The Ghosts of Hanoi - Excerpt One
The howl of a U.S. Army two-and-a-half-ton truck in second gear breached the quiet of the woods. The bumpy, unpaved road was giving the driver, who
happened to be a Marine, a tough time. "Man, these Army trucks are worse than ours!"
The GI next to him leaned forward. "Hey, Short-Ron, what the hell is that?"
The Marine peered through the windshield as he downshifted, seeing nothing. "What, what the hell is what?"
"That! See it? It looks like a log across the
road -- holy shit! Stop the fuckin' truck, now!"
"What the -- aw, Jesus!" Ronald "Short Ron" Paquette, Corporal, USMC slammed both feet on the brake pedal but it was already too late. Six men in black pajamas sprang out of the bushes, firing their AK-47s. "Short Ron" and his Army buddy, Specialist Dave Sanderson died as the windshield shattered. Two Viet Cong -- "VC" -- dodged the out-of-control truck as it veered off the narrow road, hitting a tree and landing in a ditch. It sat there, engine still running, with its right-side wheels two feet off the ground.
In the canvas-covered back of the truck, Sergeant Harry Hartoonian pushed the guy next to him. "Tommy, you okay?" Private Sam Jewitt keeled over, the back of his head missing. Hartoonian pushed him off, Jewitt's blood spilling on his pants, his face covered with tears as he realized what was happening.
Corporal Greg Bradley, who had been sitting across from Hartoonian, tried to get out with Specialist Ed Valentine behind him. "VC! Fuckin' VC!"
A bullet struck Bradley in the forehead as he peered through the opening in the rear, causing his head to first snap back and then slump forward, lifeless. The other two froze in place. A minute later, a Vietnamese with an AK-47 stuck his head in and pulled Bradley's body out of the truck. "You, GI, get out! Out!" He stepped back to allow them to exit, keeping the AK-47 aimed at them. "Out! Now!"
Valentine and Hartoonian gingerly climbed out of the vehicle to find several armed men pointing their weapons at them. They stood there, arms raised, realizing the war was over for them. Valentine looked at Bradley's body. "Aw, man.” He received a rifle butt in his face, knocking him down.
"Quiet! You quiet!"
Hartoonian just stood there, shaking, and wondering if he would ever see home again. Hell, he wondered if he would live through the day.
Within ten minutes, the Viet Cong had stripped the bodies of valuables, searched the truck, and made off with their two captives, bound and gagged. The other four bodies lay in the overturned truck where they had died. The woods were quiet again.
The Ghosts of Hanoi - Excerpt Two
Tran Van Lam sat at a table near the bar in a hotel on the outskirts of Honolulu. He drew no particular attention here, an Oriental
man dressed in an off-white tropical suit. This was good. He did not wish to draw attention. On the plane he had done much thinking. About Basilio, his situation, his beloved
Plan, his daughter. He was not a violent man by nature, but there was a time for everything. Now that time had come. He sipped his wine slowly, while he waited. About midway
through his glass, another Oriental man entered the room and made his way to Tran. This man wore a gray suit and had a scar on his face under one eye. This man was Tri Van
Though they had not seen or even talked to each other in years, there was no formal greeting. Tran merely nodded as
his old comrade sat down. Tri spoke first, in his native tongue. "Do you realize the chance I have taken coming here?"
"Why? You have a diplomatic passport, do you not?"
"The Americans do not recognize Vietnamese passports. I am traveling as a Thai businessman." The waiter came over and Tri asked for mineral water. The two said little until the bottle of water arrived, and the waiter was out of earshot. Tran had picked a table well away from the other patrons in the room so Tri would be comfortable.
Tri regarded his companion coolly for a moment, and said "Well?"
Tran took a sip of wine. "It has come to my attention that Anthony Basilio is in Thailand, possibly interviewing refugees."
His comrade merely stared at him, expressionless. "Do you mean to say we are here merely because of that?"
