Preface

Udorn

The Klong

The Routine

The Monsoon Season

One More For the Ditch

A Disappointment

Samchai

The Morning After

Family

The Drunk

 

Cass waited until the third card had been dealt before he lifted his hole cards for a look. Deuce, trey, and a four up. Good start for seven card high low. Syd was high on the board with a jack of diamonds. He came out with a quarter. Ben raised fifteen cents on a nine of clubs.

Syd began his act. "Raising? You sonofabitch. How can you raise on a nine?" Syd pushed his up card toward Ben. "Maybe you didn't see that. It's a jack."

"Yes sir," Ben said in an I-don't-give-a-damn voice, "I saw it."

"And you're still dumb enough to raise?"

"Yes sir."

Syd gave him a crafty smile. "What you got? A flush?"

"Yes sir."

Syd went into a head-tapping routine, jerking his head sideways toward Ben. He'd let up too soon. He must have his usual pair of jacks. If he raised back, Cass would almost be sure.

Ty Diamond, Alan's operations officer, called with a five of hearts. Cass called. On his left, Bob McAfee folded a three of clubs. Syd began counting cards on the table. "Hell," he said. "How can you have a flush? I can see one club right now and Bob folded another one." He paused to let that soak in, then looked at his hole cards again. "And I've got two more down here." He curled his lip in a fake smile. "You gotta be shitting me."

"No sir," Ben said.

Alan called with a three of diamonds, and Syd had the floor. He began fluttering his hand over his chips. "What was the bet?" He smiled, enjoying the limelight.

"You bet a quarter and I raised fifteen cents," Ben said. "And the game is seven card stud, high low, quarter limit, three raise limit, little wheel swings."

Syd ignored the sarcasm in Ben's voice. He looked at Ty, Cass, and Alan in turn. "Everybody called?" No one answered him. Ty lowered his head and shook it. "Okay," Syd said. "Make it a half." The players called quickly in turn. Cass was almost sure now. Two jacks. Maybe three.

Ben dealt Ty a king of clubs. "Paint," he said. Cass gathered in a five of diamonds. Beautiful! A three of hearts landed on Alan's three of diamonds. "Paint," Ben repeated.

"Ah hah!" Syd shouted as a jack of clubs joined his jack of diamonds. "Now we'll see about that raising shit. Hah? How about it?" he said to Ben. Ben dropped an ace of clubs on his nine. "Sonovabitch," said Syd. "A filly beats a flush, doesn't it?" He threw a quarter into the pot. Cass was sure he had three jacks now.

"Raise fifteen cents," Ben said.

Syd looked at Ben's cards with fake puzzlement. "You haven't got a flush, you bastard. How can you raise?"

"No sir. I've only got four cards."

Ty folded. Cass looked around the table again. Syd was going high, for sure. Ben might be going low, but he doubted it. He probably really did have four cards to a flush. With Ben you never could tell. He'd act as if he were plunging, but he was a pretty shrewd player over the long haul. Cass looked at Alan's pair of threes. Alan probably was going low, but Cass surely had the best low on the board, with a fair chance to swing. "Raise a quarter," he said. Alan called.

"You sonofabitch," Syd said, looking at Cass. "You've got it made, haven't you?"

"Don't know," said Cass. "Just put your money in the pot if you want to play."

Syd started fidgeting again over his chips. "What's the bet? Let's see. You raised how much?" he asked, looking at Ben.

"Fifteen," said Ben.

"It's forty cents to you," Cass said.

"Let's see. Is there a raise left?"

"Yeah." Ty put his head down again and shook it.

"Okay," Syd said. "I call. Deal."

Ben dealt Cass a king of spades. Damn. Alan caught a four of hearts. He was looking better for low now. Syd caught a ten of diamonds, and Ben dealt himself a six of hearts. "Hah," Syd said, looking at Ben. "Paired my hole card. My filly'll beat your flush."

"No sir," Ben said.

Cass scanned the table again. Ben's nine of clubs, ace of clubs, and six of hearts made it look as if he were going low. He might really have four cards to a flush, though two other clubs were showing and two had been folded. Must be going low. Alan's hand was a low for sure unless he had power hidden in the down cards. He couldn't have three threes since Bob had folded a three. A low then, and maybe a tough one.

