Summary: How Lee and Khai might have met.
Disclaimer: All the characters of “Scarecrow and Mrs. King” belong to Warner Brothers and Shoot the Moon Productions. They are used for entertainment only.
Notes: This story begins in 1987 and contains flashbacks to Vietnam. Many thanks to Dancing Weasel for her input and patient proofreading.
Feedback: Please, but please be nice. If you don’t like it, I’d like to know why, but keep it polite.
Amanda awoke as soon as she heard Lee. He'd been very restless over the last couple of weeks, ever since Vietnam had returned to the nightly news. She saw him turn onto his back.
"No." He moaned and she started to reach out to him when he sat up. His heart was racing and he was in a cold sweat. He looked around, blinking, and felt a hand on his shoulder. Amanda spoke quietly, looking at her husband with concern.
"Lee, are you all right?"
He turned his head to see his wife sitting beside him. The nightmare was fresh in his mind and he forced the images from his mind and turned to face her.
"I didn't mean to wake you Amanda, go back to sleep."
His tone of voice worried her, it was too calm and she could tell he was keeping something from her. He turned to look straight ahead, towards the windows. Amanda frowned, very worried by Lee's silence.
"Lee, what's bothering you?"
He shook his head. Memories plagued him, things he'd never really talked about. He couldn't make himself tell her. She was too sweet and too wonderful to have to hear it.
"I'll be back."
She watched as he got up and left the room. Usually she would give him his space, but something told her now was not the time. She got up and went downstairs to find him standing in the kitchen. He had his back to her, staring out the window over the sink. She went to him and put her hand on his arm. He didn't face her, but continued to look out the window.
"Lee, please. I love you and I know something's bothering you. You know you can confide in me. What is it?" She put her hands on his shoulders and looked up at him.
He looked down into her deep brown eyes. He knew she'd always been there for him and she'd once said she was stronger than she looked. He took her hand and led her into the den and shut the door so they wouldn't disturb the boys. He sat down on the couch and she sat down beside him. He took a deep breath.
"You know that I was with Marine intelligence in Vietnam, before Harry recruited me for the Agency.”
Amanda nodded slowly, half-afraid of what he was about to tell her. She looked up into his eyes.
"Nixon approved raids into Cambodia on VC bases and supply lines. My unit was on a reconnaissance mission on the border, down near the Mekong Delta . . . "
Lee Stetson neared the edge of the clearing on the trail that would lead them to a village, one that had been on their side, and hopefully still was. He looked to his sergeant.
"I haven't seen any sign of them lately, sir."
Lee spoke with relief in his voice. He was tired of running into VC. They came out of no where and he'd seen too many villages in the hands of the VC. Sure the South Vietnamese were loyal to the Communists when they took over a village, who wouldn't be when someone had a rifle to your child's head. The sergeant nodded. They were almost there. When they finally came to the edges of the village, it looked perfectly safe.
"Looks ok, let's go see."
They were there to check on the South Vietnamese regulars who were they working on pacification and bring some supplies. Everything looked fine, perfect. The Americans relaxed some. Lee went on about his duties when he heard some children.
He turned around to see two boys. One about fourteen and the other about 12. He shook his head.
"I haven't got any."
Lee sighed. 'Probably the only English they know.' He looked quickly for Andy Hawkins, who knew more Vietnamese than he did.
"Andy! Get over here!"
The nineteen-year-old Marine from North Carolina walked over to where Lee stood facing the two Vietnamese boys. Andy had a knack for languages and was helping Lee get over the small barriers in pronunciation. Lee was determined to learn what he needed to know.
"These kids want candy. I don't have any."
Andy pulled two Hershey's bars from his jacket pocket and handed them over. Lee smiled and turned to Andy.
"Thanks. Give me a hand with this will ya?"
Lee gestured to the crates he was unloading. Both Marines turned their backs on the children and went back to work. Suddenly, Lee heard the click of a gun. He turned to see the children pointing M-16 rifles at them. Lee started to shove Andy away, but it was too late.
