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Excerpt for Swan Moon by , available in its entirety at Smashwords


Swan Moon


Jon Jacks



Other New Adult and Children’s books by Jon Jacks


The Caught – The Rules – Chapter One – The Changes – Sleeping Ugly

The Barking Detective Agency – The Healing – The Lost Fairy Tale

A Horse for a Kingdom – Charity – The Most Beautiful Things (Now includes The Last Train)

The Dream Swallowers – Nyx; Granddaughter of the Night – Jonah and the Alligator

Glastonbury Sirens – Dr Jekyll’s Maid – The 500-Year Circus – The Desire: Class of 666

P – The Endless Game – DoriaN A – Wyrd Girl – The Wicker Slippers – Gorgesque

Heartache High (Vol I) – Heartache High: The Primer (Vol II) – Heartache High: The Wakening (Vol III)

Miss Terry Charm, Merry Kris Mouse & The Silver Egg – The Last Angel – Eve of the Serpent

Seecrets – The Cull Dragonsapien – The Boy in White Linen – Porcelain Princess – Freaking Freak

Died Blondes – Queen of all the Knowing WorldThe Truth About Fairies – Lowlife

Elm of False DreamsGod of the 4th SunA Guide for Young Wytches – Lady of the Wasteland

The Wendygo House – Americarnie Trash – An Incomparable Pearl – We Three Queens – Cygnet Czarinas

Memesis – April Queen, May Fool – Sick Teen – Thrice Born – Self-Assembled Girl – Love Poison No. 13

Whatever happened to Cinderella’s Slipper? – AmeriChristmas – The Vitch’s Kat in Hollywoodland

Blood of Angels, Wings of Men – Patchwork Quest – The World Turns on A Card – Palace of Lace

The Wailing Ships – The Bad Samaritan – The 13th Month – The Silvered Mare – SpinDell


Text copyright© 2018 Jon Jacks

All rights reserved

Smashwords Edition, License Notes

Thank you for downloading this ebook. It remains the copyrighted property of the author, and may not be reproduced, copied and distributed for commercial or non-commercial purposes.

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Chapter 1


Swan Moon watched the events taking place outside with the disinterest of sorrow.

The Japanese soldiers, in their ill-fitting uniforms, had been ordered by their smartly attired English officers to escort Captain Numata to the idling police wagon.

How would they deal with this further dishonour heaped upon them?

Should she tell the truth, she wondered?

Or was his name, like hers, already in the book of damnation?



*



Most of the French windows to the rear of the villa were still open.

Just beyond the veranda, in the glow of the large garden’s innumerable Aladdin lamps, Alan saw a Japanese officer viciously strike one of the soldiers he had lined up before him. The officer struck the soldier a second time, this time with a blow hard enough to knock the man to the ground.

The lights were once again out all over Saigon, though the glow of thankfully far off fires, and even explosions, lit up certain areas of the horizon. The investigation into Chapelet’s murder had to take place under the light of the large lamps brought in from the garden, their oily yet brilliant glow attracting its usual massed congregation of suicidal insects.

Chapelet was seated upon his favourite Louis XII chaise lounge. Facing the largely unnecessary fireplace, a characteristically superior smile was spread across his generous face, as if admiring the picture of French men o’ war bombarding Hanoi harbour. An ancient bayonet had been inserted directly into his heart, the blood running down the portentously rising mound of his belly. Where the blood reached the floor, it was soaking into the Chinese carpet, staining the leaflets scattered around Chapelet’s body.

Alan had seen the leaflets before, strewn all over the Gurkha regiment’s makeshift barracks in the old girl’s school. It was a succinct message, an ‘Appeal to the Indian Officers and Soldiers among the British troops’, claiming that both the ‘heroic sons of Gandhi’ and the Vietnamese were fighting for freedom. He had seen the bayonet before too, not long after being invited by Chapelet to stay at his villa rather than a Continental Palace Hotel overflowing with refugees from the countryside. He had taken it down from the wall to admire it; late eighteen hundreds, French, the blade nearly three-foot long and curved like an elongated Bowie knife.

It wasn’t the murder weapon, however. Like the leaflets, it had all been part of a ploy by Captain Numata to lay the blame for the killing on the Viet Minh.

But the Gurkhas searching the garden had found his hurriedly cleaned but still blood-covered samurai sword hidden in the thick ivy.

Alan couldn’t see why Numata would have wanted to kill Chapelet.

But – and he felt ashamed that this filled him with such a wonderful sense of joy – it meant he no longer had a rival for Swan Moon’s love.



*



Chapter 2


The discovery of Numata’s bloodied sword also ensured that Alan was no longer a suspect, despite it being well known that Chapelet had declared him heir to a considerable estate.

Having reached a certain age just as the Emperor surrendered, and with neither wife nor children who could inherit his plantations, Chapelet had decided to appoint Alan – a son of a trusted business associate based in Malay – to come and visit now that the British were overseeing the surrender of the Japanese army in Vietnam.

Now free to go wherever he wished within the villa, provided he stayed clear of the immediate area of the crime scene, Alan climbed the sweeping stairs leading up to the floor where the main bedrooms were.

Captain Numata’s room, of course, was still out of bounds. The Gurkhas were searching for anything else that could serve as evidence pointing to the officer’s guilt.

The door to Swan Moon’s room, however, was wide open.

She was standing by the large window overlooking the front of the house, giving her a perfect view of Numata’s removal from the villa. If she was surprised by the captain’s arrest for the murder, Alan couldn’t see any signs of it in either her expression or demeanour.

Neither was she weeping. Only a slight smear of eye mascara on her otherwise perfectly made-up face indicated that she might had shed a tear earlier.

Not that Alan expected her to freely reveal her emotional state, of course.


‘Eyes like rivers in the autumn,

brows like mountains in the spring.

The flowers are jealous of her beauty,

the willows are left green with envy.’


They were lines from an ancient story Swan Moon had shown to Alan; ‘A New Cry from a Broken Heart.’

He had been struck how appropriate the words were, yet she hadn’t seemed to realise it, seeing only the beauty in the poetry, not in her own appearance.

‘He didn’t do it; why would he?’ she said coolly, without bothering to turn to face him, without displaying in any other way that she had noted his entrance.

Did she approve or disapprove of his entering her room?

