Denver Bar Association
November 2005
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Murder On The Reunification Express

by S .

Editors Note: This is the start to a serial fiction piece written anonymously by Docket committee members. Each month, The Docket will feature a new installment by a
different committee member.

As the large jetliner punched its way through the sky from San Francisco to Ho Chi Minh City, at least one passenger was wondering what the hell he was doing there. Logan Maze was a Denver lawyer and a Vietnam War veteran, and those two pieces of his history had conspired to send him on what he was sure was a fool’s errand. Logan reflected on what had gotten him to fly across the Pacific to Vietnam, yet again.

Logan had a successful general practice in Denver, with a number of blue chip accounts. One of his better-paying clients was real estate developer Mickey Thornton. Mickey had pulled off some successful land grabs in the boom years of the ’80s, bailed out before the balloon burst, and spent the last 15 years managing his portfolio. He was loaded and had never married, which was part of the problem facing Logan.

Like Logan, Mickey also was a Vietnam vet, but with a slightly different experience than Logan’s. While Logan played the part of an infantry grunt in ’Nam, passing his tour of duty facedown in the mud of a seemingly endless series of rice paddies, Thornton was a major on the general staff in Saigon. The only time Mickey found himself facedown during the war was after drinking too much at some embassy party. The two had met in Denver, bonded of a sort over their war service, and Logan soon became Mickey’s lawyer, handling every legal matter Mickey managed to generate. But this latest piece of business was unique.

Mickey was recently diagnosed with cancer of a particularly nasty sort and his doctors advised him to get his affairs in order. Of course, he turned to Logan in his time of need. Mickey revealed that in 1972, while living in Saigon, he had fathered a child with a Vietnamese woman. When South Vietnam fell in 1975, Mickey lost track of both his son, Nguyen Van Tran, and Tran’s mother. Now, facing his mortality and with an apparently new found sense of responsibility, Thornton wanted to leave his substantial wealth to his only heir, Nguyen Van Tran of Vietnam.

Trouble was, Thornton had no idea where Tran was, or if he was even alive. So, he sent his trusted counselor to Southeast Asia to find Tran and arrange to have him inherit Mickey’s estate. That is what put Logan Maze on an airplane to Saigon. (Only the Vietnamese government and international

airlines insist on calling this municipality Ho Chi Minh City; everyone, including Vietnamese officials, still call it Saigon.)

Being the well-prepared lawyer that he was, Logan did not hit Saigon cold. He had used the Internet to locate and hire a local lawyer and investigator and they were already on the case. These guys, Thanh and Vinh, greeted Logan at Tan Son Nhat Airport with the bad news: Nguyen Van Tran was dead.

Thanh and Vinh drove Logan to the Rex Hotel in central Saigon. Staying at the Rex was somewhat ironic for this infantry veteran; the upscale Rex Hotel was where officers on R&R and America’s high government and military officials stayed during the war; a grunt like Logan couldn’t get through the door. Here he was at the Rex, and the staff treated him like he owned the place (at four dollars for a bottle of beer, they ought to). Thanh, Vinh and Logan settled into the rooftop bar at the Rex that looked over the Saigon skyline.The Vietnamese lawyer and investigator filled in the American on the story of Nguyen Van Tran.

Nguyen Van Tran had become an
important official in Dong Nai province, north of Saigon. He also became somewhat wealthy for a communist government official, which raised questions of corruption. Corrupt government officials are only a little less
common than rice in Vietnam, so Tran’s
economic success raised few eyebrows. (Among those who wanted to keep their eyebrows, the best course was not to ask questions on issues such as these.)

A couple of months earlier, Tran boarded a sleeper car on the Reunification Express. With Vietnam’s extensive history of armed conflict, this train line had been in existence and bombed out of existence repeatedly for more than a
century. Now, it ran from Saigon to Hanoi as a symbol of the unity of the North and South. It was a great way to travel, if you didn’t mind covering the roughly 800 miles between these two cities at an average speed of 30 miles per hour.

With Tran aboard, the Reunification Express left Bien Hoa, north of Saigon, at 8 p.m. one Tuesday. On Wednesday morning the porter delivered a breakfast of Chinese noodles and chicken to Nguyen Van Tran’s compartment and noticed almost immediately that Tran had a bullet hole in the side of his head. Tran wasn’t going to Hanoi after all. The local police investigated half-heartedly and decided the case was too
difficult; they marked it as an unsolved murder and moved on to more pressing matters.

Logan e-mailed the sad news to Mickey Thornton. Mickey, obviously hiding his grief, immediately e-mailed Logan back with the following instructions: "Stay in Vietnam and find out who killed Tran; and keep the police out of it."

Stay tuned....

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