Jack Parks liked to talk. The first time I met him, he said: “Moi, I’m a Jersey kid. Officially Jacques. French mother who taught me her language. My first year in college I’m bored stiff. Bugged out. Joined up to see some combat in ‘Nam. Try out the women there. Feel like a man. What the hell happens? I’m sent to fucking Congo, driver/interpreter for a light colonel who’s supposed to be advising local dogfaces. Do they want advice? No. Am I gonna see combat? No.”
I met him at the consul’s house in Bukavu. We were chatting over drinks before going in to dinner. Jack and South Carolina Lt. Colonel J. D. Bryant had arrived that day. They already knew that the local commander of the Armée Nationale Congolaise had no interest in the American military nosing around.
“Bryant’s a good ole boy,” said Parks. ”Keeps his own counsel. The J. D.’s for Jeff Davis. Long military heritage. Daddy and Grandaddy officers. Graduated from The Citadel, that whole tribe. Together three weeks. A week in D.C., two weeks in Léo. Don’t know shit about Africa, neither one of us, but we’re here to set things right. There was some fighting here, correct?”
Two months earlier, before I returned to Bukavu from the northwestern Congo, Lumumbist rebels attacked the town, coming north from Uvira and the postage stamp country of Burundi. American policy makers feared that Chinese Communists had established a base there and were training anti-American guerrillas.
The ANC blunted the attack and chased the guerrillas−−tribesmen was what they really were−−back onto the Ruzizi plain. Bukavu was now relatively safe. The local ANC commander, proud of his victory over the rebels, thought Bukavu invincible. He didn’t need a corn-pone American colonel and his twenty-year-old driver to tell him what to do.
“How’s a fella get laid in this town?” Parks asked. “Looks like it’s short of women. You tried African? How’s that?” Parks winked at me. “I’m asking for the colonel, you understand. He’s the one wants to know.”
The consul’s house, a mansion built during the Belgian heyday, stood on a bluff overlooking Lake Kivu and its islands with a backdrop of mountains. Parks might wish he were proving himself a real man in Vietnam, but this was unquestionably better duty.
The house was a kind of barracks, more a BOQ really, and had been from the days of the rebel attack. Since the consul did not regard Bukavu as immune from attack in the way the ANC commander did, a number of us were living at the house. Besides the consul and me, lodgers included a radio operator on TDY from Madrid and occasionally the crew of a C-47 that flew intelligence missions over rebel-held areas. Now Parks and Bryant. We each had our own room.
In addition, “agency” men inhabited the house, a lesser mansion, just across the driveway. Frequently all of us dined together. The consul’s cook provided us breakfast and dinner. We all chipped in for his services and the food.
Hardly a week after Bryant and Parks arrived, the colonel began to get restless. Since there was little to do at night, I invited them to come along on a film show Paul Wemboyendja and I were giving in Kadutu.
While Paul and I set up the show, Paul playing Congolese cha-cha music from his own recordings, the military pair watched our audience arrive. I noticed Bryant checking out the women. It was not hard to diagnose the restlessness problem.
“Your boss seems a little hungry,” I commented to Parks.
“The man is starving,” he said. “And I’m not much better.”
“Wemboyendja could fix him up.”
“He’s an officer. He wants a blonde.”
“He’s in Africa.”
“He may have tried that while at the Citadel – right of passage stuff. But he’s a colonel now. From Carolina. The guy’s got standards.”
“Where’ll he find blondes?”
“He’s seen them at the Cercle Sportif.” That was a social club, once highly stratified, now open to anyone with white skin. “We’ve heard there’s a real epidemic of hanky-panky.”
The consul’s house was not a good place for guys assailed by restlessness. It was out of town and little happened there at night. We read. We played chess. We did puzzles. The consul often fell asleep on the couch, only to waken at 1:00 or 2:00 in the morning and make his way carefully upstairs so that he would not grow fully awake.
We were men without women (except for those gazing at us out of Playboy, that staple of the barracks, and those moving languidly across our memories, thanks to the Italian love songs from the consul’s collection).
And except for the evening when his secretary brought him some papers. She was the slim, sophisticated, young Mme Gaillard, a woman of the world in the French style, also very business-like. I had known her the year before as Mlle Moutarde. Now, since she lived with Gaillard, Bukavu’s Volkswagen dealer, she was accorded the honorific Mme Gaillard.
