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Chapter 42: Libras

Brielle wore a severely plum-colored silk sheath made for her by a local seamstress, but when she turned sideways I noticed that she was no wider than a river reed. She was having clothes made because hers no longer fit her, giving me items from the wardrobe she had brought to Cambodia. Her diet of cigarettes, coffee and chocolate as well as her almost constant state of agitation had left her pale, gaunt and rail thin. In this dress, however, she was gorgeous. “Brie, go outside so I can take your photo,” I said. Leannán was arriving soon to take her to dinner to celebrate her birthday.

I left for a security briefing at the Unmos’ villa in Kampong Cham City. An off-key chorus of “For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow” was just winding down as I walked onto the large veranda. The Unmos who shared Téphanes’ villa were well into a celebration for another Libra, Oleg, the Russian Unmo, who everyone believed to be a KGB operative. But the light mood darkened quickly as Russ, now head of all the Unmo units in KPCC, interrupted the conversation to share some news about recent guerrilla attacks to our north.

“The Khmer Rouge have graduated from minor firefights with the military to attacks on the locals,” Russ reported. “They also killed four civilians, destroyed a local police station and blew up a bridge. Untac’s head of mission is calling the attack a terrorist warning not to cooperate with the election. I think he’s right in this.”

The news felt menacing, like waiting for a biopsy result. I plummeted into paranoia. I couldn’t get my mind off the fact that my adventure as well as my behavior had become more risky. I was drinking more, and my job could become downright deadly.

Before I realized the time, dusk had fallen. The other DESs had returned to their districts and most of the Unmos had resumed their celebration, leaving worrying news behind to argue endlessly about soccer. I started gathering up my stuff to leave.

Russ came over, leaving the small group of men who were drinking and debating whether Carlos Mila or Hans Breukelen was the best goalie ever. “Stay with me tonight,” Russ murmured, playfully attempting to finger my breasts.

I slapped his hand away. “No thanks. And besides, I promised the Chinese. Their captain is having the battalion’s cooks make dumplings for dinner in my honor.”

“You’re leaving me for the Chinks?”

“You really are a jerk.”

“Sorry, luv. Don’t get all libby on me. Thought you’d fancy a snog so you’d have something to remember me by.”

Rising up on my tiptoes, I gave him a hard slap on the cheek and sped back to Skon for dinner at the Chinese camp. I considered the big sailor as I drove; after all, he had rescued me from the machete-wielding guerrilla. But Russ could care less about everything that I marveled at—like the ways in which different people talk, think or act. The epitome of the colonialist, he represented the salad days of the British Empire, a mentality that I loathed. And he certainly wasn’t Aiden. Come to think of it, he wasn’t the Polish captain, either.

Brielle and Leannán had returned from their evening out and were waiting up for me. “Oi,” Leannán greeted me. “Did you bring us some dumplings from the Chinese camp? Are you enjoying your increasingly bizarre and unpredictable life?”

“Sorry, no takeout, and yes . . . well, it’s certainly better than facing the rest of my life with only the past to regret and nothing more to look forward to than the role someone else writes for me.” They were so irritatingly young.

I embraced Brielle, enfolding her skinny arms in mine. “Go to bed, birthday lady. Tomorrow you are merely you again.”

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