Sins Of The Mother

So they were a bit languid, paddling along just inside the reef, passing strings of islets like an emerald necklace strewn along the spine of the sea. Talking the multi-level language of new lovers,saying some pretty silly stuff for noted scientists. But in the mid-afternoon, Tuan pointed at a somewhat larger clump of greenery far ahead and said, “There should be a phone there.”

“Oh, yeah, the phone.” MeiMei felt one more stab of guilt at having neglected calling her parents. Then had the sudden thought, “How about you, OB? Isn’t your Mom worried sick by now and just waiting to make you guilty about it?”

She was unprepared for the bitter grunt from behind her. And the harsh way he said, “She’s dead.”

She stopped paddling and looked over her shoulder at Tuan, who continued to steadily paddlewheel the kayak forward. She thrust her paddle out so his would strike it, and held it there while he stopped moving and stared at her. She said, “You’re generally pretty good at talking. Tell me about it.”

He drew a deep breath and looked past her to the horizon. “My father was as All-American as they come. He was in the Navy. Retired now. He’s probably responsible for my noted ‘generalism’.”

“A sailor,” she said, just marking time while he got to it.

“An officer on a nuclear submarine. Most people don’t realize it, but submariners are the most educated military personnel in the world. Every man on a U.S. submarine is cross-trained to every other job on the sub. In a disaster, people get killed or sections flooded, so any man on board has to able to step in and do the job of any other crew member. No other branch of the service can make that claim.”

Intrigued with the size of that despite herself, MeiMei said, “Wow. So the cook knows how to run a nuclear reactor?”

“Exactly. Dad was a navigation officer going in, but after a couple of years on the Ashville and New Orleans he was also a mechanic, cook, gunner, nuke physicist…during the Carter admin he wanted to be physicist and peanut farmer. And he just kept on learning. He’s in school now…I think he wants to cross train with everybody on the planet.”

Let’s get back on the hot topic, MeiMei thought. “So he met your mother in the Philippines.”

“Yep,” his voice had taken on some animation, but slammed flat again. “Subic Bay. Ever heard of it?”

“Don’t think so. A navy base?”

“A huge navy base. Pubic Bay, the swabbies called it before Aquino kicked us out. And with good reason.”

He stopped for a minute and MeiMei waited him out. Then he shrugged, still without looking at her, and said, “San Diego has such a big Filipino population because a couple of generations of sailors married prostitutes and brought them home, then they dragged their families over.”

“Come on, Tuan.” she didn’t care if it was an exaggeration or not, she could see the hurt starting to ooze out of it.

“My mom, the war bride. And she didn’t change her ways much after she hit the States, apparently. Very common, you get these Flip fleet widow places, ex-Luzon whores hanging out looking for kicks and tricks. And mom was the queen of the crowd.

“Oh, Tuan. That’s really a…”

“…shame? I felt that way at the time Got me in fights. Might have driven me to the books. Definitely drove me to martial arts.”

“Any in particular?”

“Aikido, mostly. I always thought the best offense was a good defense.”

“That’s a good one all right.”

“You too?”

“Yeah, my dad was a devotee, used to teach me. Sent me to Roger Chun’s dojo–the most brutal sensei in Seattle. Then he developed other martial interests.”

“Such as?”

“NFL football.”

“Ah, the Way of the Empty Helmet.”

“Tuan…”

“Ah yes, our backstory continues. Dad divorced Mom and kicked her out when I was in like third grade. He told me she was dead.”

“Harsh. But maybe easier on you.”

“Possibly. I saw her a couple of times later and know what? He was right.”

MeiMei palmed the paddle to brace her hands on the gunwales and carefully turned around to face him. He stuck a blade into the water for more stability as she pulled off the tricky maneuver and ended up on her knees, facing him. She slid her hands along the hull until her face was a foot from his. She hadn’t had any idea of what to say, but as she faced him it bubbled up out of her.

“Give me time, Tuan. I’ll make it up to you.”

He let out something that could have been a cry of joy or a sob of pain or anything in between and reached to embrace her.

So they tipped right over into the sea.

Bobbing in the water, both of them laughed uproariously. He grabbed the turtled boat with one hand and pulled her close with the other.

“I’ve got all the time in the world,” he said. “And it’s all yours.”

Three hours later they were sitting in a bar on Tobacco Caye, laughing about the sign in fluent Belize Creole, “Ef you doan got 18 yeahs, you caan drink likah heah.”

And listening to the short, shiny-black barmaid tell them that nowhere in the tumble of little shacks and stilt buildings that comprised Tobacco Caye there was no telephone except some ship-to-shore rigs. They were on their second bottles of yeasty Belikan beer when they heard it coming.

Unmistakably some sort of aircraft. Tuan saw the Belizean girl’s face furrow in concern. Not seen as a good thing. He stepped over to the wall of the bar, the top half of which was swung out on a hinge to provide major ventilation and shade out in front. It came in low and fast, stopped on a dime beside the long, rickety dock, and settled down on pontoons. A large, military grade chopper, was his impression. All white and painted with obscure arms inside the logo “Armada de Mexico“. Almost certainly not a good thing.

He looked at MeiMei, who stared at the helicopter nudging up to the dock. Where their kayak was tied, bobbing in the propwash. Calmly he said, “I’d say we are going to end up talking to them.”

MeiMei nodded, her face drawn tight. She stood up, visibly squared her shoulders, and walked over to take his hand. Together they walked out of the bar and down the dock towards the patrol helicopter.

Two men hopped to the deck and nothing about them made Tuan feel any better. Except that they were obviously not Mexicans. One looked like the guy with the Ferrari on the old “Miami Vice” program, the other was wearing a trench coat and a very hard look.

In a low voice to MeiMei he said, “These guys look like the law. That might actually be a good thing.”

Yeah, right, MeiMei was thinking. She hadn’t cowered in terror under an inverted hull in the night hiding from gypsy ninjas. They’d been cops, too. In Mexican military craft. She gripped Tuan’s hand harder as the two walked down the dock towards them.

As they came up, the one with the forties’ hat stared at MeiMei and slid his hand inside the breast of his trenchcoat. Tuan gathered himself for a doubtless futile leap and felt MeiMei doing the same.

Then they were right on top of them and the trenchcoat said, “Are you Doctor Mayflower Chiang?”

Mayflower? Tuan thought, as MeiMei gave a guarded nod.

Then Denny pulled the cell phone out of his coat, handed it to her, and said, “How about calling your mother?”

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