As usual, he couldn’t tell.

‘Do you think he’d hide his own sword so badly; almost like someone wanted it to be found?’ she added with a level of bitterness that took Alan by surprise.

‘Who else then?’ he asked.

‘The Viet Minh; no one’s safe – they can attack wherever they want.’

‘Usually, in a case like this, it’s because a previously trusted servant has been turned; whom amongst your friends do you wish to point the finger of suspicion at?’

‘None of them!’ she snorted irately, though she still continued to stare out of the window, even now refusing to face him. ‘They are all good people; why would they kill him? If a servant doesn’t like his master, he just puts ground cockroach and rotten meat in his soup – you make him suffer for years that way!’

She got on well with all the servants. He had often caught her late on an evening talking to them in their curiously musical language. He listened in even though he didn’t understand, relishing the laughter in her voice.

‘Would you rather they had taken me away?’ he asked, fearing how she might answer.

‘Maybe it would have been for the best,’ she replied coldly.



*



Chapter 3


Hot mugs of coffee, biscuits, ham and eggs: Chapelet’s servants diligently and efficiently served Alan his breakfast on the veranda abutting the summerhouse he had moved into on arriving at the villa.

It had been Numata’s ‘room’. But he had been immediately and unceremoniously displaced, to be given in its stead a smaller, less private room in the main house itself.

Numata had taken his abrupt demotion with surprisingly good grace, his bags packed and ready to make the move only a few moments after Chapelet’s announcement that Alan was now their most important guest. The officer, as always, had also been smartly attired, his uniform immaculately pressed, his curving sword hanging by his side like a devil’s tail.

The servants had helped Numata move into the house’s bedroom, whereas Chapelet had awarded Swan Moon the task of ensuring Alan settled into what would be his new home for at least six months.

She smiled, spoke to him politely, intelligently, her English surprisingly good, as Chapelet had made sure she could entertain the American businessmen who had used to call before they too were brought into the war.

She had a way of confidently meeting his eyes, of lightly touching an arm, a leg, that dared him to think this beautiful girl might be attracted to him.

She had visited him again that night, wearing nothing but the moon’s kimono of silk, her nightgown left on the lawn.



*



After that first night, the contact between them had been no different to that of a regular guest and a considerate hostess, her relationship with Numata appearing to Alan to be far warmer, far closer.

Had he, after all, simply been ‘entertained’ by Swan Moon like any business associate of Chapelet would expect?

Wasn’t that why Numata had originally been invited here too? What amazing advantages there must have been for Chapelet, showing such hospitality to an officer of the Samurai.

When Swan Moon spoke to Numata, they spoke in French. On a night, Alan had heard whispered yet furious discussions, coming through windows left open to allow a flow of cooler air.

She could have been arguing with Chapelet. Maybe he felt she wasn’t showing enough encouragement to their new guest. Certainly, the following morning, whenever she passed Alan, she would reward him with a smile that appeared forced and irate.

Last night had been another more or less sleepless night for Alan. Beyond the garden walls, it was obvious that the curfew was neither being enforced nor adhered to, the streets more alive on an evening than throughout the day. The Japanese, especially, were out to enjoy themselves, the soldiers drunk after another day of mistreatment by their own officers.

The electric lights had come back on for a while only to flicker out once again for another hour of sheer darkness. Maybe the power station was under attack again, disrupting the shifts of hundreds of Japanese soldiers carrying coal from the canal barges to furnaces powering the previously sabotaged machinery. Or maybe the Gurkha patrols had asked for an area to be briefly plunged into darkness, drawing the Viet Minh into an ambush when the lights were suddenly switched back on.

Whichever it was, come the morning the Market Place and a few of the port’s warehouses had been set ablaze once more, threatening to destroy some of Chapelet’s stock stored there. The fire engines had been stolen earlier, and Alan realised he would have to take a trip down there in Chapelet’s – or should he already be calling such things his? – car.

Alan had hope to persuade Swan Moon to accompany him into town, the excuse being that the young chauffeur Kim only spoke the most basic English. Unfortunately, by the time they set off in the Citroën Landaulet she had already left the villa. They passed through streets still bearing the scars of earlier riots; burnt out and looted shops, statues toppled from their plinths, the blue-and-white street signs obliterated with paint to celebrate revolutionary heroes rather than France’s colonial past. Posters in English, French and Vietnamese banned processions, demonstrations, public meetings, and the carrying of arms by civilians.

Work parties were busy everywhere, clearing the roads of stone and brick, or boarding up presently unrepairable buildings. Trucks full of blackened timbers roared away as others arrived with new materials. Broken windows had been patched with thin wood, even those of the wrought iron and glass dome of a governmental building overlooking a square of formal gardens.

Many of the men set to work were Japanese soldiers, most of them surprisingly docile and ridiculously helpful as they were marched from one task to another, all under the command of their own officers and all without escorts. As usual, these soldiers were being treated by their superiors as being little better than ill-educated peasants and, when finally relieved, they would simply lay down on the floor, exhausted, and fall asleep.

Today, however, something was glaringly different.

For the first time in ages, the French Tricolour had been hoisted above the Town Hall.



*



Chapter 4


On the Town Hall steps, French soldiers were taking away a bedraggled group of prisoners composed mainly of Vietnamese women and children rather than men.

In a large square overlooked by both the Town Hall and the cathedral’s red-brick spires, more soldiers were languidly smoking beneath a brocade of feathery pepper trees. Other French troops appeared to be taking part in random acts of vandalism on the Rue Catinat, until Alan realised they were tearing down the renamed ‘Street of the Paris Commune’ sign.

This more European styled part of the town had recently begun to show signs of improvement, recovering from the September riots that had seen Father Tricoire crucified upon his own cathedral steps and French families lying dead in the streets. Then the Japanese troops had looked on as indifferently as when they pretended to guard installations they had already handed over to the Viet Minh. Order had only been restored by patrols of emaciated and raggedly dressed British, Australian and Dutch ex-POWs, armed with little more than wooden staves. The city’s installations had only been gradually retaken as more Indian troops were brought in by air.

Both Saigon radio and parts of the press had endlessly preached rebellion until they had been taken over. Hanoi radio, of course, was untouchable.

