tagNovels and NovellasWolf Creek Ch. 18

Wolf Creek Ch. 18


Ada and Sun Li's wives crouched in the dark DC-3 airplane cabin, holding tightly to and shushing the frightened wailing of children. The women and older children—the ones who knew that the real danger wasn't having been swallowed by a big silver bird—held their breaths as the airplane banked out over the Gulf of Siam, waiting for discovery and the dreaded rat tat tatting of antiaircraft guns. Ada had been surprised by the luxurious appointments of the two-engine commercial workhorse craft. The plane obviously was owned by someone of importance. This only added to her confusion of who her rescuer was and how this would get her home. Home to Wolf Creek. She was conflicted. She ached to be home in Wolf Creek and far away from the reality of the world—the greater world that she had pursuing all of her adult life. But, at the same time, she ached to be back in the Genting Highlands of Malaya, home there in Sun Li's arms.

The DC-3 touched down in the darkest hour of the morning on a remote stretch of tarmac on the Ban Muang airfield outside of Bangkok, Thailand. The gods were with them. A blinding squall was going through the area as they landed, and there was little danger that the Japanese guards in the control tower had any idea an airplane had landed, although the Thai controllers certainly knew about the plane and that it was coming in for a landing. They had no idea who was on the plane, but it was a plane they were able to account for no matter where in the world it was.

The visibility was so limited and the rain so drenching that Ada experienced the quick deplaning as a mere blur of activity and pounding raindrops before the DC-3 took off again to make another approach and an innocent landing right in front of the control tower. A line of black limousines was parked just steps away from the ramp to the plane, and Ada was smothered in a tarp and a huge umbrella was held over her head as four slightly built, olive-skinned men with determined and concerned looks on their faces bundled her into the lead limo. She was able to glance around only long enough to catch a partial view of Sun Li's wives and children being similarly bundled into the other cars. It was the last time she ever saw any of them.

The limousine drove into the night, a military jeep in front and another behind, at a speed that was far in excess of safety in these weather conditions. The vehicles were driving without lights, and it was only by the miracle of the storm raging about them that they didn't sweep bicycles and ox carts off the road into the water-filled canals on either side of the badly worn road.

Ada was alone in the back of the limo. She tried making out what was alongside the road in passing, but it was all a dark blur until she saw a glow of a large city ahead through the slackening rain. They entered the suburbs of an Oriental city. They were passing a blur of concrete compound walls, above which peeked the tops of palm and other lush-leafed trees and high-peaked wooden roofs with shiny tiles and turned-up corners. Every few hundred feet, the road would rise and they'd cross a canal on which long-tailed boat traffic was increasingly evident the farther they penetrated into the city. The traffic on the canals seemed much heavier than on the road, but now that Ada focused on the road traffic, she could see that all of the bicycles and sampan drivers ahead were looking back at the convoy as it swept down on them and that they then pulled immediately to the side of the road and lowered their faces, almost, it seemed, in homage to the cars. As she gazed over the hood, Ada saw that the limo she was in was flying a solid-yellow flag from the corners of its bumpers—the color reserved for Thai royalty. It looked like this is what those on the road ahead were focusing on when they drew aside as quickly as they did.

They were in the center of the city now, following the sweep of a wide river, already busy with road traffic this hour before dawn. And the limousine carrying Ada and the two military jeeps that had been preceding and following her car had detached from the rest and no longer was part of the convoy carrying Sun Li's household. The buildings in the section of the city Ada's limousine had entered were larger and more grand and more colorful then where they had been driving before. The buildings were all a variation on the steep-roofed pagoda style that were in Sun Li's mountain fortress and on the buildings behind the walls in the suburbs, but they were made out of more expensive-appearing, brightly painted wood or concrete and their roofs were tiled in shiny colored tiles and had elaborate dragon- and snake-tail style curlicues on their corners. Also, the lawns were broader here and were covered with grass.

