,” brusquely, “I bet the view would be nice from up there. The contraption will continue to operate and that is the news from Hanoi."
A satisfied smirk curled over the lips of Ha Van Lau, which Dong thought should be a smile. The would-be member of the Politburo strained an ear for insubordination because Lau would fail to perceive Dong's burden of responsibility, which was leading the way to a functional contraption, starting with mapping the way to Tay Ninh, and mapping was Dong's duty, and that was just the beginning of the descending spiral. Dong applied diplomacy, "Operating the contraption is fine. First is the part about moving it."
"Move it?" Clad howled, "You can't even see it!"
Sure, Clad. Dong glanced at Ha Van Lau and realized he had to endure a lot. You could not expect much from lackeys since most of them feed the contraption. Dong's recalcitrant way might be seem to be unexpected because he did rank higher than his breath and was trusted with high level intelligence to be delivered with the utmost care. Ten million go here. Five million go there. Then there are these overtly licentious magazines to go to the new President of something called 'The Puppet Regime.' None of these cadre needed to ask why Dong prefers the dark.
Ha Van Lau should know Dong was feeling disturbed by a missing turbulence that was normally occurring in his terribly disturbing fields of endeavor. It was a problem Lau might encounter someday. At the same time Dong knew Ha Van Lau had marched hundreds of kilometres through the most horrific and death-defying land in the history of the world and these troopers weathered the nightmare all the way from Dien Bien Phu to hear a plan. Lau looked forward to futuristic horrors of his own design. The youthful 'cadre' would not be disappointed except perhaps by the aging mentor's rotten attitude.
The others knowing nothing about the nature of the trap would say it was impossible to move based on its size. They rarely live long enough to grasp contraption theory. If they did, well, the contraption would not be working properly.
"Why not leave it where it is?" asked Clad of Dien Bien Phu.
Dong decided to let Ha Van Lau reply, "Where there is no one left to feed it?" "Why not take it apart," whispered General The, ". . . end the game and go on to something else?"
The Dan Xa general displayed a demented southern attitude regarding a contraption emerging in the south. He thought like the old school Southerners and mistook the scale of the undertaking. A self-serving militia like Dan Xa lacked the vision of a nationalist movement, or a Politburo. These militia could be used by larger organizations. Southerners like General The saw life as a pursuit of personal wealth and they were able to do this in the past couple of generations. The maximum size of Dan Xa body count would be 1,000-member villages of backward tribes people and no contraption involvement.
Dan Xa was formed in the 1920s Cochin out of suitcases full of French francs and the latest firearms delivered by peculiar hooded 'brothers,' and a form of escalation occurred when neighbouring (somehow non-Dan Xa) hamlets were massacred, but the effort concluded when a general left Cochin with a suitcases full of francs, or whatever currency was in vogue. These 'Dan Xa' and other Cao Dai or Hau Hau sects had been funded by the Catholic Labour Union, which was Ngo Dinh Diem, and they each figured they ruled until they departed to open a grocery store in Manila or Hawaii.
"The Council knows the price," replied Lau, aggressive as he could be as a future Politburo member. He seemed wise beyond his years if he knew what he was talking about, which he didn't, so he wasn't.
"Where will they move it?" asked the Dan Xa general. He watched them turn to face Dong who made sure of his reply, "The contraption is moving to a place called South Vietnam." Ha Van Lau was a northerner with important intelligence and even he failed to hide his surprise, and Dong realized Lau would be more sympathetic from now on. Lau glanced at Dong and at the dejected Dan Xa ‘parade marshall fresh from changing sides at Dien Bien Phu and now fresh out of sides. Clad of Dien Bien Phu shook his head in apparent disbelief, but with the amount of dope Clad of Dien Bien Phu smoked he must feel lucky all the time. The Dan Xa general had plenty of reason to be nervous about the northern-oriented trap. No modern version of the trap ever operated in the south.The general knew as well as anyone when the walleyes entered the south beginning in 1666 they introduced a mission civilastrice and concocted so many horrible situations that finally their presence was popularized by Saturday night parades featuring thousands upon thousands of fresh heads on sticks. These parades became popular when the botanists agreed the hair is a despoiler.
The Cochin history of insane carnage was buried a century ago along with the deep secrets behind the order and the chaos. General The of Tay Ninh had contemplated mainly peace in his home province. Until now he could say the chaos belonged to him. Those days are soon forgotten since nobody would be left to pay various ad hoc taxes in primarily amorphous Tay Ninh province, South Vietnam. The first transplantation of contraption would begin on Dan Xa turf.
"Where are they going to find the long noses to feed it?" General The protested. "In Annam you can count them on two, er, one hand."
Dong had the answer and waved his maimed hand at the 'Viet Cong general,' "You are whining about the most interesting part of the Nguyen's plot. He is baiting the trap for the beady eyed long nose Americans.
"The richly tanned faces went pale white including the normally sanguine cheeks of Ha Van Lau. A gloomy silence descended on the crowd, gloomier than the surroundings, at their new prospects. Nothing would quiet the ghastly forest overrun by screaming beasts and creatures of all kinds haunted by millions of ghosts.Everyone in the world knew the Americans, and Dong had recently met one named Dulles who was loudly proud of his brother for waging atomic war on Orientals. Dulles told the meeting in Geneva that his brother was prepared to use it on other Orientals, lots more Orientals, same as Japan. The Far East, including the tiniest and remotest island dwellers in the Pacific Ocean, knew about America's exaggerated use of atomic weapons. In the whole world, only peerless defacto leader Ho Chi Minh would roll the dice in the face of this. No doubt it hung in the air because it was the hanging question.
"Wouldn't we be smart to call ourselves democratic?" General The of Tay Ninh observed, astutely.
Dong replied, "Some of us are, and the rest are Communist." "I would prefer to be democratic," declared Clad of Dien Bien Phu.
"General The is the only democratic person here." Dong saw a grin on the general's face.
"I know there has to be a reason over and above the normal confusion," said Ha Van Lau. Dong replied, "Think it over while you look at these," and he let contents of his sack spill onto the dry moss at the feet of the Viet Cong. The cross-legged trappers reached out and grabbed one of the magazines and flipped the colourful pages. The rapacious readers stared at titillating images and saw only pictures for they did not understand the words therein. They turned as one to Dong. "Look at these whores," said Clad of Dien Bien Phu, "I would need Indian rubber balls to service one of these." "When do we start?" Ha Van Lau inquired.
Dong smiled and noticed how they recoiled at his mouth, but attentive they remained, and seemed to listen dutifully, as they should, "You are no longer Nationalists seeking independence. Now you are Communists seeking reunification of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam." He hoped he got this right or sure as hell it would get back to somebody important, "The DRV is run by causal doctrine drafted by Marx Leonix which fits neatly with previous diarectical tendencies. Got it?"
"It's Lenin, not Leonix, and he learned it from Leibniz," said Lau, "and they were just perfecting propaganda for us. Also remember to roll your 'r's."
Dong replied, "I'll leave that to Bao Dai and Ngo Dinh Diem," and everybody laughed.
"Uncle Ho ordered the trap to be dismantled in the north of Vietnam."
"Huh?" said General The of Tay Ninh.
"Listen close for I shall say it but once. The names Tong King, Annam, and Cochin are forgotten. Lao Dong is dust and a new people's popular front will rise in the south to meet the American interloper head-on. General The, you have two heads. One is the head of your Dan Xa army, and the second is a defacto head of a new popular front called the Viet Cong."
The general barely smiled this time because he was put under the spotlight and wasn't sure how many warlords would descend to steal whatever laurels he possessed from either side of the light. Dong continued, "As head of the Dan Xa army in Tay Ninh, you are surrounded by Viet Cong, which is an infiltration, and later your army will encounter parts of General Giap's army from the north, and some will join but most will die. As leader of a popular front you lead the Viet Cong and join General Giap's army in the battle against the Americans. Meanwhile Ha Van Lau will take Clad of Dien Bien Phu to recruit Annamites in the jungle called Central Highlands. The task will be to round-up labour to build a road from North Vietnam to South Vietnam. This road will be called the Ho Chi Minh Highway."
"Trail?" and the others chuckled at Clad's sardonic suggestion.
"Okay, trail," he'd give him that one, "Get the pipe ready. The name of this road will honor the Nguyen for the heights he will attain after an American President accepts an invitation to barbarize Vietnam."
The plan involved tonnes of cement for bomb shelters in Hanoi. Dong believed he was hitting his stride, "Do not be pessimistic about a road through the Truong Son," but his disbelieving self found himself with nothing to add. He needed to provide a few basic instructions, "General The of Tay Ninh will return south with me to Con Thein and along the way we draw specific sections of the trap, I mean map. After Saigon City, I shall return to the Central Highlands and finish drawing a map." He stared down the sniggering bastards.
They surrender the magazines reluctantly at Dong's demand, and Clad of Dien Bien Phu looked at Ha Van Lau to beckon approval to light the pipe. It was lit and the men sat back to puff up fantasies of conquest over the world's greatest barbarian, the democratic United States of America. Dream big, say peerless defacto leader Ho Chi Minh. Sweeter dreams began their dance among the group in the dark, hot, damp, jungle forest of the fearsome Annamite Cordillera, er, Central Highlands.
End Chapter One
Chapter two: Confident, and every reason to be
Major Archimedes Patti, Retired, U.S. Army Air Wing, sat in the waiting-room of the rundown aerodrome slapping the knee of his tan slacks with a rolled-up newspaper in a facility squatting outside Saigon City ringed by rice paddies on the western boundary and squat . Archie squinted at a sparkle of gleaming chrome in the clear blue sky and his heavy-lidded eyes focused on the arc of a passenger airplane winging through the thick air hanging over the French Associated State of Cochin China. Apparently the plane was not lost because it flopped to the runway of spongy black asphalt and lumbered across the field toward the Tan Son Nhut aerodrome.
The activity with the newspaper made ink stains on his clean trousers so Archie refrained from whacking the knee any further and refolded the newspaper and dangled it from his right hand, and he read nothing of what would surely be an account of lurid destruction occurring somewhere other than here, occurring every night ‘somewhere in the region.’ The visible vacancy in the local aerodrome meant no officials or airline personnel or police or soldiers, nobody was hanging around. It was deserted. Contrary to what local news reporters said to dredge up excitement, truth was Cochin China stood face-to-face with the end of colonial adventures. A handful of so-called Catholics holding guns owned nothing to brag about, and a good illustration might be this abandoned aerodrome. The previous one hundred years of continuously flowing French francs invested the region with a certain 'nobody-knew-what' and whatever it was was gone.
