Guest writer Max Hedonista and MIA hunter, recalls the characters and motivations behind searching for American soldiers missing in action in Cambodia in the Killing Fields. It’s a personal account that offers a rare glimpse into the human psyche on the razor sharp edge of reality.
I had just arrived in Cambodia with my team, we are cold case investigators who look for the remains of missing in action soldiers.I hadn’t been back in the country for over six months, the last mission had been controversial and I had to let the smoke settle, and let the government forget that they were angry with me.
This time we decided to launch a twenty day expedition, into the killing fields and jungles. We spent the beginning of the day around the Parrot’s Beak area then they rest of the day was taken in transit to up Highway 1 to Phnom Penh.
The evening responsibilities consisted of attending a Gala dinner with the motorcar company who was sponsoring our transportation needs in Phnom Penh out the way, what followed was a warm and free feeling inside us as we left the hotel at the conclusion of the dinner.
We were really feeling accomplished after a busy day of filming and travelling. We were all slaps on the back and let’s go find a watering hole. The free flow beers at the sponsorship Gala and the few Angkor drafts we had knocked down earlier when we first arrived in town had assisted in whetting our appetite.
Following would be some serious “first day of shooting is completed” celebratory coldies.
I first met Gringo online. He liked what I was doing and wanted to go out on a mission with me. He seemed like a decent enough dude, although he doesn’t handle his booze or marijuana well. If he wants to join Team MIA Hunter, he better up his game.
He got on well with Cassidy my second in charge a private investigator and ex-Hollywood actor who washed up on the shores of Asia, looking for adventure and eventually found it when he joined me working on investigative expeditions looking for the remains of MIA’s around South East Asia.
They both had a lot in common, both coming from the United States. Gringo was from LA, and looked like he was conceived on Venice Beach.He really didn’t have to try hard to be weird. But he had accomplished an admirable amount of good footage today.
Cassidy and I had interviewed him down on Pham Ngu Lau Street in Ho Chi Minh City at our office La Cantina restaurant, in the heart of the back packer district. He seemed unhinged to me.
Some would say the right requirement for being an MIA Hunter. Cassidy and Gringo got talking about Los Angeles and the freaks of Venice Beach. “I shared an apartment block with the Black Eyed Peas,” said Gringo. “I use to score drugs for them.” Cassidy was skeptical, but e gave him a chance, hey who is perfect?
And it wasn’t like he was applying for a job as a receptionist. You need the touch of craziness to be a bone hunter. Gringo had recently arrived to Vietnam for this mission.He told his friends and family he was on an important mission to find the missing journalists Dana Stone and Sean Flynn.
He confided to me he has some spiritual connection with them. He had found me on Facebook. Online he seemed sane and knowledgeable enough on the case. It’s not too often you have groupies as an investigator, and I was all for him coming along, if he could get himself back to South East Asia. At face value, he seemed like a talented young dude with drive.
My Vietnamese cameraman was busy, so I thought it wouldn’t hurt to have Gringo come along. Besides, he had the camera gear, another bonus. Saved me renting it. Unfortunately I think it was the exaggerated stories flying around Asia about me that attracted him to me. No, I’ve never put a skull on a pike and said it was the head of Captain Blood. But nevertheless, Gringo was attracted to this “Feral Bone Hunter” reputation.
Even so Cassidy had his doubts, “He’s not gonna last three fucken days in the jungle with you. He won’t be able to handle the Bone Hunter express, first time he fucks up in the jungle and you lose it with him he will be crying and heading back to Ho Chi Minh on thefirst bus”.
Gringo had been acting progressively strange.Or shall I say stranger. It was before the Gala dinner. In America, he said he had purchased something online for the mission. He showed it to me in the foyer of the hotel. “Thanks so much for taking me serious and letting me on the team.”
Then he showed me his purchase, a pair of “matching” MIA/POW wristbands. The one, which had Dana Stone’s name on it, he was wearing. And then he handed me the other one. It had Sean L Flynn engraved on it. Mmm, I thought, how odd. I hid my embarrassment.I go looking for Missing people but wearing engraved POW/MIA bracelets just enters a whole new bizarre territory.
