"A fast-paced, heart-wrenching story, both fascinating and horrific." –Margriet Ruurs, award-winning author, Emma's Eggs
As the Lotus Blooms is the fast-moving sequel to Logan’s first novel, Finding Lien. The story follows Lien, traumatized from her ordeal as a victim of child trafficking in a Cambodian brothel, on her journey of recovery.
Despite her recurring bouts of PTSD, this courageous young woman signs on with an NGO, to work with a team to prevent trafficking and rescue victims. It is a dangerous mission for all, especially Lien, whose wounds are deep and emotional stability in question.
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Pha stepped out of her two-room apartment on the fourth floor of a concrete block in Singapore's Geylang Road district. Encumbered by her tight miniskirt, she minced downstairs toward the street, her stiletto heels clacking on paved steps. Several hundred meters along, past the row of sixty-year-old, two-story shop-houses and two karaoke parlors, at the intersection of Geylang Road and Lorong 12, she took her position within a row of other young women, all attempting to look mature and worldly, none older than eighteen. It was just past six p.m.
A young stud with spikey black hair cruised past the lineup on his motorbike, eyeing the miniskirts and tight shorts just below eye level. Although made up to look alluring, the girls' faces looked as pasty as undercooked pasta, with slashes of red on their lips and eyelash extensions that fluttered like insects. The girls leaned forward and jiggled their bosoms or stroked their bare legs as he passed them, a catlike smirk frozen to his face.
Pha stood last in line, backlit by the red and white lights of a 7-11. His leering grin told her that he liked what he saw of her young body, her small breasts pushed up and out by a cleverly designed brassiere.
"How much?" he asked.
"Thirty dollars, thirty minutes. Fifty dollars, one hour."
The girl in a red miniskirt standing to Pha's left shoved her aside, saying, "This one likes me better. You go find someone else."
Pha gave her a hard push that knocked her sideways. As she did, one of the girl's heels snapped off.
"Easy there ladies," the young man said. "No need to fight over me. I'll take you both. I'm Ronald. I have a queen-size bed in my apartment. We can make a Ronald sandwich. I'll give you seventy-five dollars each for two hours."
The girls looked at each other, hesitant.
"Ð?t m? mày! That sounds gross," Pha said, and then she looked across the street and saw Chester Lim glaring at her. He stepped off the curb and started toward her. "Okay, Ronald," she said.
Forced by their miniskirts to ride sidesaddle, the two girls slid on behind the driver, Pha with her legs dangling to the right side, the other girl's to the left.
* * *
At two in the morning Pha trudged up the concrete stairs to her tiny flat. Chester was waiting for her in the living room-kitchen, an open bottle of beer in front of him and a cheroot burning on a saucer atop the scarred table. His dark eyes glared. "How much?" he asked.
She pulled the wad of cash from her small handbag and clutched it, trembling. "A hundred and five dollars. Only two customers tonight. One for seventy-five dollars, one for thirty."
"That's not enough. I got expenses supporting you. Hand it over."
"Can't I keep some for food? And what about MRT fare? I go to the doctor for my weekly checkup tomorrow."
"You still have a kilo of rice, half a bottle of cooking oil and two cans of kippered fish. You can use my EZ-Link card for the MRT. Here." He tossed her the card.
She'd been trying to save a little each week, so her voice cracked. "But I told you. I need to go home to Vietnam. My mother ..."
"With eight girls to look after I don't want to hear about your fucking mother. I can't worry about the personal problems of any one of you. Forget about getting home. Just live for the present. Isn't that how you Buddhists think? Now give me the money."
"Please Chester." She held the money close to her chest." Can't I keep just a little? I need to eat. I want to go home to my family."
When he backhanded her across the side of her face, she stumbled and fell onto her hip. He pried the money loose from her fingers and shoved her into a sitting position on the floor. As he stormed from the room he said over his shoulder, "You better get more tomorrow night."
Pha sat on the floor and listened to the door click as Chester locked it from outside. She hugged her knees to her chest and wept.CHAPTER 2
I approached the front desk with caution because I had only stayed in a hotel once before, and that time my grandparents, Ông Pete and Bà Catherine, had checked me in. This time I would do it alone. The clerk, neatly dressed in the hotel colors, looked about five years older than me, perhaps about twenty-three. She greeted me in English with a long, warm smile and tilted her head slightly sideways, as if trying to put me at ease. "Good afternoon, Miss. Are you checking in?"
