Bones of the Dragon [MultiFormat]
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eBook by Marjorie Doughty
eBook Category: Suspense/Thriller
eBook Description: Imagine two surgeons, a man and woman, who want to be the best and highest paid in the world. They go to Vietnam, get divorced, and she is captured by the North Vietnamese and made a "prisoner" in a reeducation camp. During this time, she learns the true value of life, after being caught in a bombing raid, two attempted rapes, loss of her best friend, and more. It is a story that is strictly imaginative but laced with truths of the good and bad of humanity
eBook Publisher: ebooksonthe.net, Published: ebook, 2006
Fictionwise Release Date: January 2007
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4 Reader Ratings:
"Why am I a prisoner in this North Vietnamese reeducation camp, God?" Jean asked. There was no answer, only the dismal, bleak silence remained. With a stifled sob, she put her body into the least uncomfortable position she could find on the rattan cot, only dimly aware of the raw cement walls and floor of the tiny cell that threatened to close in on her. She tried not to think about the stench from the bucket she used for a toilet. Fatigue took over and as she half-slept, distorted images tumbled haphazardly through her mind.
"No." Her spoken denial forced her eyes open, out of the nightmare with its hurting, stifling memories. Her neck ached from the frantic movement of twisting her head from side to side. Muscles cramped with tension, Jean forced her body up from the cot. Her scattered thoughts refused to come together. Exhaustion again took over, and she eased back down on the cot, closed her eyes against the alien darkness that lay like a murky stinking blanket, suffocating.
Why was she, an American surgeon, forced to operate on the North Vietnamese wounded? There before her was Nuncey, her only female American nurse, ready to assist but as Jean watched, Nuncey' body in its military uniform was torn slowly into shreds, blood oozed, pieces of her body were flung through the air while heavy drops of bright red stained the whiteness that surrounded her. In semi-consciousness, Jean moaned and twisted on the cot.
Colonel Yim, his small body neat and trim in its ugly green North Vietnamese uniform, his light brown-skinned face sorrowful, loomed above her, smiled gently, and said:
"Even though I am with the North Vietnamese Army, I have saved you from being raped, don't forget. Now I must go to be killed for my country."
Yim faded and was replaced by Frank, tall and thin in his white surgeon's coat.
"I am divorcing you because you are cold, cold, cold." Jean shivered in her sleep.
Now it was no longer Frank, it was Stan wearing his Colonel's uniform. "You thought I was leaving my wife for you, but all I wanted was a good piece of ass."
A small sob forced its way out of Jean's tight throat and a tear defied sleep as it slipped down her cheek.
Mitch sat on the cot beside her, his irregular features softened and his brown eyes filled with love.
"Baby, I'd marry you in a minute if I were that kind of a guy."
"No," Jean whispered out loud, "you can't do that. I am a surgeon but I'm also a whore." Again she pulled herself out of the nightmare and tried to force her mind to stay awake, but fatigue took over and she dozed, only to again see Colonel Yim who held out his hand.
"We are all victims of the war, Bac Si. Be brave."
The nightmare finally retreated and Jean slept until the noise of the approaching guards brought her back to bleak reality.
Twenty-seven years old today and she felt ancient, wearied with overwork, lack of adequate food and sleep. What did the fates have against her? Memories of other birthdays crept into her mind as she stood up, flexed her stiff arms and legs into reluctant life; friends, gifts, laughter, all part of a sane well-ordered movement of life in the past that gave no glimpse into this twisted, dark tunnel in which she was trapped with no exit. Where had the so-called American way of Middle West living taken a wrong turn? Was it when she left the quiet, sheltered life she shared with Aunt Julie to marry Frank? She had expected a workable marriage as well as a successful partnership, two of them headed for the unlimited success waiting for prominent surgeons.
"I don't understand," she spoke into the murk that was beginning to lighten with a lone ray of hot sun coming through the small high outside window just under the roof of the cell. It foretold the almost unbearable heat of about 102 degrees and the steaming, wilting humidity of the coming day.
