LÊ TUẤN WRITER-TRANSLATOR-ACTOR-DIRECTOR


 A murder was committed. The victim was Pink Swallow, a celebrated singer from Vietnam who defected to the U.S. She was killed at her home in Irvine, California. She was forty-seven years old, rich, famous, and desirable.

Pink Swallow had endured a difficult life in Vietnam after the Communists took over the South in 1975. For more than a decade, she went from a pampered daughter of a South Vietnamese general and a beautiful young star to a homeless person with an assumed identity, a prostitute, a “little wife”—concubine—of a high-ranking cadre, and finally back to being a popular singer again. Pink Swallow had tried to escape by boat from Vietnam thirteen times and failed all thirteen times. America had always been her aspired destination.

In 1995, when Tran Vu, a former actor-director living in Hollywood, went back to Vietnam to direct a movie, he asked Pink Swallow to be his leading lady. She fell in love with Vu and enlisted the help of a shaman to cast a spell to manipulate his mind and heart.
The spell worked in Tran Vu’s mind although it failed to induce love in his heart — he was gay. Tran Vu invited her to America to attend the film’s opening night.
The Vietnamese allowed her to leave, thanks to a vice-premier who died on her body, in her bed.
The U.S. welcomed her, because of the intervention of a California Congressman.
Her dream came true.

She didn’t know that her coming to America would make her an enemy of many people. Some wanted her to suffer and be humiliated. Viet Quoc, a Communist mole, used her to enhance his stature in the exiled community. Some wanted to kill her. Eleven months after she arrived in the U.S., she was dead.
Her throat had been slashed. It was a perfect crime.

 An excerpt

Thirty-two members of the Vietnamese media were present. At Tran Phong’s behind-the-scenes request, Linh, the publisher of Viet Tin, had invited the press to Thien Thai Restaurant on Edinger. 

At one o’clock in the afternoon, Pink Swallow appeared, wearing a pink dress, and was wrapped in a black wool coat with mink collar. The February California air outside was unusually chilly; so was the atmosphere inside. The Tran brothers were nowhere to be seen.

 Tran Phong had explained to her that his presence at the press conference would hurt his stature in the community; he needed the community for his business, and their  welfare - his and hers - depended on it. Tran Vu offered to be with her for moral support but Phong, who had taken over the responsibility as Pink Swallow’s “sponsor”, vetoed the idea, saying his brother was too controversial to help.

Linh shook hands with the singer, invited her to sit at the head table, next to him, and made a simple introduction.

“My friends, I’ve been asked by Pink Swallow to invite you to this gathering.”

“Thank you all for coming, esteemed members of the Vietnamese media in exile,” Pink Swallow read from a short speech, which she and Phong had written the night before.

“I have a statement to make and will be glad to answer all your questions afterward.

          “Over a year ago, Mr. Tran Vu came to  Vietnam  to make a  film  and asked me to be in it. He then invited me to  America  to  attend the opening night. Mr. Tran Vu sent his request to the Ministry of Culture in Hanoi and the Vietnamese government allowed me to leave.

          “It has been my life-long desire to live and breathe the freedom air America has to offer. I'm requesting political asylum and asking that I be allowed to remain in this country.

“I'm a singer. I'm not a political person and do not intend to use my action as a political statement. All I want to do is to continue to sing for my fans. I would love to travel across America and the world to sing for the Vietnamese people in exile. Without my fans, I would be nothing; without the community, I would be nothing. Thank you.”

“Have you contacted the U.S. government?”

          “Mr. Tran Phong, my lawyer, has acted on my behalf.”

          “Where have you been for the last three months?”

          “I’ve been staying with a friend.”

          “Is it true that the pressure from the community and the media in exile persuaded you to defect?”

          “It’s true that I have seen and heard that the community in exile wanted me to stay in America. Whether you want to call it pressure or persuasion, I have no comment. The fact remains that I'm requesting political asylum.”

          “Is it true that Tan Van Productions has signed an exclusive contract that would pay you a million dollars provided your asylum is granted?”

          “You should ask Mr. Tan, its president.”

          Viet Quoc had been silent from the beginning. Now he was ready for the singer. The militant columnist stood up. The rest of the group watched in fascination.

          “Our sources tell us that you lived in a big villa in Saigon with two servants,” he began. “Our sources tell us that you make a lot of money by Vietnamese standards. Our sources also tell us that you remain the most popular singer in Vietnam. You are leaving all that behind to seek an uncertain future in America. That brings us to another thing our  sources tell us: that you are here on a mission for the Communist government. What’s your mission, Miss Pink Swallow?”

