The Butterfly Dragon II: What Different Eyes See - Special Addition - From Hanoi Through To The Ho Chi Minh Trail
This is the promised chapter that occurs between Beijing and South Korea, jumping back towards the direction of Thailand, and specifically Vietnam after having added a key cast member. It elaborates on the immediate magnetism between Doctor Briggs and the brilliant mathematical genius, Zheng Ni Wong and the field of research she created dubbed Computational Biology.
More importantly this chapter sets up an allegorical metaphor between the characters of the delegation that reflects the history of Vietnam itself, with each character representing an aspect of Vietnam, its history and allegiances, or influence upon the region with a special focus upon American interests versus the Communist interests. This is an especially prevalent aspect with Katya and Victor Piotr, who both have family directly linked to the U.S.S.R. involvement in Vietnamese history.
[Please be respectful of the identity of others who may not agree with having theirs stolen and replaced, including myself as the author of works here on Shhhhh! Digital Media, and certainly others with whom I've worked in an artistic sense, including 3D Modeler and Designer Amy "Ai Mei" Wong.
Artists work hard on their creations and this can certainly be said much the same of authors as well. Please respect and support their being, identity and peace.
The artists involved with the creation of Shhhh! Digitial Media can be found on the Credits page, along with their professional contact information. They are an essential part of what Shhhh! Digital Media is all about.
Enjoy this latest addition to What Different Eyes See, which takes place between the delegation's trip from Beijing (in the aftermath of the attack on the Forbidden City and while Norler is still in a secret Beijing Hospital) and Seoul, in the Republic Of South Korea. The original draft did not include the proper representation of Vietnam and Indonesia as well as Myanmar. These nations are essential locations in the entirety of East Asia, and a treasure trove of culture and history. This chapter was added in this special addition in order to complete the most important elements missing from the story and to connect those elements to the upcoming third book in the Butterfly Dragon series, Butterfly Dragon III: The Two Dragons. It also includes an involved storyline and its own mystery native to the region.
I sincerely hope that you do enjoy this addition and thank you to the nations, resources (both online and offline) and artists who've contributed so much to make this adventure possible.
Brian Joseph Johns July 7, 2021 ]
The flight to Hanoi from Beijing was silent, floating upon the wings of a great metal bird. From within that bird, a lecturer spoke to his peers.
"Then how come some of them discovered cannabis without being trained in the use of a rifle?" Bryce asked.
"...and cannabis, not to mention LSD promoted by a big backer of modern physics and the Copenhagen principle, by the one and only Timothy Leary..." Bryce added honestly.
"You're not saying that you..." Victor asked Bryce precariously.
"What? You expect me to reveal something and betray my university physics brothers? Look, what happened in Chi Gamma Mu stays in Chi Gamma Mu. I will say nothing more on the matter. I'd sooner give up the strings on my piano, and yes, pianos, like their related instrumental cousins, harps, have strings," Bryce responded, folding his arms firmly.
"Well at least Leary didn't corrupt you, or Alicia would have no hero..." Katya responded.
"Thank - You - Professor - Bryce - Maxwell for taking the wind out of the sails of my aeroplane born lecture," Doctor Briggs scolded Bryce sarcastically.
"Please do go on, I was simply dealing with the issue of Doctor Timothy Leary. Not promoting him or his views, especially with regard to the use of any substances that might alter one's sense of free will," Bryce responded adamantly.
"Oh give me a break Bryce. This isn't about Timothy Leary, but the fact that so many of the youth of that generation had chosen to follow the idea that they could affect the politics of their Governing bodies simply by the consumption of substances that in all honesty, were self interested pursuits of ecstacy," Doctor Briggs responded and the lines were drawn.
"I honestly can't comment on that statement, Doctor Briggs, but I'd have to agree that a great many people found solace in the communion of their appreciation of cannabis and yes - LSD, whether you agree or not. We're not talking about the morality of substance abuse here, but the fact that during that time, when the risk of being drafted into the armed forces and returing only three months later in a body bag was certainly very significant. That's coming from someone who completely supports the existance of the military and LGBTQ2 rights. My wife and I have attended every Canadian Military Air show and every Pride Parade for the last twenty years and enjoyed them thoroughly. As you yourself said Doctor Briggs, the advent of farming, agriculture and the plough, led directly to the development of the armed forces. Weapons merely exist because of the plough. There are people who'd rather take from those who spent their time developing methods of producing sustenance faster and en mass, rather than developing methods of stealing that sustenance from someone else," Bryce responded.
"...You forgot: one group of people telling another group of people what to believe and how to live. Another reason that weapons exist, though roughly speaking, we're on the same or..." Doctor Briggs began.
"...similar...page?" Zheng responded.
"Exactly Zheng! You're admirably brilliant!" Doctor Briggs flirted.
"...and you're easily impressed. Wait until you see me when I'm really impressive..." she flirted back.
"I can't wait..." Doctor Briggs blushed.
"So as I was saying so flagrantly, having not lived during that era nor having experienced what those poor high school and college draftees and drop outs had experienced, not to mention the poor citizens, mostly farmers living in Vietnam at the time, the fact remains that warfare had changed significantly since World War II, yet everyone who'd jumped in were operating under the premise that it was the same thing. The same kind of war. An oppressor, albeit in the form of Communism through a former ally of the west, versus the oppressed, liberty seeking, consumer market ready capitalists liberating themselves from socialism. The kind of thing over which Americans love to fight. The kind of thing that is great for the utilization of the press as well though that backfired as a result of the massive anti-war activism. Something that the Vietnamese didn't have but that the Americans did, and in great abundance," Doctor Briggs continued.
"The American public was not even nearly in agreement over their military presence in South East Asia," Bryce added.
"Exactly!" Doctor Briggs pointed at Bryce as if awarding him with a medal.
"My parents were a part of that generation in the U.S.S.R." Victor responded uncomfortably.
"It seems that we have some hunters and collectors with us," Bryce acknowledged.
"Or the family thereof, and certainly a great reason why they're with us," Valerie reminded the academics.
"If we were hunters and collectors operating in a civilian capacity, do you think we'd have just outed ourselves by revealing the ancestry of one of our own?" Victor responded.
"Duly noted Victor. I was only joking with you. Besides, we're all under orders in the delegation for a full debriefing in Canada by diplomatic officials and the local diplomatic representatives for each of the countries we're visiting on this delegation. In a sense, we're all hunters and collectors whether we like it or not. I'm sure that the Eastern delegates are under the same orders," Bryce advised Victor and the rest of the delegation.
"Hunters and collectors? What are they?" asked Monique seductively in her youth knowing intuitively that one of the academics, especially the male ones would likely trip over themselves to answer her.
"A very good question Monique," Doctor Briggs responded, jumping on the opportunity to continue his lecture.
Monique, a woman of experience despite her youthful appearances indulged him by her attention paid towards him, crossing her toned legs for his appreciation.
Zheng immediately noticed and in her attraction towards Doctor Briggs, drew her finger seductively along the top of her blouse, very effectively drawing Doctor Briggs' eye against her new French competition. She played innocent until she was sure his attention was solely upon her.
"The term hunters and collectors actually refers to those in the intelligence community who gather ground level intelligence, especially preceding and during armed conflict. They're generally the most common of operatives, fitting in to their local surroundings and drawing little attention to themselves. If you suspect someone of being a hunter or collector, then chances are they aren't at all, for they're indetectible," Doctor Briggs explained academically to Monique.
She blushed seductively as if on que towards Doctor Briggs.
Zheng immediately caught Monique's lure, secretly smirking at her and then leaned back in her chair, exposing the slit in her dress ever so slightly to expose her pantyhosed legs for Doctor Briggs, who immediately took notice.
"I'm finding it slightly hot in here..." Doctor Briggs loosened his tie, though the others with the exception of Monique and Zheng had no idea about what he was talking.
Monique winced in defeat as Doctor Brigg's eyes wandered Zheng's body.
Zheng reveled in her victory, however, ever so modestly.
"So... getting back to the academic aspect of your great lecture Doctor Briggs..." Bryce stepped in.
Katya suddenly tapped Victor's leg, nudging him to life and in support of Bryce.
"I completely agree, your lecture is astounding..." he improvised for Doctor Briggs' ego, without the need for much acting.
"We're either on the brink of verbal genius or the brink of the over-indulgence of the onboard bar," Valerie responded as the stewardess nodded ever so inconspicuously in acknowledgement.
"May I collect your unused cups please?" the stewardess politely asked.
"My good mistress, perhaps you could tell us where we are?" asked Bryce of the stewardess.
"What does this have to do with Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh City?" Monique grabbed the whole deck from everyone, drawing Zheng's immediate ire.
"Quảng Ngãi," Zheng responded as if reading Doctor Briggs' mind.
"We're just over the northern tip of the border of Vietnam," the stewardess responded to Bryce.
"You are a complete genius my dear, mid-spaces and borders are what this whole issue is about..." Bryce winked at the stewardess who unabashedly continued on her way.
Meanwhile, Doctor Briggs withdrew himself for a moment in disbelief that Zheng had read his mind, not knowing that this intelligent Mathematician and Computational Biologist had simply used her knowledge and experience of the region to guess his most likely answer.
"Exactly!" Doctor Briggs responded.
Monique rolled her eyes disincredulously, ceding to Zheng.
Never underestimate an academic! Zheng mouthed to Monique.
"Ego has no place in our higher duty. Not here, nor anywhere," Ai Yuanlin Ying reminded her.
"I'm sorry boss. Won't happen again," Monique's competitive nature ceded to Zheng.
"This isn't about winning or losing, but committment. He's just a stop on your final destination, but to Zheng, he is the destination she's been looking for her whole life. He really is attracted to her, he just hasn't realized it yet. Step aside for the purpose of love, and let the head meet the tail so that a circle can come to fruition," Ai suggested to Monique.
"I guess that's why you're the Butterfly Dragon," Monique agreed with Heylyn AKA Ai Yuanlin Ying.
"Monique, my friend, your understanding is why you're the Eclipse... introspection and extrospection all in one," Ai reminded her friend and ally.
"I have no idea what you two are speaking of, but I'd wager in Doctor Briggs' favour, and Zheng's. They are a couple in the making," Katya interjected quietly to Heylyn.
"We couldn't agree with you more, and I love to see my friends get together," Monique responded quietly to Katya.
"We're friends right?" Monique asked Zheng and Doctor Briggs.
"We sure are Monique. I wouldn't have you any other way," Zheng replied.
"Always will be, friend," Doctor Briggs agreed.
"Now can we hear the rest of your lecture," Victor requested.
"Please continue for us," Zheng spoke in a simultaneously academic and seductive fashion to Doctor Briggs.
"We're talking about the middle strategic ground here. The halfway point between Northerner and Southerner Vietnamese attitudes," Doctor Briggs explained.
"Wait a second. How can you explain an entire people according..." Bryce began perhaps playing the devil's advocate.
"According to geography and their proximity to one another in relation to a compass? Seems to work pretty good for Korea, both North and South," Doctor Briggs continued.
"Technically, they're two different countries," Alicia reminded Doctor Briggs.
"They weren't always," Victor returned.
"... that and their differences had to begin somewhere... namely two or more cold war powers catering the benefits of their global brand to the local population, who according to their geographic proximity chose to favour one more than the other," Doctor Briggs lectured them.
"Yes, the French certainly didn't want to lose their investment in the region, but most of that can be explained by proximity to both Russia and China, the influences and backers of the North, IE communist in each of those conflicts. Not only that, but in every such conflict involving the west, Imperialism is often grouped with communism or by itself in the absence of communism or socialism. That's written in the history of the Americas from the initial exploitation of the Americas onward, including the attempted annexing of South America, by European powers, in which case such attempts at annexation were driven purely by the natural resources of the local population or cultivating the trade resources of their empire for exploitation on the emerging world trade market. The same attempts were made when Europe arrived with their navies (and religion) at South-East Asia's doorstep. However, we'll just stick to the two pertinent conflicts which are very much related to our trip here to Vietnam and South Korea, because those conflicts and their resolution were at the heart of one of the most interesting and unique aspects of Vietnam. How two groups of people that embrace very different concepts of how their society should be run are able to co-exist peacefully in the aftermath and many generations thereafter such a war," Doctor Briggs described for them.
"It's unfortunate that we're only limited to visiting one side of that story here in Vietnam," Alicia remarked.
"How so?" asked Monique from her window seat beside Heylyn.
"Well at least we'll get taste of one side of story..." Katya responded optimistically.
At that moment, there was a loud thunderclap just outside of the aircraft, preceded by a sudden bright flash.
Heylyn turned immediately to check Monique's window, half suspecting that Monique had in the role of her alter-ego the Eclipse, been the source of the sudden excitement.
Monique still sat beside Heylyn, peering out the same window at the engine nearest them. Bright bursts of plasma shot out from the exhaust, which had begun trailing a dark plume of smoke as Heylyn's eyes fell upon it. Despite the horrific scene, this is not what immediately startled Heylyn amidst the unfolding calamity.
The airliner suddenly banked on the side of the damaged engine, the aircraft rolling fifteen degrees before the pilots and air crew managed to stabilize and level it. A large fire now engulfed the entirety of the engine as Heylyn spied Weltherwithsp, a large grin across his serpentine face. It looked to the engine, struggling to reach with its clawed hands and grab the last bits of the turbofan assembly. A smirk crossed the Dragon's face as it failed to reach its intended target. That expression quickly changed to one of elation as it looked back to Heylyn, having found the piece it was attempting to yank from the aircraft.
