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Diverting the Buddha - Second Edition
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ISBN-10: 1-55404-015-9
Genre: Suspense/Thriller
eBook Length: 240 Pages
Published: May 2007

From inside the flap

Second Edition - "a Robert Ludlum like thriller!"

This is a story of conscience and consequences. It examines the very real events that destroyed the last chance for democracy to impact the Vietnam War. The antagonists are all familiar today: a Texas White House and high-powered executives in charge of moribund government agencies. They, along with two Vietnamese heroes, create a thrilling narrative, one that boils with intrigue, mayhem and betrayal.

Reviews and Awards

An enthralling book, this book shows just how mature original novels in the ebook format can be. Warren Thurston Book Reviewer for Boggle Books Australia, July 24, 2003 -- Review By Mister Thurston

’Set in the turbulent Vietnam War, Bob Swartzel's ?Diverting The Buddha? is a highly recommended political thriller. Two Vietnamese and two Americans find themselves swept into a deadly conflict that none of them can understand or control. Written by a veteran of the U.S. Army Signal Corps in South Vietnam who witnessed the brief-lived Buddhist democracy movement, Diverting The Buddha is a driving, powerful, entertaining novel marking Bob Swartzel as a writer of considerable accomplishments.? -- Midwest Book Review May 2002

A major theme of the novel is betrayal?of individuals, of the democratic aspirations of the Vietnamese people, of Americans misled by their government, and betrayal of truth itself ??
-- From historian David Heiser’s July 22, 2002 review of ?Diverting The Buddha?

?This is the story of the rise and fall of the Vietnamese Democracy movement. When I arrived in Hue, in 1966, U.S. Intelligence and military were sure that they had put democracy to rest and had pacified the city.?
-- Vietnam Veterans Against the War News Letter January of 2002

Diverting the Buddha - Second Edition (Excerpt)

Chapter 1

Specialist Blake was high; in less than an hour his guard tour would be over. Wired from drinking coffee all night he was having trouble focusing on his fields of fire. He kept his eyes moving, peering first into the neighboring garden's inky blackness, then up the deserted side street and finally out over the large rice paddy directly across from his perch. The night's half moon was down, but some of its rays still flittered about. It was this feeble illumination that kept making objects flash into and out of existence. He felt sure that come daylight each moving thing would prove to be no more than a banana tree, a palm, or some spiky fern. The entire city of Hue lay covered in what he called snail slime, a heavy dew common just before dawn along Vietnam's coast. This morning there was something extra dimensional about the glaze that made things sparkle and jump about, something that made animate that which could never move about. Blake prayed he was seeing nothing more than stray photons bouncing off the slimy goo.

He knew the terrain well. Recently, in full daylight, he had sat in this exact position studying the wide variety of shrubs and trees, writing a letter home filled with abundant detail about the many exotic specimens below. He had hoped to please his mother, an avid gardener and grower of blue ribbon zinnias.

He was beginning to relax a little when he saw something jump out on the periphery, out in deep centerfield. Forcing his eyes to find something before it found him he went in a heartbeat from idle to full steam ahead. Still unsure of anything he kept shifting his vision, and again near the far wall something did shift. He could swear to it! Breaking into a cold sweat, he went sliding down, making as little sound as possible--any noise and a lot of the wrong guys might die. Blake was suddenly jumping and twitching, his nerves pulsing with adrenaline, breathing hard and struggling to regain some composure. He extended his neck up only enough so his eyes showed, but could no longer see movement, not by the wall or anywhere else. Again, all seemed quiet on the garden front.

Feeling foolish for allowing jittery nerves to jerk him around he still moved away from where he might have last been seen, better safe than sorry...or dead. After getting well away, he pitched sideways up against a pile of slowly hemorrhaging sandbags. Semi-automatically dragging down his right thumb in a banjo plucker's practiced motion he flicked the safety switch on his rifle. Moving his fingers across the black plastic pistol grip until he found the weapon's magazine, he was slowing his breathing and chambering one live round, just before squirming and squiggling up and over the sandbags and becoming a cobra ready to strike.

Peering down, continuing to sweep both eyes, he now saw a mottled pattern, an image much like a carrousel horse, moving not around but up and down and coming his way. The sneaky bastard probably thought his target had fallen asleep and fallen over and was hoping to get an easy kill using a grenade. Blake was smiling. His enemy would soon be moving into his kill zone, and he was going to need only a light squeeze on the trigger to create some oblivion. But the bastard was covering a lot of ground all of a sudden! Twisting furiously to zero in Blake banged an elbow on the balcony's rail. In spite of the pain he maintained fire control, holding back, keeping the faith, waiting to rock and roll--recalling a piece of advice learned from Roy or Hop-a-long on Saturday TV: 'Don't fire until you see the whites of their eyes, partner'.

