Chapter 6: Le Cabaret Boonie

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Status: In Progress  |  Genre: War and Military  |  House: Booksie Classic

Reads: 810

Le Cabaret Boonie.

“ Ok, this is a military issue condom, and designed to reduce, or eliminate, the chances of your little peckers becoming just another war casualty. Cut out the laughter! Yeah,yeah, I know it looks like a fucking M16 rifle cover. There is only one size available. So, if you aint a soul brother with the meat to fill it, then just knot the end!”

MACV Welcome to South Vietnam lecture, Health hazards, Da Nang Aerial Port, 1967.


When business in the "Social Club" started picking up in late afternoon Tante Bee liked to stand on a raised platform behind the club’s bar quietly sipping at her traditional Pernod, whilst watching and sizing up all those who came through the door. This wasn’t a door by any Western standard; it was a door by Far Eastern standard, being more a woven bamboo obstacle than a door. Hundreds, but in all probability more like in the thousands, of service personnel in a variety of uniforms, and of varying nationalities, had attacked it to gain entry, and exit.

No one knew for certain exactly how many, but the door must have been more stoutly constructed than on first observation, for it had survived intact quite a length of time. In the region of at least three to four years before my crew and I first walked through that portal into what seemed to be another dimension in time.

Tante Bee, or Mademoiselle Béatrice de Funès as she preferred to be called when being formally introduced, had chosen a decor which looked as if it had been taken straight out of a 1930’s cabaret club in Montmartre, or had formed part of the Casablanca movie set. The atmosphere created within the Club was such that it would not have been unreasonable to expect Humphrey Bogart in person to greet anyone planning to partake of that which it had on offer. However, it certainly sat very well with the personal style of the Clubs owner, for she was a little past her prime by the time 1966 had clicked over to 1967, and our first introduction.

Tante Bee could tell within a second of looking at any of her clientele whether she liked or loathed them. Fortunately, she took to us instantly as she had a special place in her otherwise iron hard heart of a businesswoman for that greatly misunderstood term, the virgin soldier.

The building that housed both the "Cabaret Club" and the "Social Club" was previously a VC friendly brothel which had been closed down by force-of-arms. This was done on orders from the local police commander after great pressure was exerted by our intelligence agency and "Higher-Higher" command. bought it for a pittance of its true value, thanks to the blessings and bribery of those in administration. She dusted it down and revamped it into one of the hottest spots to be found anywhere within the Delta region, where due to Viet Cong activity such human watering holes were becoming an almost endangered species.

As the club was situated but a few hundred metres from our operations berth when in Saigon we spent all of our liberty runs, and money, in there, and also whenever we had any off-shift time, or R&R. That sort of time only came along after we had hit something, such as an underwater obstacle, or a mine, and in doing so suffered sufficient damage to the hull or stern gear that would require an on-slip repair, or drying–out on the tidal mud.

Although via the"agency" I already knew about her previous life, stories always flew around in abundance regarding her past. Some of those being extremely lurid and just possibly believable, others were just stupidly fanciful and obviously grossly far fetched to the point of being outrageous fantasy.

One particular tall tale which was told with relish, and great enthusiasm, was that she had known of and helped in a mass escape from the penal islands of Guiana, this participation resulting in a very large cash bounty being placed for her capture. Another being that she had been the lover of a Frenchman of noble birth who had died of dysentery after eating soufflé of oyster, which she had personally prepared for him. Then upon his untimely demise grabbed all of the ready cash, apparently an exceedingly tidy sum, and ran for it before the relatives of the noble gastronome arrived to sort out his estate.

The latter tale being the one believed by all as to how she ended up with the finance to purchase the old brothel and convert it into such a wonderful watering hole, a relaxing oasis set in the middle of a watery world. Many a time the clubs cabaret performances involved indecent displays, thus making them a little on the seedy side for some, but for those who readily sought after it there was always depravity on offer, for a stiff price of course.

However, the real truth behind where she obtained the finance was told to me by none other than Béatrice herself, during a particularly intense monsoon downpour. As the rain hammered on the corrugated tin roof of the Club, with a crescendo of sound that made eavesdropping on any conversation impossible, she candidly informed me that her minder had recovered it from a burial place after its original owners had been annihilated by the Viet Cong. She had been given its location in the strictest of confidence by a family member of those killed. As weird as it may seem to some this was a generally practiced principle, for the Vietnamese never trusted banks. They buried the family wealth instead of entrusting it to some greedy banker.

The surviving family member, fearing for his life, refused to go anywhere near the family pile so asked Bee if her minder could do the recovery, to which she readily agreed. The price for recovering this treasure trove was 10% of the value, plus any unforeseen “outlays”. However, shortly after this agreement was reached the family member just up and mysteriously disappeared, vanished, never to be seen nor heard from again. Not that unusual as far as the administration of the war-torn South Vietnam was concerned, for at times people tended to disappear at quite an alarming rate. Obviously for Béatrice this was of the greatest convenience, and a particularly curious turn of luck in the extreme.

The rumours which surrounded her most certainly gave off a heady air of mystique and intrigue, which induced men to be attracted to her like moths are to the flickering of a candle flame. Many apparently had their wings badly singed in the process by her "Minder" come bar manager who was a moitié-moitié, French father and Vietnamese mother. This type of ethnic mix was never truly trusted by either side. More importantly Tante Bee trusted him, explicitly, and that was good enough as far as she was concerned, no one else’s opinion mattered in the calculation.

By military service the minder, bar manager, was an ex-French Foreign Legionnaire. He had been one of the thousands of French soldiers who surrendered at Dien Bien Phu. When the survivors of the siege were marched off to prison camps hundreds of miles away, he was amongst the very few who managed to break free. Just as well, for nearly half of those captured died during the march, or later in the camps.