The net result was Archie liked the place more than ever sitting in the dilapidated building at 8 in the morning, and he stood stiffly from the wooden bench (interrupting a momentary happiness) to walk to the screen-door, recalling that he had moved to Cochin China during the previous decade out of a desire to disappear. He had been at the centre of world conflict and retired from the American Army Air Wing after a glorious ride in close rank with the pale horse during World War II.
Locally he knew the luck. The cost of labour didn't hurt. For some reason, he was completely in tune with a morbid malaise hanging over the local denizens, for they were collectively the most fatalistic people he had ever met. Archie's modest effort turned up a sizable enterprise within a reasonably short time. At the same time, Archie had performed a disappearing act requiring absolutely no magic on his part in the least mapped region of the world.
An American entrepreneur about to disembark the big chrome fish was, on the other hand, indefatigably present. Archie thought it probably by accident the first time Jimmy Doyle found Cochin China; that he should find it twice was laughable. Jimmy was persistent in his pursuit of economic prospects, some of which included business, all of which included money, and on the first trip to Cochin he unearthed a then-tiny factory belonging to Archie. Thereafter they became business associates while the intrepid importer-exporter accidentally and laughably made Archie rich.
The last time luck ran Jimmy Doyle into the sub-continent, but not too far in (because everybody knows nobody comes back from there around here), Jimmy bragged about an extraordinary consumer economy manufacturing with centrifugal force flushing the rest of the world down the toilet, which sounded like the American Dream as Archie had come to know it. Unbeknownst to him (because reports of IndoChina reach none but the highest minds in a single, distant, shitmouth-speaking republic), on this day Jimmy arrived in a defunct domain. Look far and wide if you dare, Jimmy, there is nothing to see on the horizon unless you started shopping for opium.
The sub-continent was overcome by misfortune as a result of important pieces of infrastructure having been uprooted and transported on freighters (or otherwise blown up). The currency was worthless and that was nothing new. Snarly French Colons fled for greener vineyards, and that was new, not unexpected, and entirely welcome practically across the board. Colons evacuated, taking everything they owned, and that was not much. Archie knew a few Colons cowering in Saigon City who thankfully did little to remind anybody of the past. He knew these 'walleyes' were terrified. They blubbered about the inevitable revenge. Supposedly a crude work of unimaginable suffering waited those who stayed to experience an indescribable hell that will only grow worse. Archie was sure he missed something in translation and enjoyed the eerie peace surrounding the south end of this steaming rump and supposedly everywhere else these days, except what the newspaper reporters could dredge up, which was probably entirely habitual behaviour, writing terrifying accounts about the weather, the road conditions, the j-j-j-ungle.
Looky here if Jimmy Doyle isn't down for another visit as Archie stood inside the screen door and watched Jimmy walk down the staircase alone wearing a hat, encumbered by a single bag of luggage. The stocky fellow hustled away from the plane and the staircase retracted and a pilot gunned the engines. The airliner roared and turned back to the runway propelled by hot air which in turn began whipping Jimmy's coat-tails and pushing him across the tarmac. The thickness of the air or a dizzy head made a brief blur out of Archie's hustling friend.
Archie saw the sweat erupt visible in patches on a rumpled grey suit, and Jimmy's eyes were hidden by the hat brim, and he wore a dark stubbly beard. His wobbly hustle turned into hard labour on the oily black surface and Archie almost felt sorry for Jimmy except he never asked him to come here. Archie shoved the screen door for the breathless fellow who swept through the door to meet what Archie meant as a knowing smirk but may have resembled a grin, a smile even. The intense heat would probably frustrate the American who dropped his luggage as the flimsy door slapped shut. Jimmy stood on a dusty floor dust and tipped his hat back revealing a sweaty round face with beady eyes and a sneering smile, and stuck out his right hand.
Archie tried smiling back and recognized the obligation to shake Jimmy's hand. He grasped a soaking wet palm. The airliner poised for takeoff at the far end of the runway. Archie's reached under his left elbow, "Here, take a read of this," he said, wiping his hand on the newspaper and handing it over, "It's something new."
Jimmy unfolded it, "What a fucking headline!" the American importer-exporter exploded, "Hey Archie! Says here 'U.S. bombed the gulf!'"
"Hay is for horses, Jimmy, and there ain't any horses here. You might have guessed the French ate 'em all.” They called it haute cuisine but the locals called it Genghis' Revenge. “The horses were a Mongolian breed that apparently couldn't carry a long nose anyway."
"An American language newspaper right here, Archie!” Jimmy declared, “talking ‘bout American shenanigans!" The barrel-chested man's enthusiastic banter boomed in the shadows of the waiting room of the aerodrome, "This place can't be all bad!"
"That is absolutely true,” Archie replied, “and to keep it that way, we in the visitor's bureau hope your stay will be exceedingly short and unproductive," and he meant it.
Jimmy sought Archie's eyes instead of looking at the desolate aerodrome waiting room, "Since when do we lay eggs around here?"
"Like that'd ever happen," he replied, though, according to reports, bombs were dropped a few hundred kilometres northeast of Saigon City. Alternative reports said Ho Chi Minh used old American planes borrowed from the leader of a northern neighbour dictating things in Red China, Chairman Mao, helping Uncle Ho blow off steam or celebrate something, which always involved a lot of fireworks in this vicinity.
Jimmy looked confused, his mouth open, glancing at the newspaper, "Says it happened on a coast of someplace called North Vietnam that runs smack into a place called South Vietnam. Calls it an ‘incident’ in Tong King Gulf. Apparently both Vietnams are parts of the former French Associated States of Indochina. Oh I think I get it. Was this CochinChina one of those associated states? Did it happen right here?" he exclaimed, "Right fucking here? I can't believe the luck!"
Archie wanted to challenge the absurdity of any such conflict underway, and normally would do so without hesitation, but he was hung over and in no mood to disgorge on the meaningless stories constantly rumbled through this feckless society, "Nobody is drawing any maps, Jimmy; nobody has a pencil. I presume the French took them when they left but who am I to know? I just live here," and he added, "You ever thought of taking a taxi?"
Jimmy sneered, "Taxi? Next thing you know I'll need a hotel room. Gimme five cents and I'll make the call."
"The phone is on a boat to Marseilles where it will spit out ‘the nickel,' along with a bunch of heroin. As for hotels, there’s lots of rooms, but no beds or dressers or mirrors or curtains or carpets or elevators or service of any kind."
Jimmy's unshaven mug of sweat turned quickly into an ocean of sympathy, "I know what's eating you, friend," (as if), "a drink is the thing to help a man in your condition. I’m sure you’re keeping one or two establishments afloat. It's kind of late in the day for you to get started isn’t it? Thanks for meeting me."
Always leading with his chin, "Uh huh." If that prick had half as many things to forget as Archie, not to mention the size of the things Archie had to forget.
"Look at me. I forgot how hot it is," Jimmy said, "and I forgot the smell. What the fuck is it again?" He resumed looking through the newspaper, "which I know is not you because you're all cleaned up and obviously still living with that lady. Say, where’s that dog that follows you everywhere?”
“Somebody’s dinner huh. Thanks for bringing me the newspaper. I'll tell you what, this business is some hell."
Absorbing a source of useless, inaccurate, and purposely incorrect information would be right up Jimmy's alley, "Says your old pals in the US Air Force -- ”
“ -- bombed the High-Fong out of Hell Harbour or someplace close. And guess what?" he wheezed, his voice trailing off slightly, "The entire paper is cover-to-cover American," and he rustled through it.
Archie rarely contemplated the smell anymore, "I bought it, didn't I?"
"And you did not read it, of course, because you cannot bring yourself to read it.” Jimmy looked up at the idle fans left behind by the Walleyes, “So you getting another dog?” Those fans were yet to be liberated by local demolition experts, which Archie estimated was a population of 40 million in the immediate vicinity. “We're talking about it, but I’ll probably get another dog, yes.”
“Hey, Archie, why are they blowing up toy factories in Haiphong? I'm sure the world can live without a few rubber balls. Why not blow up railroads, coal mines, or fuel dumps? There must be something useful here, besides you, of course."
It was too early for this shit, "What were they doing last time you were here?"
"I don't know."
"Blowing up railroads, coal mines, fuel dumps."
“Well they should have bombed this fucking airport is what they should have done," said an exasperated Jimmy, "Then I never could've talked the pilot into landing."
Archie contemplated a wishful notion in Jimmy’s typically surly repartee.
"What if those factories was the only things left?" he hissed, "I should think the US Air Force would show more respect than to fly in and wipe-out my prospects. I might as well get back on that fucking airplane."
The men turned to see a flash of chrome across the field climb into the sky; the plane was good and gone. Archie looked over Jimmy's straw hat, "Maybe next week. Somebody as lucky as you has to find it first."
His friend smacked his shoulder with the rolled-up newspaper and turned to face the room and perhaps conditions to which it hearkened. "What if I'm stuck here like everybody else but you?” he said, in a changing tone, although the echo seemed to be unnerving him, ". . . the only guy who chooses to live in South East Asia because he wants to."
"Where the fuck it that?"
Jimmy tucked the newspaper under his arm, "Here, I guess. That’s what they called it when I got to the airport. They said I was going to South East Asia. And this arrival makes me the second person I know to come here by choice. First if you count this a new place, you know, with the new names. Let's get you fixed up, friend. That's obviously the first order of business this morning. I presume we find the hair of the dog at the Embassy and tipple a few with old Tom, right?"
A chubby face grinned at Archie, "Thanks for driving out this morning."
“You said it already,” Archie made feeble attempts to smile and it hurt. "Change of ownership, friend." The swarthy corruption no longer served drinks at the Embassy. Didn't matter, he would indeed crawl into those dark and murky confines of the Embassy.
Jimmy stuffed the newspaper in his jacket and took off his hat. He left the suit jacket on. He pulled out a hanky from a pants pocket and wiped the dark head of thinning hair and round the inside rim of the hat. He put the hat on and tucked away the hanky and asked for a smoke.
Archie took out a pack and gave it to Jimmy, "Chesterfields, this is where they went." He opened the box and took one, returned the pack, and found his own match in one of the pockets of his shapeless jacket. He inspected the barren room as he lit up. "Spooky," he said, to a flickering light dancing in the shadows of an empty room in an empty country, not counting the scrupulously counted 100 million occupants standing around doing nothing on the subcontinent, "A bloody shame too. This could be a useful facility." He tossed the burning match to the dirty floor.