When those Oriental whites became visible his index finger would be caressing the trigger, and then it was lights, camera, action, and, as taught in basic training, he was squeezing gently, not flinching, but nothing was happening, and he was now pulling harder and still feeling no report, no pain in his ill- positioned clavicle. With a growing sense of dread he started jerking the trigger off, committing the worst sin in his Army's list of shalt nots, just before letting out a low sigh, a we who are about to die acknowledgement that his weapon was still locked on safety. His flicking motion had not done the trick and things were speeding up. He kept groping for the safety switch but the Goddamn thing had vanished. Soon he would be dead, just another Killed in Action statistic rolling off Walter Cronkite's silver tongue on the CBS Nightly News. Who would take charge of his stuff? Nobody. It would be bad ju ju.

When the enemy finally broke cover, she was grinning, but only for an instant before spotting Blake, shrieking, dropping her rice broom, and fleeing.

"Motherfucker! Some old house ba!" Blake's words, propelled by fear, came roaring out and shattering the morning calm to the degree his rifle should have. Some old woman doing early chores was his entire band of saboteurs. What if he had lit up the old lady? What in hell could he have been thinking, imagining the Viet Cong coming through that garden space with those high walls and no way out? Everything seemed so clear now, now that he had time to think.

Caught in his own private maelstrom Blake did not notice a shadow closing in from behind. He sensed no motion until hearing a hoarse whisper and feeling warm breath tickling his neck. Leaping, he was heading over the rail, but a pair of strong hands grabbed his jacket before disaster struck.

"Steady, mister. Your dedication is admirable."

Blake was hearing the deep, rumbling baritone of Sergeant Anderson, the big headman of Hue's over the horizon radio unit, making sounds that could not be mistaken or ignored.

Humming out each word Andy kept going. "You, if I'm not mistaken, have been off duty an hour. Yet here you are, a lone sentinel, an extra-minutes man, protecting my house. That's good except you seem to be doing all this with your head tucked up your ass."

Andy's plump face always appeared happy. This look of calm indifference made him someone you wanted around when the chips were down. The flesh on Andy's brown cheeks had pressed up and narrowed both eyes into slits. He was chuckling, making sounds loud enough to cause someone sleeping off the balcony to moan and thrash about. When he started speaking again the sound was rumbling up from down deep. "What's keeping my best man up here? That is all I'm wondering."

Blake, still stumbling to catch up, was reacting with blind panic and very little thought. Had he gotten Andy out of bed by calling out? With infuriating dullness he started sifting clues, trying to understand; finally, he noticed the sun, which seemed high or a least higher than it should have been. With glacial speed, things started coming together. He must have been screwing himself over for more than an hour. His noise had not gotten Andy up; in fact, the site chief did not seem to know what had almost gone down just before sunrise.

With one base tentatively covered, Blake started talking. "God, Andy! You scared the crap out of me. What if I'd jumped off this balcony?"

"Why then I'd have put you in for a Purple Heart and maybe a Silver Star, posthumously of course. No member of my little unit ever received such high awards."

"Yeah, and you wouldn't even miss me," Blake came jabbing back. "Who'd align your damn radios for you?"

"You being Killed in Action would disturb me," Andy, displaying his best get you off your guard smile, replied. "But this is war. Everybody is disposable, even a signal trooper as good as you. I'd miss your impertinence though."

"Well," Blake, dropping into the redneck slang his site chief enjoyed hearing, was firing back with his best hillbilly accent, "I sure am glad ah didn't vault over this here rail and get all tangled in that mess of barb wire down thar. Wouldn't want you deprived of your best common acerbic weed."

Andy was chuckling. He was inflating his cheeks like a puffer fish and working hard at not making too much noise by gritting his teeth. After several false starts, he was speaking again. "When you weren't in your bunk it crossed my mind you had gone off on a long shack up. Then I come out here to pay homage to a new day and find you are waiting for me. Is this a great world or what?"

"What you need Sarge?" Blake, trying not to sound upset, replied.

"Wanted to find out how you're doing with Private White. Getting him to help?"

