Nine Days

Nine Days by Fred Hiatt

Book: Nine Days by Fred Hiatt Read Free Book Online
Authors: Fred Hiatt
and
I
wasn’t going to let anything stop me.
    The rain was streaming down our faces, even as sweat was trickling down our backs.
    To kill time, and get under some kind of roof, we visited Ho Chi Minh, though he happens to be dead.
    Ho was the Communist leader who led Vietnam in wars against the French, in the 1950s and ’60s, and against the Americans, in the 1960s and ’70s, eventually beating both. According to their official history, which of course is written by the Communists who still run the place, he is the beloved father of his nation—their George Washington. Yes, just like the Chinese and Mao.
    They have him pickled and on display, in this monumental mausoleum in the middle of a parade ground in the middle of Hanoi. (Yes, just like Mao in Beijing.) To see him you have to go through a metal detector and get in a long line, and there are guards telling you to take your hands out of your pockets and keep quiet. When you get inside it’s like being inside a temple, or a funeral home.
    While we were waiting to get in, I started in on the sickness of creating state religions around Communist dictators. Ti-Anna shushed me, and I thought back to the last time I was shooting my mouth off about a pickled Communist dictator. That seemed like a couple of eons ago.
    I shut up. But as we filed past the mummified corpse, nicely turned out in a shirt and tie, I couldn’t help nudging Ti-Anna andwhispering, “How do we know he’s not made of wax?” Because, honestly, he looked suspiciously orange.
    “Shhh!” she said again. “Not here!”
    “Shhh!” a guard said, in a less friendly way.
    When we got outside, we resumed our arguing. All I could think about was Rat-face, and why he didn’t want me along.
    “Look,” Ti-Anna said, in what she obviously thought of as a compromise. “You can wait right outside the gate. He’ll know you’re there. What could go wrong?”
    Which is the question that was echoing in my mind, over and over, as we headed back to Mr. Thieu’s. Because, of course, Ti-Anna had won the argument and was planning to go in alone. I had agreed to wait right outside the gate.

Chapter 27
    I might have kept my promise, too, if the gate hadn’t closed so slowly.
    We returned to the house as darkness fell. I hung back as Ti-Anna punched the buzzer. The gate opened, Ti-Anna disappeared, the gate swung back—and paused, for just an instant.
    Without thinking—or maybe because in some corner of my mind I’d been thinking about it all day—I darted through the gap before the gate clicked shut, and dropped into the shrubbery.
    Ti-Anna was being escorted up the path, through shadows. I assumed the man next to her was Rat-face.
    I squatted in the humid Hanoi night, surrounded by cicadas even noisier than my ragged breathing. I had no plan. I couldn’t have told you why I had done what I did, or what I thought I was going to do next, except that I didn’t trust Mr. Thieu, and I didn’t want a wall separating me from Ti-Anna.
    I edged forward through an unkempt garden. The driveway opened onto a gravel-covered lot that encircled Thieu’s house like a moat. It wasn’t really a house, though—it looked more like asquat pagoda, with the ground floor lit up and the higher floors in darkness. An old army truck, with a canvas roof, was parked by the door.
    Curtains were pulled across the windows. But as I crept along the edge of the gravel clearing, I noticed an outdoor wooden stairway connecting the porch to a second-floor balcony. I decided to make a run for it.
    Every footstep was like an explosion on the gravel as I sprinted through the light. But I made it across and up the stairs. I listened, and let my breathing slow again. It didn’t seem I’d been noticed.
    They were talking beneath me, but I couldn’t hear what they were saying, in part because the truck was idling noisily around the corner. Luckily its rumble covered the creaking of the wood floor, too, as I crept along the balcony.
    A door

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