Main Typhoon


Charles Cumming, lauded internationally as the successor to John le Carr?, returns with his biggest, most ambitious thriller to date. Beginning in 1997, just as the British are about to re - turn Hong Kong to Chinese rule, Joe Lennox, a young opera tive for SIS (MI6), loses both his girlfriend and his first high profile asset—a prominent defector who disappears from a safe house. The girlfriend he lost to Miles Coolidge, a hard-bitten CIA agent; the asset to collusion between his bosses and the CIA. Over ten years later, during the run-up to the Beijing Olympics, Lennox is back in China, facing his old nemeses. With the CIA plotting to use an Islamic group to destabilize China, the SIS seeking to thwart them and his old asset the key to all of this, Joe Lennox, Miles Coolidge, and the girlfriend they shared are all hopelessly intertwined in a plot where trust is impossible and truth is unknowable.
Categories: Literature\\Detective
Year: 2009
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Language: english
ISBN 13: 9780312558529
ISBN: 031255852X
File: EPUB, 434 KB
Download (epub, 434 KB)

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St. Martin's Press [image: Image]New York





A Spy by Nature

The Spanish Game

The Hidden Man

This is a work of fiction. All of the characters,
organizations, and events portrayed in this novel are either products of the
author's imagination or are used fictitiously.


TYPHOON. Copyright
(c) 2008 by Charles Cumming. All rights reserved. Printed
in the United States of America. For information, address St. Martin's
Press, 175 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10010.

Design by Phil Mazzone

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Cumming, Charles, 1971-

Typhoon / Charles Cumming.--1st U.S. ed.


ISBN 978-0-312-55852-9

I. Title.

PR6103.U484T97 2009




Originally published in Great Britain by Michael

First U.S. Edition: November 2009

10   9   8   7   6   5   4   3   2   1


For Iris and Stanley


to the memory of
Pierce Loughran




The superior man understands what is right;

he inferior man understands what will sell.










"Washington has gone crazy."

I am standing at the foot of Joe's bed in the Worldlink Hospital. Six
days have passed since the attacks of 11 June. There are plastic tubes running
from valves on his wrists, a cardiac monitor attached by pads to the spaces
between the bruises and cuts on his chest.

"What do you mean?"

"Only a handful of people at Langley knew what Miles was up to. Nobody
else had the faintest idea what the hell was going on out here."

"Who told you this?"


Joe turns his head towards the window and looks out on another
featureless Shanghai morning. He has a broken collarbone, a fracture in his
left leg, a wound on his skull protected by loops of clean white bandage.

"How much do you know about all this?" he asks, directing his eyes into
mine, and the question travels all the way back to our first months in Hong

"Everything I've researched. Everything you've ever told me."

My name is William Lasker. I am a journalist. For fourteen years I
served as a support agent of the British Secret Intelligence Service. For ten
of those years, Joe Lennox was my handler and close friend. Nobody knows more about RUN than I do.
Nobody except Joe Lennox himself.

He clears a block in his throat. His voice is still slow and uneven from
the blast. I offer him a glass of water which he waves away.

"If the CIA didn't know about Miles, they'll be going through every
file, every email, every telephone conversation he
ever made. They'll want answers. Heads are going to roll. David Waterfield can
get you those files. He has a source at Langley and a source in Beijing."

"What are you getting at?"

A nurse comes into the room, nods at Joe, checks
the flow rate on his IV drip. Both of us stop talking. For the past six days
the Worldlink has been crawling with Chinese spies. The Ministry of State
Security will be keeping a record of everybody who comes in and out of this
room. The nurse looks at me, seems to photograph my face with a blink of her
eyes, then leaves.

"What are you getting at?" I ask again.

"They say that every journalist wants to write a book." Joe is smiling
for the first time in days. I can't tell whether this remark is a statement or
a question. Then his mood becomes altogether more serious. "This story needs to
be told. We want you to tell it."




  Hong Kong











Professor Wang
emerged from the still waters of the South China Sea shortly before dawn on
Thursday 10 April 1997. Exhausted by the long crossing, he lay for some time in
the shallows, his ears tuned to the silence, his eyes scanning the beach. It
was 5:52 a.m. By his calculations the sun would begin to rise over Dapeng Bay
in less than fifteen minutes. From that point on he would run the greater risk
of being spotted by a passing patrol. Keeping his body low against the slick
black rocks, he began to crawl towards the sanctuary of trees and shrubs on the
far side of the beach.

was wearing only a pair of shorts and a thin cotton T-shirt. All of his worldly
possessions were otherwise contained in a small black rucksack attached to the
makeshift raft which he dragged behind him on a length of twine attached to his
leg. The plastic containers that had floated the raft clattered and bounced on
the rocks as Wang inched inshore. The noise of this was too much; he should
have prepared for it. Twenty metres short of the trees he stopped and turned. Sand
had begun to stick to his damp, salt-stiffened fingers and he was aware that
his breathing was hard and strained. Two hours earlier, in the half-light of
eastern Shenzhen, Wang had attached a cheap kitchen knife to his calf using a
stretch of waterproof tape. It took all of his strength now to tear the knife
free and to sever the twine so that the raft was no longer attached to his

Kuai dian,
he told himself. Hurry. Wang cut the rucksack
free and tried to sling it across his shoulders. It felt as though he had been
drugged or beaten and a grim sense memory of the prison in Urumqi crept up on
him like the rising sun. The rucksack was so heavy and his arms so tired from
the swim that he felt he would have to rest.

Jia you.

Keep going.

stumbled to his feet and tried to rush the last few metres to the trees, but
the rucksack tipped on his back and Wang fell almost immediately, fearing an
injury to his knee or ankle, something that would hamper him on the long walk
south across the hills. Imagine that, after everything I have been through:
a tendon sends me back to China. But he found that he could move without
discomfort to the nearest of the trees, where he sank to the ground, sending a
flock of startled birds clattering into the sky.

was six o'clock. Wang looked back across the narrow stretch of water and felt a
tremor of elation which numbed, for an instant, his near-constant dread of
capture. He reached out and felt for the bark of the tree, for the sand at his
feet. This place is freedom, he told himself. This shore is
England. Starling Inlet was less than two kilometres wide, but in the
darkness the tide must have pulled him west towards Sha Tau Kok, or even east
into the open waters of Dapeng. Why else had it taken him so long to swim
across? The professor was fit for a man of his age and he had swum well; at
times it was as if his desire to succeed had pulled him through the water like
a rope. Wiping seawater from the neck of the rucksack he removed several seals
of waterproof tape and withdrew a tightly bound plastic bag. A few minutes
later he had discarded his T-shirt and shorts and dressed himself in damp blue
jeans, a black cotton shirt and dark sweater. On his feet he wore grey socks
and the counterfeit tennis shoes from the market in Guangzhou.

Now I look like a typical Hong Kong Chinese. Now if they stop me I can
say that I am out here watching for birds.

removed the binoculars from his rucksack and the small, poorly bound volume on
egrets posted to him from Beijing three weeks earlier. The back of his throat
was sour with the salt and pollutants of the sea and he drank greedily from a
bottle of water, swallowing hard in an effort to remove them. Then he looped
the binoculars around his neck, placed the water bottle back in the rucksack
and waited for the sun.









Lance Corporal
Angus Anderson,
1st Battalion Black Watch, three months into the regiment's final tour of Hong
Kong, walked along the path from Luk Keng. This was magic hour, before the heat
and the mosquitoes, before cockerels and barked orders and discipline punctured
his private dream of Asia. Breathing the cool salt air, he slowed to an easy
stroll as the first rays of the dawn sun began to heat the surrounding hills. One
of only six Black Watch soldiers assigned to patrol the border in support of
the Hong Kong Police, Anderson had been dispatched by
an immigration inspector to make a brisk check of Starling Inlet before
returning to headquarters for breakfast.

they try to swim," the inspector had told him. His name was Leung. There were
purple scars on his hands. "Sometimes they escape the sharks and the tide and
make their way on foot to Tai Po."

took out a cigarette. The sea was calm and he listened to the rhythm of the
water, to the cry of a cormorant on the wind. He felt a strange, anarchic
impulse to strip out of his uniform and to run, like a streaker at Murrayfield,
down into the lukewarm freedom of the ocean. Six hours earlier he had helped to
untangle a corpse from the coils of razor wire that stretched all along the
land border from Deep Bay to Sha Tau Kok. His commanding officer called it
"Chateau Cock," like a bottle of cheap claret, and everybody in the battalion
was expected to laugh. The body was that of a Chinese peasant girl wearing
shorts and flip-flops and he could not erase from his memory the picture of her
pale neck twisted into the fence and the blood from her arms which had turned
brown in the sulphur glare of the floodlights. Would this kind of thing end
after 30 June? Would the eye-eyes stop coming over? Leung had told them that in
1996 alone the Field Patrol Detachment had arrested more than 5,000 illegal
immigrants, most of them young men looking for work in the construction
industry in Hong Kong. That was about fourteen coming across every night. And
now the FPD was facing a last-minute, pre-handover surge of Chinese nationals
willing to risk the phalanx of armed police massed on both sides of the border
in the slender hope of vanishing into the communities of Yuen Long, Kowloon and

lit the cigarette. He couldn't see the sense in chogies risking their lives for
two months in what was left of British Hong Kong. There wouldn't be an amnesty
on eye-eyes; there wouldn't be passports for the masses. Thatcher had seen to
that. Christ, there were veterans of the Hong Kong Regiment, men sitting in
one-bedroom flats in Kowloon who had fought for Winston bloody Churchill, who still
wouldn't get past immigration at Heathrow. Outsiders didn't seem to realize
that the colony was all but dead already. Rumour had it that Governor Patten
spent his days just sitting around in Government House, counting down the hours
until he could go home. The garrison was down to its last 2,000 men: everything
from Land Rovers to ambulances, from coils of barbed wire to bits of old gym
equipment, had been auctioned off. The High Island Training Camp at Sai Kung
had been cleared and handed over to the People's Liberation Army before
Anderson had even arrived. In the words of his commanding officer, nothing
potentially "sensitive" or "hazardous" could be left in the path of the
incoming Chinese military or their communist masters, which meant Black Watch
soldiers working sixteen-hour days mapping and documenting every fingerprint of
British rule, 150 years of naval guns and hospitals and firing ranges, just so
the chogies knew exactly what they were getting their hands on. Anderson had
even heard stories about a submerged net running between Stonecutters Island
and Causeway Bay to thwart Chinese submarines. How was the navy going to
explain that one to Beijing?