She was a prisoner of war, although the North Vietnamese military men in charge of the re-education camp assured her she was a captive surgeon, not a prisoner. They explained it was necessary to keep her, to use her medical skills because they were short of surgeons. These people twisted words. If she wasn't a prisoner why was she put into this miserable cell each night and the door locked behind her? There was never enough food or medicine. Amoebic dysentery brought on by unclean food and polluted water was now a way of life, monotonous, demanding, draining the body of its vital fluids. With her body honed down to skin stretched over bones, there was little resistance left.
When first captured by the North Vietnamese a few months back before she was brought to this camp, there had been a degree of freedom for her during that time. Together with her captor, Colonel Yim, also her protector and mentor, she traveled the countryside. It was true they had eaten whatever could be found, used medicines stolen from the Americans or bought on the black market, caught bits and pieces of sleep wherever possible, often ran from attacks either on the ground or from the air, and sought safety in tunnels or village houses or huts, faced mangled corpses of military and civilians daily, but still she could move about. She had no idea what freedom meant until she was brought here. Now she had no place to go except within the confines of this camp or the privacy of her mind.
She headed for the bucket in the corner to relieve her aching bladder. Then she splashed cold water from the earthen jar and washed her face and hands without soap. She scrubbed her teeth with her fingers and cleaned them with a small sliver of wood she had pulled from the rough frame of her cot and sterilized in the infirmary. She combed her hair by running her fingers through the short hairdo. Ready to face Colonel Nuygen Trang, Jean wondered what the camp commander would demand of her this day, November 11, the 101st day of her captivity.
"Good evening, doctor. How nice you took the time to come to one of our little cocktail parties."
Jean stretched her mouth in a reluctant smile at the woman who spoke to her with lips pulled to one side. Too blonde, slightly drunk, the woman was zipped into a floor length tight form-fitting yellow silk dress that emphasized her slightly protruding belly and ample hips. Her full breasts threatened to pop loose from the low cut neckline.
"Good evening," Jean managed to say. She hid her distaste as she moved away, hoping to catch sight of Leo. She hated cocktail parties, big or little, and they were a way of life here, an escape from the war in Saigon. So many people with nothing to do but get drunk, make a pass at the nearest member of the opposite sex out of desperation, loneliness, or boredom, then sober up enough to get ready for the next chance of escape. Jean wouldn't be at this party if Leo hadn't insisted she get out of her apartment and quit brooding over Frank and the divorce.
"Nice to see you, Dr. Shaw. How are you?" With pleasure Jean recognized the pretty brunette in the rose-colored evening dress. Myra Daley, a wife in Vietnam for a visit with her doctor husband, with permission from Ambassador Ralph Sheppard. Ambassador Sheppard felt occasional visits by dependents illustrated faith in America's ultimate victory, assisted by the South Vietnamese military, over the aggressive North. If the American dependents weren't afraid to come visit, why should anyone else be afraid?
"It's good to see you, Myra. How's life in Bangkok?"
"Wonderful, free, a lot different from here, believe me. How do you like being an unacknowledged surgeon with the Civilian Medical Team in Vietnam? Right in the middle of all the military operations?" Before Jean could answer, someone grabbed Myra's arm and turned her away. Warmed by Myra's friendliness, Jean realized others thought her reticence to be coldness, that Frank had good reason to leave her for another woman. But she knew the real reason for his new Vietnamese wife, even if she didn't understand his need to make such a sacrifice.
"She needs me," he told Jean. "She was raped repeatedly by the soldiers and can never have children. I need to help her accept her life. You are strong and she is weak, too weak to stand alone."
She only hoped he'd come to his senses one day and realized what he had thrown away when he insisted on the divorce. In spite of her angry inner denial, the familiar sharp hurt made her breathless. She again looked around for Leo. At times like this Jean realized how inadequate she was socially. Unless she was with her medical colleagues, she had little to talk over with other people. She was a surgeon and considered any other conversation a waste of time. If she had her way, she would only discuss those things connected with medicine.
