“Man, you’ve really gone native,” she said.
“It’s not bad once you get used to it.”
“Is that how come your teeth are black?”
“Will you be able to get them clean later on?”
“I hope so.”
“What I could really use is a cigarette. I don’t suppose you have one?”
“I don’t smoke.”
“I’m hip, but you used to carry cigarettes for me.”
“This is a little different.”
“I know it, baby. I know a girl who’s a betel nut. She’s crazy for Ringo Starr. Sorry about that. I’ll try it, what the hell.”
I gave her a piece of betel, and she chewed it and spat in the river. We were altogether a charming little group.
“You look terrible,” she said. “Is that sunburn or from being sick?”
“A little of both,” I said. And I told her, too, about the cosmetic properties of tobacco juice. She thought that was very interesting but would be more interested personally in finding a way to reverse the process.
“What happens now, baby?”
“We just keep sailing. Later on we might be able to catch some fish for dinner, but meanwhile I think we should keep moving as fast as we can.”
“Uh-huh. Moving where?”
“Yeah, groovy. What I’m getting at is where does the stream go?”
“Oh,” I said.
“I said something wrong?”
“No,” I said. I shook my head groggily. I had somehow forgotten to ask the old man that little question. I had taken things step by step, and it seemed sufficient to get into the building and out of the building and locate the boat. I hadn’t given too much thought to what would happen thereafter.
And I had no idea where the river was headed.
Birds wheeled high overhead, fish and water snakes swam alongside the dugout. The sun, overhead at first, was soon lost behind stands of tall timber and eventually set, presumably in the west. We seemed to be pointed in a general southerly direction, but the river made so many dips and turns that it was difficult to say with assurance. Before long it was difficult for me to say anything, with or without assurance. There was no herb tea aboard the little boat, and without it the fever grew worse instead of better. I huddled in the stern of to canoe while the world went on around me and I paid it as little attention as I possibly could.
“You must sleep,” said Dhang in Siamese. “You must sleep,” said Tuppence in English. I agreed with both of them, but there was very little I could do about it. I kept my eyes closed most of the time because I couldn’t see very well anyway, and the light intensified my headache. I thought for a time that I might sleep after all, that the fury of the disease might induce some sort of coma.
This didn’t happen. What did happen was very odd, and I’m still not sure that I understand it. I gather that I descended into some sort of delirium. I wasn’t raving, actually. I stayed quite still and remained generally silent. But I slipped in and out of an eerie waking dream during which periods of fantasy and reality overlapped, so that it was impossible to tell which was which, and even now I cannot be entirely certain what was real and what was imagined.
A variety of this, I suspect, is what alcoholics experience in delirium tremens. I have heard that one of the problems of the alcoholic is that he does not dream; he is so besotted with drink that he falls immediately into a comatose state too deep for dreaming. And dreams, the psychologists have discovered, are a necessary means of expunging various tensions and strains and doubts and fears. So the theory goes that the alcoholic in the DT’s goes through a sort of waking dream, and the pink elephants he sees while conscious are just a version of the ogres that creep through the average person’s nightmares.
I had understood the theory before. Now I found out what it was all about. It was not at all pleasant, and perhaps the best thing to be said for it is that most of it has since faded from memory. The parts that I recall now include things that probably did happen and things that certainly did not.
“It was a groovy trip until those cats came down on us, Evan. And Bangkok was like the best part of it. The group had this very tough sound, and I was in good voice and all. And the king was too much. You hear how all these celebrities are jazz fans, and it turns out that what they have is one old Bix Beiderbecke 78 stuck in a closet somewhere, but the king of Siam really digs. He truly does. He sat in on clarinet for a while. I thought he would be bloody awful, but his technique is good, and he knows where it’s at. Chick went through some pretty deep chord patterns, and the king never did shake out. He stayed with it all the way to the end…
“I dug Bangkok, I truly did. They have this floating fruit market, I never saw anything like it. Little boats going up and down the river, and you go there to buy bananas and like that. You know I sent you that postcard? That was the day after the command performance. After we played, the king showed us the royal collection, and then he gave us each a present. Chinese jade, he said it was. I got a crazy pair of earrings, and there were cuff links for the boys. I don’t know what happened to them. And I figured it would say in the newspaper stories how we had viewed the collection, and what the presents were, so I wrote you that bit about selling my jewels. I guess it’s good I did, huh?”
Our boat is caught in a current and spins madly around. Dhang paddles furiously. On the starboard side a huge log bobs in the water. We paddle over to it, and the log turns and begins swimming for us. It is a crocodile. We try to escape. It swims closer. “How doth the little crocodile improve its shining tail,” it says, “and pour the waters of the Nile on every shining scale.”