"I just got a bullet in the leg, and a trip to Saigon to recover. Andy wasn't as lucky. A bullet pierced his aorta. He bled to death before the medics got there. We were shot by kids Amanda. Children, like Jamie and Phillip. And people over here couldn't figure why we didn't trust women and children. They blew as many of us away as the men."
Amanda put her arms around Lee and continued to look up at him. He was looking straight ahead, his hazel eyes concentrating on something distant and in the past. She could see the sadness that his eyes held and remained silent, uncertain of what she could say to him. He finally looked over at her.
"I was in Saigon when they came to me about a mission into Cambodia."
Lee was sitting on the edge of the hospital bed. He felt pretty good, and not just because they’d given him something to fight off infection, but mostly because of the gorgeous nurse who’d administered it.
He turned his head to see a Major standing in his doorway. He stood up and saluted.
"Your doctor informs me you're feeling better, starting to flirt with the nurses."
Lee just glanced at the floor and back at the officer, not saying anything. The older man just smiled at the young corporal.
"I've got an assignment I want you on in two days. We're conducting an MIA sweep into Cambodia, try to locate some of the men we've lost on these recon and attack missions. You feeling up to it?"
Lee's eyes lit up. He definitely wanted the chance to get back out there and do some damage to the North Vietnamese. After all, they'd been getting away with murder for years, ever since this whole thing started. Nixon was the right guy too late, the man had guts and was willing to go after the supply, he didn't care what the whiny protestors back home thought.
"Yes sir. When do I go?"
"You're leaving this hospital now. Come with me, you'll be briefed at MACV HQ."
Lee dressed quickly and followed along. Two days later, Lee was getting off a helicopter with a squad of men and heading into the dense jungle of Cambodia, just across the border from South Vietnam. The helicopters were supposed to be back to pick them up in two days.
The three squads split up to follow their assigned paths. They were searching for three particular men, aviators that had gone down. The CIA had triangulated this area of Cambodia as where they were, assuming they were alive and free.
Lee hoped they were free, no body believed the story Hanoi put out about treating POWs well. The East Germans had written an article, pictures and all, and Time magazine had published it. Lee was not about to believe it. Sure, they'd signed the Geneva Convention, but so had the Nazis. Lee marched along, mentally deciding he'd rather be dead than captured, but if he was caught, he'd do whatever it took to escape.
Hours passed with no sign or signals from the pilot's they were searching for. It was nearing time to stop and get some rest. They were able to find a position that would give them some cover, but also a good position to prevent any sneak attacks from the VC. Lee was put on first watch.
"Stetson, you've been out in this jungle before, so I'm assuming you won't get jumpy out here."
"No sir. I won't. I know the difference between an animal and the enemy."
"Just remember kid, some of the animals are the enemy."
Lee watched Sergeant Kepler walk away from him. The man was several years older than Lee, a career NCO. Lee looked out into the jungle, all of his senses alert to anything out of the ordinary. Maybe, if this mission went well, his uncle would think he did something right for a change. Lee sighed, maybe . . . he'd thought that a lot, he'd hoped maybe once he'd be told he'd done well, on something. Oh well, now wasn't the time to be worrying about that. Lee straightened his stance and watched the jungle. He had more important things to think about than whether or not his uncle approved.
Hours passed without a sign of anything. He turned slightly at the sound of approaching footsteps to see his relief coming.
"Stetson. Anything out there?"
"Nope. It's been quiet."
Mills raised his eyebrows. "That's what I'm afraid of man. If it's quiet, they're out there, no doubt about it."
Lee just shrugged. Mills was two weeks away from getting a one way ticket back home and was determined to be alive to use it.
Lee paused and looked over at his wife to see her watching him intently. He hadn't even gotten to the worst of it. He took her hands in his, not sure that he could do this. She reached up with one hand to touch his face and looked into his eyes. She could see the struggle deep within them and knew for sure that he needed to talk, to get it out.
