Chapter 44: Scandalous Behavior
The days were filled with hiring, training and worrying about the upcoming registration. The evenings were a continuing soap opera―a Cambodian version of “Peyton Place.” It seemed that most of Untac’s hormonal teenaged selves were in control. When someone came across a clue to their trysts on a walkie-talkie, pretty soon you could hear dozens of clicks as everyone switched their handsets to the “private” channel 4. Brielle had Leannán. I only had—if I wanted, and I didn’t—the parrot-eyed Russ. However, he made a handsome escort to a UN dinner party and reception for visiting diplomats. I drove to KPCC in my new Toyota Land Cruiser Untac was now passing out like Halloween candy—no generators but plenty of cars and trucks.
At the PEO’s villa we became separated by the crowd of guests and, feeling no need to be attached to Russ’s arm, I walked over to greet the tall, slender silver-haired German ambassador. He looked the part, and his underlings toadied about him. His brows rose slightly when I was introduced as an American PhD, but apparently I was not sufficiently important to warrant an investment of his time. He dismissed me with a tight smile, a click of his heels and a formal “Freut mich dich kennen zu lernen,” confirming my suspicion that most men the world over are asses.
I looked around and saw Stephan deep in discussion with his commander and several other Unmos—probably about soccer. In my purse was the cream I had promised him for his rash, so I thought, why not? Approaching the circle of men, I touched his arm.
“Vee-thai shlichna panienka,” he said, looking a bit surprised. I didn’t understand what he had said, but his smile persuaded me that it was something good. “Come with me, captain. I have something for you,” I whispered conspiratorially.
We walked off to an empty corner of the room. Heads swiveled. I could practically hear the Unmos thinking, hello, what's this? Ignoring the stares, I opened the tube and rubbed some cream on Stephan’s arm before handing it to him.
“You’re welcome. I’m glad I happened to have it with me.”
“By the way, what did you say to me when I came over?”
He blushed and replied, “Oh, I say, ‘Hello pretty woman.’ Is that okay?”
After stretching out our conversation far longer than I should have, I summoned enough self-discipline to tell Stephan that I had to go and started walking towards Russ, who was drinking with the other navy Unmos.
“Is he my replacement?” Russ asked, a little too despairingly.
“Replacement for what? You never had a place.”
“Sausage eater’s probably a spy,” he sneered with an air of superiority. “He’s a dodgy bastard.”
“Let it go. The Cold War is over.”
I had arranged to bunk at the navy villa. They had extra rooms, and UNVs often stayed there when in KPCC.
“It’s getting late; let’s head back to the house,” Russ said, already moving towards the door.
By the time we arrived at his compound, all the gates were locked. “Now what?” I asked. “Can you climb the fence?”
“You daft cow, there’s razor wire and glass chips up there.”
“No, you dolt. I’m not daft and don’t call me a cow.”
“Oh, CJ. A cow is an endearment, a word for sweetheart, that’s all.”
“Right, and I’m the Queen of England. Where are we going to sleep?”
He was already cranking back his seat to a reclining position. There was nothing for it. We wound up sleeping in the car―I in my black silk dress and high heels; Russ, drunk and despondent and so charmingly and infuriatingly “boyish.”
I awoke with the early morning sun, aching all over and feeling thoroughly stupid and juvenile. “Russ, wake up. I’ve got to change and drive back to Skon.”
His eyelids lifted grudgingly, he belched, and his eyes shut again. “How can you leave me?” he asked.
“You are one egotistical SOB.”
“Hey,” he pouted. “I think we’d make a cute couple.”
I shook my head. “I’d be a footnote to your last hurrah. I want to brush my teeth, drive back to Skon and crawl into my own bed for the rest of the day,” I said sourly.
When the gates to the navy compound finally opened, I went upstairs with Russ to wash. When I came out of his bathroom, he was lying curled up in his bed with his back to me. I stepped onto the balcony outside his room and looked down precisely at the moment Stephan entered the compound. He was wearing the same orange t-shirt under his pressed green khakis, and the same blue beret perched at a slight angle over his thick, curly hair that he wore the last time I had seen him. My breathing stopped; heat and color rose in my cheeks. OMG―a man I didn’t need, a man I had no right to want.
I ducked back into the bedroom and sat down on the bed beside Russ.
“Changed your mind?” he murmured, not even turning over.
“No, quite the contrary. If you hadn’t saved my damned foot, I wouldn’t be here.”
“CJ . . .”