Larry Bond's Red Dragon Rising: an explosive new thriller from New York Times bestselling author.
As depression and drought wrack China, the country's new premier has launched a deadly war with Vietnam. The assault has left the world on the precipice of disaster....
U.S. Army Major Zeus Murphy disobeys his commander and plunges headlong into the conflict, leading the Vietnamese in a covert attack against the Chinese army massing on the border. If the gambit fails, China will roll over Vietnam-and Zeus will lose the only woman he has ever loved, kept prisoner in a secret base north of Hanoi.
In the South China Sea, the USS McLane becomes a deadly pawn in a game of international chicken between the U.S. and China. If the American ship won't leave, the Chinese are prepared to sink it.
Vietnam prepares a doomsday weapon that will not only extract revenge but render much of Southeast Asia uninhabitable for decades. Hoping to prevent this, the U.S. President sends SEAL Lieutenant Ric Kerfer to destroy the weapon.
Operating on land and sea, American heroes are caught in a desperate struggle to prevent the unthinkable from becoming reality. But are they enough to turn back the might of the rising Red Dragon?
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LARRY BOND is the author of numerous New York Times bestselling thrillers, including Vortex, Cauldron, and The Enemy Within. A former Naval Intelligence officer, warfare analyst and anti-submarine technology expert, he makes his home in Springfield, Virginia.
JIM DeFELICE is the author of many military based thriller novels and is a frequent collaborator with Stephen Coonts, Larry Bond, and Richard Marcinko, among others. He lives in New York.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
The war juxtaposed life and death, jabbing each against each: a baby carriage next to the bomb crater, a shiny white Mercedes abandoned without a scratch next to the hull of the mobile antiaircraft gun. Nightmare vied with banality: the severed leg of a policeman rotted in the gutter, half covered by a girlie magazine, blood-speckled pages fluttering in the evening breeze.
Just hours before, downtown Hanoi had been hit by four dozen bombs and missiles launched from a wave of Chinese aircraft. The daytime attack had pockmarked the already battered city, starting fires and destroying several buildings. The fires burned largely unabated. The relief forces were drained, and much of their equipment was exhausted as well. A number of fire trucks and ambulances had been damaged by the bombings; a few sat crushed by debris from the buildings they had tried to save. Others sat abandoned where they had run out of fuel. Fire trucks and ambulances still operating no longer used their sirens, as if they were too weak even to sound an alarm.
The center of town had been hit hard. The former French-dot-com bank, once a landmark, was now a burned-out hulk. A residential high-rise not far away had lost about a third of its tower; in the dimming light the jagged edges of bricks looked like an arm rising from the earth, about to rake its claws on the city.
And yet, despite the destruction, the city continued to struggle on, its breath labored yet real. Elements of the bizarre mixed with the defiant and practical. In the same street where citizens had cowered in basements and behind whatever thin shelter they could find an hour before, a parade of black Korean limousines now delivered elegant matrons and twenty-something fashionistas to the Ambasario Hotel for an annual benefit for Hanoi orphans. The women wore brilliantly colored dresses, their hot pink and fuchsia silks a militant stance against the Chinese onslaught.
Zeus Murphy stopped on the street to let a pair of women pass. The soldier felt like a misplaced voyeur, an uninvited guest at a private carnival. He was certainly an outsider—a U.S. Army major dropped into the middle of an exotic land—though he was also more of a participant in the war than any of the dozens of people walking past him in the street.
Zeus watched the women pick up the skirts of their dresses and step over the dried splatters of blood as they walked across the concrete apron to the hotel’s front door. A path had been swept clear for them; a small pile of glass lay a few feet from Zeus’s boots, the fragments glittering with the hint of light from the hotel’s interior.
Most of the women were ex-pats, the spouses and, in a few cases, daughters of men working in Hanoi or nearby. Zeus wondered if they had come out in defiance or to seek some sort of solidarity in misery. There was no longer a reliable route of escape for civilians from the city or the country. Air transport was close to impossible; commercial flights had ended the day before, not only out of Hanoi but also Saigon much farther south. (Saigon was what everyone except foreigners called Ho Chi Minh City.) Even the American embassy had difficulty arranging for helicopters, although it had two flights scheduled for later that day.
The highways south and the sea ports were still open, though how long that would last was anyone’s guess.
Realizing he was late, Zeus started forward, only to bump into a woman who’d been trying to squeeze past him on the pavement. The woman jerked her head around and put up her hands. He reached to grab her, thinking she was going to fall.
She staggered back, regaining her balance. The look on her face was one of dread, as if she had been touched by a ghoul.
Zeus put up his hands, motioning that he meant no harm.
“It’s OK,” he told her in English. He searched for the Vietnamese words for sorry amid his scant vocabulary.
“Xin loi,” he told her. “I’m sorry. Excuse me.”
She took another step, then turned and walked quickly toward the hotel, her pace just under a trot.