"Lee, it's OK. You need to talk about it, it's not good to keep things inside like that and you know it." She had wondered before if his fear of sleeping in the dark had their roots in his time in Vietnam. She knew he displayed less tolerance towards the Vietnamese than he did the Soviets. He'd work with a Russian and had even learned to trust one or two, but outside of Khai and his family, Amanda knew Lee wished the President would send them all back to Hanoi. She was beginning to see why he felt that way. She also knew she had to get him to finish talking about it, to get it all out.
He held onto her hands and nodded slightly as he looked down into her deep brown eyes. Lee took a deep breath and continued speaking.
"Nothing really happened until after we'd found one of the pilots. He was alive, but hurt pretty bad so we radioed to be picked up right there, instead of trying to get back to the pick up point . . . "
Lee stood at the edge of the clearing where the helicopter was supposed to pick them up in a matter of minutes. They waited silently, knowing their luck had been a little too good, but still hoping it held out. The sound of a helicopter could be heard in the distance, but just as the Marines began to hear the approaching helicopter, the rattle of machine gun fire broke through the jungle.
Sergeant Kepler ordered them to stay down and to return fire. Lee hit the ground. He couldn't see anything but trees, all he could do was shoot in the direction from which the enemy fire was coming.
"They're here, let's move out. Come on!"
Lee glanced over his shoulder to see the helicopter coming down in the clearing. They'd have to go fast, there were an unknown number of VC or regulars shooting and they had to get out as quickly as possible. Lee took up position at the rear of the group, continuing to fire. He moved backwards, towards the helicopter. The Vietnamese were starting to come forward, out of the jungle area. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Collins go down and moved towards him.
"Yeah, just in the arm, I'll be fine."
"Then go on."
Lee stayed in his kneeling position and fired as Collins made a run for the now departing helicopter. Lee could see the position was being over run, and he was running out of bullets. They had to leave, if they stayed, they'd be in danger of being shot down. Lee hoped Collins had made it and turned towards the enemy, firing his last rounds.
He wasn't about to surrender, and yet he didn't have much in the way of options. Getting killed now would have no effect on anything. If he was a POW he could attempt escape, possibly do some damage on the way. Either way, he was confident that his side knew he was alive and that could be his advantage. Lee held his rifle forward and slammed it into a VC who was coming towards him, he wasn't going to go down easily. It was a blow from behind that sent him to his knees. Lee tried to stand back up, but was forced down onto his knees, a gun at his head.
"Go ahead and shoot you damn. .." His words were cut short by a blow to his head that knocked him out.
Lee felt the cold, damp dirt floor against his face and sat up slowly. His hands were tied behind his back. He looked up to see he was in a building and tried to stand, only to find his feet bound at the ankles. He heard someone speak behind him and turned to see a VC officer come in, followed by two guards. He was dragged to his feet and the Vietnamese spoke.
"You are awake. You have committed an act of war, you are American spy. Confess, and we will allow you to live."
Lee stared at the short man. For a moment, his mind not certain of his circumstances, he wondered if they somehow knew he was with Marine Intelligence. He had to play this careful, he had to follow the rules he knew and hoped that those were the right ones.
"Stetson, Lee H. Corporal. United States Marine Corps. 5987352. June 17, 1951."
He recited the information with a detached manner. He was a prisoner-of-war, that was what he was supposed to do. His mind presented him with that single course of action, the one that was so clearly dictated by the Code of Conduct and the Geneva Convention. Ok, so he was in Cambodia, he was captured by the enemy, same rules, right?
"Corporal, you are not a prisoner-of-war. You are a spy, this is a neutral country, under the protection of Vietnam."
Lee forced himself not to laugh at that one. Neutral? Yeah, letting the Ho Chi Minh Trail run through the country, accepting Russian vessels in Sihanoukville Harbor, being on the US's side for a while, real neutral.
"You will confess."
He stayed perfectly calm. His hazel eyes were devoid of any fear as he spoke. Something was said in Vietnamese that he couldn't understand and he found himself being dragged from the room and into a small room. He was untied and the guards left him alone.