"No, there is much more." Tran sighed. He had thought about how much he would tell Tri on the long flight to Hawaii. At this point in his life, total honesty with his "benefactors" seemed to be the best approach. "Comrade Tri, Cao Vien is dead. He was ruthlessly killed by Anthony Basilio." Well, maybe not total honesty.
"How? How did this happen?"
Tran sat back in the chair, his jaw and fists tight. "The man called 'Buzz . . .'" He paused for a second and closed his eyes, as if the very mention of the name was some sort of blasphemy. "He suspected me for some time. I do not know why, but that is immaterial. He began to snoop, became friends with my daughter." He reopened his eyes.
"Your daughter. She became his lover then? Told him what you do?"
Tran's eyes almost bulged out of his head as he shouted. "No!"
Several people in the bar turned to stare at them. Tri leaned over the table and considered Tran with contempt. "Be quiet! There is no place for emotionalism! Continue with your story."
Tran tried to relax. He took another sip of wine. "My daughter knows nothing of my business. She apparently became enamored with Basilio but she had nothing to tell him. He must have believed he could get to me through her. In any case, he somehow found out that I have had contact with Hanoi, and he came to see me. With a gun."
"'Somehow found out.' From your daughter, you fool!"
Tran was unwilling to believe this, in spite of Basilio's claims. He had to admit to himself, however, that he only had
Basilio's word as to how he found out about his communications links. One thing he did know: he took care never to get Li involved. No, someone else informed Basilio. And he believed he knew exactly who that someone was.
"Where is your daughter?"
Tran’s face darkened with defiance. "I do not know. And I assure you she knows nothing. You will leave her out of this, you understand?"
Tri's expression did not change. "I said, where is your daughter?"
Tran put his hands on the table. "Comrade Tri. I have records of all my operations. I have taken certain precautions.
If anything ever happens to me -- or to my daughter -- everything will be made public. The Plan, the Paris courier, the rest -- everything. Everything! Do you understand?"
Tri was a snarling dog. "You do not trust your homeland? Your own people?"
Tran leaned over the table, closer to Tri's face. "Comrade, in my business I trust no one." He leaned back.
Tri had to admire the old warrior. Tran Van Lam had been in the service of the Vietnamese Communists a long time, and had served them well. He knew his business. And he could not
blame him for protecting himself. Still, he made some mental notes about Tran Thi Li. Precautions worked both ways.
"All right, my friend. Tell me the rest."
Tran went on to tell him his own version of the story. A story of how Buzz forced him to talk with a gun in his hand. And how Cao Vien came in to intervene, only to be killed by Buzz. And how they made a deal, one to shut up about the body, the other to be silent about the operations of a certain, well-known Vietnamese businessman who was a pillar of the community.
Tran drank some more wine. "I took care of Cao, and everything was quiet. In fact, Basilio evidently did not follow through on his threat to talk to the authorities."
"What about the congressman, Baxter?"
"I believe that Baxter probably knows what happened, and that he sent Basilio away until, as the Americans say, things 'cooled off.'"
"But he knows."
"He is a politician! He cannot let this get out to the press. Americans do not reelect congressmen whose staffers are murderers. No, we have nothing to fear from him."
Tri thought for a moment. "That seems logical. But what about Basilio? What do you propose to do about him?"
"Kill him, of course! He is the key."
Tri smiled. "I am afraid your hatred for him has clouded your judgment. If he is dead, then Baxter can tell the authorities whatever he wants about you. His 'embarrassment' will be out of the way."
"But with what evidence?" He had neglected to tell his old friend about the tape.
"Yes, but murder is a nasty business. Basilio is an American citizen. His murder would cause an international incident."
"But he is in Thailand. Within our reach. Any number of things can happen to him!"
Tri folded his hands. "Hmmm. I do not know, Tran. Think about what you said about the evidence. It is still his word against yours, and his reputation leaves much to be desired."
