Veil's superior, not Bean. A decision has been made which he is not going to like, Veil thinks, and Madison is here to make it stick.

'Captain Kendry, I presume,' Colonel Bean says, gesturing derisively at the half-naked men who have now moved to surround them all. He very much dislikes Veil, fears him even more.

'You picked a bad time to call a meeting,' Veil says in a flat tone. He addresses his controller, ignoring Bean and the ARVN major. 'We had visitors last night, and they left a mess. They may still be around. I imagine the Pathet Lao would dearly love to capture two American officers, one South Vietnamese officer, and a CIA field officer inside their borders. After they take our pictures and tape our confessions, they'll have us all eating our balls for dinner. I'm sure they've been tracking that damn helicopter since you crossed the line. If you wanted to see me, you should have walked in.'

Bean tenses and removes the safety on his rifle, while Madison glances nervously around him. Only the South Vietnamese does not react. He is a tall man, over six feet, and rangy. His face is as impassive as the Hmong who guard them. If any emotion shows in his almond-colored eyes, it is vague amusement.

'No time for that, Kendry,' Madison says tersely. 'I've got orders to make certain you hang on to your balls. You're coming out with us. Today.'

'Bullshit,' Veil replies without emotion.

Bean flushes and slaps the stock of his rifle. 'Damn it, Kendry, you watch your mouth!'

Madison holds up a pudgy hand, silencing the other American. 'Now, Colonel, just take it easy,' he says, looking directly at Veil. 'Everyone knows that Captain Kendry has had table manners, but he also happens to be a bona fide hero—and that's what's been requisitioned.'

Veil spits contemptuously, barely missing the CIA controller's foot. Bean clenches his jaw and looks away; the ARVN major stifles a yawn; Madison pretends not to notice. 'Stop trying to blow smoke up my ass and get to the point,' Veil snaps at Madison. He is aware of the core of steel beneath Madison's fat, but he has a very bad feeling about this situation and knows that he must constantly confront Madison in an effort to avoid being manipulated. He knows that he will lose in the end if the controller seriously wants something, but still feels compelled to struggle; Madison is always groping for the throat of the soul. 'We've already been standing out here in the open too long. What the hell are you people doing here?'

'This meeting is about winning the war,' Madison replies in a soft, dangerous tone. He does not take his eyes from Veil's face. 'A whole continent of gooks can't beat us, but American families with their sons coming home in body bags or running off to Canada can. That's what's happening back home, Captain; we're losing support, and if we lose enough support, we'll lose the war. You didn't run off to Canada, and I'm here to make damn sure you don't go home in a body bag. You've made quite a name for yourself, both back in 'Nam and during the time you've spent here—although God knows how so many people seem to know you're in Laos. It doesn't make any difference; we'll find a way to use it. Charlie and the Pathet Lao call you 'Yellow Beast,' Kendry. There's a big price on your head. Did you know that?'


'What America needs is a Sergeant York or Audie Murphy for this war, Kendry. You're it. You're it, not because I say so or the Army says so, but because some important congressmen and the President of the United States say so. As a matter of fact, the President is shining up a Congressional Medal of

Honor to go with all the silver, bronze, and ribbon you have. You're going to be our point man at home, the spokesman for this war. The PR machinery is being cranked up right at this moment. That good-looking face of yours is going to be in newspapers and on magazine covers; it's going to be on U.S. Army recruiting posters, and probably in comic books. You're going to be the subject of television documentaries. A very good writer is whipping up a screenplay for a feature film about you, and John Wayne has agreed to produce as well as lend his name to the project. You're going to be traveling from one end of the country to the other, up and down and back again. You, Captain Kendry, are going to put on one hell of a show. End of discussion.'

Veil is stunned into silence. His mouth is dry. The air in his lungs feels thick and heavy, like that of some alien planet.

'You asked for it straight, Captain,' Madison continues, 'so that's how I gave it to you. You're going to Tokyo for six weeks for a little R and R and some very specific instructions on how you're going to handle this new assignment. Needless to say, the poor innocents who dreamed up this stunt can't begin to appreciate what a truly insane, insubordinate son of a bitch you really are.'

Veil shakes his head. He feels shamed. 'Don't do this to me, Madison,' he says quietly. 'I'm a soldier, not a performer.'

'After Tokyo you'll come back to Saigon for appropriate awards ceremonies jointly conducted by us and the South Vietnamese. Then you're off to the States.' Madison pauses, nods toward the impassive Vietnamese. 'This is Major Po. He's your replacement here. I want you to introduce him to your people, and then we're getting the hell out—'

This is an exceptionally unpleasant dream, which Veil has not experienced for years. Since learning how to control them, he has trusted his dreams, for they have often proved useful to him. But he cannot understand why he should be dreaming of

Southeast Asia and events that had occurred so many years in the past. Unable to see any connection between where he was then and where he is now, Veil rolls out of the dream and segues into deep, restful sleep.

Chapter 4


Veil completed a third set of bench presses and eased the weights down onto the holding rack above his head. He pushed back his long, sweat-soaked blond hair, sat up, and studied himself in the wall mirror as he waited for his pulse to normalize and the satisfying ache in his muscles to ease. His pale blue, gold-flecked eyes narrowed as he appraised what he saw. There were scars, of course, including a puckered mound the size of a baby's fist on his right side where a lance of twisted metal had skewered him and collapsed a lung, but his body was solid; the muscles in his stomach, chest, arms, and legs clearly articulated.

Satisfied with his workout, Veil rose and walked to the showers, passing through a cloud of musky-smelling mist that was leaking from the half-open door of the steam room. He shuddered under an ice-cold needle spray for a few seconds, then padded down a narrow, tiled corridor leading to the pool.

He knifed cleanly into the still, blue water and swam the twenty-five-meter length of the pool under water, pulling rhythmically with his arms and using a powerful scissors kick. As he reached the shallow end he had the abrupt, alarming sensation that someone was stuffing a flannel rag down his throat. He surfaced and began to cough violently.

Finally the racking spasm passed. Puzzled, Veil took a series of deep breaths as he rubbed his sore chest and swallowed repeatedly. Feeling no lingering ill effects, he pushed off the wall and lazily backstroked toward the deep end. Without warning he began to cough again, and he barely managed to keep from swallowing water. There was a bitter medicinal taste at the back of his throat, and he felt as if he had been gassed.

The steam room, Veil thought.

He heard the familiar sound of soft, distant chimes in his head, and knew he was in terrible danger.

He twisted around in the water in time to see a golden shape angling up toward him from the bottom of the pool. He had heard no sound—no closing doors in the locker room, no smack of feet on tile, no splash as the man had entered the water.

Veil rolled to his left and jackknifed beneath the surface. A hand grabbed for his ankle, missed, caught hold of his left wrist, and yanked. Fighting against dizziness and a swelling pressure behind his eyes, he relaxed and allowed himself to be pulled toward the bottom of the pool. The fingers on his wrist were very strong, powerful enough to snap bone. He knew that he had to control his gag reflex, for he would drown if he coughed. That was what the man wanted; he had been gassed just enough to make him an easy target.

Veil reached across his body and wrapped the fingers of his right hand around the man's wrist. He pivoted a quarter turn, brought his knees up to his chest, and kicked under the man's extended arm into his rib cage. Despite

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