A noise down on the beach. He dropped the cigarette and
reached for his binoculars. He heard it again. A click of
rocks, something moving near the water's edge. Most likely an animal of
some kind, a wild pig or civet cat, but there was always the chance of an
illegal. To the naked eye Anderson could make out only the basic shapes of the
beach: boulders, hollows, crests of sand. Peering through the binoculars was
like switching off lights in a basement; he actually felt stupid for trying. Go
for the torch, he told himself, and swept a steady beam of light as far along
the coast as it would take him. He picked out weeds and shingle and the
blue-black waters of the South China Sea, but no animals, no illegal.

continued along the path. He had another forty-eight hours up here, then five
jammy days in Central raising the Cenotaph Union Jack
at seven every morning, and lowering it again at six. That, as far as he could
tell, was all that he would be required to do. The rest of the time he could
hit the bars of Wan Chai, maybe take a girl up to the Peak or go gambling out
at Macau. "Enjoy yourself," his father had told him.
"You'll be a young man thousands of miles from home living through a little
piece of history. The sunset of the British Empire. Don't
just sit on your arse in Stonecutters and regret it that you never left the

light was improving all the time. Anderson heard a motorbike gunning in the
distance and waved a mosquito out of his face. He was now about a mile from Luk
Keng and able to pick out more clearly the contours of the path as it dropped
towards the sea. Then, behind him, perhaps fifteen or twenty metres away, a
noise that was human in weight and tendency, a sound that seemed to conceal
itself the instant it was made. Somebody or something was out on the beach.
Anderson swung round and lifted the binoculars, yet they were still no good to
him. Touching his rifle, he heard a second noise, this time as if a person had
toppled off balance. His pulse quickened as he scanned the shore and noticed
almost immediately what appeared to be an empty petrol can lying
on the beach. Beside it he thought he could make out a second container,
perhaps a small plastic drum--had they been painted black?--next to a wooden
pallet. So much debris washed up on-shore that Anderson couldn't be certain
that he was looking at the remains of a raft. The men had been trained to look
for flippers, clothing, discarded inner tubes, but the items here looked
suspicious. He would have to walk down to the beach to check them for himself and, by doing so, run the risk of startling an
eye-eye who might care more for his own freedom than he did for the life of a
British soldier.

was no more than twenty feet from the containers when a stocky, apparently
agile man in his late forties poked his nose out of the trees and walked
directly towards him, his hand outstretched like a bank manager.

morning, sir!" Anderson levelled the rifle but lowered it in almost the same
movement as his brain registered that it was listening to fluent English. "I am
to understand from your uniform that you are a member of Her Majesty's Black
Watch. The famous red hackle. Your
bonnet. But no kilt, sir! I am disappointed. What do they say? The kilt
is the best clothes in the world for sex and diarrhoea!" The chogie was
shouting across the space between them and grinning like Jackie Chan. As he
came crunching along the beach it looked very much to Anderson as though he
wanted to shake hands. "The Black Watch is a regiment with a great and proud
history, no? I remember the heroic tactics of Colonel David Rose at the Hook in
Korea. I am Professor Wang Kaixuan at the university here, Department of
Economics. Welcome to our island. It is a genuine pleasure to meet you."

had at last arrived. Anderson took an instinctive step back as the stranger
came to a halt three feet away from him, planting his legs like a sumo
wrestler. They did indeed shake hands. The chogie's closely cropped hair was
either wet or greasy; it was hard to tell.

you out here alone?" Wang asked, looking lazily at the colouring sky as if to
imply that the question carried no threat. Anderson couldn't pick the broad
face for northern Han or Cantonese, but the spoken English was impeccable.

on patrol down here at the beach," he said. "And yourself?"

I stayed in the area over the weekend. To take the opportunity to look for the
egrets that are native to the inlet at this time of
year. Perhaps you have seen one on your patrol?"

Anderson said. "I haven't." He wouldn't have known what an egret looked like. "Could
you show me some form of identification, please?"

managed to look momentarily off ended. "Oh, I don't carry that sort of thing." As
if to illustrate the point, he made a show of frisking himself, patting his
hands up and down his chest before securing them in his pockets. "It is a pity
you have not seen an egret. An elegant bird. But you
enjoy our surroundings, no? I am told--although I have never visited there
myself--that the hills in this part of the New Territories are very similar in
geographical character to certain areas of the Scottish Highlands. Is that

that's probably true." Anderson was from Stranraer, a pan-flat town in the far
south-west, but the comparison had been made many times before. "I'm sorry,
sir. I can see that you're carrying binoculars, I can see that you're probably
who you say you are, but I'm going to have to ask you again for a passport or
driving licence. Do you not carry any form of identification?"

was the moment of truth. Had Angus Anderson been a different kind of man--less
certain of himself, perhaps more trusting of human behaviour--the decade of
events triggered by Wang's subsequent capture might have assumed an entirely
different character. Had the professor been allowed, as he so desperately
desired, to proceed unmolested all the way to Government House, the name of Joe
Lennox might never have been uttered in the secret corridors of Shanghai and
Urumqi and Beijing. But it was Wang's misfortune that quiet April morning to
encounter a sharp-eyed Scot who had rumbled him for a fake almost immediately. This
chogie was no birdwatcher. This chogie was an illegal.

have told you. I don't usually carry any form of identification with me."

even a credit card?"

name is Wang Kaixuan, I am a professor of economics at
the university here in Hong Kong. Please telephone the department switchboard
if you feel uncertain. On a Wednesday morning my colleagues are usually at
their desks by eight o'clock. I live at 71 Hoi Wang Road, Yau Ma Tei, apartment number 19. I can understand that the Black Watch
regiment has an important job to do in these difficult months but I have lived
in Hong Kong ever since I was a child."

unclipped his radio. It would only take ten seconds to call in the sighting. He
seemed to have no other option. This guy was a conman, using tactics of
questions and bluster to throw him off the scent. Leung's unit could be down in
a police patrol boat before seven o'clock. Let them sort it out.

this is One Zero, over."

now had a choice to make: sustain the lie, and allow the soldier to haul him in
front of Immigration, which carried the risk of immediate deportation back to
China, or make a move for the radio, engendering a physical confrontation with
a Scotsman half his age and almost twice his height. In the circumstances, it
felt like no choice at all.

had knocked the radio out of Anderson's hand before the soldier had time to
react. As it spun into the sand Anderson swore and heard Wang say, "I am sorry,
I am sorry," as he stepped away. Something in this surrendering, apologetic
gesture briefly convinced him not to strike back. For some time the two men
stared at one another without speaking until a crackled voice in the sand said:
"One Zero, this is Nine. Go ahead, over," and it became a case of who would
blink first. Anderson bent down, keeping his eyes on Wang all the time, and
retrieved the radio as if picking up a revolver from the ground. Wang looked at
the barrel of Anderson's rifle and began to speak.

sir, do not answer that radio. All I am asking is that you listen to me. I am
sorry for what I did. Tell them it was a mistake. I beg you to tell them you
have resolved your problem. Of course I am not who I say I am. I can see that
you are an intelligent person and that you have worked this out. But I am
asking you to deal with me correctly. I am not a normal person who swims across
the inlet in the middle of the night. I am not an immigrant looking for a job.
I do not want citizenship or refugee status or anything more or less than the
attention of the British governor in Hong Kong. I am carrying with me
information of vital importance to Western governments. That is all that I can
tell you. So please, sir, do not answer that radio."

have to answer." Anderson was surprised to hear a note of conciliation in his
voice. The encounter had taken on a surreal quality. How many Chinese
mainlanders pitched up on a beach at 6 a.m. talking about David Rose at the Hook
in fluent, near-accentless English? And how many of them claimed to have
political intelligence that required a meeting with Governor Chris Patten?

kind of information?" he asked, amazed that he had not
already jammed Wang's wrists into a set of PlastiCuffs and marched him up the
beach. Again the voice said, "One Zero, this is Nine. Please go ahead, over,"
and Anderson looked back across the water at the pale contours of China,
wondering what the hell to do. A fishing boat was edging out into the bay. Wang
then turned his head to stare directly into Anderson's eyes. He wanted to
convey the full weight of responsibility which now befell him.

have information about a very senior figure in Beijing," he said. "I have
information about a possible high-level defection from the Chinese government."









Joe Lennox left Jardine House at seven o'clock that
evening, nodded discreetly at a French investment banker as he sank two vodka
and tonics at the Captain's Bar of the Mandarin Oriental, hailed a cab on
Connaught Road, made his way through the rush-hour traffic heading west into
the Mid-Levels and walked through the door of Rico's at precisely 8:01 p.m. It
was a gift. He was always on time.

was sitting towards the back of the restaurant drinking a Tsingtao and reading
a syndicated article in the South China Morning Post about the
prospect of a Labour victory in the forthcoming UK elections. A ginger-haired
Canadian woman at the next table was eating crayfish and throwing out dirty
looks because of the cigarette I was smoking. When she coughed and waved her
hand in front of her face once too often, I stubbed it out. The air
conditioning was on high and it felt as though everyone in the room was

looked the way Joe always looked in those days: fit and undiminished, his
characteristically inscrutable expression becoming more animated as he found my
eyes across the room. At first glance, I suppose he was no different from any
other decent-looking Jardine Johnnie in a Welsh & Jeffries suit, the sort
who moves millions every day at Fleming's and Merrill Lynch. That, I suppose,
was the whole point about Joe Lennox. That was the reason they picked him.

in here," he said, but he took his jacket off when he sat down. "What are you

told him and he ventured a mildly critical opinion of the columnist--a former
Tory cabinet minister--who had written the piece. (The next day I went through
some cuttings and saw that the same grandee had been responsible for a couple
of Patten-savaging articles in the British press, which probably explained
Joe's antagonism.) He ordered a Tsingtao for himself and watched as the
Canadian woman put her knife and fork together after finishing the crayfish.

here long?" he asked.

ten minutes."

was wearing a dark blue shirt and his forearms were tanned from walking in the
New Territories with Isabella the previous weekend. He took out a packet of
cigarettes and leaned towards the Canadian to ask if she would mind if he
smoked. She seemed so taken aback by this basic display of courtesy that she
nodded her assent without a moment's hesitation, then eyebrowed me as if I had
been taught a valuable lesson in charm. I smiled and closed the Post.

good to see you," I said.

