VALLEY OF THE SHADOW

Tsai had escorted Ghant to headquarters from the compound. Inside the room which served as an office, he indicated a bare corner.

"Wait here."

Ghant set his bedroll down and seated himself on it. In a few minutes another prisoner entered, escorted by another interpreter. It was Rickey, an Air Force corporal. The prisoners exchanged greetings. Rickey seated himself by the captain. They talked a little, but didnít do so freely because of the enemyís presence. Mostly they conjectured on where they might be going. They must be slated to leave the valley. If they were merely out for interrogation locally, they would not be given this chance to talk with each other now.

"How long we wait here, Tsai?" Ghant asked.

"Little while yet. We wait for truck."

That cinched it. Ghant made an obvious search of the room with his eyes.

"You have any water here, Tsai? Drinking water?"

"Iím sorry, no. Have tea. You want tea?"

"Yes, thatís okay. Just something to drink."

Tsai picked up the tea pot. "Have you cup?"

Ghant reached to his bundle, then stopped as though suddenly remembering. "I forgot my bowl and cup, Tsai." He watched the little chinaman closely.

Tsai frowned. He had told Ghant to be sure he had everything. Before the chinaman could say anything, Ghant spoke again.

"Iíll be needing my bowl where Iím going, wonít I, Tsai?" he asked teasingly, with a smile. He wanted the chinaman to take it as a friendly joke.

Tsai had a sense of humor. He had become quite accustomed to such things from Americans. Ghantís smile and manner assured the little chinaman that the prisonerís question was intended as a jest. The frown left Tsaiís face, and he smiled a little in return.

"Yes, you will need bowl. I will get for you."

"Thank you, Tsai. Iím sorry I forgot. You told me to bring everything."

Tsai was pleased. Ghant was a bit more friendly than heíd ever been before. Perhaps this aloof prisoner was warming up a little at last. Though Ghant had never been outwardly belligerent to him, Tsai couldnít get to him as he could to Seakle and some of the others. Heíd been trying hard, too. Smiling with satisfaction, the little chinaman didnít realize that he carried a message to Emmett as he returned to the compound for a "forgotten" cup and bowl.

After a time, Ghant and Rickey were led out of the headquarters. They followed Tsai as he took them a circuitous route past the compound. Three guards followed.

"How come so many guards, Tsai?" Ghant asked. "You afraid weíll run away?"

"Oh, no." Tsai laughed. "Guards being transferred to other camp. So they ride truck, too."

Well, that was a pretty good explanation—except that when a man was transferred to another duty, he usually took his pack along, which these soldiers were not doing. Ghant didnít mention that fact to Tsai, however. It was better just to take note of such things and keep quiet to the enemy about it. They walked about a mile up the valley, before Tsai called a halt.

"We wait here for truck," he said.

They sat on their packs again. Not much was said. They couldnít talk of the things on their minds, with the enemy so close at hand. They sat with their thoughts.

"You got any tobacco handy?" asked Rickey. "I put mine in my pack."

The captain felt his pockets. When he reached in one he stopped short. He was glad for the darkness, certain that his face would have been a revelation to Tsai, had it been light. On the papers that Ghant felt in his pocket was Wolfeís outline of the final preparations for their break the next week.

"I havenít got any tobacco out either, Rick. Can you find yours? Iím not even sure I brought any, Iím so damn forgetful."

While Rickey dug for tobacco, Captain Ghant ate paper. It wasnít at all tasty and probably, he thought ruefully, not nutritious either. He contemplated simply tearing it into bits and scattering them, but felt thereíd still be a chance the enemy might find them and piece them together. When Rickey produced the tobacco, Ghant rolled a tremendous cigarette with the last of the paper. Smoking it was much easier than eating it.

The truck arrived and turned around on the narrow trail. It made considerable noise, as the driver shifted gears and revved the motor. They were out of earshot of the compound, but that didnít matter. Tsai had brought the "forgotten" bowl. Emmett had the message.

