The photograph in the CIA vault shows four men relaxing in the jungle, green berets draped over their rifles, enjoying a break from combat. On the day after the picture was taken, their friendship was torn apart forever. Now, ten years after the United States pulled out of Vietnam, the CIA has sent one of the men, Parker, to Thailand to track a troop movement across the Cambodian border, which is about to explode, luring the Americans back into another disastrous ground war.
When Parker disappears, the CIA deploys its best agent, Parker’s former friend Sawyer, in a secret operation code-named Dragonfire, to rescue Parker and prevent the war. But in the forbidden jungles of the Golden Triangle, a mysterious Asian beauty will lead Sawyer into a strange and savage world of opium traders, warlords, and militant factions, where nothing is as it seems and the only certainty is death.
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About the Author
Read an Excerpt
By Andrew Kaplan
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1987 Andrew Kaplan
All rights reserved.
The deep yawns above the thunder
. Whoever hunts deer without a guide
Will lose his way in the depths of the forest.
The superior man is aware of the hidden dangers.
SHE was dressed in silk, red and gold, and atop her head was a gold crown spiraling to a point like a temple chedi. She stood alone in the spotlight, one foot gracefully raised in the classic lakhon dancer's pose. Her left hand gestured downward in a rejection of passion as it will be in the final dance on the last night of the world, when the stars fall from the sky and the mountains are engulfed in flame. Her right hand was upturned, signaling the acceptance of her lover and the primordial thrust of his desire. Her face was exquisite, her dark eyes impassive.
Now the rhythm of the pi-nai and the drum grew more insistent. She began to move her hips, swaying to and fro as though summoning an invisible lover. Two slave girls rushed from the wings and began to unwind her sarong. She wriggled out of her clothes in waves, like a snake molting its outer skin, until she stood completely naked. She bowed in a gesture of submission, her slender body glistening with sweat, her budlike breasts heaving, her buttocks moving in an enticing motion old as time.
The stage was wreathed in smoke from the joss sticks, mingled with opium and tobacco smoke. The smoke twisted and swirled in shafts of light like a living thing.
The drumbeat quickened as the slave girls threw off their robes and stood naked, but for big leather phalluses strapped to their loins. A collective male sigh escaped the audience. The drumming mounted to a crescendo as the two slave girls took turns playing the male. Their bodies tangled together, passion rippling through them. The drums went wild as they climaxed with savage cries, their black hair flying as they whipped their heads back and forth, then sank gracefully to the floor, limp and spent.
The crowd of Asian businessmen sprinkled with the occasional serviceman roared its approval. Green twenty-baht notes were tossed onto the stage. Smiling, the dancers came to the edge of the stage to pluck notes from upstretched hands using only the muscles between their legs.
In a dark corner booth, two men who had been engrossed in their conversation glanced over toward the stage. One was a portly graying Asian in a blue silk suit obviously made by a Hong Kong tailor who knew what he was doing. The other was a tall Occidental wearing the safari-style khakis inevitably affected by American officials and journalists in Indochina.
"There's the true seduction of Asia," Vasnasong said, gesturing at the naked dancers. "The promise that you can do anything ... absolutely anything."
Parker raised his eyebrows.
"Are you talking about sex or power?"
"They are intertwined, like Yin and Yang. True power is ability to indulge every desire, every whim, no matter how bizarre. Is that not the ultimate aphrodisiac?" Vasnasong smiled.
"I thought you Buddhists frowned on sex."
"Although like most male Thais I spent time as naga, I am far from being bhikku monk. Besides, Lord Buddha did not teach physical passion bad. Only that to pass beyond suffering, you must also go beyond pleasure. Only then comes profit," Vasnasong replied, his eyes twinkling.
Parker jumped at the conversational opening. Otherwise, they'd be here trading Chinese fortune-cookie talk all night.
"Speaking of profit, of this thing with Bhun Sa, can it be arranged?" he asked.
Vasnasong sighed inwardly. Such rudeness was typical of a farang. Americans were the worst. Always in such a hurry that they heard only the words, never the nuances between the words where conversation really takes place. So be it, he thought. With such a one subtlety is meaningless anyway. But first he would exact a tiny revenge.
"Do you desire? It is house specialty," Vasnasong said, indicating the spicy water beetle paste with his chopsticks. He had seen that the farang was disgusted by it from the expression on his face when it was served.
Parker shook his head. Smiling, Vasnasong shoved it insistently toward him and was secretly delighted by Parker's obvious discomfort as he attempted a small polite nibble.
"Delicious," Parker said insincerely.
"Ah yes." Vasnasong smiled.
"Does that mean it can be arranged?" Parker said, looking around anxiously as though he was afraid of being overheard.
"Mai-pen-rai," Vasnasong shrugged. "In Bangkok, Hawkins-khrap, anything can be arranged — for a price."
Hawkins was Parker's cover name.
There was a burst of applause and Parker glanced toward the stage. In the spotlight a voluptuous woman was seated in a hanging bamboo basket, her naked bottom protruding from a hole in the basket. To the accompaniment of raucous cheers from the audience, she was slowly lowered onto a sailor from the audience who had volunteered.