The four concrete walls were dark and the room that was roughly six feet by five feet and the ceiling was about eight feet high. He was standing there trying to figure out a way to get out of his situation. There was a thin blanket and mat for him to sleep on, a bucket sat in the corner and there was enough light coming from a hole near the ceiling that he knew it was day. Thoughts swarmed through his head. He really didn't want to die. He wanted to survive, without being a traitor. What about escape? They'd done it in WWII, he'd heard plenty of stories. A handful of men had even escaped from the Vietnamese, although he'd never met them. He stood up and started pacing, trying to collect his thoughts and figure out how to get out.
A clanking sound outside the door interrupted his thoughts. He turned towards the door and saw two VC enter, one with a tray.
Lee stared blankly at them. He was not about to bow to anybody any time, especially not them. Americans do not bow. He just stood there.
A look of absolute defiance came into his eyes.
"Go to Hell."
He wasn't prepared for the blow to his stomach and doubled over in pain. Once he was down they began to kick him and after a few minutes they left. Lee laid there for a moment before sitting up, holding his side.
"Smooth move Stetson. Couldn't you pick something better to get beat up over?" He mentally chastised himself and decided to pick his battles more carefully in the future. He looked around to see if they'd left the tray. The had, he looked over the food. Meat, some greyish rice and some water. He poked at the meat with his fork to find it wasn't cooked well. He forced a few bites down, very aware that he was hungry. He finally shoved the food aside and reached for the water. It was warm and tasted bitter, but he took a few sips anyway.
Lee's instinct to survive had taken over and he forced himself to think carefully about his situation. His side had to know he was alive, but would they announce it or try to get him out? It wasn't like he was a prisoner in North Vietnam, this was different. He realized that he had to be alive for a reason, there certainly wasn't a reason for them to keep him alive here, in the middle of nowhere where they could just as easily claim he was killed-in-action.
Lee decided to get some sleep while he could, he could think while he slept. He laid down on his straw mat and closed his eyes. He awoke suddenly to the pitch blackness of the room, something had moved against his leg. His skin was crawling and he heard a scratching noise. Lee blinked, trying to see something in the dark. He felt something again and jumped to his feet. He stood there, he couldn't see anything, and could only make a guess as to what it was.
Amanda wrapped her arms around Lee, feeling his body shudder with the memory. He looked over at her, he could see the love and sympathy in her eyes. He pulled her close to his body and finally spoke again.
"I figured out what it was the next morning when there was a strange trail on the dirt floor, it was rats. I'd guessed that's what it was, but didn't want to even think about it. When I came home I'd have nightmares when I tried to sleep, and the only way to go back to sleep was to turn on a light and leave it on."
Amanda just held onto Lee in silence. She didn't really know what to say. He'd gotten better about the light since they'd been married. He'd settled for the bathroom light instead of a brighter light in the same room. She'd bugged him about it, but finally stopped and now she wished she hadn't argued with him. She wished there was something she could say, something that she could do to help, but maybe simply being there to listen was good enough. Lee wasn't expecting her to say anything, it just felt good to talk to someone about it. He felt better already, talking through everything really was the right thing to do, and Amanda was a very good listener.
"It went on like that for about a week, maybe more. They kept me in that little room the whole time. I managed to swallow some of the food, but most of it was completely inedible. They finally came and dragged me outside. . ."
Lee's hands were tied tightly behind his back as he was lead outside. He blinked several times, trying to get used to the sun's brightness. He saw several VC and North Vietnamese regulars. They stopped a few yards away from the group of North Vietnamese officers.
"You are a criminal. A spy. If you will confess to your crimes you will be allowed to live, if not, you will be shot."
Lee stood there and stared down at the VC officer.
"I'm a prisoner-of-war and you have no right to shoot me."
"You are not!!"
