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state: first draft
last update: 1999 May 17

The Confused American

Chapter 2 - Nothing In Between

By Kevin Kelleher



Calvin left Lucky Bouganvillea's office in a disturbed state. The opium did nothing to alter or alleviate his feelings, and he wished for another pipeful of the smoke. Calvin decided to make his way to the hospital to see whether Heap was alive, and if so, what state he was in.

The interview with Lucky was a protracted inanity. Calvin knew that Lucky suspected him of working for the CIA, and that in Lucky's idle, gossipping brain, last night's violence added to the intrigue.

"An isolated incident," Calvin thought, "and he has to turn it into a conspiracy. With me at its center." And why? Because of the powdered milk. It was so stupid and irritating. A practical joke - a far-fetched and cruel one - and Calvin had a good idea who'd done it. Ray. "I'll settle his hash later," Calvin promised himself.

The hosptial was a long, hot walk from the American Embassy, so Calvin had plenty of time to curse Ray and Lucky. Lucky was absolutely convinced that Calvin was tied to Heap's attack! He'd even demanded an alibi, which Calvin refused to give. It would only have made things worse. He'd spent the night with a stunning blonde, who happened to be Mrs. Heap.

While John Calvin trudged through the hot and busy streets, Lucky Bouganvillea got on the phone to Ng, the Prime Minister. Lucky wanted to talk about the cartoon in the paper that morning. Did Ng think that he, Ambassador Bouganvillea, would stand to be insulted in this way? Did the Prime Minister think that the US government would stand for it? Oc course not. What did Minister Ng propose to do about the unpleasant situation?

Prime Minister Ng spoke soothingly, and said he hadn't seen the morning's paper. He found the page, and kindly said the picture did not resemble the American Ambassador. But he did agree that it was an obscene thing, and that he would certainly deal with the matter.

Lucky hung up feeling better. He looked again at the cartoon. It had lost much of its sting now; he nearly crumpled it and threw the thing away. But the caption: what did it say?

He buzzed his secretary. "Is there anybody out there that speaks Haidho?"

The janitor, a local whose English was good, happened to be mopping the hall. Would he do?

Lucky called him in and gave him a chair. "I want to ask you something," he said. "And I want you to tell me the truth."

The man's eyes grew large, and he nodded. Lucky went on, "And when you leave this office, you will never breathe a word. Do you understand?"

The man's eyes widened further still, and he nodded. Lucky showed him the cartoon. "What's the caption say?"

The man cleared his throat. "Well, it's a bit - ah - ambiguous, sir."

Lucky was surprised at the cultured voice. He frowned. "A double meaning, huh?"

"Yes, sir."

"So what does it say?"

"It is something about a l- a fortunate man after his meal."

"Is that all?"

"Excuse me, sir," the man said as he stood and reached for the doorknob. Lucky leaned his full weight against the door. "What else does it say?" he asked.

The man bowed his head. "It implies that we are that meal."

Lucky barely knew what he did, but he slapped the man's face. The two of them stared at each other, the janitor's face showing shock, the Ambassador's working out a tic of anger and frustration. At last he said, "Okay. You can go, but remember: not a word."

§

While Calvin walked, his mind replayed portions of Lucky's interrogation:

"How did you meet him?"

"The cafe; a chance meeting."

"What did he talk about?"

What did he talk about? What he always talked about: the cold war.

Calvin knew what sort of day it was when he met Heap: A sunny day. It was always sunny in Sarkhan, except when it rained.

"Well, that's a stupid thing to say," Heap countered, "Of course it's one or the other."

"But that's just it," Calvin drawled back. "Those are the only alternatives: blistering sunlight or dark, pouring rain. Nothing in between. None of this partly cloudy stuff. Just one or the other."

"Like Communism and Democracy," Heap replied. "It's got to be one or the other. Nothing in between."

Calvin had laughed, but Heap hadn't. Heap never laughed - especially about anti-Communism. Calvin decided to tease him. "Do you know what the symbol of democracy is?"

"Sure," Heap replied, "The American flag."

"Wrong," John replied. "It's this," and he snatched a bottle of Coca-Cola off a tray from a passing waiter. The waiter smiled and returned to the kitchen for another. John wiggled the bottle under Ralph's nose. "Here is the essence of democracy: distilled, bottled and marketed all over the world. There are vending machines in the Arabian desert; there are dispensers at the South Pole."