Parker nodded and leaned forward across the table.
"How soon can I get upcountry to see Bhun Sa?" he whispered. No one but Vasnasong could hear him in all the audience noise. On stage, the sailor slowly twirled the basket. The woman revolved on his erection like a top.
Vasnasong looked curiously at the farang.
"Have you ever been in hill country of Golden Triangle, Hawkins-khrap?"
Vasnasong laid his finger alongside his nose in a gesture of warning.
"Hill country is most dangerous place, Hawkins-khrap. Most dangerous. And of all the hill people, Bhun Sa may be most dangerous of all," Vasnasong said uneasily.
"Yeah, well the world is full of tough guys," Parker shrugged. Did the prick think he was dealing with a Boy Scout? he wondered.
Vasnasong smiled politely. What was it his honored father used to say: "To reason with a fool is as to belch into the breath of a typhoon." He plucked delicately at a morsel of lemon chicken with his chopsticks, then genially raised his glass of Mae Khong whiskey.
"Then may you meet only good and overcome all your enemies, Hawkins-khrap," Vasnasong toasted, and they both drank.
"When can I make contact?" Parker said hoarsely, choking back the whiskey. Mae Khong was guaranteed by the manufacturer to never be more than two weeks old.
"Tonight. Very soon," Vasnasong said, consulting his gold Rolex. "And now, a thousand pardons, but I am old man and my bed calls," he added, delicately faking a yawn.
"Wait a minute," Parker began angrily. He started to grab at Vasnasong's sleeve, but instead found the torn half of a red hundred-baht note being pressed into his hand as part of a handshake.
"A beautiful girl will have matching half. Follow her and you will find what you seek," Vasnasong whispered, and stood.
Vasnasong glanced around, as if nervous for the first time, but all eyes were on the stage and the squealing basket girl. Parker surreptitiously touched the .45 automatic in the holster nestled in the small of his back.
"See you soon." Parker grinned, his fingers touching the gun grip.
"Sawat dee khrap," Vasnasong said, pressing his palms together in the wai sign.
A burst of applause came from the front, distracting Parker. The basket girl and the sailor were gone, replaced by a pretty girl who looked like she had barely reached her teens. She was trying to do something obscene with a snake.
When he turned back, Parker found himself staring at the most beautiful woman he had ever seen, standing where Vasnasong had stood just a few seconds before. It was like a conjurer's trick, and for a moment Parker couldn't believe his eyes. He was spellbound. He couldn't take his eyes off her.
She was tall for an Asian, with straight black hair that fell below her shoulders and dark almond eyes luminous with mystery and passion. They reminded him of the eyes of an ancient queen painted on the wall of a four-thousand-year-old tomb he had visited once in Egypt. She wore just a touch of lipstick and eye shadow on that exquisite face and smelled of jasmine. Her sarong was white silk, embroidered with gold and somehow tightly molded to her body in an effect that was at once modest and dazzlingly sensual.
She smiled, revealing captivating dimples and perfect white teeth, and like any bargirl, asked him if he wanted a good time, number-one time. But she was no bargirl. He was sure of that. His throat had gone dry and he had to swallow before he could ask her how much.
"Nung roi kha," she replied, asking for the hundred.
As if in a trance, Parker handed her the torn half of the hundred-baht note. She unfolded another half and matched the two pieces. She looked around once to make sure no one was paying too much attention to what was, after all, an everyday transaction. All eyes were on the snake dancer.
"You follow," she whispered in English, and ducked through a bamboo curtain that led to a side exit. Parker tossed a bill on the table to cover the drinks, and by the time he reached the alley outside, she had already disappeared.
The alley was dark and strewn with garbage. But just a few feet away, Patpong Road was bright as day from all the neon lights. Parker hesitated. She had vanished as if she were a dream, or maybe one of those spirits the Thais built those little dollhouses for in the corner of every dwelling. Then he thought he caught a faint whiff of jasmine lingering on the hot sticky air characteristic of the nights before the southwest monsoon.
It's no dream, he told himself. She's your only link to Bhun Sa, so don't let her get away.
He ran out into the street. Traffic was heavy all along Patpong Road. Three- wheeled samlors, cyclos, and motorbikes narrowly weaved between the honking cars, barely scraping through by inches. Asian and European men, civilians and servicemen from half a dozen countries prowled the sidewalks, while girls in tight slacks and Western jeans called their siren song from brightly lit entrances to the bars and massage parlors. Rock music in a dozen languages blared from open doorways. Street vendors sold cigarettes and picture postcards from the top tray, pornographic photos, Thai sticks, and black balls of opium and hashish from the bottom tray.
At first Parker thought he had lost her in the crowd. Then he saw men staring after someone near the Silom Road intersection and just caught a glimpse of her white sarong rounding the corner. Ignoring Langley rules about never calling attention to yourself while on a tail, he ran after her. Rounding the corner, he was in time to see her duck into a side street near the corner of the Bangkok Christian Hospital.