Pink Swallow’s eyes narrowed. Phong had warned her the columnist would be her worst enemy. When she answered, her words were cold and flat.

“There’s no mission.”

“Are you a spy and a propaganda tool for the Communists?”

          “That’s not true. I’m not a spy. The fact that I'm allowed to go to America might have been a propaganda ploy used by the Vietnamese government, but I can’t do anything about it.”

          “You could’ve refused to go.”

          “As I said in my statement, I’m not a political person. It has been my life-long desire to live and breathe the freedom air in America.”

          “But you admit that the Communists may be using you to influence the community in exile.”

          “You could say that.”

“The same thing could be said about Tran Vu being allowed to go back to Vietnam to shoot his film?”

“You’ll have to ask Mr. Tran Vu about that.”

          “How do we know that we can trust you?”

          “Trust me about what?”

          “Trust that you are one of us - the Nationalists, that you will be anti-Communist like the rest of us.”

          Pink Swallow was ready for this. She was also genuinely angry at the columnist’s meanness.

          “My father was a general in the South Vietnam Army. He went to the jungle to join the resistance force when the country was lost to the Communists and later committed suicide. He died for his country. A Vietcong sniper killed my mother. I spent twelve long years living either at the dumps, in the New Economic Zones, or in prison. The police record showed I  tried  to escape thirteen  times. Let me  ask all of you a question.” Pink Swallow paused and looked straight into the crowd. “How many among you here have that background?”

          Dead silence reigned over Thien Thai Restaurant for about a minute. Viet Quoc was stunned; he hadn’t anticipated her combativeness. His plan had been to make her wilt in front of the public, force her to apologize for her sins,  then he would magnanimously grant her his absolution.

The rest of the media, who had been following the exchange with fascination, forgot to answer.

          Viet Quoc regained his composure and continued with his planned inquisition.

          “Who gave you the villa on Nguyen Dinh Chieu Street?”

          “The villa belonged to my parents. It was taken away and later given back to me.”

          “What is your relationship with the vice-premier in charge of Ideology who died last year?”

          “My personal life isn't relevant.”

          “Yes, it is. Is it true that you were his “little wife” while he was stationed in Saigon and that was why you were given back the villa?”

          “I don’t see how…”

          Viet Quoc cut her off.

          “Because it means you’ve crossed the line,” he proclaimed triumphantly. “Or if I may speak bluntly, it means you’ve slept with the enemy; and that kind of intimate connection with such a high-ranking cadre in the Communist Party means you can’t be trusted.”

          Nobody moved for the next thirty seconds. Pink Swallow stared straight at Viet Quoc for a moment.

          “Somebody told me just the other day that the son and daughter of Mr. Nikita Khrushchev,  the  former prime minister of the  Soviet  Union, are now living in free America. So are Mr. Stalin’s daughter and grandchildren.”

          One could hear a pin drop in the silence that ensued. A man coughed. Viet Quoc was speechless; this was too much for him. His heart thumped wildly in his chest. He sweated profusely. He couldn’t breathe. It took him a good three minutes to regain his composure.

The crowd started to fidget when Viet Quoc began again. He also changed his tactics.

          “You said you just want to sing for your fans?”

          “That’s correct.”

          “Do you think the community - your fans - will come to hear you sing?”

          Pink Swallow was defiant.

          “Why don’t we let the community show its preference without undue influence from the media?” she threw the question back at the columnist.

          “So you are blaming the media for your troubles?”

          “I have no troubles. If my fans want to come and hear me sing, nobody should tell them not to. You are the media; you should just report the news. And the news is I want to say to my fans that I’m planning to stay in America and sing for them.”

          “Why are you so hostile to us?”

          “Who is us?”

          “The community in exile.”

          “I don’t think you, Mr. Viet Quoc, represent the community,” she dismissed him.

          Somewhere in the restaurant, there was a short-lived clapping from one person sitting in the back. When Viet Quoc and his acolytes at the front tables glared back, all they saw were the inscrutable faces.

          Pink Swallow looked at the man who had given her the applause and nodded surreptitiously, thanking him for his kindness and courage. Then she looked down, and again, read from a piece of paper.

“Finally, I would like to make an additional statement.

          “My life in Vietnam during the last twenty years has been very hard. As I mentioned earlier, I lost both my parents because of the war. I suffered for a long time. The Communist regime is harsh. In the last few years, I’ve been lucky to be allowed to sing again. I’ve been through a lot and I hope I’ll be able to live my life fully and productively in the days ahead, in America. Thank you all for being here.”

                                                                  

As they left Thien Thai Restaurant, the unstated consensus among members of the Vietnamese press regarding the bout of the singer vs. the columnist was a TKO, in favor of the singer.


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