Blake sighed. Sergeant Matson, the radio site's so-called head of security, his fuckup of standing around flatfooted while demonstrators set fire to Andy's jeep over by Mister Dinh's Car Washy was still having an impact. Old Matson, feeling like a gamecock, had posted a copy of the Military Police report clearing him dereliction of duty on the site's bulletin board, just to rub everyone's nose in it. The whole affair had been a giant affront, not only to common sense but also to Andy's authority. Many Vietnamese in the mob claimed Matson had driven headlong into the front rank of demonstrators, but Matson and the two men with him claimed the Viets had stopped the jeep and then chased them away, before turning the vehicle over and torching it. The Provost had sided with Matson and company, and the official report was adding to Andy's loss of face. In the past couple of months, ever since the damn civilians at the Defense Communications Agency started digging into radio site business, Andy had been losing steam, acting like a tire with a slow leak. Recruiting Blake to get White to provide evidence about Matson's various transgressions was an act of desperation: Private White was Blake's closest buddy, but White, like Andy, was black. Blake still wondered why Andy did not play his own soul-brother card, except that the younger bloods saw Andy as an old Uncle Tom, the kind of beat down black man not to be trusted.

"Sarge," Blake was saying with too much emotion, "you only asked me about White two days ago. We haven't even seen each other yet. We are going to party at his girl friend's hooch tonight. I plan to work on him then."

"Time is against me, David. Yesterday Matson handed a copy of the Provost Marshal's incident report to some Associated Press reporter. The damn fool, without any checking, sent off a story calling Matson's driving my jeep into a crowd of demonstrators a huge victory in America's ongoing fight against Communist provocations."

"Next thing General Westmoreland himself will be sending medals up here."

Andy was laughing so hard that the whole balcony was shaking. With his site chief jollied up Blake decided to press for whatever advantage he could. "Look, I'll work on White tonight and report back tomorrow."

"Make sure you get Private White to think hard about how Matson runs my security detachment; he is the only member of the infantry squad who is not in the old bastard's back pocket. The six Vietnamese who ended up in the hospital after being hit by my jeep need justice and so do I. And since you two will be together tomorrow morning and should be well rested, I would like you both to pick up our new assistant site chief. His name is Shepard. He'll be arriving at 1300 hours on a cargo flight from Saigon." Shifting his gaze, Andy added, "All right, now this all makes some sense. Here comes your reason for sitting out here."

Following Andy's glance Blake made eye contact with his wet dream girl. Many of the guys thought she lived over near Hue's city soccer stadium, but just-exactly where nobody knew, not even after sending out several recon patrols. As usual, she was walking with a younger girl, perhaps a sister, both carrying bundles of books. Again, he caught her looking at him. For maybe the third time she held his gaze. This extraordinary girl was seventeen, eighteen...tops. Rarely would she pass by, but when she did, it was always in the morning and she was always showing her stuff.

Today she wore a tight white top over dark blue trousers. Her outfit the Viets called an ao dai, two little words that meant pure sex in motion. The ao dai was a high-necked, tight-waisted, ankle-length dress cut up both sides to form long front and rear panels. This girl was a Venus. Beneath her costume was a damn fine body. Looking at her straight on Blake saw her hips welling out on both sides of those slits. Her dark blue pants and off-white top made a striking contrast, one much more interesting than the more traditional white on white outfits. Of all her qualities, he liked her face best. He thought of a fine portrait whenever he saw it. Like any good artist, the painter had stressed her best attributes and improved the rest. Instead of being slightly moon-shaped, her face was elliptical, almost Caucasian, and her jet-black hair accentuated two chiseled cheeks and a high forehead. Raven locks cascaded down her back. The artist had good color sense, had done wonders with her skin tone, a light tawny wash several shades deeper than the more common Vietnamese off yellow.

Blake stopped everything. He was eagerly anticipating, just knowing her fine ass would soon pass into view was bringing on an erection. Feeling embarrassed he found himself pressing forward into the top row of sandbags, attempting to disguise what was on his mind.

Andy said, "Forget that."

"So?" Blake, feeling flushed, replied, pausing before blurting out a personal declaration of independence. "It doesn't hurt to look. When you stop you're dead."

"She's a thoroughbred. You can bet she and her family considers all of us a bunch of low-class mercenaries. Traditional Vietnamese live on a social ladder that puts soldiers down as no-shows. Scholars, they call them si, are on top, then comes nong, the farmers, then the workers and below them are businesspeople. Down below everybody else comes binh. Binh is their word for soldier. You know what's even lower than binh?"

Blake got out, "But maybe…." before Andy went on speaking.

"Her kind considers foreign soldiers lower than whale shit. It's embarrassing for one of my men to moon after some girl who most likely thinks he's the missing link."