As promised, this is the end of a story that I began in an earlier blog called “Bangkok, Bongs, Bars and Booms!” and continued in “Chapter 2 & Chapter 3” but never finished; leaving you with no way to know how “The Kid Got Away.” Set in the jungles of Vientiane, Laos, here’s Chapter 3:
As we approached the “Customs” hut, I began to feel a special kind of relief. “I just might make it out of this alive.” I reached for my passport. All the air was suddenly sucked out of my lungs and out of the night. My heart stopped. In my rush to get out of my hut I’d forgotten the one thing I had to have besides my cash and guitar: my passport.
I couldn’t think. My legs grew weak, my body numb. My brain was frozen. I had been so very close. I had to think. THINK, DAMNIT! I ordered the cabbie in my limited Laotian to slam on the breaks and turn around. He took me a little too literally. I almost went through the windshield. We headed back to what was almost certain death. THINK, DAMNIT THINK!
A quarter of a mile before we reached the compound, I told him to stop and wait for me. As I approached the guard tower, that same sweet sound of snoring greeted me again. That same smile that had lit up my face on the way out, clicked back on. I snuck slowly, ever so slowly back across the compound, grabbed my passport and headed back out towards the exit. It was then that my luck ran out.
Just as I passed the tower, I stepped on a loose piece of bamboo or something and the snoring abruptly ceased. I heard the guard grunt as he stirred back to life. It was now or never. I took off down the road. He was slow to awaken but as I looked back, I could see him stand up as I disappeared into the darkness. I knew that he and his boys would be after me in short order.
I jumped in the cab and screamed, “Move!” He did, tires screeching, dust flying, his eyes as big as rice bowls. I had never been in an actual car chase before, only played a cop in a few on TV and the movies. I was certainly in one now. Though I couldn’t see them yet, I knew they would be in a jeep and heading my way soon, if not already. Luckily, I knew where I was going. They didn’t.
There were times during that ride, swerving around corners and slower vehicle, not a seatbelt in sight, where I thought, “I’m done for.” My luck was returning. I could see the Immigration hut just up ahead and no jeep behind. We slowed down but my adrenalin was pumping and I came out of that car as if ejected by a toaster. I paid the cabbie and, for just one second, our eyes met and we chuckled. He wouldn’t soon forget this night.
I got my passport stamped and found a little fishing boat with an old guy asleep in it. I swear the outboard motor on it was the size of a softball. I told him where I was going. Getting into that boat (I use that term loosely) was as tricky as getting out of that compound alive. With the weight of two people, there was maybe a foot from the rim to the water. I grabbed the sides and held on for dear life.
The river was as black as the nighttime sky. The current was swift. The water was deep. My life was in the leathery hands of a sleepy old fisherman. If I went over, it was over.
Just like the walk down the road outside the compound, it seemed like we were in that boat forever. My fear was tempered by the relief I felt having escaped with my life. Once again, my relief was short-lived.
The water suddenly came alive all around me. I thought, “Paraná?!” That’s all I needed, the boat tipping into a river full of man-eating fish. It was then that I heard the chatter. I turned and saw them. Upriver, way off in the distance, I could see the muzzle flashes. Papasan’s hooligans had figured it out and the jig was up. I froze. There was nowhere to go. Any sudden movement could capsize the boat and dump me into the murky darkness below. So I sat there, bullets zinging by my ears, and waited as the chatter became more distant.
When my old fisherman friend dropped me off, I sat in the sandy dirt. I was never so happy to feel dry earth under my feet. I looked back at where I’d just been and saw only blackness. No more chatter. All I could hear was the river lapping on the banks and the jungle sounding off. It all came tumbling down. Sitting on a log alone in the darkness, I wept like a baby. I thought to myself, “This kind of shit isn’t supposed to be happening to me in some far off jungle. I’m just a kid from Brooklyn!”