It even freaks out someone like me, who isn’t that easily grossed out. My obsessive compulsion into these investigations had hijacked my life far enough without me wearing Flynn’s name on my wrist.
Thankfully “Buffalo” saved the day.
He’s been a big part of our search and has pumped some money into our mission, but basically he’s a glorified accountant. He learnt his nickname Buffalo, when he lost us while tracking across rice paddies to a killing field. He’s overweight and seriously out of shape and in my frustration I left him behind to fend for himself. It was when he was tracking his way back to our truck that he was confronted by a buffalo that began to intimidated him.
He told us about the incident later that afternoon and we said that the buffalo had probably mistaken him for one of its own and was probably trying to fornicate with him. On a serious note, the buffalo stepped on a land mine, and exploded into thousands of bits. Killing Field beef patties, said Buffalo. It was near the site we were digging.
Buffalo was also in charge of driving duties and is my chief of logistics. “There you go Buffalo, Sean Flynn’s MIA/POW bracelet.” He happily took the bracelet from me. And then I continued on with my briefing to my team leaving Gringo with a strange look on his face. I could tell he was inwardly and outwardly upset.
I also felt that, in some demented way, he’d repay my ingratitude.
Over a few beers in the evening, before heading to the Gala dinner, I had decided to shit stir and in the process also insulted Buffalo over this strange gift. Buffalo’s an accountant playing Indiana Jones, and needs to be put in his place.
He’s very petty when it comes to possessions, and I on the other hand don’t give a damn about material things. He had been getting bossy with me and jumping in front of the camera when he wasn’t supposed to be. And just because he’s a financier, doesn’t mean he’s the head of the expedition.
So it was time to put him in his place. “Hey Buffalo, I was thinking Robinson helped by attending the meeting with the sponsors and going in as front man at the Gala.Lets give him the bracelet. He’s a big fan of Sean Flynn It would really mean a lot to him more than anyone else”.
Robinson was hard-core Flynn fan, an obsessive fan and floral shirted doper.
Another Indochina refugee that populates the grungy Phnom Penh urban landscape, muttering to himself over a gin an tonic, The Horror, the Horror.He even set up a web page on Sean Flynn, which went into details like what brand of tooth paste he used, to the color of his socks he wore when going into combat.
The rest of the team seconded my suggestion. Buffalo handed it over reluctantly and sulked about it the rest of the evening. Robinson seemed impressed by the gift. But then launched into a diatribe and gave me a hard time about smoking cigarettes in front of him.
He’s really into his own health and believes he’ll live to 100 if he doesn’t have to hang around smokers; he gave up cigarettes years ago but obsessively smokes joints of marijuana instead. “Cigarettes have polonium in them, “he says. “It’s a toxin that was invented by the Nazi’s to gas Jews, the KGB use it to assassinate people…”
I lit up a cigarette and tuned out. He might be a good spokesman, but he wouldn’t last a day out in the field. I blow smoke rings in his face while fantasizing Kung Fu strikes at his throat and other vital body areas.
After the Gala dinner, Gringo and me went to the Equinox bar to catch a show. Buffalo and the other guys were well and truly rooted and went to bed early. Gringo was up for it so we went out to check the Phnompers bar scene. A few more beers and 6 joints later put a bit distance between Gringo and me who by this time was slurring and stumbling.
When we arrived at the Equinox, the band had already stopped playing. As I walked into the bar I heard middle-aged English woman shrill, directed at me.“Oh No, it’s that fucking renegade from Vietnam. What are you doing back here after fucking up so bad last time”?
It was a familiar voice. One of drunken belligerence. It was Gale a close friend of my recently departed friend Bob. She was a nurse for some goody-two-shoes NGO set up, and drank for many year’s at Bob’s bar, the Mekong Zone in Kampong Cham.
Gale is a cancer survivor. Shame it wasn’t throat caner, then I wouldn’t have to listen to her grating voice. It sounds a bit mean, but if you heard that horselaugh of hers, you’d totally agree. Her grey and dark tinted gapped teeth have a habit of spitting out saliva .It smells like my grade seven teachers aids old yellow dungarees and is caustic.
