Line of Descent chapter 4

Chapter 4

He sat in his hotel room. In front of him, spread out on the writing desk, were the contents of the Colonel’s envelope. The notes appeared to have been taken from two documents; a military resume and a resettlement report. They had been typed up, presumably by the Colonel himself. He decided to start on the military resume first.

Douglas Patrick Canfield. Born Buffalo, upstate New York 1947. Father, Patrick Michael Canfield, steelworker. Mother, Francheza Bernadette Pezarkevich, garment worker. Irish Polac, quite a mix. The blue-collar war, thought Krupmeyer. They were both flagged as deceased. The father in ’57 and the mother in the same year as Canfield’s birth. Died giving birth, guessed Krupmeyer. There was no listing of any brothers or sisters. No listing at all for next of kin. Orphaned at ten years of age, he thought, not the best of starts to a life.

Drafted in ’65. Boot Camp, Advanced Infantry Training, Ranger School, Fort Bragg. The Special Forces litany, thought Krupmeyer. Contrary to popular opinion, the Army was always on the lookout for aptitude and talent, and having spotted it, were careful to groom and develop the special few it came across in the pot luck of the Draft. Judging by the list of courses they had sent him on, Canfield had been an apt pupil who had responded well to the star treatment.

First tour in ’67 with IV Corps in the delta. Special Forces A‑Team attached to the Marines. Two purple hearts. Various merit citations followed. There was no detail on what the attachment involved. Whatever the hell Canfield had been doing, it had nothing to do with the Marines, Krupmeyer decided, knowing how almost suicidal they were when it came to inter‑service rivalry. Krupmeyer wondered how much editing the Colonel had performed while taking the notes.

He must have liked the life, because he had reupped at the end of the tour. The orphan had found a home. He was now career military. After a period instructing back at Ranger School, there followed a second tour with Eye corps up in the northern highlands. Long Range Recon Patrol. The LURPs. The LURP teams were the eyes and ears of the army out in the bush. Small lightly armed patrols that tagged and followed NVA regulars and supply columns, calling in fire missions and scooting out of the area before the artillery or air strike arrived. They were on their own, living in the NVA backyard on a mix of skill, luck and an almost permanent Benzedrine high. The NVA knew they were there and hunted them mercilessly. That added another Purple Heart.

His third tour had begun in January 1970. No details of the assignment beyond “liaison with local forces” was given. The notes jumped to April 1970 when Canfield had been captured. He had been aboard a B52 bomber shot down over Cambodia. The bombing missions into Cambodia, code-named Arc‑Lite, had been secret. Secret because they were illegal under US law. The plan had been to do a high altitude parachute drop sometime during the flight. There were no details of the mission, but to use that particular method of infiltration, it must have been deep inside the country. Canfield had been wearing a flight helmet borrowed from an electronic warfare expert called William Lesley. When he was dragged, badly injured, from the wreckage, the name stencilled on the borrowed helmet had saved his life. He had been wrongly identified as Lesley. The VC were under standing orders to keep downed air crew alive for questioning, especially anyone with technical information.

He had been passed back up the Ho Chi Minh trail to North Vietnam and then on to Russia. Moscow Bound, in the jargon of the POWs. It had taken the best part of six months to get him to Russia. By the time he was well enough to be interrogated by the Soviets, considerable time had passed since his capture and the technical data he possessed would have been well out of date. His interrogators must have tried but evidentially without success. If they had found out who he really was, they would not have kept him alive. It must have been a hell of a situation, he thought, his respect for the man’s durability rising. You could not tell them anything, not even that you did not know anything if you wanted to stay alive.

Krupmeyer had talked to enough ex‑POWs to have no illusions about torture. Everybody talked in the end. The only saving grace was how much you gave away and how readily. It was a slow and brutal game. They hurt you until you couldn’t stand it any longer, so you gave them something, anything, just for a rest. Then they hurt you some more, so you held out for as long as you could before you gave them another little piece. That’s the way it went on, for hour after miserable hour. Maybe you lost consciousness or maybe they lost interest for the day. Either way, you hadn’t given everything away. You’d stalled them for another day, you were still alive and you still had a few precious scraps you hadn’t given up.

That was a game that wasn’t open to Canfield. The only way out would have been to play up his injuries, pleading that he couldn’t remember anything but that wouldn’t have stopped them. That was an old story and they wouldn’t have swallowed it at first. They would have taken some convincing, continued on until they were satisfied he really was telling the truth. How long that took, only Canfield would know, he reflected soberly. The experience of torture marks a person for life and most people never get over it. It wasn’t just the memory of the pain but the indignity and shame of somehow not measuring up to their own unconscious standards.