"Yes," I said. My grandfather told me everyone here speaks English. "My name is ..." My voice caught and I cleared my throat to find a sturdier tone. "My name is Le Nguyen Thi Lien."
"May I see your passport please?"
I opened the little green booklet to the picture page, as Bryan from the Green Gecko organization had instructed me, and I handed it to her. Bryan was the representative for the NGO's office in Singapore, and he had picked me up at the airport. Moments before, he had dropped me off at the hotel.
As the clerk tapped computer keys, I looked around the modest lobby. On a settee near the door, a middle-aged Caucasian man sat with a young Asian woman. As I glanced in their direction, he rose and walked toward me. In passing, he looked me up and down, and such a shiver ran through me as he moved on toward the washrooms that a little sound escaped my throat.
The desk clerk looked up. "Is anything wrong, Miss Lien?"
I took a steadying breath. "I thought I recognized someone. I was mistaken."
This was how it often went with me. Some men reminded me of the brothel. Even after three years of rehab in Saigon, and two more years in a residential international school, I still had nightmares. I mistrusted men when I first encountered them, and even though everyone at Green Gecko had told me that Singapore was clean and safe, I was afraid.
A bellman carried my one medium-sized suitcase and took me in an elevator to the third floor. His uniform reminded me of Colonel Khlot, my first "customer" in the brothel, and I pushed myself against the back wall of the elevator, wishing I had a way to put even more space between us. But he just stood watching the numbers that lit over his head at the front of the car until we arrived on my floor. At my room I didn't let him enter with the bag but told him to set it down in the hall. I tipped him two Singapore dollars as Bryan had told me to, and then I quickly dragged the bag into my room and shut and bolted the door.
Out the window I focused on a green expanse of city park, its grassy spread the same color as the rice paddies outside my girlhood home in the village of Tuy Phuoc. I used to love watching the vast sea of emerald rice sweep into ripples as breezes from nearby mountains tickled the tops of young plants. In the mornings, when wisps of wood smoke from cooking fires mingled with tendrils of mist in the paddies, I imagined that the spirits of our ancestors were sending us good wishes for the day ahead. In the evenings, Grandmother Quy, Papa and I sat under the lean to roof of our tiny porch, listening to crickets chirp and insects buzz. Papa smoked. It was a glad time for me.
In one corner of the park I spotted a small pond fouled with black muck, but home to several beautiful lotus plants. My name, Lien, means Lotus Flower.
I turned from the window and for the first time noticed a colorful bouquet of flowers on the writing desk. Beside the bouquet, a vinyl-covered file folder bore a post-it note with my name on it. The note read, Lien, please look this over before I see you tonight — Bryan. I opened the folder and considered the little packet of wallet-sized photos of a girl in her late teens. She wore that glazed expression of one who was serious and nervous at the same time.
The package also contained a typed memo outlining the circumstances under which the girl, Pha, was now, in all probability, an unwilling hooker working on the streets west of downtown Singapore. My assignment was to look for leads to where she might be living and working in that high-density warren.
I closed the folder and moved to the bathroom. After I splashed warm water on my face, I returned to the lobby for a cup of hot tea.
To my relief, the man with the young Asian woman had left. The woman behind the front desk asked, "Is everything satisfactory, Miss Lien?"
"Perfect," I said. I found a comfortable wicker chair and small table near the front window of the lobby, and a smiling porter brought my tea and a saucer of dainty cookies. The first sip was hot and oddly flavored, not bitter like the artichoke tea served in Central Vietnam.
Out the window, a lively cluster of schoolgirls in blue jumpers with white blouses stepped along the sidewalk, heads tossed back in laughter, juvenile smiles lighting their faces.
I used to walk to and from school like that with my best friend, Ha. At thirteen, Ha and I had shared all of our secrets with each other. Often, we would either erupt into giggles or share tears of sorrow. Side by side, we rode our rusty bicycles on the rice paddy berms and small dirt lanes to our three-room village school. I loved school. Sometimes when I finished my afternoon chores and had some free time, Ha and I played school, taking turns being the teacher or the pupil. I used to dream of becoming a teacher someday.
My grandmother Quy encouraged that dream, but everything changed when I was thirteen, when she had a stroke. Then our little family came apart and my nightmare began. I lost who I was and I lost what I thought my life would be like. Even five years later, I was still too embarrassed to contact Ha. Since leaving rehab, I'd had no one to talk with about my feelings. They just churned in my stomach.
