The daughter of an Asian gangster inherits his fortune when rivals murder him. They then come after her but she invests the money in Vietnam in a secret plot to convert the country to capitalism.
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The Red Turtle Project is an international thriller set primarily in Vietnam in the 1990´s. Liang Weber is a beautiful Eurasian woman who inherits $500 million from her recently murdered father, Sing Han, a Singapore billionaire whose fortune is based on smuggling weapons and drugs.
She and her husband Sam learn that Sing Han has been assassinated by a ruthless secret society called the Mandarins. Led by a group of seven Chinese tycoons, the Mandarins have become incredibly wealthy and powerful using murder, kidnapping and theft on a global scale. They are furious when they find out that much of Sing Han´s fortune was transferred to Liang just before they killed him.
After a worldwide manhunt for Sam and Liang, the Mandarins discover them in Vietnam, where she has donated her inheritance to the communist country, one of the poorest on earth, to transform it into a capitalist powerhouse, the newest "Asian Tiger". This grand economic experiment is dubbed the Red Turtle Project.
Five years later, the Red Turtle corporate logo, a smiling cartoon turtle, has become the symbol of the country´s rapid improvement in the standard of living, an icon of nationalistic pride. Behind the scenes, however, the Mandarins gradually infiltrate the Red Turtle Corporation and are robbing the company through smuggling, stock manipulation, and other illegal activity. A reign of terror spreads, and anyone who protests against the crime and violence is immediately eliminated.
Finally the Mandarins´ real plan is revealed. They´re not merely taking over the Red Turtle Corporation, but the entire country of Vietnam. On July 1, 1997, Hong Kong, the bastion of capitalism and the home of the Mandarins, is reverting to the control of Communist China. The secret society is moving its base to Vietnam, to be feudal lords of the newly rich country.
From the outside, there was nothing memorable about the building, yet its lack of features allowed Liu Shan to find it among the more unique buildings in the harbor district of Hong Kong. Whereas the others were modernistic in styling, or a hundred years old, or were of different colors of glass, some green, some silver, and some a copper cast, the building he searched for was plain concrete with few windows, a rectangular grain silo of a building. It was neither tall nor short for the area, being 25 stories in height, and it was somewhere between 20 and 40 years old. No stylistic neon brand names shouted from its upper reaches. There seemed to be no main entrance, and on this street at least, the only door in sight was a metal service entry way the size of a coffin. There was no sign or address, only a small doorbell. He hesitated for just a second or two, thinking of the risk he was taking, then glanced briefly up and down the deserted street and quickly pushed the button.
The door, manned by a hidden guard, silently swung open. Liu Shan stepped inside, and the door was shut, casting him into a total and suffocating darkness. The guard, however, only five feet away, could see the man plainly in an infrared viewer. He carefully verified the visitor's description. Had he not been able to do so, the unlucky person would be left to find his way out again, groping in the darkness for the latch. But the visitor was a perfect match, being a Chinese man about five feet six inches, 150 pounds, and roughly 50 years old. His hair was gray on the temples and cut very short. Wire rim glasses hung on a thin aristocratic nose. He wore a conservative dark blue business suit of the finest material, with a vest, and, oddly for a Chinese businessman, a Christian cross pinned to the right lapel.
The visitor also happened to suffer from claustrophobia and began to panic in the humid darkness. He cried for help and swung his arms wildly, cracking his knuckles against the rough concrete walls. At that moment an elevator door opened, simultaneously giving the visitor both light and a means of escape from the primitive foyer. He stepped inside quickly, and the door closed. There were only three or four control buttons to select from, and as he studied them, the man was startled as the car rose upward of its own accord. He stared at himself in the mirrored walls of the elevator, sucking the blood oozing from his knuckles.
When the door opened again, he walked out into a tropical paradise. The chirping of crickets and the smell of jasmine filled the night air. A gravel path was bounded on both sides with rich foliage and fragrant flowers. He passed over a rounded bridge, which crossed a rushing stream, and came upon a bamboo hut. Looking around warily, he thought he heard the rustle of a small animal. There was only jungle, and twinkling stars above. He felt a wind. Was he on the roof of the building? But there was no sound of traffic from the streets below. He turned back to the hut. He had no choice but to continue, so he opened the door.
Six men were seated around a low table, and they turned to him simultaneously and silently. All wore mandarin robes of varying colors, queer enough in this day and age, but what was even more peculiar was that they each wore a broad conical straw hat at an angle that prevented Liu Shan from seeing their faces, especially in the dim light. Finally one of them spoke, and he could not tell which one it was.
"Liu Shan, how nice of you to visit! Welcome to our private club. As you can see, it is very exclusive, which is why we had to put you through certain security measures. I hope you don't mind."
"Of course not! I assumed there would be such measures when I answered your invitation."