He was swallowed up by the soviet penal system. There followed a list of camps and their locations. The names and places meant nothing to Krupmeyer. They spanned a period of nearly seven years, from 1971 to 1977. Seven years, while his country was busy writing off the whole episode. Forgetting it and getting over the national trauma of having lost its first war. It was already becoming history with indecent haste, as if it was something dirty and shameful that no one wanted to acknowledge, let alone talk about.

What was I doing then thought Krupmeyer, while Canfield rotted in the camps? Putting it all behind me and working at being a cop, aiming single‑mindedly for that gold shield of a detective. Closing the door and walking away from it. For me, it was all receding into a grainy black and white movie that happened to someone else. Except for the dreams. They were always in Technicolor, lurid bloody Technicolor. The real and the imagined mashed together into a non-stop horror movie that waited for him every night. Faces and places. Hot LZs and ghostly figures running in slomo through waving elephant grass flattened by the backwash of the waiting slicks. Running crouched, bottles of plasma held high above the casualties being carried to the hovering choppers in bloodied ponchos. Above, gunships circled, hammering the tree lines. So real, so vivid he woke drenched in sweat, pumping adrenaline, screaming. Left lying in the cold aftermath to wait for dawn, hours away.

Gradually the nightmares had faded. Not because of the pills or the alcohol, but through time. It was as if his mind needed to replay every incident, every terror he had been through. Compulsively review and replay it until it had become so familiar, so ordinary, so boring it could be forgotten.

That time was the worst. Jeanne had tried to be there for him, to hang on in there, hoping that the boy who had gone to Nam would somehow magically reappear after this difficult period of adjustment. This foul-mouthed moody stranger would gradually disappear and the man she knew and loved would reappear. It was touching and somehow pathetic. They talked and talked but he really couldn’t articulate the rage and frustration that burned in him. He didn’t understand it himself. Nothing in her experience prepared her for such difficulties. They were divorced within eighteen months, and it came as a relief to both of them. He shook himself, putting the still painful memories away and concentrated on the document again.

The list of camps was followed by a gap of nearly nineteen months. Then the simple notation that he had made contact with the American Consulate in Riga through a visiting American businessman. The name of the businessman was not given. Was Canfield just being cautious with the contact or did he want a third-party as a witness? Riga made sense. It was on the north-western coast of the USSR on the Baltic sea. If the Consulate didn’t work out, he could still try to get to Sweden or Finland from there.

Krupmeyer wondered how far the last camp had been from Riga. Escape and evasion on the grand scale. But this time it wasn’t going to become another Special Forces legend. He made a mental note to get some maps of Russia to locate the camps. The names sounded oriental. Somewhere in the Islamic Republics?

There was no explanation of how they had got him out. Just the militarese phrase “Exfiltrated 14th. June 1978.”  Krupmeyer tried to imagine Canfield’s feeling at that moment. Eight years of hell and now he was out. God knows how he’d felt. Exhilarated? Depressed? Krupmeyer tried but failed. He just did not know the man well enough.

His physical recovery had taken nearly a year. There were extensive notes on the treatments and procedures he had undergone. Apart from dental and malnutrition problems, the major items appeared to be surgical corrections to old injuries. “Rectify crush damage to pelvis and right leg.” “Cap off traumatic amputations, two toes, right foot.” “Reset bones, lower right wrist.” “Skin grafts, torso and pelvis, right side.” It was a long list that went on and on, with no indication of the origin of the injuries, just the terse medical descriptions of the procedures. The treatment of the psychological problems was just as exhaustive. Stress counselling, Abreaction therapy, Imaging, Drug Therapy, another long list, full of psychological buzz words, most of which Krupmeyer did not understand but one thing was obvious. The man who came back had been in pretty bad shape.

The notes ended there abruptly. There was no discharge date and no indication of what had become of him.

Krupmeyer turned to the resettlement report. It was dated 17th. May 1980. It was a brief free-form report that appeared to be a progress check on an individual who was never named, just referred to as the subject. The subject was reported to be subdued but stable. He had settled into his cover as an expatriate American and his repair business appeared to be going well. His health had improved. He did not want anything and had no complaints. Apart from a recommendation to lengthen the check-up period to a year, the report did not tell Krupmeyer much.

In pencil, carefully printed at the end of the page, was a name and address. Thank you Colonel, he thought reading it. Robert Conner, Braghan, County Wicklow, Ireland. Yes, that made sense. Put him in under a cover he could relate to. Somewhere quiet, out of the way, an Irish American coming back to the old country.

He read both documents again, making a list of points to follow up. There was nothing in them that constituted proof. No corroboration. No name but Canfield’s. Nothing in them that could not be denied. Lieutenant Canfield could have died high in the blue skies above Cambodia, in a burning B52. There was only one way to validate them. Canfield.