"Useful? You gotta be kidding me. Speaking of useful, you're buying."
"Some things never change." A beam of sunlight shot through a door that opened on the east side of the building. A Nguyen in a uniform stalked into the dusky room. "What's this?" asked Jimmy.
They watched the youthful police officer, cream of the local crop, march across the room at a brisk pace until he stood in front of Jimmy Doyle. The man wore the uniform of officer, no doubt a policeman of rank from Saigon City who ignored Archie and tipped his peaked cap to Jimmy.
"Are you Mister Jimmy Doyle?" he asked, in a neighbourly way. They were the same height which was no confusion to Jimmy, he still managed to look down his nose, "Who wants to know? How did you know I was coming?" he asked. Archie and Jimmy were surprised to be standing in this unscheduled meeting, which Archie wanted nothing to do with.
A beaming smile appeared under the cop's peaked cap, and he bowed, slightly, in Jimmy's direction, "Mister Doyle, allow me to introduce myself. I am Officer Lo Van Kim of the Saigon City Gendarmes. We have numerous difficulties in this brand new country of South Vietnam, some of which are very apparent to all," he said, and continued to smile. "We have sufficient intelligence, however, to follow the arrival of an important democratic person like you, Mister Doyle. I am indeed happy to be here all the time." A bald faced lie if Archie ever heard one. Absolutely nobody was happy to be here, more accurately, nobody here was happy.
Archie had stayed abreast of the smarmy fellow's greeting. He was one of a local mob said to control Saigon City, a nominal number of Catholics and a few others who were treacherous in any language, although perhaps it had more to do with the teachers.
Officer Lo Van Kim stuck out a hand. Jimmy shook it while he gave his own head a shake. He snorted, and nodded in Archie's direction, "You probably know my friend here from all the warrants for his arrest."
"I've heard of another American on the loose." The two men grinned like a couple of chimps, and Kim, "We will assume,” resumed, “your untimely arrival came at the end of a trouble-free journey." He messed up his grammar and his assumptions, yet Officer Kim chose to ignore hell on earth, which Archie appreciated.
"Huh? You're dead right about the arrival," Jimmy agreed.
"I am not dead about anything."
"It wasn’t a trouble-free journey. Anything but. You probably don't know what it's like to be lost over the ocean in an airplane. It's the shits. Everybody starts to panic, even the crew." Jimmy saw the opportunity to complain. He puffed the cigarette and turned to Archie, "Don't forget that eternal stopover in Hong Kong," smoke trailing out of his mouth and nose, "where they argue about bringing you here, saying it doesn't exist and all that crap." He jerked his thumb at the ceiling, cigarette in hand, "Pilot got lost. I saw the same island three times. I went to the cabin at one point to straighten him out. So where did this collaborator learn how to speak American?"
Archie cared not about this (or any) affair. He shook his head and stood back. He crossed his arms, arching away from the two. Jimmy implored him with beady brown eyes. He usually wears horned rimmed glasses. Archie said, grimly, "This is none of my business. He seems to be talking you into something Jimmy. I will leave you to absorb the losses."
Jimmy dropped the smoke and stepped on it, "You would. Did you tell them I was coming?"
Archie rolled his eyes and chuckled and shook his head raising slight vertigo which he had to shrug off, then he started to leave and Jimmy grabbed his shirt, "Hey, wait a minute. I need you to hear this."
Archie would have to stay and watch Jimmy sniff for what part was left to eat in the carcass of a long dead kill, for he was the highest form of scavenger, an Longnose Businessmen of the American variety. Jimmy snorted and turned to the crisply uniformed Officer Lo Van Kim, who waited politely. Jimmy was searching for a needle in a haystack; maybe something would pop up and stick him.
Kim gestured the wish to explain, "There was a school in Saigon City, South Vietnam (which used to be called something else). The walleye priests taught a few Vietnamese of our choosing who became the Catholics of Vietnam." Officer Lo Van Kim began a half-baked story about a ‘metropolitan’ education he received at the supposed long end of a longnose incursion in the sub-continent. "We were allowed to speak long nose dialects. I preferred English, I don't know why. It was not easy to learn," he seemed to boast. "You must remember these priests were Walleyes who forced themselves to speak English. I suppose you call it American. They obviously detested this language and said it makes them spit, but I believe they hate it because they cannot control their hands when they talk American, and they accidently slap themselves silly," he concluded, smiling broadly, as if the fact was some sort of joke.
"Excuse me, Mister Doyle," he demurred, "I will dally no further at the expense of your invaluable time, which is priceless I am sure," as Jimmy would agree, "I represent Ngo Dinh Diem, who you know as President of Saigon Bizarre and Novelty. Soon-to-be-President of South Vietnam Ngo Dinh Diem said he regrets the threats posed to your capitalist intentions and goals represented by a wanton destruction in the gulf last evening."
Archie knew the rat infested factories in Haiphong hadn't produced a rubber ball since 1930. He knew the U.S. army aircraft borrowed from Chairman Mao were scooped up by the Red Chinese after they declared themselves communist, which Archie believed was another term for bankrupt. It came as no surprise that Officer Kim twisted the facts. Archie knew for instance that Emperor Bao Dai had appointed Ngo Dinh Diem President a couple of years ago on July 7, 1954. Lo Van Kim's interpretation alluded to a phony election being conducted to increase Diem's importance, or possibly meant the conspiracy of thieves was falling apart. It seemed too soon for that, for they had stolen nothing, for there was nothing to steal.
A pair of young eyes twinkled beneath the peak of the cap when the cop produced something in his hand, which was a bulging envelope he offered to Jimmy. "He told me to give this to you," said Kim, who smiled so brightly..
Jimmy's mouth hung open when he accepted the package from his new pal. The cop saluted casually, ever smiling, a sort of perpetual bright light this guy, Officer Lo Van Kim. Archie figured if he wasn't Catholic he was at least a member of the Binh Xuyen, an urban sect financed by the Catholic Labor Union. He might be son of General Lo Van Vien who used to be head of a Chinese-Vietnamese coalition running Cholon (sister city to Saigon City). Binh Xuyen was a tough bunch of tax collectors. Archie knew Kim's dad recently retired to Waikiki, an oft-repeated disassociation with the region, get rich quick and leave. Archie didn't know why and didn't care.
Jimmy watched the Saigon officer spin smartly and march out the way he came, raising another cloud of dust. He stared where the cop had been leaving Jimmy to finger the package and tuck it in the breast pocket of his suit. The jacket might be getting a bit hefty.
"Did'ja see those teeth?" Jimmy remarked to empty space.
"Don't be digging them out just yet, Jimmy. He's still breathing."
The head with the hat on top spun to Archie, "You kidding, Patti? A guy with a mouthful of gold like that could be a friend of mine. The question is, what else would you need? I know where to find a bank in Saigon City. It's in his mouth. How does he hold his head up? I don't know either."
Archie never gave the disappearing banks a second thought. Jimmy bent to pick up the suitcase, "Let's head to the Embassy. Now it's me who needs a drink," he said, and lunged away carrying the suitcase and a briefcase. "Long nose dialects? It has to be those frog teachers, right? Follow the collaborator to Saigon City!" he hollered. "That still has the same name, don't it?"
Archie followed the friend, “Show you the way? By the way, there's no reason to be here, Jimmy. There is nothing after the French filled a convoy of slow boats. You should be happy for the Walleyes that got away and hope they find nice asylums with rubber rooms and fluffy pillows in France. It is quiet for everybody now. It was until you arrived."
"What do you expect?" Jimmy said, huffing at shadows. "My friend, it shows how much these people suffered under those ignorant walleyed priests. Everybody in world knows the American language is not a dialect and especially not a dialect of that shit-mouth French." Jimmy opened the door and walked out of the building.
Archie slipped on sunglasses and pulled the door open for himself. The red dust on the horizon was a cloud made by the Saigon City police vehicle. "So, august traveling scholar, where did your language come from?"
Jimmy Doyle thought he could lollygag until he was slammed by the brilliant sunshine, "Oh, let's see," he said, "my guess would be Germany," the astounding heat would continue to take him by surprise. "This is impossible. What time is it?" he bitched, and pushed his hat forward to shade his eyes, and he leaned forward into the curtains of sundrenched hot air. He trudged directly at the sun, "How can it be this fucking hot?" he crabbed. "And what stinks? It smells worse than shit!"
Nice company this guy, no complainer. Archie walked with boots crunching on the gravel across the vacant driveway and parking lot to the vehicle, wishing he could ignore the stout whiner but knowing this was just the beginning. He replied, "German is you on your mother's side, right?"
"Patti, I'm pure American!"
Most people would doubt if any such thing existed, and Archie strolled past his friend with that argument in mind. "Your new police-friend learned English was a mixture of French and German, and who knows what else, forced to speak with aboriginal Brits by a band of burned-out, forgotten Romans, who basically created English out of a porridge mish-mash, and they never expected to call it American."
He might have added French had the greatest influence in vocabulary, about 70 per cent, but having spent so much time watching these Walleyes up close in recent years he hated to give them credit for anything. "The English gave up the language to Americans but we know how and where it started," said Jimmy, instantly baked and suddenly too spent to argue.
The jeep sat under the frying sun gathering heat and dust. Archie ignored Jimmy and threw heavy suitcase in the back of the squeaking quarter-ton vehicle and dust flew, but the heat stayed. Jimmy dropped his bag in the back too, and briefcase on the seat, "For a guy who can't read, you sure know a lot."
Archie walked around and climbed in the driver's seat and hung over the steering wheel watching Jimmy stare at the distance or at the wafting air perhaps, and Archie wished he would get moving.
This dumpy friend took off a wet jacket, which he folded and placed on the back of the sizzling seat. Jimmy Doyle seemed to compose for a moment in the miasma of heat. He fiddled with the briefcase to stuff Diem's letter in it. "I'll open it later," he remarked, absently, and threw the briefcase on the floor and coughed at the dust. He bent over to pick up the suitcase. It was some kind of struggle. He held the newspaper with the hand he grabbed the windshield with, and pulled himself aboard in a heaving grunt. Maybe he had a condition. Archie sat back, if so, it was sure to bloom in this climate.
He kicked the clutch and shoved the long stick lever in first gear and kicked the floor-starter with his right boot. The engine roared and he hollared, "Right you will, pal! Your friend Diem sends a lot of one-word letters! You know! The kind that even I can read! BOOM!" Without warning he fell into a fit of laughter, kicked the gas, dropped the clutch and cranked the wheel, "Those kind!"
