Quyen was waiting for them. The Vietnamese government's liaison officer was standing on the high, flat paddy dike that marked the outer edge of the village, dressed in gray slacks, a white shirt, and black leather shoes. His thick hair was matted by the rain. Dozens of drenched villagers stood along the dike with him, smiling and elbowing each other as if the boat's approach was grand entertainment. Condley waved to Quyen, calling to him. The whole village waved back, welcoming them.
The boat putted up to the edge of the dike, docking alongside it as if it were a pier. Tuan threw a rope to a group of laughing, screaming young boys, who immediately tied the boat up to a tree. The current was strong here, even away from the main path of the river, and Tuan's boat nudged gently prow-first against the mud of the dike, held fast by the flow of the water.
"Chao ong, Chao ong!"
Quyen greeted Condley with genuine happiness as the American stepped from the boat onto the muddy dike. The political officer had traveled to the village the day before in order to prepare the villagers for the meeting. Condley had worked with Quyen twice before, and he knew the young bureaucrat would be dying to go home. Quyen was a city boy, from Ha Noi in the north. In Da Nang two nights before, the locals had teased him that the villagers in the mountain hamlets off to the west were wild, of a different species, that drinking their water or their tea might make him sick, that some of their food might kill him, and that many of them even had tails. Quyen had half believed even the part about the tails.
"Ah, Mr. Condley, Mr. Muir," said Quyen. He smiled brightly, rubbing his hands in front of his dark, narrow face as if each of these Americans were holding up a Buddha to be prayed to. "It is my great pleasure to welcome you to Ninh Phuoc. Come with me, come with me."
Excerpted from Lost Soldiers by James Webb Copyright 2001 by James Webb. Excerpted by permission of Bantam, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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