The Ghosts of Hanoi - New Sample Chapter
Bradford Teal was a tall, athletic man in his late forties who had a penchant for three-piece suits. His short, straight black hair and horn-rimmed glasses made him seem more like an ad-agency executive than a CIA Chief-of-Station. He sat at his desk this particular Friday morning reading Gentile's report. He put it down, thought for a moment and pressed his intercom.
"Ron, come in here. And bring the cowboy with you, if he's around."
A moment later Gentile stood in his office dressed in his usual sport shirt. Next to him stood Kyle, outfitted like something out of Soldier of Fortune magazine.
Teal took in the cut off sleeves, the khaki pants, and the jump boots. "Invading someplace today, Kyle?"
"Just being comfortable, Mr. Teal. Besides, you want me to fly a helicopter in a tux?"
Teal smiled. "Sit down, gentlemen. I want to know more about this Bong business."
Gentile spoke first. "Well, as I said in the report, he's been meeting with Basilio, apparently trying to sell him on some scheme of his."
"So what's Basilio's angle?"
"He's being mysterious about it. I asked him flat out if he's been talking to Bong, and he's denied it. But the main thing is the guys they met with last night are real doozies."
Teal picked up the report. "Yeah, but what specifically do you have on them?"
"Kyle's the one who knows a lot of the local no-goodniks. That's why I called him last night. You wanna take it, Kyle?"
"Well sir, Trung and Binh are brothers. They've been involved in nasty activities for some time."
"Oh, smuggling, information trading and that sort of thing. Probably some dope too, but I don't know that for sure. They also have some contact with some of the so-called resistance groups in Vietnam and Cambodia."
"Trung and Binh -- those are Vietnamese names, aren't they?"
"Yes, sir. They came out right after we left in 1975, but they've been crossing borders with impunity ever since."
Teal gestured with one hand. "So, what's that prove?"
Gentile stepped in. "I think it doesn't 'prove' anything,
but it certainly seems suspicious as hell. Frankly, I think they're trying to talk Basilio into participating in some kind of excursion."
"Where, for God's sake?"
"Probably into Laos. Bong's got a pet theory about a town called Khemerat. He claims he has evidence of American POWs there."
Teal scratched one temple with his finger. "Ron, how did you reach this conclusion?"
"These guys have tried to organize this type of thing in the past. They went along with those soldiers of fortune who entered Laos a few years back and there have been other incidents as well. I just think they're up to no good, that's all."
"What about Basilio?"
"Well, he has a reputation of being a maverick. You
remember why he got fired from his own job, don't you?"
"Yeah, something about a stunt he pulled in Little Saigon, right?"
"Right. He conducted an unauthorized investigation against Tran Van Lam, a local Vietnamese publisher, and embarrassed his agency. He was even knocking off the guy's daughter."
"Wait a minute, Ron. Tran Van Lam's more than 'a local Vietnamese publisher,' for Christ's sake. We've had our eye on that guy for years."
"That's true, Brad, but it doesn't change the facts. We've got a maverick here who's got his own agenda and something to prove. He's meeting more or less clandestinely with some real shady characters who've been trying to get together some kind of incursion into denied territory. I think it stinks." He paused. "And let's not forget -- he's a congressional staffer now."
Teal drummed his fingers on his desk for a moment.
"He's right, boss."
"Okay, if you guys think it's that serious, that's good enough for me. Ron, confront Basilio with this stuff this afternoon. Don't beat around the bush; let him know that you know what he's up to. And then tell him to stop. Period. In the meantime, I'll talk to Larkin. Maybe he can call him in if worse comes to worse. Wait, on second thought, I'll have Larkin call Baxter and let him talk to him, that'll shake him up. Get him out of bed if we have too."
Gentile looked at Kyle, then back at Teal. "You want to go that far?"
"You're damn right I do. I don't give a damn what those gooks do, but if an American gets caught over there, it could upset some very delicate negotiations going on right now. Now get on it. Oh, you guys did a good job, by the way. I'm glad to
see we're still capable of doing good spade work."
Teal picked up the phone as the two left.