Tran drained the little wine left in his glass, and slammed it on the table, breaking it at the stem with an audible snap. "He humiliated me! I want him dead!" Tran dropped what was left of the glass on the table and ignored it as he glared at Tri.
The evil smile appeared on Tri's face again. "I see. Comrade, you must not let your emotions get to you this way."
He took a sip of his previously untouched water. "Perhaps we can arrange for him to be -- indisposed," he said quietly as he stared off into space.
Tran was unrelenting. "He is resourceful. I thought he was out of the way when Erickson had him disgraced in his own agency." He was speaking quickly, nervously.
"Erickson. How much does he know about you?"
Tran was silent.
Tri understood immediately. "You fool. He is the one who opened his mouth, isn't he?"
Tran was almost embarrassed. "He knows little."
Tri regarded Tran with considerably less respect than he had a few moments ago. "Tran Van Lam, what are you not telling me?"
"I have told you what I know."
"I see." He straightened up in the chair. "I will deal with Basilio, my way. I will also take care of Erickson."
"Comrade Tri, if something happens to Erickson and it is traced to the Vietnamese community, there will be hell to pay."
He was right. Tri massaged his chin. "Do not worry. Nothing will be traced. You will go back to Washington and say nothing. Do not talk to Erickson. You will wait for
"What instructions will I get? And when?"
"Comrade, let us face the facts. You have been an asset in the past, but your latest actions have indicated that perhaps you are now, let us say, unreliable."
A deathly pallor fell across Tran's face. Unreliable! How dare you," he said in a rising voice.
"Shut up. Do as you are told. We will handle matters from here on. When the Plan is successful and we have our final victory, you will be rewarded. Perhaps you can come home then and retire, secure in the knowledge that you have served the Motherland." His voice bordered just on this side of sarcasm. He rose from his chair.
"What about my daughter?"
Tri looked down at him, almost with pity. "I will take your word that she knows nothing. Now go home." He left without another word.
Tran Van Lam sat alone, a beaten man. He felt powerless, caught in a tide of events over which he had lost control. Worse, he had contributed to the situation by confiding in the dupe Erickson. Something else gnawed at him. Tran Van Lam was an old fighter. Under different names, he had fought for his country since Ho Chi Minh battled with the French. He had seen death many times, on the battlefield and off. Even when Basilio held the gun to his head, he had not felt fear like this. Nor
Moscow, Russia -- The Kremlin
The aide gently opened the door to the president’s bedroom intending to wake the old man as he had on most mornings for the past three years. Usually he would walk over to the big window facing the president’s bed and draw the curtains, letting in a shower of light, and usually the president would wake up and say “Good morning, Sasha.” The president had stopped sleeping with his wife long ago, so there would be no invasion of privacy. On this day Sasha drew the curtains and awaited for the words which, this particular morning, did not come. Aleksandr Bakunin, affectionately called Sasha by the president, walked over and stared at the old man who appeared to be fast asleep. Sasha waited a few moments and decided simultaneously that the president probably had a bit too much vodka last night and that he, Sasha, would let him sleep some more.
Some thirty minutes later, Sasha checked on him again. The old man’s position had not changed nor had his facial expression. Gingerly, he touched his president’s arm but there was no response. He touched the forehead but it was cold. Sasha anxiously started shaking the old man, throwing decorum to the wind. Nothing. He rushed to the telephone. “This is Sasha, send the doctor in immediately! It’s . . . it’s the president. I think he’s -- just send in the doctor. Hurry!”
In a very few minutes, several doctors and aides, as well as his wife who had been sleeping in an adjoining room surrounded the president’s bed. The chief doctor tried to take his pulse. Still nothing. He looked at the president’s wife and then at the other people in the room. “I’m sorry but I believe he is no longer with us.” The president’s wife, a small woman named Ekaterina, sobbed quietly as the rest of the people talked in hushed tones. Sasha merely lowered his head. Grigory Mihkailovich Goldunov, president of the Russian Federation, heir to the leadership of the old Soviet Union, was dead.
