THE SILENT ASSASSIN
Click on an image to enlarge it.
The tank that ended the Vietnam War over thirty years earlier by crashing through the gates of the presidential palace provided cover for Huu Duoc Chugai as he strode to the War Remnants Museum in Ho Chi Minh City. At 2:00 a.m. the few people on the street were drunks or lovers, probably with little interest in the tall forty-year old, but Chugai fell into a routine of keeping in the shadows, his head down. His pace picked up on Vo Van Tan Street, then slowed as he weaved through the arsenal of captured American planes and bombs outside the museum. He swore under his breath as he clipped his shoulder against the rocket launcher attached to a rusting American helicopter.
He glanced around as he reached the door of the main building, saw no one, and let himself in with a key. Chugai was a man who made the most of opportunities. The ministry which previously employed him oversaw the park system, including the museum. He'd hung on to a key to the museum, not knowing at the time how he would use it. His life was like the construction of the tunnels at Cu Chi. He believed in stealth, in collecting and manipulating information, in winning at all costs. Sometimes he couldn't tell if it was his birthright or the two years he spent in the United States that had honed his resolve. But his planning was about to pay off.
He locked the museum door behind him, congratulating himself on his choice of a meeting place. When the general arrived, Chugai planned to walk him past the photo of smiling Americans sitting down in front of the heads of two decapitated North Vietnamese soldiers. It would remind the man of his debt, of how Chugai's father had saved his life during the war.
Chugai moved into the room that held a tiger cage for prisoners of war. He lit a cigarette, thought about the warm bed of his mistress he'd just left, and smiled again at his own cleverness. He'd arrived a half hour before the proposed meeting time and was keeping watch so he could let the old North Vietnamese solider in. Or maybe he would move back through the museum, so the man would knock and wait for a few moments, just to show him Chugai was running the show.
His thought was abruptly interrupted by an arm reaching around his neck and grasping him in a choke hold. His cigarette fell to the floor as his assailant spun him around. Chugai looked down in embarrassment at the general, who was three inches shorter than him. How the hell had he gotten in and crept up so silently?
The older Vietnamese man grinned, with a touch of madness in the corner of his eyes. Chugai was sufficiently chagrined that he forgot his grand plan to walk the general through the museum to seal his loyalty. Instead, he thrust an envelope into the general's hand. The man didn't even open it. Instead, he held his pointer finger up, signaling "one."
Chugai knew what he meant. He'd kill once more and then he would consider the debt repaid. Chugai opened his mouth to speak but the man was no longer listening. Instead, the general had moved over to the French guillotine that was on display.
The old man placed the envelope on the wooden bench at the bottom of guillotine and let loose the weighty blade that had been used to kill prisoners of war. The crushing thump severed the envelope in half, shredding and scattering the Vietnamese and American currency it held. As Chugai rushed over to see if the airline ticket was still intact, the general disappeared out of the museum.
Screw it, thought Chugai. If the general wants to do it his way, so be it. Chugai put the mangled currency and plane ticket into his pocket. He didn't care how the general got to Washington, D.C. as long as he killed the bastard.
Published by St. Martin's Minotaur
Hardcover: ISBN: 0312352719; $23.95; 304 pages
Paperback: ISBN: 0312946481; $6.99; 352 pages
Available at local independent mystery booksellers, Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble and Booksense.com.
All content © 2006-08 by Lori Andrews.