Syd threw out a quarter. "C'mon you bastards, raise. Fight it out." Ben raised a quarter. Cass called the fifty cents. He knew he didn't have to raise now. "Just calling?" said Syd. "Just calling? What happened to all that power? I thought you had it made."

"I'll raise another quarter." Alan pushed a chip into the pot.

"How many raises left?" Syd asked. He was fluttering his hands over his chips again.

"Come on, colonel," Ben said. "There's one more raise left and you know it."

"Well, I wasn't sure," Syd said with a grin. "Okay, I'll raise a quarter."

Everyone called. Ben picked up the cards and dealt Cass an ace of hearts. Perfect. A lock for low unless someone else came up with another little wheel, which didn't seem likely. Alan picked up a two of diamonds. That might be a tough low after all. Syd's card was a two of spades. "Son-of-a-bitch," he said. "What kind of shit is that?"

"A paint," Ben said, and dealt himself an eight of clubs. Rough, Cass thought. Maybe he'd have to go straight low instead of trying a swing. Ben's flush was looking a lot better, if that was what he'd started out betting. The trouble was, you never could tell about Ben. He might be trying to back in.

"Quarter," Syd said, without hesitation. Three jacks for sure, Cass thought. And he just might catch his filly. Ben called and Cass raised a quarter. "Raising?… Raising?" Syd dragged out the words. "You bastard, you never bet unless you've got a sure thing. Watch out you guys. He's got a lock or he wouldn't raise."

Alan called and Syd raised back. Ben called, flipping his money into the pot as if he were throwing it away, and Cass raised back. Alan and Syd called. Ben picked up the deck and dealt the final down cards with a practiced flip. Syd lifted one corner of his new hole card and peered at it gingerly. "Ah hah!" he straightened up. "Got a lock." He flipped a quarter into the pot. "C'mon you bastards, raise!"

Cass checked his new hole card. A jack of hearts. On Syd's right, Ben was examining his cards carefully. After a minute he tossed a quarter into the pot. "Call."

"Ah hah!" Syd said. "What happened to your flush? How come you're not raising now?" Cass called, taking a wild chance and hoping Alan would take the bait. "You sonofabitch," Syd said. "What happened to your lock? Where's all that power you were betting a minute ago?"

Alan looked around the table, examining first Ben's and then Cass's cards carefully. It was going to be all right. "Raise." Alan tossed fifty cents into the pot.

"We got 'em," Syd said. "A quarter more." He tossed fifty cents into the pot and glowered around the table.

"Oh what the hell," Ben said, tossing in fifty cents. Cass called again, waiting for Alan to take the last raise.

Alan raised and everyone else called. "Well," Syd looked at Alan. "You get to declare. You know which way I'm going with this filly."

"Low," Alan said.

"High," Syd said.

"Gotcha, colonel," Ben said. "I'll go high."

Cass looked over the table again. If he swung, he'd take a terrible chance. On the swing, he'd have to win both ways. Pushing wasn't good enough. There was at least a fair chance Alan had caught a little wheel too, and there was always a remote possibility that Syd really did have his full house. There seemed to be an even better chance that Ben had his flush. Still, somehow, Cass didn't think so. What the hell did Ben have? He checked Ben's cards again. Nine of clubs, ace of clubs, six of hearts, eight of clubs. Garbage, unless he had the flush or maybe the straight. Somehow, Cass was sure Ben had Syd beat. Three aces? It had to be three aces! "What the hell you gonna do?" Syd said. He leaned forward and looked at Cass's cards. "You can't be swinging, you sonofabitch. I've got a filly!"

"Swing," Cass said.

"Oh no." Ben flipped up his aces. "I had him by the balls."

"Let's see 'em, you lucky sonofabitch," Syd said. Cass laid out his little straight. "How could you have enough balls to swing into my hand and that flush?" He wagged his head toward Ben. "You're just shitass lucky."

Alan picked up his cards and began putting one after another face up on the table. "Son of a bitch," he said, laying out the six at the top of his little straight and shaking his head.

