Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Fiction: Unwanted President. Chapter 15

The City of Drugs

By Ed Rogers

Tom woke to the sound of trucks and people working. Once more, it was taking him time to find his bearings. He hoped that after a while the shock of waking up in a strange bed would go away.
    He sat up and was amazed at how his midsection no longer pained him. The way he had been beaten up lately, he didn’t know how he was able to move.

    Lying on the chair next to the bed were some black pajamas and a pair of sandals. It seemed everybody wore the company uniform, except Jake. Tom put on the pajamas and slipped his feet into the sandals. Standing up and walking around the room, he found the clothes very comfortable.
    Tom heard a noise from his abdomen and remembered that the last thing he had eaten was a handful of rice. He headed down the stairs toward the voices he heard in the back part of the house. It smelt very much like someone was cooking food. Like the presumed thoughts of a hungry dog that smelled a soup bone, Tom’s thoughts became focused on finding the kitchen. He turned into a short hallway and found Jake coming out of the kitchen. “Ah! Tom, you are back among the living. I’ll bet you’d like something to eat.”
    Jake called back into the kitchen, and then turned Tom around and said, “Come, we’ll eat out here.”
    Tom found himself looking out over a lush garden. The flowers and plants were strange to him – he sure wasn’t in Kansas. He felt he had stepped through the looking glass. He was in a jungle paradise, while in the background was the sound of the Stones’ I Can’t Get No Satisfaction. The porch was screened, with two ceiling fans moving the air around.
    They had no more than sat down when a houseboy put a large helping of eggs, ham, and home-fried potatoes in front of him. Tom only took time out from his eating to say, “I’d never have guessed I would find American food here.”
    Jake just smiled and sipped his coffee. As he watched Tom eat, he wondered what he was going to do with Tom Warring. If Jake were smart, he would put a bullet in Warring’s head and that would be it. Jake could see no good coming from helping Tom. He had enough people pissed at him already. Why go looking for more? Everybody at Langley was already wishing Jake would go away. The CIA didn’t have a very forgiving heart and they didn’t like someone who was part of the family going off the reservation – as they called it. It had taken years to get an understanding between the CIA and himself.
    He had joined the CIA right out of college in 1967, but he worked for the Brotherhood now. He wouldn’t say he was free of the agency. He’d say it was like becoming a Baptist: you can change religions a hundred times but once a Baptist, always a Baptist. Besides that, the CIA had so many groups that one bunch could be your friends while another was plotting to kill you. Jake had become part of a deal between the Brotherhood and Langley. The CIA still controlled the drug business, but the Brotherhood controlled how the profit was divided up. Jake was the one who kept the count for both sides. His old bosses at CIA headquarters had always had a hard time with that. In 2002, somebody had tried to kill him. They killed his wife and newborn son instead. Though Langley said they had nothing to do with the attack on his family, Jake didn’t believe them, even if he couldn’t prove they had a hand in it.
    He had gone nuts for a while. He had begun plotting ways to kill them all. He packed one of the drug planes full of explosives and planned to fly it into CIA headquarters….
    Stepen Kabak was Jake’s savior. He stayed with Jake for a week and by the time Stepen went back to Moscow, Jake had a far better plan than killing the SOBs: he’d take their damn money. Some years after Stepen went back home, he and Jake had become business partners and they had been putting their retirement money in banks around the world ever since.
    The disagreement between the CIA and the Brotherhood had made their side business very dangerous. The two friends decided two years ago to start closing down the operation they had going on the side and disappear from the face of the earth – before they were caught in the middle.
    Jake’s two daughters hadn’t been in the car with their mother that fateful day years ago! His girls, now sixteen and eighteen, were being shipped off to China to finish their schooling. He had set it up where they would have a guardian and plenty of money. China was the one country where they would be safe. It would be the last place the CIA or the Brotherhood would think to look. He hated it when he was forced to change plans. He was still six months out from closing everything down – Warring’s arrival now had prompted an early exit. The next plan seldom worked out as well as the original.
