Author: sheeplady46 PM
Part 4 of 5. Sequel to "A Byte of Time", "Down to Earth", and "Trials and Triumphs". Following another "Starscapes" lead, what would Fox think if he found out that Starman had gone to Vietnam with Wayne Geffner? Rated T due to mention of real world Vietnam era atrocities.Rated: Fiction T - English - Adventure/Drama - Words: 65,535 - Published: 05-28-12 - Status: Complete - id: 8158871
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
To those who brought STARMAN to life and to its continuing supporters, wherever they may be. Long may the STARMAN legacy continue in our hearts and attitudes.
My special thanks to those who have taken of their valuable time to edit my work, and to those who have read them. I do appreciate your comments.
The Searchers is the fourth in my series A Byte of Time, Down to Earth and Trials and Triumphs.
The Searchers is a work of fiction, but representative of my undiminished infatuation with both the STARMAN movie and the television series. All my stories are interpretations of things left unanswered when STARMAN made an undeserved departure from a purposely unnamed network's otherwise rotten program schedule.
The Searchers required much research and I have tried to keep the locale descriptions as accurate as is possible. Having never visited the area, I beg forgiveness for any transgressions from accuracy and for the purposeful taking of literary license to keep the story moving. As with the Starman series, I have tried to bring to life something both interesting, and educational for the reader as it has been for this writer. The characters, other than historical figures, are purely fictitious and any resemblance to real folks, living or dead, is entirely coincidental. I have found it interesting that since doing the basic research for this story early in 1993, many of the things I learned about the locale have in fact come to pass in the course of world events.
Copyright © l994. Sheeplady46. The Searchers is a non-profit, amateur publication, written for the enjoyment of STARMAN fans, and is not meant to infringe upon copyrights, or otherwise, held by John Mason, John Gray, Bruce A. Evans and Raynold Gideon, Henerson-Hirsch Productions, Michael Douglas Productions, Columbia Pictures Television, or ABC-TV. Materials contained herein may not be copied or reproduced without the express written permission of the author.
Now, my friends, on to the meat and potatoes...
Very far from home, an Earth bound being from the stars looked lovingly at his human son. Scott fell asleep when darkness left us nothing to look at except the interior of the bus, the Starman thought. It often amazes me how he can fall asleep at any time, and in almost any position. He has his head lying heavily on my shoulder because he sought no support for it when he succumbed to sleep. Now he is slumped into a curved position. If I did so with this body for any length of time, on awakening it would require much straightening. From experience I know when Scott awakens he will open his eyes, stretch his arms and be ready to go.
We caught the first bus to Albuquerque to go see the Geffners. As luck would have it, we came upon a freeway accident that had stopped traffic for hours. With others, Scott and I walked to the scene. When the emergency people asked for help, two nurses on the bus volunteered. They began by helping with the critical injuries. With many other minor injuries, I seized the opportunity to practice my first aid and to teach Scott. Though I know I must be careful about exposure, with all the activity no one noticed a little extra help provided by my sphere. When the highway people decided to re-route the traffic, the emergency people asked us to continue helping then advised the bus driver to have the next bus stop for us.
Moving his pinned arm enough to see his watch, Paul Forrester's eyes fixed on his human wrist. He smiled appreciatively. The way this day started, I can almost believe in miracles. I am not wearing Fox's handcuffs. It is difficult to understand all that happened at the park in Albuquerque, but I believe after such dedication to his cause George Fox discovered what he needed. This truce not only offers me peace, but achieves the same within himself. I think his decision to let us go began long before he picked me up at the jail. Though his testing did irritate me, I do understand his ingrained doubts determined he do so. Finally he had to act on intuition.
As we left El Paso I told Scott about our encounter. He seemed happy, but I can still sense hostility toward George Fox remaining within him. Experience keeps him from believing George is honorable enough to keep his word. I know I was right to tell George it was not yet time for them to meet. Of course I can never demand that Scott accept him. As it has been with George, forgiveness is something Scott has within him, but he must find it within himself.
Paul smiled. Even now, within this body I still find it difficult to think of him as George. It will surely be much harder for Scott to do for he is mostly human. As with Rod Allen, my son must decide to forget the past and move on into the future. For that he must clear away his anger at past wrongs for only then may he begin to come to terms with who he is inside. It seems strange to me that most of the human species does not yet understand that the ability to forgive and move on is the basis for human civilization to progress. The choice to forgive lies within each individual and with it they can achieve greater satisfaction than seeking retribution for real or imaginary wrongs. All I can do is encourage Scott to think first about the result of his choices.
I know George accepts truth on a different level than I, but even if this truce does not last, for the present it will allow us to wait in Albuquerque in hopes that Jenny will decide it is time to call the Geffners.
For a long while the Starman continued gazing out the window. Finally he succumbed to a growing discomfort created by his son's sleeping body. Slowly twisting his upper torso, he sought a more comfortable position and twenty minutes passed. While I would willingly support my son's sleeping body with my own, I just saw another highway sign advising me it is still twenty-three miles to Albuquerque. I feel a need to get up. I have discovered when Scott is in a state of deep sleep, I can usually manipulate his body without waking him. I see an unused pillow lying on the empty seat across the aisle. If I can get it, I will lift his weight from my shoulder and put it under his head over by the window.
Luckily Paul Forrester had long arms, he thought as he reached across the aisle. I can reach the pillow, but only with my fingertips. Okay, I have its cover between my fingers. Now, inch it closer. Long moments passed. Though this is taking much effort, I am gaining. This would have been far simpler if I could use my sphere. He heaved a heavy sigh. Oh well. What was the saying I remember reading? Yes, 'When in Rome one must do as the Romans do.'
Okay, I've got it. He brought the pillow across the aisle and seconds later had Scott's shoulder wedged between the corner of the seat and the window and his head resting on the pillow. He got up, stretched, and then walked toward the rear of the bus.
Returning shortly to his seat, he continued gazing out into the darkness. Any time I pass through desert it always reminds me of my train ride with Jenny. At that time I felt sure I would have no reason to return to this world, let alone have to seek permission to remain. How things have changed since I received Scott's message. The warm feeling that coursed through the body as he looked at Scott's peaceful face made him smile.
Anything like what I just felt is totally foreign to my kind. What surprised me, is how easily I have adapted to these feelings and to Paul Forrester's clumsy, restrictive form. I didn't think I could do it, but I have also adapted to having a teenage son. Still my selection of this host form has often proved difficult. Scott has often asked me if I want to go home. I did not tell him that in the beginning I often thought of having the ship come for me, but then I discovered what it was to be a father. Now, even the thought of leaving is unthinkable.
I also have renewed feelings for Jenny keeping me here so I have accepted that at least for now, and into the foreseeable future, I must think of Planet Earth as home. Though I think less and less about my other life the night sky always draws me to look toward home. The fact remains, I am not really of this world. His smile faded. Though I don't think they would insist, what would I do if I received an order to return? I wonder if they would accept a 'No'.
He concentrated again on the darkness beyond the dim lights of the bus interior. I see the kind of glow in the distance that I have learned to recognize as a human city. I think we will soon be in Albuquerque. Though curiosity has me wanting to call the Geffners to ask if they have heard from Jenny, courtesy tells me it is far too late to do so today. We will find a room for the night. I also think it best we find an apartment before going to see them.
Twenty minutes later the bus rolled into the Albuquerque depot. A nearby hotel provided lodging.
In the morning they awoke early. After a brief discussion they decided since it was hopefully no longer necessary to blend into the masses they would search for an apartment outside the many faces of the city core. They finally settled on a furnished one bedroom, second floor walk-up that separated them from the Geffners by more than two miles. Other important factors in their selection were the availability for immediate occupancy and walking distance to school and transportation. It didn't take long to settle in by depositing their meager belongings in the many available dresser drawers. A trip to a nearby grocery store followed.
Scott was watching his father placing the last of the non-perishable groceries into a cupboard. "Dad, I know you don't like to get too close to people who know about us, but isn't it about time we go surprise the Geffners?"
"You're right," Paul returned. "I don't think we have any choice but to get close if we want to find out if they've heard from Jenny."
"Did you remember to ask the apartment manager about the bus stops?"
"I did." Paul reached into his pocket, "He gave me a city bus schedule and sold me a city map." Spreading the map on the table, Paul located the apartment in relationship to Citrus, then placed the bus map on top of it. "If I'm not mistaken, a number 12 will take us within two blocks of their house."
"Hey, you are getting pretty good at this primitive navigation," Scott laughed. "Why don't you lead the way?"
A ringing bell brought Phyllis Geffner to the door and recognition brought an immediate sparkle to her eyes. "Please come in," she said eagerly. As they walked inside, she turned her head toward the kitchen. "Wayne, hurry!" she called. "You'll never believe who just walked through our doorway."
A moment later, still drying his hands on a dish towel, Wayne appeared in the kitchen doorway. Immediately his face expanded into a broad grin and he rushed toward them. "Paul ... Scott, it's wonderful to see you." Extending his hands he vigorously shook theirs, then took Paul by the arm and urged them toward the living room. "This time I welcome you to our home. Please, have a seat. When we parted at the lean-to, you said we'd probably never see you again. To what do we owe this unexpected pleasure?"
"It's a long story." Paul replied as he settled into a chair. Catching a sign from Scott who remained standing, he looked up at Phyllis. "Mrs. Geffner, may I introduce my son. Scott, this is Phyllis Geffner."
"I'm sorry, hon," Wayne said apologetically. "I forgot you never did get to meet Scott."
She took Scott's hand. "I'm glad for the opportunity, Scott. Wayne has said nothing but good things about you." She looked Scott over carefully. "Has anyone ever told you, you're a spitting image of your mother."
Scott blushed slightly. Glancing at his father then back at Phyllis, he nodded subtly.
Paul, saw her acknowledge Scott's nod and in the interest of general conversation, said, "I understand you had a visit from George Fox."
"Day before yesterday. I don't understand that man," Phyllis rebuked. "After what he did to you, he had the gall to waltz in here just like nothing happened." When she saw Paul eyeing her suspiciously, she looked to Wayne. Catching his high sign she blushed then grabbed the towel he had hanging casually over his shoulder. "Excuse me, I had better take this back to the kitchen."
I can understand Phyllis not thinking about what she was saying, Wayne thought. I just couldn't do what Paul asked. Now, I'm afraid he's upset about me telling her. What can I say?
As Phyllis brushed by on her way out of the room, Paul gently took her arm to hold her back. "Am I correct, Wayne has told you?" She frowned deeply, then nodded.
"Paul, I'm sorry," Wayne offered.
"It's all right," Paul replied. "I am well aware that once a secret is shared with someone, it remains a secret no longer."
"You don't know what you were asking of me. Phyllis reads me like a book. Always has. She knew right away there was something I wasn't telling her. I may not always listen to her advice when I should, but she's our family peacemaker. I couldn't let it grow between us."
Paul smiled at her and remembered Phyllis's propensity for peacemaking. "It's all right. I'm deeply indebted to you for not listening to Wayne or I may not have found Jenny."
"I'm just so embarrassed, but don't blame Wayne," Phyllis returned. "He tried. I knew something had happened in Arizona and just wrestled it out of him."
Paul smiled at her. "Really, it's no problem. It's just the more who know the better the chances become that more will find out. Our future depends on maintaining anonymity."
"Paul Forrester, I can keep a secret if I think it's important," she returned decisively. "Even though Wayne justified telling me because he thought we'd never see you again, yours is a secret I recognized as a priority."
"Thank you," Paul offered.
Scott, anxious to get on to something of substance, asked, "We came to Albuquerque because we thought you might have heard something from Mom."
Phyllis frowned. "I'm sorry. I figured she'd call long before this, if for no other reason to find out how everything went at Peagrum. I'm sure she must suspect Fox has our telephone monitored. Jenny is really terrified of that man."
"If she does call, please tell her I have met with him and everything is okay. If it would make her feel better, perhaps she can suggest some place for us to meet."
"That's wonderful," Wayne offered. "I will say from the questions Fox asked when he was here, I got the feeling there were changes coming."
"I spoke with him yesterday and I believe he is sincere. In fact I need to call him to give him our address."
"Feel free to use the telephone," Phyllis offered.
Paul gratefully accepted. He talked with George Fox for nearly fifteen minutes, advising him that he planned to find work in Albuquerque in hopes that Jenny decides to break her silence.
I think I have only heard the end of a long odyssey between this man from the stars and his pursuer, Phyllis thought. As Paul hung up she looked at him hopefully "Is it possible you might tell us what happened to bring about such a change in that man?"
Actually Scott and I decided it is improbable we will ever find Jenny by wandering from place to place, Paul thought. These are the most likely people through whom we might make contact. For that reason I have accepted that I am dependent upon them. "I'm not completely sure," Paul offered conservatively, but I will tell you..." Paul briefed in generalities about his meeting with Fox and ended with, "Mr. Fox had completed an investigation of his own into my activities and has personally decided it acceptable to allow me to remain free."
Wayne frowned. "Just like that, it's over.
"Just like that," Paul returned with a smile.
"Well I'm glad you've finally reached the end of that nightmare," Phyllis offered. I'm also happy you decided to come back to Albuquerque." Now I think it's time to move on to things more current. You will stay for dinner?"
"We should return home," Paul advised.
"Home?" she questioned.
"We have an apartment."
"I won't hear of it. We have two empty bedrooms, you're staying with us."
"We can't stay with you," Paul advised.
She looked to Wayne, then back. "I don't understand."
As he had with the Fosters, Paul kindly, but firmly explained his aversion to being treated differently. As he finished he could see the hurt on her face. "I am not saying we will never visit," he said appeasingly, "but we can not stay in your home."
A broad grin quickly replaced the look of rejection. "Then it's settled," she said decisively. "This is your first visit. We'll set two extra places for dinner."
I believe I have lost the first round with this friend, Paul thought. Smiling, he conceded. "We would be pleased to have dinner with you."
She directed Paul and Scott toward the kitchen, then to a place at the kitchen table. While Wayne set the table and prepared a pot of coffee, Phyllis prepared a hamburger casserole. Finished for the moment, Wayne grinned broadly then sat at the table. "Though I haven't heard from Jen, I do have some news. When I got home from Saguaro, Phyllis and I sat down and talked about Jimmy. I've decided to go back to Nam to look for him."
"Great," Scott offered, beating his father to it.
"That's wonderful," Paul added.
Phyllis turned from the counter and looked lovingly at Wayne. "I've known for a long time that Wayne needed to return to Vietnam and at least try to find him. I know it's a long shot. Wayne needs a son. I could never have children," she announced sadly as she set a bowl of mixed green salad on the table. "Though Jimmy is no longer a child, I'm looking forward to having him join us."
"I contacted the State Department to ask for help in finding him," Wayne offered. "Believe me, I quickly discovered it's impossible to get to Vietnam from here." He smiled when he saw Paul's head cocked sideways. "Even though we bailed out of there through the back door over twelve years ago, the United States still maintains an open hostility toward their government."
"I don't think I understand." Paul returned.
"Even though Vietnam sends a delegation to the United Nations, our government refuses to establish diplomatic relations so it does not sanction any American citizen going there whether it be to find children, someone missing in the war, or to face our own demons."
Paul's eyes narrowed, wrinkling his nose. "Are you saying the United States government will not permit you to go there to search for your son?"
Scott shook his head slowly. I remembered the time I spent on the desert with Uncle Wayne. At the lean-to he was delirious, but I could hear the anguish in his voice. He still refused to talk about it while he limped across the desert trying to get to Mom's house. Finding out about Dad and me got him all hyped up to find his son. Now our government won't let him go. He looked at Wayne with concern. "What are you going to do?"
Wayne smiled broadly. "As Phyllis can tell you, once I make up my mind to do something I don't give up easily."
Paul grinned. "We noticed that when you managed to get inside Building 11. Now, how do you plan to go where your government will not allow. Break in?"
"Kind of. First I went to the library then turned to those with experience. The past few years some Americans wanting to go back have found ways to end run our government bureaucracy by dealing directly with the Vietnamese government. Some wrote accounts of their trips, so I contacted them asking for details."
"Are they helping you?"
"Yes, they were more than happy to help. They even told me to give their names as references."
"I have found references quite useful," Paul offered.
"Very useful, for someone at the Vietnamese Embassy in Thailand recognized their names from before. Right now I'm awaiting word from them about issuing the necessary visas. Though any country having a Vietnamese Embassy, like France or the Soviet Union will do, Thailand has proven the most accessible. I've found two other Vets interested in going with me. They want to try to come to grips with emotional scars left by the war. We figure on continuing to blaze around government red tape for those to follow. Since Thailand has direct flights into Vietnam, the Vietnamese Embassy is getting accustomed to dealing with our problems. All we have to do is wait until they find us a sponsor."
"A sponsor?" Scott asked.
Wayne turned to Scott. "Your sponsor is like a local guide service. They travel with you and provide translation."
"When we were in there, not many of us were given more than a basic indoctrination tour. I guess their government now has a list of certain things they want us all to see, and remember. The problem is there seems to be a shortage of government Ministries willing to act as sponsors. They said they have a long waiting list, one that could take months … even years."
Paul grimaced. "Years?"
"Years," Wayne confirmed. "But since I told them I do know quite a bit of the language, they told me they would check with some of the smaller Ministries. Of course they wanted to know my life history and what I wanted to do and see in Vietnam. It can become a major pain trying to exchange the required information, first writing in a foreign language and also acting through intermediaries. I have everything in to them and now all I have to do is play the waiting game."
"I hope you will not have to wait for years," Paul offered.
"Me neither, Jimmy isn't getting any younger."
Paul glanced up at the clock on the wall. "It is already eight. I think we must catch a bus for home."
"We'll drive you," Wayne offered.
"We can take the bus," Paul returned as he got up.
"Just getting into town I have to assume you don't have a telephone yet. How will I contact you if Jen does call if you don't let me know where you live?"
"You're right of course," Paul acknowledged. "Do you have a pen and paper?"
Phyllis quickly delivered and Paul wrote it down. "I will advise you of our telephone number as soon as it is available. When Wayne arose, Paul and Scott followed.
That was the best nights sleep I've had in well over a year Scott thought as he slowly awoke. It's Sunday morning and here we are in Albuquerque. Without looking I can tell Dad is already up by the smell of his sweet after shave wafting into the room. I'll just lie here until he finishes in the bathroom. I have to agree, at present Uncle Wayne is our best chance of finding Mom so we might be calling Albuquerque home for quite a while. Though it's nice waking up knowing I won't have to move again, I hope she calls soon. He took a deep oxygen enriching breath. I hear movement. Yeah, the after shave is getting stronger. Dad says he learns much from the body. It would be interesting to find out if he chose the same after shave Paul Forrester used. Maybe I'll ask Liz the next time I get a chance to talk to her. I wonder how much longer it will be before I can shave?
I guess I'd better open my eyes to the opportunities of this new day or Dad will start an earthquake on the bed. Geeze, here I am thinking about opportunities for this new day. Am I beginning to think like him too? He slowly opened his eyes, totally unprepared for what he was to see.
What is Dad doing leaning over the bed with his hands over his head? he questioned. I can't see what he's holding, but whatever it is, it's coming my way. I've never seen him looking at me like that before. Dad has decided he wants to kill something and the sheer determination on his face shows he clearly plans to carry through with it. I haven't enough time to get out of the way. Scott's eyes instinctively snapped shut. Is he going to hit me? As the weapon arched through the air its increasing speed caused a whooshing sound as lazy molecules of air swept through the perforations in its rectangular surface.
I could feel the wind whistling by my right ear, but he missed, Scott thought. He only hit my pillow.
"Got ya!" Paul proclaimed loudly. With a look of astute satisfaction he stood straight again.
"What are you doing?" Scott rebuffed. He then saw his father brushing something off the pillow into the waste basket. Scott looked over the side of the bed into the wastebasket and spotting his father's lifeless victim, he laughed, "I thought you respected all life on Earth." He looked up in time to see his father raise his hand and carefully place one finger on a large red mark still on his nose.
"I don't like these insects you call hornets."
"So you've finally found something you don't like?"
"There are many things I dislike, but have to tolerate if I wish to live here. I guess it comes with the territory, but this was not one of them. Besides, it was you, not me, it threatened."
"Thanks," Scott replied, laughing heartily. "I noticed some more buzzing around the kitchen window. Maybe the landlord can get us a screen."
"I believe I will ask her," Paul replied as he reached up under his hairline to feel the bumps that started off his previous day with George Fox.
"We can ask her when we go out."
"I know you don't want to spend too much time with the Geffners, so I'm assuming we're going to go someplace today."
"First I think we need to prepare something to eat," Paul returned. "It never fails to amaze me how much, and how fast these bodies consume energy. There's milk in the refrigerator and some bananas and a big box of dry breakfast cereal in the cupboard by the stove."
"It's Sunday, let's go out for breakfast," Scott suggested. "I think I want some bacon, eggs and pancakes this morning."
"All right, but just this time. We don't know how long it will be until Jenny calls. We'll have to be careful with our money in case I can't find a good job."
They found a small, homey cafe on the boulevard near the bus stop. "Tomorrow it's back to school for you and job hunting for me," Paul announced as he put the last bite of a large stack of hot cakes in his mouth. "I might as well start looking at what's available." He picked up a previously owned newspaper left in the booth by the buyer and singled out the help wanted ads.
"Let's not get into tomorrow, today," Scott said anxiously. "If you're right about Fox we'll have plenty of time for both. Today, let's find something we can do together." He picked out the weekend activities section and found the Sunday offerings. "Hey, here's a lecture on the radio telemetry developed for the military being used in tracking and studying the habits of wildlife. Now SETI has enlarged it to try contacting other intelligent life in the universe. Maybe we'll find some new information we can use if we have to go back to giving lectures."
"Sounds good," Paul acknowledged. "Where do we have to go?"
"It's at the University of New Mexico. Starts at 1:00."
"The bus we took over to the Geffner's said 'University'. Let's go home and check our map and the schedule."
They arrived well in time for the lecture and found it enjoyable and informative. Though some parents looked on in surprise, Paul thought nothing of joining the children in the hands on demonstration of the wildlife tracking portion. As they left the auditorium, Paul bought another book after concluding lecturing to be a growing and viable employment opportunity.
"Dad?" Scott said asking for his father's attention as they walked to catch the bus.
"Why don't your friends answer our messages?"
"Answering your message is how you came into being. Other than producing 'you' it was a total failure."
"I don't mean, come here. Just shoot some signals back so they'll know you're out there."
"We normally do not seek out radio-wave transmissions."
"We feel that unless a civilization has achieved more than shooting signals out into the vastness of space, they are not ready for contact." Paul grinned, observing his son's growing look of contemplation. "Rest assured, when they feel the time is right, they will try again."
For two former fugitives the day sped by. Soon their first Sunday together as free men passed to relaxation.
A day passed to school and the job search. After hanging his leather jacket in the closet, Paul flopped out flat on the couch. I have visited every newspaper in Albuquerque searching for a job. While a couple sounded promising for a future opening, right now there's nothing available in Paul Forrester's field of photojournalism. If necessary, I guess I could go back to 'pearl diving' to fill in until something does come along. His head jerked nervously toward a knock at the door. Now who can that be? Taking a deep breath he shook his head slowly. What I should ask myself, is why I reacted so strongly. Fox has granted me freedom. Now I must reprogram myself not to jump every time I hear a knock at the door or the wail of a siren. Responding to the persistent knocking, he got up and walked to the door. Opening it boldly he found Wayne Geffner standing there and wearing a broad grin. "Wayne, come in."
Wayne turned as Paul closed the door. "Have I got news or have I got news," he rattled excitedly. "Not an hour ago the Vietnamese representative to the United Nations called to tell me my clearance to go to Vietnam is coming through."
Remembering the conversation of days before, Paul said curiously, "Didn't you say it would 'take months ... even years'?" Suddenly his head snapped apprehensively at another noise at the door. This is silly, but as George said, habits of long standing are not easy to change. I must work on suppressing this excessive reaction. He cocked his head. This time there is no knock and I hear a key in the lock. "I think Scott is home from school."
Wayne shook his head. "You jump at a noise like you've been at war, my friend," he offered observantly. He noted a questioning look. "What I mean after you've been in a war it takes awhile before you don't start looking for cover when you hear sounds you associate with danger. With you it's an unexpected sound at the door, in war it's gunfire or incoming rockets."
Paul nodded his understanding. "I'm afraid this past year has been worse for Scott. Until the people Jenny chose for him died, he had enjoyed a pretty normal life. Other than beginning to understand himself, my return has not helped much." The door opened. When he saw Scott balk, Paul again stiffened. Scott has responded to seeing someone in the room and in turn I have responded to his jumpiness. This is a sense of self-preservation we have come to share. Though hopefully we will no longer need it, I must work toward regaining control. He relaxed immediately, but saw Wayne slowly shaking his head.
"You see. The war had me like that for years. Fox has done it to you as well." Wayne turned toward Scott and smiled. "Hello, Scott."
As relief appeared on Scott's face he thought Wayne might have received some word "Hi Uncle Wayne, have you heard from Mom.
"I'm sorry, no," Wayne replied with compassion. Then he returned to explaining his real reason for coming. "The other time I talked to the Vietnamese Ambassador, he said there weren't too many commissions willing to act as sponsors. But now he said after their Embassy in Thailand looked over my references and found I spoke the language, they convinced a smaller Ministry into volunteering to act as my sponsor. He assured me the name, Commission for Investigation into War Crimes, sounds bad, but they have offered to give me what I need to get underway. I imagine the indoctrination may be more intense than maybe the Ministry of Education or Cultural Exchange, but I'll try anything if it will cut through the red tape. Jimmy will be sixteen soon and finding and bringing him home is something that can't wait much longer."
Paul smiled warmly. "Then you will be able to leave soon?"
"I think so."
"I'm very happy for you."
"I originally asked for clearance for a party of five, so he told me to submit a list of names so his government can check them against their list of official undesirables. After that, all I have to do is wait for approval from Hanoi. He said after Hanoi receives my list, I could have clearance within a week."
Scott's head cocked curiously. "Why did you ask for such a large group?"
Wayne looked over at Scott. "One of my contacts suggested a larger group offered more flexibility in addition to a greater feeling of safety," Wayne replied. "From the stories we continue to hear from refugees still coming out of that part of the world, we don't want to forget the government there is still Communist. It has also long refused to compromise on the 1979 occupation of its neighbor, Cambodia. That has to be a pretty substantial stumbling block to restoring normal relations with the United States or many of its neighbors. At least there are signs we're inching closer to forgiving and forgetting. Hanoi is being more helpful in the search for our MIA's and I heard from my contacts that they've agreed to have some Americans open an office to help search for bodies."
Wayne frowned as he looked back at Paul. "I'm sorry, I never considered that you might not be familiar with the war, let alone the common acronyms that grew out of it."
Paul smiled. This is promising. It seems Wayne momentarily forgot I am not really Paul Forrester. Is it possible he accepts me as a human being? His smile broadened. "I have read a book about it. I understand Grunts, MIA, R & R and many other acronyms. If you say something I don't understand, I will ask. There is one thing I would like to know."
"I'm assuming Phyllis will be going with you. How will we know if Jenny calls or comes to visit?"
Wayne's mouth contorted to one side and his look changed quickly to one of determination. "Paul, there's no sense in me beating around the bush and keep hoping you'll show an interest. I came over to ask you and Scott to go with me."
"You said you already had somebody going with you?"
"I've already talked to the two guys who said they wanted to go. They said they couldn't go on such short notice."
"But our names are not on your list."
Hopeful at not receiving an outright 'no', Wayne continued with his sales pitch. "You were quite a hot shot photojournalist in Vietnam." He pulled a copy of In the Eye of the Storm out of the paper sack he was carrying and held it up. "When I mentioned your name as a possible traveling companion to the Nam Ambassador, he told me about your book. He said your photographs showed a special sensitivity to not only our soldiers, but to the suffering the war caused the Vietnamese people as well. He told me when he got here to represent his country at the United Nations, he purchased several copies of your book and sent them back to his family."
"Yes," a Starman replied with increasing wonder at Wayne Geffner's degree of acceptance. "Paul Forrester also did some other photographic essays about the war ... but remember," he offered honestly, "those were not my photographs."
Wayne cocked his head slightly as he remembered in reality he was looking at what he knew to be a man from the stars. "I never realized how easy it has become to think of you as Paul Forrester," he said. "I know you're trying to continue his career and whether these are your photographs or not, they are your credentials. Can you think of any better way to build your skills than to travel and take pictures?"
"Up until now we have been doing that."
"Not using your credentials, though. How are you with a camera?"
"I am working at it," Paul confirmed.
"While it could be just a politically correct move on the Ambassador's part, but when I mentioned you would be traveling with your son he seemed even more interested." Wayne looked at Paul hopefully. "To get you on my list, all I have to do is tell him you'll be with me. I'm to call him tomorrow morning. Please let me tell him you'll be joining my party?"
Paul's eyebrows rose in two graceful arcs. "If everyone is going we would be defeating our reason for coming to Albuquerque. There will be no one here to answer the phone if Jenny calls."
"That's no problem because Phyllis isn't going. At first she reluctantly agreed, but when someone told her Vietnam is no place for an outspoken American woman, she told me she has no real burning desire to see the reality of what we did there. I didn't push it because she's right. It's not her cross to bear." Wayne looked hopefully at Paul. "Please tell me you'll go?"
Paul further mulled over Wayne's invitation. Though the idea of getting a first hand look at the results of a human war might be informative, I still do not think being with Wayne for an extended time is a good idea, he thought. He looked at Scott. I think Scott can provide a graceful way to say no. "Scott needs to be in school."
"Dad, the results of the tests Ms. Michael's sent, have me pretty much up with everyone else. Look, I can take books with me and you can help me like before. I promise I'll keep up on my studies." Scott looked hopefully at his father. I can tell from Dad's look he's trying to decide whether I'm just trying to 'slick' myself out of school again. "Dad," he offered in his most persuasive voice, "you said we should never stop learning. Just think of the education this trip would be. It's a chance to study the culture and people of another country."
I can see there will be no support for my attempt to gracefully bow out of this from Scott, Paul considered. I think the idea of going is beginning to intrigue me as well.
"It won't take us long," Wayne offered in support.
"How long is long?"
Seeing consideration on Paul's face, Wayne shrugged his shoulders. "Three weeks, maybe four at the most. It's hard to say for sure how long it will take to find Jimmy."
Scott has caught up much more than four weeks schooling this past year, so that probably will not present any problem, but the problem of being constant companions over a long period of time still remains. Deep in thought, Paul's mouth pursed to one side. It's like being in parades ... and taking carnival rides, he thought. I think I should say 'no', but I might be refusing an excellent opportunity to expand not only my knowledge of this planet, but Scott's. He looked at his son, but saw only encouragement. I think Scott might be right. It will not only be educational for him, but for me as well. Surely reading and the short trips outside the United States to Mexico and into Canada do not qualify me to report home about the physical and social evolution of all higher life forms on this planet. On the other hand, these are things we could do after we find Jenny. Then we could travel as a family.
Jenny, of course, has no way of knowing about my agreement with George. It might be a long time before she feels it safe to call Wayne. He thought about a standard item he carried in his back pocket, then looked again at Scott. "You know, we do have one large problem."
"We have saved some money, but surely not enough for such a trip."
"Don't worry about it," Wayne interjected. "Phyllis knew long ago that someday I would have to search for my son. Being frugal, she has been saving a long time for this trip. We agreed you would make good companions, so it's only right we provide the financing."
"I couldn't let you pay our way," Paul replied decisively.
Seeing his vacation and way out of school drowning in finances, Scott offered a youthful solution. "Hey, maybe Paul Forrester can approach a newspaper or a magazine and have them pay for the trip in exchange for a photo essay on Vietnam?"
"Scott has a point," Wayne replied. "Now that you've made your peace with Fox, let the name recognition and a successful book give you something for a change."
Paul pondered his son's words. "I wonder if Jake Lawton might be interested."
"Jake Lawton?" Wayne asked.
"He and Paul Forrester were friends in Vietnam. Paul took pictures and Jake used them with the stories he wrote. Jake called us the Lens and the Pen. Mr. Fox told me Jake is trying to publish a book he wrote about the war. Perhaps he would like to include some fresh photographs for it."
"It's certainly worth a try," Scott suggested.
"I did tell Jake I would call him if I was in the area. I guess Albuquerque would qualify as 'in the area'."
"But if it's a no-go, I'll lend you the money," Wayne offered. "I would really like you to go with me."
"I ran into trouble before by leaving the United States without some special papers. Before I try contacting Jake, I want to know what other things will be necessary to make this trip," Paul asked.
"Right, you will need passports."
Wayne's face dropped at his continuing assumptions. "Of course you wouldn't know about passports. Let's see if I can explain. It is this country's official permission to travel to another. Does that make any sense?"
"No," Paul replied with a totally straight face.
"It's an official photo identification issued by the United States Government showing you're an American citizen. It allows you to cross the borders of most other countries, and more important to return home."
"When Scott and I went to Canada, they did not ask for such documentation."
"Canada is different." Wayne's eyes lit up. "Hey, you must have a passport somewhere. I understand Forrester was all over the world."
"If I do, I know nothing about it."
"Do you think Liz might?" Scott suggested.
"I could call her, except I don't think she will be home yet. I have found it best to call her at what would be six o'clock in Chicago."
"Who's Liz?" Wayne asked curiously.
"Well, by all means give this 'Liz' a call." Wayne looked around the room. "I can see you're going to have to do some calling. I don't suppose you have a telephone yet?"
"No. We used to get one, but soon found we usually weren't in one place long enough to bother. We finally learned to do without."
Feeling he might be on a roll, Wayne said, "I suggest we go over to my place. I'll stop at a pay phone and ask Phyllis to set two more plates for dinner."
"There's a pay phone downstairs near the office," Scott offered as he made a grab for his jacket.
A Changing Direction
"This is going to be great," Scott offered as he climbed into Wayne's new pickup following a brief stop at the pay phone. As Wayne drove toward his house, Scott thought about what his father had told him about the accidental trip to Mexico in the back of a truck and sneaking back with a group of illegal aliens. He chuckled. I can laugh about it now, but not knowing what had happened to him wasn't very funny. "Dad probably has a passport somewhere, but I know I don't have one."
"No sweat," Wayne announced, glancing at the boy sitting in the middle. "Mine expired years ago. To expedite the reissuance I was going to have to make a trip up to the Federal Court House in Santa Fe. By tonight we should know if your dad needs to apply for a new one or a replacement. A new one costs $40.00 and is good for five years. One way or another we'll be able to take care of everything we'll need first thing in the morning."
"What will we need?" Scott asked.
Keeping his eyes on the road, Wayne replied confidently, "Evidence of United States citizenship. A copy of your birth certificate is easiest."
"No problem. I finally got one from Wisconsin."
"You'll also need a number of the worst photographs you can get."
"I can take those," Paul offered.
"We'd have to run around getting your film developed. Besides, I don't think you could possibly have practiced long enough. Crummy passport photographs have developed into an art form. What I suggest for now is we make a swing by the studio that did mine. It's not far from the house and I know they'll develop them while we wait. Then we'll know we have something acceptable."
Paul nodded. "Okay. Is there anything else we should know about?"
"I know you'll both need an immunization card showing you've been vaccinated within the past ten years for the regulars, tetanus and diphtheria and that you've had a recent measles and mumps booster. You must have one of those cards with your school papers, Scott?"
"Right on," Scott said happily "I just got one a few weeks ago."
"Great, but there are some other shots you'll have to get for travel in the Far East," Wayne offered in a more serious tone.
Scott's smile drooped into a frown. "You mean I still have to get more shots?"
"I'm afraid so," Wayne acknowledged.
"I don't have an immunization card," Paul volunteered.
"Seasoned travelers, like Forrester, usually keep it with their Passport," Wayne offered. "Ask your friend to look for it."
"Anything else?" Paul asked.
"We'll need to pick up a supply of malaria pills right away. We'll all need to start taking them. Public Health suggests two weeks before going; all the time we're there; and a full week after coming home. The one they suggested is Larian."
"Is that all?" Paul asked.
"Well, the entire Indochina area isn't free of cholera either, but instead of shots they just warn everybody against drinking any unboiled water or eating uncooked foods while you're over there. Other than that, all we have to do is wait. The Vietnamese Ambassador said if the background checks come through clear, they could have the visas in about two weeks. By that time your passports should be here and I'll have our travel arrangements confirmed."
After a detour to the photo shop, Wayne drove the back streets to avoid the increasing rush hour traffic. Parking on the street in front of his house he checked his watch before getting out. "It's just six in Chicago, Paul. You can try your call before dinner." As he walked through the front door, he pointed Paul toward the telephone in the living room. Grinning with satisfaction Wayne placed an arm around Scott's shoulders when Phyllis appeared at the kitchen door. "They're going with me. While Paul is checking on his passport and shots sheet, we'll help you with dinner." They walked back into the kitchen. "In the morning we want to head to Santa Fe to get the passports in the mill."
As Paul walked to the telephone he looked again at the unflattering photographs. I'm not quite sure of how this all happened, but I know Wayne is already depending on us to go with him. He frowned as he glanced back toward the kitchen. I can hardly believe how quickly I have forgotten why we came to Albuquerque. If Jenny should call, we will not be here. How can I get out of this? Still, a promise is a promise, but I believe I might have made a very large obligation of time and money to which my first impulse to say 'no' was the more logical. Picking up the receiver, he sighed deeply. Since Jenny has waited this long without calling, I guess she could wait a little while longer knowing we are returning. Would I have considered this if Wayne did not seem so easily able to accept me? He shook his head and grinned. I think not.
Paul sat at the desk beside the telephone, dialed and waited. It has rung nine times already. Maybe she isn't home? Before he could hang up, he heard the tenth ring interrupted.
"It's Paul..." After a brief exchange of greetings Paul asked about the passport and immunization record.
"I think your passport was in with the things I picked up at the hotel after you left Seattle," Liz offered. He waited several minutes for her to return. "It's here and good to go for another seven years. The immunization card is also here."
"Good. Would you send them to me?"
"I'll mail them in the morning. What's your address." Paul gave her the address. "There was a short pause, "May I ask what you want with his passport?"
"We are planning to make a trip."
She chuckled. "Of course I realize you're taking a trip, that's what passports are for. I don't suppose it's any of my business, but the reporter in me is still snoopy enough to ask where you're going."
"Wayne Geffner has asked Scott and me to go with him to Vietnam." There was a long silence. "Liz? Are you still there?"
"... Oh ... Yes, I'm here. Did I hear you right? You did you say Vietnam?"
"Who is this, Wayne Geffner?"
"Don't you remember? I told you he helped us escape from the Air Force Base in Arizona."
"Oh. Yes. Jenny's brother."
"During your war when Wayne was in Vietnam he met a woman. He has asked us to go help him try to find the son she gave him. We share having made then leaving children. He helped us and now we wish to help him."
"Paul, are you sure you should be going there?" she asked with more than a bit of trepidation. "It might put your peace with Fox in jeopardy. I really don't think he would approve."
Paul smiled at her concern. "Liz, in making my peace with Fox I did not agree to let him tell me what I may do or where I may or may not go, but if it will make you feel better, I do plan to tell him."
For just this once, she thought, I could say I love you, George Fox. I'm certain if he tells you where he's proposing to go, you'll try to dissuade him from making this trip. "Yes, Paul," she replied tongue in cheek, "that would make me feel much better."
"Thanks, Liz. You don't know how much I appreciate all the help you've given us. I will keep you advised on our progress.
After they hung up, Liz found a proper envelope. Having often mailed cash to Paul and Scott she also kept stamps and certified mail stickers on hand at home. Preparing the envelope she took it to the mailbox at the corner. Only when she heard the envelope drop to into the box did she reconsider how easily she had accepted Fox would take care of her concern. Though I'm sure Fox will not willingly allow them to go, Paul did almost sound adamant about going where he wished. Would Paul tell Fox he going even if Fox demanded he not. Remembering Paul's earlier call describing what had happened at Peagrum, she grimaced. Now I have to worry about how far Fox is willing to go to stop them. An anxious Liz Baynes sighed deeply then walked back home.
Paul walked into the kitchen to join the family at the dinner table. "Liz found the passport and immunization card and is putting them in the mail."
"Great," Wayne said as Paul took a seat at the table. "That's one down, one to go."
"Dad? You may have an immunization card, but you didn't have the shots. Paul Forrester did. I know the diseases Wayne mentioned are much more deadly than a cold." Seeing confusion on Wayne and Phyllis's faces, Scott began explaining about his father's close call with a simple virus.
"Scott is right, Paul," Wayne offered. "It doesn't pay to take chances with things like typhoid or diphtheria. The Far East is known to be a breeding ground for diseases many younger Americans haven't even heard of, let alone developed an immunity. I think you should play it safe and join Scott at the Public Health office. Let them give you everything you'll need."
When he saw his father nod, Scott broke out in uproarious laughter. "Now you'll know what I always had to go through before I got my immunization records updated."
After dinner while Scott helped with the dishes, Paul again took over the telephone. Now for the financing, he thought. It rang once. "Jake Lawton, here."
Jake's friendship howl had Paul holding the phone at arm's length. As the howl subsided, he returned the receiver to his ear in time to hear Jake calling, "Hey, Kath. It's Forrester. Well, old buddy, my secretary told me you called a while back. You must be getting feeble, or something. You forgot to leave me a number where I could reach you."
"I called the house first, but there was no answer," Paul offered truthfully. "When I called the office your secretary told me you were out of town. We were making some deliveries and were only in Phoenix overnight."
"I'm sorry I missed you. What were you delivering?"
"Scott and I were working for a janitorial service."
"Hey, after talking to Fox, I could understand why you wanted to take-off, but I figured you'd call in a few days. It took you a long time."
"I didn't feel it safe and I didn't want to get you involved in our troubles."
"You know I owe you 'ole buddy."
"What do you mean, you owe me?"
"Look, if you hadn't just happened to drop back into our lives I'd have lost Kath; the government would have closed down the business and I'd have been on the run or in jail by now. By the way, Fox dropped back a week or so ago. Did he ever catch up with you?"
"Yes, and I'm happy to say I think we have managed to settle things."
"Then we're both out of woods now?"
"I hope so."
"Hey, buddy, if you've got everything straightened out, why are you out there working for some janitorial service?"
"I'm not any more. I only talked to Fox about a week ago."
"Well, just give me the word. I'll make you a job if I have too. You know, together like we used to do. Well, I finished my book."
I can sense sincerity in Jake's voice even over the telephone, Paul thought. "Yes, George Fox told me. That's why I'm calling, Jake. I am trying to get back into photography." Uneasy about asking for money when he saw Scott and the Geffners walk into the room, Paul hesitated. What's the worse that can happen? I suppose Jake could tell me not to call again. All I have to do, is do it and it will be done. "Jake, I'm looking for financing for a trip to Vietnam. I thought you might be in the market for some photographs for your book."
"That's where I was when you called. I just got back. I went to visit some of our old stomping grounds to research an epilogue to the book. I can say one thing, for sure. Things have sure changed over there."
"Do you need some photos?"
"Well, I did take pictures..." There was a long pause. "But hey, I've got an even better idea," Jake said with obvious excitement. "I'd love to take the trip again. Why don't we do it together? Just think, the Lens and the Pen together again, just like old times."
Paul grimaced. I never considered he might want to go along. Now what? He covered the receiver with his hand and turned to Wayne. "I think he'd like to come with us."
"Why not," Wayne offered from a nearby chair. "We can still have two more. All I need is a name."
Jake replied, "I heard that. I'm ready. When are we leaving?"
"In a couple of weeks," Paul confirmed with trepidation. Now I'm committed. Just what I need. Another chance to try winging it with Paul Forrester's best buddy who doesn't know, and traveling with Wayne, who does.
"Whoa," Jake returned. "I'm not that ready. Why so soon?"
"A time factor. The final arrangements are being made on the other end. All we need is a passport for Scott."
"Damn it, Paul, I just can't leave the business quite that soon. I have a commitment to my publisher to work on the final edit of the text and to complete the Epilogue. I'm sure that's going to take three or four weeks. They also want to look over my pictures. I can't buy my way out of this. They want the book on the market before Christmas. Can you delay your departure?"
Paul heaved a silent sigh. "Scott and I are guests so I'm really not in a position to decide, but if you already have pictures, you apparently don't need any more. I'll just have to find some other source of financing."
"Hey, Paul. You're the Lens, now and forever. My shots have to be crap next to yours. I'd like it better if we were going together, but I'll have twenty thousand in the mail to you first thing in the morning for whatever you can send me, sight unseen."
"That's a lot of money for some photographs."
"Come on, Forrester. I've never known you to be modest about how much someone is willing to pay you. You've got to get this father figure thing under control if you want to make it in the industry." Jake paused a long moment. "In fact, to show you I've got faith in your work, I'll tell you what I'm going to do. I'm going to tell my publisher I've decided to drop the epilogue and give him a sequel. With your photos and my notes, I can't miss. Since my snaps really aren't that good, I'm willing to make you a wager that when I tell him I can get replacements done by Paul Forrester, he'll jump at it. The only thing is I'll need them as soon as possible."
