Preface

Udorn

The Klong

The Routine

The Monsoon Season

One More For the Ditch

A Disappointment

Samchai

The Morning After

Family

The Christmas Season

 

Alan got up from the couch, put on his shoes and a sport shirt and stepped outside the trailer. The afternoon was damned hot for the Christmas season. He didn't really miss winter and he liked the Thai climate, but we could all use some snow for a day or two about now, he thought. Christmas was only a few days away and people were becoming more and more frantic as it approached — trying to pretend they were in the spirit of the season. Some were involved in continuous parties; others were banding together, going around the trailer area singing Christmas carols; still others were going around with vacant stares, making small talk with anyone who'd join in their conversations. A few were hiding out, reading, listening to music and looking for anything they could find to occupy their minds so they wouldn't be tempted to break out the booze. Almost no one was writing to his family. Alan knew that a week or so after Christmas was over people would begin writing again, describing the great Christmases they'd had, but just now writing home was too painful.

He started toward the officers' club, but halfway there he changed direction and wandered aimlessly around the base until he found himself at the door of the communications squadron dayroom. He turned away and walked for a while longer, arguing with himself whether or not to go in. Early in his tour the dayroom had become a retreat of last resort for Alan, a place where he could escape the solitude of his office and the biases of his staff and listen to the equally but differently biased convictions of the troops — a range of opinions that helped him restore his inner balance. The dayroom was a retreat he used sparingly and he debated whether or not trying to shake today's melancholy was an appropriate use. He surrendered finally to the urge, circled back and went in. There were two people drinking beer at the bar and eight more at a table in the corner. He sat down on a bar stool next to Staff Sergeant Harry Schwartz, a top-notch maintenance technician. "Sawadee, Tooie," he said to the girl behind the bar.

"What you drink, Colnan?"

"Oley, if we've got it."

Tooie fished a can out of the cooler below the bar and plunked it down in front of Alan. "You want glass, Colnan?"

"No, this is fine." He paid Tooie, popped the tab off the can, flipped it into the trash barrel behind her, and took a long drink of the cool beer.

"Colonel," From his tone of voice it was clear Harry Schwartz had been in the dayroom long enough to drown his troubles. He swung his bar-stool toward Alan. "How come we can't paint this dayroom black and red, like everybody wants?"

"Because the First Sergeant doesn't want it black and red," Alan said.

"Sir, that just don't seem right. The Shirt's just one guy. Everybody else wants it black and red."

"But the Air Force isn't a democratic society, sarge. When it comes to the dayroom, what the Shirt says goes. Besides, who's everybody? I've only heard from three people who want it painted black and red. You're the third one."

"How about white?" Airman First Class Larry Gridner got off the bar stool next to Harry. It was clear he'd been in the dayroom for a good part of the day too. "We could paint everything white. The floor. The tables. The chairs. It'd be like… like heaven maybe." The conversation went on for several minutes and, gradually, the rest of the dayroom crowd migrated to the bar until Alan was surrounded by people.

Suddenly the door popped open and Ty Diamond came in with two women. The one on Ty's arm was a girl Alan hadn't seen before. She was five feet two or three, with dark skin, a wide face, wide-set eyes, and her black hair cut shoulder length. About thirty, Alan guessed. Maybe a little more. The other girl was Lek! The two girls were a smashing pair. The stranger wore an electric-blue blouse and dark-blue, mid-calf skirt with a split down the side. Lek was scrumptious in a bright green miniskirt and the little red blouse with a heart at the tip of her left breast. The red blouse made a striking contrast with her long black hair and her miniskirt showed off a small pair of well-turned legs that never seemed so shapely in jeans or cutoffs. It was unusual for her to wear a skirt even though Alan sometimes tried to coax her into it. "Sa-wa-dee, sir," Ty said as the crowd around Alan parted. If he'd been surprised to find Alan in the dayroom, he didn't show it. "Sir, I'd like you to meet miss Lynn and miss Lek." He gestured toward each in turn. "Ladies, this is our Commander, Colonel Alan."

Alan was relieved. Ty's fast footwork was going to save the day. "Sawadee, Lynn," Alan said. "I'm happy to meet you. That's really a lovely dress."

Lynn waied to Alan. "Thank you, Colonel. Maior Ty tell me very much about you. I happy to meet you." Her English was very good.

"I'm happy to meet you too, miss Lek," Alan said. Lek gave him her inscrutable look, staring straight at him without batting an eye. Her composure made him a bit uncomfortable. "That's a pretty blouse."

Lek made a small wai. "Sawadee, Colnan." Her voice had a slightly nasty tone to it and Alan tried to imagine what kind of unthinkable thing she might be thinking.

Ty and the girls sat down at an empty table and in a minute or two most of the dayroom crowd had wandered over and surrounded them. The two girls were creating a sensation. "Won't you join us, Colonel?" Ty asked.

"Tooie," Alan said to the bar girl. "A round for everybody." He went over and sat down in the chair Ty was holding for him — next to Lek.