Ada's diminished convoy pulled across the small end of a huge oval parade ground, around which were clustered a breathtaking array of magnificent temples and ceremonial buildings, and turned sharply to the right, sweeping into large iron gates in a high compound wall that opened, almost by magic, upon the convoy's approach and clanked shut almost as quickly in their wake.

They were in a large, crushed-seashell covered courtyard before one of the tallest, most ornate pagoda pavilions Ada had seen in her various trips through Southeast Asia. The steps leading up to it and the platform on which it's white-painted, gold-leaf topped columns stood was well-scrubbed white marble. And its roof was of golden fish-scale tiles with borders of emerald green and sapphire blue tiles.

And standing at the foot of the stairs up to this structure was a diminutive Thai man, short and thin as a rail, a monocle in one eye, but decked out in an exquisitely tailored dark suit, his eyes intently on Ada as she was handed out of the limousine and escorted toward him. He was holding a bouquet of long-stemmed yellow roses, and, at last, all of Ada's questions about this fairytale escape were beginning to come into focus. But only just.

The tiny man stepped forward. "Hello, Mrs. Walker," he said in impeccable British English. I am Pridi Phanomyong. Welcome to Bangkok. These roses are for you."

"Hello. Thank you. Thank you for everything," Ada said. "But the roses . . .?"

". . . Are from your good friend, Prince Seni Pramoj, our emissary to the United States."

"I surmised as such," Ada answered, remembering the roses that the Thai ambassador had brought to her New York departure six years earlier. "And do I have him to thank for all of this . . .?"

"Partially, only partially," Pridi responded with a smile. "But we must not linger here long. We must get you inside."

As they climbed the steps and moved into halls of incredible opulence, Ada gave voice to the burning questions.

"Where am I, if I may ask. And who is responsible for getting me here? And where do I go from here. This wouldn't seem any safer from the Japanese for an official American than Malaya was."

"All good questions, Madame. You are in the Grand Palace in Bangkok."

"The Grand Palace," Ada said with a gasp. "The Thai king's . . .?"

"Yes, his palace, but he isn't here. He's safely in Europe . . . on an extended stay at a health spa. You could say that he finds not being here just now good for his health, but you'd have to be very circumspect who you said that to." Ada's host gave her a playful little smile before continuing.

"I am the royal regent, so I speak and act for him here. I have no idea when—or whether—the king will return. And as for the Japanese, this would be the last place they would think to look for you or anyone else they might be looking for. For that, the location gives a certain number of Thai, such as me, an opportunity to indulge in activities which the, ah, Japanese, ah, are unlikely to look kindly on. On that basis, I have been in contact concerning your situation not only with your good friend and our emissary in America, Seni Pramoj, but also with some powerful Americans who were concerned about your plight."

"Powerful Americans?"

They had reached section of the palace grounds overlooking the broad Chao Phya River, the life artery of the Thai mainland. "Yes, very powerful Americans. But perhaps I am not the best one to discuss this with you. As much as I would love to keep you here for a bit, having heard what a delightful conversationalist you are from Prince Seni, you have a departing tide to catch, and we mustn't miss your opportunities. Come, could you follow me to the pier?"

"To the pier? Departing tide?" Ada was still very confused. And then she saw it. A magnificent, gigantic old, gleaming white yacht lying in the middle of the river, foregrounding the spires of what she would be told was the Wat Arun temple on the opposite bank of the Chao Phya.

"Do you like it, Mrs. Walker?" Pridi asked as they walked out to the pier and to the waiting launch. "That's the Maha Chakri, the king's yacht. I see that it goes down the river to the Klong Toey docks at least twice a week and back so that the Japanese accept this as our routine. But, thanks to the Maha Chakri, our routine now includes transporting arms and other needed supplies from the docks on the first leg of their journey into the jungles, where the resistance is building. You've come in good time. You will be hidden aboard throughout the day and will sail down to the Kong Toey in the evening."

"And then?" Ada asked.

"As I said, that perhaps is better answered by others. Indeed, I don't really know where you go from Kong Toey, nor is it safe for me to know that much. I just know you are in very good hands.

