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Chapter Twenty-four 


 

Concerning the journey to northern Vietnam to track down

the map hidden at an old French prison

Hanoi, Vietnam, February 2002

Ω

It was agreed that D'Aqs should accompany Hellmantle on his tour of northern Vietnam, officially as a safeguard so that Hellmantle didn't hurt himself more than anything, but D'Aqs' father saw how the motorcycling had improved his health so he was happy to underwrite his trip to Hanoi. D'Aqs was both keen to hang out with his cousin so he would learn more about is own history and also so he could taste that unbounded freedom again on his motorcycle.

        For Hellmantle, who arrived a day earlier than D'Aqs, it wasn't the two-hour wait to get through customs that caught his attention or the ridiculous number of airport employees who stood around in their Heineken-bottle green uniforms smoking, it was the awesome stretch of rice paddies in the countryside that spread out to the horizon with no other discernable roads running perpendicular to the highway. He was immediately aware that something was missing in the outskirts of Hanoi: the utter lack of everything except peasants working in the fields wearing the classic Vietnamese sun-blocking headgear. There was only one main paved road for miles around. To deviate from the road was to walk or motorcycle along a narrow paths elevated between rice fields. With no stores or gas stations or anything else beside the road except for the odd vertically built house or one-story brick shack, there were only fields. Very few cars, the main roads were dominated by motorcycles four-to-one.

Morning mist rose in wafts above rice fields kissing the horizon right to the outskirts Hanoi. An old French Legionnaire citadel symbolized the entry into the old French quarter, a mixture of French colonial architecture and sprawling squatter huts on the sidewalks. The old quarter was overgrown by vegetation, yellow walls of les Francaise colon barely visible, people speaking French, residue of a past era. Cyclists and motorcyclists wearing brown and blue communist garb, some sporting pithe helmets and kepis. Some walked with daily wares balanced over their shoulders on a wooden stick. 

Three items Hellmantle needed were acquired in the French Quarter: a motorcycle, a UN map and a rock hammer. He planned to meet D'Aqs at the Continental Hotel, the place in the old quarter where the bomb scare caused havoc back in 1954. He spent the extra five bucks to stay in a room with some history: the big room at the front with overhanging balcony and high ceilings. It felt like Graham Greene himself had stayed in this room. It epitomized the les Francaise colon motif of Hanoi, which was basically the epicenter of French colonialism in Indochina. He was to meet D'Aqs in the lounge in the hotel at 8:00pm.

He first tracked down Café des Artistes, the place where the Great Dane had met Leo Vande Winkle almost fifty years ago, but the prices were Hong Kong prices so he found a cozy place called Kaiser Kaffee. There were many Germans all speaking loudly to each other from table to table, laughing, so he chose to have lunch here because of an improvable notion Germans won't eat poor quality food so his Hepatitis concern was kept at bay.

After some eggs, Hellmantle spent hours walking all over the city in awe of the colossal colonial effort by the French built during an epoch now known only through the distinct French panache for ornate structures embodying style and pride. As per his custom to explore at all costs, Hellmantle found himself stopping at many cafés to Halida Export to cool down, with an elephant on the label. The beer gave way to urgency to find a motorcycle, which he found through the hotel manager named Dung Kok by his fellow employees.

Despite his unfortunate name, and the nickname that Hellmantle gave him, Small Kok, he proved worthy phoning a friend who came by on a Vietnamese motorbike. Hellmantle was furnished with maps, a full tank of gas and more beer. Without a sleep the previous night, gravity weighed down as he mounted his motorbike for a trip around town. He cruised crowded city streets to test the bike and adapt to riding Vietnam.

The streets embodied lawlessness and speed, and Hellmantle quickly learned the greatest danger, other than a head-on collision, was to put his feet down when stopped at intersections. There sheer number of motorcycles so close together exposed him to a wheel clipping his heel to send his Achilles tendon twanging up his leg to his kneecap. Even an experienced motorcyclist like him it took muster to adapt to the rules riding the streets of Hanoi, especially during the annual Tet Festival.

Without a doubt motorcycles were the most effective transportation utensil in Vietnam. At roundabouts they weaved by each other requiring quick skill in rapid succession. Swept by the Hanoi flow when he saw two guys on bright white 150cc scooters wearing black suits, black hats and sunglasses, he followed them to kill a few hours before D'Aqs arrived. Not knowing where he was going, the two black-clad riders took riding seriously so he tagged behind them to get his riding legs. They rode side-by-side in the slow part of the fast lane at exactly the speed of the flow. After five minutes he realized they were the flow. Their constant speed without stopping defined the flow. All others were either going too slow or too fast.