    This thing with Warring that Stepen had dumped in his lap could destroy everything he had worked for all those years. Stepen hadn’t told Tom anything about the killing of the President, except that Moscow had had nothing to do with it. Jake knew how these people thought. It didn’t matter what Warring knew – it was what they thought he knew that would get him killed. The people who were involved in the President’s assassination would assume Warring knew everything and they’d act accordingly. He also knew that if the people chasing Tom didn’t know where he was yet they would very soon.
    Well, it looked as though Jake would just have to disappear a little sooner than he had planned. He’d send his girls out on the China flight that night and put Tom on the flight to the State of Washington tomorrow. The next day, he and Stepen both would be into the wind….
    It sounded easy when Stepen talked about it, but Jake knew how things could go bad very fast. You just hoped you were not standing at the bottom when the shit came down.
    Tom pushed his chair back and said, “God! I can’t eat any more. I feel like I’m going to blow up, but damn it was the best meal I’ve had in a month!”
    “I’m glad you enjoyed it,” Jake said. “Come on, I’ll show you around the place. Give you a chance to walk off some of that food. I don’t get many visitors out here. In fact, we kind of discourage the tourist trade from coming this far out.
    “This place is something to see. There is no other place like it in the world, and once it is gone, I can’t imagine anyone ever again building a city just for producing drugs. In the 1800s, the Yankee Clippers from Connecticut and Massachusetts made drug runs to the Far East. Whoever made the trip with their opium from the Middle East back to Macao, Hong Kong, Shanghai, in the fastest time was paid the most for their drugs. Because of the money involved, the New England shipyards learned to build some of the fastest ships to ever sail the seven seas. It must have been a hell of a time to go out on a Clipper Ship.”
    They walked down the porch steps. “A war broke out between China and the French and English over the control of the opium, and America found itself right in the middle of their fight. It was during the Opium Wars that the Brotherhood of Bones founder, General H. M. Seller, came up with the idea to plant the poppies here in the Triangle. You see, America’s future in the Far East was tied to the drug trade. Those New England blue bloods were America’s first drug pushers. Americans had nothing to export to China and they had no money to pay for imports. If the Chinese had not bought opium from America, United States imports of silk, porcelain, and tea would have stopped. In the mid-1800s America had very little hard cash, but the opium trade was like gold in their bank.”
    Tom thought this over for a second and said, “I guess after running drugs, the bootlegging they did during the 1920s seemed like a way of life.”
    “That bunch never has cared where the money came from, but the drug-running wasn’t illegal. The bootlegging was, and they had to put a wall between themselves and the law. The mobs were born about that time.” Jake smiled. “It is much more peaceful here.”
    Jake continued his guided tour. “Vietnam is, among other things, one of the largest producers of opiates in the world today. The control of these fields and this little city was what started the Vietnam War. At first, the French operated the fields – until they were kicked out in 1954, after losing their war with North Vietnam. Then the CIA and the Brotherhood put the Diem family at the head of the South Vietnam government and took control of the city. The President, Ngo Dinh Diem, and his family got greedy and tried to cut the North out of their portion of the profits. The North answered back by funding the Vietcong. Then we stepped into the mess, with the help of the CIA. The United States has never cared who ran Vietnam, so once Kissinger negotiated a profit share that was suitable to the North we pulled our troops out of their country.”
    “Are you saying all those people died over profit-sharing?”
    “It’s always about money!” Jake stopped at the boundary of the garden and handed Tom the pointed coolie hat he had been carrying. “Here, put this on.”
    “You know,” Tom joked, “these black pajamas and the hat, they aren’t going to fool anyone out there. They will take one look at me and know I’m an American.”
    “They’re not the ones I’m concerned with. Two hours out of every three, we’re visible to CIA satellites. That was why I came and got you yesterday. The satellite was due to come back and the last thing I wanted them to see was you walking around in the middle of my airfield. Oh, by the way, don’t fucking look up.”