She broached the subject of Bob, like she was his best mate. She loathed him when he was alive, but drank at his bar, because Bob’s was the only decent one in town.Bob’s death had been a sore point for Cassidy and me over the past few months.
We had spent many nights drinking at his bar.He was a big supporter of our work and really was a surrogate dad for our team; we all loved to off load our frustrations to him after a hard day out in the field.
It was reported that Bob died of “Cholera”, and because he couldn’t get Phnom Penh on time for treatment, he died. I had been gutted by the news. Cassidy and I had planned to him on this mission. Bob seemed normal, more balanced than usual, when I saw him last.
He had packed up his computer game console and was heading up to Phnom Penh to spend the Khmer New Year in air-conditioning with a bag of China White. He told me he had scored it off a local Corsican tour boat operator and restaurateur Pierre.
I had voiced my concern to Bob about him using it. He said that he was just snorting it and dabbling, but he never gets hooked.”It’s under control,” he said. He had offered me some, but I had declined. I have an attitude of disgust and shame for junkies. But Bob wasn’t a junkie he was just playing; I just hoped it would stay that way.
Cassidy and I had forged a deep connection with Bob during our first recovery mission. We connected in a way, which would best be described as rare. We were all brothers for life from the first moment we started speaking. We would stay up late every night in his restaurant drinking and smoking weed.
Cassidy would share memories of being a fist fighting LSD crazed clown in the circus last time he passed through Bob’s hometown in Oregon.
And Bob would empathise with hilarious stories of growing up as a carnie in a carnie family.
Usually he would end the evening laying back on the lounge howling like a dog to Southern Rock songs until which time Cassidy and I would realize it was time stagger back to our hotels and get a few hours of sleep before going out to do another 12 hour day in the bush.
We were the three amigos. And although I’m much younger then them both I was Like them, a swagman and wandering refugee. I was just the younger brother a crazier version who could drink more piss than the both of them. But there was no pissing contest between us.
Gale began to ramp up her obnoxious behaviour. The music was crap, and I began wondering what the fuck I was doing there. And making matters worse, she had been joined by the Londoner an English git , who speaks down his nose. He is as red as a beetroot from high blood pressure and smells of Brute after-shave.
He’s just as fucked up as Gale, and in his stupor passes me a joint. He’s too up himself to make his own introduction, but at least he passes the blunt around. But I can see that he’s used his head as a bouncing ball too often, and that long slow drawl — he brain cells are on overdrive just to spit out a sentence, of course with the right British inflection.
Who’s he trying to kid I thought?
Then Gale broke the reverie. She’s talking about Bob.
“Now hold’ up, I know everything about Bob, just listen to me!”
Against my better judgment I decided to.
I pieced the story together as she went on.
Bob’s estranged wife that he had so fondly spoken to me about from time to time between sessions of denouncing her as a prostitute was at the center of the saga.
They had been together in a pagoda marriage a-none legally binding vows being married to Buddha, and a serious sexual relationship, due to this Bob decided not to use a condom and did not practice safe sex with his wife.
His wife had unknown to his knowledge been whoring on the side with foreign sex tourists, without practicing safe sex. In the prostitution game in Asia it is a popular way of a workingwomen taking a green foreign man as a boyfriend, husband and holding them in a position where they think that they are in an actual relationship.
When in fact it’s just a ploy to extract funds from them until they are bled dry.
What I didn’t know was that Bob had AIDs for over 10 years. He contracted it from his wife.
He could no longer bare living with the isolation he felt from the disease, and as his health was failing he decided to take his life with a dose of white powder. He could have seeked treatment in his home country, but he instead preferred to slowly drink himself to death in his bar on the banks of the Mekong.
Gale wouldn’t let up. She gave her own post mortem. The Corsican who sold him the drugs had made sure Bob didn’t get inspected by the coroner in Phnom Penh. He went along with Cholera story and paid off officials to stop investigations. There’s big money in powder, and he wasn’t going to let a customer get in the way of him, the profitable seller.
That angered me.
What angered me more was Gale saying that she saw Bob’s body at the mortuary, “He was a purple shade and his tongue was sticking out of his mouth, and there was blood coming out of his nose running onto the slab.”