For miles Hellmantle kept the Vietnamese Blues Brothers in his sights, adjusting so he rode with the flow. Balanced with constant speed they didn't swerve or yield because other motorcyclists revolved around them. Riding the Hanoi Flow enabled the adventurer from Normandy to explore the terrain. Surrounded by motorcycles of similar models riders carried momentum around corners and roundabouts with grace by reading movements of others. He followed the scooters until they parked at a store so he stopped. When they sat at a table for tea, Hellmantle mild panic realizing he left his compass in Hong Kong. In touch with the flow he was also lost, though he termed it momentarily displaced. Rice paddies behind the stores, he slipped it into neutral and let the flow go by without his bearings. An awful feeling being displaced in a strange city with no common language and no idea where you were, but also a thrill and challenge. Even his map didn't help because he had no reference point. He tried to find a store that sold compasses.

Leaving the two flow-masters to their tea, he searched in vain for a store selling compasses, not an item sold out in the sticks. The sky darkening with no discernable sun for reference, he needed to be careful not to go south when he should go north. Finding the word for compass in his book he stopped a woman walking on the road.

"Excuse'moi," he said. "Lo ban?" She shrugged her shoulders. "Hanoi?" She pointed towards a big river he had just passed. Thanking her, he rode through the non-French part of Hanoi, not prepared for the high number of elderly who had been wounded during the Vietnam War. Some with a dead leg or missing limb or had facial scars, he feel hostility from them. Instead he saw a quiet dignity with proud posture, wearing their wounds with noble bearing, feeling compassion and respect for these white-haired soldiers. The French, Americans and even Canadians fought on this soil after World War Two. Hellmantle thought of the irony that Americans had funded the communists during the Japanese occupation during World War Two, the same insurgents who defeated the French and the Great Dane at Dien Bien Phu, and then Americans during their effort to snuff out communism in Vietnam. So much in world history was cloaked with irony.

Walking the sidewalk looking for a compass he approached and old man and smiled: the international language of the good-hearted. Sporting a classic long goatee in the Ho Chi Ming-Uncle Ho tradition, he grabbed his white beard and pointed at Hellmantle's Viking mantel. Both stroking their beards, smiling and nodding at each other, the old man held out his hand and drew "83" on his palm with his finger.

"You are 83?" he said, forgetting for a moment that there was little-to-no English spoken in northern Vietnam. The old man wrote ‘83' on his hand again and then said something in Vietnamese. Hellmantle then wrote ‘83' on his hand and pointed at the old man. His face creased up in a smile and reached out to shake Hellmantle's hand.

"Lo ban?" Hellmantle asked him, pointing to a store.

"Lo ban? Oui." He gestured to a store that sold compasses. Hellmantle nodded and then found one that was plastic but appeared to work. Outside, he thanked the old man and rode due east on his motorcycle on his way towards Hoan Kiem Lake - the heart of old Hanoi where he found St Joseph's Cathedral. There was a full service in progress packed to the limit with Christians sitting on the wooden pews. The plain square towers and eroded white paint revealed its 116 years of life. It appeared as if not a thing in the church had been changed except for the fact that it had been stripped of its riches, as per the custom of communist states overtaking lavish churches in the Far East. In front of the overhanging hardwood balcony and paintings depicting the crucifixion, the altar was massive and the stained-glass windows were striking.

Standing on the front steps of the church looking out to Hanoi, Hellmantle could see that this was the old church of French Indochina in the pearl of French colonialism. For Hellmantle it was the Old Quarter - the Cite Indigene - that captured his attention. It was full of classic architectural masterpieces from the French colonial era. Streets were lined with embassies and government buildings and parks and well-planted trees - everything you would expect from a proud and rich French colonial government. It was testament to an awesome display of power. But more, for his purposes, it had the makings of a motorcyclist paradise. There were no potholes and the Vietnamese were very savvy on two wheels.

           

Ω

 

While back in the lounge in the Continental Hotel waiting for D'Aqs, he thought about his cousin. Hellmantleknew he was resistant to the labyrinth of facts and conflicting theories of the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel, so he will need to field more questions by his missionary cousin. He felt guilty at his outburst accusing D'Aqs of not being savvy when it came to his family history and the Blonde Acquitaine, so he decided that he needed to do penance It wasn't D'Aqs' fault for being ignorant of these subtleties of Christian history since he chose to endorse the dogma of Christianity. It was his duty not to argue with D'Aqs or to attack his character, but rather to enlighten him as to this hidden history.

Then he spotted his cousin D'Aqs enter. His eye caught the odd rhythm of his loping gait. It was the family's loping gait gene manifest in his cousin.

"D'Aqs! How are you mon ami?" D'Aqs looked like a new man. Well-rested and stronger rather than the wisp he had been when they first met at his uncles.