By no means a giant of a man, but still on the somewhat large side considering part of his ethnic origin, and was strong as any Gaur bull and just as fearless. Being completely devoted to Tante Bee he was quite happy to give any alcohol filled drunken idiot, or self styled suitor, a lesson in how to conduct oneself in the presence of someone he, and we, considered as being a lady.

However, all that aside, there was one suspicion which was true beyond any doubt in that she, Mademoiselle Béatrice de Funès, was on the payroll of our intelligence agency. On a regular basis our boat would have to act as a form of armed water taxi, picking her up and then taking her back to Saigon where she would be met by an old black Citroën sedan and whisked away downtown to our Embassy located on Thong Nhut Street, and where the "agency" had the upper floors.

She also had a fetish for lingerie of the extortionately expensive type. This she had made in Paris by Marcelle Cousteau’s Fashion House for sophisticated Parisian women. The lingerie was of her own risky design, and she never missed an opportunity to display it in a somewhat lewd and erotically teasing way, much to the obvious delight of her numerous male admirers.

Béatrice measured everything in money, for money can get you anything she would gleefully claim to all and sundry, willing to hear or not. She adored money to the point of it being her religion. Like it or loath it that was her life’s philosophy. It had served her well for nigh on fifty years or more by the time we came to know her. Having had experienced first hand the trials and tribulations of being completely destitute, so I guess in all due consideration it wasn’t such a bad philosophy for anyone to have.

On one particularly hot lazy evening we were sitting at the bar on high stools, laughing, and guzzling away on locally produced spirits called “White Bird”, the same name as our little observation helicopters, when Bee suddenly walked over and whispered in a conspirator’s style tone, "The best way to stay in this business is to know something special about those that you do not trust, watch this man very carefully boys he is of the secret police ", as she lifted a hand and gave a half wave towards a guy standing in the doorway adding a plastic smile of greeting from lipstick caked ruby lips. We turned our heads following her gesture of welcome to look at the guy in the doorway who answered her acknowledgement with a curt nod of the head, then stepped into the thick cigarette smoke atmosphere of the club which swirled around him like a shroud.

Very spooky he looked within the smoke, and especially so as he was dressed all in gray. Hat, suit, shirt, tie and shoes all gray, even the skin covering his skull had a kind of gray pallor to it. The kind of pallor that is taken on after the chewing of cordite to get out of some Military task or other, a soldiers trick, which could be traced back to the very first appearance of cordite.

He then looked around with gray eyes scanning the place, just as deaths own messenger would when searching for an intended recipient of what was to be their boat ride over the river Styx. He locked onto us sitting at the bar, and then he headed over without making a sound on the stone covered floor by using a form of sliding, gliding motion. Ever since his entry, the club had fallen into complete silence but then the conversation buzz started again as if all others there were in total relief that deaths messenger did not require their company on this visit.

As the club slowly returned to life the gray man looked at me with dead fishlike eyes and asked  "Are you perhaps one of Béatrice’s lovers? “Taken aback by this flash of audacity from a stranger I answered cautiously. “Not that I am aware of, no”. He tried again with even more wanton audacity, "Does she love you?" demanded the gray man. Now I became slightly nervous and even more confused at the line of questioning, so I tried to answer with an air of nonchalance, "I have no idea whether she does, or she doesn’t”. Then even more demandingly and forcibly, "Do you love her?" , at the same time pulling a long thin stiletto style blade from his pants belt and began playfully prodding my nether regions with it. How could I have possibly answered that one without offending, considering Tante Bee was in the region of thirty eight years, and possibly more, my senior.

Before the situation took on an even nastier turn Bee sidled up and saved the day, and more probably my life, by saying to the gray guy "The man I could begin to love hasn’t even been born yet, now start drinking or get out, time costs money and so do my words". Then giving me an exaggerated wink moved back to her usual place of observation behind the bar.

The gray guy stood for a time in silence sipping at his drink and looking lost in his own thoughts, then suddenly turned, stuck a skeletal finger exactly at my heart’s centre, and said to me "I love her and always have, always will, so don't ever forget it.”, staring as if daring me to contradict, to defy his statement, and then quite unexplainably laughed with the sound of a neighing donkey. Then, turning back to the bar, he drowned his drink in one swift gulp and left, just as silently as he had arrived.

Now being in bit of a funk over the gray-guy, and having no idea whatsoever as to why I had been singled out for his interrogation, I decided just to call it a night. As I was about to leave Tante Bee pulled me to one side and gave me a hug, then like a mother would to her child affectionately patted me on the cheek. She said in a concerned voice, “If you ever come across an unmarked grave when out there in the jungle don’t ask who lies buried there, for if he is not careful he will be in his sooner rather than later!”

At that I had with binding conviction the understanding as to why our reluctance of going onshore was so vividly strong within us. For if asked where he feels the most secure, any service sailor will tell you that it may make you vulnerable sitting out there on the water in full sight of the enemy, but at least you have a good idea where he is. However, when you are onshore he could be anywhere, and can suddenly emerge from the most unexpected of places to take your life.

The crazy thing was, although serving onboard a 73 ft long floating target which stood tall above the reeds, and moved little faster than a fit man could run, we were actually starting to become a little detached from reality by fostering an illusion of complete onboard security. This had been slowly building up to a feeling of near invincibility, but in a very short time after meeting the gray guy that feeling of invincibility turned out to be exactly what it was, nothing more than a mere trick of the mind.

Submitted: February 17, 2014

© Copyright 2021 Sergeant Walker. All rights reserved.


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