– “Put the American into a conex tomorrow. Give him no blankets. Take off his shirt too…”
The warden of Ly Ba So prison camp takes notes of Chi Mai’s instructions. He knows very well that she will be among the future leadership of the Party. As for him, after thirty years of faithful service, the highest position he has reached is warden of this harsh prison. He had better listen to her. The letter of recommendation from the colonel in the Ministry of Interior has enough power to make him treat her with utmost respect. Chi Mai has full authority to make any decision related to James Fisher. She stays in a special room reserved for members of the Party Central Committee. The food and supply sent to her are provided only to cadres ranking at the Central Committee level.
– “Serve him the food for those in solitary confinement cells.”
She looks straight at the warden.
– “Leave no pail in the conex. Burn a few big logs nearby in the daytime. At nightfall, put out the fire. Pour water over the log. A lot of it. Pour water on top of his conex, too. That’s enough for now.”
The warden leaves Chi Mai’s office. Chi Mai sits with her palms under her chin, pondering. She looks irritated. The communist cadre has lost the beautiful appearance she had on the first day she interviewed James Fisher. She is quite different from the pretty, elegant cultural attaché of the embassies of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam in Europe, who was very popular in the banquets of the diplomatic circles. Communists are good in adapting to new situations. Chi Mai can go anywhere and do anything the Party orders her to do. She was having a wonderful time in Paris when the Party called her home. Chi Mai had expected she could spend a few days in Hanoi to stroll in the streets and meet with old friends after ten years of separation. She didn’t expect the Party would give her the assignment of brainwashing a POW who had been kept for eight years in the dense forests of Thanh Hoa Province. The Party thought very highly of her. Her leaders knew she could do it and requested that she make a determination to complete the mission.
Having studied James’ file carefully, Chi Mai considered him to be just a normal POW. Being a mechanical engineer, James wasn’t related to the military intelligence. He was held back and hidden just because he was the son of Mr. Allan Fisher, a powerful Republican congressman. According to Chi Mai’s evaluation, James was the American dandy type who was easy to be deceived. She thought very lightly of the American youth, especially those who were involved with the anti-war movements in Europe. It was Chi Mai who incited a lot of European student groups to participate in anti-war demonstrations. Chi Mai found that it was very easy to stir them up. They didn’t have the slightest idea of what war was. They were protesting the American imperialists just to satisfy their pride. In fact, they were a bunch of toadyish idiots. Chi Mai didn’t care about their stupidity. She took advantage of it, because her Party would benefit from the demonstrations of those idiots. Chi Mai had always believed American young men were selfish and shallow in their political knowledge. They joined anti-war demonstrations just to make it look like they were involved in international affairs.
Chi Mai found herself to be wrong after repeated interrogations with James. It seemed to her that no matter how clever and careful her schemes were, they could not prevail over a person who possesses the qualities of sincerity and integrity. James is such a person. Better yet, he grew up in a loving family, and received a good education from his parents, the kind of education that, according to Dostoievsky, is based on godly memories of childhood and faith in God. James’ sincerity is sometimes very near to what may be considered naivete. He is sincere in his suffering. James has said that suffering makes a person become mature. He has matured. He has matured under her vicious games. Now he can stand up, with his head held high, and say, “I’m sorry, Ms. Chi Mai.” He is sorry for he cannot betray his country. James is sincere and he will always be faithful with that sincerity. No one incited him to join the war. James became a soldier because he answered the call for duty, just like most young men his age. James loved his country and felt he had a duty to serve his country. His conviction has never changed. Chi Mai feels challenged by James’ stubborn reply. She is determined to break down his will and have him confess. Communists are always proud of their persistence. They believe they can accomplish anything by being persistent. Chi Mai believes she will accomplish her assignment. Her people have defeated the US armed forces. She cannot lose the battle with an American POW.
Chi Mai walks out of her office. She goes to the area where James will be kept tomorrow. The conex is ready. She opens its door. The rusted floor of the container is littered with dry feces and urine. The smell makes her want to throw up. This conex is placed in an isolated area, away from the prison camp. No other prisoners in Ly Ba So prison camp know the existence of a American POW very near to them. Chi Mai takes a walk around the camp. The afternoon breeze makes her feel better. She returns to her office. Although her boss has given her an unlimited time to resolve this case, Chi Mai thinks she must end it as soon as possible. Suddenly, Chi Mai remembers her first love in Moscow, a romantic love that ended in tragedy, causing her much pain. A feeling of sadness comes over her. Chi Mai quickly thinks of something else to clear that sad memory from her mind. She dares not think of it. There is something from that memory she is afraid of. Chi Mai can never tell what it is.
She pushes a button. A guard opens the door and enters.
– “I want the American to be in the conex. Right now.”
The guard stands at attention.
– “Your order will be carried out, comrade.”