"I can do that."
"Now, along with the check, I'll make up a list of places I'd particularly like you to shoot."
"Within our plans to search for Wayne's son, I will do my best," Paul confirmed.
"Can't ask for more," Jake confirmed. "Hey, since I don't think Nam's modus operandi has changed in the past month, I assume you already have a sponsor?"
"Yes, one is being provided by the Commission for Investigation into War Crimes."
"Whoa. That sounds heavy."
Heavy? Paul thought. ... No, this time I will not ask. "Right, it sounds heavy, but available."
"It should be fine. I think our only war crime was the vigor of youth, right?"
"Well, speaking from experience, I'd like to make a suggestion."
"Ask your sponsor to do the mailing for you. He would have access to a direct pipeline out of the country."
Jake laughed heartily awaiting a smart comeback. When it didn't come as expected, he said, "Now I know you're losing it my friend. Of course you haven't been back there lately. Okay this is something I learned from someone else. Your sponsor will know what you've been shooting. If he'll vouch for you they won't demand to see them and you can send me your raw takes. You know, the years haven't improved their processing at all. He also has access to the government mailbox so it'll get the stuff to me quicker than if you drop it at a corner mailbox. 'Comprende'?"
I wonder what he means by 'Comprend A'? Paul thought. He shrugged his shoulders. Again he is assuming I understand from our mutual experience. I'll have to try faking it. "I'll do that ... friend, and thanks for the job."
"Hey, don't hang up hot-shot. Don't forget to call me when you get back."
"Now, if you want me to send you the moo you'd better give me an address. A telephone number might also be nice in case I think of anything else before you take off." Relieved that Jake hadn't offered to come to Albuquerque, Paul gave his address and Wayne's telephone number. Jake took the information then handed the phone to Kath. Paul and Kath talked for several minutes then said good-bye.
Paul hung up then looked from Scott to Phyllis and to Wayne. "Jake is mailing me twenty thousand dollars tomorrow. He wants whatever I can send him."
"Whoa!" Scott said, wide-eyed. "He and Paul Forrester must have been best buddies."
I wonder what Scott meant by that statement, Wayne thought. Paul said he and Jake Lawton were wartime friends. His eyes then locked on Paul. Geese, I keep forgetting this Paul Forrester isn't the same Forrester this Jake knew. It's truly amazing. This alien being has Lawton convinced he's the war-time buddy he knew. He looked at Paul in awe, but when he caught Paul's eye he quickly looked away. Self-consciously he looked back. I must not stare, but when I think about who is sitting here in my home I do find it difficult. I have to stop trying to visualize something else within that body. His expression returned to one of expanding excitement. "Well, I guess I'll visit my travel agent tomorrow. It looks like I've got to get things in the mill for three to Southeast Asia."
"Wayne, I have another question," Paul offered.
"I remember you saying they passed your request because you could speak the language. Then English is not used in Vietnam?"
"During the war some Vietnamese learned a little American, but after twelve years and with a government that has probably discouraged it, there are probably few who remember much."
"Isn't that going to make it difficult for Scott and me to talk with anyone?"
"I guess so. I'm sure the sponsor they assign will speak at least a little English."
"Wouldn't it be wise for Scott and I to learn."
Visualizing himself studying even harder than he was in school, Scott's forehead wrinkled deeply. "Uh, Dad, remember we only have a couple of weeks."
"We can learn a lot in a couple weeks," Paul returned. He looked at Wayne. "How did you learn?"
"Kim taught me, but that was over a long period of time."
"Then at least teach us some of the important things."
"I could do that. I'm going to have to bone up before I go anyway," Wayne added.
"Then we can all 'bone up' together," Paul returned with a smile.
Wayne got up. "Just a minute. I've got something I think will help." He walked from the room and soon returned carrying a book. "Kim, and Jimmy are what I wanted to bring home from Vietnam. I had to leave both. This is the only thing I've kept." He handed the book to Paul.
"It says 'Vietnamese-English and English-Vietnamese Dictionary,'" Paul offered leafing through many pages. Stopping, he phonetically read some words. "Dep giai: Pretty handsome." Grinning, he looked up at Wayne. "I could refer to my son as 'Dep giai'?"
"Oh, Dad," Scott protested.
Wayne quickly corrected the pronunciation and Paul continued trying until he got the inflection correct before continuing to riffle through the pages. Stopping again he looked impishly at Scott, then began to grin. "'Vung no lam' means he is very clumsy." Practicing Wayne's correction until perfect, Paul looked back at the book. "It seems Vung has many other meanings as well. When used with 'sy' or tinh..." When Paul again stumbled over the phonetics of the strange words, Wayne helped him. "Thank you," Paul replied. "When used with 'sy' or 'tinh' it means silly or stupid." Paul's eyebrows rose to two graceful arches. "And when used with 'noi'...?" He waited for Wayne's correction, but this time he needed a single try to get the teacher's nod of satisfaction. He laughed at the translation. "I believe Vung noi refers more to me, for it is to 'speak improperly'." Seeing Wayne chuckling, he gave credit where due. "Wayne, I think you have retained much of the language."
"After a few years with Kim, I got pretty good at it, but I still had a lot to learn. Vietnamese is a tonal language and any word can have many meanings depending on the tone in which it is used."
Intrigued with the dual learning resources available, Paul continued leafing through the pages picking words at random and memorizing Wayne's corrections. "Do I assume correctly, the little funny marks around certain letters are a definition of tone?"
"Right," Wayne acknowledged. "I'll teach you what they mean."
Noticing a sudden change in the text, Paul stopped his riffling abruptly. "Now I see I am into the English translated to Vietnamese. If you would allow me to take this home tonight, it might help me a great deal with the language."
"If learning the language is as important to you as having you go is to me, it's yours with my blessing. The way I've got it figured, I'll remember a lot more if we practice together. In fact, you might want to use it to try putting together some sentences tonight. Tomorrow we can go over them for pronunciation, proper wording and inflection."
"More homework," Scott protested.
"Scott, you can do it. All you need is desire, concentration and focus. Besides, wouldn't you rather talk with those your age?"
"I guess you're right, but I still wonder how much we're going to learn before we go."
"Whatever we learn will be time well spent."
"After twelve years of non-use," Wayne offered supportively, "correcting your homework will help me brush up on my vocabulary as well."
Paul looked at the telephone. I know I must remain independent or face the possibility of being called home. Though I know it is necessary to put Fox to the test on his promise of freedom, I am unsure of how I should react if he tells me I cannot go. Well, now is as good a time as any to do some testing of my own. Paul took the phone in hand and called the number George Fox had written on the back page of his memo to General Wade. He waited as it rang. On the fourth ring he heard a click then George Fox's voice. 'You have reached George Fox...'
"George, this is Paul Forrester. I have called to tell..." As Fox's voice message droned on Paul realized it was being played by a machine. He listened as the voice simply carried on. 'I am unable to come to the telephone at this time. At the beep, please leave a name, number, and a brief message. I will get back to you as soon as possible.'
Paul waited until the machine beeped. "George, this is Paul Forrester. I need to talk to you. I have no phone, but you may call me at Wayne Geffner's. The number is area code 505..."
Wayne was at the apartment knocking on the door at seven the next morning. Scott showed him to their small kitchen table where Paul was still eating cold cereal with milk and bananas. "I called my boss and told him I had some business to take care of this morning. He's expecting me in by two-thirty. It's about sixty miles to Santa Fe so we need to hit the road."
Finishing, Paul stood up and collected the dishes. "We'll be ready just as soon as I get these in the sink." Minutes later Paul and Scott were following Wayne to his truck.
In a little over an hour, Wayne had them at the Federal Courthouse in Santa Fe. Scott filled out his application then presented it to the clerk with the copy of his birth certificate, the photographs and $40.00. Receiving the birth certificate back with a receipt for the cash they returned to the car and headed back toward Albuquerque.
The next stop was Wayne's travel agent. Carefully explaining his needs he left the man to arrange their initial hotel accommodations as well as book the air travel. Feeling quite satisfied at their progress he drove into the center of Albuquerque to the Public Health Agency.
Surprised that a man Paul's age would have to ask for inoculations normally given to young children, the nurse told Paul she would first have to obtain approval from the doctor on duty. She directed Paul to a chair to wait while she proceeded with Scott's inoculations.
Soon the doctor appeared to answer the intercom summons heard throughout the facility. The nurse quickly explained the request then left the room. The doctor approached Paul. "Mr. Forrester, may I ask why you are asking for all these immunizations. You must have had many of these disease inoculations as a child."
Paul, anticipating such a question, replied, "I don't know what I did or didn't have. I thought it best to be safe."
Unable to argue with the reasoning, she replied, "I will order them up for you, but with so many I must insist on spreading them over a period of weeks."
"We're on a limited time schedule," Wayne offered. "If they're going to be effective before we leave, he's only got a few days."
She frowned, blew out a quantity of air and heaved a heavy sigh. "Okay, but you'll have to sign a release. I'll give you several of the time sensitive injections today. If you have no major reactions, I'll give the rest over the next couple of days. We'll continue as long as we don't run into any problems. If you have any unusual symptoms or reactions, it's important you call immediately. I'll give you an emergency number to use if the office is closed." The nurse returned with some papers that Paul read then signed. Soon feeling like a pincushion, he arranged an appointment for the following day. Wayne left them at their apartment building then rushed off with just enough time to make his two-thirty appointment with work.
Seeing no observable problems after two days of inoculations, Scott felt sure his father had found a way of suppressing any reactions. It surprised him when he came home from school Thursday afternoon to find his father in bed. If he was like everyone else I'd wait until he awakens, but I remember the doctor said he might have a reaction to some of the shots. Though he hasn't been sick since he caught cold, the memory of what almost happened has me worried. Scott walked over to the bed. Placing his hand on his father's arm he shook him gently. "Dad, are you okay?" When Paul moaned he shook a little harder. "Dad, wake up." Relieved when he saw eyes appear, he smiled. "You okay?"
"No, I don't feel okay," Paul replied.
"What's the matter?"
"If your shots are supposed to keep me from feeling sick they don't all work very well. I began feeling sick a little while after I left the doctor. I just made it home. It has been like the cold and the carnival ride all rolled into one. I feel awful."
"Did you call the doctor?"
"She came over to see me."
"What did she say?"
"She took my temperature and did some poking here and prodding there. My left arm is really swollen. It hurts a lot."
"Well did she have any idea about what's causing the problem?"
"She said I reacted to the typhoid and probably the flu shot, but that it didn't appear to be anaphylactic."
"I had to ask too. It's a violent allergic reaction to certain proteins. It's what concerned George when the hornets stung me. Anyway, she did say it wasn't that. She said to stay in bed and to call her in the morning. Her home phone number is on the kitchen table. She said she lives nearby and unless she hears from me, she will stop by on her way to work."
"Whoa," Scott offered with a rise of his eyebrows. "The doctor offered to make a second house call. You must have impressed the lady."
Paul looked curiously at his son. "I could sense her concern. Is that bad?"
I already know Dad attracts smart people, Scott thought. I think it's just the way things will always be. He smiled. "No. It's not bad." He looked at his father's grim face. "I don't suppose you want anything to eat?"
"No. What I would like is for you to help me to the bathroom so I can get something to drink."
"I can get it for you," Scott offered.
"That's not the only reason I need to get up," Paul returned with conviction. Scott helped his father both ways. When he saw his father flop onto the bed he carefully covered him. When he saw him relax into sleep he called Wayne to say they would not be over for the nightly language lesson. Heating up some leftovers he sat down and did homework until time for bed.
Paul awoke about eleven. Feeling greatly improved he got up and had a dish of breakfast cereal before going back to bed. In the morning he got up with Scott and reassured him that except for feeling tired, the only problem remaining was a sore and swollen arm.
After Scott left for school, Paul dressed then walked to the pay phone downstairs to call the doctor. Now what am I going to do, he thought. I could go looking for work, but that doesn't really make much sense. It isn't right to accept a job then ask for time off to take a vacation. I have another idea...
Scott came home after school to a message. 'I am going to the medical clinic down the street to see if they have something to help the pain in my arm. Afterward I will go to the library. If I have not returned by five, would you get dinner started? Phyllis called. They expect us by seven.'
Dumping his books on the table Scott started on his homework. When he had finished most of his assignments he looked at the clock. It's almost five. Dad's arm must be really hurting for him to go to the clinic. I don't understand why he could heal Don Allen's burns, but couldn't do anything about something as simple as reacting to some shots. Of course he did almost die from a cold.
He started another assignment, but after several minutes snapped the book shut. Now I'm beginning to worry. He knows the Geffners are expecting us by seven. What if his arm got worse? He might be lying in some hospital. He jumped from his chair and grabbed his coat. Heading for the door he stopped. Dad always says to think first. Before chasing around to all the hospitals, I should first walk down to the library. He does tend to get caught up when he starts reading. That's about the only thing I have ever seen that can make him forget an appointment.
Scott jogged the three blocks to the library. After breezing through the building, he began a more thorough search of the aisles for his father.
A young woman, noticing the young man obviously looking for someone instead of a book, approached. "Can I help you?"
Intent on his search Scott spun around at the sound of a voice seemingly out of nowhere. He instantly recognized the librarian from the front desk. "I expected my Dad home by five. I know he wasn't feeling too good and I'm getting worried. He left me a note saying he was coming here."
"Is he tall, about six foot two, dark hair, blue eyes, ... handsome?"
"That could be him."
"About fortyish?" she asked.
Scott's eyes narrowed. "Fortyish?"
"You know, forty years ... or so?"
"Yeah, I guess he could be forty." Scott shoulders drooped. "If he's already been here, I wonder where he went."
"I took him down to the reference archives hours ago. The last time I checked, he was still there. He must have gone through a hundred books and periodicals."
"That sounds like Dad," Scott said, his face beaming with relief. "Boy, am I glad I found him."
"Does he always do so much reading?"
"He thrives on it."
"So do I," she replied, giving him a friendly smile. "I figured he was working on a thesis or something. Come on, I'll take you down." She took Scott to the elevator. When the doors opened two floors below street level she pulled a key from her pocket and walked toward a door at the end of the long hallway. Stopping, she noticed the boy looking at her suspiciously. "You seem nervous," she said as she turned the key in the lock. "We have to keep this door locked and check everyone in and out for security purposes. This is our area reference library. We have a lot of very old and valuable books we wouldn't appreciate somebody walking out with. We have to keep a record of who's using them. The reference library door opens from inside and automatically locks when you leave. That activates a buzzer upstairs at the desk so we can let you access the elevator." Scott held the door open until she disappeared into the elevator. Before letting it close behind him, he had to test it.
When a twist of the knob opened the latch, Scott breathed much easier. Turning, he looked for his father and saw him about half way down what looked like an endless corridor of shelves. Why doesn't it surprise me to find Dad sitting at a table surrounded by stacks of books and magazines. He looked around before walking over. This room is nothing but rows and rows of shelved books. Dad must think he has found heaven.
Hearing a noise, Paul looked up. He suspected it might be the friendly librarian returning, but instead saw his son. "Scott, what are you doing here?"
"Dad, you said you were going to the doctor. I was getting worried. It's already past 5:30. What did the doctor at the clinic say about your arm?"
"He charged twenty-five dollars to tell me to keep smiling and the pain would eventually go away. I wish I could figure out what to do about it. Nothing I have tried so far has helped."
"So you decided to bury yourself in this basement? What about dinner?"
"I am getting hungry," Paul confessed, "but it isn't every day I can access so much human history in one place. Once started, I got so involved I even forgot lunch."
Scott cocked his head slightly. "So what have you been reading that's so interesting you'd forget to eat?"
"I told the librarian I wanted to find out more about the geography and history of Vietnam. She told me to check the computer listings. I found and read all the books they had, then she suggested I might also try the Readers Guide and the cumulative directory of the National Geographic Magazines. There I found many more listings, so she brought me down here where they store the old ones. I really feel fortunate to find these old magazines for they are from a historical perspective. The librarian said someone donated them to the library. She seemed proud about having almost a complete set."
"Have you learned anything?"
Paul riffled the pages of his magazine. "Quite a bit. This is an article called Indochina Faces the Dragon."
Scott's nose wrinkled. "Indochina?"
"Indochina is what they call the peninsula dividing the South China Sea from the Indian Ocean," Paul explained. "Vietnam shares it with several other countries, specifically Burma, Cambodia, Laos, Malaysia and Thailand."
"Right, except I think its now called Southeast Asia."
"Right, I know that," Paul offered, his enthusiasm undaunted, but Indochina is historic. The word Indochina is like an enhanced acronym. 'China' is their neighbor on the north and 'India' to the west. Vietnam stretches south from China and forms Indochina's most easterly boundary. The Annam Mountains forms a natural boundary that separates it from Cambodia and Laos on the west. This craggy mountain range supports dense tropical rain forests and in some places stretches all the way across Vietnam to the South China Sea. In other places, rivers have carved the valleys that give Vietnam its rich, flat valley bottoms and deltas ideal for farming. Historically, China and India have had a great influence on their smaller neighbors."
"Dad, you sound like a textbook."
Paul's enthusiasm waned. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to sound like a textbook."
Seeing his father's deflation made Scott feel a little guilty for he knew his father was preparing for the trip. "No, I'm sorry." He smiled. "Well, did you get all of that out of this magazine?"
"Yes," Paul replied, his enthusiasm restored.
Curious, Scott looked at the pictures in the Geographic Magazine his father was reading. "These look kind of old to me." Careful to keep a finger between the pages, Scott closed the magazine to look at the cover. "Dad, this is the September, 1952 issue. I think the world has changed a lot since then. Couldn't you find anything a little more up to date?"
"I also found much of the same information in a newer book, but it didn't have many pictures. Besides, while human geography might change rapidly, Earth's geology changes very slowly. I think for me to know more about the area I must first study its physical characteristics, then the effect of it's human history. In that way I will have a better feeling for what I will see when we get there."
"Wouldn't it be easier to just look?"
"Perhaps, but it is like what Don Allen told me about the Quilleute. He said the white man wrote the history of the Native Americans. It is only after talking with a Native American, one gets history from original perspective. These old periodicals provide me with the interpretive perspective of changes as they have occurred. When we go to Vietnam, I will also seek an interpretation of history by the inhabitants. In that way I will be able to compare the two. To remain objective means not taking sides. Do you understand?"
"I'm not quite sure."
"I mean, if I am to make judgments about the future of this world, I must try to understand your potential to advance reasoning. I will store my observations to memory as we travel."
Scott looked down at the stack of books and magazines on the table. "Do you have to read everything?"
"Though I would like to, I gave that up long ago. There are almost fifteen hundred books dealing with Southeast Asia in the Albuquerque Library system alone."
"Dad, may I remind you, if we're going to eat before we go over to the Geffners we have to go home."
"Okay. I can come back to the library tomorrow. The librarian said I could leave what I still wanted to read here on the table. Let me just finish this article. It will take just a few minutes." Paul immersed himself in the text. Rapidly turning pages, he soon closed the book, got up and respectfully returned the 1952 issue to its place on the shelf. Stacking what remained in a pile at the end of the table, he put a hand on Scott's shoulder then motioned toward the door. "Shall we go." Arriving home Scott started dinner while Paul called the Geffners to tell them they would be a little late.
The nightly language lessons continued. In spite of the need for Wayne's constant corrections a sense of purpose and companionship grew among the expectant traveling companions. But while Paul virtually digested language and soon could put together simple sentences, Scott continued to struggle. "I just can't remember the word I need when I want to say it," he said slamming the book shut in frustration.
"Scott, don't get so up tight about it," Wayne offered. "If I was your teacher I'd give you an A+ on what you have accomplished in a week. All Asian languages are extremely difficult for westerners. Their combinations of sounds, inflections and pronunciations are as difficult for us, as English is for them. Ask anyone who came to the United States from Vietnam, Cambodia or Laos after the war. A classic example of translation block is the way the Vietnamese have of replacing the English sound 'P' with 'F'. They also don't seem able to place the sound of 'h' before 'I'. When I was learning, I thought maybe they were unable to articulate the sound of an 'h', but I soon learned they just used the sound in other ways. It's a basic difference in language, but makes the pronunciation of word simple to us, like sit, come out sounding, well let's say somewhat unacceptable."
"I can understand why our soldiers never tried to learn," Scott grumped.
"If it hadn't been for Kim, I don't think I would have tried either," Wayne confessed. "Look, it took me five years to get where I did and I lived it when I was in Saigon. You've only been at it a week and I would judge you both passably proficient, at least in sentence structure and what we've covered in vocabulary."
"It doesn't seem so hard for Dad," Scott rebuffed.
"It is likely even your Dad will experience some difficulty when we get there. I will warn you, not having to deal with translating, the Vietnamese will be speaking much faster than we practice. What you have learned already about sentence structure and vocabulary will help you get at least the gist of a conversation, but you'll probably find it difficult to join in. Just keep trying because the more you try speaking, the faster you learn. I found you will impress the Vietnamese people very much by showing you're trying to learn. When they get to rattling on, say..."
"Noi cham, moi," Scott easily translated. "Speak slowly, please."
Wayne grinned. "Right. With that, and what you've already learned, you'll make points with almost everybody and because they are very friendly, they will gladly slow down if they think it will help you. Likewise, if you find one of them trying to speak English, remember they are probably struggling just as hard with translating as you are. Speak slowly and clearly."
"Soong-bai, Chu," Scott translated into Vietnamese.
Wayne broke out into a wider grin. "You honor me, uncle," he translated. "Scott, you're learning fast."
As always, before leaving the Geffners Paul tried calling Fox. This time he added to his message: 'Would you please respond.'
Paul looked at his son contemplatively. With such a limited time and so much to learn Scott needs assistance. When we get home I will use my sphere to secretly offer him the gifts of enhanced memory and recall I programmed for him at the time of his creation. I know Scott will eventually grow into these abilities but he needs them now. In this way he may choose to use or ignore them. For pronunciation and inflections I know we must both continue to rely on Wayne.
George Fox awoke with a start. Something is wrong. This bed is strange. Where am I? His eyes quickly searched his surroundings and he relaxed. Yes, now I remember. After talking to the alien I decided it time to try to find my roots. I'm in Ireland. I haven't taken a real vacation in almost sixteen years, but I'll be the first to admit I have enjoyed these passing weeks. After my parents died, having no close family I always thought of myself as alone. Now I find I have lots of relatives.
Still, I do need to start thinking about going home. I need to spend more time out West visiting with known case histories of alien contact to add to my records. He rolled out of bed, pulled on his robe and went to the bathroom.
He canted his head back to finish trimming his sideburns. Refocusing on himself in the mirror his mouth pursed to one side. I notice I missed that patch of whiskers that's so hard to get to under my chin again, he thought. Hitting it vigorously with the razor, he re-examined the job. Okay, now all I need is some after shave. Pouring it into one hand he set the bottle back on the counter then rubbed his hands together before smearing on the Old Spice.
I can't believe how relaxing this trip has been. I feel like it's my right to take a second look in the mirror each morning. It feels good to have no planes to catch; no schedule to keep; no one hurrying me. My day starts when I decide. This afternoon I will be taking two aunts and an uncle I never knew I had, to lunch. He returned to his room, dressed then started toward the kitchen ready to face the new day.
Passing the telephone on an antique table in the hallway he frowned, then stopped. I have been away two weeks already. I need to think about booking reservations home. Maybe I'll just call the office. He looked at his watch and heaved a sigh, seven o'clock. With the five hour time difference, it's two in the morning back home.
I will admit thinking about having to deal with Wylie again is making going home easy to put off. Perhaps I should just call him at home, anyway. He frowned. Since learning to relax, I can't keep from thinking how thoughtless that would be. I'll make it a point to ask Aunt Katherine to remind me to call this afternoon.
He walked toward the door at the end of the hallway. After accepting Michael and Katherine's hospitality I soon discovered if you want to talk to someone in the morning, the kitchen is the center of this Irish home. They were up and busy with breakfast long ago. I have accepted setting the table and helping with the dishes a contribution.
Before opening the door he stopped again, then chuckled softly to himself. How many times these past two weeks have I remembered my time in the back of that van in El Paso? Though convinced I had to know what I was dealing with, I'll admit to being apprehensive when the alien ... when Paul offered to let me see what he is. Now, I feel it a privilege but that cannot begin to compare to the miracle that occurred between us in front of the camera store. In some way I was able to exchange thoughts with him. He said I'm the only one he's found able to do so without the aid of that metal, whatever it is. That even includes his own son.
A distant look crept over George Fox's face. Still after all I have found out about him, I still didn't want to let go. I'm sure he must have felt more than a little anxious when he spotted me at the school. I guess, having broken my word before, he had reason to believe I had decided to take them both. Even after I knew he saw me I still couldn't just leave. I hid and waited, wondering if he and the boy would chance coming back through the front door of the school. I guess I thought he might decide to bow out of such an uneasy alliance, but he didn't. Though this alien I am still struggling with calling, Paul, made no real commitment to call me, on Sunday he freely gave me his address and a telephone number to call if I wanted to get in touch. That call alone raised my level of confidence by several degrees.
I will admit, when I got back to the office I chose not to tell Wylie what happened. He can't keep from rattling off at the mouth. He tries, but I guess his mouth is usually in motion before his brain is fully in gear and things just pop out. I don't need that kind of worry with General Wade calling occasionally to determine where his money is going. I'll come clean with Wade, but not until I feel satisfied this is going to work.
When I had Wylie help me plot the alien's travels on the map everything fell right in place. It showed he and the boy didn't move far even after I almost caught up with them in Los Angeles, then all of a sudden they started moving around the whole southwest. Though I knew about where they were at all times when the running stopped in El Paso I figured it was time to make my move. I could have been there days earlier, but I felt it more important to do some visiting first. After our meeting in El Paso he said they would be going to Albuquerque. I assume they will be there until they hear from Jennifer Hayden.
After what he showed me I want to believe I can trust him, but subconsciously I still need to keep my one ace in the hole. Being able to use the High Delta P emitted by those power spheres to track their movements allows me to maintain at least some feeling of control for though I expect things will work out, I do have to consider they may not. This way I remain only one step behind instead of having to wonder whether they moved north, south, east or west like it was before.
He heaved a heavy sigh. Ever since 617W, I had dedicated my whole being to the single-minded obsession of an alien intrusion and subsequent invasion. Now, I don't believe that is necessarily inevitable.
With a change in my focus I felt trapped in Washington. I tolerated being stuck in the office with Wylie and his idiotic questions as long as I could. Finally taking a vacation seemed a way out and Ireland a natural destination. Some telephone calls and I had another course correction in my life. Now I'm catching up on some of the things I've missed.
Using the telephone the day I landed in Ireland I soon found a relative. Though I'll admit the relationship was distant, it didn't take long for the word to get around. The following day I had a circle of people interested in finding out if they might have relatives in America. Now, with family of my own, I have spent endless hours exploring and trying to understand the joys and sorrows of this land of my ancestors. Though the strife in the North is distressing, the peace I have found here in Cork makes it so easy to justify staying just a little while longer. George Fox passed by the telephone and entered into the bustle of the Irish kitchen.
"Scott, don't you agree this has been an exceptionally productive evening of language," Paul offered.
"Yes, planning the trip in Vietnamese has helped a lot in formulating sentences."
"Cua no cham. Scott io truong hoc. Chung toi nghi no lan cho," Paul said.
Wayne looked at his watch. "Yes, you're right. It is getting late and while I have no school tomorrow, with a big shipment of materials coming in for a new apartment project I have to be at work by 7:00. "Would you like me to take you home?"
Paul shook his head. "No, the bus should be by in about twenty minutes. That will give me enough time to try Fox again." He got up from the table and leaving Wayne and Scott to continue, walked to the phone. I have called several times and at many times of the day, he thought.
The phone rang four times then switched to the familiar recording. At the mechanical beep he again left his message. "George, will you please call Paul Forrester between 7:00 PM and 10:00. The number is..." He hung up. My next call I will simply tell him my plans and say good-bye.
I have enjoyed my stay in Ireland so much I have just let the time slip by, Fox thought as he again passed the telephone on his way to the kitchen. I guess it really is time to arrange for going home. I don't see any reason for returning to Washington so I think I'll just route myself directly out to the coast. He turned to walk back. I really should call the airline right now. As he reached for the receiver he heard a call from the kitchen. 'George, breakfast is on the table.' He stopped short, then turned toward the more enjoyable. I'll call right after breakfast...
In Albuquerque, while awaiting Scott's passport and confirmation about the travel visas from Hoang Van Loan, the Vietnamese Ambassador, another week passed to a flurry of nightly language lesson. Since Fox seemed in no hurry to return his message, Paul finally decided to leave the ball 'bouncing in his court'.
With the evenings of language practice leaving her somewhat out of the circle, Phyllis turned to watching the interaction between the three. I find my husband really amazing, she thought. Here he's sitting at our table teaching a man from another world and his son Vietnamese just as relaxed as he runs a forklift or a construction crane. "Hey guys," she finally announced, "you've been at it for three straight hours. I think it's time for a break. How about a sweet roll and something to wash it down." Her suggestion reached willing ears and they quickly pushed the books and paper aside. Nibbling on a sweet roll she continued watching. When Wayne came home tonight he said he's getting worried. Their Thursday departure is only days away and we haven't received either Scott's passport or confirmation that Hanoi has issued the travel visas. If we don't get word soon, Wayne will have to start rescheduling all the flights and hotel reservations. With flights into Thailand tight it could create a long delay.
Adventures In Travel
On Wednesday it was like someone had finally come over to their side. Scott's passport came in the morning mail right after Wayne received word from the Ambassador that the entry visas would be waiting for him at the Vietnamese Embassy in Thailand. Knowing time was running short Paul tried several times to reach George Fox, but all he got was the recording. This is the last time he thought. He recited the date and time. "George, I have called many times and have made myself available for you to return my call. I wanted to tell you about our trip personally, but you have not responded. Scott and I are leaving early in the morning for Vietnam to help Wayne Geffner search for his son. If you have any objection, call me right away so we may discuss..." Surprised when the dial tone suddenly returned, Paul called again. This time the machine played only the recording.
Wayne walked into the room to find Paul holding the receiver away from his ear. "What's up?"
"Wayne, I think something is wrong with George's telephone. If I dial again, will you listen to it?" Paul dialed then handed the receiver to Wayne. Wayne waited through the recording then hung up the receiver. "Paul, I'm not to up on this high-tech telephone technology, but I think the message part of his machine has run out of tape."
"Run out of tape?"
"Up until now it has been recording your messages all right. Apparently Fox hasn't been home to listen to them. It's a waste of time to try any longer."
In the interest of convenience Wayne convinced Paul and Scott to stay overnight at his house. Packed light and ready to leave well before daylight, Wayne called the airport to confirm the flight. They arrived at the suggested hour before the scheduled departure. A new adventure began for the Starman and his son when the bags moved from the ticket counter scale to the moving belt then disappeared. They were on their way to the first stop-over on an air highway to Bangkok.
Well, we won for a change George Fox thought as he walked off the soccer field. Though I'm really puffing, I'm feeling pretty good about how my game is improving. One thing I know for sure, they play rough over here. Now I know I have to find a club around Washington.
He heaved a deep heavy sigh. Washington. Yes, though I don't like thinking about it, I do have to go home. I haven't even tried to get through to Wylie yet. He glanced at his watch. Well, the time is right and there's a phone booth. I better call in for an update on the red flags. Reaching the phone booth he fumbled in his pocket for some change. Feeling a pounding on his shoulder he turned to find his third cousin by marriage grinning at him. "You played a great game today, George. Without that great save you made in the last go-round we'd have beat you again."
"Thanks Shawn," Fox replied with well-earned pride.
"Hey, everyone is on their way to O'Leary's for some brew. Are you coming?"
"Tell the lads I'll be along soon," Fox shouted at the now rapidly disappearing young man. Searching for change and not finding what he needed to access the operator, he looked around. Not seeing any of the team still around, Washington easily slipped from the top of his list of priorities. Joined at the pub by more family members, several pitchers of stout ale soon disappeared. As Fox had experience on several earlier gatherings, he quickly lost all restraint and soon found himself doing his own rendition of an Irish jig. As several more rounds disappeared he was singing as equally out of tune as everybody else. Aliens, a job, duty and an office across the sea disappeared amid a din of raucous laughter.
Wayne, Scott and Paul easily made the connecting flight going from Seattle to Tokyo, but a severe winter storm grounded it in Anchorage for almost four hours. The delay made the itinerary fall like a line of dominos They missed the Tokyo connection into Thailand and had to wait almost twelve hours before finding seats for the next leg of the journey.
The Thai Airlines flight made two additional landings, Seoul, South Korea, and Hong Kong and the delay got them into Bangkok at eleven in the evening. Carrying their luggage, they caught a taxi to the hotel reserved for the prior night. Having the foresight to check with the airline ticket agent used to late arrival problems, they had a room.
When the clock struck eight, Fox realized even the volumes of ale would not satisfy his caffeine needs and finally opted for coffee. At nine the group finally broke for home. I haven't felt so unencumbered as I have these past weeks he thought as friends and family shoved him and his cousins out of the cab in front of the house. I must confess it has been easy to forget the FSA, Wylie's bumbling, and even the alien and his son. I guess I've accepted the alien's word that he's only here for the boy. Still I have to consider I am negligent for not keeping in touch with Wylie. He looked at his watch and smiled. I've done it again. It's too late to catch him at the office. Oh well, tomorrow's another day.
Paul, Scott and Wayne arrived at the Vietnamese Embassy first thing in the morning. It had been the consensus of opinion that a night's sleep the delay had provided made it worth while.
Wayne tried to appear patient while he asked the man across the counter, "What do you mean you've never heard of the Geffner party?"
The man turned the pages of a large register and while slowly shaking his head, shrugged his shoulders. "I sorry," he offered in verbless English. "You not here in list." A bemused grin fleeted across his face. "Many people want go Vietnam. They come here. Not understand all thing need time, take. You need Visa, papers. Maybe all okay, few weeks."
Wayne grabbed the book and started turning it around. "Geffner has to be here. The Vietnamese Ambassador in Washington, said he took care of everything."
Possessively, the man grabbed his book and pulled it back. "I check further. You come back tomorrow."
Wayne decided name recognition might jog somebody's memory. "Please check again. Our assigned sponsor in Hanoi is General Ha Dinh Duc, vice Minister of the Commission for Investigation into War Crimes."
There was a brief moment of silence before the man shrugged his shoulders again. "Me check, you come back tomorrow."
"No," Wayne returned, "we have a plane to catch tomorrow."
The man studied the stubborn look on Wayne's face. "Okay, you wait." He disappeared through a door at the back of the room. In his absence they soon heard a dialog of amazing obscenities coming from the next room. Soon the man reappeared. "Director say you write paper for Visa."
Turning to Paul, Wayne said, "There's no sense in arguing. It won't help."
Watching the three complete his forms the man's grin showed several of his primary teeth missing. "Who's war crimes you investigating?" he asked. Not seeing any humor in the effort, Wayne merely pushed the completed forms back toward him. He quickly glanced at them then said, "You call in morning."
"Our flight here was delayed," Wayne advised as he approached the desk. "We are confirmed on an eleven o'clock Air Laos flight to Hanoi. Mr. Hoang Van Loan, your United Nations Ambassador called me personally and confirm our Visas were waiting here."
The man disappeared into the next room again and they heard another exchange of obscenities. Moments later he reappeared. "You should mentioned name, Hoang. Afternoon clerk filed them, him name." He handed a stack of papers across the counter. Wayne grabbed them and after looking them over motioned Paul and Scott toward the door.
Hiring another cab they returned to the airport.
In what they had found to be the true fashion of the area, the plane scheduled to leave at eleven left Bangkok two hours late. While waiting, Wayne sent a wire off to Phyllis advising by nightfall they should be in Hanoi. Paul used the time to take pictures around the airport.
The Air Laos twin-engine Russian-built turboprop with a full contingent of passengers aboard turned out to be a great step down from the Thai Airline's Boeing 747 they had from Tokyo. Though they had checked their luggage at the airport, Air Laos used the first three rows of seats for it's baggage compartment. With nothing secured, it left those used to a more modern world of aviation wondering about the safety of passengers if the aircraft encountered any turbulence. Carry-on storage consisted of an overhead metal rack crammed with items of every size shape and description. Many hung precariously over the edge of the rack perched and ready to fall on the heads of those below. With no trim, well-groomed stewardess giving safety instructions or demanding the stowing of loose items on the floor, Paul continued to hold the camera bag in his lap.
For almost twenty minutes, the pilot held position on the runway before receiving clearance to take off. Paul's eyes got wide as heard the engines of the overloaded craft labor when he saw the end of the runway rapidly approaching. Like a Canadian Goose fat from summering in a field of ripening corn runs with wings flapping across the surface of a pond to obtain lift off speed the pressure on the aircraft's wing finally shifted from bottom to top and terra-firma lost its heavy hold. The front end lifted and it was airborne. Soon the craft nosed to the east toward Laotian airspace.
The seats, small, thinly padded and close together, left little leg room for its taller than normal passengers. It made legs already cramping from prior long flights, cramp even tighter. The in-air meal mentioned at the reservation desk, consisted of two small pieces of French bread with a thin slice of an unidentifiable bologna style lunch meat sandwiched between them. A banana, a few small cookies and some hard candy fulfilled the promise of a meal. The choice of beverage consisted of weak tea, weak tea, or weak tea. Though sparse by American expectations, they eagerly accepted the meal for anticipating an in-flight meal they had refrained from eating at the airport.
Finally, I'm at a telephone at the right time to catch Wylie at the office Fox thought as he waited for the overseas operator to come on the line. It's about time to catch up on what's been going on. All I've got to say, is I calculate it's eight-thirty back at the office and he'd better be there. I can't believe I've been here almost three and a half weeks.
The operator finally answered and he gave her the number. At her request, he repeated his instructions. "Yes, that's collect; George Fox calling person to person to Benjamin Wylie." He heard a very Irish 'Thank you,' that made him smile. Waiting, he thought, It's going to be hard getting back to work, but at least I'll be able to get out in the field. With no aliens to chase things must be deadly dull around the office. "Yes, Benjamin Wylie," he said to another operator. Finally he heard a familiar voice. "Wylie?"
"Mr. Fox, how are you?" Then at another prompt. "Yes, operator, I will accept the charges."
"Great," Fox replied, "and you?"
Surprised his boss should be in such a jovial mood after such a long vacation, Wylie asked: "When are you coming back?"
"I plan to head directly out to the coast again, so you don't need to expect me back in Washington for probably another couple of weeks."
"Okay," Wylie replied, breathing a silent sigh of relief.
"Have you been doing what I asked?" Fox questioned.
"Yes. ... Yes, I have," Wylie replied energetically. "I've been plotting all the reports of High Delta P activity on your map."
"Have you seen any patterns develop?"
"Not much has changed since you left, sir. I had been getting daily reports from the University of New Mexico." Considering his answer more completely, he paused then added, "That's in Albuquerque."
"Yes, I know."
"Mr. Fox, do you suspect these emissions could be an environmental hazard?"
"I don't think so. It just seemed like something interesting."
"One of the guys at the university thought so too. When they started picking them up regularly he called for an opinion from another university. They centered the activity to the west side of the city and wanted me to authorize funding for a further investigation."
Fox's eyes widened with alarm. "You didn't tell them to go ahead, did you?"
"No sir." Wylie replied decisively. "They were talking about $15,000.00. I told them I had to check with you first."
"You did good."
"Thank you, sir. I'm still glad you called though, even if it's too late."
"Too late for what?"
"They've stopped their investigation?" Fox questioned curiously.
"I don't know for sure, sir. What I mean, is they haven't seen any more activity."
"You mean there hasn't been any more reported from around Albuquerque?"
"No, sir ... Uh, I mean, yes, sir," Wylie stuttered. "What I really meant to say, is there hasn't been any new reports of High Delta P activity for ... let's see ... two ... no, three days now."
"From around Albuquerque?"
"No, sir, I mean there hasn't been any report from anywhere that I've heard."
Has Forrester somehow gotten wise to me? Fox wondered. I can hardly think of any other reason for him to stop using his tool. "Wylie, I want you to do something for me."
"Call the Albuquerque Police. Ask them to send a single plain-clothes detective over to Wayne Geffner's.
"Jennifer Hayden's brother?"
"Right," Fox replied, surprised his associate would remember the name of someone he had interviewed, but Wylie had never seen. "You'll find Geffner's address in the Peagrum file. Have him ask the neighbors about any unusual activity in the neighborhood. Tell them it's extremely important he be discrete. I don't want anybody thinking it's a police investigation. He can say he's doing some kind of survey, or whatever." Wrestling with his wallet while still trying to keep the telephone to his ear, Fox finally managed to pull out a personal card then redirected his attention back to the telephone. Hearing nothing on the other end, he asked, "Wylie, are you still with me?"
"Yes, sir," Wylie quickly confirmed.
"I also want him to check out this address." Fox slowly read the address and apartment number Paul had given him. "Under no circumstances do I want any personal contact with the residents. Do you understand? Now, will you repeat that please?"
"Yes, sir. Have them send a plain clothes detective to check the neighbors at the Geffner's. Make up a reason. Don't let anyone know he's from the police, then have him go to..." he repeated Paul's address. "Make no personal contact with the residents. I've got it, sir."
"Get back to me at this number the moment you hear anything." He gave his cousins' number.
"I'll get on it right away, sir."
"Remember, I'm waiting here for your call," Fox said with emphasis.
"Yes sir, I'm on it, sir. Good-bye."
Hearing the receiver click, deep creases formed on George Fox's brow. Deep in thought he mumbled as he slowly replaced the receiver upon its ornate stand, "Even if Forrester is wise to how I've been finding him, he's eventually going to have to use his tool again. It has only been a few days so I'm probably worrying over nothing. More than likely the answer is as simple as him getting a job and not having an opportunity to work with the boy."
Turning, he walked back into the parlor. If I have to go home, at least I'm going to enjoy whatever time I have left of this vacation. He walked off to rejoin his family just discovered. One thing I do know. From now on I'm going to return to Ireland more often.
Seated at the window, Scott watched the ground as the aircraft carrying the three travelers made a broad turn began descending. Straightening for its landing approach it glided like a bird searching for a perch and settled into Vientiane, Laos, the only stop before Hanoi. As it rolled down the runway Scott nudged his father's arm and pointed out the window. "They have cattle grazing alongside the runway."
Paul let go of the seat when he knew the wheels had set down then looked out the window. "Yes, I see them. They're water buffalo. I saw many pictures of them in the books and magazines I read. The animals do much of the heavy labor needed to raise rice in the entire Far East. They are extremely important to the farmers."
"After staying with Roy and June it's hard to believe there are places where animals still do the work of tractors," Scott offered.
"They use flood irrigation for the rice and the fields called, paddies, are often knee deep in water. I think tractors like Roy Foster's would be of little use most of the time."
"Actually for this area's kind of agriculture the animals are more efficient," Wayne added. "The buffalo also serve a dual purpose, for in addition to muscle power they provide milk, cheese, and finally their meat and skins. These are things the people need. Gasoline is also scarce and expensive in this part of the world while the fuel used by a buffalo is not."
"I didn't know that," Scott returned. "I think I was right. This is going to be a very educational trip."
"And not just for you," Paul added.
The aircraft rolled to a stop near an open frame building. "The tourist lounge is inside. Please do not leave the building," a woman announced. "We will be leaving in about a half-hour."
Though she ordered us to remain here there is no one here enforcing her directive, Paul thought. We could walk down the stairs, or out any door and disappear into the afternoon. Many of the books said the Laotians are an easy going people. I only wish we had time to stay awhile so I might get an opportunity to talk with some of them. He walked to an opening serving ventilation from outside and took several pictures.
Directed to return to the aircraft they were soon airborne again. "Next stop, Hanoi," Wayne offered, turning in his seat to address his companions in the seat behind. "Hanoi, capital of the old Democratic Republic of Vietnam and now capital of the unified Socialist Republic of Vietnam. Hanoi, the heart of the enemy they told me when I was a young snot-nosed draftee out of the United States for the first time."
"Draftee?" Paul asked.
"If you'll remember, not too many regulars sought duty over here," Wayne replied. "The kind of war that went on here took a pretty large turnover of personnel to keep it afloat."
"Yes, I remember reading that in Jake's book," Paul returned. "For perspective I would appreciate it if you would continue telling me about your experiences over here."
Wayne almost blushed again as he remembered the 'man' he was looking at, was not exactly whom he seemed. He finally heard himself saying what he had said so often before when anyone asked, "It's hard for me to talk about it. That's the way it's been for a lot of us." He shook his head. "If it hadn't been for you and Scott..."
"Whenever you want to talk to someone, I'm a good listener," Paul offered.
"Whenever," Wayne said evasively.
Though not a long flight, it encountered much turbulence climbing over the Annam Mountain Range that disappeared behind them as the pilot began his final descent. Mentally accessing one of the many maps he had perused at the library Paul pointed out the window at a wide expanse of water. "That must be the Hong River?"
