Authors: Peter Abrahams
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PRAISE FOR THE WRITING OF PETER ABRAHAMS
“Peter Abrahams is my favorite American suspense novelist.” âStephen King
“The care with which Abrahams brings his characters to life sets him apart from most thriller writers working today.” â
The New Yorker
“A good thriller needs style, atmosphere and a surprising plot, and
â¦ has all of these and something extra: depth of feeling.” â
The New York Times Book Review
“A class-A thriller.” âJames Ellroy
“A riveting tale of betrayal and vengeance set against a backdrop of sixties craziness and enriched by some wonderfully wicked observations on the way we live and love.” â
The Fury of Rachel Monette
“A roller coaster of a novel.” â
Los Angeles Times
“Visual, frightening, fast-paced and mesmerizing. [Abrahams] is a natural-born artist, a brilliant young writer who has a truly remarkable talent for writing psychological thrillers of enormous power, depth and intensity.” â
The Denver Post
“[A] gripping tale â¦ Maintaining suspense throughout, Abrahams sets his scenes with evocative details.” â
“Thrillers aren't generally known for sharp social observation, or for sympathetic examination of career women caught with their biological alarm clocks set to go off and good men a scarce commodity.
supplies both, along with the requisite amount of nasty villains and brave deeds.” â
Tongues of Fire
“Israel as a nation has ceased to exist. Israel and the Israeli [people] have been driven from their land into the sea by Syria, Iraq and other Arab states. Thus begins
Tongues of Fire
.â¦ This fascinating story relates very plausibly to our age and time. It is gripping.” â
Peter Abrahams, also known as Spencer Quinn
The man they called Bao Dai lived in a three-colored world. Brown was the color of leeches. Orange was the color of Corporal Trinh's decayed boots. Green was the color of the jungle and of misfortune.
Bao Dai's own boots had rotted long ago. Now he wore sandals made from truck tires. His other possessions were a torn shirt, a loincloth and a tin bowl. The bowl was filled three times a dayârice with swamp grass at dawn, plain rice at noon, rice with watery gravy at night. It was a diet that had killed a lot of men. Bao Dai had watched them die. It hadn't killed him. He wasn't even hungry now, maybe because he believed that any extra food he got would only be consumed by the worms inside him.
Like his namesake, the playboy emperor, Bao Dai dreamed many dreams of escape. But that's not why they called him Bao Dai; everyone in the camp dreamed of escape. He was given the name because of his chubby knees, which reminded them of pictures of the emperor in short pants, at his lycÃ©e in Paris. Corporal Trinh especially had enjoyed calling him Bao Dai, sometimes bowing to him before they got started in the torture room. But by now the joke had been lostâthey called him Bao Dai because it was the only name they knew. And his knees hadn't been chubby for a long time. He was as tough and stringy as the hill people.
Nothing like hope remained in Bao Dai, but his dreams persisted, night after night. In the end, it was rain that made them come true: not flares, rockets, Hueys touching down from the skyâthe fiction of his nightly adventures. Just rain, the hard rain of the late-summer monsoon. It struck with a force gravity alone could not explain, pounding stinging rhythms on all living things, drumming out all sound but its own, cascading in sheets off the trees, flooding the ground below.
Down in the mud, Bao Dai worked with the others. They were building a jetty by the river. A truck brought stones as far as the camp, where the road ended. They hammered the stones into pieces, packed them into big woven baskets and carried them on their backs to the river. Two hills stood between the camp and the river. The first was the easierâit had once been known as Hill 422 and wasn't completely refoliated yet. The second was overgrown and much steeper.
Bent almost double, Bao Dai toiled up the slippery path of the second hill, wrapped in a translucent curtain of rain. All he could see were the straining calves of Nhu, the wife-killer, a few feet in front of his face. On his own legs, he felt the panting breath of Huong, who had once owned two taxis and was now being reeducated. Huong's eyes never stopped cryingâsomething had gone wrong with his tear ducts. Behind them all walked Corporal Trinh, unburdened by anything except his Marakov nine-millimeter pistol and his homemade whip.
They came to a little clearing, halfway up. Now the rain fell in powerful gusts, so hard it almost knocked Bao Dai to the ground. He fought to control the heavy basket on his back, fought to keep his shackled feet from tangling in the chain that linked them, kept going. The slight tug at the skin behind his knee meant a leech had fastened on. There was nothing he could do about itâhe needed both hands pulling at the tumpline around his forehead to stop the basket from toppling him over.