Now shops and side-walk cafes which had been boarded up, begrimed, even looted, were open once again. Everywhere, small pony-drawn carts were being hailed and boarded. Along the wide, tree-lined boulevards, white-suited Frenchmen and elegantly attired women mixed with Annamese dressed all in black, bar their jaunty, multi-coloured hats. Young Vietnamese girls garbed in semi-European blouses and short skirts, their faces made up to look like Life Magazine starlets, ostentatiously flirted with anyone – even the Japanese officers – who would be able to allow them to purchase the rarer goods for their French masters.

Down by the crescent-shaped wharf, where the bright red awning of the Café de la Rotonde rippled in a faint breeze, Swan Moon had stopped to talk to a smartly dressed Vietnamese man seated at one of the rows of busy tables.

‘Swan Moon, Swan Moon,’ Alan cried as he spotted her, rising up from the seat of his open top car to draw her attention.

Swan Moon looked up as she heard the cries, turned back to quickly say something to the Vietnamese man, then began to walk away as if she hadn’t seen Alan.

Alan tapped Kim’s shoulder, indicating that he should slowly draw up alongside the walking girl. It wasn’t easy for Kim; the wharf was crowded with all manner of busy people, while net-loads of supplies from the ships swinging high above their heads were landing everywhere with a crunch upon the white stone. The farmers of the countryside weren’t releasing their crops, yet here the aromas of salted fish, teas, spices, cloves and pepper were underlined with the sweet, nutty smell of drying coconut and the stench of clogged monsoon drains.

‘Swan Moon,’ Alan cried once more, suddenly wondering if he sounded pathetic calling out to an obviously disinterested native girl like some love struck buffoon from a Du Maurier novel. ‘Look, I want to apologise; you were right! The servants weren’t to blame!’

In her billowing trousers of white silk, Swan Moon was as well dressed as any of the French women, albeit in a well-cut, Chinese-style rather than the tightly encasing Parisian fashion.

‘If not Numata, then it was an assassin; someone who came over the wall,’ Alan said, vaulting out over the car’s back rather than waiting for Kim to open the door.

Swan Moon turned, looked shocked, even dismayed. But she gathered herself and became stern.

‘Look,’ she snapped, ‘what do you think this looks like?’

Alan was confused. Then she nodded towards the other young, well-dressed Vietnamese women, the ones with the French and Japanese officers and officials, all of them pleading their case, their need for this certain cut of meat, these particular wines.

Swan Moon looked upon her compatriots with undisguised disdain.

‘I’m sorry,’ Alan said, flustered, ‘I didn’t see it that way.’

She glared at him, looking straight into his eyes.

‘Well, don’t you think it’s time you started seeing things how other people see them?’

‘Look, Swan Moon, please; I’m admitting I was wrong!’

Seeing that his pleading was still having no discernible effect on Swan Moon’s irate indifference towards him, Alan decided to change the subject.

‘Did you see that the French have taken over the Town hall?’

If anything, Swan Moon’s attitude was more dismissive than ever.

‘The Viet Minh were warned of the attack,’ she scoffed. ‘They’d already left before the French soldiers attacked.’



*



‘Come with me,’ Swan Moon said to Alan, as one might order a dog who frustratingly refuses to accept any attempts at training.

She led Alan beneath the shady colonnades built out over the pavements, away from those going about their energy-sapping tasks in no more cover than their hats. Here crouching groups of card and dice players clamoured excitedly, their lips and the floor stained with betel nut juices.

‘Where are we going?’ Alan quite reasonably demanded. ‘Why are you always so angry with me?’

Now they were passing bare-chested, barefooted coolies moving amongst the mostly Annamese and Chinese merchants and landlords who had acquired French culture, their soft, sibilant tones flowing about them. Beggar children were kicked and shouted at as they slipped into the cafes, eating the food left by the richer patrons, while dogs sniffed casually around the diners, immune to further beatings.

Rather than answering Alan’s question, Swan Moon whirled around to angrily confront him.

‘Why was Numata arrested, do you think?’ she snapped.

‘His sword; his sword had blood all over it!’

‘Not all over it; on the handle! He’d fought in the war here, against the French!’

‘But he’d hidden it!’ Alan protested in exasperation, adding more worriedly, ‘You sound like you see him as a hero, not a demon!’

‘Some say better an Asian devil than a white one!’

‘And you? Do you say that too, Swan Moon?’

‘I say that there is quite rightly loathing on every side! The French troops have been released from their concentration camps, and what have the British done? Handed over two arms depots to them. Do you think their De Gaulle is going to let the British lay claim to pacifying his colony?’

‘What’s all this got to do with Numata’s arrest?’ Alan asked curiously.

‘Everything! The French have yet another reason to loath the Japanese because they’ll take orders from the English but not the French! Fifty thousand troops who had never surrendered and still haven’t been disarmed because they’re the ones preventing us all from being murdered in our beds! If the English admit that not even the richest Frenchmen are safe, then the French become yet another rioting army they’re fighting!’

‘So they arrest Numata, as it’s convenient for everybody!’ Alan angrily declared in a way that implied he found it all entirely reasonable. ‘Is that what’s really bothering you? Or was there something going on between you–’

‘You see? That’s what everyone will think! That it was a crime of passion!’



*



Chapter 5


Slipping away from the crowds, Alan and Swan Moon stepped into one of the smaller streets fanning off from the wharf.

A warren of side streets like this regularly cut through Saigon’s right-angled grid of pretty, wide boulevards, opening up now and again into their own small, irregular squares. It’s not an easy place to police a riot, Alan thought; God forbid we should end up fighting a full-out war in it. Especially one were the enemy doesn’t wear uniform but, rather, blends in with people in the market, or working in the shops – both before and after an attack.

There were frequent sweeps for hidden weapons, he’d heard, yet they were generally fruitless, for small arms can be hidden in all manner of places.

The smaller streets they were heading down now were still full of charred buildings and scattered debris. Even so, Alan was still surprised when Swan Moon bent to lift a small tarpaulin, opening the rotting doorway of one of the shuttered shops.

It seemed dark inside after the bright sun. There was a short hallway, an half-open door to a small room containing a squat Buddha on a candlelit altar. Beyond this there was another room, slightly larger, but full of squatting people.