Jimmy winced and stiffened his neck as they disappeared in a cloud of dust, and Archie continued, "Gee friend, you picked a rotten time to find Cochinchina!" Then he paused to think of a better time, and pointed the jeep straight, and smiled. Four tires spinning in the dirt made a magnificent cloud, "Besides nothing going on, you get a letter from Ngo Dinh Diem! Glad I never got one of those! Don't open it and you should be okay."
They emerged from the cloud and Archie snapped the wheel to correct the direction of the Jeep. Saigon City was a few minutes ahead.
Jimmy took it off and used his hat on the dust. He put the hat on and pulled it against the hard hot wind. With no muffler on the engine Jimmy was heard to bellow, "I forgot about this bloody red dust. Ngo Dinh Diem ain't going to blow me away, buddy! He's democratic like us! He knows what it takes to get a bankruptcy booming again! For instance, where does a guy find those kinds of frogskins, Mister Sole Remaining Taxpayer?"
Archie would admit the truth, "American consumers!"
“Ngo Dinh Diem must have seen what happened when I passed over your propriety! He needs that magic to drop on him! He needs a load of spondulics!" Jimmy plunged a thick left forefinger into the thick air. "That's what he needs!" Archie saw black hair waving from knuckle to elbow. The truth and the whole truth, "You're the load!"
This friend's head agreeably bobbed, "You bet!"
There was a hot wind and it was no relief. The rough road was a partly paved strip undulating across dyked land, a few houses lined the road, and in the surroundings everything seemed to be under the cultivation of rice. Jimmy quit reading the newspaper. No doubt he learned a few things first, "What's the name of the newspaper?"
"It's called the Dragon's Breath Monitor." He probably learned witnesses identified the bomber aircraft. Somebody said the planes bore the distinctive black and green markings of the democracy's most famous fly-boys. Archie knew the story had its Confucian side of course. This came from the city of Hanoi (Hanoi? Non! De rien! Never! Dey mus' change d'name). The infernal escapade was given credit to the Politburo (formerly Lao Dong People's Party).
According to Viet Communist rumour, the story goes, Defacto Leader Ho Chi Minh, defacto chairman of the newly conspired Politburo, confessed to be a Communist obtain a loan of Chinese bombers. He painted them Flying Tiger colours and sent them to bomb the last Walleyed rubber ball factory in South East Asia. This defacto chairman of a purported principality of Confucian Nationalist Viets cum Communists called the act of aggression a "prophesy." It was sent "Special Delivery" to the corrupted puppets and twisted amoral Vietnamese running South Vietnam. Archie had a radio tuned to an international news agency, which had reported the Blameless defacto leader elaborating, "It demonstrates the blessings of a conceited malefactor beating an adopted son. The son should expect more of these in the future. Cao Dai prepare to grow thick skin."
The Nguyen said collaboration-bent South Vietnamese will come to appreciate the drubbings. Cao Dai appreciate what they deserve deep down, he said. "Collaborator South Vietnamese deserts will be delivered Marxist-Leninist-style by guys in purple pyjamas, compliments of the Vietnamese Communists of South East Asia's People's Liberation Front."
The defacto leader promised more incitement but these might come later, even 50 or 100 years. And everyone knew that was a lie. Archie hated to think the hidden investor who deceived the whole world about this place for 400 years was promising further undo-ables with similar convolutions in the immediate future. He hoped it might take time to think things up? Don't be expecting it on paper either. The Communist Manifesto was a mere pamphlet. No question the nouveau Politburo struggles to find toilet paper, typical of former Papist-run bankruptcies.
"Purple pyjamas?” Jimmy exclaimed. “Is this guy insane-or-what?"
"Everybody wears those."
"This Blameless mucker!"
"I heard it on the radio. Jimmy, it's not your first taste of confusion!" Slightly chagrined, then, Jimmy sat back and took in the sight and smell and the sound. One sight - - verdant. One smell -- impossible to describe without gagging. One sound, of the roaring engine Jimmy Doyle glanced back and his beady eyes grew wide at the size of the rosy coloured plume of dust.
His guts could take the heaving ride no longer. Archie stopped the truck halfway to the city and stepped out. He bent over the shallow ditch and heaved-ho. Ever-barbaric Doyle loudly cackled, it tickled him pink. "Fertilizer from America! Make those yields bigger and bigger! But you gotta get it in the fields! Shoot farther!" This depression occurring to Archie was his own joyless creation. Thus he felt depressed but in sympathy with no one. He slouched back to the driver's seat, and replied, "Cram it," and drove off, left hand on the wheel. He deftly tried to wipe his right hand on Jimmy's white shirt. His friend greeted him with a beefy forearm, a, "Screw you," and a change of topics. "Talked to 'Betty' the other day on the way to the airport -- " Jimmy Doyle droned, loudly
Archie interjected, "You never take a taxi?"
" -- Uh, no, Patti, I do not! And you know what he said?" Jimmy said, "Archimedes Patti is the quintessential American assassin! 'Betty' that's you! Pure Death! That's you, old buddy!" Jimmy reached over to pat his head. "By reputation and fact!" Archie stomped the gas pedal and jerked the wheel. The little truck lurched under the commotion and Jimmy's arm swept off in an harmless arc.
"Yeah? well," Archie replied, "Isn't former Chief Naval Officer Admiral Harold R. Stark more of an assassin than a judge of character? Didn't he knock off a dead president?" Archie knew Admiral Stark from a debriefing on the Battle of Okinawa, and, furthermore, he knew the over-the-brinksman had ruled the US government by propping up FDR long after the President's mortal coil had ceased to coil.
Jimmy argued, "'Betty' made a great president out of an old cadaver. How can you knock achievement? The Russians didn't make Lenin good cadaver, never even tried to pretend he was still alive." Jimmy bragged about spending hours in steam baths surrounded by luminaries of the naval cabal ruling Washington D.C., including old founding pirate 'Betty' Stark and his partner in crime, Admiral Ernest King. They were the old school in America's capital. 'Betty' Stark, oldest of the sharks, was their only mutual acquaintance. Former C.N.O. Stark led the coup to the highest office in democracy. To this day, no doubt, he held a gun to the President's ear.
"Is it still on?"
"Of course. It will never go off. They carry h-bombs everywhere, even on submarines. Don't be fooled by the General. Nixon has gun to his head named Allen Dulles."
"Sure, Jimmy." Productive irradiating wet fields glistened lively green, sparkling with a glory seen nowhere in the world, and it went as far as the eye could see. Except in one direction. Saigon City loomed on the horizon. Small was the number of Americans up on the geography of this rotten smelling pit. Archie and this dumpy friend of his were counted amongst a smattering of Americans who knew Saigon City as the "Cultured Pearl of the Orient." During the French interlude, a tragic half-millennium, the cocky Walleyes, rapacious and indeed purely ravenous, embarked on missions of purely civilizing intentions. Footloose gangs congregated in a stronghold they named Saigon City. The darkness of Cochinchina grew from the banks of the Saigon River. Archie relied on his Viet understanding for the truth of what horribly grew on this corner of the earth. The incursion by the French was started by Jesuit Monsignor Francois Pallu who arrived in 1664. He began the apostolic work of the Society of Foreign Missions. He established the East India Company. Two hundred years later with millions upon millions of Confucian Viets buried in gigantic slurry pits, nobody who lived dared to tell the horrible story, or even remember the place existed.
The "cultured" refuge of 400 years of Jesuit mission civilastrice sprawled in the middle of a wide and fertile basin. The basin afforded clear fields for defensive canonizing fire in every direction. Avengers might descend on Saigon City from any direction, since millions of dead ancestors cried from the odors emanating from the earth surrounding the place. What a miscellany of American experts imparted was that Saigon City represented a lonely exhibition of winning French strategy in the region. The pathetic city evolved into an epicentre of corruption involving everything in Cochinchina, most of which was gone. Archie entered on a north-western escape. He steered his way onto Tu Do Boulevard, the main street. He roared down the wide thoroughfare snaking the length of Saigon City, not even following the river. The boulevard was sparsely populated as was the rest of a city with nothing to do. It used to host a major crowd on bicycles and on foot. Archie drove one of the scant number of gas- powered vehicles in Cochinchina. He also had a set of the best tires on earth, Michelins.
Way up the street Jimmy might see a throng of craftsmen raising a building. This labour worked on the strength of a popular Emperor (cough) Bao Dai-generated rumour -- not the prospect of worthy wages, of which there was none -- and a construction site rose above the mud and dust. Archie scoffed at the local Catholic or Cao Dai scuttlebutt. It said this peculiar structure, the roof half-a-sphere, and, true, a big finger pointing up, was specially designed with mystical powers to create a new world based on the world's most robust currency. Catholics said the music would echo beautifully under the dome. Archie figured the 95 per cent Buddhist majority wondered who was Ngo Dinh Diem lying behind rumour(s) and therefore the building. Diem presumably saw others like it during an escape to the world.
Archie made a breath-taking U-turn in front of the construction site. For some reason, none of the workers were there this morning. He bumped across a broad median to park beneath a leafy tree imported from France to make the place look homey. He came to a jolting halt in front of the severe-looking bomb-shelter looking structure containing the Embassy Lounge. Jimmy demanded the whole story on the great-looking new building across the street. Archie refused to impart one word of the bullshit. He jumped off his seat and loped around the fender, and explained, "Haven't you ever seen a concert hall?" out the side of his mouth. The thick humid air produced a doorman. A little doorman, dressed in a garish yellow suit, "Vow net parkie paw la! Paw la!" squawked in French. Archie brushed aside the rabid little man, with a compliment, "Nice jellow-jacket," but he felt like cussing further, instead kept strolling past the confrontation. The doorman twisted around, "You Ves-Spit...."
"Hey, Jimmy. The urgent tone of voice should tell you about the lack of opportunities. I believe he's happened onto you though."
Jimmy rummaged beside Archie's dusty truck. "What about your other habits?" said Jimmy, dripping sarcasm, "Have you cut down on any of those?" Archie snorted at the door and tucked his shades in the matching tan shirt, "Like I'm an opportunity. You're the opportunity, Jimmy. Don't forget it."
"I won't if you won't."
"I might." He disappeared inside the high-walled single-storied cinder-block structure to see if it was still uglier inside.