Bao Dai went on. The mud sucked at his feet, belching rotten gases. He heard the taxi owner slip and fall, heard him struggling to his feet. He was too slow. Corporal Trinh's whip made its whistling sound. The taxi man cried out. Bao Dai tried to go faster. He rarely felt pain anymore, but he hated Corporal Trinh's whip. Corporal Trinh had tied a three-pronged fishhook to the end. Sometimes it stuck, sometimes it didn't. That's what made it sport for Corporal Trinh.
By the time Bao Dai started down the hill, he could no longer see Nhu in front of him or hear the taxi man and Corporal Trinh behind. He paused and leaned the weight of the basket against a tree, groping for the leech on the back of his leg. That's when Corporal Trinh went right past him, the Marakov in his hand. There was no sign of the taxi man.
Bao Dai straightened under his load and followed. They were supposed to stay together. Another rule. His back tingled in the spot it had last felt Corporal Trinh's whip. Bao Dai knew it would be worse if he tried to hide. Half-walking, half-sliding, he hurried down the hill.
Lightning flashed. Thunder boomed, a heartbeat later. Someone yelled. Bao Dai rounded a corner and saw Nhu, the murderer, lying under a fallen tree. The weight of the tree rested on his chest. His spine was doubled backward over the basket of stones. He was dead. Bao Dai sniffed and smelled burned air.
For a moment, he didn't see Corporal Trinh. That was because Corporal Trinh had been farther up the path when the tree caught him. Now he was trapped under its middle branches, partly covered with leaves. His head was bleeding.
Corporal Trinh strained under the tree with all his might, but he couldn't free himself. The Marakov lay in the mud nearby. Corporal Trinh saw Bao Dai and twisted his free arm around a branch, stretching it as far as he could. It wasn't far enough. Bao Dai went closer. Corporal Trinh's fingers clutched at the mud, inches short. Bao Dai squatted down and picked up the gun.
He looked at the gun, he looked at the tree, he looked into Corporal Trinh's eyes. Pounding in his head drowned out all sound, even the rain. Bao Dai heard the pounding for a long time. Then, slowly, he shook the basket of stones off his back and let it fall.
Corporal Trinh's eyes watched. There was no fear in them. Corporal Trinh had prepared himself to die before Bao Dai had fully realized that the man was in his power.
Bao Dai rose and stood over Corporal Trinh. The rain washed the leaking blood away from Corporal Trinh's head wound. It was a deep woundâBao Dai could see gray corrugations inside. He reached down, took the keys off Corporal Trinh's belt, unlocked the shackles. Then he tore the leech off the back of his leg. It came with the sound of a bandage being ripped off a scab and rolled up in his hand, round as a half-dollar.
Bao Dai noticed that Corporal Trinh's eyes were fixed on the Marakov; noticed that it was pointedâthat he was pointing itâat Corporal Trinh's head; noticed his own finger wrapped around the trigger. Bao Dai lowered the gun. He wanted badly to kill Corporal Trinhâkilling Corporal Trinh was the stuff of his sweetest dreams. But not like this, not with a bullet, not quickly. And he had no time.
Bao Dai knelt in front of Corporal Trinh. He held the leech close to Corporal Trinh's eyes so he could see it. Then he shoved it as deep as he could into Corporal Trinh's wound. Corporal Trinh screamed. It was the most wonderful sound Bao Dai had ever heardâopening a world of possibilities, giving him hope.
Bao Dai turned and ran, slipping, stumbling, falling, down to the river. The river was muddy brown, not very broad, pocked with driving rain. The far side looked no different from his: dense jungle cowering under the monsoon. But it was another country.
Jerry Brenner was celebrating. All by himself, drinking cognac from a bottle with no label, in a bar with a name he couldn't read, in a city he'd never seen until the day before yesterday, he was as happy as he'd ever been in his life. It was like the feeling he remembered from the last day of spring semesters, back at USC, but blown up to adult size: a feeling of accomplishment, followed by no immediate responsibilities.
“Go Trojans!” he said aloud. The bartender, a young woman in a tight silk dress slit high up both sides, glanced at him in the mirror. He gave her image a big smile.
Son of a bitch. That afternoon he'd sold the Bank of Thailand two million dollars' worth of data-base software. The contract was signed and sealed, back in the hotel safe. It was going to mean a bonus, at least twenty grand, and maybe a promotion. And his flight didn't leave till late tomorrow afternoon. He had time for an all-night celebration and a long sleep the next day. Son of a bitch.