Two naïve young lovers, Hoa Le and Tim Nguyen, are drawn into a web of political intrigue with tragic consequences. They travel between Singapore, USA and London trying to their best to make the world a better place, but they have no real clue to what they are involved in, who they are involved with or what lies in wait for them. A damning indictment of the how the US government deals with opposition.
The next day, Hoa was feeling some misgivings as she made her way to the coffee shop. When not in Tim’s presence, she worried that she had perhaps been too forward with him. And there was her schoolwork too. Her literature teacher had organised an extra after-school session on Orwell’s ‘Farewell to Catalonia’. It wasn’t a compulsory lesson, but the teacher had explained that it would help them understand ‘1984’ and ‘Animal Farm’ better for the exams. Was she risking her chances of top grades? She could have asked Tim to wait an extra hour, he might have agreed to that. She was on the point of calling him, but at the last minute she decided against it.
Tim was hovering behind the door when she arrived at the coffee shop.
“You came?” he said, almost suggesting he was surprised. And, by accident, endearing himself even more to Hoa.
She smiled and he led her over to an empty table.
Coffee?” he offered.
“Hey guys, two lattes, staff rates, please,” he shouted to his colleagues behind the counter, a little too loudly.
He was perhaps too desperate to impress, because his bravado suddenly just seemed to abandon him. The pair of them looked at each other across the table silently, each waiting for the other to begin the conversation. It was Hoa who had to break the silence.
“The banners?” she prompted.
“Oh yeah, the banners. Right! First we’re gonna have our coffees, and then we’ll go.”
“Go where?” Hoa realised he was intending to take her away somewhere. The reality of what she was doing dawned on her. Had she made a big mistake? Did she really know this boy?
He must have seen the hesitation in her face. “Is that OK?”
Yesterday it would have been; today she wasn’t so sure. She wanted to be with him, but where was he taking her?
“They’re all there waiting for us, Hoa. Our organisation has a place across town where the volunteers make stuff and we store it. It’s run by an American couple, you’ll like them.”
“Is it far?” she asked, suspiciously.
The Le parents were sitting on their daughter’s shoulder whispering wise warnings in her ear. She shouldn’t be trusting this stranger. He was taking her to some place she had never been before. To meet people she didn’t know. She was still a little girl; he was a grown-up. But she tried to cast aside their influence. She wasn’t a baby; she was seventeen, nearly eighteen. She had the right to make her own decisions, did she not? There was something about this boy that felt right to her, and she was going to trust her instincts.
“Half an hour by bus.”
“I need to be back at school by nine o’clock. We’re not allowed to be out after that.”
“I know, Pammy always says the same. ‘Damn college curfew’ she calls it. I’ll make sure you’re back in time.”
“Will Pammy be there?” If one of her classmates was there too that would be the sort of insurance that would keep her parents happy, wouldn’t it?
“Maybe, she doesn’t tell me everything, but she’s very active in the group. There could be a few of us, in fact. There’s a lot of support for this march.”
The coffees arrived. Hoa sipped hers, feeling more reassured.
“Let’s drink these quickly and get on our way.” Tim said. Hoa’s replied with a tentative smile and finished her drink.
Industrial estates only come to life twice during the working day; once in the morning when the masses of employees trek sleepily from the bus stops to their work benches and clunking machinery, then again in the evening when they shuffle back home, exhausted after their shifts. The rest of the time, they’re eerie deserts of giant tombstones, the soulless regimented factory buildings empty of life at night or, during the working day, securely shuttered to imprison the noisy secrets of manufacturing. Only the rumble of the occasional truck brings life to these cemeteries of concrete.
When Tim and Hoa got off the bus at the stop beside the industrial park, the day’s exodus had just finished and the sun was going down. Hoa saw the vast expanse of darkening deserted streets in front of her, a wilderness hidden from public view, where drug dealers could safely hang out and unmentionable deeds be done with impunity. She shivered. Her parents were on her shoulder again, muttering cautionary tales of innocent victims in her ear, forcing her to look sideways at her companion. Wanting him to be innocent and trustworthy, she tried to banish her parents back to her subconscious.
“It’s not far,” Tim assured her.
“Good,” she replied. She walked beside him, silently, feeling awkward. This wasn’t how she had imagined it would be. Since that first meeting, she had pictured them both arm in arm, hand in hand. But in this threatening deserted place, if he came any closer now, she felt she would scream.
We’re here,” he told her, after they had walked a couple of hundred metres. Hoa looked and she felt a flashing frisson of fear. There was something very sinister about the whole place. The dim lights from the street spilled no more than a metre beyond the gates, leaving the courtyard and the building hidden in blackness. She could barely discern a small unit, isolated in its own yard, more workshop or warehouse than factory, its doors locked and windows shuttered up.
Perhaps Tim sensed what she was thinking, because he said. “They’re all inside, working. We don’t want anyone to know what we’re up to, naturally. Right?”
“Look, you go and make sure they’re there. I’ll wait here.” Hoa didn’t need her parents to tell her that venturing into a darkened deserted factory with a boy she had just met wasn’t a great idea. Tim shrugged, but didn’t argue. She watched nervously as he walked through the darkened yard to the main door.
She heard the door being knocked and the long creak as it opened. A tall, mysterious androgynous figure was silhouetted by the strong light behind it. Tim’s arm pointed Hoa out and the featureless head nodded.
“They’re here, Hoa. Come on in!”
Her mother was still there on her shoulder, reminding her never to take sweets from strange men. She shrugged her off, without much conviction, and made her way tentatively through the shadows of the courtyard.
James Gault from A Flower in the Wind, 2019
Available Now on Amazon.com
About the author:
James Gault, born in Scotland, has recently retired to SW France after spending ten years in the Czech Republic. There he enjoys the sunshine, writes novels, short stories and English Language textbooks.
He also produces the on-line literary magazine Vox Lit with monthly notes by writers for writers and readers, news, features (short stories, poems and extracts from novels.)
He has written four novels, all available on Amazon as e-books and paperbacks:
Teaching Tania (Young Tania tries to put the world to rights with the help of her English teacher – a comic detective story)
Ogg (Supernatural being tries to teach teenage Antonia how to think rationally as they try to save the world from destruction – comic philosophical thriller)
The Redemption of Anna Petrovna (Young woman in ex-communist country tries to build a career in a totally corrupt society – political psychological thriller.
Best Intelligence – a detective thriller set in Scotland, France and Spain.
Current work in progress: the sequel to Best Intelligence and a satirical novella on the Trump-Putin relationship.
As well as ELT books and his novels, he has written short stories published in various reviews and magazines. In 2007, he won the writing prize from the British Czech and Slovak Society for his short story ‘Old Honza’s Day Out’.
In his time James has been an IT specialist, a businessman and a teacher as well as a writer, and has traveled extensively throughout Europe. He has worked with and taught English to students of many nationalities. He has an international outlook on life and his writing reflects both this and his other interests.
Apart from writing, his passions are politics, philosophy, film making, computer system development and his grandchildren.