“Look I don’t want to hear about this,” I said. ” I want to remember Bob as I knew him not hear about him on a slab.”
The British git, who I called the Londoner, was holding up a corner of the bar, pipes in his two cents worth. You could tell that Gale and him were lovers of sorts. More like an economic arrangement most likely.
“What you telling Gale to not speak about then lad?” he challenged me.
“She is talking about the post mortem details of my mate who died and I’m saying remember them for when they are alive not after” I sniped.
“Oh fuck, what the hell you going on about Gale? Why the bloody hell would anybody want to hear that, leave the guy alone” he slurred.
He just wanted to be left alone so he could smoke more spliffs and get more wasted, the corpse talk was bumming him out too.
“No, it’s important that I tell him Bob was my friend too!!,” said Gale, who was now getting maudlin.
“I just don’t want to hear it, sorry let’s change the subject please” I said, with a razor edge sharpness in my voice
“Yeh for Christ sake talk about something a little less depressing” said the Londoner forcing Gale to uncomfortably change gears and topic of conversation. Now I had Gringo to contend with. He was about to pass out going into another dimension, he is higher then Jesus and matching me beer for beer which I know he can’t handle. His breaking point isn’t very far.
Gale started speaking/spraying across me to Gringo. He did have a purpose on my team after all for he was sparing me another drunken rant from Gale.
“Bob saved me you know. He saved me from being sex-uaaallly accosted you know” Gale says to Gringo.
Gringo started laughing uncontrollably from the center of his being, lost and fucked up on a M.I.A. recovery mission in Cambodia now a Susan Boyle clone has appeared and told me some guy called Bob saved her from rape.
He began to cry in laughter. Gale seemed completely unfazed by his laughter and continued.
“Yes he saved me from rape you know, three men by the Mekong River. He was my knight in shining armor,” says Gale. Sounds like she’s taking the piss big time, and mocking a dead man isn’t my scene either. She’s a real attention seeker.
This sets me off as well and I’m laughing hysterically in her face. It’s not a deprecating laught, but admittedly this woman is now a parody of herself and a big joke. It is against nature that anybody within the last 20 years in Cambodia even considered having consensual sexual with Gale let alone be deranged enough to try to gang rape her. I can’t believe this Bob-saved-her- from -rape a scenario.
I could just imagine what Bob would tell me if he were alive. He wouldburst into tears laughing and asking me what the fuck am I talking about?
Gale kept on talking to me and my lack of interest was becoming progressively obvious, I would talk to Gringo when she was alking, order a beer, light a joint or send an sms. But she still wouldn’t leave me alone.
A young trendy guy from Australian comes across and is all over Gale
like a rash, it is obvious he has some underlying mental issue either
that or he is trying to screw her for money his other Aussie friend accompanying him said to me.
” Sorry mate I can’t remember my name, I’m serious been on the Ice for the last few days and I think I’m about to die, can’t keep on partying. I called the Embassy they said they can’t help and to fuck off!”
Gale and I historically hate the site of each other and it has been the recognized standard operating procedure since we first laid eyes on each other. But this conversation tonight had made things clear, and I felt better about Bob, and his sad end.
She decided she was now fond of me, even though I was certainly no fonder of her. “I have always hated you, but after tonight I want to snog you for some reason here give me a kiss”. She grabbed me while I pursed my lips as if were being exposed to carcinogenic chemicals. My lack of open mouth still did little to discourage her tongue which felt like the wet sandpaper tongue of a cattle dog, firing indiscriminately across my face. When she ceased her desperate attempt at bonding, I wiped my face with my krama and ordered another beer. I then looked up into the night sky and after crossing myself in a catholic manner I said, “Fuck you Bob, that’s for you and I bet its amused you, bastard”.
Gringo was getting quite and still matching me beer for beer until I pulled him up. “Hey Gringo maybe its better to just drink water from here on out you seem a little wasted mate.”
“Yeh man, ok, sound’s like it could be a (slur) …good idea man” Gringo replied in his unusually high pitched voice.
So my plan was to head down town grab some late night food and maybe a couple of more beers before heading back to the twin hotel suite I wasto be sharing with Gringo.