"Don't you mean the Red," Wayne corrected.
A fleeting frown appeared on Paul's face. Could I have mixed up my facts, he wondered. Quickly recalling one of the newer National Geographic maps, he replied, "I believe in this country they now refer to it as the Hong."
For the past hour I have been listening to Paul Forrester's alter ego supplying Scott with a steady stream of information, Wayne thought. He smiled coyly. "I stand corrected. I guess it was the Western Colonialists who tagged it 'Red', though I would call it more the color of copper."
"One meaning of..." The Starman stiffened, breaking off his intended statement as he felt the jolt of the wheels thumping down on the runway. I am still not entirely comfortable with this form of transportation, he thought. The inertia experienced on take-off is disheartening enough, but the landings I have to believe rely on visibility and trust alone. Maybe next time I should try to talk with the pilot. ...Then again, perhaps I should not. If I do I might not agree to fly again. I must accept, though crude as it may be, this is still the fastest way to go long distances here. He heaved a sigh of relief and forced relaxation. There, I believe we are safely on the ground again.
Noticing a break in his father's statement, Scott looked his way then chuckled as he saw him releasing his hold on the edge of the seat. It, however, did not surprise him when his father completed what he was saying as though never interrupted.
"... the word Dong, is copper," the Starman returned with certainty.
George Fox remaining within hearing distance of the telephone, mumbled, "What's taking Wylie so long. I gave him a simple order to have the police check two addresses. I've already been waiting for over four hours. The families are getting together to give me a good-bye party tonight. Waiting for me made Michael miss today's soccer game. He finally went down to the Hare and Hounds with Katherine. I guess they're going to do some decorating. He looked impatiently at the telephone. "Wylie, what are you waiting for ... the rates to go down again," he grumbled to himself. When the phone rang, he grabbed it impatiently. "Wylie?" he barked.
"Sorry George, Margaret here." a voice with a definite Irish brogue returned. "Katherine wanted me to call and ask when you're coming."
Fox collected himself when he realized he was talking to the wife of another cousin. "I'm still waiting for a call from my office."
"Oh," she said obviously disheartened. "If you're still waiting I'd better get off the phone. I'll just tell everyone you're still waiting and will be along in good order."
"Yes. I'm sorry, but this call is very important," Fox offered somberly.
"It's really no problem, George, we'll just get things going," she replied cheerfully. "May the Saints preserve you, this is going to be a tuppin good party."
I love listening to the way the Irish have of rolling their R's, Fox thought as he hung the receiver back on its hook. "Georrrge," he repeated several times for practice. "I think I'm beginning to get a feel for it." Still wound up in his reverie he jumped when the phone rang. Grabbing it this time he answered with a pleasant, "Hello?"
"Well, what have you got for me?"
"I told Albuquerque to contact me as soon as they found out anything about either address. The officer just radioed in from the Geffner's."
"He watched the house for activity for over an hour before approaching a neighbor for information saying he was a friend of the family. She said Mrs. Geffner had asked her to pick up the newspapers for a couple of days. She expects someone home this evening."
"And the other address I gave you?"
"There wasn't anyone home. They're still watching."
Damn, Fox thought. I can't leave everyone waiting at my party while Albuquerque sits in a car.
"Mr. Fox, I did find out that other address you gave me is the area where the University centered the High Delta P activity."
"Is that so?" Fox replied, hoping to let the subject slide by. Wait, I think Wylie is talking with someone else. I can't quite make out what he's saying.
"Yes. Mr. Fox, can you hold on a minute?" Wylie asked. "I think Edna has Albuquerque on the other line right now. Maybe I can give you something after all." Fox heard a distinct clunk as the receiver hit the desk. He waited. Wylie returned shortly with more than an air of excitement in his voice. "Albuquerque checked with the apartment manager. You're not going to believe this, sir. The manager's records show that apartment is rented to a... Now hold on to your seat..."
"Wylie, don't try to be melodramatic."
"Yes sir," Wylie returned with controlled excitement. "The manager's records show that apartment is rented to a Paul Forrester. He also verified this Paul Forrester is living there with his son! It could be your alien!"
I think my cat is out of the bag, Fox thought. I might as well tell him. "I know it's rented to Paul Forrester and neither you nor Edna are to say anything to another soul, understand."
"Yes sir," Wylie mumbled in confusion, "Mr. Fox, how did you ever find him from Ireland?"
"How I found him doesn't matter. What matters is what's happening in Albuquerque."
"I told them we might want them to take action. They're waiting for instructions. What do you want me to tell them?"
"I don't want them to do anything."
"But Mr. Fox, this could be our chance..."
"I want you to thank them for their help and tell them everything is fine. I'll be back in a few days and will take care of everything."
"Yes, sir," Wylie replied compliantly. There was a long pause. "Sir, you know they could be gone by then?"
"Or, as usual, chased away by uniforms," Fox offered in gentle appeasement. I can hardly believe the man hasn't made the connection yet. More unusual is he hasn't fumbled his way into a major disaster. "Wylie, I would like to commend you for the way you've handled this for me. Keep up the good work."
"Uh ... thank you sir," Wylie replied with confused pride. "Then I guess I'll be seeing you soon?"
"I'm not sure yet. I'll call the Geffners, first. I'll talk to you later. Until then, do you understand you are to keep this firmly under your hat?"
"Yes, sir," Wylie returned hesitantly.
"Under your hat, understand," Fox repeated. "I'll explain when I see you."
"Yes sir. Good-bye."
"Good-bye." Fox's brow wrinkled thoughtfully. Leaving him with this conversation to think about is going to get me some more questions when I get home. Though not my first choice, I'm afraid I'm going to have to bring him into the circle.
Hanging up the phone, he gazed out a nearby window. I'm sure there's nothing to worry about. There are lots of interesting things to see in the area around Albuquerque so maybe they've all gone sightseeing. Though it's not the alien's pattern to hobnob with people who know, perhaps they've gone their separate ways. The alien and the boy could be out and around doing whatever one might expect an alien and his son to do. They could have found the Hayden woman and gone off somewhere to be together. Fox rolled his eyes. I think I'd better try that other international call.
When he received no answer at the Geffner's he shrugged his shoulders. I forgot about the time difference. It's still early in the afternoon in New Mexico. Since the detective said the neighbor didn't expect them until this evening I might as well go and enjoy my party. Now is New Mexico on Mountain or Central time? No matter, there's at least a seven hour time difference. I figure that might be just about right. I don't need to start trying again until two in the morning.
A New World
Arriving at the Hanoi terminal Wayne, Paul and Scott followed the crowd of arriving passengers from the aircraft to customs. One at a time an older man asked for passports, placed them in a tray and took them into another room. Paul watched two men in uniforms behind the long counter systematically inspecting every article in their baggage. Though simple for Scott and me, he thought, I now understand why Wayne insisted we take little with us. The inspector looked up then asked Paul for his camera bag. Taking it, he handed it down the counter to another inspector who laid it aside. He then laid three sheets of paper and pens down on the counter. The move left little question there was still more paperwork to complete. Paul looked quizzically at Wayne.
"Remember me telling you to count your money before we left Vientiane?" Wayne asked.
"Yes, you told us to write down the total," Paul returned.
"I knew we would have to fill out a declaration of any valuables we were carrying."
"They've already found the money I put in my bag," Scott grumped as he began filling out his form. "Why don't they just count it?"
"You'll understand in a moment," Wayne replied.
Paul and Scott came to a place in the form where it asked how much money they had with them. Each pulled out the paper Wayne had provided in Vientiane. "This is much easier than having to count it here in front of everybody," Paul offered.
When they handed the inspector their completed declarations, he asked them to empty their pockets. Going through their billfolds he moved the cash to one side then separated the coins from the rest of the contents.
Though somewhat apprehensive at having his and Scott's spheres laying in the trays, Paul merely continued to watch the proceedings with interest. Then he smiled. I see what Wayne means. They are even adding up the value of the coins and checking the total against what we put in our declarations. This seems rather strange behavior.
Wayne grinned. "This is why I had us counting. One of my contacts told me he spent two hours here trying to explain why his change didn't exactly match his declaration."
While the official examined Paul's camera and everything in its bag, the rest of their luggage moved down the long counter. Soon they received a gesture to move on. While they repacked their belongings, the tray of passports arrived at the end of the counter. Another soldier removed them from the tray, stamped them with due pomp and circumstance then handed them back with a motion toward the exit. Wayne opened the door into a dismally crude air terminal. It wasn't long before they saw two men approaching confidently. "Geffner, Forrester party?" the one wearing a lightweight business suit asked. Seeing an immediate response, he said in excellent English: "I am Mr. Tran Kinh Lu with the War Crimes Ministry. I will be acting as your interpreter."
Tran Kinh Lu, Paul thought. Tran can mean forehead, to overflow, city or battle. Kinh is prayer, and Lu, to enjoy oneself. Such a strange combination of words to represent an individual. Vietnamese names are much different than American where most have no significant meaning like Scott, Wayne, Don, or Jim. He broke his contemplation to look again at the man. He is much shorter than any of us, but lean, like Scott. I would guess him past his twenty-fifth year. His appearance is quite obviously that of the Earth designation I have come to know as Asian. The other man with him, also Asian, has graying hair and thick glasses. I would guess him to be almost into his sixtieth year. The younger man bows his head and offers me his hand.
"Xin Chou," Mr. Lu offered with a broad smile.
Wayne said Xin Chou and bowed his head. That is an official and friendly greeting, Paul thought. I will respond in kind. He bowed his head slowly as he took Mr. Lu's hand in his. Though I can sense his pleasure at being here to meet us, I am somewhat disappointed to have him speaking English. I thought it would be good to start with this new language right away. Perhaps, as Wayne mentioned when we wanted to learn Vietnamese, this is his way of showing respect for having learned the language of another. It is also possible if they know we speak their language, Mr. Lu would no longer have a job. I will wait before asking to converse in Vietnamese.
"Xin Chou," Paul offered. "My name is Paul Forrester. I am pleased to meet you Mr. Tran Kinh Lu." Paul, then introduced Scott and Wayne.
The interpreter continued shaking hands. with Scott and Wayne then translated all their greetings to the man standing beside him dressed in the traditional drab green uniform with the red lapel bars of the Vietnamese Army. The older man looked very stoic, neither frowning nor smiling while his underling continued the formalities. "I would like to introduce to you General Ha Dinh Duc, vice-minister of our War Crimes Ministry."
Ha Dinh Duc, the soldier, has extended his hand to Wayne as our leader, Paul confirmed. Ha means river and Dinh means nail. Duc is another word with many meanings, among which are to melt, cast, drill or pierce. I wonder if parents choose the words to become a name for any particular reason. Ha Dinh Duc has now exchanged his greeting with Scott and offers me his hand. Paul grasped the man's hand firmly. What he felt as they shook made Paul's head cocked slightly to one side and he sought the man's eyes. This man is very tense. Can it be he has a hidden side? Perhaps I should try to establish a friendly rapport immediately. "I have found the informality of first names more conducive to developing friendly relationships," Paul offered. "May I call you Duc." The General withdrew his hand.
The interpreter grinned. "Mr. Forrester, in Vietnam one does not address a government official by the familiar without first seeking approval."
"For introductions you should have used the formality of his full name and title. General Ha Dinh Duc or General Duc are proper in addressing him. If he would agree, the informality you seem to prefer would be Dinh Duc or simply Duc." Seeing the guest mulling over his explanation, his smile broadened. "I am sorry. I understood you have been in Vietnam before. I assumed you knew."
I guess I should have thought to ask Wayne about how to address these gentlemen, Paul thought. Since Tran Kinh Lu did not call himself by an official name, I will also address him in the formal manner. "Mr. Lu, it has been a very long time and I have changed much since then."
He sure has, Scott thought as he worked at stifling back a chuckle.
Following a stern look by the General to his subordinate, the Starman listened to a rapid exchange in Vietnamese that followed. Wayne advised us correctly. They speak much faster than we practiced. I am fortunate to have a photographic as well as audiographic memory for I can separate the descriptive words from phrasing. Analyzing it in total, I believe Mr. Lu told the General of my error and has received praise for correcting me. I think the General has asked that I call him General Duc. This confirms my impression of this man's tension when first we met. I wonder why he does not seek familiarity. Could he still harbor a lingering dislike of Americans? If Mr. Lu confirms my interpretation, I believe with continual practice I will quickly achieve somewhat total mastery of this Earth language.
"The General prefers you call him General Duc," Lu confirmed.
Yes, I have interpreted correctly. It seems through errors I can also accumulate much useful information. He smiled and bowed his head to his host. "General Duc, would it be possible for me to take some pictures before we leave the airport." Following a brief translation, he saw the General nod his acceptance. Paul took pictures of his hosts and the airport terminal until Mr. Lu directed they follow.
Paul continued taking pictures as they left the airport terminal and walked to a small parking area, Mr. Lu pointed to a small Japanese car and urged his charges into the back seat.
Always attentive to things around him,, Paul thought, Even though we travel through farmland as we head west, I have seen many, many people, Paul thought. Now and again I see a small cluster of 'very small' houses, but I see no evidence of Hanoi, the capital city, with a population of millions. I wonder why they have the airport so far away from the city. A quick swerve left him unable to overcome the inertia and he pressed as hard against Scott as Scott pressed into Wayne. I wonder why Mr. Lu drives with such a heavy foot on the gas pedal, he thought. His speed seems excessive for such a poorly surfaced road. He looked forward as far as he could see. "How much further is it into the city?" he asked in the interest of conversation.
"Just a few more miles," Mr. Lu explained.
"This is much different than anywhere I have seen in the United States. Even out here in what is obviously the countryside the roadways are clogged with traffic, but instead of cars, I see the people mostly walking, pulling carts or using bicycles." Slowed as a cart's two lumbering oxen proved an obstacle unmotivated by Mr. Lu's insistent horn, Paul rolled the window down and snapped several pictures. "It is also strange seeing cattle used to move things." He looked at his watch then mentally making another adjustment for planetary rotation, asked, "Can I assume because of the hour everyone is on their way home from work?"
Mr. Lu glanced at Paul in his rear view mirror. "Although you spent your time in the south, Mr. Forrester, have you forgotten that feet and bicycles are the transportation system of the Vietnamese people? Our bicycles provide a major part of the transportation system of our cities as well. Since you will not have a bicycle, remember all you need to do is call 'cyclo' and a bicycle taxi will be there to serve your needs."
I must think before I ask or I will soon be answering, rather than asking the questions, Paul considered. "Thank you for reminding me. We must be getting near the city for traffic is increasing."
"Yes," Mr. Lu confirmed, "The traffic will be much worse, soon."
Noticing the many distinctly Communist three wheel trucks, Paul nudged Scott and whispered, "I see smaller rather than larger vehicles and now I see many of the bicycle powered taxis Mr. Lu spoke of. I think mixing foot, bicycle and motorized traffic together in the same roadway must cause many accidents. I have also noticed that other than this automobile, most of the cars and trucks I am familiar with are old and appear in disrepair."
Scott grinned. "You must admit, unlike the Quilleute Indian Reservation at LaPush, they do all seem to be running."
Hearing the conversation, Mr. Lu said with obvious pride, "Almost all of our cars and trucks are old. As returning guests you will see we still use the supplies you left when you ran from our superior forces. Their state of repair is because your embargo against us does not allow us to get parts. Though smugglers bring in some, most of the people are too poor to pay the prices demanded by the black markets."
Paul's eyebrows rose as he looked quizzically at the man. "One can buy automobile parts only in 'black' markets?"
"Do you think fuel or needed commodities get past the government profiteers to the general public?" Mr. Lu said critically. Seeing a frown from his superior, he realized he had become engaged in conversation with his charges and had forgotten his superior was sitting beside him. Immediately aware his tone of voice could easily convey he was saying something critical to the American, his face flushed with humility. He bowed his head and began translating.
Though Mr. Lu is speaking his language very rapidly, I do know he is not translating our conversation accurately, Paul thought. This is interesting for he has carefully omitted any further reference to his government doing anything wrong.
Finishing, Mr. Lu looked back at Paul with obvious pride. "During your visit, you will often see the ingenuity of the Vietnamese people in repairing and reusing everything many times over."
Paul's head cocked slightly to one side. Do I see in General Duc a response to Mr. Lu's translation? I think I should follow my earlier consideration and stop asking questions. Though I will continue to observe their relationship, I should look instead at what is going on around me as well.
As the roadway rose to cross a traffic congested bridge, Paul looked over the edge. The copper color of the water leaves me no question. We are crossing the Dong. As with the roads, the river itself is crowded with boats going in every direction. How can they keep from running into each other?
As they reached the highest part of the bridge Paul could finally see the mass of the city ahead. In what seemed only moments it closed in around them. In addition to looking out the windows he continued making mental notes of everything coming to the body's senses. In America this increasing mass of human powered vehicles would present a traffic nightmare for I see no traffic lights to control anything. Driving must be like the computer games that test one's ability in obstacle avoidance. I note that in addition to a heavy foot on the fuel supply, Mr. Lu also has a heavy hand on the horn. He seems to share this behavior with all the other vehicle drivers.
Is there a commonality? Perhaps. The insistent blare of the horns may be advising the traffic to move aside. Though no one looks back, the mass does seem to divide in front so we may pass. Though sandwiched tightly into the back seat, much to Scott and Wayne's discomfort, Paul wiggled around until he could see out the rear window. Yes, he confirmed, as we pass they flow smoothly together behind us. Turning forward again, he smiled. This ebb and flow around obstacles resembles the singular grace of a caribou herd coming down an Arctic slope I saw in a documentary on television . I thought it amazing so many animals could move as one. Now I see people, when crowded together, able to do the same. Still it is difficult to imagine how either manage to avoid leaving damaged bodies everywhere. I would like to take pictures of this, but there is just not enough room in the car. Maybe I will find another time. At the sound of a voice, he returned from his observations to catch Mr. Lu looking at him in the rear view mirror.
Satisfied at having regained full attention to his narration, Mr. Lu continued, "On bicycles we can carry loads of cordwood. Other less controllable things are carried in large baskets or slings strapped to either side of the rear wheel. As well as enlarging the carrying capacity of our bicycles, it leaves the upper part available for passengers. As many as three people can ride at once. During the war of liberation our bicycle transportation system baffled your forces." He pointed to what seemed an extremely overloaded bicycle. "Under the noses of your patrols, we hauled everything from ammunition to medical supplies for thousands of miles through places without roads and amid a rain of your bombs." Satisfied his narrative would please his superior he translated. Receiving a perceptive nod from the General, he grinned broadly. "Though Hanoi is a city of over two and one-half million, as we drove in you might have noticed it does not have suburbs. One moment you are in the country, the next in the city. During your war we decentralized our industry to lessen the effectiveness of your bombs. We also organized collective farms around the city to ensure it had a food supply. If you look around you will see your bombs did not destroy the city as many would have you believe."
"I am glad," Paul offered as he studied his surroundings. "Though I have only seen pictures of this city in books, the text described it 'as pretty villas with ornate ironwork balconies, steps and shutters, and pale yellow walls'."
"Though we would prefer to revitalize it by removing that French Provincial influence, the cost of renewal and displacement of people from their homes has kept it much as it was in 1923."
"It looks like it survived without paint," Wayne whispered. "Now the shutters are all flaking and in this damp and humid climate the pale yellow walls long ago turned the color of green or black mildew. This far north the skies are usually gray and it rains much of the time."
"Like in Seattle?" Paul asked.
"Much worse," Wayne added. "We're lucky we didn't come earlier. The monsoon is all but over."
"Monsoon?" Scott asked.
"That's what they call the rainy season in this part of the world," Paul offered. "I believe one of my books said it starts in May and often lasts into October."
Wayne grinned. "Believe me, it can rain in Vietnam, but unlike the temperate climate of Seattle, it's also hot and humid. It's a combination that takes some getting used to. One of the things I remember about being out on deployment, was never having dry feet."
"Monsoon is our time of renewal," Mr. Lu corrected. "It allows the flooding of the fields to grow the rice that remains a staple of our agriculture. The mountains gather the water and send it down to serve the people's needs. Further to the south and to the west the monsoon provides such an abundance of water, the Mekong runs upstream to fill the Tonle Sap."
Scott frowned. "Now wait a minute," he challenged, "I know water doesn't run upstream."
"The Mekong runs so high through neighboring Cambodia that the volume creates back pressure," Wayne explained.
Hoping someone would ask the question, Mr. Lu smiled with satisfaction. "Mr. Geffner, instead of Cambodia we now call it Kampuchea. The back flooding of the Mekong into the Tonle Sap provides a reservoir for crops during the dry time. The rising water also brings Buddha's annual blessing of the spawning fish." Mr. Lu laid heavily on the horn before making another evasive maneuver. He then turned down another street just in time to become completely ensnared in traffic.
Slowed to a crawl, Paul mentally took in and gently evaluated everything he saw. We are now well into the city, he thought. As in the surrounding countryside some things are very clear. He leaned toward Wayne. "Unlike the American cities I have seen, many here seem very poor."
"I would call it more a message of exhaustion," Wayne replied. "A feeling of an enormous price paid for an immense task still awaiting completion."
"Is all this poverty the result of the war?"
"Much, I'm sure, but some of this seems to have a direct correlation to the kind of Communism found in the Far East and Southeast Asia."
Paul leaned forward toward Mr. Lu. "Can we stop? This place has 'important things' I desire to photograph."
"Perhaps another time," Mr. Lu returned. "The delay in your arrival has us already very late. The itinerary prepared for your stay in Hanoi has a room reserved for you at the Thong Nhat. With a bathroom for each room, the Thong Nhat has proven very popular with most of the returning foreign visitors."
While Paul was silently translating Thong Nhat to mean Unification, Mr. Lu was again leaning heavily on the horn. Momentarily, he made a wicked left turn through a solid stream of bodies and vehicles seemingly oblivious to the hazard to life and limb. Pulling in beside a large ornate building he braked to a stop. "The Thong Nhat Hotel, gentlemen," Mr. Lu proclaimed. "You may note it is yet another reminder of Vietnam's French colonial past."
"When can I meet with the authorities to find out about my son?" Wayne asked as they stood around the car waiting for Mr. Lu to open the trunk. He waited anxiously while Mr. Lu translated for the General, then in turn translated the General's answer. "General Duc says before going out into the city, all American visitors must complete the cultural lectures and a basic tour, Mr. Geffner. After the required introduction to the new Vietnam, arrangements will be made for you to visit the Ministry of Records. He felt sure you would want to start your search as soon as possible so he scheduled the cultural lectures to start tomorrow morning. General Duc says it is late and has asked me to take you to dinner now."
"Great," Scott announced energetically, for the lunch provided on the plane had long ago proven inadequate for a rapidly growing American teenager.
"General Duc offers his apology for not joining you at this evening meal on this day of your arrival, but he says he still has many matters at the Ministry requiring his attention. He asked that you leave your baggage in his care. He will make sure it gets to your room."
Leaving the General at the car, Mr. Lu took them on a short guided tour of the shops and eateries within a block of the hotel. Seeing his charges were merely following and listening, he finally took the initiative and selected a restaurant. Seated among a hubbub of local patrons he also took the liberty of placing their orders. While they waited for the meal, like a mother hen hovering over her chicks, he used decisive looks to insulate them from a gathering crowd of curious onlookers.
The first course to arrive was an individual bowl of a thick vegetable soup eaten with a strangely shaped spoon. Soon a variety of other standard Vietnamese dishes arrived in the center of the table along with four sets of chopsticks. "Help yourself," Mr. Lu said, graciously handing out the chopsticks.
When I first came to this world and saw Jenny eating with a fork, the Starman thought, I considered using any instrument a waste of effort since the human hand possessed everything necessary to get nourishment into the mouth. However, blending in required I learn to incorporate the use of customary eating utensils into this basic process. Though I quickly conquered knives, forks and spoons, I found these small sticks a curious adaptation. Now I very much appreciate Wayne almost demanding we learn to use chopsticks for if one was hungry and did not know how, on the job training could be quite a frustrating experience. Finishing the meal, Paul smiled at Mr. Lu. "May I ask if it would be acceptable for me to take pictures here?"
Mr. Lu nodded his head and watched Paul set up his camera. I appreciate that these Americans have put forth much effort to learn the customs of my country and their photographer is snapping many candid pictures of the restaurant and its patrons. He waved for the waiter and when he arrived, asked, "Would you please take a picture of us?" The waiter happily obliged. Paul replaced his camera in the camera bag while Wayne paid their bill. Mr. Lu smiled again and nodded respectfully. "Thank you." Leaving the restaurant under the scrutiny of many onlookers they walked slowly back toward the hotel.
"Mr. Lu, can you tell me where I might find a public telephone?" Wayne asked. "I would like to call my wife to tell her we have arrived safely."
"I believe there is one at the hotel," he replied. "Since our telephone system is quite old, it is extremely difficult putting through overseas calls. After I find out about your room, I will help you."
Wayne nodded respectfully. "Thank you."
Arriving at the hotel, Mr. Lu chatted briefly with the attendant at the desk, then translated: "I am told General Duc completed the registration and your things are already in your room." He handed Wayne the key received from the desk clerk, then motioned him to the far end of the desk. Laying a paper and pencil in front of him, he asked, "Would you please write down the name and number you wish to reach?" As Wayne wrote down Phyllis's name, Mr. Lu repeated it several times. Only when he received a nod of approval from Wayne did he pick up the telephone.
Almost a minute passed before he began bantering with an operator. It took almost twenty minutes of brief words and long waits before he handed Wayne the receiver.
Wayne advised Phyllis they had arrived safely. He explained the travel difficulties they had encountered and reassured her that they had seen much on their first day in Hanoi. Moments after he said good-bye, Mr. Lu began bantering with the desk man. "The charges are $47.40, American. Do you want him to put it on your bill?"
"I guess so," Wayne returned after the initial shock subsided, "but I guess I'm not going to be calling home too often."
Mr. Lu bowed deeply. "Now, I must be going. In the morning General Duc and I will return and we will take you to breakfast. Tomorrow will be a full day, so it is important you be ready by eight. Rest well." He bowed again then walked toward the door.
Paul, Scott and Wayne followed him out to the front door. Once outside they heard him yell 'cyclo'. As Mr. Lu had said earlier, several pedal powered taxis materialized to compete for his call. They watched until Mr. Lu disappeared from sight then walked up the stairway.
Upon finding their third floor room they were impressed by the tall double doors instead of just a door, but though gloriously described as Hanoi's finest, no one missed seeing the large cockroaches scurrying across the floor in search of cover. Wayne, ignoring the local fauna, said, "The building is definitely French Colonial. The size of the room is impressive. I think the French of the past must have lived large. Being in the military I never stayed at any of the hotels in the south."
"Past is right," Scott remarked. "Even I can see the floor is slanting toward the right far corner and I see dust on every flat surface. As he brushed against the mosquito netting over one of the beds the light from the large open windows glinted off a myriad of microscopic size dust particles billowing into the air. I don't think anyone has cleaned in here in weeks. I'm guessing they don't have maid service either."
As Wayne looked around the room a curious frown appeared on his face. "I wonder if they have any electrical codes. I see wires hanging out of the walls in the oddest places. I know they'd be in deep trouble with city codes in Albuquerque."
Reaching a vantage point Scott pointed down between the beds. "At least our things got here okay." Walking to get his knapsack he grabbed and pulled the chain of a lamp sitting on a table between the beds. "Maybe things will look better with a little more light." When nothing happened, he looked around for another. "Well, it looks like the central ceiling light is it, guys. Even that's hanging by the wires."
Wayne grimaced. "I can see exposed wire between the insulation. I wonder if they've ever heard of fire."
"Maybe they don't know much about electricity," Scott said sarcastically. He walked back to the door and flipped the single switch. "Well what do you know, they do have power. Moving on, he discovered a television down on the floor. Picking it up, he set it on the chest of drawers beside it. "Well, let's see what they have to offer." He fumbled with several knobs. "Geese, you have to turn a knob instead of pushing a button to turn it on."
"It's probably been here since the war," Wayne offered.
Scott cocked his head. "I don't hear any power hum."
"Unless it's a portable it can't," Wayne laughed. "It doesn't seem to have a cord."
"Or a place to plug it in," Paul added.
"I wonder if they even have television." Scott replied. He opened the only other door in the room. "Well at least Mr. Lu was right about one thing, there is a bathroom."
"Another thing surprised me on the way into the city," Wayne offered. "From the accounts in much of the writings about the war, I expected Hanoi to be a new city. I haven't seen any evidence of any of the massive carpet bombing they described. All I see is a blighted French Colonial city."
"I think we still have much to see of what must be a very large city," Paul offered through a big yawn. "I think right now I need sleep more than talk. This body is telling me its internal time clock is lagging behind the planet's rotation. I don't know about you, but I'm going to wash up and go to bed." No one disagreed and soon they were all warming the sheets.
After a dozen tries over two hours George Fox finally heard Phyllis Geffner's cordial 'hello.' "Might I speak with Paul Forrester?" he asked with complete control.
"Paul isn't here." After a brief pause awaiting a response, she asked, "May I ask who's calling?"
"Do you know how I might contact him?"
"He and Scott have gone with my husband. May I take a message." Reaching for a pen and paper, she heard no response. "Who's calling, please?"
Fox heaved a sigh. "This is George Fox. Mr. Forrester said I could reach him through you."
"Well, Mr. Fox, I'm glad you finally saw fit to call. I'm sorry, but you should have called about an hour ago. Then I could have given him a message. Please give me a number where he can get through to you."
"Give me his number and I'll call him."
"I have no way of reaching him. He's off trying to help Wayne find his son that he hasn't seen since he was four."
"He should be ashamed of himself."
"That's why he's trying to find him."
"To bring him home, of course. I'm sure searching for him is going to have them moving around a lot."
That's curious, Fox thought. I've examined every shred of government records available on Geffner. "Mrs. Geffner, I don't recall any mention of your husband having a son."
"He has. His name is Jimmy and he'll be seventeen this coming spring."
"How long do you anticipate this reunion will take?"
"I don't know, but I don't expect them back for at least three, possibly four weeks."
"Four weeks!" Fox sputtered.
"Mr. Fox, you of all people should know government paperwork takes time though I anticipate most of the time will be taken up just trying to find him."
What kind of father is Geffner not to keep in touch for almost thirteen years, Fox wondered. Of course he might have consented to an adoption by a step-father. Still, without hiring an investigator to do the preliminary work, how does he expect to find him after so long? Besides, what kind of paperwork does he need to bring a sixteen year old boy back to New Mexico? He took a deep conceding breath. Right now I have two problems of my own and don't want to get involved in the Geffners. He cocked his head slightly. Of course, it is true that one attracts more bees with honey than with vinegar. Perhaps if I show an interest, she will again voluntarily give me the information I seek. "Why did your husband decide to go looking for his son after all these years, Mrs. Geffner?"
"We have Paul to thank for that. I think when Wayne found that someone like Paul had returned to his son, he finally had to accept he didn't do right by his. We want to offer Jimmy a home, a family and whatever else we can."
"Isn't this a little late to get started?"
"Better late than never," she replied cheerfully. "We feel pretty sure the boy must have had a hard life. From what I understand, a lot of the dust children ended up living on the streets."
Fox mulled over her choice of words. The term 'Dust children' seems vaguely familiar, he thought. Now, all I have to do is figure out where I heard it used before. His brow wrinkled deeply then he shrugged his shoulders when no answer came to mind. I think there's some point in this conversation I've missed and it's unsettling. Suddenly words began coming together. This son was born while her husband was in the service. He's 16 and this is 1987. Eight-seven minus 16 means the boy was born in 1971. Fox's eyes opened wide. Oh, God! he thought as a picture he did not want to see began taking form. By paperwork does she mean immigration papers? "He wouldn't!" he exclaimed.
"He wouldn't what, Mr. Fox?"
"Mrs. Geffner, will you tell me where they've gone to find this boy?"
"I'm sorry. I guess I figured you must have a complete dossier on us by now." she returned freely. "While Wayne was in the Marines he married a Vietnamese woman. She gave him a son. After our troops left in 1971, Wayne signed on as an advisor so he could stay with her. She died shortly before the Communist invasion of the south in '75. With the invasion we forgot obligations and ordered all our troops out. In the pandemonium of the withdrawal, Wayne had to leave his son there. Relating to Paul and Scott's relationship has allowed him to face up to what has been eating at him ever since."
"You're saying Paul Forrester and his son are planning to go to Vietnam with your husband!"
"No, Mr. Fox. Wayne called just a little while ago. They're in Hanoi, now."
Fox's stomach wrenched into a hard, unyielding knot. Forrester and the boy have left the country! I never thought to discuss this with him. This could become my worst nightmare! I assumed I could find them anywhere, but that doesn't necessarily extend into foreign countries, particularly those with which we have no diplomatic relations! The tightening wire of Fox's nervous system finally broke. "Why did I ever tell him I'd let him remain free," he shouted into the telephone. "This is a disaster. Of all the places Forrester could have chosen to go, he couldn't have picked one any worse."
"He didn't choose! Mr. Fox. That's where Wayne left his son and that's where the search to find him has to start. He plans to check whatever records there might be and follow wherever they lead. Perhaps the family got out of Vietnam during the boat exodus. Many countries took in refugees, you know. He could even be somewhere in the United States or maybe still sitting in a refugee camp somewhere. We've also considered he may be dead. The fact is Wayne may never find out what happened to him, but he did need to look. For you to reflect now on what you should have done is completely after the fact. The truth is you're too late. They left for Vietnam three days ago."
Fox quivered just hearing the name of the place, then his eyes narrowed. "Mrs. Geffner, are you aware with whom your husband is traveling?"
"Officially, Paul and Scott are traveling with Wayne."
"I don't mean Paul Forrester, the photographer."
"Then you know he's ...?" Fox stumbled over the word. Having violated the secrecy placed on 617W so many times, he decided he must remember to use less revealing language.
Not waiting for Fox to respond she offered, "I think the word you want is 'extraterrestrial' isn't it? Mr. Fox. Yes, I do know who he is. I almost cried when Wayne described how he found them in your lab. I'm only glad Wayne had the guts to get them away from you in time. My God, Mr. Fox, Paul is a visitor. You should be ashamed of yourself." This time she waited for a response, but none came. "Actually, it gave me a certain feeling of pride when Wayne told me Paul had agreed to go with him. I know Paul doesn't like to stick around with people who know who he is. I actually think he has, at least partially, accepted us as friends. We were so happy when he and Scott came to our house to tell us you had finally made peace. Now, after listening to you carrying on, I'll admit I'm beginning to wonder if you're really as honest about allowing him his freedom as he believes you are."
"I told him within reason!" Fox blurted.
"Paul always seems reasonable and well, personally, I don't think Wayne could have found better travel companions."
"Companions," Fox yelled. "They aren't companions. He's an alien being, and Scott is ... well..."
"Now you're searching for half-breed?"
"Okay, half-breed. There, I've said it. Didn't your husband ever consider what might happen if the Vietnamese government should find out about Forrester?"
"Well Wayne surely isn't going to tell them," she returned caustically.
Not keyed to giving an answer, Fox ranted on. "Don't you realize how important it is to our National Security that this 'visitor' not fall into the hands of the enemy? My God, woman ... you let your husband take them right into a dangerous situation."
"I didn't let him take them anywhere," Phyllis returned with growing ire. "Paul decided it presented a learning opportunity to visit Vietnam, a place, not an enemy. After getting to know him these past few weeks, I don't believe he has the capacity to thinking of anyone as an enemy, Mr. Fox. For some strange reason he even speaks well of you."
"Don't you understand how serious this could become?"
"You mean you're not worried about the Vietnamese detaining your husband?"
"Not at all. Their government has been very cooperative, which is more than I can say for ours. First Wayne contacted our Department of State. They refused to give him any assistance."
"Mrs. Geffner, the reason is because we don't have diplomatic relations with Vietnam," Fox returned adamantly.
"We knew that, but I'm telling you Wayne's not the most patient man in the world and once he makes up his mind to do something, he's going to carry through. Since the State Department wouldn't help, he went directly to the Vietnamese consulate. They arranged for the visas and even found us a Ministry willing to act as sponsor."
"I understand it's kind of a government organized guide service. I guess they don't want American visitors wandering unescorted around the countryside. Their Thai Ambassador told Wayne the regular sponsoring Ministries dealing with travelers wouldn't get to him for months. When he argued his son wasn't getting any younger and asked if there was anything they could do to speed things up, the man went out of his way to help. Wayne got a call directly from their Ambassador at the United Nations. He had called home and convinced someone at the War Crimes Ministry to act as sponsor."
Unable to believe what he heard, Fox almost exploded. "What Ministry?"
"I think you heard me. They said it's no big deal."
"No big deal?" he sputtered. "Don't you know the reasons we haven't resumed diplomatic relations with Vietnam?"
"You mean because we lost the war?"
"No, because of the MIA's and POW's and because of Vietnam's occupation of neighboring Cambodia, or have you forgotten?" He paused, but only to catch his breath. "Maybe I should also remind you that without those all important diplomatic relations there is no American Embassy for them to run to for protection if Forrester is exposed for what he really is."
"Mr. Fox, don't you think Paul has proven himself quite capable of blending-in. With a bulldog like you on his case he has managed to take care of himself and a son he had never even met until somewhat over a year ago. Anyone who can deal with a teenage boy, let alone obtain and receive his respect and affection, deserves special recognition as exceptionally competent. Maintaining a relationship when you spend your life close to a child is difficult, but the capacity to do so from scratch and with no prior experience as even a man, let alone a father, takes someone of obvious character. That is Wayne's goal for his son."
Fox, taken aback by her total acceptance of the unacceptable, replied, "Madam, may I remind you of the true implications of what your husband has done. Against the directives of his government he has chosen to go to a country displaying open hostility to this one. If he should disappear the United States has no duty to even try to get him back. Worse, thwarting security he has talked a crazy alien and his son, both of whom I have an obligation to protect, to go with him. Do you realize Paul Forrester was in Vietnam during the war and might easily be recognized by that government. May I ask how he is going to blend in when they start asking questions. What if something does go wrong and they are all detained? How many lives might we lose without any guarantee of success if we feel it necessary to send in a rescue team?"
"I don't have to listen to this, Mr. Fox," she said, her voice rising considerably. "I think you need a major attitude adjustment. Besides, whatever the risks, it's too late to change it anyway. I also resent you referring to Paul as a 'crazy alien'. Though I will confess to having been around him for only a few weeks, during that time I have found him more sane and capable than anyone I have ever met. He completed a lot of research on Vietnam and has already learned much of the language."
Fox heaved a sigh. Even over the telephone I recognize another alien convert. She's right, I'm making unfounded accusations and by the tone of her voice I know if I don't control my temper, I'll soon be listening to a dial tone at the other end of this line. "I'm sorry, I shouldn't have said that," he offered appeasingly. "I'm just upset. After reaching an agreement I thought Forrester would show a little more sense. Do I remember right, you did say they'll be gone about four weeks?"
"Yes, depending on what they find."
"Can you give me some idea of their plans?"
"There isn't really much I can tell you. The Vietnamese government has, as best they can, made the arrangements necessary for their visit, but they don't have any real itinerary. All I can say is they are starting in Hanoi, but I can't say how long they will be there."
Fox thanked her graciously then said good-bye. Instead of taking off so soon I should have let the relationship with Forrester season for a while. I also should have stuck with my original plan of being gone for only a week. It now seems extending my vacation has turned into a nightmare. Why did I think I could rely on Wylie to stay on top of anything by himself. Of course if I had explained how I was using the new red flag to track them, he surely would have started asking questions. Now it's clear, the red flags stopped when they left the United States, and instead of alarm Wylie figured that the problem had fixed itself. Fox's shoulders slumped and he heaved a heavy sigh. Even if Wylie had known, what could he have done? Since arriving here I haven't called to give him a number where he could reach me. I also should have tried calling Forrester regularly. This mess is of my own making and if Wade ever gets wind of it, I'm history at the FSA. If I had vacationed in New Mexico I could have been watching from a distance with them none the wiser.
Trying to gather his thoughts Fox paced the hallway. Suddenly he stopped. Of course there is one other possibility. I still could be under a spell. In El Paso he said I was taking a chance he could be lying to me. Maybe what he showed me wasn't real either. After all these years why did I suddenly feel I could trust this 'whatever' from another world?
He frowned deeply then stood straight. The State Department must have issued passports. They must have found my red flags so they should have checked with the office when the applications came in. I should call them right now and give them a piece of my mind. He heaved another conceding sigh. How can I think of trying to blame them? I deleted the old red flag on Forrester myself. The new one wouldn't have raised questions with anyone except monitoring stations. I'm afraid I cannot place blame for this disaster except squarely on my shoulders. Besides, like Mrs. Geffner already said, it's done. Nothing is going to change by weighing the why and what ifs. The fact remains, my alien and his son are in Hanoi. As Fox looked at the telephone his shoulders slumped even further. I took on the responsibility of allowing them to remain at large. What can I do now but wait and pray they make it out. Suddenly his eyes opened wide. "Damn it George!" he exclaimed with conviction. "You know what you have to do about it."
Fox made another call. Shortly he hung up, mumbling loudly, "I can't find any airlines flying directly into Vietnam. From Europe they did say the best access is through Thailand. They said from there I'd have to catch Laotian Airlines into Hanoi. Wait, I think I'm getting a little ahead of myself. Our Embassy said the nearest Vietnamese Embassy is in France. First I need to get there. Picking up the telephone directory he searched again, dialed and waited. "I need a ticket to Paris as soon as possible. There I'll need a several hour layover, then a connecting flight into Bangkok..."
I have rolled to the center of this bed I share with Scott for the last time, Paul thought. I cannot deny the need for activity any longer. Though last night this body asked for rest, I slept little. Aside from rolling on top of Scott, around three some small animal decided to gnaw on something hard. I would have gotten up then, but I didn't want to wake Scott or Wayne. Now I must get up. He glanced at his watch on the table beside him. Though it's almost seven, I can hear Scott and Wayne are still in the rhythmic breathing of sleep. I will get up quietly and finish in the bathroom.
Returning a little while later, he walked over to the bed and nudged Scott. "Mr. Lu said he and General Duc will be over to pick us up at eight. If you want to use the bathroom alone, you should do so now." His eyes still closed Scott moaned then rolled onto his back. I see Scott's body relaxing again. "Scott, get up." he whispered insistently. After another, firmer nudge Scott grumbled and got out of bed. As Scott dragged himself into the bathroom, Paul looked over at Wayne. Seeing his eyes open he offered a cheerful, "Good morning." Wayne blinked several times before responding in kind.
At precisely eight, Paul walked to the door answering the knock. "Xin Chou, General Duc," he said to the uniformed man standing in the hallway. Bowing politely he gestured for him to enter. Receiving a return bow, Paul stepped back to allow him to pass, then glanced up and down the hallway.
Noticing the search, the General walked on to speak to Wayne in Vietnamese. "Will you please inform Mr. Forrester that Mr. Lu will not be with us today. I felt since your application said you speak Vietnamese quite well, you may act as interpreter. I have returned Mr. Lu to his duties at the Ministry."
"I will miss him," Paul returned in Vietnamese. "He was very informative."
The General looked curiously at Paul. "Your file did not indicate you also spoke our language," he returned in Vietnamese.
"I and my son are learning," Paul replied in kind. "It would help us learn faster if we might converse entirely in your language, but I ask that you speak slowly."
It is very unusual for visitors to make any effort to learn our language, the General thought. I believe respect for my charges has just risen by several degrees. He bowed, returning slowly in Vietnamese. "Vang, Chu khoai lac lam."
"Thank you for offering your help," Paul replied in his new language.
The General turned back toward the door. "There is much to cover today," he said slowly. "We should go."
Paul grabbed his camera bag. "I think we're ready." Walking by the General he thought, I believe that is the first smile I have seen on his face.
The General selected a small cafe within easy walking distance from the hotel and after breakfast they returned for the car. The General tried to explain the itinerary as he drove through the traffic madness of the city. "The purpose of what you will see and hear today is not to indoctrinate, but to inform. It will also help you understand some of the rules of our society." He drove up to a large concrete building, parked the car and turned his charges over to the system. Another official in military uniform began the prescribed indoctrination with a valuable summary of the laws of driving, behavior and a long list of do-not's before he relinquished the lectern to a young woman.
"I am a historian," she began in less than perfect, yet understandable, English. "For you to understand Vietnam and the Vietnamese, it is felt you must learn of it's beginnings. While it has long been accepted that we are a combination of our large neighbors, China on the north, and India to the West. The overwhelming nature of military events in this area delayed discoveries of great interest. Only during the past decade of peace has the archeological world finally focused on Southeast Asia. Your great American anthropologist, Wilhelm G. Solheim II, has presented clear and powerful evidence that in prehistory it was ancient peoples here in our great nation who took the earliest steps toward civilization.
