OLD PROJECTS REVISITED

 

AL DEVOE - THE MAN WHO WROTE THE BOOK

Al Devoe is a fairly new face at the NOLA office, but has been with ONI for fourteen years. At present, Al is our technical writer.

Al has had numerous experiences (some hair-raising) in the last fourteen years. After working as a base operator on the West Coast for two years, Al transferred over to the Singapore office where he continued to work the bases. While in Thailand, Al was robbed by river pirates. A short time later, an operator on a nearby station was killed.

In 1967, while in Nigeria, Al got caught up in the Biafra war, and when Equatorial Guinea achieved independence from Spain, Al was there. (The country later collapsed.) Al worked in Bangladesh, and was on a base in Vietnam right before the latter fell in 1974.

Shortly after the job in Vietnam, Al was promoted to party chief and was in Burma when he met his wife, Tin Tin Swe.

Originally from Rangoon, Tin was a general practitioner, and is presently a pediatric resident at Ochsner Foundation Hospital here in New Orleans. Tin's father, now deceased, was Minister of Burma Railways, and later Dean of the Burma Institute of Engineering. Tin's sister Yin Yin is a Doctor of Entomology.

As technical writer, Al authors operating manuals for new systems, as well as revises and updates existing manuals. Presently, Al is working on the Integrated Geodetic Survey Systems Operations Manual.

Lynette Waguespack

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Crosstalk, January 1986

THIEF IN THE NIGHT

It was the start of a long seismic job. The flat bottomed river boat carrying the Shoran station plowed through clouds of mosquitoes as it meandered down the Calabar river. Twelve hours later the boat slowly chugged into shore by the small desolate fishing village of Nmarasmus situated near the mouth of the river. The station site was located 100 meters south of the village along the banks of the river. Four hours after making arrangements with the chief for labour and rent, the 100 foot tower was up and a 20 by 20 palm thatch house on a raised platform was constructed. Two of the chief’s sons were then hired as camp guards; always a wise move.

The village chief was a friendly old fellow. He would come by every day just to shoot the breeze and see if I needed anything. One evening, he dropped by with a bottle of jungle gin, a local distillation from palm trees. It was a foul tasting drop. The addition of Coca Cola, though, really improved its delectability. I then introduced the chief to the ambrosial delights of jungle gin and Coke. He grinned from ear to ear after the first sip. After that, the chief and some of his cronies would come by every evening with a couple of bottles of gin, and I would provide the Coke.

Station life settled down to one of routine contentment. The station had been on the air for five weeks when early one morning I was awakened by a loud commotion outside the hut, I ran out to find the night guard yelling at a figure melting into the darkness. Pointing at the retreating figure, the guard said, "Master, thief man, he run away!" The guard then related the story, he had been dozing against the door when he was awakened by a noise. He looked up to see a hand reaching through the open window, trying to remove a transistor radio that was sitting on the Shoran transmitter. When the guard started yelling, the thief dropped the radio and fled into the jungle. Angrily, I told the guard that if the thief ever came back, he was to chase him away with the machete. A few days later, the incident had left my mind.

Things ran smoothly for another month. Then, one bright moonlit evening, at three in the morning, I was rudely roused from my slumbers by a blood curdling shriek, I leaped out of the cot and ran to the window where the guard was gesticulating wildly with the machete and yelling, "I chop him, Master. I chop him, Master," I looked out of the window just in time to see a fast moving figure disappear into the darkness. Looking down, there on the sill, glistening in the pale moonlight, lay the stubby ends of three fingers in a thick pool of blood. I thought to myself, "Holy smoke, this clown has really gone and done it." While looking down at those ghostly fingers reflecting in the nebulous light of the moon, all sorts of unpleasant retribution over this act of mayhem was conjured up in my mind.