Sometime during the night they reached their destination. The two prisoners were put in a bare room—the end room of a Korean house. As was usual, the house stood some fifty yards upslope from a little stream. Tired from the ride, the prisoners hoped to be allowed to sleep, but first there was a shakedown. It was an unusual one, in a sense. In most cases when they wanted to search the prisonerís belongings, the chinamen made some pretext. Either they were "checking to see if the prisoner needed replacement clothing," or making "sanitation inspection." This time they were unordinarily honest, for communists; they said, "inspection for security." Ghant was glad that he had discovered Wolfeís notes in time. Tsai remained until the search was ended, then left with the others. Ghant wasnít to see him again, until their final meeting in the truck on the ride to Panmunjom.

So Ghant and Rickey were alone. Not even a chinaman remained that they had known before. But there were five new ones with whom they became well acquainted in the following weeks. These chinamen never introduced themselves by name. There were reasons why they preferred to remain anonymous, but Rickey and Ghant found names for all of them. There was the "Frisco Kid," usually called just "Frisco"—much taller than most of the enemy, five-ten, or so—also much neater in his dress. He spoke good English and used American slang naturally. Ghant decided it was "Franciscan" English—"San Francisco." There was "Laughing Boy," given the name for the grin glued on his face. "Bim" was chinless, like the "Gumps." The one with the thick horn-rimmed lenses they called "Specs." "Jingles" carried something in his pocket that clinked like silver coins.

Frisco brought breakfast the first morning. The prisoners were still asleep when he came.

"Reveille," Frisco called. "Chow down."

The prisoners blinked, raised up, but said nothing.

"Your breakfast," Frisco said. "Did you sleep well?í

"Is there some place we can wash?" Ghant asked, ignoring the question.

"Yes, you can wash at the stream. You may use the Korean Ďben-joí for latrine."

"Címon Rick; letís go wash."

"Coming," the younger prisoner answered.

Frisco tried to draw them into conversation, but the prisoners said no more than was necessary. When they had gathered up the articles for their morning toilet, Frisco pointed out the path and where they could wash at the stream. He spoke in Chinese to the guard, receiving a brief reply, then walked away toward a small cluster of buildings seventy or eighty yards downstream.

"He didnít learn to talk like that out of a book," Rickey said, as the prisoners washed.

"He must be the one from San Francisco somebody mentioned talking to," Ghant suggested.

"How in hell could a sane person live in San Francisco and then come to a place like this and say communism is better?"

"That isnít quite the way he looks at it," Ghant explained. "Here heís classed as one of the Ďintelligentsia.í He knows damn well communism canít do whatís been done in a free society. He aims to take over what others have already built. San Francisco is a fine city, better than most of the commie jokers here can even imagine. The Frisco Kid probably sees himself as commissar of the place, Ďcome zee ravolutioní and the commies get around to liberating the United States."

"Oh, I get it," Rickey said. "You know I never could figure that out. I must be stupid or something."

"Donít let it bother you, Rick. Thereís a lot of people at home who arenít savvy to such things—people who ought to know and who think theyíre a lot smarter than you or I are." How could Rick understand or figure it out for himself? Ghant thought. Twenty-two years old, and never given the chance to learn such things because so many people in America thought that all you had to do about communism was to say you were against it.

The prisoners returned to the room and had their breakfast. Finished, Ghant opened the door. The guard looked his way. "Washi-wash?" Ghant asked, showing the bowls and indicating the stream.

The guard shook his head. "Ma-mandi," he said—"Later." Apparently instructions hadnít covered letting the prisoners wash their bowls after eating.

Ghant moved back into the room, leaving the door open. The guard came over to shut the door, said something in Chinese, and indicated that the door was to remain closed. Orders, the prisoners wondered, or lack of orders?