"Look at that!" Syd said, leaning forward for a better look. "He's gotcha."

"Nifty," Cass said. "But he went low."

"Cards to the dealer," Ty said, beginning to pull the cards into a stack. "You guys gonna play or shoot the shit?"

"Listen to him," Syd said. "Deal, cried the losers…"

"And the winners picked their noses," Ben finished.

Cass raked in the pot and stood up. "Who wants a beer?"

"I'll take one," Bob said quietly, counting his chips. "About one more hand and I'm gonna be out."

"Maybe I'll sit out for a while." Alan pushed back from the table, went to the refrigerator and got out a beer.

"Get two more," Cass sat down again.

"The world's greatest cocksman," Syd said, smirking at Alan. "How many girls you own nowadays?"

"Just a few," Alan said, smiling. "Who gets 'em?" He brought the beers to the table and handed them to Ben and Cass. "Guess I can play for a little while longer… if nobody'll get pissed off when I have to quit." He looked at Syd.

"Depends on how much you win," Syd said. "When it comes to blind-assed luck you're almost as bad as your roomie." He shook his head. "I don't know how guys like you two can be lucky at cards. Every 'ying in this place starts breathing hard when one of you walks by. When both of you leave, the girls are gonna turn this trailer into a shrine."

"You in?" Ty handed the cards to Ben for a cut.

"Yeah," Ben said. "Who's got five bucks worth of chips?"

"Are you kidding?" Syd said, nodding his head toward Cass, who was counting out chips from his stacks.

"Straight seven," Ty announced, starting to deal.

"That's better," Syd said. "None of this two winner shit."

Alan waited until Ty finished dealing and then checked his cards. Six of hearts, eight of hearts, king of spades up. "Fold," he said, turning over the king.

"Folding a king?" Syd said. "Look at that crap. He won't even open unless he's got a sure thing."

The doorbell rang and Alan got up. The betting went on. "Sawadee," he said, opening the door to Lek.

"Sawadee," Lek strutted into the room, followed by Dang. "What you do?"

"Play poker." There was something wrong with Lek, but he couldn't put his finger on what it was. She went and stood behind Ben.

"Monee," Come here, Dang said confidentially, moving close to Alan. "Hab talk you."

"Okay," Alan said, mystified. They sidled past the table and went into the kitchen.

"Lek keemau," Lek's drunk.

So that was why Lek hadn't made a grab at his crotch as she came through the door. "We go big party. Mak mak drink. You moho?" Angry.

"No," Alan said. "I'm not angry. Where was the party?"

"Party in big building ti noon," over there. She pointed off toward the big Butler building near the Officers' Club. "Captain birthday party. Mak mak drink. Many people come. All housegirl work for building come."

"Who was Lek with?"

"Mai, colonel. Lek dance mak, talk many friend. She not butterfly you. She lub you too much."

"It's all right," Alan said. "Lek can't butterfly me. She's not my tealock."

"Mai, colonel, Lek you tealock," Dang said in a positive tone of voice. "She can stay here tonight?"

Before Alan could answer, Lek suddenly straightened up from looking over Ben's shoulder, ran down the hall into the bathroom and slammed the door. Dang and Alan squeezed past the crowded poker table and went down the hall behind her. Alan rapped gently on the door. "Lek," he said.

"Bai," Go away, Lek's voice came from the bathroom. Alan heard a small retching sound.

"Oohoi. Lek sick sick." Dang said something to Lek in Thai through the door, and Lek answered in a choking voice.

"Lek say, 'go away.' She be okay."

"What the fuck's going on down there?" Syd hollered from the living room.

"No big thing," Alan answered. They went back to the living room where the poker players were sitting in silence, drinking beer.

"I've got to quit anyway," Bob said. "I'm just about wiped out."

"I believe you guys would rather screw than play poker," Syd said. "You're not really poker players at heart."

"You don't have to run off," Alan said. "The commotion will be over in a minute.

"I've got to go anyway," Ty said. "I expect I'll have a visitor at home before long."

Cass began cashing in the chips. Syd shook his head. "I just don't understand how you guys can keep this up night after night. When do you bastards sleep?" He pocketed his money and stood up. "Well — it's been real. You guys take it easy and don't take any wooden nickels." He paused with the door open and said: "If you end up with more'n you can handle, call me. I'll take some of it off your hands."