About this time, the chief, along with the rest of the village, was awakened by the scream and came running over to the station. He asked his son, the guard, what had happened. The guard had calmed down a bit by now and was able to explain. He had been sleeping below the window when he was awakened by the sounds of someone prowling about on the platform outside. Grabbing his machete, he stood to the side of the window, raised the machete over his head, and waited. He didn't have long to wait before a hand slowly began moving through the open window. The guard swung the machete as hard as he could. The chief looked at the severed fingers, then swept them off the sill with the back of his hand,

The chief looked at me and said' "Don’t worry, we will find him. With only two fingers, he will be easy to recognize."

I felt as if a great burden had been lifted off my shoulders when the chief said that, and I could see there wasn't going to be any problem with the fingerless thief. The chief and I broke out a couple of bottles of jungle gin and Coke, then sipped what remained of the night away, and watched the sun come up over the bight of Biafra.

The thief was apprehended several days later at a village 10 miles up the river where he was seeking medical attention. When I left the area three months later, 'Lefty' Odamuju was still in the Calabari calaboose.

Al Devoe

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Crosstalk January 1985

LETTER OF REFERENCE

It was in the "wonderful" country of Nigeria during the mid sixties. The sun was shining at seven in the morning when we started ferrying the gear out to the station site by chopper. The site was a grassy tidal marsh, muddy at low tide, six inches of water at high tide. The site had been used before. There was a wooden platform two feet high to put the tent on and a trail of boards across the marsh to the higher ground in back of the village. The cement marker for the base of the Shoran tower was on the ground and under water at high tide.

After talking with the village chief and agreeing on land rent and wages, I hired a couple of camp helpers and ten labourers and by 4 in the afternoon the station was up. It had been hot, dirty work: I was wearing cut off shorts, a torn T-shirt and flip-flops, and by the time we were finished I was covered in mud. I paid the workers off and was sitting down to relax on the platform in front of the tent drinking some fresh juice from a coconut when he appeared. A young man wearing pink slacks, a well worn white long sleeved shirt and black leather shoes, was picking his way carefully along the boards across the muddy field.

The dapper young man arrived at the front of the tent all smiles and presented himself. "Good afternoon master, I am Kalawi Nmefetik, the village chief's son, and I want to work for you." I told him the work was finished and that I already had some camp helpers. I then asked him why he didn't come that morning if he wanted to work. He said that he was a clerk and didn't want to get his shirt dirty. I then asked him what kind of work he thought he could do on a base station. He said that if I wanted something done, all I had to do was tell him, he would then tell the camp helpers. He said that he had worked for the last white man that had been on the station and he had a very nice letter of recommendation from him. Smiling ingratiatingly, he produced from the fetid recesses of his grimy shirt pocket a folded, dirt stained scrap of paper. He smoothed it out on his knee and handed it to me. It read as follows:

To whom it may concern:

The bearer of this missive, one Kalawi Nmefetik, is the laziest, lyingest, most useless, conivingly scabrous SOB it has ever been my misfortune to come across. The only useful function this specious specimen could possibly perform on a base station would be to serve as a dummy load for tuning up the radio, and he would probably louse that up. I wouldn't hire him again if he were the last man on earth.

Regards, DT Zimny

Obviously, Kalawi didn't read English very well, and I couldn't suppress a chuckle. Old Ted always was a true lover of his fellow man. I pondered over the letter for a moment or two after reading it, then told Kalawi that he was overqualified for base station work. However, so as not to leave him despondent, I mentioned that four miles down the coast there was a permanent Decca site, and they would undoubtedly be glad to have a man of his outstanding qualifications working there.

He thanked me obsequiously for the advice, then left, carefully picking his way once more across the muddy tidal flats.

When last seen, he was headed down the coast.

Al Devoe

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Crosstalk January 1981

THE BLACK BARON

At an oil camp under construction in Nigeria, there was a heliport where about six Bell G-2 helicopters were based. The chopper company was American, all the pilots were expats, as were the mechanics. Some Nigerians had been hired as mechanics helpers, the idea, being that they would eventually become mechanics. One of the tasks of the apprentice mechanics was to go out and start any of the helicopters that were going to fly in the morning. The engine had to run for five minutes or so before they could take off. Meanwhile, the pilot would be in the tower, checking on the weather and drinking coffee.

