Read Dog Soldiers Online

Authors: Robert Stone

Dog Soldiers

 

 

 

 

1974

 

To the Committee of Responsibility

 

 

 

T
here was only one bench in the shade and converse
went for it, although it was already occupied. He inspected the stone surface for unpleasant substances, found none, and sat down
. Beside him he placed the over
sized briefcase he had been carrying; its handle shone with the sweat of his palm. He sat facing Tu Do Street, resting one hand across the case and raising the other to his fore head to check the progress of his fever. It was Converse

s nature to worry about his health.

The other occupant of the bench was an American lady of middling age.

It was siesta hour and there was no one else in the park. The children who usually played soccer on the lawns were across the street, sleeping in the shade of their mothers

street stalls. The Tu Do hustlers had withdrawn into the arcade of Eden Passage where they lounged sleepy-eyed, rousing themselves now and then to hiss after the
passing
of a sweating American. It was three o

clock and the sky was almost cloudless. The rai
n was late. There was no wind,
and the palm crowns and poinciana blossoms of the park trees hung motionless.

Converse glanced secretly at the lady beside him. She was wearing a green print dress and a canvas hat with a sun visor. She had offered him a weary smile upon his sitting down; he wondered if there would be compatrial conversation. Her face was as smooth as a young girl

s but gray and colorless so that it was difficult to tell whether she was youthfully preserved or
prematurely aged. Her waxen co
loring was like an opium smoker

s but
sh
e did not seem at all the sort. She was reading
The Citadel
by A. J. Cronin.

The lady looked up suddenly from her book, surprising Converse in mid-appraisal. She was certainly not an opium smoker. Her eyes were dear and warm brown. Converse, whose tastes were eccentric, found her attractive.


Well,

he said in his hearty, imitation-Army accent,

we

ll have some weather pretty soon.

Out of politeness, she
looke
d at the sky.


It

s certainly going to rain,

she assured him.

But not for a while.


Guess not,

Converse said thoughtfully. When he looked away, she returned to her book.

Converse had come to the park to catch the cool breeze that always came before the rain and to read his mail. He was killing time before his appointment, trying to steady his nerve. He did not
wis
h to appear on the
terrasse
of the Con
tinental at such an early hour.

He took a small stack of letters from his case and looked them over. There was one from a Dutch underground paper which published in English, asking him for a Saigon piece. There were two checks, one from his father-in-law and one from a newspaper in Ireland. Ther
e was also a let
ter from his wife in Berkeley. He took a handkerchief from his shirt pocket, wiped the sweat from his eyes, and began to read.


Well, I went to New York after all,

his wife had written,

spent nineteen days there. Took Janey with me and she wasn

t really much trouble. I

m back at the theater now in time for a brand new beav
er special which is the most de
pressing flick this place has put on yet Everybody here says hello and take care of yourself.


New York was pretty scary. Forty-second Street is in credible now. It makes Three Street feel nice and homely. You

ll find it a lot less pleasant the next time you go buy a hot dog at that place on Broadway you used to go to. I went there out of spite anyway — shit like that doesn

t bother me as much as it does you. Also I rode on the subway which I bet you wouldn

t do.


Took Janey up to Croton for a visit with Uncle Jay and his Hudson River Bolsheviks. We went to a National Guardian party and that really took me back, with all the folk singers and the tame spades. We ate somebody

s idea of Mex food and there were mariachis from the Puerto Rican Alps and people telling stories about how Sequeiros was their buddy. No spicy stories for you this time because I didn

t make it with anybody. If Gallagher was there I might have made it with him but he wasn

t. Everybody

s pissed at him up there.

Looking up, Converse sa
w a street photographer in a Ha
waiian shirt advancing toward his bench. He put up his hand in a gesture of refusal and the man turned back to ward Eden Passage. The Tu Do Street cowboys had come out from wherever they spent their siestas and were revving up their Hondas. There was still no breeze.

