23 Let's Do Takeo
In the morning Medici had a throbbing hangover from carousing with the river rats and junk sailors the night before. He couldn’t eat breakfast, so he sat unshaven and shirtless in fatigue cutoffs, drinking soda. He slumped in a wood crate chair, flip-flops propped on the patio wall, gazing at the Gulf of Thailand. He felt like a sleazy lizard, poisons oozing from his pores while the sun slowly raised his body temperature. His eyes squinted behind dark aviator sunglasses that seemed entirely inadequate this rotten morning.
Something appeared in the line of sight between his sweating legs. At first he thought it was the cobra, but then a human head appeared and bobbed higher with each step. It belonged to a tall, blond, meticulously uniformed American Army colonel followed by his puffing aide-de-camp.
The colonel reached a point on the path where he could see over the wall into the patio. He sized up its height then vaulted the wall on one hand, landing lightly on the concrete. The pudgy aide clattered over the wall and rolled onto the patio, breathless.
“Morning, soldier,” the colonel said. “Know where I can find NILO Ha Tien?—Navy Lieutenant Medici.”
Medici blinked at the colonel, turned his head left then right to survey the patio, and returned to the colonel.
“You talkin’ to me, grunt?”
The colonel’s nostrils twitched. “Is this Advisory Team 5, Ha Tien?”
“I would like to speak to your commanding officer.”
“Sure. He’s Vice Admiral Zumwalt at Naval headquarters in Saigon. I can get him on the radio in about 15 minutes if you really need to talk to him.”
“Are you Lieutenant Medici?”
“Yup. Thomas N., 728471, United States Naval Reserve. Who the hell are you?” Medici read the name Carruthers on the colonel’s uniform patch.
“I’m Colonel Carruthers, C/O of the 525 Military Intelligence Group for the delta.” He extended his hand to Medici who sat up and shook it. “My aide, Captain Torgeson.”
Medici waved at the captain who returned the gesture. “Sit down, Colonel, it’s too hot to stand.”
The colonel pulled up an ammo crate chair. He put his feet up on the wall and surveyed the Gulf from the river mouth, north past the Pirate Islands to the profile of the Elephant Mountains. He took it all in slowly and gave Medici the feeling he was intuiting what Ha Tien was about. Quick study, Medici thought. I’ll do business with this guy.
“This beats the shit out of Can Tho,” Carruthers said. “Frank Brown told me about you. I thought I’d come up to see what this wildman NILO Ha Tien could show me about Cambodia.” He laughed.
Medici grinned. “I’m feeling less than wild this morning.” He rubbed his temples slowly in an attempt to snap out of the hangover. “How did you get here anyway? I didn’t hear a chopper.”
“Came in at the Navy base in town late last night. LT. Hayward told me I could find you up here. I thought we could do a little intel.”
Medici sat up, removed his sunglasses, and looked at Carruthers. “What do you want, Colonel?”
“Let’s do Take-ee-yo,” the colonel said.
Oh shit, Medici thought. Here we go again. He sensed a hollow in the pit of his stomach. “Colonel, it’s pronounced Tah-KAIYO, not TAKE-ee-yo. Why there? It’s been pretty quiet since the 9th Vietnamese Division swept through two months ago.”
“No real operational significance. Just—well, curiosity.”
Right. Curiosity. Medici replaced his sunglasses and gazed seaward. “Sorry, Colonel. I don’t do things for mere curiosity anymore. I’m gettin’ short. Sort of. Four months left.”
“Commander Holland thought you’d be willing to help a friend of his,” Carruthers said. He stared off at the islands.
Medici swallowed. Carruthers had him. He’d played the one card Medici would respond to, his loyalty to Holland.
“You talked to Holland?”
“Yes. For two days.”
Medici drew his lips against his teeth and nodded his head rhythmically.
“You got a chopper?”
“All mine. Down at the Navy base. When can you be ready?”