Jingles came to the room just before lunch time. He hadnít been named as yet, because as yet he hadnít "jingled." No name presented itself for the fellow at first sight, he was so ordinary looking. The prisoners thought at first he might be just a camp flunky, to carry food and such. He came into the room and glanced about for the food pan. There was still a little rice in the pan. He looked at the prisoners accusingly. "You do not wash food pan," he said.

"The guard wouldnít let us," Ghant told him.

Jingles turned to call out the door to the guard, and when the soldier answered, asked him a question in Chinese.

"Ahh," the guard answered with a single quick nod of the head— confirmation, perhaps of what the prisoners had said.

There was another question from Jingles, probably, "Why?"

A short explanation from the guard, then Jingles seemed to be giving an instruction.

"Hao," the guard replied.

"After this you wash bowls and pan after each meal," Jingles told the prisoners. "The guard will permit."

"How about washing ourselves before we eat?" Ghant asked.

"Wait." There followed another conference with the guard. "Yes, that is permitted, too."

"How about having the door open so it isnít so dark?" Rickey asked.

A third discussion with the guard. "The guard has no instruction that you have door open. Must ask superior."

"Well, we got two for three, Rick," Ghant said when the chinaman had gone. "We can still hope for the third."

Though he had come for the food pan, Jingles did not bring their lunch. Laughing Boy did that. It seemed the chinamen came in turn to look at the prisoners. Well, it gave the prisoners a look at the enemy, too.

When Laughing Boy brought the pan in, he was smiling broadly, as though he was the bearer of a sumptious feast or extremely good news.

"Your lunch," he announced, bending to set the bowl down.

It was rice and potato soup, the rice pressed against one side of the pan and soup soaking into it. No matter, they would mix them anyway.

"Are you comfortable here?" the chinaman grinned. He had straightened from placing the pan on the mat before them. His eyes flicked rapidly back and forth from one prisoner to the other. He seemed to be trying to study them without appearing to do so.

"Could we have the door open for light?" Ghant asked.

"The superior has not ordered." He smiled at them.

Since this fellow didnít speak to the guard before answering, it was certain Jingles had told him of the prisonersí request. From such bits of knowledge could come a clue to the enemyís strategy and purpose. The prisoners remained silent, waiting for the chinaman to speak further.

"But I will take responsibility." He laughed lightly, and so acquired his name. "You may have door open during lunch. Close when you finish, and wash bowls. He spoke to the guard as he propped the door open with a small hand broom which was lying outside. As if in afterthought, he called back, "But only for lunch I can say. For supper I cannot promise."

When he had gone, Ghant said, "Looks like Laughing Boy is going to be the one with the friendly, kind-hearted approach."

"Yes, it does. Thatís a good name for him, Laughing Boy."

"Good as any, I guess."

They took so long eating, the guard looked in several times. But the door remained open till they had finished and come back from washing bowls. That evening they got acquainted with Specs and Bim, naming them automatically by their appearance. The door was left open again at supper-time, because it had turned cloudy, and the room was too dark with the door closed.

For the next six days, the prisoners sat in the room. They were fed as much as they cared to eat. There was always a little rice left over. In no set pattern, one or the other of the five chinamen came to bring food or pick up the pan. Each would talk a little and give the prisoners a chance to talk and ask questions. But none tried to force the Americans into conversation. When permission was asked for bathing and washing clothes, it was granted—not immediately, but within an hour or so. Ghant made it a point to ask each of the five for things they might not themselves be free to grant. When all five had given the reply, "I must ask the superior," the captain was fairly certain there was someone the prisoners hadnít seen who was directing the whole thing.

Other than taking trips to the stream and latrine, eating and sleeping, there was nothing for them to do. Talk? You canít do that forever. The enemyís play at the moment, then, was boredom and uncertainty.

The prisoners discussed their situation on the fifth morning, just after breakfast. Rickey was put on edge by monotony and the seeming purposelessness in the way they were being treated. At twenty-two, a fellow wants action. He can understand force or obvious pressure, and resist them if heís of a mind to. Simple waiting is harder to take.