A radio, perhaps tuned into Radio Hanoi, was switched off as Alan entered the room. An old man was seated by a minute, glassless window, laying the bones of the fish he was eviscerating out in the sun to dry. An old woman, perhaps his wife, was stoking the brazier beneath an immense black pot using explosively dry kindling.

Someone, perhaps their son, stood up to bring the fish to the oil-congealed cooking pot. There were two other, younger men – one lighting a cigarette from an incense stick – and three young women, gathering kindling together by the stove. A number of children flowed around the rickety furniture, padding flat-footed across the floor towards another pot, or already scooping rice into their mouths with grimy hands.

The son’s smile was as wide and white as the revealed flesh of a split chestnut when he realised Swan Moon was in the doorway. And, as if he had announced Swan Moon’s arrival, the whole family turned and looked up towards her, their incredible concert of smiles being a more effusive greeting than any welcoming cries.

Swan Moon embraced the old man sitting by the window, his crooked, virtually toothless smile never wavering as she hugged him, tightly, as if preventing him from floating off.

There were a few minutes of excited, friendly babble – everyone seemingly speaking at once – which Alan naturally failed to understand. Even so, he realised he was neither being made warmly welcome nor completely ignored; just accepted, as one more part of the gathering.

Swan Moon handed a small box of something or other to one of the children, who immediately turned to open it up amongst the others, sharing out its contents. One of the slightly older girls was handed what looked like a sweet, but she immediately passed it to the infant on her back.

The son, still widely smiling, eventually indicated that they should follow him through a back door. It led first to a corridor and then another, glaringly white room, a room of clouds. Flour swirled in the air like layers of rippling lace as two completely white wraiths – so covered in powder that Alan couldn’t tell if they were men or women – tore open sacks and, with deftly twirling fingers, smoothed out the lumps in the soft powder even as they poured it out onto a set of large scales.

Beyond here there was yet another room, an assembly line of vats of dough and more hunched workers; beyond this a further room of impenetrable walls of suffocating heat. A line of roaring ovens were being fed by a smoothly moving ballet of shirtless men twirling long handled pallets; the lift, thrust, tip and snatch back leaving behind evenly spaced cucumbers of soft dough in the hot, crimson mouths.

‘Why are you showing me this?’ Alan eventually asked.

‘When I first came here for an order of bread, I was just fourteen, taking on some of the tasks of the main house girl.’ Swan Moon smiled at the old man and his wife. ‘They spoke to me, kindly; they said they could see I was sad. Clearly, they said, I had no mother and father of my own. How did they know? I demanded rudely. They knew because they had so many children, they said. They said they would happily have me as their daughter. I cried. It was such an honour to be invited to be a part of their family.’

Alan listened quietly; she had such an incredibly earnest expression, as if this was something she’d been waiting to tell for a long time.

‘You see, most families cannot even afford to look after their own children. The young boy who brings bread to the villa – have you seen him? His parents gave him to his grandmother when he was just six, as he was the youngest of twelve and they couldn’t feed him. Straightway, she put him out on the street early every morning, barefoot, and carrying a heavy basket of fried dough to sell to the market stallholders.’

She turned to receive a basket of neatly wrapped, golden brown baguettes a Parisian would have been highly satisfied with. That ridiculously reassuring scent of freshly baked bread was a delicious meal in itself.

‘This is a wealthy family, Alan. Lucky ones. All those rich Vietnamese you saw out there today, in their French clothes and French cars; how do you think they made their money? They’re absentee landlords, exempt from the body tax and loaned money by the French at foolishly low rates, money they then loan to their peasants at ridiculously horrendous rates. And they take as security unharvested crops, their land, even their wives and children. We produce less rice than anywhere else in the world; yet export more than anywhere except Burma.’

Every time Alan wished to make a comment, Swan Moon would silence him with a raised hand. She led him to another room, a room hazy with smoke. Men were laid wall to wall on makeshift bunk beds. The room smelt of vomit and sweetened herbs. Alan felt weak, yet noticed Swan Moon was watching him closely, her eyes hard and unforgiving.

‘This is how this family survives; not through their bread. They feed the addicts created by the French.’

Alan turned sharply towards Swan Moon, catching the loathing in her eyes.

‘I didn’t know, Swan Moon; I swear, I didn’t know!’



*



Swan Moon insisted on hailing a malabar to take her back to the villa, even though these little carts – disparagingly called matchboxes by the French– were usually hired only by the poorer Annamese. She bargained hard over the price, telling Alan that the driver would be insulted if she didn’t.

It wasn’t long before Alan regretted that he hadn’t insisted on taking her home. The market, where he still had a number of premises to inspect, was completely deserted. You could spot the shops owned by the native Vietnamese because they were either boarded up or at least closed down.

Worse still, Vietnamese found out on the streets were being mercilessly beaten to the ground under a frenzied hail of flying fists, boots or clubs by mobs of hysterical French soldiers and civilians. The sight of the Tricolour once again flying over the Town Hall had released a dam of accumulated fear and shame that was now exploding in a torrent of violence.

Indian troops who usually had enough on their hands dismantling roadblocks of felled trees and eliminating any snipers taking shots at them were now being urgently ferried around town to quell mob attacks, rescue their victims, and put down riots in the French controlled jails. Even so, the mobs progressed to conducting vicious house searches, dragging people out into the road and marching them hands-bound off to prison.

By the time Alan arrived back at the villa, its white walls rippled with the pink and mauve reflections of a blaze at the Manufactured Rubber Company. The lights were out again, the Viet Minh having launched an attack on the power station. That also meant there wouldn’t be any water for Alan to wash in.

To the south, there was the odd, dull crump of mortar fire. Nearer still, an outburst of gunfire echoed hollowly amongst the buildings. Across the river there came the rhythmic beat of Vietnamese drums, reminding everyone of an earlier audacious waterborne attack to the east. It had only slowly been forced back, and then mainly by the Japanese.

In the summerhouse Alan was wearily making his way towards, a lantern had already been lit for him by one of the servants.

When he unlocked the door, he found Swan Moon there, waiting for him.



*



Chapter 6


As they laid together, the moon gazed down upon them through the glass panes of the summerhouse.

She still shone brightly, despite all the chaos she was forced to witness.

She reminded Alan of the prize he had won.