Converse read on:


The heaviest thing that happened while we were in New York was we went to a parade which was for the War. Three of us — me, looking relatively straight, and Don and Cathy looking modified freaky. We weren

t too well re
ceived. You had to see that action to believe it. There were eight million flags and round little Polish priests
goose-stepping
around with their Boy Bugle Corps, Ukrainians with sabers and fur hats, German Veterans of the Warsaw Ghetto Battle, the Brotherhood of Former Concentration Camp Guards, the Sons of Mussolini, the Baboons Union. Incredible. My flash was that these people are freakier than we ever could be. One tends to think of them as straight but when you see them they

re unreal. I had this snoutface meatyard accost me —

The rats are coming out of their holes,

he said. I told him,

Listen mother, my
hus
band is in Vietnam.
’”

Converse looked up from
the letter again and found him
self staring vacantly at the lady beside him.

The lady smiled.


Letter from home?


Yes,

Converse said.


When I was up in Croton, Jay asked me if I knew what was going on. With everything. He said he didn

t under
stand anything that was going on at all. He said maybe he should take drugs. Sarcastically. I told him he was damn right he should. He said that drugs condition the intellect to fascism and came on about C. Manson and said he would rather die than surrender his intellect. He also said he didn

t need dope which is a laugh because if there was ever one man who needed it bad it

s him. I told him that if he

d turned on he

d never have been a Stalinist. He brings out the sadist in me. Which is weird because he

s really such a nice man. Our argument reminded me of when I was a kid me and Dodie were walking with him when we passed an integrated black and white couple. Jay dug the shit out of that naturally because it was so progressive, and he wants to show us kids.

Isn

t that nice?

he says. Dodie, who couldn

t have been more than ten, says

I think it

s disgusting.

Dodie could always play him like a pinball machine.

Converse folded the letter and looked at his watch. The lady beside him had set down her A. J. Cronin.


Everything fine with your folks?


Oh yes,

Converse said,

fine. Family visits and things.


It

s easier for you fellas to do your jobs when you know everything

s all right back home.


I find that

s true,

Converse said.


You

re not with AID, are you?


No.

He sought for a word.

Bao chi.

Bao chi
was what the V
ietnamese call journalists. Con
verse was a journalist of sorts.


Oh yes,

the lady said.

Been here long?


Eighteen months. And you. Have you been here long?


Fourteen years.

Converse was unable to conceal his horror.

There were faded freckles in the gray skin under the

lady

s eyes. She seemed to be laughing at him.


Don

t you like this country?


Yes,

Converse answered truthfully.

I do.


Where I make my home,

she told Converse,

it

s not nearly so hot as it is here. We

ve got pine trees. People say it

s like northern California, but I

ve never been there.


That must be up around Kontum.


South of there. Ngoc Linh Province.

Converse had never been to Ngoc Linh Province; he knew very few people who had. He had flown over it, and from the air it looked thoroughly frightening, a deep green maze of iron-spine mountains. The clouds were full of rocks. No one went there, not even to bomb it, since the Green Berets had left.


We call it God

s country,

the lady said.

It

s sort of a joke.


Aha.

Converse wondered if all the flesh of her body were the same dingy gray as the skin of her face and if there were any more faded freckles in it.

What do you do up there?


Well,

the lady said,

there are five different languages spoken by tribespeople up around us. We

ve been doing language studies.

Converse looked into her mild eyes.

Of course.


You

re a missionary.


We don

t call ourselves that way. I suppose some people would.

He nodded in sympathy. They never like the term. It suggested imperialism and being eaten.

It must be …

Converse tried
to think of what it must be…

very satisfying.


We

re never satisfied,

the lady said gaily.

We always want to do more. I think our work

s been blessed though we

ve certainly had our trials.


That

s part of it, isn

t it?


Yes,

the lady said,

it

s all part of it.


I

ve been to northern California,

Converse told her,

but I

ve never been to Ngoc Linh.

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