"What the devil they keepiní us here like this for?" he asked the captain.

"Looks like the old waiting game, Rick. Trying to break us down with boredom."

"Suppose we were to ask Ďem what gives?"

"Thatís probably what they want," Ghant told him. "It may be they have in mind to leave us alone Ďtil we get so bored we ask to be interrogated."

"What in hell they want to interrogate us for now, anyway, this long after weíre captured?"

"I donít think itís interrogation, exactly."

"What then?"

"Confessions."

"Confessions? You mean Ďbug-warí confessions? Like Bender, and that light colonel who just made one—Wendon?"

"Thatís what I figure it is, Rick."

"But why us? Why me, anyhow? You, I can understand; youíre a pilot and an officer. Iím just a corporal. Why me?"

"Iím not sure why you, or me," Ghant replied. "But Iím pretty certain thatís what theyíre after. How about the rest of your crew, Rick, your pilot and the others? Heard anything from them?"

"I donít know; maybeó"

There was an interruption then which prevented further discussion. Jingles, still unnamed, came after the food basin. He was early. Usually the chinamen came after the pan only a short while before the next meal. Maybe, Ghant thought, they were getting impatient, too. They might come around more often now, hoping the prisoners would loosen up if given the chance to talk. If he and Rick could hold on for a few more days without giving the enemy the lead they wanted, perhaps the chinks would have to change tactics. It would be much better if they could make the enemy show their hand first; make them declare their purpose.

"I happen by," the chinaman said. "I pick up food pan now." It was almost as though he were apologizing for the intrusion.

"What the hell are you keeping us here like this for?" Rickey almost shouted. Ghant winced at the other prisonerís outburst. The captain didnít dare to speak aloud the words of caution that sprang to his lips, but he moved his hand behind the corporalís back, where he could touch the younger man.

The chinaman put his hand in a pocket and started to jingle whatever it was that jingled. "Are you not comfortable here?" he asked, innocently.

"You know damn well what I mean!" Rickey started to get up. Ghant grasped the seat of the corporalís pants. Feeling the pull, Rickey mastered himself a bit and gave no sign to show that the captain was restraining him. "Why are we kept here like this?" he continued. "If we arenít going to be interrogated, why not leave us back at the compound?"

"You want to be interrogated?"

"No, but—"

"Then perhaps you have something on your mind you want to tell us, eh?" Jingles smiled a little, and jingled.

"Aw, go to hell!" Rickey dropped his head and looked at his hands, now folded in front of him. His exclamation had shown exasperation rather than hatred, and Jingles wasnít disturbed.

The chinaman stood looking and jingling for a time before he spoke again. "I do not wish to disturb you," he said. "I shall leave you to yourselves." He glanced from Rickey, who wasnít looking at him, to Ghant, who was. The captain wondered later if heíd been able to mask his feelings completely in the moment when their eyes met.

As soon as the door closed and Jingles moved away on the out-. side, Ghant moved to look through a tiny hole theyíd made in the paper covering of the door. Jingles wasnít quite running, but a chinaman never walked faster than he did, as he hurried to give the news to his superior. It was his good fortune to be the first who could report progress in this special project. Such things were important in the career of an ambitious communist.

"Why donít you say ĎI told you soí?" Rickey asked Ghant after a time.

"Iím not blaming you, Rick," the captain assured him. "Donít blame yourself too much, either. That wonít help any. We just have to figure what to do from here."

"What do we do from here?" Rickey asked.

"Itís their move, I guess. Not much we can do but wait."

"You still think itís confessions they want?"

"More sure than ever, now."

"What all do you suppose theyíll do to get it?"

"Donít guess thereís any limit to what they might do—anything that they figure might get them what they want."

"Wonder what they did to Bender? And Wendon?"

"They didnít do much of anything to Bender, Rick, from what I saw and heard. Just told him what they would do if he didnít do what they wanted."

