Binh Xuyen sucked indolently at the pipe stem. A billowing cloud of opium vapor wafted around his head, almost screening the sinister face with its ugly scar. His thin lips twitched. His slitted eyes stripped the young girl who stood before him.
Terror weakened the girl’s knees. Her face was pale. A moist strand of hair matted itself on her forehead. Already the white linen dress she wore had lost its crispness. The skirt was wrinkled from where it had bunched up around her thighs.
Binh Xuyen smiled as he rose from his chair. There was neither mirth nor friendship in the gesture. Instead there was a note of arrogant triumph.
“Eh, bien,” he sing-songed, “you have come of your own free will. That is wise. I would not want to be forced to send for you.”
He spoke in a fluent French. The words dripped of the acid of superiority. Binh Xuyen enjoyed seeing the French colonials squirm before him. He lowered himself into the upholstered chair once more.
Yvonne Chaubert remained standing before him. She could scarcely breathe with the terror which crushed in upon her. She reached into her purse and extricated the little white card with the Chinese characters running down the side. She re-read its message which had been scrawled in red ink. “It would be well if the mademoiselle visited my humble abode today to discuss certain maters of great concern to the two of us,” the card said. Quickly Yvonne thrust it towards Binh Xuyen.
The Chinese let it flutter to his desk. “I am well aware of the contents,” he grunted. “I am also well aware that a European woman does not enjoy coming to Cholon during the time of the mid-day heat. I am aware of many other things.”
Yvonne Chaubert summoned up her courage. She ran her sweating palms over her thighs, hoping that Binh Xuyen would not interpret the gesture as a sign of panic.
“Can we get on with your reason for sending for me?” she asked evenly. Binh Xuyen noticed the fire sparkling from her eyes. His mind’s eye imagined the girl standing nude and in supplication before him. That would come in due time. Of that he was sure.
“Eh bien,” the scar-faced Oriental said. He took a deep drag on the opium pipe and spat out the smoke so that it jettisoned into Yvonne’s face. “You are a beautiful young woman, Mademoiselle Chaubert. You are a woman who enjoys living recklessly, n’est ce pas? You enjoy coming to Cholon with the other colonials at night. You enjoy the gaming tables at the Grand Monde. Certainly a woman of such tastes has the means to pay her debts. That is my business with you, Yvonne Chaubert.”
“My debts have nothing to do with you!” Yvonne fired back hotly. Yet the worms of horror were already twisting in her belly. She had been a fool. She had let it go on too far. Yet it had been so easy to sign the promissory notes. Now she didn’t have a sou to pay them off.
“You Europeans are quite arrogant, aren’t you?” Binh Xuyen answered. “But you will lose your arrogance quickly. And as to your debts being my business, let me assure you they are. I have bought them from the Grande Monde only this week. Now surely you have some plan to repay them within the next twenty four hours.”
The words lashed Yvonne Chaubert’s consciousness like a barbed whip. “That is impossible!” she cried. “I’ll need time! You can’t call in the notes that quickly!”
“My dear Mademoiselle, the notes are called in as of this moment,” the Chinese said. His voice was low with its fearful meaning. “You have delivered yourself into my custody as collateral for the loan. There is nothing more to discuss.”
“You can’t do this thing!” Yvonne cried. “You can’t hold me a captive here. The authorities will search for me. They’ll throw you into prison and let you rot there.”
“That is hardly likely. Not once you have written a note to your acquaintances on the Rue Catinat telling them that urgent business has forced your immediate return to Paris.”
“And what makes you think I would do anything that stupid?”
“Mademoiselle, rest assured, I do not think this thing. I know it!” Binh Xuyen said with an air of lethal finality. He took a tiny silver bell from the desk top. Its shrill tinkle echoed in the room.
Seconds later the door opened and a huge Oriental appeared. The man was stripped to the waist. His belly creased into heavy folds. The muscles on his arms bulged under the gloss of his yellow skin. A gold ring dangled from one ear. Where the other ear had been, there was nothing. His bullet shaped head shone in the hot rays of the Vietnamese sun.
Choking on her fear, Yvonne Chaubert backed away from the lumbering monster.
Inexorably he came forward, his face impassive to her trapped beauty. Binh Xuyen watched the unfolding tableau before him. He allowed himself a tight grin of satisfaction which flitted across his face at the exact moment when the ugly brute reached out and hooked his hand into the top of the French girl’s bodice.