    It was early in the morning, but already hot. There were thousands of people working. The compound was truly like a small city.
    Jake turned and pointed at the hills around the compound. “We pull a harvest out of three countries. It takes two days to get the product back here from our most distant fields. During the peak season, we go 24 hours a day.”
    Jake pointed toward the huts at the base of the hills – they were all open-sided. “Those huts are where we start processing the paste, and over there is where it is turned into morphine. A big part of our business is with drug companies. The final product is heroin. Now, that is the cash cow. We process the morphine into heroin and package it for shipment in those three huts on the end.”
    He pointed to the right at a long building with vent windows. “Over on this side of the compound, we have a state-of-the-art school. We have the best teachers money can buy. Its kids can get into any college in the world,” Jake said proudly.
    “How do you keep workers?” Tom asked. “With that kind of an education, they surely can do better than this.”
    Jake laughed. “People are lined up to come work here. We’re giving our workers’ children a first-class education. We have free medical, free dental, free food, good wages, and no crime.”
    “What the hell are you talking about?” Tom almost shouted. “You are producing heroin, for God’s sake! How much worse a crime is there?”
    Jake blinked and paused for a few seconds. “You look out here and you see heroin dealers. I see hard-working people doing a day’s work for a day’s pay. I don’t see any of your farmers going to jail for growing tobacco. They’ve killed a hell of a lot more people worldwide than we have ever come close to. After you start putting tobacco dealers, tobacco salesmen, and tobacco users in jail, then you can look down your nose at me,” Jake hissed. “Until then, it’s not a good idea to piss me off.”
    They walked on without speaking. Jake pulled a pack of French cigarettes from his pocket and offered one to Tom.
    Tom told him no, that he didn’t smoke. Then, they both broke up laughing. Jake slapped Tom on the back. “I’m glad you like a good joke.”
    “I know what we’re doing here,” said Jake, “but it didn’t start with me and it will not stop with me. The people of the world may wake up one day and say ‘no more.’ If they do, then it will be over, but not until then.”
    They had walked into the area of the compound where the workers lived, and a man came around the hut suddenly and ran into Tom, almost knocking him down. He said something in French, which Tom understood to mean he was sorry, and hurried on.
    Then it hit Tom. He grabbed Jake’s arm and said, “That guy was black, and he was an American. What the hell is he doing here?”
    “Yes, and in that hut over there” – Jake pointed to his right – “is a white guy, with his three children. He is an American also. They are holdovers from the war. Most of them are MIA or POWs who went native and pretend to be French. The government in Ho Chi Minh City told them the only way they could stay in Vietnam was to live here or go home.”
    “What about their families back home? Why aren’t the families told their loved ones are alive?”
    “Most of them are dead now,” Jake said, “and the ones who aren’t – their families are better off with their picture of the hero on the wall than with the real thing.”
    ‘“You shouldn’t be the one to make that decision.”
    “I’m not. There’s a plane two times a week going back to the States. All anyone of them has to do is get on the damn plane. It’s their decision to stay. Hell, they’re a lot better off here. We feed and take care of them medically. Back in the States they’d have died alone and forgotten under some bridge long ago.”
    “I guess you’re right,” Tom admitted. “One of Cahill’s complaints was about the way the government treated the soldiers after the wars.” Tom was also thinking that a story of a city built on and for drug trafficking would be worth writing. It was an idea to be filed for another day.
    “Speaking of Cahill,” Jake said, “let’s go back to the house. I’m going to tell you everything I know about that killing, and I may even tell you some things I don’t know.”
    Tom smiled and slapped Jake on the back. “It’s about time someone did. I’ve just about gone around the world for that story, and right now all I have is people trying to kill me.
_______________
[Editor’s Note: The novel from which this excerpt is taken can be ordered from Amazon, as either a paperback or a Kindle book.]


Copyright © 2017 by Ed Rogers

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