Zeus waited until she reached the door before starting again. He, too, was going to the hotel, though not for the show. He had to meet someone in the bar.
Two women dressed in plain gray pantsuits, neither much younger than fifty, stood at the doorway to the lobby. They had AK-47s in their hands. Zeus nodded as he approached. His white face made it clear that he was a foreigner—and not Chinese—and that was all the pass he needed to get in.
At the very start of the war, the Vietnamese had posted soldiers at the large hotels used by foreigners, more as a gesture of reassurance than security. The soldiers had long since been shifted to more important tasks. Some of the hotels had replaced them with their own security forces, though in most cases these men, too, had left, answering the call for citizens to report to local defense units, a kind of home guard that was organized around different residential areas in the city. Though trained in name only, some of these units had been transported farther north and west, to supplement regular army units facing the Chinese.
The units included women as well as men of all ages. Posters emblazoned with slogans like COURAGE and FIGHT ON were just now appearing on the walls of the city; the state television channel had broadcast interviews with women who had fought in the home guard during the last conflict with China. Some were now close to eighty; all said they were ready to fight again.
Zeus lowered his head as he passed a foreign camera crew standing at the end of the hallway. They had obviously come to record the charity event, but were being harangued by a hotel manager, who kept waving his hands in front of the cameraman’s face. The journalist looked exasperated; he clearly had no idea why the man was objecting.
The hallway was dimly lit, with three of every four lightbulbs removed. People clustered along the sides. Many cupped cigarettes in their hands. Smoke hung heavy in the passage, adding to the shadows. It looked like a scene from a 1930s noir film: gangsters hiding at the far end of the hall, an undercover detective weaving through the unfamiliar darkness toward his fate.
Even in the mixed crowd of Westerners and Asians, Zeus looked out of place. His civilian jeans and casual collared T-shirt did little to disguise his military bearing. People glanced in his direction and made way.
The etched-glass door to the bar was blocked by a crowd of people on the other side. He pushed against it gently, gradually increasing pressure when they failed to move.
“Excuse me,” he said, in gruff English, pushing a little harder. He eased up and then jerked his hand so that the door banged against the bodies. Finally they got the message and began to part.
* * *
The opening door caught the eye of Ric Kerfer, who was sitting at the bar across the room, angled so he could see the doors without seeming to pay too much attention to them. His eyes sorted through the crowd, waiting to see if whoever was coming through was worth his interest.
Kerfer wasn’t surprised that the bar was packed—bars were always popular when the world was going to hell—but it was interesting that there were so many foreigners still left in Hanoi. When he’d left the week before, it seemed like everyone was angling for a way out. Now it looked like everyone wanted to stay and find out what the Chinese were really like.
Maybe it was this way on the Titanic as well.
Kerfer had been here for more than a half hour, nursing a single Jack Daniel’s straight up. Ordinarily in that time he’d have had four or five or six. But he’d decided Vietnam was no longer a good place to get even mildly drunk. There was too much desperation in the air, too many people with little to lose.
That was when you had to keep your wits about you. The man pushed inexplicably past his breaking point by an accidental event was infinitely more dangerous than a soldier doing his duty.
Kerfer had felt the same sensation in Baghdad, in Yemen, in Syria. In Tripoli, he’d sensed things were past the breaking point, and yet he’d stayed on an extra day, wanting to make sure his job was truly done. It was a foolish bit of overzealousness that had almost cost him his life.
You had to do your duty. But your duty rarely called for you to die. Or rather, it called for you to die only under the most leveraged circumstances. Circumstances that Lieutenant Ric Kerfer, a United States Navy SEAL, could no longer imagine.
Kerfer leaned back on his barstool, recognizing Zeus. Right away he noticed that the Army major had changed. Part of it was physical—Zeus was banged up. Kerfer could tell from the way he moved, shuffling the way an injured man did to divert attention from his injuries.
SEALs were always covering for some ligament strain or muscle tear, pretending they didn’t need surgery that would end their time on the firing line. They might hold their shoulders in or be selective in how they leaned their weight, subtly trying to lessen the potential for more injury.
It had nothing to with pain, per se—you got used to pain, unfortunately. It was more that you tried to keep whatever defect you’d acquired from being seen.
But there was more than that. There was something now in Zeus’s frown, something in the way he glared people out of his way.
Zeus Murphy was now an extremely dangerous man, Kerfer realized. More dangerous than the enemy.
He finished his drink, then pushed the glass toward the bartender.
“Fill it,” he told the man, a Vietnamese who spoke English well, though with a French accent. “And draw a beer. I have a friend coming.”
* * *
Zeus spotted Kerfer at the other end of the bar. He’d grown to like the SEAL officer, even though like most SEALs Kerfer barely pretended to tolerate him. Kerfer’s rank as a lieutenant was the equivalent of a captain in the Army, which meant that Zeus outranked him, but it was clear that rank had exactly zero meaning to Kerfer.
“Hey,” said Zeus when he finally reached Kerfer.
