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He was ushered into the conference hall on the top floor, where three men in dark black suits sat waiting for him behind a long and heavy mahogany desk. The youngest of them, who looked as if he just graduated right out of his college gates, was sitting in their midst; while on both his sides sat gray hair middle aged men, watching Nick with grim faces and tight lips. On the desk in front of that young man, a rather big tape recorder was switched on already, its reels turning in a regular cadence. 'Nicholas Theodore Spree, that's your name isn’t it?' 'Yes sir, that's my name.' Nick answered the young C.I.A agent's question with some hesitation. He was getting quickly used to the quite comfortable circumstances, though he did not expect such circumstances at all. There was no comparison what so ever with the intense and hard week, which he passed just recently at the military intelligence headquarters. These thoughts anyhow, were just his first few glimpses. 'Do sit down.' Said the young man politely. 'You must have been submitted to some unpleasant procedures last week. I mean the interrogations you'd to pass. But anyway there're still some questions concerning your rescue that are bothering us. There're some vague and incomprehensible points in your testimony. We've got a copy of it by the way, here in front of us and it’s our intention of course to clear up these points right away!’ He made a short pause, watching Nick intently, and went straight on. ‘Is there anything you wish to add to that testimony? Are there any details you might have forgotten or anything at all that might assist our inquiry?' Asked on the Saigon's head of operation's young assistant. His boss the head of the C.I.A agency in Saigon sat on his right, while his deputy sat on the other side close to the door. The three of them looked like respectable businessmen, representing some well-known firm. 'No sir I have nothing to add.' After all I’ve nothing to be scared of, I’ve managed to escape with lots of good luck of course. But in any case, I did it! I’ve survived! I did return alive and here I’m. He thought encouraging himself. Although never before I’d anything to do with such high brass, all those curious officers just last week; and these big and haughty shots right now...! He went thinking and cleared his throat, just thinking about it made him cough slightly. 'These of course are issues of crucial importance. ' He heard that young man last phrase. 'In which you could be of much help to our efforts, in describing for instance the persons you came across, the places you were kept in, but with much more details. When I say details I mean the effects of our bombardments on the Ho Chi Minh trail; the number of trucks that started the journey in that convoy; and how many of those trucks
managed to reach their destination? Where exactly was that destination? Well that's about the details we're interested in. You should be a remarkable source of information, and an invaluable one, if you really were there as you claim...' 'What, but I was there!' Nick raised his voice in anger. ‘Yeah we know all about it, it’s written down here in that testimony of yours. All right let’s start with that official, you claim to have met twice. Describe his features, his questions. By the way, did he question you all by himself? Was nobody else present there, while he met you? He didn't use an interpreter?' 'That's right, we were just the two of us, that’s how it was.' Nick answered his interrogator briskly, shrugging his shoulders, ignoring the first part of the question. 'What language did he use to communicate with you?' 'English, he spoke English.' What was that question for? What language am I able to speak except English! Don't they know it? He’s getting on my nerves, that wise guy. 'How was his English?' 'I could understand him, though he spoke as a Frenchman speaks it, the way most of them do.' 'I see.’ said the young agent. 'Let get back to the first time you've met him, where was that and when?' 'As soon as we've reached the villa, that building, the jail I was kept in, near Hanoi.' 'And you insisit you were all alone with him, is that how that meeting took place?' 'No, not on that time, those who brought me in, the lot of them stayed on.' 'When he was asking you his questions, what did the others do? Didn't they repeat his questions with anger, shouting at you?' Raising his voice gradually and repeatedly, the young agent went on asking. 'Didn't they shout at the top of their voices at you, the lot of them repeating his questions?’ 'No, they didn’t. He was the only one who asked, the others kept quiet.' He answered him utterly upset, failing to grasp the young man's sudden change of conduct. 'Is that so? And what did he ask you then, what were his questions like?' 'Just my name, rank and number, nothing more.' 'You mean you were not interrogated yet, not even once?' Wondered the young agent aloud. 'And on the second meeting, when was that exactly?' 'A couple of days later.' Answered him Nick quite readily. Things seemed smoothly enough again, he thought hopefully. The young agent seemed to move things fast. Just a few more questions and it will be over. He encouraged himself.