Krupmeyer sat back and considered the position. The only person who knew he had the information was the Colonel, and he would not be doing any talking. The meeting had seemed secure, but you never could tell. If it wasn’t, then the whole thing was blown already. On the plus side, the original documents the notes were taken from were still in place, there would be no hue and cry for them. As far as he knew, he had a free shot at Canfield.

Krupmeyer had told no one in the association about the meeting. He was obliged to report back to them regularly. Should he report this? He decided not. He had always felt the POW organisations were treated like flies in a jar by the Government. They could buzz all they liked but they were contained and under observation. There was a distinct chance that any report concerning Canfield would come to their attention. In their position, he would certainly have long ago infiltrated the organisation. This one was too important to take the risk of blowing it by reporting back. He decided to play it alone. He would ring in, saying he was going to use up some of his accumulated leave to take a break. Fishing in Maine, he decided tentatively.

Canfield was another question. He was now settled in Ireland for eight years. He would be about forty-one. He’d had enough time to get well settled in. This would blow his new life out of the water. Would he want to come back? What would he do if approached? The worst reaction would be if he disappeared. There could be no doubt that he had an emergency procedure to fall back on. One phone call and he could be spirited away to anywhere in the world. The chances of finding him again would be non-existent. I’d be left trying to prove a vanished expatriate American was really an American soldier who disappeared in Cambodia eighteen years ago, he concluded. His cover and papers would be perfect, especially the latter. They would, after all, have been issued by the US Government.

The best reaction would be if he agreed to come home and testify. The amount of information he could give would be devastating. It would force a full Congressional Hearing. A lot of elder statesmen would end up testifying before it. For once, the blood would flow on Capitol Hill. He knew the camps, the places and especially the names of his fellow POWs. The outrage from the relatives alone would force the Government to come clean. To act. They had all the leverage they needed. The Soviets desperately needed western aid and the public outcry would demand the freedom of the POWs before a penny went to them.

Even if he just agreed to tell everything, the information could be used equally well. Armed with that and the threat of a witness in the wings, Krupmeyer felt they could force the US Government to act.

How would the Government react if they found him taking an interest in Douglas Patrick Canfield? There was always the possibility that they would kill him. Worse things had been done in the name of national security. Loose cannons are safer if thrown over the side. Krupmeyer was under no illusions about politics and politicians. Beneath the soft words and presentation they were ultimately ruthless. Better that one little person should disappear than they should suffer an embarrassment.

The contact was going to have to be very careful. He mustn’t alarm Canfield and at the same time not alert any possible government surveillance. He needed a cover. He made another note to locate and find out more about Braghan, County Wicklow, Ireland.

The last item to consider was money. This investigation was going to involve a transatlantic flight, hotels and other expenses. Krupmeyer had some savings, but not enough. He needed money. His job paid a salary but not a generous one. He cast his mind around, thinking of possible sources.

One possibility came to mind. A businessman called Noushazaran. Krupmeyer had met him at a fund-raising convention in the fall. His son had been shot down over Hanoi towards the end of the war. He had never accepted his son’s reclassification from Missing in Action to Killed in Action, and had been a generous contributor to the cause. Krupmeyer decided to contact him that evening.

He re‑folded the notes carefully and put them back into the envelope, thinking he would have to find somewhere safe for them. He pocketed his notebook and left the hotel to find the nearest pay phone.

The next morning he went by taxi to the airport. He caught a flight up to Boston. He had not booked it in advance and was careful to pay in cash at the desk. The name he used was not his own. On arrival, he caught another taxi to the downtown section of the city. He walked around it looking for any possible tails. There were none that he could see. Satisfied, he caught another taxi to the main train station. He walked into it and bought a copy of the Wall Street Journal at a kiosk. He checked the time carefully. It was just coming up to half eleven. Nearly time. Emerging at the agreed pickup point with the paper tucked beneath his arm, he saw the limo pulling up. It was black and massive. He cringed, wishing he had emphasised more strongly his warning to Noushazaran to be discrete. He walked over to it and after identifying himself to the chauffeur, got in. He sat in the back behind black smoked glass as it sped out of the city and into the country.

It eventually turned off the main road and into a drive leading up to a large house. It was modelled on one of those southern mansions that sat planted in the middle of cotton plantations, complete with white pillars and a flight of marble steps up to the house. Straight out of a hundred Hollywood pictures. But this was the real thing. Real money. Around it sat carefully designed gardens with straight tidy poplars that speared up into the blue cloudless sky. A butler was waiting on the steps to open the car door. He ushered him up the steps and through the open front door. After taking his coat, the butler led him into the interior. Mr. Noushazaran waited in the study.