"European and American historians generally have theorized that what we call civilization first took root in the Fertile Crescent of the Near East, or on its hillsides. They have long believed it was there, primitive man first began cultivating crops and developed pottery and bronze. Modern archeology supported this belief partly because it was in the region of that Fertile Crescent they did their most extensive digging. Now discoveries in Southeast Asia are forcing them to re-examine those traditions. Material excavated and analyzed during the late nineteen sixties and early seventies suggested that men were cultivating plants, making pottery, and casting bronze implements here as early as anywhere on Earth. Further evidence from archeological sites in Thailand, supported by others in Taiwan, Vietnam, Malaysia, the Philippines, and even northern Australia, carbon 14 date cultural remains of people who may have been doing so thousands of years earlier than were the peoples of the Near East, India, or China.
"At one site in northern Thailand, evidence shows bronze being cast in double molds well before 2300 BC and perhaps earlier than 3000 BC. This is substantially earlier than the traditionally accepted theories. Why hadn't anyone discovered our role in early man's history earlier?"
As she droned on in a monotone, Scott whispered to his father, "Except for the uniform, she reminds me of a history teacher I had back in Seattle. Geeze, I didn't think I was going to have to sit in a classroom over here. Besides, this all sounds kind of familiar."
"I note from the way she constantly looks down, that she is reading her information," Paul advised. "I know, though the context is not quoted, it is all in the article'New Light on a Forgotten Past' you read in the March 1971, National Geographic Magazine. I remember, Mr. Solheim acknowledged that his were theories and that he needed to do much more excavating to substantiate them. In all later information I read about this region, I didn't find anything new in support of his theory."
"Maybe they haven't discovered anything because they haven't done any more exploring since the United States left."
"Possibly, but to repeat a theory as though supported by facts, is misleading and not proper." He turned at a gentle nudge from Wayne.
Seeing an innocent question on the Starman's face, Wayne said, "She is looking at us and waiting to continue."
"Oh." Paul looked up to find the woman glaring impatiently at him. "Perhaps while we are at a break, can I ask you a question?"
She glared at the one her superior had told her was a famous American news photographer. "Mr. Forrester, this is not a press conference. I will allow you to ask questions, but only when I am done with my presentation." Seeing her inquisitor properly chastised and her audience's attention renewed, she found her place in her notes and droned on by answering her question with what she planned to say. "There was little excavation in this area before 1950, but when it began archeologists discovered they had wrongfully interpreted an eastward flow of culture being from the Middle East to India, then on into China. The digging done by Europeans summarily assumed the similarities in architecture and aristocratic life styles of advanced cultures in Southeast Asia as Indian and Chinese influence rather than the reverse."
After almost another hour, Scott leaned over toward his father. "I wonder how much longer we have to sit here. This is worse than being in school. At least in school one gets a period break."
Though various portions of the Starman's lessons in area history he had absorbed over a matter of minutes, this captive lesson continued for another half hour. Without pictures or examples, the speaker offered details about everything found at a few archeological excavations in progress. When her monotone finally ended, Scott and Wayne offered a sigh of relief, but Paul stood.
Ready to ask his question he turned to find Wayne pulling him down. I only wish to advise her that she should not use unsubstantiated information," he whispered.
"Paul, it's after eleven. This is already our second day here. I want to get started looking at birth records, not listening to recordings or debating Vietnamese prehistory. If you try to correct her, believe me this thing will never end."
Though distressed, Paul honored Wayne's reasoning. The woman, seeing him change his mind about asking a question, wasted no time in relinquishing the podium to the next speaker. The monologue continued.
"In the 13th century, when Chinese invaders realized they couldn't defeat Vietnam, our government was willing to make peace in a way that allowed the Chinese to save face. The same thing happened in the 15th century, the Vietnamese initiating a truce allowing the Chinese an honorable withdrawal." Paul felt another nudge.
"I'm going to fall asleep soon," Scott whispered. "I think he memorized all their history books just for our benefit. I wouldn't mind sitting here if I was learning something, but this is..."
"Scott, since we cannot do anything about it, if you listen there will be something to learn" Paul offered. "Now the speaker has stopped again. We must at least pretend to listen or like Wayne said, we will be here forever."
As soon as complete attention resumed, the speaker continued. "In the 18th century, the Vietnamese again proved to be a superior force and even provided the invading Chinese troops with boots and horses to help them withdraw." As the 19th century arrived, there was more detail added.
The speaker who took over to cover the colonial periods of the French and United States offered a stinging portrayal of what sounded like centuries of United States Imperialism. He ended his lecture with, "We are a peaceful people, but we will no longer allow foreigners to control this land." Another extremely dynamic lecturer followed on the grand result Vietnam had already achieved under Communism. As he concluded his sermon and before the next could efficiently take over the podium, Scott leaned again toward his father. "If that wasn't indoctrination into Communism, my name isn't Scott Hayden."
"I know, but from what we have seen of this city, I don't think things are going as well as he would have us believe." Paul glanced up toward the front of the room. "The next lecturer is ready to begin. We must listen." He glanced momentarily toward the door. I wonder how long General Duc has been standing there. From the expression on his face, I must conclude he is as enthusiastic about this method of indoctrination as we are. History can be very stimulating, Starman thought, but it depends upon how the teacher chooses to deliver the lesson. I think they need better teachers or more open discussion. In that way they will have to stay with facts.
The next speaker accepted his place behind the podium. "I am Vice-Minister Tran Kinh Cuu of the Ministry on Foreign Trade."
His name is indeed a very interesting combination of words. Tran, translated, means to overflow; Kinh, love, and Cuu to help or save. He is already becoming much more interesting than any of the others because he is the only lecturer so far that has introduced himself.
"You now know much about us," Mr. Cuu said with sincerity rather than the monotone historians, but less dynamically than the politician. "Now we come to things currently in need of expression." He directed his attention to Paul, Wayne and Scott until he had theirs. "After nearly a century of French colonial rule and a bitter eight year war, Vietnam and France are presently enjoying a good economic relationship." He spoke slowly and deliberately. "We would like to put an unhappy past behind us and resume normal relations with the United States as well, however we must insist it be without preconditions. You insist that we account for all American soldiers missing in action. Since the war ended we have tried to demonstrate our good will by turning over the remains of nearly one hundred.
"We have now allowed your official excavation teams to come here. Earlier this year one of those teams insisted on excavating an aircraft crash site not far from Hanoi. We insisted the site had been examined long ago, but again in the desire for good will we bowed to your demands. Your team found some aircraft parts and a helmet we had missed. They also found a few bone fragments they had to send to a laboratory to be sure they were even human let alone to assign a name. For this they thought nothing of destroying the homes of several Vietnamese families just before Monsoon. This we can no longer tolerate. We need to rebuild a country, not dig it up trying to resolve the losses of a war long past. For taking this position your government now says we are uncooperative. Cannot America accept like we have, many people from both sides are lost in war?
"Another matter you say is important to normal relations is the question of your children. We estimate your soldiers deserted about fifteen thousand. Long ago we agreed to allow repatriation of those who wish to leave, but then your government's response was to impose complicated conditions on accepting them. You wished to treat them as though they were refugees instead of giving them the special status they deserve by virtue of their parentage. With an American parent, by your own laws these children may choose American citizenship."
This is true, Paul thought, but George Fox had authority to deny Scott his birthright. I still wonder what he would do if Scott did do something he feels alien or unacceptable. Would he still condemn and incarcerate him without the due process that is his birthright simply because he is my child, or would he honor the right of everyone else to be innocent until proven guilty? Based on my very limited contact with George, I am inclined to doubt it.
"...Instead of acceptance," the lecture continued, "your government requires papers identifying the father. What papers did your soldiers leave with our women? Lacking official papers you eliminate them from any possibility of repatriation even though looking at them and estimating their age should be confirmation enough. Understand, we wish normalization. We need technology to improve our economy. A just resolution of our differences in turn could prove mutually profitable. Still your government must realize a failure to achieve recognition will not prevent us from moving on into the future for even with your doors closed there are many willing to sell us your technology. We would prefer buying directly from you for it would cost less, but rest assured, we remain a patient people and appreciate the assistance of any American." He bowed graciously. "I thank you for your time."
In the manner of a statesman, this gentleman has thought out his presentation very carefully, Paul thought. I only wish I could present it to the United States government as I would to my own.
As the man left the podium General Duc walked over to claim them. "I am pleased to announce the lectures are over for the day. Now, it is time for lunch." Walking out of the stuffy building into the warm sunshine even the city air smelled wonderful and following at the General's brisk pace helped work out the kinks of sitting for so long. Soon they came to a public square filled with eateries. After lunch they returned to the building. "Now, you will see some prepared displays then I will take you for a tour of the orphanage," the General said firmly for it seemed there were to be no negotiations. Entering through a rear door they walked to the end of a long hall and into a spacious open air courtyard in the center of the building. General Duc bowed graciously then stepped aside as a woman in her mid thirties, limped over. "They are all yours, Thi Hon."
She glanced observantly from one to the other. "I understand some of you have been in Vietnam before and that you all speak our language. It is much easier for me to explain in my language, so with your permission I shall." She bowed courteously, acknowledging their nods. "I am charged with this part of your tour because I have personal knowledge of much of it." She took them to the first exhibit. "This is a French guillotine used to punish dissidents in South Vietnam by the Diem regime as late as 1961," she offered. They walked over to look at an American tank, some artillery pieces and several disarmed shells. When you pulled out, you left many live shells and land mines for our people. We still lose many legs to the legacy of your war." She led them across the courtyard. "What you are about to see is a full scale replica of a tiger cage. Tom Luce, a middle class American farmer from your New York state came to Vietnam as a civilian agricultural advisor in 1958. He stayed with us for more than a dozen years and learned as much about Vietnam and the Vietnamese as any Westerner alive. He told your Congress and the media of seeing tiger cages in use in the early seventies and asked that your ally, the South Vietnamese government be ordered to stop treating prisoners in such an inhumane way. Your government chose to do nothing."
"I heard rumors about these," Wayne offered as he saw Paul and Scott looking down quizzically into the four by eight foot enclosure set in the ground.
Cocking his head, Paul finally asked, "Why did they wish to keep a tiger in such a small cage?"
Surprised to find a prior visitor to Vietnam who apparently had never heard of tiger cages, Thi Hon began her often rehearsed explanation reserved for new arrivals. "It is a particularly inhuman type of prison cell used by the Saigon regimes at Con Son Prison Island. My sister and I lived in one of these for three years."
Paul looked curiously into the pit, noticing the concrete floor and walls with bars across the top. Though it is much smaller, if on top of the ground, this would remind me of the isolation cell they held me in, in El Paso. He cocked his head to the side. "You lived in one of these for three years?"
"Often they kept five or six of us in one of these cells," she replied softly. "Only rarely did we have any clothing. Our guards would come at all hours of the day or night and often would throw cold water or excrement on us."
Paul saw Scott's nose wrinkling. I wonder what excrement means, he thought. Perhaps I should not ask. Maybe someone will say something to clarify it for me.
"What they gave us to eat could hardly be called food, but if there is nothing else, you eat what there is. It didn't happen often, but sometimes a kind guard would throw us a bit of meat or fish. Most acted cruelly for they knew getting caught being kind would put them in a cell. One exceptionally cruel jailer came late one night and threw a phosphorous device into our cell. She re-enacted pouring something over herself and the memory made her tremble. "It set us all on fire. I took the pot of urine and poured it over us. Something in it put out the fire."
"How did you survive for three years?" Wayne asked sympathetically.
"Most of the time I pretended to be far away. I found they could lock up my body, but not my imagination. We lost many, but we did what we had to do. Now it must be left in the past..."
After all she has experienced she can speak with an even, gentle voice, Paul thought in wonder. If there is bitterness or anger inside, it remains hidden.
"... By the time they finally released us in 1974 it was already too late for my sister. I am afraid the damage to body and spirit was too great. She lives, but she is never well. Lately she has been getting worse. She tires easily and can no longer leave our room. I am afraid we will not see the new year together."
"You don't sound angry," Scott remarked.
"It will make me sad when she goes, but I know she suffers terribly."
Paul saw her trembling increase. Moving closer he took her hand in his. I can feel physical as well as mental pain coursing through this small body. "Why do you continue this work when it causes you so much pain?"
"They say I tell it best. We do what we do best."
"No one should ever be forced to endure such pain."
Feeling a soothing warmth she stopped quivering and looked up to meet his gaze. Self-conscious, after a brief moment she broke eye contact with the stranger and pulled her hand away. She turned to the General. "General Duc, the other day one of my former guards passed me on the street here in Hanoi. I'm sure he didn't recognize me as I did him."
"What did you do, Thi Hon?" the General asked.
Hon, Paul thought. There are many meanings for this name, more, jolly, or to cry. Cry would apply to her experiences, but jolly, more to the person. Vietnamese names are very interesting.
"I thought about talking to him, but decided it best not to open old wounds."
"You mean he's free?" Scott remarked pointedly.
"Yes," General Duc offered. "After reeducation we released most former war criminals."
"Doesn't that bother you?" Paul asked as he looked at the woman.
"It is not important anymore," she returned. "We cannot afford to be vindictive. If we do not have a successful national reconciliation, history has taught us that Vietnam will end up as a province of China."
The General put his arm around her and gave her a fatherly hug. "Hon is a symbol of the new Vietnam. She still shows the effects of her hardship, but she is succeeding by hard work. She is a University graduate with a degree in biology."
"General Duc, may I take a picture of you and Hon, together," Paul asked. The General, agreeably, placed an arm over her shoulder. Paul snapped three shots of them beside a narrative display of her prison before hanging the camera back over his shoulder. "Thank you."
The General gave Hon another hug. Urged off, she limped back toward a distant door and disappeared.
"General Duc, I believe you are very fond of her," Paul offered.
"And you are very observant, Mr. Forrester. Yes, I am very fond of her. Hon is the second daughter of my sister's son. I found her and her sister in 1975, when our forces entered Saigon. With no family left, I brought them here with me." Unable to mask the flicker of pain that crossed his face, he stiffened self-consciously, then announced succinctly, "There are other exhibits for you to see."
The exhibits began differently than they expected. Though several concerned the war with the United States, other entire rooms dealt with old Vietnamese regimes, Pol Pot's atrocities in Kampuchea; the attempted Chinese invasion of 1979; several internal 'reactionary' plots after the United States pulled out and a spying and infiltration by the Chinese and Thai's. "They soon plan to add exhibits dealing with colonial France, fascist Japan and Chiang Kai Chek's, Taiwan," the General offered. "I do hope you realize our choice of subjects for these collections is not to foster hatred of past enemies, but to continue to educate those to come," he offered. "We wish to teach the consequences of war, so we might prevent such things from happening in the future."
"Your reasoning is well founded," Paul replied, "but I do not understand why it seems everyone wants to interfere with or try to take over your country. If one is a good neighbor, shouldn't their neighbors treat them with respect?"
"Historically Vietnam has tried to be a good neighbor. Even after defeating an invading force the Vietnamese will send an emissary to seek peace by apologizing for any irresponsible behavior by their guerrillas. It is the Confucianist way "
"Confucianist way?" Paul asked.
"Confucianism is essentially a code of behavior stressing order and decorum and based on a sincere wish for social harmony. At its core is filial piety between parents and children. That is why we stress a well-ordered family. It is ideally a well-ordered world for the raising of children. In Confucianism one tries to preserve harmony by allowing a defeated enemy to accept an apology and thereby save face. But now we must keep moving along. Our appointment at the orphanage is for 3:30."
They moved toward an open wall-mounted glass display case containing various kinds of rock-and-roll paraphernalia, tee-shirts, and band posters, album jackets from heavy metal, acid and rock bands. "What's all this stuff for?" Scott asked curiously. "I can buy them in a department store."
The General shrugged his shoulders and grinned. "They are supposed to be examples of the decadent influence of Western culture."
"I know a lot of parents of American teenagers who would agree," Wayne chuckled.
"Now wait a minute," Scott returned defensively. "While it may be different, rock music is hardly decadent."
"I guess that depends on how old you are," Wayne returned laughing playfully.
"This display used to have copies of Playboy Magazine as well, but when the committee found it becoming too popular they decided to remove them," the General added with a sly grin
Wayne laughed. "Right, even though they cross international borders there are some things that never change."
"I think we must keep moving on," the General suggested again.
Scott moved forward and as he turned the corner into the next exhibit room, he stopped short. "Oh, gross!"
Paul hurried to catch up and looking past the maps and photographs of chemical defoliation and its impact on the environment, stood face to face with a wall of pictures of badly deformed children. A look of horror covered his face when a few feet further he stood before a display case filled with bottles of fetuses barely identifiable as human.
"Though many in the United States disagree," the General said with conviction, "your government denies a correlation between birth defects and the use of Agent Orange and other chemicals freely used to defoliate Vietnam, yet dioxin, one of its active ingredients, the United States has removed from your markets as dangerous. Actually, the children in these bottles are the lucky ones. They were either aborted or born dead. The unlucky ones live in the special hospital we are to see after we leave here."
Scott grimaced. "Such wonderful things to see on my vacation."
"If you wanted wonderful, you should have gone to Hawaii or California," the General returned.
Leaving the building they walked another block to an institutional style gray concrete building. "It will not be necessary for us to stay long," he said as they entered a large room filled with beds and younger children.
What is in this first room should be enough for Dad, Scott thought. He's very sensitive to suffering. "I know, Dad," he whispered. "I feel the same."
"This is horrible," Paul returned. "I should do something."
"We are in Vietnam. Remember, your first responsibility is to us. If you do something they don't understand, we'll never leave here. If we don't leave here, we'll never find Mom."
"At least I must take pictures of these children for Jake's book," he said sadly.
"Then do it, but let's keep moving."
Paul set up his camera and took pictures of dismembered, disfigured and birth defective children; children who would never laugh or play, or enjoy a summer day. "These are the normally unseen victims of your needless conflicts," he said as he felt Scott's arm around his shoulder urging him along. He was to feel Scott's arm many times as they moved from room to room.
"We are through now," General Duc announced none to soon for the three.
Though in time spent, they were not at the children's' hospital for long for the General could see his charges very moved by the tour. "I am sorry," he said as they left the building, "but these are things we feel you must see. You must know how the civilian population suffers in war. Your government continues to accuse us of concealing a few thousand unaccounted for Americans while in Vietnam we cannot still the tears of the families of more than two hundred thousand. Again, I am sorry, but that is the reality of war and the war is the reason this hospital exists." His body stiffened to a further task. "There is only one more place we must visit today. First we will stop for a snack, then go to the orphanage. Getting all this done today, tomorrow will be available to do what you wish."
After a hearty soup and roll from a street vendor, they drove another half hour toward the edge of the city. Entering another stark gray building a woman dressed in the uniform green of the military met them at the door "I am the one assigned to show them around," she said. "Before the war, an orphanage was a concept alien to Vietnam. A family oriented culture like ours had no orphans. If something happened to parents there was never a question, The closest relative raised them as they would their own. War brought many casualties and many orphans. Vietnamese villages have strong bonds to the land; to each other; and to the burial places of their ancestors. With the continuing conflict in the countryside the villagers became the pawns of both sides. Life was simply cooperate with armed soldiers or die. In your continuing fight with an enemy experienced in jungle fighting, you ordered entire villages in the battle areas forcibly removed from their ancestral lands. These massive movements allowed children to become separated from their family units."
She moved out into a courtyard filled with children, both Vietnamese and mixed races. "These children are by many called the Dust of Life. I believe a better name would be the remains of war, occupation and a bad economy. Here we accept children who have lost the support of extended family. Though most of the orphans of the war are now almost grown, hard times still rule in Vietnam. How is a young woman without an extended family to survive and earn a living? Many still sell themselves. When they become pregnant they do not have the help necessary to raise their children. Our society's degradation is most clearly revealed when these desperate women leave their newborn or ailing infants on our doorstep or at a hospital hoping the child will have a better chance to survive. In many ways they are the lucky ones for they are receiving care. For those who try their best, their children end up living on the streets. Like little animals, running from authority they develop skills that allow them to survive. It is a national tragedy."
No one could argue with her.
"Damn," Fox mumbled as the Boeing 727 lifted off Irish soil, "I couldn't find an airline serving Ireland that also flew into Thailand. I wish I would have had the time to call a travel agent to check the scheduling for the rest of the journey. This airline did assure me their London office would take care of my needs." He looked at his tickets. "I hope to have only a brief layover in London."
The plane seemed hardly off the ground before it started its descent into London. After a near perfect landing, he followed the crowd to collect his luggage then hired a cab to take him into the city.
"I estimate we should be there in about another ten minutes, sir," the driver announced as they crept at a snail's pace through the mid-day London traffic.
"Right," Fox replied caustically. He checked his watch. "That's just my luck. It's the noon hour and lots of people are out and about." Well, it's still early, he thought. If I had checked the time earlier I could have better used it by staying at the airport to get my reservation to Bangkok. Instead I've been stuck in traffic for almost an hour. There's no sense crying about it. Hindsight has always been better than foresight. Now it's one thing at a time. Okay, I see an American Flag. That must be our Embassy.
"Mr. Ambassador, nothing is impossible when comes to national security," Fox said insistently to the tall blonde man in a light tan suit. "This mission is a matter of utmost importance to not only our security, but that of the entire world. It is vital I get quietly into Vietnam just as soon as possible. I know the danger in what I'm asking, but this is so big I'm willing to risk it."
"Mr. Fox, what you're asking is a job for the CIA, not me."
"Believe me, I would go to the CIA in the blink of an eyelash, but I haven't got the time to go through all the Washington red tape," Fox returned.
"If you're that determined, tell me what you wish me to do. Of course you do understand I will first have to make some calls to confirm your credentials."
An anxious George Fox waited for almost two hours, but when the Ambassador returned he handed him a piece of paper. On it was an address. Fox left with instructions on how to obtain his own falsified travel documents.
Paul hosted the evening's meal. Considering himself much wiser after the distressing things he had seen this day still left many new questions to ask. After a few tries at seeking answers from General Duc, he quickly understood from the succinctness of his replies, that he was still somewhat uneasy talking openly with strangers, let alone foreigners. Soon all conversation stagnated and the walk back to the hotel was in silence. At the door the General gave them a quick good-night followed by an announcement to be ready to go again by eight.
General Duc arrived as promised. He nodded to Wayne. "Mr. Geffner, I have made the arrangements necessary for you to examine the birth and death records tomorrow. I want to remind you with hundreds of thousands unaccounted for, our records are not complete. If we find nothing for you here in Hanoi, we will go on to Ho Chi Minh City and examine what vital statistics records they might have there. Now, what would you like to see today."
When Wayne, somewhat disappointed with another day's delay, made no request, Paul took out Jake's list. "In addition to getting general photographs of the countryside around Hanoi, I have been asked to try to get to the Army Museum and Ho Chi Minh's Mausoleum."
"Cameras are not allowed inside the Mausoleum," the General announced.
"Jake told me that," Paul replied, "he asked for whatever I could photograph." He looked at Wayne. "Is that all right with you?"
Wayne smiled. "I've never been in Hanoi before, Paul, so anything will be new for me as well. I think it's best to use this time to do what you need to do for your friend in case we don't find anything about Jimmy here."
"That's what I thought," Paul confirmed.
The General excused himself to use the hotel telephone. Returning, he announced, "Special passes will be waiting at the Army Museum when we arrive. I have also arranged an appointment to see the Mausoleum at 10:00."
"Thank you," Paul replied gratefully.
"We will have our breakfast when we get there. There are some other things I have in mind to show you within easy walking distance."
Driving into the heart of the city, the General took them to an eatery he preferred. Afterward, he suggested they get some exercise by walking the three blocks to the War Museum. Not ready to deny the need for exercise, all agreed. As they walked the General pointed to the concrete wall of a building across the street. As with most of the French Colonial buildings already seen in the city, it showed the original soft ocher color but dotted with mildew. "This is not normally on any tour, but I took us the long way thinking you might find it of interest. The Americans brought to Hanoi called it the 'Hilton'."
Wayne shuddered noticeably, but having seen many Hilton Hotels in the United States called by a city's name, Paul asked innocently, "Why would a hotel chain like the Hilton build one without windows? I do not believe I would like staying here."
His eyes dancing, the General replied lightly, "Your government says this is where we keep all the lost Americans."
Wayne, seeing Paul's confusion and fearing neither he nor Scott might understand the General's wry kind of joke, decided it best to explain. "This isn't a hotel as you know it, Paul. During the war they kept many American prisoners here. They don't do it anymore."
Paul quickly searched his memory. "Yes, I do remember Jake briefly mentioning it in his manuscript. Perhaps I should take some pictures. Moving back he looked up again at the stark walls with razor wire at the top. After snapping several pictures he returned. "What was it before it became a prison?"
"A prison," the General offered bluntly but still with a gleam in his eye.
"Then if you no longer keep Americans here, what is it now?"
"A prison." The gleam broadened into a smile that seemed almost out of place with the military green of his uniform. "Now that we have no Americans, we decided to keep those who lie, cheat and steal from the people here."
"Politicians, right?" Wayne returned, tongue in cheek.
"Under Communism, we have little need for politicians." A subdued grin and the twinkle in the General's eyes showed without comment that he was enjoying some friendly bantering.
"Political prisoners, then?"
The General studied Wayne's face carefully before continuing. "If you mean those who do not agree with the government. Yes, some enemies of the people spend considerable time here. In American society I understand you would call them the losing party."
Wayne chuckled at the General's humor. "You mean like Hubert Humphrey might be offered a room."
"If he ran against Ronald Reagan," the General returned trying to stifle back his pleasure at the exchange.
Wayne laughed. "What do you know about Ronald Reagan?"
"I read whatever I can find about your politics."
Paul's head cocked to one side at their rapid exchange. I wonder why General Duc should have an interested in reading about American politics? Perhaps it is best I not ask. At least this exchange seems to be lightening the mood and distracting us from the reality of what went on inside this building. The General is walking on again. If not completely at ease, at least he seems a little more relaxed than earlier.
In a few minutes they arrived at the Museum. While Paul continued to snap photographs, to Wayne, it was a demeaning experience to walk by anti-aircraft guns and an assemblage of downed planes with American insignia's on them. Inside the small dark museum he looked at exhibits that reminded him of the war he had for so long tried to forget. There were also displays of weapons taken from Chinese, French and Japanese soldiers during various invasions.
A large display depicted the Vietnamese version of the invasion of neighboring Cambodia and how the Vietnamese advised the world about how the internal struggle of the ruling Cambodian government had resulted in the extermination of almost three million of its people.
At the door to the next room he saw the bronze plaque from the entrance to the American Embassy in Saigon displayed like a trophy. Knowing the coming display would be dealing with the American presence, Wayne entered only because he knew he had no choice. Several burned out light bulbs made it hard to see the complete display, but when his eyes adjusted to the inadequacy he could see numerous photographs surrounded by a circle of large leather boots and helmets. Finally realizing the photographs were a collage of American faces in the shape of a cross rising from the middle of the collection, his chest tightened. Catching his breath, he closed his eyes in a silent prayer for lost comrades and the grief of so many American families. Feeling a hand on his shoulder he looked up to see Paul looking at him sympathetically.
In an effort to get his friend out of the distressing museum as soon as possible, Paul looked at his watch. "It's almost 9:30. If we are supposed to be at Ho Chi Minh's tomb by 10:00, don't you think we should get on our way?"
With his point made, General Duc did not demand they complete the museum tour. Returning to the car he drove a few blocks further. As they approached the Mausoleum, an elegantly simple building in the middle of a public square, its black pillars and dark facing somehow seemed forbidding in the morning light. He parked the car in an area designated for visiting dignitaries and soon a man in formal military uniform approached.
The officer exchanged bows with the General, then bowed to Paul, Wayne and Scott. "Photographs are forbidden inside the mausoleum," he said when he saw Paul's camera bag hanging on his shoulder.
"It will be safe left in the car," General Duc advised without hesitation. Paul nodded his understanding and walked back to the car and laid it in the back seat. Returning, the General took them toward a long red carpet a short distance away, but stopped them short of stepping on it. Another soldier walked over the meet them. "This is a national shrine," General Duc advised. "During your journey through the Mausoleum you are to remain respectfully silent. Your hands are to be at your sides. You are not to look around. Our guides will regulate the pace. Go no faster or slower. Remember, any breach of etiquette or act of disrespect will result in your immediate expulsion, or worse." Placing Scott in the lead, the soldier soon had them standing in a single line. Taking up a position at Scott's right, he walked the edge of the carpet runner while they walked the runner. He escorted them the next several hundred yards to the Mausoleum entrance. Since no one had defined 'worse' they all marched like stiff soldiers.
Nearing the door the soldier slowed the pace to a solemn funeral walk and everyone followed his lead. Two armed guards standing at the door remained starkly at attention. The door opened from inside and as they entered a blast of icy-cold air on its way out assaulted them.
Led toward a marble stairway, they started up the stairs. Climbing several levels they saw armed guards at attention at each landing.
I remember reading about such places, Paul thought, but I have not had the opportunity to visit any. I must marvel at the manpower and expense people dedicate to the embodiment of the dead. Now we are going through a large doorway into a large room. I see many armed soldiers standing back from a brass rail and walkway. I must assume Ho Chi Minh to be in that bright halo of light beyond the railing. I remember reading that he was the first President of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam. One National Geographic said the people preferred to call him Uncle Ho and that the Vietnamese people honor him as a national hero. The author of the article considered him to be a humanitarian and a natural leader. It is strange that as such, in death they now feel to honor him requires armed guards. Do they feel they must now keep him from the people. At times I find human traditions very strange.
As they walked slowly past, Paul studied the remains of the man. He looks as I understand he appeared in life, thin and frail. He is as they described, dressed as he was in life in a simple tunic and trousers. Though I know he has been dead since 1969, with his hands folded across his stomach and the thin gray strands of his beard lying softly on his upper chest, he looks as though he might awaken any minute.
Their tour lasted just over fifteen minutes from the time they entered the building until their escort had them outside again.
Returning to the car Paul retrieved his camera and moving around the Mausoleum structure he snapped many pictures. I note that usually if I show General Duc that I desire to take his picture he strikes a certain pose, Paul thought. When I say nothing I am able to catch him in a more natural manner. I believe I see another chance. He took three pictures in rapid fire. This time I have caught him fully engaged in the use of hands, arms and body to enhance language while trying to answer one of Scott's many questions. Though high in the government, he shares this apparently typical characteristic with the Vietnamese people.
The General's tour around the Mausoleum brought them to a small park containing a few low French-style buildings, a tiny two-story house and a pond. "This is the home Ho Chi Minh occupied during two periods of his life," General Duc explained. He pointed to a small lake. "When here, Uncle Ho took great pleasure in feeding the carp." He signaled to a park attendant who then threw some bread into the water. Many of the brightly colored fish appeared from the unseen depths until the water exploded with the furious thrashing of a feeding frenzy.
They left the pond when Paul finished taking pictures. The General continued guiding them around the park. Paul looked back toward the pond. "General Duc, would you tell me more about your Mr. Ho Chi Minh?"
"As a young man Uncle Ho had dreams for his country, but his ideas were not thought worthy of American attention," Duc offered. "Attempting to achieve his dream, he learned to play both sides and eventually decided for the stringent government control provided by Communism over Socialism or capitalism. Through exile, prison and the continuing strife of three wars, he grew to become one of the most formidable of revolutionary strategists, but through it all he never relinquished his goal of unifying this land. His persistence made him a hero to the Vietnamese people."
"I think he is a man I would have liked to interview," Paul offered.
"If you are truly interested in Uncle Ho, after lunch I would suggest a visit to the museum. It is across the park."
"If that is all right with everyone else, I would like that."
After a short stop at a street vendor's stand for a healthy serving of a spicy noodle and vegetable soup, they walked to the museum where Paul again made ample use of his camera. Putting another roll of film in the camera, he turned to Duc. "I have taken five rolls of film already. My friend in Arizona has asked me to send them as soon as I can. He said since you know what I have been shooting, I should ask you to help me with the mailing."
"Yes, if you will prepare a package, I will mail it from the Embassy."
"Thank you. I would greatly appreciate it."
"There is still much to see in this area of the city. I would like to suggest a visit to Farmers and Merchants Market." Everyone agreed and the General started off energetically
Paul looked back toward the Ho Chi Minh museum reverently. I often read of arrogance in Earth history that causes missed opportunities. This Uncle Ho is indeed a man to whom I would have liked to speak.
Paul looked often at General Duc as he led the way toward the mid-city marketplace. Though he started out stiff and formal, with continued association I believe he is relaxing. Perhaps being able to converse with us directly in his language has made communication easier. This man intrigues me for as I study him I often find him studying us as well. Perhaps the Vietnamese have as much interest in understanding us and we do them. Still, I remember sensing a hidden side to this man when I first shook his hand at the airport. I wonder how long it will take for him to relax enough to drop the pretense of authority he chooses to maintain and just say what he's thinking.
They walked through an alley that entered a street lined on both sides with small portable shops. "This is Kham Thien Street," he explained, "It was blasted to rubble during your Christmas bombing in 1972. You killed more than six hundred civilians and injured over twenty-five hundred. His pointing finger urged them toward a small courtyard well off the street. "This monument commemorates the death and destruction, and the undaunted courage of the Vietnamese people. Nine people lived in a small house that once stood here. Eight died."
"I understood it was a blitz," Wayne acknowledged openly.
"How did the one survive?" Scott asked.
The General's eyebrows rose with a sly grin as he started walking back toward the busy street market. "He was in the South shooting at Americans."
Paul grinned. Yes, he is beginning to relax.
Fox moved two steps further. After losing a whole day things now seem to be going my way, he thought. I caught General Wade in his office. Though he was in a hurry, he was also in a good mood. Without asking too many questions he agreed to pull the right strings in Washington. My French connection has now assured me a Vietnamese entry visa and necessary documentation will be waiting for me at our Embassy in Bangkok, thus eliminating having to fly to Paris. Now all I have to do is get a ticket to Bangkok.
I've been standing in this airport line for well over a half hour. One thing I don't need is to lose any more time. He jumped slightly at hearing another 'Next' then stepped two feet forward. After several more 'next's, he finally stood at the airline ticketing counter.
"I'm very sorry, but that flight is already overbooked," the man said in a heavy French accent.
"It can't be full!"
"I don't believe you'll find anything available into Bangkok for at least another week, sir."
"Oh," Fox said, at first taken aback, then he looked the man directly in the eye and conceded. "Yes, I understand. Okay, I'll go first class."
"There isn't anything available even in first class," the deskman replied with obvious annoyance.
"There has to be something. I must get to Bangkok right away."
The clerk grinned. "Actually, we sold everything out months ago, sir. I can't even offer you the seat in a lavatory. Winter has started up north and as soon as the monsoon is over Bangkok becomes very popular with the sun seekers. The only thing I can do is add your name to the list of standbys." He paused momentarily. "I do want you to understand it's a very long list."
Fox's mouth contorted to one side while he contemplated his alternatives. Well, driving is out and boat passage would take months, he concluded. What other options are there. Instantly he thought of the Wenatchee air fiasco of months earlier. "Perhaps there is someone I can charter?"
"There are a couple that might fly you to Thailand, but with drug smuggling being a problem in the Golden Triangle there are sure to be long delays and lots of papers to fill out every time you have to land for refueling. If you want to save time, I think walking might be faster."
Here I am on a rescue mission and I can't get a seat on an airplane. Fox frowned, then one eye narrowed. He pulled out his identification wallet. Laying it on the counter he displayed his badge. "Does it count that I am on official United States Government business?"
The ticket clerk picked up the wallet and examined the identification carefully. "I can't bump someone unless you have official orders."
Fox leaned over the counter. "This government business doesn't issue orders," he whispered. "You can call the United States Embassy if you need something to verify my need to get to Thailand."
The ticket agent motioned another clerk to his window to aide with the accumulating line of check-in traffic. He took Fox's wallet and moved to a phone down the counter. Fox watched while he sporadically talked, then listened, talked, and waited. Almost twenty minutes passed. Finally hanging up, the man looked back at Fox. Frowning, he returned. "They have requested I give your request priority one. I'm writing you up first class into Bangkok," he said as he started writing out the ticket." Fox handed him an American Express card and a few minutes later he had his ticket and boarding pass in hand. "To get to your departure gate," the clerk said, pointing to the left, "take the moving stairway and follow the signs to Concourse B. The flight is already boarding standbys so you must hurry for you have to take the underground. Go to the Gate 19 terminal desk and ask for Marie. She will take you straight through."
Fox picked up his travel bag. Spinning left he almost knocked down a well-dressed oriental gentleman standing beside him. He heard the oriental gentleman say something in a foreign language, but Fox knew he must not stop. Hitting the moving stairway, he doubled its efficiency by taking it two steps at a time. The oriental gentleman checked his luggage then went to a telephone.
Paul, Scott, Wayne and General Duc strolled into the busy market place. "General Duc, I do not wish to see any more memorials to the war," Wayne said as he glanced back toward the memorial. He turned back to the market and smiled at the collection of rustic street vendors stands so common to Southeast Asia. "I wish to see the present rather than be reminded of the past."
"As you can see, things are normal," Duc offered.
"Yes, life in the markets is much as I remember them. I guess for the common people life must go on." He frowned deeply as looking further down the street he could see the end of the vendor's stands. "Still I don't see the enthusiasm here I remember in Saigon."
"What do you mean?" Scott asked curiously.
Wayne's forehead wrinkled while he searched the best words, but least offensive answer he could. "I don't know exactly how to explain it, but I think next to Saigon, Hanoi seems so subdued." He grinned, recalling memories of happier times spent at the larger markets. "Saigon was all energy and drive and alive with business and the roar of traffic. The Saigon I remember was a city enthused with the sound of its bustling economy ... you know, the sound of money changing hands. A central market like this would have occupied many blocks. Saigon was a city alive with people and the whoosh of cyclos, bicycles and commerce. Outside of the mass of people, Hanoi seems half asleep." His brow wrinkled as memories continued flooding back, then he shrugged his shoulders. "Maybe I'm being premature with my impression. After all I can only compare Hanoi to the Saigon I remember. The best way I can think of to explain, is it's like comparing New York's Chinatown with rural New Mexico. Of course under Communism Saigon has probably changed as well."
The General's eyebrows rose. "I would like to remind you, the Saigon you remember no longer exists. It is now Ho Chi Minh City."
"Of course," Wayne returned, properly corrected. "It will be difficult, but I'll try to remember." As they walked deeper into the market General Duc saw a familiar face and he stopped to talk. Gripped by a new enthusiasm, Wayne immediately took over as tour guide. He eagerly pointed out familiar foods and merchandise. General Duc, though watchful of his charges progress, continued talking to his comrade. He finally excused himself and broke away as the three, moving on, began to meld into the mass of humanity. I believe I might learn more about these men by staying in the background, he thought. If I stay too close, my uniform keeps the people away from them. I believe I wish to watch them moving freely. Keeping the three in sight he and his uniform blended with the growing number of afternoon shoppers.
A few minutes further into the busy market an old woman with a crate of squawking chickens noticed the unfamiliar Westerners. "Americans?" she asked, guardedly. When Wayne nodded, she shouted "Nyet lien xo! Nyet lien xo!" Immediately other vendors came running and the three completely disappeared within a circle of gawkers. "We hate Russians," the old woman, no longer whispering, offered in street English. "Americans ... they number one."
Paul's head cocked slightly to one side as he recognized the many curious vendors and shopper collecting around them. Wayne told me people might be afraid to criticize the Russian controlled government, but she speaks openly against them.
Eager to speak English again, Scott asked, "Why do you hate the Russians?"
Turning, she faced the boy. "They so cheap! Never no money."
Unable to give Scott a nudge, Paul glanced around anxiously. He felt greatly concerned when he saw the General pushing into the edge of the gathering crowd. Perhaps she is unaware that a representative of their government is with us, he thought. He cocked his head when he saw the General stop among the crowd. At this time his look does not show any concern. Perhaps he wishes to observe us. He returned to Scott's conversation with the woman.
"Most time, Russian money no good!" she said.
"They no wish talk common vendors like us," another shouted. "They not nice!"
At least it is good General Duc does not understand what they are saying for in her I see no ill will, Paul thought. I will continue to watch him and give Wayne a nudge if I think he might be anxious about us conversing in English. As an official in the government, I am sure he could cause these people trouble if he wishes.
"Americans spend and friendly," the chicken lady continued. Trying to hand Wayne two live chickens, she asked, "You buy?"
Wayne pulled out his wallet. Handing her some money he took the chickens then handed them back to her. "We in hotel," he said also easily reverting to their street English. "Have no way fix."
This American's gesture means I still have two chickens to sell, she thought, but a return gesture will give me stature in the market. "Tonight, you come my house?" she asked. "I fix for you."
Wayne looked around for General Duc. Seeing him in the nearby crowd, he sought approval. Seeing a confirming nod, he looked at Paul. "You said you wanted to catch the character of the people, Paul. Here is your first chance to photograph the basics of present day Vietnamese life."
Paul and Scott nodded affirmatively. When Wayne turned back to the woman, Paul continued watching the General. I wonder, he thought. Though the words and sentence structure being spoken seem strange, it has definitely been English. I am beginning to think General Duc understands more than he wishes us to know.
Wayne bowed his head then offered his hands to the woman as a gesture of respect. ... "We accept your invitation."
"La lung ky di," she replied, then likewise translated her words into her best English, "On der full." She bobbed a bow to a long chorus of 'Ohs' from her friends.
"Where have you learned English?" Wayne asked curiously.
"Me live Saigon, long time. In nineteen and seventy-seven, marry soldier. He live Hanoi." She grinned. "Where you learn Vietnamese?"
"I United States Army, South Vietnam," Wayne returned, his eyes sparkling. "In love. Marry Vietnamese woman. She teach. She very beautiful. Vietnamese very beautiful."
A broad toothy grin spreading over her face, the woman struck her chest with her hand. "Me, Luong. ... You?"
Luong means food, Paul thought. I think her name is very appropriate for a vendor of chickens.
"Wayne Geffner." He gestured to Paul and Scott. "This friend, Paul Forrester and son, Scott Hayden."
"Understand Western naming?" she returned, looking from Scott back to Paul. "No understand, Forrester son not same."
"No marriage," Wayne offered.
"Now understand. Such things happen your country, too?"
"Yes, such things happen."
"Why you all come Vietnam?"
"Look for my son. His name Geffner. How Luong family do after war?"
Rocking back and forth as though in pain, she placed a hand over her heart. "So bad. Lose much family. Some Army. After, some go America. Before war end, number one husband work Saigon for Americans. We told take with. America. No room on boat. Left behind. Husband, he taken reeducation camp. No return."
Contradictions are confusing me, Paul thought. Luong has lost much of her family to the war and its aftermath, yet she seems excited that we have accepted her invitation. Jake's statistics on what this planet refers to as its second 'World War' said the United States dropped more bombs on Vietnam than in Europe, Asia and Africa, combined. From what I have observed of human nature, I can only wonder why she should like Americans, let alone ask us to be guests in her home. I guess the only way to obtain insight is to approach the subject directly. "But it was America that dropped the bombs," he offered, pointing back toward the small courtyard with its crude monument.
When the crowd looked at him and laughed, another old woman expressed an attitude that set the Vietnamese apart as a people. "Long time ago," she said with extreme pain in her voice. "All war bad. Men die, women cry, children without fathers."
Luong shook her head then using her hands and arms vigorously to enhance her words, said, "Now, it past. Need forget so may again learn be friends."
Paul looked from the one woman to the other. Wayne told me that the common people, in addition to being survivors, are open and friendly. I am surely finding that to be true. They seem to possess one of the most important characteristic for the achievement of peace ... they forgive. It is the only way to put the past behind. Still, this small sample of the people may be exceptions so it is necessary I continue my observations.
Wayne grabbed for and caught Luong's rapidly gyrating arms. "Luong, need tell Wayne how find house and time expect?"
"Market close, six, you come eight so have time, prepare." As soon as Wayne let go of her arms they started waving around again as she tried to give directions. Seeing her new friend's confusion, she soon realized he was not familiar with the city. She finally pointed down the street. "Other end market, cyclo stand. Ask for Du. Tell Luong send. He bring home."
"We will only be in the market maybe another half hour," Wayne advised. "Later we back at the, Thong Nhat Hotel. Need address to find?"
"Not worry. Du, Number One Son and best cyclo man whole Hanoi. He pick up, Thong Nhat, seven-thirty. Okay?"
Wayne, noticing General Duc had moved closer and was now frowning. Quickly changing to Vietnamese, he asked, "Is this going to be a problem for you?"
"No problem," Duc returned, "but remember the rules of being a sponsor means I must remain with you while you travel. This system keeps foreign visitors out of trouble. Our government does not wish to take chances of any Americans getting lost and Vietnam being accused of imprisoning them.
Luong frowned at seeing a high ranking uniform had appeared and was interfering in her arrangements. Finally she realized he was with the Americans. Not wanting to appear guilty of anything, but afraid her home visit might be in jeopardy she stepped up to the General and returned to Vietnamese. "Luong welcome you too." Not waiting for an acknowledgment, she added. "Two cyclo, Thong Nhat, seven-thirty. I have Du, do."