'Who was he? How was he addressed? He did have a name didn't he?' the young head of opertation’s assistant showered him with a sudden flow of questions, in a surprising switch. 'Didn't he introduce himself before you in some way? Let's say: I'm the man in charge here, my authority is such and such... I interrogated so many American P.O.Ws’, or my men interrogated so many American P.O.Ws’. Couldn't you pick up some clue... of a name or a rank or a status, out of his words or the way others treated him? There must have been some things he didn't hide from you!' 'I don't know, I’ve no idea...' Nick muttered confused. 'I was brought to that office and there he was awaiting me, all I wanted was to leave that place as soon as I could...' 'Don't you recall any more details of those meetings?' 'No, I really am sorry but I don't recall anything more.' Nick said shrugging his shoulders again with growing antipathy. He could sense a slight change of atmosphere among his three interviewers, the young agent and his two mute colleagues. They seemed quite disappointed for some reason. But Nick was getting tired of those endless questions, and he did not even bother to guess how the whole thing is going to end up. He had enough of it already. 'What was the second meeting for, then?' Asked the young man, barging in sharply into Nick’s thoughts. 'He said he wanted a friendly conversation, and kept complaining about our war crimes, and how righteous they are and all that crap, well, you know...' 'So as a matter of fact you were never interrogated, while being in their custody, no thereats, no torture of any sort!' Remarked mockingly the young agent. 'What else did he say...? Didn't he refer to your future in some way. Didn’t he have any suggestions to offer you? If you’ll comply with their demands?' 'There was something I couldn't make head or tail of. He said I was a hard nut to crack.' Nick recalled with a foolish smile, which darkened more than ever his listeners’ intent and grim faces. 'But why, in what sense?' Wondered the young man puzzled. 'I told you, I have no idea why...' reminded him Nick, “he might have tried to flatter me, make me talkative, that’s what I thought.” He went on in an effort to help the young man, the best way he could. 'All right!' Resumed the young interrogator after a short and embarrassed pause. 'How did he look like, was he young, old. Well come-on! You do still remember him, don't you?' 'He was old enough, about the same age of my own father I guess.' 'He wasn't a real old man then, of about seventy or seventy five years of age?' 'No, I don't think he was that old.' Nick Answered surprised.
'What about his features, did you notice any scars or any strange or irregular features, things of that kind?' 'No I didn't notice anything special about him, apart from a shock of white hair and an ugly wrinkled face – that's all I can remember. They all look alike to me.’ Nick added with an embarressed smile. 'I see, was he tall compared with the other Viets, or much shorter than the average one?' 'I don't know, he was already seated when I was brought in. He did look small to me, but how small I can't tell.' In his own subtle way, based on his short experience of captivity, and last week's interrogations; Nick tried desperately to convince his small audience, that he wasn't worth at all to be termed as a reliable source of information. But that stubborn young man, kept persistingly on! 'How did he behave during the meeting? What was he doing with his hands, for instance? Haven't you noticed any special gesture he usually made. Let’s say like passing his hand through his hair for instance? You know, these sort of things?' Tried the young agent the polite and friendly approach, once more. 'I can't remember, he must have kept his hands in his lap I guess, I didn’t see them.’ Nick answered him flatly. He was getting bored and in a way, did not give a damn for any of them...! Last week's interrogations at the Army’s Intelligence Headquarters were much more frightening... The older one of the two men on both of his interrogator's sides, coughed slightly several times. The young C.I.A agent glanced furtively at the older man at his left side, clearing his throat he turned to Nick once again: 'In your testimony, you claim to have passed some very subtle and peculiar brainwash treatment. The fantastic method you've described in it, is quite bizarre I'd say… We have a fair knowledge in these matters, I mean, we know well enough their methods; but anyhow, whatever you've described in your testimony isn't one of theirs typical methods, so the details in your testimony, simply doesn't fit in... Just why have you been taken north, all the way to Hanoi? They could have kept you in one of their centers, in one of their villages not too far off... That's what they usually do in every other case, which we happen to know of.' The young assistant made a short pause, sneaking a look at his boss. 'Well then, they didn't have to keep you up to date of course, during your captivity, but you must have had some views, some thoughts of your own...? Haven't you ever asked yourself the same questions, all along that time? Didn't you wonder what it was all about?' The young agent went on in his efforts to push Nick into a narrow corner. 'They wanted to turn me into a red, I guess… But for heaven’s sake, how should I know what it was all about? It was stopped suddenly I don't know why, I don't even know if I'm right in guessing so.'