Gentile walked into Buzz's office and stood for a moment watching Buzz who sat in his chair, facing the window, totally oblivious to him. Eventually he spoke.
Basilio finally realized Ron was in the room. "Yeah, Ron?"
"Buzz, if I ask you to, will you level with me?"
Buzz had the distinct feeling this was going to be one of "those" conversations.
"Of course, Ron. What's up?"
Gentile sat on the edge of the desk, staring at the floor. "Buzz, why are you still talking to Bong?"
Buzz's initial surprise now almost turned to shock. Here we go again. "Now what, Ron?"
"I asked you a question."
There was a definite edge in Gentile's voice that made Buzz quite uneasy. He decided to play it cool. "Yeah, I heard your question. You've been asking it for three days."
Gentile stood up. The edge now turned to anger. "Come
on, Basilio! You said you'd level with me, now let's have it. Why are you still dealing with that character?"
Buzz glared at him; he was indignant, tired of being questioned. "Hey, what is this? Since when do I have to explain everything I do? I don't work for you, remember?"
"That's not the point." Gentile was a little calmer,
but still as determined. "Buzz, I have to know what's going on between you and Bong. Now, what's the story?"
Buzz wanted to stand up to him, nose to nose. He wanted to say something like "None of your damned business!" but he did neither. Still sitting, he did his utmost to control himself, something that hadn't come easily lately. "Ron, you know what I'm doing. I'm trying to find out whatever I can about POWs in Southeast Asia. And I'll talk to whoever has any info. That guy's been in Vietnam and Laos. Hell, I think he's even been in Cambodia. Why shouldn't I talk to him?"
"Buzz, you're not just 'talking' and you know it." Gentile took on the demeanor of a scolding father. "Buzz, jeez, you could be getting into deep doo-doo here, and it's my job to take care of you, you know?"
Unconvinced of Ron's sincerity, he decided to be evasive a while longer. "Okay, Ron. Let's play it your way. Tell me what the problem is. Exactly, I mean."
Gentile sighed. "The problem." He stood and walked a few steps away from Buzz, repeating "What's the problem?" as he walked. With his back turned to Buzz and his arms folded, he stared out the window for a moment. He turned around and put his hands on his hips. "The problem," he said, the level of his voice rising on each word, until he was practically shouting, "is that you are probably planning to go into Vietnam or Laos with those assholes and do . . . God knows what! That's the problem!"
Buzz finally stood up. This was completely unexpected. And unwelcome. Who is this guy? "Ron, what the hell are you talking about? Where did you get th --."
Gentile walked up to him and stood inches from his face. "Don't lie to me, dammit! I'm not stupid!"
Buzz stared at him, his mouth open. A devious look appeared on his face. "Tell me, Ron, just who do you really work for?"
"The same people you work for, the U.S. Government."
"Cute, Ron, real cute. So where did you get this idea
I was trying to play Rambo?"
"Buzz, I have my sources. All I know --."
"Sources my ass! I saw you ducking out of the bar at the hotel last night. You were spying on me!"
Now Gentile was surprised. He'd thought Buzz hadn't
burned him and Kyle. "Okay, Buzz. Let's put our cards on the table, shall we?"
Buzz folded his arms and leaned against a filing cabinet. "Yeah, let's do that, Gentile."
"You have a reputation as a maverick, a loner who would rather be right than president, as they say. You stick to your guns and maintain your position, no matter who you piss off. You're even willing to take risks, even if it means embarrassment to the people you work for."
Buzz tried to hide the fact he was perspiring. How much does this guy know? He maintained his demeanor, somehow. "So I'm dedicated and I have the courage of my convictions. What an indictment! What a terrible fellow I am!"
Gentile shook his head. "You don't get it, do you? I'm not criticizing your methods, I'm just making a point. Hell, there are plenty of mavericks in my business."
"You mean in the CIA?"
Gentile ignored the question. "Now you take a guy like you, meeting with guys like Bong, and what've you got?"
Buzz smiled. "You tell me, Sherlock."
Gentile was getting very angry. "I'll tell you, Double-O-Seven. You've got an amateur, who thinks he can prove everybody wrong, dealing with some sleaze bags just dying to find a sucker like him. That's what you've got!"