The General bowed his head graciously to the woman. "I gratefully accept your invitation, Luong. Now, it is time for us to continue. These gentlemen still have much of the city to see." Firmly, but gently, the General urged his charges on.
Paul studied General Duc's face, then frowned. This has been a very interesting exchange and her acceptance seems to please him. Is a lack of acceptance by the people one reason why the General continues to act so reserved around us?
They continued through the market amid a growing circle of gawkers. The General helped them buy traditional house gifts for the coming evening. The vendors, in addition to being open and friendly, were obviously also very poor. For the travelers the Dong for Dollar exchange made enhancing public relations very inexpensive.
On the way back to the hotel they convinced the General to remain with them and to use their hotel room to wash up instead of having to travel back and forth across the city to go home. He stopped at the hotel desk to call home.
At seven-forty, Luong's son arrived with two cyclos. The General and Wayne shared one, Scott and Paul the other. The ride took them a few miles through the city then down side streets of diminishing size toward the edge of the river. Finally even any semblance of a street disappeared and Du walked them down a pathway between a line of rickety one-story shacks.
These houses are little more than a series of thin wooden partitions built to create long rooms that separated one family from the other, Paul confirmed. Corrugated tin nailed over a flimsy framework fastened on top of the partitions serves as a roof to separate these people from the elements. The front facing the pathway is merely a mesh screen in which is a rough frame door. The screening makes them seem more like animal cages or some jails I have been in than places where people would desire to live. What must this be like when it rains the way Wayne has described? This must be the place for Du is opening the screen door on the eighth unit.
Luong, her face beaming, appeared with extended hands as though she were greeting long lost relatives and skillfully guided them in. The four bowed graciously then handed her the selected house gifts. Paul gave a large bag of fresh fruit; Wayne had picked some delicate Vietnamese spring rolls the General highly recommended called cha gio. Scott handed her a package of incense and she wasted no time placing some into a small incense burner. The General carried a dozen bottles of a strong locally brewed beer to round out the evening.
Luong bowed graciously then introduced her husband, another son, and two daughters. Paul soon realized they all lived together in this single room smaller than the room they had at the hotel. The bathroom turned out to be a hole in the floor off to one side with a box under it. A heavy curtain hung around it to provide the user with a feeling of privacy.
Luong's daughters returned to crouching around two small clay stoves sitting on the floor. Amazing, Paul thought as he watched them placing fresh charcoal into the cookers. If we hadn't camped out so much this past year, I would find it hard to believe someone could prepare the meal for a family of this size on a stove that looks more like an ashtray than kitchen equipment. It was not long before he discovered there was also no running water when Du, exchanging ideas on the state of music around the world with Scott, made no protest when one of his sisters asked him to refill a cistern standing in one corner. Presently enjoying the company of someone nearly his age, Scott went with him. They soon returned with several full water containers from the community pump half a block away. With the fresh water supply secure in the cistern, the young men changed their discussion to modes of transportation. Du's spoke freely of his dream to eventually own a small Honda motorcycle and earn his living making deliveries.
A half hour later they sat down to dinner. The meal, traditionally Vietnamese, left no question the household had given it's all to impress their guests. Luong's oldest daughter first dished out a chunky curried vegetable soup, then Luong served a chicken dish with rice and the rolls Wayne had brought. "Most of the items we gave are staples in Vietnam," the General explained. "A vast variety of fruits are almost always in season," he continued as Paul's fruit also appeared at the table. "It is a staple in almost everyone's diet, but without the availability of refrigeration in the average home it must be bought daily. That is the reason for our numerous public markets."
Checking his watch again, Fox pondered his latest odyssey in travel. I can't believe they booked me onto a local flight when they knew I was in a hurry. This plane must have set down six times already and we're not even half way. We must have landed in every airfield from London to Bangkok capable of landing a jet. I've also had the luck of spending an hour at each. I don't understand why every time I'm in pursuit of this alien, whether to catch him or like now, ready to try my best to save him, all I do is run into one delay after another.
While Paul, Scott and Wayne wanted to know about Vietnam, they could hardly tell enough about life in the United States to satisfy the family's curiosity. Luong and her husband asked if anyone could tell them the whereabouts of many of their friends who had left the country, but Wayne could not give them any answers. They continued exchanging information and the evening had soon become night. A Vietnamese General, to whom it seemed there was little time left in his busy days to talk with the people, simply listened.
It was after ten when they returned to the hotel. Highly pleased with how his second day of escort duty had gone, the General bowed then gave a cordial, "Goodnight. I will see you at eight."
In the morning General Duc stood outside the door. Having established routine in dealing with his sponsorship of the three American travelers he waited until precisely eight before knocking.
Wayne, having duly noted the General's attention to being on time, had everyone up early and was expecting the knock. He knew this was the day he would finally begin searching for what he had left in Vietnam. They were soon out the door for breakfast.
As before, General Duc took it upon himself to do the ordering. As they left the restaurant he announced, "I will take you into the Ministry of Records and introduce you to the vice-minister, then I must leave to attend a meeting. I will return for you promptly at one-thirty." Twenty minutes later he pulled up to the front of another ochre building. Leaving the car running, he rushed them in. In a few minutes another man in military green greeted them. Duc bowed, introduced the Vice-Minister and apologized for having to leave. The vice-minister brought them into a large room filled with stacks of files and asked them to wait. Looking around, Wayne's eyes grew wide. "My God," he exclaimed in English just as a smartly dressed middle aged woman walked up behind him, "they haven't even got their records computerized! How will we ever find anything?"
"I am Mrs. Han," the woman announced in English. "If there is anything here to find, I will find it."
Taken by surprise, Wayne jumped then whirled to face her. When at his sudden movement she too responded by taking a leap backward, he bowed repentantly. "I am very sorry," he offered. "I didn't mean to startle you." Though obviously frustrated, she was still able to say in almost perfect English, "General Duc has asked that I personally assist in searching my records for information on your son. Can you tell me his mother's family name and the year of his birth?"
Embarrassed and still high on the adrenaline rush, Wayne finally took a deep breath and gave her Kim's full name. "Jimmy was born March 17, 1971."
"Jimmy?" she questioned.
"I'm sorry," Wayne returned. "I guess the name Kim gave him is My Chi."
I think this is the first time I have heard Wayne use his son's Vietnamese name, Paul thought. His mother's family name, Nguyen, I know means the source, My translates as graceful, artistic or beautiful, and Chi can mean mind, energy or hope. I wonder when we find him if any of the names his mother chose for him will fit the person he has become?
Mrs. Han went right to work. Though her methods could not compete with the processing speed of the Western World's expanding computer technology, it soon became evident that amid what seemed like chaos she had perfected methods of finding whatever she wanted through years of experience. By ten, she had located the official birth record with Wayne Geffner, USA, shown as fathering Nugyen My Chi as well as a report of death for Kim.
Under watchful eyes she continued her search for almost another hour before she turned to Wayne from amid the diminished stack of files. "Mr. Geffner, I am unable to find anything further regarding your son." At first confused when she saw Wayne's shoulders slump, she said with unquestioning composure, "I am not necessarily the bearer of bad news. You should be happy I have found nothing. My records of deaths are only of those confirmed as lost. Not being here leaves hope your son may still be alive. Of course you must realize many had no one to report their loss."
Wayne straightened with renewed hope and smiled warmly. "Would you please tell me where to go from here?"
"It says your son was born in Binh Thanh so you must go to Ho Chi Minh City. Mr. Tron is the keeper of records there. General Duc can help you." She wrote down a name and address on a slip of paper and handed it to Wayne.
"Thank you Mrs. Han," Wayne replied as he carefully folded and placed it in his billfold.
She smiled warmly. "No thanks are necessary. This is my job."
Wayne offered his hand. After completing handshakes and cordial bows all around, he said, "General Duc will not return until 1:30. Can you suggest a place nearby where we might go for lunch?"
"There are many street vendors in the park across the street. They offer a variety of excellent lunch menus." After thanking her again, the three bowed to her then left the building for the park.
George Fox watched while Air Laos held its departure to board additional passengers. What are they doing? he questioned. I don't see any empty seats. He clutched his valise tightly. I know the papers I have in here are very important. Though I know going to Vietnam like this is risky, what other choice did Forrester leave me? I need to get him and his son safely back stateside.
His eyes rolled. I can't understand what ever prompted him to accept an invitation to Vietnam of all places. For someone who told me he wanted to be my friend, it was about the most thoughtless thing he could ever do. For an obviously intelligent pers ... being, he stumbled, he sure can do some stupid things. Well, it won't be long before I get him straightened out on where he can and can't go.
I don't think I'll ever forget my surprise at seeing our Thai Ambassador walking out to meet me at the airport wearing short pants and a white cotton jacket. He must have noted my surprise over his lack of dress protocol because he was quick to advise me that Bangkok was a tropical assignment. The correctness of his dress became suddenly evident when we walked outside the terminal. Instantly I was sweating. I thought the humidity in D. C. in the summer made it feel hotter than a hundred degrees. I can attest it doesn't even begin to compare to Bangkok. Everyone was wearing shorts except new arrivals. I think I would have died if his car hadn't had air conditioning.
I will say I got a little testy when he called me for having used my badge to get the ticket in Paris. I wonder how he found out. Maybe he discussed it with the French Ambassador. It doesn't matter anyway for neither had to know why I had to get into Vietnam so fast. While it might have been wrong to bump someone who had been waiting for a week, I wouldn't give a second thought to doing it again. I couldn't afford to waste another day, let alone weeks trying to get into Thailand.
Fox frowned as an airline employee directed another passenger to a temporary seat set in the aisle. I don't think I've ever seen a plane this full before.
Sucking in a quick breath, he stiffened when he heard a thud and the aircraft shudder. What was that? he wondered. His look brightened when in a few moments he heard the engines revving. I guess it was the door closing. He took a deep breath and settled deeper into his window seat. The last couple of days I know I've been running on will-power alone. Finally, I have some time to relax. He looked out the window. Well, they finally have this overloaded ark heading for a runway. After delays at every point along the way, I'm finally on my way to Hanoi.
He looked toward the front of the aircraft. Now what's taking so long? he grumped. I figured on this time to relax. Did I say relax? I'm wound-up tighter than I had the propeller band on that toy airplane my Dad gave me on my sixth birthday. He cocked his head sideways. Now what made me think of that? Well, I'm not six years old and though this is smaller than the normal commercial aircraft I usually enjoy, very often I end up waiting. There's nothing to do now, but relax. Okay, there's the take-off surge.
Holy smoke! Where did they get this thing? It sounds like it has bronchitis. His face blanched and got as white as his hands were from gripping his valise. I wonder who does Air Laos maintenance. This thing feels like it's straining. He sucked in a deep breath. Here comes the end of the runway. Oh God, I'm afraid it's losing the race!
"Whew," he said softly blowing out the breath he held. "I think we made it." Just what I need to help me relax, is to worry whether this bucket of bolts is going to fall apart before we get to Hanoi.
What's that moaning? I think it's in pain. Have we cleared the trees at the end of the field yet? Grabbing for the arm rests one elbow smashed into the wall beside him. The pain racing through his arm propelled it forward shoving at the valise enough to send it flying off his lap and onto the floor. At the same time his other elbow plowed into the ribs of the well-dressed Oriental gentleman in the next seat. His seatmate just stared at him. "Sorry," he offered meekly. He looked around. Everyone is looking this way. Now smile, and stop worrying about whether this thing is going to get you down again. Do I dare look out the window? At home, even in small planes I've never given my safety a second thought. Never again will I take our airlines for granted.
As the craft banked hard to the left, he finally gained the courage to glance out the window. We made it. We must be turning east now. I understand we have one stop to make in Laos. The schedule calls for a twenty minute layover, then on to Hanoi
The Thai Ambassador told me he had to pull strings with a number of less than desirable people before he managed to find someone willing to falsify papers for me to get into Vietnam at all. He suggested, whole heartily, that I familiarize myself with every detail of this new George Fox. He also told me the Agency said if I get caught they will deny my very existence. This makes me feel like CIA. He looked at his valise still laying on the floor. Pick it up. Reading might make this trip seem faster. With hardly any leg room between the seats, regaining possession required contortions that would have delighted a Yogi Master.
Finally successful he opened his valise and pulled out a folder. Conscious of the need to keep the papers secreted from his neighbor he propped the lid between them and silently began leafing through all the documents. Let's see. Here's my passport and updated shot record, ugh. What a pain that was. Of course with the alien remaining in the US, there was no need for me to keep up Asian travel requirements. Now my arm feels like a pincushion. I haven't had so many shots since I was a kid. Luckily I didn't react to them or to the pills they gave me.
He searched further. Okay, here's the phony Veterans Administration ID and military discharge showing me to be recently retired Colonel George Fox. The Ambassador also gave me details of someone's military service record in Vietnam so I'll have something to talk about. He also suggested saying as little as possible and to play up a deepening regret for having served in Vietnam. Here's my Vietnamese travel permit. He said I should memorize my sponsors name because it's handy to be able to do a little name dropping if things begin getting sticky. Unfolding the document, he chuckled. Even though this charade has someone acting as my assigned sponsor, can it be a coincidence they chose someone from the Ministry of Justice. The stuff one hears about life in today's Vietnam is there is little or no justice. Just the place for my alien to visit.
He told me my greatest test will be getting everything past their customs check and to know the exact amount of any cash money I'm carrying. I will agree he was wise in convincing me to leave all my government identification with him. Now all I have to do is try not to attract too much attention while I memorize all of this. His brow wrinkled. Of course, I don't have anything to worry about until this overloaded ark gets me there.
Free At Last
Wayne, Paul and Scott, free from their official overseer for the first time since their arrival and also feeling the need for some exercise, crossed the street and walked into the park. Everywhere they went it seemed their westernness and in particular traveling with a teenager attracted the people's attention.
Coming back toward the Ministry of Records after several complete loops around the park they stopped to eat. Wayne and Paul, having agreed to letting Scott practice ordering the lunch, stood to one side. After checking several vendors, Scott decided and ordered three dishes of steamed rice with different meat sauces and advised the vendor to make sure the food was cooked thoroughly. Tall lemonades rounded out the lunch.
While Scott dickered over payment Wayne struck up a conversation with a man waiting for his order. He turned to Paul. "Dr. Hien, this is my friend, Paul Forrester. Paul. Dr. Hien tells me he is a physician at the hospital across the street." He pointed toward a dark concrete building obviously suffering from an advanced case of mildew.
Wayne repeated the introduction when Scott came toward them with the food, then turning back to the doctor. He noted the doctor becoming uneasy as he watched three non-Asians leaning against a tree about twenty feet away often looking their way "I think they are Russians," the doctor whispered to Wayne. "They could very well be following you."
Paul's eyebrows rose questioningly. "Why?"
"Aren't you Americans?"
"Yes," Wayne quickly confirmed. "If you feel uncomfortable talking with us, we will move on."
"Though things are getting better, one can never be too careful," the doctor replied honestly.
"But I understood the Russians were your comrades, here assisting you in the creation of another 'workers paradise'?" Wayne added behind a facetious grin.
"You call Communism a workers' paradise?" the doctor shot back. "The truth is most Vietnamese hate the Russians. Both them and what they stand for."
This is the second time I have heard such an open dislike for this ethnic group of people and the form of government they support, Paul thought. I know Wayne was joking, but this man's response does not contain the slightest trace of jest. "Why should you hate the Russians?" he asked.
The doctor paid the vendor and took his order then gestured toward a bench further away. When seated he watched the three he suspected of being Russian, but when they remained leaning against the tree and obviously just talking among themselves, he looked back. "I guess as people they are no better or no worse than any other foreign nation occupying one's homeland, but if you wish, I will tell you some things I see wrong with the system they are trying to push on us."
"Please," Paul and Wayne replied almost simultaneously.
"My wife has a degree in engineering, but their system decrees she teach mathematics. This is not bad, but for this vital service to my country's future she earns six dollars a month." He frowned "Can you imagine having an engineering degree and getting paid six dollars a month to teach the next generation?" he said slowly and with great emphasis on each word. "An uneducated fish cannery worker can earn twenty."
"If she does not like what she is doing, why doesn't she do something else," Paul suggested.
"We are not granted the freedom of selecting a job. We must do what we are told to do for the good of the collective. As an engineer my wife knew mathematics, so a teacher she must remain. No wonder so many of Vietnam's educated have already left, or are attempting to leave the country."
"And what about you?" Paul asked. "As a physician you must earn enough for you to live well."
The doctor shook his head slowly. "I earn eight. As a doctor I must try healing the sick and injured with equipment that by most standards would be considered archaic. Yet, at our economic level, my wife and I are still considered among the fortunate in this city. We are allowed a room to ourselves, sharing only the kitchen and a single toilet with nine others in our assigned building unit. We have one child and plan no more, not because the government is pushing family planning, but because we cannot afford to give our child what she deserves ... our attention. We must both work to make ends meet.
"Several years ago the government forced us to move from Hue, our family home, to Hanoi. We have no family here to take care of our daughter and there are no social programs here for child care. For several years I had to work at night while my wife worked days. Luckily our daughter is now in school and we have some time together as a family each evening."
He motioned toward the three Russians still leaning against the tree. "What is so sad about their way, is ours was once a nation of scholars. Our children thrived in an atmosphere of learning, but fear and government repression has literally driven most of the educated out of the country. As always, to those who remain, the economic survival of the family is primary. It demands many of the children must leave school to help in whatever way they can. My wife can accept that she must teach, but she gets angry when she loses even one promising student. It makes it difficult for her to encourage her students, for an education eventually means a lower standard of living. The reality I see, is after twelve years of reunification under Communism, we remain one of the poorest countries in the entire world. Our present government is allowing us to die from the inside out."
"But why should that be?" Scott asked inquisitively before taking another bite of rice.
"Because the Communists have an economic system that couldn't continue operating a profitable lemonade stand let alone an entire country of dedicated, hard-working people." He again looked critically at the three. "Of course I cannot leave you entirely free of blame for some of our economic problems, feeling defeat has left you both vengeful and punitive. By refusing to resume diplomatic relations and strictly enforcing what you call a 'Trading with the Enemy Act' you prohibit both American firms, and those of other nations to whom you provide aid, from doing business here.
"Your economic sanctions isolate us from world trade and keep a badly managed economy on its knees. This causes a continuing hemorrhage of refugees, many of whom represent the cream of our society; the professionals, the educated and the talented. They leave because they see no future here. The Vietnamese people are not your enemy. Don't you understand that while trying economically to punish a dictatorial government, in reality you only punish the people trapped under it? Those who run this country have always managed to get what they need with no thought to what happens to the people."
"Aren't there many other Communist countries with whom you can trade?" Paul asked.
The man looked at him with a wry grimace. "Communist countries," he huffed. "Can you imagine doing business through the governments of East Germany ...or Yugoslavia?"
"It is difficult for me to comment for I am not in business and have never been in those countries," Paul offered honestly.
"If you ever get into business, don't bother. Doing business with a Communist country is a joke. Like our keepers, they have economic policies dictated by a bunch of generals, not businessmen."
"Those generals were smart enough to defeat the French," Wayne said somewhat facetiously as he finished a piece of bread. "It was also their tactics along with sheer guts that drove out the capitalistic American bullies and reunited Vietnam."
"I do not question their military prowess or their bravery, but that doesn't mean being a military tactician qualifies someone to run the economy of a country!"
"You have a point there," Wayne returned, taking another bite of his curried rice.
"When generals try to run the country like they would an army it makes the people afraid to try anything new. Fear of government reprisals is making Vietnam lose its heart and its soul. Life here is, be born, do as you're told while you work hard to survive, raise your family to serve the state, then die." The man glanced at his watch then stuck his arm out toward the three. "Here is a classic example. In my profession I must have a watch. While in most parts of the world even a peasant can afford one; this cheap, Chinese made watch cost me over a month's pay." He laughed then quickly bowed his head. "Now, though its manufacture has never benefited the Vietnamese economy, it does tell me I must return to work." He extended his hands and shaking two hands at once, finished the round with a grin. "I must say I greatly respect that each of you has taken the time to learn our language." He stuffed what remained of his almost uneaten lunch into a piece of cloth he pulled from his pocket. "It has been enjoyable talking with you, but now I will be late."
Their eyes followed sadly as he dashed off toward the hospital and artfully dodged through the midday traffic of the busy street. As he disappeared into the mildew blackened building the three finished lunch then continued back toward the Ministry of Records. Fascinated by the day to day activity in the park, Paul stopped many times for candid shots of the industrious street vendors, artists and others apparently just taking the time to be with their young children.
A few minutes before one-thirty they arrived back at the Ministry of Records. Not finding the General waiting inside, they went out again. As they looked around for him they heard, "Mr. Geffner, Mr. Forrester." Turning, they saw Mrs. Han walking toward them. "General Duc called a little while ago. He asked me to offer his apology. He regrets he must remain at his meeting. He asked that I tell you to take a cyclo directly back to the hotel. He will come as soon as he can."
Wayne bowed graciously. "Thank you, Mrs. Han." Paul and Scott likewise bowed before going outside. At the bottom of the stairway Scott yelled 'cyclo' and obviously waiting for the government office trade, several started over like stampeding horses. As was customary, the fare belonged to the most fleet of foot. The return to the hotel took them alongside another larger and more open park. "Stop," Paul said to the driver when he saw a group of seemingly happy adults. "Please tell me, what they are doing?"
"It is a kite flying contest," the driver advised.
"Kite?" Paul asked, looking questionably at Scott.
"At home it's usually kids who fly kites," Scott offered. "Let's go over. It's easier to show you than trying to explain."
"Do you wish me to wait for you?" the cyclo driver asked hopefully. Without a word, Wayne offered him a few extra coins to seal their bargain.
"I see there are still some kites on the ground you can examine," Scott offered as they walked toward the kite flyers. He watched patiently as his father studied the kites still on the ground, then began explaining what made them fly. As one suddenly launched into the air he felt a youthful excitement as he momentarily remembered a time long ago when his step-father had taught him how to fly a simple kite at a park near the flower shop. Four kites, harnessed together in tandem, lifted into the afternoon sky and were soon doing intricate acrobatic maneuvers. By then deep into his explanation Scott laughed, "I'll confess I never flew any quite so complex." Scott saw his father, seemingly oblivious to his explanation break into a broad smile as the joined kites swooped close to the ground then soared upward again to new heights. He shook his head. What am I doing, trying to explain aerodynamics to Dad?
As more colorful kites soared up to fill the open sky over the park Paul exclaimed with growing joy, "They are so gracefully beautiful! Almost like birds in the sky."
"Like Waldo and like the time you made those lights dance in the night sky," Scott offered.
Paul glanced at Scott. "And those you made in the sky of the day," he said supportively before turning back to the show. "The people doing this seem so happy, I must take some pictures." He skirted around the park until he found a vantage point where he could see both kite and driver. Finally, having enough pictures, he hung the camera back on his shoulder to watch again. Caught up in the aerial exhibition of artistry and acrobatics, as well as doing an analysis of the aerodynamics involved in the performances, time became secondary and almost an hour passed.
"Dad, we have to go," Scott said, finally urging his father back toward the street. "General Duc said to go right back to the hotel. He may be waiting for us." Paul heaved a sigh, then turned and started walking back toward the patiently waiting driver, who, though enjoying the show, remained with his cyclo. It took another half hour for them to get back to the hotel. Expecting a reprimand from the General for not coming directly back to the hotel, they breathed a sigh of relief when the young desk attendant confirmed the General had not returned. Relieved, they went up to their room to freshen-up.
The General came just after five-thirty. "Please accept my apology for leaving you alone for so long," he offered with a polite bow. "I did feel I needed to remain for the balance of the Minister's meeting." He looked at Wayne with compassion. "Mrs. Han told me you were unsuccessful in your search for information about your son, so there is really no need for us to remain in Hanoi any longer. Since the records in the South are not as organized as Mrs. Han's, I felt it best you exhaust all possibilities here first. I have now taken the liberty of making the arrangements for our flight to Ho Chi Minh City."
"Thank you General Duc," Wayne replied, beaming.
The General, deep in thought, looked from one to the other. "I think I would prefer you call me Duc."
Paul smiled. We are finally passing a hurdle toward friendship instead of sponsor and charges. "I feel sure that will give us great pleasure, Duc."
"When are we leaving?" Wayne asked anxiously.
"I tried for tomorrow, but the best I could do was the day after tomorrow. It is a very early flight so we will still have most of that day to begin examining records. For the flight we must be ready to leave the hotel by four."
"We'll be ready," Wayne quickly confirmed.
The General grinned. "For tomorrow, I thought you might enjoy a trip out into the countryside?"
"I think we would enjoy that very much," Paul offered. He noticed Duc taking a deep breath, then saw his shoulders slumping ever so slightly. Am I reading something in his body language? he thought. "Duc, is something wrong?"
Duc shook his head slowly, then sighed deeply. "It has been a very long day in the business of government. Today I urged a relaxation in our militaristic foreign policy. I went so far as to suggest it might be the cause of much of our economic instability, but as usual the military mind prevails and one gets nowhere." He took another deep breath then slowly let it out. "I must apologize. I should not ask you to carry my yoke."
Paul's eyes narrowed then opened wide, visualizing interpretations of the General's words. "Why should you wish to carry a yolk?"
Puzzled at first at Paul's expression, Wayne finally thought about the being within the man. Considering where the logic behind the question could take them he said, "Duc, Paul isn't exactly a country boy. Paul, I think Duc is referring to a 'yoke,' spelle e. When we came into the city you saw 'yokes' of oxen pulling the carts. The yoke is the shaped wooden part of the harness the animal wears over its neck that allows it to push the cart forward with its shoulders."
Paul frowned momentarily then he smiled. "Oh, now I think I understand. It is an expression meaning you do not want to burden us with your work, not the central portion of an egg." I see a smile spreading across Duc's face. A deep contemplative frown appeared again on Paul's face and head cocked slightly. Duc's words about accomplishment bring something else to mind. Since he has expressed a desire for informality, I believe he might be the person to answer my question. "Duc, you are a general. What do you think of someone saying a general is not competent to run a country?"
The General's back stiffened and his eyes opened wide. Why should he choose this moment to ask me such a question? I believe there is much to consider before answering. I really know little about these Americans, but have just told them openly that not only do I disagree with our foreign policy, but have insinuated I believe the present leadership incompetent. I thought it strange an American would take the time to learn Vietnamese, let alone a teenager. Now things are beginning to make sense. They are informants sent by the present regime to test my loyalty. Was his question intended to take me by surprise? Any hesitation in responding may mean failing a first test. If you are an informant, he thought, looking Paul directly in the eye, you are very clever indeed for I cannot detect a trace of triumph reflected in your face. I see only a look of sincerity while you allow me to incriminate myself.
Why is Duc looking at me so strangely? Paul thought. Glancing at Wayne he saw Wayne's face had paled. I must have said something wrong.
After exchanging a long moment of analytic silence, Duc turned and looked at Scott who was more than anxious to get on toward his next meal than listen to a dissertation on government. Yes, traveling with a boy softens the victim, then at the slightest breach of loyalty he hits me with the question. He looked uneasily at Wayne. Yet this one who they told me is familiar with Vietnam, seems uneasy. Does he feel his comrade has spoken too soon or is his look of concern part of a combined effort to further entrap me? I think they are a good team. Having gotten to my present position within the party, I am not a fool. Still I must not take any chances. I could just recite party lines, but I think it better to just walk away and in that way let them know I am on to them. "It is apparent to me you are not as you appear," he said with conviction. "I think you are sufficiently versed in Vietnamese cuisine to order your own meal tonight." He took a piece of paper out of his pocket. Scribbling Vietnamese characters on it, he handed it to Wayne. "I thought a visit to a fine restaurant in order. I earlier arranged for a table at seven. Here is the address. Please excuse me, but I do not believe I can join you."
"Didn't you say you are supposed to stay with us?" Paul asked.
"Not every moment. I will check back in two hours to make sure you have returned to the hotel. I also believe it expedient that tomorrow I continue with business at the Ministry. Mr. Lu will come to take you to the country." He clicked his heels together, turned, and without a backward glance walked toward the door.
Puzzling over the rapid change in the General's attitude and obvious flight, Paul looked at Wayne. "Did I say something wrong? One moment he tells us he is going with us, the next he is leaving?"
"From his manner, he might be angry, or afraid."
Paul frowned deeply. "Why should he be either?"
"Maybe he thought you were implying he's a part of what is wrong with his country."
"I didn't mean to imply anything. I thought he might have some insight into what Doctor Hien told us this afternoon."
"I know that ... but he didn't." Wayne took a deep breath, "Whatever his problem, and I'm only guessing, from the way he looked at me I believe he's afraid of us."
At Wayne's statement Paul's eyebrows shot upward and he looked curiously at Wayne. "We are in his country, why should he be afraid of us?"
"You asked if generals could operate a country. To understand, you need to understand various other forms of government a little better. The American government is probably the most open in the world. Our leaders must accept criticism and listen to public dissent. Communism, the one operating here in Vietnam, in contrast, is probably one of the more restrictive. I think your question might have made him a little uneasy."
"Perhaps he thought you were trying to catch him in a response that might convince other officials that he is not trustworthy to be part of the ruling order."
"I still don't understand."
"When he looked at me, I think he was trying to decide whether we might be spying on him."
Spying, Paul thought. Where have I encountered the term before? Yes, I believe Dale Taylor used the term when he accused me of being a spy. "Oh," Paul returned. "Isn't spying defined as 'working in secret for some other government, against ours'?"
Wayne had to analyze the answer for a long moment before responding. "Close, but I think in General Duc's case, he might believe someone in his government is working against him."
"Dad, what are you going to do?" Scott asked.
"What can I do?" Paul returned with resignation. "He is certainly gone by now. When he asked us to use 'Duc,' I felt he had finally learned he could relax with us. This is distressing."
"Well, that's no reason not to have dinner," Scott urged. "He has been pretty consistent in picking good places to eat."
"You're always thinking about your stomach."
"It's a vitally important exercise."
"It seems I have made another mistake I don't know how to fix."
"I'm afraid your dad is right," Wayne offered. "What is done, is done." Then he laughed. "Still, you can't argue with Scott's pure logic either. We still have to eat. Perhaps with the General not around tomorrow, Mr. Lu might be more helpful in giving information."
Paul heaved a heavy conceding sigh. I do not think I will ever understand the logic hidden behind the faces of the inhabitants of this planet. I am even beginning to wonder if we will approach here before my son's children are old.
The meal was good, Paul thought as they walked back to the hotel, but I do regret the absence of one I looked forward to calling friend. Though unseen, General Duc his thoughts churning, watched and wondered how he could work through this new and threatening situation.
It was a relief when this aircraft ceased its strange aberrations as soon as we reached cruising altitude, Fox thought as the Air Laos flight approached the Laosian runway. He looked out the window with an air of confidence. Okay, there's the bump; the wheels are down and we're rolling. The pilot did it. I feel fortunate that during the flight I had to work on creating a story of my life in the military.
It didn't take him a second thought to join the exodus of passengers when he heard the announcement that everyone leaving the plane there was to report to the baggage claim area.
In far less than two hours the plane was on its way toward Hanoi. In an effort to stem the onset of another attack of flight nerves, Fox thought, okay, I have the information they gave me about getting past customs down pat. I also understand it is customary for the sponsoring Ministry to send a representative to pick up visitors for a standard indoctrination. I wonder if this person they arranged to impersonate a Vietnamese general, is going to be waiting for me at the airport. If he isn't, getting into the city on my own might present a problem. I understand it's quite a way from the airport. I'm normally resourceful, but over here among the general population traveling alone I'd really stick out like a sore thumb. Again, I don't have to cross that bridge until this machine gets me there. Right now, I think I'll test myself by going through everything again. Shortly, satisfied he could recite enough life experiences of Colonel George Fox to get by, he placed everything back into his valise and laid it on the floor between his feet.
I can feel my body is tense again. If I don't relax I am sure to attract attention at customs. Right now a diversion might help. Maybe there's something to read. He searched the contents of the small pocket behind the seat ahead of him. Soon he heaved a heavy sigh. Why did I assume printed material would be in English. There isn't even a magazine with some pictures to look at...
Ha Dinh Duc
I'm early General Duc thought as he climbed the stairs to the third floor of the hotel. Reaching room 306, he raised his hand to knock, hesitated, then having second thoughts, stepped back. I should have called Mr. Lu last night and told him to take them to the country. Better yet I should leave here now and call my superior and ask him to have someone else complete this glorified escort service. Why did I ever suggest the Ministry get involved? I guess because it intrigued me when I heard the great Paul Forrester wanted to return to Vietnam. With no one available for months, it was I who suggested the Ministry might gain some stature by offering sponsorship. My suggestion must have raised enough eyebrows among the devout party members to start an investigation into my loyalty.
He raised his hand again to knock. Though the man introduced to me as Paul Forrester does take enough pictures to be a photographer, now I suspect him to be a Russian investigator. Hesitating again, he pulled his hand back across his chest. But why would he pretend not to recognize the Hilton … and why the boy? Of course that could be just a clever disguise. He glanced back toward the stairway. Though an awareness that someone may be investigating my activities places me in a better position to respond accordingly, I think I am taking an unnecessary risk coming here. He looked back at the door. Yet, by playing my part out to the end, at least I'll know for sure. I am fearful, but I must follow through. Stepping forward his hand shot out with determination he rapped on the door.
Scott looked toward the door. "It can't be eight already," he mumbled. He glanced at his watch. "I wonder why Mr. Lu is so early." He sprung from where he sat on the edge of the bed, announcing, "I'll get it," and walked the few feet to the door.
"Scott, have Mr. Lu come in," Wayne called from the bathroom. "Tell him we'll be ready in a few minutes."
Scott opened the door. "General Duc?" he said with due surprise. Regaining his perspective, he motioned for him to come in.
Hearing the General's name, Paul came to the door. Smiling, he bowed politely then motioned him toward a chair. "I thought you said you had other business to attend to today?" He offered his hand, but when none returned, studied the expression on the General's face. Wayne may be right. He does appear tense. Like Kathryn Bradford, have I given him reason to believe I might be spying on him?
He is challenging me the General thought. I must look him squarely in the eye. Their eyes locked into almost a stare-down. "Yes, but circumstances have changed."
I wish he had offered to shake my hand, Paul thought. Perhaps I might have gotten some idea of what he is thinking. I think this intense eye contact can only make things worse so it is up to me to look away. From the look in his eyes I believe it best to address him as General again. Looking away Paul watched Wayne putting on his walking shoes. Still I do not want him to feel I am avoiding him either. Looking back, he smiled. "Though I did not expect to see you this morning, I'm glad you came."
I must keep looking at him for to avoid doing so he might construe as having something to hide, the General thought. He smiled guardedly. "I am happy to be here." Though I need to look at him, I don't need to keep looking him in the eye. I just don't seem able to stop. There is something about him ... something different, something unassuming. Shaken back to the reality of his suspicions, he thought, This is ridiculous. He broke away again, offering tartly, "I managed to change my schedule so I could accompany you today."
Paul smiled warmly. "I so glad you did. There are so many things I wanted to ask you."
"Feel free to ask any questions you wish," the General said, acting bravely to cover his uneasiness.
"I was hoping you would say that. Yesterday, while you were at your meeting, we discussed with another the pros and con's of your form of government and..."
If he is a member of the inner intelligence, I know he will expect me to question such a statement. "You discussed our government with whom?" he demanded.
"Whom is unimportant," Paul returned honestly.
"Whom is important," the General shot back. "I am a government official. It is important you tell me so we may respond to any potential subversion."
"I cannot tell you other than it was a man we met in a park. I did not ask his name, but if I knew it, with what you have just said it would be inappropriate for me to tell you. What he said was merely an honest criticism of the current government. What I would like to ask is if you would tell me more about how your government works?"
The General looked Paul directly in the eye. The man is direct, he thought. Even though I know he's baiting me, how can I refuse to answer such a question. Being a government employee makes it my responsibility to support the cause. Now I really wish I hadn't come. If I had sent Mr. Lu at least I would have had today to think of how best to handle this investigation. To avoid becoming entrapped between reality and what I wish, I must be very careful in dealing with them today. "Maybe later."
Wayne could see the General's tension. I wonder what he would say if he knew to whom he was really talking, Wayne thought. I think Paul needs more time. "I think we're ready to go," he announced.
The General quickly grabbed at the opportunity to move on. "Yes, we should go." He quickly turned on his heel toward the door. With tension thick enough to cut with a knife, a fourth day in Hanoi began.
Everyone has tried to engage the General in discussion by asking questions about the passing city, Paul thought. Though he answers, his responses are obviously not to freely inform, but more like fulfilling a formality. Other than briefing us on our new destination, it is obvious he does not desire communication. He said we are to visit a woman named Lo Dac Nha who lives in a small village near the airport. Hers is an unusual name. Lo means anxious; Dac, angle; and Na can mean house, chew, spit or modest. He shrugged his shoulders subtly. How could a parent see all these traits within an infant needing a name?
He turned around to look out the back window as they crossed a bridge over the river. Yes, I recognize this bridge. We are again on the road that brought us into the city the day of our arrival. Twenty minutes passed to observations. The lack of chatter does one thing. It allows one to contemplate on observations. I noticed that first day that Mr. Lu used the horn unnecessarily. I have now determined General Duc to be no different. It seems to be something everyone driving a motor vehicle does. He grinned. Each person just honks to a syncopation of their own choosing.
There is a plane in the distance. It looks like it is landing so we must be almost there. Yes, Duc is slowing. I see some of those huts they call houses in Vietnam in the distance. That must be where we are to visit.
Soon walking a rough dirt road, Paul returned his attention to his surroundings. In America most would call this a wide path. It reminds me of the road where Ellen Taylor picked us up, except its surface obviously provides passage for many large hoofed animals instead of vehicles. In the distance I see the dividing line between rice fields and jungle.
He looked up again. Now that we are closer to the village I see many small children playing. Seeing us, those between the two large thatch huts to the left have stopped their game to stare. Paul grinned then pulled out his camera. Unlike the majority of American children, when I smile at these children they lower their eyes and look away.
Whoops, General Duc seems in a hurry and now I have fallen behind. I must catch up with my leader. Before picking up full stride, he glanced back over his shoulder. The children are following, he thought. He stopped. When I stop they have again lowered their eyes. Smiling at them, he waved before resuming his pace. I hope they continue to follow, he thought.
It seems Duc is taking us to that small wood frame house that looks much better than the rest. When Duc knocked on the door, the Starman continued his game of 'cat and mouse' with the children. Recognizing the stranger was playing a game they began to giggle. I have not been around many of Earth's very young yet. As I make faces they are mimicking. I think they are shy about strangers but will warm quickly.
What's wrong? All of a sudden they seem afraid. I will ask Duc. Turning he saw a woman standing in the doorway.
"Go away," she yelled at the children. "This is no time for your silly games." The children quickly scurried in all directions.
As the woman slipped back inside, Duc took Wayne's arm and urged him to follow. Inside, the General handed her a package and following his lead they all bowed politely. "Mrs. Nha, I bring you a gift from your government to your home."
It is easy to see Mrs. Nha is still a proud, stubborn woman, Paul thought. I also believe she has experienced much in her lifetime. Duc is introducing me. His introduction and response complete, Paul glanced around the small room. There is little furniture and the walls are bare except for five wall hangings. The frames contain some kind of certificates. The writing is Vietnamese and artistically done, but I am too far away to make out the words. They remind me of something Katherine Bradford showed us commemorating her work on the Odyssey Project. Duc is motioning for us to sit at her table. He looked back at the woman. She looks from one to the other, almost like she can see right though us. I believe I see tears in her eyes. Why should she be crying?
The woman's lower lip pushed out and her toothless mouth trembled in an effort to maintain control of her voice. Finally she spoke forcefully. "I had five sons." She gestured toward the five frames on the wall. "All are dead. My government offers me these papers," she gestured toward the frames, "this house, and gifts in exchange for those I raised for our revolution. In reality each of you is responsible for my misery."
Now I understand, those papers represent children she lost in the war, Paul acknowledged. I see Wayne shrinking away from her attack. He seems unable to respond. He placed a comforting hand on Wayne's shoulder and continued to listen to the tirade of anger and hatred of war and soldiers flowing from her lips.
Indeed she has suffered greatly, but I note she does not say the American soldiers have done this. Just like Rod Allen, she blames every American, equally, even my son who was just a child and has suffered much misery himself. After so long does she still blame everyone because she cannot say good-bye to those lost long ago to the misfortunes of living in this obviously strife ravaged land?
When we came, she chased the children away. I could see fear on their faces. As I look out the window I see they have returned, but remain far from the house. Does living in the past make her unable to enjoy the life that abounds around her? How different she is than Luong who by forgiving allows the joys of the future rather than the pain of the past to rule her world. Still, Mrs. Nha has lost much and is worthy of compassion. "I am sorry you lost your children," he said, gesturing toward the certificates.
Surprised at the American visitor seeking conversation after seeing and hearing of her pain when all before had rightfully accepted their guilt by shrinking away, she added succinctly, "I also lost my husband in Kampuchea."
Paul shook his head sadly. "Then you lost all your children?"
"We had six girls."
"I still have six girls, but they are not so important as sons, except to take care of grandchildren."
Paul's eyes lit up. "You also have grandchildren?"
"No girls?" he asked curiously.
"Twenty, but I say again, they are not important." Seeing the children outside, she gestured toward them. "They will only keep making more mouths for this village to feed. Five grandchildren have already produced twelve boys and eight more girls..."
Paul's eyes grew large and pushed his eyebrows upward into two graceful arcs as he did some calculating. I compute her present family at sixty-three. I wonder what the Fosters would think of that.
"... Children too noisy," she continued.
"Isn't that part of being a child?" Paul asked. "Are not the future of their children the reason your sons lost their lives? A nation consists of both men and women, for without mothers there are no children and without children, what is the purpose of a homeland? That is what life on this world is all about."
Momentarily she seemed confused by his response. Regaining her train of thought she pointed her finger at Paul. "I want all foreigners like you to stay out of our land."
"We have never met so why are you so angry with me?"
Surprised that someone would confront her, she turned to General Duc. "My sons are all gone and I do not want you or your government to come here again."
"In time of war it is the duty of all Vietnamese to defend and liberate the homeland," Duc offered openly. "Your government, in an effort to try to give solace to its victims, built you this house."
"Can a house replace her children?" Paul asked.
"Of course not, but that is the price of revolution."
"I do not believe she is grateful for what the revolution has cost her," Paul offered.
Duc looked at her sternly. "Mrs. Nha, you are not the only one who lost family. I lost two sons and four brothers in the military. I also lost a daughter, my mother and a sister to the war."
"Duc, war fulfills no dreams for the future," Paul offered. "My job only took me away from my son, but I still feel the loss of those fourteen years. Though I found him, I can never regain those years. No one can change what has passed." He looked back at the sad faced woman. "I know I do not fully understand what it is to lose a loved one, let alone many, but I do know it takes the efforts of all to build toward a better tomorrow."
Duc looked pensively out the window at the children who had gathered. Though I understand the order issued out of the top part of government, I cannot understand why Mrs. Nha must be a part of almost all foreign indoctrination tours. In Vietnam, where we normally hold family above all else, this woman is an anomaly. During the sponsorship instruction, I met a man who said his family came from this village. He said when the soldiers raided the village for Army recruits to stop Kampuchea's aggression against Vietnam, they did conscript her only remaining sons. She never hesitated to step in and help the mothers of their children. He said after she received word of their loss she seemed to lose the ability to care for anyone. The truth still remains. Yes, she had sons and lost them, but so did many others.
When the government built her this house, Duc thought, it offered her security not given to many for the family that remained. She chose to withdraw within its walls and began worshipping the dead and ignoring the needs of the living. Subsequently she grew to openly express hatred for all men who wear the uniform of the state. Why would she choose to remain apart from all the life going on in this village? This is not a wholesome place and not very representative of my country. He got up and motioned toward the door. "I think we should leave."
"Yes," she ordered, almost jumping from her chair to see them out.
Wayne and Scott felt the bright sunshine a far superior place than the condemnation received from the old woman and wasted little time following Duc's urging to leave. A Starman, rather than beating a hasty withdrawal from her anger, turned back to face her. His head cocked to one side as he studied the pain in her face. Reaching down he took her hand in his. When she tried pulling it away, he held it gently yet firmly. He looked from her toward the five certificates on her wall and back while projecting to her a sense of peace and compassion. "Mrs. Nha, I sense you are physically well and can have a wonderful life. Do not spend it living in misery within the fantasy you have built around your sons." He motioned through the doorway toward the children playing outside. "Life and joy abound all around you, but you choose not to take part. These children fear the anger you hold inside. That is not right. Everyone should make the most of their time of existence. To do so you need to spend more time out there in the sunshine with them."
As Starman released her hand, she stood for a long moment staring at him. Soon tears began to flow. "I gave all my love to my sons and they are lost," she sobbed. "I cannot do it again."
