Ready for a suspenseful thriller set in 1983 with a CIA agent?
Great! Then Operation DFC is for you.
WEAT COATS EVERY INCH of my body, courtesy of the oppressive heat and humidity. My shorts and thin t-shirt cling to me like a second skin while unlocking the door of the small hotel room. I immediately frown—the ancient unit is down for the count. Again. Had I made the travel arrangements, this farce of a hotel would not have been among the realm of possibilities for a place to rest my head. Chuckling, I step inside the dreary space, and it crosses my mind that perhaps another reason I had been recruited is because I grew up in southern Arkansas and the Agency assumed I would acclimate to the sweltering heat in Southeast Asia easier than men born above the Mason-Dixon line.
Birth location does not matter—hot, humid air sucks the life out of you even if you grew up around it.
A roach the size of my palm skitters across my shoe precisely at the same time a disgusting mixture of mold, stale body odor, human excrement, and God-knows-what-else assaults me. No amount of training can properly prepare a person for the wretched odors wafting from every crevice of this overcrowded city full of poverty, disease, and human squalor.
Nothing except being held captive in a similar environment.
The putrid aromas bring back unwanted, horrendous memories of my previous experiences in Asia. This is the first time I’ve been back since 1973. The deep, ugly scar on my right arm throbs for some odd reason. I force the memories to remain inside the locked vault of my mind where I’ve trapped them for a decade. Part of me despises being here, yet the urge to complete the mission and save my brothers wins out.
Heavy footsteps and the squeaky voice of a young girl speaking in her native tongue cause me to poke my head out and glance out the door. Fury burns through my chest while eyeing a red-headed, freckle-faced Caucasian man, obviously fond of fast food and fearful of the gym, strutting down the hallway. A young Asian girl, tottering in heels she should not know how to walk in, is next to him. The oaf senses my presence, glances over, winks while opening the door, and the young girl slips inside. He joyfully follows.
It takes all my intestinal fortitude to keep from following them and beating the scumbag to death with my bare hands.
She’s just a child.
The urge to become justice for the wayward waif and rescue her from despair is strong, but I cannot succumb to temptation. Too much is at stake for my brothers to risk blowing my cover. Besides, the girl probably isn’t here on her own free will, and if I kill the lecherous heathen who paid for her services, her pimp will just send her to the next paying client. The contribution of freeing one girl from a horrific evening of sexual abuse will be about as fruitful as scooping out handfuls of sand, hoping to drain the ocean.
Pausing for a split second while staring at the closed door, I listen to the sound of his voice, noting the dialect—south Texas—no doubt. I imprint the tone and cadence in my mind for use later.
One handful of sand is one handful, right? It will be quite easy to dispose of a body in this disgusting city…wait, no…not now. Damn, it’s only my first night in Bangkok and I’m already plotting murder. I make a mental note to research ol’ fat boy’s information later from the front desk when the clerk is otherwise engaged. Once I know exactly what city in Texas the red-headed slimeball lives, I will pay him a visit and castrate him like a feral dog.
What I do on my own time is my business.
A wicked smirk crosses my face while scanning the tiny space advertised as a room. Nothing is amiss. All the sly traps I set to indicate someone came snooping around while I was gone are intact. Satisfied I’m alone and nobody has been inside, I lock the door behind me before setting the paper sack down on the lone chair. After removing the wallet carrying my identity and passport, I secure it inside the modified suitcase, one complete with a hidden compartment inside the bowels, before retrieving the old set of flip-flops I’ve carried with me for years.
Unsatisfied the credentials are safe when not within arms-reach, I strip down, slide on the flip-flops, and then pick up the suitcase and take four strides to the area in the corner before setting it down inches away.
When I checked in earlier, the desk clerk touted the accommodations as upgraded to include a private bathroom.
What a colossal joke.
There is a toilet, sink, and a showerhead with knobs protruding directly from the wall, but the area is void of any sort of door or curtain. Eating, sleeping, and attending to bathroom business are all done in the open, and certainly not for those who are shy or easily embarrassed. Of course, I am neither of those things, so I remain unfazed by the situation because I’ve been in places that make this shithole look like a palace.
Turning the knob for cold water, the pipes rumble and groan behind the paper-thin walls separating rooms before tepid liquid squirts out. Oh well, it is water, and between it and the Irish Spring soap I packed, the stench of sex and poverty from my brief excursion through Patpong will be removed from my pores. Plus, noisy pipes will hopefully cover any sounds from the room across the hallway that might make me rethink waiting to pay ol’ fat boy a visit when back on American soil and attack now.
Too bad the combination of soap and water won’t work on the odors trapped inside my nasal cavity. It irritates the fire out of me that the operative I met earlier set our meeting location smack dab in the middle of the red-light district. He falsely assumed I was like every other American male and wanted to partake in all the debauchery Bangkok is known for throughout the globe.
My trusty soldier will remain free of STDs. No way will I risk potentially infecting Cathy with some disgusting venereal disease simply because I let my libido take control of rational thought. No way. I’m a patient man, one fully aware of the beautiful prize awaiting me back in North Carolina, and when I set my mind on something, there is no changing it.
Bile rises in the back of my throat while recalling the meeting. The operative, “Oscar,” was a slender, dark-haired Asian man with beady eyes and body odor so strong my eyes nearly watered while he handed me the bag with the items required to complete the clandestine mission. Once the exchange happened, Oscar offered to pay for me to stay and watch a ping-pong show.
I heard fellow soldiers talk about the filthy, degrading shows in Bangkok when they’d come back from R&R during my time in ’Nam years ago. Hearing about it was bad enough—I have no desire to see it.