‘The moon;’ he said, half dreamily, as if merely thinking out loud, ‘I can see why your parents named you after her. And the swan; for her grace, her beauty.’

Swan Moon lay so close in his arms that he could feel the ripple of the wry chuckle that ran all the way through her body.

‘It wasn’t my parents who named me; it was Chapelet,’ she said, adding with no hint of sorrow, ‘I was taken away from my parents before I’d managed to gain any memories of them.’

‘Sorry, I didn’t kno– there are so many things I don’t know, aren’t there?

‘I’m afraid there is,’ Swan Moon agreed, her body delightfully rippling against Alan’s once more. ‘Now you’re taking over Chapelet’s little empire, you need to get to know us better; the Annamese, I mean.’

‘It took me long enough to begin to understand the people of Malay,’ Alan admitted ashamedly. ‘What chance have I got of learning everything about a whole new people?’

‘New to you, maybe; not to us!’ Swan Moon admonished him with – Alan hoped – a mock, theatrical sternness. ‘Maybe we can start with the meaning behind my name?’

‘That sounds as good a place as any to start,’ Alan laughed. ‘Perhaps I’m going to enjoy learning about your people after all, no matter how long it takes.’

‘It was Roger’s joke, I suppose,’ Swan Moon said, using Chapelet’s first name. ‘The Moon Swan Goddess is said to regularly visit earth, flying down as a swan in her robe of white feathers. If her robe is stolen, she can never return. But while on earth, she brings only bitterness – even insanity – to those who fall in love with her.’

‘Ah…is that a warning?’ Alan asked half-jokingly, half-worriedly.

‘Those she herself fell in love with; well, they were a different matter.’

Alan noticed that Swan Moon seemed to avoid looking at him as she said this, her eyes still fixed on the glittering disc of the moon.

He hesitated; was it wise to even hint that he would like a little more clarification?

Wouldn’t that only make her all the more defensive, even more reticent to reveal her true feelings?

And what, too, if clarification meant he knew for sure that she didn’t mean him?



*



‘You think I’m callous; don’t you?’

Swan Moon probed Alan’s eyes intently, seeking the truth there.

‘Callous?’ he replied, stalling, wondering how to answer.

‘Yes,’ he would have liked to honestly say.

Callous in the way she had reacted to Roger’s death.

Callous in the way she had so often responded to his pathetic attempts to be friends – to be more than friends – with her.

‘Why should I think that?’ he said instead, realising it was a cowardly thing to do: and one she would probably notice and hold against him too.

‘You think I’ve accepted his murder too easily,’ she accurately observed.

Alan pursed his lips; yes, he did think that.

‘He would have died soon enough anyway,’ Swan Moon said.

‘Fatalism: I know it’s such a large part of your belief–’

She laughed, punching him lightly and good-naturedly in his side.

Western doctors, Alan, told him he would soon begin to waste away.’

Chapelet had been an immense man in every way, his great height still countered by a girth that was the result of the grandest, unrestrained living.

‘There was a lot to waste away,’ Alan would have said if he had known Swan Moon better, if he had believed he could get away with such irreverent jollity.

‘I know so many Europeans who have caught a disea–’

Once again, Swan Moon jabbed him in his ribs, only this time a little harder, a touch more irate.

‘So you blame us even for this, Alan?’ she chuckled gruffly. ‘His Gauloise, his Armagnac; these are the French things that were about to kill him!’

‘Ah…so that’s why he wanted me out here now–’

Alan was startled, disturbed by a loud knock on the wooden frame of the summerhouse’s windowed door.

Rising up from the bed and quickly slipping into a handy pair of shorts, he pulled aside the drapes that had been used to create privacy for first Numata and the Alan. An anxious looking Kim was standing by the door, holding a small lantern.

The young man looked shocked, even dismayed, when he saw that Swan Moon was there.

He gabbled something Alan couldn’t understand, but it made Swan moon urgently sit up on the bed.

‘The police – the Sûreté – are here,’ she said fearfully. ‘And they’re refusing to go away!’



*



Chapter 7


Quickly dressing, Alan and Swan Moon rushed across the lawn towards the main house.

The police were already inside the building, a large number of them too, a mix of uniformed officers and civilian garbed detectives rapidly and carelessly searching through desk bureaus and book shelves. Others were filing up the wide and winding stairs with empty cardboard boxes, while some were already descending, the boxes now full of unstable piles of papers and documents.

‘What’s going on here?’ Alan demanded irately. ‘What are you looking for? Haven’t you already taken everything you need?’

At best, the men rifling through what was now his home ignored him; at worst, they gave him a curious stare suggesting they thought he must be a little touched.

Swan Moon must have repeated whatever he had said in French, because she at least received replies from a couple of the men.

‘They’re searching Roger’s room,’ she said to Alan. ‘They’ve been told to take any business files or letters.’

‘Chapelet’s room? Why Chapelet’s? He was the victim here, the one murdered! Haven’t they already taken what they needed from Numata’s room?’

One of the men wearing one of the smarter, more expensive suits glanced up from his searching of a row of magazines as he heard Alan’s outburst.

‘The Jap has confessed,’ the Frenchman sourly declared in near perfect English.

Swan Moon instinctively brought a hand up to her mouth as she gasped in surprise.

Or was it a gasp of horror? Alan wondered enviously.

‘Then why are you back here? And at this time too!’ Alan fumed, tempering his anger as he saw Swan Moon’s anxious face, recalling her fear that she would be seen as the femme fatale in a crime of passion. ‘What motive did he have? Did he say?’

Satisfied that his search of the magazines was fruitless, the man stood up straight, turned to walk towards them.

‘A couple of thieves, falling out amongst themselves!’ he sneered, only to add with a tone approaching awe, ‘But what thieves!’

‘Thieves?’ Alan laughed bemusedly. ‘One of the richest men in Vietnam? What could he possibly steal that he couldn’t buy?’

‘The rich can always be richer, Monsieur…? I heard you are set to inherit his wealth? Then you should know we are also conducting searches of all your business premises ri–’

‘What! Are you allowed to do all this, without some sort of authority conferred on you? And why at this time? Couldn’t it wait until morning at least?’

The Frenchman shook his head.

‘If we delay, who’s to know what files might just disappear? The Jap’s papers were interesting enough, but what else have our thieves been hiding?’

