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Authors: Edward S. Aarons

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“Does she realize that Orris might
have killed him?”

“She refuses to consider
it. And she’s not a stupid girl. Do you think he could have fooled her so
completely? And why should he pretend to come back to our side? She’s only
afraid that something happened to Orris, too. Why didn’t he show up? Maybe
he doesn’t trust us because he knows Muong is with us, and Muong hates
him even more than you. Why should he risk being shot down, as this Doko Dagan
was shot down?”

Durell shrugged. He had
no answers yet. He felt boxed in, forced to obey orders that went against his
intuition and common sense. He had no tolerance for traitors, and Orris Lantern
was one of the worst. Yet when he looked at the French girl, sleeping with her
blonde hair tumbled on the pillow about her piquant, vulnerable face, he
wondered if Deirdre could be right. Deirdre did not proceed so much from logic
as from faith. Maybe he had gone too far in this lonely business and had missed
something that Deirdre could provide. He felt lonely, and knew he needed her as
never before.

Yet he still felt right
in trying to shelter her from the ugly dangers of the world in which he worked.
As long as desperate men fought and died to keep some rational balance, some
order in existence, he felt needed, and he could never go back to the world
Deirdre had now deserted, and to which he wished she would return. He wondered
how long it would be before it was too late for her, too.

 

Lunch consisted of 
kuo
 
pat
,
made up of crabmeat, chicken, pork, onion, and egg, served with slices of
cucumber, soy sauce, and chopped chilis. Durell ordered more Singha beer
with it. Anna-Marie, still sedated by the French hotel doctor, tossed and
moaned in her sleep.

Durell moved the table
away from the window, where they could be targets for someone on the crowded
embankment below. He regarded Deirdre with dark, irritated eyes.

“How long will you keep
up your game?” he asked.

Her eyes were innocent.
“What game?”

“You know what I’m
talking about, Dee.”

“Sam, darling.” She
wrinkled her nose slightly in amusement. “Let’s not mix business with
pleasure.”

“Since when?”

“Since you showed how
low a regard you have for me as a fellow—member of K Section.”

“Deirdre, it’s silly to
keep that between us.”

“Do you think so? It’s
not my mind that wanders off business,” she reported. “You ought to be thinking
about Major Muong. From What you tell me, he shot Dagan deliberately.”

He lowered his voice and
signaled her to do the same. He didn’t want Muong’s listening post to
hear their plans.

“It certainly looked
that way.”

“To keep Dagan from
talking?”

“Possibly. And I haven’t
been merely brooding on your lovely body, either, Deirdre, You’re going to code
a cable to Saigon Central for me, to relay to Washington. I want a more
detailed dossier on our friend Muong. Crash priority.”

“Will do. And then?”

“Then you go and flirt
with the major”—he grinned at her flash of anger—“and keep him out of my way
While I check out his quarters.”

She was dubious. “Sam,
do you think you should?”

“Not only should, but
must.”

“How much time will you
need?”

“Half an hour, at
least.”

Her eyes were cold.
“I’ll flirt with him, if I must; but I won’t like it. And afterward? It doesn’t
settle anything about how we’re to contact Yellow Torch now.”

Durell spoke flatly.
“We’ll go upriver after him. Tonight, if necessary. If the mountain won’t come
to Mahomet, we’ll damned well go to the mountain.”

“Sam, he may be dead.”

“If so,” said Durell,
“good riddance.”

He looked at Anna-Marie,
sleeping on his bed, and went to work.

 

                                  11

THE Thai government
building was on the river, cheek-by-jowl with the Hong Chow, a Chinese theater.
A sign in Thai, English, and French read Sampeng Road, and the
street, following the crowded riverbank, was a bedlam of bicycles, 
samlors
,
and a noisy parade of Thais, Burmans, Cambodians, Javanese, and East
Indians. The Buddhist monks were everywhere, with their shaved heads and yellow
robes, since all Thai men entered the priesthood for at least three months of
their lives as good Buddhists.