“We’re on the Nile River,” Tuppence says. “We’re in Egypt, just in time for the ten plagues.” And then I was trying to mark the side of the house – the boat had turned into a house – with the blood of the paschal lamb, so that the angel of death would pass over the house, but it was raining endlessly, and the blood kept washing away, and the angel of death swept down and carried off Todor, and Annalya began to weep and wail.
Then Annalya spoke, but it wasn’t Annalya, it was Tuppence again. “I couldn’t get what it was all about,” she was saying. “They came into the hotel in the middle of the night and chloroformed us. I guess they had already stolen the jewels. The next thing I knew we were on our way up through Thailand and into Laos. They didn’t feed us anything but rice, and anybody who asked questions got hit. And nobody understood a damn word they were saying. But I got some of the drift of what was happening or at least I think I did. They’re Laotian Communists, they’re hooked up with something called the Pathet Lao, or maybe that’s somebody’s name. The bit was that they were going to make it look as though the five of us stole the jewels from the king and took them to Laos, the part of the country that’s not run by the Communists. And then when we came north, they snatched us and executed us and returned the jewels. They were going to make the United States look bad and they were going to make the other government of Laos look bad, and it was supposed to do a lot of good for them and for the guerrillas in Thailand. Or something like that. And then they went and executed Kendall and Chick and Miles and Jimmie, just chopped their heads off one after the other. I thought they would do me, too, and maybe they would have or maybe not. I don’t know. There was some kind of a snag on account of my being Kenyan, and maybe it would have screwed up their relations with Africa or some such. Or else that fat little mother just didn’t want to deprive himself of the pleasure of balling me every day on his goddamned floor.”
“I was beautiful, and soft and warm and sweetly formed, with golden skin and long black hair,” said Tuppence, who had suddenly turned Oriental. “And I wanted Dhang and would have gone with him, and just as he was on the point of making a woman of me…”
“Just as I was on the point of taking her,” Dhang said, “just then her father came into the room, and furious he was, and they put me in that room and beat the soles of my feet with long strips torn from old auto tires, and hung me up so that I had to stand on the tips of my toes, and told me they would cut off my purick, and swore they would cut off my head as well. I did not try to rape her, for she wanted me as I wanted her, and I would have been tender with her-”
“Evan, baby, I get the feeling that Dhang here is up tight sexually. You tell him to forget it, dig? He’s a sweet little cat and all, but if you could tell him that this is just not my scene-”
“Heaven, friend, the black woman is your woman, yes? You said that you would get a woman for me, Yevan. I feel myself tortured and torn apart by demons. I will not touch the black woman, Evan, but I ache with desire and yearning. Yevan…”
The old man was riding on water skis pulled by a blazing bullock. Fire danced in his hair. He sang the “Marseillaise” at the top of his voice and poured kerosene over himself and burned without being consumed. Then the bullock veered sharply to its right, and the burning old man bore down upon us, capsizing our boat, and the entire river turned into a sheet of icy flame.
“You should never have run away from us,” Barclay Houghton Hewlitt whispered in my ear. “Don’t you ever go down to the end of the town unless you go down with me.” I looked at him, and he turned into Abel Vaudois. “A good idea,” he said sagely. “To grow opium poppies in the Jura, separate it from Switzerland, and sell the poppies to American veterans for Memorial Day. Is this not a typical American breakfast?” I agreed that it was, and he grinned like the Cheshire cat and turned into the Chief. “That’s a good cover story,” he said, “but you’ll need a cover story for it and then another cover story for that cover story, and we’ll put them all together and bind them as a book and put your name on the cover. Now wait a moment,” he said, and he stepped around the corner and locked the dugout in the men’s room of Kennedy Airport. I grabbed the locked door and began banging furiously on it, but it wouldn’t open. I drew my pistol and shot at the lock, and the bullets bounced off and released clouds of cyanide gas, and I breathed it in and gasped, and the men’s room taxied down the runway and was airborne, and we soared high over the blue Pacific until a divine hand reached out to snare us with a butterfly net and drag us down, down, down into an ocean of inky blackness.
“I think he’s coming out of it,” a soft voice said. “Him come out of big sleep. Oh, the hell with it.”
I opened my eyes. Tuppence was leaning solicitously over me; Dhang was looking over her shoulder. We seemed to be on dry land. I started to sit up, but they both reached to push me back down and told me to save my strength.
“I’m all right,” I said. And I was. The fever was gone now. I groped for memory and couldn’t get the handle of it. I did not know where we were or how we had gotten there.
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