Time seemed to slow as the VC Lieutenant drew his side arm and Lee was forced to his knees. He felt the cold steel of the gun on his neck and just stared ahead, trying to conceal the fear that was rising inside. Suddenly, Lee heard one of the North Vietnamese officers shout something and Lee was brought to his feet again. Lee only picked up a few of the words, but for whatever reason, they weren't going to shoot him.
Amanda looked up at Lee and spoke, "Khai?"
He nodded and returned to his account.
"Yeah. I didn't find out until later why he stopped them. I'm glad he did, but at first it was almost mercenary on his part. He had me taken to the interrogation room and started questioning me about LINEBACKER. I told him I wasn't going to talk and he just looked at me and sent me back to my cell. It was the next day when he changed tactics."
Lee was lead to another room. Inside, there was a table covered with delicious looking food--American food. The North Vietnamese officer who had stopped the VC the day before was standing next to the table. He said something to the guard and the guard left, leaving Lee alone with the North Vietnamese officer.
"Do not try anything Corporal Stetson, the guards would stop you before you had a chance to escape. I am Trong van Khai. I wish only to speak with you."
Lee just stood there. He was thinking he could probably get away with an escape attempt if he used this guy as a hostage. Lee's eyes remained emotionless.
"Corporal, you have not been eating well. I understand perhaps you are not used to our food, here in the jungle is not like the restaurants of Hanoi or Saigon. Please, sit."
Lee eyed the officer suspiciously now. Sure, Lee knew about LINEBACKER, but it wasn't like that was a huge secret. Did they know he was in intelligence? Was this some trap to get him to talk about something more important?
"Perhaps you think this is a trap? It is not. I merely wish to speak with you as gentlemen. We are alone, sit down, please."
Khai gestured to the table. Lee was hungry and it was all he could do to not succumb to the smell of the food. Hamburgers, chicken, vegetables, all the food he missed. There was even milk on the table, and he hadn’t had real milk in a long time. He stood his ground, determined not to give in.
"Corporal, you do not trust me and I understand. But, if I wanted to kill you, I would have let them shoot you. I only want to talk to you."
Lee just stared at Khai. He didn't trust him, why should he? He couldn't trust them. But, it would help if he knew what they wanted, then he would know how to fight. He slowly moved forward and sat down, never taking his eyes off Khai. Khai sat down across from Lee, and began to eat. Lee stared at him, unmoving. He was very aware of his stomach's increasing demands for food.
"Eat, please. There is nothing wrong with the food."
Lee's conscience finally decided that eating wasn't a sign of surrender. He needed to know what this guy wanted from him. Lee reached out and took some of the food. Khai didn't speak again and when they were done eating, Lee was taken back to his cell.
Lee was brought back the next afternoon.
"Please have a seat Corporal."
Lee sat slowly, still unsure of what was really going on. Khai took his seat and began to eat.
"Corporal Stetson, what do you know of Operation LINEBACKER?"
Lee just looked at Khai. Maybe they thought LINEBACKER was something other than what it was, or maybe he didn't know what he thought he knew.
"Why should I tell you anything?"
Khai looked silently at Lee for a moment before responding.
"I do not have to be kind Corporal. I want answers, and I will get them. I merely thought we could do this in a civilized manner."
Lee looked over at Amanda.
"That's when I knew that I had a chance. Khai wanted something, but he didn't want to torture me, he didn't fit the mold that I'd been told about, he kept them from shooting me and he made no attempt to try and beat answers out of me. He was hesitating and that gave me what I needed to come out ahead."
"Did he really want LINEBACKER?"
"Yes. Apparently Hanoi thought it was not only an air strike plan, but an invasion plan."
"What did you tell Khai?"
"Nothing then, we didn't trust each other yet. After a week, he was getting angry because all I was doing was throwing questions back at him. . ."
Lee sat silently across from Khai, they'd been through the same routine for the last three days, Lee pushing a little further each day, testing to see what he could get away with. Ho Chi Minh was dead, maybe that accounted for Khai's patience, then again, maybe he was the one nice guy in North Vietnam.