One morning, one of the more adventurous mechanics helpers, who was out starting a helicopter, decided to become a pilot. Now this young man had been working there awhile, and every morning he would carefully watch the pilot as he lifted the machine several feet off the ground and proceeded slowly out to the runway. The aspiring aviator knew he could do it; he had memorized every move the pilot made, knew exactly how the foot pedals and the joystick were positioned. He knew which switches to turn and how far to turn the throttle. He had been diligent in his observations.

So on that bright, clear morning, after the engine had been running for several minutes, the Black Baron slowly lifted the helicopter off the ground and started forward. Everything was going according to plan. He was flying. He knew he could do it.

As the helicopter slowly approached the centre of the field, the tyro pilot was beside himself with joy.

But then something went wrong. Instead of the helicopter turning and going down the runway gaining speed and altitude as it did when the regular pilot was flying, it kept going straight ahead, two feet off the ground.

Unfortunately, the Baron had never seen how the pilot maneuvered the helicopter after it was off of the ground. Even more unfortunately, he had never seen how it was landed. The helicopter continued slowly across the runway, and across the green field alongside the runway. The Baron was mesmerized by the forest in front of him, coming closer and closer. When he reached the forest the main rotor shattered upon impact with the first large tree and the helicopter landed with a thump. Due to the low altitude and the slow speed he was traveling, the Baron escaped unscathed from the wreckage. The same, however, could not be said for the helicopter.

In view of the circumstances, the helicopter company decided they no longer required the services of the Baron. When they tried to fire him, however, they were informed by the Nigerian Government that they could not fire a man who's only fault was trying to better himself.

When last heard of, the Baron was flying the Lagos Limited.

Al Devoe

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Crosstalk, May 1984

NORWEGIAN FLAMBE

In the mid sixties there was a mobile operator by the name of Johnny Christmas Creek who had been working off the coast of Nigeria for a good while. Whenever his boat came into port in Lagos, Johnny would go and stay at a small hotel on the outskirts of town. The hotel was owned by a trader from the middle east who had done well and had a number of business ventures going. The trader's daughter ran the hotel for him. Johnny and the young lady fell in love and got married. The pleased parent presented the blissful couple with the hotel as a wedding gift. Johnny thought he might settle down and try his hand at being a hotelier, so he tendered his resignation and left the oil patch. The small hotel contained a restaurant and bar, as well as eight rooms. While Johnny's wife looked after the hotel and restaurant, John looked after the bar. Unfortunately, John made a better customer than he did an owner. Whenever any of the seismic boats were in port his friends would come over to the hotel and drink with him. John, being a liberal fellow, used to put all the drinks on the house. One evening John's wife went out, leaving John in charge of the restaurant as well as the bar. The kitchen staff had been there awhile, though, and could pretty well run things by themselves. John was in his usual place, behind the bar with drink in hand, talking to some friends. Around nine that evening one of the young Nigerian waiters came into the bar carrying a silver tray on the palm of his hand. The tray was piled high with a large slab of ice The waiter started back to the customers' table, and to do so had to walk down and across the bar room, through a short entrance way, then back up and across the restaurant. The waiter started out at a moderate pace. Due to the great conflagration taking place on it, the tray rapidly heated up. The waiter, who was carrying the tray on the palm of his bare hand, quickened his pace a bit. As the tray continued to grow hotter, the waiter continued to accelerate. It was only a matter of seconds before the waiter was running full til t through the restaurant, eyes bugging out, flames trailing behind him. The three well dressed African businessmen who had ordered the Norwegian Flambé to top off a good steak dinner looked up in disbelief. All they could see was the spectre of a pyromaniac with a tray of fire approaching their table at a high rate of speed. Alas, the poor waiter, who was only mortal, had not yet reached their table when the flaming tray became too hot for him to hold any longer. The three startled diners looked with total incredulity as the waiter's hand suddenly shot forward and sent the pyrotechnic tray flying through the air. The three gourmands sat mesmerized by the graceful arch the fiery dessert made as it sailed toward them. The tray landed upside down in the middle of their table with a loud splat, showering the three diners with flaming ice cream. The businessmen leaped back from the burning table, knocking over their chairs, yelling, and grabbing napkins and table cloths from surrounding tables in an effort to beat out the flames on their burning suits. John, who had followed the waiter into the restaurant, collapsed on the floor convulsed with laughter. The three Africans in their still smoldering suits pointed at John and said, "That man is crazy!" They then beat a hasty retreat through the front door, trailing wisps of smoke as they left. They didn't even stop at the cashier's to pay the bill, understandable I suppose. The hotel, already on a downhill slide, went bankrupt not long after this. Johnny, seeing that his particular talents were better suited to his previous occupation, went back to the old oil and gas game where today he is a legend in his field.

