Tiger's Tail: A Novel by Gus LeeTiger's Tail: A Novel by Gus Lee

Tiger's Tail: A Novel

byGus Lee

Paperback | March 1, 1995

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From the author of Honor and Duty and China Boy comes an ingenious thriller set in Korea in 1973—a gripping story of sorrow, corruption and redemption, with plenty of brawls to boot.

A career officer who trained at West Point. The number-one son of a hardworking Chinese family. A soldier still tormented by his tour of duty in Vietnam. Jackson Kan is a man caught in the middle of clashing worlds. Now Kan is bound for Asia once again, this time to the volatile demilitarized zone between North and South Korea. His objective is to track down a missing American investigator, also his closest friend. But in fact, Kan has no idea of the enormity—and the danger—of the mission that awaits him. 

It turns out that the frigid, barren Korean DMZ is at the mercy of Colonel Frederick LeBlanc, known as the Wizard, a Bible-pounding zealot engaged in his own private, paranoid war on communism. Kan quickly uncovers the depravity and corruption of the Wizard's little empire. But only gradually does he piece together the explosive truth about LeBlanc's secret arsenal—a truth that burns like a fuse between Kan's missing friend and the fragile truce of the two Koreas. . . .

Praise for Tiger's Tail

“[Gus] Lee's narrative is irresistible.”San Francisco Examiner & Chronicle

“A dazzling literary thriller.”—Amy Tan

“In the manner of Malraux, Greene, and Le Carré . . . A wise and wrenching novel, beautifully told.”Publishers Weekly (starred review)
Gus Lee was a supervising deputy district attorney, an Army judge advocate, and a paratrooper. He was legal counsel to congressional investigations into military misconduct and won the Silk Purse Award and other distinctions for trial advocacy. He was the statewide trainer for California prosecutors, the deputy director of the Californ...
Title:Tiger's Tail: A NovelFormat:PaperbackProduct dimensions:388 pages, 8.5 × 5.5 × 0.75 inShipping dimensions:8.5 × 5.5 × 0.75 inPublished:March 1, 1995Publisher:Random House Publishing GroupLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0345472799