‘How could they have been stealing anything? Why would a Jap and a Frenchman be working together?’

‘Many Frenchmen sold their souls to the Japanese; five thousand civil servants alone. Now your captain, he worked for the Japanese Economic Operation Association. It allowed him to secretly track the movement of the gold the Japs were plundering, transferring some it to accounts specifically set up by Chapelet.’

Alan felt a lurch in his stomach: how much of his inheritance would be spirited away in any charges of embezzlement? Would he also be found culpable in some way?

‘What gold?’ he said, hoping there was a flaw in the Frenchman’s reasoning. ‘Why would the Japs be moving gold around?’

‘Gold stripped from banks, even temples and pagodas. Jewellery too, and art. The Japs forced every company director – French, Chinese, American – to reveal their financial records, setting up their own monopolies: salt and sugar for Mitsui, rice for Mitsubishi, rub–’

He was interrupted by a furious cry. A small yet heavy set and barrel chested man was rushing down the stairs. He was excitedly waving what looked to Alan like nothing more than a pamphlet rather than a business document.

What could they have found?

The French detective called the man over, a flurry of words meaningless to Alan apart from the man’s name: Sergeant Cedille.

Slowing his pace only a little, the sergeant walked over towards his superior, handing him the printed sheets. It was a pamphlet after all, Alan saw with a secret sigh of relief, one written entirely in Japanese and therefore probably indecipherable to anyone here.

Even so, the Frenchman shook the pamphlet with barely controlled rage directly in front of Alan’s face.

‘“Read This Alone — And the War Can Be Won.” That’s what it says, Monsieur! It’s the Emperor’s will that the Eastern races come together under Japan’s leadership to throw off white oppression.’

He threw the papers to the floor, stamping on them in disgust, as one might a poisonous insect.

‘Your benefactor, Monsieur; he was a traitor!’



*



Chapter 8


The rampaging Sûreté left just about every room in a complete mess.

Everything they hadn’t taken was left scattered upon the floor where it had been thrown as they had ransacked every drawer and cupboard. The bewildered, frightened servants were hurriedly cleaning up, even though Alan had told then through Swan Moon that they could go back to bed, leaving it all until the morning.

‘Wow; and I thought we hated the Japs!’ Alan whistled melodramatically.

The discovery of the pamphlet in Chapelet’s room had unleashed a particularly ferocious blast of anger, with some of the searching officers almost coming to blows, the reasons unclear to Alan until Swan Moon explained afterwards that some of them had wanted to arrest everyone in the house.

‘It was brutal time for them; the French I mean,’ Swan Moon admitted, if apparently a touch reluctantly. ‘They were no longer the masters; even when the Emperor surrendered, and the French tried to take back control by parachuting in some troops, the Japanese captured them, tortured them, and handed them over to the Viet Minh.’

‘But what they said about Chapele – about Roger; could it be true? A traitor? You know him better than I did.’

‘He was buying up plantations on the cheap, from all those wanting to sell up.’

She couldn’t face him as she answered.

‘How many people have been involved in all this, Alan?’ Swan Moon said, turning back to him, frowning now in concentration. ‘The Japanese, their French collaborators; anyone of them could have wanted Roger dead if they didn’t want all this coming out – or, even, if they wanted revenge.’

‘But the killers still had to be able to get to him,’ Alan pointed out.

‘And how hard would that be, amongst all this chaos?’ Swan Moon countered dismissively. ‘You English are up against millions, Alan, both inside and outside Saigon. Not just the Viet Minh, but the Cao Dai, the Hoa Hao, the Binh Xuyen; many commanded and trained by Japanese officers, all carrying guns from arms dumps the Japanese turned over to them. Worst of all are the Vietnamese Youth Movement – ironically trained by the French themselves to use modern weapons and resist Asian invasion, just like their ancestors!’

‘But Roger had told me all these groups were at last on the run, that his friends had already been out to visit their plantations; albeit it, admittedly, when escorted by Indian troops.’

Swan Moon responded only with raised eyebrows, a move Alan took to mean he was being naive if he thought it was a sign that everything was returning to normal so soon.

‘Ah well,’ Alan sighed resignedly, ‘those getting out there reported that everything was generally intact, apart from the odd bits of broken or smashed machinery. I suppose it can wait a while longer before I head out there.’

Glancing about him at the servants hurriedly attempting to re-establish order from the chaos left by the police, he realised that he might not be allowed to leave anyway; not while the investigation into Chapelet’s murder was still underway.

‘When do you think they’ll get around to Roger’s inquest or post-mortem or whatever it is you hold around here?’ he asked Swan Moon.

Once again, her look implied that he was being naive.

‘Roger’s death is just one more amongst so many,’ she said, indicating with an airy wave of a hand the area where he had been killed, the blood stains in the carpet and chaise lounge already partially treated and removed. ‘Do you think the Sûreté usually allow crime scenes to be treated so casually? They believe they have their man; and now Roger has been revealed to be a traitor, how much importance do you think they’ll continue to give to his murder?’

Alan returned her look with a wry smile of curiosity.

‘And you Swan Moon; do you think Roger was a traitor?’

She rewarded his query with another rising of her eyebrows.

‘In times of rebellion, who decides which of us is being loyal?’



*



Alan rose late, as usual.

As he ate the breakfast served to him at a table set out on the paving just outside the summerhouse, he congratulated Captain Numata on his good taste; he had chosen well when deciding that this beautiful little house would be the perfect place to live while he was forced to stay in Saigon.

Gloriously draped with hanging flowers, the white framed and walled building was secluded, a home in itself, more or less offering complete privacy in the way it was generally cut off from the main house by the curve of the lawn and its fawning foliage.

The main house, even in comparison to the similarly magnificent villas nearby, proudly rose and rode above everything else as if it were a white-robed emperor amongst sycophantically emulating courtiers. Every flat surface, ever pillar or step, was white, sheer white, the white of Chapelet’s immaculate silk suit, whiter than the moon, set off against the dark, glossy greens and red flames of the leaves and blooms of the lush garden, where the heavy fragrances were wall-like in their intensity.

At the farthest end of the lawn, stretching away from him in a curve that made it curl like a flattened cucumber, Swan Moon was calmly directing servants who seemed to be overly excited, even a touch fearful until they received a reassuring a word, an instruction on what they needed to be doing.