"Whew," Ty said when Syd was safely out the door. "It sure is quiet around here with him gone."

"Pak kaya," Garbage-mouth, Dang said. "Colonel goddam."

"What?" Cass laughed.

"Chai," she said. "All housegirl call him 'Colonel goddam.' All time he say, 'goddam.'"

Ty roared. "Perfect! A perfect name for him. Man it sure is hard to play poker with him."

"He does that routine to get you pissed off and rattled," Cass said. "Actually, In spite of all that mouth he'll give you the shirt off his back if he thinks you really need it."

Ty gave Cass a strange look. "You couldn't prove it by me, colonel. You ever meet anybody you didn't like?"

Everybody started pitching beer bottles into the trash and dumping ashtrays. Cass went to the door. "I'm off to the club," he said to Alan.

"Sawadee. I won't wait up."

As soon as Ty and Bob were gone, Alan went back down the hall with Dang and listened at the bathroom door. It was quiet inside. He rapped. There was no answer. He opened the door. Lek was sitting on the floor in front of the toilet. "Tam alai?" What're you doing, he said.

"Hab sick," she said in a small voice. "Need take pill."

"Did you girls eat anything before the party?" Alan asked Dang.

"Mai," Dang said. "Eat mor-ning."

Alan closed the door and he and Dang went back to the living room where Ben was cleaning up the last of the poker game litter. "These girls haven't had anything to eat since morning," Alan said. "A little food might help sober Lek up."

"Where we gonna get a little food at this hour?" Ben asked.

Alan looked at his watch. "The Thai restaurants on base are still open but I don't know if they put up food to go. Dang," he asked, "does the Royal Thai have food to take out?"

"Mailoo," I don't know, Dang said.

"Wait a minute." Alan sat down in the big chair, looked in the telephone book and dialed a number. "Ti ni," Here, he said, handing the telephone to Dang. "The Royal Thai. Ask them if they have food to go out."

"Not understand," Dang said.

"Ask them if they make food we can bring here. If they do, you and Ben can go in the jeep and get it."

"Oh… Chai. Numba one." She spoke into the telephone for a moment and then looked up. "Can do."

"Okay. What do you and Lek want to eat?"

Dang placed an order. "How soon can they have it ready?" Alan asked her.

"They hab lao lao," she said. "Can go now."

"Go!" Alan reached into his pocket and tossed Ben the keys to his jeep.

Ben and Dang left and Lek came out of the bathroom wrapped in a huge bath towel. At the end of the hallway she leaned against the wall. "Ohhh… Jep," I hurt. Her hair was wet and her face was white. There were dark circles under her eyes. "Lek take shower. Now need take pill. You hab as-pi-lin?"

"No," Alan said. "You need food, not aspirin. Ben and Dang went to get some from the Royal Thai. Monee." Come with me. Alan went down the hall to his room and rummaged in a closet until he found a lightweight bathrobe. "Here," he said, handing it to Lek. He closed the door, went back to the living room and sat down on the couch.

In a minute Lek came down the hall in the bathrobe. She lay down on the couch, and put her head in Alan's lap. "Alan moho?" angry?

"No.

"Lek can s-tay you loom tonight?"

"Chai."

Lek closed her eyes and fell asleep almost immediately. Asleep, her face was artless and innocent of the playfulness and quick temper that seemed to drive her nearly all her waking hours. He wondered what her life had been like before he'd met her. He remembered something that Annie had said one day when Lek was feeling sick: "Too much take out, Colnan." He winced when he remembered the gesture she'd used — abortion. He wondered whether Lek had gone to work on the base before her divorce or whether her divorce had made her look for the job; and he wondered again whether or not Lek really was divorced. Dang insisted she was. Annie kept insisting she wasn't. But Annie was jealous and Alan had to take what she told him about Lek with a grain of salt. He sighed, realizing he'd never get answers to any of his questions, and felt Lek wake up.

"Alan, jaa," Lek said without opening her eyes.

