Monday, 29th May 2023 - 15:02:31 pm

An idea suddenly struck Kincaid. There was an offer he might make. If it was accepted, he wondered if he had the clout to swing it. But of course he did.

"Give me the name," Kincaid said, "and tomorrow you will be on your way to California and a new life. I swear it. All this will be behind you."

The prisoner's face formed into a bitter laugh but no sound came out.

"Damn you!" Kincaid raised his voice. "In the end you will tell me anyway. You know that, don't you?"

The man nodded. The sneer returned to his mouth.

"Then why don't you tell me now? What is the point of this?"

The man shrugged. "It is the way things are." He said quietly.

"It is not the way things have to be." Kincaid was nearly shouting.

Minh gave him a concerned look.

"It is not the way things have to be," Kincaid said quietly. "We can work this out. There is a way to work this out."

"You are young." The man said it as though he were disgusted with all things young. "Let's get on with this. You are boring me."

"Damn it! At least tell me why you won't save yourself"

"You fool. You already know why. What would you do in my place?"

And Kincaid suddenly saw the truth. It was the way things had to be. It was the same qualities that Kincaid saw and admired in the man that made his death, here and now, inevitable.

"You're right," Kincaid said quietly. "Tell me your name. What harm could there be in telling me your name?"

"My real name is Duc." That was pronounced "duke" in English. "It will do you no good. No one knows me by that."

Kincaid signaled to Minh. Two tribesmen came forward to bind him.

"Chin Way," Duc called. "You must stay with me, you know." His voice was filled with taunting humor. "Only you can interrogate me. You cannot trust the moi to understand what I say."

"Yes," Kincaid said sadly. "I will stay."

They stripped off all his clothes and bound his hands and feet. They tied his hands together in front and then ran the cord around his back to bind them to his body. They then tied him to the tree.

"Are you listening, Chin Way?" Duc taunted him. "Can you hear me?"

"I can hear you." Kincaid was standing in plain view, very near.

"Will you grant me a last request?" Duc sneered.

"If it's reasonable."

"It is very reasonable," he said. "When it is over, I want you to finish me. Think you can do that?"

Kincaid forced his voice to remain steady. "I can do that."

One of the Rhade made a shallow cut, about two inches long, across the back of Duc's left wrist. Duc kept his eyes on Kincaid's. He made so sound. Kincaid watched his eyes as if hypnotized.

From the ends of the first cut, the Rhade then made two parallel cuts, about two inches apart, up his arm to the elbow. The cuts were so shallow they drew very little blood. Then beginning at the wrist he carefully, almost gently, started lifting the skin away from the flesh. He peered under the skin as it pulled away. When sections of flesh stuck to the skin, he slipped his thin blade between to separate them.

Duc's eyes and mouth opened wide. The only sound he made was a long, breathless, "Aaawwwww."

All of the tribesmen who were not on picket had gathered around to watch the spectacle.

The man working on Duc lifted off the strip of skin up to the elbow. There he sliced it free and held it up for all to see. The assembled men let out a series of grunts. Kincaid had see at other times that there was great skill involved in getting a strip of skin off whole and undamaged with nothing clinging to it. It was a skill appreciated among the Rhade.

There was very little blood on Duc's exposed flesh. A few drops gathered and trickled down the back of his hand.

The Rhade tossed the strip of skin carelessly to the side and went over to Duc's other arm.

"You've got to talk," Kincaid told him. "Save yourself. There's still time."

Duc looked at him with pain glazed eyes. He said nothing.

The Rhade took a strip of skin the same width off of Duc's other arm, but this time he took it from the wrist to the shoulder. Duc's eyes could no longer focus on Kincaid. They rolled upward until only white showed out of the sockets. He screamed a low scream through clenched teeth.

The next incision was made three inches wide. It started on the right side from Duc's waist to his ankle.

Kincaid wanted to stop it before the skin was removed. This was nearly the point of no return. Very much more and a recovery would be diffucult and perhaps too painful. "Talk, dammit!" He slapped Duc hard to get his attention.

Duc's eyes focused on him for a moment but he said nothing.

He screamed wildly as the skin was peeled down his leg. Kincaid had never seen this type of torture go this far. Still Duc would say nothing.

The Rhade went over to Duc's left side and started his cutting under his armpit, again going down to his ankle.

Kincaid knew it had now gone too far. The only mercy left for Duc would be a quick death.

Duc fainted as the skin was being pulled off his left side. The work on him was stopped until he could be revived. Kincaid again asked him to talk. He would not speak. The work was continued. Duc screamed loudly.

Minh glanced nervously at the surrounding woods. He ordered two men to build a litter. If they were interrupted before Duc talked, they'd have to carry him along.

The Rhade working on Duc moved to his chest. Duc's eyes suddenly focused on Kincaid. Kincaid moved in close in case he was ready to speak.. The Rhade stepped aside and watched.

"Kill me," Duc pleaded.

"I can't, dammit. You know that. You've got to talk. You're not bad off yet," he lied. "It's not too late."

"Kill me," Duc said again.

Kincaid stepped back and looked at the Rhade. Duc started screaming again. The Rhade, shaking his head in wonder, moved in and started on Duc's chest just below the collar bone. With his knife he sketched out a six inch strip down to his crotch. He had started peeling the skin down when Duc screamed for him to stop. Kincaid patted him on the back. He moved aside again, leaving about eight inches of skin hanging down.

"Now!" Kincaid said. "Talk now! You've made your point."

"Major Ngai," Duc screamed.

"The Province Chief?"

"Yes! Hurry!"

Kincaid already had his .45 out. He shot Duc quickly through the middle of his forehead. His head bounced back against the tree then slumped forward on his chest. Much of it remained spattered against the bark of the tree.

Minh fired two rounds in the air from his rifle, the signal for the pickets to come in. "We must go," he said to Kincaid.

Kincaid stared at the body. Minh gave him a nudge but he didn't move.

"We must go," Minh said again.

"We should bury him," Kincaid said absently. "He was brave."

"He died well," Minh said. "His men will find him. We must go or they will also find us."

They started back for their camp.


That night Phouc was agitated. "I please you no more?" she asked.

"It is not you," Kincaid replied. "It is me. I am very tired."

"Perhaps you would be less tired with another girl. Someone more pretty." She started to leave his bed. "I will bring you my sister, Ngouc."

Kincaid grabbed her and brought her back. "You are my woman," he told her. "I want you to stay with me and no one else."

Phouc went to sleep smiling. Kincaid lay awake much of the night. It was several days before his relations with Phouc were back to normal.

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