II

IN 1953, the war ends. The POWs transfer to a neutral site in a UN compound, guarded by Indian custodial forces. Along the neutral zone, a US Army jeep drives back and forth, blaring a message from its loudspeakers: “We have reason to believe some of you are being forcibly prevented from returning. We have taken steps to assure your safety. The Indian guards will receive any of you who desire to come home.”

 

We see Teddy in a room like a visiting room of a prison, the Chinese colonel telling him not to believe the Army. He says Teddy cannot go home. He is one of them, a Progressive. He and twenty-two others have said they will not repatriate to America; they will go to China. He is lucky, the colonel says, to have been chosen.

 

Teddy massages his temples, taps his fingers on his head. He remembers, on the hike to the POW camp from Pyongyang, a man dipped his face into a bag he’d been ordered to haul, hungry enough to eat anything. Later, he fell back screaming and holding his stomach. A guard passed the bag on. Inside was a chewed block of TNT.

 

Teddy feels a hand on his shoulder. With all the weight he’s lost, his ears look huge. He has wrinkles around his soft eyes. Outside, the Army blasts its message again. When he tried to talk options with the others, telling them about his family in Virginia, one of them said, “Teddy Bear, you’re one of us.”

 

 

NIGHT NOW, everyone asleep in their bunks. Teddy pushes off his blanket; underneath, he is fully dressed. For a moment, he stares around at the others with their cold sheets drawn close like arms—all of these men have families waiting. His fingers go to the letter in his pocket. He sneaks past them and hurries across the compound to the gate, glancing over his shoulder. An Indian sentry guards the entrance.

 

“I reckon I got a toothache,” Teddy says, cupping his mouth.

 

He looks back at the gray building. He isn’t one of them.

 

 

FROM THE COMPOUND, the Army flies Teddy to Tokyo. A military doctor gives him a full exam. In the Army hospital, a photographer looks through his viewfinder: Teddy and two nurses, one on each arm, the doctor waiting to the side. A few minutes earlier, Teddy watched his knees and elbows fold, almost flinching at the rubber reflex hammer. Now he rubs his joints self-consciously as his eyes follow the girls out of the room.

 

“You’re quite the hero,” the doctor says.

 

“Am I?”

 

“You know that picture’s going to be in the newspaper. Your family will be happy to see you.” The doctor touches his head. “How’re the sessions going? The shrink?”

 

“I reckon he’s mostly interested in what happened in the camp.”

 

“What did happen?”

 

No answer. The smell of disinfectant rises from the hall.

 

“You got anyone waiting on you?”

 

Teddy leans forward. He shakes his head, more to clear his mind than to say no.

 

The doctor smiles.

 

“What?” Teddy asks.

 

“You’re all set.”

 

A nurse accompanies him back to the hotel, her arm beneath his shoulder blades.

 

 

TEDDY HAS A ROOM at the Dai Iti, a nice place, not too expensive, but overwhelming after the camp. Running water, room service. We can tell his thoughts are on home as he sits lotus-style on the bed. Two Army investigators stand in front of him. They wear civilian clothing. The first—Cumby, a silk shirt, a smooth talker—leans against the dresser. The second—Cole, an old suit, an old hand—stands by a mirror. Teddy’s had a haircut, a slight wave across his forehead. He catches himself in the mirror as he sets the alarm on the clock radio, a strange thing to him, time.

 

“Doctor says I’m a hero.”

 

“That’s what we’ve been telling you,” Cumby says. “You seeing it now? How’d you like them Army nurses?” A look passes between the investigators. “I’d guess you haven’t seen a woman in three years. What do you say we get out of here? Go for a drive, maybe. Show you the city. You’ll love Tokyo. Beautiful city. Beautiful girls.”

 

Cole pretends to consider the idea.

 

“Lights everywhere, like the whole city is floating on lights.”

 

“I reckon I’d like to see it,” Teddy says, looking into the mirror again.

 

Cole slips some papers into his briefcase. “A hero should have the right.”

 

 

THEY TAKE HIM to a hostess club, the Lov Bar, once trendy. Private booths surround an open area in the center where women mill around the bar—at these places, a hostess will join a group for a fee, sometimes go beyond. They sit in a closed-off booth, with neon receded lights, a half-empty bottle of whiskey and the briefcase on the table. Cole refills Teddy’s glass.

 

“We’re just doing our job, Teddy,” Cumby says. “The Army’s got need of this kind of intelligence. You’d be doing us a real help. Saving lives. Saving people like you.”

 

Teddy squints, presses the heels of his hands against his eyes.

 

“You okay?”

 

“I reckon I don’t remember everything.”

 

“I envy your position, you know? Everything you survived—the girls’ll love your story. The press already loves it.”

 

Cole opens the door to their booth.

 

“I’m fine,” Teddy says, taking another sip of whiskey.

 

“The fresh air will do you good.”

 

“I done some things I’m not proud of.”

 

Cole looks toward the bar and nods. A pop song trills over the speakers as the whiskey burns in Teddy’s throat. Soon a hostess slides in beside him, a short woman who gives the impression of a long body. “How-are-you?” she says in a thick accent. She touches his arm.

 

“You’re meeting a real American hero tonight,” Cumby says. “Killed a hundred Koreans with his bare hands.”

 

Teddy runs his fingers through his hair. He is stunned by the girl’s beauty, his sudden inability to swallow. He nods.

 

“Boy survived everything the Reds threw at him. Ain’t that right, Teddy? Ain’t that right?”

 

“I don’t know,” Teddy says. The hostess stretches out her long neck, as if on cue. Teddy has never lost himself in a neck before. “Yeah, everything.” She slides closer.

 

“Made you write things for them, say things? Just like the other boys?”

 

At once, Teddy remembers the cold of a gun to his head. He’s drunk enough to think the girl understands everything. “Other boys? I’m the first one back of the ones they made stay. I reckon I went through more than any of them other boys.”

 

“I don’t know,” Cumby says. “What you told us ain’t nothing new.”

 

Cole refills Teddy’s glass.

 

“They beat me,” Teddy says, slurring, shaking. “They brainwashed me.”

 

The hostess looks up, expectant. Cumby and Cole wait.

 

“I almost escaped,” Teddy says. “Almost got a whole group of us out of there.  Red got killed. They stuck me underground. They made me do things, sure. The bastards. I led the Progressives, all of us acting Commie enough just to stay safe, not get beat. I had to lead them. I basically hung a man on a hook for making trouble. Could have been my own hands.” He drums the table, looks into the hostess’s face, snaps back. “I tell you I did anything to survive, worse than you’d reckon possible.”

 

Cole writes steadily, the briefcase open for some time, the papers on the table. Cumby glances over in apprehension, remembering the rumors of courts-martial. Teddy talks and drinks and talks on.

 

 

LATER, BACK IN THE DAI ITI, we see yen wrapped in a pair of stockings, clothing on the floor, the hostess on top of Teddy, looking down.

 

He says: “I have to tell you something.”

 

She stares back, smiling blankly.

 

“This is my first time.”