Ada offered her profuse thanks to the royal regent as she stepped into the launch, and then, turning and watching as the launch approached the steps up into the Maha Chakri, Ada saw for herself what Pridi Phanomyong had meant by "good hands." Standing at the top of the ladder, looking both worried and relieved, was her oldest son, Daniel Raven.

Over a lavish luncheon, which Ada initially said she couldn't possibly have an appetite for but which she devoured in hunger and in partial relief from the terror and tension she had felt for the previous three weeks, Dan started to explain to her what had happened and what was yet to transpire to return her to the States.

"The Japanese were quick to report that they had found Stanfield dead by natural causes in the Kuala Lumpur embassy garden, and they brought in several other captured ambassadors to verify that was so. I guess they didn't want to be charged with killing him, especially since they didn't do it. But no one knew where you were."

"But so quickly, Dan? Why with all that was happening across the world—in Pearl Harbor and all across Asia. Why was anyone so concerned about me or found the time to do anything for me?"

"As for the latter," Dan said, "we can thank your congressman, Peter Fair. I knew you two knew each other, but I had no idea how interested he was in your welfare. He's a member of the House Foreign Relations Committee, you know, in addition to being your congressman. He called me. I had no idea the plight you were in until he called me. And he called the Thai ambassador too, who knew you as well. They greased the wheels. We just provided the means. Vaughn Enterprises has stores throughout South America, as I'm sure you know. The South American countries are still recognized as neutrals in the building war. We regularly import tapioca from Thailand to Rio de Janeiro. So the means is right here, at the Klong Toey docks. We sail on the tide for Rio, Mother."

Having it laid out, and especially hearing of Peter's hand in the mix, overwhelmed Ada. This and the rich food and the strong wine, and, particularly, unexpectedly seeing her son here, coming to her rescue, abruptly pressed down on her. "You said 'we' . . .?"

"Later, Mother. You look completely done in. Let me take you to your cabin, where you can rest until we reach Klong Toey. Pridi wants you completely out of sight anyway." He started to help his mother up from the table, but he hesitated before preceding and put a protective hand on her shoulder. "As for your first question, we all rushed to your aid because . . . because we love you so much."

Ada was overcome with tears, although she had managed to stave them off until she was in her cabin and sitting in front a mirror at a dressing table and running a brush through her long, thick hair. This very gesture was more than she could bear. Not more than twenty-four hours earlier, she had been sitting at a similar table, brushing her hair, and Sun Li was cupping her naked breasts and preparing to make love to her. She suddenly was very, very vulnerable and distressed with herself—with her whole life, with her selfish, life-long pursuit of the pleasures of the "greater world." And in the face of this, her eldest son, from whom she kept his true parentage secret, had come from the other side of the world to save her and was saying that everyone she had been so ready to abandon back in the States loved her. What disillusion, Ada thought, as she sobbed. So many had been quite happy to feed her lust and zest for a "greater world" life, but could they really love her? How could they love her?

She was weary to the bones again, a weariness that had flowed into her when she returned to the garden in Kuala Lumpur and found her husband dead, her husband, who had given his very life fulfilling his responsibilities, evacuating those Americans he was responsible for from Malaya in the face of a Japanese invasion. And she? What had she done beyond dallying with a mountain chieftain.

Ada dragged herself over to the bed in the stifling heat of the enclosed cabin and had barely enough time to pull the mosquito netting around the bed before she drifted off into a deep, troubled, drink-, rich food-, and guilt-induced sleep.