A long table covered with a spotless white tablecloth was at one end of the open rooftop, with skillful arrangements of Vietnamese, French and American food, accented by a huge centerpiece of delicately colored orchids, surrounded by people. The rooftop was crowded with well-dressed Vietnamese and American military and civilians, as well as some representatives from other countries that Jean didn't recognize. They were all drinking, eating and talking as if there were no war.
Jean nodded at some slightly familiar faces and edged toward the bar where the huge bulk of Leo Stanesky loomed over people gathered around him as he waved a fleshy hand in front of the mixture of males and females. A laughing man ducked while Leo enthusiastically made his point.
She moved closer to where Leo stood, marveled at this mountain of a man in a tentlike white dinner jacket who was so skilled as a doctor, so sensitive to the needs of others, and at the same time so quick to disguise that vulnerability. He suffered as much as his patients as he fought against the invading disease that threatened to claim them, while he cursed and demanded to know why they didn't do exactly as he commanded, as if he could exorcise the demons of illness by the volume of noise he made. Leo told people he needed the thrill of adventure in Vietnam, when he really was reaching out to help those caught up in an unnecessary war. Jean mentally shook her head. A stupid observation, when was war ever necessary?
Leo ran a huge hand over his thick messed-up brown hair as he talked. Men and women were always eager to accept whatever he had to share and tonight was no different. They laughed at his comments on why dogs made better mates than people. Jean, Frank and Leo had gone to the University of Maryland Medical School in Baltimore, Maryland, and Leo had been the same way in college. Girls had turned down dates with the outstanding jocks to be with Leo. His was a special kind of magic that was too rare to be categorized, and like any rare quality, people reached out to it.
Noticing Jean standing at the edge of the crowd, Leo excused himself and walking over, threw one large arm around her, nearly smothering her in the hug.
"How's my lovely, favorite surgeon?" Keeping his arm in place, he reached out and grabbed a glass of white wine from the tray of a passing waiter.
"This is for you. All beautiful women surgeons should drink white wine; it's written in one of the medical journals."
He grabbed a vodka and tonic in his other hand where it all but disappeared from sight. Then, using his bulk, balancing the drinks so nothing spilled, he steered Jean toward the low wide parapet wall that surrounded the roof of the five-story apartment house where she was billeted. They came to a niche behind a jungle of lush green potted tropical plants at one side of the roof that formed a miniature jungle. Once inside the shelter he handed her the wine.
"Looks like you need this." He glanced at her searchingly and Jean was well aware he knew how much she suffered--discarded by Frank. Leo did not fully accept Frank's decision to divorce Jean and marry the Vietnamese nurse, although he claimed he understood Frank's reasoning. Being in a war brought on strange changes in people, altering their viewpoints and needs, Leo told Jean. Although Jean didn't understand, Leo's words brought a degree of comfort.
Jean half-sat on the wall's rough cement surface and pulled off the low-heeled gold sandals that were cutting into her bare well-shaped feet, kicked the long skirt of her white lightweight dress away from her legs, flexed her toes, and lifted the bun of heavy hair that stuck to the back of her neck in the heat.
"The color of honey that has stayed in the sun too long," Leo said softly. Jean looked at him in surprise, then smiled. He was seldom given to flattery. She held up her hair until the slight breeze dried the sweat on the back of her neck, then turned to gaze at the crowd on the other part of the roof. Seen through the heavy green foliage, they looked like actors in a movie scene; the men in white dinner jackets even in this heat and humidity, or in uniform, and the women in sleeveless low-cut brightly colored dresses. It seemed unreal. Leo stared down at the heavily lighted streets of this part of Saigon, then raised his head and looked toward the perimeter of the city where darkness took over as the street lights thinned. He pointed an enormous finger and waved his free hand vaguely in all directions.
"Interesting city, isn't it?"
"Yes, it fascinates me. It's truly Oriental, with its hidden mysteries, dark alleys that contain heaven knows what, and fascinating antique shops. I love the old smell of this city, as if it has been around since the beginning of time. I wonder how old it really is?"
