rebel officers were under arrest. The soldiers, most of them, had been
disarmed and allowed to return to their barracks. There was talk of a
general amnesty for all save those who had directly threatened civilian
lives. The ambassador was talking now of heroes.
Heroes? Yes, there had been plenty of those. Bayerly … killed
defending Pamela. Taggart and Ziegler, shot down in the dogfight over U
And there was that sailor, young David Howard, just promoted to Seaman
and awarded the Silver Star for his part in the hostage rescue at the
An unlikelier hero Tombstone could not imagine, a five-foot-six
eighteen-year-old who had beaten a rebel colonel unconscious. Kriangsak
was still in the hospital and under guard. His conversations with That
and American interrogators had already filled in most of the missing
pieces, and the Burmese general captured at U Feng had told them the
Evidently, the whole operation called Sheng li had been put together and
run by Hsiao Kuoping, the former Chinese intelligence officer, a man
with underworld and revolutionary contacts throughout Southeast Asia. It
was incredible that the entire plot had been assembled without sanction,
without help from Beijing … but stranger things had happened. As the
halls of power crumbled in communist capitals around the world, it
seemed, more and more of the occupants of those halls were trying to
carve new and secure niches for themselves elsewhere.
Hsiao had been one such … his ally General Kol of Burma another. Their
plan had been to topple the That government and install their own,
probably with Kriangsak as the new leader and with themselves as the
powers behind the throne. Hsiao and his organization would then have
been in a position to control much of the opium and heroin trade coming
down from the Golden Triangle … a control which would have been worth
tens of billions of dollars and made Kriangsak, Kol, and Hsiao three of
the wealthiest and most powerful men on Earth.
The ambassador concluded his remarks and stepped away from the podium,
to general applause from the audience. An expectant hush fell over the
crowd as the King rose from his throne and took several steps forward.
General Duong stood behind the podium, adjusting the microphone.
“Lieutenant Commander Matthew Magruder,” he said. “Front and center!”
Tombstone gripped the hilt of his dress sword with his gloved left hand
and strode forward. He’d rehearsed this maneuver time and time again
always with the secret dread that he would trip over the unaccustomed
obstacle of his scabbard and fall facedown in the grass.
Bhumibol made a short speech in That, then turned and held out his hand.
General Duong opened a wooden box, revealing the medal.
The Ramathepbodi, the King’s Coin of Courage–That equivalent of the
Medal of Honor. The King removed it from its red velvet resting place,
unfolded the ribbon, and draped it over Tombstone’s neck.
“Thank you, my friend,” the King said in English, his clipped and
slightly Bostonian accent reminding Tombstone of Commander Neil. He
remembered reading someplace that Bhumibol had actually been born in
Cambridge, Massachusetts, while his father was studying medicine at
“Your leadership in the battle over U Feng saved a number of our
as well as the helicopters of the airmobile forces. We owe you … and
your men … a debt which can never be repaid.”
Tombstone snapped a rigidly correct salute. “Thank you, Your Majesty.”
The King returned the salute. Mindful again of his sword, Tombstone
wheeled an about-face and marched back to the ranks. His uncle stood in
the front row, beaming, and Tombstone knew that this award had nothing
to do with Admiral Thomas J. Magruder. Another Magruder–Sam Magruder
of the Doumer Bridge in Hanoi–would have been proud.
So was Tombstone. He saw Pamela standing in the front rank of
civilians, caught her eye, and grinned. She smiled back, radiant. He
knew now that he loved her. And that was more important than any medal.
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