Preface

Udorn

The Klong

The Routine

The Monsoon Season

One More For the Ditch

A Disappointment

Samchai

The Morning After

Family

The Routine

 

When he'd volunteered to return to Southeast Asia, Cass had expected to go to Saigon, but in January North and South Vietnam signed the Paris Peace Agreement, and in March, just before he left the United States, the last Americans pulled out of Vietnam.

Cass found himself in a strange, ambivalent position. He was commander of what remained of the United States' Southeast Asia tactical control system, with elements at Udorn, Nakhon Phanom, Ubon, and Bangkok, but for political reasons his geographically widespread unit was designated a "squadron," and so, by law, he automatically was troop commander for the people at Udorn, where both the squadron headquarters and one of the unit's radar sites were located. As a result he had to divide his attention between the operational requirements of the whole system and more immediate local problems such as fights, AWOL's, and V.D. rates.

In his first overseas command Cass had had to fire two first sergeants before he'd found a man with the unusual combination of professional determination and personal flexibility equal to the job. He was relieved when he met Chief Master Sergeant Elton Rafferty. Elton was a compact, hard-muscled, red-faced Irishman who reportedly could drink most men twice his size under the table. His laugh could fill a room and start the whole room laughing. His stone-faced, flat-footed stance on matters of principle could make malefactors hunt for cracks in the floor, and yet, when mothering was called for, Elton could be a gentle mother.

On Cass's first day in the office Elton said: "Sir, there's a softball game tonight at six. The troops would really like it if you were there." As it turned out, Cass was in a briefing at the radar site as six o' clock rolled around, and the game slipped his mind. The following morning Elton cornered him after the squadron staff meeting. "Sir, we almost lost the game last night. It would have helped if you'd been there. The troops were sort of expecting it."

Willie came in as Elton left. "What's he uptight about?"

"He just chewed my ass," Cass said in a shocked voice. "You guys should have got me to that game last night." It was the last time he missed a softball game.

On the afternoon of Cass's second day Elton brought in a stack of papers. "These are five requests for tour extensions, sir. You have to sign them if you want to approve them."

Cass shuffled through the forms. "I don't know any of these guys yet, Elton. What about it? Should I sign them?"

"Probably no sweat on three of them, but one's for Sergeant McCarron. He's already on his second tour. If you sign that one you'll have to write a justification. The regs say he's due to go home."

"Should I do it?"

"No sir. I don't think so. He's a good troop but there's no special reason why he should stay. If you sign his extension you'll have a hard time turning down the other guys who want to do that."

"Why does he want to stay?"

"He's got a tealock, a sweetheart. Doesn't want to leave her."

"Is he married?"

"Yes sir."

"I don't see any reason to bend the regs in a case like that," Cass said. "Who's the other one?"

"Airman Wendell."

"Second extension?"

"No sir. First."

"Isn't it pretty routine to let a guy have one extension if he wants it?"

"Yes sir. But this is a special case. Jerry's nineteen. He's Okay so far, but if he stays he's going to get in trouble."

"Tealock?"

"Yes sir."

"He married?"

"No sir. His tealock's the problem. She's squeezing him hard. He's broke all the time. Before this kid came along she screwed up at least two other guys I know of. She bleeds 'em dry. Before Jerry Wendell it was Sergeant Plowman. Plowman was forty and he should have known better. He left four months ago. Before he got out of here she ripped off all the stuff from their bungalow. His stuff too. Hi fi — everything. When he raised hell she told him to go screw himself. He hit her. Gave her a black eye. She got a lawyer and had him arrested. He ended up on administrative hold. Had to stay an extra month until the case came up in court. She got five hundred dollars damages. Plowman had to get his wife to borrow money so he could pay it. After he left, the girl sold the stuff from the bungalow and opened a bar with the money."

"Does Wendell know all this?"

"Yes sir. He's convinced it was Plowman's fault. As far as Wendell's concerned, the girl can't do anything wrong."

"How old is this female?" Cass asked.

"About twenty I'd guess," Elton said. "Going on thirty five."

"Okay, Wendell goes home."

"He's gonna raise hell, sir. He'll probably want to see you."

"I'll see him whenever he's ready," Cass said. "How about the rest of these? Anybody else in this bunch married?"

"Yes sir. Sergeant Bennett."

"Bennett have a tealock?"

"Yes sir."

"What kind of troop is he?"

"He's a good worker and he's never been in trouble. I don't know what kind of family situation he's got back home. He won't talk about it."