Gringo had difficulties getting out of the Tuk Tuk without falling face first and with a state of the art film camera and bag around his neck and due to his small stature and intoxicated state he was struggling.
I tried to grab the camera as we approached the late night kebab stand but he wouldn’t let me carry it saying that he’s fine. We sit down at the improvised plastic chairs parked out the front of the mobile kebab shop, which is parked out in front of a group of girlie bars.
Sitting beside us is a rather tasty looking voluptuous Ghana whore and her pimp/ boyfriend rather large and unfriendly black dude who wore sunglasses at night, the most gold I have ever seen on a human being before and a dirty look when I said hello to them.
She was giving me the eye and pretending that she was genuinely interested in me. She and her “friend” have been here for three months and business has been so good they will stay a while longer she says.
She pushes further asking of where I’m going after this, trying to close the deal.
They were both professionals, covered in gold and dressed in the best money clothing and fraud could buy; they had their act down.
I could tell that I was staring at two dead cold dangerous people. Whatever their scam was or how much one wanted to fornicate with the beautiful lady, If I did I would for sure be a broke guy. And due to the look in her Pimps eyes most likely also be dead. It would be days before my body would be found in a roach motel in the Vietnamese floating ghetto.
I’m fond of black pussy but not that fond.
All the sudden I heard a commotion coming from one of the bars, a large group of people violently scram out of a girlie bar and their violence erupted onto the street and heads for the Tuk Tuk rank and Kebab stall.
The group separated and it became evident that most of them were trying to break the fight up. They were innocent by-standers. The fight was between two people, a Cambodian girl and an Australian man in his early forties. She was refusing to go with him, he forced her to go with him and told the bouncers that she is his wife, she is arguing saying she is not his wife and that he is hurting her. Then they came careening towards my table and my food and beers. That’s when I got pissed off. Gringo was cowering in the corner of his own existence, with a demented grin.
“Hold up, I have food and drinks here!”
There’s goes my kebab and beers. I’m really getting pissed off now.
The Aussie guy is now smacking the girl in the face and screaming, “Get home you fucking slut””, and I’m reeling, not because I’ve lost my my drinks and food. I have one pet hate, it’s when men abuse women. I know the old ways that men say if a woman hits you that you are entitled to hit her back and such. That being said I was raised to never tolerate men who abuse women. If a man is to hit a woman you intervene and floor the guy – no other solution.
“I’m an Aussie too mate, don’t go hitting women in public here you will be in big trouble,” I said to him when he was mid fight with his struggling girlfriend and overpowering her with his sheer size.
“Mind your own business cunt or I will smash you!” the Australian said, then spat at me.
“Right that’s it mate you asked for it thought, I’m gonna tag your arse for that you fucker.”
I walked towards where the Australian and his Khmer “Girlfriend/Wife”
were fighting. A group of Tuk Tuk drivers stood in front of me. They would’t let me fight him.
I reasoned to them. “It’s not normal where I fucken come from or where he does he Is an Australian like me”.
“But you aren’t in Australia you are in Cambodia” said a driver.
“Yes but I spend allot of time in Cambodia and Vietnam I know that it’s not normal for a foreigner to hit a local girl”
“Forget and go or you may die, you don’t want trouble,” he warned me.
At that point my Tuk Tuk driver grabbed me and tried to get me safely inside his vehicle. I obliged and pretended, walking to his Tuk Tuk. The ugly Australian who was now situated opposite of my Tuk Tuk was now pulling the girls hair and screaming at her.
I walked calmly to my Tuk Tuk before lunging forward and swung by the gondolier through the canopy of the Tuk Tuk and onto the other side of the footpath. I had made contact. Bone crashes on fist, my fist. He recoils back. I”m in midstep, swift and and with one aim. I was within half a meter of him when I said, “I got a word to have with you mate!” and then I hit him underneath the jaw with a savage right uppercut hook and punched him straight through some potted palm trees into a Girlie Bar, coffee shop front area.
He landed hard, ashtrays and glasses broke, as he fell from his state of gracelessness and landed in his own shit, chiming into the drunken night.