"And he did it just because they threatened him? Hell, they threaten everybody."

"Some people are like that, Rick, doesnít take much. You know some others back in the compound thatíd be that weak, too."

"Why donít they at least tell us, if thatís what they want?"

"Maybe they will, but theyíd prefer to have us mention it first."

"Like me shootiní off my mouth awhile ago, huh?"

"Thatís what they want."

"I donít know why I canít hold myself in," Rickey said, self- accusingly.

"Itís done now—no help stewiní about it."

Ghant could have told the younger man why he couldnít hold himself in check. But just telling him wouldnít help him much. Talk couldnít help a youngster to learn patience. It took something else to teach that.

"Do you think they can make us do it?í ĎRick asked.

"I hope not."

"What if they torture us? How much do you think you could stand if they tortured you?"

"Iím going to do my damndest not to give them any excuse for real rough stuff."

"Excuse? Wonít they just do it if they want to?"

"They could, and they might, but they seem to prefer not to," the captain answered. "They like to be able to say it was all Ďvoluntary,í that they didnít use Ďphysical force.í Most of the guys Iíve known that got knocked around much did something the chinks could say called for Ďpunishment."

"Things like what?"

"Doesnít have to be much, could be just a little innocent movement that they can say is a threatening gesture. But they like something a little more obvious, like losing your temper and cussiní them, or maybe taking a poke at one."

"Like me losiní my temper this morning, huh?"

"Yes, Rick, you were awful close to calliní names. If youíd gotten up like you started to do, they could have called it Ďthreatening.í What were you going to do after you got up, Rick?"

"I donít know. I really donít. I know I wanted to hit him, but I donít know what I would have done after I got on my feet."

"Thatís all they need, Rick. All they need is for you to hit one of Ďem, or even make a move like youíre going to. Even just callin' names."

"Guess I oughta thank you for holding me down."

"No need. I did it as much for myself as you. Weíre both in the same boat, remember?"

"Yeah." Rickey pondered. "But how do you keep calm about it, captain? Keep from getting mad and popping off at Ďem? Doesnít it get under your skin, the things they say and do? Donít you feel anything?"

Ghant reflected on his sensations that morning. "I feel plenty, Rick. You didnít see the way that chink looked after you told him to go to hell. He wasnít mad. He was happy. He had a smug look on his face because heíd gotten what he wanted. I wanted to kill the filthy bastard with my bare hands."

"But you didnít do anything, or say anything."

"I felt plenty, and thought plenty. Try to remember this, Rick. Hold it in until theyíre gone. Think what you like, but donít say it, or let them see it on your face. Donít make a move they can call Ďthreatening.í When they leave, let it go anyway you can, just so it doesnít attract their attention. Cuss Ďem to yourself, or out loud if itís not too loud. Beat on yourself, if it helps; cry if you feel like it. But try not to let them see a sign of how you really feel at any time."

"But you said you felt like killing him. How do you keep from showing it when you feel like that?"

"Iím not sure I did keep from showing it this morning. I just hope I did. He may have seen something in my eyes—theyíre the hardest to control. But thatís when it is the most important not to show it—when you feel like you want to kill."

"I canít seem to help feeling like killing one of them sometimes."

"I didnít mean that you shouldnít feel that way, Rick; just donít let them know that you feel like killing one until you actually do it. Never try something like that just because youíre mad. Youíre gonna feel like that lots of times, just about every time one of the bastards is hounding you. If you do things when youíre mad, even if itís the right thing to do, you make mistakes because you arenít thinking right. Wait until you feel like killin' Ďem in between time— all the time—when youíve figured everything and decided thereís no other way out. Then plan it. Plan it cold, and do it that way."

"I donít know if I could kill one of them that way," Rickey said. ĎPlan it and do it without being mad. I could do it easy enough when Iím mad, but planning it—well, thatís different."

"Like planning a murder, you mean?"

"I guess so. Something like that."