Buzz's face was red with rage. He stood facing his
accuser for a moment, shaking. "You son-of-a-bitch," he said softly.
Gentile continued his lecture as Buzz gathered papers on his desk. "You thick-headed friggin’ guinee! If you go off with these assholes and try to cross into Laos or Cambodia on some wild goose chase . . . Christ! What if you get caught? Or what if you get killed?"
Buzz closed his eyes for a second. "I'm no one's sucker, Gentile. And if you weren't half-Italian yourself, I'd kick your ass for calling me a 'guinee.'" He picked up his stuff and started out.
"Where the hell are you going?"
"To my hotel. I don't need your hospitality any more. I'll be working out of my room for the rest of the time I'm here. "
"Buzz, don't be ridiculous."
Basilio stopped in the doorway for a second, and stared directly into his eyes. "Screw you, Gentile." He walked out.
Gentile considered calling the Marine guards and having him intercepted, but thought better of it. He walked to his own office overlooking the Embassy courtyard. Down below, he saw Diep leaning against the sedan. Buzz walked up to him and said
something. The Vietnamese smiled and nodded, and he opened the door for Buzz. Gentile watched the guard wave them through the gate, and reached for the phone.
Back in his room, Buzz sat on the bed. Time after time, place after place. No matter what he did, it was wrong. What was the matter with him? Why this Quixotic quest for -- what? The most immediate question popped into his mind: Now what? He stood and considered himself in the mirror over the dresser.
"Damn, Basilio. Baxter would have your ass for this one . . . if he knew about it." Taking a deep breath, he thought about his next move. He spotted the room service menu, picked it up, and dialed the number.
"Hello, this is Mr. Basilio in 307. Send me up a bottle of wine. White. Huh? Oh, any kind as long as it's dry. Yeah, fine. Oh, and some ice. Thanks."
A few minutes later, a young Thai appeared at the door with his order. He came in and uncorked the wine expertly. Buzz didn't even pay attention to the label, quickly sniffed the cork and pronounced it to be fine. He gave a good tip to the young man who bowed and left. Buzz removed his shirt, threw it on the bed, poured a glass, added a little ice, and lit a cigar. He had some thinking to do.
Midway through his third glass, the phone rang. "Probably the friggin' ambassador." He picked it up and was startled to hear the Texas twang of Fred Baxter.
"Is that you Buzz?"
"Fred? Hey, what's up?"
"Buzz, what the hell are you doing?" Baxter asked in a voice tinged with irritation.
OOPS. "Having a glass of wine, at the moment."
"Goddamn it, don't give me that crap. The damn Ambassador to Thailand just called me and woke my ass up to tell me you're into some baloney again. Now you level with me and tell me what the hell is going on over there!"
"You too, huh? Hey, why not? I've pissed everybody else off, you might as well join the party."
"Basilio, answer my damn question!"
"Fred, calm down. All I did was talk to some people the local CIA-types don't like. They think I'm ready to invade Vietnam or some crap. Anyway, Gentile decided to spy on me and saw me with three gooks, and this morning he gave me a bunch of baloney about it. The bastard even called me a 'guinee.'"
"So what'd you do?"
"I told him where to go, and I left. I came back to the room. Now I'm having some wine, smoking a cigar, and talking to you."
Baxter's voice was strained, a mixture of exasperation and fatigue. "For Christ’s sake, don't you think those guys know their business over there? If they think you should lay off some people then, dammit, lay off! Besides, I sent you over to cool off, not to stir up trouble. Do you realize the position you're in?"
"Yes, I do.” Damn, he’s pissed. He tried to change the subject. “How are things on that end, anyway?"
"Everything's okay. I haven't heard anything from your friend. You know about Erickson?"
"Yeah, Li told me. Was it an accident?"
Baxter was silent for a moment. "Buzz, let's not discuss this stuff on the phone. Listen, things are happening between the U.S. and Vietnam you're probably unaware of. There are talks going on that have some real promise."
"Really? What's that all about?"