The sour doorman stood and glowered at this shorter and perhaps more corporeal American. Jimmy pretended sympathy for the sadly attired. He decided it wasn't much variation on the local colour. He waved the disgusted doorman over to the jeep. He recalled a few piasters left from the previous trip. He wanted a small something in exchange. A few hours of Jimmy Doyle's undivided attention. The doorman approached watching him dig in his pants. Jimmy fished out a five hundred piaster note. It failed to attract due attention so he waved it. He stared the squinting doorman up and down, finally making eye contact, raised his eyebrows, and bobbed his head at the truck. He, Jimmy Doyle, transmitted a telepathic image of the worth of the luggage. The small, inevitably tanned doorman blinked his fleshy eyes finally. His hairy head gave a slow nod and he stepped closer. Then he raised his yellow arm and pointed at the truck behind Jimmy. Jimmy generously tucked the bill in the lapel pocket under that short nose, and declared, "I'll give you more! You watch the bags!" The doorman sighed, and Jimmy's nose filled with stench. They eat a lot of fish around here.
Jimmy surrendered blindly to thirst and stumbled past a waving nipper. He turned back and took his briefcase and jacket and spun around to enter the building. For a moment he could see nothing, though he felt something. Air conditioning. He smelled something, the kitchen a source of powerful emanations. It smelled better outside. He glimpsed Patti's silhouette hopping in front of the bar getting a transaction underway with the bartender. Patti would enjoy the service much as the price. The place was practically deserted.
It surprised Jimmy to spot one customer at a rear corner of the room. How propitious if that is American press attache slash intelligence officer Robert Amory. In the far right corner in a booth lit by a wall lamp the red-headed Amory sat alone with his back to the room, hiding his guilt in morning libation. Jimmy slung the jacket over his shoulder and strolled between a bunch of stinking cloth- covered tables. He drew close enough to hear the curly-haired press attache slash intelligence officer talking out loud to himself. This might be a concern: "Hai-phong? The gulf of Tonkin? No way! The American Air Force hasn't ever been there, ever. They wouldn't know where to find it. I'm surprised to find myself here." What a stupid cocksucker.
"The US miltary was here sipping opium tea in forty-three," announced Jimmy. A tall rumpled Amory oddly showed no inclination to turn and face Jimmy Doyle. The drooping shoulders might have rolled as if you could tell. The elongated nose on this simp carried a pair of spectacles, which he pushed up with a finger and weakly cleared his throat. He dropped his head meekly. The faint-coloured bony fingers clutched or scattered papers on the table. Jimmy stood back to give the red head a decisive dressing down. He took a deep breath, and bellowed, "Americans know where it is! What the fuck am I? Haven't you read a fucking newspaper?" Oh shit he forgot his copy in the jeep. "Aren't you the press attache slash intelligence officer?" His dangling coat covered most of the briefcase clutched under his arm. He was pissed about forgetting the Dragon's Breath Monitor in the truck.
Wasn't the idiot curious to see who inculcated him? Amory eventually cranked his head around. Oh for gawd's sake is that a mask? Two fuzzy globes stared through Jimmy Doyle like he was nothing but a figment of his own imagination. These dancing globes fluttered over the bridge of Amory long pointed nose. A loss of sanity burned a pained personage behind two broad panes of glass. Jimmy fixed himself a grin, and tipped his hat. An explanation was required for the dissolution in that former image of God. When Robert grinned back, able to gesture the surprised visitor ahead, hope sprang to mind. So Jimmy stepped toward the booth, and sideways. He took another disconcerting look. Close inspection made it clear; It was too soon for hope.A quivering grin was pasted on Robert's thin lips only slightly different shade from his acetone face. The magnified eyes, below the irregular nose, and you would swear those teeth were canines. This somebody was in dire need of a conversation. One where he does the talking. It should be from a couch, beside a guy taking notes.
Jimmy, far from medically inclined, said, "So reports of South East Asia are true," he adjured, "It does get to you in a big way. Here's the illustrious Robert Amory, American Democracy's stalwart defender. I hear you guys blowing the horn in this septic dump. But hold on. Horatio is a babbling idiot! How long you been in South East Asia, Robert? Isn't it time you told somebody you were here."
"Here in South East Asia."
"Where is South East Asia?"
"Under your ass."
"Oh, oh, oh. . . . No, Sir. No way. You do not want to tell anybody about this place." Amory peeked away, possibly to spend a second considering why not. He looked about to take an uncertain infant step, the kind of infant Spartans dashed early, that's how humane democracy had become. The thirty-ish, chicken-as-shit Naval intelligence civilian interpreter/press attache wore mystifying spectacles and a thick tweed sports coat. Which question would he answer first? Jimmy already asked three and got nothing but groaning. He shook his head at the condition of the poor blotchy skin stretched over asymmetric angles comprising Amory forlorn face. The press attache slash intelligence officer kept staring at the empty corner. His thin hair-line checked an impossible slope of forehead. The rest of his small misshapen noggin was capped by heapish flopping curls of dusty red hair. In further insanity, Amory giggled and subsequently wiggled his head, and the curls. What was he laughing at? Who cares. Fuck this is unnerving. He could be giggling at the insolvency of the region, which Jimmy Doyle was more than prepared to fix.
“You know," Amory suddenly stammered, and sniggered, "how long," and snorted, "Mister Doyle." He insisted on giggling at the immutable wall, "You remember how we dropped in on the same plane? It was a few months ago, wasn't it? Remember?" Amory turned to face the room. He assumed a whiny, accusatory tone of voice, "I believe I have you to thank," he said, when he punctuated using a skewed fore-fingernail which came uncomfortably close to jabbing Jimmy's protruding torso; "I recollect how they never would have found the place without you on board."
Doyle replied, "No such thing ever happened." The press attache slash intelligence officer gave the illusion of eye contact with those large blurry smears falling in line. Jimmy contemplated a tiny beam of distant barlight bouncing off the glass way above an awful grimace. Amory wiggled his head and pointed at the opposite bench. "Have a seat. I could use the company. Anybody."
Jimmy shrugged with a sigh and decided to sit. What choice did he have? He shifted to slough off the coat and briefcase. “I did not arrive on the same plane as you. You were here already when I came last time." As he took the seat on the opposite bench he shoved his stuff to the wall, and said, "Do I have to?" He kept the hat on.
"Is it the same one from the last trip?"
"Maybe it is the same hat," and he waved to an anxious waitress, good-looking woman too, she was. He noticed Robert didn't notice. And he remembered not to be overly surprised. The attache already asked him once if he could suck Jimmy's dick. When this kind of idiot asks you an utterly unspeakable question, you ignore the question, and finish what you have to do with the idiot. Jimmy Doyle, reluctantly introduced his right hand to Mister Robert Amory to no response.
It was vexing and bewildering to stare at those unblinking ophidian orbs, bleary slits freezing each landscape in a relentless search for a meal. A lizardly grimace supplanted Robert's repulsive grin. Perhaps a large-enough insect skittered on the wall behind Jimmy because he continued staring at the wall behind Jimmy, who purposely held up his hand. He continued to stare down the slimey lizard, while his uncompromising half-smile might become compromised. Until at length Amory recognized the extended hand and in a suddenly human gesture he took Jimmy's hand, and hung on; sitting a short breath away from a punch in the mouth didn't he know? When Robert let go, the shoulder-less arms dropped pathetically to his sides. It was stressful to think this represented America anywhere in the world, but, he quickly recalled, where he was.
This fucking clown felt obliged to apologize, "I'm so sorry, Mister Doyle.” Good for him. Dis-uh-oriented at the moment. I hardly slept a wink last night. I hardly ever sleep here. I find it hard to sleep anymore, Jimmy." The disinformant's eyes blinked to continue the deception of humanity sitting there. Jimmy watched this short-lived impression die another distasteful death. The big, skinny, twisted-boned man's eyes twitched into focus at Jimmy. "I hate the bugs. They're huge!” he squealed, in a pig-loud falsetto, He leaned close to Jimmy to say something hopefully in a lower tone of voice.
The invert wiggled on the bench cushion. "It happened so suddenly this morning,” Amory dropped his voice to a hissing whisper, “Who could have said we'd be involved in Cochinchina affairs?" He enjoyed that cushion action too much, "Would you sit back and sit still?" Jimmy pleaded. And he threatened, "I could move to another table. I am friends with the only other person drinking in this bar." He glanced around looking for Patti. Amory sat back and made a face like a frown, "No! No! Please!" The bleary globes narrowed by half. He tried to moue. A red cocktail glowed on the table.
"Listen, Mister press attache slash intelligence officer. Everything involves America," said Jimmy, addressing the obvious to the long-stemmed glass, "and it doesn't matter where you are. Cut out the local concoctions."
"I never drink."
"Then take it up. Take lessons from Patti."
The grizzled air leg vet was hunched over the bar. Jimmy hoped he got along with the bartender. Jimmy needed to stay in this air-conditioned comfort for awhile. Plus, in the face of this wretched interview, Jimmy longed for company. You could bring along the hairy dog. Feed it this Amory asshole. "Is it a bad sign if this morning I needed one real bad?"
In an absolutely involuntary act Jimmy encouraged the knave down the path of self-destruction, "Not necessarily."
Robert leaned close a second time, "We can't wake up Horsey. I can't understand how he sleeps in the middle of the day."
"I heard he does, sleeps through calamity too."
"He's still snoozing. Everybody wants the US to take credit. Gee whiz, Mister Doyle, America was never-ever mentioned in these parts before this morning. We hated the French to say it because it makes them spit." Jimmy felt snarly and watched the impossible angles of Robert's body twitch rather erect. A haunting grimace returned to his face, "Now the local paper," he moaned, "is unh," and gasped, "unh," and his forehead disappeared, "American."
Amory tossed his head back to expose a gaping maw mercilessly to Jimmy's unavoidable inspection. He endured for the sake of intelligence. It was the definition of ironic that Amory would be a source of intelligence, would be employed by a body called Intelligence. Amory helplessly splayed his arms. Jimmy decided to believe it took an horde of Amory's' to gather anything resembling intelligence.
"And who's on the front page?"
At least he gathered that much.
Who would work for the fucking navy anyway? Robert assumed a slightly feathery tone and leaned forward with his rake-like arms exposed on the table, hairless wrists sliding out of the cheap garment. "Tell me where you heard of Cochinchina, Jimmy," he demanded. Mister Doyle, to you, schmuck.
