Warren Murphy: Bamboo Dragon

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It's a jungle out there - and the Destroyer may become the next endangered species.HOT, MOIST, DANGEROUS Deep in the Malaysian jungle a group of scientists gets a lethal surprise, and a lone survivor rants about a prehistoric monster who eats men alive. The survivor dies with bizarre symptoms - and CURE's Dr.Harold Smith wants answers. So Remo, his favorite problem solver, finds himself armed with a brand-new doctorate and joining an international expedition to look for the next Jurassic park. But things heat up even more in the jungle. Who's to tell what the adventure will be, what with a sexy lady professor, the hidden agenda of expedition members, and the hot breath of something big, dangerous and undreamed of deep in the rain forest's heart.

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Bamboo Dragon

By Warren Murphy & Richard Sapir

First edition July 1997

ISBN 0-373-63223-1

Special thanks and acknowledgment to

Mike Newton for his contribution to this work.


Copyright © 1997 by M. C. Murphy.

All characters in this book have no existence outside the imagination of the author and have no relation whatsoever to anyone bearing the same name or names. They are not even distantly inspired by any individual known or unknown to the author, and all incident are pure invention.

® and TM are trademarks of the publisher. Trademarks indicated with ® are registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office, the Canadian Trade Marks Office and in other countries.

Printed in U.S.A.

For Eva Kovacs, one of the best.

And, as always, for the Glorious House of Sinanju.

Chapter One

The cursed jungle had invaded Hopper's dreams. It was bad enough that it had made his every waking hour Hell on Earth, but now he could find no respite even in his sleep. His private nightscape stank of rotting vegetation, hummed with biting insects, seethed with wriggling vipers. Always, in the murky background, he could hear the rumbling snarl of larger predators, unseen but waiting for the false step that would make him theirs.

Instead of waking up refreshed each morning, ready for another grueling workday, Hopper found himself exhausted, haggard from the nightmares that pursued him once he crept inside his sleeping bag and pulled the beige mosquito netting down around him like a giant spider web. The past few days, he had forsaken shaving, not because the simple operation sapped his energy, but rather to avoid the face that greeted him each morning in his mirror—gaunt and dark, with sunken, bloodshot eyes and hair like straw that stubbornly defied the comb. His cheeks were hollow, mottled with the pox of insect bites, and Hopper didn't like the blotchy tan that made him look like an escapee from a lab experiment. His gums had started bleeding Tuesday night—or was it Wednesday? Not a lot, but still enough to stain his teeth, and that had been the final straw. He left his mirror for the monkeys when they broke camp in the morning, and he wished them better luck. He wouldn't shave again until he had hot water and a proper bathroom, possibly a barber to perform the ritual, so he wouldn't have to face himself.

A lady barber. She could shave his whole damned body if she wanted to, and scrub him clean until he started feeling human once again.

It was peculiar, this reaction to the jungle and the job that had been paying Hopper's way for close to fifteen years. He didn't like to think it was the work, for that meant starting over, finding something new if he couldn't perform, and that was never easy for a man of his restricted educational achievements.

No, it couldn't be the job. That never changed. He used the same equipment each time out and knew the drill by heart. He could perform the simple operations in his sleep—had done exactly that, the past ten nights or so—and there were only two ways it could go. Success or failure. Either way, he still got paid for making the attempt.

It had to be the jungle, then, and that was strange. In his time, he had been sent to every stinking pest-hole from the Congo to the Amazon. He had communed with pygmies and the wild men of the Mato Grosso, sharing meals that would have gagged a maggot, pumping the locals for information that would help him do his job. He knew about the spiders, snakes and scorpions, and had learned to wear his jockey shorts while bathing, so loathsome parasites and tiny spike-finned fish wouldn't invade his genitals or rectum. On the flip side, he had trekked through deserts where the ground cracked like old leather and the temperature topped 120 in the shade—if you could find the shade at all—and even biting flies had sense enough to hide until the sun went down. At the other extreme, he was no stranger to the Arctic tundra, and had dined on frozen mammoth steaks with blubber on the side and watched his piss freeze in a golden arc before it hit the ground.

But he had always done his job.

So what was different now? What was it that repulsed him so about this place?

He didn't think it was the climate, which reminded him of Indonesia at the height of summer, hot and humid, sapping the vitality of anyone foolish enough to labor in the daylight hours. Still, a man could fortify himself with salt and special beverages, restoring lost electrolytes. He knew the tricks, all right. Indeed, he had invented some of them himself.

The teeming insects? Hopper didn't think so. Granted, the mosquitoes were particularly large and vicious, rivaling the worst that he had seen in Africa, and there were flies that felt like hypodermic needles when they hit you, always from behind. But Hopper had been vaccinated for a whole list of diseases, from malaria to filariasis, and he was armed with bug repellent tailored for the military. As it was, he suffered only twenty-five or thirty painful bites per day, and he could live with that.

What, then?

Eleven weeks of speculation and analysis led Hopper to conclude that it must be the place, some nasty combination of the climate and terrain, plant life and skulking fauna, that conspired to put his nerves on edge. It seemed ridiculous, but there it was. This place was evil, pulsing with malignant undercurrents that invaded blood and muscle tissue, wormed their way inside the human brain.

Or maybe he was simply going mad.

Eleven weeks.

They were supposed to finish off the job in half that time, but someone upstairs had clearly underestimated the jungle, basing their timetable on bland tourist guidebooks and maps that shrank the country down to postcard size, reducing mighty river networks to a web of slender threads, the all-devouring jungle to a green blotch you could cover with your hand. The "planners," as they liked to call themselves back in the States, were absolutely ignorant of what it took to ford a river when the crocodiles were waiting, scale a hundred feet of crumbling shale or wade through miles of reeking swamp with stagnant water up around your chest and leeches squirming underneath your sodden clothes.

All this he had been willing to endure, as on his other expeditions, for the payoff. Half up front, the rest when he was finished, with a handsome bonus if he scored. Around Los Angeles—where he made his home of sorts—and in the industry at large, there was a saying that what Hopper didn't find could not be found. Hyperbole, perhaps, but no one ever lost his shirt by cultivating an impressive reputation.

It could get you killed, though, if you didn't watch your step.

The job had sounded perfect when they laid it out for Hopper at the briefing back in March. Not easy—that would be too much to hope for—but at least it didn't sound impossible.

The planners had a fix on what they wanted him to find, spun off from a potpourri of native legend, secret military documents, some wishful thinking based on satellite photography and laser tracings from the past two shuttle missions. What it added up to was a fortune… maybe. All they needed was a pro to carry out the groundwork under "primitive conditions."

In the field.

He had to smile at that, the way they made it sound as if he were being sent to walk around a meadow, someone's open pasture land. "The field" was in fact something else entirely: jungle, desert, maybe rugged mountains where you knew damned well a mining operation would be difficult, if not impossible, to organize. It wasn't Hopper's job to rain on anyone's parade until he had a look around and scouted out the territory, looking high and low for the elusive pay dirt that would fatten up his bank account along with everybody else's.

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