"Good to see you Mantlepiece!" He loved to hear his old nickname from school, the first time D'Aqs had called him that. He was genuinely happy to see his cousin, but something about that scared him. It was always easier to be alone.

"I could tell it was you from your loping gait. It's unmistakable."

"I don't have a loping gait."

"There is a certain slow motion and consequential grace that is both accidental and effortless indigenous to the Hellmantle clan. It's so nonchalant that it's as if all Hellmantles walk on our toes, leaning back yet drawn forward by some secret force. You can't tell me that you've never been told that you have a unique walk."

"I have been told that, yes, but never a loping gait. No doubt you walk like that too."

I do, and am very proud. You look different, maybe less like a frail missionery and more like a motorcyclist."

        "Is that a good thing?"

        "A step in the right direction. One could say there are different forms of being a missionary."

        "Could they? Such as?"

        "Like what we're doing, except instead of going out and preaching with words, we're going out and getting that which we can then preach to the peoples of the earth."

        "Without a doubt, you have a unusual take on things," he said, showing some spark.

        "That is the best thing you have ever said to me." Deep penetrating eyes, possessed by something Holy driving him.

        "Hey, I try my best."

"The motorcycling looks good here. Make sure you get a decent bike for what we have to do. Chain, clutch, gears, alignment; you know, the usual."

"You've already been out riding?"

        "Master Big Ball, you know me well enough to know it is against my nature to wait around and waste time. This is my bike here." D'Aqs followed him outside and watched him start it, a clunky motorcycle that had a Harley Davidson cadence to the engine. Hellmantle had a mini-routine the way he always started his motorcycle. He sat on the bike first, then pulled the clutch and ensured it was in neutral, release the clutch, turn the switch on, balance the bike under him with both hands on the handbars and then press the button. His life, which was anything but routine, was full of mini-routines.

        "What does that say?" The name of the motorcycle was half hidden by his leg.

        "This puppy is a Moc Chau. Sounds Chinese but it's Russian made."

        "How powerful is it?"

"You mean how many horses? It has a hundred and fifty horses, but these babies should do the trick." He turned off the engine. "Here," he said, "I've just bought some UN maps. Let's go in and check'em out." He spread them on the table as D'Aqs looked at the drink menu, but Hellmantle ignored the map.

        "I wanted to ask you, how did you know about Barnes being shot down?"

"I get the Alumni News every few months. It's full of updates on people's lives and obituaries. The school has changed a lot since we were there."

"It's co-ed now, isn't it?"

"Girls are now half the student populace."

"What house?"

        "Ketchum House."

        "That makes sense."

        "You could subscribe if you want. It's free but they do ask for donations."

        "But I left without graduating."

        "I know, but I don't think it matters." He thought about it.

        "I think of those years a lot. We all knew those years would end but we never talked about the end. And you know what the most important thing was to survive the dorms?" D'Aqs took the question seriously.

        "What mattered most was that you never narked on someone."

        "Maybe. That was the golden rule. But when I think about thosse days I keep thinking of what happened to Lunny."

        "You mean at the end of the year?"

        "Yeah, when he spazzed." Lunny had been the leader of the dorm but when Hellmantle and Rhein gained power through their daring pranks and mischief, a power struggle ensued, only reaching a breaking point when Chris Lunny reached his tipping poiunt and lost his cool.

        "He certainly did spazz. Wow, I haven't thought of him for a long time."

        "That, to me, was the most important thing: not to spazz. Because we all hazed each other to reach that point. It was if it was a test of character. You could stand up and fight but you could lose your temper. That was the code."

        "You and Rhein never spazzed, but it was your confidence in never getting caught that earned respect. Do you remember when Rhein crawled in the dumbwaiter and went down a few floors to the kitchen and then came back up? You were going to go next but Marc Hogan insisted so he went and was caught. Tottenham really made an example of Hogan for that. You know he ended up failing that year?"

        "Rhein was a natural. It was him who had the gift, not me. Funny, the last thing he said to me on the ski slope was that I was the one who had the gift, that I was the one selected to bring destiny to its rightful place. Even when he was dying he had the guts to say that." D'Aqs, careful and softly.

        "You looked up to him?"

        "I always did. He had this capacity to do things that boggled my mind."

        "He was a great hockey player."

"That's what people said. He was an exceptional athlete but that was only a smidgen of his greatness. Some times I really get sad thinking of the thousands of miles I've ridden alone knowing he would've been right beside me laughing and trying to push me off the road. It tears me apart." He pulled out a cigarette. "His face was so pale when he was lying there. And his eyes were so scared. I wanted to hug him. I wanted to take away all that fear. I wonder how he felt when he died the next day. Damn it! I wish I was there! I had some stupid test that day I couldn't miss. Fricken Grandfield! Damn it! I should have been there with him. Just there, you know? I've never forgiven myself for that. He needed me there." He drank.