"You can, and you must. Remember you are a mother of daughters as well as sons. They are part of your family. Recognize them as equally important for they have given you the gift of continuing life. Remember, what and who you are will be measured by what you have given to others. The joy of what life can still offer exists within you. To find it all you must do is lower the wall you have built around yourself and allow your family back into your heart." Starman allowed her hand to slip from his then turned to leave.
Duc's eyes followed him until Paul walked through the door. He looked back at Mrs. Nha. Those experienced in sponsoring swore she could coerce any foreign visitor into believing themselves the sole cause of all our problems. Instead of bowing to the attack, this one countered with basic logic. She is a bitter, unhappy old woman and I can only wonder if this lecture about family will have any effect.
Duc walked from the sad modern house that was no home. Glancing back, he stopped. She has actually stepped outside. Maybe she only wanted to make sure we were leaving. He shook his head slowly. Whoever this Paul Forrester really is, the longer I am around him the more I find myself developing a growing admiration for the man. Still, I cannot afford to lower my defenses to the potential threat to my political safety. If only I wasn't so afraid of who he could be, I think I would like to get to know him ... all of them better. He turned to follow.
As Duc walked back toward the path to the road he glanced back again. Turning he again stopped. Not only is Mrs. Nha outside, but she is walking out into the village. I hear her calling to one of her granddaughters to bring two of her great grandchildren to her. Mr. Forrester seems to have convinced her she must not live in the past. This Paul Forrester is a strange man. While offering compassion, he pointed out in the simplest terms that though all of her family are not with her, those remaining, not those gone, are important now. He has accomplished what her own children could not. Could he be who he says he is? Does losing memory of the past, allow him to cast off the guilt and distrust that naturally follow open conflict? Does it leave him able to see things more clearly? I believe I have watched the government lose this part of their indoctrination tour.
Noting the General had stopped, Paul walked back. "General Duc, is something wrong?"
He looked pensively at Paul. Yes, Mr. Forrester you are a very unique human being. He shook his head slowly. "No, nothing is wrong."
"Are you coming?"
"Yes, I'm coming." Wearing a faint smile for the first time all day, the General joined him. Walking together they pushed on after Scott and Wayne.
Duc drove further out into the countryside, but deep into his own thoughts left him in a vacuum for any meaningful conversation. About a half hour later he pulled off the traveled road at a wide spot and stopped. He took them down a narrow pathway dividing jungle from rice paddy. "You asked to get out of the city," he offered brusquely. "I give you the real Vietnam. Please walk at whatever pace you desire. If you have any questions feel free to ask." He gestured and they move ahead for he felt following would allow him time to think, watch and listen without having to contribute.
A few minutes passed before Scott pointed to a flooded rice paddy in the distance where they saw a young boy sitting astride a huge gray water buffalo. The boy was expertly guiding the huge beast to walk in slow circles in the muddy water. "I've never seen one this close except in a zoo," he offered. "Let's get closer." Paul stopped, took out his camera and almost automatically began maneuvering himself into the best position relative to the sun for picture taking.
Seeing Paul had stopped, everyone did. Wayne watched Paul for a moment then his attention focused on the boy and the animal. Though for years he had become expert in the light of day at quashing what his conscious mind did not want to remember, this was the scene that always set his dreams into motion. Now, the reality of returning to Vietnam made it impossible to suppress it in the light of day. He was on another dirt path between jungle and rice paddy. Suddenly the pastoral scene so common in Southeast Asia began unraveling for him into a day of terror. "Stay back," he shouted to someone not there.
"Uncle Wayne, are you all right?" Scott asked, shaking his arm gently.
"What?" Wayne asked, suddenly drawn back to reality. "... Oh ... Yes," he said between quick stressful breaths. "It was nothing." Seeing Scott's returning look of concern, he replied, "Really, it was nothing."
Paul cocked his head. I can see Wayne is having a problem yet he refuses to share it. He placed a consoling hand on Wayne's shoulder. "Are you sure it was nothing?" he asked compassionately. "You're trembling and all the color has left your face."
Momentarily, Wayne regained his composure. "I was just remembering something that happened in a place very much like this," he confessed.
"You mean with Kim?" Scott asked. "Ever since you first told us about Jimmy, I've often wondered if he had something to do with the things you were mumbling at the lean-to. I remember you shouting 'stay back,' then too."
"It's not something I like to talk about, but it's okay. I'll handle it," Wayne replied.
It isn't hard to see this isn't the same confidence Wayne showed under stress when he helped us escape from Peagrum, Paul thought. "If this memory hurts you so much it makes you tremble and cry out, perhaps it is something you shouldn't handle by yourself any longer. Isn't healing old scars a part of why you came back to Vietnam? Maybe talking would help you overcome what you try to hold inside. We're good listeners, aren't we Scott?" Scott nodded sympathetically.
Pausing for a long moment, Wayne looked thoughtfully from Paul to Scott. Will I ever find anyone or anyplace better? "No one can know how much it hurt. I think you know I love Phyllis very much, but there is always something special about your first love. My first love was Kim." The story he had held inside for so long began slowly, and then rushed forth as would a flash flood in New Mexico. "Shortly into my first tour in Vietnam I met a woman, one who held me here half way around the world, it gave me a reason for not getting home for my mother's funeral; and she gave me a son."
"Jimmy?" Scott questioned.
"Yes, Nam was a nightmare for a city boy from northeastern Nebraska. After almost a month of jungle fighting northwest of Hue my unit finally returned to Saigon for a much needed rest. Most of the guys usually planned to hit the bars and adult entertainment the city offered, but the city lights held no interest for me anymore. After I met Kim the guys always had to kid me about running home to my North Saigon Madame Butterfly. As the war escalated, Kim and Jimmy were my joy and laughter in what was fast becoming a sorry state of international affairs. They were the reason I volunteered to stay in Nam.
"As had become our custom, whenever Kim and I were together we would take an afternoon walk. We had gone a particularly long way that day and a tired Jimmy was complaining. This wasn't anything new. Rotating between carrying and letting him walk I had found with occasional stops we could easily get at least three miles out of him. We were on a road like this, just an ordinary part of the vast network of dikes dividing rice paddies from each other and farmed land from jungle.
"Many of our neighbors farmed and often we would see them in the fields. It gave us a chance to let Jimmy rest while we talked. This day we met Nhi, our neighbor to the east on his way out to the rice field. I heard Jimmy giggling and noticed he had spotted Vinh, the eldest son, who at the age of seven was working the family's water buffalo to get the muddy field ready to plant. The last time we had come this way Vinh had taken Jimmy for a ride. All we heard for a next week was Jimmy's ceaseless four year old Vietnamese chatter, asking, 'Can we go to see Vinh? I want to ride again.' I laughed then tousling his hair, asked, 'Do you think it's right to bother Vinh when he's working'?"
"Vinh does have a lot to do before supper," Nhi added as support.
"He wouldn't have to stop working. I don't need a long ride."
"He shouldn't have to stop at all," I told him.
"But Daddy..." he protested.
"No, but Daddy," I said. "Maybe he will have time to give you a ride some day when he has Baldy at home."
"Though Jimmy didn't argue further, as we started for home he held back as we started passed the field. Kim looked up at me and smiled when she saw me pulling him along. I smiled back, then grabbing her with my other arm I pulled her to me and gave her a kiss. 'I love you,' I whispered in her ear. Then I kneeled down and gave Jimmy a kiss. Feeling all warm inside after receiving one of Kim's smiles, we continued on toward home.
"We hadn't gotten more than two hundred feet further when I heard gunfire. In Nam, guerrilla terrorists after Americans were getting so common that orders from Command directed a soldier never be out and about without a weapon. I drew my sidearm and ran up the road then scrambled down the dike after them. As is so often the case with hit and run terrorists, Charlie had already vanished into the jungle.
"I heard more gunfire. This time behind me. I remember thinking, They can move fast through the jungle, but not that fast. Could the ones I had chased be a diversion? I turned to see a Marine patrol from the nearby base exchanging fire with an invisible enemy. I saw a boy, about sixteen, step out of the jungle not twenty feet from me. Dressed in regular field worker tunic and slacks I thought he must be one of the buffalo boys from the field over the dike returning from a trip into the jungle. Not until I saw him pull something out from under his tunic did I recognized he was one of the raiders. I fired a warning shot, but not before he heaved something toward the Marines, who upon hearing me shoot, were coming my way. I was scrambling diagonally up the dike toward the road as the Marines charged down.
"I knew there was going to be more shooting and even though I felt sure Kim must have taken a dive for either the jungle or the rice paddy, almost instinctively I kept yelling at her to stay back.
"That was when a joyous walk with my family turned into a nightmare. I turned back long enough to see the boy take a bullet, then I saw the grenade. Two more frantic leaps and I topped the dike to see Kim still out in the middle of the road engaged in a tug of war with Jimmy. Tired after the long walk and unhappy at not getting a ride he had decided on that moment to rebel.
"As though in slow motion I could see the grenade's trajectory reach its high point then begin its descent. Severely wounded, the boy's throw had not gone toward his target. Instead it hit the ground, bounced and rolled toward Kim. I knew the pin was out long before the boy threw it. Obviously, Kim also knew, for I watched her do the only thing she could. Not seconds before the explosion she threw herself over Jimmy. I started toward them..." Wayne's words trailed off. "Damn, after years in Nam I had seen enough grenades go off that close to somebody to know...". He began sniffling as tears began to flow. "The only thing I know for sure is she didn't suffer.
"Sick to my stomach, I had to turn away. That is when my eyes picked up on Vinh and his buffalo. He had grown up knowing nothing but war. Even the sounds of gunfire didn't stop him. In shock all I could do was wonder why he kept going. Was it just because he knew he still had work to do or was he resigned to the fact there was nothing he could do about it if one happened to come his way? Maybe he felt he couldn't abandon the animal that was his friend and his family's livelihood just to run for cover. Unfettered, the animal doggedly plodded on, seemingly oblivious to men and boys, who, in an effort to exterminate each other had just killed a beautiful and innocent woman, my wife." Tears continued to flow freely down Wayne's Geffner's face. "Little did I know that the kiss I gave Kim moments earlier would be our last."
Scott frowned in confusion. "What happened to Jimmy?"
Wayne gathered his composure. "Emerged in my own misery I was looking down at Kim when, perhaps from the weight of his mother pressing down on him, I heard a whimper. To me the sound was like a miracle." Again, overcome with the grief of memories Wayne struggled for words. "By the time I had my beautiful, lovely, wonderful Kim rolled off our son he was crying. Not even noticing he was covered with blood I gathered him in my arms and held him tight. I felt I..." The words ran out again and for a long moment his eyes remained closed. "War is hell."
Paul looked helplessly at his friend. He has done so much for Scott and for me, but there seems little I can do for him, he thought. Though what happened is long past, coming here has stirred the memories. There is nothing that can change the pain he is feeling right now, but there is something I can do. Not entirely surprised to see Scott also moving closer, they pulled Wayne close and held him.
General Duc stood about ten feet away. He had watched and listened to the American's story. Though my knowledge of the English language is not complete, this is genuine grief not an attempt to entrap me. Paul Forrester and his son are trying to comfort a friend through the memory of his loss. Mr. Geffner is different than most of the Americans who came to Vietnam for he took on the responsibility of a family then lost them. He understands, all too well, the costs of war. Not to disturb a conversation Duc waited until his charges began to walk again, then moving close he placed his hand comfortingly on Wayne's shoulder. "Mr. Geffner, I am sorry for your loss."
Now I think it is time to confront an earlier suspicion Paul thought. "General Duc, since you with your expertise did not seem to want to join us, it seemed easier to discontinue the use of Vietnamese," Paul offered in English. "How is it that you have just used the English language?"
Taken aback, the General silently regained his composure. "I do know some English," he offered, slipping easily back into his native tongue.
"Perhaps, but can you explain how you knew what we were taking about?" When the General said nothing, Paul continued with English. "I suspected it earlier, but now I believe you know more than just a few English words for your offer of condolences was a well constructed sentence. When I began learning a language it took a knowledge of the meaning of many words before I could properly express my thoughts."
Frozen momentarily upon realizing in a moment of compassion he had let slip a long kept secret, General Duc spoke slowly and in more than passable English. "Then I was right. You're not really the Paul Forrester who took pictures here."
"I am Paul Forrester, but I have changed from the Paul Forrester I was before," Starman said truthfully."
"Well, whoever you are now, I must confess you are a good actor."
"Though I would like to be myself, I find that at one time or another almost everyone must play a role."
"Well, I fear you have caught me."
"At knowing English."
"Why should that be a problem? I only wish to be your friend."
"If you were my friend, I'd have to ask if you believe a knowledge of English sufficient to ruin my career? Before you turn me over to the authorities Comrade, I would like to know what I have done to cause a government investigation?"
"Then that is the reason you left so suddenly last night. You think we are working for your government?"
"Yes," the General replied hesitantly. "After what you asked me last night, I didn't know what else to think."
I see the fear of being discovered in his eyes, Paul thought. I must address it quickly. He smiled. "I think you should have stayed last night for now you have spent almost a whole day worrying that we could have better spent exchanging ideas. I can tell you neither Mr. Geffner, nor I are from any government. Wayne came here seeking his son. I, and my son, came with him as visitors wishing to learn more about your world."
"May I ask when you first suspected I knew your language?"
"At the market. Without translation it seemed you knew Luong had invited us to her home."
"I never noticed," Scott offered.
"Neither did I," Wayne added.
"At the airport I also knew Mr. Lu did not accurately translate what he said about your government. Is that why he didn't come again?"
"No, he had plenty of work to do at the Ministry. I figured I could handle the language problem adequately with Mr. Geffner's help."
"Perhaps you would tell us how you learned American, and why you decided to hide it?"
He is moving just a little too fast for me, Duc considered. Before the inquisition I thought of them as genuinely interested in wanting to learn about us as I was in learning more about them. Now, though I hope I have misjudged these men and that they are who they say they are, I must remain cautious. I have been studying this one for the slightest look that might lead me to believe differently. I see none. Could his questions be legitimate? I want to believe they are, but in Vietnam trust only goes so far. I must confess, but in a way that does not incriminate me. "You are the only ones, other than she who became my wife, who has ever discovered my secret."
He searched their faces for any reaction. "I learned the language long before the war. My parents worked on a rubber plantation owned by an English family. They insisted English would become an important language in Vietnam's future and insisted all who worked for them learn. They had an English tutor for their children so she also gave lessons to the workers and their families. To a certain extent, they were right for later that knowledge allowed me to serve my country as an infiltrator."
Paul cocked his head curiously. "A what?"
His look says he truly does not understand, but I know looks can be deceiving. No matter, now I have something else to explain. "I worked behind your lines, mostly in the rest and recreation areas."
Paul's eyes lit up as he recognized an acronym for these related words. "I read in a book that R and R means rest and recreation and refers to areas frequented by off-duty soldiers. Am I correct?"
"Yes, that is what you called them."
"What exactly did you do there?"
"We knew there was much unrest about the war in the United States. Mixing with your forces I spread stories and asked questions designed to undermine moral and destroy confidence in your nation's leadership. Needless to say, anyone doing the job had to have a command of your language."
"Yes, a knowledge of the language would be a necessity for such work," Paul returned.
"Well, toward the end of the war one of your bombing raids destroyed many of our Army's records. The roster of infiltrators was among those lost."
"The war was over many years ago," Paul interjected. "What purpose is there to continue your deception?"
"There are many, but to understand you must know more about what happened following the war."
"I would like to understand," Paul replied.
A General's Confession
General Duc collected his thoughts as best he could. "As is almost inevitable with any radical change in government, tension and general distrust between those in power, follows. Anyone who had mingled openly with the occupation forces could expect accusations of collaborating with the enemy. After you left, just a knowledge of English they considered suspicious enough to send the person to a re-education facility. There he could expect extensive interrogation and harassment meant to break down any political resistance. I know many who spent years in the camps. Even though I heard all they demanded was a confession of wrongdoing, I had nothing to confess. Yet, without official records of my service to the cause I could not substantiate my patriotism. I did not want to spend years in prison, so like many others I decided to hide it. Unlike many others who broke in the camps, I have succeeded until now. Probably because I have not been in a position to listen to English very often. Listening to you, I have made a simple error. I suppose you have to report it?"
"Is it something we should report?"
"It's your choice."
Paul's frown deepened at the worried look on the General's face. "I don't understand why you should think we wish to cause you grief. What I would like is for you to continue telling about yourself and how you became a Vice-Minister."
"The Communists were looking for people to fill positions in their new puppet government. Having no high rank in the North Vietnamese Army, they offered me a minor one. Getting the government position also provided a further reason for remaining silent. I never liked working as an infiltrator and did not wish an assignment to the propaganda division. Once in, one can never rise beyond it."
The General gave a quiet breath of relief. "Then I think my silence has served yet another purpose. You being unaware of my knowledge of your language has freely allowed me to listen to your casual conversations."
Paul's head cocked to one side. "Have you eavesdropped on us to benefit your government?" Paul asked.
"No, Mr. Forrester, I believed my silence could only increase my knowledge of you. Your work during the war is well thought of throughout my country, yet afterward your personal arrogance detracted from your reputation. Now you have not mentioned your war photographs at all. I found this humility very refreshing."
With my limited knowledge of all Paul Forrester did in Vietnam, there is always danger of being questioned about it, the Starman thought. I shall try to put it to rest quickly. "An aircraft accident caused me a loss of memories, including those of the war," he offered truthfully. "While I came here to help my friend find his son, I also wished to learn anew about Vietnam."
"I never heard about any accident," the General returned. "I am sorry. I guess word of it was never covered enough by your media to get to Vietnam. I would be more than happy to help you with whatever I can."
"Duc," Paul offered, purposely using only the General's given name, "I would appreciate your help. Is it possible to return to as we were before our misunderstanding?"
The General cocked his head curiously. He tries to re-establish the confidence I was beginning to feel before. I am not sure I am yet ready. Perhaps there are other matters needing clarification first. "Mr. Forrester, I respect anyone who makes an effort to learn the language of a country he is planning to visit, but you said you had no memory of your prior visit to Vietnam. Other than noting a deficiency in our northern dialect, you all speak the language very well."
"As you know, Wayne was in Vietnam for several years," Paul replied quickly. "He taught us the basics."
"I must commend him on his ability, but I also know you and your son's names were only added to his party a few weeks ago. I know our language is difficult for foreigners and can only wonder how you have learned so much in such a short time."
"You are very observant and your question is valid. All I can say is we assimilate language quickly." Paul recalled his first rote assimilation of many Earth languages. Drawing on memory he began reciting greetings in different languages.
The General finally held up his hand in a gesture to cease. "I recognize greetings in Chinese, Indian, Russian, Czech and French. I concede ... Paul."
The Starman smiled inwardly. This gives me pleasure, he thought. I am perfecting 'slick', for in addition to accepting my explanation he has returned to calling me by name again. This sets the stage for more relaxed dialog. "Now, please tell me more about your form of government."
I will just give a general dissertation on its principles and not the problems it causes, the General thought. He probably isn't aware there are many who desire a government different than either Communism or Capitalism; a government that will address and serve the needs of the Vietnamese people. I do not yet feel secure enough to openly discuss what I think we should have, but I have committed myself to some explanation of what we do have.
"Since you are in my country, I will first try to explain a major difference between Communism and yours. The pure Communist system does not allow for the private ownership of the land. After unification the new government confiscated all land by decreeing it belonged collectively to everyone."
Paul thought briefly about the Fosters complaint of the United States Government confiscating land. "I know of farmers in America who would adamantly disagree," he offered.
"It did not work well in Vietnam, either. Now, I want you to understand there have been many changes since Communist Vietnam of 1975 and the present. After confiscating the land it soon became evident that without reward beyond survival for their labor, the farmers had little incentive to produce anything beyond their personal needs. As many deserted the fields, production fell. The cities soon suffered food shortages in a land quite capable of producing enough for all. Our present system has evolved a long way since then, for our farms little resemble the true collectives of other Communist countries.
"We have three types of farming. The least organized is the mutual production group where labor and money is pooled to allow quantity buying for things like fertilizer and seed. It operates much like your American system for ownership of tools and production decisions for a designated piece of land are made by the farmer who farms it. The government hoped these would eventually grow into pure cooperatives, but except on marginal land, few have. Those that have are a collectivized agriculture we call a cooperative, but not yet so by the true Communist definition. Governing itself, each member is permitted a small private family plot for animal husbandry and individual gardens. The participants then determine how the rest of the land and tools are allocated. They also decide what is done with any profits. Often it is a difficult process for in Vietnam it is hard to get everybody to agree on anything."
"I have seen this as a constant among people trying to work together," Paul offered.
"I agree," Duc replied, "but that is not the case in our third type of agriculture. In a true Communist collective farm the government owns the land and provides the capital. The workers are paid fixed salaries the same as any factory worker. These have a rapidly declining popularity for the Vietnamese do not like to think of themselves as belonging to the government."
Paul smiled. "I feel the same."
"Our farmers are a proud people," Duc offered, "and have silently brought about many changes in the Communist system since 1975. The cities have seen many beneficial changes as well."
I note that while the General talks he is slowly moving us back toward the car, Paul noted. I believe this man has much to teach me and though I also wish to see more, I am not yet ready to give up this discussion. "I find what you tell me interesting and since I have seen no other Vietnamese cities, I am at a loss to say it is so, but what I see in Hanoi does not show much of this pride you speak of in its people. Almost everything shows signs of neglect."
Duc turned his head and met Paul's eyes. Seeing only expectation of a response, he continued. "You too are very observant. The Hanoi I remember, was once a lovely and colorful blend of our Vietnamese and old French Colonial architecture. Now it looks tired and crumbling. I could try to blame this decay on the war, but that would not be entirely honest." The General lowered his chin. "You used the right word, it is neglect. Though our moist climate causes the splotches of black mildew, we, the people, allow the wild vines, mildew, and an increasing maze of heavy, crudely attached electrical wiring to tear away at our buildings."
"Is that lack of caring due to a government attitude?"
"I will not deny it is relevant, but it is also partly the fault of the United States position. Subordinated to earning barely enough to survive, the majority of the people haven't enough energy left to do what must be done. It has gone on for so long, no one seems to care anymore."
"Yesterday I asked you why one of your countrymen would say a military general is incapable of governing. Could this also be relevant?"
"It is not for you to pass judgment on our government, Mr. Forrester," Duc said defensively.
Paul noted the General's defensiveness. "I try very hard not to be judgmental, but I can only judge by what I see. All I am asking for is your opinion."
He is anything but indirect, Duc thought. With such request how can I give a truthful answer without incriminating myself. Again he sought Paul's eyes. He thought back to the question at the hotel that convinced him he was under investigation, 'What do you think of someone saying a general is not competent to run a country?' Should I just say this country run by generals is united and doing well. That would be a blatant lie. Yet to answer truthfully will let them relieve me of my government position or maybe result in prison.
He frowned. Yet, there is something I want to like about this man. I believe I must answer his question if I am to know whether he is as innocent as he makes out, or a very crafty special agent. I now have formulated an answer that will provide an all inclusive statement my superiors could not construe as subversive and at the same time will help me see into the heart of this man. "Yes, I guess you did ask for my opinion. The answer is yes, but I must further qualify it. I believe a general, a farmer, a businessman, a woman, or anyone, is equally capable of governing, but only if able to keep personal desires in perspective. Governing requires keeping the interests of all the people first in mind and heart."
Paul cocked his head to one side. "Yes, that is important and can be found in many."
For a long moment, the General studied the calm acceptance on his guest's face. He agrees in words, but it is hard to tell if he agrees in theology. Still, isn't this exchange of information what I originally sought when I suggested the Ministry join the list of foreign sponsors. Though exchanging ideas with those outside is what I wanted and still desire, I must proceed carefully. I need time to think and work out a strategy. He glanced at his watch. "I would like to continue with this later. Now it is time for us to move on again. Mr. Lu scheduled a visit to the archeological museum. It is all the way across the city. If we are to be there on time we must walk faster." He took off for the car at a brisk pace.
I think he wishes time to think about trusting us Paul reflected as he followed silently. It will take us a few minutes before we get to the car. I will continue trying to reopen our previous dialog for I think the timing is right. All I need is patience. "General Duc, I wish you would tell me more right now."
Now, I must think of something non-incriminating to tell them. His eyes narrowed as he saw the car in the distance. In a few brief moments he felt secure in his selection. "Okay, but we must continue walking. In contrast to America, you must know the Communist system allows only the military to carry weapons."
"That is a simple way to take power from the people and maintain control over vast numbers," Wayne offered. "Not too many will continue to disagree with changing rules while looking down the business end of a gun."
Remembering El Paso, Paul added, "I also recognize it is not beneficial to argue with the 'business end' of 'anything' that's anticipated use is as a weapon against you. That even includes tools commonly used for good. I saw an American youth hurt an old woman with the metal bar used to change automobile tires."
The general frowned inwardly. In addition to giving information freely they seem not only interested in receiving it, but eager. Though I know this off the cuff conversation with these strangers' remains increasingly risky I no longer seem able to get out of it. If they are with the government. I fear their questions will become more specific and I will find answering with evasions and half truths consistently more difficult. "I will say it is not my desire, or my job, to convince anyone that Communism is the only form of government that will work," he offered. He paused for a long moment looking for any response indicative of a secret service agent feeling he has proved himself worthy of his government job. All I see is three foreigners waiting for me to continue. Has my misinterpretation of a simple question cause me a whole day of anxiety? I think I must ask myself how they could have continued such a facade during the encounter with Mrs. Luong at the market. In the evening what I saw at her home was simply an easy kind of social interaction. It is very possible I have completely misjudged my charges. Of course if I am wrong it will be the end of my career and possibly my freedom. Though I have a knot in my stomach I must make a decision. Even though there is still an assumed risk of talking freely with anybody, I feel to get a broader perspective I need to talk more about my beliefs with those from outside Vietnam. He took a deep breath. "I have long known that Communism will not work in my country. There, now I have said it," the General announced with apprehension. "You may ask whatever you wish."
"Why won't it work?" Paul asked simply.
With no announcement of arrest forthcoming, the General heaved a shallow sigh of relief. Feeling the burden lifted he slowed his flight to the car.
Duc has now freely talked about the pros and cons of the Vietnamese form of Communism, Paul thought. Though some aspects seem to warrant further study, it would seem consistent that people here have some incentive beyond survival to live beyond the bare necessities. To move beyond that they must feel free to choose to do what is right, not be dependent upon government to choose for them.
Reaching the car Duc turned it around and started back toward the city. "After the archeological museum I would like to make a change in our afternoon schedule. Instead of eating out this evening I would like to invite you to meet my wife and partake in an informal dinner at my home." He received wholehearted acceptance. Leaving them at the museum with Mr. Lu, the general advised, "I need to return to the Ministry for awhile. Mr. Lu will take you from there to the hotel and I will pick you up at six."
After the museum Mr., Lu took them to a nearby store and helped in the selection of appropriate gifts. They then waited eagerly for Duc's return.
Duc returned promptly at six, dismissed Mr. Lu, and as they settled into the car for another drive across the city, announced, "Wayne, I have arranged to personally accompany you to Ho Chi Minh City to search for your son. I tried to get air reservations for tomorrow, but it proved impossible. The soonest I could obtain was the day after."
"Thank you," Wayne returned.
"In fact I have set aside the necessary time to remain your escort for the balance of your stay."
"I am glad you will be going with us," Paul offered sincerely.
The Fox and The Hare
George Fox checked his watch as the crowded plane taxied heavily toward the large rust pocked metal building. It's getting late. I don't think there's any chance I'll find them tonight. Still I have to try. He looked out the window. Suddenly aware of his surroundings, he sucked in a breath. Can that pile of rust be the airport terminal serving the Vietnamese capital of Hanoi? He shook his head in disbelief.
When the aircraft parked, his adventure continued. I considered the plane from Bangkok crowded, he grumped as he wrestled his bags down the narrow aircraft stairway. To accommodate the overload from Laos they had us pick up our luggage and hold it in our laps. I'll never understand why the alien chose this as his first foreign destination.
Moving with the flow he continued toward the terminal door. Soon inside with some forty other smelly, overheated bodies he continued to move forward between the two lines of soldiers funneling them toward another doorway by shouting rapid fire instructions. I don't need an interpreter to tell me what the sign over that door says. If this is all a bad dream I think this would be a good time to wake-up. He placed his hand over his inside coat pocket. Even though my passport is authentic and I'm not hiding anything, I will admit I have never felt so completely apprehensive about going through customs.
Again touching his pocket to confirm his paperwork safely inside, he took a deep breath then slowly let it go. I sure hope these and the briefings they gave me will get me through. I hated having to ask the CIA for help, but with 'Operation Rescue' foremost in my mind I would have sold my soul for a way into Vietnam. The fact is I think I may have. It amazes me how fast they got George Fox a travel visa and a bogus life story. Without them I know it would have taken weeks to get here.
After National Security asked me to resign following 617W, I turned down an employment offer with the CIA. I knew the cloak and dagger stuff would be too hard on my nerves. When I learned from Nardo that the 617W stuff had gone over to the FSA, I naturally applied. With my GS rating I had no trouble nailing down the job doing just about what I had done at National Security. When General Wade added a priority classification, working within the FSA became much easier. Of course I can't deny having to obtain funding for my project has given me some headaches, but everything considered, the move has been good for me. The truth is, the rest they forced on me after that awful bout with indigestion at Peagrum has me feeling much better than I have in years. He looked toward the still distant door. I do know this foreign intrigue gets to me.
Still far from the doorway, he sighed. At the speed we're going, this is going to take the rest of the day. I'm afraid the longer Forrester and the boy are here, the greater the danger of us losing them. I guess without their search for Jennifer Hayden being so important to them, this could have happened long ago. I can hardly believe the thought of leaving the country hadn't crossed his mind before this.
He returned from his rumination as the line moved forward again. Well, I can see the customs desks. His eyes got wide. Just like the Ambassador said, they go through everything. They're even measuring the bags inside and outside to check for hidden compartments. Am I glad the Ambassador insisted on me leaving my weapon and ID with him even though it means going back through Bangkok before going home. Home, at this moment that's a pleasant thought. For once, I'd relish having to answer some of Wylie's moronic questions.
There goes the next one through the door. Two more and it's my turn. I hope I am as good at blending into the part of George Fox, ex-Marine returning to Vietnam to face his military service nightmares, as my alien has been at blending into that of Paul Forrester.
The two people ahead ended their processing. Soon receiving a gesture to step forward, Fox placed his valise and suitcase on the table. He saw the man giving him the once over. He must recognize from the get-go that I'm an American, he thought. Feeling a surge of nervous tension, he reached into the inside pocket of his suit, pulled out his papers and handed them across the counter. Much to his surprise the man merely shoved the luggage down the desk to an obvious subordinate before glancing at the documents. Suddenly his eyes widened and he dashed into another room with the paperwork. I don't like the looks of this one bit, Fox thought apprehensively. Determined to remain in control though churning inside, he waited. Soon the man reappeared and returned the most important documents of any foreign traveler, then he smiled broadly and said in passable English, "Welcome to Hanoi, Mr. Fox. The Peoples Republic of Vietnam desires your stay be pleasant and enlightening."
Fox breathed a restrained sigh of relief then turned to see the other man carefully examining the underwear he always wrapped around the shaving lotion bottle he kept in his valise. After a rapid fire exchange between the man across the counter and the one doing the hands-on search 'Fox' was the only familiar word he heard. The search ended abruptly. The man quickly rewrapped the underwear around the bottle, returned it to the valise then set the valise beside the unopened suitcase. I can't believe it, he thought. He's motioning me to move on. I think I have just received a rare and welcome gift. I think they have mistaken me for someone else. He moved casually toward the exit that returned him to the terminal.
As he closed the door behind him a middle aged man walked over. "George Fox?" With Fox's confirmation, the man extended a hand and bowed to which Fox reciprocated. "I am Mr. Quan. I am to act as your sponsor." He took Fox's suitcases. "I have transportation into the city."
"I am looking for three Americans," Fox announced. "I wish to be taken directly to the War Crimes Ministry."
"Mr. Fox," Mr. Quan whispered anxiously, "Thailand has informed me that you are here with illegal papers. Before we take another step, we must have a basic understanding. If you want my help, you must do exactly as I say. First, you are not in Washington. If you are discovered I likewise could be at great risk. Second, we are not on your schedule. To remain unnoticed it is important we follow the prescribed procedure for all American visitors. I have paid much to arrange the indoctrination you will attend." He looked Fox in the eye. "And third, you do understand, in addition to the two hundred American dollars promised, you must also pay all my expenses." As his look got cold and demanding, Fox understood the implication of being left to his own in this very hostile country. Without a word he dutifully followed his sponsor to a small Honda motorcycle. Motioning Fox on behind, Mr. Quan handed him his possessions to hold. "I have you booked into the Dan Chu Hotel." As they left the airport a well-dressed man followed on another Honda.
Trouble In A Far Off Land
As George Fox walked into his hotel, Scott, Wayne and Paul were graciously thanking Duc's wife, Tam, for a lovely home-cooked meal. Duc helped Tam clear the table after directing his guests to a modest living room area.
Paul carefully observed his surroundings for reference. Though this apartment is modest by American standards, Duc and Tam do have a private bathroom. I wonder if Duc's government position provides them with better living quarters than Luong or what Dr. Hien described. This makes me wonder what kind of living quarters the American government provides for Mr. Fox.
Duc and Tam soon joined them. Wayne, wanting to further explore Duc's thoughts on the war, opened an evening of candid discussion with, "Duc, things I have heard have led me to believe the United States was fighting for people who just weren't interested. You really wanted neither Communism nor Capitalism, right?"
"Our wishes didn't seem to matter to the many colonialist countries seeking territory," Duc returned. "All the people wanted was the freedom to be themselves, the ability to grow enough to eat for their families and the peace to harvest it. Vietnam has always sought peace with its neighbors, but seeking and having are obviously not the same thing for almost every Vietnamese man has fought wars on one side or the other. We were made soldiers by the French colonialists, the Japanese fascists, the American imperialists, the Communists and now by a Soviet driven Chinese expansion. But, as a people, we will always be ready to defend our homeland."
Listening the Starman's eyebrow rose and fell and he nodded subtly as Duc continued.
"Like most Americans I have talked with, the people did not want someone else trying to tell them what they wanted. In the common people the desire for freedom for self-expression, sufficient energy for their bodies and peace for their families has always been a constant. It would appear that wars are the work of those who put themselves in charge."
Wayne looked at Duc curiously. "You said you infiltrated our bases and R&R areas. May I ask where you served?"
The general shrugged his shoulders. "Here, there, everywhere, but during your war mostly around Hue."
"I was stationed in Hue during the last Tet Offensive," Wayne returned.
"I am now pleased you were never in the sights of my rifle."
"You were there during Tet?"
Wayne grinned. "Then I thank you for not zeroing in on me." Looking reflectively at a past enemy, he paused. "Duc, may I ask you something else?" Seeing a responsive nod, Wayne smiled warmly. "Tell me, what did you think of us?"
"You held your ground."
Wayne laughed. "That's about all we held. Every time we stepped outside our base perimeter, we usually got our backsides kicked. We began to think you knew everything we were doing." Seeing Duc chuckle subtly, he added. "We weren't really very effective, were we?"
"You were brave."
"And you're being diplomatic. But seriously, what did you think of us as an army?"
Duc's smile vanished. "Do you want the truth?"
Wayne, sure Duc's viewpoint would provide an interesting perspective from that accepted at home urged him to continue. "Though I primarily came here looking for my son, I'm also trying to make some sense out of why we were here."
Duc smiled confidently. "With my country being primarily jungle, the truth is your fixed positions were useless. They left you too dependent on helicopters and air support. Also, few of your forces felt a need to learn to become one with the land. All they wished was to return as quickly as possible to the presumed safety of your base perimeter. With such dependence, you traded true mobility for a false sense of security. Most of the time it was your air support that either led us to, or helped us skirt around, your ground positions."
"Then you believe we would have been more successful using your tactics?"
Duc paused a moment. "Though you would have been successful at killing more of my people, in the end, probably not. If you had studied Vietnamese history before committing yourself to our conflict, it would have shown you that time was not on your side. We had vastly greater experience in losing our freedom and the patience and sheer determination to do whatever necessary to regain it. As I tried to explain earlier, we experienced domination by the Chinese for a thousand years. We tolerated the French Colonialists for almost a hundred. Under the French we had to endure a division of our country. Even if America and the Russians had not helped defend us from the Japanese during the World War, the spirit of the Vietnamese people would, likewise, have survived and eventually prevailed over their occupation. Using the offered military backing of the Communists, we fought the American Capitalists for more than twenty years. Still, through it all, you must realize we were not fighting for Communism. We were then fighting to reunite a divided homeland. Now I will ask you a question. Can you tell me why you were fighting?"
"In the trenches they told us we were fighting for freedom for the Vietnamese. I can see that's not what you thought."
"That may be what they told you, but that is not wholly the truth. You were not fighting for our freedom as a nation, you were fighting a system of government in the Soviet Union you felt a threat to yours. You merely chose to engage the enemy in our homeland instead of yours or theirs. All along, Uncle Ho knew without you and them being truly dedicated to their cause, in the end we could not lose."
Wayne's forehead wrinkled curiously. "But haven't you lost? How can you consider the Soviets as anything less than another in a series of occupation forces?"
"Looking from the outside it might appear so, but we continue to work on them as well. Though I hold a position in this Communist government, I do not consider myself Communist. I remain Vietnamese, now and forever. What is important to me and Tam is the bombs and destruction have stopped. If escalation of the war with more sophisticated weapons had continued, I believe there would soon have been little left to reunite."
"I guess that is another reason I wanted to come back here," Wayne confessed. "In my time with Kim, I learned to love the Vietnamese people and longed to see peace in this land. Though I wished it could have been as a new republic, all I had to remember was a country ravaged by war and soon to be dominated by Communism."
"Though we did go through some bad times with the Communists, that is no longer the case," Duc offered. "When you leave it is important for you to remember there is a growing desire among the people for change. With typical Vietnamese patience, I know eventually we will win."
Wayne studied the calm determination on Duc's face. This man represents years of revolutionary struggle, war, sacrifice and hardship. I can only imagine what he has endured during his lifetime. In addition to his family, I wonder how many friends he has lost. Yet he remains optimistic. I guess the difference between us is he knew why he was fighting. Whatever else he may or may not be, perhaps someday he will be a winner. Wayne smiled. "I guess we might have done things differently if we had been defending our homes."
"Yet, if you hadn't valued life, with your advanced technology you could have defeated us."
"Well, at long last I think my war is finally over. I can honestly say it makes me feel better to see men like you working toward Vietnam's future. It is a joy seeing you moving toward harvest instead of battle."
"Family, home and country are the things for which a man must fight," Duc offered. "They are the most important things of all."
"I guess we never did understand, did we?"
"No. To us there was never a question and therefore you could not fight as we knew we must. Very few of your soldiers had the stomach for what was needed to win. In addition, as only a soldier can understand, a lack of support at home can be demoralizing."
"So was our homecoming and the years that followed."
Suddenly a worried frown appeared on Duc's face. "Though our movement gains momentum, we still have a long way to go. Even engaging in this conversation I run a great risk. It could jeopardize my position in the government if those wishing to retain power find out. The loss of one in any high position can only set us back."
Wayne offered his hands to the man and nodded his respect. "I wish to thank you for being so honest. Rest assured we understand your position and will be careful not to do anything to compromise your trust."
"I think I have derived a great benefit from talking to you as well," Duc offered. "I am glad I was chosen to be your sponsor." Very relaxed now, Duc and Tam began talking about their visions for Vietnam; of Duc's wish to be the negotiator who would settle the differences between Vietnam and the United States so American would no longer stand in the way of Vietnam becoming an active member of the United Nations. They envisioned prosperity through free enterprise, individual initiative and free trade to provide a better standard of living. They vowed they would continue to working toward a Vietnam free of foreign influence. It made Paul feel good they felt confident enough to speak out candidly. The discussion continued until almost eleven when Wayne finally insisted they return to the hotel.
Wayne's almost constant encyclopedia of jokes had Duc laughing all the way back to the hotel. Duc could hardly speak as he held the door open while they went inside. Still laughing heartily at the latest he did finally say, "In the morning I would like to show you around the Ministry." He then slipped outside with a "Goodnight."
At his hotel, two blocks from the Thong Nhat, a second day in Hanoi had begun early for George Fox. Though impatient to continue with his search he had to spend his time listening to the same lecturers Wayne, Paul and Scott had a few days earlier. Just as his ability to remain seated any longer demanded a compromise, they finally announced an hour break for lunch. Released from his prison, Mr. Quan claimed him at the door. Eager to get on with his search, Fox promised Mr. Quan a fine dinner if he would let him pass on lunch so they might go to the War Crimes Ministry. Mr. Quan, already aware patience was not one of his current charge's virtues, agreed. Outside he called for a cyclo and they rode a few blocks into the central part of the city.
After a brief but interesting tour through General Duc's offices that included another reunion with Mr. Lu, Duc suggested several possible activities to consume Paul, Wayne and Scott's last day in Hanoi. When they finally agreed on a boat trip up the Dong River, Duc made the necessary calls. After arranging a twelve-thirty appointment with a boatman, he offered to take them to lunch early.
Scott felt much better after wrapping himself around another meal, but he was still searching through the small public square surrounded by government buildings for the vendor with the sweetest looking dessert pastry. Aided in his search by offering to help his father find interesting subjects for the ever increasing collection of photographs, he rushed from stall to stall eyeing the offerings.
Just completing a sequence of pictures to show the variety of street vendors and their various techniques for selling their wares, Paul was putting in a new roll of film while Scott continued rushing around in search of 'the' pastry.
"My God, I don't believe it! There they are!" Fox exclaimed as his cyclo driver crossed government square on the way to the building housing the War Crimes Ministry. Without hesitation or thought to the risk, he leaped from the moving cyclo. Landing he somehow managed to stay on his feet and without a break in stride continued on at a full run.
Wayne happened to notice someone running in this official part of the city where people usually didn't. "It can't be?" as he recognized the runner. "I've got to be seeing things." He placed his hand on Paul's shoulder to get his attention. "Paul, isn't that George Fox coming this way?"
Immediately recognizing his nemesis by the way he ran, Scott's chin jutted out defiantly. "Great!"
As Fox neared, Paul cocked his head curiously. "Mr. Fox, what are you doing here?"
"That's my question," Fox shot back as he braked to a stop. "What are you doing here?"
"He's here with me,' Wayne said, quickly stepping between them.
Never thinking he could change direction so fast Fox end ran Wayne's interference and grabbed Paul's arm firmly. "You and your son are going with me to the airport, now! We're on the first available transportation out of here."
Submitting, Paul replied. "I don't understand. I thought you said I was free."
"I said within reason!"
"I knew it sounded too good to be true," Scott offered caustically.
In his excitement Fox ignored the boy to whom only weeks ago he had almost begged to apologize. "Of all the places you could have chosen, this is definitely not within my definition of reasonable. This is a country with which we have no diplomatic relations."
"We," Paul cocked his head slightly sideways, "meaning?"
"Your government, naturally."
Paul's eyebrows rose, then narrowed. "My government?"
"You know what I mean."
"Do you mean you are now limiting my freedom to the United States?"
Scott looked critically at his father's easy submission to Fox's attack. "Dad, I thought you said you and Fox had everything worked out."
"So did I," Paul replied, trying to pull his arm free.
"You shouldn't have left our jurisdiction without telling me," Fox shot back as he tried to get a better hold on Paul's arm.
Paul's chin jutted out defensively. "I tried to tell you."
Finally able to physically pry Fox free, Wayne responded. "He tried to call you for the almost three weeks it took us to get Scott's passport issued. I know sometimes he tried several times a day."
Taken aback by the tone of Geffner's voice, Fox finally accepted his alien was not entirely alone. Collecting himself he looked back to Paul. "Wylie never said anything about any messages."
"I was standing right there when he made the calls!" Wayne groused, his voice noticeably louder. "I asked the operator to confirm he was calling the correct number. I even had her dial it for him! All he ever got was one of those bloody answering machines."
As the contest of angry words gained contestants, Duc saw Fox making another grab for Paul and intercepted his arm. "As a representative of my government," he said, breaking his long held code of refusing to use English in public, "I cannot allow anyone to fight in the streets. I would like to remind you that you are accosting invited guests of my government. Guests I am now charged with protecting. Where is your sponsor?"
Fox recognized an unfamiliar voice, but knew it to be one of authority. He looked around and finding Mr. Quan had disappeared simply chose to ignore the demand and pulled his arm free.
Wayne tried to grab Fox but Fox pushed him away as well. "Paul left messages on your answering machine saying it was important he talk to you until it was filled," he said even louder.
Fox stood his ground and realizing the current ratio was four to one he decided he needed to take the time to size up the competition. With a moment to think, he slapped an open hand against his forehead. My number? Of course, I gave him my home phone so no one at the agency would catch on until I knew things were under control. Seeing Fox free again, Wayne tried to push him away from Paul.