There was a plot of
grass and drooping flower beds before the concrete Government House. The
afternoon heat smashed down from a sky of pure brass.

He waited in a tearoom
nearby, watching the river traffic, until he saw Deirdre and the tall, thin
Major Muong leave the building. Deirdre looked cool in white linen
and white gloves, outstanding in the sweep of colors around her. He waited five
minutes, then crossed the garden where dragonflies made flickering sword-sweeps
across the flower beds. He had checked in here before, and the Thai police
clerk knew him. When he was told that the major had just left, he was given
permission to wait in Muong’s temporary office. .

This was a corner room
overlooking the 
klongs
 that branched off the river. The view
faced inland toward the green carpet of coastal plain running north and south
along the emerald Gulf of Siam. There was no visible line between the Thai and
Cambodian border, but far off could be seen the violet haze of the uplands that
reached into the heights of the Cardamomes, in Cambodian territory. Beyond
was the fabled Angkor Wat and the ancient seat of the mighty Khmer
Empire.

The sky changed from
brass to lime green. Durell lit a cigarette as the police clerk bowed his way
out of the small, severe office. In one corner stood a  small jasper
Buddha on an ornate bronze pedestal. He looked at Muong’s clean desk
and the row of wooden filing cabinets inherited from an earlier administrator.
The fan in the ceiling was no more help here than elsewhere. Incongruously, a
modern air-conditioner was fitted into a window, but it wasn’t working, of
course.

Muong’s
 
simple
living quarters were behind the office, provided expressly for his temporary
duty here. The door was a carved double panel with a brass lock. Originally,
the building had been a hotel built by French speculators forty years ago, and
some of the rococo furnishings still persisted. He tried the brass handle. It
was firmly locked. From a pocket, he took what looked like a switchblade,
pressed a button on the handle, and brought forth a series of picklocks that he
tried rapidly in the ornate door. The third prong found its target and the
double leaf swung inward to Muong’s quarters.

The Thai’s asceticism
was evident in the lack of personal equipment in the room. There was a low bed
with iron head and feet, an old-fashioned dresser and wardrobe cabinet, and a
washbasin with a flowered bowl and pitcher, although running water existed,
too.

Durell’s search was
swift and efficient. His first discovery was the straw suitcase that Doko Dagan
had tried so hard to keep with him this morning, at the cost of his life.
Durell found it on the floor of the wardrobe. He lifted it to the bed,
surprised by its weight, and in a few moments opened the simple lock. Major Muong had
not offered the results of his search, but Durell was not too surprised.

The cheap suitcase was
crammed to the top with poorly printed leaflets on cheap pulp paper. The
messages printed thereon were in English and Chinese. It was poisonous, an
incantation of hate against “American imperialists” and a demand for a
“people‘s revolution” and the establishment of a “Democratic People’s Republic
of Thailand,” under the guidance of the Cong Hai. Ho Chi Minh’s hand was
evident in every word and crude cartoon in the bundled leaflets.

Durell closed the
suitcase with a frown. At first glance, it seemed hardly worth the effort Doko had
made to keep the suitcase, even when fleeing for his life.

He searched further,
examining Muong’s uniforms, the bath, and glanced under the bed and
pillow and into a small portable filing cabinet that had been wheeled into one
corner. As he searched, he kept one ear tuned to the noises from the 
klongs
 below.
Thinking of the leaflets, he reflected that there must be millions upon
millions of similar printings all over the world, in dozens of languages and
dialects, pouring from the presses of Hanoi and Peiping.

There were two other
items of interest in Muong’s room. On a bed table, as if to show his
impartiality, Muong had a collection of recent Chinese Communist
newspapers. He had underlined in blue pencil a long article in 
Jenmin
 
Jih Pao
,
the organ of the Chinese Communist party, assailing “Moscow revisionists who
conspire with American imperialism for peace talks in Vietnam.” There was also
a copy of 
Hoc Tap
, the journal of the Lao Dong Communist party in
North Vietnam. In it, the First Secretary, Le Duan, complained that not
enough sacrifices were being made to help their “brothers in the Viet Cong.”
This article had also been underlined in Muong’s careful blue pencil.
Then there was an old edition of 
The New York Times
 dealing
with the movement of Cambodians across the ill-defined borders into Thailand
and Vietnam, and the capture of some of them by the Vietnamese Ninth Infantry
Division.