"I guess the Vietnamese looked around the world and saw all what that new guy Gorbachev is doing in Russia and have decided to ride with the tide. Anyway, they're starting to open up. They've invited a high-level delegation to Hanoi to settle this whole POW/MIA business once and for all. I'm going along. None of this is in the press yet."
Buzz remained quiet, trying to sort all this out. Was any of this connected?
"Yeah, I'm here. I was just thinking about what you said. So when does this take place?"
"Next week. Now listen to me carefully. I want you to go back to the Embassy and apologize to those people. And stop doing whatever the heck you're doing that's pissin' them off, you hear me?"
He took a deep breath. Damn! "Yeah, I hear you."
"Just sit tight and do what they tell you. When the delegation leaves Hanoi, I'll swing by Bangkok and pick you up. You got it?"
"Wait, why not come and get me first and bring me along?"
"No, I don't think so, Buzz." Baxter remembered George Collins' outburst. God knows what this guy would come out with. "You just stay there. Besides, I don't have the power to change the schedule just to pick up a staffer. Now you do what I say and maybe you'll have a job when you get back. You read me?"
For a fleeting moment, Buzz considered telling him what to do with the job. Wrong move, Basilio. You're running out of benefactors. He resigned himself to the reality of the situation. He spoke softly. "I read you, boss, loud and clear. You won't have any problems with me. The Marines are throwing a party tonight. I'll square it with Gentile then. And if I have to, I'll go see the Ambassador too."
"You do that. And I don't want any more goddamn midnight phone calls." He paused. "Buzz?"
"I never thought I would be talking to you this way, but you gotta learn when to hold em' and when to fold em', you understand? You gotta keep that temper of yours in check." He almost sounded apologetic. "And, you gotta learn to follow orders and not run off half-cocked every time you think you see a ghost."
"I know," he answered in a half-whisper. "I've been seeing a lot of them lately."
"Well, cool it. I can't watch over your ass way over there in Thailand, and I've gotta protect my own as well. You know that. Now, I gotta go and get some damn sleep!"
They said good-bye, and Buzz hung up. He placed his head in his hands. "Holy crap, what the hell did I do?" He raised his head, still talking to himself. "I might have killed a guy back
there, and he sends me on a vacation. I get here and all I do is talk to some jerk-offs and he threatens to fire me! What the hell is going on?"
The stuff on the table caught his attention as he sat up. His dead cigar sat in the ashtray. The bottle of wine sat next to his empty glass. He grabbed the bottle and dumped the remainder into the sink. He needed to think clearly. He lay down on the bed and stared at the ceiling, his mind racing. A bell went off in his mind, mixed in with the images of Li and Tran. He was talking to them, but none of it made sense. The bell rang some more just as Cao Vien walked into the room, a gaping hole in his head. Buzz suddenly sat up and realized he had nodded off.
He looked at the clock. Seven-thirty. He rubbed his eyes, his mind loaded with cobwebs. The bell rang again and he finally recognized it as the telephone. "Who the hell is that, now?"
It continued to ring. He was afraid to pick it up. Finally he did. "Basilio."
The last voice he wanted to hear greeted him. "Ah, Mr. Basilio, Bong here. I trust you are well?"
"Screw you, Bong." He hung up. No sense in even talking to him now, of all people
The phone rang again. Buzz tried to ignore it, going into the bathroom. It rang as he relieved himself and was still ringing when he came out. "All right, damn it!" He picked it up but said nothing.
"Mr. Basilio? Are you there?"
Buzz let out a hiss of air between his teeth. "Yeah, I'm here."
"I have done something to displease you?"
"No, unless nearly costing me my job counts."
"Your job? What are you talking about?"
"Well, it seems that some friends of mine at the Embassy think you and I are up to no good. And if we continue to talk, I'll soon be collecting unemployment."
Bong's voice took on a sense of urgency. "But who knows about our talks? What did you tell them?"
"Someone tailed me and saw us with those guys last night. Look, Bong. I don't know what you're up to and it doesn't matter. Just forget it and leave me alone, okay? I can't help you anyway."
Bong made a quick decision. "Mr. Basilio, wait. We must meet one more time."
"Please, I have the pictures."