"Well, I suppose it is something like that, only not quite." Ghant understood the young manís view. He was looking at it in terms of moral code. "Look, Rick, if a guy came at you with a gun, and you knew he meant to kill you, and you had a gun, tooówhat would you do?"

"Shoot him, I guess. Try to get him before he got me. Thatíd be self-defense, wouldnít it?"

"Sure, itís self-defense, premeditated self-defense."

"Premeditated?" Rickey was puzzled.

"Right! Youíve decided in advance what youíre going to do.

Itís not murder because you have to do it to protect yourself."

"Yeah?" The corporal still didnít fully comprehend.

"Itís the same here, Rick. A little different, perhaps, but mostly just harder to see. Theyíd kill us just like that—cold—if it would get them what they want. They may do it, anyway. Whatever their plan is, itís cold and calculated. If they kill us, itíll be that way— cold, calculated, and slow. So if it ever comes to the point you decide thatís whatís happening and thereís no other way out, itíd be just as much self-defense to kill one of these bastards in cold blood as it would be to shoot the guy coming at you with a gun. Do you see what I mean, Rick?"

Rickey thought a moment. "I think so. I think I do. I wasnít meaning like at a trial, in a courtroom."

"Neither was I, Rick. I know what you mean. You mean the commandment, ĎThou shalt not kill."

"Yes, thatís what I meant."

"I donít think youíd be violating that either in this case," Ghant told him. "I donít think God would consider it a violation of His commandment at all."

"Yes, I guess youíre right. Sure you are!"

"We can hope it wonít come to that," Ghant went on. "But if it does, it has to be planned; so thereís a chance of getting away afterward. Maybe have to knock off the guard too, and even some others. You canít do things like that when youíre just mad, in a fit of temper. It has to be planned, and cold. Itíd be a last resort, Rick, win or lose. Youíd want to plan it so there was some chance of getting away if you could. Itíd be a slim chance at best. If we lost, weíd have to try to make sure they killed us in stopping us, not give them a chance to take us alive. I guess I donít have to tell you why."

"No," Rickey answered, "I can see that plenty clear."

They discussed the matter a little more, and Rickey seemed to understand well enough. But it remained to be seen if he could control his temper.

There were visitors that afternoon, besides the routine comings and goings at mealtime—Frisco, Specs, and Jingles again. Each just happened to be passing, they said, and looked in to see if the prisoners were comfortable or had any requests. Rickey contained himself through all the visits, letting Ghant do whatever talking seemed necessary. Later that evening the young man had a question.

"They keep asking if we want anything. What do you suppose theyíd do if we asked for something?"

"Guess it would depend on what we asked for," Ghant said.

"Cards, for instance."

"Shouldnít hurt to ask for cards. I hadnít thought about it because I never play cards much. Sure would if we had some now, though."

"Is it okay if I ask Ďem tomorrow, if they ask us again do we want anything?"

"Sure itís okay. Look, Rick, I donít want you to think Iím trying to tell you what you can or canít do. I donít necessarily know whatís best myself. The things I said this morning were just my ideas of the situation."

"Well, I think youíre right," Rickey said. "After that goof I pulled this morning, I wanted to ask. I just hope I can remember all you told me when they get me all stirred up again."

Ghant hoped so, too. He thought about it after they turned in to bed that night. He even included it in his prayer.

How does a man pray at such a place and time? Does he have to be on his knees, hands clasped in supplication? The observance of such a ritual is proper when one prays along with other men. In this way men show one another they share a belief, though hypocrites may observe ritual as readily as the faithful. But in communion with God, the Spirit, it is the thought and desire of the soul that matters, not the word or action. That night, as he lay in darkness, Ghant prayed: "Lord, I would ask for courage and strength to endure whatever is in store, and wisdom that I might do the right thing. And I would that Rick might learn to control his temper. Grant him the wisdom to go with his courage—if it be Thy will."






© 2002, 2003 by Lynn Waterman; used by permission of the author, Duane Thorin.