Jimmy wiggled a pinkie in his right ear. The very bothersome noise was this piece of shit talking. Amory leaned back and the itch terminated. Jimmy withdrew his pinkie. He used both hands to adjust his hat. One of them he restrained from hammering Amory's face, "That," he replied, "is none of your business. And could I suggest you keep your inside information on the U.S. envoy to yourself. Horsey acts the sleepy head be he's always ready for a wicked ride. Listen Amory, and I fucking mean it. Duck. I'm on the winning side. The side that pays your salary. Did you take a vacation to this fucking hole? I don't take vacations either! I don't have time to pay your salary and take vacations."
Amory's perplexed face went from expressionless to slightly solemn, guilt-ridden, and ashamed, but probably not about his lack of intelligence.
"You make it sound extra bad," he replied, blithely, "Frankly, what did you lose? Those fake factories haven't turned out a ball in two decades. Furthermore, I checked it out. The American Air Force probably didn't put you out, Jimmy. They didn't do it in my opinion."
There was some kind of spine increasing across the table.
"That's right." At least he was sitting straighter. "Tell me this. If we knew, would you know?"
"Huh? I don't know. The story is confusing, also, an American newspaper appeared for the first time this morning. And, by the way, that is the first sign I'm in the world. You cannot believe the things going on here," he wheezed, "It is desolation without end. I have no words to describe it. You do not need a Nuclear Bomb. And this is the place to put your nasty feelings."
Jimmy interrupted, "I saw it all last time I was here. Patti says its gone."
"Tell Cao Dai."
"Tell Cao Dai. Heads on sticks, Jimmy. Cao Dai parades, fresh stuff too. Heads on sticks. Jimmy, and these people are smiling during these parades. Long parades. Miles of smiles and heads on sticks. Jimmy. Don't tell anybody. We can't tell anybody. Heads on sticks. I have no idea what they do with the bodies. But they sure smile about heads on sticks."
Hmm. Bit more than he needed to hear. "Where's this?"
"Uhh, I believe the Cao Dai lives on depopulating Tay Ninh. But I don't know why. And you don't either. The intelligence on Cao Dai is simple. Nice Catholic boys. Got it?"
"Sure, I'm one. But listen," and Jimmy risked it to lean close himself, "I've been over the whole world," but he quickly backed away, but he counselled, "This place is no different."
"Yes it is. No place on earth has those kinds of parades but they are major entertainment here, Jimmy. Long parades with fresh heads on sticks every Saturday night all over the gigantic province of Tay Ninh."
"Parades? Every Saturday night? So it's a great place," Jimmy agreed. "Try remembering you are an American. You are going to master the nasty turns around here. Maybe not you. But I will! Where do I come from? What do I stand for? An' I want to hear you say it loud and clear!"
"You're an American! You're from the democracy of America! You create the highest form of nuisance in the new world!"
"Aw you worthless piece of shit!"
"First with the worst! Then clean up this mess! Any more questions?"
"Nothing from the dozey U.S. envoy?"
"Good. Don't wake him up till I've had a full breakfast. I don't want to miss anything."
"You know he will not like it. He will try to cover it up," Amory said, "or else top it. Everybody in the ranks knows Outerpier is the go to guy for starting wars. But he had nothing to do with what happened last night in the gulf to those delapidated toy factories."
"Horsey has a couple of boatloads of seasoned Marines,” said Amory.
“A big boat loaded with everything. But the problem is no word from Washington D.C.. We never hear from Washington D.C.. The White House doesn't know we're here. Doesn't know where here is,"
Amory was whiney and annoying, not the best reason to get him the fuck out of the way and find somebody who can do it better. The annoying fucking clown stared down on a pile of paper and shook his head, forlornly, "The French kept this place a total secret. Now they're gone. You know it has never appeared on a map? National Geographic never has pictures of Cao Dai parades. The Walleyes took away everything."
Jimmy iterated, slowly, "The French did no such thing. What would they take? By the way, try to remember parades are celebrations? Do not deny people their joy. The White House knows you're here, furthermore. You keep getting paid, don't you?"
"Nope. They said they'd pay us if we come back." (If he gets out; but then this scum will harden and adhere under a table right in this Greek-conceived blind pig.) "We've got what we need, Jimmy. But the White House don't know diddly about this place. I'm still wondering how you found out."
"Oh, didn't you know? I followed you! Robert, they know about South East Asia. In Washington D.C. I chatted with 'Betty'Stark before I came, he knows lots about this place. I'm sure plenty of Americans do."
"Oh yeah? Who is she?"
Jimmy blinked, "Huh?" astonished by the depth of this man's deception. He made the perfect propagandist. On the other hand, he had to keep breathing to spew out deception. Jimmy sat back far as he could; pushed up his hat. He sighed and pondered an impossible task. How to encourage somebody on assignment someplace like South East Asia.
Start with the obvious you-got-a-long-life-ahead-of-you speil. "How old are you, Robert?"
Jimmy knew the futility of engrossing himself in this ridiculous task, and he did not get far. The pin-headed red-head glimpsed over the place where his shoulder might be, when somebody came through the front door of the lounge.
Amory scooped up his papers in one motion and crept to his feet to Jimmy's great relief. At the same instant he seemed to caroom between the tables like a bad drunk. He carried valuables like an obnoxious Priest off to spit on the plate. (After that they shine em up and pass em around for everybody to spit.) Amory nearly rammed into Patti and this narrowly escaped certain death. Archie might be feeling sociable after chatting with the bartender.
"Hey, Robert!" Jimmy yelled, "what're you talking to yourself for?" Patti rounded the last table and took aim at the vacant bench. "For company,” Archie interjected, “Nobody but you can stand him." He slid in place, "You two got something in common?"
"Fuck you, Archie. He isn't that bad."
Who said that? Jimmy took off his hat and cupped an ear, "Press conference this afternoon,” he heard Amory yelp, “Open to everyone! Official announcements! Be there at two o'clock! Be on our side of the fence. Best be early."
Jimmy mumbled, "Say no more, “Please,” to himself.
Patti hovered protectively over a pair of tumblers slopping with whisky. “I put 'em on your tab.” And they were for him. He felt better enough to grin at Jimmy now. Yes, friend, free stuff works better. Jimmy smiled, but he was preoccupied by the sinewy advance of Claude Desautels. The elegant French newspaper magnate was the reason for a swift Amory departure. A flaccid attempt by Desautels failed to arrest the furious exit. ("Nothing to add! Nothing to add!") Now The French Colon decided on meeting these two Americans. There were not a lot of these to gawk at.
"Do you min' if I sid 'ere?" he asked, nonchalantly.
"Archie, would you sit over here and give the man your seat? Si'down," replied Jimmy. "I've got a few questions I want to ask."
Patti sighed and complied with the lassitude of a man a the perpetual condition slouching toward catatonic. Desautels took Patti's seat while Patti rearranged the tumblers. The trio engaged in a terse round of introductions including brisk handshakes.
"I bed d'envoy will be taking credid for d'bombin,” the French was first to speak, “when he wake up. He goin' to be udder'y erroneous. I'm nod going to dat press conference. I'm going to duck id. Bud I tol' a few of my frien'z aboud id. You gen'l'men should be tol' dis fac': D'envoy 'as a company of your Marines at d'Bank. Apparen'ly, dey are on lay-over from Korea. An' I 'ear tings did nod go well for you Ves'Spit'Yans in Korea."
Jimmy quit hunching over the table, and wiped the spit off his face. He glanced away from the shifty-eyed French, with his slick hair and look, and muttered, "I believe we retain the half worth owning," and looked askance at Patti. His pal lifted a glass of supply to his parted lips. He tipped back his head and poured the contents down his ruddy throat. Rudely as possible it seemed Patti cleared the air with his throat, a warning that he was going to join in.
"What a slough the world has become. It is the perfect environment for rubber legs. I'm not surprised you're getting around now. You US Navy whoremongers have noticed it tends to smell worst around the French. On the other hand, the French have disappeared. I ignore what's going on in the swamp. But if I didn't, what would I be buzzing about? The ardor the Southerners have for debt-free Africans? Rome's long-standing plot against a few Scots saving the Irish? Grinding poverty and disease of the poor pygmies in New Guinea? A blockade of the Suez Canal by Egyptians longing to embrace the prodigal uh, sons? I could lose a lot of sleep. And that would make me angry. And I am already angry, so piss off and shut up."
“You see? He reads.”
The grizzled air leg vet wanted to keep rolling, his forehead becoming a beaming target under thick blond hair. "You can't call it solvent nor can you call it bankrupt.” Leaning forward, Patti chewed aggressively into his argument. “The people of the Dark Continent are the biggest losers. Why dontcha go scavenge there?"
Whose side is he on? "Forget you heard about this place, Jimmy. You shouldn't have come because you might have trouble leaving. I have nothing to do with any of it. That's why I'm here. I figured what better place to be to have none of it?" Patti gazed into an empty glass for a moment, "To my endless wonder this place made me rich. I guess I have nothing to do but make brass. Thanks, Jimmy." He raised his glass, "Waitress! Get your ass over here! And bring me two more! Jimmy's buying you a drink, Claude."
Jimmy marvelled not at the American propensity for gall. He was equally unsurprised by Patti's recalcitrance about reviving the surroundings.
Desautels shook his head, "Non." He didn't want a drink.
The trio admired the Eurasian's hustle quietly. She was a good looker, bent over, hair getting in everybody's face when she wiped the table. Jimmy fought the urge of a couple of days in the air. "Qu'est-ce que vous boivrai, ce matin?" she asked.
"How 'bout your pants for starters." The French snorted, and Patti glanced at Jimmy like he a needed a shower. Jimmy delicately handled the explosive Amory cocktail over the hands folded on the table.
"She can't unnerstand a word I'm saying."
She delicately responded.
"Neither can we," said the grizzled air leg vet. Patti heaved up his empty glassware. He held forth two fingers, "Like I said, two more of the same. One for you, pig?" then he held up three fingers. He pointed to the source, "Il payez pour troisieme. Claude, sure you won't have one? The Whoremonger himself is dying to buy you a drink. Non? Non? How about, no. Non? Okay. Well, that's three of those. Tra, Tra, run along now, veet! Veet!"
Jimmy rubbed the bare patches at the top sides of his forehead with splayed fingers. Then he replaced his hat on top of an expunged itch. He realized it was his turn to derail this conversation.
"I'm going to assume the American Air Force did it, okay? They pretend it's their specialty after all. Furthermore why would the Viet Minhs bomb their own factories?"
"D'eir own, Whordy?"
"Jimmy. Well whose are they then?"