Hiram was pushing at her, screaming that she was a Jezebel, and she knew he was right, but she was pulling her breasts from a cornflower-blue dress and wiggling them at him. But it was Charles who was suckling her breasts and waving something in front of her face, saying everything was fine, that French letters never failed. Charles was pulling away from her and sneering at her as an angelic John Raven stood with her in front of a magistrate, the front of her incongruously lily-white dress bulging out. Guilt. Guilt. There in the background, even farther in the shadows, stood old reliable William Hagen. There in the background, holding a hand out to her, for the remainder of this awful, long, rambling nightmare. John, playing with his son, Dan, while a sad-looking George stood nearby, reaching out to Dan but not being able to touch him, even as John faded into the distance. Ada, torn, holding her dying daughter, Charlotte, in her arms as a fading John pulled her toward him, toward a black hearse drawn by four black horses. "Charles, oh Charles," Ada moaned in her troubled sleep. "I never told you Charlotte was yours. I never told you, Charles. I never told you, Dan, about George. Dear, loving, loyal George. Please forgive me." James falling from high up in a building, his eyes wide in fear, his mouth forming the word "George" as he falls. But at the window, the window from which he perpetually falls, Ada in the embrace of Peter, each with eyes only for each other. Did James fall or was he pushed?

Ada moaned again in her sleep. She was bathed in sweat. The air wasn't moving; she was suffocating in the stifling cabin, but, try as she might, she couldn't bring herself out of her tortured sleep. James still falling, and pulling farther beyond the entwined Ada and Peter in the window of the skyscraper, appeared the watchful, damning eyes of Peter's wife and father-in-law. Frank now, but just the vision of Frank, slung on a stretcher between two horses, descending the rocky and snow-flaked mountainside while she lay in a thick-post poster bed in the lodge with a thick-cocked J. Harvey pushing in and out of her, the two of them moaning in ecstasy with him moving in and out in and out as her husband's spirit slowly flows out of him in a never-ending approach to the lodge from the mountain. Photographs. Damning photographs flowing around her now. J. Harvey moving out a photograph and pulling her son, Hugh, with him. A thick-cocked J. Harvey embracing a naked Hugh, pushing in and out of him, the two of them moaning in ecstasy, as J. Harvey smiles up at Ada and beckons her to join in. She recoils in disgust but finds herself moving toward them—only to have a photograph of a loving, trusting Beth and an innocent grandson, John, jump up between Ada and the image she cannot stand. Ada, straddling the loins of a sleeping Stanfield, pumping hard, but getting . . . nothing.

Ada whimpered and turned again. The sun had abated to be replaced by a torrential rain outside the cabin window. The daily afternoon drenching. The sudden relief of temperature. Sun Li rising in Ada's dream now. Embracing her, comforting her, carrying her to his low bed in the middle of a pavilion perched on a rock outcropping high above a ravine. Water cascading from a fall across the ravine. Cascading thick, black hair on her breasts and belly and thighs. A cooling tongue heating her up at her very core. The sound of lutes and flutes and the filling of her inside by a throbbing cylinder of strength and peace and passion. Sun Li humming to her, comforting her, as he rises up inside her, reaching for her heart, for her very soul.

Daniel stood outside his mother's cabin door, relieved now that, at long last, the crying and moaning had settled down inside the cabin. The cooling rain had broken the ovenlike heat permeating the inside of the old yacht and, he hoped, had brought his mother some modicum of peace and rest at last.

It was almost dark when the launch took them the short distance from the sleek Maha Chakri over to the far-less-than-sleek, all-business merchant steamer lying well off of the docks at Klong Toey, just waiting to get under way for the tide and routine clearance from the Japanese authorities now controlling the port.

Ada, still full of guilt, decided this was as good a time as any to start making amends.

"Dan, about your father . . ." she started to say as the launch approached the side of the steamer.

"I know, Mother. I've know for some time I've had two fathers. Two wonderful fathers."

"You know . . .? You know that George Vaughn was your father?"

"Look up there, Mother, up at the bow of the boat, just below the railing."

Ada's eyes followed the direction of Dan's pointing hand. Written on the side of the ship, the name of the ship, the Ada George. Dan had named the vessel after his mother and true father, the founder of the Vaughn department store enterprises.

But even before this could sink in, Ada's eyes continued on up to the rail above the name plate. Standing there, looking ever watchful and steady, was the man who had waited patiently for her since she was a girl of eighteen in Slater, Missouri, William Hagen.

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