Pushed backward, Fox looked over Wayne's shoulder at his Starman. With the distance between himself and his quarry increasing, Fox took a swing at Wayne. His arms flailing, he blurted loudly, "After so many calls didn't you once consider I might be away from home? You could have tried calling my office to leave a message."
"You specifically asked me not to call your office," Paul replied.
Trying to separate Wayne from Fox, Duc continued to vocally exercise his authority. "You must all stop this," he directed in Vietnamese. "As your sponsor, I cannot allow anyone to fight in public."
Wayne too, in the increasing heat of the exchange, ignored Duc's demand. "Though the thought did cross our minds," he yelled, "while we're talking about who's to blame, don't you think if you're letting one of those damn machines take your calls, you should stop by and listen to your messages at least once a week."
"I wasn't around Washington."
"Then why didn't your message give another number to call."
"I didn't realize I was going to be away for so long," Fox offered.
"That's your problem, isn't it!" Wayne shot back.
With the matter seemingly getting completely out of his control, Duc quickly glanced around the square for back-up. "Vung! Vung!" he shouted while motioning for more speed to four soldiers already on their way in response to the ruckus,.
Noticing Paul's calm demeanor, Fox finally took a deep conceding breath. Letting it out slowly the anger subsided and his arms fell to his sides. I guess I must accept at least a part of the blame for this lack of communications, he thought. At least I should have advised the Geffners I was going away for a while. I also could have left a message on my answering machines to call Wylie and had him forward my messages. Anxious to get away from Wylie, I didn't think. Still, it's all water under the bridge now. The important thing to consider now is to get Forrester and the boy out of here. Seeing an opportunity he grabbed Scott's arm. If I have control of the boy, Forrester will follow. Trying to hold Scott was another matter and a second wrestling match proceeded.
As the soldiers arrived, Duc identified himself then pointed to the perpetrator. Moments later the soldiers had everybody separated and Fox firmly restrained. "Don ton tai bat giam. Don muon hop tac," one soldier announced with authority.
Thrashing wildly Fox shouted, "Let me go!" It wasn't until the color of official uniforms penetrated his angst did he notice he was the only one being restrained.
"Don ton tai bat giam. Don muon hop tac! the soldier repeated. "Den!"
"What is he saying?" Fox asked in obvious distress.
"I believe he said, 'You are arrested'," Paul translated. "'You will cooperate. Come.'"
Fox looked back at the soldier in charge. "You can't do that. I haven't done anything wrong." Paul immediately translated Fox's words to the soldier. The soldier looked at General Duc and seeing a nod, repeated his pronouncement accompanied by a growing look of authority impossible to ignore. After another long flurry of words from the soldier to the General, Fox saw a worried look on the Starman's face. In direct contrast to his father's reaction, Scott laughed spontaneously.
"Scott!" Paul rebuffed.
"I can't help it, Dad. This is poetic justice."
"It isn't funny," the Starman returned.
"What isn't funny?" Fox asked anxiously.
Wanting to address Fox coherently, Scott fought to control his laughter. "Mr. Fox, the soldier said he cannot explain anything to us." Taken by another uncontrollable urge, he continued laughing. Finally, regaining his composure enough, he easily translated, "The soldier said this is now a matter of national security." Despite his father's continuing critical look, Scott's pleased smirk persisted until he saw the soldiers begin eyeing him suspiciously. When his face returned to reflecting one of controlled respect for authority, the soldier bobbed his head and snapped his heels together. He bowed brusquely, but politely, to General Duc then asked for and received another nod approving removal of the prisoner. Moved off across the square by four soldiers, George Fox never gave up his futile struggle for freedom.
When Paul tried to follow, Wayne wisely held him back. As Fox disappeared into a large building across the square, Paul looked at Duc. "I don't understand. Why are they arresting him?"
"I heard Duc warning him," Scott offered with a smirk. "It seems it's not considered polite for one guest of the government to harass another." Again, no longer able to control himself, Scott started chuckling. "I think you made another mistake, Dad. Fox hasn't changed at all. The only difference is this time he's found the roles reversed. I think he forgot that 'his' national security doesn't mean diddly squat over here. Now he's an alien under arrest."
"This really isn't funny, Scott," Paul chastised. "I just can't understand why he felt he needed to come here."
"You don't?" Scott challenged.
"No, I don't."
"Dad, the leopard doesn't change his spots."
"What does Fox have to do with..."
"Come on, Dad. You know Fox followed us because he doesn't trust us out on our own."
"Don't be too hasty, my young friend," Wayne added wisely. "It may well be it is this government he doesn't trust."
"But why?" Paul asked, looking questioningly at Wayne. He then caught Duc's eye. "Everyone has been more than kind to us. And even if he didn't trust us, I cannot understand why he was so angry."
"Don't you get it," Scott grumped. "That's just the way he is."
Paul thought back to his telepathic exchange with Fox in front of the El Paso camera shop. "Though I realize he cannot yet share himself completely, I know he wishes to do so."
"He's probably angry because you didn't wait for his permission," Wayne offered.
"I do not feel that was in any way my fault." Paul grimaced. "I must try talking to him."
"You're not going to follow after him, are you?" Wayne questioned.
"Well you're not going anywhere alone. I'll go with you."
"No." Paul returned. "What I need to tell him is between us." He looked at Scott. "I would like you to stay here with Wayne."
"Why should you care about what happens to him?"
"I do care."
Duc felt a growing need to react to the distress on Paul's face. "If you truly consider that man your friend, I want you to know he broke the law by being away from his sponsor, but he has also violated laws regarding civil behavior."
"On a couple of occasions we have wandered about without you," Paul returned. "Aren't we equally as guilty?"
"And if you had caused a disturbance, someone would have had you arrested just as quickly," Duc confirmed. He saw Paul gazing toward the stark building where Fox had disappeared. I find logic in what Paul says, he thought. The look on his face shows great concern. Now I wish I had not acted so hastily in giving the order to have his friend removed. "If after the way he acted you still wish to speak with him, or to the authorities for him, it is your sponsor who must accompany you. They have taken him to the Ministry of Justice. I know Minister Ho, socially and from experience as a subordinate serving under him on the Chinese front. He is a reasonable man, but I can safely say there will be a disadvantage to confronting him with numbers." He turned to Wayne. "While we find out if there is anything that can be done, I am directing you and Scott to flag a cyclo and go directly to the hotel. Even though I know you are concerned, do not fail to follow my order. Go directly to the hotel."
The Starman, seeing his son ready to protest again, said with an air of parental authority, "Scott, Duc is right. Under the circumstances I think he best understands how to handle this. I'm sure Fox already realizes he did not think first of possible consequences before acting like he did. Now I think he will be ready to listen rather than speak in anger. I will explain to the authorities that he is my friend and that we had a simple misunderstanding. When I explain they will understand there is no need to hold him. We should be back shortly."
"Well I hope they keep him," Scott added truthfully. "But if you do manage to get everything straightened out, at least don't bring him back with you. I'd really like to continue enjoying this vacation." Before Scott could present any arguments, Paul started walking boldly toward the door of the imposing building, leaving Duc to catch up.
Wayne stood his ground until the large double doors swung closed behind his friends. I really don't want to go back to the hotel, because I know many Americans probably passed through the doors of that building and disappeared forever. Though I'm sure Paul is in good hands being with Duc, it doesn't mean I'll worry less. I know Vietnamese justice moves slowly so there is no reason for staying here. Duc is probably right. The Ministry of Justice isn't the American Embassy and all of us rushing in there to protest will not help our cause. He looked respectfully at Scott. Paul has left me in charge of something very important to him. I had better take care of him. Reluctantly he waved to a cyclo parked across the street. I'm not going to say any more about not trusting this government for I'm sure Scott is now going to be worrying enough. I just hope they get back soon. He glanced back one more time at the building before climbing into a cyclo. "Please take us to the Thong Nhat Hotel," he told the winning driver.
"Paul, I want you to remain close to me," Duc said as they approached the building. Duc nodded respectfully to the four soldiers who had arrested Fox already on their way outside to return to their post. Entering a large circular lobby, Duc and Paul had just enough time to see George Fox and three officers entering a room about half way down a long hallway. They followed across the lobby until forced to stop by an officially dressed woman coming out of the room. With a gesture of her arm she decisively blocked their path.
"I am General Ha Dinh Duc, Vice Minister of the War Crimes Division," Duc offered. "I believe I might have acted in haste by having this gentleman arrested. There is no need to detain him. It seems he is a friend of the American group we are sponsoring. I believe I misinterpreted an American greeting for words of animosity."
"General Duc," the woman said succinctly, "all I know is the man is under arrest and must be properly processed. His responses will determine if there is a need to hold him."
"Mr. Forrester, here, asks only a chance to speak with his friend."
"My friend and I have had a misunderstanding," Paul offered politely and in a constantly improving North Vietnamese dialect. "I need to explain."
"We will wait if there is any chance Mr. Forrester may speak with his friend," Duc offered.
Looking Paul over carefully, she took a small notebook from her pocket. "Would you please spell your name for me?" As Paul spelled, she wrote. "Wait here. I will ask if a visit might be possible." Knocking, she responded to a voice from within. As she entered, for a brief moment Duc could see into the room. I do not understand, he thought. Paul's friend is sitting under a strong light in the otherwise dark room. This is a standard for intense interrogation not for the minor violation of fighting in the streets. He shuddered. There must be a logical explanation for such drastic action. Though I do feel partially responsible for this, I do not wish to worry Paul further so I will just say nothing at this time. It could be the way of an over overzealous guardian of the peace trying to impress upon a disruptive visitor that he should remain with his sponsor. Under similar circumstances this could have happened to my charges as well. I should not have left them alone in the park. What turned out to be a simple question arising from that stay in the park is what aroused my suspicion of an investigation into my activities and our unfortunate misunderstanding. Still, though having the best of intentions, I found it difficult to remain with them when I knew extremely important decisions being considered at the Ministry required my input.
The woman returned. Motioning to the next door down the hallway, she said, "Mr. Forrester, my superiors have asked you to wait here." Opening it she flipped on a light then gestured Paul enter. "They said they will be with you shortly." Anxious for a chance to talk to George, Paul quickly walked into the room. As Duc tried to follow, the woman barred his path. Pulling the door closed she said, "General Duc, they wish to speak to Mr. Forrester as well. If you wish to wait, you may do so in the lobby." Knowing the futility of trying to argue with underlings at the Ministry of Justice level, Duc walked back down the hallway toward the lobby.
Hearing the sound of the door closing behind him, Paul spun around. Seeing he was alone he grabbed the knob. Like Lindero Hospital the door only opens with help from the outside, he concluded. Being purposely separated from Duc leaves me with a very bad feeling. If someone has found out, this might be my next jail. Touching his pocket, he smiled. Apparently they are not aware that with my sphere, locked doors will not keep me here if I really wish to leave. Of course I might be worrying needlessly for this just might be their normal way of doing things.
Paul turned away from the door. With only a quick visual inspection of this room I would judge it slightly over ten feet by ten feet by the American standard of measure. I will admit that lacking windows makes it seem very confining, even worse than a normal jail. The single light hanging out of the ceiling reminds me of our hotel room, except there is a substantially longer cord and it has a metal lampshade. If this architecture is common to government buildings throughout this country, I think being a government employee must be terribly depressing.
Knowing I can escape if it becomes necessary makes me feel better, but I don't think escape is the right thing to do, yet. The woman said they will be with me shortly. There is a chair to sit in so I will just make myself comfortable while I wait.
Back in the lobby, Duc stopped. Such an abrupt dismissal to a ranking General makes me suspicious that something is very wrong. Since Mr. Forrester came here voluntarily I do not understand why they chose to detain him. I know it useless to try questioning the woman further for her uniform shows she is merely a subordinate. I know there is always danger in asking questions at high levels of government, but if I am to continue in a position to influence the direction of the government in my country I cannot afford to have the arrest of one in my charges appear on my record. I must follow through. Luckily, General Hong Du Ho is presently Minister of Justice. I will seek his audience. He hastened up the stairway to the second level.
I'm in a lot of trouble Fox thought as he did his best to artfully dodge the questions being hammered at him. Though I left everything tying me to Federal Security Agency with the Thai Ambassador, somehow they know I work for the government. They also know my Visa is as phony as my vanishing sponsor, Mr. Quan, alias General Suis. Is the reason the Customs official was smiling when he passed me though without checking everything in my bag because somehow they were expecting me. Even though I could have been an ex-marine, they also know I never served here. Now they're accusing me of being CIA. I've never been CIA, but I have no way to prove that either. How did they find out about my papers and why did they wait until I approached Forrester to arrest me? Oh God. I hope they don't know about him too!
Paul glanced at his watch. I have been waiting for almost fifteen minutes. Perhaps it is time to make a careful examination of my present jail. He walked around the room carefully checking every corner. The only break I find in its smooth concrete surface is this small hole. I wonder what it's for. All I can see inside is darkness. Though I am only guessing, being confined to a place such as this here must be more than a simple street argument involved.
After another loop around the room he returned to the chair. Until I talk with someone I have no way of knowing if they have taken Scott and Wayne as well. I must try not to think about that. I do know if they haven't, Scott and Wayne are going to start worrying when we don't return. I hope Scott will not try doing something foolish. He walked back to the door. Knocking brought no response.
Paul's head snapped toward a smooth concrete wall. I hear noise in the room where they took George. He pressed his ear against the wall. If these walls are not too thick, perhaps I can hear what they are saying. Though concentrating, with this language being so new to me I cannot understand the multiple meaning of all its words. Through the wall the voices become too muffled to make logic out of word flow alone. Without seeing the speaker's face it is impossible to guess meanings. I have made out two distinct voices, but I do not hear George's. Perhaps he is speaking too softly.
After ten minutes with his ear to the wall, the Starman stood back. I cannot hear anything now. He glanced toward the door. It has been a long few minutes. I wonder if they have forgotten me. I think its time I try to find out what is going on. He reached for his sphere. Activating it, he projected slowly. 'George, may we speak?'
Fox quivered. I wonder if I look as hot as I'm feeling, he thought at the Starman's energy projection.
'George, please pay attention,' Paul projected insistently.
What the! Fox thought at another flush of warmth. Maybe it's the light that's making me feel so warm. It's strange. The heat seems inside my head.
'Mr. Fox, it's me. I can make it much hotter if you insist on not paying attention!'
As the sphere delivered a harmless jolt of static electricity, Fox's eyes grew wide. Does a stroke make your hair feel like it's standing on end?
'George, you're not 'having' an anything. Your simply not listening to your mind.' he projected slowly.
Fox cocked his head slightly to one side. Now I'm hearing things as well, he thought. I could swear someone was just talking to me. He looked around the room, then swallowed hard. My God, I think they've given me something. I'm beginning to hallucinate.
'You're not hallucinating, either. It's me! Now what am I going to do to get you to listen. George, concentrate and focus. Think about El Paso.'
El Paso? Fox questioned. Now what made me think about El Paso? He took a deep breath then slowly let it go. Now, wait a minute. There's something strangely familiar about this. His eyes narrowed, concentrate and focus, he thought.
'Good George, but there is no need for you to hold your breath for us to exchange our thoughts.'
Fox's eyes brightened. Now I understand. The alien is trying to get through to me.
'Yes, but may I ask if you can only think of me as 'the alien'?'
'I'm sorry, Paul, and no, I didn't mean that.'
'I accept your apology. Tell me, are you all right?'
'Yes, but...' "Hey, that hurts!" Fox blurted loudly
Sensing pain, Paul remembered Fox's earlier heart attack. 'George are you ill?'
"What," Fox replied, thinking only of the discomfort of the moment. 'Oh ... Paul,' he projected as he regained a sense of location and the ramifications of trying to deal with two levels of consciousness, 'could you feel that?'
'I felt pain. What exactly is it that hurts?'
One of these guys just hit me across the back of my hand with a flat piece of bamboo.'
'I guess they don't like being ignored. Now, if only I had heard the question I'd try answering.'
'I'm sorry. I didn't think anyone was there with you. I guess this is a better time for you to pay attention than for us to talk.'
'Don't go!' Fox projected frantically.
'I must. You are yet barely able to concentrate on me, let alone two conversations at once. I don't want them to hit you again. Good-bye.'
'Paul, I remember your good-bye means you're going to leave me,' Fox projected.
'That's right, but I will try contacting you again.'
'That's not what I wanted to hear. Please don't go.' George Fox waited for a response. Damn, you've gone. Geeze, how can I ever expect you to think of me as a friend. After all the concern you've shown for me, I didn't even think to ask if you're okay. Fox gasped. "Yeow," he yelled again. Paul was right. That whack got my attention. That stuff hurts like crazy. I know I'd like to shake my hand, but now they have my arms pinned to the chair. "Okay! Enough!" he blurted.
Slipping his sphere back into his pocket Paul pressed his ear back against the wall. After several minutes of straining to try to make out the muffled voices, he returned to the chair. After sitting quietly for almost twenty minutes, a noise drew his attention to the door. This could be someone coming to talk to me. Perhaps I will be meeting those who have been talking to George. As the door opened, Paul saw two men in military uniform walking boldly toward him. Confidently, he stepped forward and offered his hand.
The men quickly split and grabbing the Starman's arms, dragged him backward between them. Tripped when something hit the back of his legs, he fell backward. Regaining his balance he settled into the chair and again offered his hand. In introduction he offered, "Chu ton-tai, Paul Forrester." Ignoring the offered hand, one man grabbed the light fixture and pulled it down from the ceiling until it hung just above Paul's head. Paul poked his head out from under the light and again offered his hand. Hoping for a friendlier response, he began to explain. "My name is Paul Forrester," he repeated in Vietnamese. "I am an guest of your government. General Ha Dinh Duc of the War Crimes Ministry is my sponsor. He brought me here so I could ask about my friend, George Fox." When one of the men slapped his hand down, Paul's head cocked to one side. "I do not understand why you are doing this."
"We are not stupid, Mr. Forrester," the taller and apparent superior, barked. "We have already checked your request for entry. On it you indicated you did not speak our language. Now we find you speaking our language very well. How do you explain this unless you are here to spy?"
"If you have checked my entry, you also must know I am not here alone. My companion, Mr. Wayne Geffner, has been here before. His request shows he does know your language. He has been teaching both me and my son."
"Mr. Geffner's application is relatively new. You have not learned so much in such a short time."
"I have done much practice and now, the more I listen and speak, the faster I learn."
The man huffed his impatience. "How or where you learned will make no difference anyway. You are wrong if you think we are without a foreign service protecting our security."
"It never occurred to me to think about you having to protect your security," Paul replied.
"I want you to know your friend has been under surveillance since he arrived in Bangkok. Faced with facts he has signed a confession to spying for your government," the second man offered shrewdly.
My government, Paul thought. His eyebrows rose and he leaned forward from under the lampshade in an attempt to achieve direct eye contact. "I highly doubt that."
Grabbing him roughly, the men shoved him back under the light. "Do not try acting smart with us, Mr. Forrester."
"I am not trying to act smart," Paul returned. "I cannot understand why Mr. Fox would say that
"Why? Because he could not deny it," the first man rebutted. "We have evidence proving him to be a CIA operative."
Paul cocked his head and frowned. "A CIA operative?" he questioned.
"Do not play innocent with us. Our past experience with your CIA makes anyone associated with that agency an enemy of the Vietnamese people."
Though my questions are not bringing me a definitive answer, the Starman pondered, I do have a memory link of CIA used in connection with Vietnam. Like Scott calls George's agency the FSA, in Jake Lawton's manuscript he used CIA as an acronym for 'Central Intelligence Agency'. This man's response confirms what Jake said about the CIA doing things before and during the war that Scott might refer to as 'slick'.
The second man returned to the assault. "Your look of surprise displays great conviction, Mr. Forrester, but believe me it will do you no good. This man you call your friend has told us you are CIA as well. Confess for lying about it will only get you into more trouble."
Paul ducked his head trying to avoid the intense heat and glare of the oversized incandescent light. "I am fully aware my friend is employed by the United States government," he confirmed openly, "but I feel sure he does not work for the Central Intelligence Agency."
As though signaled silently one to the other, his inquisitors grabbed his arms and lifted him back up close to the light. "So," the first man barked, "unlike a moment ago when you questioned our mention of this hated agency, now you know of it?"
"I recall reading about it in a book."
"You are smooth with your replies, but remember, we already have 'your friend's' confession together with that of a Mr. Quan, your Vietnamese conspirator. You might as well confess your involvement."
Now I understand why they have a shade on the light, Paul thought . They do not want the light in their eyes. I guess I will have to keep my eyes partially closed. "Since what you say is not the truth, to confess would be a lie. I will say I do not believe my friend would ever confess to being something I know he is not," Paul offered honestly. "I also do not believe he would enjoin me in such an untruth."
"Mr. Quan says they have been looking for you."
"I do not even know a Mr. Quan."
Grabbing Paul's shirt, the head interrogator virtually lifted the Starman out of the chair then jerked him forward. Still under the lamp Paul's forehead captured the shade and dragged it with him. Pulled forward Paul's head slipped from under the shade and he found himself nose to nose with his tormentor. When the lamp now free, it swung back to the end of its tether, reversed, and following the laws of physics sailed forward to hit Paul in the back of his head. The impact forced him forward and down until his forehead made direct contact with the inquisitor's nose.
Angered the man stepped back and rubbing his nose he looked at Paul until he felt comfortable without straining his eyes. "Before coming here your government surely must have advised you we have other ways of getting the truth in matters of national security!" he shouted "Mr. Forrester, I can assure you those ways will be unpleasant. Confessing will allow us to treat you with more respect!"
"Before we became friends Mr. Fox threatened me similarly seeking compliance. I can hardly believe such tactics acceptable to any government that serves its people rather than itself."
Surprised at Paul's open criticism of his methods and words, that if taken in context compared him to the much hated United States CIA, he twisted Paul's shirt even tighter.
Paul winced as his shirt cut into his neck. "My sponsor, General Duc, will tell you I am not an enemy of the Vietnamese people or anyone," Paul gagged.
The man scowled, confidently. "May I remind you, it was General Duc who had your agent friend arrested."
"I know. I also know he tried to explain that Mr. Fox and I are friends. We have simply had a misunderstanding. I asked him to bring me here so I could talk to Mr. Fox. I do not want him to think of me otherwise."
"If someone turned me in as a co-conspirator with the CIA, I would not savor such a person as a friend," the inquisitor added, "I am sure that by merely claiming association you too will lose your freedom."
"I fear losing my freedom, but I cannot desert a friend. Though innocent, fearful of losing freedom and likely life itself I ran from the law. Mr. Fox pursued me, but when the time came to make a decision about my life, he chose to free me. Now, I would like to ask if you could turn your back and walk away from such a friend?"
The interrogator looked at Paul curiously as he thought of the many battles in which he had to depend upon friends. We expect Americans to be inherently afraid of confessing to being anything but part of the military machine during our interrogation. Rather than trying to save himself this one continues to support a man he knows works for the secret side of the government of the United States. This interrogation is confusing. Now, someone is knocking at the door. It may be my aide returning with whatever information we have on this Paul Forrester. Instead of carrying on now and possibly making a mistake that could have far reaching implications in my country's efforts to resume international relations, I must take some time to think. He let go of Paul's shirt and walked to the door.
Suddenly released, Paul fell heavily back into the chair. I hope that is Duc coming to tell them everything is okay, Paul thought. He watched the door open wide. It isn't. It's the woman who locked me in here. I recognize the book in her hands as Forrester's. She is telling of his prior work as a free lance news photographer. My interrogator is looking this way again. I think he is comparing me to the picture of Paul Forrester. Right now he does not look quite so arrogant. He is motioning for his subordinate to join him. Though relieved they are leaving me, I hope they are not going back to George. I will contact him as soon as I am sure he is alone. As soon as the door locked behind them Paul walked over to the wall.
The longer this takes the more there is to worry about, Duc thought as he waited in the hallway outside the Minister's office. I must do my best to resolve this. At present, General Ho is at a meeting of his under ministers. Sitting here I have heard talk of foreigners going to prison. Though I know and care nothing about his friend, I do care about Paul. It is true I have not been with him twenty-four hours a day, but to my knowledge he has done nothing wrong. He didn't even resist the other man's assault. He shook his head. Even if he has done something wrong, I cannot abandon him. Being around him for only a few days I have developed a great deal of respect for this man.
I will just keep waiting until Minister Ho concludes his Ministry business. I feel my explanation of what happened on the street will prove adequate to at least obtain Paul's release.
Paul had his ear pressed firmly against the wall. I have heard no sounds from the next room for a long time, he thought. He took out his sphere. 'George, are you alone?'
Now anxiously seeking the alien presence, Fox projected without hesitation. 'Yes, I've been alone for quite a while. Where have you been?'
'In the room next to you. The two men who talked with you were also talking with me.'
'That's the sounds I heard. Do they know who you are?'
'I have no reason to believe so. This incident has made me realize I really know very little about you. They told me something I would like to ask you about.'
'Are you employed by the CIA as well as the FSA?'
'No. What makes you ask?'
'They said you confessed.'
'The only thing I confessed to was using an illegal entry visa.'
'Why did you use an illegal entry visa?'
'To get something legal could have taken months. I will admit to you I got it through the CIA, but in this country I would never confess to working for them.'
'Then what made you tell them I was?'
'You must know I would never do that.'
'I was hoping that would be your answer. I figured they were trying to get me to confirm something they suspected.'
'You didn't, did you?'
'That would not have been the truth,' the Starman returned. 'And speaking of truth, I wish to tell you, your coming here bothers me. I remember you offering me freedom, but now it seems you feel justified in resuming the chase.'
'Paul, you don't belong here.'
'Then where do you think I belong?'
'Home?' Paul paused momentarily. 'I want you to know my friends have left the area, so at present travel arrangements home might present a problem.'
'By home, I mean you should stay in the United States.'
'The United States is your home, not mine. George, I thought I made it very clear. If I am free, I decide where I go. Can't you understand, if I am to keep my world informed of this one's progress, I need to learn more about all its inhabitants.'
'And of all the countries to pick for your first study, you chose the worst.'
'This is not my first study project. You were. Besides, Wayne had to come here.'
'You should have said no. There are other places I would have agreed to you going that don't present the danger this one does.'
'With Wayne offering to teach us the language, I chose to take advantage of the opportunity.'
'Well you should have found out about the possible consequences.' Fox grimaced when he remembered the Starman lying encased in his space age plastic box at Peagrum.
'Is that what you plan as a consequence, taking us back there?'
'Damn, I keep forgetting you're listening. No!'
'Yes, I'm listening. After all we are having a conversation. At least I take your 'no' as somewhat comforting for I do not desire a return to your laboratory. George, since I know you never got my messages, I must ask directly. Please tell me how you found us this time?'
'When I learned you had left Albuquerque, I called Mrs. Geffner.'
'You had someone spying on us?'
'Then how did you know we had gone?'
Whenan image of a computer screen with his red flag for High Delta P formed in his mind Fox tried mentally suppressing it by visualizing another common computer message, 'Access denied'. Shaking his head he changed his thoughts to projecting scenes around Washington, DC.
'You still insist on keeping secrets?' Paul returned.
'Okay, Mrs. Geffner told me where you'd gone, but why does how I find you have to remain such an issue? What matters is I knew I had to follow. I just never thought you'd give me an argument about staying.'
'You thought you could walk up to me and demand I go with you? George, I think you're looking for excuses again. As before I know you are trying to hide something and I will not pressure you for an answer, but perhaps someday you may still learn to trust me. Now, I feel this must be settled once and for all time. I greatly fear you believe me your possession. That cannot be! Freedom must be me deciding the when, where, and with whom I choose to go, not you or your government.'
Stunned for a long moment at the totality of a Starman's Declaration of Independence, Fox couldn't think of any response. Memory of a similar conversation in El Paso fleeted through his thoughts. 'Yes, I do remember him telling me he couldn't take orders.'
'Correct, 'him' did tell you he couldn't take orders,' Paul replied decisively to Fox's unshielded thought. 'Though I chose to tell you I was leaving, I now seriously doubt you would have allowed me to follow my own course of action.'
'You're right, I wouldn't,' Fox replied decisively.
'I want you to understand, having or not having your approval would have made absolutely no difference in my decision to come here,' Paul returned.
'Why do you have to be so hard-headed about all this freedom crap?'
'I am not being hard-headed. I have told you what I require.'
Sensing the Starman's growing displeasure, Fox remembered again how and with whom he was conversing. Fox felt improperly chastised. 'Paul, don't you realize I risked my neck coming here because I feared for you and your son's lives. You can't begin to understand the brutality of some Earth societies. I do. That made me feel better able to judge what's safe and what's not.'
'My safety is not your responsibility,' Paul returned. 'If I felt a need for protection from the dangers of living on this world I could easily provide something safe, but safety makes interaction impossible. Without interacting with Earth's people, how can I relay any meaningful evaluation?'
'Putting it that way, maybe you're right. I just wish you had waited to talk to me.'
'Wayne told you I left messages right up to the time we left. Having accepted payment for a job I had a commitment to completing it. With no response from you and the date set for our departure, we left.'
'You have a job?'
'You said Jake Lawton told you he was publishing a book about Vietnam. In exchange for financing the trip, I agreed to provide him with photographs.'
'Lawton doesn't know who you are, does he?'
'For once, I almost wish he did.'
'Because he's a smart man. If he had known he surely wouldn't financed this folly.'
'George, I wouldn't let Jake or anyone sway my judgment any more than I would you. Besides, none of this has anything to do with the job. I needed one anyway. This one, in addition to being educational, just seemed more interesting than any I found available.'
'Well, how is it being with Geffner?'
'I have found Wayne easy to be with. He treats me as he would any other person, and in addition has proven himself a real friend.'
'You know, Paul, you don't need to work. I can get all the financing you need to go anywhere else you want to go.'
'George, I will earn my way. Steering my path I will follow wherever it leads me. At present it has led me to Vietnam.'
'Paul, you don't have any idea of the danger you face here.'
'I have perceived no danger. Actually, I have already found many I can call 'friend'. The culture of these people is interesting. They are also friendly and sharing and the beauty of their homeland gives me much to photograph. With General Duc's help I have already sent eight exposed rolls of film back to Jake for processing.'
'General Duc?' Fox questioned.
'Ha Dinh Duc, our sponsor. He is the person who had you arrested. Accepting only minor limitations, he has allowed me complete freedom to take pictures. More and more I discover I enjoy following Paul Forrester's natural inclination for photography.'
'Without question, the man loved his work. When I am taking pictures I feel as he did. This fulfillment of dual self is quite an experience for me. Taking pictures has also proven to be a convenient way to get to know the people.'
'If taking pictures is what you want to do, do it. Just don't do it here.'
'I agreed to doing it here. I was enjoying my stay and getting my job done. So you believe you came here to save me?'
'Then why am I locked in a room accused of being an agent of your government's CIA?. For all I know they may have Scott and Wayne as well. You have created quite a dilemma for me, for presently I haven't any idea of how to get us out of this.'
'Us. You and me and Scott and Wayne.'
'Look, Paul, I knew the chance I was taking coming here with falsified papers. Forget about me. Tell them you're not involved. I'll do the same. At least you and Scott will be free.'
'If I abandon you they will put you in prison.'
'I'm the one who broke the law.'
'But you thought you were doing it to help me.'
'That's life. I did the crime and I have to do the time. Just don't to anything weird or you may not get out of here.'
Paul heaved a heavy sigh. 'George, will you explain just exactly what it is you've done?' Fox quickly projected how he got his travel visa. 'George, I have an idea. When they ask you questions don't try to be slick. Tell them only the truth.'
'About you? That would be suicide.'
'How much you tell them about me is up to you. However, I would suggest you tell them we are friends and that your job just happens to be with the Federal Security Agency. Tell them that fearing for my safety, you felt you had to follow me.'
'They'll never believe me.'
'I think they will for it will be the truth. I believe our friend, General Duc, is also trying to help. He may be able to do more than we, but only if we tell the truth.' Sensing tension, Paul said, 'Are you afraid?'
'Yes, I'm afraid.' Returning momentarily to reality, Fox paused. 'I think someone's coming.'
'Then I must go back in my pocket. Remember, tell them only the truth.'
'Because it's easier to remember than a lie.'
Fox quivered with expectation upon seeing his interrogators again. "Your friend, Paul Forrester has now signed a confession to working for the CIA," the head man said with vigor. "It will go easier for you if you tell us the real reason you have come to Vietnam."
"I will tell you the truth," Fox returned with trepidation. "Firstly, Mr. Forrester does not work with me or the CIA. Secondly, yes, I do work for the United States Government, but my agency, Federal Security, deals only with internal security matters."
"I understand that is done by your FBI," the man returned.
"My agency deals mainly with non-criminal activities and international quotas to control smuggling."
"That still does not begin to explain why you have come to Vietnam. What do you take us for, idiots?"
"Definitely not. The truth is I have never worked for the Central Intelligence Agency, but I must confess using my position to seek and receiving their assistance in obtaining the Vietnamese travel visa I needed to come here."
"Again this is something we have no way of checking."
"That is also true for they told me they would disavow any involvement anyway." Fox took a deep breath and continued with a renewed confidence. "In so many words they said I was on my own, so I guess you are free to do with me as you wish."
"Yes, this confession does open up many options."
"I can only state again, my present association with Paul Forrester is only as a friend. You said he confessed to being CIA. That I cannot believe, for whatever or whoever he may be, he has bluntly told me on numerous occasions that he will never work for the United States or any government." I see the man is mulling over my answers. Now, what's about the worst scenario I have to consider? He grimaced. I guess the worst would be doing time in a Vietnamese prison away from further lessons from my man from the stars. At best, they'll try to use me like a trading card for concessions by my government. Either way I'm out of government. If I ever see you again, Starman, I will openly confess that telling the truth, within reason, has been far easier than trying to fabricate and support a lie.
After being moved, Fox found himself standing in a drab, poorly furnished room instead of a cell. Across the desk he looked with due respect at a very official, official. "Mr. Fox, I am General Hong Du Ho, Minister of Justice." He waited while a subordinate translated, then he motioned toward Duc, "General Duc is a Vice-Minister with War Crimes Investigations. On behalf of his Ministry, he is the official sponsor assigned to your friend, Mr. Forrester."
Acknowledging a translation of the introduction, Duc nodded his head, then offered for translation. "I believe we have met, but not under the best of circumstances."
Minister Ho continued through the interpreter. "Mr. Fox, I have had you brought here because General Duc has convinced me that Paul Forrester is as he appears. He and his son came to Vietnam with Mr. Wayne Geffner, who is here to search for his Amerasian son. I have determined that Mr. Forrester has spoken to General Duc about suffering a memory loss and is here not only to take pictures but to try to put his past into perspective. We have examined his photographs taken during our war and believe he felt compassion for the people of Vietnam as well as your soldiers. We have taken the liberty of developing the film found in his camera. We found all his photographs tastefully depicting the true spirit of my people."
Fox artfully squelched back a growing desire to smile at the man's misconception. If only you knew just how different this man is from the way he appears, he thought, you would be all over him in a moment.
"I have questioned Mr. Forrester," Minister Ho continued, "and though his answers corroborate yours almost completely, in no way have his activities presented any threat to our security. Under my order he is presently being processed for release from custody. I also wish you to know we have apprehended your accomplice, Mr. Quan. We shall deal separately with him for his crimes." The Minister took a deep breath then slowly let it out. "What remains a problem, is what I should do with you. Entering our country without proper approval is a crime punishable by imprisonment at hard labor."
"I know," Fox replied, lowering his eyes.
"I still must consider the possibility Mr. Forrester does not know you are a spy."
"That is not true," Fox returned confidently. "I am not a spy."
General Ho watched carefully for any slip. "Mr. Fox, we are a nation happy to be at peace. We open our borders to those, like Mr. Geffner and Mr. Forrester, whom we decided worthy of entry. We have also allowed your people to come here to search for those you list as missing. We do not wish to engage in any international incidents regarding the imprisonment of American citizens." He glared across his desk at Fox. "Still the remaining fact is you have entered our country under false pretenses and we need to know why. When originally questioned, you lied by saying you served here as a Marine. We already knew your name was not on any of the official rosters of American servicemen we found abandoned at one of your fallen bases. After lies, how much of what you tell us can we believe? Tell me, is your name really George Fox or is your passport also the creation of your CIA?"
"My name is George Fox and the passport is one reissued to me three years ago by my Department of State. Only my story and travel visa are false."
"Still, you have tried to deceive us. We could charge you with espionage."
"I am guilty of deceiving you, but not of espionage. My deception grew out of feeling I lacked the time to get formal approval. I know I was wrong in doing what I did and in defense of my actions I can only ask this: If seeking a travel permit I disclosed to any of your Embassies that I worked for a small United States government agency called Federal Security, would I have been granted entry?" I can see by his eyes that General Ho understands my quandary. He knows I would have received a decisive 'no', the same as I would have given the alien and his son if they had asked me if it was all right to travel anywhere outside the United States.
The Minister's forehead wrinkled at his quandary. "Now, I want you to state for me exactly why you came here as you did."
"The truth is, I came because I was afraid for my friend and his son and if faced with the same uncertainty, I would do the same thing again."
"I heard things from others, and believed..." Not seeking to alienate the official any further Fox's voice trailed off.
General Ho's back stiffened and his expression hardened. "You believe us barbarians?"
Fox grimaced and his face blanched. "I'm afraid I did jump to that conclusion. Without all the facts I became greatly concerned for Mr. Forrester and his son."
"Since the anniversary of our liberation in 1985, we have hosted many Americans without incident," Ho returned decisively. "We even require sponsors so that you may be kept advised of our laws. In this way all guests have remained out of trouble ... that is until now."
"May I explain, sir. Our government did not issue documentation for, or condone those visits. Since a reason to visit your country never crossed my mind until now, I felt I couldn't wait to go through official channels," Fox offered diplomatically.
One of General Ho's eyebrows shot upward. "Now you know differently?"
"Still, what you created by your actions is a serious infraction of international law," General Ho returned. "Since you are within our jurisdiction, it is our right to detain you while we determine your punishment."
"Again, I know that," Fox replied, his head lowered. "I can only ask that in determining punishment you give consideration to my reason for coming."
"I wish you to know that this incident, though highly unfortunate for you, is also unfortunate for me. Another route open to me is to have you escorted out of the country under guard, but such an open declaration would surely result in a negative response from your government. We do not desire to antagonize the United States, particularly now that we are trying to resume friendly and mutually beneficial trade relations."
"This 'incident' on my record would also create great discomfort for me," Fox acknowledged.
General Ho looked at Fox with an air of complete authority then his head cocked slightly. "What I would like you to do, Mr. Fox, is tell me what punishment you think appropriate to your crime against the state."
Fox read the Minister's body language as a display of interest in an amicable solution. "While I could not excuse my indiscretion, I would suggest I be allowed to leave Vietnam without incident."
"That is no punishment."
"I know, but please listen to what I offer in return. If allowed to leave peacefully, I would think graciously of the Socialists Republic of Vietnam. I would make suggestions that reconsideration be given to my government's position by speaking freely with those in power about the hospitality and consideration received."
"What voice will an agent of a 'small' government agency have on those making such decisions?"
"Probably not much at present," Fox confessed. "It will require many small steps toward cooperation between our countries before a firm enough pathway will exist to achieve what must be mutual goals."
General Ho nodded respectfully. "What you say does have merit and bears consideration." He motioned toward General Duc. "I have also received another suggestion I feel might offer you time to think about your indiscretion and would also provide me a better informed ambassador. General Duc has suggested it may be well for you to learn more about Vietnam before you go home. He has offered to add your name to his group sponsorship if I will order the issuance of a proper travel permit. Based on your cooperation and the facts now before me, if you agree, I will grant both requests." He looked Fox in the eye, awaiting an answer.
"I agree," Fox returned without hesitation.
"Okay, I will order the issuance of your travel permit. As soon as it comes over from the Ministry of Travel, I will release you to General Duc. You will remain with his group until they are ready to leave. You must seek his permission if you wish to depart earlier. I have recorded this entire conversation and will keep it as evidence if you are caught violating any of the terms. A violation means immediate arrest and the filing of formal charges of espionage with your government. Do you understand?"
Fox gave an uncontrollable sigh of relief. "I understand, sir. Believe me, I do understand."
Minister Ho turned to his interpreter. "Take him to Room 72 where Mr. Forrester is waiting."
Once delivered, Fox asked the interpreter. "Would you please thank General Duc for helping me?"
The man translated then returned Duc's answer. "The General says you are welcome."
"Would you ask him why he suggested I stay?"
"He says it was not his idea," the interpreter returned. "He says you will have to ask Mr. Forrester."
"I don't understand?" Fox questioned.
The interpreter asked and received the answer. "General Duc says neither did he."
As darkness was about to descend, Paul, Duc and a very subdued George Fox walked from the Ministry of Justice. As he settled into the back seat, Fox looked humbly at Paul. "Why did you ask the Minister to order me to stay?"
"Believe me, I did not ask because I really wished for you to stay. I only asked because I don't want you to leave with the way things are now, "Paul replied decisively.
"What do you mean, the way things are now?"
"George, do you remember in El Paso I said 'no' when you asked to meet with Scott?"
"You told me you needed to talk to him first."
"After our meeting I told him we had made peace. When I saw you at the school I though you were ready to break your first promise, then seeing you drive off I believed you had changed your mind and chosen to respect my wishes. I have not broken my promise. I have talked to Scott. I even suggested that we arrange a meeting. Though I knew Scott was apprehensive, it was one of the things I wished to take care of before the trip. Now I fear you have again aroused his animosity. Though he knows you have no authority here, I am sure you have him worried about our safety. I believe your decision to come here has undermined his confidence in my judgment."
"You have a right to be angry," Fox offered. "I'm sorry."
"Perhaps angry is too harsh a word." Paul lifted his chin proudly. "I am displeased with you. I have tried to teach Scott that he must always control his anger and develop within himself the ability to forgive. Now, I am leaving it up to you to build a relationship with him. I can only warn you of the extreme hostility he feels toward you. I am sure this day has not helped your cause. You will have to work toward gaining his acceptance the same as I had to do. Do not make the mistake of trying to lie to him, for a large part of him is me and he could very well sense it. I thought you might benefit from some time together while you are learning more about this country."
"I think I'd rather wait until you talked to him again. I've never been very good with kids."
"Neither was I, but it is you who have cast the die. Be truthful about how you feel, but do not push too hard. Merely listen and learn. Observe how he reacts in different situations and wait for opportunities to reach out to him. Sometimes a helping hand at the right time can work wonders. I think with patience you will find yourself achieving what you desire."
After a brief trip to his hotel to collect his things and check out, George Fox followed Duc and the Starman up the three flights of stairs to the room. Seeing Fox, Scott looked at him then back at his father with growing disdain. "Why did you bring him here?"
"He is to go with us."
"The Minister of Justice has ordered him to join us," Paul advised. "Since we will be traveling together, I told George he may share our room."
"You are kidding me?" Scott rebuffed. He saw no smile appear on his father's face. "You're not." Scott glared at Fox again and unable to contain his pent-up emotions, exploded. "Why did you have to follow us here! Can't you just leave us alone?"
"I came here thinking I was going to save your lives," Fox offered meekly.
His eyes filled with fire Scott glared at him menacingly. "I don't believe you. Dad said you settled things in El Paso. Now you show up here." He looked at his father, then back at Fox. "I'm going to tell you what I've wanted to say for a long time. No matter what Dad says, I hate you and I wish he had let you die!"
At Scott's words Paul's eyebrow shot skyward. "Scott, that's enough!"
"Let him talk," Fox said, his forehead wrinkling into a deep frown. "Maybe the best way of making peace is to let it all out."
Scott glared back defiantly. "Mr. Fox, we'll never make peace. Can't you understand simple English, I hate you!"
"Scott," Paul said emphatically. "Enough!" He placed his hand on Scott's shoulder and forcefully pushed him through the open door and into the hallway.
I can feel Dad is angry over me bringing up what happened at Peagrum so I know I'm in for another lecture. But, I don't care. Having to take him with us just isn't fair. When he heard the door close behind him, he turned to see a grim look on his father's face. "Dad," he groused defensively, "I know you don't want to tell him what you did for him, but maybe if he knows he'll leave us alone."
"There will be no negotiating on the issue," Paul said sternly. "In addition to the Justice Minister's order, both Duc and I have agreed to having him join us so he stays. If he breaks any more laws he could be sent to one of those rooms at the Hanoi Hilton."
"That would suit me just fine."
"It will not suit me," Paul replied adamantly. "He came here because he thought we were in danger."
"Come on, Dad. You know why he came here."
"I'm sure he told me the truth," Starman returned.
"Sure, he's telling you what you want to hear. Have you already forgotten what he did to Mom? He made her give me away. Because of him we had to leave people and places we loved. After he almost killed you with drugs he shot us both down like animals. How can you forget being strapped to a table inside a glass cage like a laboratory rat? Well, I'll never forget."
"Scott, look to the future and stop grousing about the past. Do you understand?"
"Okay," Scott said with reservation, then added, "but I'm not sleeping with him."
"The hotel said they would bring up a cot," Paul advised.
