Authors: Marc Santailler
Tags: #Fiction - Thriller, #Fiction - War, #Fiction - History
This is a work of fiction. Aside from the historical context, all characters and events are imaginary, and any resemblance to real people, alive or dead, is purely coincidental.
Copyright Â©Marc Santailler 2013
First published in Print and as an eBook in November 2013
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recorded or otherwise), without prior written permission of the copyright owner.
NATIONAL LIBRARY OF AUSTRALIA
|The Son: Out of Vietnam Love, death and survival after the Vietnam war / Marc Santailler
|9780992330316 (ePub, Mobi)
|Fiction - Thriller
Fiction - War
Fiction - History
|Reno Design | www.renodesign.com.au | R33015 Graham Rendoth | Ingrid Urh
Digital edition distributed by
Port Campbell Press
TO THOSE WHO DIDN'T MAKE IT
HAO'S STORY 1
HAO'S STORY 2
MEN WITH GUNS
PICKING UP THE PIECES
Between Sadec and Mytho, as you head back towards Saigon (or Ho Chi Minh City as it's now called), along Highway 1 in the Mekong delta region of southern Vietnam, lies the Plain of Reeds. This is a desolate, inhospitable stretch of country which juts down from the Cambodian border in the shape of an inverted triangle, and the road cuts across its lower extremity for about forty kilometres. Long used as a refuge by bandits and rebels of all kinds, during the Vietnam War it was a stronghold of the southern communist guerrillas known as the Viet Cong.
Harper drove carefully, his eyes straining in the weak headlights of his rented car to detect the worst potholes before his front wheels actually hit them. The road was too rough to allow for much speed, and in any case the advice at the last check point had been very clear: drive slowly, no more than thirty kilometres an hour, with your ceiling light on. That's the signal that you're local traffic, and they're more likely to let you through. As an extra precaution Harper had swapped his cigarette lighter for a greasy cap, tucked his fair hair as much as possible under it, turned his shirt collar up. You couldn't rely on the Viet Cong being colour blind.
A rough-looking lot these local government militia, barely distinguishable from the VC in their black pyjamas, guarding a bridge and a minuscule hamlet through the hours of darkness. They probably had some deal going with the VC, and it was a toss-up which was more dangerous: to stay there the night or take his chances on the road. But they knew the area, and they'd calculated the risks. By daylight the road was safe enough. It was only at night that the Viet Cong came out to assert their control, and until about eight or eight thirty you had a good chance of getting through. After that the risk of being shot at increased with each passing hour. After ten you had to be suicidal to try it. It was now twenty to eight.
A torch waved him down ahead, a string of armed men along the road. VC or good guys? Harper's heart beat faster, until he saw the GI-style helmets. An army patrol, six or seven slim figures in khaki, led a diminutive sergeant. Harper slowed to a stop.
âWhy you on this road?' the sergeant asked in halting English, pistol on hip, his head in its tin pot huge on his wiry body. âToo much danger.'
âI've had a breakdown,' Harper answered in Vietnamese.
âXe tÃ´i bá» hÆ°', pháº£i xá»a, máº¥t nhiá»u thÃ¬ giá».'
The sergeant stared. How do you say radiator hose in Vietnamese? âI have to be back in Saigon tonight.' In the background, occasional thumps in the darkness, grenades or mortar rounds, a flare or two and the rattle of small arms. A local firefight, or someone just showing he's awake?
âDangerous!' the sergeant repeated. âYou shouldn't be out so late.'
âHow's the road ahead?'
âAlright so far. Don't waste time. You've still got twenty K before you're clear.'
âOK, thanks.' Harper passed over his remaining cigarettes. The sergeant grinned briefly.
