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Kokang - A Novel of Southeast Asia by Allen Wittenborn (Thriller)

Kokang - A Novel of Southeast Asia by Allen Wittenborn (Thriller)
 
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Matt Erickson's life turns upside down when he receives a State Department telegram notifying him that his younger brother is missing and possibly dead in Burma. Matt's been in Hong Kong for a year struggling to make a go of his brokerage business. Now this! The last thing he needs is to take off for the wilds of the lawless Burmese hinterland.

But the cable forces him to drop everything and set out in search of Luke. "Everything" includes not only his work, but his dilemma of being torn between a relationship with Vivian Lee, an alluring and seductive Hong Kong gem magnate who promises sex and big money, and his desire to marry Florence Chen, who herself is caught between the opposing forces of her love for Matt and her role as the leader of her clan's global business empire in Kokang.

Helped by the fiery Burmese revolutionary, Thiri Khalya, Matt is drawn deeper into the vortex of Burma's cut-throat politics. He's out of his element and faces an array of problems, not the least of which is that he's in Burma illegally, not a good idea given its brutal military junta.

KOKANG opens up a world of warlords, mercenaries, and ethnic freedom fighters, Chinese mafia, and powerful and commanding women. This is a story from an Asian point of view--Asia from the inside out. But place complements the characters, and brings to life the geographical expression of a region that is more than a territorial setting: Southeast Asia becomes a character in itself.

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Sample Chapter

Introduction

When one attains prosperity,
Another is sure to perish.
It is the law of nature.

The Glass Palace Chronicle of
the Kings of Burma

Deep in the hills of Eastern Burma, pushed to the border of China's Yunnan province north and east lies a region called Kokang. Thirty miles wide and seventy long, Kokang's northernmost point reaches the Himalayan foothills at over eight thousand feet, and drops abruptly into the southern Lao Kai plain which includes the Malipa valley. Part way down the descent sits a large settlement called Chingshan, "Green Mountain".

The leaders of Chingshan control a global empire worth billions of dollars in trade and finance. For centuries, they clawed their way up by hewing to a time-tested dogma: the clan comes first and last, nothing else matters. But being on top ensures that someone, anyone, can be counted on to threaten Chingshan, and to oppose it at every turn. When that happens, the clan strikes back. The leaders of Kokang must never relax their vigilance.

That's the macro picture. The micro view lies in the steamy jungles and cloying cities of Southeast Asia where the real battles are fought. There is where this story takes place.

Two maps are following and there are two more at the end of the book with more detail, including a map of the "Compound".


Prologue

Matt Erickson brushed aside the papers on his desk to unfold the map of Asia, looking for Burma, and more important, Kengtung. He scanned the names cluttering the shaded forms, found the green splotch of Burma with its long tail, squeezed between Thailand's pink and India's blue, and China's yellow to the north.

Jesus! Taungdwingyi, Myitkyina, Kawkareik. What kind of tongue could wrap around those words? He squinted to locate Kengtung.

There it is. Where?

Nowhere.

He listened to the squeaky whir from the overhead bamboo fan, wondering how to deal with this foreboding message. He stared at the spot, as though if he looked hard enough he would see right through the innocuous little pastel shapes to an actual place--its landscape, its people, its secrets. Nothing happened. It was still just a tiny black dot in the middle of eastern Burma, equidistant from China, Thailand, and Laos.

Matt pushed away from his desk, reached for the telegram, and reread its curt message:

20 MAY 1981
FM: US STATE DEPT WASH DC USA
TO: MATTHEW ERICKSON, LAMMA ISLAND, HONG KONG

RCVD RPRT FM US EMBASSY RANGOON, BURMA. BELIEVE ONE LUCAS ERICKSON MISSING OR DEAD. SAME ID ON DECEASED IN KENGTUNG. BODY NOT IDENTIFIABLE. INVESTIGATION IN PROGRESS.

WILL KEEP U INFORMED.

"Missing or dead. Body not identifiable..." A feeling of helplessness welled up inside him, adding frustration to his fear and anger. Not again.

What the hell was he supposed to do? He looked around the room as if the answer were hidden somewhere in its shadows.

Blast it, Luke. Why do you always get involved in some stupid mess? How many times did I come to your rescue, bail you out? I've had it with being your keeper.

What was he saying? Luke might be dead. His brother, his only family.

Matt eyed the telegram, wishing it would disappear. It couldn't be right. It was a mistake. A lousy joke. Some joke, but he'd settle for that now. The more times he read it, the tighter grew the knot in his stomach.

He checked his watch. Eight o'clock. Could he learn anything at such a late hour?

He put in a call to Luke's apartment, waited a prolonged ten rings, then eleven, then twelve... nothing.

Next, he contacted the American Consulate, where a woman's anodyne voice recorded that after hours such matters must be taken up with the duty officer, and he was not in at the moment. Would Matt like to leave his name and number? Someone will return his call first thing in the morning. So sorry for the inconvenience.

Bloody bureaucrats!

In desperation, he called Hi-Lo Enterprises, where he thought Luke worked. He wasn't sure because Matt was never certain what his brother might be up to. His call elicited only a crisp recording: "Our hours are nine to six Monday through Friday, nine to one on Saturday. Thank you for calling."

Damn!

Matt slammed down the phone and walked over to the window of his flat on Hong Kong's outlying Lamma Island. He watched a driving rain slash across rice paddies that stepped up the hillside, saw the torrents sweeping across the paved walkway, and heard the wind banging at his window.

Now what? He eyed the telegram again.

Kengtung. Where could he find out about Kengtung?

Luke, where the hell are you?

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