Cass found Bennett's form and looked through it. The man was a master sergeant. Forty two years old. Married. Two children. "This guy's only a year younger than I am, Elton. Have you talked to him?"

"Yes sir. I'll admit, a guy like Bennett asking for an extension is… unusual. The thing I finally had to think about is… well, this guy's a mature individual. He's not like Wendell. Wendell's just a kid who doesn't know any better. Maybe Bennett's screwing up his life. I don't know. But as long as he doesn't screw up the unit at the same time, I guess that's his privilege. I've checked with the people he works for. As far as they're concerned, he's an asset."

"Think I should talk to him before I sign this?"

"Yes sir," Elton said with relief. "I sure do."

 

When Cass got back from lunch, Elton was waiting for him. "Airman Wendell wants to see you, sir. About his extension."

Wendell was tall, gangly, and uncoordinated. He had scraggly blond hair a little too long, an almost invisible mustache, and a bad case of acne.

"Come on, Wendell," Cass said when the boy rapped once on his open door.

"Airman Wendell reporting, sir." Wendell stood at attention and gave Cass a snappy salute.

Cass returned the salute. "You don't have to salute inside. Sit down." The boy unfolded into a chair. "Want some coffee?" Cass asked.

"No thanks, sir. Okay if I smoke?"

"Sure." Cass pushed forward an ashtray on the long, teakwood conference table in front of his desk. Wendell drew a half-crushed cigarette out of his fatigue uniform pocket and lit it.

"Sir, the First Sergeant says you ain't gonna sign my extension."

"That's right," Cass said, leaning back in his chair. "Did Sergeant Rafferty talk to you when you put in for the extension?"

"Yes sir."

"Did he tell you he thought you ought to go home when your time's up?"

"Yes sir."

"Did he tell you why?"

"Yes sir."

"He and I agree."

"Sir," Wendell leaned forward and snapped an ash off his cigarette. "The Shirt… I mean Sergeant Rafferty… He's gotta a hardon about… I mean, he don't like Diu. She pissed him off somehow and he can't get over it."

"Is Diu your tealock?"

Wendell sat up straight with an indignant look. "Sir, she ain't no tealock. She's my fiancee!"

"You mean you want to marry her." Cass made it a statement rather than a question.

"Yes sir. I'm gonna marry her. I love her. She loves me. I never met no girl like her. Broads in the States. Roundeyes. They ain't like Diu."

"Yeah," Cass said. "I can believe that. Do you know about the things she's done?"

"That's a bunch of bullshit, sir. Some of the people around here… They're just down on her."

"I hear you've been borrowing money and you're always broke. How come?"

"Well… She… Diu, her mother's sick. I hadda help her pay the hospital."

"Have you started the paperwork to get married?"

"No sir. I thought I was gonna have another year. Sir, it's my first extension. Everybody gets one extension. That's the rules."

Cass sighed. "That isn't the rule, Jerry. An extension is supposed to be for the benefit of the service. If you extend, that means somebody else doesn't have to come from the States. That's good. But I have to balance the good against what I think might happen to you and the squadron. If you get in trouble, that cancels out the good. When I sign an extension it means I almost guarantee the guy won't get in trouble. In your case, I can't guarantee that. So I can't sign it. You understand?"

"No sir. All that shit about Diu. Everybody's down on her. That's all."

"You mean none of that's true?"

"Well… She had that fight with Plowman. But it was his fault. He beat her up."

"Jerry, how much longer before you're due to go home?"

"If I ain't gonna get my extension… four months."

"Why don't you start the paperwork to get married? The Thai'll run a background investigation on Diu. If nothing bad turns up you'll prove all these other guys are wrong. If you start now, probably everything'll be finished by the time you go home. You can come back on leave and marry her, or she can go to the States on a tourist visa and you can marry her there."

Wendell gave Cass a mournful look. "Sir, I believe you're tellin' me what you think is right. But I don't think that's the rules. I ain't heard of one other guy that asked for a first extension and didn't get it. I wanna see the I.G."

"You're not afraid to have a background check on Diu are you?"

"No sir. She's a good girl. But I still wanna see the I.G."

"Okay. Colonel Dobbs is the I.G. in our outfit. You can talk to him. If you're not happy with that, he can set you up with the Wing I.G."

"Yes sir. I wanna see the Wing I.G. I already know what Colonel Dobbs thinks." Wendell got up to go. "Sir, you sure you ain't gonna sign my extension? I never heard of a guy not gettin' his first extension."

"You're probably going to hear about it some more. It isn't supposed to be automatic."