Some of us did not much care for Gaillard. We thought he treated her badly, like a baggage. He never referred to her as ma femme (in French both my woman and my wife), but always as mon amie or ma copine (my girlfriend). Given the shortage of women in Bukavu, especially women as attractive as his companion, we felt she deserved respect of the sort we would have willingly given her. Nonetheless, she was single-mindedly crazy about him. She never flirted with any of us. No accounting for taste.
That evening her presence wafted perfume around the room. It stirred up vibrations. She enchanted us first by being female and second by being a woman who followed her desires. At this time before Americans lived together unmarried, her cohabitation with the VW dealer made her seem determined to follow her passions. Their relationship possessed an exotic, ultra European aura.
Joining our circle, Madame picked up a copy of Playboy. She cast a critical eye at the nudes and was not impressed.
She demanded, “How can you stand such fleshy women?” We just gazed at her, a woman.
The next afternoon Col. Bryant came to see me at the cultural center. Paul Wemboyendja was working at a desk in the office with me. In a rather military way Bryant said, “Could we speak confidentially?”
I sent Wemboyendja on an errand. Judging from the way he usually handled errands, he would be gone for an hour.
“Last night that Mme Guy—“ He stumbled at her name.
“Yeah. Savvy woman.” I nodded. Finally he said, “I thought maybe she could make some introductions for me. Could you set that up?”
“What would that involve?”
“I’d like to— Uh–“ It was hard for him to get the words out. “Consult her about—“ He shrugged. “Options. Maybe you could act as an interpreter. I don’t want that chatterbox Parks in on this. And I can’t very well ask the consul.”
I arranged that Col. Bryant and I should call on Mme Gaillard. She arranged to be sick that day, out of the office. She received us in her dressing gown, coughed now and then, and may indeed have been under the weather.
In my best, none too polished, man of the world style, I explained that Monsieur wished to make friends with a woman in town and to visit her occasionally, perhaps in the afternoons. “He understands that virtually all the women in town are married. His visits would be discreet. He does not want to compromise them or his position as a representative of the United States.”
“Tout à fait compris,” said Mme Gaillard without a blush. (“Completely understood.”) I withdrew from the negotiations. Mme Gaillard spoke enough English and Bryant understood enough French so that they could handle the matter from there.
As I understood what happened, Mme Gaillard escorted the colonel through the possibilities. She enumerated local candidates who had adventures and might be open to one with him. They discussed these women, their discretion, their marital entanglements and the kind of gifts they might want to receive.
When I rejoined them at the end of their discussion, Mme Gaillard shook her head sadly and said, “Hélas! No one.” Since Bryant had seemed very determined to have an adventure, I was a little surprised by this development. But perhaps the requirements for discretion could not be met.
A few days later when I was at the consulate, Mme Gaillard asked me, “Have the sittings begun?” I frowned. “For your friend the colonel.”
“Excusez moi,” said Madame, suddenly blushing. “I have spoken out of turn.”
I smiled. “The colonel is sitting for his portrait?” I asked. Madame shrugged. “With Mme DeTree? She paints, doesn’t she?”
“I really know nothing of the matter.”
Bryant was perhaps forty-five. Mme DeTree was nearing fifty, zaftig, companionable, and rather witty. I had known her as a sponsor of her daughter Chantal’s romance with Charley, the consulate’s former radioman. Charley had been transferred to Scandinavia and Chantal was living with relatives in Belgium. I recalled that Madame had a studio in her home and that her husband spent his days playing cards at the Cercle Sportif.
Bryant did not talk about his doings. After all who could forget that “Loose lips sink ships”? However, in less than a week he arrived for dinner half an hour late. He was relaxed and mellow. His skin looked as if he’d visited the fountain of youth. Parks examined him carefully across the table and lowered his face to grin.
As we went for drinks in the living room, Parks sidled up to me to whisper. “J. D.’s been on a bombing run.”
“Looks like he hit the target.”
“And more than once is my guess. Now how do we get me some poon?”
“Our radioman Charley used to go ‘girling’ with Wemboyendja.”
“No shit. I guess that means African.”
If we were men without women, we were not without pets, most importantly a bush baby.
“What the shit is that?” Parks asked when Bush Baby flew across the room and landed on the consul’s shoulder. The consul explained that Bush Baby slept all day and came alive at night, jumping huge distances.
“High-flying, bug-eyed critter,” Parks allowed. “Small enough to fit in your hand.”
The consul noted that Bush Baby had a drinking problem.
“No shit?” Parks asked. “Daddy must have been a koala bear. Mama was a raccoon and a monkey had been playing around that wood pile.”