Al Devoe

And we all know who this was, don't we!

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Crosstalk September 1985

THE CHARIOTEER

We were doing a seismic job off the coast of what was at the time still South Vietnam. It was in the beginning of 1974, the war was still going on but all American fighting troops had already been pulled out, leaving just some support troops and marine guards at the embassy.

The boat had been out shooting for a month and was running into the port of Vung Tau for fuel, water and supplies. Vung Tau lies about 40 miles southeast of Saigon at the mouth of the Mekong river. There is a highway from Saigon to Vung Tau that was passable during the day but Charlie controlled it at night. At the height of the war Vung Tau was an in country R&R center. It had a superfluity of bars, souvenir shops and cheap hotels. Since the departure of the American troops though, Vung Tau had fallen upon hard times, A lot of the bars had closed and many people who had once been engaged in service industries were now out of work. One of the joys of Vung Tau were the wheeled carts, drawn by ponies, that were used as taxis. The carts were small, two wheel affairs. The pony was secured between two shafts that formed the backbone of the cart. The passengers sat on a seat mounted on the shafts right over the axle while the driver stood on a platform in back of the passenger seat. For a few extra Dong, the Vietnamese cart drivers would let one take the reins and assume command of the cart.

That evening the crew went out on the town. One member of the crew was a mobile operator, a gentleman by the name of Mortimer Clavicle. Mort, or the fatman as he was more commonly known amongst his friends, due to his vast girth, was a man of action. As the evening progressed, the boys became more and more boisterous and began engaging in the pony cart races. However, due to the darkness and the inebriated state most of the contestants were in, they couldn't have much of a race. They kept running in to each other and falling out of the carts. It was finally decided to have an official race the next day. Arrangements were made with the Vietnamese drivers to have their carts at the hotel the next morning. The starting line would be in front of the hotel. When the fatman became aware of the race he threw down the gauntlet to all comers.

At eight o'clock five carts were lined up in front of the hotel. The sun was shining brightly, a light breeze was blowing out to sea. Four of the contestants were already in their respective carts at the starting line. They were just waiting on the fatman to make his appearance. The front door of the hotel flew open and out bounded Mort. He looked splendid in his yellow and blue bathing suit and with a red table cloth tied about his neck, cape fashion. A short bow to acknowledge the crowd of onlookers gathered to watch the race, then he dashed over to the starting line and leaped into his cart.

They were off and running, all except the fatman, that is, When Mort leaped into the cart, all five ponies broke into a gallop, however, only four of the ponies had their feet on the ground. The fatman's pony was up in the air, suspended between the cart's shafts, feet frantically pawing away at the nothingness beneath them. It was a sight to behold. When Mort hurled his massive bulk into the back of the cart, there was just too much weight behind the axle. The back of the cart went to the ground and the pony in front went up in the air.

The crowd of Vietnamese who had gathered to watch the race were amazed, they had never seen anything quite like this. Boisterous laughter and gesticulating over took the crowd of onlookers. The cart driver attempted to go to the rescue of his pony. He tried to grab the reins as Mort descended from the cart but the terrified pony was in such an agitated state that the driver couldn't get a good grasp on the reins.

Once Mort alit from the cart, the pony, whose feet were still churning away, hit the ground. His feet never missed a beat, and he took off like a bolt of lightning, pulling the empty cart behind him haphazardly down the street. The cart driver was last seen chasing frantically after his steed, yelling wildly, arms waving in the air as he disappeared.