Wendell saluted, and went out the door in an obvious huff. In a minute Elton came in. "Whew," he said. "That kid's fit to be tied."

"He thinks you're prejudiced against his girl."

"He's right," Elton said. I've watched that broad operate for nine months. She's bad news. Sir, there's something here you need to see." Elton disappeared for a moment, came back, and put a form letter in front of Cass.

The subject of the letter was, "Failure of A1C Warren to Test Under Golden Flow." Cass read the letter and scratched his head. "What the hell's Golden Flow, Elton?"

"Random urinalysis, sir. I keep forgetting you just got here. I'll get you the reg."

"Later," Cass said. "Tell me what it is."

"It's to smoke out drug users. They pick names at random and send out a list every morning. If a guy's name comes up he has to go over to the hospital and piss in a bottle by four thirty that afternoon. If somebody misses we get a letter like this."

"Then what happens to him?"

"He has to go over every day for a week, same as if he came up positive."

"How often do people come up positive?"

"The young troops, fairly often. Mostly they're just doin' grass. Marihuana doesn't show up on Golden Flow, but a lot of the grass over here is spiked with heroin. If they get a bad batch it shows up."

"Why didn't Warren make it?"

"That's what I wanted to tell you about, sir."

"So tell me."

"This has been happening a lot lately. The hospital puts the Golden Flow list in distribution first thing in the morning. Distribution's so slow, sometimes we don't get the list till afternoon. The one for yesterday got here at three thirty. I couldn't find Warren in time. No sweat though. I'll get hold of a buddy of mine at the hospital and he'll fix it so we don't have to answer this letter."

"Distribution" was the internal base mail system, run by Harper's people. "Does Warren do drugs?" Cass asked.

"I doubt it." Elton answered. "He's as straight a kid as we've got in this outfit. He doesn't even have a tealock.

"I think I want to answer the letter, Elton," Cass said. Can our orderly room print me a form letter?"

"You mean like this one? Yes sir."

Cass wrote out a short form letter with blanks at the appropriate places. "There's one more thing," Cass said. "Get somebody to make a sign-in sheet with this poop on it." He drew a simple form. "I'll tell you how we'll use it when the letter's printed."

Half an hour later Elton brought in a dozen copies of the letter with Cass's signature reproduced at the bottom. "All right," Cass said. "Type in Warren's name and the date and put it in distribution. If this happens again, send 'em another one."

 

Sergeant Bennett was a slender, almost bald, pleasant-looking man. He sat down, refused Cass's offer of coffee with a smile, and waited for Cass to begin the conversation. Cass spent two or three minutes rereading the man's extension form before he spoke. "Sergeant Bennett, I don't want to be nosy, but if I sign this form and there's a row over it, the unit's going to suffer and I'm going to suffer. Something in the back of my mind tells me there's going to be a row if I sign it."

"No sir," Bennett said. "I can guarantee that."

"Is your wife happy with the idea of you spending an extra year overseas?"

"She doesn't give a damn, sir. We been quits for almost two years. I got a divorce working right now."

"Does she agree?"

"She isn't gonna turn it down. I'm offering her everything. She gets the house, the car… That's all she ever cared about anyway. I made a mistake marryin' her in the first place."

"How long have you been married?"

"Eighteen years. It's been hell every minute. Now I've found what makes me happy."

"What's that?"

"Sue Nan."

"She your tealock?"

"We're gonna get married, sir. As soon as my divorce is final. I'm gonna retire right here and go to work for Air America… or Trans Asia"

"This war's not going to last forever," Cass said. "When it ends, Air America and Trans Asia are out of business. What'll you do then?"

"No sweat, sir. A guy can live here on his retirement income."

"Does Sue Nan know about your wife? About your plans?"

"Yes sir. She doesn't care. She's not like my wife. All she cares about is me. Not money. Not things. Just makin' me happy."

"How far have you gone with your divorce?"

"I been writin' to a lawyer for four months. He's ready to file."

"You can file for divorce without being there in person?"

"Yes sir."

Cass tapped his pen on the form for a moment. "Okay. I think you're making a mistake. But you're an adult. I'm going to sign the form. I hope I won't be sorry."

"You won't be sorry, sir. You ask the people in Ops what kind of a worker I am."

"I already have," Cass said. "That's the reason I'm signing the extension. That and the fact you haven't been in trouble since you got here." He signed the paper and handed it to Bennett.

After Bennett was gone Cass hollered: "Elton!"

"Yes sir." Rafferty stuck his head in the door.