“Watch him,” the consul said. “If he sees an open bottle he’ll fly over to it and lick around the top. Eventually he’ll fall asleep against the curtains.” The room’s curtains hung to the floor. Bush Baby slept there.
On rare occasions Père Nico joined us. He was an Italian priest, about twenty-five, rail thin, bad skin, of very Catholic orientation. He wore metal-framed glasses through which he seemed to regard us with skepticism. I had welcomed him several times into the USIS library; he borrowed paperbacks in our simplified Nouveau Horizons collection. He came around to the consul’s house not only to practice English conversation, but to escape the graybeard priests who had been in Bukavu for decades.
Père Nico hit it off with the guys that flew the C-47. Occasionally they took him along on flights to serve as a spotter. He had worked for a time in Uvira, at the north end of Lake Tanganyika, and knew the territory where rebels had camps in the mountains.
One day when the C-47 was doing a reconnaissance run over that territory, I flew with it. Nico was along as a spotter. The grass-covered mountains behind Uvira rose abruptly, majestically. Rebels lived hidden among them.
Flying over the mountains, sitting strapped into the plane’s doorless doorway, I felt I could see the entire world. Peering below me I could not distinguish the rebel camps. We fired bursts of shots at them and Nico waved his arms approvingly. He shouted at me, “We make them shit!” and laughed heartily.
The rebels returned the fire, trying to down our plane. I laughed at the excitement of that moment. Nico grinned and yelled, “Now we shit!” I rather liked the guy and was happy to have a European using the library.
But whenever Père Nico visited the house, Parks would shake his head after he left. “That ugly guy!” he would say. “Such bad teeth. Priests drag them out of junior high school, especially in poor towns. Seduce them with false promises about a better life. Fill them with conservative claptrap and keep ‘em in a cage all their lives. I’ll bet that guy’s never been laid.”
I listened to Parks’ assessment.
“Until I met this guy, I thought only American priests were clucks enough to take celibacy seriously. You think this guy’s fruity?”
“There may be more balls there than you think,” I suggested.
“I don’t like the guy. Every time he comes here, I wanta run.”
I had seen Parks chatting with Paul Wemboyendja and asked if Paul had put Parks on to things in Bukavu the consul might not recommend.
“African night clubs,” Parks said. “Meat markets. Hothouses for VD. I’m hanging out these days at the Cercle Sportif.”
“Anything going on down there?”
He gave me an enormous wink. “Too early to say.” That was a most reserved comment from this loquacious guy. I figured something truly earth-shaking must be in the works.
One night Père Nico came to the house well after dinner, looking deeply shaken. When he arrived, the consul was napping on the couch. Nico got a whiskey and woke him. The consul sat up, looking annoyed at being disturbed. “Victor is no more,” he said. Victor was his driver.
“What happened?” The consul shook his head to waken.
“He was killed. An ambush. Just south of Kamanyola.” Kamanyola had long been a rebel hideout.
“I was supposed to drive the truck he took,” the priest said. “It was mere chance I stayed behind.” He put his face in his hands, very near to tears. We got him some dinner.
“Can you stay the night?” the consul asked. Nico looked uncertain, but was clearly tempted. “Stay! Is there bed check for priests?”
Nico laughed at that idea and agreed to stay.
The next day Bryant and Parks accompanied him down to Kamanyola to investigate the ambush. There were no ambushes that day on that road and they were back in time for dinner.
Paul Wemboyendja and I went north for a week to show films at Goma and Gisenyi across the border in Rwanda. When I returned. Col. Bryant looked even more relaxed.
“How are things with your boss?” I asked Parks.
“A-Ok,” he said. “Sitting for an artist twice a week is good for his disposition.”
“You still hanging around the Cercle?”
He pulled me aside and spoke softly so that none of the others could here. “Matter of fact,” he whispered, “I’m doing a first bombing run tonight.”
“Who’s your victim?”
He grinned, knowing he should not tell. But so what? He mentioned the target, a longtime colon’s daughter Minou Morel who lived three houses down the road. I’d seen her biking. She was very scrawny, probably under age. Parks would meet plenty of bones and angularities in wooing her.
“She’s not too young?”
“They start young in Africa.”
“But you’re a Yank. Be careful.”
“She swears she’s eighteen. My guess is sixteen.”
“My guess is fourteen.”
“That’s when she lost her cherry. Her cousin took it.”
“There’ll be a zamo outside the house.”
“I tip him some CF.”
“That easy?”