        "Have you ever thought that the death of a twin is harder on the surviving twin? It must have difficult for him to know he was dying and that it would have such a profound effect on you."

        "You know something, no one has ever said that to me before but you're right. I used to have these thoughts of dying when I was young and every time I ended up thinking how hard it would be on Rhein. I wish I was there to tell him that."

        "He probably knew."

        "I hate the thought I have of him lying there alone in the hospital thinking I didn't care. That's what burns my ass."

        "Mantlepiece," he said, enunciating clearly. "Get that thought out of your mind! The Wineman was your twin brother so of course he knew you cared the most of anyone in the world. You're just...just hurting yourself." Hellmantle looked out the window for a while.

        "Yeah, you're right. I should." He kept staring out the window and thought about all the great times that could have had in life if he hadn't dared him to take the jump.

  

 

TABLE OF CONTENTS                                                                                  
                                                                                                                                             
          The Family of the Bible
FIRST PART
1.       Concerning the famous Hellmantle's position, character and way of life
2.       Concerning the ingenious man's visit with his uncle Jack Grosseteste
3.       Which relates to how Hellmantle is given his first adventure
4.       About what happened to our adventurer when he goes to the Philippines
5.       In which the story of our crusader's journey begins in earnest
6.       About Hellmantle's time in the city of sin on Christmas Eve
7.       About the brave Hellmantle's success on his adventure to Baguio City worthy of happy memory
 
SECOND PART
8.       In which the courageous Hellmantle of Normandy journeys north into the Cordillera Mountain Range
9.       About what happened to Hellmantle in the mission in the mountains and the crucifixion of Jesus
10.     Concerning Hellmantle of Normandy in the land of the headhunters
11.     About the required riding techniques to reach the destination of Sagada and the church organist
12.     In which the German artist is tracked to the Shamrock Café and dangers of the northeast of Luzon Island
13.     In which Catharine is tracked to the Shamrock Café and an eery coincidence of a reoccurring dream
14.     About Hellmantle reaching the rice terraces and finding a way to the northwest
15.     About what happened to our intrepid philosopher in the middle of the Sierra Madre Mountains
16.     In which a record is given about the brave Hellmantle through uncharted territory on his trusted dirt bike
17.     Which relates to Hellmantle of Normandy reaching the northern coast and the rubble of Aparri
18.     About the final day of the motorcycle journey and discussing the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel in Vigan
19.     About the sermon in Agoo Basilica and what they find at the church with the rouge bell tower
20.     Concerning the Dutch Padre and what he knows about the hidden map
21.     About the return to Manila and the coup that causes the Great Man from Normandy grief
 
THIRD PART
22.     Which brings Hellmantle of Normandy back to Hong Kong to re-evaluate the next step in his quest for truth
23.     In which their journey is related to Jack Grosseteste and a new task is set before the Man from Normandy
24.     Concerning the journey to northern Vietnam to track down the map hidden at a French prison
25.     About how Hellmantle and D'Aqs compare notes on their task at hand in Hanoi
26.     In which an account is given of the beginning of the journey of Hellmantle in Vietnam
27.     About how Hellmantle and his brave squire ride north to the place where the four rivers meet
28.     Concerning the French prison and what Hellmantle finds there
29.     Concerning the discovery of the bottle and what lies inside of it
30.     Concerning the journey to Dien Bien Phu in honor of their grandfather the Great Dane Hellmantle
31.     About what the motorcyclists see on the fields in Dien Bien Phu
32.     Concerning the motorcycling required to reach Hanoi via the other side of the Da River Valley
33.     Which tells of the final stage back to Hanoi and the discussion after their most beautiful ride
 
FOURTH PART
34.     Concerning the visit with the knowledgeable Jack Grosseteste and the sally to India
35.     Concerning the arrival and journey to Kashmir Valley
36.     In which the journey begins in earnest through the checkpoints to the foot of the Moghul Fort
37.     In which Srinagar is reached and how the houseboat was as it was hundred years ago
38.     In which Hellmantle reach their houseboat on the lake below the fort and beside the mosque
39.     In which Hellmantle sets out for the Tomb of Thome and his brother Joshua beside him
40.     Which relates to the agreeable history of the journey north to the monastery on horseback
41.     In which Hellmantle returns to Srinagar and finds the first translations of the black stones
42.     Which concerns the deciphering of the discovery at the monastery and the need to go to the Ganges River
43.     About Hellmantle of Normandy's meeting with the holy man after taking a dip in the Ganges River
44.     About Hellmantle's meeting at Jack Grossetests's place with D'Aqs and Catharine the artist from Sagada
 
o       Chronology of Historical Events
         
next  

  
 
 
 

  

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