The servants, as one, looked up to Swan Moon as if she were the mistress of the house; one they respected, appreciated, perhaps even adored, despite her obvious youth.

Why, then, shouldn’t she officially become their mistress? Alan wondered with a gleeful smile.

All this was his now; and if she wanted, it could be hers too.

Her dress of aquamarine silk, clinging traditionally tight from throat to thigh, delightfully emphasised her slender form – her tiny waist, her delicately flaring hips – the material’s rippling sheen highlighting every undulation of flesh beneath. The taut skirt was split, curtains slightly opening every now and again to reveal long legs made all the longer as she expertly balanced on high-heeled shoes of western styling.

Kim approached her, briefly announcing something out of Alan’s hearing. He appeared anguished as his eyes flitted between her and Alan.

Swan Moon deftly turned upon those precariously high shoes. Coming down the garden towards him, Alan marvelled at the grace of her movement, the way her incredibly long, perfectly black hair flowed about her like a beam of night embracing the bright moon of her face.

What were those other lines of the story she had introduced him to? The story of Thuy Kieu, and the prophesies of the ghost Dam Tien that determined her fate?


‘Our innermost sentiments fine as silk threads,

Will unite us forever – this we pledge.’


But were they shared sentiments?

Probably not.

She still remained cooler towards him than he would have wished.

‘I think we should take a drive into town,’ she said as she drew near, her smile teasing in its beauty, for it was a smile she gave everyone. ‘There’s something you should perhaps see.’



*



Chapter 9


Swan Moon refused to tell Alan what the surprise would be. Rather, she simply insisted that today she would be the one driving the car into town, not Kim.

Alan sat in the front of the car alongside her, taking in the Tricolour flags that were suddenly fluttering from every window. Moreover, the portraits of Marshal Petain that had been on display in shop windows only a month ago had now been replaced by those of de Gaulle. He could also hear the sounds of drums, flutes, and happy cheering, all underplayed with the growl of a large number of trucks.

On the Rue Catinat, a military parade was taking place, the Tricolour proudly held aloft on the regimental standards. Behind them, in the port, the towers of two sparklingly grey battleships rose up high into the sky.

The warships were unbelievably imposing, dominating the river behind them. Gleaming symbols of modernity, they were surrounded by trundling wooden-wheeled ox carts, along with coolies wearing hardly anything more than over-sized conical hats and torturous-looking wooden sandals.

Planes were flying overhead, releasing showers of printed leaflets, one of which Alan managed to grab hold of by leaning a little out of the car as it fluttered down towards him.

‘What’s it say? The leaflet?’ Swan Moon asked sceptically.

The leaflet was printed in French and what he took to be Indochinese. Leaning over a little in his seat, he showed the leaflet to Swan Moon who, quickly glancing it at as she continued to drive, read it out aloud to him.

‘Greetings of General de Gaulle and the French people,’ she said, her tone irate, scoffing. ‘France, like Indochina, has known the sufferings of war.’

She paused, took another look.

‘Together we will feed those of you who are hungry, clothe your wives and children, build on your ruins.’

She pulled the car into the kerb, bringing it to a sharp halt and angrily snatching the leaflet from Alan’s hands.

‘Working for the great traditions of your families, the best guarantees of peace and prosperity,’ she gaped irritably as she read out another line. ‘This can only be achieved if order reigns.’

She screwed the leaflet up tightly in her hand, furiously spitting, ‘Their order, naturally! And so anyone rebelling against them are obviously barbarians!’

‘Surely you can’t believe it’s better to let this chaos cont–’

‘The French couldn’t protect us from the Japanese! They dragged us into their war; and we suffered the most! And now they are back again, do you think Hanoi isn’t going to send their troops down here in response?’

Alan was silent for a moment. He couldn’t refute her argument. As a token of his agreement, seeking appeasement, he said blandly;

‘I suppose you can live with your own mistakes; but not someone else’s.’

Swan Moon smiled, laughed, and gently kissed him.

She had won her argument!

She started the car up again, this time turning up towards the sumptuously wide Boulevard Bonnard. Here bakers were passing loaves through side doors to young men who, placing their wares in wire baskets and covering them against the roadside dirt, would pedal away on bikes, or simply walk off, shouting out ‘Ban Meeeeiiii!’ The flower market was open once more, a confusion of colour, the masses of brightly dressed people appearing as larger versions of the boxes of blooms, their conical hats great circular daises, the more bizarre hats tulips and lilies.

Alan wanted to stop here, to buy some flowers for Swan Moon.

‘Pull in somewhere,’ he said. ‘We’ll–’

‘We’re being followed,’ she said, her eyes checking the rear view mirror. ‘Police, I suspect, going by the car; but I’m not sure it’s safe to stop either way.’

Foolishly, Alan instinctively swung around in his seat.

‘It’s all right, Swan Moon,’ he said with a relived grin recognising the car’s driver. ‘It is the police; that short one, the sergeant, who came round last night.’

Sergeant Cedille took a hand off the driving wheel to wave urgently. Alan took it to mean that they should slow down and pull over.

‘I’m not sure that’s wise, Alan!’ Swan Moon protested when Alan explained that the sergeant appeared to want to talk to them.

Despite nervously checking the mirror, as if contemplating putting a foot down hard on the accelerator, she nevertheless did as Alan asked and brought the car to a stop. Pulling in behind them, the sergeant smartly hopped out of his own car, reaching into the inside pocket of his long, flowing overcoat as he confidently strode towards them.

He pulled out an envelope, which he handed to Alan with a polite touch to his wide brimmed hat.

‘Leclerc, Monsieur,’ was all he said, apart from addressing Swan Moon as ‘Congaie’ through a grin of tobacco-stained teeth.

As the sergeant turned back to his car, Alan noted Swan Moon’s barely controlled fury.

‘Congaie? What’s that mean?’ Alan asked absently as he tore open the envelope.

‘Oh, so you don’t you have them in Malay, do you?’ she snapped sarcastically. ‘Some peasant girl from the countryside; the houseboy’s sister, maybe, or even his wife? Maybe you haven’t noticed the lack of white wives out here? When the master returns to France, the congaie is supposed to count herself lucky if she and the children – ponies-canards – are passed on with the house.’

