Steve picks up his pint and downs half before saying, “I was in Cape Town when I heard you had met up with Frank and Olga. Some coincidence. I spoke to Katherine…when was that…must have been almost a month ago. You haven’t been home yet?”
I shake my head. I’m not really thinking about that, I’m thinking how am I going to tell him that Frank and Olga are dead. Shot to fucking pieces by a fourteen-year-old.
“No…no, haven’t made it home yet. Flying to San Francisco tomorrow, London on Sunday.”
“What is she now, five months?”
“I guess…yes, something like that,” I said, then, “Steve, I have some bad news.”
“It’s triplets!” He jumps in, grinning like a cat.
“No, Steve, its Frank and Olga. They’re dead. They were killed a week ago by rebels in Cambodia.”
He’s staring right at me, his eyes begin to fill, then he picks up his beer and throws the ale down his throat. He stares at me again, wanting to say something, his lips trembling, but nothing comes up his throat.
“Their bodies have been flown home, Steve. I don’t know anymore. Perhaps we can have a funeral for them, you know, in a church and all.”
The words finally release from is throat, “How the fuck did it happen?”
It was an ambush. We came across several women in the jungle, been hacked to death probably moments before. Olga left the truck to see what could be done. Frank followed. Olga somehow rescued an unborn baby, Frank was carrying the child back toward the truck. It was all over in thirty seconds. A UN soldier cut the rebel kid down with machine gun fire, but it was too late.”
Steve turns his head toward the bar, “bring me a bottle of whiskey, now!”
“I want to hear about it, all of it,” he says, turning back. Don’t just tell me my brother is fucking dead.”
I tell him hoe I was in Hong Kong at the same time as his brother, purely coincidental. I was a week behind schedule bringing a yacht from Darwin, having taken shelter in the Philippines because of weather. I explain how I met Frank at the train station. Steve pours a whiskey and slides it toward me, pouring a large one for himself. I went on to tell how Frank had asked me to drive a truck…and something of how the conversation went.
“Steve, all I know for sure is that Olga kept in touch with a girlfriend, Solveig, a Norwegian diplomat. Solveig told Olga what was going on in Cambodia, while the rest of the world stands idly by. Olga, according to Frank, said she wanted to help and was told about this mission to get medical supplies and food into Cambodia. Of course, there was no way Olga was going without Frank, I say, as if he wouldn’t know his brother better than anyone. Frank told me: You need to find this guy, Thomas Verdgaard, you won’t have much trouble, great big sod, built like a barge, he’s the convoy coordinator. Hand him this envelope, he’ll set you up from that point.”
I remember taking the envelope, folding it, leaning forward to put it in my back pocket. Frank, in his usual fashion, said to me: “Yer better be damn certain about dis, Arry, it’s no fucking picnic, and you’ve a kid on the way. I don’t know shit, mate, but I do know this, it’s gonna be fucking dodgy. We join up with the rest of them at Kowloon Rail Station at 7 AM. I’ve ordered a cab to pick myself and Olga up, you can come along. We need good help. If yer not at the hotel, I get it, giv Katherine our love.”
“Truth is, Steve, I was an inch from boarding a plane. I called Katherine. It wasn’t easy and she wasn’t accepting of my decision to go with Frank. I went to the hotel the following morning.
Steve shoots another whiskey down. “Where is he now?”
“The UN said they would fly their bodies back to Oslo. Hand over their documents, visas and passports to the British Embassy. That’s all I know.”
I watch him pour down another whiskey and stand up. Then let’s go and get the sorry son of a bitch.”
The tears I had seen form in the back of his eyes now overflow and fall down his face.
The parallel runways are closer than most as we make our approach into San Francisco. The bump in the cabin signals the rubber has met the tarmac, and a sudden rush of engine noise decreases the plane’s speed across the ground. The cabin supervisor announces our arrival.
“Welcome to San Francisco. Thank you for flying Pan American. Please remain in your seats until the aircraft has come to a complete stop and the captain has switched off the seatbelt sign. The local time is now 11.56 AM.
Two hours after landing, I’ve reached the hotel. I shower and change into the new clothes, a denim shirt and some khaki trousers, bought in Union Square.
I’m heading through the lobby’s ornate surroundings, climb the red-carpeted steps to the cocktail lounge, and places both hands on the bar, rest my foot on the brass rail, and signal the attention of the barman; a bald, rotund, heavily bearded man.
“Your coldest beer, please.”
The barman, his abundant stomach fronted with gold waistcoat and wearing a white linen apron over black trousers, slaps a damp towel over his shoulder and pours a beer into a tall frozen glass.
â€œCharge it to the room, sir?â€
Yes…232. Thank you.”
“Not a problem,” he says, giving me a docket to sign.
The clock above the bar shows 2:47 P.M.
I will call Katherine at 5:00 P.M. I don’t know what I’m going to say, or how I’m going to say it.
“…and you’re not to go anywhere else. Come straight home to me, do you understand?” Katherine said, hugging me at the airport gate a moment before I boarded the plane to Singapore, “…and be sure and call me. I love you,” she called. I turned, waved, and wondered if it wasn’t the right time to stop in my tracks, turn back to the gate, and rush up to her, saying, damn the money, I cannot leave you, Katherine. Not only did I board the airplane, I went against my promise — not to go anywhere else.
“Another beer, sir?”
I tried calling Katherine at 5:00 P.M. and again at 6:00 P.M. The phone rang but no answer came. I’m trying to imagine what the reason is for no reply. It’s mid-morning, 10:00 A.M. in Scotland. We agreed, before I left, that if I was going to call, I would make that call at 9:00 A.M. her time, and Katherine said she would be ready for that call every day. This is the first time she hasn’t picked up the phone, though the last call was two weeks ago. My flight leaves early. I will try again before I leave the hotel.
I raise my head, the clock says 4:10 A.M. I pick up the phone, dial 9. Yes, international call, please. I’ll be down in 30 minutes, please have my bill prepared. Thanks.”
I have to tell her I’m not coming straight home, but going to get Frank and Olga.