BUY THE BOOK
Publication Date: February 15, 2020
Publisher: Galaxy Galloper Press
Length: 278 pages
CAST OF CHARACTERS
- Julia Galbraith, a young American Foreign Service Officer
- Lanh, her maid, a refugee from North Viet Nam
- Bill Harper, the Embassy Economic Officer, smart and cynical
- Helene, his Hong Kong-born wife
- Jake O’ Donnell, the American vice-consul
- Bo Samphieu, a Cambodian journalist, possibly a rebel agent
- Mary, his American wife
- Tom Grant, the Embassy political chief
- Sheila, his unhappy wife
- Nicole, a Vietnamese bar hostess
- Joan, the Ambassador’s secretary
- Magda Blair, the Hungarian-born wife of an American aid worker
- Charles Hourani, Moroccan diplomat and playboy
- Elaine Murray, an American teacher
- Robert Bouvelle, fencing master and bitter veteran of France’s colonial wars
- Charlie Sherman, Embassy Press Attaché
- Ket, a young Cambodian woman who works as a translator
- Peter Stein, an American correspondent
Excerpts from the Book
Before the monsoon came the mango rains, which were short, hard downpours that forced the mango trees to surrender their just-ripe fruits and tantalized the city’s inhabitants with a hint of the release the monsoon rains would soon bring. Julia Glbraith, a newly arrived Foreign Service Officer just short of her twenty-third birthday, stood on the terrace of her ground-floor apartment on the rue Pasteur and watched the rain fall. She was not beautiful, or even pretty, but she was tall and slender and blonde, which almost made up for that lack. Though a little shy, she exuded the freshness and vulnerability of a woman on the brink of life….
“Care for a swim?” he joked, but then it started to rain a little harder, and he pulled her into the pool house and took her in his arms. She could smell his sweat from the volleyball game mixed with the heady scent of rain-drenched plumeria and jasmine blossoms in the sultry air, and her ears filled with an exquisite pressure and her throat, too, so that she could barely breathe.
“All the magazines, all the art exhibits in the world, all the perfumes of Arabia … None of it matters a damn,” he said, downing the Scotch…… “Look outside at the man sweeping the street, or the guy pedaling the cyclo. Do we have any inkling of what they’re thinking? Maybe someday they’ll tell us, and I’ll bet it won’t be pretty. Maybe we just got a hint of that in the murder of the American boy…”
Once she led him to one of the simple, clean Vietnamese restaurants clustered around the Phnom—the park-like temple grounds shaded by tall plane trees. In the center of the park stood the small hill where a woman named Penh had once lived, giving the city its name. After eating the traditional vermicelli flavored with coriander and ngouc mam and washing it down with Vietnamese beer, they walked up the stone path laced with banyan roots to the temple and watched the astrologers reading their complex charts to customers by the light of kerosene lamps.
“Do you believe in all that—that our fate is written in the stars?” he asked her…
“Mademoiselle, mademoiselle,” Lanh gently but insistently touched Julia’s shoulder. The maid held a piece of paper.
It was about 7 o’clock on a Saturday morning and Julia had been to a party the night before and had planned to sleep late, but when she read the note, she woke up instantly.
“The President has been assassinated in Dallas,” she read. “Please come to the office.”
After he closed the consulate that evening, Jake walked through the quartier chinois toward the ferry that crossed to the island. In the quarter, people—Europeans mainly—were rushing around buying last-minute gifts. At the small, makeshift market near the ferry dock, Cambodians and Vietnamese who lived on the island were buying fried river fish from vendors with kerosene stoves, and the odor of frying fish and kerosene blended with the pungent sea-smell of the river. The ferry arrived, and the waiting crowd, many with bicycles heavily laden with bags of rice and charcoal and huge tins of cooking oil, moved down the long staircase to the boat, which was hot and dark and smelled of oil and was bathed in the amber glow of kerosene lamps. The boat glided past junks and cargo ships and pleasure craft and reached the island after about ten minutes. Cyclos and horse-drawn carriages waited to take passengers to their destinations, but Nicole had given Jake only vague directions, so he began to walk, asking for the sister by name and getting only puzzled looks.
“Let’s have a drink on the roof on the Majestic to celebrate,” he said.
They climbed the stairs to the roof and took a small table, and he ordered a Scotch for himself and a cognac-soda for her. Dusk had turned to dark, but the sky was studded with stars, and, in the distance, they could see orangey flashes on the ground.
“A fire fight around Bien Hoa” he told her. “The ARVN—the South Vietnamese forces—control the area in the daytime, at least nominally. But at night, the Viet Cong come out of the forest.”
“Green is the color of the Nyai Loro Kidul,” Wiratmo explained, looking embarrassed. “The Ratu Kidul—the queen of the southern sea. She controls the waves, and if you take her color, she will be jealous and take you—take your life.”….
Green, the color of the sea. The color of hope in Catholic liturgy. The color of peace in Islam. But, mainly, the color of jealousy. Elaine knew a thing or two about jealousy. Oh, yes, she could go toe-to-toe with the Ratu Kidul on jealousy.
The dry season in the south of the country began in October, and hot desert winds from the north descended on the capital, which was named Fort Lamy for a dead Frenchman killed in a battle just across the Chari River. The country was Chad, often called ‘the dead heart of Africa’ for its landlocked status and for the fact that except for a small belt between the capital and the marshlands of Lake Chad, it was a desert.
Appropriate that I should be Ambassador here, thought Tom Grant as he sat in a café on the quay and sipped a Pernod and watched the sun set over the river. One dead heart deserves another.
The family took a table on the edge of the sidewalk, and Hourani raised his newspaper in front of his face so he could watch unobserved. She spoke in French to the waiter, and he smiled to himself—she still had that pronounced but quite charming accent. He even caught a faint whiff of the perfume she always wore. What was it called? Je Reviens….that was it. But maybe it was just his imagination, a memory of the past stealing back. He had had the courier bring a bottle of it from Paris to surprise her on her birthday, he remembered. He had taken her to dinner at the excellent airport restaurant, and afterward, they had waited on the tarmac in the dark for the plane to land.