“She leaves the window open. I crawl in and pleasure her.”
“Be careful,” I advised. “Charles Morel is a buddy of the consul’s. If the consul hears what you’re doing, he’ll go through the roof.”
Parks gave me a wink, confident he could handle the challenge.
We played a couple of games of chess. At 10:00 he gave me the high sign and left. The next morning he slept through breakfast.
Parks danced into my office at the cultural center that afternoon. A grin rode his face. He sat in a chair, spread his legs wide apart to signal he was ready for anything, laced his hands together, and placed them on his stomach. “Man,” he said. “Romeo did it. Julien Sorel did it. I did it. You ever read ‘The Red and the Black’?”
In fact, I had paid my homage to M. Stendhal. Sorel had gone through a woman’s window without invitation and never looked back. I was impressed that Parks’s French mother’s instruction had included such classics.
“Tiptoed through the back yard, trying to get the right window,” he said. “Climbed through. Into pitch darkness. It’s jumping off a cliff with a stiff dick. Land safe. Hear whispers: “Cheri! Cheri! Depeche-toi, cheri! ‘Suis enflamée!’ (“Hurry! I’m on fire!”) Shed duds. Scoot under the mosquito net. Falling. Land where it’s moist and warm. Ahhhh!” He closed his eyes. An expression of pure contentment spread across his face. “I’m going back tonight.”
Whereas the colonel never spoke a word about the art world, his well-being saying it all, Parks was a kiss-and-tell prattler. I supposed he detailed his adventures to Wemboyendja who could savor them with him. He gave me regular tours d’horizon.
He crawled through windows to enjoy the body of a teenager about whom he cared not at all while I was waiting for letters from Murielle DeMunck, for the mere joys of savoring her prose.
For a time Parks squirmed through Minou’s window every night, returning shortly before dawn to sleep through breakfast. Then one night at dinner the consul asked, “Where the hell do you go every night?”
“Me?” Parks sheepishly answered. “I’m here.”
“Like hell,” said the consul. “I climb upstairs in the early hours and sometimes stumble into your room by mistake.” Parks’s room was a small one next door to that of the consul. “You’re not there.”
“I must be in the bathroom.”.
“I don’t think so,” said the consul,
“He makes reveille,” said the colonel coming to Parks’ defense.
“You’re representing the United States government,” the consul said. “Don’t forget that.”
Once the consul had fallen asleep on the couch, Parks whispered to me, “Oh, shit! He’s gonna send me to the stockade. Fatso Judson’s waiting for me. You ever read From Here to Eternity?”
“Saw the movie.”
He began to bite his thumb. “I better not see her tonight. Will you go down and tell her I can’t come?”
I laughed aloud. “Are you out of your mind?”
“You won’t touch her, though, right?”
“I’m not getting anywhere near her. Telephone her. Haven’t you got her number?”
“Her papa will answer the phone. That’ll queer everything.”
Parks stood the girl up. He made sure the consul saw that he was in the house when he made his post-midnight journey upstairs.
Parks sought out Minou the next day at the Cercle Sportif, explained the circumstances, begged forgiveness, and agreed to see her again that night. He left about 10:00 and was back by midnight so the consul could check on him. Every few nights he stayed at the consul’s house so as not to push his luck. That became the routine.
A more mature lover, the colonel did sittings only in the afternoons and only twice a week. He and his amie varied the portraiture schedule so as not to raise suspicions of either the consul or the cuckold.
Then the consul got a tip that “hostile elements” might attack an American. The warning seemed mischievous, malicious, improbable. Who were the “hostiles” anyway: police? ANC? But the consul took the warning seriously. He put a stop to roaming. All the residents of his house were to be there every night. The colonel instructed Parks to stay in. Worried that an attack against an American would damage his reputation, the consul began to stay up late sometimes pacing the halls.
Parks rendezvoused with Minou at the Cercle Sportif and regretfully informed her that for the time being he could not see her at night. He suggested meeting her in the late afternoons, but she feared her vigilant father. Parks cursed his luck. “She’s the one good thing about this place,” he told me, almost with tears in his eyes. “If I can’t see her, I’m gonna go crazy!”
Then Parks’ luck turned. Unexpectedly the consul caught a ride on a C-130 and made a trip to Léopoldville. He would be gone two days. When Parks heard the news, he danced into my office wearing another of his grins. “Am I gonna surprise my sweetie!” he exulted. “Gonna stay with her the whole fucking night. And that’s the kind of night it’s gonna be.” He gave me the high sign when he left the consul’s residence that night about 10:00.