"You too."

this point we had been friends for the best part of a year, although it felt
like longer. Living overseas can have that effect; you spend so much time
socializing with a relatively small group of people that relationships
intensify in a way that is unusual and not always healthy. Nevertheless, the
experience of getting to know Joe had been one of the highlights of my brief
stay in Hong Kong, where I had been living and working since the autumn of
1994. In the early days I was never certain of the extent to which that
affection was reciprocated. Joe was an intensely loyal friend, amusing and
intelligent company, but he was often withdrawn and emotionally unreadable,
with a habit--doubtless related to the nature of his profession--of keeping
people at arm's length.

explain how we met. In 1992 I was reporting on the siege of Sarajevo when I was
approached at a press conference by a female SIS officer working undercover at
the UN. Most foreign journalists, at one time or another, are sounded out as
potential sources by the intelligence services. Some make a song and dance
about the importance of maintaining their journalistic integrity; the rest of
us enjoy the fact that a tax-free grand pops up in our bank account every
month, courtesy of the bean-counters at Vauxhall Cross. Our Woman in Sarajevo
took me to a quiet room at the airport and, over a glass or two of
counterfeit-label Irish whiskey, acquired me as a support agent. Over the next
couple of years, in Bosnia, Kigali and Sri Lanka, I was contacted by SIS and
encouraged to pass on any information about the local scene that I deemed
useful to the smooth running of our green and pleasant land. Only very
occasionally did I have cause to regret the relationship.

Lennox left school--expensive, boarding--in the summer of the Tiananmen Square
massacre of 1989. He was not an exceptional student, at least by the standards
of the school, but left with three good A-levels (in French, Spanish and
history), a place at Oxford and a private vow never to submit any children of
his own to the peculiar eccentricities of the English private-school system. Contemporaries
remember him as a quiet, popular teenager who worked reasonably hard and kept a
low profile, largely, I suspect, because Joe's parents never lost an
opportunity to remind their son of the "enormous financial sacrifices" they had
made to send him away in the first place.

most of his contemporaries, who went off to pick fruit in Australia or smoke
weed for six months on Koh Samui, Joe didn't take a gap year but instead went
straight up to Oxford to study Mandarin as part of the BA Honours course at
Wadham. Four years later he graduated with a starred First and was talent-spotted
for Six in late 1993 by a tutor at the School of
Oriental and African Studies, where he had gone to enquire about the
possibility of doing a PhD. He went to a couple of interviews at Carlton
Gardens, sailed through the Civil Service exams and had been positively vetted
by the new year of 1994. Years later, Joe and I had dinner in London, when he
began to speak candidly about those first few months as an Intelligence Branch

about it," he said. "I was twenty-three. I'd known nothing but straitjacket
British institutions from the age of eight. Prep school,
public school, Wadham College Oxford. No meaningful job, no serious
relationship, a year in Taiwan learning Mandarin, where everyone ate noodles
and stayed in their offices until eleven o'clock at night. When the Office
vetted me for the EPV I felt like a standing joke: no police record; no debts;
no strong political views--these were the Major years, after all; a single
Ecstasy tablet swallowed in a Leeds nightclub in 1991. That was it. I was a
completely clean slate, tabula rasa. They could do with me more or
less as they pleased."

led to Century House, in the last months before the move to Vauxhall Cross. Joe
was put into IONEC, the fabled initiation course for new MI6 recruits, alongside
three other Ox-bridge graduates (all male, all white, all in their thirties),
two former soldiers (both Scots Guards, via Sandhurst) and a forty-year-old
Welsh biochemist named Joanne who quit after six weeks to take up a
$150,000-a-year position at MIT. On Joe's first day, "C" told the new intake
that SIS still had a role to play in world affairs, despite the ending of the
Cold War and the break-up of the Soviet Union. Joe specifically remembered that
the Chief made a point, very early on, of emphasizing the importance of the
"special relationship with our Cousins across the pond" and of praising the CIA
for its "extraordinary technical resources," without which, it was implied, SIS
would have been neutered. Joe listened, nodded and kept his head down, and
within two months had been taken to the spook training centre at Fort Monckton,
where he persuaded strangers in Portsmouth pubs to part with their passport
numbers and learned how to fire a handgun. From the sources I've spoken to,
it's fairly clear that Joe, in spite of his age, was considered a bit of a
star. Spies, declared or otherwise, usually operate
from the safety of British embassies overseas, using diplomatic cover as a
means of running agents in hostile territories. Very early on, however, it was
suggested that Joe would be most effective working under non-official cover in
Asia, at long-term, deniable length from the Service. It was certainly a
feather in his cap. While his fellow IONEC officers were moved into desk jobs
in London, analysing intelligence and preparing for their first postings
overseas, the Far East Controllerate was finding Joe a job in Hong Kong,
ostensibly working as a freight forwarder at Heppner Logistics, a shipping
company based in Jardine House. In reality he was a NOC, operating under
non-official cover, by far the most sensitive and secret position in the
intelligence firmament.

turned twenty-four on the day he touched down at Kai Tak. His parents had seen
him off at Heathrow under the misguided impression that their beloved only son
was leaving England to seek his fortune in the East. Who knew? Perhaps he'd be
back in a few years with a foxy Cantonese wife and a grandchild to show off in
the Home Counties. Joe felt awkward not telling his family and friends the
truth about what he was up to, but Six had advised
against it. It was better that way, they said. No point in
making anyone worry. Yet I think there were additional factors at play
here. Secrecy appealed to something in Joe's nature, a facet of his personality
that the spooks at Vauxhall Cross had recognized instantly, but which he
himself had not yet fully come to understand. Lying to his parents felt like an
act of liberation: for the first time in his life he was free of all the
smallness and the demands of England. In less than a year Joe Lennox had cut himself off from everything that had made and defined him. Arriving
in Hong Kong, he was born again.

Logistics was a tiny operation run out of two small offices on the eleventh
floor of Jardine House, a fifty-two-storey edifice overlooking Victoria Harbour
and dotted with tiny circular windows, an architectural anomaly which earned it
the local nickname "The House of a Thousand Arseholes." Ted Heppner was a
former Royal Marine who emigrated to Hong Kong in
1972. For eighteen years he had facilitated the international shipment of
"sensitive" cargoes on behalf of SIS, but this was the first time that he had
agreed to take on an intelligence officer as an employee. At first, Ted's
Singaporean wife Judy, who also functioned as his secretary, wasn't keen on the
idea, but when the Cross bought her a Chanel handbag and bumped up her salary
by twenty per cent she embraced Joe like a long-lost son. Nominally he was
required to show up every day and to field whatever faxes and phone calls came
into the office from clients looking to move freight consignments around the
world, but in reality Ted and Judy continued to deal with over ninety-five per
cent of Heppner business, leaving Joe free to carry out his work for Queen and
Country. If anybody asked why an Oxford graduate with a starred First in
Mandarin was earning less than PS20,000 a year working for a logistics company
in Hong Kong, Joe told them that he'd been involved in a failed business
venture back home and had just wanted to get the hell out of London. If they
continued to pry, he hinted that he saw Heppner's as a short-term option which
would allow him, within six or eight months, to apply for a job with one of the
larger Taipan conglomerates, such as Swire's or Jardine Matheson.

was illustrative of the extreme sensitivity of Joe's position that Ted and Judy
were two of only a handful of people who knew that Joe was under non-official
cover. The others included David Waterfield, Head of Station for SIS in Hong
Kong, Waterfield's second-in-command, Kenneth Lenan, and Rick Zagoritis, a
legendary figure in the Far East Controllerate who acted as Joe's mentor and
go-between in the first few months of his posting. I became aware of his
activities when Zagoritis was obliged to fly to London for medical reasons in
the autumn of 1995. Up to that point, Rick had been my SIS handler. As a result
of an article I had written for the Sunday Times Magazine about
Teochiu triad heroin dealers, London had become interested in the contacts I
had made in the criminal underworld and I had provided Zagoritis with detailed
assessments of the structure and intentions of triad groups in the Pearl River
Delta. With Rick gone, I needed a new handler.

was when Joe stepped in. It was a considerable challenge for such a junior
player, but he proved a more than competent replacement. Within less than a
year of arriving in the colony, he had made a name for himself as a highly
effective NOC. Nor were there any concerns about his private life. In two
reports commissioned by Kenneth Lenan as routine checks into the behaviour of
new recruits, Joe demonstrated himself to be surprisingly self-disciplined when
confronted by the myriad opportunities for hedonism which are part and parcel
of male expat life in Asia. ("He'll learn," Waterfield muttered glumly. "He'll
learn.") Nor was he troubled by the paranoia and duplicity of his double life. One
of the more potent myths of the secret world, put about by spy writers and
journalists and excitable TV dramas, is that members of the intelligence
community struggle constantly with the moral ambiguity of their trade. This may
be true of a few broken reeds, most of whom are quietly shown the door, but Joe
lost little sleep over the fact that his life in Hong Kong was an illusion. He
had adjusted easily to the secret existence, as if he had found his natural
vocation. He loved the work, he loved the environment, he
loved the feeling of playing a pivotal role in the covert operations of the
state. About the only thing that was missing in his life was a woman.









Isabella Aubert
arrived at the
restaurant at about twenty-past eight. The first indication that she had
entered the room came with a simultaneous movement from two male diners sitting
near the entrance whose heads jerked up from their bowls of soup and then
followed her body in a kind of dazed, nodding parabola as she swayed between
the tables. She was wearing a black summer dress and a white coral necklace
that seemed to glow under the lights against her tanned skin. Joe must have
picked up on the crackle in the room because he pushed his chair back from the
table, stood up and turned to face her. Isabella was smiling by now, first at
me, then at Joe, checking around the restaurant to see if she recognized
anyone. Joe kissed her only briefly on the cheek before she settled into the
chair next to mine. Physically, in public, they were often quite formal
together, like a couple who had been married for five or ten years, not two
twenty-six-year-olds in only the second year of a relationship. But if you
spent time around Joe it didn't take long to realize that he was infatuated
with Isabella. She dismantled his instinctive British reserve; she was the one
thing in his life that he could not control.

she said. "How are you, Will?" Our little hug of greeting went wrong when I
aimed a kiss at her cheek that slid past her ear.

fine," I replied. "You?"