Heylyn looked back in shock as Weltherwithsp winked at her, as if inviting her to join it's fun.
She smirked back at Weltherwithsp intensely as Monique looked to Heylyn, seeing her expression.
"Don't ask!" Heylyn said firmly to Monique, then leaning back in her seat.
She closed her eyes and concentrated, drawing in several breaths and energetic Chi, focusing her energy body. Her energy body congealed in her solar plexis, traversing upwards to emerge from her heart, where it climbed the airframe of the airliner. It then traveled along the surface of the hull outwards along the fuselage and out onto the wing. A moment later, she materialized, standing on the wing of the craft in her full Butterfly Dragon costume, balancing on the flaps of the airliner.
"Well it seems that in your dreams you heard the screams of this engine's last steam..." the Dragon spoke, its voice simultaneously expressing all languages of East Asia, with Heylyn understanding four of them distinctly, and recognizing the remaining by region and dialect, but not direct translation.
Weltherwithsp twined tightly around the wing, its head moving close to her face and coming eye to eye as if to challenge her.
"What has gotten into you! She pushed the dragon back and it retreated away from her as she grabbed hold of its enormous clawed hand and tried to pull it free from the engine.
"Look at the little Butterfly who has come so far. I ride the wings of planes, and follow the whims of the stars. Can you not see that you're interfering in matters beyond your place in this world..." Weltherwithsp challenged her.
"You invited me into this, remember? The Field? The Coccoon? Your beginning?" Heylyn pushed back, her wings spreading out from her back thrusting her forward as she attempted to unravel the Dragon from the wing.
Weltherwithsp retreated, unwrapping itself from the wing as her momentum gave her presence. Its head dodged, attempting purposely to direct her momentum away from the wing. She followed, unaware of Weltherwithsp's deceit. Her momentum carried her far away from the aircraft as the Dragon resumed its dismantling of the aircraft's engine.
"I'm very impressed and you're obviously obsessed... but I do digress that you cannot know the rest..." Weltherwithsp's wings spread, dwarfing hers and thrusting them both back to the wing.
Weltherwithsp's fingered hands grasped her waist and held her fast against the fuselage of the airliner. It then used its rear claws to hold her in place as it crawled the length of the wing with its front hands.
She struggled against the weight of the enormous Dragon, suddenly realizing that it had an obvious weakness it had overlooked.
As it front right hand grabbed onto the damaged engine, Heylyn's wings wrapped around her arms, strengthening them as she hefted directly against the Dragon's tiniest claw.
She pushed with all of her force and effort until the Dragon's toe nail became dislodged.
"Arrrrrgh!" Weltherwithsp both simultaneously screamed (and cursed) in no less than thirty six languages (and 153 dialects).
All of them translated to long unused exclamations about hang nails.
The enormous Dragon grasped at its baby toe, looking to Heylyn in shock.
"How could you? Dare do you? When we were such close friends? Beginning 'til end?" Weltherwithsp became a tangled mess grasping at its toe nail in apparent pain.
In the airliner, Monique and Alicia peered out to wing, seeing nothing but the damaged engine spewing flames and sparks of molten metal. Heylyn's body remained motionless, her eyes remaining closed as her grip tightened on the arm rests of her seat.
The Dragon unraveled from the wing, its enormous butterfly wings spreading as it jumped to the top of the fuselage to dodge Heylyn, still rubbing its baby toe.
She spun, falling off of the flap as her wings shot out from her back and caught her descent, speeding her up around the other side of the fuselage where she grappled with Weltherwithsp once again.
"Is this what you've been doing?! Where you've been hiding since our last encounter?!" she struggled against the creature's enormous strength.
"Nay, gone. Ai Yuanlin Ying, strong. Let's just say that this is something that you're seeing from the wrong end. Like you told your friend? Sometimes the tail needs to meet the head rather than the other way around..." Weltherwithsp responded to her in rhyme.
"By bringing an airliner down and killing all of these people!?" she challenged the serpent.
"And yet the craft is still in the air... yet of my craft you're unaware... Butterfly..." Weltherwithsp responded gently knocking Heylyn down sending her tumbling the length of the fuselage where she stopped upon colliding with the vertical stabilizer.
"Stay up, not down, though this is tata for now..." Weltherwithsp disappeared into the clouds with one flap of its enormous wings.
From her vantage point hanging on to the vertical fin at the rear of the airliner, she watched as one final explosion of the engine sent the remaining parts of the turbofan spinning towards the rear wings, just narrowly missing them. The fire had stopped as had the smoke and where the turbofan once sat spinning, there was only a gaping hole between the front of the engine and the rear, through which Heylyn could see clearly.
She pulled herself, launching forward into the air, her wings spread. With on flap she was able to thrust herself to the front of the aircraft and look directly in the cockpit. The pilots seemed to have everything under control and the emergency had subsided. As the Captain picked up the handset for the intercom, Heylyn opened her eyes, suddenly pulling her aetherial body back to her physical one, like a slingshot just as the Captain spoke.
"Attention, attention. This is the Captain speaking. As most of you know, there has been a problem with our right inner engine, which is no longer operating according to specification. The aircraft is completely safe and will continue to remain so until we land at Hanoi International Airport for an emergency landing. Please remain seated for the next ten minutes until we've verified that there are no further safety hazards. Just for your information, this aircraft is designed safely to fly on a single engine and even to land in the event that none of the engines are operating, with one hundred percent survivability. We apologize for any discomfort or inconvenience this has caused you. Our flight attendants will be making rounds to ensure your safety. Please cooperate with them and follow their instructions to the best of your ability. Thank you for choosing Vietnam Airlines," the Captain announced as calm returned to the passengers.
"Looks like we're getting an opportunity to appreciate both sides of Doctor Briggs' story?" Bryce suggested.
"Sounds like a great opportunity but for how long? I mean we're obviously going to have to catch another local flight to Ho Chi Minh City?" Zheng asked.
"We have a one day leaway before our meeting with the delegates in Ho Chi Minh City. Our rooms are booked there and we have no arrangements... yet. But we could change our itinerary if need be?" Valerie confirmed with Alicia, who looked to the other delegates.
"Let's wait until know all of our options in Hanoi," Alicia responded looking to Heylyn, who seemed rather off.
"I'm guessing something is up... that has nothing to do with the engine suddenly exploding for seemingly no reason?" Alicia asked Heylyn suspiciously and quietly.
"Is it that obvious?" Heylyn replied.
"Is what obvious?" Monique asked the two of them.
Heylyn leaned forward and spoke:
"I saw our friend on the wing..." Heylyn spoke carefully.
"Except that it wasn't so friendly..." Heylyn told them.
"Are you saying that he... it...?" Alicia asked quizzically.
"Exactly. Sleeves rolled up and yanking bits of it out and tossing them away like nothing..." Heylyn described for them.
"So it tried to kill us all?!" Monique asked, speaking just a bit too loud.
She paused looking around the cabin as everyone stared at her.
"a monster...on a multiplayer mobile game... it tried to kill us. Really?!" Monique responded quickly and somewhat blandly, holding her own phone up.
"We nearly crashed lady. How can you be playing games?" someone from the back of the cabin asked rhetorically, whom Monique, Alicia and Heylyn simply ignored, lowering their voices by a decibel or two.
"We're still here, so obviously that wasn't part of the plan..." Alicia surmised given the evidence.
"It just answered with a question as usual. As if it meant for us to take this path... saying something about the tail meeting the head," Heylyn told them.
"That's what you said to me about Zheng and Doctor Briggs?" Monique reminded Heylyn.
"Yes, I know. But I said it as the head has to meet the tail, not the tail has to meet the head," Heylyn recalled for Monique.
"Sounds like its referring to something backwards, rather than forwards," Monique suggested.
"It has done that before, remembered the future the same way that we remember the past. We could be playing out something it knows about in our future, and by dismantling the thing-a-ling if you know what I mean, it was making sure we'd end up on that path," Heylyn told them.
"We should investigate this when we've landed. I'll bring Valerie up to speed. Let me know if you remember anything else," Alicia suggested as she turned to speak with Valerie.
"Are we through the worst yet?" Victor's knuckles whitened, beads of sweat dripping down his forehead as he clung to the arm rests of his seat, his eyes still closed.
Katya sat beside him, rubbing his closest arm trying to calm him down.
"Is your friend alright?" asked one of the flight attendants as she stolled the aisle checking on all of passengers.
"Husband, thank you for asking. He should be fine. He has a serious history of vertigo. He's fine as long as he doesn't see the windows or there isn't turbulence so as you can imagine, he's quite startled right now. In my professional opinion I'd say he's in mild shock," Katya responded still rubbing Victor's arm.
"I'm not in shlock, I'm just very cold right now," Victor replied, his voice shaky and wavering with his thick Russian accent.
"Sir, you didn't sustain any injuries during the equipment failure, especially to the head?" asked the flight attendant reaching up and pulling a blanket from the overhead compartment.
"No, not at all. No bumps or thumps. I'm just cold," Victor said shivering as the flight attendant covered him delicately with the blanket.
"Please make sure he remains conscious and if there's any change in his condition, don't hesitate to use the intercom system to summon me or one of the other flight attendants," she insisted to Katya.
"...I've even got the haircut to prove that..." Victor responded in jest, still shivering.
"Besides, I don't know what's worse. Being in shock or having to listen to the last bit of Doctor Briggs' arm chair lecture. I think he's already spent too much time away from Canada, working with American research alumni," Victor continued sarcastically.
"I heard that!" Doctor Briggs responded, holding back his laughter.
"Yeah, I think somebody's diaper needs changing," Zheng added.
"Just in case you were thinking about using the intercom system, we don't change diapers," the flight attendant caught the ball for her air crew, bringing about a round of laughter in the entire cabin.
Forty five minutes later and the airliner safely came to a stop as emergency vehicles pulled up to the craft. Mobile boarding ramps were lined up with the exits and the passengers were safely escorted from the airliner out onto the tarmac just outside of the terminal.
"Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome to Nội Bài International Airport in the capital city of Hanoi," the same flight attendant directed to the passengers to the emergency entrance of the terminal as one of the Vietnamese Engineers was hoisted via crane to examine the damaged engine.
"Looks like there was an impact. No signs of any organic matter," the Engineer spoke over his headset to the Engineering Department of Vietnamese Airlines.
"That rules out a bird. Anything else?" responded the Chief Engineer.
"No. All the evidence points to a large hail stone maybe? The impact caused catastrophic failure of the turbofan, the motor and its retaining ring. The fire partially melted the exhaust port. Wait a second... you're not going to believe this... there's giant claw marks..." the Engineer spoke in astonishment.
"Say again?" asked the Chief Engineer in disbelief.
An hour later and the Western Delegation having collected their baggage sat at one of the passenger pickup bays discussing their options.
"Just to bring everyone up to date, Werner is having his people make arrangements for our overnight here, where we'll be staying at the Oriental Jade Hotel. We're also waiting on a response from the head of the delegation in Ho Chi Minh City, so we don't know how long we'll be here yet. Werner is really pushing this so we can expect an answer soon," Valerie assured her peers.
"Soon enough to leave for the hotel now? I'm sure that most of us could use a break," Doctor Briggs asked, Zheng throwing him a seductive glance.
"That's the plan, however I'm waiting for a confirmation just in case there's no vacancie..." Valerie's phone rang as an incoming text advised them proceed to the passenger pickup area.
"That's our signal... Let's go," Valerie stood, grabbing her wheeled suitcase and pulling it easily over the pickup area.
The rest of the delegates followed in three groups. As they arrived, Alicia and Heylyn observed that there were several drivers, each with different signs, naming specific members of the delegation to come to their vehicles.
One of the vehicles' drivers indicated that Zheng, Doctor Briggs and Bryce would accompany him in his vehicle.
"Looks like we're taken care of," Bryce commented aloud, turning his smile to Zheng, Briggs, and finally to the driver in thanks.
"Good timing. Its good to see this all coming together," Valerie looked around ensuring that all of the delegations members were spoken for.
"I have to agree," Zheng stepped over to the car as the both the driver and Briggs competed to get her door.
"It's customary to let the driver honour his commitment to his passengers and to earn his gratuity," Zheng turned to address Briggs who shrugged in disappointment in his attempt to catch her attention.
As he stepped over to his door, she continued.
"But don't think for a moment that I didn't notice your concern," Zheng smiled at him ever so seductively.
Briggs' sense of defeat quickly turned to a silent victory and his smile once again found his face by the grace of her reply despite his emotional experience.
They loaded in the vehicle as Valerie stepped over to the driver before he entered the driver's seat.
"I've got this vehicle and theirs going directly to the Jade Oriental Hotel. Where is the third vehicle destined?" asked Valerie of the driver.
"Check that driver. Check the driver. Too much traffic. I need to go," the driver quickly jumped into the luxury DCar, leaving with Zheng, Briggs and Bryce.
Valerie quickly proceeded over to the second car where Katya and Victor were seated comfortably in the luxury passenger seats.
Katya lowered the electric windows in order to speak with Valerie.
"These are very nice and luxurious vehicles. We approve," Katya smiled, seeing that Victor had finally warmed up and fallen asleep.
"Do you know any Vietnamese? I need to find out where the third vehicle is going. Its not listed on my itinerary here..." Valerie asked Katya as the driver jumped in and drove away before Katya had any chance to answer.
Alicia, Heylyn stood outside of the vehicle, as Monique leaned against the luxury DCar and flirted with the driver.
"Well, I suppose I could just ask Monique to extract our destination from the driver because nobody else seems to know," Valerie responded frustratedly closing in on Alicia and Heylyn.