The fatman surveyed the scene, gave the throng of astounded spectators a polite bob of the head, then turned and walked back into the hotel. He went out through the back to the pool, plopped down onto a sun-shaded wicker chair on the poolside veranda and ordered a well deserved drink. It had been a trying morning.

Al DeVoe

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Crosstalk January 1983

CHANGE OVER

It was evening, and I was sitting at the bar of the hotel with the rest of the crew, having a beer and watching the news on television. Lagos had one TV station. This broadcast about four hours a night, from 6 to 10 pm, in English, the official language. The station carried mainly local news and various shows imported from England. The Minister of Transportation appeared on the news program and announced there would be a change over from driving on the left, to driving on the right. Nigeria, as a former British colony, had been following the British system of driving on the left hand side of the road, now it had been decided, so as to tie in better with the ex French countries bordering Nigeria, to change over and drive on the right. The minister announced that the change over would take place within two weeks, and that it would be implemented in two stages. During the first week, only taxis, buses and commercial vehicles would make the change over. Then during the second week all private vehicles would make the change over. This would help to alleviate a lot of the confusion that was bound to occur if everyone changed at the same time.

In the bar, we all thought this was an excellent idea and many toasts to the minister’s health were drunk that night. As it turned out he was going to need them. The next morning's newspaper carried the story of the change over. I thought perhaps I’d had too much to drink the night before and didn't understand last night's announcement correctly, but there it was, in black and white, taxis, buses and commercial vehicles one week, private vehicles the following week. Amazing!

That evening in the bar we made a special point of watching the news. Toward the end of the newscast it was announced that the Minister of Transport, in a sudden fit of patriotism, had resigned his post and volunteered to drive a jeep on the Biafran War front. A number of his staff had volunteered along with him. The last item on the news was an announcement by the new Minister of Transportation that, after closely looking into the situation, he felt there would not be as much confusion as first anticipated when the change over occurred. Therefore, all vehicles would change over on the same day.

Al DeVoe

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Crosstalk November 1980

ANTHROPOID IN MOTION

In 1967, ONI was doing a job off of the Nigerian coast, working out of an old Shell camp at the mouth of the Escravos river. One evening, when we were at the camp, we had a friendly game of poker in the room of one of the Shell people. This fellow had a pet monkey and the monkey used to sit on the blade of an old fashioned ceiling fan that was located in the centre of the room. The fan was controlled by a rheostat on the wall by the door. The fan was set to its slowest speed and the monkey sat happily on one of the blades observing the progress of the game as he slowly spun through the humid air.

While the game was underway and everyone’s attention was directed on the cards, a prankster approached the doorway, put his arm through, and turned up the rheostat to full bore. As the speed of the fan started to increase the monkey began chattering and hung on to the blade for dear life. As the speed continued to increase, the monkey, who by this time was lying flat on the blade with his arms and legs wrapped around it and his head toward the centre of the fan, lost control of his bowels, the contents of which were immediately splattered all over the room and its occupants.

The poker game ceased abruptly at this time as all the participants made a mad dash for the door in hot pursuit of the perpetrator of this foul deed. The unholy miscreant, fortunately for himself, promptly disappeared into the dark Nigerian night.

There was a lot of shower taking in old Escravos that evening.

Al DeVoe

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Crosstalk July 1985

TOBRUK

It was going to be a two month seismic job along the eastern coast of Libya. The party chief, Beauregard M Bezzle (Hoss), and I, were driving down a hard gravel track eastward out of Tobruk. The battered old green Land Rover had seen better days, and the dilapidated Fiat truck following us with the station gear was in even worse shape. It was difficult to stay on the right road, what with the cracked, dusty windshield, and the only thing to mark the course were the tracks of previous vehicles. Every now and then we would pass the rusting hulk of a halftrack or tank half buried in the sand and gravel, mute testimony to the fierce battles waged here during the North African campaigns of World War II. Twenty miles east of Tobruk we turned off the track and headed north toward the coast. It was only two miles to the coast and the small fishing village of Al Guahar. The reason for the existence of the village was a shallow well that provided a brackish but potable water, and a few date palms. A few dozen goats wandered about and a number of camels were also to be seen.

