Chapter 71: THOR
A Japanese DES had been killed, shot in his car, most probably by Khmer Rouge guerrillas. Headquarters warned us that UN staff would be vulnerable and at greater risk in the weeks ahead. Alarm sparked a rush of adrenalin. I had been scared before, like on the night at the barricades, but this murder felt like a signal of things to come―more worrisome, more pervasive.
Understandably, I was not the only one who found the murder of the Japanese DES more unsettling than previously reported incidents. Klara attended the funeral for the slain volunteer. “The DESs who were at the funeral are planning to leave Cambodia for safety,” she confided. “It was like the sorrow mixed with fear. The emotions infected the mourners like a virus. I hardly escaped myself.”
To make matters edgier, we were told that five Bulgarian soldiers, assigned to a security outpost on the newly resurfaced back road to Phnom Penh, had been shot to death in their barracks and found without their weapons. I gasped involuntarily when I heard this news, my hand at my mouth. That was the same road that Stephan and I had taken only a few days earlier. But I couldn’t worry about the dangers lurking behind every barricade and bush, because I wasn’t going to leave.
The UN was scrambling to come up with new polling and security plans to save what was left of the election and retain a sufficient number of DESs to run it. Some of the proposed ideas were over-reactions and ill-thought solutions that would be impossible to implement. I had a plan, a plan for Poŭthĭsăt and a good plan for the entire country. I hurried to Abayomi’s office at HQ. The head Unmo, a Frenchman, Martin, was getting into his Jeep as I got out of my 4X4.
“Hey Martin, is the PEO in?” I asked, giving him a quick smile of greeting.
“He’s with someone, I think his replacement. Abayomi has been reassigned to Phnom Penh to oversee the election there. Some bigwig got malaria and was medivaced to Singapore. Don’t know any more than that. Got to go. Landmine explosions up near the Tunisian camp. ”
The smile dropped from my face. I didn’t even say goodbye as I stood outside and recalculated my plan. Deciding on a course of action, I went into HQ. Two men sat in Abayomi’s corner office, one with his back to me. I tapped impatiently on the doorframe and waited for Abayomi to acknowledge me. He looked up and arranged himself into his most diplomatic bearing. “CJ, how good to see you. Come in, sit down.”
The other guy swiveled in his chair to face me. In his familiar French-Canadian accent, he said, “Yes, professor Havra, good to see you again. We’ve missed you in Kampong Cham. But here, we will work together again, n'est-ce pas?”
I ignored Bruno and responded directly to Abayomi, “No thanks, I’ll stand. I have to leave to take care of something in Phnom Penh, but I’d like to discuss something with you, if you have a minute.” While Bruno looked on, I laid out the rudiments of my plan: reduce the number of polling stations and put them in locations easily accessible by vehicle. “It is based on a crime-prevention strategy that I taught in my Criminal Justices classes at the university. The theory is called THOR, which stands for Target Hardening and Opportunity Reduction. If the strategy works, it could save us from becoming an international incident.” Since Abayomi was leaving and taking his unquestioning support with him, I wanted to give Bruno enough information to whet his interest and just enough space to make the plan his own.
“Does this THOR theory work in practice?” Bruno asked, moving into my line of sight and assuming his role as the decision-maker.
“Well, the research reports successful results,” I said, suddenly feeling defensive.
“With all due respect, my dear professor Havra, you are a teacher, not a military strategist.”
I drew up my 5’3” frame to appear as tall as I could. “Would you have said that to Martin?”
“CJ,” Bruno replied in the velvety smooth voice of a practiced politician, “rest assured that I will give it my full attention.”
Abayomi said nothing, abdicating all responsibility to Bruno. I was so unnerved by the prospect of having Bruno as my supervisor again that I left the office without saying goodbye.
I arrived in Phnom Penh by late afternoon and went to meet Hon. A feeling of unease, like an itch you can’t reach, had nagged at me since the evacuation of non-essential Untac personnel and their families. Moam-Moam’s horrific death only made me feel more uneasy about my friend’s security.
“CJ! Chomreabsuor,” a hugely pregnant Hon greeted me.
“No baby yet?”
“Very soon, but we have our new house. Come, I close the shop and we go see my home.”
Before I could catch my breath, I was on the rear of her scooter racing up Mao Tse Tung Blvd. toward the airport. Even as we rushed to get there, I noticed more armed men on the streets as well as UN white tanks parked in strategic locations near the airport perimeter.
The house was small and attached to several other low, one-story cement dwellings on either side of it. A small courtyard, walled in and topped with shards of glass, fronted a large open room that served as sitting room, bedroom and occasional garage. In the corner was a large wooden chifforobe, with the name Havra etched above its double doors.
“Your wedding present,” Hon said when she noticed me staring at it, wide-eyed and mouth agape. “We bought it with the dollars you gave us. Beautiful, yes?” Pleased with herself for creating a monument to her friend, Hon began putting dishes of food on a low table.
We sat on a bamboo mat on the floor, nibbling on fruit and cold roasted duck. Hon described mounting incidents of violence and harassment by the Khmer Rouge as well as similar mayhem caused by the KPAF.
More concerned than ever about her safety, I asked, “Maybe you should go stay with your relatives in Kampong Cham until after the election? Have the baby there?”
“Aut panyaha,” she replied emphatically. “I no worry. I can’t leave my business and my new house.”
We argued about the potential dangers in Phnom Penh leading up to the election, until Hon heaved herself up and ended our conversation with the announcement that it was time to go back to work.
I let her optimism infect me and, as I drove home later to Poŭthĭsăt, I imagined holding her baby in my arms while celebrating her good fortune.
Like so many others, Klara enjoyed watching the soap opera that was my life, but I hadn’t burdened her with my secrets. As with everyone else in Poŭthĭsăt, I kept up a wall of privacy, not wanting to develop the intimacy that I’d shared with Brielle. Everything was coming to an end, and there were already too many farewells up ahead.
Meanwhile, I needed a replacement confidant, and Klara was available for the job. She had already provided a willing ear while I whined and bitched about Bruno’s replacing Abayomi and what his leadership would mean during those last critical weeks
“Men consume me, take over my identity. I really admire your independence,” I said on one of our tours of potential polling sites.
“But this is not your problem with Stephan, ja?” Karla asked. “Ja,” I replied, mimicking her.
“I don’t understand,” she continued. “He is always coming to you. I hear you radioing him, ‘Tanya is pregnant,’ and him responding, ‘the blue goose is dead.’ So I know that you’re home inviting him and he’s on his way over to your house,” she confessed.
Klara had broken our secret radio code.
“Yes, well, so what? Even if he comes at my request, I am helpless not to make it. If he doesn’t come, I am unsatisfied and needy,” I confided.
Klara’s eyebrows went up at that one. I had said too much. I finished my thought, but didn’t say it out loud—that Stephan was detaching, whether to protect himself or me, I didn’t know. Was I still the same woman that I’d wanted to leave behind? What had happened to the anger and the passion that had pushed me to Cambodia ten months earlier?