She was very quick and very good, he thought, settling into a normal walking pattern about a hundred yards behind her. Even just walking, she moved with an animal-like grace that was incredibly sensual, and despite all his training, he found he couldn't take his eyes from the teasing sway of her skintight sarong.
She moved nimbly down side streets and darkened alleys, slipping between noodle stalls lit by kerosene lamps, a white figure flitting ahead of him in the darkness like a ghost. He knew he should contact his case officer to let him know he was entering the red zone. They had drilled that into him a hundred times. Always keep control posted. Better to miss an opportunity than to lose communication. But how, without losing her? She has to stop sometime, he thought, reassuring himself. When she did, he would find a phone before he made contact.
At the next corner, she paused to study the posters outside a movie house showing the latest karate epic from Hong Kong, glancing out of the corner of her eye to see if he was still with her. He made no effort to close the distance. He was grateful for this time to catch his breath. And he had to make sure they weren't being followed.
He studied the reflection of the street behind him in the darkened window of a closed goldsmith's shop. Traffic was bumper to bumper even at this late hour. Shoppers were filling wicker baskets in the fluorescent glare of a nearby market. At a sidewalk restaurant a prospective diner was sniffing at a cauldron as the owner held up a live crab for his inspection. Everything seemed normal enough except ... Parker suddenly felt a terrible urge to urinate. His mouth had gone dry. He was being watched.
A big-muscled Thai in a suit that looked like it had been made for a much smaller man stood patiently waiting at the Number 71 bus stop. He wasn't looking at either Parker or the girl. But the buses in Bangkok didn't run after midnight.
There was another possible bulldog leaning against the noodle stall ahead. Also Thai. It looked like a front and back tail. He and the girl were boxed in.
And was it his nerves or did the passenger in a passing dark blue Nissan sedan take an excessive interest in him? The look had been held just a fraction too long, he decided. That meant they were mobile, as well.
Parker thought about aborting. There was sure to be a public phone back at the hospital on Silom Road. And what about the girl? Had she spotted the tails? He tried to think of a way to signal her, but it was too late.
She had started moving again.
He had no choice. He decided he would have to follow.
If only he knew where she was headed, he could try and flush the tails, he thought. She was heading south toward the Sathan Nua klong. Which way would she go when she reached the canal, left or right?
Then it hit him what she was up to. There was a water-bus dock near the Convent Road intersection. She had seen the tails! She was going to make a run for it on the water.
If he could eliminate at least one of the tails, they could still make the rendezvous. Assuming he was right, that is. If he was, the lead tail would stay with the girl, the second would peel off with him.
There was only one way to find out, he thought as he came abreast of the movie house ticket booth. He acted as if he were going to continue after the girl, then turned, bought a ticket from a sleepy-eyed young clerk and hurried into the darkened theater.
The tail would expect him to go out another exit according to standard flushing procedure. Instead, he took a seat in the last row near the aisle. When his eyes adjusted to the dark, he could see that only a few seats were occupied. Being able to see better than the tail, whose eyes would have less time to adjust, should give him an extra edge, he thought. He slipped the .45 automatic from its holster and clicked off the safety. He watched the curtained entrance while glancing at the movie out of the corner of his eye.
On the screen, the Chinese hero, clad in a black karate outfit, was spinning in the air, kicking out with devastating effect against at least a hundred white- suited adversaries from the karate school of a mad scientist. The sound effects man must have gone crazy because every blow sounded like a car crash. The kicks sent the hero's opponents flying like tenpins, despite missing them by at least a foot. All in all, one against a hundred seemed like a pretty fair fight, and Parker was wondering what the hero would do if he were in Parker's spot, when the curtain parted and the second tail burst in.
As he headed down the aisle, glancing left and right, Parker slipped behind him and, grabbing the back of his jacket, jammed the muzzle of the .45 into the Thai's broad back.
"Hold it, buster. Yoot!" Parker hissed.
The big Thai hesitated. Parker felt the Thai's muscles tense in preparation for a move and viciously jabbed the gun into the Thai's kidneys.
"Don't try it," Parker whispered.
The Thai barely flinched. But at least he stopped moving.
Parker prodded the Thai ahead of him back up the aisle and then to the small toilet cubicle off the threadbare lobby. The toilet itself was a foul-smelling hole in the ground where flies buzzed noisily. A single naked yellow bulb barely lit the darkness.
"Take off your belt," Parker demanded. When the Thai's pants were around his ankles, Parker used the leather belt to tie his hands behind him.
"You no understand," the Thai began.
Parker never let him finish the sentence. He coldcocked the Thai with the butt of the Colt, hitting him behind the right ear with all his might. The Thai sank to his knees, and Parker hit him twice more in the head. The big man sprawled unconscious over the filthy hole, his face in the muck. Parker didn't wait to see if he was still breathing. He had more important things to do.
Parker raced out of the movie house and down the street toward the klong, ignoring the astonished glances of passersby. He had to catch her.
Excerpted from Dragonfire by Andrew Kaplan. Copyright © 1987 Andrew Kaplan. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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