Overworked. Late."

not late." Joe reached out to touch her hand. Their fingers mingled briefly on
the table before Isabella popped her napkin. "I'll get you a drink."

had met in December 1995, on Joe's first visit back to the UK from Hong Kong,
when he had been an usher at a wedding in Hampshire. Isabella was a friend of
the bride who had struggled to keep a straight face while reading from "The
Prophet" during the service. "Like sheaves of corn he gathers you unto
himself," she told the assembled congregation. "He sifts you to free you from
your husks. He grinds you to whiteness." At one point Joe became convinced that
the beautiful girl at the lectern in the wide-brimmed hat was looking directly
at him as she said, "He kneads you until you are pliant. And then he assigns
you to his sacred fire, that you may become sacred bread for God's sacred
feast," but it was probably just a trick of the light. At that moment, most of
the men in the church were labouring under a similar delusion. Afterwards
Isabella sought him out at the pre-dinner drinks, walking towards him carrying
a glass of champagne and that hat, which had lost its flower.

happened?" he said.

she replied, as if that explained everything. They did not leave one another's
side for the next two hours. At dinner, seated at separate tables, they made
naked eyes across the marquee as a farmer complained to Isabella about the
iniquities of the Common Agricultural Policy while Joe told a yawning aunt on
his left that freight forwarding involved moving "very large consignments of
cargo around the world in big container ships" and that Hong Kong was "the
second busiest port in Asia after Singapore," although "both of them might soon
be overtaken by Shanghai." As soon as pudding was over he took a cup of coffee
over to Isabella's table and sat at a vacant chair beside hers. As they talked,
and as he met her friends, for the first time he regretted having joined SIS. Not
because the life required him to lie to this gorgeous, captivating girl, but
because within four days he would be back at his desk on the other side of the
world drafting CX reports on the Chinese military. Chances are he would never
see Isabella again.

eleven o'clock, when the speeches were done and middle-aged fathers in red
trousers had begun dancing badly to "Come on Eileen," she simply leaned across
to him and whispered in his ear, "Let's go." Joe had a room at a hotel three
miles away but they drove back along the M40 to Isabella's flat in Kentish Town,
where they stayed in bed for two days. "We fit," she whispered when she felt
his naked body against hers for the first time, and Joe found himself adrift in
a world that he had never known: a world in which he was so physically and
emotionally fulfilled that he wondered why it had taken him so long to seek it
out. There had been girlfriends before, of course--two at Oxford and one just a
few days after he had arrived in Hong Kong--but with none of them had he
experienced anything other than the brief extinguishing of a lust, or a few
weeks of intense conversations about the Cultural Revolution followed by
borderline pointless sex in his rooms at Wadham. From their first moments
together Isabella intrigued and fascinated him to the point of obsession. He
confessed to me that he was already planning their lives together after
spending just twenty-four hours in her flat. Joe Lennox had always been a
decisive animal, and Joe Lennox had decided that he was in love.

the Monday night he drove back to his hotel in Hampshire, settled the bill,
returned to London and took Isabella for dinner at Mon Plaisir, a French
restaurant he loved in Covent Garden. They ate French onion soup, steak tartare
and confit of duck and drank two bottles of Hermitage Cave de Tain. Over
balloons of Delamain--he loved it that she treated alcohol like a soft
drink--Isabella asked him about Hong Kong.

do you want to know?" he said.

"Anything. Tell me about the people you work with. Tell
me what Joe Lennox does when he gets up in the morning."

was aware that the questions formed part of an ongoing interview. Should I
share my life with you? Do you deserve my future? Not once in the two days they
had spent together had the subject of the distance that would soon separate
them been broached with any seriousness. Yet Joe felt that he had a chance of
winning Isabella round, of persuading her to leave London and of joining him in
Hong Kong. It was fantasy, of course, not much more than a pipe dream, but
something in her eyes persuaded him to pursue it. He did not want what they had
shared to be thrown away on account of geography.

he would paint a picture of life in Hong Kong that was vivid and enticing. He
would lure her to the East. But how to do so without
resorting to the truth? It occurred to him that if he told Isabella that
he was a spy, the game would probably be over. Chances were she would join him
on the next flight out to Kowloon. What girl could resist? But honesty for the
NOC was not an option. He had to improvise, he had to
work around the lie.

do I do in the morning?" he said. "I drink strong black coffee, say three Hail
Marys and listen to the World Service."

noticed," she said. "Then what?"

I go to work."

what does that involve?" Isabella had long, dark hair and it curled across her
face as she spoke. "Do you have your own office? Do you work down at the docks?
Are there secretaries there who lust after you, the quiet, mysterious Englishman?"

thought about Judy Heppner and smiled. "No, there's just me and Ted and Ted's
wife, Judy. We're based in a small office in Central. If I was to tell you the
whole story you'd probably disintegrate with boredom."

you bored by it?"

but I definitely see it as a stepping stone. If I play my cards right there'll
be jobs that I can apply for at Swire's or Jardine Matheson in a year or six
months, something with a bit more responsibility, something with better pay. After
university, I just wanted to get the hell out of London. Hong Kong seemed to
fit the bill."

you like it out there?"

love it out there." Now he had to sell it. "I've only been away a few
months but already it feels like home. I've always been fascinated by the
crowds and the noise and the smells of Asia, the chaos just round the corner. It's
so different to what I've grown up with, so liberating. I love the
fact that when I leave my apartment building I'm walking out into a completely
alien environment, a stranger in a strange land. Hong Kong is a British colony,
has been for over ninety years, but in a strange way you feel we have no place
there, no role to play." If David Waterfield could hear this, he'd have a heart
attack. "Every face, every street sign, every dog and chicken and child
scurrying in the back streets is Chinese. What were the British doing
there all that time?"

Isabella whispered, looking at him over her glass with a gaze that almost
drowned him. "Tell me more."

stole one of her cigarettes. "Well, at night, on a whim, you can board the
ferry at Shun Tak and be playing blackjack at the Lisboa Casino in Macau within
a couple of hours. At weekends you can go clubbing in Lan Kwai Fong or head out
to Happy Valley and eat fish and chips in the Members Enclosure and lose your
week's salary on a horse you never heard of. And the food is incredible,
absolutely incredible. Dim sum, char siu restaurants, the freshest
sushi outside of Japan, amazing curries, outdoor restaurants on Lamma Island
where you point at a fish in a tank and ten minutes later it's lying grilled on
a plate in front of you."

knew that he was winning her over. In some ways it was too easy. Isabella
worked all week in an art gallery on Albemarle Street, an intelligent,
overqualified woman sitting behind a desk eight hours a day reading Tolstoy and
Jilly Cooper, waiting to work her charms on the one Lebanese construction
billionaire who just happened to walk in off the street to blow fifty grand on an abstract oil. It wasn't exactly an exciting way of
spending her time. What did she have to lose by moving halfway round the world
to live with a man she barely knew?

took out a cigarette of her own and cupped Joe's hand as he lit it. "It sounds
incredible," she said, but suddenly her face seemed to contract. Joe saw the
shadow of bad news colour her eyes and felt as if it was all about to slip
away. "There's something I should have told you."

Of course. This was too much of a good thing for it to
end any other way. You meet a beautiful woman at a wedding, you find out she's
terminally ill, married, or moving to Istanbul. The wine and the rich food
swelled up inside him and he was surprised by how anxious he felt, how
betrayed. What are you going to tell me? What's your secret?

have a boyfriend."

should have been the hammer blow, the deal-closer, and Isabella was instantly
searching Joe's face for a reaction. Somehow she managed to assemble an
expression that was both obstinate and ashamed at the same time. But he found
that he was not as surprised as he might have been, discovering a response to
her confession which was as smart and effective as anything he might have
mustered in his counter-life as a spy.

don't any more."

that sealed it. A stream of smoke emerged from Isabella's lips like a last
breath and she smiled with the pleasure of his reply. It had conviction. It had
style. Right now that was all she was looking for.

not that simple," she said. But of course it was. It was simply a question of
breaking another man's heart. "We've been together for two years. It's not
something I can just throw away. He needs me. I'm sorry I didn't tell you about
him before."

OK," Joe said. I have lied to you, so it's only fair that you should have
lied to me. "What's his name?"


he married?"

was just a shot in the dark, but by coincidence he had stumbled on the truth. Isabella
looked amazed.

did you know?"

he said.

he is married. Or was." Involuntarily she touched her
face, covering her mouth as if ashamed by the role she had played in this. "He's
separated now. With two teenage children . . ."

". . .
who hate you."

laughed. "Who hate me."

the wake of this, a look passed between them which told Joe everything that he
needed to know. So much of life happens in the space between words. She will
leave London, he thought. She's going to follow me to the East. He ran his
fingers across Isabella's wrists and she closed her eyes.

night, drunk and wrapped in each other's bodies in the Christmas chill of
Kentish Town, she whispered: "I want to be with you, Joe. I want to come with
you to Hong Kong," and it was all he could do to say, "Then be with me, then
come with me," before the gift of her skin silenced him. Then he thought of
Anthony and imagined what she would say to him, how things would end between
them, and Joe was surprised because he felt pity for a man he had never known. Perhaps
he realized, even then, that to lose a woman like Isabella Aubert, to be cast
aside by her, would be something from which a man might never recover.









Waterfield wasn't
happy about

the door of his office, eight floors above Joe's in Jardine House, he turned to
Kenneth Lenan and began to shout.

the fuck is Isabella Aubert and what the fuck is she doing flying eight
thousand miles to play house with RUN?"

was the cryptonym the Office used for Joe to safeguard against Chinese eyes and
ears. The House of a Thousand Arseholes was swept every fourteen days, but in a
crowded little colony of over six million people you never knew who might be
listening in.

surname is French," Lenan replied, "but the passport is British."

that right? Well, my mother had a cat once. Siamese, but it looked like Clive
James. I want her checked out. I want to make sure one of our best men in Hong
Kong isn't about to chuck in his entire career because some agent of the DGSE flashed
her knickers at him."

ever-dependable Lenan had anticipated such a reaction. As a young SIS officer
in the sixties, David Waterfield had seen careers crippled by Blake and Philby.
His point of vulnerability was the mole at the heart of the Service. Lenan
consoled him.

already taken care of it."

do you mean, you've already taken care of it?" He
frowned. "Is she not coming? Have they split up?"

she's coming, sir. But London have vetted. Not to the level of EPV, but the
girl looks fine."

removed a piece of paper from the inside pocket of his jacket, unfolded it and
began to improvise from the text: "Isabella Aubert. Born
Marseilles, February 1973. Roman Catholic.
Father Eduard Aubert, French national, insurance broker in Kensington for most
of his working life. Womanizer, inherited wealth, died of cancer ten years ago,
aged sixty-eight. Mother English, Antonia Chapman. 'Good stock,' I think they
call it. Worked as a model before marrying Aubert in 1971.
Part-time artist now, never remarried, lives in
Dorset, large house, two Labradors, Aga, etcetera. Isabella has a brother,
Gavin, both of them privately educated, Gavin at Radley, Isabella at Downe
House. The former lives in Seattle, gay, works in computer technology. Isabella
spent a year between school and university volunteering at a Romanian
orphanage. According to one friend the experience 'completely changed her.' We
don't exactly know how or why at this stage. She didn't adopt one of the children, if that's the point the friend was getting at. Then
she matriculates at Trinity Dublin in the autumn of '92, hates it, drops out
after six weeks. According to the same friend she now goes 'off the rails for a
bit,' heads out to Ibiza, works on the door at a nightclub for two summers,
then meets Anthony Charles Ellroy, advertising creative, at a dinner party in
London. Ellroy is forty-two, mid-life crisis, married with two kids. Leaves his
wife for Isabella, who by now is working for a friend of her mother's at an art
gallery in Green Park. Would you like me to keep going?"