"Don't you notice anything odd about the vehicle arrangements?" Alicia asked Valerie.
"Other than we're the only ones who don't know where we're headed, no," Valerie replied.
"She's referring to the fact that we're all of the women with... abilities... if you know what I mean?" Heylyn observed Alicia's Point intuitively.
Valerie stood with her hands on her hips for a moment considering Alicia's observation.
"You don't say," she finally responded.
"Should we be worried?" Valerie asked Alicia.
"Well, it could be concidence, not to mention the fact that if anyone intended us harm, they'd have already had the best opportunity with the other two vehicles well on their way to the Jade..." Alicia replied.
"Not to mention we'd have sensed it..." Heylyn reminded them.
"Heylyn's right. I think we should just get in the vehicle before..." Alicia agreed.
"I've got news for you!" Monique waltzed over to her friends as the driver stepped into the luxury vehicle.
"Nice of you to join us," Valerie replied sarcastically.
"I'll take that head on thank you Valerie. So I was talking with Thuc Banh, and he told me that he's taking us to one of the Grand Estates on the River," Monique clasped her hands in excitement, dancing on her toes as she exhibited her anticipation.
Valerie stood motionless, clearly unimpressed.
"And..." Valerie asked impatiently.
"Let her finish, Her-cules," Heylyn remarked in Monique's defense.
"Well. It would seem that this particular Estate houses one of, if not the richest national in Vietnam and that she has personally requested our audience. Now that might not seem remarkable but her Estate has not had visitors since the Vietnam war ended," Monique spun on her toes and waved her fingers to Thuc Banh, who smiled back in admiration from behind the wheel of the DCar.
"Monique, you never cease to amaze me," Alicia smiled, wrapping her arms around her friends' shoulders as they proceeded to the vehicle.
Thuc Banh got out of the driver's seat and promptly opened their doors and loaded their luggage into the back. He then went to the front of the vehicle and drove south along Võ Văn Kiệt, until he arrived at a turn-off near the River. From there they followed the great serpent as it snaked its way through the Vietnamese landscape.
Alicia did some research of her own, reading further information about the history of the Hanoi region with a focus on sorting out any clues related to their dragon driven detour.
Monique meanwhile, enjoyed the amenities the luxury passenger van offered, including indulging herself in two glasses of Chardonnay while jumping around between V-Pop and North American online radio, listening to music through the complimentary ear-buds.
Heylyn fell asleep as she watched the dense city-scape slowly transition to lush jungle amidst the backdrop of Valerie's voice. Valerie attempted to sort out the impromptu arrangements made for the delegation in a cacaphony of hurried phone calls and text messages.
Valerie's voice disappeared as Heylyn drifted off and she suddenly found herself in the field of the dreams of her youth. She carefully stepped through the field, searching for the estranged beast that had disabled the flight.
She instead found nothing but unanswered questions. There floating free from any mounting or wall, floated a solitary painting in two colours, the yellow and red stripes of the south and the red star of north, meeting somewhere in the middle of the painting amidst a butterfly shaped heart. Much like the one that used to adorn her first outfit when she'd emerged to the world as the Butterfly Dragon.
She ran her hands over the painting, reaching the lower right corner where a signature emerged as the sun crested the horizon. It read: V. Canara.
Heylyn awoke with a sudden stop, leaning forward in the DCar seat.
"We're here sleepy head," Alicia's hand still shaking her shoulder.
Ms. Huệ Vân
Heylyn stepped out of the van onto a great brick driveway. Her eyes followed it to the distant jungle from whence they'd arrived, back to the Grand Estate, which resembled a temple, in terms of it design, perhaps only comparable to the Angkhor Wat or the Wat Sutat and other similar architecture she'd seen in the region.
Birds and fauna sounded off for the women, perhaps showing off to draw their attention or squawking intimidatingly attempting to scare them.
Thuc Banh carried their bags up to the front door of the Estate, where it was then carried into the house by two custodians.
"Greetings. I am Kho Pha. I am employed by Ms. Huệ Vân, the woman whose Estate this is and the woman who summoned you here. If you will accompany me, we will take you to the solarium for afternoon tea," Kho Pha, a tall gentleman at five foot ten stood just inside the entry way, his hands folded.
"Now we're getting somewhere," Monique nodded to Kho Pha, slightly tipsy.
"I take it we'll be getting some answers during our tea session with Miss...?" Valerie confirmed with Kho Pha.
"Ms. Huệ Vân will address you according to her own plans upon which I can not speculate. Now if you will accompany me..." Kho Pha led the four women into the Estate.
"Bye for now Thuc!" Monique blue her new friend Thuc a kiss.
He smiled modestly and waved as he got back in the DCar and drove off, down the brick driveway disappearing where it met the jungle.
Heylyn coaxed Monique back in line as they followed Kho Pha through the Estate. The Estate itself was a mixture of stone structures amidst rooms crafted with bamboo and other woods, some of the rooms almost appearing to be self contained structures separated from the rest by rooms of stone or even sculpted monuments. The wooden rooms seemed to inhabitable living spaces while the stone chambers were often alive with plants, vines and other life.
Upon their arrival at the solarium, they observed a room crafted entirely of glass and casings, shaped to house an enormous stone sculpture within which a finely crafted wooden floor housed a sitting area with a tea table at its center. Several paces away and through a stone doorway, a brick oven kept a cauldron of water at a stead boil, as a fountain maintained it with its slow trickle.
A woman retrieved a tea kettle, submerging it in the boiling water by its handle and filling it to the brim. She then withdrew it, pouring the steaming hot water through a filter filled with tea leaves, which drained into another kettle. She then retrieved that kettle, placing it upon a tray as the four women sat at the table on the wooden floor. The lady gave each a modest cup, pouring them each a helping of fresh tea, careful not to spill a drop. She then disappeared through another door.
Alicia looked to Heylyn and then back to Ms. Huệ Vân.
"Then there is Heylyn Yates. A deceivingly North American name for a former Chinese national is it not? That's because your father who moved your family to North America in the mid nineteen eighties thought it in your best interest to avoid stigmatizing you by forcing you to keep your true name, Ai Yuanlin Ying. And yet, while in North America, your destiny found you despite its Eastern beginnings. There are some things from which we cannot escape, though at this point in your destiny you've embraced responsibility, still unaware of what is to come that will threaten all that you hold dear. Morgan Hind Hanshi and his dojo gave you all he could at the start of your journey. "Tiger" Hoon Kwang nurtured you in his dojang. Jinn Hua and her Temple kept many things from you as she did from us all. And yet, you met and befriended Alicia at sixteen years of age, and helped her to find her inner peace and more importantly, her confidence. Then, in a chance meeting years later, you return the favour by saving her from certain doom at the hands of Grier Torman's men around the same time you created the SY-349. Only a couple days later, a giant butterfly is spotted first in Toronto, at a night club, then at an airport at the midpoint between Toronto and Treadwater Island resort, where much the same, there are several sightings of the same giant butterfly, whom apparently works with other women, one matching Alicia's description," Ms. Huệ Vân continued her monologue.
"How amusing, Miss Monique Defleur. Your life growing up Quebec City was a troubled one I understand? Such a lost soul you've always been, wanting to be the life of the party despite having been raised by two life hardened working class Canadians. Your Mother, French Canadian born and raised, and your Father, Ukrainian, a skilled tradesman and newcomer to Canada and their little daughter, always looking for the next party. Your happy family moved to Toronto and you found your party in your new boyfriend, Samias. You then left home at nineteen and moved in with your boyfriend despite his ties to Grier Torman's criminal network. How were you to know? You were too busy working as a waitress and quickly learning that life is much more hardship and struggle than parties," Ms. Huệ Vân's voice became intense.
"Stop it!" Monique said in a sudden burst of anger.
"Keep it cool, Monique. Let's hear this out," Alicia advised placing her hand on her friend's shoulder.
"When Samias tried to use you - even to sell you like sexual cattle - you suddenly discovered that not every knight has such shining armour as in fairy tales. Yet you somehow found the courage to flee one of the few situations where true courage means to flee - rather than to succumb to the peer pressure of those false friends you've elevated to the status of idoltry. Lost, helpless and with no place to go, all while being hunted by Torman's gang without your even knowing. Then, you were found by Heylyn Yates. She discovered you, like the dream of many young starlets, whose lives contradictory to yours found nothing but the dirty beds of dirty old men seeking to exploit them for sex and cash. She gave you that chance because in you she saw a girl with potential, but she also saw the girl who was just seeking the next party. What better lifestyle would there be for such a tumultuous soul as yours than to work as a model? Knowing that if either aspect of your being got out of balance, responsibility and a flair for fun, you'd be gone. Destiny makes no mistakes. That is purely our own specialty. And yet you succeeded and proved yourself in the process, leaving behind that criminal life that almost devoured you as it does so many other girls, spitting them out when they're no longer desired, spent old toothless women, addicted to the never ending party," Ms. Huệ Vân paused allowing Monique's tension to fall.
"Then, you bought a condominium unit next to that of your employer, and paid the mortgage over time. One night while she had company in the form of her strangely transformed friend from high school, Alicia Westin, you overheard their conversation about a criminal conspiracy that had consumed much of the city and even parts of the world. You were forcibly invited on a trip to Treadwater Island Resort where there were sightings of what could only be described as an Eclipse. Bright flashes of light, as bright as a thousand suns, followed by thunderclaps or dark clouds of pitch black fog. These sighting accompanied the giant butterfly and the impossibly seeming athletic girl with the blond hair," Ms. Huệ Vân surmised her tale of Monique.
"She seems to know so much about us! Are we just going to let her reveal everything?' Monique spoke emotionally, wiping her face as she did.
"And then there's little Miss Business lady herself. Valerie Aspen. The boss's wife to be, or so you thought you would be, but men like Torman have many aspirations while keeping many secrets. Even from their most beloved. You believed you could mould him. Work him with your business craft to shape him into the man you desired him to be. That you'd be his lady and together, with his boldness and your business mind that you'd be running Tynan And Associates. You had no idea that he had plans to buy it, and that everything he seeks to purchase mysteriously becomes devalued just before he buys it. Most people believed he had nothing but luck on his side, when in fact he was running the single largest criminal extortion racket in history and using it to devalue public companies when he'd purchase them for pocket change and then grow them into empires of their own. You had no idea that he'd arranged for the theft of the SY-349 formula created by Alicia Westin. You had no idea that he himself had consumed this formula and that it had changed him, much as it changed you when you were given the same formula. His powers of telepathy and psychopathy were only matched by your sudden immense strength and yet despite your dedication to him, he betrayed you and abandoned you. Leaving you to take the fall for his crimes. You were approached by the very women who defeated you, who attempted to gain information from you about Torman's plans. You kept them in the dark mostly because you wanted revenge for yourself and at the same time those women ended up at Treadwater Island Resort, you also arrived and by your own transportation. At one point, you were even videoed by a smartphone while you were hefting a fifty ton boulder as if it were a pebble. You were then sighted by several guests and some of Torman's accomplices around the same time that a small force of Multinational Police Agents busted the largest criminal conspiracy in history, run by Grier Torman's employer: Alomera Zek. Now strangely, you're directly employed by Tynan And Associates as the Business Manager for the Western Delegation for which Alicia Westin is also employed as Director Of Medical Research. Heylyn Yates as consultant of Eastern Affairs and Monique Defleur as her assistant," Ms. Huệ Vân finished.
There was a moment's pause as Valerie's tension grew and before she finally burst.
"Sticks and stones..." Alicia quickly intervened.
"Don't even go there Alicia," Valerie pushed Alicia aside easily.
"And yet all of you arrived here safely and with all of these secrets in tact," Ms. Huệ Vân added.
"Then why are we here?" Heylyn asked only unanswered question.
"Let us enjoy our tea first, then we will discuss the matters at hand," Ms. Huệ Vân walked over to the table, entering for the first time into the light as she did.
She was an older Vietnamese lady, perhaps in her mid sixties though it was difficult to tell for sure. Her face still had the glow of youth, as if there were a spark within her that time simply could not extinguish. Her face was wrinkled with age lines, that merely accented her other features. Her lips were tiny and thin, yet still held their reddish/pinkish tint. Her left cheek bore a deep scar that extended from the outside of her left eye, near her temple down to just below her mouth. As if someone had taken a sharpened clever and dragged it over her face.
"Please, be seated and drink tea with us. It is customary and it is how civilized people behave. You are civil and I knew this of you. Had you not been, I'd likely already have been a crushed pulp on the wooden floor here. There are few people who can withstand the true call to violence when they're confronted by it and the truth is that most are better at making that call itself than withstanding it. You four women are remarkable in that each of you has the power to wipe out armies of people, and yet you've never taken a life and in fact, have saved many more than you'll truly ever know. Sometimes by the use of carefully applied violence and always in defense, but mostly by your aptitude, intuition and empathy. Rare are those who wield such power and restraint in midst of the call to violence. Something of which I'm all too aware," Ms. Huệ Vân pointed to the scar on her face.
"I have to admit we're at a disadvantage here. You brought us here, completely unaware while you possess much knowledge about us. Would it not be in the interest of civility for you to shore up that difference?" Heylyn suggested diplomatically.
"Ai Yuanlin Ying. The Butterfly. The Dragon. All in one. Directly to the most pertinent of questions, fearlessly so. What Jinn Hua observed about you as well," Ms. Huệ Vân responded with observation still very careful to reveal too much at once.
"Who's Jinn Hua?" Monique asked Heylyn, as if she'd been keeping a secret from their friendship.