“Hey yourself, Major.”
Zeus frowned at him. Kerfer smirked.
“Ain’t nobody in this place who can’t figure out what the two of us are and who we work for,” said Kerfer. “And not a one of them could give a shit. Here’s a beer.”
Zeus was surprised to find that not only the contents but the glass was cold. He took a drink; it was heady and seductive.
“I heard you had some fun north of Haiphong,” said Kerfer. “You’re becoming a legend.”
“Perry’s kinda pissed off I hear.”
“Screw him.” Zeus ran his fingers along the outside of the glass; the cold felt almost exotic against the tips.
“You’re coming over to the dark side, Major. Glad to have you.”
“Let’s just say my eyes are open. You talked to Perry?”
“He talked to me.”
“You told him we were meeting?”
“Why would I do that?” asked Kerfer.
Zeus suddenly felt wary. “I’m surprised you’re back in Hanoi. I hear you’re a wanted man.”
“They don’t know they want me,” said Kerfer. His men had killed a squad of Vietnamese soldiers who had strayed into their path while they were rescuing an American scientist from the Chinese—at least that was Kerfer’s version. The Vietnamese had protested vehemently to the ambassador and to Perry, both of whom had denied they had any knowledge of what had happened.
“They wanted what I brought more than they wanted revenge,” added Kerfer. “Revenge isn’t going to help them. Never helps anyone. Remember that, Major.”
Kerfer was about the last person Zeus needed a lecture from. He changed the subject. “You finished the shipments?”
“All done. I suspect they’ve used them already.”
“So why are you still here?”
“I was told to sit and wait, in case I might be more useful in the future.”
“Perry said that?”
“Perry’s not my boss,” said Kerfer. “He wants me out. He wants you out, too.”
“Yeah.” Zeus set down his glass. He glanced at it, and was surprised to see it was more than half gone. “He told you that?”
“He was in a talkative mood.”
“I have something I wanted to ask you about,” Zeus told Kerfer.
“This isn’t a good place.”
“As good as any. Nobody’s listening to us, Major. Look around.”
Zeus shook his head.
“All right,” said Kerfer. “Lead the way.”
“I thought you’d have scouted out a place.”
Kerfer laughed. “Follow me.”
The SEAL was a powerfully built man, with broad shoulders and legs that worked like piston rods. He exuded a certain don’t-mess-with-me energy, and the crowd parted as he got up from his seat and led Zeus into a supply room at the back end of the bar. He didn’t bother flipping on a light, and there was barely enough to see around the tall shelves of supplies as he walked to the back of the room. There he paused in front of a steel door; he fiddled with the knob for a moment, then pulled the door open, having picked the lock. Zeus hadn’t even seen him take the lock-picking tools from his pocket.
“Out here,” Kerfer told him.
Zeus followed up a short flight of steps to a long, narrow corridor. A glass door, all but one of its panes missing, stood at the end. There was no doorknob on the inside; Kerfer reached through and took hold of the small handle to unlatch it. They emerged on a wide patio.
A man stood against the far rail, smoking a cigar.
“Take a walk,” Kerfer said to him in English. Then he added another few words in Vietnamese. “Bo?.”
The man frowned, but stuck the cigar in his mouth and left, going through the way they had just come. Kerfer, meanwhile, walked over to the edge of the patio, which was bounded by a short, thick wall. The space overlooked a yard paved with small stones that was part of the hotel restaurant’s outdoor dining area; it was closed to patrons.
“I don’t think Bo? really means go,” said Kerfer. “More like ‘abandon all hope ye who enter here.’”
“Your Vietnamese is getting better.”
“It gets the job done.”
Zeus looked around. They were alone.
“I need to get somebody out of the country,” said Zeus.
Zeus felt his cheeks warm.
“Relax, Major, I’m not your chaperone,” said Kerfer. “I don’t give a crap about where you dip your wick.”
“Why don’t you throw her on a military transport? There’s a helo coming into the embassy in a few hours.”
“Perry won’t go for it.”
“I’m just a gofer. I bring things in, not take them out. When we left with the scientist, we had a destroyer.”
“You think I can bribe some of the people you’re working with?”
“The nonmilitary people? Sure, you can bribe ’em.” The SEAL rubbed his face. “Whether they can help you or not is another question.”
“How much will they want?”
“The question is how much you can trust them,” answered Kerfer. “You’re not paying attention. I’d say the way things are going, nobody’s going to be able to help you pretty soon. Where is she?”
“I don’t know for sure,” said Zeus. “A military prison. I’m working on it.”
“Why is she in jail?”
“It’s a long story … She saved the life of a POW that the Vietnamese wanted to kill. So she was arrested—”
“Save it,” said Kerfer. “Your best bet is to get her out on an embassy flight.”
“That ain’t gonna work.”
Kerfer shrugged. He pushed off from the wall.
“I have something else I need to talk about,” said Zeus.
“I need to get in touch with your c...
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