Waterfield muttered. "What's that? Ecstasy? Rave
scene? Have you checked if she's run up a criminal record with the Guardia

as a whistle. A few parking tickets. Overdraft. That's

"Nothing at all suspicious?" Waterfield looked out of the window
at the half-finished shell of IFC, the vast skyscraper, almost twice the height
of the Bank of China, which would soon dominate the Hong Kong skyline. He held
a particular affection for Joe and was concerned that, for all his undoubted
qualities, he was still a young man possibly prone to making a young man's
mistakes. "No contact with liaison during this stint in Romania, for instance?"
he said. "No particular reason why she chucks in the degree?"

could certainly have those things looked at in greater detail."

"Fine. Good." Waterfield waved a hand in the air. "And
I'll have a word with him when the dust has settled. Arrange to meet her in
person. What does she look like?"

Lenan said, with his typical gift for understatement. "Dark, French looks,
splash of the English countryside. Good skin. Bit of mystery
there, bit of poise. Pretty."









It wasn't a bad description, although it didn't
capture Isabella's smile, which was often wry and mischievous, as if she had
set herself from a young age to enjoy life, for fear that any alternative
approach would leave her contemplating the source of the melancholy that ebbed
in her soul like a tide. Nor did it suggest the enthusiasm with which she
embraced life in those first few weeks in Hong Kong, aware that she could
captivate both men and women as much with her personality as with her
remarkable physical beauty. For such a young woman, Isabella was very sure of
herself, perhaps overly so, and I certainly heard enough catty remarks down the
years to suggest that her particular brand of self-confidence wasn't to
everyone's taste. Lenan, for example, came to feel that she was "vain" and
"colossally pleased with herself," although, like most of the stitched-up Brits
in the colony, given half a chance he would have happily whisked her off to
Thailand for a dirty weekend in Phuket.

the restaurant that night I thought she looked a little tired and Joe and I did
most of the talking until Miles arrived at about half-past eight. He was
wearing chinos and flip-flops and carrying an umbrella; from a distance it
looked as though his white linen shirt was soaked through with sweat. On closer
inspection, once he'd shaken our hands and sat himself down next to Joe, it
became clear that he had recently taken a shower and I laid a private bet with
myself that he'd come direct from Lily's, his favourite massage parlour on
Jaffe Road.

how's everybody doing this evening?"

presence of this tanned, skull-shaved Yank with his deep, imposing voice lifted
our easygoing mood into something more dynamic. We were no longer three Brits
enjoying a quiet beer before dinner, but acolytes at the court of Miles
Coolidge of the CIA, waiting to see where he was going to take us.

is fine, Miles," Joe said. "Been swimming?"

smelling that?" he said, looking down at his shirt as
a waft of shower gel made its way across the table. Isabella leaned over and
did a comic sniff of his armpits. "Just came from the gym," he said. "Hot
outside tonight."

stole a glance at me. He knew as well as I did of Miles's biweekly predilection
for hand jobs, although it was something that we kept from Isabella. None of
us, where girls were concerned, wanted to say too much about the venality of
male sexual behaviour in the fleshpots of Hong Kong. Even if you were innocent,
you were guilty by association of gender.

it matter that Miles regarded Asia as his own personal playground? I have never
known a man so rigorous in the satisfaction of his appetites, so comfortable in
the brazenness of his behaviour and so contemptuous of the moral censure of
others. He was the living, breathing antithesis of the Puritan streak in the
American character. Miles Coolidge was thirty-seven, single, answerable to very
few, the only child of divorced Irish-American parents, a brilliant student who
had worked two jobs while studying at the Georgetown School of Foreign Service,
graduating summa cum laude in 1982 and applying almost immediately for
a position with the Central Intelligence Agency. Most of his close friends in
Hong Kong--including myself, Joe and Isabella--knew what he did for a living,
though we were, of course, sworn to secrecy. He had worked, very hard and very
effectively, in Angola, Berlin and Singapore before being posted to Hong Kong
at almost the exact same time as Joe. He spoke fluent Mandarin, workable
Cantonese, a dreadful, Americanized Spanish and decent German. He was tall and
imposing and possessed that indefinable quality of self-assurance which draws
beautiful women like moths to a flame. A steady procession of jaw-dropping
girls--AP journalists, human rights lawyers, UN conference attendees--passed
through the revolving door of his apartment in the Mid-Levels and I would be
lying if I said that his success with women didn't occasionally fill me with
envy. Miles Coolidge was the Yank of your dreams and nightmares: he could be
electrifying company; he could be obnoxious and vain. He could be subtle and
perceptive; he could be crass and dumb. He was a friend and an enemy, an asset
and a problem. He was an American.

know what really pisses me off?" The waitress had brought him a vodka and tonic
and handed out four menus and a wine list. Joe was the only person to start
looking at them while Miles began to vent his spleen.

"Your guy Patten. I talked to some of his people
today. You know what's going on down there at Government House? Nothing. You've got three months left before this whole
place gets passed over to the Chinese and all anybody can think about is
removals trucks and air tickets home and how they can get to kiss ass with
Prince Charles at the handover before he boards the good ship Rule

was vintage Coolidge: a blend of conjecture, hard facts and nonsense, all
designed to wind up the Brits. Dinner was never going to be a sedate affair.
Miles lived for conflict and its resolution in his favour and took a particular
joy in Joe's inability fully to argue issues of state in the presence of
Isabella. She knew absolutely nothing about his work as a spy. At the same
time, Waterfield had made Miles conscious of RUN back in 1996 as a result of
blowback on a joint SIS/CIA bugging operation into the four candidates who were
standing for the post of Chief Executive of the Hong Kong Special
Administrative Region. That had created a nasty vacuum in the relationship
between the four of us, and Miles was constantly probing at the edges of Joe's
cover in a way that was both childish and very dangerous.

is worth saying something more about the relationship between the two of them,
which became so central to events over the course of the next eight years. In
spite of all that he had achieved, there is no question in my mind that Miles
was jealous of Joe: jealous of his youth, his background as a privileged son of
England, of the apparent ease with which he had earned a reputation as a
first-rate undercover officer after just two years in the job. Everything that
was appealing about Joe--his decency, his intelligence, his loyalty and
charm--was taken as a personal affront by the always competitive Coolidge, who
saw himself as a working-class boy made good whose progress through life had
been stymied at every turn by an Ivy League/WASP conspiracy of which Joe would
one day almost certainly become a part. This was nonsense, of course--Miles had
risen far and fast, in many cases further and faster than Agency graduates of
Princeton, Yale and Harvard--but it suited him to bear a grudge and the
prejudice gave his relationship with Joe a precariousness which ultimately
proved destructive.

course there was also Isabella. In cities awash with gorgeous, ego-flattering
local girls, it is difficult to overstate the impact that a beautiful Caucasian
woman can have on the hearts and souls of Western men in Asia. In her case,
however, it was more than just rarity value; all of us, I think, were a little
in love with Isabella Aubert. Miles concealed his obsession for a long time, in
aggression towards her as well as wild promiscuity, but he was always, in one
way or another, pursuing her. Joe's possession of Isabella was the perpetual
insult of Miles's time in Hong Kong. That she was Joe's girl, the lover of an
Englishman whom he admired and despised in almost equal measure, only made the
situation worse.

you say 'Patten's people,' " I asked, "who exactly do you mean?"

rubbed his neck and ignored my question. He was usually wary of me. He knew
that I was smart and independent-minded but he needed my connections as a
journalist and therefore kept me at the sort of length which hacks find
irresistible: expensive lunches, covered bar bills, tidbits of sensitive
information exchanged in the usual quid pro quo. We were, at best, very good
professional friends, but I suspected--wrongly, as it turned out--that the minute
I left Hong Kong I would probably never hear another word from Miles Coolidge
ever again.

mean, what exactly has that guy done in five years as governor?"

talking about Patten now?" Joe's head was still in the menu, his voice
uninflected to the point of seeming bored.

I'm talking about Patten. Here's my theory. He comes here in '92, failed
politician, can't even hold down a job as a member of parliament; his ego must
be going crazy. He thinks, 'I have to do something, I have to make my
mark. The mansion and the private yacht and the gubernatorial Rolls-Royce
aren't doing it for me. I have to be The Man.' "

was laughing.

funny?" Joe asked her, but he was smiling too.

what?" she said.

" 'Gubernatorial.' It means 'of the government.' A gift of office. Jesus. I thought your parents gave you
guys an expensive education?"

"Anyway . . ." Joe said, encouraging Miles to

so Chris is sitting there in Government House watching TV, maybe he's arguing
with Lavender over the remote control, Whisky and Soda are licking their
balls"--Lavender was Patten's wife, Whisky and Soda their dogs. Miles got a good
laugh for this--"and he says to himself, 'How can I really
mess this thing up? How can I make the British government's handover of Hong
Kong to the People's Republic of China the biggest political and diplomatic
shitstorm of modern times? I know. I'll introduce democracy.
After ninety years of colonial rule in which none of my predecessors have given
a monkey's ass about the six million people who live here, I'm gonna make sure
China gives them a vote.' "

we heard this before?" I said.

not finished." There was just enough time for us to order some food and wine
before Miles started up again. "What's always really riled me about that guy is
the hypocrisy, you know? He's presented himself as this Man of the People, a
stand-up guy from the sole remaining civilized nation on the face of the earth,
but you really think he wanted democracy for humanitarian reasons?"