On the other side of the world, Goldunov's American counterpart sat in the living room on the upper floor of the White House, in the part that tourists never get to see. His wife sat across from him dressed only in her bathrobe, her “dirty-blonde” hair piled up on her head. Merilee Ramsey regarded her husband as he sat in his favorite chair, reading The Washington Post. Tall, handsome, athletic, with his just-now-graying hair combed straight back, accenting his steely-blue eyes . . . and he was the president of the United States. I think I did all right when I picked him. After a moment she said “What ‘cha reading?”
“Oh, the latest crap the opposition is saying about me.”
“Anything special, or the usual vile, filthy innuendoes and ridiculous rumors?”
“Well, I’m supposed to be the head of the most scandal-ridden, immoral, and incompetent administration this country’s evah experienced. Other than that, nothing special.” He smiled that infectious and disarming smile of his.
“Is that all? Who’s saying all that?”
“The one and only.”
She wrinkled her nose. “Why does that old fossil continue to carp at you? What does he expect to gain from it?”
“Are you kidding? He wants my job?”
“Your job? Why he’s at least sixty-five, isn’t he?”
He put the paper down. “Merilee, we’ve had olduh presidents. Remember Ronald Reagan?”
She rolled her eyes upward. “How could I forget?”
“Well, the senior senator from Arizona is still youngah than Reagan was when he took office. And he’s wanted this job for a long time. As a mattah of fact, he’s probably a shoo-in for the nomination.” His Boston accent was coming through loud and clear as it did when he got “wound up.” “And I’ll tell you something else, he cahn’t be dismissed all that easily as an opponent, let me tell you.” A buzzer sounded and he immediately picked up the phone. “Ramsey.” A pause. “Hmmm. I see. Okay, keep me posted as to new developments, will you? Thanks.” He hung up. “It seems something’s up in Moscow.”
“We don’t know for sure, but something might have happened to President Goldunov. It’s not confirmed yet, the Ambassador thinks he might have died.”
“Hmmph. Probably drank himself to death.” She noticed him staring off into space. “What are you thinking about, attending the funeral in Moscow?”
“No actually, I was wondering what would happen over theah if he is gone.”
She frowned. “Well, nothing terrible I hope. We’ve finally managed to get that damned defense budget cut. I’d hate to see another Cold War situation.”
He looked up at her. “We?”
“Theodore Ramsey, aren’t I a part of this administration?”
That smile again. “Of course, my deah, of course. Well, hopefully the democratic process will prevail.” He picked his newspaper up again, trying hard not to display the depth of his anxiety. But he was not fooling his wife who watched him as he thumbed through the pages. She knew him too well.
Benson Williams regarded his colleagues around the table as he waited for the red light to go on.
“Three, two, one , you’re on.”
Williams looked at the camera through his wire-framed glasses. “Good evening and welcome to World In Review. My colleagues tonight are Marissa Spencer from the Times, John Terella from the Post, and of course Neal Tomlinson from News of the World.com. I’m Benson Williams, your host. We have a lot to talk about tonight so let’s get started, shall we? Marissa, let’s start with you. What do you think will happen to relations between the US and Russia in the wake of the death of President Goldunov?”
Spencer crossed her legs under her green dress and tried to look thoughtful. “Well, Benson, that depends entirely on who follows him of course. No surprise there. If Nosenko takes over, we might see a stronger Russia and a bit more of the old US-Soviet rivalry, but I don’t think he’s a Communist at heart. Golovkin, on the other hand, . . . ”
Williams broke in. “Marissa, for the benefit of our viewers, we are talking about Russian Defense Minister Gennady Nosenko and head of the Russian Socialist Union Dimitry Golovkin.”
“Yes, well the RSU is really the old Communist Party of the Soviet Union for all intents and purposes. The RSU controls a large number of seats in the Russian parliament, the Duma. We don’t know of course just how dedicated this group is to restoring the old USSR but they’re certainly to the right of Nosenko.”