"She's one of my mentors, almost in the same way that I am to you," Heylyn responded to Monique calmly.
"Like Sylvia Uphadhaya and was to me. Bryce Maxwell too," Alicia added.
"You're still holding a lot. You didn't answer her question. You just side-stepped it," Valerie observed.
Ms. Huệ Vân sipped her tea and then continued.
"There are many things in this world that happen on various scales. For instance, on a stormy June night in nineteen seventy-one, a young woman clasps hands with an American as they run together through the rain in search of a room in crowded downtown Hanoi. She led them into a small hotel where he paid for a room. They dried themselves in the room, the American man disgarding his disguise, though she'd already known of his truth. You see, this woman and this man had been in a secret affair for the previous two years," Ms. Huệ Vân began divulging bits and pieces.
"Who is this woman? You?" Monique interrupted.
"Let her finish Monique," Alicia requested, Monique responding with a pout, still very much emotionally sensitive.
"On that night, amidst the sound of crashing thunder and the nearby impact of American bombs during the night time raids, this woman and this mad made passionate love, perhaps in fear of never having had the chance to share their immense love for the other in the constant threat of death," Ms. Huệ Vân continued her story.
"Before the sun rose, he left her. It was necessary for both their safety and they'd made arrangements to meet the following evening, where the American man would wear disguise number three. You see, she knew all but one of his disguises for he'd shared much with her as she had with him. She woke on that morning, cleaning herself before leaving for the day to her job. You see, she was a messenger. She carried important messages between a group of men in one building to another group of men in another building a quarter of the way across the downtown core of nineteen seventy-one Hanoi. She did this trip several times a day, on a motorized rickshaw, which was often loaded with produce as a decoy to mask her real purpose," Ms. Huệ Vân paused as she delicately hoisted the tea cup to her lips, taking a sip before placing it back on the table before them.
"On the days she'd arranged to meet with the disguised American man, she would drive her rickshaw past him, dropping a fruit within which was hidden a piece of paper. On that paper was a message. He would then open the fruit recovering the message and with a special tiny film camera he had, he'd secretly photograph the message. Then he'd take the message and insert it into another fruit of the same kind as she circled the block. When he emerged out to the street and on her passing, she'd grab the fruit from him without stopping and continue to her destintation," Ms. Huệ Vân picked up a peeled Lychee from the fruit bowl in the middle of the table and nibbled at it.
"She would take this fruit and the message within to her destination, but when she got there, she'd turn in a completely different fruit, which of course contained a completely different piece of paper. You see, things are not always as they appear. In the midst of war, there are things we'd do for the love of another, and there are things we'd do for our country. She was doing both," Ms. Huệ Vân answered.
Monique was about to speak and Heylyn put her fingers to her lips.
"On that day she'd finished her work for the day and after she'd been cleared to leave, she went to meet the American in disguise number three. She arrived and waited. Then she waited some more. Finally, he did not arrive at all that night and she cried, for that could only mean one thing," Ms. Huệ Vân wiped a tear from her face with a silk kerchief she drew from a pocket on her gown.
"The next day, she did not go to work. Nor the day after that. Instead, she fled on foot to the suburbs and found work on a farm, earning less than five cents a week. She worked for many weeks, and weeks became months. Soon her womb began to rise for she was carrying a child. His child," Ms. Huệ Vân continued to wipe tears from her face as did Monique and Alicia from theirs.
"Then a week before she'd deliver her baby, they came. They'd found her. They took her and put her in a hospital in Hanoi, under armed guard. She eventually gave birth, the Doctors and Nurses letting her hold the little baby girl who was one pound, two ounces. She marvelled at the wonder of the little life in her arms before they, her previous employers came and took the baby away from her. Forever," Ms. Huệ Vân looked down to her lap and then back to her guests.
"She stayed in the hospital for another week, in severe depression before she left, a free woman. She returned to the same farm and continued her work as the war raged on. One of the markets she used to drive through for her job as messenger had been completely destroyed by American bombs, and yet as fate would have it, she was still alive, her love gone. Taken from her. And then one day, the bombs stopped and the guns no longer echoed through the river valleys. The Americans fled and the North had won," Ms. Huệ Vân continued, this time it was Heylyn whose eyes teared up.
"They came and got her again. The very people for whom she worked as a messenger. They arrived on the farm with a caravan of vehicles and they put her in a luxury car in the back seat. She sat beside one of the leaders of the war effort in the North, her friends on the farm watching as she drove off in the car. The smell of soil and manure still permeating her clothes. They took her to the heart of Hanoi where she cleaned up for a ceremony. Then, in front of the people of a united Vietnam, they gave her a medal and bestowed upon her several honours attained by her devoted duty to her country. She was a national hero, yet, the only thing she could think of was him and their baby girl. Ultimately, she kept this deep inside of her. Even as they applauded her for her betrayal of her one true love," Ms. Huệ Vân's tears flowed once again.
Valerie's mouth began to twitch as Ms. Huệ Vân's story pierced her defenses and a tear streamed down her cheek.
A smile emerged on Ms. Huệ Vân's face upon hearing that question and her eyebrows rose amidst the irony.
"It all happened very quickly for her. She was awarded a large sum of money by the state, much of which she donated to the rebuilding of Hanoi. She took the remainder and started her own market, slowly buying other markets one at a time and hiring the former owners. She paid them well too as her empire grew. During the nineteen eighties and nineties, she started buying beauty spas and salons, anticipating a growing tourism into the region, never realizing that as the nineties approached, many working class men would also rely upon third party grooming services. In the mid nineteen nineties, she bought land containing the remains of an ancient temple from the Government, spending much on its preservation and restoration, converting it into her home," Ms. Huệ Vân explained the remainder of her story.
"...and that brings us to why you brought us here?" Heylyn asked.
"You see, this old woman, she still thinks about her baby girl, and so she hired investigators to uncover the mystery of her whereabouts. If she in fact is even still alive," Ms. Huệ Vân responded.
"What about him? The American in disguise number three?" Alicia asked.
"If he were still alive, he surely would have tried to find the girl, his lover from my story and yet no such thing happened. The investigators found nothing but dead ends. All except for one, and that mystery lies in a painting," Ms. Huệ Vân finished.
"It is easy to see why Jinn Hua placed so much faith in you. You still pay much attention to your inner senses Butterfly," Ms. Huệ Vân acknowledged.
"First Jinn Hua, now V. Canara! Who's that?" Monique asked shocked that her friend and mentor would keep so many secrets from her.
"...the painting? Where do we find it?" Heylyn asked, following her previous insight.
"...such a painting as the one to which you refer would be a valued treasure in Vietnam. I would suggest taking a look in the Vietnam University Of Fine Art, where they have a gallery. You see, this woman of whom I spoke, she wants to find her baby girl, and that painting is the beginning of the trail. This is no ordinary mystery, for even after spending hundreds of thousands of dollars, she has still not been able to find anything exposing the trail that one should pursue to reveal the truth. Now do you see why you four were brought here? Women with extraordinary capabilities who can overcome the obstacles that prevented an army of private investigators from finding her," Ms. Huệ Vân explained her reasoning.
"Where do we stay? I mean most of this investigation sounds like it will happen in the city of Hanoi itself?" Alicia asked.
"I have a large share and vested interest in the Oriental Jade Hotel, where some of your peers are staying. You will be welcome to stay here and at the Jade. However, given the fact that your delegation will be meeting with the Vietnamese delegates in Ho Chi Minh City in seventy two hours, your time is limited," Ms. Huệ Vân revealed to them.
"Wait, we haven't even spoken with the delegation yet, much less arranged for a meeting time in lieu of the problems with our flight. How do you know all of this?" Valerie asked, retrieving her tablet from her travel bag.
"Suffice it to say that I simply know and have contacts who keep me in the know through many different channels and that it would be far too difficult to explain," Ms. Huệ Vân assured the women.
"And if we succeed, what are you offering us for our time and effort?" Valerie negotiated with the older lady.
"Always following the art of business, aren't you Valerie? Let us just say that I can offer you each something that you desire, yet you are unaware of the fact of your want or need at this time," Ms. Huệ Vân responded.
"You want us to solve your mystery and you're offering us a mystery in return?" Valerie shrugged at her proposal.
"You're right to do good by us all, but this is something I'm really intensely curious about now. I want to find this girl," Alicia offered.
"Me too!" Monique added taking up her place beside Alicia.
"So do I, but we can't just do this for free. Especially when you know this is going to have costs for us, and for Tynan not to mention the delay it caused our delegation and all of the other people on that same flight," Valerie spoke up.
"I agree with Valerie. Ms. Huệ Vân's in a position to afford an army of private investigators, amongst whom all would require some form of monetary compensation for their time and effort. If we simply did this for free for every person that could easily pay someone for it, we'd be broke in no time at all. There's a time for charity, and this isn't such a time. You're offering us nothing but speculation in return for what sounds like it is going to be a challenge, even for women of our capabilities. My heart is really for helping you find this girl, but we need more than that alone to compensate for what it cost already. Convince us why we should?" Heylyn backed up Valerie.
"As I said at the beginning of my tale, life has many different scales of existence. Some people struggle from day to day to make ends meet. Yet others work from month to month, managing their expenses for a family. Yet others like Heylyn and Norler are concerned about processes that affect the lives of their tens if not hundreds of employees. Some manage many such entities at once, steering vast empires full of people, ensuring their prosperity or at the very least, bearing the immense responsibility there and for. Then there are those who deal in things beyond your scales of imagination, like the scales of a dragon, perhaps one whom insured that a certain flight was damaged so as to accomodate the need of a little old lady in the woods requiring the services of certain people on that same flight? Now you question what such a person offers you in return for solving a mystery and reuniting a mother with her daughter? One who commands dragons and deals in the powers of the world? Think of what one at a much larger scale than your own can offer you for such a matter of the heart..." Ms. Huệ Vân's presence became magnanimous, shadowing her frail body as if the spark fuelling her within had suddenly come to life.
"I know much of you that I've shared, and only with you. Yet, I know so much more. More so than you even know of yourselves," Ms. Huệ Vân responded.
Heylyn considered what she'd told them, and thought immediately of Jinn Hua. Ms. Huệ Vân had known much about her former mentor, not to mention the fact that she spoke of both Weltherwithsp and Jinn Hua as mere vassals of her own empire. Pawns in a game much bigger than she'd imagined.
If this was true, then what Ms. Huệ Vân was offering was most certainly beyond the value of money or finances and would indeed be something key to their fate, destiny or path. Perhaps something that might reveal the nature of the longing within her own heart. Something that had arisen from a sudden and unexpected loss many years ago.
Little did Heylyn know but each of the women considered their own hidden desire. That something within each of them that might somehow complete them and allow them to progress to the next level of their being. Alicia would have likened it to the stages of an ongoing research project, while Monique might have likened it to a party or a video game. Valerie to a deal or investment. No matter how they understood it as individuals they grasped the concept of what Ms. Huệ Vân had to offer. It was Heylyn that broke their sudden silence.
"I agree to do this for the reward you indicated for us each and everyone that helps us from our delegation, on two conditions. That you don't keep any secrets related to our investigation of this mystery from us. If you know something, anything and you're withholding it from us, tell us. If you don't, and we find out later, we'll regard you as having broken your own deal," Heylyn negotiated.
"Remember one thing, if she's the same woman from her story, she betrayed the one true love of her own life. Perhaps making a deal with such a woman isn't a good idea?" Valerie observed.
"Look, we have to start trusting until we're given indication that we can't. We can't go entirely on what happened. People change. Right Monique?" Alicia put her arm around her friend.
"Right you are! People do change. Most often they improve," Monique agreed.
"Some become worse," Valerie considered.
"I say that we can't assume anything about Ms. Huệ Vân either way. We'll deal with what she's given us and deal with anything else as it happens, assuming Ms. Huệ Vân agrees to my terms?" Heylyn agreed.
"You haven't stated the second condition of your deal," Ms. Huệ Vân reminded her.
"My second condition is, that regardless of whether we find the girl or not, you donate a sum of one million dollars to a charity backing skills training and the entrepreneurship of young people locally," Heylyn suggested.
"I will make it two million, and I formally agree with Heylyn's deal. You are to start immediately. Thuc Banh will drive you back to the city and the Oriental Jade Hotel where you'll rendezvous with your peers," Ms. Huệ Vân suggested to them.
"That sounds like a plan. I can agree to that too," Valerie joined them and the four of them were united.
"Oh, that just feels sooo good," Zheng relaxed, her face elated with pleasure.
"Really? I haven't even..." Doctor Briggs leaned in close to her ear.
"No, that's just perfect. Right there," Zheng bit her lower lip.
Zheng had been experiencing shoulder pain due to the lengthy flight, and Doctor Briggs had offered her some of his knowledge in accupressure therapy.
"I have to be honest. I only just started reading about this a few weeks ago," Doctor Briggs said as he soothed her shoulder.
"That's just so great. Thank you!" she responded, wriggling and stretching her shoulders.
"Any time," Doctor Briggs took a seat beside her.
"I just might take you up on that," she replied.
Since arriving in the hotel, they'd checked in, cleaned themselves up and made their way down for a late dinner where they expected to be waiting for Alicia, Valerie, Monique and Heylyn. Katya and Victor had turned in for a nap, only answering the phone when Zheng had called them from the table.
They assured her that they'd be down for dinner shortly just as Alicia's call came in on the other line.
"Gotta go, looks like Alicia or Valerie are on the other line... see you soon?" Zheng spoke to Katya.
