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Excerpt from The Three-Nine Line by David Freed, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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The Three-Nine Line

by David Freed

The Three-Nine Line by David Freed X
The Three-Nine Line by David Freed
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  • First Published:
    Aug 2015, 272 pages
    Paperback:
    Aug 2015, 272 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
James Broderick
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The Three-Nine Line

Two widowed sisters out for their predawn stroll were the first to spot it, floating near the red wooden bridge that led to the island with its ancient temple. They thought it was the rarely seen giant turtle, the one whose sacred ancestors have lived in the lake for a thousand years. But when they made their way excitedly onto the bridge and peered over the hand railing into the dark water, what they saw was not some mythic, oversized reptile. It was a man, arms hovering buoyantly at his sides, his black sport coat humped over his back like a tortoise shell, dead. One of the old women stayed behind while the other hobbled as best she could along the lakeshore to the police substation on Le Thai To Street, a quarter mile away. The two officers on duty were sipping tea from cloisonné cups and smoking Marlboro Lights, engrossed in a television soap opera about sixteenth century Chinese warlords. The woman told them what she'd found and implored them to come quickly. The cops said they'd be along as soon as their show was over. That was before she let it be known that her son was a ranking Party member and that he knew others, higher still. The taller of the officers grudgingly grabbed a flashlight, the other a pack of cigarettes. They drove her back in their patrol car, a Toyota Tercel with candy bar lights and a manual transmission.

The man was dead all right. The cops agreed on that much, gazing out at the body as it lapped against the bridge supports. Probably some tourist who'd drunk too much beer in the Old Quarter and accidentally fallen in, the way tourists will do sometimes. Why, the shorter cop grumbled under his breath, did the old women have to find him when they did? An hour later and they would've both been off duty, probably getting drunk themselves. Now here they were, their immediate futures bleak with piles of paperwork and hours of unpaid overtime. But that wasn't the worst part. The worst would be having to kiss up to those ambitious overachievers from the Department of Public Security who'd be assigned to the case, the ones who actually investigated crimes and didn't commit them or cover them up, like the rest of the Hanoi police force. The two cops crossed the bridge onto the island. They cursed the tourist for having been stupid enough to drown on their shift. They cursed the two old biddies for having found him. Of all the lousy luck. A wooden skiff with a square bow was roped to a stand of cattails below the temple. One of the cops climbed in. The other undid the rope, pushed off, and hauled himself aboard. There were two oars. The body wasn't far, twenty meters, if that, but the morning was already sultry, the air heavy, and by the time they reached the man, the shirts of their forest-green police uniforms were soaked through. Sweating and swearing, they looped the rope under the floater's armpits, then towed him back to land.

It took both cops to drag the body out of the water. The man's left foot was clad in a black lace-up oxford made from synthetic leather. The other foot was shoeless. His slacks were gray polyester, his sport coat a blend of polyester and wool. When they rolled him over, they saw that he was wearing a white, short-sleeved dress shirt and a red necktie, loosely knotted and adorned with a single yellow star. He looked to be in his sixties. Stocky build. A full head of bristled, close-cropped hair gone gray. An Asian face, round as a moon pie. Pinned to his lapels were a dozen military decorations. Sunk hilt-deep into his sternum was a hunting knife.

"He didn't drown," the shorter cop said, lighting a cigarette.

His partner looked over at him for a moment as if it were the dumbest, most obvious thing anyone in law enforcement had ever said, then turned and shined his flashlight beam full on the corpse's face: Skin drained of color. Jaw slack. Lifeless, half-hooded eyes. Lips curled in a half smile, like he was in on some inside joke.

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Excerpted from The Three-Nine Line by David Freed. Copyright © 2015 by David Freed. Excerpted by permission of The Permanent Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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