When I returned to my room, it was dark and I lit three lights, but I was afraid to sleep. I longed for grandmother Quy and her wisdom and tenderness, but she lived in a care facility in Saigon. Whenever I saw her, I worried that I had shamed her by being a prostitute in Cambodia. Had I also dishonored my father and my dead mother? I believed I had. The counselors at the center constantly told me it wasn't my fault, but those words didn't change my feelings. I had no balm for the pain in my heart.
Near midnight, I thought I might find some peace of mind in a warm bath, so I filled the tub with water and added the contents of a little packet of salts and herbs I found on the counter. The salts would add comfort to my bath, instructions on the packet informed me. But when I loosened its belt and let my terrycloth robe drop to the floor, I glanced at the image of my body in the mirror and looked away fast. On my breast, the jagged red marks left by an old customer's bite made me feel dirty, used, broken.CHAPTER 3
Pete Trutch, Catherine Trutch
Pete Trutch ran a hand through his gray hair as he rapidly scanned the remaining lines of an email from Lien. "Damn," he said. "They want her to go to Singapore for her first assignment."
Seconds earlier he'd been delighted to open the email and learn that his granddaughter, now eighteen, had been hired by the Green Gecko Children's Foundation. He knew about Green Gecko, a Hoi An-based NGO that rescued trafficked children, and he had studied their website. When he'd learned that they enjoyed a modicum of success freeing children from sweatshops within Vietnam and from brothels in China, he had even donated money to their cause.
Catherine poured them each another cup of coffee. "What's wrong with that? Singapore's a progressive city. It's clean, with a marvelous café culture. It could be a good education for a former Vietnamese village girl. She's learned to speak English remarkably well over the past few years and almost everyone in Singapore speaks English."
"It's what they want her to do there," Pete replied. "They want her to hang out in the red light district so she can try to locate an under-age girl who was lured there to become the wife of a businessman." He read from the email. "The girl, Pha, stopped contacting her mother a month ago. The mother, who lives in Hoi An, is understandably frantic. When she asked an English-speaking friend to call the businessman, he said that Pha was no longer his wife. So the mother contacted Green Gecko."
"Pete, Singapore is safe. And an NGO as reputable as Green Gecko isn't going to just cast an eighteen-year-old into harm's way. They're not like your beloved US Army, which uses teenagers for cannon fodder, for heaven's sake."
"Damn it, Catherine, 'my beloved Army' has the best trained, best equipped and most highly motivated soldiers in the world. I happen to think Lien's too young and tender to be nosing around whorehouses in a foreign country."
Catherine added soymilk to their coffees. "She's a young adult. She's finished high school. She can make her own decisions. You're just back into your power bag. Some things are beyond your control."
Pete's voice rose an octave or two above normal. "It's not about power ... and it's not about control. This raises a red flag for me. Will this foundation just buy her a ticket to Singapore and tell her to sink or swim, or do they have people on the ground in the city to support her? It's all very vague. Maybe I'm overreacting, but I still think of her as that traumatized thirteen-year-old we rescued on the Cambodian-Thai border."
Catherine set his coffee in front of him and put her arm around his shoulders. "It's a good first assignment for her, Pete, probably no more dangerous than riding a motorbike on a city street. I imagine they'll give her a benign, monotonous task, some routine like showing a picture of this Pha to business owners in the area, or ... I don't know ... making phone calls, taking notes at meetings. Maybe she'll be an assistant to an experienced investigator."
"Yeah, maybe." Trutch sat at the counter, his refilled cup untouched, and furiously tapped keywords into the search function of his iPhone.
* * *
On Sunday, Catherine studied Trutch's expression as they walked the loop trail in Seattle's Discovery Park, then she said, "What are you conjuring up, Colonel Trutch? I can hear your gears grinding."
He stopped walking and gazed out across the cerulean waters of Puget Sound to the snow crested Olympic Mountains beyond. "I'm making another trip to Vietnam — by way of Singapore this time. I'd like you to come with me if you want. But I'm going either way. I want to scope out this gig Green Gecko has Lien doing. I might be able to help in her assignment."
"You're being overprotective. On Friday night, after your Google search — which, by the way, abruptly closed the discussion we were having — you told me that Singapore has very little violent crime. And prostitution, while not illegal, is closely regulated. It's the cleanest, safest city in Asia. You read that aloud to me, Pete."