“Ok, my friend time to go now big trouble now,” said the Tuk Tuk driver Not really, I said, the problem has been eliminated. I made a run for the Tuk Tuk and swung into the cabin. Where’s Gringo I thought, looking around the cabin and then around the street to see if I could spot him in the madness.
I saw the camera bag first before I saw him, He looked smaller then the bag and he was in another dimension smiling and chatting to a brick wall.
“Yo Gringo, we got to’ get the fuck out of here!!!” I shouted. “Yes. We do we got to’ get out of here man” Gringo spat out like “Rainman”. What a retard.
Gringo finally got into the Tuk Tuk and the driver immediately sped off, cutting back streets to ensure we didn’t get caught by any repercussions. We finally got back to the hotel and brought the equipment up to the room which I put on charge and cleaned. Tthen I went for a shower leaving Gringo half passed out and fully clothed on his bed in the twin single bed suite.
When I got out the shower, Gringo was dead to the world. Luckily he still had a pulse. With his shoes on and fully clothed passed out on his bed. “You Gringo, at least take your shoes off dude, how you gonna sleep with shoes on bro” I said.
“Nah man, I’m…ok…. I’m…. ok” Gringo replied in his semi-conscious state.
I drifted off into a deep sleep, my daily peace, must have been two hours of slowly creeping deeper into my psyche in Lah Lah Land when I was abruptly woken.
“AHHHHHHHHHRRRRgggghjhh…fucken…AHHHHHRgghhhhh…FUUUUCCCCK” I hear.
First thing comes into ones head is who is here to kill me, I am dead when they are awoken in such a manner. It was Gringo screaming at the top of his lungs and tearing his T-shirt off of himself violently.
“Fuck man are you ok man are you having a hear attack” I figured he was having a violent cardiac arrest.
“FUCCCKKK,ARRGGHHHH” Gringo kept screaming.
“Fuck dude you are just fucked up go to bed man, try to get some sleep, we got to get up early tomorrow,” I said to him in a stroppy manner. Gringo then collapsed on the ground in the area in front of both of the beds, I giggled to myself as I fell back to sleep.
I awoke the next morning to a terrible smell. It was acrid and horrifying. At first I thought it must be my smelly feet, maybe Gringo has smelly feet also because this place is rank. When I got up I watched my first step. Luckily because at the foot of my bed was Gringo’s shit.
In his night terror mode Gringo had defecated on the floor of the hotel room instead of going to the toilet. I escaped the room and began vomiting immediately outside the hotel room door, completely horrified by the lowest of low acts that a civilized being can commit. Beside, he had literally shat in my own doorstep. Now that wouldn’t have been so bad, but shitting at the base of my bed. That aint cool.
Buffalo and Cassidy were all equally disgusted by the incident and couldn’t but help making bad jokes about how Gringo has to “pull his shit together”.
Obviously the decision was made that Gringo was to “pack his shit up and be told to leave”.
After two days of residing in a new hotel room by myself and all the while the team and I were making sure that none of us had to face him due to the embarrassment of his actions. Buffalo was contacted by the hotel reception to say that the man in Room 207 was ordering room service and signing it on our account.
When Buffalo and Cassidy finally went up to his room and fired him rom the expedition. The feces was still there on the ground. He had been ordering food up to the room and eating it besides his feces.
He was upset due to the fact that he was let go and said to Buffalo “I just want to speak to the boss and explain myself.” Buffalo told him straight. “Are you fucking serious, he wants to fucken kill you mate. You shat at the end of his bed.”
I wasn’t amused that I can now claim that I received a turd as a Christmas present. I’ve been told I’m a piece of shit. But to keep any remnant of self-esteem left after the incident, I had to fire this son of a bitch. He lost it big time. When I spoke to Cassidy about the incident afterwards he said that’s the kind of behaviour that one develops when they spend time in a mental asylum or a correctional facility.
Gringo packed his things and the last I saw of him was the Tibetan flag on his back pack as he sobbed himself to the bus stop, off to thankfully take his turds elsewhere.
These days I’m reluctant to meet people on Facebook. Although I have recently met a few groupies from Australia, who are un-officially on Team Bone Hunter. Besides I can’t afford their services. These days I make a point not to share rooms with groupies.