The rending sound of tearing cloth threw Yvonne into a paroxysm of frenzied action. Her tiny fists beat impotently against her tormentor’s chest. The blows glanced off him with no effect. The man reached out once more. The shredded dress came apart from waist to skirt hem. Yvonne caught a fleeting glance of Binh Xuyen savoring the sight of her moist body clad in brief black panties and bra.
Then the room swung dizzily. She felt herself growing weightless. Suddenly she was staring down at the polished floor. Her body was doubled over the Mongolian’s shoulder. She flailed at him, raking his back with her fingernails. The man showed no signs of pain.
Yvonne Chaubert was being carried through the house. Silent doors slid open and closed behind her. There was the smell of dampness and mold as if the Saigon River were oozing though the walls. Here the lighting was dim. Pungent incense surrounded her. In a daze she felt the cold floor against her back and the cruel fingers gripping her wrists and dragging them upwards. The loops of thin cord bit into her arms. Her shoulders jerked in outrage as she was lifted into the air and left hanging from her wrists. Her toes curled as they stretched for the ground. Bound as she was, she found it almost impossible to relieve any of the strain on her shoulders and back muscles.
Through a dense fog of pain and fear, Binh Xuyen’s voice came to her. “You will write the letter. Here you will learn to obey every command. It is the way of the humble proprietors of the sporting houses of Cholon.”
“Sporting houses of Cholon.” Four words. But they brought the tormented shrieks bubbling from her soft lips. The brothels of Cholon were the disgrace of Saigon. Here the sinister Chinese who trafficked in opium, gambling and every form of vice and perversion known to man, ran up their biggest profits. To offer a Frenchwoman to the wealthy Chinese bankers and merchants was indeed a lucrative proposition. Binh Xuyen would reap fantastic profits from her graceful young body.
Yvonne thrashed against her bindings. The cords cut more deeply. She was aware of an itching around her wrists. The itching gave way to stabs of violent pain. At last she ceased her struggles and hung limply. She watched Binh Xuyen’s thin body disappear through a sliding door.
Moments later he and his guard returned. The guard carried a young girl whose arms had been securely bound behind her back. Roughly they tossed her onto a huge splintery table and as the guard held her slim ankles in position, Binh Xuyen locked them immovable in a pair of stocks.
With morbid fascination, Yvonne found herself watching the preparations. Why was the girl being made to lie flat on her back with her feet raised? Why was Binh Xuyen taking the slim bamboo rod from the wall?
The second girl knew the answers. As they stripped the clothing from her body, her mouth remained open in a constant scream. Her hips undulated on the table top. The muscles in her calves and thighs flexed with spasmodic jerks. Her pleadings became inaudible mewlings.
“You have not performed your duties in a satisfactory manner.” Binh Xuyen incanted. The bamboo rod whistled through the air. It exploded across the naked soles of the girl’s feet. The wooden table creaked beneath the girl’s frenzied weight. Sweat ran over her belly and thighs. Her bulging eyes stared at the ceiling. Her legs twitched in their prison. She alternately arched her back and then tried to push herself up with her fettered hands. Before she could catch her breath from the first soul crushing burst of agony, the second was upon her.
The fearful lashing went on endlessly, mercilessly. The veins bulged out on the girl’s throat. At times she could not breathe against the insistent torment. At last her head fell backwards against the table and she was senseless to any further torture. Yet there wasn’t a drop of blood or a scar on her body. That was the diabolical secret of Binh Xuyen’s treatment of his captives.
That was the diabolical secret that Yvonne Chaubert was about to learn at first hand for herself. So numbed was she with fear that she offered no resistance when the brothel keeper lowered her and dragged her across the room.
She was powerless to resist his hands as they stripped the silken bra and panties from her. She could do nothing to defend herself when he recaptured her bound wrists and attached them to a strong rope which snaked across the floor. His weight bore into the small of her back. He seized her slim ankles and tied them together. She looked over her shoulder in time to see them being attached to a second rope.
The bullet-headed assistant returned to the room. Yvonne heard the whirring of machinery. She sensed a strange tugging at her wrists and ankles. Slowly her body lifted from the floor. Firebrands of pain raced through her extended muscles. Now the ground stretched out some four feet below her bulging eyes. Inch by inch the slack in the ropes was being taken up.
When she had become sure that Binh Xuyen meant to tear her naked beauty limb from limb, the machinery creaked to a stop. The French girl was left suspended before his lecherous eyes, every charm exposed to the Oriental. His gnarled hands ran over the smoothness of her back. They tested the firmness of her hips and thighs. Where they traveled, a burning fury remained.