When Krupmeyer entered, Noushazaran was sat behind an ornate wooden desk. A small American flag and a model of a Phantom jet stood on either side of it. He rose to greet Krupmeyer, walking across the room to shake hands. He was in that indeterminate age band that solid muscular men reached in the transition from their fifties to their sixties. He was dark-skinned with a heavy moustache and a mouthful of dazzling, perfectly white teeth. Krupmeyer knew he had been born somewhere in the Balkans before emigrating to America. He had done well in America. The results were all around.

He greeted Krupmeyer warmly. Like most extremely successful men, he possessed charm. It was easy and unforced. You liked him on sight. Meeting him was a pleasant experience. After seating Krupmeyer, he went back around the desk and resumed his seat. He leaned back in it. His hands rested on the arms and he looked at Krupmeyer carefully before speaking.

‘What did you want to see me about, Mr. Krupmeyer?’

Krupmeyer had thought about how he would handle this meeting on the flight up. He needed the finance but was determined not to go into detail about why he needed it. He had decided to be direct and straight forward, Noushazaran struck him as being too sharp for any other approach.

‘I’ve got a promising lead. A very promising lead. It’ll take money to follow up.’

Noushazaran sat in silence, weighing Krupmeyer’s words. He leaned forward and picked up a fountain pen from his desk. He rotated it through his fingers absently.

‘Why don’t you want to go through the Association?’ he asked.

‘It’s too good. I’m afraid of a leak’ Krupmeyer replied. The man really was sharp, he thought, thankful for his decision to be as honest as possible. He would not have got away with any subterfuge.

Noushazaran mulled it over. Leaning forward, he picked up the phone and pressed one of the row of buttons on the base. ‘Reynolds, take twenty thousand dollars from the safe and bring it to us.’ He put the phone down carefully.

Krupmeyer was stunned. Noushazaran, seeing his expression, laughed. ‘Come, come Mr. Krupmeyer, it’s only money’ he said. His expression changed. ‘I’d spend every penny I own to get my son back, no matter how slim the chance.’

‘You hardly know me, I could just be screwing you’ Krupmeyer explained, still getting over his surprise.

‘I think not’ Noushazaran replied. ‘The Association has been the recipient of many large donations upon my part for several years. I’m no fool. I look at how it is spent and the people it uses. Even you’ he said nodding towards Krupmeyer with a smile. ‘You’d be surprised at how much I know about you. I think I can trust you.’

‘I can’t guarantee anything’ said Krupmeyer. ‘It may not even work out.’ His voice trailed off.

‘Mr. Krupmeyer, may I call you Gus?’ he asked, hardly waiting for Krupmeyer’s nod before he continued. ‘Do you know what America represents for me?’

Krupmeyer shook his head.

‘It’s a chance, Gus. A chance to become something more than you started off as. A chance to leave behind you an old way of life that doomed you to live like an animal chained to a plough or a slave in a nineteenth century factory.’ His voice rose with passion. ‘I arrived with nothing and I grasped the chance with both hands. I believed in this country and I still do. Without it, I would be nothing. Nothing’ he repeated, his hands cutting out from his body.

His passion subsided. He leaned forward on the desk and grasped his hands together, watching the fingers intertwine as he remembered. ‘When Ahmed volunteered my heart swelled with pride.’ He looked up at Krupmeyer and his eyes blazed. ‘I was afraid for him but proud. Proud of my fine son who would take up arms against my new country’s enemies.’ He paused remembering.

‘I could have made sure he’d never see combat but he’d have known. He’d have known and never forgiven me.’ A spasm of regret bent his face. ‘So I let him go. I prayed to Allah to love and protect him. When he was shot down, I was told there was a chance he was alive, a chance he was a prisoner. When the war ended and he didn’t come home, I was told there was no chance. He was dead.’ He paused for a moment and Krupmeyer watched the stubbornness and determination build up in him. ‘I cannot accept that.’ He hit the desk hard with the flat of his hand. ‘I will never accept that.’

‘I believe there is still a chance after all these years. A chance he’s still alive. A small chance but a chance. For that chance I would give everything I own’ he finished softly, all passion spent but the pain in his eyes was all too clear. Abruptly his mood changed, he became more businesslike.

‘This is my private line’ he said, writing a telephone number on the back of a business card. ‘If you need any help or more money, use it’ he said, handing it to Krupmeyer. Krupmeyer took it and placed it in his wallet. Reynolds entered the room quietly carrying the money. He placed the four bundles on the desk beside Noushazaran who sent him off for a bag to carry them in. Reynolds returned with a grip into which he carefully placed the bundles before leaving the room. Noushazaran pushed the bag across the desk to Krupmeyer. They said good-bye and Noushazaran walked him out to the front door to the waiting limousine and wished him luck from on top of the steps.

As the limousine went down the drive, Krupmeyer looked back at him. He was still standing there, watching the car depart. Krupmeyer left the place in a subdued mood, moved, as he always was, by the families of the missing.

© Pointman

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