The next morning Parks appeared at breakfast, a very sour expression on his face. I was surprised to see him there. I assumed he’d miss breakfast.
He came to the center that afternoon. “Oh, man,” he said. “You’re not gonna believe this.”
“What happened?”
He shook his head in disgust.
“Is it over with Minou?”
“Maybe. I dunno.” He threw himself into a chair. “I’m into her room at 10:10 and outa my clothes. She’s surprised to see me, says, ‘What’re you doing here?’ like she wants to get rid of me. But I silence her with kisses. We have incredible passion. That is one warm lady. So I’m holding her, gathering the energy for Number Two. I whisper in her ear. ‘Minou, mon petit chou, have I got a surprise for you. We can do this all night.’
“She sounds alarmed.
“‘We’re in luck,’ I say. ‘The consul‘s in Léo. I don’t have to go home.’
“’What about the stockade?’ she asks. ‘What about that Fatso!’
“Isn’t that cute? She remembered. And I’m on fire. ‘Not going to any stockade,’ I assure her. ‘Right now I’m taking you to heaven.’
“So I take her again. Never been so good. My hand’s over her mouth because she’s moaning. And I’m laughing while doing what we’re not built to do while laughing. And it’s fantastic! Afterwards we’re absolutely spent. Blotto. Wasted. I’m holding her and we’re asleep in ten seconds.”
“Julien Sorel would be impressed.”
He smiled. “That was some feeling. Absolutely on empty. A little nap and we’ll go again.” He shook his head, leaned back in the chair to stretch. “Then, man, it’s maybe 2:00 a.m. We’re both asleep, lying buck naked on the sheets. There’s a sound outside. I’m immediately awake. Look up. Make out a figure outside the window.”
I laughed.
“Holy shit. Her Papa’s caught on to us. I hear him talking to the zamo. He’s coming after me.”
I leaned back in my chair, grinning.
“Noiselessly, as the window’s being raised, I pull the mosquito net from under the mattress. Her father climbs into the room and I slither out of bed onto the floor, hardly breathing. Then: What the hell? Guy’s taking off his clothes. Not her father! He lifts the net on the other side and slides on top of Minou. I sit up and look. Some guy’s jumping my Minou!”
I could not hide my amusement.
“You never saw ass pumping so hard. They both moan. Like she’s never moaned for me! His head falls beside her, exhausted. He’s smooching her face, her neck, her hair. I hear, ‘Cara mia, adorata!’ It’s that ugly dago priest!” He whispers, ‘Adorata, adorata!’” And am I PISSED!!!
“What’d you do?.”
“What can I do? I slither around the bed, put on my pants. Or are they his? Who knows? Take all the clothes. Put on my shoes, take his. He’s moaning, groaning, panting, suddenly snoring, and I’m out the window. Wave to the zamo and take off, laughing at the thought of that hypocrite! That bastard s’posed to be celibate! I think of him running home with a horde of mosquitoes chasing his naked ass. I threw his clothes in the lake.”
Minou came to the consul’s house that night. Parks spoke to her outside. He returned ten minutes later, shook his head disgustedly at the colonel and me, but said nothing. It was quite a performance for a guy so given to expressing himself. He did not go out that night.
The next day Parks came again to my office. He paced back and forth. “That bitch!” he exclaimed. “Told me that had never happened before. She thought it was me until she heard that wop talk.” He continued to pace. “Said she’d be more careful in the future who she confessed to and what she confessed.” He stopped and shook his head. “Fuck her!” He resumed pacing. “Said it was my fault. Claimed I talked so much about her that any guy thought he could climb through her window.” He kept pacing. “Bet for weeks she’s been screwing that ugly priest. That whore!”
When he returned from Léo, the consul relaxed the no-roaming rules. He also advised us to be careful if we went out at night. He had heard from the Monsignor that recently when he’d been out making a mercy call on a parishioner, Père Nico had been stopped by drunk soldiers, stripped absolutely bare and left to walk back to the rectory naked.
A week or ten days later Parks saw Minou at the Cercle Sportif. They patched things up. He went adventuring again at night, but less frequently and never for more than a couple of hours. “I’m leaving the graveyard shift to the church,” he said.
If Parks had romantic troubles appropriate to the young, Colonel Bryant continued his liaison in a manner appropriate to the mature. He never mentioned the affair, but came out of it with a decent portrait of himself, a lion on one side, an elephant on the other.