In a frenzy of panic and pain, Yvonne wondered how long the brothel keeper intended to keep her staked out in this position. The agony was almost unbearable. Yet it was not enough to make her sign a document which would remove all hope of aid. A slow defiance began to build in her bosom.
The mood was short lived. Binh Xuyen studied his victim for a long instant. Then he picked up the slim bamboo rod. There was no whistling this time. There was no harsh explosive sound as the bamboo bit into her flesh. The blow was little more than a tap. But its force against the tautly stretched nerves of her exposed hips was more devastating than the tearing of a cat of nine tails. It ripped a choked gasp from Yvonne Chaubert’s distended mouth. The gasp grew into a full blown scream as the torturing rod caressed the flesh and tendons of her thighs, her calves, the small of her back. Never had she considered such pain imaginable. Her entire body was on fire with it. She prayed that her heart would give out and death would overtake her. But Yvonne Chaubert was young. Her heart was sound. Her body was to know eons of agony at the hands of her new master.
In the end she wrote the letter. She became the helpless plaything of the wealthy Chinese of Cholon who came to lease her services from Binh Xuyen. She lived in the house of the brothel keeper with his other European slaves. She dwelled in the constant terrors of what awaited a woman who offended the master of the house.
For Binh Xuyen was a diabolical master of torment. His devices were designed to smash the will while leaving no visible mark on the flesh.
Yvonne was to learn of the horrors of lying helplessly bound, her feet locked in the stocks while the torture master stroked her with goose quills. She was to know what it was to laugh uncontrollably until the heart almost exploded in her bosom. She was to become accustomed to the hideous practice of bamboo splinters being shoved under her fingernails, of being lashed with rods, of spending an immobile night with the damning drops of water pounding against her forehead.
And like so many other women, Yvonne Chaubert was finally to disappear completely.
The times and the heritage of Saigon had led to Binh Xuyen. Thousands of years of invasion from the north, east and west had made Saigon a sinister place of Eastern cruelty. Nowhere did resentment against the French colonialists rise higher than in the corrupt suburb of the city known as Cholon.
Cholon housed Saigon’s underworld. Here the yellow stucco brothels offered love slaves to anybody with the price to pay for them. Here no perversion was beneath the acceptance of the brothel keepers.
European and Chinese men alike came to the houses where they sought the most bizarre and depraved of activities. Fresh from a night of gambling at the tables of Grand Monde, the thrill seekers would find the women ready to cater to every and any aberration.
During the day when the humid heat beat down on the district, the women fell into fitful sleep. But always their dreams were marred by visions of what awaited them should they break the discipline of the house.
Binh Xuyen had taken the name of the cult of cutthroats whose origins went back to the times of the Cham kings. The Chams had been smashed by the Tonkins. The Tonkins in turn had been routed by the Khmers. But the Binh Xuyens had survived. They had grown fabulously wealthy in the operation of opium dens and brothels. Their experience had taught them every base desire that man is prey to. And they had provided the means of satisfying that desire.
In the Cholon of 1938 (the year that Yvonne Chaubert disappeared into the Chinese section of Saigon) the French were looking northward with growing concern. Japanese armies had already spread through Manchuria. The warlords were now looking south toward the oil and rubber rich countries. Soon they were to light Asia with the flames of their mortars and tanks.
When they came to Saigon, they found a willing servant in Binh Xuyen who was placed in charge of a compound of French female internees. Although the brothel keeper received no money for his services, he was allowed to escape with his head.
Like many underworld figures who acknowledge no law except that of self preservation, Binh Xuyen found the switch from the Japanese warlords to the Chinese Reds a simple one to make.
And the monster of Cholon never wanted for victims. The fiendish attraction of the narrow streets and darkened dens spawned the weak and helpless such as Yvonne Chaubert.
The Binh Xuyen disappeared. Many rumors have concerned him. Some say that one of his women went mad and stabbed him to death. Others contend he made his way to Shanghai where he is an honored minion of Mao. Still others believe that the man’s arteries finally gave out and he died.
But nobody can be sure. They point to a land that has a history of thousands of years of cruelty and depravity and say, “What difference does it make whether Binh Xuyen is alive or dead? There are others. There always have been and there always will be." Life is cheap in Cholon. Pleasure is supreme whether it comes in a cloud of opium smoke or in the tender arms of a woman who is driven by an all encompassing terror.