Saturday, 4th February 2023 - 2:41:25 am
It seemed as though the bus trip would last forever. Hao had said his village was 'outside Pleiku.' He had assumed that also meant near Pleiku. The bus was packed so Kincaid wasn't able to talk to Hao. Hao had warned him against it before they had got on. To Kincaid's surprise and relief none of the passengers paid much attention to him. The bus driver gave him a hard look when they got on the bus but he didn't say anything. They had been traveling a couple of hours when the passengers suddenly got very quiet.
The bus was approaching what was obviously a VC road block.
Kincaid could feel the tension among the other passengers. They were silent for the first time since leaving Pleiku. He looked at Hao. Hao shook his head and put one finger to his lips. The driver pulled up to the waiting men and stopped in the road. He opened the front door. Kincaid could count eight men outside the bus. He knew there would be more around. The ones he could see were well equipped. All had automatic weapons. They were dressed in the black pajamas that the VC often wore.
Kincaid kept his coolie hat down to cover his face. He followed the movements of the VC by watching their feet. Two came to the door of the bus. The others fanned out on both sides, far enough back so they could see everything.
The driver spoke to the two at the door as they came onto the bus. He seemed to know them. One started up the aisle. He had to step over pigs and chickens and wrapped bundles and a sleeping child with a dirty face. He kicked and poked at bundles here and there. That seemed to be all he was interested in. Kincaid started worrying about the weapons and ammo in the bag at his feet. If Charlie kicked at that it would all be over.
Hao gripped his arm as if to prevent him from going for a gun. It wasn't necessary. Kincaid had no intention. Everything was in the bag and he had no chance to reach anything quickly. He held his breath as the man paused opposite them. The VC was reaching for Kincaid's bag when his buddy up front said something. He straightened up and returned to the front of the bus. The driver handed over some money. The two got off the bus and waved it through.
Kincaid let out a breath he hadn't been conscious of holding. That was the most fear he had known in his life. He clenched his fists so no one could see his hands shaking. Hao had some explaining to do for getting him into this. He gave Hao a dirty look and poked him in the ribs with his elbow. Hao shrugged. His expression didn't change.
They got off the bus at a dirt road. On the left of the dirt road were orderly lines of tall trees stretching out of sight in both directions. It was a rubber plantation. On the right was an abandoned camp. The buildings had been constructed of mud brick. The roofs were off the buildings and the walls were crumbling. There were traces of a fence that once had surrounded the camp but most of the material that had made the fence had been scavenged. There was an old rusted bull dozer decaying in the camp area.
It was midday but the temperature was only about 80 degrees. The humidity was also much less than in the lowlands.
"I thought we had had it," Kincaid said. "Why didn't that guy grab my bag?"
"The one in front had worked out a price with the driver so he called the other one off. The VC charge people to pass on the road. They call it a tax."
Hao started down the dirt road that ran between the rubber trees and the abandoned camp. Kincaid followed behind, imitating his movements. They walked on the left side of the road in the shade of the tall trees.
"Where the hell are we?" There was no one in sight but Kincaid kept his voice down anyway. "You told me you lived outside Pleiku. We must have come a hundred miles."
"We are outside Pleiku, aren't we?"
"Yeah." Kincaid had to grant him that.
"We're fifteen kilometers north of Ban Me Thuot."
"We could have caught a hop there. There's an airport there."
"Dressed like this?"
Kincaid didn't have an answer for that. He still hadn't figured why they had to dress like this in the first place.
"I had to visit my sister-in-law."
"I don't blame you. She's cute as hell."
"You wanna marry her?"