"How long you stay Thailand, colnan?" Lek asked, running her hand up his leg under the table.

Alan considered pushing back his chair but he couldn't be sure that would stop her. "I've been in Thailand eight months now." He put his hand over hers, but she turned her hand over and began tickling his palm. He tried to grab her hand but she moved it away and he was afraid another grab would telegraph to everyone that something was going on under the table.

Harry Schwartz was staring into Lek's eyes with a dazed look. "Lek, you sure are pretty," Harry said in a slurred voice.

"Ka," Thanks, Lek said. Her hand was back on Alan's leg and this time she moved it straight into his crotch. When he tried to move it away she gave him a squeeze that made his eyes water. He stopped trying to move her hand.

"Chai," Yes, Alan said, giving her the most threatening look he could manage. "You are very pretty, miss Lek."

"Ka," she said, moving her hand slightly. "Papa san mak mak handsome man." That was the first time she'd called him papa san.

Harry Schwartz leaned over the table and patted Alan's shoulder. "Number one colonel, little Lek. "Best in the Air Force."

Tooie came up behind Alan and put a bunch of beers on the table. He was almost sure Tooie could see what Lek was doing but Lek didn't take her hand away and Tooie's eyes were impenetrable. "Fou dolla, sir," she said.

His wallet was just inside his pocket but he pretended to dig deeply. He couldn't dislodge Lek's hand that way either. He gave up, took out his wallet and flipped out a five. Tooie gave him a dollar in change. Lek had him trapped. He tried to think of a way to stop her. To overpower her he'd have to make a violent move that everyone would see. He could try concentrating on something else and ignore what she was doing but he was pretty sure she'd find a way to recapture his attention. The only thing left was to divert her.

He put his hand on her leg and ran it up under her miniskirt. She turned toward him and smiled. "Where you stay, Colnan Alan?" she asked, separating her legs slightly. "Hab big bungalow?"

He took his hand away. He'd have to think of something else. "Mai." No. "I stay in a trailer on base."

"Hab housegirl?" Lek asked.

"Chai," he said. "Number one housegirl. Best housegirl on base." That was it! Lek was always jealous of Annie!

"Who you housegirl?"

"My housegirl's named Annie," he said. "Annie's a number one housegirl."

"You stay Annie traila?"

"Mai." No. "I live in my trailer and Colonel Cass's trailer. Annie's our housegirl. Number one housegirl. Annie has a bungalow downtown." It was working. She stopped moving her hand.

"You tealock Annie?" Lek said in a brittle voice.

"Mai. I don't have a tealock."

"Think you stay Annie traila, tealock Annie. Annie numba one housegirl." She said the last part in a mocking voice. She'd taken her hand back and was trying to look inscrutable.

"How about you, miss Lek? Do you have a tealock?"

"Chai." She brightened up immediately.

"Who?" As soon as the word was out of his mouth Alan wished he could take it back.

"You not know him," she said, sweetly. "Numba one poochai. Numba one papa san."

He looked furtively around the table. Ty was bubbling like a teakettle and rocking back and forth and Lynn was smiling, but no one else seemed to have picked up the clue.

Throughout the exchange Harry Schwartz hadn't taken his eyes off Lek's face. "You sure are pretty, little Lek," he said.

"Ka," Lek said.

"How would you like to go to dinner with me tonight at the Royal Thai?" Alan asked her.

She thought for a moment. "Don't know. Maybe my tealock moho" angry "if he see me with you."

Alan stared at her with a stunned look. Ty started cracking up and let out choking sounds as he fought it. "Everybody should have a tealock, sir," Harry Schwartz said. "Especially at Christmas time. Lek, you sure are pretty." Harry patted Alan's shoulder again. "Number one colonel, little Lek." Harry wasn't much of a matchmaker, but he was doing his best.

"Maybe I go wis you," Lek said. "But if see my tealock, finit me." She made a cutting motion across her throat.

"Ty," Alan said. "Would you and miss Lynn like to join us at the Royal Thai?"

"We'd be delighted, sir," Ty said, still bubbling and holding it in. They stood up and went to the door. The rest of the troops shouted at Tooie for more beer. Outside, the four of them walked in silence until they were out of sight of the barracks area. Ty stopped bubbling and began to laugh.

Lek wasn't laughing. She was trying to look inscrutable but she was only managing to look angry. "Annie numba one housegirl," she said in a grating voice. Alan looked around. It was almost dark and there wasn't anyone in sight. He stopped Lek, bent his knees and stared straight into her face. She stared back for a long moment and then smiled. "Sawadee," she said. "My tealock moho he see me with you?"

"Mai. I think your tealock never moho you."

"Hab numba one tealock." Alan wished he could get Lek to smile at him that way all the time. He wanted to take her hand, but he knew he couldn't and they walked on without touching.