We asked around and found a feeble old man who knew where the survey marker was. After some tea, he hobbled into the back of the Land Rover and off we went. Eastward, right down the beach. We had gone about a mile and a half when Abdul, the old man, pointed to a low cairn and said to stop. We got out and looked, at the base of the cairn was the old Italian marker we were looking for. We got the station set up and sent the truck back to Tobruk. Abdul was hired as a camp helper. His only function was to fill up two jerry jugs with water at the village each day and bring them to the station, a task just barely within his capabilities.

Hoss left for town, he dropped Abdul off at the village on his way back. I set about getting the station livable. Around eight the next morning Abdul showed up at the station riding a camel that had two jerry jugs of water tied across it's back. The camel belonged to Abdul s brother, who let him use it for a percentage of his wages. Abdul stayed at the station for a couple of hours, drinking tea, then left for the village around ten am, before it got too hot.

Station life settled into a routine. I would get up about six and go for a walk along the beach, or into the desert, while the day was still relatively cool. Occasionally during these walks across the desolate wastes, I would come across the twisted steel skeleton of a rusting combat vehicle, slowly being eaten away by the desert, a gaunt reminder of the ultimate futility of war. After the walk it was back to camp where Abdul would show up around eight and drink tea for a couple of hours. During the afternoons I would try to sleep and ignore the heat of the day, it wasn’t really possible though. In the evening I would go for another short walk, read for a while, then to sleep.

The station had been up and running for a month when one morning as Abdul was preparing to leave for the village he noticed a large black cloud coming toward us. It was a sand storm. We tied the side flaps down, tied the front and rear openings shut as tightly as possible then just waited. The storm hit like a hammer. It was fierce. First a deadly stillness, then the tent shaking and groaning, the wind roaring and howling, trying to get at us. The generator outside ran for about another minute than went silent. There was no way to keep the sand out, it was everywhere. Even breathing through wet towels the sand clogged up our nostrils, got under our eye lids, and caked our throats, there was nothing to do but huddle on the ground and wait for it to pass.

That evening the sand storm let up. A small sand dune had built up against the front of the tent but the back was clear. We went out to survey the damage. The tower was tilted 10 or 15°, but it was still standing. A three foot sand dune had built up around the base of it. The generator shelter had come down and was half buried in sand, and the radio long wire was down. Other than that not much damage, just piles of sand where there wasn't any previously, and no sand where there used to be.

Abdul decided to return to the village. He tied two jerry jugs on to the camel then mounted. It was night now but the clear desert air was well lit by stars that seemed to be hanging just out of reach. Abdul headed out across the sand toward the village. A picturesque sight as he disappeared into the emptiness of the desert night. He had gone perhaps a half a mile when the camel stepped on the old anti-tank mine that had been uncovered by the wind-shifted sands. The blast lit up the dark sky for a brief moment, casting grotesque shadows across the barren desert landscape, then all was silence.

Abdul's brother, Rahmid, came to the station the next morning. He wisely let a herd of goats lead the way. One of the goats found another mine on the way to the station and joined Abdul and his camel. Rahmid knew what had happened. It had happened many times before, during the previous twenty years. He took it very philosophically, "Inshallah" (God's will), was his only comment, although he did express a certain amount of regret over the loss.

I ceased my long walks, stuck close to the station after that. The only trace I ever found of Abdul was one charred camel leg, which, by the way, made a welcome supplement to my meagre diet of canned ravioli.