ISBN - 13:9780345472793


Read from the Book

1     GIRL   It was number-one-best ding hao, good fortune, the magic of Chinese river fogs and BaBa's bright-red good luck, that made her eyes open. She was alive, and I'd take her to Disneyland to ride the teacups and tell knock-knock jokes. I would grow full on her happy laughter.   She was above me in a sky-blue kimono. “Anata, anata!” she cried—Sir, sir!—small hands trying to lift me. A stewardess. The Dong Nai had been six years ago. No snakes, no swamp, and the girl was dead. I blinked in a cold sweat, on the floor of the first-class cabin, holding a crushed can of Diet Pepsi.   A pillow, Ma's salted fish, a Korean dictionary and Frigault's Psychology of Nightmares lay like casualties. My head ached. I fought for air. I looked at my bloodless hand.   January 14, 1974. I was following the sun across the Pacific on Japan Air Lines Flight 001 to Tokyo. I had fallen asleep and entered the old nightmare like a lamb to slaughter.   “Yoroshides.” It's okay. I collected my gear and stood. The other passengers were Japanese, standing solemnly like honorable men watching the failing of a family bank. I bowed to atone my rudeness. They bowed lower. It was one thing to have a big, deranged Chinese with them. It was another if he was going to cry all the way to Japan, trying to resuscitate a pillow.   The copilot watched a stewardess place cold hand towels on my forehead as another gave me slippers, eye covers, nail clippers and playing cards and a doctor slid a stethoscope under my turtleneck. A small girl with a one-eared stuffed rabbit gazed at me and my missing ear. Tourist-class passengers gawked from the curtains. I laughed—I had been booked in first class on a foreign air carrier to allow me quiet and unnoticed entry into Asia.   I was returning to the Far East, the land of my birth and my error. I was going to rescue an old friend and investigate a fading memory of a prior self, hoping I wasn't too late for either cause.     I am Jackson Hu-chin Kan, the firstborn, accountable for the clan line. My veins run with the memory-rich blood and river silts of China. They bind me to Ma, to BaBa, to our jiay our household, across the sea.   From the Golden Gate, I speak to family graves on the Long River and our thousand generations of black-haired men.   I pay all debts. I perform honorable labor and will do so for all my days. I am son of a laoban, a sweaty, hard-faced Chinese junk captain. I am no stranger to hard work.   I obey the currents and accept the risks of the river. Beneath our hull and wind-chopped waters lurk slimy river demons who would hold us facedown for the price of a small fish.   The risks do not matter. I do my job, honor my parents and all elders, and remember the before-borns. I close all files.   Until he became Christian, BaBa was a drinking gambler, a cursing shamanist sailor who had me beat a gong to the fast pop of firecrackers each time we left the quay with good cargo.   “Hu-ah,” Ma had said, holding my face to keep my little boy's mind from wandering. “The gods promised you to me.   “You are Hu-chin. Hu means the tiger—and danger and courage.   “Aiya! Tiger! Bad name for my laughing son! Your father's father named you after drinking two black jugs of rice wine for your birth.   “Hu-chin-ah, you were born in war and named in his drunken happiness. Chin means ‘gold’ or ‘precious,’ names to protect the clan in sad times.” Ma later said this made finding a wife difficult.   Mrs. Wong, meet my firstborn son, Precious Danger.   Kan, my all-important clan name, means “to find the good, to cast out evil,” suggesting a perpetual opportunity for work.   I was seven when hard-boned BaBa brought us to America. BaBa talked to stars and loved America's familiar nautical skies. He had no fear of soldiers or bandits on foreign land; my two younger brothers had died in China, not in America.   Disliking my name's feral hostility and its American rendition—Urchin—he called me “Jack” after the comic Mr. Benny, adding the “son” as a good-luck bonus.   The sound of my American name gave my father pleasure.   My names described the objects of my character. It was my yeh, karma, to be the firstborn male on the river side of the Kan jia, to be educated by the U.S. government to become a soldier, to have a doting mother and a father who loved laughter, to be a man who was always a friend to danger.   I climbed the circular staircase to brush my teeth in the lavatory of the upper-deck piano lounge of the new 747 jumbo. A tony crowd of sophisticates in open-necked earth-brown shirts drank costly scotch and smoked thin cigarettes. I sat at the Yamaha piano and watched the endless blue expanse of the Pacific, en route to 180 degrees west and the Far East, the border between two worlds.   Immigrants feel a levitating happiness while sailing homeward. We remember all that is good. But arrival in Asia never matches that high expectation of return, while the backtrack to America reeks of survivor guilt and the musts of alien melancholy.   A square of cold, bright sunlight warmed my face. It was like the Vietnamese sun, full of hard copper and wet heat. The piano reminded me of Cara, filling me with painful longing and regret. Softly, I played Porter's “Night and Day” and the Bergmans’ “Like a Lover” for her, closing my eyes when women sat closer.   I was bound for an unknown challenge, sent by Carlos Justicio Murray, a man loved by some and hated by others. I had been altered each time his life had crossed mine.   He had taught me law at West Point. “Law school,” he had said, “is to free thought as foxes are to hens.” He was a big-fisted, broken-nosed El Paso street fighter who had graduated from the Academy and Yale Law and had fought in Korea.   Murray had imprinted memories of his humorous charisma on our psyches with the adroitness of a Navy tattoo artist. He loathed tranquility and detested dishonesty. He inspired heretical thinking, occasional illogical acts and steady followings of occasional illogical acts and steady followings of the young and innocent.   His logical assaults on our presumptions of Perfect American Justice led some of my classmates to mistake his realism for communism. He had a rash, Irish streak of humor, an irresistibly contagious yang male laugh and the romantic grin of a Mexican knife fighter. He had made me think and he had made me laugh, and I had always hoped to see him again.   “I was playing a piano at forty thousand feet because this idle hope had been realized in full.   Five hours ago, he had said, “Today, you go to the DMZ.”   BaBa's heart beats to the tune of the Yangtze's iron currents. We have sucked our own wounds and tasted China. Carlos Murray's will had been forged in the hot flats of West Texas to the tune of honeyed Mexican guitars and the cadence of angry Irish hearts.   He was a stout, muscular stick of human dynamite, amusingly insouciant with a homicidal bon vivant touch. He pulsed ethics with the fever that drove most men to common sins.   I played the piano for Cara. But all the chords led to Asia, where I had been born and where I had died.   In the spring of 1966, I was Bravo Company commander, 2nd of the 502nd Infantry, 101st Airborne, Vietnam. I believed in God, the rational use of force, the sanctity of the free world and the beauty of children. My yeh, karma, was good, and my battalion commander was my old professor Lieutenant Colonel Carlos Murray.   At Dak To I lost two platoon leaders, Curt Tiernan and Cyril Magnus. We inserted into the Iron Triangle and set the Dong Nai ambushes, denying to the NVA a key swath of the Ho Chi Minh Trail. We killed hundreds of the enemy; I slew a family of women.   I had prayed over the girl's grave as Murray recited the Twenty-third Psalm. I stared into the soft, pungent, fertile, violated earth, our entrenching tools heavy with wet, adhesive mud.   Foul-luck demons swarmed out of the dead.   “Urchin, there's a purpose to our losses.” His voice lilted in a dark, Irish moment in equatorial Asia.   “Bullshit,” I said, spitting out my bitter yuing chi, my fortune, the girl's blood in the pores of my soiled hands, changing my chemistry and the honor of my clan. My hands touched frag pins, knife, ammo packs, compass, canteen, notepad, inventorying the familiar. I observed the ruin of me in the shallow ditch; I could crouch motionless at ambush for a week, but now I could not stop my hands from fretting with the memory of the shooting.  

Editorial Reviews

“[Gus] Lee's narrative is irresistible.”San Francisco Examiner & Chronicle

“A dazzling literary thriller.”—Amy Tan

“In the manner of Malraux, Greene, and Le Carré . . . A wise and wrenching novel, beautifully told.”Publishers Weekly (starred review)