"Wad fabrications? Dere had bedder nod be any such t'ing aroun' SomeWhere Disorien'al. An' I mus' insis' dat if you 'ear of any, beside dis doom Ves'Spit'Yan's ill-conceive factory, you will tell me immedia'ly. An' I will 'ire d'freelancers to blow id to shid."
He blinked at this normally affable person (aside from the spitting every time he mispronounces American). Jimmy met him on his previous incursion. Claude owned a remarkably handsome face. You might envy him that straight nose a good length between wide-set blue eyes. There was no light in them, however. They were stone dead and ringed with dark circles, and it was disturbing the way they flitted so incessantly. His hair was ash-coloured and neatly trimmed and this included a close-cropped beard. He spoke with a soothing, sonorous voice.
In conversation, this native intelligence proceeded from Claude Desautels. He was okay for a French. He tried to speak American, which must seem normal when you're on the losing side, except usually the French made no effort, losers or not. Clearly when talking about one particular subject Desautels lost his mind. That would be anything to do with local affairs. You'd be mistaken to believe he had anything at stake. It was the strange propensity of French to mime, from religion to the silver screen. Jimmy now rubbed the left temple under his hat. Desautels's voice cracked. With abnormal frequency.
Nothing but lamentation from him. Those extensive French investments had come to nothing. Still, he looked a wealthy French. How did he keep up this charade?
"Patti, give me a smoke, will ya?" It had to be a sign of Desautels's desperation that the Dragon Breath Monitor appeared in, suddenly, freedom's most imposing language, and one he could hardly stand to speak. To a certain point Desautels's life must have been consumed by the latter-day imposition of French Colonialism on IndoChina. The extinguishment must have vexed this French as much as any hereabouts. A smoke landed on the table and Jimmy picked it up and lit it.
Desautels reputedly knew the witness of a great debacle. A story is told how he mistook a promise from Free French Forces Commander General Navarre as the end grew near, and he forsook the safety of Saigon City. He assigned the coverage of Dien Bien Phu to himself. This careering manoeuvre nearly cost him his life, said the rumours, this insanely impulsive act nobody in his right mind would have undertaken. Such was the level of his grief, the man returned to Saigon City was now consumed with bitter feelings. Better for America, he had been dispossessed of a trunk full of treasure. He did take some amazing pictures, mind you.
"Pilots to fly planes. Where would those Viet Minhs learn to fly? And bombardiers to hit targets. Ever heard of targets, buddy? Even French have some idea about that, don't you?"
"Nod enough. We begged you Ves'Spit'Yans to help. Now id is too lade. Bud I sincerely believe dat d'Nort' Vietnamese could fly doze planes on deir necromanic prayers, widoud engines, if dey needed to. Dey would hid doze targed wit deir eye shud." He certainly sounded defeatist. But defeatist was nothing new to a French. Underdogs and unsuspecting bystanders died in race-sized hordes in ways which the French showed their only creativity. If history told you anything, then planting hordes was a way of life. It must be tough to look good doing stuff like that.
"Really? I didn't even know they had planes. Besides, Claude, a quick tour up Tu Do tells all. The local wizards ran out of magic. Your friends took their goods with them. Have you been out to Tan Son Nhut lately?"
"Watch d'planes, dey are something new."
“New to you.”
"An', yes, I been to d'aerodrome. Did you read d'Dragons Bret Monitor?"
"Only the parts in American," replied Jimmy. He elbowed Patti and they sniggered together. "Dey are conjuring up a whole new batch of dat ol' magic, Jimmy. You big bad republican Ves -- "
Jimmy put up his damp palm,and said, "I hear ya."
" -- Pit'Yans should come over an' check id oud. Wad 'appen in d'gulf las' night was magic. D'beginning of dah new ack. How you say id? One ack."
Jimmy saw Patti run a hand through his thick hair, "Finally here she comes." All that time for three drinks? Patti corralled two of three and commanded Jimmy pay the bill. Jimmy replied, "Put it on my tab." "May tay sur la bill. Ill deet."
"Non," said the waitress. "You pay now, in dollars."
It took a moment to register that she spoke American. Jimmy looked at Patti who did not look back, “I told you to duck around this place okay? You might live longer. Don't forget you're stuck here for awhile. Now," the grizzled prick continued, "it's kind of complicated, Jimmy, but you have to pay," he said to the formica table top. "Things change and there's no way to make it stop. Not even for you. Right, Claude?"
Jimmy yanked out a fat dollar and sneered at the pretty girl. She snatched it and went away beaming. Everybody loves a fat frogskin. Jimmy's gonna fuck her before this trip is done. Patti raised a glass, "Anyway, a toast to you two pricks. Claude Desautels and Jimmy Doyle. Out with the doomed and in with the frumpy."
They stared at each other humourlessly while he drank alone. That was probably his custom these days. Patti smacked his lips, "So," he continued, "how about that American edition? Jimmy really likes it. He's the only guy in these parts that can read it."
"I 'ave my raisons."
"We know that's not true," Patti replied, immodestly, and Jimmy interposed quickly, "Amory said it started this morning."
"Dere is no end to stard'ling coincidence in SomeWhere Disorien'al, Jimmy. Perhaps, dis time, you stay long enough to ged use to id?"
"The story said nothing," Patti stammered back into the argument, animated by alcohol or something less explicable.
"How would you know?"
"Oui, Archie, you are correc',” Desautels agreed, immediately, but with Patti. “Dere was no'ting from d'reliable source I 'ave who tol' me doze plane were Sinis'er. Definitely Sinis'er. I did nod use dis information in d'news repord. Bud dey were nod Ves'Spit'Yan ad all."
Jimmy ducked the spit but encouraged the French. He wondered aloud, "Why would this Blameless mucker do such a thing?"
"Too confusing for you? I 'ave live wid dis merde all my life."
"It doesn't make any sense. Rent planes to bomb your own assets. Make it look like somebody else did it. Then take credit when the damage is done. And all the while haranging a few harmless thugs who are failing to run the show here."
Jimmy's remarks about ownership roused a typical gut reaction from the long-suffering French. "You were nod buying rubber balls from d'Putrid Defacto Leader, were you?"
"If such concerns you, and it sure doesn't anymore, if ever it did, I conduct my affairs with Saigon Bizarre and Novelty. I assumed Ngo Dinh Diem saw it all go up in smoke."
"I doubt if he was close enough to see it," Patti jibed.
"Besides," Jimmy nodded to his right, "for the past couple years I've been hawking this man's line of junk with incredible margins. Losing Diem's action doesn't hurt me since I never knew he had any. But I would hardly waste my time dropping out of the sky to sit and drink with this louse. Obviously. Hey! we're witnessing a total economic collapse here. I've never seen one so total." Jimmy considered himself expert on these matters. "Frankly I'm surprised to find you here, Claude."
"Dere is a story behin' d'story."
Feeling robust in the face of destitution, Jimmy demanded, "Give it to me." He added, slyly "What's holding you up?" as if he didn't know. It might placate his fidgety good friend so he finally leaned into his whisky.
"Uh, d'way we do t'ings has become, how you say id -- "
"Say what?" he gasped.
"Here it comes...," said Patti.
" -- catch as can catch."
"You need lessons in American idiom, Claude."
“Non, I don'.”
Patti became animated again, "Jimmy's a language expert, you know. He's probably stuck here for awhile, like you. But for different reasons. Maybe in exchange you can give him details about the local economy."
"Really? I didn't know there was one?"
"There ain't," said the French, suspiciously quick. Whatever Patti had to say could only be bad news. That's the only kind he knows since that blamed Bomb he laid on Hiroshima. Or was it Nagasaki? Damn his burst of enthusiasm. "For instance, how about the rate of inflation?" Jimmy glanced at Patti. The fair-haired grizzled air leg vet stared at Jimmy down a bent nose, "How much you tip the doorman?"
Jimmy groaned, "Oh, oh," and hung his head. The locals enjoyed a brief burst of laughter. Jimmy glimpsed sheepishly at the first grin to crease the sombre French's face. "Tailors aren't too busy, right, Claude?"
"Non, an' dey work cheap, by relative standards, an' so do deir relatives."
"Pay in advance. They'll work harder and probably do it on the spot." Jimmy importer-exporter gazed at the blood red wallpaper. "You'll have a beautiful new suit in no time. I hope you can stand to wear pure silk." It had a blood-red velvet finish, "Buy several. Geez, Jimmy, start hauling them back to America," inlaid with gold embossed swirls going nowhere in the blood, "by the thousands." A real dust collector. Jimmy agreed finally he could use a couple of new suits, but he added, "I prefer to help the local economy off the sweat of their backs."
"You used piasters, didn't you. They don't help much. They never have."
"You might have warned me."
"Aw, what did you lose? A couple of ugly suits like that one? A shaving kit that you're obviously not too fond of?" The rudeness continued at his expense, however, and he felt left out a little longer. "You take bets on long nose lives, dontcha still, Claude?"
"Am I nod still in SomeWhere Disorien'al?"
Jimmy saw flint no humour in Claude's deep blue eyes when he interjected, "Don't look now, but yes, you are."
"Well...here's one for you,” Patti said next, “Somebody sitting here as we speak, at this very table, breathing even, but not smiling much, got a hand-delivered letter this morning at the aerodrome. It was from none other than Ngo Dinh Diem."
"Call it an airport. Nowadays in the real world that's what they call such places."
"Dis person who god dis ledder. Who mi'yid dat be?" Claude kibbitzed. Patti pointed at Jimmy several times. Why was everybody jabbing him today? Claude let out a low whistle. Jimmy flinched at the spit-prospects. "Was id an envelope?"
And Jimmy spat back, "Of course it was an envelope."
"Was id a big fad one?" "They always are." "Of course he did nod open id." "Of course not."
"I could tell. Led me tell you, Jimmy, why my newspaper appear in your language. Francs. An' Ngo Dinh Diem pay beaucoup of dem. D' new ones." Claude flatly said. "He is d'only one wid any to pay."
Jimmy mused, "Makes you wonder how he got them."
"You can't blame Claude sticking around and wanting a few of them back."
“No, you can't.” Jimmy soared free to fiddle with the brim of his hat.
"Id was purely a madder of choice, Archie. I did nod 'ave to do id."
This side of the table scoffed. "I per'onally suspec' Ngo is faking his democracy,” Claude continued unabated, “He is unner d'control of d'Communists in Hanoi..."
"Communists? You say they are Communists? You got Communists here? Where did they come from?"