The Royal Thai was almost empty and the maitre d' seated them in a rear booth. A waitress brought them menus and Alan let Lek order for him. "Lynn's just back from the States," Ty said while they were waiting for the food. "She was married to an American but they got divorced and she came back to Thailand."

"One month I come back," Lynn said. "First I stay Bangkok long time but I no have friend, so I come Udorn, find somebody."

"How long did you live in the States?" Alan asked.

"Seven months I stay States. My hus-band was G.I. He fix airplane. We stay Selfridge Air Force Base."

"Michigan," Alan said.

"Naow mak," Too cold, she said. "I don't like snow come all the time."

The food came and they stopped talking and ate. Lek had done a good job of ordering and everything Alan tried was delicious. When the main course was finished and all four of them were eating rice, Lek gave Alan a shove. "Ba. I go."

He slid out of the booth and stood up. "Bainai?" Where you going?

"Bai hongnam." To the bathroom.

"Why?" Alan teased.

"Mai pin lai." None of your business. Lek slid out of the booth and stood up. She stared at Alan for a few seconds and then said something in Lao under her breath before she walked away.

Lynn laughed. "She say you make her horny."

"She makes me horny too," Alan said.

Lynn game him a quiet, thoughtful look. "She really you tealock?"

Alan wasn't sure how to answer. Obviously Lynn had spent the night with Ty and had been in his trailer this morning when Lek arrived. The two women had had hours to talk. He had to be careful not to say anything that would make Lek lose face. "Chai," he said. "Chaub Lek mak mak." I like her a lot.

"But not same tealock," Lynn said. "Little pooying love you mak mak. I think she cry when you go away. You be careful not break her heart."

Afterward, they wandered slowly back to Alan's trailer for a drink but Ty was growing restless and he and Lynn left after half an hour. Lek was sitting in the big easy chair absorbed in her thoughts. Alan sat down on the arm of the chair. It was long past the six o' clock housegirl curfew but he knew Lek wouldn't have any trouble leaving the base, especially if he went part way with her.

"Ready to go home?" he asked her.

"Mai bai," I'm not going anywhere, she said. "Stay here."

"Somebody staying with Jarawee now?"

"Chai." Yes. She sounded defensive and he knew she was telling him a lie or at best a partial truth. "Little broder stay Jarawee now." The thought of Lek's little daughter, Jarawee, not being properly cared for bothered him, but they'd been down that road before and it was always a dead end. On the face of it Lek was a lousy mother but there wasn't anything he could do about it. She'd do what she wanted to do about Jarawee — and about everything else.

"Lek Lek, I need to talk to you."

She sighed. "Ohhh… tired mak… Hab mak mak work today."

"Lek… Listen to me," he said, "I have to tell you something important and I want you to understand."

"Tomollow can talk," she said.

"Pretty soon I go away. Never come back"

"Mai," she said. "Not go soon. Go long time."

"Not a long time. Four months isn't a long time. Pretty soon… Maybe two weeks, one month, we have to be finished. I'll still see you but not the same as now. Not the same as before. I have to get ready to go away. You have to get ready. When you see me go, I don't want you to cry the way you did when Wilson went."

"You not want Lek cry, Lek not cry."

It wasn't any use. She wasn't going to listen to him. "You don't want to understand me," he said. "But I can't help what I have to do. I don't want you to be moho."

"Newah moho you," she said. "Cannot be moho. Lub you mak mak."

He was stumped. "You go to bed now. We'll talk tomorrow."

"You go bed too?"

"Chai. I'll sleep on the couch. Same as before."

"Mai. Go bed you bed, same I go."

"I told you before why I can't."

"Chai," she said in a mocking voice. "Mak mak not happy: Lub you wai mak mak. Lub her too much!" Her eyes began to fill with tears.

"Lek, I'm sorry, but I told you the truth."

"She there. You here."

"Chai, but she's here too." He pointed to his heart, feeling foolish as he did.

"Sorry for her." Lek narrowed her eyes. "I lub you too." Alan thought that if Ben could see this act he'd roll on the floor laughing. He felt like a prude and a fool. In fact, he was sure he was both. But he was what he was.

She feinted at his crotch. "What dat for?"

"Enough!" he said, "It's time for bed — now!"

They took turns in the bathroom. He sat with her on his bed and brushed her thick black hair. She softened gradually and by the time he was ready to turn out the light and leave, her inscrutability was beginning to crack.

"Alan jaa," she said.

"Lek, jaa."

"You crazy man.. Not understand what you do."

"Sometimes I don't understand what I do either," he said.

"Chai. Lek know. Lub you mak mak."

"Goodnight, nitnoy," Alan said.

"Sawadee," she said. "See you later."

As usual he didn't sleep much on the couch. It was almost as hard as his thoughts. One thing he knew for sure: if he didn't do something positive about Lek he'd never make it through another four months.

 

Aftermath

Massage

Sunday Morning

Housegirls

Sawadee (Hello)

The Island Paradise

The Drunk

The Christmas Season

Sawadee (Goodbye)

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