"I don't know its age but Vietnam has always been a place of unrest and the Vietnamese have always been victims. Vietnam is at war with someone now and always has been, going back to the Cham era that I recall. Still it survives in all its uniqueness. Look at all the white buildings. Well, after the coup d'etat in 1963 that overthrew the government of President Diem and Commissioner Nhu, the Vietnamese people became very pro-American and changed the color from French yellow to American white. Amazing how quick people are to accept surface values when they are surrounded by disaster. They need to grab on to any visual prop as a stay of execution."
Jean leaned on the parapet and looked down at the busy city streets, people hurrying to get their shopping done and home safely before curfew at ten o'clock. Slim Vietnamese women dressed in the national dress of ao dais made Jean think of bits of a broken rainbows or flower petals as they floated along the sidewalks in all those marvelous colors, seeming not to touch the ground with their feet. From here, what the American G.I.s referred to as "the Vietnamese panty line," visible under the semi-transparent material, could not be seen.
Leo finished his drink with one swallow.
"Saigon gets to you, like the taste of Nuoc Mam. Who would've thought we'd go around eating fermented fish sauce on our food and like it."
They stood, silently absorbed in the busy street scene five stories below. Jean let the sounds invade her senses: the constant overlapping signals of bicycle bells, piping horns of motorcycles and motorscooters, the challenging deeper honks of buses and threatening roars of military vehicles that were pushing into every intersection, past the rolled up concertina wire. She watched Vietnamese men in black shirts, shorts and thonged sandals cut from rubber tires, thin bones sticking out of even thinner skin, pedaling their awkward one-passenger cyclopousses past all the motorized traffic, peering around the person sitting in the small open basket that served as a front seat. She thought passengers in those unprotected vehicles would be the first to be hurt in an accident. She mentioned this to Leo, who nodded.
"Of course you're right. Why do you think the cyclo man pedals from behind? He's not so stupid." He chuckled. "Besides, the Asian believes what's going to be will be. No use in wasting all that energy fighting it."
Jean felt a wash of pity as she looked at three small boys clad only in ragged khaki shorts, who sat on the sidewalk across the street from where she watched, their bare backs against a building, skinny dirty bare legs and feet sticking out in front, talking rapidly together as they shared a cigarette.
"Look at those poor kids. Every time I see kids like that I feel so helpless. What kind of a future do they have?"
"Not much." Leo shrugged. "Don't think I'm unfeeling, just realistic. They'll go on existing, surviving the best way they can. Maybe they'll live like animals trying to find enough to eat and a place to sleep, and we're a big part of the problem. There are only two classes of people in Vietnam, the rich and the poor, and then we came along and we're considered part of the rich. Those kids don't have a chance. Look at them closely. They look like they have American fathers and Vietnamese mothers, probably prostitutes. Nobody wants them. Many of the guys who fathered them either don't know or don't care, and the Vietnamese society has no use for crossbreeding. We can only help them one by one and that hardly makes a difference in the overall picture."
Leo gave one of his customary grunts. "It's regrettable but it's true. When men or women go off to war, their moral values change. Ever think about that?"
Jean remained silent while Leo nodded in the direction of TuDo Street toward the bars, where the brassy shine of street lights rose above the tops of old trees planted years ago by the Colonial French, their branches thick with green leaves.
"Many of our guys go there for instant happiness. There's very little, if any, thought given to being unfaithful to those back home. It's a form of mob psychology. Those guys are like kids away from parents making them behave so they have to sneak out to have a good time. It's difficult for women to understand this thinking. They're busy back home taking care of the kids and house. But think about it. What else is there to do when you're going to war and might not come back. Who cares what happens tomorrow when you can find release tonight? These guys get taken by the girls at the bar, who drink 'greenies,' water with a little green crème de menthe in it, who pretend to get drunk along with the G.I., and then comes sex, without disease if they're lucky. But you can bet he pays lots of money for that evening."