"Come now, Claude, you can't blame the paucity of this place on obscure Communist nonsense."
Jimmy turned to scrutinize the grizzled liberal threat by his side, "And by the way, it ain't called Hanoi for nothing,” they heard Patti say, “If you ignore Hanoi it will go away."
Jimmy agreed, "They kept it because its the perfect name, Claude,” vigorously, “By the way, get the spelling straight in your newspaper. Somebody might have to write us a letter." The discussion of Communists raised his hackles. But where was this place and how come Patti knew nothing of the latest, greatest threat to investments world-wide?
"Very sarcastic, Archie. I am operaiding in a poisonous economic environmen'. I 'ave los' almos' everyt'ing." Claude said it so matter-of-fact that he obviously wanted no sympathy. He had murderous intentions, of course, which elicited curiosity. "Dog eat man," Patti muttered.
The French snorted, "I wish I lef' before id came to dat. D'local cuisine 'as much always turn my stomach."
"You'll never leave."
Part of him never would. Claude glanced off, in scolding silence. There a damned curiosity. He turned his attention back to Jimmy. "For d'right number of spondulics I will give you d'intelligence aboud wad is happen in SomeWhere Disorien'al."
Now this filthy rich guy was panning for frogskins? Furthermore Jimmy had been expecting it. He pulled out his roll and counted out fifty. "Please, Jimmy, don't be insul'ing." Jimmy counted out fifty more. He laid them on top the others.
"No more. Claude, these are worth something. Maybe you're not used to this. The value of these spirals up," he assured, soothingly. "That makes it valuable currency. If I had used this, I'd have new luggage and a car of my own parked out front. Go ahead. Pick it up. Perhaps it's been awhile? Hey, Archie, cars' got air-conditioning."
"You 'ave a wil' mob in North Vietnam. Dey are barely unner d'control of dat rabid monkey, Putrid Defacto Leader Ho Chi Minh. Id is a siduation d'like of which 'as never been seen. An' dis is d'way dey operaide... D'Planning Council enlis' dat mob to t'wart our business. Never 'ave you seen such a stiff-neck bunch of mudder-fuggers. Now d'Planning Council 'ave a problem. Dey mus' face dat mob demselves. Dis mus' make dem sick. And soon dey mus' ac' and ac' fas'. I know doze men. I saw dem from d'beginning when dey sneak into Hanoi. Dey came from d'hills in d'wes'. D'same 'ills dat run into Sini'ser... " Jimmy observed the thickening smoke in Desautels's eyes.
"Patti, gimme another smoke, will ya?" Jimmy propped an elbow on the table to watch the suffering Walleye. One of those flipped up and landed beside his elbow. Patti had yet to light up. Oh, there he goes. He generously offered to light Jimmy's. "Dey came oud saying dey possess d'istorical Confusing rules to govern d'wretched Viets. An' immedia'ly, if nod sooner, dey sed out' to subverd d'Mercantile agenda."
"We tried dat too. An' of course dere's no'ting wrong wid id unless id stard 'appening to you. Id was endless mischief an mayhem. Lose dis paper. Mis-spell dat word. Leave out dat paragraph. An' elsewhere. Loose dat bol'. Or even undo id an' lose id. Forge' to add d'oil -- and watch d'engine explode! -- On an' on id wen'.
"Dey invide d'belligerence. Wad else do you do? bud kill d'perpetrators of endless hocus pocus."
"Did'ja ever think to let 'em ride in those cars and trucks other than to the pit, Claude?"
"Aw fug you, Archie, whad for? Sometimes in chains, Jimmy. An' only a Viet Minhs who work on d'vehicle himself. Furd'ermore, Jimmy, dere is nod a historian in d'bunch. Dere never was. Now d'trut' come oud. Dey are a creation of d'Communist fron'. Id is no'ting to do with doze often- mentioned and too fon'ly remembered historians. Doze craze councillors run a Communist-rig 'ouse, wid d'dice loaded agains' barbarians, uh, investors."
If this is true Jimmy is definitely getting his money's worth, except there is no business worth talking about so why is the French weeping? Did it just come naturally to these people? Too bad Patti didn't look up from a glass more often. "I think a lot of French think like this." He might learn something about what's going on around here. "Not around here," Patti said and shrugged.
"Goes without saying. Listen, I almost hate to say it, Claude, because you're a hurtin' long nose. And yours is a hurting race of Longnozes. Always was. You don't resemble anything like an influential nation. I know you went alone for a few centuries here. But what did you do?"
"You're taking a whipping from somebody. Your money is worth nothing, and nobody knows why. But if your saying this stuff about Communists is true, I say it's plain loser talk," Jimmy waved a hand, "I understand," and sighed, "I must consider the source. So tell me. Do you French do any business? Did you guys do anything here to prove it?"
"No'ting. Certainly not as much as we use to," he replied, shamefully, "not as much as we used to. Bud guess wad?" This guy had amazing resilience. He seemed to be shedding his skin. Jimmy witnessed a third ludicrous grin, counting Patti's drunken leer, but this one more devious and possibly larcenous. (Perhaps it was the atmosphere of the Embassy Lounge. It seemed no one smiled for long in South East Asia, unless they had a compelling reason, a mouthful of gold to display. And to do that you carry a gun. There are so few guns that nobody's smiling. The French waved a manicured hand across the table.
Jimmy was relieved it didn't jab at him, "You Ves'spit'yans," and disgusted when he came within range again, "both of you, an' all d'res' of you, will 'ave your Barbaridy bankrup'd."
"Are you outta your fucking mind?"
"Oh fuck Jimmy isn't that obvious. Oh right you're the guy that chats it up with Robert Amory. How would you know?" Jimmy desired to kill his good friend. The French's snarling lips quivered. Everything in the handsome French's face betrayed pain and loss. His eyes burned from sorrowful experience. Or was he possibly remembering other than his own? Jimmy saw a blinding cloud in one of them. In the other a red flash beckoned the death of someone, some lot of someones. Who was he going for next? It seemed kind of obvious.
"D'rabid monkey can 'ardly afford to waid. 'is Communist debt is wrid on a stack of promissory nodes to dat seed'ing mob o'Viet Congs."
"Viet whats? Get to the one hundred spondulic point."
"You 'eard me, Jimmy. Dey invide d'White House to invest aroun' 'ere by jus' admidding wad dey are. Uncle Ho needs you," oh the fucker, jabbing at him, "to pay dat mob. Why don' you accep' d'invitation an' kick d'eir Communis' asses back to d'ills wes' of Sinis'er? Dat's where d'Communists belong."
"So you think they're inviting war with Americans, Claude? Besides revenge, what keeps you here? If the White House were to sit on South East Asia, you know what kind of hole this would be?"
"I presume id would make id an 'ole on a map. Where is id ad d'moment?"
"Claude, I'm going to make it my life's work to tell democracy where it is, with extreme emphasis on the part about Communists. Does that make you happy? Let me buy you a drink."
"Yes an Non."
Patti slammed an arm across the table. "Enough! Don't tell a fucking soul about this place," he scowled. "Quit tellin' 'Betty' about it. You want come over and start leading Cao Dai parades? Jimmy, the country's only a thousand, err, five hundred miles long."
"Aw whose 'Betty'," Jimmy muttered. He knew enough about the cabal brewing it up in America. Patti lifted his arm and pointed at Desautels, "What if the Cao Dai busted your bank."
Jimmy recognized the old shirt, sleeves frayed at the wrist, collar more faded compared to the shirt. It must be a favourite Katanya Rae Velvet keeps clean. Wonder how that black got there on shoulder. Jimmy never carried favourite clothes. As itinerant globe-trotters know, valuables do not belong in luggage.
Something appeared to dawn on Patti. "That's why you wanted those dollars." He sat back and heaved a sigh, "You'll never live long enough to see that game again."
“Oh yes I will,” the French scowled back at Patti's cryptic understatement. Were they talking about money-changing around here? It never caught Jimmy's interest. All you had to do was consider the base currency and you dropped the matter.
"Claude, I have to agree with Jimmy." He did? "You do?"
"Yes, the White House would never act to get involved here. Rice doesn't interest the democracy. There is nothing else to steal. So forget about it."
Oh there he goes again. This will get him going, figured Jimmy, "Are you saying the Blameless asshole is going to break the Treasury of America?"
It did and Patti raised a fist at him but his jaw dropped. It hung at the sight of Claude's first real smile. The blond haired head fell back and stared at the ceiling. He took out a cigarette for himself. He lit up and blew smoke rings to the centre of the room.
Meanwhile, Claude was happier to say the least. "Firs' you sed id up, Jimmy," he replied, gleefully, "Den we'll see if dat gambler can break id." Jimmy knew the French were famous for hand gestures. He believed the handsome Walleyed French kept his hands in a neatly folded cup on the table below his chin to catch a stray tear or two. Therefore this slight changed demeanor was a curiosity. "You should have asked for help a long time ago, Claude."
"We did. Talk to d'Dulles brodders. There is truth in a name," he muttered.
"So I heard. By the way, next time I pay in local currency. These juicy tidbits aren't enough for a whole dollar to swallow. What do you French calls them? Whores Durves? Forget about a hundred of them."
"We did nod inten' to keep id a secred." Claude replied with a typical French Colon lie. It somehow implied they had anything worth telling. There was the lie at the heart of the matter. The dapper French laid his palms flat. His light silk suit was a nice fit. "Who makes your suits?" The French pushed himself out of the booth. "I will sen' 'im oud to Archie's."
But before departing he leered. "Actually, Jimmy, you give me renewing fait' in d'local currency. Give me enough of dem an' I will accep' piasters unconditionally."
Patti smirked, "It is amazing how you keep the faith in those piasters. Aren't you French the guys with all the faith in them the last time.”
Desautels gazed with stony eyes, harumphed, and sauntered away.
And Jimmy bellowed, "You have every reason to be!" When he stood to move to the other side of the table, Patti waved to the tricky multilingual waitress. Jimmy was ready for some serious pounding. "Jimmy, you don't know what you're saying...."
"Thinks he knows the ropes around here," he replied, feeling snarly. He took off his hat and squinted when daylight spilled in the room.
"He's used enough of them," said the grizzled son-of-a- bitch across the table.
"I wonder if the rumour is true."
"No rumour. Actual fact. They got his at Dien Bien Phu. They did indeed."
"Wonder what them Viet Minhs use em for?"
"You don't want to know any more than I don't want to know. So drop it. Give me more bad news from America."
End Chapter Two