The irony was lost on Heap. He thought a moment, and said, "By God, you're right! It's all there: industry, competition, free trade - everything we stand for! Say," he said, looking conspiratorial, "do you mind if I use tht in my column? I'm the new correspondent for the Sun."

"Sure, sure. Use it - but no names."

As he walked, Calvin smiled grimly to himself. Heap, the confused American, hadn't been confused back then. The world was black and white to him: good against evil, us against them, America against Russia, fighting for the world. No, Heap hadn't been confused. Back then, he had only one throught: kick out the Reds wherever you find them. That keeps the world safe for democracy, so the American flag can fly wherever flags are flown.

Calvin remembered the conversation as if it were yesterday. Heap, the naive, crusading anti-communist newspuppy. Homesick for steaks and apple pie. Jumping out of his skin when a car backfired, asking, "Was that a grenade?"

§

The Prime Minister was also thinking of Ralph Heap, remembering their first interview. At one point Ralph had asked, "When is the next election?"

Ng smiled. "There can be no 'next' election."

"And why is that?"

"Because we have never had an election, Mr Heap. You cannot have a 'next' if you have never had a first."

"Huh," Heap replied. "What about this: Government of the people, by the people, for the people - do you believe in that?"

"Of course," Ng replied.

"Well, then, you have to have elections!"

"What if the people do not wish elections?"

Heap looked at Ng in disbelief. Ng continued, "What if, Mr. Heap, what if we had a 'free election' - an election that conforms to every recommendation of Ambassador Bouganvillea and your government - and in that free and open election the Communists are elected. What then, Mr Heap, what then?"

Heap's jaw worked for a minute, then he said, "It can't happen."

Ng had laughed over the incident in the past, but it was not funny any more. "God save us from earnest fools," he said to himself. He looked around the table at the members of his government. None of them were fools. And yet, were they wise enought to save their country from the difficult trial ahead? One of his ministers spoke:

"How did the American Ambassador react to the cartoon in the Star?"

"He was stung," another replied, "stung on his great American behind."

"But it will not rouse him. His hide is thick."

"Yes," Ng said, "The Americans do not send their brightest men, it seems. They send a big round boy with bags of money.

"We are caught in a huge, grave game now, gentlemen, and the future of our country teeters like a stick balanced on a wall. The Americans think they can buy us, while the Russians think they can win us by playing the loving friend - the false friend. We do not wish to fall either way, and yet-"

"Perhaps we can win some gain by playing one against the other," a minister said. "The Americans prepare a huge grant for us, and the Russians send rice to our poorest region."

Ng said, "They will not send gifts forever, and all things have their price. The Americans have conditions. The Russians bring rice, but they also bring guns. We cannot hover in the air between them, as if we were some lovely prize. At some point, one or the other will wish to sit down to dinner, and we, my friends, are that dinner."

§

Whenver Ng expressed himself in that way, he saw himself and his country as a mouse midway between two cats; the two cats watch each other and the mouse. If one cat leaps, the other will, too. One cat in Ng's picture was Bouganvillea, the fat American. The other cat was the sleek Simon Byronovich, the Russian Ambassador. Ng thought, "Why don't they fight in their own countries? Why must they make this peaceable kingdom their battleground?" Of the two would-be devourers, Ng - against his better judgment - preferred the Russian. He spoke Ng's language. He also spoke French and English, and was witty and well-spoken in all three. And yet he was the son of a farmer. That impressed Ng.

Byronovich's ability with language distinguished him as a boy. He was early recognized as a born speaker and writer, and was assigned to the diplomatic service while still young. He passed through a long apprenticeship, where he learned many skills, lost his farm-boy manners and accent, and was admitted to the Soviet intelligence community. Before arriving at Sarkhan, he and his wife Nina became through study thoroughly conversant with the language, the history, the customs, the preferences, the philosophy and religion of the people.

He arrived in Sarkhan the same day as Bouganvillea, but was already well-entrenched through his own work, and that of his advance agents.

It was Byronovich's own idea to ship the tons of grain to the mountains when famine struck during his first year there. That move was a coup for his standing with the populace - there never were uncomplimentary pictures of him in the paper. However, Ng and his government viewed these achievements with a very wary eye.


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