Harper drove on, thinking of the girl waiting for him in Saigon. Hien, looking like a school-girl in her white
Ã¡o dÃ i
. She couldn't stay beyond eleven, her parents would have a fit if she stayed the night. Even if they were virtually engaged. Like all young men facing marriage, Harper still had twinges of doubt. How would it work out, taking an Asian bride of nineteen back to his family in Australia? How would she face up to the demands of the job, the moves, the constant shunting from pillar to post? She'd fared well enough with his colleagues in the embassy, her English was good and improving fast, she had brains as well as beauty: this was no shop-worn bar-girl, everyone could see that at a glance, but a girl of good character from a well-known family, and she had the strength and the toughness to adapt.
And how would he fare, as a faithful loving husband? Think of the girls you're leaving behind. He did a quick review of the more recent ones. No regrets there. You couldn't live like a playboy forever. She was the nearest to permanent bliss he would ever find.
What was it she wanted to tell him, that she'd refused to say on the phone?
âGuess!' she had said that morning. âIf you guess right we can do it again tonight.'
Harper had a vision of her face, her impish face split by a grin of glee as she wriggled naked on top of him, biting his nose, her rump sliding like silk under his hands. âYes,' he had said, and âYes,' he said again, âyou and me together, we'll make it work.'
Another waving torch, another patrol. Same routine. Danger, what are you doing here at this hour? More thumps and flashes in the night. Some poor bastard must be copping it. Harper was relaxed, unafraid. Perhaps he should have waited until the next day, but how could he foresee the burst hose, the stops to fix it with wire and sweat rag until by sheer luck he'd found a good mechanic at the last place? Luckily it now seemed to be holding, and what was the point of living if you couldn't take a risk from time to time? There'd be time enough for caution when he was old and spent and had only memories to live on.
âAbout five clicks.
Chá»«ng nÓm cÃ¢y.'
Ten more minutes. Two, three kilometres ahead, the lights of another hamlet glimmered through the trees, ThiÃªn LÆ°Æ¡ng, the end of the bad stretch. After that, the main road from My Tho to Saigon, total safety, an hour and a bit to get home and hold Hien in his arms.
The tracer bullets cutting across the road twenty metres ahead of the car registered in his mind before he heard the sound of fire from the trees. AK-47, he thought automatically. Shit! Favourite weapon of the Viet Cong. Stop or crash through? Keep going, that was the only hope. He tightened his grip on the wheel, slid down into the seat, put his foot down hard. Keep grinning Hien. I'll be home tonight.
The next burst caught the car side on. Harper heard the hammer blows against the body, the burst tyre, fought to hold the wheel as the car slewed across the road. The shattered window, the splash of light in his shattered brain were the last things he knew as the car plunged over the embankment and into darkness.
HAO'S STORY 1
My name is Paul Quinn. I'm Australian.
Many years ago, when I was a young man and considered by some capable of almost anything (except treason), I was recruited into a secretive government organization in Canberra that used diplomatic cover. My first posting was Saigon, near the end of the Vietnam War. It didn't last long. The war ended sooner than anyone expected, and we all had to leave in a hurry. But during that time two things happened which were to change my life later on, and the lives of several other people.
First, soon after my arrival, I met a girl at a party. A Vietnamese girl, or young woman. The party was at the house of my predecessor, another young man, named David Harper. He worked in the political section of the embassy, where among other things he was in charge of press affairs â always a useful cover for an intelligence officer â while I did some language training in-country before taking over from him at the end of his tour. In those days the organization was still small and junior officers were often sent out on their own.
The girl was very attractive, with that mix of willowy grace, strength and intelligence which I found so captivating in Vietnamese women, and I would have liked to know her better. But she was there with her fiancÃ©, a gangling young man from the Faculty of Sciences, and I didn't insist. There were lots of attractive girls in Saigon. I soon had other things to worry about.
Two weeks later David was killed. He had gone down to Can ThÆ¡, a large town on the Mekong, to meet a new contact with links to the Viet Cong leadership, and on the way back his car was shot up by â it was presumed â a Viet Cong sniper. Naturally I was pulled off my course at once to replace him. My first duty after informing headquarters was to go down to the delta to bring his body back to Saigon. Put some iron in your soul, my ambassador said, and teach you not to do anything so stupid.