I do." The firmness of Joe's interjection took us all by surprise. To be
honest, I had assumed he wasn't listening. "And not because he enjoyed making
waves, not because he enjoyed thumbing his nose at Beijing, but because he was
doing his job. Nobody is saying that Chris Patten is a saint, Miles. He has his
vanities, he has his ego, we all do. But in this
instance he was brave and true to his principles. In fact it amazes me that
people still question what he tried to do. Making sure that the people of Hong
Kong enjoy the same quality of life under the Chinese government that they've
enjoyed under British rule for the past ninety-nine years wasn't a particularly
bold strategy. It was just common sense. It wasn't just the right
thing to do morally; it was the only thing to do, politically and
economically. Imagine the alternative."

did a comic beam of pride and grabbed Joe's hand, muttering, "Join us after
this break, when Joe Lennox tackles world poverty . . ."

come on." Miles drained his vodka and tonic as if it were a glass of water. "I
love you, man, but you're so fucking naive. Chris Patten is a politician. No
politician ever did anything except for his own personal gain."

all Americans this cynical?" Isabella asked. "This deranged?"

the stupid ones," I replied, and Miles threw a chewed olive stone at me. Then
Joe came back at him.

know what, Miles?" He lit a cigarette and pointed it like a dart across the
table. "Ever since I've known you you've been delivering this same old
monologue about Patten and the Brits and how we're all in it for the money or
the personal gain or whatever argument you've concocted to make yourself feel
better about the compromises you make every day down at the American embassy. Well
call me naive, but I believe there is such a thing as a decent man and Patten
is the closest thing you're going to get to it in public life." The arrival of
our starters did nothing to deflect Joe from the task he had set himself. Miles
pretended to be enthralled by his grilled prawns, but all of us knew he was
about to get pummelled. "It's time I put you out of your misery. I don't want
to come off sounding like a PR man for Chris Patten, but pretty much all of the
commitments made to the people of Hong Kong five years ago have been fulfilled
by his administration. There are more teachers in schools, more doctors and
nurses in hospitals, thousands of new beds for the elderly. When Patten got
here in '92 there were sixty-five thousand Cantonese living in slum housing. Now
there are something like fifteen thousand. You should
read the papers, Miles, it's all in there. Crime is down,
pollution is down, economic growth up. In fact the only thing that hasn't
changed is people like you bitching about Patten because he got in the way of
you making a lot of money. I mean isn't that the argument? Appeasement?
Isn't that the standard Sinologist line on China? Don't upset the suits in
Beijing. In the next twenty years they'll be in charge of the second biggest
economy in the world. We need them onside so we can build General Motors
factories in Guangdong, investment banks in Shenzhen, sell Coca-Cola and
cigarettes to the biggest market the world has ever known. What's
a few votes in Hong Kong or a guy getting his fingernails ripped out by the PLA
if we can get rich in the process? Isn't that the problem? Patten has given you
a conscience."

gave this last word real spit and venom and all of us were a little taken
aback. It wasn't the first time that I had seen him really go at Miles for the
lack of support towards Patten shown by Washington, but he had never done so in
front of Isabella and it felt as though two or three tables were listening in. For
a while we just picked at our food until the argument regained its momentum.

like a true patriot," Miles said. "Maybe you're too good for freight
forwarding, Joe. Ever thought about applying for a job with the Foreign Office?"

was water off a duck's back. "What are you trying to say, Miles?" Joe said.
"What's that chip telling you on your shoulder?"

was one of the reasons Miles liked Joe: because he took him on; because he
bullied the bully. He was smart enough to pick apart his arguments and not be
daunted by the fact that Miles's age and experience vastly outweighed his own.

tell you what it's telling me. It's telling me that you're confusing a lot of
different issues." Things were a little calmer now and we were able to eat
while Miles held forth. "Patten pissed off a lot of people in the business
community, here and on both sides of the Atlantic. This is not just an American
phenomenon, Joe, and you know it. Everybody wants to take advantage of the
Chinese market--the British, the French, the Germans, the fuckin'
Eskimos--because, guess what, we're all capitalists and that's what capitalists do.
Capitalism drove you here in your cab tonight. Capitalism is going to pay for
your dinner. Christ, Hong Kong is the last outpost of the British Empire, an
empire whose sole purpose was to spread capitalism around the globe. And having
a governor of Hong Kong with no experience of the Orient parachuting in at the
last minute trying to lecture a country of 1.3 billion people about democracy
and human rights--a country, don't forget, that could have had this colony shut
down in a weekend at any point over the past hundred years--well, that
isn't the ideal way of doing business. If you want to promote democracy, the
best way is to open up markets and engage with politically repressed countries
at first hand so that they have the opportunity to see how Western societies
operate. What you don't do is lock the stable door after the horse has
not only bolted, but found itself another stable, redecorated, and
settled down with a really fuckin' hot filly in a meaningful relationship." Joe
shook his head but we were all laughing. "And to answer your accusation that my
government didn't have a conscience until Chris Patten came along, all I can
say is last time I checked we weren't the ones willingly handing over six
million of our own citizens to a repressive communist regime twenty miles

wasn't a bad retort and Isabella looked across at Joe, as if concerned that he
was going to let her down. I tried to intervene.

has been through all of this before," I said. " 'The
superior man understands what is right; the inferior man understands what will
sell.' "

smiled. "He also said, 'Life is very simple. It's men
who insist on making it complicated.' "

said Miles. "Probably while getting jerked off by a nine-year-old boy."

screwed up her face. "If you ask my opinion--which I notice none of you are
doing--both sides are as bad as each other." Joe turned to face her. "The
British often act as though they were doing the world a favour for the last
three hundred years, as if it was a privilege to be colonized. What everybody
always seems to forget is that the empire was a money-making enterprise. Nobody
came to Hong Kong to save the natives from the Chinese. Nobody colonized India
because they thought they needed railways. It was all about making money." Miles
had a gleeful look on his face. Seeing this, Isabella turned to him. "You Yanks
are no better. The only difference, probably, is that you're more honest about
it. You're not trying to pretend that you care about human rights. You just get
on with doing whatever the hell you want."

of us tried to jump in, but Miles got there first. "Look. I remember Tiananmen.
I've seen the reports on torture in mainland China. I realize what these guys
are capable of and the compromises we're making in the West in order to-"

was pulled out of the conversation by the pulse of his mobile phone. He removed
it from his jacket pocket, muttered a frustrated: "Sorry, hang on a minute,"
and consulted the screen. The read-out said: "Percy Craddock is on the radio,"
which was agreed code for contacting Waterfield and Lenan.

said, "Who is it, sweetheart?"

noticed that Joe avoided looking at her when he replied. "Some
kind of problem at Heppner's. I have to call Ted. Give me two minutes,
will you?"

than speak on a cellphone, which could be hoovered by one of the Chinese
listening stations in Shenzhen, Joe made his way to the back of the restaurant
where there was a payphone bolted to the wall. He knew the number of the secure
line by heart and was speaking to Lenan within a couple of minutes.

was quick." Waterfield's eminence grise sounded uncharacteristically

Hello. What's up?"

you having dinner?"



Isabella is here with Will Lasker. Miles, too."

how is our American friend this evening?"

Belligerent. What can I do for you?"

request, actually. Might be nothing in it. We need you
to have a word with an eye-eye who came over this morning. Not blind flow. Claims he's a professor of economics." "Blind flow" was a
term for an illegal immigrant coming south from China in the hope of finding
work. "Everybody else is stuck at a black-tie do down at Stonecutters so the
baton has passed to you. I won't say any more on the phone, but there might be
some decent product in it. Can you get to the flat in TST by ten-thirty?"

was referring to a safe house near the Hong Kong Science Museum in Tsim Sha
Tsui East, on the Kowloon side. Joe had been there once before. It was small,
poorly ventilated and the buzzer on the door had been burned by a cigarette. Depending
on traffic, a taxi would have him there in about three-quarters of an hour. He
said, "Sure."

Lee's looking after him for now, but he's refusing to speak to anyone not
directly connected to Patten. Get Lee to fill you in when you get there. Apparently
there's already a file of some sort."

in the dining area, Joe didn't bother sitting down. He stood behind
Isabella--almost certainly deliberately, so that he didn't have to look at
her--and put his hands on her shoulders as he explained that the bill of lading
from a freight consignment heading to Central America had been lost in transit.
It would have to be retyped and couriered to Panama before 2 a.m. Neither Miles
nor myself, of course, believed this story for a minute, but we made a decent
fist of saying, "Poor you, mate, what a nightmare," and "You'll be hungry" as
Isabella kissed him and promised to be awake when he came home.

Joe had gone, Miles felt it necessary to polish off the lie and began a
sustained diatribe against the phantom clients of Heppner Logistics.

mean, what's the matter with these people in freight? Bunch
of fuckin' amateurs. Some asshole on a ship can't keep hold of a piece
of paper? How tough is that?"

work him so hard," Isabella muttered. "That's the third time this month he's
been called back to the office."

was trying to think of ways of changing the subject when Miles chimed in again.

right. You gotta guy there working hard, trying to climb the ladder from the
bottom rung up, they're always the ones who get treated badly." He was enjoying
having Isabella more or less to himself. "But it can't last. Joe is way too
smart not to move onto bigger and better things. You have to stay positive,
Izzy. Mah jiu paau, mouh jiu tiuh."

the hell does that mean?"

was Cantonese. Miles was showing off.

"Deng Xiaoping, honey. 'The horses will go on running, the
dancing will continue.' Anybody join me in another bottle of wine?"









Joe hailed a cab on the corner of Man Yee Lane
and was grateful for the cooling chill of air conditioning as he climbed into
the back. A humid three-minute walk from the restaurant had left his body
encased in the damp, fever sweat which was the curse of living in Hong Kong: one
minute you were in a shopping mall or restaurant as cool as iced tea, the next
on humid streets that punched you with the packed heat of Asia. Joe's shirt
glued itself to the plastic upholstery of the cab as he leaned back and said,
"Granville Road, please," with sweat condensing on his forehead and sliding in
drops down the back of his neck. Five feet from the cab, a group of Chinese men
were seated on stools around a tiny television set drinking cans of Jinwei and
watching a movie. Joe made out the squat, spike-haired features of Jean-Claude
van Damme as the taxi pulled away.

on Des Voeux Road, coming both ways: buses, bicycles, trucks, cabs, all of the
multi-dimensional crush of Hong Kong. The journey took forty minutes, under the
cross-hatch of neon signs in Central, past the mamasans loitering in the
doorways of Wan Chai, then dropping into the congested mid-harbour tunnel at
North Point and surfacing, ten minutes later, into downtown Kowloon. Joe
directed the driver to within two blocks of the safe house and covered the last
200 metres on foot. He stopped at a street cafe for a bowl of noodles and ate
them at a low plastic table in the heat of the night, sweat coagulating against
his clothes. His shirt and the trousers of his suit seemed to absorb all of the
dust and the grease and the slick fried stench of the neighbourhood. He
finished his food and bought a packet of counterfeit cigarettes from a passing
vendor, offering one to an elderly man jammed up at the table beside him; his
smile of gratitude was a broken piano of blackened teeth. Joe drank stewed
green tea and settled the bill and walked to the door of the safe house at the
southern end of Yuk Choi Road.

burned buzzer had been replaced with a blue plastic bell. Joe pushed it quickly,
twice, paused for three seconds, then pushed it again
in four short bursts to establish his identity. Lee came to the intercom, said,
"Hello, fourth floor please," in his awkward, halting English, and allowed Joe
to pass into a foyer which smelled, as all such foyers did in the colony, of
fried onions and soy sauce.

was thirty-two, very short, with neat clipped hair, smooth skin and eyes that
constantly asked for your approbation. He said, "Hello, Mr. Richards," because
that was the name by which he knew Joe.