The knowing smile on Oscar’s face and his lecherous gaze eyeballing girls, ones who should be home playing with Barbies rather than performing sexually explicit acts on stage in front of foul pedophiles, made me want to slam my fist into his mouth so hard he’d shit teeth for days. I politely refused, feigning an upset stomach from eating too much greasy noodles from a street vendor, and promptly followed the statement with some well-acted retching.
While rinsing my face, a deep sigh escapes my throat. I’m just a small pawn in a worldwide game, not the one calling the shots, setting meeting logistics, or even fully aware of all the intricacies of the mission known as Operation DFC. My part is substantial since I am the one delivering the banking credentials, yet I am in the dark on several things. I do not know the location of the POWs, what branch of military will transport them to safety, or how they will get home.
Most of my superiors still consider me wet behind the ears because I’ve been with the CIA for twenty-four months. I wholeheartedly disagree with their assessment. The proper time is six years because I count the previous forty-eight months spent crafting my cover story and the rigorous, sometimes brutal, training I’ve endured. However, this is my first major operation—to save POWs/MIAs—and the reason I joined the CIA.
Until now, Dave Carter, whose ridiculous code name, Jaguar, I refuse to address him by, gave me assignments a novice spy could handle with ease, mainly courier tasks, because I possess a phenomenal memory. I never record things that the wrong person or side could discover. I stash all important intel inside my memory banks so only I can access them.
When Dave informed me of this assignment, he said it would either make me or break me. This was my big chance to prove myself worthy of being plucked from the bowels of southern Arkansas to join this elite group. If successful, I would lead future rescue missions—unless I am caught and blab.
I had laughed in his smug face. “Nothing and nobody can make me talk. Period. End of story.”
Dave had given me an odd smirk. “So, you’re willing to die?”
In a low, rumbling baritone, I’d answered, “Absolutely.”
What I didn’t say was that I’d die for love, whether it be for all the broken POWs/MIAs awaiting rescue, my country, my girl, my best friend, or my honor. Dave had not earned my respect and, therefore, did not deserve to hear my thoughts on personal matters.
Brought back to the present after a final rinse, I turn off the water. Time to drip-dry rather than risk using a towel supplied by the hotel, which might be full of Third World microscopic organisms I prefer not to think about. I’ve already experienced plenty of nastiness in Asia and am fully aware of the risks and how to steer clear of them.
Glancing down at the flip-flops, I chuckle to myself while padding over to the window. I open it, hoping for a cool breeze. Instead, a burst of hot air and the stench of urban decay greet me. No matter. Air is air, and I prefer suffering through smelling the rankness rather than risking exposure to what potential gunk lies in wait on the towel.
Captivity in Asia turned me into a neurotic clean freak.
Several glossy travel brochures rest, unopened, on an old dresser made from mahogany. I give them a quick scan, scowling at the deceptive descriptions.
“Welcome to the glorious capital of Thailand—Krung Thep. The City of Gods, the Great City, the Residence of the Emerald Buddha, the Impregnable City of Ayutthaya of God Indra, the Grand Capital of the World Endowed with Nine Precious Gems, the Happy City Abounding in Enormous Royal Palaces Which Resemble the Heavenly Abode Wherein Dwell the Reincarnated Gods, a City Given by Indra and Built by Vishnakarm. The City of Angels opens her arms, embraces you, and urges you to enjoy her magnificence.”
City of Angels, my ass. How can a place that touts itself so highly be immersed in such evil?
My keen gaze skims the nighttime skyline of Bangkok. Sparkly, multi-colored lights beckon visitors like a siren’s call, yet they do not reveal the evil lurking in the shadows.
Turning my body toward the mirror bolted on the wall to the right, I glance quickly past the old scars on my chest, arms, and legs. Years of arduous workouts to regain muscle mass, coupled with healthy eating habits and a myriad of daily multivitamins, revived my once emaciated frame and helped to keep the dark memories of my previous life at bay.
Cathy is fond of saying I’m well-built yet not an over-the-top body builder type, though sometimes she worries that’s where I’m headed—gym rat. I laugh every time she says this, countering I look every bit the part of a lean, powerful man who works outside with his hands in the dirt under the scorching sun.
The overhead light catches a few flecks of silver interspersed between the black hair at my temples. I notice a few new wrinkles around the eyes and forehead. Cathy thinks I look distinguished and that the grays and lines have helped soften the angular edges of my chin, nose, and cheeks.
I see what she means, but there are significant portions of my previous life she is not aware of, including the fact that enduring excruciating pain changed my eye color from vibrant blue to a strange, dull shade of hazel. She does not know I’m a former POW or my real name, only that I served in the Army, and attended college with her cousin. After the first time we were intimate years ago and she saw the scars, I told her a partial truth: They were from my abusive father, and discussing my childhood was off limits.
I’ll never forget her response, spoken in her sweet North Carolina drawl while her delicate fingers caressed my cheek: “Heartache and abuse come in many forms, and sometimes, the hardest battles are fought inside the home. I’m sorry, babe, that you endured such a rough upbringing, but that’s your past, not your future.”
Thinking about Cathy makes me smile. She’s kind, nurturing, patient, and flourishes as a nurse. The woman’s heart is pure, and she loves me. Damaged, broken me. One day, perhaps after I retire, I’ll break down and tell her all the things I’ve hidden for years.
She deserves that and so much more.
“Thank you, God, for putting Cathy in my path. Thank you.”
Leaning closer to the mirror, I survey what the ravages of time, grief, starvation, and misery have done to me. Not too bad considering in a few months, I’ll be thirty-one, which seems odd to think about because for two years straight, I never knew if I’d wake up to see another sunrise. The last twelve years of my nomadic, crazy life drift through my thoughts while I wait for the reeking air to dry my skin.