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Chapter 22: Not All Bad Men Are Guerrillas

Time to get back to Kampong Cham. I was all confidence, even cockiness, over my successful meet-and-greet. I knew that I would make this trip a thousand times before the mission ended; I would touch a million hands and smile until my cheeks cramped.

Feeling silly about my imagined stalkers, I turned on the road that Nhean said was a shortcut back to Skon, passing an underground gambling joint at the same time as a lottery car came by weekly to pick up the losses—or on a rare occasion, to drop off winnings from similar spots throughout the district.

The robbers heard the sound of my truck approaching. One of them stood in the road as I pulled up, his AK-47 aimed directly at me. A second robber strode over to the passenger-side window and waved his pistol in Nhean’s face.

I could see a car ahead, its trunk pried open, and bundles of riels spilling out of boxes and folders. The driver was slumped over the steering wheel. A young boy sat bolt upright in the passenger seat, with a single bullet in his forehead. Three gamblers lay shot and bleeding on the ground.

Not looking at the armed man outside my window; I stared straight ahead, aware only that the lush green forest had devolved into a black and white still photograph. While Nhean spoke softly in Khmae to the man waving the pistol in his face, I heard the guy with the AK walk away to finish up the men writhing on the ground and gather up bundles of riels.

“Momma,” Nhean whispered to me, “you can drive away now.”

My hands frozen to the steering wheel, I didn’t move a muscle. I had just witnessed robbery and murder.

Nhean nudged me as he spoke again. “Momma, the farmers hiding inside the gambling hut will take care of the bodies after the robbers take the money and leave. These men do not want to kill a Westerner; they do not want Untac to hunt them. There is nothing we can do. Please Momma, drive.”

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