"I am tired of this game you are playing Corporal, perhaps I've been too lenient with you. I thought you would react well to this more civilized method as so many of your comrades have."
Lee believed in his heart that Khai was lying to get him to talk. He knew he was walking a thin line, they could kill him if they wanted too badly enough. Those words had to be meant to make him think that several POWs had talked--but somewhere inside, Lee knew that had to be a lie.
"Civilized method? Look, I'm not going to tell you anything. You're lying about cooperation."
"No. Maybe you have had it too good here."
"Good? You're breaking the Geneva Convention in every way possible here."
"You are not a prisoner of war, it does not apply here."
"I am a prisoner of war, and you're the one breaking the rules. I've been beaten up, nearly shot, fed lousy food with dirty water, there are rats swarming all over the place, and you are claiming to be civilized?" Lee held his tone of voice in check, just speaking normally and pointing out the facts. He couldn't afford to display any anger.
"You are the ones who kill civilians and interfere where you aren't wanted."
Lee stared at Khai, selecting his words very carefully before speaking. "We are here to assist the South Vietnamese. If Saigon really wanted to be a part of the Communist regime, the VC wouldn't have to hold guns to peoples heads. The Russians and Chinese have been assisting your government. I suggest you take a closer look at the situation."
Khai was silent, he stood up and had Lee taken back to his cell. Lee was getting a little worried he had over stepped his boundaries.
Lee paused and looked at Amanda. He didn't say anything. Amanda took his hand in hers. "What did he do?"
"He left. He was gone for nearly a month. He told me later that he was taking a closer look at things."
"What happened while he was gone?"
Lee shook his head and stared at the floor. Amanda could see he was close to going back behind his wall and not speaking. She moved closer to him and put her arms around him.
"Lee, please talk to me. It's all right. I know this is hard, but I love you and I know we can get through this, we have before."
Lee finally nodded and took a deep breath, he shut his eyes, trying to force back the tide of memories that talking had brought forward.
"Things got worse, again. I guess they wanted to make some points with Hanoi by trying to get something out of me. I hardly slept or ate. They questioned me several times while he was gone, some of the questions were absolutely ridiculous, and some took all the strength I had to resist answering just to end the pain. Khai returned to find me in pretty bad shape, that's when he agreed to help us, in order to help his own country."
Khai had Lee brought into his office. Lee walked slowly between the two guards and arriving in the room, he all but collapsed onto the floor. Khai offered a chair, which Lee accepted and sat down, facing Khai. Khai looked at Lee for a few minutes before speaking.
"You were right. There are many things which are wrong, but how to fix them?"
Lee looked at Khai, he wanted to go home, but honorably. Lee finally spoke.
"Working for us. If we had someone on the inside of the Hanoi government, we'd have a better understanding of what was going on, of what you're thinking."
Khai stood up and started pacing the floor. Lee was having an increasingly difficult time staying awake, exhaustion beginning to take control of his body as well as his mind.
"I was tired, but Khai managed to sneak me out and then hide me out at his house. He wanted me healthy to go back home, so he made sure I had enough food, water, and sleep for the next few days and then he got in contact with the US, through me."
"That sounds like a big risk, for both of you."
"It was. We were learning to trust each other. I already knew he wouldn't kill me, but I could only hope that the crazy scheme to get him to work for us and get me out of the country would work. He also had to get to the point where he could trust me. We became friends over the next few months, he became a great source of information for us.”
The clock chimed, informing them that it was almost two in the morning. Lee looked at his wife.
“What do you say we get back to sleep?”
“Sounds good, are you ok now?”
“Yeah.” He took her hand and led her back to their bedroom. She got into bed and watched as he turned the bathroom light out before coming to bed, plunging the room into darkness. She heard him take a deep breath. “I think I can sleep without that now.”
He laid down next to her and put his arms around her.
“Everything.” He kissed her and they soon fell back to sleep, Lee feeling like he’d released all the old fears and anxieties that had been buried so deeply for so long. He could really rest now.