"Hi, Lee. How are things?"

stale air in the light-starved apartment had been breathed too many times. Joe
could hear the high-frequency whine of a muted television in the sitting room
as he laid his jacket on a chair in the hall. No air-con, no breeze. His only
previous visit to the safe house had taken place on a cool autumnal day six
months earlier, when Miles had done most of the talking, pretending to comfort
a cash-strapped translator from a French trade delegation while three CIA stooges
took advantage of his absence from the Hilton to ransack his room for
documents. To the right of the hall was a cramped bathroom where Joe splashed
water on his face before joining Lee in the kitchen.

is he?"

nodded across the hall towards a red plastic strip-curtain which functioned as
the sitting-room door. The sound had come back on the television. Joe heard
Peter O'Toole saying, "We want two glasses of lemonade," and thought he
recognized both the film and the scene. "He watch Lawrence
of Arabia," Lee confirmed. "With Sadha. Come with
me into the back."

followed the slap-and-drag of Lee's flip-flops as he walked through to the
bedroom. Once inside, with the door closed, the two men stood in front of one
another, like strangers at a cocktail party.

is he?" Joe asked. "Mr. Lodge wasn't able to tell me very much on the phone."

Lodge was the name by which Kenneth Lenan was known to those former employees
of the Hong Kong police force, Lee among them, who occasionally assisted SIS
with their operations.

man's name is given as Wang Kaixuan. He claims to be a professor of economics
at the University of Xinjiang in Urumqi City."

he's not a Uighur?"

are the Turkic peoples of Xinjiang--pronounced "Shin-jang"--a once predominantly
Muslim province in the far north-west of China which has been fought over, and
colonized, by its many neighbours for centuries. Rich in natural resources,
Xinjiang is China's other Tibet, the province the world forgot.

Han Chinese, forty-eight years old. This morning at dawn he swam from the
mainland to the east of Sha Tau Kok, where he became involved in a struggle
with a soldier from Black Watch." Lee picked up the file that Lenan had
mentioned and studied it for some time. Joe watched him flick nervously through
the pages. "The soldier's name was Lance Corporal Angus Anderson, patrolling a
beach on Dapeng Bay. Mr. Wang try to present himself as Hong Kong citizen, a
birdwatcher, says he is a professor at the university here in Western District.
Lance Corporal Anderson does not believe this story and they get into a

Joe muttered. "What kind of struggle?"

on the street a young man was trading insults in Cantonese with a woman who
yelled at him as he gunned off on a motorbike.

"Nothing. No injury. But something about the situation
makes Anderson uneasy. Most blind flow in his experience do not speak fluent
English, do not, for example, know much about the history of the Black Watch
regiment. But Mr. Wang seems well informed about this, very different to what
Anderson has been trained to look for. Then he begs him not to be handed over
to immigration."

that what you'd expect someone in his situation to do?"

"Of course. Only then he claims that he is in possession
of sensitive information relating to the possible defection of a high-level
Chinese government official."

Anderson swallowed this?"

take a risk." Lee sounded defensive. For the first time
he was beginning to doubt the authenticity of the man who had spent the last
three hours beguiling him with stories of China's terrible past, its awkward
present, its limitless future. "The soldier walks him back to Black Watch base
and tells his company commander what has happened."

was the company commander?" Joe was starting to put the pieces together.

Mr. Richards. Major Barber."

Malcolm Barber, an ambitious, physically imposing Black Watch officer with
impeccable contacts in the local military, was known to SIS as DICTION. He had
been feeding regular gobbets of information to Waterfield and Lenan for three
years on the tacit understanding that he would be offered a position within MI6
when he resigned his commission in 1998. To my knowledge he was last seen
wandering around the Green Zone in Baghdad, trying to hatch plots against the
local insurgency.

he believed the story? Got on the phone to Mr. Lodge and had him brought south
for questioning?"

is correct. Mr. Lodge send a car to Sha Tau Kok. Had
to make sure police and immigration know nothing about it. Every detail is in
the report."

thought the whole thing sounded ludicrous and briefly considered the
possibility that he was being wound up. Professor of economics?
Dawn swims across Dapeng Bay? A defection? It was the
stuff of fantasy. Why would Lenan or Waterfield take it seriously? And why
would they consider RUN for such a job? Surely by presenting himself to an
unidentified eye-eye Joe was running the risk of breaking his cover. If most of
his colleagues were up to their eyeballs in port and Stilton at a Stonecutters
function, why not keep Wang overnight and have them tackle him in the morning? What
was the hurry?

handed the file to Joe, let out an exhausted breath and took a respectful step
backwards. It was like marking a change of shift. Joe said, "Thank you," and
sat on the bed. Barber had typed a covering letter, written in a tone which
suggested that he shared the broad thrust of Anderson's conviction. Nevertheless,
he had been wise enough to cover his back:

I would be very surprised if Professor Wang turns out
to be bona fide, but he is natural defector material, highly intelligent,
immense charm and perfect English, clearly knows his way around the Chinese
political structure, claims to have been tortured at Prison No. 3 in Urumqi
sometime between 1995 and 1996. Has the scars to prove
it. At the very least he may have the sort of local information in which HMG
might be interested. Suggest you hold him for 24 hours, then
we can spit him back to Shenzhen with no awkward questions asked. No harm in
finding out what he has to say, etc. Of course always the danger that he might
be a double, but that's your area of expertise. As far as the central claim
regarding defection is concerned, I'm afraid I can't be much help. Wang is a
sealed vault on that. Insists on speaking to CP in person.
But he hasn't been difficult about it. In fact, rather grateful to us for
"taking him seriously," etc. Best of luck.


he said anything to you?"

was sipping a glass of tea. Joe's question caught him off guard.

"About what, Mr. Richards?"

"About anything? About SIS setting up the
defection? About swimming to Cambodia?"

"Nothing, sir. We talk about general Chinese political
situation, but very little connected to the report. The conversations have been
recorded in accordance with instructions from Mr. Lodge."

is that tape still running?"

tape is still running."

gathered his thoughts. He had no experience of this sort of interrogation, only
those particular skills of human empathy and intuition which had been
recognized, and then nurtured so successfully, by SIS. He had left Isabella
alone in a restaurant with two close friends whose good intentions towards his
girlfriend he could not guarantee. He was very hot and craved a shower and a
fresh set of clothes. It was going to be a long night. He followed Lee into the
sitting room.

Wang, this is Mr. John Richards from Government House. The man I tell you
about. He has come to see you."

had not slept for twenty-four hours and it was beginning to show. The spring
had gone out of his step. Rather than leap to his feet with the effervescence
that Anderson would have recognized, he lifted himself slowly from an armchair
in the corner, took two steps forward and shook Joe Lennox firmly by the hand.

Richards. I am very glad to make your acquaintance. Thank you for coming to see
me so late at night. I hope I have not been any inconvenience to you or to your

can you tell about a person right away? What can you take on trust? That Wang
had the face of a man who was decent and courageous? That he looked both sharp
and sly? Joe studied the broad, Han features, absorbed the power of the squat,
surprisingly fit body and considered that last phrase: "Your organization."
Did Wang already suspect that he was British intelligence?

no trouble at all," he said. "I've very much been looking forward to meeting

was wearing the same blue jeans and black shirt into which he had changed on
the beach. His tennis shoes were resting on the floor beside the armchair, a
pair of grey socks balled into the heels. He looked to have made himself at
home. Sadha, the burly Sikh charged with guarding Wang, nodded at Joe and
excused himself, following Lee into the kitchen. In time Joe heard the bedroom
door clunk shut. The sweat and the humidity of the hot Asian night had combined
in the sitting room to leave a stench of work and men and waiting.

do you say we get some fresh air in here?"

nodded and turned to open the window. Joe made his way across the room and
parted the curtains to help him. It was as if they understood one another. Outside,
the still night air remained stubbornly unmoved: no breeze ventured into the
room, only the permanent cacophony of traffic and horns. To preserve the take
quality of the microphones installed in the safe house, Joe decided to close
the window and to begin again. The return of the heat and the silence seemed to
act as an ice breaker.

are hot," Wang said. It was a statement more than a question.

am hot," Joe replied. Wang had the sort of face in which a man would willingly
confide: eyes without malice, a smile of seductive benevolence. "Are you
comfortable? Have you eaten? Is there anything that I can get you before we

"Nothing, Mr. Richards." Wang pronounced the name pointedly,
as if he knew that it was not Joe's true identity and wished that they could
dispense with the masquerade. "Your colleagues have looked after me far better
than I could ever have anticipated. I have nothing but good things to say about
British hospitality."

that's wonderful." Joe gestured Wang back into his chair. There was a bottle of
Watson's water resting on a low coffee table between them and he filled two
white plastic cups to the rim. Wang leaned forward and accepted the drink with
a nod of thanks. Joe settled back into Sadha's fake leather sofa and wondered
how to kick things off. It seemed to be even hotter in the room at this lower
level. Why couldn't Waterfield stretch to a fan? Who was running the safe
house? Us or the Americans?

I would say that you are a very lucky man, Mr. Wang."

professor frowned and a squint of confusion appeared in his eyes.

"How so?"

survive a very dangerous swim. You are surprised on the beach not by Hong Kong
immigration, who would almost certainly have turned you back to China, but by a
British soldier. You claim to have information about a possible defection. The
army believes your story, contacts Government House, we send a nice,
air-conditioned car to pick you up and less than twenty-four hours after
leaving China here you are sitting in a furnished apartment in Tsim Sha Tsui
watching Lawrence of Arabia. I'd say that qualifies as luck."

looked across the room at the small black-and-white television set, now
switched off, and his face elasticated into a broad, wise smile. He sipped his
water and looked over the cup at Joe. "Seen from that point of view, I of
course share your opinion, Mr. Richards. May I ask,
what position do you hold within Government House?"

am an assistant to Mr. Patten's senior political adviser."

you are still very young, no? Young enough to have been one of my students, I

Joe said. "And you are old enough to have been one of my professors."

liked that one. The professor's delighted expression suggested the intense
relief of a cultured man who, after a long hiatus, has finally encountered
evidence of intelligent conversation.

see, I see," he laughed. "And where did you study, Mr. Richards?"

me John," Joe said, and felt that there was no harm in adding, "Oxford."