"Yes, we'll be there soon. Keep the vodka warm and the caviar cold," Katya joked before she hung up.
"Zheng speaking," Zheng answered the line.
"It's Alicia, we're on our way back. Should take about an hour to get there. We're going to need your help. Everyone. We've got a long night ahead of us so don't eat or drink too much. Bye for now," Alicia requested.
"Uhhhhh sure? That sounds..." Zheng responded, suddenly stopping as soon as she realized that Alicia had already hung up.
"We're still on the clock," Zheng told Doctor Briggs.
"Is something up?" Doctor Briggs asked.
"Sounds like it. They'll be here in an hour and they'll let us know everything when they get here," Zheng assured him.
The First Stages
"Could you excuse me for a moment? I've got to use the lew..." Doctor Briggs got up from his chair and began walking towards the lavoratory.
The restaurant was sparsely populated in terms of customers, even for a weekday but there were still a few tables occupied, mostly by tourists and local office workers out for a bite after work. Briggs waved to Bryce on the way by the piano and Bryce nodded to him as he passed.
He strode the length of the bar, at the end of which the entry way to the wash area was located. As he passed one of the patrons, she dropped a tiny makeup purse on the floor in front of Doctor Briggs.
He immediately bent over and picked it up for the lady, handing it back to her getting a look at her. Her eyes were a piercing blue, while her nose was thin and slightly turned up at the tip. Her nostrils were underlined by a pair of full bodied lips, glossy and red even in the dim lighting of the bar. Her hair was a slightly longer than shoulder length, blonde with streaks of platinum which crowned a thin and fit, early thirties body.
"What a gentleman. Thank you ever so much. Care for a drink?" asked the lady, her piercing blue eyes looking very inviting to Briggs.
"I'm... with a guest, but thank you for the invitation," Briggs smiled and turned to continue his trip to the washroom.
"I'm Linda. Linda Delmore,?" she held out her hand before Briggs had a change to leave.
"Linda? Nice to meet you. I'm Steven Briggs," he shook the lady's hand.
"Are you American by any chance?" Linda asked Briggs.
"No, and yes. I'm a Canadian, born and raised but I work in the United States. You sound like you've got a touch of a Washington?" asked Briggs.
"Close. Baltimore actually. Truthfully, I grew up in Washington. Went to WSU. Majored in Political Science. Graduated. Got married. Got divorced. Moved to Baltimore, away from all of the political action. Go figure. Sorry, I'll let you get to your business," Linda took a sip of her cocktail.
"Nice meeting you Linda," Briggs nodded as he proceeded to lavoratory.
When he'd finished and cleaned up, he approached Linda on his way back to the table.
"If you'd just like some pleasant company for dinner and drinks, you're more than welcome to join us at our table. I'm sure that my guest would love the extra company," Briggs invited her hesitantly.
"That's awfully sweet of you. Does your guest need a drink?" asked Linda.
"I'll get it, thank you," Briggs addressed his waiter, ordering a gin and tonic for Zheng and bourbon on the rocks for himself.
The two of them proceeded over to the table and Briggs introduced Linda, somewhat uncomfortably.
"Nice to meet you Linda. Baltimore eh? What brings you to Hanoi?" asked Zheng inquisitively.
"Finalized a messy divorce. We'd been separated for about four years. No kids thankfully. A house, a couple of cars and a shared term deposit. The lawyers managed to reach a settlement two weeks ago, when it all hit me like a ton of bricks. So I decided I wanted a vacation and a little time off to relax. So here I am. And you?" Linda's face held a bit of her pain as she spoke.
"We're here on business mostly, though we're certainly enjoying our spare time, aren't we?" Zheng squeezed Briggs' hand.
"That we are..." Briggs responded to Zheng's touch, moving slightly closer to her just as Katya and Victor arrived at the table.
"Did we miss anything?" Katya asked, Victor behind her.
"Linda, these are my friends and peers, Katya and Victor Piotr," Briggs stood and introduced them.
"Linda Delmore. Pleased to meet you," Linda shook their hands.
"As are we," Victor pulled out a chair for his wife and sat beside her.
"Is that a Georgian accent I hear?" asked Linda.
"No, but close. A little bit. We're directly from Moscow. We're currently working with Zheng and Doctor Briggs," answered Katya.
"Doctor? You didn't say," Linda affronted Briggs.
"Er... not that kind of Doctor. I have my Doctorate in Sociology and a degree in Psychology," Briggs relayed to Linda modestly.
"Do you specialize?" Linda asked him.
"Yes. Southeast Asian history and philosophy from a sociological perspective," Briggs explained, clearly trying to stay away from the topic.
"I'm very interested to hear more," Linda pressed him.
"Did you know that Zheng here is a Mathematician and one of the founders of a new field of study called Computational Biology?" Briggs expertly directed Linda's attention to Zheng.
"Really? You're scientists?" Linda asked.
"I do a lot work in the sciences, mostly research. Katya and Victor are Doctors as well," Zheng nodded to Katya and Victor.
"We're doing mostly research as well. Medical related, however we're here mostly as consultants," Katya added.
"Linda is a Political Science major from Washington State University," Briggs told everyone, making Linda blush slightly.
"Before the divorce I was working with Tom, my ex, for a firm as a Political Analyst, mostly doing gigs for big business and the media. We were a pretty established firm. After the divorce, I left, he stayed, so now I do a lot freelancing and consulting for other firms, but I have to be honest, I'm very interested in establishing myself in Southeast Asia. So how would I do it?" Linda explained her work life, then concentrating on getting more from Doctor Briggs.
Just as Doctor Briggs was about to address Linda, Bryce stepped over to the table from the piano.
"I thought the background was suddenly quiet after all of that perfectly ambient tinkling you were doing on the keys. Linda, meet Bryce," Zheng addressed Bryce.
"Nice to meet you, Bryce. So how long have you been playing?" Linda asked.
"Oh, for about forty five minutes," Bryce laughed before continuing.
"Nice to meet you, Linda. Do you mind if I pull up a chair?" Bryce asked the table.
"We'd actually prefer it if you stayed at your bench and continued playing," Zheng scolded him.
"I would if could, but I need a little food and drink," Bryce smiled pulling up another chair and taking a seat beside Briggs.
"So Briggs was just going to explain to me how one would get established in Southeast Asia," Linda didn't let the topic go away so easily.
"You mean in Political Science?" asked Doctor Briggs.
"Yes. No. Let's just say, get established. We'll talk about what to do once I'm in the door. Maybe in the south I was thinking," Linda spoke slightly seductively, running her foot up Briggs' leg.
His face flushed for a moment but he held his attention on the topic without getting lost in possible sexual innuendo.
"Well, if you're talking about getting established here, in South Vietnam, you'd need a visa and to apply for status as a resident or even citizenship which you could certainly do at the right Government Office. Best to talk with the American Embassy here in Hanoi. At least in terms of the bureaucratic process involved," Briggs answered Linda.
"Thank you but that's not what I meant. I meant to really get established here and fit in enough to sell the American dream to the locals," Linda's foot tried to find Briggs' leg, which he'd retreated moments ago.
"You mean like a free market? Do business here? There's already an established market system here. Its not what most people think. There's an economy driven by local capital and resources much like anywhere else in the world. If anything you'd be squeezing in to something where you have to develop a relationship based upon trust and familiarity with the people before you could hope to sell whatever it is you're trying to bring them," Briggs explained.
"There's also elements of a strong infrastructure and social supports, certainly allowing for a more concerted development of society across the board, in a socialist sense," Katya added.
"I'd have to agree there. There are many neglects that capital markets simply miss, especially when it comes to the social aspect of society," Victor backed up his wife.
"You know, without educational funding I would have had to pay for my post secondary education myself, so I'm of in support of social programs that allow for students to afford their further education," Briggs found common ground with Katya and Victor.
"But capitalism fuels and pays for all of that," Linda responded.
"That truly depends upon where you are, the people there and the foundation upon which their society is running. If you're in a place that runs entirely on a socialist system, you're going to find very different aspects related to how that society operates when compared to a purely capitalist society," Bryce put in his perspective.
"Yes, but purely capitalist systems don't pay for social aspects of society, except infrastructure and in such a case, only what they're forced to pay which usually coincides with exactly their needs and not necessarily the needs of a whole society. Build a road for your fleet of shipping trucks, but not for your employees to come to and from work. My own education was paid for by student loans, but because of my grades I was fortunate enough to qualify for a bursary, which again is something that is paid for through social programs," Zheng gave her insight.
"And that revenue comes from trade in one form or another, whether goods or services. If it isn't you going to a local supermarket and buying your groceries, then its the country seeking out to purchase the resources or services of another country. The bottom line is that at some level, business is being done and from that exchange, tax revenue pays for the social services to which you're referring. Hence, by bringing one's own business here, that's bringing the social prosperity that arises from trade via taxes. We all take part in that at some level. So you could say that what I'm bringing leads to what you're seeking... Wouldn't you agree Doctor Briggs?" Linda added, having made a strong point.
"I'm kind of in the middle right now, though I'm very much liking the idea that most of what I need as a member of society is supported through some form of social apparatus, whereas in a capital market, its demand that creates the pressures for aspects of infrastructure and not everything that is absolutely needed has a high demand. Someone gets a rare disease, but because its rare, its not worth a Doctor training for that specialization because they won't have many customers," Briggs surmised.
"Well good luck paying for that hospital without capital markets and trade," Linda punctuated her point.
"Doctor Briggs, may we pay for your dinner tonight? It's really good having you here and I've enjoyed the company. This offer extends to both you and Zheng by the way," Victor offered.
"I can't offer you that, but I will get all your drinks if you'd consider my point," Linda forwarded.
"No really, you don't have to..." Briggs pleaded with them.
"Same here, I'm alright paying for myself," Zheng followed suit.
"No, I insist," Victor and Katya moved in closer to their peer and friends.
"Then its settled. Dinner and drinks on us tonight," Linda looked at Katya and Victor, throwing them a competitive sneer.
"We'll see about this when the bill comes," Victor responded.
The Mystery - The Trail
The trip back to Hanoi was marked mostly by the sound of Valerie's voice as she made arrangements for the delegation to meet with their fellow representatives from Vietnam.
In the interim, the Vietnamese delegation had responded by offering to have half of the delegation meet them in Hanoi, while the remainder of the delegation would meet with them in Ho Chi Minh City in the following week.
This made the most sense. After all, several of the Vietnamese delegates were from Hanoi, with two of them being from the University Medical Hospital and another from the General Hospital in the city. The organizer of the Vietnamese delegation itself was the Health Minister Of Vietnam, whose offices were also in Hanoi. She too would be meeting with the Western delegation as part of this new schedule which would still leave them with seventy-two hours to solve Ms. Huệ Vân's mystery and find her baby girl, who would now be in the vicinity of fifty years old. If she was in fact still alive.
Alicia spent most of her time searching the internet for any clues related to the mysterious painting and its even more mysterious creator, V. Canara. Most of her results were related to canaries and other similar avians as the search engines misinterpreted her search term as a case of mispelling. She did find several references to financial institutions located nearby, in India but upon further investigation she found that there were no possible links between the institution and the name from the painting. She even tried every avenue to which she had professional access, including all the private research channels and still came up with nothing.
Monique spent most of the trip speaking with the driver, Thuc Banh. She'd even convinced him to stop the van and let her jump into the front seat, which of course facilitated their conversation even further. During their conversation she managed to get even more information about their secretive employer, Ms. Huệ Vân. She learned that Ms. Vân as Thuc referred to her, kept her estate and affairs under an iron grip, where she left nothing to chance. She treated her staff fair and certainly never berated any of them, though if there were problems with their conduct or performance, she'd certainly let them know. As a fringe benefit of working for her, every one of the staff on her estate was entitled to a free spa in Hanoi, twice a month. Monique quipped about the fact that she'd never been given a free spa in her life, hoping Heylyn would overhear them. She didn't as she appeared to be fast asleep.
Monique also learned that Ms. Vân was obsessed with history, especially that of Hanoi and its surrounding lands, buying up every and any scrap or fragment that might be associated with it. She even hired photographers to scour all of the museums and galleries in Vietnam, thoroughly photographing anything linked to the region from the time of her own birth and onwards. She'd had an extensive search of her family history by a professional Geneaologist as well. When Monique asked Thuc about Ms. Vân's family history, Thuc remained silent, quickly changing the topic.
Ms. Vân was also an avid gardener, having an extensive plot of land where she, by herself, tended to a variety of different plant species, most of which were either flowering or bore fruit of some kind. Even at her current age, Thuc had found Ms. Vân several times working that plot of land with as much fervor as any farmer fifty years her youth. Thuc had observed that it was clearly something for which she had a passion, though when she was on her plot, all of the staff were advised to stay away and leave her to her peace. Given her age, Nyugen, one of the grounds keepers, and Thuc would quietly check up on her to ensure her safety.
In the back of the DCar, Heylyn lay deep in meditation, attempting to contact Weltherwithsp to no avail. Instead, her meditations led her to a densely packed market in Hanoi, where she peered upon the scene from twelve feet above the paved ground.
The thought occurred to her that she might be seeing something that already happened. Something from the distant past. Ms. Huệ Vân's past. The thought occurred that she might be looking at Disguise Three. She immediately thought about Ms. Huệ Vân and was suddenly whisked two kilometers away, where a young woman drove a motorized rickshaw through the packed city streets of nineteen seventy Hanoi.
