Our next stop takes us around the world from foggy Scotland to lush Cambodia! Thirsty? Let Michael Stang quench your thirst in his story called:
“I ain’t scared of man nor beast, boy, remember that.”
My Father always did that, said that, like it was the one thing I would find useful in life.
He was dying, my Father.
After the funeral, the old guard reunited at the Holy Crab for the wake. The restaurant belonged to me now. I shared it with my Father’s three excuses for having lived as long as he did—his Tigers. Government forces and the general population that made up the People’s Socialist Community were under the impression he walked on water. They hailed him as one of their only real war heroes, they bestowed on him the highest military rank: Rear General of the Royalist troops who defended the Kingdom of Cambodia, God’s own, during the country’s civil war against the Communist fractions. Politically, the man was absolute power and held much personal consideration towards his own inflated image. Bopha, his faithful wife, was his last chance of atonement. When she served him on this earth, her mission was to return the light of the Pali Canon back into his black soul. When they found her body on the floor in an upstairs room strangled and cut from stem to stern, the people started to love my Father less.
Compatriots filled the restaurant. They huddled around war stories impatient to be told and complained of how the Government promised but failed to take care of them. Their wives kept them from the bar, but in the back, where the wooden porch creaked ten feet above the Mekong River, Veterans of 67’ roped up metal buckets of Angkor beer from the water. They bragged they used the best opium, but the brides knew better, the old days were gone.
Nuon Chea entered a side gate hidden by the afternoon’s steam. Crazy heat chugged through the light framing and singed the snake’s tail of his Naga ancestry. He ordered a whiskey then sat back at a table unnoticed until I looked over and recognized the square bald head, the no neck ear pierced with gold.
I motioned Malay, behind the bar, to refill his drink. When she set it in front of him, the Hulk ignored her and motioned me to the table. Massive cabled arms opened magnanimously, hands of steel directed me to sit.
“Come, Comrade, I am here to pay my humble respects. This country of ours will long endure the debt to your family.”
“Your respect was due at the funeral … earlier.” Chea’s eyes were not gray; they turned gray when he studied me. I was reminded of the curiously built heads embedded in the walls at the discovered temples at Angkor Wat and Banteay Srei. Each ten-ton boulder shaped in front worked as part of a face.
The presence of Chea was noticed inside The Holy Crab in an expanding matrix until the restaurant tightened down. Dignitaries suddenly found the hour late. The old soldiers—arm-and-arm—were ushered out by anxious women who kept looking back at our table with the evil eye. The cats began to pace in their cages.
The anvil with two eyes and a nose broke into a social smile.
“Forgive me for such a late arrival. Requirements of an ambassador ignore personal schedules.” Chea growled at Malay.
“Absinthe,” he spat. Two digitally formed fingers broke free from the iron fist indicating a round. “Your Father and I kept many secrets from one another. He was my equal, head to head, toe to toe, we were born to fight. It’s unfortunate we were enemies. As a team, we could have ruled the world.”
Malay sat two shot glasses down and opened the bottle in front of us. She poured without hesitation, calm and sure, then left us alone.
“Cambodia has always been a country of toe to toe,” I said before lifting the glass to toast.
“My Father wanted the killing stopped.”
Chea leaned in from across the table. “Let me tell you something, your Father killed more of our countrymen than all the rest of us put together. The only reason I’m sitting here before you now is military training and a whole lot of luck. He had me in his sights many times.”
I threw back the shot without the toast. My head started to swim. Anger ran recklessly within me. I was ready for a fight I would surely loose.
“So, what? Now you come for the son? Am I in line for the slaughter?”
“You’re just like your old man, you think too much of yourself. When heroes pass, it’s right to honor them. It is true we hated each other, and we went to the ends of this earth to cut each other’s throat. Too bad his depression brought him down. I know he would have preferred an assassin’s bullet.”
I refilled the glasses. “That was always Bopha’s fear, anytime anywhere.”
Chea stilled at the sound of Bopha’s name. “I heard they never found her murderer.”
“Popular belief is my Father did it.”
“That’s crazy talk. Bopha was an angel on earth, she kept your Father sane and alive.”
“How would you know that? Did you have your Commie spies in their bedroom?”
Chea’s hooks retracted and fell below the table as if to rest on his lap, but I could see the corded muscles around his chest tighten.
“You little pissant, you think you stand for the future of Cambodia? You’re not worth the smell of her sewers. Bopha was my daughter, do you understand? She had to die. Without her, he would too.”
Nuon Chea’s hand breached the top of the table holding a steady 45, but Malay had beaded in and shot the anvil’s head in two. She returned to the table to retrieve the bottle.
I asked her to bring another glass and walk with me in fields of gold.
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