“To the left you mean,” said Terella.
Tomlinson spoke up. “Benson, there’s no doubt that the ascendancy of either Nosenko or Golovkin will mean a Russia which will be a bit more truculent. Certainly Golovkin presents the bigger problem for us, although I doubt seriously that we will see a return of the Cold War.”
Spencer eyed him coolly. “How can you be so sure, Neal? This guy’s a dedicated Communist as far as we can tell.”
Tomlinson smiled. “I’m glad the Times has a man inside the Kremlin allowing you to be so sure of that Marissa. In any case, Russia doesn’t have the means any more to pose a threat the way the USSR did.”
Williams turned to Terella. “What about it John? Does your newspaper have a spy in Russia too?”
Terella chuckled. “No, not quite. But I think Marissa may be closer to the truth unfortunately.”
“In what way?”
“Well, we’re seeing potential enemy regimes, or at least rivals, flexing their muscles all over the world. Not to mention the apparent resurgence of extremist, leftist parties in places like Italy and France. And the way this president’s cutting our defense budget, well . . . and don’t forget terrorism.”
Tomlinson cleared his throat. “Oh, here he goes again. Look, John, I don’t think we need to get into your ‘September 11th’ argument. You know the threat’s lessened. Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda are long gone. And you also know we’ve got bigger domestic fish to fry.”
Before Terella could respond Spencer chimed in. “Neal, you’re not paying attention to what’s going on in the world.”
“First of all, in spite of waiting for years for China to ‘mellow,’ it’s still communist and stronger than it’s ever been. Hong Kong was supposed to remain capitalist and look what happened. Now Taiwan’s about to bite the dust the same way. Pakistan, India, and Iran all have nuclear weapons, and so does North Korea and no one’s done a damn thing about it. You know, if Golovkin does take over in Russia, I wouldn’t be surprised if North Korea tries to resuscitate the old Moscow-Pyongyang alliance. And how do we know Al-Qaeda is really finished?”
At that, everyone started to speak at once causing Williams to break in. “All right, I see we’re not going to solve this one. Let’s take a break for our sponsors and, when we come back, we’ll discuss the recent goings-on in the congress with the ever-perplexing issue of “gender-norming” in our nation’s armed services.”
As the bright lights temporarily dimmed, Terella reached for a water glass. “That ought to be fun.”
Captain Milo McGraw argued with his new “captain.” as he sat tied in the co-pilot seat. “This is nuts, it’s crazy.”
“To you perhaps, but not to us,” responded Abdullah bin Walad, keeping his eye on the altitude indicator as he circled the city below.
“But you’ll die, like the rest of us!”
“I know. And I will go to Heaven.”
McGraw’s eyes were narrow slits. “I doubt it, pal.”
Walad looked out the window. “That is your White House.”
“You’re not . . . no, not the White House.”
“Hmm. No, I think not. There is too much around it. I had thought it was bigger.” He turned the plane and banked so he could see the area. “Ah, that will do.”
It took a few minutes for McGraw to realize they were headed for the Pentagon.
This was not good. He had been in the Air Force. He had friends there. Besides, it was the Pentagon. Walad ‘s eyes opened wide as put the plane in a nose dive. At the last second, McGraw leaned forward as hard as he could into the wheel.
“Stop!” yelled Walad but it was too late. The Boeing 757 hit the helipad outside the Pentagon and bounced into the E-Ring on the outside of the building. McGraw could not know it, but he had saved a few hundred lives.
NOTE: "DULY CONSTITUTED AUTHORITY" had been selected by Readers Guild to be part of an upcoming anthology of thrillers. Unfortunately the company's fortunes have taken a turn for the worse and the contract has been terminated. Therefore "Duly" will return for purchase at Amazon shortly.
My latest novel, "In the Name of the Sun," is now finally finished. I had hoped to get this one published the "traditional" but I have decided to self-publish (see my "miniblog" for more on this). "Sun" is best described as a science fiction thriller.
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