and went home. Many of the businesses, from cheap brothels to deluxe

hotels, had failed, but the Americana, and others, had struggled on.

The Thais were a resourceful and resilient people, however. Somehow,

they’d managed to turn their surplus of hotels, resorts, and places of

entertainment into what amounted to a natural resource; Thailand, as it

turned out, was one of the very few countries in the area where

Westerners felt either comfortable or welcome. It was the burgeoning

tourist industry which kept hotels like the Americana going.

This establishment’s economic recovery, Tombstone noted as he entered

the hotel’s lounge, was not yet complete. The dirt was well-hidden by

dark colors and the dim light, but the paint on the walls was chipped

and cracked in places, and water stains marred both the

expensive-looking teak floor and the plaster ceiling.

A That waiter approached, his hands folded before his chest as he bowed

in a traditional wai. “Commander Magruder? Your party is waiting for


Please follow me.”

Tombstone followed the waiter past tables and booths, past potted

tropical plants and softly bubbling aquariums. A large American flag

was dimly visible in the poor and smoky light, draped across one wall.

At a table near the back of the room, a small, dark man with a neat

mustache rose to greet him as he approached.

“Commander Magruder?”

“That’s right. You must be Colonel Kriangsak.”

The colonel gave Tombstone a polite wai. “At your service, sir.” He

gestured to the seat across the table from him. “Do me the honor of

joining me!”

“Thank you, sir.” He sat down. “I certainly appreciate your seeing me.

I was surprised to get your call this afternoon.”

“Not at all. Can I order you a drink?”

Tombstone glanced at the glass by Kriangsak’s elbow, and recognized the

heavy fragrance of the That drink known as Mekong wine. “A

rum-and-coke’d be fine.”

Kriangsak signaled a waitress, then folded his hands before him on the

table. “My people tell me you wish to take part in the search for your

missing comrades.”

“If possible, yes, sir.” Tombstone felt a new thrill of hope. Colonel

Kriangsak, certainly, had some pull with the various That military

bureaus and bureaucracies. As liaison between the That and American

forces, he might at least know who Tombstone could talk to.

“I fear that will be difficult, Commander. At least until the area is

secured from rebel forces.”

Tombstone tried to mask his disappointment. “Rebel forces, Colonel?”

Kriangsak smiled and held one hand up. “Nothing I’m really at liberty

to discuss. I shouldn’t have spoken of it, even. But …” He leaned

forward over the table, dropping his voice conspiratorially. “You have

heard reports of an attack up there, I’m sure. I tell you, quite

frankly, such an attack could not have been carried out without inside

help. Traitors, if you will, or rebels within the government. We must

ascertain the extent of this, this rebellion before we risk the lives of

more of our American allies. We really have no idea who the real enemy


“You must have some idea. Burmese? Communists? Or are we talking

about a coup?”

“Let us say, simply, elements which oppose the current government. In

any case, my people believe it would be unfortunate if more Americans

lost their lives during the crisis on our northern border.”

The waitress returned with Tombstone’s drink. He accepted it, took a

sip, then nodded. “I can understand that. But what now? Are you

people looking for Batman–I mean, for Lieutenants Wayne and Blake? It’s

possible they are alive, but down in the jungle somewhere.”

“Commander, everything that can be done is being done, I assure you. And

I personally will let you know the moment we learn anything.”

Tombstone sat back in his seat. The disappointment was sharp … but he

knew he could realistically have expected no more. “I can’t ask for

better than that,” he said. He started to slide out from behind the

table. “I certainly appreciate your taking the time to talk to me.”

“You’re not leaving already, surely!” Kriangsak looked surprised. “Stay

and have dinner, at least. I would like to discuss modern air tactics

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Categories: Keith Douglass