"It's not about being protective." He stopped on the path to face her. Five years ago he'd been unaware that he had a paraplegic son and a granddaughter. But Lien was only thirteen when her treacherous uncle sold her into slavery. His son, Ngoc, had reluctantly contacted him for help. "Well, maybe it is," he said, "but she's my flesh and blood and I want her safe. I'm sure Ngoc does too."
"You're seventy-three years old. You can't be rescuing children from red light districts. Rescuing Lien I understood. But that romp in the underbelly of Vietnam and Cambodia put us both in peril. Remember?"
"I don't mean that I'll become involved in rescuing anyone. I'm thinking we could be a sounding board for Lien — help her with ideas for getting the job done. She might appreciate having family nearby while she's in a big strange city. Other than her nightmare in Cambodia, she's never been outside Vietnam."
"You might be right about that. Given all she went through in Svay Pak, she's probably still pretty fragile."
"And I'm her grandfather. Who else does she have to worry about her? Neither Ngoc or her grandmother are in any position to travel. Besides, a little escape to Singapore might be fun for us. I've never had a Singapore Sling at Raffles and that's on my bucket list."
They resumed walking toward the north meadow, the former Fort Lawton firing range, and Catherine grew silent. Trutch's discovery of a Vietnamese granddaughter had created turbulence in their marriage. They'd been married for over forty years when he'd received the letter from Ngoc, and it had exposed his affair with Ngoc's mother during his second tour of duty in Vietnam. "Dream," she had called herself.
"Singapore, huh?" Catherine finally said. "Well, I suppose I could get into some mischief in those upscale malls on Orchard Road. And the food in the night markets is supposed to be out of this world."CHAPTER 4
Trutch considered his plate, which contained two runny soft-boiled eggs swimming in a pond of soy sauce, dotted with flakes of dried chili pepper. "I see why they call it a 'slap up.' It looks like it's been slapped silly and then drowned."
"Grandfather," Lien said. "This is the most famous breakfast, Singapore style. You put jam on the toast, and then dip it into the eggs and soy. It tastes wonderful."
The two of them sat on round, white stools at an unadorned table in Ya Kun Kaya Toast, an iconic eatery in Singapore — one of six in the chain — boasting a clean retro ambiance reflecting its origins in 1944 wartime Malaysia. This one was located in an upscale residential neighborhood of low-rise condos just off Cross Street, near Chinatown, and a few blocks from the hotel in which Trutch and Catherine stayed.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "As The Lotus Blooms"
Copyright © 2018 R. Bruce Logan.
Excerpted by permission of Black Rose Writing.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Prologue — lien,
Chapter One — Pha,
Chapter Two — Lien,
Chapter Three — Pete Trutch, Catherine Trutch,
Chapter Four — Pete Trutch,
Chapter Five — Pha,
Chapter Six — Pete Trutch, Catherine Trutch,
Chapter Seven — Lien,
Chapter Eight — Pha,
Chapter Nine — Lien,
Chapter Ten — Pha,
Chapter Eleven — Lien,
Chapter Twelve — Colonel Khlot,
Chapter Thirteen — Pete Trutch,
Chapter Fourteen — Colonel Khlot,
Chapter Fifteen — Chaya,
Chapter Sixteen — Pete Trutch,
Chapter Seventeen — Chaya,
Chapter Eighteen — Lien,
Chapter Nineteen — Chaya,
Chapter Twenty — Lien,
Chapter Twenty-One — Chaya,
Chapter Twenty-Two — Lien,
Chapter Twenty-Three — Chaya,
Chapter Twenty-Four — The Pied Piper,
Chapter Twenty-Five — Chaya,
Chapter Twenty-Six — Colonel Khlot,
Chapter Twenty-Seven — Pete Trutch,
Chapter Twenty-Eight — Lien,
Chapter Twenty-Nine — Lien,
Chapter Thirty — Chaya,
Chapter Thirty-One — Catherine Trutch,
Chapter Thirty-Two — Lien,
Chapter Thirty-Three — Lien,
Chapter Thirty-Four — Chaya,
Chapter Thirty-Five — Lien,
Chapter Thirty-Six — The Pied Piper's Man,
Chapter Thirty-Seven — Lien,
Chapter Thirty-Eight — Trutch,
Chapter Thirty-Nine — Catherine,
Chapter Forty — Lien,
Chapter Forty-One — Nga,
Chapter Forty-Two — Lien,
Chapter Forty-Three — Lien,
Chapter Forty-Four — Nga,
Chapter Forty-Five — Lien,
Chapter Forty-Six — Pete Trutch,
About the Author,