Back around 2007, Ren Miller had a dinner party for a mutual friend, known to his buddies as “Pig Pen.” He didn’t deny the nickname fit, because – though he had a neat, well-scrubbed appearance – he was perhaps one of the world’s worst housekeeper. He had Neanderthal habits when it came to picking up his room.
I knew this because we shared a suite at the “farm” during our CIA Intelligence Training. You’d go from my room through the bathroom to his room and see what you’d expect only from the cataclysmic destructive power of nature – or, as it turns out, the results of Pig Pen’s nesting.
There were individual trails of clothes as he disrobed and headed for the showers after a hard day of CIA training, that tended to end in a big pile of soiled and rotting undergarments near the bathroom door.
Around his bed were cracker wrappers, and books, and random things usually found deep in the woods or in super market dumpsters.
From a purely esthetic point of view, it was art, this room belonging to Pig Pen… and I don’t think the owner’s title – Pig Pen – does it credit. It was messy room to the 100th power. Pig Pen sounds like just messy, messy. His room was off the charts in another universe messy.
But he was a good guy. A fellow you just liked to spend time with.
But anyway he had health issues and had sort of dropped out of sight. Ren and I talked about him every once in a while especially if one or the other had a report of a Pig Pen sighting. Then through a friend of a friend, Ren got in touch with him and invited him to dinner.
In addition to me, there were several other friends of this poplar guy also invited… and Ren’s house is perfect for entertaining… so we had a grand time chit chatting about old times, and foreign travel, and aches and pains in the living room, before adjourning to the dining room for dinner.
Now what transpired there is true, and if you know Ren, ask him. Or Dick Santos, someone who did a favor for me once for which I am forever grateful – but that’s another subject.
To my right was Pig Pen on the other side of a friend of his he’d brought along, and to my left was a young girl, new to the Agency, that Santos had suggested I get to know because she had stories to tell.
Well the conversation never lagged as we took our seats and Ren’s wonderful wife began to serve dinner. Mid-meal, the friend between Pig Pen and me spilled his red wine on Ren’s white lace table cloth. Now the Ren Miller family has nice things, and that table cloth was among the super nice. The Queen of England gave it to him… or it was woven with linen personally blessed by the Dahlia Lama or something. Red wine on this thing of beauty – which should have not been left out for the indelicate temperments of Pig Pen, his friend and me – but there it was, now soaking up red wine from the guy’s spilt glass.
Sirens went off, people were screaming for ginger ale or turpentine or whatever each had heard was good to fix spilt wine.
And I was thinking, yeap, Pig Pen knew how to pick ‘um.
Not having a clue myself how to correct the major problem to my right – and certainly it needed no more than the half dozen people on the scene, trying to contain the wine crime… I turned to the lovely young lady on my left and we started talking.
She said without much prodding, that she was the product of her South Vietnamese mother and an American man she had met during the war.
She had a pronounced southern drawl and said that she didn’t know much about those early, early days in South Vietnam. Her American father had brought her and her mother back to Texas when she was two or three and she had been raised like any other normal American kid. She actually had the best of several worlds. She learned the Vietnamese language and could easily meld into the local Vietnamese community, or with her pronounced western features she could “pass” and be accepted into school groups of every sort.
The only thing was that she just didn’t like her Dad. It didn’t cause any great emotional grief, she and he just didn’t click.
And there was something else… she had her odd side, she said. She didn’t know where it came from, but she liked adventure, taking risk. When other kids her age would shy away from RTV hot rodding, she’d love it. Flying, parachuting, cave exploration, whatever, she loved the ideas.
The hyper emergency with the spilt wine on my right had calmed somewhat as people had retaken their seats… Pig Pen’s friend to spend the rest of the night sitting behind this toweled, wine stained table cloth that looked surprisingly close to something you’d have found in Pig Pen’s room.
But all that was back in this other place – here in Ren’s dining room. Me, I was in Texas with an American/Asian beauty coming of age, coming to understand who she was.
She said in high school, in some class, she had forgotten which, she had to write a short essay on what would be a perfect way for her life to play out, and she said the paper wrote itself. She just hit the key board at random places… and what her inner self said was that she wanted to be a mercenary. Carry a gun, fight evil, endure hardship and danger… out there, Africa, where ever.
Then her senior year of high school two things happened.
1) she applied to and was accepted into the Merchant Marine Academy in Great Neck, New York.
And 2) Her mother told her that the man she had always called her dad, that she just didn’t particular like, wasn’t her father. What had happened is that her mother had had a relationship with another American, and she was conceived from this union… though by the time she was born, he had left, and her mother had married this man my dining table parter had always considered her Dad. They had just always thought the best thing was to follow the course of least resistance and go with the obvious. Her mother showed her a picture of her real father and told her his name… Dick Mann.
And I almost spilt my drink. I looked up and saw Santos looking across the table, smiling at me, as if he knew why I was so suddenly surprised.
If she noticed my shock, she didn’t say anything and went on with her story.
She graduated from Great Neck and went to sea. Got married along the way, divorced and after a while got tired of the high seas.
So she applied to the CIA. And was accepted.
Hired she worked in the vault of the Special Operations Division where she had access to old CIA records of covert military operations.
One day she came across the name…. Dick Mann. She wasn’t sure he was her real Dad, or if she had just come across someone with her father’s name…. but then she searched and found a picture, and there he was, Dick Mann, “Bamboo,” the same man from her mother’s picture.
He was also a member of the small group of CIA paramilitary officers up at Long Tieng, during the “Secret War.” Who had previously served in Vietnam in a couple of capacity; one, the US Military and two, with the CIA assigned to a local unit – in her South Vietnam hometown.
The last five/ten minutes of this young lady’s story, I sat transfixed, looking at her, but for all the world looking at “Bamboo” who I had worked with for a couple years. In her chair talking, she moved like “Bamboo,” talked like him – and even looked like him. She had never met the guy, but there was no question she was his daughter.
Bamboo in fact had died many years before. Mortally injured in a car accident out in the desert of Saudi Arabia, he spent the last year of his life in a coma in a hospital near Newport News, Virginia.
But here he was… back… as if in fact he had never left.