"How old is Bennett's tealock?"

Elton thought for a moment. "I don't know. About twenty I guess. Why?"

Cass leaned back in his chair. "Just curious."

 

On Monday night, the day after his arrival, Cass came home and found his ink-smeared khakis washed and pressed, his loose job of unpacking redone. His underwear and socks were carefully folded, tidily sorted into dresser drawers; shirts, pants, uniforms, shoes, neatly arranged in the closets. When he undressed that night he dropped his clothes in a corner of the room because he didn't know what else to do with them. Tuesday night they were clean, pressed, back in his drawers and closets.

On Wednesday he went to the trailer after lunch and let himself in. A Thai woman in her middle thirties sat on the living room floor near a window. A sheet-covered blanket was in front of her, a stack of ironing beside her. She was dressed in an old, white blouse and a brown, patterned sarong. Her feet were bare, legs folded under her as she leaned forward, iron in hand, to press his khaki pants. She had a slightly too full, pretty face, with a dark mole high on one cheek, large eyes, black hair cut collar length and waved, a plump figure. "Sawadee," he said. "I'm Gus Cass. You must be Annie."

"She put her hands together against her forehead and bowed nearly to the floor. "Sawadee, Colnan," she said in a melodious voice. Chai," yes, "Colnan. I An-nee."

He sat down on the couch. "You do good work, Annie. Are you going to be my housegirl?"

"Mailoo, Colnan," I don't know, she said. "It up to you."

"I'd like you to be."

"Ka," Thank you, she waiied again, picked up her iron and began working on his pants.

"How much should I pay you?"

She looked up at him. "Sixteen dolla, Colnan. An-nee work this trailer long time. Nine year."

He thought for a moment. According to Alan, fifteen was the going rate. "Okay, Annie. I'll pay you sixteen instead of fifteen if you promise not to lose my socks or underwear."

Annie's laugh was musical. "An-nee not lose, Colnan."

"Khawp khoon, khap," Thank you, ma'am.. "It's a deal." He smiled at her. "Annie's not a Thai name. What's your real name, Annie?"

"Leal name, Chamaipon, Colnan."

"That's a beautiful name. Why do they call you 'Annie?' Why not 'Pon?'"

"Mailoo" I don't know "Colnan. Long time ago colnan stay this trailer say, 'An-nee'" She laughed again. "Now evelybody say An-nee. No can change. Mai pin lai, Colnan." It doesn't matter. She went back to her ironing. "Colnan poot Thai," You speak Thai, she said. "You come Thai-land before?"

"Poot Thai nitnoy," I speak Thai poorly. "I lived in Ubon, long time ago. Nine years. I spoke Thai then, a little. Now I don't remember."

"Mai nitnoy, Colnan," Not a little. "You speak Thai same Thai."

He laughed. "I've got an ear like a parrot, but I don't remember words. Maybe Annie will help teach me."

"Chai," she gave him a Buddha smile. "An-nee teatz Colnan."

 

After lunch Elton stuck his head in the door of Cass' s office. "The base commander's on the line for you, sir."

Cass smiled and picked up the telephone on his desk. "Hi, Chuck. Enjoying beautiful Udorn so far?"

"Stand by for Colonel Harper," an unctuous female voice said. He stood by. In a moment there was a click and Harper came on the line with a speakerphone that made him sound as if he were calling from a submarine. "You answered a discrepancy with a form letter."

"I got a form letter about a discrepancy," Cass said.

"Your man didn't show up in time for Golden Flow."

"Would you like to know what time your messenger signed off on distribution today?"

"What do you mean, 'signed off?'" Harper asked.

"Since I found out about the Golden Flow problem I've been having your messenger sign a time sheet when he delivers distribution. If I send over a copy of the sheet in a week or so, between the two of us we may be able to solve this problem. Maybe we can talk about it over a beer some night." There was no answer. The line was dead.

 

 

Dear representative Jake Hammer,

How come the airforce cant let my husband come home from tyland. He tells me awful things that happen to him there and I send extra money from my job because stuff is expensive and hes mostly broke all the time. Hes already bin there a year and I need him here our daughters are always in trouble when their dads not here. I thot the time in tyland was a year not two years. Can you help us get him back representative Jake. We voted for you last time.

Sincerely Mrs Grace Bennett.

 

The letter was attached to a congressional inquiry form and a stack of endorsements that had been added as the package went through channels. Cass found it in his in-basket when he got back from the general's staff meeting on Monday of his second week. "Elton!" he bellowed.