"Photographs. Of Americans inside Laos. I am holding them in my hand."
"Yeah, right. Bong, I don't need any more of this crap --"
"Listen to me. I will give them to you. Two men risked their lives taking them, and I paid many baht to acquire them. You must see them."
Buzz's head whirled. Pictures! What if they were real? "I don't know, Bong . . . you said yourself pictures can be faked."
"Mr. Basilio, just meet me tonight and I will give them to you to study them for yourself. You bring them to your people at the Embassy. Let them check them for authenticity."
"Just like that?"
"Just like that. I expect no money, and no promises other than you'll show them to your people." Buzz was silent. "Mr. Basilio. The Vietnamese are about to meet with some Americans and lie to them once more. Don't you see? With these, you can force them to tell the truth?"
How did he know about that? The old demon called indecision once again plagued Buzz as he considered his options.
"Bong, where are you?"
"Listen. Call a taxi and tell him the following."
Buzz listened as Bong gave the directions to a cafe. He wrote down a few instructions. "Got it."
"You will be there?"
"We'll see." He hung up.
Bong put down the telephone and turned to Trung. The Vietnamese removed a cigarette from his mouth. "He is coming?"
"He will come."
"He agreed, then?"
"He did not say, but he will come."
Trung was unconvinced. "We should not have called.
We should have gone to his room."
"Don't be a fool. I know his type, he will come!"
He was right.
Forty-five minutes later, Buzz was in a taxi heading for the cafe. Part of him tried to convince himself that, should the pictures be real, they could go a long way in redeeming himself to Baxter and the others. The other part of him argued that they would also blow his earlier arguments all to hell. Well, at least a mystery would be solved. If they were real, of course.
What would Valentine look like after all these years in captivity? He closed his eyes, trying to picture that truck, riddled with holes. And those bodies. Especially Greg Bradley with that hole in his forehead. At least he knew their fates, but what had happened to Eddie and the other guy? He tried to remember the names on the dogtags. Were they Roberts, Hill, and -- what was the other one?
A sudden lurch knocked Buzz to one side of the back seat of the cab. He braced himself with one arm as the driver leaned on the horn and yelled something out the window in Thai. Buzz did not know the language but it was obvious it wasn't "have a nice day."
"Sorry." The driver’s smile through missing teeth was reflected in the rearview mirror. "Crazy driver."
"Right," said Buzz, trying to get a grip on himself. Two minutes later, the cab pulled up in front of a sleazy-looking “dive” not far from the girlie bars of Patpong Road. Buzz paid the driver and got out. He took in the front of the place for a moment – quite a difference from the Oriental. He walked in.
Inside, he quickly realized he was the only "roundeyes" there. The place was smoky and smelled bad. The tables were populated by men eating from small metal pots placed over what appeared to be portable stoves. Buzz looked around and spotted Bong, dressed in the same Hawaiian shirt. Bong noticed him and pointed to a table which occupied a corner near a door.
The smiling Buddha greeted him. "I knew you would come. It is always wise to consider all evidence."
"Right, Bong. Where are they?"
"Have patience, my friend. Something to drink perhaps?"
"Let's just get down to business, okay?"
Bong threw up his hands in mock resignation. "Very well. Oh, I take it you were not followed this time?"
"No, Bong. Not this time."
"Fine. This way." He gestured toward the door.
"What's in there?"
"Mr. Basilio, we cannot discuss this out here. There are too many ears. Please." He opened the door and gestured with his hand to go through. "Please," he said again, smiling.
Buzz shrugged and walked through the door, entering a small dimly-lit room. Bong followed and shut the door behind him. Over a table hung a naked bulb, valiantly trying to throw it's
light. Beneath it were pictures of some sort. Buzz squinted, trying to make them out. "Are these the photos, Bong?" He heard no reply. "Bong?"
Buzz turned in time to see a man rapidly bringing down the butt-end of a pistol to his head.
He had time to say "Hey, what --" Then his own lights went out.
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This is the website of Alex Drinkwater, Jr., author of fiction. including the novels "The Ghosts of Hanoi," and "Duly Constituted Authority."