‘It’s from that detective: Leclerc,’ Alan said, frowning as he read the letter, ‘he wants to meet me; alone, and tonight.’



*



Chapter 10


Leclerc had chosen a street not too far from Chapelet’s villa for the secretive meeting. Despite this, Swan Moon was still against Alan going ahead with the rendezvous.

‘Do you know how to use a gun? Unless you’re an expert shot, I’d ignore this letter and this idea of a meeting completely!’

‘I’ve shot with a rifle; a revolver less often,’ Alan admitted as he tested the weight and balance of the gun that Kim had handed to him.

He checked that the revolver was loaded.

Something about the way Kim looked at him told Alan the young servant wouldn’t be sorry if his new master came to harm on this mad adventure.

‘You don’t even know why he wants to meet,’ Swan Moon said. ‘Where’s the sense in going ahead with it?’

‘Why would he want me killed?’ Alan asked once again, a point he had raised a number of times as he and Swan Moon had discussed the best way of responding to Leclerc’s unusual request.

‘Kim at least should watch from the shadows,’ Swan Moon had similarly insisted each time now.

‘He might be seen; scare Leclerc off before I can figure out what it is he wants, at best – at worst, he might start shooting blindly, killing or wounding someone.’

Alan didn’t say that he feared he might be the one Kim ended up killing.

He couldn’t fail to notice that the young man always looked on enviously, irately, whenever Alan and Swan Moon were together.

Alan checked that the sights were in line, that the gun’s handle sat comfortably and securely in his hand: he knew Swan Moon was right to worry, and he was thankful for her concern too.

He couldn’t jeopardise that by being seen to be a coward.



*



In a half-crouch, Alan swiftly padded down the streets, keeping to the shadows only when it wouldn’t slow him down.

The only usable light came from a few dirty, dim street lamps, though the sheen of a subdued moon reflected off the corrugated iron boarding the windows of the small, burnt out shops in this district.

Alan had arrived for his meeting five minutes early. Even so, a car was already there, waiting in the darkness that lay beneath a broken lamp.

His mouth dry with anxiety, Alan stepped into the faint edge of a sphere of light streaming out from one of the few working street lights.

Having shown himself like this, Alan expected Leclerc to give him some sign that he’d been seen, that it was safe for him to approach; a quick flash of headlights, or a wave of a torch.

The car remained in darkness.

Was it just a parked car, and nothing more?

But who would risk parking a car out on a quiet street in the present situation?

Alan peered more intently towards the car, trying to make out its interior, looking for shadows that would suggest someone was sitting there.

The car appeared to be empty; not that that meant someone couldn’t be lying across the seats, waiting to ambush him as soon as he drew closer.

He had no choice; he’d come this far, he might as well step nearer towards the silently waiting car.

As he neared, he saw by the light of the moon a glittering angular star starkly stretching across the windshield.

The glass had been shattered by a bullet.



*



Chapter 11


Instinctively, Alan threw himself into the darker shadows once more. Crouching here, gun at the ready, he fearfully glanced everywhere about him, attempting to trace a possible line of fire back from the shattered windshield.

Someone could have taken up a sniper’s position on top of any one of at last three buildings. Or they could be inside, firing through gaps in the planks that had been used to close up the upper windows.

He couldn’t see anyone; but then, would any sniper be foolish to reveal himself just as his prey was walking into the trap?

But...wouldn’t it have to be Leclerc who had set up this trap?

And if so...then who, if anyone, lay dead in the car?

He would have to find out, even at the risk of his life.

Besides, where else was there for him to head to? At least the car would offer him some level of cover; he might even be able to drive away in it.

Whereas if he headed back the way he had just come?

Yes, that was far more dangerous.

Quickly, he lopped towards the car, covering the last few yards by diving down by its side.

No one had taken a shot at him.

Perhaps, then, the assassin had accomplished his mission, killing the driver of the car, and had left the scene. The shot would have been just one more of the hundreds of shots you could now hear every night.

Half rising up from the floor, he cautiously peered through the lower part of the car’s window.

A body lay slumped across the front seat.

Leclerc?

It was hard to tell, in the darkness. Certainly, the smart cut of his long coat reminded Alan of the Frenchman’s proud bearing when they had almost come to blows the previous night.

Somewhere off to the south, there was the abruptly sharp crack of an explosion, the slightly duller repetitive snaps of gunfire.

His ears almost exploded as the glass he was peering through splintered into a shower of glistening shards.

He ducked lower behind the side of the car. Then, realising something wasn’t quite right, he threw himself off to one side: just as the car door punctured and clanged loudly, a rifle bullet embedding itself in the metal.

Idiot!

The sniper had moved, of course!

And he’d simply been waiting for a time when his firing would be covered by the sounds of other shots.

The stone slab at Alan’s feet cracked and shattered as another shot just missed him.

Rolling to one side, jumping to his feet, recognising that he would have to try and run, he saw as he looked up that the sniper had also risen up from his hiding place on a rooftop to get a better shot.

His revolver’s range wasn’t up to the task but Alan desperately fired anyway. He missed, the darkly silhouetted sniper confidently taking his time to aim accurately,

There was a crack of a gun: and the shadowy figure slumped, his rifle slipping from his hands.



*



Once again, Alan slunk back into the darkness, even though he was aware it offered little protection when he was otherwise so exposed.

Yes, this new assassin seemed to be on his side, having just killed the man who had definitely intended to shoot him; but as Swan Moon had explained, there were so many factions vying for power in the future, or even merely ensuring they hid the crimes of the past, that it wasn’t possible to trust anyone.

The original sniper was nowhere to be seen. Alan hadn’t waited around to see if he had crumpled into a heap on the rooftop, or had fallen to the ground. Now, however, he caught the rustle of papers blown in a light breeze, saw white sheets rising up like large flakes of snow from the pavement stretching out along the base of the burnt out shop the would-be assassin had used as his eyrie.

Could these be more documents relating to the gold and treasures Chapelet and Numata had been involved in accumulating?

Could this be what Leclerc had wanted him to see?

If so, the Frenchman had not only risked but also lost his life in his attempt to bring them to Alan’s attention.

It was only right then, that Alan risked his life to retrieve them.




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