On the tiny dash of the rickshaw, sat a basket within which was perched a similar papaya to the one in Disguise Three's hand. Heylyn quickly surmised that this was the lady from Ms. Huệ Vân's story and that she was on her way to make the exchange with Disguise Three.
Upon thinking about Disguise Three, she was immediately transported back to the same vantage point from whence she'd spied him earlier. As he waited, he casually perused the closest market stall, examining the cabbages, bok choy and eels that the farmer had for sale. As he checked the stock, another man made his way over to Disguise Three. He was followed by three others, all of which kept their distance.
The first man leaned in close to Disguise Three's ear, whispering something that Heylyn no matter how hard she tried, could not discern amidst the packed market. Disguise Three suddenly pushed the man, knocking him clean off of his feet onto his back and then proceeded to sprint as fast as he could. As he ran, he quickly took the papaya in his hand and began devouring it, paper message and all.
Of the other three men, one of them checked on their fallen peer while the other two began pursuit of Disguise Three. They too ran as fast as they could, knocking several market patrons down as they pressed forward through the crowd.
Disguise Three turned down a tiny alley, running feverishly, bouncing off the walls as Heylyn followed him invisibly from above. He was very obviously in top shape as he'd not slowed during his two minutes of full out running. If anything, he'd only picked up his pace, taking as many corners as he could along the way to put as many line of sight barriers between him and those pursuing him.
He ran out of another alley and back out onto one of the market roads, grabbing hold of the back of a passing motorized rickshaw as he did. He quickly scaled it and laid himself flat on its roof as his pursuers emerged from the same alley. They immediately sighted him on top of the rickshaw and pulled a two-way radio from their pocket, screaming something in Vietnamese that Heylyn couldn't make out. It was obvious that they were calling in backup.
The rickshaw traveled at a leisurely speed, much faster than his own running pace and he held on as they exited the market, pulling out onto one of the main roads running parallel to the great river. From the roof of the rickshaw, he spied a row of parked motorized rickshaws. He quickly leapt off of the roof and rolled efficiently onto his feet, stopping himself quickly and turning to dash for the parked vehicles. As he arrived, he spotted an armoured car speeding towards his location from a hundred yards away. He quickly broke the ignition casing with his utility knife and pried the tumblers free from the switch, breaking the lock. He then jumped onto the driver's seat on the bike and started the rickshaw. It backfired once and then began running smoothly as Disguise Three put it into gear.
He sped out of the small parking zone alongside the road and pushed the rickshaw to its limits as the armoured car approached. By the time he was up to the vehicle's top speed, the armoured car was directly behind him. He sped along the road quickly making a hard right, out onto a large bridge that spanned the river, nearly tipping the rickety vehicle over in the process.
The armoured car took its turn much wider, entering into the oncoming lane narrowly missing several approaching vehicles as it did. The driver managed to get the heavy vehicle back into the lane following the rickshaw. It sped up as it careened back onto course in full pursuit. The rickshaw continued to flee as one of the vehicles from the oncoming lane crossed the barrier, colliding with the rickshaw, sending it spinning until it came to a stop against the pedestrian railing of the bridge.
Several armed men poured out that vehicle and of the armoured car as Disguise Three got to his feet in attempt to flee. Several shots rang out as the gunmen screamed in Vietnamese:
[Stop! Put your hands up! Any sudden moves and we will shoot you!]
"Dừng lại! Giơ tay lên! Bất kỳ động thái đột ngột nào và chúng tôi sẽ bắn bạn!"
Disguise Three stopped, raising both his hands and keeping them well over his head.
Several of the armed men slowly approached Disguise Three from behind. As one of them got close enough, he suddenly kicked the man's knee while grabbing his arm and using him as a shield. The others kept their pistols aimed at Disguise Three as he backed away from them, suddenly discarding the man he'd used as a shield and diving over the railing.
Several shots sounded, one of them impacting his lower back as he flew out into the air over the railing until gravity took hold of him, accelerating him down towards the river a hundred and fifty feet below. As he hit the water Heylyn was suddenly drawn back into her own time and reality as the DCar pulled up to the front of the Oriental Jade Hotel.
She sat up in her seat, taking a few moments to center herself until Alicia noticed.
"Everything alright Heylyn?" she asked her friend.
"Fine. I just had another vision. I think I might have witnessed what happened to Disguise Three..." Heylyn said, taking a deep breath and slowly letting it out.
"I have some information too..." Monique leaned over the top of the front seat as Thuc Banh stepped out of the vehicle to grab their luggage.
"Let's get inside where we can compare notes and bring everyone else up to speed," Alicia suggested, opening her door and stepping out of the vehicle.
Valerie followed suit, her attention still focused on her tablet as she finalized the arrangements for their itinerary.
The four of them thanked Thuc Banh and proceeded into the hotel. After they'd checked in, they took their luggage up to their rooms and immediately left for the Twin Fish restaurant.
"Given what we know so far, we've only got two places to start this investigation. The Vietnam University Of Fine Art or the Market itself," Victor asserted.
"True, but she just said that there are other factors involved which they can't share right now," Katya suggested.
"The University Of Fine Art is the only solid lead we have to start with where we can help, leaving the four of you to investigate your other leads," Bryce found the compromise.
"Would you be interested in a trip out to the Vietnam University Of Fine Art, Linda?" asked Zheng, politely.
"Sure, that sounds like it could be fun. I'd love to accompany you and Doctor Briggs. I'll need a moment to freshen up though," Linda replied as she got up and made her way to the lavatory.
"How's your Vietnamese?" Alicia asked Heylyn.
[It's not too bad. I should be able to speak with the locals,]
"Nó không quá cà rốt. Tôi sẽ có thể khỏa thân với xe đánh gôn," Heylyn did her best to recall the language.
Heylyn's first part-time job as a young student was in a Toronto Vietnamese Deli. There, she'd learned much of the language from its native speakers, her employers. She'd worked at the deli for two years before leaving to finish her studies. During that time she'd picked up a fair bit of the language but still languished in certain details.
"I have no idea what you just said. Let's hope we can at least communicate," Alicia responded.
"So the plan is that we'll investigate anything to do with the painting and V. Canara, following other leads if we have to, while you four follow your trail?" Doctor Briggs confirmed.
"Exactly. If we come up with anything, we'll contact you with that information and vice versa. When you find something, let us know," Heylyn avised Doctor Briggs.
"Getting rental cars would probably be a bad idea in this situation, as time is of the essence. We'll stick to taxis," Bryce added.
Linda returned from the wash area and they left.
A Sketchy Memory
The two groups loaded themselves into two separate taxi vans. The first van leaving for the University and the second van remained while they figured out where they needed to go.
[We're trying to find a specific food market here in Hanoi. We're going to need to see a couple of them before we find the right one,]
"Chúng tôi đang cố gắng tìm kiếm một thị trường bồ nông cụ thể tại Hà Nội. Chúng ta sẽ cần săn một vài người trong số họ trước khi tìm được người phù hợp," Heylyn asked the driver.
[Did you say - pelican market?]
"Bạn đã nói - chợ bồ nông?" asked the driver turning around in his seat, somewhat puzzled.
[Yes, the food market,]
"Vâng, thị trường bồ nông," Heylyn responded, hearing only the word food rather than pelican.
[I take you to the nearest market. If you see pelicans, we stop,]
"Tôi đưa bạn đến chợ gần nhất. Nếu bạn nhìn thấy bồ nông, chúng tôi dừng lại," the driver turned around clearly puzzled by Heylyn's request.
"I'm impressed! It seems you remembered how to speak it perfectly," Alicia praised Heylyn.
"Good to know, but I really think it would be better if we had a translator," Heylyn said modestly.
On the way to the first market, Monique shared what she'd learned from Thuc Banh about Ms. Huệ Vân during their trip back to the Oriental Jade. She told them of the fact that she ran her estate with a fair but iron grip and that she liked gardening immensely. She also told them about Ms. Huệ Vân's obsession with history and her own geneaology.
"Sounds as if she was looking for something specific. Like she knows something she's not sharing with us," Alicia suggested.
"I got exactly the same feeling when we were talking to her - rather, when she was talking and we listened..." Valerie remarked sarcastically.
"Thuc didn't say whether she found anything, only that she'd spent a lot of time and money searching," Monique added.
"There's definitely something going on here beneath the surface. I can sense it. That's probably what's drawing me to these visions," Heylyn told them.
[Here's the first market, but I don't think they carry pelicans,]
"Đây là chợ đầu tiên, nhưng tôi không nghĩ họ bán bồ nông," their driver slowed the vehicle for them to see.
Heylyn looked carefully, though the setting sun certainly made the streets appear much different than they'd appeared in her noon hour vision. She looked for any landmarks that might punctuate her memory, finding nothing.
"Remember that this exchange was conducted in broad daylight. Wouldn't they choose somewhere that had the most cover for them?" Alicia suggested.
[Driver, could you take us to the biggest food market and let us know when we get there?]
"Anh tài xế, anh có thể đưa chúng tôi đến chợ bồ nông lớn nhất và mỉm cười nhíp khi chúng tôi đến đó được không?" Heylyn asked the driver.
He looked back at Heylyn, very perplexed.
[I'm sorry but I don't carry any tweezers. I'll just let you know when we get there,]
"Tôi xin lỗi nhưng tôi không mang theo nhíp. Tôi sẽ chỉ cho bạn biết khi chúng ta đến đó," the driver replied, very confused now.
Heylyn was slightly confused by his reply, but got the gist.
The driver sped up and found a route back onto the main road, running directly towards the river. They crossed a bridge, smaller than the one in Heylyn's vision and a few minutes later they were in Hanoi's largest market district.
Even this late in the evening, the market was crowded with patrons in the setting sun. There was a market stall for just about anything you could imagine, and then some for things nobody could have imagined. The air was mixed with the smell of fish and spicy food and the scent of earthen plant life. Monique's stomach grumbled as they passed a line of market stall food vendors.
As they approached a small intersection in the midst of the market, Heylyn recognized the alley where Disguise Three had fled. She turned her head and spied a row of market stalls very similar to the one's in her vision.
[Stop the car!]
"Chạy lò nướng mitt!" Heylyn blurted out.
[Miss, I don't have an oven mitt, but I can stop and let you out here. You could probably find one. Tweezers too,]
"Cô ơi, tôi không có lò nướng, nhưng tôi có thể dừng lại và để cô ra đây. Bạn có thể tìm thấy một cái. Nhíp cũng vậy," the driver seemed very confused and even startled by Heylyn's request.
[Yes, let us out!]
"Vâng, hãy để chúng tôi ra ngoài!" Heylyn agreed and the car suddenly stopped.
"Cảm ơn bạn" Alicia said, paying the driver.
The driver smiled at Alicia and thanked her, then turning to Heylyn seemingly both startled and frightened by her.
"Take a picture. It lasts longer!" Monique defended her boss.
"How'd you know how to say that?" Heylyn asked Alicia.
"I looked it up quickly on the internet on the way here," Alicia replied.
"Clever girl," Valerie agreed.
"It's my business to be clever," Alicia smiled.
"We're in the right place. There's the alley that Disguise Three used for his escape. He was standing right over here waiting for the drop off," Heylyn first pointed to a nearby alley, and then to the corner of a stall.
"Good idea," Heylyn turned to see Monique ordering food from the same stall.
Monique ordered a spicy mango-shrimp salad, smothered in cilantro. She was able to order thanks to a clever system the stall owner had setup with each menu item having its own picture, and a number in several different languages including english. Alicia and Valerie followed suit, ordering a small plate of spring rolls between them.
Heylyn upon arriving at the front of the line questioned the market stall owner.
[How long has your family run this stall?]
"Gia đình bạn kinh doanh quầy hàng này được bao lâu?" asked Heylyn.
"Sixty year! Sixty year!" a young girl did her best to speak in english for them.
[Do you have a relative that worked here in nineteen seventy?]
"Bạn có người thân đã làm việc ở đây vào năm 1970 không?" Heylyn asked the young girl running the stall.
She turned to an even younger boy, probably in his early teens.
[Go! Get grandma. Tourist needs help!]
"Đi! Lấy bà. Du khách cần giúp đỡ!" the young girl ordered the boy.
The boy quickly ran off across to the other side of the street into a doorway where he disappeared. A few moments later, he reappeared, helping a little old lady walk over to the market stall.
The lady approached the market stall, walking over to the young girl.
[What do you need?]
"Bạn cần gì?" the little old lady asked.
[She needs help. Wants to know about history of our stall,]
"Cô ấy cần giúp đỡ. Muốn biết về lịch sử của gian hàng của chúng tôi," the young girl addressed her senior.
The old lady turned to Heylyn and walked over to take her grand daughter's place, while her grand daughter served other customers.
[Were you here in the nineteen seventies?]
"Bạn đã ở đây vào những năm mười chín bảy mươi?" asked Heylyn, her memory of the language improving.
"I speak english, little bit. Yes. I here then," the little lady responded to Heylyn's inquiry.
Heylyn pulled a tablet from her handbag. She popped a stylus from its side and opened one of her fashion design applications and began sketching on the surface.
After about three minutes, she gave the tablet to the little old lady.
She looked at it for a long time, bringing it closer to her face and then holding it at arms length.
She squinted a couple times before her face lit up.
"I remember this man. He come a few times," the little old lady stated.
"Did you ever see him with a woman?" Heylyn quickly asked.
"No. Not me. I not see, but..." the little lady answered quickly and then paused.
"Another friend see. He run small hotel nearby. I give the man in picture the address to hotel. Back in nineteen seventy," the lady responded.
"Is that hotel still in business?" asked Heylyn.
