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The Thai General

 Bangkok, Wednesday 10 am

 "There are now about twenty foreign compa­nies operating off the coast of Vietnam in concessions Hanoi has grant­ed," said General Hoa. Derek was sitting next to the retired Thai general on a silk-covered sofa, the empty tea-cups on the white table at his knees next to the bowl of fresh white flowers.

"Bach Ho, that's White Tiger, was found during the Vietnam War, Sacone Oil drilled there in the early 70's. The Russians took it over and Vietnam runs it today with the help of British Petrowater and others, gets about one third of their hard curren­cy from the output," Hoa, in a dark red jacket, looked at his young wife, in a white pant suit, who was checking his English.

"When your Pebil Corporation, ah, left Vietnam in 1975, it was drilling in the Wanan Bei block about 280 miles south of Ho Chi Minh City, which you used to call Saigon. Now they are back there, in the Thanh Long concession. It is called the Blue Dragon field. They are part of a consortium with Japa­nese and Indonesian interests, and a small rig has been exploring for oil since the Spring of 1994. The concession was given to a consortium. Pebil has 50 per cent and Japanese and Indonesian interests have the other half.

"The Chinese have also awarded an oil exploration concession nearby to a small American company, Tencrest, which has not taken any action yet to explore their block. "The block awarded to Pebil is just inside the area claimed by China. They have no such valid claim, but, as you will have read, in the summer of 1994, a Chinese destroyer turned back a supply boat from Vietnam destined for the Pebil drilling rig and claimed to be blockading the rig. In early February, 1995 a Filipino fisherman reported he had been taken captive in the Spratlys, and the world discov­ered that China had built a military outpost on Mischief Reef in Philippine waters west of the Pebil block.

"In March of 1997, Tencrest, backed by the Chinese, began explor­atory drilling with Tan Kan No. 2, a 1984 133man drilling rig built in China with American cranes, an American 5 Cat D399 Rotary Table and a 61x69 foot heliport. They are in Block 113, north of Danang, midway between Hanoi and the old Saigon. Block 113 is 70 miles off the coast of Vietnam. It is close enough to the Chinese island of Hainan so that China also asserts a claim," said Gen. Hoa. Two hours in heavy traffic had taken Derek to Hoa's extensive low-roofed home.

"We have it on good authority that Tencrest, the American company with the Chinese concession, has engaged Oliver Delgado, an adventurer with a long history in the petroleum industry to establish an office in Ho Chi Minh City. He has made such an application and is here in Bangkok. Our friends fear that he is going to Vietnam to further the Tencrest Chinese concession. They want all the information they can get on this man and his intentions," said Gen. Vo The Hoa. He put both hands together on the tablecloth. "I know Ollie," said Derek, "he respects principals but local people have been known to be killed if they challenge him. He hires local talent.

"You will be safe in Viet­nam, I assure you, and in Thailand, the Al Arqam are natural opponents of Chinese influence here," said Hoa.

"Your friends have suggested that you contact me to investi­gate Ollie Delgado, and you want me to hire Al Arqam islamic fundamentalists for protection in Thai­land. You want me to give you reports based on profes­sional investiga­tive journalism, is that correct? You do not, for instance, want me to be violent in any way, to contract for Ollie's death, for instance," asked Derek Webber.

"I have stated the problem, actually, I am here merely to certify to the good character of Mr. Tan. Tan Energy will be your employer. I would appreciate it if you do not contact me at all about this matter. Payment arrangements have already been made with your publisher, Mrs. Van Blomberg. If there is nothing further...,"
Hoa stood up, next to Webber, he was quite short. He extended his hand. "Very well, my report will be made to Tan Energy," said Derek, shaking the hand extended. Derek and Tan walked through the sala pavilion and along a hall, coming out on the lawn of the bungalow.

"Now let's see," Derek said, "Pebil Oil has hired you as a cutout to hire me. I am to hire Al Arqam gun­slingers. We are going up against Oliver Delgado, a sometimes violent man whom Tencrest Oil has hired, no doubt through a cutout. Why the vio­lence. We are all Ameri­cans, let's sit down and play poker for the damned oil. Or sue, anybody hear about law and courts and that stuff? The Vietnam­ese and the Chinese can fight their own battles."