Al DeVoe

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Crosstalk July 1984

THE HIDEOUS HYDRA

It was a lazy, somnolent day in the tropics, files kept at day by the occasional flick of a towel, though they were only trying halfheartedly anyway. I was lying on the cot re-reading a well thumbed Playboy. The faintest of breezes could be seen barely moving high in the tops of the trees. The hot sun was angling down out of the sky through the faint haze of water vapor in the atmosphere. Every now and then a bird call could be heard coming out of the heavy green curtain of rain forest, otherwise all was quiet. The heat in the tent was stifling, even with the front and rear flaps open and the sides rolled up. A palm thatch tent fly had been constructed that helped somewhat, but not a great deal. I was slowly sipping a Singha, a local drew that wasn't all that bad. The boat had run for port two days ago and wouldn't be back in the work area for another two days. There wasn't much to do on station except read and play poker with my camp helper, but she had gone to the village at the foot of the hill to get some fresh food. Besides, it was much too hot. I reached over the side of the cot to set the bottle of Singha on the ground when I heard a distinct hiss. The generators were not running so it couldn't be the 558; I glanced at my transistor radio and that was off also. Slowly sitting up in the cot, I looked around. There was nothing to be seen. I then cautiously peered over the side of the cot to get a view underneath. There it was, seven feet of glossy black cobra, looking me right square in the eyes, not two feet away. He was coiled up under the cot, his sinuously weaving head ten Inches off the ground, hood half extended, the subdued light coruscating off his skin, his velvet black tongue flickering in and out sensing his surroundings, his baleful. unblinking black eyes locked on mine. I slowly straightened back up on the cot. Sitting straight up, knees bent, I wondered if cobras could bite through canvas. I hoped not. I could see it now: "Here lies Al...a cobra got him in the end"; such an embarrassing demise.

Pondering the situation, I espied an escape route. Strung between the two tent poles, 6 inches below the ridge pole, was a length of polythene rope used to hang towels, clothes, etc. Reaching up, I grasped the rope with my hands, then cautiously lifted myself up off the cot. The tent poles creaked a little but held, I then swung my feet up onto the rope. The ridge pole swayed a little and the tent poles groaned with the added weight but still held up. Now all I had to do was work my way down the rope to the front end of the tent. I could then jump down, get out and away from the revoltingly reprehensible reptile.

Suspended upside down by hands and feet, I started to work my way down the rope, feet first. I had progressed about two feet when the center pin of the front tent pole gave way and the pole came crashing down, pulled by my weight. During the brief span of time that elapsed as I plummeted to the ground and almost certain death from the venomous fangs of that viciously vile viper, my life did not flash before my eyes, just the banal thought, "Oh S***, this is it!" crossed my mind.

I crashed down through the cot and hit the ground, the ridge pole followed, hitting me on the head, and the tent collapsed over everything, shutting out all light. The adrenalin was pumping so fast I didn't know whether I had been bitten or not. All I knew was that I was under a collapsed tent with an undulating seven foot cobra that was not in a place I wished to be. With arms and legs churning like propellers, I plowed through a Coleman stove, an AVQ-5 transmitter, and emerged from under the tent trailing a roil of RG-58 coax that had wrapped itself around my ankle. Going over to the generator shelter, I grabbed the machete and returned to the fallen tent.

The obnoxious ophidian was not to be seen. Carefully circling the tent, I cut the ropes to the tent stakes in order to pull the tent off the equipment. Grasping the front tent pole rope, I gingerly pulled the tent clear of the site. There, under the broken cot was the writhing black body, neatly skewered through the mid-section by the jagged edge of the broken cot. Hood fully extended, striking out at the cot and anything else that moved, he did not look the least bit friendly. A deft swipe with the machete and the beheaded basilisk was no more.

The chore of re-erecting the tent then commenced. Half an hour later, my camp helper and the village chief came up to the site. They viewed the decapitated serpent and were suitably impressed by my feat of daring. After getting the tent back up and the station straightened out, the chief and I settled down with a bottle of Mekong and some soda water, a Thai favorite. Meanwhile, my camp helper prepared dinner; sautéed serpent and a spicy green mango salad.

That evening, after a leisurely dinner, liberally laced with potent libations, the chief got rather unsteadily to his feet to make his way back down the hill to the village. Thanking me profusely for the snake skin I had given him, he averred that I was a brave fellow indeed. Who was I to disillusion him. Only my laundry man will ever know for sure.

Al Devoe

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