Chapter 8 – Rifles for Halftrack

Monday, Monday

I spent Sunday roaming Saigon’s streets trying to make sense of yesterday; browsing in the market, walking in the park, dodging cyclos in the traffic and taking pictures. Viet Nam made even less sense to me now than it had on Friday. My framework for making sense of the world had been shattered. Random bits of information that had been filtering in for years now, suddenly, became a clear picture brought into focus out of the cloud of cigar smoke in the colonel’s office in the Presidential palace. The disorientation was made worse by the discussions of a plan B at the New Yak Bar on Tudo Street.

People I thought had been my friends turned out not to be. A war I thought was fought on the strongest of principals was being bled of money on all sides. Corruption I thought was just small-time pimping and money changing was all pervasive and involved unimaginable sums of money and people at the highest levels. Peasants for whom I thought we were fighting turned out to be the worst trampled in the conflict. Powerful, wealthy forces were doing their best to addict American soldiers to heroin and shipping it back to the states. The US government was clearly lying to the people about our prospects for success in what it was now clear was an un-winnable war. And the woman who had explained her country’s dependence on Americans, who started out as a would-be nurse looking after my split lip and being my flirtatious conquest had become a serious relationship. It was as though the Christmas jigsaw puzzle had that one piece dropped in that made the picture recognizable. With one exception I did not like what I saw.

That exception was Agnes. Sure she could be abrasive at times and she pointed out my ignorance when it endangered me. But she never did that publicly and she clearly had my best interests at heart. She was wicked smart and I couldn’t bullshit her, puffing myself up to the heights of ego. She saw through it immediately though it might be a couple of days before she said anything. I say might.

Walking the streets I realized that she was the only one I could trust that could make sense of my situation. I was uncomfortable about the colonel in his palace office scheming about what to do about the three us us knowing of his plans to flee the country with as much money as possible. Uncomfortable? No. I was downright scared. If we had skin in the game…… If the deal was in process so they needed me……….. At least I’d be safe till it ended. Maybe I should go through with it. Maybe I should talk to Agnes. What else is there to do.

Monday morning Phil had the floor. I sat in the office looking over test results and writing a final exam for Thursday. Friday was the last day of the last phase of my instruction so we’d grade and discuss the final exam then.

I was restless. After three cups of coffee and three trips to the latrine Agnes looked up at me and said, “You’re pacing about so. Are you worried about the final exam.”

“Oh, I didn’t realize I was pacing.”

“Certainly, you are. Something’s bothering you.”

“Something is. It’s true. I can tell you a little at lunch.”

“Phil will be in the office then. Does it need to be private?”

“Yes, it does. Can we meet after work at your place by the market?”

“I suppose. Can it wait that long without your exploding?”

“I guess it’ll have to.”

“OK no more coffee. Take the truck to Dodge City for lunch. Pigeon and Bell are going.”

“Oh good. I need to mail a couple of letters home and pick up my mail. Lunch in the mess hall isn’t bad at all and they have a great stereo system. Latest Rock n’ Roll tunes.”

“Don’t forget the library. Check out the latest French lessons. What are you up to?”

“Fourth conjugation and irregular verbs.”

“I thought you were done with grammar.”

“When is one ever done with French grammar?”

“I have a simple story you can read for practice.”

“It’s composing sentences I have trouble with. I can read OK, if only slowly.”

“You might like Madeline. She’s cute and funny.”

“You set me up with a date with her?”

“Oh, you’re silly. Go back to work.”

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