He paused for a few seconds, then leered at Jean. "You like me? I like American. I very thirsty, you buy me greenie?"
Jean tried to control her shivering, then saw Leo watching her He was instantly contrite.
"Pardon me all to hell. I was just trying to cheer you up and I turn out to be a clumsy ass. Come one, this conversation is too depressing, even for me. You don't need it and neither do I. Let's go back and mingle."
She tried to control her aversion to making small talk with people she barely knew but obediently slipped her shoes back on and holding the empty wine glass in front of her like a life-preserver, she shadowed Leo as they joined the overflowing crowd on the other part of the rooftop. At once they found themselves confronting the recently arrived American Ambassador Thomas Sheppard.
"Good evening, Mr. Ambassador," they both murmured. Jean felt insignificant next to the tall, distinguished man in the well-cut dinner jacket who lowered his head slightly in their direction.
"How do you do." His very precise pronunciation and unsmiling face almost made Jean smile. Here was a fellow iceberg, according to friends. She pressed closer to Leo's heavy body, seeking reassurance, and felt his hand, now free from shaking that of the ambassador, close protectively around her arm. Jean kept her face impassive as she remembered what one of her nurses said about Sheppard.
"Looks in control, doesn't he? Well, he's married to a woman who can't cope with the demands of being a wife of a high-ranking Foreign Service officer, especially an ambassador. She's an excellent musician, when sober, a concert cellist. However, when she isn't losing herself in her music, she's either on a drunk or off some place being dried out."
Leo started telling Ambassador Sheppard about the plans of the civilian medical team to start work in the provinces, while Jean tried to appear interested; still she was unable to banish the gossip she'd heard about the ambassador.
"He doesn't let his wife's problems interfere with his assignment in Vietnam. He has a little Vietnamese mistress all tucked away from the public to take care of his, let's say more basic needs," the nurse said.
Jean suddenly became aware that the ambassador and Leo were both looking at her. Oh Lord, had she missed part of the conversation? Leo rescued her.
"Come, Doctor Shaw, by now you have formed an opinion of where the greatest need for medical assistance is needed in rural Vietnam."
She started to say she would be going upcountry and what the civilian medical team planned to do, but they were interrupted by the arrival of two high-ranking South Vietnamese military men. Ambassador Sheppard turned from Jean without a word, leaving her in the middle of a sentence. She felt Leo's hand on her arm, and they wandered over to the table where the food was. Jean spoke quietly.
"Thanks for the rescue. What a rude man."
"He has that reputation, unfortunately."
An unexpected thrust in her back sent Jean up against the table.
"Uh," she gasped as she grabbed the table edge for support, almost pulling the white tablecloth from the top.
"Sorry." The short cubby cherub of a man in civilian evening clothes who had bumped against her apologized, his pink cheeks dimpled.
"I'm forever looking one way and going the other. I do hope you'll forgive me."
"Of course." Jean returned the smile of this Santa Claus disguised in a white dinner jacket. While the man piled two plates with food, she wondered what a dear little man like this was doing in Saigon. He must be connected with the U.S. Government in some way. She turned to Leo as the cherub bounced away, his head bobbing as he maneuvered through the crowd, skillfully balancing plates in either hand.
"He's cute. I'd like to pat that white hair, give a tug on his beard while I sat on his lap and told him what I wanted in my Christmas stocking."
Leo pulled down one side of his mouth, causing the jowl on that side to partially cover his neck. Then he looked around to make sure they weren't overheard.
"Cool it, lady, that's one sick dude."
"Come on, Leo, that nice little guy? I've never seen a more normal looking person, especially here in Saigon."
"Let's get some food and move away." Other people were beginning to fill their plates, so Jean and Leo did the same and then returned to a relatively free spot on the rooftop. Jean managed to take a bit of chilled lobster, savoring its fresh flavor before she asked, laughing.
"I know. He likes to have kinky sex, right?"
"Among other things, he likes multiple sex. When his wife comes over from Bangkok for a visit, the wife, maid and he all have sex together and he brags about it."
