Monday, 29th May 2023 - 16:09:01 pm

Hao waited for the two men to make a move. He knew they were capable of attacking with their knives. The possibility of attack didn't frighten him. All he had to do was buy enough time to retrieve the .45 from his bag and the attack would be over. And, with the door at his back. It would be easy to avoid the initial attack. He knew he didn't have to worry about Kincaid either. A man attacking Kincaid with only a knife had about as much chance against him as an unarmed child.

But Hao didn't want any harm to come to these men. They were the companions of his childhood. He waited for someone to make a move to break the impasse.

Kincaid finally did it. He walked over and started examining some crossbows which were hung on the wall. With that, the two Rhade relaxed a little. They sat down cross-legged in the center of the room. Hao joined them.

"Steve." Hao called Kincaid without taking his eyes off the two Rhade.

Kincaid joined them. He brought a small crossbow with him. "Can you use this thing?" he asked Hao. The crossbows of the walls were of various sizes.

"Sure," Hao replied. He indicated the pockmarked man, "this is Minh. He is chief of this village."

In the Rhade language Hao said, "this is Steve Kincaid. He is a great warrior among the Americans."

The two men, American and Rhade, looked at each other without expression.

"Why did you bring him here?" Minh asked. "You know this will cause trouble." Minh could speak French and Vietnamese as well as his own language but he spoke no English. Hao and Minh conversed in Rhade.

"He is my friend," Hao said. "Can I not bring my friend to my home? Can I not show a new friend to my old friends?"

Quon interrupted heatedly. "You do not speak the truth. The Americans pay you now. They sent you here."

"The Americans once paid many of us," Hao replied, "when we worked on the road. The French still pay you," he was talking to Quon, "and many others on the rubber plantation. Does that make any of us less Rhade?"

Quon was about to reply. Minh stopped him with a wave of his hand. "You are in the war," Minh said to Hao. "You fight for the Americans. How much do they pay you?"

Hao conceded the point with a nod of his head. "A lot," he said. The Americans paid him nearly as much as they paid one of their own enlisted men. There was also bonus money for particular achievements such as confirmed kills. Hao had earned many bonuses. For a Rhade, he was a very rich man.

"Working for money is one thing," Quon said. "Fighting for money is another."

Minh nodded in agreement. "One requires stronger loyalties."

Hao tried to suppress his anger. "Are there not many Rhade in the South Vietnamese Army? Many from this village. Do they not fight for the south?"

"Not be choice," Minh replied, "the army came here and took them away."

"But there are Rhade from other villages that fight with the Special Forces," Hao said.

"None from the villages of Trinh Won," Quon said hotly. "He has forbidden it. You defied Trinh Won when you went with the Special Forces."

"I spoke to him before I left," Hao said. "He allowed me to go with the Special Forces if it was far away from here."

"But now you have returned," Quon said.

"Not to fight," Hao said. "And are there not also many Rhade with the Viet Cong?"

"They do not fight," Minh replied.

"So you are told. How can you know? Have you heard from them?"

"They also did not choose," Minh said. "The Viet Cong came and took them. But you chose."

"So that others would not choose for me. What is wrong with that?" He looked at Quon. "The French at the plantation were not willing to pay to protect me."

"Watch your tongue," Quon snarled.

Hao ignored the threat. "My offense is not that I fight but that I am paid well for fighting."

"For a lot of money," Minh said, "a man will do many things. The Americans could be paying you to come here now."

Hao scoffed. "For what purpose?"

Minh looked stumped. "The Americans are devious," he said weakly.

"To make trouble." Quon took over the argument. "They want us to fight among ourselves. When we are weak enough, they will take over. That is their way. It is well known. That is their way." He glanced at Minh for support.

"The Americans are devious," Minh said again.

"If there is trouble," Hao said, "we will leave."

"We know that," Quon said quickly. "But the trouble will stay."

Kincaid pretended to examine the crossbow while he watched the tribesmen and tried to follow their conversation.

Hao looked at Minh. "Is that your ruling" We cannot stay?"

Minh squirmed and glanced sideways at Quon. He said nothing.

"All right," Hao went on, "we will stay the night and talk again tomorrow morning. You think on it. We will follow your ruling."

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