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Chapter 28: Help, Nada

Now that my office was open, I was anxious to get to KPCC to secure supplies. Although I didn’t speed as fast as many Untac vehicles, which routinely hit over one hundred twenty klics, I drove way too fast. Accidents were increasing at an alarming pace, and carnage occurred all too often without compensation or punishment. Heck, I averaged one chicken kill per trip.

I arrived at the Field Service Administration with my shopping list of necessary supplies. The air conditioner caused the sweat on my face to crystallize as I opened the door and stepped into the FSA office. Raena, a vision of billowing fuchsia peonies, sitting poised at her desk behind her functioning computer, looked up from her monitor. A pen held her hair up off of her neck. A stapler and a tape dispenser sat to the right of her. There were as many gadgets on every other desk in the office, some with typewriters.

“Hi, CJ. No one is here except me,” Raena said politely.

“Not a problem. I only came to get a typewriter and other office supplies. Our computers don’t work without generators,” I said expectantly.

“No generators. No typewriters either, for that matter, but I’ll make a note that you want one when they arrive.” She smiled, feigning helpfulness.

Breathing deeply, I measured my words. “Okay, then I’ll have to settle for pens, paper, a trash can and a stapler. You know, general office stuff.”

Twirling a second pen in her fingers, Raena replied, “Sorry, you’re striking out all the way around. We only have our own supplies here at the moment.”

“I’ll tell you what,” I said, the anger rising. “Why don’t I save you the trouble of filling out the paperwork and then radioing me to pick up my supplies? I’ll take what I need from these other desks.”

“Supplies are delivered to a warehouse by the river.”

My mouth opened and closed. I wanted to strangle her, but I swallowed the impulse and the obscenities. “Really?” I asked, putting as much malice as I could into only one word. “And where might I find this alleged warehouse?”

Armed with some sketchy directions, I drove over to the Mekong River Road location. One large building stood in an empty field. I parked and walked to the metal garage door. Several other DESs heard my radio transmission to Brielle telling her where I was going and joined the treasure hunt. To our dismay, we found that the storehouse of dreams was locked and deserted.

The warehouse belonged to the Polish logistics company a couple of kilometers away, so off we went. The Poles’ camp, an assortment of old wooden barracks, was inside the Indian battalion command center on the outskirts of KPCC on the road to Skon. Polish soldiers were sitting listlessly around in khaki green shorts and t-shirts, trying to keep from wilting in the one hundred degree heat.

A duty officer directed me to Captain Stephan Chezczowa’s door. Several other DESs were waiting there as well, anxious to see if the warehouse would pan out. The captain—a beefy, fair-skinned man with curly blond hair—greeted us with both surprise and consternation. Although he looked formidable enough, he glanced nervously from one DES to another as he stiffened and studied us.

After a minute or two, he agreed to open the warehouse. “I open-ed warehouse, but you may be disappointing. There are small number supplies only,” he said apologetically in his limited English.

We returned to our trucks. The captain asked me for a lift. His face was blotchy with heat rash, and he was dressed like a bumpkin―in shapeless khaki shorts and a clammy t-shirt, his dark wool socks calf-high. But he was definitely the Polska—the man I had danced with to “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” in Phnom Penh and seen again while waiting for Aiden. I felt a definite twinge and an increased pulse rate as he slipped in beside me, his blue eyes holding me in his gaze and making me all the more self-conscious as I realized that I looked as bad as he did—sans the wool socks.

When we arrived at the warehouse, the captain seemed intent on personally helping me. I noticed that his chin and cheeks dimpled when he smiled. The way that he spoke, drawing out syllables, made his words sound musical and soothing, even seductive. We roamed slowly around the warehouse together.

As I tried and failed to concentrate on finding my necessary supplies, the captain asked, “What is life in fantastic America?”

“Oh, give me a break. America is not that wonderful,” I retorted, with perhaps too much vehemence and too little deference. “We’ve got plenty of our own problems.”

His response was equally passionate. “How can someone from the most beautiful, free-est country in the world say such a thing?” Although he was smiling, I felt the rebuke in his tone and noticed the color of his eyes shift from blue to a steely gray.

“I’ll come see you some time and straighten you out,” I taunted. I wasn’t going to give up the point, but I was reluctant to challenge him then and there.

Captain Chezczowa helped me to load the few supplies I managed to find onto the truck. Wanting to delay our parting, I told him dosvidaniya and instantly regretted saying goodbye in Russian to a Polish soldier. His smile faded. I had made a wrong turn and needed to get back on track. I decided on the spot to invite him to dinner at a local restaurant. Lacking the ability to drive, he was stuck at his camp outside the city. The invitation was my only excuse to continue the conversation. I leaned up against the truck and, reaching out, touched his arm. As I uttered the dinner invitation, we made eye contact―an invisible circuit that, in those few delicious seconds, heated the space between us.

He was startled and turned away. The moment passed. I hoped that my face didn’t betray the rush tingling up and down my spine. “Dziękuję,” he said shyly, kissing my hand. I didn’t know what the word meant, but I was too flustered to ask.

Then he held up his arm and said, “Little hills.” Tiny, angry red blisters covered his arm.

“I’ll bring you some skin ointment on my next trip to KPCC,” I said, shaking my head as if I were looking at some deadly, tropical skin disease.

Our goodbye was barely more than a smile and a nod. I watched him return to the warehouse as anticipation of the unknown rose in me like an incoming tide. Alarm bells should have gone off . . . but I was still focused on Aiden as my fantasy lover. One man-mistake at a time.

I was hardly present the rest of the day, obsessed with recalling every moment in the warehouse. In bed, unable to fall asleep, I drew my finger slowly across the wide scar that goes from my pubic hairline to my belly button, mapping the incision that cuts my tummy muscles in half. I pushed in my soft belly and tested it to see whether I could pinch more than an inch of fat. As I often did, I mused over the question of why, in my late forties―with tiny beanbags for boobs, freckled skin, hair cut too short, a raggedy pink scar across my soft middle-aged belly and “Hi Janes” flapping beneath my upper arms― I would be chosen over the needy, pretty, adventurous and willing young things that swarmed all around Untac’s male population.

Having been in a loveless marriage for years, I wanted a fling. Conflicted as I was about my purpose in Cambodia, I ached to be desired. Would the dashing RAF Scotsman, Aiden, become my lover? Or would it be the handsome Polish captain? If one of them chose me, would he consume me . . . or would I be the black widow spider?

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