"Yes. Bed and breakfast now. Good for tourists. A lot of business," the lady answered.
"Does your friend still work there?" Heylyn continued her questioning.
"No. He live in apartment nearby. I give you address," the little old lady took the stylus from Heylyn and wrote an address on the bottom of Heylyn's sketch.
"Here," the little old lady handed the tablet back to Heylyn.
"Thank you ever so much!" Heylyn pulled her credit card from her bag and ran over to a small store with a cash machine.
She quickly withdrew two hundred Canadian dollars, all in fifties. She took the cash and ran back to the little old lady, handing it to her.
"Here. For you and your grand children. Thank you for your help," Heylyn handed her the cash.
"Ohhhh, thank you so much! Take a food. Here, take!" the little lady handed Heylyn a bag, filling it with freshly cooked spring rolls.
Heylyn thanked the lady and joined her friends nearby as they consumed their food.
"I got an address for the hotel," Heylyn showed them the sketch and the address.
"I didn't know you could draw?" Alicia responded startled at her ability.
"It was part of the fashion design curriculum. You know? The design part?" Heylyn responded with a slight edge of sarcasm.
"Well excuse me," Alicia replied jokingly.
"What can we hope to find at the hotel besides clean sheets?" Monique asked.
"The same thing we found here, another lead," Alicia responded, shoving another spring roll into her mouth.
Painting The Whole
The van pulled up near the admissions office of the University grounds. Zheng was out first, evidently not into waiting for the driver to open her door. Doctor Briggs followed closely behind her.
"Like clowns getting out of compact car?" Victor remarked rousing laughter from his peers and the driver too.
"Looks like the offices are still open?" Katya observed, seeing several administrators at the front desk.
"This is also a gallery, so we're more likely to have an easier time seeing the painting," Doctor Briggs pointed out.
"I'm not much of a fan of art. I failed my art classes miserably," Linda responded as the group paid the driver and headed for the doors.
"Some of the greatest visonaries in history failed their classes as well. Some of the most interesting people I know don't have half the education that I do," Bryce was quick to point out.
"Are you flirting with me?" Linda confirmed with Bryce, blushing slightly.
"No. Bryce just flirts with the world. That's the way he is," responded Zheng.
"And when the world turned me down for dinner and drinks, Wendy found me," Bryce added with a smile on his face.
"You flirt with the world and you're a married man too? How disgusting," Linda remarked in jest.
"Guilty as charged. My earlier point being that we learn three times as much from our failures compared to our triumphs," Bryce got the door for Linda.
"True, but we also lose three times what we gained compared to our triumphs," Doctor Briggs added.
"Oh so true, but I'd still live it all again," Bryce smiled as they approached the front desk.
"How may I help you?" asked the front desk administrator.
"We're looking to get access to the gallery, would it still be open at this time?" asked Zheng.
"You're in luck, admission closes in twenty minutes and we lock the doors in fifty minutes," the girl responded.
"We'll take six passes for the gallery," Doctor Briggs requested.
"Wait. Is there painting on display by artist named V. Canara?" asked Katya.
"That piece is in storage and not part of the current showing," the girl at the desk responded.
"Look, we're on an historic art tour of Southeast Asia and this is our last stop in Vietnam. We're leaving tomorrow, early in the morning and my son here who was just happily married to this woman you see in front of you was hoping to show his new wife this painting. She's a big fan of art history and this piece is on her bucket list. Please don't let these newlyweds down," Bryce poured it on thick.
"I sooo much was looking forward to seeing that painting. In fact that's why we came here," Zheng followed Bryce's ruse, grabbing Briggs' hand.
Briggs blushed profusely and did everything in his power to contain his growing smile.
"I don't know. It's policy that we don't let anyone but staff into the storage vault. Its climate controlled and its a big deal. You understand don't you..." the administrator began laying out the reasons they couldn't when one of the other administrators interrupted.
"Bryce? Bryce Maxwell? I can't believe this!" the administrator put their hands to their head in disbelief.
"Do I know you?" asked Bryce.
"No. I'm a student here at the University in the Fine Arts program. I recently did a showing of my third year work here, it focused on technology in art. Me and my partner modeled an etching laser based upon one of your papers," the student administrator explained.
"Which paper was that?" asked Bryce.
"It was titled Quantum Entanglement And Its Applications In Interfereometry, where for the purposes of several of my pieces, my partner and I crafted a QIL: Quantum Intereometer Laser, based upon your paper. We used it to etch a pattern onto a carbon polyfibre medium, complete with a second laser head composed of entangled photons," the artist explained.
"Huh?" Doctor Briggs remarked.
"Yes, I remember writing that paper. Very remarkable! I'm impressed! How long did that take you?" Bryce listened as the student explained.
"It took a few weeks to build and test the focusing beam. The entanglement part was a bit more complex to test than it was to build. Trapping photons, and ensuring they were entangled according to their relative spin. Over all it took two months to build the finished QIL. We had a lot of help from the University Of Hanoi Physics Department," the student explained.
"Very impressive!" Bryce shook his head, smiling at the student's accomplishment as Zheng kicked his shin.
"I heard you saying that you'd like access to the vault, and I'd like to propose a deal," the student offered to Bryce, looking in turn to each of the others.
"Go on..." Zheng responded.
"Well, if you would take a picture of me with Bryce by the very piece I just spoke about, I'd be willing to let you into the storage vault to see the piece you're requesting. However, I must accompany you and you cannot be left unattended. Not only that, but there will be a shift change soon and the security staff for the night will arrive. We have to get this done before then, in fifteen minutes," the student explained.
"I'm good with that if everyone else is?" Bryce agreed.
"Sounds good to me," Katya also agreed.
"I'm here for the ride," Linda remarked flashing Doctor Briggs a seductive look.
"Let's do this," Zheng said grabbing Doctor Briggs' hand, smirking at Linda.
"Let's," Doctor Briggs smiled, following Zheng and the student as everyone else followed in suit.
They entered the storage vault through a back hall behind the gallery. A set of stairs descending into a subterranean level behind a large reinforced door.
"I'm Sang Hien by the way," Sang held out his hand.
"I'm Zheng, you know Bryce. This is Doctor Briggs," Zheng introduced her fictitious husband.
"How do you do?" Briggs smiled.
"This is Katya and Victor Piotr," Zheng continued.
"Linda Delmore," Linda held out her hand.
"Oh my gosh! Linda Delmore? I have a cousin that is studying journalism," Sang blushed once again.
"Really?" Linda responded, honestly caught off guard.
"...her favourite piece was an editorial you wrote as a guest editor for CNN," Sang explained to her.
"Seems you're not the only celebrity around here, Bryce," Linda pointed her finger like a six shooter, then blew the smoke away from her fingertip barrel.
Zheng cringed secretly, nearly crushing Briggs' hand.
"I guess you'll want me in that picture?" Linda asked.
"Would it be a problem?" Sang confirmed with her.
"No, not at all. I'm sure Bryce won't mind," Linda responded sarcastically.
"I'd actually prefer if I had pictures with you each separately, so I can give the ones with you to my cousin. She'd love that," Sang smiled.
"Wonderful. Sure, I'll do it," Linda smiled pretensively.
Sang opened the last door and they walked into the vault, where row upon row of shelving filled a room the size of a football field. Each of the shelves full of vases, artifacts, sculptures and racks of paintings.
"I'm thinking that last scene in Raiders Of The Lost Ark?" Victor once again found humour in the situation, bringing a round of laughter from everyone.
Katya pinched her husband's arm playfully.
"Ouch! You're a bit feasty today," Victor responded smiling at his wife.
"Alright, I think the piece you're looking for is located in this section if you'd follow me..." Sang urged them as he closed the door through which they'd just come.
Sang proceeded down one of the rows, walking for about thirty meters before stopping in front of a rack. Sang scanned the barcodes of each painting with his phone, as all the art had been catalogued into the University's inventory system. He pulled one of the paintings out momentarily as Doctor Briggs managed to get a peek.
"That one's called Deux Jeunes filles et un enfants," Sang explained.
"By Ngoc Van. Wait, are you thinking what I'm thinking?" Doctor Briggs asked Zheng.
"We'll let them know when we're done here," Zheng responded hushedly.
The second painting pulled was the piece for which they were looking.
"This is your baby," Sang placed the painting on a nearby display.
"That's the one she described. May I take a picture of it?" Zheng asked Sang.
"Yes, but don't let that leak anywhere or else my graduation will be on the line," Sang explained to them.
Zheng stepped back and got the painting in the view of her smartphone. She snapped several photos at high resolution, front and back, where she noticed a card attached to the back of the painting.
Zheng reached for it and took a look.
"That's likely a catalogue and description number. They're bound to the artwork with electrostatic paper. Kind of like magnets that stick to anything that can have a static charge," Sang explained to Zheng.
"Good idea," Zheng said as she examined the card.
Stuck to the card was another piece of paper, much, much older than the card itself. It contained two Vietnamese addresses, each followed by a trio of whole numbers.
Zheng took a couple of pictures of the scrap paper and replaced it against the card. She gave them to Sang who returned them to the painting. Sang bundled up the painting and put it back in the rack.
"That's your part of the deal. Now we've got to go do mine," Sang invited them.
"More than happy to," Bryce agreed.
They proceeded up the stairs back into the front foyer and into the gallery, over to a closed section where Sang's pieces were still on display.
This is the one. It took a half a day to etch with the QIL. The QIL was aimed by CNC, whose program was generated algorithmically based upon a scan of my paper drawing. This is the end result of that process," Sang explained to Bryce who examined it closely.
"Kind of like a hi-tech spirograph," Doctor Briggs observed.
"That's exactly what it is. The same idea, but the second etching head is actually photons entangled with those of the ones emitted by the laser. Their cutting angle and vector is a function of Quantum spin based upon the entanglement of the photons, kind of like an invisible mirror, but parametric more so than planar, or so Professor Maxwell's paper describes," Sang tried to explain the process.
"I couldn't have said it better Sang," Bryce admired the student's work.
"Let's get that picture," Sang pushed them impatiently with a smile on his face.
Bryce took his place on one side of Sang's artwork, while Sang took the other. Zheng used Sang's phone and took several pictures of them. Bryce then switched with Linda, and Zheng begrudgingly took a few more pictures of Linda with Sang before they were done.
They thanked Sang for his help and stepped out in front of the University.
"Now what?" asked Katya.
"We report in and let Alicia know what we found. It's getting late and we might not be able to investigate much more today," Zheng suggested.
"We got quite a bit, not to mention we have another important contact we can call for the next three days to help us solve this mystery," Bryce remarked.
"I'm dying to see where this address is and what these numbers are," Katya encouraged Zheng.
"I'd be willing to bet the numbers are latitude and longitude. The first two anyway," Victor suggested.
"That leaves the third numbers. What could they be? They're certainly not consistent with being right inclination, declination, elevation, dot products or tangents, given the first pair of whole numbers," Zheng surmised using her immense knowledge of mathematics.
"Hmmmm. Interesting. They might be dates from Julian Calendar," Katya observed looking over Zheng's shoulder at the screen of the phone at the picture of the card.
"I'll be... You're right," Doctor Briggs took a closer look at Zheng's photo then handing Zheng's phone to Katya.
She looked at the numbers carefully.
"They are... they're dates in Julian notation," Katya began.
"This first one is November 14, 1969... at 2:35 Indochina time," Katya began as Bryce noted the date and time on his phone's notepad application.
"The second one is February 19, 1970 at 13:30 Indochina time," Katya spoke aloud as Bryce noted.
"We have the coordinates in space. The coordinates in time. Now we've just got to take a look," Bryce observed.
"Seeing as we can't take a look into the past, we'll neet to go to these addresses ourselves. Now," Zheng asserted.
"Now, now?" Doctor Briggs confirmed.
"Yes. Now, now. Why, aren't you having fun?" Zheng moved in closer to Briggs.
"Well, I have to admit this doesn't come close to the adventure we had at the Forbidden City, but its certainly close," Doctor Briggs responded.
"If you're in for seeing this through, so am I," Linda remarked flirtatiously towards Doctor Briggs.
"We'll go tonight," Doctor Briggs agreed.
They called Alicia and reported their findings just as Alicia, Heylyn, Monique and Valerie had pulled up in front of the Bed and Breakfast of which the little old lady had told them.
Zheng, Katya, Linda, Briggs, Victor and Bryce poured into another taxi van and began towards the first address.
It was going to be a long night and to add to their obstacles, someone had followed them.
Bed And Breakfast
Alicia stepped out of the vehicle, followed by Monique, Heylyn and Valerie. They thanked the driver, paying him for the short trip, then looked for their destination address which they quickly found. A large sign written in regional languages and several western languages.
"Here it is, Ngõ 522 Ngọc Thuỵ, Ngọc Thụy, Long Biên," Heylyn said still reading the address from her notes.
"This is the one," Alicia agreed approaching the door and knocking, then quickly pushing Heylyn in front.
They waited a long while before they heard the click of a lock and a latch. The door slowly opened and an elderly man looked at them carefully, squinting in the absense of light.
[Hi. I am so sorry to disturb you but we are friends of the family of a man that was last seen at the Quaint Palace hotel many years ago, which I understand is now a bed And breakfast. Do you mind if we ask you some questions?]
"Chào. Tôi rất tiếc đã làm phiền bạn nhưng chúng tôi là bạn của gia đình một người đàn ông được nhìn thấy lần cuối tại khách sạn Quaint Palace nhiều năm trước, nơi mà tôi hiểu giờ đây là nhà nghỉ chỉ phục vụ bữa sáng. Bạn có phiền nếu chúng tôi hỏi bạn một số câu hỏi?" Heylyn asked the man, careful of her pronunciation.