Durell replaced the news
articles with a deepening frown. It was no crime to read enemy propaganda. You
had to know the enemy’s face before you could fight him successfully. Yet he
had questions about Muong that these articles only deepened.

The last item was a
simple baggage tag attached to the straw suitcase. It was wired to the handle
and read, D.S. Dagan, Hoi Surisa, 22.

There was a street by
that name. Durell straightened, looked at his watch, rubbed his jaw, mid
decided there was time enough.

The police clerk jumped
up and bowed as he left. He took the stairs down to the lobby that, since
French occupancy, had acquired that universal scent of urine, sweat, and terror
that marked police stations everywhere in the world. The heat outdoors
oppressed the heart and lungs, and a quiet had come over the stagnant port. Sun
shutters were closed, shops were locked, and the shoals of bicycles had
thinned. Hummingbirds flashed in hibiscus shrubs as scarlet as blood. A
few 
samlors
 were lined up near the river-bank, and Durell
chose the second one, operated by a thin, middle-aged coolie, and gave the
address. It seemed to mean nothing special to the peddleman, who nodded
and started off.

Hoi Surisa turned
out to be a narrow alley of older houses standing on stilts along a small
lagoon at the junction of several canals. The thatched roofs, traced with
waterfalls of blue convolvulus flowers and festoons of bougainvillea, looked
pale lemon in the harsh sunlight. A dog barked. The lagoon smelled rancid.
Along it, there was a strip of sand pocked by small red crabs that moved with a
dry, crackling sound. Straw awnings had been unrolled over the decks of the
nearby sampans, and men, women, and children sprawled in sleep to pass away the
insufferably hot mid-afternoon.

Durell felt sweat
trickle down his chest, belly, and groin as he paid off the samlor driver
in front of a shop that displayed rows of snakeskins and cases of butterflies
and moths pinned to faded velvet. He walked on and considered No. 22, which had
been Doko Dagan’s address. It was better than its neighbors, set
apart in a weedy area and built out over the stagnant water. It was a
half-caste house, semi-European in style, with a wooden veranda laden with
flowering vines that hung like limp banners in the sultry air. There was a tall
hedge of bamboo, with dark gaps like tunnels in it. A giant, brilliant
butterfly flew an erotic dance around Durell’s head as he mounted the veranda.
Voices came from the neighboring canal—the whimper of a child, a high-pitched
quarrel in Hindi. The warped sun shutters were closed. Near the bamboo hedge he
could see mosquitoes rising in affectionate, smothering clouds. The alley
between this house and the next was a dark slot between the wide, overhanging
eaves. Nobody seemed to be watching him. No one had followed him.

He opened the shutter
door and went in.

He did not know
precisely what he was looking for. Dagan was dead, and if Dagan had been an
opium runner for criminal exiles from the old Kuomintang Anny, growing old in
wretched outlawry, the man had not prospered that much. The interior of the
house looked dusty and disused.

There was a wide plank
floor, rattan chairs, Japanese tatami mats. In another room, shadowed by the
closed shutters, were furnishings in ugly, flowered upholstery that showed
decay in this tropical environment. Perhaps, he thought, it reflected Dagan’s
criteria of elegance.

The third room in the
house overlooked the canal and contained charcoal kitchen stoves. Enough to
cook rice for twenty people, Durell thought. But where were they? He breathed
out softly and loosened his gun in his jacket.

In the room with the
sleeping mats there were paperback books in Chinese, tall stacks of them in a
corner. The publisher’s imprint was neither Hong Kong nor Taipeh. Durell’s
Chinese was strictly scratch, and he could not read much. of these, but he
would have wagered they came from Peiping University.

BOOK: Assignment - Cong Hai Kill
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