"Yes, sir!" Elton came through the door and saw what Cass had spread out in front of him. "Oh oh… I was going to talk to you about that after your staff meeting."

"We've still got a few minutes. Start talking."

"Sorry, sir. I blew it. I believed the guy."

"Yeah," Cass said. "So did I. You talk to him yet?"

"No, sir. I wanted to check with you first."

Ben walked in and Cass handed him the package. "Take a look at this." Ben sat down with it at the end of the big table. "Can we kill his extension?" Cass asked Elton while Ben was flipping through the stack of papers.

"I donno. Probably not without a big stink now that there's a congressman in the act," Elton said.

Cass thought for a moment. "Does Bennett have any leave coming?"

"I think so," Elton said. "I don't remember him taking any since I got here, so he's probably got, oh, thirty days anyway."

"Okay." Cass leaned back in his chair. "Here's what I want to do. If we can stop his extension without a big stink, I want to do that. If we can't stop his extension, I want him to make a trip home and get this straightened out. I don't think we can force him to take leave, but we sure as hell can suggest it strongly. Elton, as soon as staff meeting's over, check on stopping the extension. Let Major Green and me know how that comes out. If we can't stop it I want to start working right away to get him out of here on leave."

"The sonofabitch," Ben said. "I'd like to know what he's been telling his wife."

"I think we need to find out," Cass said. "We're going to have to answer this Congressional no matter what else happens. Wait till Elton finds out about the extension, though. That can make a lot of difference in how we approach him. Elton, does anybody else know about this?"

"I don't think so, sir. I took the stuff directly out of yesterday afternoon's distribution package. The only one who had the package before me was Lieutenant Hobbs."

"Okay," Cass said. "I don't want anybody to know about this until we've got a solution working… especially not Bennett until Major Green talks to him."

An hour later Elton was back in Cass's office. "Looks as if Bennett's got a solid thirty days' leave coming, Colonel. I also checked on stopping his extension. If we move fast we can stop it, but he's going to have to sign a request."

"He'll sign it after I talk to him," Cass said.

Ben Green knocked once on Cass's door as he came in. "The bastard," Ben said. "He's been lying to his wife and he's been lying to us. I had a heart-to-heart with the sonofoabitch. He's handing her a bunch of bullshit about how short-handed we are and how we're forcing him to stay another year. He's been lying about filing for divorce too."

Elton headed out Cass's door. "I'll have him here toot suite."

"Wait a second, Elton," Cass said. Let's get whatever he has to sign to stop the extension before I talk to him."

Elton smiled. "Already got it, Colonel."

Fifteen minutes later Sergeant Bennett knocked once on Cass's door.

"Come on, Sarge." Bennett came in and stood at attention at the end of the conference table. "Have a seat over here," Cass said, motioning toward the chair nearest his desk. Bennett sat down and Cass tossed him the congressional inquiry package, then leaned back in his chair. Bennett read his wife's letter and then shuffled through the rest of the package.

"Seems you were somewhat less than factual when we talked about your extension, Sergeant Bennett," Cass said. "In fact, it looks as if you were lying through your teeth."

Bennett was silent, but his face was turning red.

"Tell me again about your coming divorce," Cass said.

After a minute Bennett said, "Well… I was gonna file, Colonel. I just needed more time."

"Uh huh. . . And your wife still doesn't give a damn if you spend another year here?"

Bennett just stared straight ahead and didn't answer.

"Okay, let's get on with it, Bennett. You lied to the shirt and you lied to Major Green and you lied to me. I probably ought to bring you up on charges, but instead I'm going to ask you to sign a request to stop your extension." Cass put the request form in front of Bennett.

Bennett thought for a minute. "I wouldn't want to sign that, Colonel. I want to stay here with Sue Nan."

"If a court martial does what I think it'll do, you'll be out of the service and you won't be able to retire in Thailand on your retirement pay because there won't be any retirement pay." Cass handed Bennett a pen.

Bennett thought for a minute. Finally he took the pen and signed the form.

Bennett left and Cass carried the form out to Elton. "Make some copies," Cass said. "We'll attach a copy when I answer the congressional."

A couple minutes later Elton came in. "The request's on its way to wing headquarters, sir."

"Okay, Elton," Cass said. "From now on, if a guy wants an extension and he's got a wife at home he's out of luck."

"Roger that, Colonel," Elton said.

 

Aftermath

Massage

Sunday Morning

Housegirls

Sawadee (Hello)

The Island Paradise

The Drunk

The Christmas Season

Sawadee (Goodbye)

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