'All right! Let’s skip it! You weren't tied when the chopper's crew whisked you out of there, how did you manage to release your hands?' 'Oh... they untied me as soon as we joined the convoy, I wasn't kept tied during the whole trip. I wouldn’t have dared to escape, I would have been caught right away.’ 'Do you want us to believe that they didn't tie your hands again before crossing the border. Or at night fall, at the burnt down village where you have spent your last night with them – not even on the following morning, which you supposed would be your last day on earth?' I'll never make them understand... Thought Nick desperately shrugging his shoulders in a gesture of indifference. Why bother then... I'll never convince those haughty “know all” bastards in anything at all! One of the two men on his interrogator's side pulled a cigarrette case out of his jacket's inner pocket. Glancing at him in silence, the young assistant cleared his throat and declared solemnly: 'We'll have a fifteen minutes recess now.’ Pushing an unseen buzzer he summoned Nick’s escort, to come and fetch their detainee. 'There're refreshments for the three of you, in the next room.' He added dryly, and watched them leave, taking Nick with them. That’s it I hope. Nick thought glancing back over his shoulder at the three of them, as he was leaving the room. He did not betray Nicole, neither during last week’s interrogations nor now! He did not tell them anything about his love for her, and nothing about their mutual escape plans. Why should he, when the little he did tell them seems fantastic and incredible to them. 'We are wasting our time,' concluded the boss, as soon as the door closed behind Nick and his escort. 'That grown up kid must have been scared out of his wits, or might even been driven mad temporarily and got lost out there in the jungle. No one can blame him. He did survive somehow, emerged on the scene right after that chopper shot those Viet's by sheer coincidence – was picked up and rescued by its crew, and that's all there is to it!' 'If that's so he must have roamed the jungle for six months almost... without getting in touch with the Viet’s, or our own troops – it can't be, it’s impossible... How do you explain his injury sir?' Objected the head of operation's assistant. 'Oh come-on, cut that stuff off, will you? He banged his head against some rock or done it on purpose somehow – his whole testimony is a fraud, pure imagination. He invented the whole thing. He had to, otherwise he'll have to face a firing squad... He is a deserter! Why didn't you switch off that recorder? Damn it!' He burst out furiously at his young assistant, and switched it off himself. 'You'll see to erase all
evidence of our talk, from the recess on! I'll add my own conclusions to it in my weekly report to Washington.' 'Shouldn't we have another try. I mean a recheck of the chopper's crew testimonies?' suggested the deputy. 'There's no need and there's no time!' Retorted the boss. 'Okay Jack!' He turned to his sleek assistant. 'You'll call your friend the general and tell him he can have his precious N.T.S. back; that mountain of evidence turned into another mole hill!' There he broke off for a short while, and watching them both, then making up his mind with more certainty, he added: 'Advise him to fly that poor devil of theirs straight back home, as soon as possible. Do it by the way, with discretion of course, and gently – you can't treat a senior officer of that rank as one treats a messenger boy!' He made another break, and raising his index finger in a warning gesture, to give the right emphasize to his next sentences. 'Tell him his client is clean, though the testimony he gave is a fake. Thus in our opinion, the best solution would be a dishonorable discharge, but a very discreet one!' With these words said, he rose to his feet ready to leave. 'May I have a word Sam?' Asked his deputy. 'Okay, shoot!' Answered his boss with some hesitation. 'That boy should be sent home, I agree. He was lucky enough to be rescued and there's nothing against him, as far as we're concerned. On the other hand, you can't ignore the fact he spent six months out there, he was left behind somehow, got lost – that isn't the point, but we can’t ignore the fact that he was out there, behind the enemy lines...' 'So what!' Barked at him his boss heatedly. 'What are you aiming at?' 'Just let me explain Sam. What I've been thinking is this: Why not use the case for our needs?' 'How, in what way?' 'He could be decorated before boarding his plane, what do you say Sam? It might boost our troops moral and besides, it’s a good story after all! That man survived the jungle, the Viet's – if he got knocked unconscious or got lost in some other way it’s none of our business; the fact is he was out there, and was rescued. It’s an act of heroism, his, and the chopper's crew! Now then, we may arrange a welcome reception, back home – which in our case might work miracles... We need it right now, we need any support we can get! There might be a change in public opinion in our favor. If you think I'm wrong, just say it, if you think I'm exaggerating – well, after all it might move things in our favor and we do need it badly, don’t you agree? There'll be enough politicians who would jump on that chance and turn things on our side again. What do you say Sam?' 'No way!' Retorted his boss back decisively. 'It did occur to me in a way, I'd some thoughts of that sort during the session. But I'll tell you what, the moment that moron meets the press, the Media's smart guys – he's lost
and so might we be ourselves in such a case. They'll crack him down and tear him to pieces, and we'll end up with a court of inquiry that shall bury us alive! We've got the chopper's crew testimonies from the skipper down, you read it didn't you? Not even one of them had seen him in their first run in, and he isn't a small guy! They saw him on their way back, twenty long minutes later. There's no difference whether he was emptying the dead Viets’ pockets, or whether he looked for food, water or ammunition; the point is he got there after they were completely wiped out!' 'That's exactly what we've got to re-check, that point might give us the clues we're looking for!' Remarked his deputy. 'We've got more urgent matters to deal with! We could have cracked that poor devil ourselves, couldn't we? I wouldn't have given him one full hour! But can you spare anyone for it?' He asked irritated watching his deputy with an accusing stare. 'No you can't! So, instead of furnishing them with the banal evidence for a court martial! That lucky bastard gets off the hook... Well, lets leave it as it is and get down to our own business. There's plenty of work on our hands, and it’s time to start things going!’
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