"You've got to be kidding." Startled, Jean almost dropped her plate.
"Nope, and that's just a small part of it. He invited several French sailors..." Before he could finish filling Jean in on the rest of the man's sexual preferences, the blonde who had accosted Jean when she first came in, stood in front of them, obviously drunk. She swayed a little from side to side as she tried to keep her balance. She seemed unaware there was a large wet spot spreading down the front of her dress as her unsteady hand tipped her glass and the liquor dripped out.
"Well, Mrs. Goody Two Shoes, how does it feel to know your former husband has found a real person to live with, not a proper prude.?"
Stunned by the unexpected attack that she couldn't understand, Jean simply stared at this woman she hardly knew, unable to answer. Leo was not stunned. He grabbed the woman and spun her around, looking at her drunken escort who was laughing at the scene. The man recognized Leo's rage, stopped laughing and straightened up. Leo shoved the blonde in his direction.
"Get her out of here," he commanded through tight lips, his voice cold and ominous. The man grabbed the blonde and forced her, stumbling and crying, across the roof toward the exit. People standing around them watched the brief scene in silence, then started talking as if nothing had happened. Humiliation washed over Jean like a hot shower, threatening to smother her. She wanted to run across the rooftop and down the steps to her apartment, but Leo held her arm tightly. His crooked half-smile didn't quite reach his eyes.
"Ignore the bitch. She's got so many man troubles of her own she has to find a victim. Her so-called boyfriend also has a Vietnamese girlfriend and she found them in bed together. So she gets drunk and looks for victims because she doesn't know how to handle what is happening to her. She's recently divorced, left the U.S. to take a job with the government here, and came to Saigon also to go husband hunting. Now her current love also turned out to be a bastard."
"Don't other people get divorced without this kind of thing happening?"
"Honey, Saigon is a relatively small town where foreigners are thrown together, and they're living on the dirty edge. Everything gets blown out of proportion, especially where human relationships are concerned. People are scared. Some of them, like that drunken, miserable bitch, find a handy target and zoom in for the kill. Remember, your divorce is somewhat unique because you are both well-known civilian surgeons and all the action took place in this country. Other break-ups happen with the wife in another country. No one really cares."
Leo beckoned to a waiter with a tray of drinks, grabbed a glass of white wine and handed it to Jean.
"Drink." Jean drank without stopping, forcing the liquid past the hard lump in her throat.
"Here, have another one." He removed the empty glass from Jean's unresisting hand and grabbing another full one from the tray of a passing waiter, put it in Jean's hand. She looked up and met a sympathetic glance from Myra who stood nearby. Myra leaned over and spoke quietly.
"I didn't mean to eavesdrop, but Leo's right. Everyone in this town is living on nerves and alcohol, and that poor woman won't last much longer. Believe me, the rest of us don't feel the way she does."
Gratitude replaced shock. Tears filled Jean's eyes and blurred Myra's face. She nodded her thanks without speaking and Myra gave Jean a quick friendly pat on the shoulder before she turned back to her friends.
"Drink." Leo pointed to the glass in Jean's hand and she lifted it and again drank. Immediately a sharp pain went through her head. Damn, she should know better than to drink wine like water.
"I've got to get out of here before I throw up." The anxiety in her voice must have convinced Leo because he steered her gently but competently through the press of people and over to the door.
"Don't worry about saying goodnight. I'll do that for you, if necessary. Most people won't even know you've gone, they're too busy talking about themselves." He gave her a quick, light hug.
"I'll see you tomorrow and tell you about Nuncey and Lan, two incredibly efficient female nurses you'll be working with out in the provinces. You might have to help a little with the military. If you're at the right spot, sometimes you might get caught up in triage and give emergency treatment but mostly you'll be doing your work in the villages with the South Vietnamese."
He stopped talking, kissed the top of her head and gave her a gentle shove down the steps.
"Hell, I'm yakking away. You're in no condition to hear this right now. Go home, throw up, take two aspirins and fall in bed, and don't call me in the morning, I'll call you."