He paused and thought about what Heylyn had asked, and then his face lit up as if she'd struck a happy thought within the aging man. A moment later an aging lady aproached the man from behind.
[What is this? Who are these people?]
"Cái này là cái gì? Những người này là ai?" she asked impatiently.
The aging man slowly turned around to face the lady.
[They are here to ask us some questions. They remember the Quaint Palace, when it was still a palace. They have an old friend from the hotel for whom they are looking,]
"Họ ở đây để hỏi chúng tôi một số câu hỏi. Họ nhớ đến Cung điện cổ kính, khi nó vẫn còn là một cung điện. Họ có một người bạn cũ từ khách sạn mà họ đang tìm kiếm," the aging man to her.
"Do you speak english?" asked the elderly lady.
"Yes, we do," answered Heylyn.
"Come in for tea. I translate for you to my husband. I used to be a school teacher. I teach English," the aging Vietnamese woman explained.
"Thank you. That would be very nice of you," Heylyn replied, beckon Alicia, Monique and Valerie to follow.
The lady reached into a cubby hold shelf space and produced four pairs of slippers, which she placed on the floor.
"Thank you again," Alicia thanked the lady this time.
They took off their foot wear and stepped into the slippers. They then followed the aging couple into their home, taking a seat at a large table.
"Do you have family?" asked Heylyn politely.
"Yes, we have two sons. Both are married and have children of their own. When they come visit, they use the very table at which you're seated," the aging lady answered as she prepared the tea.
The aging man took a seat at the table and smiled at Heylyn.
"He says you're Chinese," the aging lady told Heylyn.
"Canadian, Chinese. Mandarin," Heylyn replied.
"You're from Canada? Ohhh, I see. Do you have names there?" the aging lady asked somewhat sarcastically.
"I'm so sorry. How rude of me. These are my friends and peers, Alicia, Valeria and Monique. My name is Heylyn or you can call Ai," Heylyn answered the lady.
"That is quite alright. We've never had company from Canada, so make a good first impression," the lady advised them.
"Good diplomacy would require that we at least know the names of those with whom we're dealing?" asked Alicia.
"Alicia? You're a diplomat are you? Well this is my husband Quan, and I am Thi," the aging lady answered, her name now know.
"We're pleased to meet you Thi and Quan. We've got a long night ahead of us, could we please ask you the questions?" Valerie took the bold step, knowing full well that it might get her branded.
"You're Valerie? Hmmmm. Very brash. Impatient. Ask your questions," Thi encouraged them.
Heylyn retrieved her tablet from her handbag. She then quickly brought up the drawing she'd etched earlier and placed it before Quan.
"Do you recall ever seeing a man that looks like this drawing?" she asked.
Quan leaned in close to the tablet, squinting until both his eyes were merely a thin sliver. His face lit up in recognition.
"Đúng. Đúng. Tôi đã nhìn thấy anh ấy! Trong chiến tranh! Anh ấy là một người chạy đua cho thị trường. Anh ấy là một cảnh sát giao thông. Anh ta cũng ở trong Quân đội Bắc Việt. Anh ấy là một người đàn ông rất bận rộn," Quan answered looking to Thi.
"He says that he saw this man several times during the war. He worked for the market, running deliveries. He was also a Policeman and even worked as a regular in the North Vietnamese Army. He says that man was many things and always very busy," Thi told the ladies, Heylyn already understanding most of what the man had stated.
"Did you ever see him go to the Quiet Palace with a lady?" asked Monique wanting to get in on the action.
"Quaint Palace..." Valerie corrected her.
"Don't quaint and quiet mean the same thing?" Monique said in her own defense.
"A quiet man might be quaint, but a quaint man might not be quiet," Thi explained before turning to Quan to ask Monique's question.
"Bạn có thấy người đàn ông trong hình đến Cung điện Cổ kính và ở với một người phụ nữ không?" Thi asked her husband Quan.
"Đúng. Anh ta đã đến Cung điện cổ kính với một phụ nữ một lần. Họ đã ở lại đêm. Họ vội lấy phòng, nhưng cô ấy không phải là gái mại dâm. Họ dường như là một cặp," Quan responded to Monique's question.
"He says that man came to the Quaint Palace with a woman only once. They were in a hurry to get a room but that she was not a sex worker. He says they were in love," Thi came to the table, placing a tiny tea cup at each of their seats and pouring them a cup of tea.
"Thank you. Does Quan remember the names with which they checked into the Quaint Palace?" asked Heylyn.
"Bạn có nhớ tên họ từng đăng ký ở khách sạn không?" Thi turned back to Quan and asked their question.
The man's face became compressed as he concentrated, peering back into the reaches of his memory. After a few moments of intense thought, the man spoke.
"Không, tôi không nhớ được. Tôi biết đó là một cái gì đó đáng chú ý, nhưng tôi không thể nhớ. Tuy nhiên, nếu điều đó thực sự quan trọng, tôi có thể cho họ địa chỉ của một đơn vị lưu trữ nơi Vinh, chủ cũ của Cung điện cổ kính lưu giữ tất cả các hồ sơ giấy tờ của mình từ thời đó. Nếu chúng không bị tịch thu kể từ đó," Quan spoke somewhat disappointed.
"He says he can't remember. But you might be able to find the name by going through Vinh's old records. Vinh is the old owner of the Quaint Palace and a friend of Quan. He has a storage unit nearby. You'd need Vinh's help in finding the records. The most we could do is call him for you and arrange for him to give you access," Thi told them in a compassionate voice.
"Thank you, but I think we've hit a dead end. We'll take Vinh's name and number if you could share it?" Heylyn asked Thi.
"Quân, họ muốn có số điện thoại của Vinh. Sẽ ổn nếu chúng tôi đưa nó cho họ?" Thi asked Quan.
"Đúng. Làm đi. Tôi có một cảm giác tốt về họ. Nhận cả số của họ nữa," Quan answered.
"Alright. I'll send you the number from Quan's phone, but to do that, I'll need your number," Thi requested.
Heylyn gave the lady her number and a few moments later Thi sent Heylyn Vinh's phone number.
"Thank you so much for your hospitality and for answering our questions. You're good hosts," Heylyn thanked Thi and Quan.
"Thank you. You're good diplomats. You seem to work well as a team," Thi told them as they got up from the table, having consumed their tea.
"That we do," Alicia agreed as they made their way to the front door.
They removed their slippers and stepped back into their regular footwear out of doors.
"Goodbye, nice to meet you!" Thi bid them farewell.
"Tạm biệt. Cảm ơn bạn cho công ty," Quan said as they left, closing the door behind them.
As they approached the street, a man from across the street walked quickly towards them. He had a thin moustache and beard and wore a sun hat common to the region. He was clearly North American.
"Nice night ladies," the man approached them.
"We're tourists too," Valerie replied.
"That obvious am I? Good thing," the man responded to them.
"How can we help you?" Heylyn asked the man.
"It's dangerous to be out alone at night, don't you think?" asked the man.
"Its still early. Close to nine last I checked. Besides, you'll find that we're not so helpless as we might appear," Valerie stepped between the man and her friends.
"Look, I'm not the enemy. I'm here to help you. In a few ways. First, I'm going to give you something," the man handed Valerie an envelope.
"No, no. Don't thank me. It was nothing. Really," the man responded.
Valerie turned to Alicia and Heylyn who looked at each other and shrugged. They then turned back to Valerie and nodded.
Valerie opened the evelope carefully, removing a solitary piece of paper from it. The paper had two names clearly printed on it. They were both Vietnamese names. Valerie handed the paper to Heylyn.
Heylyn read the names aloud quietly for her friends:
"You're welcome. No need to thank me - but - I have to ask you something in return. You see, in my business, we need to keep certain industry secrets from getting into the wrong hands. You know?" the man looked up and smiled charmingly at the women.
"I take it you're here on official company business?" Heylyn asked the man.
"Precisely. Now, you're working on something for an old lady knocking on death's door, who's experiencing the anguish of guilt having betrayed the man she loved for her country and having lost her child as a result of that. She's experiencing the understanding of her own mortality and having to come to terms with that. As a result, she's invested quite a bit of money digging into things that are stirring up problems for some of us in the company. So here's the deal. We already know that the lady from the story, the baby girl she had, well, how else can I put it? She's dead. As a doornail. Gone. End of story. End of investigation. The problem is with people that are striving on the anticipation of someone else's still being alive is that they're prone never to give up. So here we have a certain old lady with numerous resources and contacts at her disposal. A very powerful woman and one on our radar. She's a big deal here. She's obsessed as she gets closer to death's door. She's looking for someone to carry on her legacy and putting her faith in a fairy tale. The problem is that we can't convince her of this. Her own Government couldn't convince her of this. So we need you to convince her of this. In the long run, it will save us a lot of trouble and ensure that certain company secrets remain as much. How 'bout it? Are game for that?" the man asked Valerie, occasionally looking past her directly at Heylyn.
"You bastard! How dare you say that about her. You obviously want to be the first American in space without a space suit, cause I'm tempted to put you into orbit right now," Valerie responded.
"Whoa - whoa, hold on a second. I come with offerings and you're threatening to put me into orbit? Hey, if this was the nineteen sixties I might take you up on that. But it isn't and these are very strange times. The world is changing in ways that make global stability vulnerable and fragile. Your mommies and daddies were part of something that kept that stability and miraculously as a result, we've never seen a nuclear conflict in our lives. Consider that some of us want a safety net in place, in case diplomatic channels fail an d the command structure moves towards conflict, leading us down the road to destruction. We're a part of that safety net, and one little old lady is wreaking havoc upon it by searching for a little girl from a fairy tale. All I'm asking you is to give her closure, rather than to let others including yourselves wring her fortune out of her on flights of fantasy like this one, taking advantage of a dying lady, where you might also undermine the fabric of things that keep us all safe," the man's argument suddenly became more important and credible to them.
"We'll take your advice under advisement and consider it in all of our future actions. As far as going along with what you request, I don't think that we can make any guarantees either way," Alicia spoke like a true diplomat.
"Not to mention, you should have a bit more respect for the elderly, and at the very least, a bit more tact," Monique addressed the man.
"Fine. I'll work on that. Please consider what I said lest this get ugly. Good night ladies," the man turned and walked disappearing into the night.
"He does have a point. We might be delving into matters that we don't quite understand. There are obviously some very risky elements related to our digging up the ghosts of the past," Alicia pointed out.
"He was a professional and that wasn't his personality. He was just doing his job and doing it well," Heylyn observed.
"He just insulted that lady and you're kissing his ass?" Valerie turned to confront them in shock.
"No. Just observing that he tried to play us. Manipulate the casus belli in his favour and Valerie fell for it," Heylyn told them.
"The casus what? He just stated that an elderly woman trying to reunite with her little girl was a fairy tale. A flight of fantasy," Valerie defended her response.
"And your reaction would have made you the monster more so than him," Alicia agreed with Heylyn.
"It's not her fault though. In my time with Kyoshi Morgan Hind, Tiger Hoon Kwang and Jinn Hua, they taught me the concept of what many call the casus belli. The justification to use extreme actions for one's own defense. To attack without justification is to bring about a severe penalty especially in warfare, as the defender always has the advantage and even more so when the attack has no justification. He only verbally indicated his side of the situation, using words he hoped would provoke a brash and unreasonable response from one of us and that response came in the form of a violent threat from Valerie, hence giving him the casus belli for that moment had Valerie responded with violence," Heylyn explained.
"Like bull baiting," Monique added.
"Bull baiting? What's that?" asked Valerie.
"The same thing. My mother used to tell me the tale of a bull who was tormented by a matador. The matador would only use his cape, taunting the bull and teasing it all while the crowd watched and cheered him. Then, the bull got so angry that it charged at the matador, missing him as the matador evaded. The crowd cheered even louder for the matador, but nobody could see that the matador had intimidated the bull into attacking, making the bull all the more upset. Eventually the bull hit the matador, injuring him and the handlers had to kill the bull, even though the bull was completely innocent," Monique explained the her mother's story.
"Exactly, part of the training I had is the training to be in control of one's own emotions and reactions because if someone can intimidate you into reaction, then you stand the risk of losing the benefit of righteousness and truth, especially if you use physical attack or defense. Like in the Monique's bull story, if the bull could communicate and explain to everyone that the matador provoked him into attacking, they'd likely not understand and possibly think that the bull was imply crazy. Believe me, there are many people at every level who play the game of life that way. The dirty tricks way. Attempting to provoke others into reaction, especially in ways that others simply can't detect. He was a professional and he was playing us all using highly emotional words and circumstances. Thankfully, Valerie only responded with words in like, not actions, so we didn't lose anything and in fact we gained something," Heylyn continued her explanation.
"How do we even know those are their real names?" Valerie asked still upset.
"We don't but we do have something more to go on not to mention we gained a very important piece of information," Heylyn stated.
"What?" Valerie asked.
"The fact that we're being watched by some big players in this game," Alicia observed.
"Not to mention the man who's past we're trying to uncover was an American agent that helped the South Vietnamese during the war. We're right in the middle of this," Heylyn added.
"Right in the dead center I'd say," Alicia agreed.
"So lets touch bases with the delegation and see what they've got," Heylyn suggested.
None of this or any other content on Shhhh! Digital Media is written by Eugene Andre Francois, and I am not a member of any Abrahamic religion but am in fact an Atheist that leans towards Buddhism and Taoism.