"Ah, Oxford." A Super 8 of dreamy spires and pretty girls on
bicycles seemed to play behind Wang's eyes. "Which college,

studied Mandarin at Wadham."

"With Professor Douglas?"

impressed him. There was no getting round it. For some reason Wang knew the
identity of Oxford's leading authority on imperial Chinese history. "No.
Professor Vernon," he said.

I do not know him."

paused. Joe shifted his weight on the sofa and his hand slid into a dent the
size of a beach ball created by Sadha's substantial girth. Wang was watching
him all the time, trying to assess the hierarchical importance of his
interlocutor and wondering whether to reveal something of his terrible secret
to a probable agent of the British SIS.

you, Professor Wang? What's your story? Why does a highly educated Chinese
intellectual with a position at a prestigious university wish to flee his
homeland? Why didn't you go through the normal channels? Why not just apply for
a visa? Surely you have friends in Hong Kong, family you could visit? Why risk
your life swimming across Starling Inlet?"

"Because I had no choice."


was no longer an option for a man like me. I had lost my job. I was no longer
permitted to leave China."

lost your job? That's not what you told Major Barber."

tilted his head to one side and the poor light in the room momentarily lent his
face the granite stillness of a sculpture. "I was concerned that the British
army would not take my situation seriously. I had already been very lucky to be
captured by a soldier with the Black Watch. I lied in order to increase my
chances of remaining in Hong Kong. For this I apologize."

at least you're honest," Joe said, with more candour than he had intended. He
felt an odd, almost filial sympathy for Wang, and found his position of power
over him oddly disconcerting. "Tell me, why are you no longer permitted to
leave China?"

"Because I am regarded as a political
undesirable, a threat to the Motherland. My actions as an academic drew me to the
attention of the authorities in Xinjiang, who jailed me along with many of my

kind of actions?" Joe remembered the line in Barber's letter--Has the scars
to prove it--and wondered why a man like Wang would be tipping the British
off about a high-level defection. From the start he had doubted this element of
the professor's story: ten-to-one it was just another ruse to win his way past
Anderson. More likely, the professor was simply a radicalized intellectual who
had fostered anti-Beijing sentiment on campus. That was the sort of thing for
which you were flung in jail in China. It happened all the time. "Why was it
necessary for you to leave China?" he asked.

I have told you and your colleagues many times, I am holding information for the
British government which will be of vital importance to the relationship
between our two countries. That is why I have to see Governor Patten

smiled. He knew now that he was being lied to, in the way that you know when a
person is bored by your company. "And where do you want to meet him?" he asked.
"Surely not in Government House? Aren't the Chinese disdainful of our feng

was intended as a joke, but Wang did not find it funny. Speaking in Mandarin
for the first time, he said, "Do not make fun of me, young man."

tell me the truth." Joe wasn't about to be patronized and snapped back his
response. He was struck by the sudden fierceness in Wang's gaze, not because it
unsettled him, but because for the first time he could see the force of the
professor's will.

am telling you the truth."

then I'm sorry to have to inform you that a meeting of that kind is highly
unlikely. I am as close to Governor Patten as you are likely to get. And unless
I leave here tonight with some firm answers, the Black Watch are
under instructions to return you to China without delay. Your presence here
contravenes political understandings between our two countries."

breathed very deeply so that his chin lifted to the ceiling. Joe's sudden shift
in mood had forced his hand and he was now at the edge of his luck. He would
have to confide in this Mr. John Richards, whoever he was, and run the risk
that his revelation would simply be ignored by an indifferent British spy.

don't . . ."

men had started speaking at the same time. Joe said, "Go ahead."

first, please."

"Fine." Joe wanted to light a cigarette but decided
against it. The air in the tiny room was already stale and unpleasant enough. "When
you were first interrogated by Lance Corporal Anderson, you mentioned an
apartment here in Kowloon." He thought back to Barber's report and recalled the
address from memory. "Number 19, 71 Hoi Wang Road.
What was the significance of that?"

was no significance. I made it up."

"Just like that?"

did not understand the idiom and asked for a translation in Mandarin. Joe
provided it and the conversation briefly continued in Chinese.

Hoi Wang Road is not the address of someone you know here in Hong Kong? It's
not an apartment at which you have stayed on any previous visit to the colony?"

have never been to Hong Kong before."

made a mental note to have the address investigated before reverting to
English. "And why now?" he said. "Why do you have to see Governor Patten in person?"

stood up. When he turned towards the window and leaned against the curtains,
Joe had a sudden mental image of the popular professor organizing his notes in
a packed Urumqi lecture hall, preparing to address a room full of eager
students. "Because he is the only man in any Western
government who has demonstrated an interest in the preservation of our basic
human rights. Because he is the only man who might
have the power to do something about this."

"About what? We're talking about human rights now? I
thought you wanted to talk about a defection?"

turned round and stepped closer to Joe. He looked angry, as if finally
exasperated by a long day of pressure and lies. "Mr. Richards, you are clearly
an intelligent man. You know as well as I do that I know nothing about any
plans for any member of the Chinese state apparatus to defect. You know as well
as I do that this was a story I invented to assist my journey to Hong Kong."

what do you know?" Joe wasn't surprised by the sudden confession. It
had been coming for some time. "What is this pressing story you want to share
with us? What makes you think that the British government is in any sort of
position to grant political asylum to a man like you? What makes Professor Wang
Kaixuan so special?"

Wang fixed him hard in the eyes and said, "I will tell you."









 "My father's name was Wang Jin Song." On the
surveillance recording you can hear an eerie silence in that cramped,
air-starved safe house, as if all of Hong Kong were
suddenly listening in. "He was born in Shanghai and worked as a schoolteacher
in the Luwan district, close to People's Square. He married my mother, Liu Dong
Mei, in 1948. She was the daughter of a Kuomintang soldier killed during the
Japanese invasion. I was born in 1949, Mr. Richards, so at least I share a
birthday with the People's Republic of China, if nothing else. When I was five
years old, my parents were obliged to relocate to Xinjiang province as part of
Mao's policy of mass Han immigration. Perhaps you have heard of this? Perhaps
it was mentioned in one of your lectures at Oxford? Sinicization, I
think they call it in English. I apologize if I am not correct in my pronunciation.
Based on a Soviet model, the Stalinist idea of diluting a
native people with the dominant imperial race, so that this native population
is gradually destroyed. My parents were two of perhaps half a million
Han who settled in Xinjiang during this period. My father was given a job as a
schoolteacher in Kashgar and we lived in a house that had been owned by a
Uighur landowner whom my father believed had been executed by the communists. This
was part of Mao's gradual purging of the Muslim elite, the execution of imams
and noblemen, the confiscation of Uighur properties and the seizure of lands. All
of this is a matter of historical record."

a hundred flowers bloom," Joe said, trying to sound clever, but Wang produced a
look of reproach which corrected him.

came later." There was an edge of disappointment in the professor's voice, as
if a favourite student had let him down. "Of course, when my family had been
living in Kashgar for two or three years, they became aware of the policy that
we now know as the hundred flowers bloom. The Party's
seemingly admirable desire to listen to the opinions of its people, of Party
members, in this case the Uighur population. But Mao did not like what
he heard. He did not like it, for example, that Turkic Muslims resented the
presence of millions of Han in their country. He did not like it that Uighurs
complained that they were given only nominal positions of power, while their
Han deputies were the ones who were trusted and rewarded by Beijing. In short,
the people demanded independence from communist China. They demanded the
creation of an Eastern Turkestan."

what happened?"

happened is what always happens in China when the people confront the
government. What happened was a purge." Wang helped himself to another glass of
water. Joe had the feeling that the story had been told many times before, and
that it was perhaps best to avoid any further interruptions. "A Party
conference was called in Urumqi, but rather than listen to their complaints,
the provincial government took the opportunity to arrest hundreds of Uighur
officials. Fifty were executed. Without trial, of course.
Trials do not exist in my country. This is what became of the flowers that bloomed, this is what became of Mao's promise to create an
independent Uighur republic. Instead, Xinjiang became an 'autonomous region,'
which it remains to this day, much as Tibet is 'autonomous,' and I surely do
not need to educate you about that."

are aware of the parallels with Tibet," Joe said, a statement as empty, as
devoid of meaning, as any he had uttered all night. What did he mean by "we?"
In three years as an SIS officer he had heard Xinjiang mentioned--what?--two or
three times at official level, and then only in connection to oil supplies or gas
fields. Xinjiang was just too far away. Xinjiang was somebody else's problem. Xinjiang
was one of those places, like Somalia or Rwanda, where it was better that you
just didn't get involved.

me continue my little history lesson," Wang suggested, "because it is important
in the context of what I will tell you later. In 1962, driven by hunger and
loss of their land and property, many Uighur families crossed the border into
the Soviet Union, into areas that we now know as Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan. This
was a shaming moment for Beijing, a terrible loss of face in the eyes of their
sworn enemy in Moscow, and it created problems for any Uighur family who
remained in Xinjiang with relatives in the Soviet Union. In the madness of the
Cultural Revolution, for example, a man could be imprisoned simply for having a
brother living in Alma-Ata. I was by now a teenager, a diligent student, and it
was in this period that I began to understand something of these historical
injustices and to see my father for the man he was. You see, it is difficult to
be brave in China, Mr. Richards. It is difficult to speak out, to have what you
in the West would call 'principles.' To do these things is to risk
annihilation." Wang rolled his neck theatrically. "But my father believed in
small gestures. It is these gestures which kept him sane. When he saw examples
of disrespect, for example of racism, of the typical Han contempt for Uighur or
Kazakh people, he would admonish the guilty, in the street if necessary. I once
witnessed my father punch a man who had insulted a Uighur woman as she queued
to buy bread. He made presents of food and clothing for impoverished native
families, he listened to their ills. All of these things were dangerous at that
time. All of these things could have led to my father's imprisonment, to a life
in the gulag for our family. But he taught me the most valuable lesson of my
life, Mr. Richards. Respect for your fellow man."

is a valuable lesson," Joe said, and the remark again sounded like a
platitude, although in his defence he was growing restless. In Chinese
storytelling there is a tradition of long-windedness of which Wang was taking
full advantage.