"Wonderful. Please have a seat. We were just about to have an aperitif. Would you join us?"
One of the mandarins poured Courvoisier into small snifter glasses, and one was passed to Liu Shan. He sipped it gratefully and tried to catch a glimpse of their faces when they tasted the brandy. But the light was coming from behind and above them, making it impossible. The intermediary who had invited him here had mentioned that they were some of the most powerful men in Hong Kong, so he could guess their identities, but was not certain. It was interesting that the buttons on their cloaks were ruby red, historically the sign of mandarins of the rank of general or governor.
"Liu Shan, we would like to make a deal with you. You are in a position to help us very much, and in return, there are things we can grant you which are beyond your imagination. Please have some more brandy."
His snifter was refilled, and he drank again, more swiftly this time. A calm began to fill his chest. He was on familiar ground now, a businessman among businessmen, negotiating a deal.
"So, gentlemen, how may I help?"
"We are interested in the affairs of a man named Sing Han," began one of the voices. All six men around the table faced toward him, but none of them seemed to be talking. Liu Shan suddenly felt cold. His boss, Sing Han, was one of the great tai-pans of Singapore, easily the equivalent of the men before him.
"Sing Han deserves to be a member in our little group, but he has snubbed our invitation for years. With his wealth and talents added to our own, we could achieve our goals. Without him, it will take more time, and we are not patient men. We would like your help in persuading him to join us."
"I have worked for Sing Han for many years, and am now the chief legal counsel of his worldwide operations. He trusts me.... as much as he trusts anyone, anyway. Yet I don't see how I can convince him to work with you. What kind of group are you? What are these goals you speak of?"
"We are dedicated to the preservation of capitalism in Hong Kong once it becomes part of China in 1997. We believe communism is all that is keeping China in the status of a Third World country. The success of Hong Kong, Singapore, Taiwan, and the Chinese businesses in Indonesia and Malaysia is proof that the Chinese people are the world's most natural entrepreneurs. There are over a billion people in China. They value hard work and family and believe in saving money to invest in the future. Think of all China as capitalist! The Chinese would make Japan look second-class. In short, in 1997, eight years from now, we don't want Hong Kong to join the Peoples Republic of China; we want China to join Hong Kong!"
"I'm sure Sing Han shares those goals. He is the epitome of capitalism. But, I repeat, why would he listen to me on something like this?"
"Frankly, he may not. However, you control his money. If his money were to join us, he would have no choice but to come in with us also."
"My God! You want me to steal his money and give it to you? Are you all insane? Sing Han would kill me very slowly and painfully. The man demands absolute loyalty."
"Then why are you here, Liu Shan?"
Silence filled the bamboo hut. It seemed a light rainfall had commenced outside in the jungle. Liu Shan thought back on his decision to fly to Hong Kong to meet these men. The invitation had been flattering. He'd had hopes they were recruiting him to work for them in Hong Kong. While Sing Han paid him well, there never seemed to be enough money to satisfy his young wife's desires for rare artwork, European vacations and expensive parties. And he, although middle-aged, never seemed to be able to satisfy his own lust for her nubile body, so he gave her whatever she requested.
"I am always interested in money, not so much for its own sake, but as the scorecard in games of business. Money is how we measure who is winning, no? But I had no idea that your interest in me was related to my employer. Do you think Sing Han keeps all his money in a locked room to which I have the key? Of course not! It is tied up in long term assets like office buildings, supertankers and jet aircraft all over the world. He owns capital stock portfolios that cannot be cashed in without the whole world knowing about it."
"Such assets can be used as collateral for loans, the proceeds of which can be transferred. Stock portfolios can be transferred intact to new owners. It is all a matter of legal agreements. Surely you know about these subterfuges?"
Liu Shan turned gray. They knew about his thefts! For the last 18 months he had been siphoning small amounts from Sing Han's more remote corporations, ones in which Liu Shan was the primary signatory. The funds came out of "soft accounts" like advertising and professional fees, which could always be explained away if the expense seemed too large. The companies were too small to warrant audits, which might detect such "leakage".
"May I have some more brandy?" Liu Shan said softly. This time he gulped the fine cognac, and extended his glass for another refill. "Small amounts are one thing, but you're talking about almost a billion dollars!"
"We don't need all of it. Just take enough to force him to join us. And yes, he will be furious. He may even try to kill you. But you will be part of our club here in Hong Kong, wealthy enough to buy 24-hour bodyguards, not to mention all the artwork your wife desires."
"Sorry, gentlemen. You ask too much. Please excuse me."
"Liu Shan, will Sing Han's wrath be any greater over the large theft that we ask than it will be over the small thefts you have already committed?"
Sing Han's trusted legal counsel sat back down in the chair, beaten. He spread his hands in front of him on the table, noting absently that he had made bloodstains on the white linen with his clenched fists. "When do you need the money?"