We rode in the back of an ancient truck from the border up into the mountain jungle of northwestern Laos. As we were jostled back and forth, we dried off slowly in the hot, humid air. Gail and I purposely sat across from each other in the truck bed, drinking each other in with our eyes for the remainder of the trip. At one point, the two tribesmen who were assuring us a safe escort into the Mien warlord's fiefdom were jabbering and pointing to Gail and me in an animated fashion. When I asked our interpreter what they were saying, he reiterated what I had heard the night before about yellow-haired Fahrangs being good luck and how rare it was to see two more yellow hairs together in this region--that Gail and I could be taken as twins. I meant to ask the interpreter what they meant by "more yellow hairs" in this remote area, but I figured that out soon enough myself, because, just then, the mountainside redoubt of the Mien warlord's lair came into sight.
The stronghold was well concealed, especially from the air. It consisted mainly of a large, open-air pavilion, with smaller dependencies on the periphery, set on a rock outcrop at the side of a narrow ravine that appeared to be easily defended. It would be very hard to pick out from the air, because the columns that supported the thatched roof of the pavilion were the trunks of live jungle trees that widely spread their canopies over the whole complex.
As our truck came to a stop at the mouth of the ravine, I looked out and saw that Kwei Lin and what must be his most trusted cohorts were spread out along the low rock wall separating the pavilion from the cliff edge. If ever a place could justify my image, admitted purely of the movie type, of Shangri-la, this would be it. Even from the ground level, the habitations, represented by stone walls here and dark-wood construction there, were hard to pick out in the steep slopes running up on either side, which were heavily covered in exotic, large-leafed jungle vegetation. At the far end of the ravine, a waterfall cascaded from the heights down into the mystical world that had been created here, covering everything in a cooling, blurring mist.
I had no trouble picking out Kwei Lin; he stood head and shoulders above the rest of the Mien tribesmen and was as blond as either Gail or me, his golden, mane-like hair flowing down to his shoulders in a full-bodied cascade of curls. It was immediately obvious why he was able to maintain his status as the guerilla band chief. Luck was with him just by virtue of his golden blond presence.
It also was understandable why he had insisted on the reward that he had for accommodating the insertion of our team into China. He would perpetuate his myth of the golden leader of the Golden Triangle by mating with a blonde woman, while at the same time, he would be getting a taste of the world he'd left behind.
Kwei Lin was wearing the same indigo Chinese-style, close-fitting rough-fabric pants that came down to just below his knees and a loose-fitting crossover jacket made of the same material that the other men were wearing. But he was slimmer, taller, and more distinctly muscled than his adopted compatriots. Like his comrades, as well, all of his torso and arms that we could see were covered in an intricate, but loose-network, design of blue tattooing that even ran up the side of his neck.
He spoke excellent French as we negotiated our business, but I only later was able to discern whether he could speak English as well. I was careful not to ask him too many questions about his past, especially since he knew I was a direct agent of U.S. intelligence, and he didn't offer any personal information. It was clear that the Mien tribesmen would do anything he approved, and they seemed in awe of Gail, who just lounged coolly in a nearby rope sling, allowing the hem of her skirt to pull up well above her knees and being as enticing as possible for Kwei Lin as she had been instructed to be, while the chieftain and I hashed out the last loose ends of our initial agreement. For his part, Kwei Lin wasn't nearly as attentive to Gail's presence as his cohorts were; his attention was locked on me and what I was proposing.
We were able to strike a very acceptable bargain on preliminary agreements within a short time, and, as twilight descended, a couple of women were shuffling around and lighting small torches extending from the live columns but well away from the thatched ceiling.
Making very clear that the U.S. government was quite pleased with the arrangement, I ceremoniously beckoned for Gail to come forward so that Kwei Lin could claim the sugaring of his deal. She languidly unfolded herself from the rope sling and floated over to the center to the pavilion, up to the edge of the table where Kwei Lin and I had spread our maps during the negotiations.
I had the interpreter announce to Kwei Lin that Gail would accommodate him for the night and was turning to return to the bottom of the ravine, where a tent had been raised over the truck bed for the rest of my party to spend an uncomfortable night, when Kwei Lin spoke out in a commanding voice.
"He wants you to stay, sir," the interpreter said, with a funny look on his face.
"Stay?" I asked dumbly.
"Yes. He wants you to make love to the blonde woman," the interpreter said in embarrassed tones. "He said he was promised two yellow hairs who would perform for him and his lieutenants."