For a moment the meaning eluded him; then he remembered a hot, rainy, fragrant night years before in Nakhon Phanom, sitting on the verandah of a bungalow with Sam, his roommate, and Sam's tealock, Anong, curled in Sam's lap as they watched the rain pour down. "Sam jaa," Anong said. "Sam say, 'Anong jaa.' It mean love." And Sam had said it: "Anong, jaa."

"Lek, jaa," he said, but he knew that what he meant was very different from what Sam had meant. Part of his feeling for Lek was the love he'd have for a cuddly puppy, another part was a reflection of her feeling for him — perhaps it was love. Yet another part — a part he always tried not to examine too closely — was sexual attraction. How inadequate the word "love" was to carry the load of meaning English insisted on heaping on it.

"You saleep Lek tonight?" Lek asked without opening her eyes.

"Remember what happened when Wilson went away. I can't do that."

She opened her eyes. "Alan go away long time. Not go now. Not go soon. Lek not hab bloken heart now. Can fo-get Wilson now. Someday can fo-get Alan."

"Chai. But maybe I can't forget Lek."

She closed her eyes again before she answered. "Sink you fo-get. You wai… sometime… she make you fo-get. You good man but poochai need pooying do fo him." A man needs a woman to do for him. "Poochai no can hab happy, no hab pooying."

Alan was still thinking about how to answer her when Ben and Dang came back. "Sawadee," Ben said to Lek.

"Oohoi." Lek screwed up her face and swept her hand to her forehead. "Jep mak." It hurts a lot.

"She's better," Alan said.

"Need take pill." Lek said.

"She wants to take aspirin," Alan said. "What she needs is food and some sleep. She finally took a shower. That sobered her up some."

"Khang khao," Food, Dang said. She began opening the newspaper wrapped packages.

"Dee mak," Great. Lek got up and the two women spread the food on the table. Lek opened the refrigerator and got out two beers.

"Mai!" Alan said. "No beer for Lek."

"Chai!" she said. "Lek hab beer."

"Mai!" Alan said from between clenched teeth. He jumped up and grabbed the beer out of her hand. "Lek can have coke." He opened the refrigerator and got out a coke.

Lek stamped her foot, snatched the second beer from the table and snapped off the top.

"She's acting more like herself," Ben said.

Alan pinned Lek's arms to her sides, made a grab for the can and splashed beer across the floor. "Oh oh," he said. "Annie's gonna be moho." By maneuvering carefully he managed to get the can away from her and put it down on the table; then he took hold of Lek firmly, lifted her off the floor, carried her to the big chair, dropped her into it, and crouched, looking into her face. "Number ten pooying," he said.

"Ohhh, Annie be moho," Lek mimicked in a shrill voice. She stared at him for a long moment, smiled and shuddered. "Alan hab saweet eye." She put her finger under her eye. "Why Alan hab saweet eye?" She went to the table, opened the coke, and took a drink from it. "Mai dee," No good "no can hab beer," she said in a complaining tone. Alan ignored her. The two women began eating and in a few minutes put away most of the food.

Lek stretched and yawned. "Nuway mak," very tired. "Saleep now."

"Lek staying?" Ben asked.

"Yeah," Alan said. "I get to spend another night on our comfortable couch."

"Whatever turns you on, man," Ben took Dang's hand and they headed for the door. "She's so little she wouldn't crowd you in bed."

Alan gave Lek a long stare and she smiled at him. "I think I'd notice she was there."

"Ba!" Let's go, Lek pulled on Alan's hand. "Need go saleep now."

"Sawadee," Alan said to the others, letting Lek pull him toward the hallway.

Lek rummaged in his dresser drawer and found the toothbrush Alan had bought for her. He sat on the bed and waited until she finished in the bathroom. When she came back she sat down next to him and put her small hand over his. "Alan s-tay. Lek do fo you… evesing."

"Chai. Everything except fix my overdeveloped conscience."

"Not understand."

"Me either," Alan stood up. "Mai pin lai," It doesn't matter. "Goodnight, nitnoy."

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

 

Aftermath

Massage

Sunday Morning

Housegirls

Sawadee (Hello)

The Island Paradise

The Drunk

The Christmas Season

Sawadee (Goodbye)

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