"Can't he get another room?"
"No. Now, are you going to keep acting like a child or an adult?"
"Do I have a choice?"
"Perhaps we could get you another room."
Pouting at his lack of viable choices, Scott's lower jaw jutted out. I don't want to be away from Dad and Uncle Wayne because of him. Picturing Fox chained against the wall of a cell in the stark gray Hanoi Hilton brought a smile to his face. Well, maybe I can make a stay in the Hilton seem mild compared to staying with us. "Okay," Scott's eyes narrowed in anticipation of getting satisfaction, "I'll give it a try."
Seeing Scott's smirk, Paul wrapped his arms around him. Holding him close for a long moment he physically probed his son's emotional stability. "That's all I can ask of you. It will be all right, I promise."
"Yeah, it sure will," Scott returned impishly."
Separating, Paul looked Scott in the eye. Well, I know his anger has passed, but there is something ... hidden. I hope my idea of getting Scott and George together will give them an opportunity to get to know one another and ultimately to make peace. Walking back Paul saw one of the house boys struggling to get a cot around the corner of the stairway. Scott, not exactly excited about returning to the room, rushed to help him. Paul's eyes rolled and he shook his head slowly as he waited at the door. My son will do anything to put off facing George Fox again. I hope George has the necessary patience. I'm afraid he has his work cut out for him.
Fox looked at Scott then chose to remain out of the mainstream of the social activity of the room. I need to allow myself some time to develop a feel for my newest, and I'm afraid my most difficult assignment to date. I have to marvel as I listen to all of them chattering in Vietnamese. I know Geffner was here before, but how could Forrester and the boy have learned this language so quickly? This could present me with a problem, he thought. I will have limitations on my ability to communicate. I wonder what they're talking about. He glanced at his watch. I notice there's no place to prepare food in the room. I hope they're talking about getting something to eat. I must have guessed right, Everyone is getting up.
As usual, Duc selected the eatery and though what Duc ordered as 'beef steak' in no way resembled what an American would expect, it was well-done, tasty and eagerly consumed by all. As usual Scott cleaned up everything on the many serving plates brought to the table. Duc excused himself saying he had to make another phone call. They waited for what seemed a long time. Returning, Duc announced, "The airline said they had no more seats available when I called yesterday, but they managed to find seating for our original party of four." He looked at Fox. "Paul, I must apologize. The best I could do for your friend is a chair in the rear."
"I can use it," Paul offered.
"No, my friend" Duc replied, looking again at Fox. "He will sit there."
Since all eyes are on me, Fox thought, I assume I must be the subject of the conversation. He looked at Duc then at Paul. "What are you talking about?"
"I'm sorry," Paul offered. "I almost forgot. You do not speak this language." He quickly translated Duc's offer.
"It's all right," Fox returned. "I'll just call it an advanced lesson in Southeast Asian air travel." Again Paul quickly translated.
Duc grinned at Paul's effort to continue to help cover for his knowledge of English. "Paul, thank you, but if we are to remain together this will never work," he offered in English. "I will have to trust your friend will keep my secret as well. You may explain to him after I leave. Remember, we must be ready to leave the hotel by four. A vice-minister will bring us a car at the airport in Ho Chi Minh City. To save time and strain on Wayne's nerves, I have requested he take us directly to the keeper of records."
"Thank you," Wayne returned.
"Now I must go. I would like to be with my wife for what remains of this evening. Everyone rest well."
Paul placed his hand on Duc's. I now consider this man a friend, not only because he has shared his feelings with us, but because I can sense his show of concern for Wayne is genuine and not a separate face reserved for us. I would even trust him with my secret if the need arose, but since at this time that is not necessary, I must remain the one with a hidden side. Sensing his name, Paul straightened to his full height. Looking around the room he saw George Fox looking at him hopefully. 'Have you been listening to my thoughts?' Paul projected.
'What do you mean?' Fox answered.
'I mean have you chosen to invade my privacy?'
'No,' Fox said almost apologetically. 'I was just trying to project to you to see if I could still do it.'
'Well, what do you want?'
'I have a problem.'
'Everyone is speaking Vietnamese and I don't understand a word they're saying. You told me this is the normal form of communication throughout your world. Do you think you might use it to translate for me?'
'Absolutely not,' Starman returned decisively.
Fox senseda finality in Paul's response. 'Hey, it was your suggestion I stay here to learn about Vietnam. How can I learn if I can't talk with anyone? Please help me?'
'I will, but not in this way,' Paul projected with more than a little angst.
'I thought it seemed like such an easy way for both of us. I don't understand why you're so angry.'
'You misinterpreted my feelings. I'm not angry, I'm worried. Scott has yet to discover this part of himself.'
'How will he know?'
'George, he isn't blind. Even now I see you using body language along with your conversation. He, and the others, will soon suspect there is something going on between us.'
'Then how will I know what's going on?'
'As I did before the start of this conversation, I will translate for you. I will also try to teach you the language.'
'Learn Vietnamese! You've got to be kidding? Have you looked at their written language? It's the work of a lifetime.'
'Scott and I learned conversational language in just a few weeks.'
'But I'm not you, or Scott.'
'Methods of learning are universal. I can teach you the syntax of the language and enough basic vocabulary for you to understand and to put basic thoughts into words.' Paul glanced around the room. 'George, Scott is watching us. I must withdraw permission to continue this exchange.'
"I see George is having a problem with the language," Paul said to qualify. "I could help you, George, but perhaps I would be better if I teach you what I know instead of translating."
Fox understood Paul's strategy and quickly offered his cooperation. "What can I say but yes to any offer of help."
"Okay, we will start right now. Does anyone have some paper and a pencil?"
"Here's a pen," Fox offered, apprehensive of his coming task. "I have some papers in my briefcase."
Paul and Fox sat down at the table and Paul carefully wrote out some words. "These are some of the most important words you need to learn." He pointed to his produced script that the experienced would have found matched the printed words in his dictionary. "This is 'please'." He pronounced it with perfect syntax then wrote down more words. "This means 'thank you' and this is how you say it. Now you try." Fox tried and Paul repeated the weak inflections. "Again." A few more tries and Fox had them. "People will respect you for trying to learn the language, but here are also important phrases for you to remember. 'I am trying to learn your language. Will you please speak slowly'?" With Paul ever patient, they continued until it was time to turn in.
Ho Chi Minh City
Though at the airport by five, the Hang Khong Viet Nam Airlines Russian-built turboprop did not lift off until almost eight. Two and one-half hours later it began its descent and set down at Tan Son Nhut Airport, Ho Chi Minh City.
"They're still here," Wayne offered as he pointed excitedly toward some old helicopters along one side of the runway. Long ago deserted to the elements, their olive-drab paint had faded and the rotor blades drooped forlornly. He pushed his face against the window. "My God, the C-47's and 130's are still standing in a line at the end of the runway. This was all sabotaged before the final pullout in '75. Have they kept it as some kind of museum of American equipment?" He paused momentarily then his face became glum. "No, I think I'd call it a graveyard." He stretched his neck to see out a window on the other side of the plane, then looked at Duc. "It's hard to believe this was once the busiest air base in the world. It took a dozen runways to keep our troops and equipment moving."
"Now we use only one and it is not busy," Duc offered.
Looking forward, Paul spotted a building obviously used as the terminal. "It appears ours is the only aircraft here."
"No wonder the flights are full," Wayne laughed.
Exiting down the aircraft stairway one could not fail to notice immediately one basic physical difference between Hanoi and its sister city to the south. "This place is very hot," Paul announced as the heat and humidity seemed to envelop him.
"In Saigon you will only find two seasons," Wayne offered with a grin. "Wet and hot, and dry and hotter."
"Ho Chi Minh City," Duc quickly corrected.
Wayne nodded and they walked toward the terminal. A short thin man of about forty and wearing a pale brown business suit approached. After a cordial greeting, he took them to the customs office and after a simple verification of passports they were on their way. Reaching the car Duc confirmed the driver knew their destination to be the records building.
Excited at being back on somewhat familiar turf, Wayne laid claim to a window seat. Entering the city he pointed out landmarks remembered from his days in the service. Suddenly he pointed toward some women walking down the street. "Those are the first Ao Dai's I've seen since we got to Vietnam."
Seeing what to him seemed like some attractive, well-dressed young women Scott asked, "Who are Ao Dai's?"
"It's not the ladies," Wayne returned with a broad grin. "It's what they're wearing – the long dresses with the high neck and long sleeves worn over loose fitting trousers. That's what Kim almost always wore. She told me it's Vietnam's traditional dress, or maybe you'd call it a cultural costume." He pointed out another window. "Look, there's another. See the long split up the side to above the waist. From the way hers hangs, I'd guess it's made of silk. She must be on her way to something important. For everyday use there are many different fabrics and they can be either plain or flowered. Not seeing any in Hanoi I was beginning to wonder if the new Communist society had made them illegal as they have religion."
"It is still our traditional dress," Duc confirmed. "You are correct. Few in Hanoi wear them anymore. I think Ho Chi Minh City is a little more lively and also more free thinking than our capital."
It took almost an hour through mid-day traffic to reach a small building containing the still unconsolidated vital statistics of the south. Full of hope Wayne approached the man sitting at a window at what served as a desk.
Mr. Tron, eager to be doing something, searched diligently through dozens of abandoned United States military file cabinets that had found a useful reason for being. He finally found the proper report of birth filed under Geffner. He turned it over. "I'm sorry," he offered. "The stamp on the back says during the restructuring the family went to a New Economic Zone, but I find no destination recorded." He made Wayne a copy then sent them north of the city to Binh Thanh to see a Mr. Lo.
Wayne felt closer to Jimmy as they drove north toward where he and Kim had lived. They found Mr. Lo, his gray hair, beard, and wrinkles evidencing many years of living. He was tending a small garden plot behind a modest house. Considered tall by Vietnamese standards, he easily joined in casual conversation while graciously searching his records. He told of being an officer with the Liberation Army during the fall of the city. The new Vietnamese regime charged him with apprehending those suspected of collaborating with the enemy and of assignments to re-education centers or the New Economic Zones. Mr. Lo shook his head sadly when his search turned up nothing on Jimmy's grandmother or the family. "That was a very, very bad time for keeping records," he confessed. "Everything so mixed up. With the people scared, many chose to run away. No one to help. I sorry."
No, I'm sorry, Wayne thought. How many times I've longed to hear something other than those words. From everything I've heard about the fall of the city, the family must have suffered extreme hardship. Now I think I'm never going to find out what happened to them. It was almost four when they thanked Mr. Lo and left to go talk with anyone who might be living at Thi Sinh's. The small neat home she had cared for with pride they found replaced by a multitude of poorly constructed shacks. Talking to the resident bore no fruit for they had all moved there long after the war ended. The home he had shared with Kim he found recently razed by a fire. Again conversing with the neighbors provided nothing.
Duc placed a comforting hand on Wayne's dropping shoulders. "I'm sorry, but remember you are not alone in losing family in Vietnam. We lost many to bombs and mistakes. Sometimes entire villages merely ceased to exist. I truly want to help you, but at this moment I do not know where else to look." He glanced at his watch. "I think it is time to check into our hotel."
A sense of defeat permeated the entire group as they drove back into the city.
Even though it was almost completely dark, something about the area they drove through jogged Wayne's memory. Looking completely around he tried to re-orient himself. The change in focus brought a long overdue smile to his face. "Is this the Majestic Hotel that stood facing the Saigon River?"
"You have a good memory," Duc acknowledged. "but for the time of the Americans. It is now called the Cuu Long."
"Nine Dragons," Wayne easily translated. "And we're at the foot of Tu Do, or Freedom Street."
Duc smiled. "The Saigonese have a running joke about this street. They say that after the uprising there was no more freedom, so they renamed it Dong Khoi Street."
"Yes, 'general uprising' must have seemed more appropriate. The last time I was here the three blocks running north from the river teemed with American servicemen and aggressive bar girls."
Duc grinned. "Some things have changed. Now you can see it's much quieter."
Getting the room proved to be just the formality of announcing their arrival. Even a cot for Fox was already in the room. They rested for half an hour then went out to search the area for a suitable eatery.
Walking the familiar streets seemed to helped Wayne with his blue funk for he couldn't keep from comparing the Saigon he had known to Ho Chi Minh City. "Even though the people seem very poor, this is still a sassy part of town," he offered. "While I agree our position toward Vietnam has not helped improve conditions there must be some pride left. I still see many young women wearing their Ao Dai's." He looked at Duc. I wonder if I should ask him the question that had just come to mind. Finally he gave in to curiosity. "Can someone still exchange American dollars illegally for many times more than the banks offer?"
"As your government sponsor I must urge you to go to the bank," Duc returned. "But as your friend," he said through a widening grin, "I would begin questioning your mental abilities if you did."
"Then people are still on the take and the black market is thriving?"
"Yes," he laughed, "but please don't quote me on that."
As they walked on into an area of small business establishments, Scott spotted an eatery and urged them in that direction. "Good, I also see a public telephone at the corner," Duc offered. "I need to call my office before everyone leaves for the evening. To avoid wasting too much time, I trust you can order something for me as well?"
"Anything in particular?" Wayne asked.
Duc smiled. "Whatever you are having will be adequate."
As he walked off toward the corner, Scott, Wayne, Paul and Fox walked into the open air, cafeteria style food establishment. Selecting from an almost endless variety of dishes proved a challenge, but persistence finally won. They selected a table next to a window with a clear view from the entry.
Watching the door for Duc to return Paul saw a Vietnamese boy walk in. Though he purchased no food, he sat at a table about fifteen feet away. I would judge him to be nine or ten, Paul thought. He is watching Wayne's every move. I wonder what he wants. Wayne has seen him too and is smiling. He returns the smile, yet now he is looking around like Scott used to when he feared George would appear from nowhere.
Now the boy is very direct. He gestures like he is counting something in his hands leaving no question he is asking Wayne for money. Paul glanced toward Wayne. Wayne is shaking his head 'no'. The boy is again glancing around nervously. Paul shook his head almost imperceptibly. I find this exchange strangely familiar. I recall the children begging in Mexico and also on a limited basis in other American cities and Bangkok. I know Vietnam is a poor country, but this is the first time I've seen it here.
The way his eyes dart constantly one way then the other makes it clear he knows he is doing something he shouldn't. Is it societal condemnation he fears, or the police?
Now he rubs his stomach like the children I encountered in Mexico. Is he hungry? Will Wayne deny him food? Maybe he doesn't realize we speak his language. I know of one universal invitation. Paul reached for his wallet. "Let me give him some money for food."
"Paul, no," Wayne returned, but the advice came too late.
At the appearance of a wallet several children ranging in age from younger than their counterpart to mid teens materialized as though from thin air. Arms with open hands stretched out to everyone at the table as Paul began placing a Vietnamese bill in each. The children, completely involved in getting their fair share of whatever offered, paid no heed to someone approaching. "I am General Duc of the War Crimes Ministry," he announced with authority. "These men are visiting your country." His looked intensified. "This behavior is unacceptable." He held out his hand." Give me all you have taken from this gentleman, then go." Paul's money returned as fast as the children had accepted it and the youngsters wasted no time getting out the door.
"I am sorry," Duc grumped. "These are children of the streets. Some call them 'Dust Children'. The older ones are Amerasian, the subject of continuing conflict between our two countries. If you will listen, they will tell you stories of desertion by their families and discrimination by the people as a whole."
"They look hungry," Paul offered.
"If truly hungry they could have asked the restaurant for the leftovers not bothered its patrons," Duc corrected.
Accepting correction, Paul looked out the window to see the younger children scattering in all directions, but saw two of the older boys had stopped and were looking back through the window.
"For many Amerasians, accusations of desertion may be true," Duc continued. "That is why they are out on the street when other children are at home. Like we hear of in America, the persecution of those easily segregated from a general population is easy. Most Vietnamese call them con lai,half-breeds. I am sure they would be eager to go to America, but few fathers have returned for them as Wayne has. For the remainder the United States government requires documented proof of their ancestry for them to obtain permission to leave. You have already dealt with our fragmented records. Don't you agree, they need only take a look." No one disagreed.
It was almost dark by the time they left the cafeteria. Walking toward the hotel, Paul again saw the two older children standing in front of a grocery store down the street. With the light from the store he could see their faces. One a Black hybrid, is considerably taller than the part Caucasian, but both are considerably taller than the Vietnamese population. Comparing them to Scott, I think they are both well past the age of puberty, though that is only a guess. To be American hybrids they could be older, but not much younger for the United States was leaving.
The one of Caucasian descent is watching Wayne and me as though trying to see something of himself in us. Though he looks nothing like Wayne, with the infinite variations achieved through heterosexual reproduction, this maturing child could easily be Jimmy. Getting nearer, Paul smiled at the boy. Though obviously interested, he does not return my smile. I think he has taken Duc's warning seriously enough to avoid personal contact. "Duc is right, the heritage is easy to see," Paul offered. He looked at Wayne. "Even if these boys are not your son, sharing a common ancestry they might be able to help us in our search. I will try talking with them." Paul turned from his companions and started walking toward them.
"Paul," Duc offered when he saw him following, "you are wasting your time."
Duc need not have given his advice for as soon as the boys saw Paul coming toward them, they started walking away. "You need not be afraid," Paul called. "I only want to ask you some questions." As he continued following, the boys dashed around a corner into an alley. Dejected, Paul returned.
"Paul, don't you understand, they would not allow anyone to get close to them now."
"Why? I meant them no harm."
"Because they know I am with the government and I caught them begging. Besides, it is time for us to return to the hotel."
"But they might be able to help us."
"Tomorrow is another day and I am sure we will see more here in Ho Chi Minh City."
After returning to the hotel Paul continued tutoring George Fox for a while, but a blue funk that persisted into the evening made it easy for everybody to accept retiring early. Paul and Scott shared one bed, Wayne and Duc a second and Fox got the cot.
Sensitive to distress, Paul awoke several times during the night. I know Wayne is not sleeping well. I must assume his restlessness is keeping Duc awake as well. He sighed. Wayne is probably restless because he realizes with no records to follow finding Jimmy will be as difficult for him as finding Jenny has proved for us. I wish there was something I could do to help him, but there is nothing except to keep asking questions. I think in the morning I will again suggest we seek out some of the Amerasians youths.
Everyone was up early and eager for activity to occupy mind. Duc led a search of the area for a suitable eatery. As they sat at the table, a man about Wayne and Paul's age approached. Standing a few feet away, he stood for a long moment looking curiously at Scott, then his eyes visually searched every inch of Wayne and Paul. Stepping closer, he asked a question in one word. "Americans?"
Wayne, feeling rather apprehensive of a confrontation, hesitated before answering, when he saw the man's arm missing at the shoulder. He finally acknowledged with a conservative, "Vang, yes."
The man nodded his head politely, then smiling broadly he took Wayne's hands. "Vietnam need Americans come back," he offered in broken English." You advisor or regular?"
Confused at first by his question, Wayne finally realized he wanted to know his wartime status. "I was here first with the military then '72 to '75 as part of an observation team."
The man looked at Duc. "Where you serve?"
Duc briefly mentioned his service record, but the man obviously lacked interest in his fellow countryman. After accepting Paul's story of memory loss, he easily passed over Scott as being too young to remember and turned to full attention back to Wayne. "Where you serve?"
As Wayne ended the chronological account of his military and advisory duty stations, the man's eyes brightened. "You at Nha Trang, year '71?" With Wayne's nod a curiosity of adversaries grew from the realization of possibly something in common. "What you do at Nha Trang? I sapper."
Duc saw a questioning look appear on Wayne face. "I see you are unfamiliar with this Vietnamese colloquialism," he offered. "What he's saying is he was a saboteur specializing in explosives."
Grateful for the explanation, Wayne asked the man, "Where did you learn English?"
"Daytime work Americans, need earn living."
"After dark, work Vietnam."
Wayne immediately accepted the implication of the man's statement for he knew the duality of many of those working for the US. military machine. Wayne nodded toward the missing arm. "How happen?"
"Kampuchea, '79." Seeing a growing question on Paul's face, he added: "We call Kampuchea, you call Cambodia."
Paul smiled. "Yes ... I recall reading about Cambodia. You were there, also?"
"Yes, but not long. Taken home to hospital. After one week military no more pay. Must find job, need support family. Uncle help find factory job."
"What made you choose the military as a career?" Paul asked.
"No choice. Only four things for young man; go in army; evade draft by going underground; resort to self-inflicted wound so excused; or leave country. Must choose fast, leave country. I not fast enough. I drafted."
"What did you do after the war?" Wayne asked.
"Everyone thought there be blood bath when Communist come. Many left. Again, I too slow decide. By time want go, Communist stopping. Harsh treatment for get caught. If only me, I try, but no want leave family."
"So what happened?"
"I agree spend six months, re-education."
Wayne carefully studied the pain he saw in the man's face at old recollections. Momentarily he hesitated, but then asked, "What was that like?"
"Can't say it best, but they know me no collaborator, so by remaining behaved they allow family and friends send letters, then visits. Me live through it all. Still have no use Communist or methods, but glad remained."
Paul looked at the General. This man might not know Duc is a General. How is Duc going to react to this derogatory remark about the government? I see him searching the room, but I think it is to see if anyone else has heard. He has continued drinking his juice just like he heard nothing.
Listening to the man Wayne thought, What is so attracting about this man, and why should I be asking him these questions? Because he is telling me about other things I need to hear. He has direct knowledge of what happened to those who worked with us up until we decided to pull-out. Momentarily, Wayne returned to a battle field. I lost many friends in my platoon, Doug French, John Traynor, Dick Hardy, to booby-traps planted by nighttime 'sappers' like him.
A shiver coursed through Wayne's body. Of course I also remember some of the things the first sergeant ordered done to some villagers merely because he said they wouldn't follow his order to evacuate their homes. I could tell they didn't understand and since I knew much of the language I told him I'd try to explain. For them to understand wasn't his intention. Even though I refused to follow his order what followed left it impossible for me to talk about Vietnam to anyone back home.
Shuddering openly, he opened his eyes. I see this man understands the horrors of war and I'd be willing to wager he lost many more friends and relatives than I have. We share a common bond of adversity and I need to talk openly about it with someone like him if I want to relieve the pain. I would like to let it all spill out, but not in front of everyone.
Paul cocked his head to one side. Wayne has withdrawn deeply within his thoughts. From the way they are looking at each other there is something unspeakable in need of sharing.
"Where is your family?" Wayne finally asked in an effort to break the silence.
"Six children gone. I have one son left. He is with army along Chinese border."
As with Mrs. Nha, Paul thought, he also refers to his children in the collective except for a son. Is this preoccupation with male descendants a norm here?
"And his mother?" Wayne asked.
"Near the end of the war somebody raided our village. They mistakenly executed her and the children."
Another wave of guilt washed over Wayne. "Americans?"
I know in places that seem in constant strife, it is usually the women left to do the weeping, Wayne thought. Here this man serves his country and in exchange they execute his family. Suddenly he was back on the dike with Kim and Jimmy watching Vinh working his buffalo. The pain of the memory brought him quickly back to the reality of the present. His forehead wrinkled. "Didn't you say you stayed here because of your family?"
"In another raid, my second cousin lost husband. She and her family then my responsibility. She took care of my son."
With the exception of Mrs. Nha, responsibility toward family is something I found beautiful about the Vietnamese people, Wayne thought. I dared to feel sorry for myself when I lost Kim, but she left me the responsibility of a son to care for. I turned my back on him. Since we're out of leads, I'll probably never know what happened to him. Though this man and I are kindred spirits in losing family to the war, he wept for his then grabbed another because they needed someone. That is the living soul of Vietnam. "I'm sorry," he offered with deep feeling.
"So it is with life," he replied with an air of acceptance. "Some live, some die. We are always sorry."
"And what do you do now?"
"In the early morning I help my uncle here in the restaurant," he offered, eager to change from the subject of bad memories, "then I go to work in a sewing machine factory."
"I hope everything is going well."
"Life in Saigon is definitely harder now than during the United States occupation, but we are slowly rebuilding our country."
Paul lifted his camera. Displaying it, he asked, "May I take your picture?" Snapping off the lens cover at a returning nod, Paul stepped back, adjusted for distance and turned on the flash. "Now smile." The man lifted his head proudly and his mouth opened to offer what should have been a toothy grin.
His teeth, or whatever he still has left of them, look awful, Wayne thought. Is it the result of years of war without dental care or a totally inadequate health care system? Like the doctor in Hanoi, did the professionals flee Communism leaving the country without the necessary infrastructure? My initial commitment to the service was for two years only one of which would have been in Vietnam. Wanting to be with Kim I signed on for another year. Then I wanted to stay to see my son born and volunteered for another hitch. The Communist invasion started not long after Kim died and when the order to withdraw all US. forces came through, I ran for home with the rest of them. My war lasted a few years and I deserted my son to boot. This man knew war until he lost his arm. When so much of his family died, he simply took on the responsibility of another. Even now his only living child remains at war so any moment he may have no line family at all, yet he can laugh about it.
"Like others, you here visit places you soldiered?" he asked.
Seeing Paul motioning to join the picture, Wayne draped his arm around the little man. "Not completely, though I'd like to see the DMZ, Hue, China Beach ... you know, the places we gathered for fun. The main reason I came is to look for my son. Having achieved no real success in Hanoi, we flew down yesterday. So far all our luck has been bad." When the man looked curiously at Scott, his question didn't need words. "No," Wayne said. "This is my friend's son, Scott." He nodded toward Paul. "Perhaps we should introduce ourselves. My name is Wayne, Wayne Geffner and the gentleman with the camera is Paul Forrester. Paul, this is..."
He nodded. "Me, Duoc Nurong Vay. You may call me Vay."
Paul nodded politely then offered his hand while he silently translated Vay's name to mean torch, rely, surround or rejoice. "It's Paul, please." Paul in turn introduced Fox. "Now I'd like a picture of all of us together. It will only take a minute to set up." Paul proceeded to set the camera for a time exposure then ran to get into the picture.
As soon as the shutter snapped, Vay continued. "Saigon originally home, my family. Know city well. End war, I with Liberation Army. We first into city. Perhaps, help Wayne Geffner."
"We've exhausted the known record sources and really need some help."
"Have you gone visit family?
"Yes, but all I could find out is that the army moved out all the civilians."
"What part city, family live?"
"North, Binh Thanh."
"Vital Statistics. He couldn't find anything so he sent us to a Mr. Lo," Wayne offered.
"No! No!" Vay said emphatically. "Lo only official handle evacuations." The grizzled old face beamed with delight at feeling he might provide valuable assistance. "Truong Nhu Tang, called bookkeeper, is man help."
"Bookkeeper?" Wayne asked.
"Yes, he know people come soon or late, search for lost family. He offered record all move orders. He not live far. If wish, I take see?" He glanced up at the large clock on the restaurant wall. "Except I now almost late go factory. They not understanding. You here five after noon. I take." Not awaiting a reply, Vay rushed for the door.
When Duc said he didn't know where to go after Mr. Lo, I lost hope, Wayne thought. Now, just by chance I might have received a reprieve. He looked at his watch. It's only nine. Now I have to wait for three hours.
In his excitement, Wayne managed to get everyone back to the restaurant by 11:30. True to his word, Vay arrived at five after twelve. After a short brisk walk they came to a small grocery. Making short work of introducing Nhu Tang, Vay quickly explained what they were looking for and Wayne gave him the names to check. Nhu Tang asked his wife to watch the store then took them to a small storage room in the back. Stacked to its limits, Wayne was the only one able to squeeze inside with his benefactor. Tang pulled several large boxes out of a ceiling high stack in a far corner. "Of course, always know ones need are at the bottom," he said.
"That's the way it always seems," Wayne confessed. "I'm sorry for asking you to do this, but I sure do need all the help I can get."
"Is all right," Tang replied graciously.
"Here, let me help," Wayne offered. He took the first box handed to him and passed it to Paul who stood in the open doorway.
"Please stack in order in hall," the little man asked.
Everybody pitched in and soon several boxes stood in a stack in the hall.
When only two remained, Tang began searching through the large hand written ledgers it contained. It took less than twenty minutes. "The Ho Chi Minh City, Binh Thanh District record show the family of Nugyen Thi Sinh sent to New Economic Zone in Tay Ninh Province. You need now check with keeper of records in Tay Ninh to find out what district. Tay Ninh is about 130 kilometers from here on highway to Kompong in Kampuchea." He looked down at his book again. "You must remember my information is already twelve years old. Much has changed since then. I wish you the best."
"Thank you," Wayne returned "At least I have a place to start." He beamed with renewed vigor. "That's much better than the 'I'm sorry' I got yesterday."
Tang bowed graciously "Yes, I guess it is."
"Let us help you restack your record boxes," Wayne offered. At a gracious acceptance the boxes made an orderly return. Finished they returned to the store where Wayne paid him what he asked.
"And thank you," he replied at the additional five American dollars he found in his hand. "May the Greatness of Buddha smile upon you in your journey to find your son."
They returned to the restaurant and overjoyed at his good luck Wayne bought lunch. As Vay excused himself to return to work, Wayne stopped him and gave him a larger denomination American bill. "No," he returned, handing it back.
"It's so little for so much," Wayne offered sincerely as he tried returning it.
"No," Vay insisted. "I glad do. Long ago we enemies, now friends. Confucius say that is how should be."
Wayne hugged the lean sinewy man. "Thank you my friend.". At the gesture, Vay's almost toothless grin smile bloomed again. "During war, I glad you never in gun sights."
Wayne embraced him again. "Likewise. I only wish more could share some time together as we have." Just before walking out through the restaurant door, Vay turned to wave, then he disappeared. Wayne turned to Duc. "Well, when do we get started?"
"One thing at a time, my friend" he replied. "If we find your son, I am assuming you will want to take him home with you. Perhaps before we go off searching you should apply for the required exit permit. I will take you to the proper office and help you with the necessary paperwork. You will need the document Mr. Tron gave you."
Entering the city, Duc took Wayne to the correct government building and helped him fill out the initial application for orderly departure. His manner of persuasion also moved the Administrator to approve the application and extracted a promise to have the papers ready by eleven the next morning. Before returning to the hotel Duc pulled more strings to obtain adequate gasoline for their journey.
North By West
In the morning, when Duc saw Wayne brimming with enthusiasm he thought it better not to let him go personally for the exit documents. Again parking the car at the side of the government building, he said, "I am more familiar with the operation of government in my country than you. I want you to know that just because the Administrator promised to have the documentation ready by eleven, the probability is that it is not."
"But we need to get going," Wayne returned.
"I will go. I want you to wait here in the car. There are many involved in government processing of anything and here in Vietnam the speed of service is relative to the importance of the recipient. I think it better for me to see to this." Expecting obedience to his directive, Duc got out and walked off.
After waiting a half hour with the sun beating down on metal, it became unbearable to remain in the vehicle. They got out to seek shade. Always keeping an eye on the door of the office building after cooling off, they wandered around the grounds. Another half hour passed before they saw Duc walking out the door. Racing for the car they all arrived there at the same time.
"As I expected, they had nothing ready," Duc offered. "I told them I would return again at two."
"Two?" Wayne groused. "We'll hardly have enough time to get there before dark."
"Even having things done by two is questionable. They hadn't even started typing anything. I would estimate, maybe by four. Maybe not even today. I will return at two." Before Wayne could voice a complaint, Duc added. "To show impatience will serve no useful purpose. We have always been a patient people. What does not get done today might get done tomorrow." The sound of his voice made it clear to all that the matter was nonnegotiable. "Now, we have some time before two. We will have lunch, then there are still many things to see around here."
Even Duc was surprised when the papers were ready when he returned and they were on their way north. Leaving the city they passed Cu Chi, Gia Dinh and Phu Cuong, major population areas in their own right. Interspersed between were many small family villages surrounded by the rice paddies so common to the area. Crops of soy beans, peanuts, sugar cane, tobacco and corn grew in abundance on any well-drained ground and rice predominated anywhere an abundance of water allowed.
Leaving Phu Cuong the terrain changed. The road narrowed about the same time the pavement turned into a roadbed covered with six inches of powder dry red dust. Their passage spearheaded a rolling funnel of the airborne particles left to re-settle on a countryside of the same color because of the road's existence. They climbed little toward the distant low divide separating Vietnam from Cambodia, its westerly neighbor. Interspersed between the growing cane was low growing tropical rain forest. About an hour into darkness and one hundred ten kilometers northwest they reach Tay Ninh, a city of 750,000.
Finding a hotel and something to eat, they settled into two small rooms devoid of many of the before enjoyed conveniences of the larger cities. Unlike the big city hotels designed with tourists in mind, this one had no mosquito netting. A ravenous population of the vicious insects feeling free to roam in the dark made sleeping difficult and everybody was happy to see the dawn. After breakfast they drove to the provincial buildings. Dealing with government Duc still felt his forte and he again took singular control for the anxious group. After completing a search of the records he soon had them back under way. Passing only a few family settlements they continued northwest through the rolling dust for an additional forty-five kilometers. The first glimpse of Tan Lap, a village only a few miles from the Kampuchea border, brought a new feeling of elation. By noon the elation again turned to gloom when the local registrar advised the Economic Zone established several miles from the city had failed to prosper and the government had moved the people to another near Dam Doi. While the man's announcement brought Wayne continuing expectation, no one noticed Duc sucking in a deep breath.
"Well we figured this might not be easy," Wayne offered. "As long as we have a trail to follow we'll continue." He looked at the registrar. "How do we get there?"
"I know how to get to Dam Doi," Duc confessed. "It's south of the Mekong Delta almost to the southern tip of the country." He turned on his heel and rushed for the door thinking, I must get them out of here before the Registrar starts elaborating.
While Wayne would not know about Dam Doi, the Registrar most certainly does, the General thought as they reached the car. The government called Dam Doi a New Economic Zone. In reality it was the forced labor camp designated for families of dissidents and collaborators. It existed for many years after the war until someone argued that if we wished to achieve stature around the world we did not need more prisons with reputations as death camps. Soon after that I heard they closed it. Though not gassed as was the way of the Nazis, we achieved the same result with mosquitoes, leeches and hard labor in one of the hottest places in all of Vietnam. He bit nervously at his upper lip. I will provide some data and an alternative. Maybe they will decide not to go. "Dam Doi is at least another 350 kilometers south of Ho Chi Minh City," he advised. "We'll return to the city. I will make some calls before we decide to travel so far."
Paul completed some quick calculations. "In miles that is 313.79185." Seeing everyone looking at him, he added, "more or less."
"Duc, I know you're doing your best to help us," Wayne said," but even you have to admit your records are incomplete. I need to find out for sure."
Duc took another deep breath. I didn't think Wayne would go for a few phone calls, he thought. He came here to deal with a part of his life that has haunted him for many years. He will follow wherever the life of his son takes him. I guess there is always a chance the boy survived. Climbing in the car to give himself a brief moment to think, he finally heaved a heavy sigh. Do I really believe that? A Vietnamese child might survive; an Amerasian with both genetics and prejudice against him, never. What can I say to him ... these things happened? For now I think I will say nothing for my wish for him is to enjoy what time remains before facing the truth. During the time this trip allows me, I will try to think of a way to soften the reality. Now I must look confident for we have a long trip ahead of us. With everybody in the car, he returned to the dusty road back toward Ho Chi Minh City.
Procrastination On A Well Known Theme
To them this is a new adventure, Duc thought as he listened to the American's conversation as he drove. To me this trip, even back to Ho Chi Minh City, is like the passing of an eternity. Though Mr. Fox remains quiet, as usual, my friends chatter on in expectation of finding a boy I conclude must be lost. What am I going to do when Wayne must face the truth? Do I give him another, I'm sorry? No, I must try to console him and remind him of the legacies of war.
We have already passed through Phu Cuong, Paul thought. Many kilometers of our journey are already behind us. I wonder why Duc is so quiet. He watched attentively until they approached the Cu Chi District, marking the beginning of the city. Perhaps I should try to find out something. He leaned forward from the back seat. Placing his hand across Duc's shoulder he pointed toward a grove of taller trees in the distance. "I don't believe I noticed those trees on the way to Tay Ninh," he feigned.
Startled, Duc broke from his funk. "It is a rubber plantation."
"Oh, yes, that from which you make rubber tires."
"We make rubber tires because we have the trees, but most of the world now uses an oil synthetic."
"Very interesting," Paul returned slipping back into his seat. I conclude Duc is very distraught over something. Does he know something he does not wish to share with us? I do not think this the time or the place to confront him so I will just continue to watch.
Duc, knowing gasoline a scarce commodity, stopped to fill the tank at a government pump in Ho Chi Minh City. He also requisitioned insect protection before continuing south into the Mekong Delta. By the time darkness had again overtaken them, they were approaching My Tho, gateway to the great river. After finding simple accommodations and sustenance, they turned in.
We have now ridden together in the confinement of this vehicle for days Duc considered as he crossed the bridge over the last major channel of the Mekong. Turning southwesterly again he glanced at George Fox sitting in the seat next to him. I find this friend of Paul's a great puzzlement. He makes very little effort toward fitting in and says almost nothing. Though Wayne will answer his questions if asked, Paul is the only one who seems to talk casually with him other than to translate when we use Vietnamese instead of English. It is hard to deny Scott avoids him like he has some disease transmitted by communications. Scott even refuses to translate for him, yet the man tries to remain as close as he can to the boy. These things have given me special reason to watch the strange associations between my charges. I have noted George Fox seems to be studying the rest of us, but Paul and Scott in particularly. It is almost like he hungers to enter their minds.
Stopping only to satisfy biological necessities, Duc pushed on relentlessly. Phung Hiep, Soc Trang, Vinh Loi and Gia Rai passed into a history of rice production and an unfathomable network of canals. The further south they traveled the hotter it got. Insects abounded and those with a vengeance for suicide smeared themselves on the windshield in such numbers it required frequent scraping or the risk of running off the road into a canal. We will soon be in Ca Mau, and the Provincial offices, Duc thought. We have come a long way already and I am no more prepared for what awaits us in Dam Doi than I was yesterday when we left Tan Lap.
I will drive through Ca Nay without stopping for I know information at this level will not leave Wayne satisfied. Since the District Government is at Dam Doi. during these final twenty kilometers I must figure out something to tell them, he thought grimly. I just wish they weren't so happy about almost being there. He drove on.
Only ten minutes now remains before the moment of truth, the general thought. I do not want Wayne to associate his return to Vietnam with an Auschwitz or Dachow. Though the camp has probably grown back to jungle or someone has converted the land to productive agriculture by now, under no circumstances do I want to take them out there. He soon stopped the car to ask directions to the local government buildings from a man urging an over laden donkey down the road. Two minutes later he was pulling up to a modest wooden building. Okay, I will again use my position and 'no numbers' ploy and direct them to remain in the car while I do the checking. By so doing I can ask the Registrar to simply tell Wayne that his son is dead and the camp is off limits to visitors. Yes, that may prevent him from knowing exactly how his son died.
Duc walked into the office. "I need to see the Registrar of Vital Statistics."
"He will not return until morning," a pleasant woman behind the desk advised. Duc's closed his eyes momentarily. How am I going to put them off until morning? Okay, I will tell them someone is looking up the records for me. "Then I will need an appointment for tomorrow morning." He pulled his list of names from his pocket "In the meanwhile will you have someone check these names with the vital statistics for the New Economic Zone camp that used to be here in the district. I will need whatever you find available to the Registrar in the morning."
"Under what authority?" the woman asked politely.
Duc presented his credentials. "The War Crimes Ministry."
She checked his identification. "General Duc, I can do that for you right now. Please have a seat. I won't be long."
That woman is a record keeper in Mrs. Han's class, Duc thought as he headed back to where he had parked the car. Finding what I needed didn't take her ten minutes so I don't need an appointment or an excuse. I should put in a request to have her moved to Saigon to try to gather the records together. Not yet to the vehicle, he stopped short. Everybody is gone again. He looked around frantically. I will just wait here. Like the many other times they have disappeared, hopefully they are watching for me to return. He stood there looking around, but saw no one bounding his way. Now where are they? he grumped. Paul is probably using the waiting time to take pictures so they may have wandered further than they thought. I just hope they haven't started asking anyone about the camp.
Still seeing no one coming, Duc walked briskly toward the nearest gathering of people he saw. Uneasy at seeing three of his charges surrounded by moving bodies he quickly relaxed at the sound of singing. Spotting Fox standing off to one side, he walked over and found him watching Wayne, Paul and Scott stumbling clumsily through a traditional folk dance. He shook his head then turned to Fox. "I wonder how they always seem to get involved so easily in everybody's affairs."
"I have noticed Paul Forrester has a definite propensity for getting involved," Fox replied honestly. "I think it has something to do with wanting to learn everything about everybody,"
The dance soon ended and the three impromptu dancers noted Duc had returned. Though panting from the exertion, Wayne rushed over in anticipation. "Well, what did you find out?"
His staunch moodiness of the past two days gone, Duc laughed heartily. "Your son is no longer down here. We need to start back right away. I'm afraid you are not going to believe this."
"Believe what?" Wayne asked.
"Some government official not identified in the records had your son and some members of the family removed from here in the spring of 1981. That means up until then, he was alive. Yesterday as we were leaving Tay Ninh for Tan Lap, do you remember seeing a road off to Hoa Hiep?" Seeing confirmation, he continued. "Well your son went to one of the many small farming villages spread out all over that district. The transportation order gave the area, but not a final destination. We will go from village to village until we find out what happened to him." Relieved after his angst of the past two days, Duc could not wait any longer to say, "Let us go from here."
A River Apart
Another cross Vietnam trip followed, one in which hope and enthusiasm was no longer solely allotted to the Americans. With a plan to stop at every village, Duc turned south on the road to Hoa Hiep. Driving for many kilometers, off in the distance over fields of newly planted sugar cane he spotted some huts and turned off onto the first road usable by an automobile. Driving into the village, he parked and soon they were walking toward a peasant woman washing clothing in a large tub. "Do you know of an Amerasian boy living in any of the villages around here?" Duc asked.
"There is an Amerasian living in the next village, but he is hardly a boy," she replied. With the wave of an arm she directed them out toward a vast expanse of sugar in varying stages of growth. "Besides, I do not believe you will find him there now."
"What do you mean?" Duc asked.
"Earlier this morning I believe I saw him out planting one of their riverside fields."
"Can we drive there?"
"To the field?" she asked as though questioning his mental faculties. Seeing the man expected an answer, she did. "Of course not."
"Then how do we get to the village?"
"You can drive to the village, but it would be quicker to walk. To go by motor vehicle you will have to return to the main road, go fifteen kilometers northwest, turn left for another five, fourteen south then two miles into the village."
"That will take us two hours," Wayne groused.
"If you walk to the village it is about two kilometers; to the fields where I saw him, less than one."
"Why is it so far around?" Scott asked.
"Because the river flows between our villages. We have a bridge, but it will not support automobiles. If you are as anxious to find this young man as you seem, I suggest walking."
"We have been in the car for almost four solid days," Paul announced with purpose. "I think a walk would do us all good." He reached inside for his camera bag. "First, may I take your picture?" The woman smiled bashfully, but taking directions she moved to stand beside her rustic thatch home. He snapped several pictures, thanked her, then putting the camera away again hung its bag back over his shoulder. She responded by lowering her eyes then giggled coyly like Mrs. Nha's grand children. "Okay, I believe we are ready." Seeing Wayne rushing ahead, Paul held Scott back. "We will go slowly. When you are possibly ready to meet your son you really don't need a lot of company."
She said this Amerasian boy was working in a field, Wayne thought as he followed the narrow pathway between cane fields. The path soon came to a narrow bridge that took him across a dirty, silt laden river. As though late for an important appointment and puffing from the exertion after days lacking in exercise, Wayne rushed even faster along the path that continued on the other side. "The blasted cane over here is six feet high," he grumped softly. "How am I going to find anyone over here?" She did say he was planting a riverside field, but the path is taking me away from the river. There's only this one open field yet. I see someone up a little further. Please, let it be Jimmy.
He concentrated on a field worker bent over planting sugar cane, but the traditional conical shaped hat of woven straw he wore concealed his face. Dressed in dark green shorts and the loose fitting off white short-sleeve shirt, this could be any Vietnamese farmer, man, woman or child.
As though possessed by an impulse, the person in the field suddenly stood straight and removed his hat to wipe the sweat from his brow. Quickly replacing it, he bent over again and smoothly reached into a large woven bag containing bundles of young cane. Planting this and many others before sundown was his obligation to the welfare of his village. Wayne, his breath still coming in short pants, felt his heart begin palpitating. "It's him!" he said even though his companions were far behind. "I'm sure of it! I can see Kim written all over him!" Without a word he started across the field still soft from flooding. Breathless, he ran up to the boy. "Son, I've come to take you home."
With his mind locked on his work, the young man jumped at the strange voice. His eyes grew wide as he stood straight. "Is something wrong at home?" he asked.
"No, everything is going to be just fine. Jimmy, I'm your father." Wayne whipped his departure documents out of his pocket and waved them at the maturing young man. "Here is all the necessary paperwork I need to take you back to America."
TO BE CONTINUED