I’m happy to offer another exclusive excerpt from my latest novel. This is an excerpt from a chapter called “Discovery.” OSS operative, Charles, has been tracking down the driver of a lost lorry deep in the countryside of Tonkin, French Indochina in the waning moments of WWII. He and his three Viet Minh companions arrive at a village and unearth a terrifying discovery.
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As the sun began to shake itself awake from the east, Vinh shook Charles out of a deep sleep.
“Ahhh,” he jerked himself vertically, opening his eyes to his trio of companions standing over him.
“Vinh says we must go. We have a long walk to his grandmother’s house. Perhaps we will find Dinh-Hoa there.”
“Alo Cha Le,” said Long with that familiar gusto, seemingly unaffected by last evening’s events.
Charles shook his head back and forth, trying to grasp the short night on his consciousness. He had no more than two hours of sleep.
“Alright. Let’s go.”
Vinh knew his grandparent’s house was the next logical location to go to. At least they could trek back with some oxen and possibly get the truck moving by the morrow. Vinh decided to take the valley route which was twice as long but would give them a chance of finding a vehicle to help them out of their muddy predicament. They traveled up the road for about twenty minutes until they veered off into some rice paddies and cut up over a small hill into one far-flung valley of north eastern Bac Thai. The adults remained silent. Mai had much to contemplate. Charles kept watching her petite-frame in front of him. How agile she was on her feet. How pretty she was. He couldn’t take his eyes off of her. Long, however, had rediscovered his verboseness and spoke to Charles in a constant drone. Mai didn’t even bother to translate, and Charles responded with a consistent ‘uh-huh’, which seemed to be enough for Long.
After three and half hours of walking, Vinh stopped the quartet on a low-lying clearing overlooking a cluster of trees surrounded by rice paddies of varying elevation.
“Vinh says this is the village.”
The mid-morning sun had begun to command their attention. They descended the hill and started onto a dirt walking path leading into the center of twelve small cement and mortar homes, a typical Vietnamese cluster with an all dirt village square, lined with tall palm trees on both sides that provided shade to the modest dwellings. Chickens scattered themselves throughout the area and several houses had water buffaloes still tied to the side of the dwellings. The village lay still, like an epidemic had erased every living soul, leaving the houses untouched to wrestle through the day by themselves. It was too early for the mid-day rest, and this lack of activity unnerved Vinh to the point of putting his hand over his pistol.
“Where is everyone?” Long asked in an unsettlingly loud tone.
“Shhhh,” Vinh quieted him.
Charles sensed the tension and slid in front of Mai and Long just in case. When they passed the eighth empty house, the walking path turned off to the left, leading to the final four houses of the village, including Vinh’s grandparents’ home. The sight startled them all. Forty or fifty people facing away from them, stood in a silent clump, a trance-like pose, looking towards the last house, which stood at the very edge of a rice paddy—a large expanse leading out to the untouched emerald hills in the distance.
Vinh picked up the pace and hurried down the path, yelling something that Charles couldn’t understand. Two men, then ten, turned around to see the Viet Minh soldier, intensity in his eyes, only able to see the top of the doorway of his family’s home.
The men greeted Vinh in piercing tones, yelling at him excitedly in a bitter way that bordered on rage—the type of rage which fuels mob violence, which takes the law into its own hands. And certainly, there was no law here—dozens of miles from the nearest magistrate who already had been stripped of his authority. This was wild country, with political enemies and ideologies at every turn, strange as it was in a community of farmers. They were no longer immune to the events of the world and stood in the midst of a tragic power-play nearly a hundred years in the making.
“What’s going on?” Charles asked Mai.
“I’m not sure.”
Long hung on Charles’ arm, and Mai tucked herself behind the American as Vinh parted the crowd to see a lone Vietnamese woman sitting on the ground, head down, weeping furiously, mumbling incomprehensible words. It was Vinh’s sister, Tuyet.
“Tuyet! What has happened here?”
She lifted her head, surprised to see her brother.
“Vinh, go away.”
“What is going on?” yelled Vinh.
“Mai?” Charles whispered in her ear.
“I don’t know. She’s telling him to leave. That it’s none of his business.”
Long came up beside his Uncle Vinh and recognized his auntie, whom he hadn’t seen in several years.
“Auntie, what’s wrong?” he wedged himself through the crowd of neighbors, and she welcomed him into her arms, rocking him back and forth, comforting him for a reason not apparent to the youngster.
Tuyet refused to speak with Vinh, holding Long tightly and crying continuously. At long last, one neighbor stepped up and pointed to the side of the house, telling Vinh to go around the corner and look.
“What is it?” Vinh asked.
The man shrugged his shoulders, shook his head, and blended back into the crowd, not wanting to be the one to reveal anything. Vinh, Charles, and Mai walked slowly around the edge of the house with all eyes following them. Urgent whispers spread throughout the horde in grand anticipation. As they rounded the corner, there sat an ox cart with small wheels and an open back. Bamboo slats formed the make-shift railings on the sides and front. On the cart lay cargo of some sort, covered with several red-dyed reed mats. Vinh approached with an empty mind but with a heart that knew better. He stood at the side of the cart, gripping the edge of the mat in trepidation, until he finally lifted it. Upon the cart lay …
To find out what was on the cart and read the rest of this explosive story, click HERE!